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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Socialism, Capitalism and Health Care

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

James Petras

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing Costs of Medical Visitation by Economic System

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

High Tech Billionaires Speak of ‘Values’ while Maximizing Profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Roots of the Superior European Health Care System

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

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

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

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

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

Present and Future Consequence of a Capitalist ‘Health System’

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thousands of scientists issue bleak ‘second notice’ to humanity

In Climate change, Environment, Politics, Public Health on November 15, 2017 at 9:38 am

By Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, Speaking of Science, November 13, 2017

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

How We Persuaded 122 Countries to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 30, 2017 at 9:55 pm

By Beatrice Fihn, Matthew Bolton and Elizabeth Minor
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 9:41 AM

On Oct. 6, the Geneva office of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received a call from the Norwegian Nobel Committee: We had won the 2017 Peace Prize for our “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and our “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Since its founding in 2007, ICAN has sought to reenergize global advocacy for disarmament. We have jolted governments out of a post-Cold War complacency, which has allowed almost 15,000 nuclear weapons to remain a clear and present danger to the world.

While the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and oft-repeated rhetoric has committed nuclear-armed states to a world free of nuclear weapons, progress towards this goal had stalled.

Over the last decade, we have built a global civil society coalition that, in partnership with states, has changed the game, refocusing global policymakers on the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons, rather than abstract ideas of deterrence. The result was the negotiation of the legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Prohibiting nuclear weapons

The TPNW’s Preamble declares nuclear weapons “abhorrent to the principles of humanity,” with catastrophic consequences for people and the environment. It is the first nuclear arms control agreement to frame nuclear weapons as threats to international humanitarian and human rights law. It acknowledges the “disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples.”

The Preamble is also far-reaching in its acknowledgement of the gendered dimensions of nuclear weapons. It calls attention to the “disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation,” as well as the crucial importance of women’s “equal, full and effective participation” in “nuclear disarmament” and “the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security….”

The centerpiece of the TPNW is a categorical ban on nuclear weapons (Article 1), which makes them illegal under the same type of international law covering other inhumane weapons like chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

The Treaty’s negotiators were mindful of the “unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims” and the “grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.” As a result, the TPNW is not only a ban on nuclear weapons. It also addresses the ongoing harms caused by nuclear weapons use and testing. Articles 6 and 7 obligate governments to aid victims, remediate contaminated environments and provide international cooperation and assistance to affected states.

On July 7, 122 governments voted to adopt the TPNW, which opened for signature on Sept. 20. While the nuclear-armed and -alliance states boycotted the negotiations, we are finding that it is already having a political impact because of its stigmatizing power.

Changing the Discourse

ICAN’s strategy was primarily a discursive one. We aimed to change the way that people talk, think and feel about nuclear weapons, changing their social meaning from symbols of status to outdated, dangerous machines that have repulsive effects.

Representatives of the nuclear-states often marginalize those calling disarmament by dismissing them as deluded. In her protest outside the room where states were negotiating the TPNW, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley chided them, saying “we have to be realistic.” However, ICAN campaigners called attention to the discrepancies between these claims to “realism” and the mystification that surrounded these nuclear weapons.

For example, we showed how the claim that nuclear deterrence has prevented war requires ignoring the poor record these weapons have at preventing conflict. We demonstrated the pervasive harm they have caused to to many people living in areas affected by use and testing, undercutting claims that nuclear weapons provide security.

Instead of turning to traditional mechanisms of nuclear arms control, we found a powerful discursive tool in international humanitarian and human rights law. What we sought was less an instrument of surveillance and sanction than a treaty that casts as pariahs those who continue to deploy, stockpile and defend the persistence of nuclear weapons. Building such stigma has been crucial for the process of working towards the elimination other unacceptable weapons.

Drawing out the tensions inherent in states’ presentation of themselves as responsible actors concerned with the protection of civilians, and their willingness to use the most destructive weapons ever invented on towns and cities, involved opening the conversation about nuclear weapons to voices that have been too often excluded.

Opening the Conversation

To change how nuclear weapons were discussed, we brought nuclear weapons into new arenas where humanitarianism, human rights and environmentalism are regular conversations, and to inject these discourses into traditional nuclear forums.

We demanded from states the meaningful participation of survivors, affected communities, medical professionals, faith leaders, humanitarian agencies, activists and academics in the nuclear conversation. We pointed out when forums and panels excluded women, people from the Global South and those who have experienced nuclear weapons’ effects.

This forced states to reckon with other forms of knowledge and expertise than nuclear-armed states have used to legitimate their arsenals. ICAN ensured that people affected by nuclear weapons use and testing were able to testify to the negotiating conference. In her statement to the conference, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow reminded delegates that “72 years have passed since my beloved hometown was utterly destroyed by one atomic bomb.” Thurlow said this experience convinced her “that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons.”

Sue Coleman, who grew up close to the site of British nuclear testing in South Australia, spoke of devastating humanitarian consequences for Aboriginal people, as well as the environmental impact on “animals and plants,” which cannot “speak for themselves and are ignored.”

In her closing comments following the adoption of the TPNW, the conference chair, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica paid tribute to ‘‘all of the victims who have shared their personal stories with us…and have been an ongoing inspiration for our work.” She thanked them “for not letting us rest.”

We disseminated detailed scientific data on the ongoing harm, record of accidents and history of close calls of nuclear weapons at the three international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna from 2013 to 2014. We made it difficult to claim this information was irrelevant to the international nuclear weapons debate. The majority of the world’s states concluded that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the only morally permissible and legally coherent response to this evidence.

Gumshoe Advocacy

At the core of what we achieved was organizing people and presenting demands to those with the capacity to change law. We cold-called politicians. We pitched stories to journalists. We circulated petitions. We looked at which countries were next on the speakers list at the UN and told them about our talking points. We protested in the streets. There were breakfasts with friendly officials. Lunchtime ‘side event’ panels. Evening receptions. We argued with our opponents. We argued amongst ourselves.

Our approach to the problem of nuclear weapons was often dismissed – but we succeeded in our campaign for a prohibition on nuclear weapons, with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed states. Closing a legal loophole (by which nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited), and placing prohibitions (such as on assistance with nuclear weapons production, which would cover financing) and positive obligations on states, the treaty can have a normative and practical impact now.

We built strong partnerships between civil society and the states championing the treaty. We drew upon professional networks that had experience banning landmines and cluster munitions and pushing for the Arms Trade Treaty. We leaned on a tight-knit community of humanitarian disarmament advocates who had long-lasting friendships, strong connections to diplomats and well-practiced advocacy tactics.

Reclaiming Agency

ICAN’s success in advocacy for the TPNW shows that ordinary people have agency – we can address seemingly intractable problems in the midst of a deeply hostile political environment. Now that we can ban nuclear weapons, we listen with skepticism to those who use “that’ll never work” as an excuse for passivity. The world, as we learned, is what we make of it. We humans made nuclear weapons. We assigned meaning to them. We have the power to change that meaning. We believe a world free of nuclear weapons is possible. The nuclear weapons ban is a crucial step toward that goal.

Divided Highways

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics, Public Health on October 18, 2017 at 1:22 am

By Tom Lewis, Delanceyplace.com

In 1963, the U.S. government seriously contemplated using nuclear bombs in the construction of federal highways:

“[The] Interstate [Highway System] … reflected some­thing … about mid-twentieth-century American thinking: engineering hubris. Engineers knew they had the ability to put a highway anywhere, including places where automobiles had never been, and many reveled in the sheer joy of building without attention to the consequences. Forget following the contours of the natural landscape, just pound the road through. Should a mountain prove too high, just blast the top off or tunnel through. Should a ravine prove too deep, just fill it with stone and dirt. No river, lake, or arm of the ocean should be too wide or too deep for a bridge or causeway. For many engineers the structure itself was the goal rather than the structure in relation to the land. Engineers found they were not alone, for many progressive planners regarded the highway, speed, and efficiency to be of primary importance.

“There is, perhaps, no greater example of engineering hubris than one that, thankfully, did not take place in the Bristol Mountains about mid­way between Barstow and Needles, California. In 1963, the Santa Fe Rail­road was seeking a way to shorten its route across the Mojave Desert, and the highway department was looking for a route for Interstate 40. Both the railroad and the highway were hindered by the mountains that rise sharply and suddenly about twelve hundred feet from the desert floor. In mid-1963, engineers decided to consider what they delicately called ‘the nuclear option.’ The engineers’ plan was simple: Bury twenty-two atomic bombs beneath the surface of the mountains and vaporize them. ‘Our main focus was on whether it was feasible and practical and what savings might be realized in building the Interstate,’ Robert Austin, the engineer for the project, recalled. Perhaps because the United States had tested nuclear weapons in the desert before­ though not in this area — Austin paid little attention to the effects the bombs would have had on the environment.

“Since President Kennedy had recently proposed ‘Operation Plow­share,’ an extension of Dwight Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ pro­gram ‘to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind,’ the Atomic Energy Commission was looking for ways to use nuclear weapons peace­fully. It was enthusiastic about the idea. Yes, the twenty-two bombs with their combined force of 1.73 million tons of TNT (133 times greater than the force of the two bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki) would produce a dust cloud that would take several days to dissipate. But engineers were more taken with the idea of moving sixty­-eight million tons of earth and rock with a single blast, almost instantly cutting a channel 325 feet wide and nearly 11,000 feet long. While it would have saved $8 million in construction costs, the explosion also would have contaminated much of the Southwest, especially Kingman, Flagstaff, and Phoenix, Arizona directly east of the site. Knowing that the nuclear explosions would evoke some public interest, Austin scouted out a place for a reviewing stand for the press and VIPs on a ridge about ten miles away from the blast site.

“Fortunately, the plan had posed one question that scientists could not answer: How long would it take for the radiation levels at the immediate blast site to return to a safe level for humans? No one could predict how many weeks or months would elapse after the explosion before it would be safe for workers to build the highway. Unable to get an answer, Austin and the California Highway Department finally abandoned the plan in 1965 and decided to build the Bristol Mountains section of Interstate 40 with conventional blasting for about $20 million. The road opened in 1973. ‘Given what we know today about radiation, it’s a good thing we didn’t do it,’ said Robert Ramey, a civil engineer who worked on the project, adding wistfully, ‘I am kind of disappointed we couldn’t have seen how an experiment of this type would have worked.'”

 

Nobel winner says goal is to make nukes unacceptable

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Associated Press, OCTOBER 09, 2017 , UNITED NATIONS
The head of the anti-nuclear campaign that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize said Monday its goal is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of people in every country — and have all nuclear-armed nations listen to their citizens and give up their arsenals.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons known as ICAN, told a news conference that for a long time nuclear weapons have been seen as “an issue of the past” that isn’t relevant.

But she said a potential nuclear arms race with nuclear nations modernizing their weapons and threats by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to use nuclear weapons “makes this an urgent issue again.”

“I think that this Nobel Peace Prize can really bring about a much bigger movement against nuclear weapons,” Fihn said. “This gives us an enormous opportunity to reach out to new audiences, and to mobilize people once again.”

ICAN, currently a coalition of 468 organizations in 101 countries, is expecting to expand.

Ray Acheson, an ICAN steering committee member from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told reporters that since the Nobel prize announcement on Friday the campaign has received “a lot of new partnership requests.”

The Nobel committee cited Geneva-based ICAN for its work that led to the first-ever Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was agreed to by 122 countries at the United Nations in July. It opened for signature on Sept. 20 and already 53 countries have signed and three have ratified.

Fihn said ICAN’s “ambitious goal” is to get the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force before the end of 2018.

The United States, which boycotted negotiations along with other nuclear powers, reacted to ICAN’s award saying the treaty “will not make the world more peaceful, will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, and will not enhance any state’s security.”

Fihn said the U.S. reaction was “quite expected,” but it shows the treaty is having “an impact on them.”

She stressed, however, that the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t going to make Trump give up nuclear weapons.

“But I don’t think that’s really what we’re doing here,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of the people, and that’s where civil society has the power. That’s really what is changing things. And in the end, governments have to do what their people say.”

As for North Korea, Fihn said, North Korea won’t disarm as long as it thinks nuclear weapons are acceptable, legitimate and justified.

The nuclear weapon states and those countries under their nuclear umbrella currently maintain they are necessary for security, she said.

“I think that is what this treaty is about — stop allowing them to justify having weapons of mass destruction that are only meant to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians,” Fihn said.

She said it’s been during previous times of big crises that “the most progress” has been made toward nuclear disarmament.

Five years after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Treaty of Tlatelolco was signed prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and later the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, she said. And during heightened Cold War tensions talks in Reykjavik, Iceland between then U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 resulted in the treaty to eliminate intermediate and shorter-range nuclear and conventional missiles the following year.

Fihn said these crises, and the current escalating U.S.-North Korean tensions, “also bring about public mobilization.”

“I think that that’s where this peace prize is extremely timely, and very urgently needed attention on this issue,” she said.

 

2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN is wake up call to humanity

In Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 6, 2017 at 11:19 pm

by IPPNW, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, October 6, 2017
Breaking news
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
Announcement and explanation of award at nobelpeaceprize.org

In honoring the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) as this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has reaffirmed that prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons is the most urgent security priority of our time.

ICAN was launched in 2007 by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the 1985 Nobel Peace Laureate, and now comprises 468 civil society organizations and thousands of campaigners in 101 countries.

ICAN mounted an extraordinarily effective and diverse global campaign that helped secure the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by 122 UN member states on July 7, 2017. The landmark agreement declares nuclear weapons illegal because of their catastrophic consequences and based on the principles of international humanitarian law. The Treaty was achieved through the collective effort of civil society, international organizations, and non-nuclear-weapon states.

“The Hibakusha, who have borne constant witness to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons since the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, played a pivotal role in ICAN’s work to support the negotiations for the Ban Treaty,” noted IPPNW co-president and ICAN’s founding co-chair Tilman Ruff. “Their voices—and those of the victims of nuclear testing—can be heard clearly in the Treaty’s preamble, which cites ‘the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons.’”

“This year’s Nobel Peace Prize does more than recognize the Ban Treaty as a major step forward in nuclear disarmament,” said IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand. “It reminds us that we remain hostage to what can only be considered suicide bombs. Now that nuclear weapons have been stigmatized and prohibited, it’s up to all of us to increase the legal, moral and political pressure on the nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states. Our task will not be finished until the last nuclear weapon has been eliminated from the last arsenal on Earth.”

Bernie’s foreign policy looking better everyday

In Democracy, Environment, Peace, Politics, War on October 6, 2017 at 3:52 am

By Dave Anderson

October 5, 2017, Boulder Weekly

 

Filmmaker Michael Moore says Trump “will take us to war.” He’s afraid
that centrist liberals and the mainstream media will support him like
they did when Bush invaded Iraq. “Liberals and Democrats,” he regrets,
“often are afraid of being accused of being wimps or weak,
weak-willed, not strong, not pro-America. And so they’re so eager to
just hop on, so nobody questions their patriotism.”

If Moore is right, we are in trouble because there isn’t much of a
peace movement anymore. The military industrial complex is stronger
than ever. We are involved in several wars right now. The sprawling
U.S. empire has more than 800 military bases in over 70 nations. U.S.
Special Operations are being deployed in more than a hundred
countries. The military is America’s most trusted public institution
today.

Paradoxically, anti-war feelings are also quite strong and the
American people are receptive to a diplomatic and demilitarized
foreign policy. When Obama negotiated the Iran nuclear deal and
started to establish normal relations with Cuba, he was popular.

The military has become much more clever about framing its story and
filtering information. Bombings in America’s many wars are secret.
Wars are funded by credit card. Americans don’t like soldiers to be
killed so drones and private mercenaries are used.

Daniel May argues in The Nation that the peace movement has a great
deal of difficulty organizing people when there isn’t a big noticeable
intervention like the Iraq War to oppose:

“A D.C.-based network loosely gathered under the ‘peace and security’
label advances a diplomacy-first approach. The anti-war base organizes
against intervention. Talented organizers and very smart thinkers lead
a variety of crucial institutions, but the constituency usually
emerges as a political power only in opposition to large-scale
interventions. There were and remain important exceptions to this
trend: the anti-nuke movement and opposition to military involvement
in Central America in the 1980s, and organizing against the Israeli
occupation today. But over the past several decades, popular
opposition to militarism has generally been confined to those moments
that look like what we expect war to look like.”

May wants a peace movement that emphasizes the economic, social and
political costs to Americans of the gigantic military machine. He
says, “we need a movement that can speak to the anger that so many
Americans feel toward the corporate powers that dominate our politics.
Such a movement would expose how militarism is not immune to that
influence but is particularly beholden to it.”

May says that younger activists in the new growing movements such as
the Movement for Black Lives, for immigrant rights and against
Islamophobia see their struggles as intertwined with a fight against
militarism and empire.

What kind of a foreign policy should progressives advocate? Sen.Bernie
Sanders recently offered his views in a speech at Westminster College
in Fulton, Missouri.

“In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between
governments, but between peoples,” he said. “A sensible and effective
foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with
the safety and welfare of others around the world.”

Sanders said, “Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous
income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own
country. … There is no moral or economic justification for the six
wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom
half of the world’s population — 3.7 billion people. There is no
justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street,
giant multi-national corporations and international financial
institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout
the world.”

Sanders denounced America’s war on terror, calling it a “disaster for
the American people and for American leadership.”

“In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the
war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards
regarding torture, indefinite detention and the use of force around
the world,” Sanders said, “using drone strikes and other airstrikes
that often result in high civilian casualties.”

Sanders said he disagreed with those in Washington “who continue to
argue that ‘benevolent global hegemony’ should be the goal of our
foreign policy, that the U.S., by virtue of its extraordinary military
power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I
would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the
disastrous Iraq War and the instability and destruction it has brought
to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.

“The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world,” he
said. “Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the
international community and shirk our responsibilities under the
banner of ‘America First.’ Our goal should be global engagement based
on partnership, rather than dominance.”

However, he warned that “Far too often, American intervention and the
use of American military power has produced unintended consequences
which have caused incalculable harm.” He cited the CIA coups in Iran
(1953) and Chile (1973) against democratically elected governments,
which led to enormous suffering. He asked, “What would Iran look like
today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What
impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What
consequences are we still living with today?”

He proposed American intervention in the global South similar to the
Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II. He praised the
Iran nuclear deal and said the U.S. should work with the U.N.

Bernie’s ideas are so sensible that they might catch on. After all, he
played a big role in shifting our domestic politics to the left.
Perhaps he can do that with foreign policy as well.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s New Bill is a Necessary Next Step in Addressing the Climate Change Crisis

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on September 27, 2017 at 12:35 am

MARK SCHLOSBERG, Sep 25 2017

The OFF Act takes aggressive action on climate and energy legislation.

This is an opinion piece by Mark Schlosberg, Organizing Co-Director, Food & Water Watch

Almost three weeks ago, as the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey still inundated Texas and Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, EPA chief Scott Pruitt commented that it was “insensitive” to talk about the relationship between climate change and the storms. But just two weeks later, as Hurricane Maria forges a path of destruction across Puerto Rico and beyond, as we continue to see the impacts from massive floods in Asia and Africa, and as wildfires in our own Western states burn nearly year-round, the real insensitivity is not talking about climate change. It is more critical than ever that we talk about it and do something to address it, before increased climate chaos dooms us all. Thankfully, a solution exists.

Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), the strongest, most aggressive climate change legislation we’ve got. But it’s up to us to build the pressure to help make the OFF Act a reality. And we must.

Representative Gabbard’s OFF Act responds to the urgency of our climate crisis with a clear roadmap of where we need to go to rapidly move off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent clean, renewable energy on a timeline that will give us a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate catastrophe. The bill requires a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, but also compels immediate reductions in a major way, requiring 80 percent renewable in the next ten years. It transitions the auto industry to zero-emissions by 2035, halts new fossil fuel projects, bans the profit-driven export of oil and gas overseas, ends foolish subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, promotes environmental justice, and provides a just transition for displaced oil and gas workers.

Introduced just a few weeks ago, the OFF Act already has the support of more than 350 organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the American Sustainable Business Council. This early support represents the vanguard of a growing consensus that we must act immediately and decisively.

Now we need our elected representatives to understand our demand for action and feel the urgency behind it.

This week, members of Congress are at home in their districts. Now is the time for them to hear from us with meeting requests, letter deliveries, phone calls, letters in local papers, calls to radio stations and more. The message is simple and clear: The future of our planet is at stake. We must move off dangerous, destructive fossil fuels now. Rep. Gabbard’s OFF Act is the best way to do it.

We know that with the current conservative makeup of Congress, the OFF Act won’t pass tomorrow. But just as we’ve seen with the significant recent progress made in the single-payer health care movement, building strong support for the OFF Act now will put us in a position to make this critical legislation the law sooner rather than later.

We need to act now. Let’s get to work.

@
Eric Weltman
Senior Organizer
Food & Water Watch
347-778-2743
eweltman@fwwatch.org
147 Prince Street, 4th Fl., No. 7
Brooklyn, NY 11201
http://www.FoodandWaterWatch.org

Pope Francis: Causing Climate Change Is a “Sin”

In Climate change, Environment, Politics, Public Health on September 11, 2017 at 6:20 am

 

By TomP , Daily Kos, Wednesday May 21, 2014 · 11:17 AM MDT

I hope this has an impact on people. Pope Francis recently spoke about climate change. Yes, it’s real:

Pope Francis made the religious case for tackling climate change on Wednesday, calling on his fellow Christians to become “Custodians of Creation” and issuing a dire warning about the potentially catastrophic effects of global climate change.
Speaking to a massive crowd in Rome, the first Argentinian pope delivered a short address in which he argued that respect for the “beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos” is a Christian value, noting that failure to care for the planet risks apocalyptic consequences.

“Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”

The pope centered his environmentalist theology around the biblical creation story in the book of Genesis, where God is said to have created the world, declared it “good,” and charged humanity with its care. Francis also made reference to his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a famous lover of animals, and appeared to tie the ongoing environmental crisis to economic concerns — namely, instances where a wealthy minority exploits the planet at the expense of the poor.

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,” Francis said.

Francis also said that humanity’s destruction of the planet is a sinful act, likening it to self-idolatry.

“But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”

Banking on Uranium Makes the World Less Safe

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on September 11, 2017 at 6:05 am

by LINDA PENTZ GUNTER

There is a curious fallacy that continues to persist among arms control groups rightly concerned with reducing the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. It is that encouraging the use of nuclear energy will achieve this goal.

This illogical notion is enshrined in Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which rewards signatories who do not yet have nuclear weapons with the “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Now comes the international low-enriched uranium bank, which opened on August 29 in Kazakhstan, to expedite this right. It further reinforces the Article IV doctrine— that the spread of nuclear power will diminish the capability and the desire to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The uranium bank will purchase and store low-enriched uranium, fuel for civilian reactors, ostensibly guaranteeing a ready supply in case of market disruptions. But it is also positioned as a response to the Iran conundrum, a country whose uranium enrichment program cast suspicion over whether its real agenda was to continue enriching its uranium supply to weapons-grade level.

The bank will be run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit is “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy.” Evidently the IAEA has been quite successful in this promotional endeavor since the agency boasts that “dozens of countries today are interested in pursuing nuclear energy.”

A caveat here, borne out by the evidence of nuclear energy’s declining global share of the electricity market, is that far more countries are “interested” than are actually pursuing nuclear energy. The IAEA numbers are more aspiration than reality.

Superficially at least, the bank idea sounds sensible enough. There will be no need to worry that countries considering a nuclear power program might secretly shift to nuclear weapons production. In addition to a proliferation barrier, the bank will serve as a huge cost savings, sparing countries the expense of investing in their own uranium enrichment facilities.

The problem with this premise is that, rather than make the planet safer, it actually adds to the risks we already face. News reports pointed to the bank’s advantages for developing countries. But developing nations would be much better off implementing cheaper, safer renewable energy, far more suited to countries that lack major infrastructure and widespread electrical grid penetration.

Instead, the IAEA will use its uranium bank to provide a financial incentive to poorer countries in good standing with the agency to choose nuclear energy over renewables. For developing countries already struggling with poverty and the effects of climate change, this creates the added risk of a catastrophic nuclear accident, the financial burden of building nuclear power plants in the first place, and of course an unsolved radioactive waste problem.

No country needs nuclear energy. Renewable energy is soaring worldwide, is far cheaper than nuclear, and obviously a whole lot safer. No country has to worry about another’s potential misuse of the sun or wind as a deadly weapon. There is no solar non-proliferation treaty. We should be talking countries out of developing dangerous and expensive nuclear energy, not paving the way for them.

There is zero logic for a country like Saudi Arabia, also mentioned during the uranium bank’s unveiling, to choose nuclear over solar or wind energy. As Senator Markey (D-MA) once unforgettably pointed out: “Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar.” But the uranium bank could be just the carrot that sunny country needs to abandon renewables in favor of uranium.

This is precisely the problem with the NPT Article IV. Why “reward” non-nuclear weapons countries with dangerous nuclear energy? If they really need electricity, and the UN wants to be helpful, why not support a major investment in renewables? It all goes back to the Bomb, of course, and the Gordian knot of nuclear power and nuclear weapons that the uranium bank just pulled even tighter.

Will the uranium bank be too big to fail? Or will it even be big at all? With nuclear energy in steep decline worldwide, unable to compete with renewables and natural gas; and with major nuclear corporations, including Areva and Westinghouse, going bankrupt, will there even be enough customers?

Clothed in wooly non-proliferation rhetoric, the uranium bank is nothing more than a lupine marketing enterprise to support a struggling nuclear industry desperate to remain relevant as more and more plants close and new construction plans are canceled. The IAEA and its uranium bank just made its prospects a whole lot brighter and a safer future for our planet a whole lot dimmer.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear. She also serves as director of media and development.