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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Ban Treaty on Track to Enter into Force

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

By Lydia Wood on Apr 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tree sitters protesting construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through their property in West Virginia

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2018 at 7:35 am

Hello hello Fellow Satyagrahis,

I was wondering if you could help me. Hopefully, this is a good way to contact everyone.

This is an update from Virginia, about a non-violent action that is occurring just a couple of hours away from Ali and me. As you may or may not know, there are tree sits (eight that I know of!) occurring in VA and West VA at this moment. The tree sitters are protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline/MVP; a natural gas pipeline proposed to go through West Virginia, Virginia, and into North Carolina. I believe they recently proposed 70 extra miles of pipeline into North Carolina.

Recently, I have been able to get down to the Bent Mountain area to visit Red, a 61 year old woman tree sitting on her own property. She is standing up to the MVP.

I grew up in Roanoke, VA and spent a lot of time on Bent Mountain. So for me this is a place I consider home.

At this point, they are clearing the land, often against the desires of people within the community. Curiously, there was a statement that MVP is not supposed to be clearing trees during this time, because of migratory bird safety rules in the states of West Virginia and Virginia. As of last week, they began to clear the land around the tree sitters on Bent Mountain: Red and her daughter Miner. Red and Miner have been restricted from receiving food and water by local police. They are being slowly forced out of the trees. This also includes the monopod and tree sitters along the VA and West Virginia border.

The reason I am sending this email is because I believe it would be helpful if more people outside of Virginia and the surrounding area were posting about this issue in their media spaces. Yes, I am definitely talking fb. The tree sits are slowly getting coverage, and more people need to know, as these pipelines have yet to be built. They are beginning the process of clearing land, but it has not been put down. There is so much possibility to stop this, and it could be your help that makes it happen.

I am sending links to provide more information, and I am hopeful that you will find information that calls to you to post.

This is a video that just came out about Red and Miner:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/trespassing-on-their-own-land-to-stop-a-pipeline/2018/04/21/3df56a08-458a-11e8-b2dc-b0a403e4720a_video.html?utm_term=.738d4f1774be

This is a general fb support page for RED, the tree sitter on Bent Mountain:

https://www.facebook.com/Stand-With-Red-142804873230596/

This is a recent Roanoke Times article about the tree sits. The Roanoke Times has several articles that you can find online:

http://www.roanoke.com/news/local/tree-sit-protests-of-the-mountain-valley-pipeline-pose-a/article_45f93b63-fe78-557c-b3f4-0cbed58889ad.html

Lastly, this is a podcast out of Richmond, VA that gives information about both pipelines that are currently being pushed in the area. If you only have time to listen to a bit; Episode 15 covers Red:

http://pipelinepodcast.org/

What Happens When a Few Volunteer and the Rest Just Watch: The American Military System Dissected

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2018 at 9:35 am

By Andrew J. Bacevich

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176409/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_creating_a_perpetual_war_machine/#more

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D. Far be it from me to disagree with the esteemed Bishop of Hippo, but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating.

I’m not a saint or even a bishop, merely an interested observer of this nation’s ongoing military misadventures early in the third millennium A.D. From my vantage point, I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

War is evil. Large-scale, state-sanctioned violence is justified only when all other means of achieving genuinely essential objectives have been exhausted or are otherwise unavailable. A nation should go to war only when it has to — and even then, ending the conflict as expeditiously as possible should be an imperative.

Some might take issue with these propositions, President Trump’s latest national security adviser doubtless among them. Yet most observers — even, I’m guessing, most high-ranking U.S. military officers — would endorse them. How is it then that peace has essentially vanished as a U.S. policy objective? Why has war joined death and taxes in that select category of things that Americans have come to accept as unavoidable?

The United States has taken Thucydides’s famed Melian Dialogue and turned it inside out. Centuries before Augustine, the great Athenian historian wrote, “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.” Strength confers choice; weakness restricts it. That’s the way the world works, so at least Thucydides believed. Yet the inverted Melian Dialogue that prevails in present-day Washington seemingly goes like this: strength imposes obligations and limits choice. In other words, we gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing, no matter what.

Making such a situation all the more puzzling is the might and majesty of America’s armed forces. By common consent, the United States today has the world’s best military. By some estimates, it may be the best in recorded history. It’s certainly the most expensive and hardest working on the planet.

Yet in the post-Cold War era when the relative strength of U.S. forces reached its zenith, our well-endowed, well-trained, well-equipped, and highly disciplined troops have proven unable to accomplish any of the core tasks to which they’ve been assigned. This has been especially true since 9/11.

We send the troops off to war, but they don’t achieve peace. Instead, America’s wars and skirmishes simply drag on, seemingly without end. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, a circumstance that both Augustine and Thucydides would undoubtedly have found baffling.

Prosecuting War, Averting Peace

How to explain this paradox of a superb military that never gets the job done? Let me suggest that the problem lies with the present-day American military system, the principles to which the nation adheres in raising, organizing, supporting, and employing its armed forces. By its very existence, a military system expresses an implicit contract between the state, the people, and the military itself.

Here, as I see it, are the principles — seven in all — that define the prevailing military system of the United States.

First, we define military service as entirely voluntary. In the U.S., there is no link between citizenship and military service. It’s up to you as an individual to decide if you want to take up arms in the service of your country.

If you choose to do so, that’s okay. If you choose otherwise, that’s okay, too. Either way, your decision is of no more significance than whether you root for the Yankees or the Mets.

Second, while non-serving citizens are encouraged to “support the troops,” we avoid stipulating how this civic function is to be performed.

In practice, there are many ways of doing so, some substantive, others merely symbolic. Most citizens opt for the latter. This means that they cheer when invited to do so. Cheering is easy and painless. It can even make you feel good about yourself.

Third, when it comes to providing the troops with actual support, we expect Congress to do the heavy lifting. Our elected representatives fulfill that role by routinely ponying up vast sums of money for what is misleadingly called a defense budget. In some instances, Congress appropriates even more money than the Pentagon asks for, as was the case this year.

Meanwhile, under the terms of our military system, attention to how this money actually gets spent by our yet-to-be-audited Pentagon tends to be — to put the matter politely — spotty. Only rarely does the Congress insert itself forcefully into matters relating to what U.S. forces scattered around the world are actually doing.

Yes, there are periodic hearings, with questions posed and testimony offered. But unless there is some partisan advantage to be gained, oversight tends to be, at best, pro forma. As a result, those charged with implementing national security policy — another Orwellian phrase — enjoy very considerable latitude.

Fourth, under the terms of our military system, this latitude applies in spades to the chief executive. The commander-in-chief occupies the apex of our military system. The president may bring to office very little expertise pertinent to war or the art of statecraft, yet his authority regarding such matters is essentially unlimited.

Consider, if you will, the sobering fact that our military system empowers the president to order a nuclear attack, should he see the need — or feel the impulse — to do so. He need not obtain congressional consent. He certainly doesn’t need to check with the American people.

Since Harry Truman ordered the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, presidents have not exercised this option, for which we should all be grateful. Yet on more occasions than you can count, they have ordered military actions, large and small, on their own authority or after only the most perfunctory consultation with Congress. When Donald Trump, for instance, threatened North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen,” he gave no hint that he would even consider asking for prior congressional authorization to do so. Trump’s words were certainly inflammatory. Yet were he to act on those words, he would merely be exercising a prerogative enjoyed by his predecessors going back to Truman himself.

The Constitution invests in Congress the authority to declare war. The relevant language is unambiguous. In practice, as countless commentators have noted, that provision has long been a dead letter. This, too, forms an essential part of our present military system.

Fifth, under the terms of that system, there’s no need to defray the costs of military actions undertaken in our name. Supporting the troops does not require citizens to pay anything extra for what the U.S. military is doing out there wherever it may be. The troops are asked to sacrifice; for the rest of us, sacrifice is anathema.

Indeed, in recent years, presidents who take the nation to war or perpetuate wars they inherit never even consider pressing Congress to increase our taxes accordingly. On the contrary, they advocate tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest among us, which lead directly to massive deficits.

Sixth, pursuant to the terms of our military system, the armed services have been designed not to defend the country but to project military power on a global basis. For the Department of Defense actually defending the United States qualifies as an afterthought, trailing well behind other priorities such as trying to pacify Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province or jousting with militant groups in Somalia. The United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all designed to fight elsewhere, relying on a constellation of perhaps 800 bases around the world to facilitate the conduct of military campaigns “out there,” wherever “there” may happen to be. They are, in other words, expeditionary forces.

Reflect for a moment on the way the Pentagon divvies the world up into gigantic swathes of territory and then assigns a military command to exercise jurisdiction over each of them: European Command, Africa Command, Central Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Pacific Command. With the polar icecap continuing to melt, a U.S. Arctic Command is almost surely next on the docket. Nor is the Pentagon’s mania for creating new headquarters confined to terra firma. We already have U.S. Cyber Command. Can U.S. Galactic Command be far behind?

No other nation adheres to this practice. Nor would the United States permit any nation to do so. Imagine the outcry in Washington if President Xi Jinping had the temerity to create a “PRC Latin America Command,” headed by a four-star Chinese general charged with maintaining order and stability from Mexico to Argentina.

Seventh (and last), our military system invests great confidence in something called the military profession.

The legal profession exists to implement the rule of law. We hope that the result is some approximation of justice. The medical profession exists to repair our bodily ailments. We hope that health and longevity will result. The military profession exists to master war. With military professionals in charge, it’s our hope that America’s wars will conclude quickly and successfully with peace the result.

To put it another way, we look to the military profession to avert the danger of long, costly, and inconclusive wars. History suggests that these sap the collective strength of a nation and can bring about its premature decline. We count on military professionals to forestall that prospect.

Our military system assigns the immediate direction of war to our most senior professionals, individuals who have ascended step by step to the very top of the military hierarchy. We expect three- and four-star generals and admirals to possess the skills needed to make war politically purposeful. This expectation provides the rationale for the status they enjoy and the many entitlements they are accorded.

America, the (Formerly) Indispensable

Now, the nation that has created this military system is not some “shithole country,” to use a phrase made famous by President Trump. We are, or at least claim to be, a democratic republic in which all power ultimately derives from the people. We believe in — indeed, are certain that we exemplify — freedom, even as we continually modify the meaning of that term.

In the aggregate, we are very rich. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century we have taken it for granted that the United States ought to be the richest country on the planet, notwithstanding the fact that large numbers of ordinary Americans are themselves anything but rich. Indeed, as a corollary to our military system, we count on these less affluent Americans to volunteer for military service in disproportionate numbers. Offered sufficient incentives, they do so.

Finally, since 1945 the United States has occupied the preeminent place in the global order, a position affirmed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991. Indeed, we have come to believe that American primacy reflects the will of God or of some cosmic authority.

From the early years of the Cold War, we have come to believe that the freedom, material abundance, and primacy we cherish all depend upon the exercise of “global leadership.” In practice, that seemingly benign term has been a euphemism for unquestioned military superiority and the self-assigned right to put our military to work as we please wherever we please. Back in the 1990s, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it best: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Other countries might design their military establishments to protect certain vital interests. As Albright’s remark suggests, American designs have been far more ambitious.

Here, then, is a question: How do the principles and attitudes that undergird our military system actually suit twenty-first-century America? And if they don’t, what are the implications of clinging to such a system? Finally, what alternative principles might form a more reasonable basis for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing our armed forces?

Spoiler alert: Let me acknowledge right now that I consider our present-day military system irredeemably flawed and deeply harmful. For proof we need look no further than the conduct of our post-9/11 wars, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

These myriad undertakings of the last nearly 17 years have subjected our military system to a comprehensive real-world examination. Collectively, they have rendered a judgment on that system. And the judgment is negative. Put to the test, the American military system has failed.

And the cost so far? Trillions of dollars expended (with trillions more to come), thousands of American lives lost, tens of thousands of Americans grievously damaged, and even greater numbers of non-Americans killed, injured, and displaced.

One thing is certain: our wars have not brought about peace by even the loosest definition of the word.

A Military Report Card

There are many possible explanations for why our recent military record has been so dismal. One crucial explanation — perhaps the most important of all — relates to those seven principles that undergird our military system.

Let me review them in reverse order.

Principle 7, the military profession: Tally up the number of three- and four-star generals who have commanded the Afghan War since 2001. It’s roughly a dozen. None of them has succeeded in bringing it to a successful conclusion. Nor does any such happy ending seem likely to be in the offing anytime soon. The senior officers we expect to master war have demonstrated no such mastery.

The generals who followed one another in presiding over that war are undoubtedly estimable, well-intentioned men, but they have not accomplished the job for which they were hired. Imagine if you contracted with a dozen different plumbers — each highly regarded — to fix a leaking sink in your kitchen and you ended up with a flooded basement. You might begin to think that there’s something amiss in the way that plumbers are trained and licensed. Similarly, perhaps it’s time to reexamine our approach to identifying and developing very senior military officers.

Or alternatively, consider this possibility: Perhaps our theory of war as an enterprise where superior generalship determines the outcome is flawed. Perhaps war cannot be fully mastered, by generals or anyone else.

It might just be that war is inherently unmanageable. Take it from Winston Churchill, America’s favorite confronter of evil. “The statesman who yields to war fever,” Churchill wrote, “must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

If Churchill is right, perhaps our expectations that senior military professionals will tame war — control the uncontrollable — are misplaced. Perhaps our military system should put greater emphasis on avoiding war altogether or at least classifying it as an option to be exercised with great trepidation, rather than as the political equivalent of a handy-dandy, multi-functional Swiss Army knife.

Principle 6, organizing our forces to emphasize global power projection: Reflect for a moment on the emerging security issues of our time. The rise of China is one example. A petulant and over-armed Russia offers a second. Throw in climate change and mushrooming cyber-threats and you have a daunting set of problems. It’s by no means impertinent to wonder about the relevance of the current military establishment to these challenges.

Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and enhance the lethality of a force configured for conventional power projection and to sustain the global network of bases that goes with it. For almost two decades, that force has been engaged in a futile war of attrition with radical Islamists that has now spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.

I don’t know about you, but I worry more about the implications of China’s rise and Russian misbehavior than I do about Islamic terrorism. And I worry more about changing weather patterns here in New England or somebody shutting down the electrical grid in my home town than I do about what Beijing and Moscow may be cooking up. Bluntly put, our existing military system finds us focused on the wrong problem set.

We need a military system that accurately prioritizes actual and emerging threats. The existing system does not. This suggests the need for radically reconfigured armed services, with the hallowed traditions of George Patton, John Paul Jones, Billy Mitchell, and Chesty Puller honorably but permanently retired.

Principle 5, paying — or not paying — for America’s wars: If you want it, you should be willing to pay for it. That hoary axiom ought to guide our military system as much as it should our personal lives. Saddling Millennials or members of Generation Z with the cost of paying for wars mostly conceived and mismanaged by my fellow Baby Boomers strikes me as downright unseemly.

One might expect the young to raise quite a ruckus over such an obvious injustice. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed their righteous anger over the absence of effective gun controls in this country. That they aren’t comparably incensed about the misuse of guns by their own contemporaries deployed to distant lands represents a real puzzle, especially since they’re the ones who will ultimately be stuck with the bill.

Principles 4 and 3, the role of Congress and the authority of the commander-in-chief: Whatever rationale may once have existed for allowing the commander-in-chief to circumvent the Constitution’s plainly specified allocation of war powers to Congress should long since have lapsed. Well before Donald Trump became president, a responsible Congress would have reasserted its authority to declare war. That Trump sits in the Oval Office and now takes advice from the likes of John Bolton invests this matter with great urgency.

Surely President Trump’s bellicose volatility drives home the point that it’s past time for Congress to assert itself in providing responsible oversight regarding all aspects of U.S. military policy. Were it to do so, the chances of fixing the defects permeating our present military system would improve appreciably.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil until the money changers are expelled from the temple. And that won’t occur until Americans who are not beholden to the military-industrial complex and its various subsidiaries rise up, purge the Congress of its own set of complexes, and install in office people willing to do their duty. And that brings us back to…

Principles 2 and 1, the existing relationship between the American people and their military and our reliance on a so-called all-volunteer force: Here we come to the heart of the matter.

I submit that the relationship between the American people and their military is shot through with hypocrisy. It is, in fact, nothing short of fraudulent. Worse still, most of us know it, even if we are loath to fess up. In practice, the informal mandate to “support the troops” has produced an elaborate charade. It’s theater, as phony as Donald Trump’s professed love for DACA recipients.

If Americans were genuinely committed to supporting the troops, they would pay a great deal more attention to what President Trump and his twenty-first-century predecessors have tasked those troops to accomplish — with what results and at what cost. Of course, that would imply doing more than cheering and waving the flag on cue. Ultimately, the existence of the all-volunteer force obviates any need for such an effort. It provides Americans with an ample excuse for ignoring our endless wars and allowing our flawed military system to escape serious scrutiny.

Having outsourced responsibility for defending the country to people few of us actually know, we’ve ended up with a military system that is unfair, undemocratic, hugely expensive, and largely ineffective, not to mention increasingly irrelevant to the threats coming our way. The perpetuation of that system finds us mired in precisely the sort of long, costly, inconclusive wars that sap the collective strength of a nation and may bring about its premature decline.

The root cause of our predicament is the all-volunteer force. Only when we ordinary citizens conclude that we have an obligation to contribute to the country’s defense will it become possible to devise a set of principles for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing U.S. forces that align with our professed values and our actual security requirements.

If Stormy Daniels can figure out when an existing contract has outlived its purpose, so can the rest of us.

What is socialism?

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race on March 27, 2018 at 10:12 am

By Tom Mayer, Peace Train Column for Friday March 23, 2018

Many people understand that socialism is a possible alternative to capitalism in the modern world, but few know what socialism really means. The nature of an economic system depends upon which social class controls the means of production. Power over the means of production enables the controlling class to govern the entire economic system.

Three basic economic systems (each with many variations) are possible in a modern technologically advanced society: capitalism, state collectivism, and socialism. Under capitalism the owners of productive property (i.e. capitalists) control the means of production. Capitalism is the economic system that currently exists in most parts of the world. Under state collectivism the government bureaucracy controls the means of production. State collectivism was the economic system of Communist countries like the Soviet Union and is often mistaken for socialism. Under socialism working people collectively control the means of production. Although some societies have adopted a few socialist institutions (e.g. economic planning, free health care, cooperative banks) there has never been a full-fledged socialist society in the modern world.

Socialism has five principal goals. (1) Sustainability: the economic system must be organized to sustain human life on our planet for the indefinite future. (2) Equality: the economic system must move towards complete economic equality. All forms of work are equally valued. Complete equality is the long term goal, but limited inequality based upon differential contributions to the economy exists initially. (3) Comprehensive Democracy: all major economic and political decisions are made through genuine democratic processes. (4) Personal Security: all fundamental personal needs are guaranteed by society. This guarantee includes food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, child care, elder care, etc. The levels at which personal needs are guaranteed increase as the socialist economic system matures. (5) Solidarity: a spirit of mutual support, cooperation, and friendship is created among all people. Socialist solidarity contrasts with the egoism and competitiveness fostered by capitalism.

What social institutions can achieve these five socialist goals? Socialists have different views on this subject, particularly on the issue of whether socialism should use markets. Here are some of the institutions proposed by socialists: (a) a democratic state that invites maximum participation and frequent circulation of political officials; (b) democratic and self-governing councils of workers and consumers; (c) jobs balanced for difficulty and desirability by workers councils (hazardous and unpleasant work being divided among all competent adults); (d) compensation according to effort as determined by fellow workers; (e) democratic and participatory economic planning in which workers councils have a major part; (f) use of computers and extensive feedback to reach a feasible and sustainable economic plan.

Building socialism in the context of a capitalist society involves a three prong strategy: (i) consciousness raising – developing socialist consciousness within the capitalist public; (ii) institution building – creating socialist institutions based upon cooperation, equality, and rational planning within capitalist society (e.g. workers cooperatives, strong labor unions, environmental regulation); (iii) political organizing – establishing an effective political party committed to socialism that contests for power within the capitalist political system.

U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years

In Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on March 20, 2018 at 1:00 am

By Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs, truthdig, March 26, 2018
President Vladimir Putin’s major address on March 1 to Russia’s Federal Assembly was candid about the economic and social challenges facing Russians. What attracted attention in the United States, however, was a detailed description, complete with video animations, of an array of new nuclear weapons delivery systems, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and an underwater drone.

A month earlier, on Feb. 2, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review. The review’s assessment of prospects for U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control is grim. It proposes two new capabilities, both aimed at Russia, a low-yield warhead deployed on submarine-launched missiles, and a sea-based, nuclear-armed cruise missile. It also endorses existing plans to sustain and upgrade existing nuclear forces and infrastructure to the tune of well over a trillion dollars over the next three decades.

While not as sensational as the weapons described by Putin, the Pentagon’s proposals manifest a commitment to an increasing and long-term reliance on nuclear arms. The review also lowers the threshold for use of nuclear weapons, emphasizing the role of such weapons in responding to “non-nuclear strategic attacks,” notably cyberattacks. The recommendation for increased nuclear weapons spending comes at a time when Congress has approved a budget deal providing for military spending of $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019, figures well above those in play just last year.

For most Americans, the emergence of a renewed nuclear arms race with Russia comes as a surprise. Since the end of the Cold War, public discussion about nuclear weapons in the U.S. has been dominated by purported threats of nuclear weapons in the hands of nonstate actors or regional adversaries. In 2010, President Barack Obama proclaimed: “Today, the threat of global nuclear war has passed, but the danger of nuclear proliferation endures. …” As recently as 2013, the Defense Department declared the most pressing nuclear dangers to be proliferation and “nuclear terrorism.”

The crisis precipitated by the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s government and Russia’s annexation of Crimea was, for the U.S. public, the first intimation that great-power nuclear arsenals still pose catastrophic dangers. For the first time since the Cold War, Russian and American nuclear-armed forces were conducting exercises and patrols in the same region, while each backed opposing factions in a civil war. As the Ukraine confrontation settled into a tense stalemate, it disappeared from the front pages along with the dangers posed by the immense nuclear arsenals still deployed by the U.S. and Russia. Donald Trump’s ascendance, featuring disturbingly misinformed campaign comments and then his profoundly alarming confrontation with North Korea, brought nuclear weapons back into mainstream public discussion—but U.S. and Russian nuclear forces still remained in the background, out of focus.

Origins of the Current Confrontation

Despite appearances, plans for new Russian nuclear weapon systems are not a response to the Nuclear Posture Review or to Trump’s casual rhetoric about U.S. nuclear might. The causes of the resurgent confrontation between the two countries that possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons extend back decades, to decisions made in the early 1990s. The disintegration of the Soviet Union also marked the end of the Cold War—a titanic, half-century confrontation for which no formal settlement ever was negotiated, only a series of piecemeal arms control measures and political agreements. The spirit and in some cases the letter of this partial Cold War settlement was ignored by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Instead of engaging Russia as a partner in a new, potentially more cooperative order, they instead took every opportunity to exploit the political and economic weakness of the post-Soviet states. Despite assurances from Western governments that NATO would not be expanded to the East, the military alliance now includes not only many of Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies but also the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Even today, NATO membership for Georgia remains on the table, and an effort at some point to include Ukraine is not out of the question.

NATO’s expansion eastward proceeded in tandem with the economic subordination of former Warsaw Pact countries. It was driven as well by the interests of Western arms makers seeking new markets for their wares, and new rationales for endless high-tech weapons development in a post-Cold War world. For them, the confrontational aspect of NATO expansion was and continues to be an opportunity, not a risk.

Confident that Russia no longer presented a significant military challenge, both Republican and Democratic administrations squandered the crucial post-Cold War opportunity to eliminate the existential threat to humanity posed by huge nuclear arsenals. Beginning in the mid-1990s, when Russian economic and military power was at its nadir, the United States embarked on a long-term effort to modernize its nuclear weapons, as well as the laboratories and factories that sustain them. U.S. military spending began to climb out of its brief post-Cold War trough at the same time, with the U.S. developing and deploying an array of powerful, accurate conventional armaments and stealthy delivery systems. Many of these were battle-tested in the wars that the U.S. has been conducting continuously since 1991. These conventional systems, which could destroy some targets previously only vulnerable to nuclear weapons, were seen as a strategic threat by both China and Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program was applying incremental upgrades to warheads and delivery systems. Perhaps most important of these was an upgrade of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads beginning in 2009 that increased their capability to destroy hardened targets like missile silos and command centers. Long-time observers of U.S. nuclear weapons programs characterized the changes as “revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal.” They concluded: “This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

Despite its unparalleled conventional military dominance in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the U.S. government failed to seize the opportunity to pursue elimination of nuclear weapons or at least the reduction of arsenals to very low levels. Informal agreements in the early 1990s took entire categories of tactical nuclear weapons out of service, but still left large numbers of operational nuclear weapons deployed. Although negotiations continued throughout the 1990s, no new bilateral arms control treaty entered into force. Subsequently, the Russia-U.S. nuclear arms agreements completed during the Bush and Obama administrations did little to change the fundamental character of either country’s nuclear arsenal, leaving in place forces still capable of ending human civilization in short order.

In an early sign of an emerging U.S. rejection of multilateral approaches to arms control, in 1999 the Senate refused to approve ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). In 2000, Russia ratified the treaty. Since then it has periodically stressed that U.S. ratification is essential to advancing nuclear disarmament and global security. A commitment to complete negotiation of the CTBT had been central to a 1995 decision to extend indefinitely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The current Nuclear Posture Review says that the U.S. will not ratify the CTBT, and does not rule out resumption of nuclear explosive testing.

U.S. Withdrawal From the ABM Treaty

In late 2001, the Bush administration announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which since 1971 had placed stringent limits on U.S. and Russian missile defenses. Just a year and a half earlier, the U.S. under the Clinton administration, Russia, and other participating states had agreed to a commitment in an NPT review outcome document to “preserving and strengthening the [ABM Treaty] as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons.”

In his 2018 annual presidential address, Putin characterized the ABM Treaty in similar fashion, stating that Russia saw it as “the cornerstone of the international security system.” Together with U.S.-Russia agreements limiting nuclear arms, said Putin, “the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defense systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.” As Putin said, and as former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov elaborated, Russia made strenuous attempts to dissuade the U.S. from ending the ABM Treaty, and subsequently sought to make new arrangements limiting missile defenses, all to no avail.

Putin portrayed the continuing development and ever wider deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems in the wake of the U.S. termination of the ABM Treaty as a growing threat: “However, in light of the plans to build a global anti-ballistic missile system, which are still being carried out today, all agreements signed within the framework of New START are now gradually being devaluated, because while the number of carriers and weapons is being reduced, one of the parties, namely, the U.S., is permitting constant, uncontrolled growth of the number of anti-ballistic missiles, improving their quality, and creating new missile launching areas. If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential.”

U.S. officials over the years have maintained that U.S. missile defenses pose no threat to Russia’s nuclear forces due to their large number of deliverable warheads. But the Russians have some reason for concern. Together with U.S. nuclear warhead upgrades that put Russia’s missile silos and command centers at risk, unlimited development of ballistic missile defense systems, despite the technical challenges, in the long run perhaps could threaten Russia’s primarily land-based nuclear forces. Even moderately effective missile defenses that could significantly limit a depleted second strike would complicate an already dangerous strategic calculus, perhaps raising incentives on both sides to strike first and harder in a crisis.

U.S. development and deployment of missile defenses already have had deleterious effects on nuclear arms control. Following the conclusion in 2010 of negotiations on New START, which yielded modest reductions in deployed long-range, “strategic” nuclear weapons, Russia refused engagement on the ambitious follow-on program of bilateral nuclear arms reductions—to include non-strategic nuclear arms and, for the first time, verified dismantlement of warheads—proposed by the Obama administration. As Russian representatives repeatedly explained, concerns motivating its position included U.S. missile defense programs and development of U.S. conventional long-range strike capabilities. The Russian position was deplorable, but it was also predictable.

Russia’s Plans for New Nuclear Weapons Systems

It is against this background that Putin announced the development of Russia’s new nuclear weapons delivery systems. All of the new systems were framed as means to evade existing missile defenses, which are designed primarily to target ballistic missiles that follow a high-arcing, non-maneuvering flight path. These include a new, very long-range, multiple warhead missile that could take unconventional flight paths; a hypersonic, maneuvering air-launched cruise missile; and a gliding, maneuverable hypersonic delivery vehicle with a non-ballistic flight path. Similar hypersonic technologies, it should be noted, are being researched or are under development by both the U.S. and China.

Two more exotic systems that caught the attention of both specialists and the general media are nuclear-powered cruise missiles that are claimed to have unlimited range and nuclear-powered “unmanned underwater vehicles.” Putin characterized the unmanned submersible vehicles as suitable for attacking a range of targets, including “coastal fortifications and infrastructure,” and stated that the “the tests that were conducted enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon that would carry massive nuclear ordnance.” Although similar concepts had been explored by the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and in the case of a nuclear-armed torpedo designed to destroy shore installations, even briefly deployed by the Soviet Union), they struck many observers as outlandish.

Detonating a “massive nuclear ordnance” at harbor level would devastate any harbor city, and would mobilize immense amounts of radioactive debris into the atmosphere. A nuclear-powered cruise missile likely would leave a trail of radioactive contamination in its wake, and would be dangerous even to flight test (what happens, for example, at the end of the test?). Some speculated that they might be “Potemkin village” weapons, propaganda creations intended to underscore the Russian leadership’s displeasure with U.S. policies or ersatz chips to be bargained away in some future round of arms control negotiations.

Aside from arguable marginal scenarios, the use of nuclear arms of any type would violate international humanitarian law. That law requires the use of violence in war to be necessary, proportionate, and discriminate, with effects on both civilian populations and the natural environment part of the assessment. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review asserts in passing that “the conduct of nuclear operations would adhere” to those requirements. On the contrary, above all, nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the requirement of discrimination, because their massive and uncontrollable effects—blast, heat, short- and long-term radiation, and, in urban areas, firestorms—make it impossible to distinguish between military targets and civilian populations and infrastructure.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated in 2017 by 122 states, not including, however, any nuclear-armed states. Its preamble “considers” that use of nuclear weapons would violate international humanitarian law and “reaffirms” that such use “would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience”—factors with legal as well as moral value.

As the treaty’s reference to “principles of humanity” suggests, in many circumstances, certainly in attacks on cities, use of nuclear weapons goes so far beyond the boundaries of warfare that it likely would constitute not only violations of international humanitarian law but also crimes against humanity as most recently defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Use of a submersible drone carrying “massive nuclear ordnance” and of the radiation-trailing nuclear-powered cruise missile are examples—not the only ones—of this extreme deviation from the normal conduct of warfare. They likely would only be used in general nuclear war, and in this sense are true “doomsday” weapons. Even designing them is an implicit acknowledgement that once nuclear weapons are used, even in “limited” fashion, escalation may be difficult or impossible to control.

Erosion of International Law

There is another extremely important component of international law that Putin’s speech and the Nuclear Posture Review blatantly disregard. That is the obligation under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” According to a unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice in its 1996 Advisory Opinion, “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” the obligation requires states “to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.” The obligation was reinforced by an NPT review conference “unequivocal undertaking … to accomplish the total elimination” of nuclear arsenals. It was to be implemented in part through fulfillment of another review conference commitment, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in order to minimize the risk of their use and to facilitate disarmament.

The Russian and U.S. plans for new nuclear weapons systems—and the lack of negotiations about them—plainly violate the obligation regarding “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date,” as well as the commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. The U.S. expansion of the circumstances in which nuclear weapons might be used additionally violates that commitment.

Moreover, the clear intent of both Russia and the U.S. to maintain large, diversified nuclear forces for decades to come betrays a lack of good faith in relation to the obligation to negotiate the elimination of nuclear arsenals. In the case of the United States, the Nuclear Posture Review fails to identify any concrete steps to pursue on nuclear arms control and disarmament. As to the U.S.-Russian relationship, emphasis is placed upon a claimed Russian violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. The review does not even endorse extension of New START for five years when it expires in 2021, a step which Russia has supported. Additionally, in his speech Putin said: “Let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable development for human civilization.” Rhetoric perhaps, but why not test it?

Whether or not Russia’s program to develop nuclear-powered cruise missiles and underwater drones delivering massive nuclear warheads are “real,” even the fact that one of the world’s two leading nuclear-armed states is willing to threaten to build them is a worrisome development. It is a definitive marker that what opportunity there was in the post-Cold War period to eliminate humankind’s self-created mechanism of annihilation on a civilization scale was missed. We are in a new, far more dangerous age, and must discover anew the urgency of nuclear disarmament, and again take the first tentative steps that might lead us there.

Both Russia’s program and the Nuclear Posture Review display a kind of contempt for treaty obligations and for international law generally, underscoring an observation by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 opinion that today seems prophetic: “In the long run, international law, and with it the stability of the international order which it is intended to govern, are bound to suffer from the continuing difference of views with regard to the legal status of weapons as deadly as nuclear weapons.”

Twenty-two years later, the corrosive effect on international law and the stability of the international order of nuclear weapons and differing views regarding who is entitled to have them is evident. Nuclear weapons and the threat of their proliferation has been used as a stalking horse for the geopolitical agendas of the world’s most powerful states. It has sparked an unlawful war based on questionable intelligence. In the confrontation between the United States and North Korea, it has brought us again to the brink of war between nuclear-armed countries.

As the court concluded: “It is consequently important to put an end to this state of affairs: the long-promised complete nuclear disarmament appears to be the most appropriate means of achieving that result.”

The interests of the world’s populations and their governments are as far apart as they have been in a long time. This reflects the growing disparities in wealth and power between those who rule and the rest of us, and the erosion of what democracy had been achieved. Extreme nationalist elements are ascendant worldwide, their common characteristic being a politics that redirects the emotions evoked by those developments—fear, resentment, and a pervasive sense of loss—against vulnerable minorities at home and enemies abroad. Authoritarian nationalists are in power in Russia and in several ex-Warsaw Pact NATO states, and also hold the presidency and constitute a substantial, perhaps dominant, portion of the majority party in the Congress of the United States.

The revanchist intentions of Russia’s government and ruling oligarchs have been exaggerated in the U.S. press due to the peculiar entanglement of U.S.-Russia relations with domestic partisan politics in this moment. This does not mean, however, that no such aims exist. Neither the elites nor the general populations of Eastern Europe see renewed Russian dominance as an attractive option, and authoritarian nationalist governments in front-line NATO states have their own reasons for whipping up fear of a resurgent Russia. Beyond Europe, there are other regions where encounters between U.S. and Russian policies and deployed forces could go awry, from Syria to the border most forget Russia shares with North Korea. With a U.S. government that appears adrift at the top but that still possesses a formidable and well-organized military, this is a combustible mix, with ample opportunities for each side to misjudge the intentions, and the fears, of the other.

The Nuclear Dilemma

The Korea crisis, and the recent hopeful signs regarding its resolution, should be taken as both an urgent warning and as an opportunity to rethink the meaning of nuclear weapons. We will never know how close to disaster we have come in recent months, and still may come. As that danger grew, discussion of the immeasurable horrors of a full-scale warfare between two large modern militaries in densely populated Northeast Asia—even if nuclear weapons were not used—grew more concrete. A full-scale war between Russia and the United States would dwarf our worst imaginings about war between the U.S. and its regional allies and North Korea.

In thinking about the deeper nature of our nuclear dilemma, it is significant that South Korea has taken the lead in seeking—and, as it looks now, achieving—a diplomatic breakthrough with its North Korean counterparts that could end the immediate crisis, and that might lead eventually to a more lasting peace on the peninsula. As was the case for Europeans during the Cold War, South Koreans found themselves trapped between nuclear-armed adversaries, one an ally. And as was the case of NATO countries hosting U.S. nuclear missiles, they faced the possibility that a nuclear war could be fought on their soil without their own government’s consent. This raises a question seldom asked by inhabitants of nuclear-armed countries: Whose nuclear weapons are they, really? Whose interests do they protect?

This question then leads naturally to others. As E.P. Thompson, a founder of European Nuclear Disarmament, asked in 1981 in “A Letter to America,” “Is nuclear war preferable to being overcome by the enemy? Are the deaths of fifteen or twenty million and the utter destruction of the country preferable to an occupation which might offer the possibility, after some years, of resurgence and recuperation?” and finally, “Are we ourselves prepared to endorse the use of such weapons against the innocent, the children and the aged, of an ‘enemy’?” The people of every nuclear-armed country should be asking these questions today.

There are other lessons we should have learned by now. No system or country is immune to corruption, or collapse. No country can guarantee that a class of leaders will not rise to power who are shortsighted and self-serving, and who place their own welfare above that of their people, or of humanity itself. No system or “way of life” is so perfect that its preservation merits risking humanity’s future, and thinking it to be so is a form of madness. Recent events may have sharpened our focus on these realities, but they have been true all along. Nuclear weapons are unsafe in any hands.

The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on March 19, 2018 at 11:13 am

by PAUL STREET
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/16/the-obama-presidency-gets-some-early-high-historiography/

Julian Zelizer, ed., The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, March 13, 2018).

The Old Over the New

Professional historians are a conservative crew (with a nice number of great exceptions) for the most part – in a “liberal” and Democratic Party kind of way. Part of this has to with their mental wiring. As the leading psychologists and “time perception” theorists Phillip Zimbrano and Rosemary Sword have written, “people who focus primarily on the past value the old over the new; the familiar over the novel, and the cautionary, conservative approach over the daring, more liberal or riskier one.”

No wonder, perhaps, that received the ringing endorsement of 227 U.S. historians, including (remarkably enough) a number who identified as leftists, who signed practically hero-worshipping “Historians for Obama” letter in the spring of 2008. The previous year, the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar penned a memorable portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with the candidate: “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added).

MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Left Warnings

The MacFarquhar piece was just one of numerous and widely available indications well before the 2008 election that an Obama presidency would never stray far, if at all, from the policy and political preferences of those atop the nation’s reigning corporate, financial, and imperial power structures – or from the nation’s attachment to objectively racist and white-supremacist social and institutional structures and practices. MacFarquhar’s findings were already very well understood by a number of writers and activists on the Left (the present writer included), who began warning pro-left-progressives and liberals about Obama’s basically wealth- and power-friendly, right-wing essence as early as June of 2003. The Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. caught the pseudo-progressive bourgeois-neoliberal essence of Obama as early as January of 1996, right after Obama first won election to the Illinois legislature:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

A decade later, progressive journalist Ken Silverstein wrote a retrospectively predictive report titled “Obama, Inc.” for Harpers’ Magazine. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Silverstein observed, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

That was precisely the centrist, Big Business-, Empire,- and white-friendly Barack Obama that I observed and occasionally even had to deal with as an anti-poverty and civil rights policy researcher and advocate in Chicago and Illinois during the late 1990s and early 21st century. By the time Obama emerged as a strong candidate to become what I fully expected to be the United States’ first technically Black president in 2007 and 2008, I, myself a onetime and future historian, had already gone through many of state (1996-2005) and U.S. (2005-2009) senator Obama’s speeches, talks, votes, campaign finance records, policy actions, and writings (key primary sources telling us what to expect from a President Obama) to produce a considerable number of critical essays and a book – bearing the over-neutral title Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics – warning liberals and progressives of just how painfully little they should expect from an Obama White House.

Obama’s past and coming service to Big Business was only one of the things I hopelessly asked intellectuals and activists to reflect upon. I also detailed and predicted (in a chapter titled “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) both Obama’s past and coming military imperialism and (in a chapter titled “How ‘Black’ is Obama? Color, Class, Generation and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era”) Obama’s ironic past and coming service to institutional racism, including racist mass incarceration.

Among my forewarnings was the prediction that a president Obama’s abject fealty to the nation’s reigning financial institutions and corporations and the military-industrial complex would combine with his skin color and party affiliation to spark an ugly white-nationalist and reactionary, capitalist-manipulated fake- populist upsurge that would fill the angry popular vacuum left by his cooptation of left, more genuinely populist progressive forces even while he governed in accord to the needs and values of the wealthy Few – the top 1 percent that Democratic contender John Edwards had railed against in Iowa and New Hampshire.

A Blunt Lesson About Power

With no small help from the Great Recession that broke out on the eve of the 2008 elections, my warnings were born out by Obama’s continuation and expansion of the extravagant federal bailouts of the financial parasites who recklessly caused the economic crisis and the rise of the Tea Party and the vicious, proto-fascistic white-nationalist Trump phenomenon. Obama’s “dollar value” would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that “I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.” For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, the Pulitzer Prize-winner author Ron Suskind wrote, there was “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S.

No such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans:

“watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.

As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

A year and a half before this tender ruling class moment, the American people watched Obama offer the Republicans bigger cuts in Social Security and Medicare than they asked for as part of his “Grand Bargain” offered during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis. It was at that point that hundreds of thousands of mostly younger Americans had received enough of Obama’s “blunt lesson about power” to join the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which sought progressive change through direct action and social movement-building rather than corporate-captive electoral politics.

We will never know how far Occupy might have gone since it was shut down by a federally coordinated campaign of repression that joined the Obama administration and hundreds of mostly Democratic city governments in the infiltration, surveillance, smearing, takedown and eviction of the short lived movement – this even as the Democrats stole some of Occupy’s rhetoric for use against Romney and the Republicans in 2012.

Then came Obama’s insistent but failed championing of the highly unpopular arch-global-corporatist and authoritarian Trans Pacific Partnership – so widely hated that even the uber-neoliberal Wall Street candidate Hillary Clinton had to pretend to be against it in 2016.

Along the way, Obama would continue his nasty bourgeois habit of lecturing poor Black people on their personal and cultural responsibility for their privation. He told young Black Americans to respect “law and order” as a newly exposed epidemic of racist police murders sparked mass civil rights protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Obama undertook no significant or major programs specifically targeting Black needs and racism, eliciting criticism even from petit-bourgeois centrist Obama fans like Ta-Nehesi Coates.

The great U.S.-American imperial military-machine stayed “set on kill” (Allan Nairn) under Obama, with disastrous consequences in Libya and across much of Africa (where Obama dramatically increased the Pentagon’s presence) and the Middle East. Obama’s dramatically expanded and personally directed drone war helped spread jihad across a much broader stretch of geography than had George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

A Professional Class Obama-JFK Love Letter

I was not the only Left writer to have raised alarms about Obama long before this dismal, dollar-drenched denouement. Warnings came from numerous other portsiders, including John Pilger, Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, Pam Martens, Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky, Doug Henwood, Arun Gupta, Juan Santos, and many others.

The “Historians for Obama” knew better than Left writers and activists working with real-time primary sources and experiences. The Obamanist historians’ April 2008 love letter was embarrassing. It dripped with ardor for Obama – a former Harvard Law Review Editor and “constitutional lawyer” (adjunct law professor, actually) – as an embodiment of academic and professional class “meritocracy.” It praised Obama for possessing an “acute awareness of the inequalities of race and class” and the means “to speak beyond them.” It childishly proclaimed that, as president, Obama would, “begin the process of healing what ails our society and ensuring that the U.S. plays a beneficial role in the world.” It was revealingly loaded with creepy historical lust for both Obama and his great historical likeness (the historians approvingly sensed) – the corporate-imperialist and reckless, Third World-attacking Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy:

“But it is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack. He is a gifted writer and orator who speaks forcefully but without animus. Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness – or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. Like Kennedy, he also inspires young people who see him as a great exception in a political world that seems mired in cynicism and corruption.”

“Tell it,” I wrote to one signatory at the time. “to the descendants of the victims of Kennedy’s military escalation in Vietnam, his terror attacks on Cuba, and the right-wing dictators he supported in Latin America.”

“The Most Impressive Resume Imaginable”

How interesting, now to read a new collection of essays written by elite U.S. historians under the editorship of Princeton historian Julius Zelizer: The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton University Press. 2018). All but 3 of the volume’s 17 contributors are established historians at elite United States universities (the only exceptions are a Princeton sociologist, a University of Virginia law professor, and a Princeton-minted post-doctoral fellow). Five of the contributors are employed by Princeton University, the volume’s publisher.

The essayists range from slightly left-of-center to liberal centrist, consistent with the narrow but standard partisan and ideological profile of the liberal arts and social sciences professoriate. The volume’s editor, Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, reports that nearly all the contributors were in “a state of shock” when Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton, who Zelizer revealingly calls (reflecting the meritocratic ideology of the professional class) “someone with one of the most impressive resume’s imaginable” – a curious description of a terrible and monstrous candidate who professor Reed quite rightly described in the summer of 2016 as a “lying neoliberal warmonger.” I would be somewhat surprised to learn that any of the contributors is not a registered Democrat.

Seven Thumbs Up and Three Neutral

Despite their shared political and upper-echelon academic ground, however, the top-drawer professors are not without differences on how to assess Obama’s presidential record and legacy. Seven of the essayists write about the Obama presidency with liberal and even in some cases leftish approval:

+ Princeton sociologist Paul Starr thinks that Obama can be shown to have “made significant progress in mitigating and reducing inequality” when tax policy, health care policy, and government transfer payments for the poor are factored in – an achievement for which Starr thinks Obama has not received proper “political credit.”

+ University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway says that Obama deserves admiration for “avert[ing] an economic crisis of comparable severity to the Great Depression.”

+ Princeton historian Meg Jacobs gives Obama lukewarm but nonetheless undeserved approval for “bold[ly]” using direct executive actions to “fight against global warming.”

+ Imperialist University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri foolishly hails Barack the Drone King and Libya-Wrecker Obama for advancing “a liberal internationalist agenda that resisted the use of military force.” Tell it to the people of Bola Bulk, professor Suri!

+ University of Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle lauds Obama for overcoming a “hostile political environment” to “superintend…an economic recovery much more robust than what Europe achieved.” Gerstle also hails Obama for bringing “a half-century campaign for national health insurance to successful conclusion” and (above all) for advancing “a vision of civic nationalism [that] inspired millions of young nonwhites to believe that they could find opportunity and liberty, and democracy, in America.” Gerstle reasonably and positively contrasts Obama’s multicultural and cross-racial “civic nationalism” with the GOP and Trump’s horrifying “racial nationalism,” rooted in the longstanding “belief that American is a land meant for whites, or Europeans, and their descendants.”

+ Georgetown historian and Dissent editor Michael Kazin offers ironic praise to president Obama for sparking a resurgence of “the Left” – with the curious exception of the antiwar movement – by failing to deliver on candidate Obama’s progressive-sounding campaign rhetoric and imagery. (The key developments Kazin mentions are the rise of the Occupy Movement, the emergence of Black Lives Matter, and the 2015-16 Bernie Sanders campaign.) At the same time, Kazin dismisses those who would “ignore, or quickly disparage, reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress managed to enact during the first two years of his administration” – the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank “regulation of high finance.”

+ Rutgers historian Timothy Stewart-Winter acclaims Obama as “The Gay Rights President” for “major civil rights accomplishments on military service and marriage equality.”

Three of the essays are neutral on the Obama record:

+ Zelizer’s opening two contributions, which split the blame between Obama’s poor political strategy and a hostile political environment fueled by Republican intransigence in explaining Obama’s failure to turn policy victories into political gains for the Democratic Party. The title of Zelizer’s second essay tells much of the story: “Tea-Partied: President Obama’s Encounter with the Conservative-Industrial Complex.”

+ University of Virginia history and law professor Risa Goluboff and University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger note commonsensically that the U.S. Supreme Court under Obama was not “Obama’s court.” They are relieved that the high court did not undertake a deep conservative transformation during Obama’s presidency. They rightly note that the Republican U.S. Senate’s “refusal to consider [Merrick] Garland [Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee] was unprecedented and a significant breach of constitutional norms.”

Seven Thumbs Down

The seven remaining contributors are more critical of Obama’s presidential record:

+ University of Pennsylvania history professor Jonathan Zimmerman properly criticizes Obama’s “Race to the Top” schools program for advancing the same neoliberal and teacher-bashing standardized test-based education agenda promoted by George W. Bush and embodied in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

+ University of California at Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted rightly assails Obama’s “surprising” program of “targeted kills of suspected terrorists” – just “one of several hardline Bush administration counterterrorism polices that Obama chose to continue.” Olmsted notes that Obama insidiously acted “to normalize his predecessor’s [criminal and terrorist ‘counterterrorism’] practices and make them legal…Under Obama’s leadership,” Olmsted reminds us, “American liberals embraced exactly the sort of national security policies that they had condemned in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.”

+ Princeton historian Jacob Dlamini criticizes Obama for violating African sovereignty and African wishes by joining England and France in recklessly pursuing regime change in Libya. Dlamini also notes that Obama deepened and expanded the United States’ lethal military presence in Africa while doing nothing to fulfill hopes that the president (famously the son of a Kenyan national) would develop a special and positive relationship with Africa.

+ New York University historian Thomas Sugrue notes that Obama’s “too cautious” urban policy left metropolitan America’s core inequalities and related harsh race-class segregation untouched thanks largely to the president’s excessive attachment to “market-based solutions.” Sugrue finds this unsurprising since Obama “was a product of the bipartisan neoliberalism of the 1990s, too enamored of market-based solutions and public-private partnerships to fight for a more vigorous public sector.” (Thank you, Thomas Sugrue).

+ University of Michigan historian Matthew Lassiter traces the “resilience of the [Nixon-Reagan] war on drugs” under Obama. Lassiter finds that Obama’s drug policies “reflec[ed] the bipartisan [and failed] consensus that the criminal justice system should ultimately regulate the illicit drug market and the parallel refusal to acknowledge that prohibition itself creates the context for violence and crime, whether by traffickers or law enforcement, both domestically and internationally.”

+ University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph concludes that “Obama’s election, with its lofty and inspiring rhetoric about hope and change, represents an opportunity found and frustratingly lost for advocates of criminal justice reform” – for people who hoped that the first Black president would undertake substantive steps to roll back racist mass incarceration and felony-marking. Joseph blames Obama’s “dream big but go slow” approach, which “contradict[ed] his audacious and successful presidential campaign.” Joseph thinks Obama’s weak performance on the “the new Jim Crow” (racist mass incarceration and criminal branding) was consistent with Obama’s famous March 2008 race speech in Philadelphia, where the future president alarmingly found “moral equivalency in black anger over slavery and white supremacy with white resentment against affirmative action and perceptions of black entitlement.”

+ Southern Methodist University U.S. History Fellow Sarah Coleman finds that Barack “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama “ended his two terms with few successes and a mixed legacy in immigration and refugee policy.”

Assessing the Assessment

The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment will not find very many readers outside “higher education.” It’s a smooth little vitae-booster unlikely to gather much attention beyond a small circle of incestuous and self-referential “experts.” A riveting page-turner it is not.

Zelizer really should have included a short contribution from a labor historian – Georgetown’s Joseph McCartin, for example – on the experience of American workers and unions under Obama. This conspicuous omission reflects, perhaps, he disfavor in which serious class analysis has fallen in the history profession. So does the absence of serious attention to the ruling-class composition (not to mention conduct) of Obama’s administration – a topic that was analyzed in brilliant historical and social science fashion in a remarkable book by the Dutch political scientists Bastiaan Van Apeldoorn and Nana de Graaff: American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks: The Open Door since the End of the Cold War (Routledge, 2015).

(Class isn’t sexy in higher education anymore. It gets dismissed far too quickly there these days.)

Neither the editor Zelizer nor any of his contributors show the slightest awareness that many writers on the Left (this reviewer included) predicted both the (not) “surprisingly” conservative” trajectory of the Obama presidency quite early on and the results of that presidency (including divergent insurgencies both left and right).

Goluboff and Schragger are wrong to see Obama in 2008 as a “Harvard-trained lawyer [who] thought social change [was] more likely to come from the grassroots.’’ Obama shed that belief before he went to Harvard. That abandonment was part of why he left community organizing and applied to the top law school in the first place. The primary sources are very clear on that.

Gerstle is wrong to see Obama’s Affordable Care Act as a successful culmination of “a half-century campaign for national health insurance.” The real U.S. national health insurance dream has always been for a single-payer system, Medicare for All, without corporate profiteering. Obama failed even to include a partial public option in his reform measure.

Olmsted would be less surprised by Obama’s murderous “counterterrorism” if she had closely read candidate Obama’s foreign policy writings and speeches – key primary sources that were absurdly ignored by Obama’s bamboozled progressive and antiwar fans in 2007 and 2008. We should think of Obama’s targeted assassination record as just plain terrorist, not counterterrorist, consistent with Noam Chomsky’s 2015 description of Obama’s drone program as “the most extreme global terrorist campaign the world has yet seen.”

Kazin is on flimsy ground to see a resurgent Left without an antiwar movement under Obama. No Left worth its salt can emerge without coming into conscious confrontation with the U.S. global military empire, a great source of inequality, authoritarianism, and oppression at home and abroad.

At the same time, Kazin owes an apology to the left business and political commentator Doug Henwood for not citing or perhaps even knowing about the silver lining Henwood attached to his warnings on Obama’s coming presidency in March of 2008. My June 2008 Obama book neared its conclusion with a brilliant quotation from Henwood on the ironic left potential of a neoliberal Obama presidency. Mass disillusionment with Obama’s ideologically foreordained failure to deliver on his lofty, expectation-raising promises of “a better world – more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane,” might help drive ordinary Americans to the left, Henwood wrote (“Would You Like Change with That?” Left Business Observer, no. 117, March 2008). It’s one thing to observe a phenomenon after it occurred; it’s another and more difficult thing to predict that phenomenon in advance.

Finally, Zelizer fails to understand that Obama’s Left-predicted (I again say) presidential neoliberalism is no small part of why the president got so effectively “Tea Partied.” If Obama had seized the moment provided by the Great Recession, the Iraq fiasco, and the Democratic Party takeover of Congress to pursue the progressive and even social-democratic agenda favored by most Americans, thing might well have proceeded in a different, more leftward and democratic direction.

The onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West reflected years ago on how Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency…a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist.” Nobody in Zelizer’s collection seems to possess the elementary honesty to speak so plainly and honestly about what all-too predictably happened, with advance assistance from at least 227 American academic historians, under the Obama presidency, whose “blunt lesson about [ruling-class] power” is no small part of why Trump “shockingly” sits in the White House.

Credit is due, though, to Starr, for some instructive reflections on how inequality is mis-measured, to Gerstle for highly relevant reflections on the longstanding and living tension between “civic” and “racial” nationalism, and to the seven historians who had the courage to point out highly unpleasant facts about the presidency of Obama, whose legacy is being undeservedly enhanced by the almost unfathomable awfulness of Orange Satan – the Tangerine Caligula who fills the White House with a stench smelled around the world.

Congress Keeps Funding a War Machine That the Public Should Divest From — Both parties line their pockets with profits from the arms trade.

In Democracy, Environment, Peace, Politics, War on March 6, 2018 at 10:46 pm

March 5, 2018 Medea Benjamin and Elliot Swain ALTERNET
In recent budget negotiations, Senate Democrats agreed to a boost in military spending that exceeded the cap for fiscal 2018 by $70 billion, bringing the total request to an enormous $716 billion. Inevitably, this means more Pentagon contracts will be awarded to private corporations that use endless war to line their pockets. Democrats capitulated to this massive increase without so much as a scuffle. But the move hardly comes as a surprise, given how much money flows from weapons makers to the coffers of congressional campaigns for both parties.

While the majority of the weapons money goes to Republicans, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Bill Nelson appear in the top ten recipients of campaign contributions–in both chambers and parties–from military contractors in 2017 and 2018. Northrop Grumman gave$785,000 to Democratic candidates since 2017.Hillary Clinton took over $1 million from the industry in 2016. Even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders take money from weapons manufacturers, and Sanders supported Boeing’s disastrous F-35 because his home state had a financial stake in the program.

If neither major political party will stand up to this status quo, what can be done?

One answer might be found in the recent push to divest from fossil fuel companies undertaken by, among others, Norway and New York City. By December of 2016, 688 institutions, representing over $5 trillion in assets, had divested from fossil fuels. In an interview with The Guardian, author Naomi Klein described the fossil fuel divestment effort as “a process of delegitimizing” the sector and of affirming that it yields “odious profits.”

An analogous campaign to delegitimize beneficiaries of war is long overdue. In addition to pressuring our members of Congress to refuse campaign donations from weapons manufacturers and war profiteers, we must mount a divestment effort at the institutional and municipal level. Investment in war must come at the cost of public disgrace.

University students can request holdings information from their schools. Often, investments in military corporations are bundled into more complex financial instruments whose investments are not publicly disclosed. The content of these instruments can be determined by contacting a university board of trustees or endowment manager. Then a divestment campaign can be launched, building campus coalitions, creating petitions, organizing direct actions and passing resolutions through student government bodies. A helpful guide for student activists can be found here.

Activists can launch municipal divestment efforts by determining the holdings of city pension, utility, or insurance funds. In 2017 the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the national association of cities with populations over 30,000, adopted a resolution acknowledging the need to transform funding priorities away from war-making and into local communities. Divestment campaigns can leverage this resolution in order to hold city leaders to their word. More information for activists at the city level is available here.

Divestment offers an alternate means of addressing the blight of war profiteering in an era in which traditional political routes have been closed by our craven representatives. It also brings the message into smaller communities–communities that crumble while defense contractors live in luxury.

A new coalition of about 70 groups across the country has formed to launch a Divest From the War Machine campaign. The coalition is inviting all those who are disgusted by the war profiteers to help galvanize university, city, pension and faith institutions to divest from war. Learn more at: //www.divestfromwarmachine.org/

In a 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, the very Congress that is so beholden to the war machine, Pope Francis asked why deadly weapons were being sold to those who inflict untold suffering on society. The answer, he said, was money, “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” Looking at a room full of congresspeople who benefit from what he called “merchants of death,” the Pope called for the elimination of the arms trade. One way to heed the Pope’s call is to eat away at the profits of those who make a killing on killing.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group CodePink. Her latest book is Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection (OR Books, September 2016).

Elliot Swain is a Baltimore-based activist, public policy graduate student and researcher for CODEPINK.

The Ghost of Fascism in the Age of Trump

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on February 19, 2018 at 1:44 am

By Henry A. Giroux

http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/44709

In the age of Trump, history neither informs the present nor haunts it with repressed memories of the past. It simply disappears. Memory has been hijacked. This is especially troubling when the “mobilizing passions” of a fascist past now emerge in the unceasing stream of hate, bigotry, lies and militarism that are endlessly circulated and reproduced at the highest levels of government and in powerful conservative media, such as Fox News, Breitbart News, conservative talk radio stations and alt-right social media. Power, culture, politics, finance and everyday life now merge in ways that are unprecedented and pose a threat to democracies all over the world. This mix of old media and new digitally driven systems of production and consumption are not merely systems, but ecologies that produce, shape and sustain ideas, desires and modes of agency with unprecedented power and influence. Informal educational apparatuses, particularly the corporate-controlled media, appear increasingly to be on the side of tyranny. In fact, it would be difficult to overly stress the growing pedagogical importance of the old and new media and the power they now have on the political imaginations of countless Americans.

This is particularly true of right-wing media empires, such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch, as well as powerful corporate entities such as Clearwater, which dominates the radio airwaves with its ownership of over 1,250 stations. In the sphere of television ownership and control, powerful corporate entities have emerged, such as Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the largest number of TV stations in the United States. In addition, right-wing hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have an audience in the millions. Right-wing educational apparatuses shape much of what Americans watch and listen to, and appear to influence all of what Trump watches and hears. The impact of conservative media has had a dangerous effect on American culture and politics, and has played the most prominent role in channeling populist anger and electing Trump to the presidency. We are now witnessing the effects of this media machine. The first casualty of the Trump era is truth, the second is moral responsibility, the third is any vestige of justice, and the fourth is a massive increase in human misery and suffering for millions.

Instead of refusing to cooperate with evil, Americans increasingly find themselves in a society in which those in commanding positions of power and influence exhibit a tacit approval of the emerging authoritarian strains and acute social problems undermining democratic institutions and rules of law. As such, they remain silent and therefore, complicit in the face of such assaults on American democracy. Ideological extremism and a stark indifference to the lies and ruthless polices of the Trump administration have turned the Republican Party into a party of collaborators, not unlike the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis in the 1940s. Both groups bought into the script of ultra-nationalism, encouraged anti-Semitic mobs, embraced a militant masculinity, demonized racial and ethnic others, supported an unchecked militarism and fantasies of empire, and sanctioned state violence at home and abroad.

Words carry power and enable certain actions; they also establish the grounds for legitimating repressive policies and practices.

This is not to propose that those who support Trump are all Nazis in suits. On the contrary, it is meant to suggest a more updated danger in which people with power have turned their backs on the cautionary histories of the fascist and Nazi regimes, and in doing so, have willingly embraced authoritarian messages and tropes. Rather than Nazis in suits, we have a growing culture of social and historical amnesia that enables those who are responsible for the misery, anger and pain that has accompanied the long reign of casino capitalism to remain silent for their role and complicity in the comeback of fascism in the United States. This normalization of fascism can be seen in the way in which language that was once an object of critique in liberal democracies loses its negative connotation and becomes the opposite in the Trump administration. Politics, power and human suffering are now framed outside of the realm of historical memory. What is forgotten is that history teaches us something about the transformation and mobilization of language into an instrument of war and violence. As Richard J. Evans observes in his The Third Reich in Power:

Words that in a normal, civilized society had a negative connotation acquired the opposite sense under Nazism … so that ‘fanatical’, ‘brutal’, ‘ruthless’, ‘uncompromising’, ‘hard’ all became words of praise instead of disapproval… In the hands of the Nazi propaganda apparatus, the German language became strident, aggressive and militaristic. Commonplace matters were described in terms more suited to the battlefield. The language itself began to be mobilized for war.

Fantasies of absolute control, racial cleansing, unchecked militarism and class warfare are at the heart of much of the American imagination. This is a dystopian imagination marked by hollow words, an imagination pillaged of any substantive meaning, cleansed of compassion and used to legitimate the notion that alternative worlds are impossible to entertain. There is more at work here than shrinking political horizons. What we are witnessing is a closing of the political and a full-scale attack on moral outrage, thoughtful reasoning, collective resistance and radical imagination. Trump has normalized the unthinkable, legitimated the inexcusable and defended the indefensible.

Of course, Trump is only a symptom of the economic, political and ideological rot at the heart of casino capitalism, with its growing authoritarianism and social and political injustices that have been festering in the United States with great intensity since the late 1970s. It was at that point in US history when both political parties decided that matters of community, the public good, the general welfare and democracy itself were a threat to the fundamental beliefs of the financial elite and the institutions driving casino capitalism. As Ronald Reagan made clear, government was the problem. Consequently, it was framed as the enemy of freedom and purged for assuming any responsibility for a range of basic social needs. Individual responsibility took the place of the welfare state, compassion gave way to self-interest, manufacturing was replaced by the toxic power of financialization, and a rampaging inequality left the bottom half of the US population without jobs, a future of meaningful work or a life of dignity.

The call for political unity transforms quickly into the use of force and exclusionary violence to impose the authority of a tyrannical regime.

Trump has added a new swagger and unapologetic posture to this concoction of massive inequality, systemic racism, American exceptionalism and ultra-nationalism. He embodies a form of populist authoritarianism that not only rejects an egalitarian notion of citizenship, but embraces a nativism and fear of democracy that is at the heart of any fascist regime.

How else to explain a sitting president announcing to a crowd that Democratic Party congressional members who refused to clap for parts of his State of the Union address were “un-American” and “treasonous”? This charge is made all the more disturbing given that the White House promoted this speech as one that would emphasize “bipartisanship and national unity.” Words carry power and enable certain actions; they also establish the grounds for legitimating repressive policies and practices. Such threats are not a joking matter and cannot be dismissed as merely a slip of the tongue. When the president states publicly that his political opponents have committed a treasonous act — one that is punishable by death — because they refused to offer up sycophantic praise, the plague of fascism is not far away. His call for unity takes a dark turn under such circumstances and emulates a fascist past in which the call for political unity transforms quickly into the use of force and exclusionary violence to impose the authority of a tyrannical regime.

In Trump’s world, the authoritarian mindset has been resurrected, bent on exhibiting a contempt for the truth, ethics and alleged human weakness. For Trump, success amounts to acting with impunity, using government power to sell or to license his brand, hawking the allure of power and wealth, and finding pleasure in producing a culture of impunity, selfishness and state-sanctioned violence. Trump is a master of performance as a form of mass entertainment. This approach to politics echoes the merging of the spectacle with an ethical abandonment reminiscent of past fascist regimes. As Naomi Klein rightly argues in No Is Not Enough, Trump “approaches everything as a spectacle” and edits “reality to fit his narrative.”

As the bully-in-chief, he militarizes speech while producing a culture meant to embrace his brand of authoritarianism. This project is most evident in his speeches and policies, which pit white working- and middle-class males against people of color, men against women, and white nationalists against various ethnic, immigrant and religious groups. Trump is a master of theater and diversion, and the mainstream press furthers this attack on critical exchange by glossing over his massive assault on the planet and enactment of policies, such as the GOP tax cuts, which are willfully designed to redistribute wealth upward to his fellow super-rich billionaires. Trump’s alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels garners far more headlines than his deregulation of oil and gas industries and his dismantling of environment protections.

Economic pillage has reached new and extreme levels and is now accompanied by a ravaging culture of viciousness and massive levels of exploitation and human suffering. Trump has turned language into a weapon with his endless lies and support for white nationalism, nativism, racism and state violence. This is a language that legitimates ignorance while producing an active silence and complicity in the face of an emerging corporate fascist state.

Like most authoritarians, Trump demands loyalty and team membership from all those under his power, and he hates those elements of a democracy — such as the courts and the critical media — that dare to challenge him. Echoes of the past come to life in his call for giant military parades, enabling White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to call people who disagree with his policies “un-American,” and sanctioning his Department of Justice to issue a “chilling warning,” threatening to arrest and charge mayors with a federal crime who do not implement his anti-immigration policies and racist assaults on immigrants. What can be learned from past periods of tyranny is that the embrace of lawlessness is often followed by a climate of terror and repression that is the essence of fascism.

Whether Trump is a direct replica of the Nazi regime has little relevance compared to the serious challenges he poses.

In Trump’s world view, the call for limitless loyalty reflects more than an insufferable act of vanity and insecurity; it is a weaponized threat to those who dare to challenge Trump’s assumption that he is above the law and can have his way on matters of corruption, collusion and a possible obstruction of justice. Trump is an ominous threat to democracy and lives, as Masha Gessen observes, “surrounded by enemies, shadowed by danger, forever perched on the precipice.” Moreover, he has enormous support from his Vichy-like minions in Congress, among the ultra-rich bankers and hedge fund managers, and the corporate elite. His trillion-dollar tax cut has convinced corporate America he is their best ally. He has, in not too subtle ways, also convinced a wide range of far-right extremists extending from the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis to the deeply racist and fascist “alt-right” movement, that he shares their hatred of people of color, immigrants and Jews. Imaginary horrors inhabit this new corporate dystopian world and frighteningly resemble shades of a terrifying past that once led to unimaginable acts of genocide, concentration camps and a devastating world war. Nowhere is this vision more succinctly contained than in Trump’s first State of the Union Address and the response it garnered.

State of Disunion

An act of doublespeak preceded Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address. Billed by the White House as a speech that would be “unifying” and marked by a tone of “bipartisanship,” the speech was actually steeped in divisiveness, fear, racism, warmongering, nativism and immigrant bashing. It once again displayed Trump’s contempt for democracy.

Claiming “all Americans deserve accountability and respect,” Trump nevertheless spent ample time in his speech equating undocumented immigrants with the criminal gang MS-13, regardless of the fact that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than US citizens. (As Juan Cole points out, “Americans murdered 17,250 other Americans in 2016. Almost none of the perpetrators was an undocumented worker, contrary to the impression Trump gave.”)

For Trump, as with most demagogues, fear is the most valued currency of politics. In his speech, he suggested that the visa lottery system and “chain migration” — in which individuals can migrate through the sponsorship of their family — posed a threat to the US, presenting “risks we can just no longer afford.” In response to the Dreamers, he moved between allegedly supporting their bid for citizenship to suggesting they were part of a culture of criminality. At one point, he stated in a not-too-subtle expression of derision that “Americans are dreamers too.” This was a gesture to his white nationalist base. On Twitter, David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, cheered over that remark. Trump had nothing to say about the challenges undocumented immigrants face, nor did he express any understanding of the fear and insecurity hanging over the heads of 800,000 Dreamers who could be deported.

Trump also indicated that he was not going to close Guantánamo, and once again argued that “terrorists should be treated like terrorists.” Given the history of torture associated with Guantánamo and the past crimes and abuses that took place under the mantle of the “war on terror,” Trump’s remarks should raise a red flag, not only because torture is a war crime, but also because the comment further accelerated the paranoia, nihilist passions and apocalyptic populism that feeds his base.

Fascism is hardly a relic of the past or a static political and ideological system.

Pointing to menacing enemies all around the world, Trump exhibited his love for all things war-like and militaristic, and his support for expanding the nuclear arsenal and the military budget. He also called on “the Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” Given his firing of James Comey, his threat to fire Jeff Sessions, and more recently his suggestion that he might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — all of whom allegedly displayed disloyalty by not dismantling the Russian investigation conducted by Special Council Mueller — Trump seems likely to make good on this promise to rid the federal workforce of those who disagree with him, allowing him to fill civil service jobs with friends, family members and sycophants. This is about more than Trump’s disdain for the separation of power, the independence of other government agencies, or his attack on potential whistleblowers; it is about amassing power and instilling fear in those he appoints to government positions if they dare act to hold power accountable. This is what happens when democracies turn into fascist states.

Trump is worse than almost anyone imagined, and while his critics across the ideological spectrum have begun to go after him, they rarely focus on how dangerous he is, hesitant to argue that he is not only the enemy of democracy, but symptomatic of the powerful political, economic and cultural forces shaping the new US fascism.

There are some critics who claim that Trump is simply a weak president whose ineptness is being countered by “a robust democratic culture and set of institutions,” and not much more than a passing moment in history. Others, such as Wendy Brown and Nancy Fraser, view him as an authoritarian expression of right-wing populism and an outgrowth of neoliberal politics and policies. While many historians, such as Timothy Snyder and Robert O. Paxton, analyze him in terms that echo some elements of a fascist past, some conservatives such as David Frum view him as a modern-day self-obsessed, emotionally needy demagogue whose assault on democracy needs to be taken seriously, and that whether or not he is a fascist is not as important as what he plans to do with his power. For Frum, there is a real danger that people will retreat into their private worlds, become cynical and enable a slide into a form of tyranny that would become difficult to defeat. Others, like Corey Robin, argue that we overstep a theoretical boundary when comparing Trump directly to Hitler. According to Robin, Trump bears no relationship to Hitler or the policies of the Third Reich. Robin not only dismisses the threat that Trump poses to the values and institutions of democracy, but plays down the growing threat of authoritarianism in the United States. For Robin, Trump has failed to institute many of his policies, and as such, is just a weak politician with little actual power. Not only does Robin focus too much on the person of Trump, but he is relatively silent about the forces that produced him and the danger these proto-fascist social formations now pose to those who are the objects of the administration’s racist, sexist and xenophobic taunts and policies.

The ghosts of fascism should terrify us, but most importantly, they should educate us and imbue us with a spirit of civic justice.

As Jeffrey C. Isaac observes, whether Trump is a direct replica of the Nazi regime has little relevance compared to the serious challenges he poses; for instance, to the DACA children and their families, the poor, undocumented immigrants and a range of other groups. Moreover, authoritarianism is looming in the air and can be seen in the number of oppressive and regressive policies already put into place by the Trump administration that will have a long-term effect on the United States. These include the $1.5 trillion giveaway in the new tax code, the expansion of the military-industrial complex, the elimination of Obamacare’s individual mandate, the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and a range of deregulations that will impact negatively on the environment for years to come. In addition, there is the threat of a nuclear war, the disappearance of health care for the most vulnerable, the attack on free speech and the media, and the rise of the punishing state and the increasing criminalization of social problems. As Richard J. Evans, the renowned British historian, observes, “Violence indeed was at the heart of the Nazi enterprise. Every democracy that perishes dies in a different way, because every democracy is situated in specific historical circumstances.”

US society has entered a dangerous stage in its history. After 40 years of neoliberalism and systemic racism, many Americans lack a critical language that offers a consistent narrative that enables them to understand gutted wages, lost pensions, widespread uncertainty and collapsing identities due to feeling disposable, the loss of meaningful work and a formative culture steeped in violence, cruelty and an obsession with greed. Moreover, since 9/11, Americans have been bombarded by a culture of fear and consumerism that both dampens their willingness to be critical agents and depoliticizes them. Everyone is now a suspect or a consumer, but hardly a critically engaged citizen. Others are depoliticized because of the ravages of debt, poverty and the daily struggle to survive — problems made all the worse by Trump’s tax and health policies. And while there is no perfect mirror, it has become all the more difficult for many people to recognize how the “crystalized elements” of totalitarianism have emerged in the shape of an American-style fascism. What has been forgotten by too many intellectuals, critics, educators and politicians is that fascism is hardly a relic of the past or a static political and ideological system.

Trump is not in possession of storm troopers, concentration camps or concocting plans for genocidal acts — at least, not at the moment. But that does not mean that fascism is a moment frozen in history and has no bearing on the present. As Hannah Arendt, Sheldon Wolin and others have taught us, totalitarian regimes come in many forms and their elements can come together in different configurations. Rather than dismiss the notion that the organizing principles and fluctuating elements of fascism are still with us, a more appropriate response to Trump’s rise to power is to raise questions about what elements of his government signal the emergence of a fascism suited to a contemporary and distinctively US political, economic and cultural landscape.

What seems indisputable is that under Trump, democracy has become the enemy of power, politics and finance. Adam Gopnik refutes the notion that Trumpism will simply fade away in the end, and argues that comparisons between the current historical moment and fascism are much needed. He writes:

Needless to say, the degradation of public discourse, the acceleration of grotesque lying, the legitimization of hatred and name-calling, are hard to imagine vanishing like the winter snows that Trump thinks climate change is supposed to prevent. The belief that somehow all these things will somehow just go away in a few years’ time does seem not merely unduly optimistic but crazily so. In any case, the trouble isn’t just what the Trumpists may yet do; it is what they are doing now. American history has already been altered by their actions — institutions emptied out, historical continuities destroyed, traditions of decency savaged — in ways that will not be easy to rehabilitate.

There is nothing new about the possibility of authoritarianism in a particularly distinctive guise coming to the US. Nor is there a shortage of works illuminating the horrors of fascism. Fiction writers ranging from George Orwell, Sinclair Lewis and Aldous Huxley to Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick and Philip Roth have sounded the alarm in often brilliant and insightful terms. Politicians such as Henry Wallace wrote about American fascism, as did a range of theorists, such as Umberto Eco, Arendt and Paxton, who tried to understand its emergence, attractions and effects. What they all had in common was an awareness of the changing nature of tyranny and how it could happen under a diverse set of historical, economic and social circumstances. They also seem to share Philip Roth’s insistence that we all have an obligation to recognize “the terror of the unforeseen” that hides in the shadows of censorship, makes power invisible and gains in strength in the absence of historical memory. A warning indeed.

Trump represents a distinctive and dangerous form of US-bred authoritarianism, but at the same time, he is the outcome of a past that needs to be remembered, analyzed and engaged for the lessons it can teach us about the present. Not only has Trump “normalized the unspeakable” and in some cases, the unthinkable, he has also forced us to ask questions we have never asked before about capitalism, power, politics, and yes, courage itself. In part, this means recovering a language for politics, civic life, the public good, citizenship and justice that has real substance. One challenge is to confront the horrors of capitalism and its transformation into a form of fascism under Trump. This cannot happen without a revolution in consciousness, one that makes education central to politics.

Moreover, as Fredric Jameson has suggested, such a revolution cannot take place by limiting our choices to a fixation on the “impossible present.” Nor can it take place by limiting ourselves to a language of critique and a narrow focus on individual issues. What is needed is also a language of hope and a comprehensive politics that draws from history and imagines a future that does not imitate the present. Under such circumstances, the language of critique and hope can be enlisted to create a broad-based and powerful social movement that both refuses to equate capitalism with democracy and moves toward creating a radical democracy. William Faulkner once remarked that we live with the ghosts of the past, or to be more precise: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

However, we are not only living with the ghosts of a dark past; it is also true that the ghosts of history can be critically engaged and transformed into a democratic politics for the future. The Nazi regime is more than a frozen moment in history. It is a warning from the past and a window into the growing threat Trumpism poses to democracy. The ghosts of fascism should terrify us, but most importantly, they should educate us and imbue us with a spirit of civic justice and collective courage in the fight for a substantive and inclusive democracy. The stakes are too high to remain complacent, cynical or simply outraged. A crisis of memory, history, agency and justice has mushroomed and opened up the abyss of a fascist nightmare. Now is the time to talk back, embrace the radical imagination in private and public, and create united mass based coalitions in which the collective dream for a radical democracy becomes a reality. There is no other choice.

We’re as close to Doomsday today as we were during the Cold War

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 26, 2018 at 3:01 am

By Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner, Washington Post, January 25, 2018
Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors, is director of the Origins Project and foundation professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department at Arizona State University. Robert Rosner, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, is a distinguished service professor in the Departments of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago.

Days after Donald Trump took the oath of office, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reset the Doomsday Clock to 2½ minutes to midnight, in part because of destabilizing comments and threats from America’s new commander in chief. One year later, we are moving the clock forward again by 30 seconds, due to the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.

The Science and Security Board for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists assesses that the world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II. In fact, the Doomsday Clock is as close to midnight today as it was in 1953, when Cold War fears perhaps reached their highest levels.

After Hawaii’s false alarm of a nuclear attack from North Korea, were you left wondering what you should do when a nuclear bomb is dropped? You’re not alone. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)
To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger — and its immediacy. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region and the United States.

The failure in 2017 to secure a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear development was unsurprising to observers of the downward spiral of nuclear rhetoric between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But North Korea’s developing nuclear program will reverberate not just in the Asia-Pacific, as neighboring countries review their security options, but more widely, as all countries consider the costs and benefits of the international framework of nonproliferation treaties and agreements.

Global nuclear risks were compounded by U.S.-Russia relations that now feature more conflict than cooperation. The United States and Russia remained at odds, continuing military exercises along the borders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, undermining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, upgrading their nuclear arsenals and eschewing arms control negotiations.

Tensions over the South China Sea have increased. Pakistan and India have continued to build ever-larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. And in the Middle East, uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal adds to a bleak overall picture. A related danger is the rise of cyberthreats targeting national infrastructure, including power grids, water supplies and military systems.

On the climate-change front, the danger may seem less immediate than risk of nuclear annihilation, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now. Global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet shown the beginnings of the sustained decline toward zero that must occur if we are to avoid ever-greater warming. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse-gas emissions to manage even the climate risk accepted in the Paris accord. So far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.

The Trump administration’s decision essentially to turn a blind eye to climate change transpired against a backdrop of a worsening climate, including exceedingly powerful hurricanes in the Caribbean and other parts of North America and extreme heat waves in Australia, South America, Asia, Europe and California. The Arctic ice cap achieved its smallest-ever winter maximum in 2017. And last week, data from 2017 demonstrated a continued trend of exceptional global warmth.

We believe that the perilous world security situation described here would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. But there also is a real threat posed by a fundamental breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or discern between sincere U.S. pronouncements and mere rhetoric.

U.S. allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been force to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from an administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals and suffering from turnover in senior leadership. Led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, the administration has failed to develop, coordinate and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management and global stability.

We hope this resetting of the clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant: an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now. It is time to rewind the Doomsday Clock.

Why 3,000 Scientists Think Nuclear Arsenals Make Us Less Safe

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 6, 2018 at 8:40 am

Despite what you hear in the news, an atomic war between the superpowers is still the biggest threat
By Max Tegmark on May 26, 2017, Scientific American

Delegates from most United Nations member states are gathering in New York next month to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban, and 30 Nobel Laureates, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense and over 3,000 other scientists from 84 countries have signed an open letter in support. Why?
We scientists like to geek out about probabilities, megatons and impact calculations, so we see the nuclear situation differently than many politicians and pundits. From the public debate, one might think that the cold war threat is over and that the most likely way to be killed by a nuke is by being attacked by Iran, North Korea or terrorists, but that’s not what nerdy number crunching reveals. Those media-dominating scenarios could potentially kill millions of people—except that Iran has no nukes and North Korea lacks missiles capable of reliably delivering their dozen or so Hiroshima-scale bombs.
But scientific research has shown that a nuclear war between the superpowers might kill hundreds or potentially even thousands of times more people, and since it’s not a hundred times less likely to occur, the laws of statistics tell us that it’s the nuke scenario most likely to kill you.

Why is superpower nuclear war so risky? First of all, massive firepower: there are more than 14,000 nuclear weapons today, some of which are hundreds of times more powerful than North Korea’s and those dropped on Japan. Over 90 percent of these belong to Russia and the US, who keep thousands on hair-trigger alert, ready launch on minutes notice. A 1979 report by the US Government estimated that all-out war would kill 28-88 percent of Americans and 22-50 percent of Soviets (150-450 million people with today’s populations).
But this was before the risk of nuclear winter was discovered in the 1980’s.Researchers realized that regardless of whose cities burned, massive amounts of smoke could spread around the globe, blocking sunlight and transforming summers into winters, much like when asteroids or supervolcanoes caused mass extinctions in the past. A peer-reviewed analysis published by Robock et al (2007) showed cooling by about 20°C (36°F) in much of the core farming regions of the US, Europe, Russia and China (by 35°C in parts of Russia) for the first two summers, and about half that even a full decade later. Years of near-freezing summer temperatures would eliminate most of our food production. It is hard to predict exactly what would happen if thousands of Earth’s largest cities were reduced to rubble and global infrastructure collapsed, but whatever small fraction of all humans didn’t succumb to starvation, hypothermia or epidemics would probably need to cope with roving, armed gangs desperate for food.

Trinity Site fireball from the world’s first nuclear explosion. Credit: Berlyn Brixner/Los Alamos National Laboratory Wikimedia
There are large uncertainties in Nuclear Winter predictions. For example, how much smoke is produced and how high up it rises would determine its severity and longevity. Given this uncertainty, there is no guarantee that most people would survive. It has therefore been argued that the traditional nuclear doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) be replaced by Self-Assured Destruction (SAD): even if one of the two superpowers were able to launch its full nuclear arsenal against the other without any retaliation whatsoever, nuclear winter might still assure the attacking country’s self-destruction. Recent research has suggested that even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could cause enough cooling and agricultural disruption to endanger up to 2 billion people, mostly outside the warring countries.
The fact that nuclear powers are taking the liberty to endanger everyone else without asking their permission has led to growing consternation in the world’s non-nuclear nations. This has been exacerbated by a seemingly endless series of near-misses in which nuclear war has come close to starting by accident, and leaders of many non-nuclear nations feel less than thrilled by the idea of being destroyed by something as banal as a malfunctioning early warning-system in a nation that they are not threatening.
Such concerns prompted 185 non-nuclear nations to sign the 1970 Non-Proliferation-Treaty (NPT), promising to remain nuke-free in return for the nuclear nations phasing out theirs in accordance with NPT Article VI, whereby each party “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. Nearly 50 years later, many of these “have-nots” have concluded that they were tricked, and that the “haves” have no intention of ever keeping their end of the bargain. Rather than disarming, the U.S. and Russia have recently announced massive investments in novel nuclear weapons. Russia has recently touted a cobalt-encased doomsday bomb reminiscent of the dark comedy “Dr. Strangelove,” and the U.S. plans to spend a trillion dollars replacing most of its nuclear weapons with new ones that are more effective for a first strike.

Adding insult to injury, India, Pakistan and Israel have been allowed to join the nuclear club without major repercussions. “The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who signed the open letter.
This disillusionment from the “have-nots” prompted 123 of them to launch an initiative in the United Nations General Assembly, where the nuclear nations lack veto power. In late 2016, they voted to launch the aforementioned UN negotiations that may produce a nuclear weapons ban treaty this summer. But a ban obviously wouldn’t persuade the nuclear “haves” to eliminate their nukes the next morning, so what’s the point of it?
The way I see it, most governments are frustrated that a small group of countries with a minority of the world’s population insist on retaining the right to ruin life on Earth for everyone else with nuclear weapons. Such “might makes right” policy has precedent. In South Africa, for example, the minority in control of the unethical Apartheid system didn’t give it up spontaneously, but because they were pressured into doing so by the majority. Similarly, the minority in control of unethical nuclear weapons won’t give them up spontaneously on their own initiative, but only if they’re pressured into doing so by the majority of the world’s nations and citizens. The key point of the ban is to provide such pressure by stigmatizing nuclear weapons.
Nuclear ban supporters draw inspiration from the 1997 Ottawa treaty banning landmines. Although the superpowers still refuse to sign it, it created enough stigma that many people now associate mines not with national security, but with images of children who have had limbs blown off while playing in peace-time. This stigma caused leading arms manufactures to half production in response to investor pressure and dwindling demand. In 2014, the Pentagon announced that it was halting landmine use outside of the Korean peninsula. Today, the global landmine market has nearly collapsed, with merely a single manufacturer (South Korean Hanwa) remaining.
The “have-not” negotiators hope that a nuclear ban treaty will similarly stigmatize nuclear weapons, persuading us all that we’re less safe with more nukes—even if they are our own. If this happens, it will increase the likelihood that the “haves” trim their nuclear arsenals down to the minimum size needed for effective deterrence, reverting from SAD back to MAD and making us all safer.

Here is the text of the letter. A list of some of the notable signatories follows.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM SCIENTISTS IN SUPPORT OF THE UN NUCLEAR WEAPONS NEGOTIATIONS

Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought. Individual explosions can obliterate cities, radioactive fallout can contaminate regions, and a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse may cause mayhem by frying electrical grids and electronics across a continent. The most horrible hazard is a nuclear-induced winter, in which the fires and smoke from as few as a thousand detonations might darken the atmosphere enough to trigger a global mini ice age with year-round winter-like conditions. This could cause a complete collapse of the global food system and apocalyptic unrest, potentially killing most people on Earth – even if the nuclear war involved only a small fraction of the roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons that today’s nine nuclear powers control. As Ronald Reagan said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Unfortunately, such a war is more likely than one may hope, because it can start by mistake, miscalculation or terrorist provocation. There is a steady stream of accidents and false alarms that could trigger all-out war, and relying on never-ending luck is not a sustainable strategy. Many nuclear powers have larger nuclear arsenals than needed for deterrence, yet prioritize making them more lethal over reducing them and the risk that they get used.
But there is also cause for optimism. On March 27 2017, an unprecedented process begins at the United Nations: most of the world’s nations convene to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, to stigmatize them like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world free of these weapons of mass destruction. We support this, and urge our national governments to do the same, because nuclear weapons threaten not merely those who have them, but all people on Earth.
William J. Perry, mathematician, US Secretary of Defense 1994-97, AAAS fellow

Peter Ware Higgs, University of Edinburgh, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics, 2013 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Leon N. Cooper, Brown University, Professor of Science, 1972 Physics Nobel Laureate
Sheldon Glashow, Boston University, Professor of Physics & Mathematics, 1979 Physics Nobel Laureate
Wolfgang Ketterle, MIT, Professor of Physics, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Edvard I. Moser, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Professor of Neuroscience, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine

May-Britt Moser, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Professor of Neuroscience, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
David Gross, Kavil Institute For Theoretical Physics, Professor of Theoretical Physics, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Leland Hartwell, Arizona State University, Professor, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
Jerome I. Friedman MIT, Emeritus Professor of Physics, 1990 Nobel Laureate in Physics 1990
Paul Greengard, The Rockefeller University, Professor of Neuroscience, 2000 Nobel Laureate Physiology/Medicine, Member, National Academy of Sciences
Roy J. Glauber, Harvard University, Professor of Physics, Emeritus, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Richard J. Roberts, New England Biolabs, Chief Scientific Officer, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
David Politzer, Caltech, Professor of Physics, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Frank Wilczek, MIT, Professor of Physics, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Jack Steinberger, CERN, Physicist, 1988 Nobel Laureate in Physics
J. Michael Bishop, UCSF, Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology, 1989 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
Eric Kandel, Columbia University, University Professor, 2000 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
Martin Chalfie, Columbia University, University Professor, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
George F. Smoot, University of California at Berkeley, Professor of Physics, Director, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics
David J. Weinland, 2012 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Dudley Herschbach, Harvard, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Emeritus Prof. of Chemistry, 1986 Chemistry Nobel Laureate
Joseph Hooton Taylor, Jr, Princeton University, James S McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physics
H. Robert Horvitz, MIT, Professor of Biology, 2002 Nobel Prize in Medicine, 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Serge Haroche, Collège de France, Paris, Professor Emeritus, Nobel Prize in Physics 2012, 2012 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, 1997 Physics Nobel Laureate, Professor of Physics
John C. Mather, Senior Astrophysicist, NASA 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics
John L Hall, University of Colorado, Boulder CO USA, Professor, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Republic of France Légion d’Honneur (2004)
Robert W. Wilson, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Senior Scientist, 1978 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Klaus von Klitzing, Director, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart, Germany, Professor of Physics, Nobel Prize in Physics 1985
John Polanyi University of Toronto, Professor of Chemistry, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Stephen Hawking, Director of research at Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, 2012 Fundamental Physics Prize Laureate for his work on quantum gravity
Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study, Professor of Physics, 1990 Fields Medalist, U.S. National Medal of Science, Kyoto Prize, Breakthrough Prize, NAS member
Sir Michael Atiyah, Edinburgh University & Trinity College Cambridge, Professor of Mathematics, 1966 Fields Medalist
Curtis T. McMullen, Harvard University, Cabot Professor of Mathematics, 1998 Fields Medalist, NAS Member

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Max Tegmark
Known as “Mad Max” for his unorthodox ideas and passion for adventure, Max Tegmark’s scientific interests range from precision cosmology to the ultimate nature of reality, all explored in his new popular book, “Our Mathematical Universe.” He is an MIT physics professor with more than 200 technical papers credit, and he has been featured in dozens of science documentaries. His work with the SDSS collaboration on galaxy clustering shared the first prize in Science magazine’s “Breakthrough of the Year: 2003.”