Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category

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


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.


Can the president be prosecuted for war crimes in the event of a nuclear strike?

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 14, 2018 at 12:49 am

Can U.S. nuclear strike planners and executors be prosecuted for war crimes? Short answer, yes. And the planners are more vulnerable to prosecution than world leaders, such as President Donald Trump.
A preliminary question, of course, is what would constitute an illegal nuclear strike order. It is fairly clear that any use of nuclear weapons to achieve military objectives that conventional weapons can otherwise achieve would be illegal.
The reason is that the nuclear option would violate principles of the law of war, or what’s called humanitarian law, by causing indiscriminate and disproportionate loss of life and superfluous injury, since nuclear weapons are far more catastrophic than conventional weapons. If conventional weapons could achieve the same military objectives, then any order to use nuclear weapons instead would be manifestly illegal, leading to allegations of war crimes.

But heads of state like Trump are generally immune from prosecution, at least while they remain in office, even for serious violations of international law like war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, the whole reason heads of state enjoy immunity is that the state would be unable effectively to represent itself in its dealings with other states if these individuals were stuck in foreign states’ docks. Thus high-ranking members of the U.S. Strategic Command and other planning bodies likely fall outside the scope of immunity, and the farther down the chain one goes, the less immunity applies. In turn, only heads of state and perhaps other extremely high-ranking officials would have immunity.
But where could these planners and executors be prosecuted? One option would be in U.S. domestic courts or military tribunals, especially if there is a change in administration. Another option would be foreign tribunals. Because war crimes are subject to what’s called universal jurisdiction, any nation in the world may prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. This is not just theoretical or academic. The practice of universal jurisdiction has spiked in recent years when it comes to serious violations of international law, such as torture, crimes against humanity and certain acts of terrorism.

Nuclear strike planners have a duty under international and domestic U.S. law to reject illegal nuclear strike orders. If they do not, they can be held liable in both domestic and foreign courts. Immunity will not shield them from prosecution.
Anthony J. Colangelo is a law professor at Southern Methodist University and a senior associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Email: colangelo@smu.edu

Immanuel Kunt’s Vision Of Life Beyond Guns And God

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, War on February 7, 2018 at 2:47 am

(A tribute to a great idea; ‘The Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases’@ University of Baltimore)

Immanuel Kunt…living in Ballarat, a provincial Australian city with a population of 100,000 plus…felt inspired when readingabout the activities of a new organisation of concerned world-wide citizens called The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases.From the hidden cryptographic depths of his mind, a valued item of stored wisdom crystallised; its’ got to be what Immanuel what’s-his-name believed, he thought… “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”.

Immanuel was an experienced organizer of public events. The Ballarat Begonia Festival, which attracts more than 60,0000 spectators annually, owed much to his organisational skills. This three- day event—held on the Victorian (State) Labour Day long weekend in Ballarat had something for everyone. Flowers, celebrity gardener’s displaying their skills, markets, entertainment, kids’ activities and a community parade.

The more Immanuel thought about the issues ‘The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases’ were fulminating against, the more he became convinced that he could do something in his own right that could support their cause. They believed, as he did, that “The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of the U.S. Empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The U.S. undermines governments…including democratic ones…kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage.”

Immanuel Kunt believed that nature was a spectrum of ideas, projecting forms amidst light and colour phenomena that required a certain balanced conditionality to achieve health wellbeing and sustain order. Begonias had been his path to enlightenment. He had come to associate the skills of the more talented gardeners he encountered, withthose who possessed an understanding of the subject-object nexusthat was normally associatedwith people of a scientific bent of mind. When he walked among the begonias in the Ballarat Conservatory, he perceived the role of science as one which could function asanauxiliaryforce, benevolently reaching out to assist all living things captive to nature’s survival of the fittest gambit, soa more equitable outcome could be achieved.

Only the day before…Immanuel Kunt, after reading what The Coalition Against Military Bases had to say about America’s exceptional hi-tech military creep across the globe, encountered a very different example of exceptionalism in a delicatessen in Ballarat. While standing in a queue waiting for a take-away roastchicken, he fell into conversation with the elderly man next to him: “They do a great chicken here, and most Sundays I buy one to take to Buninyong to have lunch with my sister”, he said to Immanuel. As Buninyong was 11km from Ballarat, Immanuel replied, “You’re managing to stay mobile then, and obviously doing something right?”. “I’m 93 and the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me…I’ve lead a free and natural life, avoiding the guns and god call-to-arms” he said,befo readding somewhat wryly, “a civilized life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”.

Immanuel left the deli wondering if it was the philosopher Immanuel-what’s-his name who wrote“Science is organised knowledge, wisdom is organised life, and health is a randomly allocated affair in the hands of impersonal forces”. Stopping to reflect a moment, he wondered if time had played tricks upon his ability to retain information? The choice of the word ‘confront’,used by the old man, awakened something in him. Over the following week, his thoughts kept going back to the deli and his chance encounter with the 93-year old.

While observing the multifarious splendours of the begonias assembled for the upcoming Labour Day holiday weekend, Immanuel suddenly became profoundly aware that people were prone to be led astray by false doctrines. A call-to-arms, he mused, is a call to defend or make ready for confrontation and is understood as a call-to-arms to defend against a take-over. Instead it seems to act more as the fiery torch that keeps the impressionable…who only cheer for the ‘good’ guys…ready for the call-to-arms.The more Immanuel thought about the old man’s parting words, “a civilised life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”, the more his mind went back to The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases and their questioning of the merits of a hyped-up military,recklessly investing the nation’s treasure in perpetual warfare.

Immanuel wondered how long it would take for the American public to free itself from the tendentious voices of the ruling elites…the military juggernaut…who sold them the proposition that their form of exceptionality confers righteousness upon their quest to straddle the globe with military bases, bythe hundreds…800 maybe…where they then could resortto force, strangling anything and everything that resisted the American way of doing business…business validated by god and gun.

Early in the morning of the day the Begonia Festival was to commence, Immanuel was standing some distance apart from the entrance to the Conservatory admiring the flower arrangements when, to his utter amazement, he saw an old man in jogging apparel slowly move into view and recognized the figure to be that of the old man he had encountered in the deli. The force of his ‘good-morning’ greeting was loud enough to get the jogger’s attention, whereupon he immediately veered towards Immanuel. Stopping in front of Immanuel, he peered at the identity tag connecting the bearer to the events taking place within the Conservatory and exclaimed, “Ah! … so, you’re ‘that’ Kunt!

Over the course of the next half-hour, Immanuel learnt the old man’s name and the name of his older sister who lived in Buninyong. It transpired that Errol Flynn and his 95-year-old sister Peg were committed activists concerned about the corruption of language …especially the propagandistic tactics used to conceal the poisoning effect militarism has had on the health of entire communities.

They were part of a group known as the ‘Buninyong Salon’ who met Sundays to discuss the devious reasons behind the U.S. Empire’s reasons for having bases in Australia. By the end of the half-hour encounter with Errol…much of it covering the tawdry reasons the U.S. gave for being in Australia or elsewhere…Immanuel found himself in receipt of an invitation to attend the group’s bring-your-own style of Sunday luncheon, held from noon onwards every week at Buninyong Salon. Watching the figure of Errol fade from view and disappear behind distant foliage, he was astounded by the magnitude of recent chance encounters that seemed to sign-post a path toward something that requiredhis attention.

Immanuel brought a home baked pizza and a vibrant begonia plant on his very first visit to Buninyong Salon. To his great surprise, the seventeen people who had come together, were all above 90 years of age.A second surprise was to follow when he discovered that none of the people there behaved like ‘old people’ in the least. They were the most lucid, alert, frisky and fun-loving people he had ever encountered. Realising that he had been conditioned to believe that old people belonged in retirement homes once they lost interest in worldly affairs, he took note of the fact that this latest chance encounter had opened a door for him, one enabling his entry into their brave new world. When he was introduced to Peg, he was challenged by her appetite for knowledge when she said without preamble, “interesting name you’ve got there Kunt…how’s it spelt?”

Immanuel was intrigued to discover that even in provincial Australia,in spite of the cant coming from the American propaganda machine and its’ supplicant media, the establishment view of things was now being questioned more openly.It was high time for a greater awareness of the danger of nuclear warheads to percolate through the collective consciousness, he reflected.The propaganda that projected the notion that the U.S. was motivatedby good intentions, and was there to protect smaller states seeking freedom, was now perceived to be fallacious. The very myths that had launched America as the guardian of freedom,were now regarded by millions of people throughout the world as nothing more than hollow jingoism…the policies of the U.S. empire didn’t float allboats…instead, the world witnessed a gung-ho US sheriff repeatedly blow them out of the water.

The military narrative that promotes the U.S. empire as just,is finally beginning to evaporate.As a result, America’s abhorrent foreign policy is being subjected to evergreater critical attention across the globe. Under the weight of evidence showing the frequency of U.S.military powerusing its’ might torepeatedly inflict misery on so many parts of the world… especially in the Middle East…more peoplehave discovered that truth tends to prevail over propaganda in the longer term.

As America’s reputation and stature in the world now rests at the bottom ofa cesspoolof its’ own making, the fundamentals of democracy are once more being revisited. Reprising thethreat of the ‘other’ no longer works. The parasites that now occupy the so-called democratic system have American voices, and they know how to lie. But now, a new era may be approaching, where civilized means may prevail over the urge to use primal methodologies…sane thinking may finally beready to call an evil bluff.

Immanuel was intrigued to be in a situation where the collective wisdom of 17 people, whose primary interest was eliminating U.S. Bases from Australian soil, confirmed what Immanuel what-was-his-name had said, “reason is the source of morality”.

Errol and Peg Flynn had inherited Buninyong Castle…now a heritage site…upon the passing of their parents. Neither could agree on how many rooms were in the castle, or the number of acres it stood upon.During the afternoon,Immanuel was left flabbergasted when he discovered that Buninyong Salon had a plan that would host an expected 300 guests.Some were arriving from as far afield as Hong Kong, California, Singapore and New Zealand. But flabbergast soon gave way to admiration when he realised that the Buninyong Salon was where the denizens of WWW awareness came to stand up and be counted. The festival would have its’ day in the sun and go by the name of ‘Confront’.

All throughout the Begonia Festival weekend, Immanuel Kunt’s mind remained apart from the flow of events at ground level. He dreamed of extending invitations to everybody across the world interested in curtailing the ravishes of U.S. Imperialism. That’s when he got the idea forBegonias Against Imperialism. He was convinced that if he could give Begonia Day the status of Poppy Day in Australia, the symbol of the begonia would, in time, come to represent the people’s concern for the future, as does the Poppy represent people’s concern for remembering the past. It would require people to focus on the dangers of nuclear war and the attendant weapons of mass destruction that throw so dark a shadow over everyone.

Addressing his friends at the Buninyong Salon the following Sunday, Immanuel pitched the following ideas to them;

“The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCray. After reading the poem, Moina Michael, a professor at The University of Georgia wrote the poem, “We Shall Keep the Fate”, and swore to wear a red poppy on the anniversary. The custom spread to Europe and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth within three years.”

Continuing his speech, he went on to say; “We need to use these actions as a template for our own purposes so that, with the right means,we can proceed to storm the barricades of apathy by marshalling support for all the groups militating against U.S. military bases throughout the world.We wish Ballaratto be the first region to celebrate the begonia as the emblem of resistance to nuclear-madness. Our hope is that our beloved flower will acquire, over time, an emblematic status equal to that of the red poppy. Our first project will involve producing some thousands of badges bearing the word ‘CONFRONT’ under an image of our beloved flower”.

Immanuel received the reaction to his pitch with a mixture of gratitude and astonishment. The consensus was that three years was a reasonable time in which to make the idea work, and the group also advanced the belief that time was on their side. Adeline Armani, a member of the ‘salon’ knew of someone capable of writing a poem dealing with the dangers of nuclear missiles…tarrying with the devil…were her words for describing the potency of The Pentagon and its’ ability to take us all to the edge of the precipice, and beyond. Joel Harris believed that Australians were now past the point where they would uncritically enter alliances that mightopen Pandora’s Box. Referring to the American base in Darwin he vouched “Aussies are no longer the gullible servants of empires they once believed to be true blue commodities”.

So, time passed,and the ‘oldies’ remained firmly on the perch to observe Immanuel Kunts’ efforts now steadily bearingfruit. From many quarters of the globe, hundreds, then thousands of enquiries arrived in Buninyong,attesting to the need for solidarity in the face of a military culture perceived be extremely toxic. Immanuel Kunt, given over to musing, believed that if all the people from around the world who empathised with the ‘Confront’ cause came to Ballarat, their number would exceed those attending the Begonia Festival by a magnitude of 00000’s.

Something has to be done and something has to start somewhere, he mused!

Denis A. Conroy, Freelance writer, Australia

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 the moral argument for nonviolence matters

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, Race, War on January 18, 2018 at 11:13 am

Kazu Haga May 5, 2017

“Bernard? Oh yeah, he’s great. He was always the principles guy.”

That was what an old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, organizer told me when I mentioned that I had been trained by Bernard Lafayette, co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum and a legend of the civil rights era.

“I was always a strategies guy,” this elder went on to tell me. “I believed in nonviolence as an effective strategy, but Bernard was always talking about nonviolence as a principle.”

I let out a little laugh. In that moment, I was proud to have been trained by “the principles guy.”

When people talk about nonviolence in the context of social change, they’re typically talking about nonviolent organizing, nonviolent direct action, nonviolent civil resistance; arenas where the word “nonviolence” is only an adjective describing the absence of physical violence within a set of tactics and strategies. The philosophy of nonviolence and the moral question of violence are often considered too messy or complicated, even by those who do believe it to be a principle.

The civil rights movement was led largely by leaders who believed in nonviolence as a moral imperative. It was not only the most effective thing, but also the right thing. While Martin Luther King Jr. and his closest allies held to this belief, some other movement leaders — as well as the vast majority of people who mobilized for the movement — only understood nonviolence as a strategy.

Most of the movements I have participated in, even those that had a strict policy of nonviolence, tend to shy away from the moral question — possibly for fear of turning away potential participants.

And I get that. Making the argument that nonviolence should be seen as a way of life is a much harder sell than convincing people that it is the most effective strategy to accomplish a goal. Convincing people to remain nonviolent during a demonstration is a lot easier than convincing people to look at how to practice nonviolence in all areas of our life.

We find ourselves in an urgent moment in history. From climate change to the Trump agenda, we do not have the luxury to wait until tomorrow. We need a movement today. So maybe trying to make the moral argument is not the most strategic thing.

But King taught us that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. And so, I believe the time is right to make the argument that violence itself is our biggest enemy.

Honoring violence

Making the moral argument for nonviolence does not mean placing a moral judgment on those who use or advocate for violence, especially as a means for self-defense.

As an advocate for nonviolence, I have learned a great deal from the likes of the Black Panther Party, the Zapatistas, the Deacons for Defense and the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, among others. Their struggles and sacrifices should never be discounted, nor should we ignore the many lessons from their movements.

We should also never judge those who have used violence for self-defense in interpersonal relationships — abusive relationships, robberies, assaults, etc. If people felt like that was their only means of protecting themselves, I only pray that they were okay.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the extreme levels of violence that many people are born into because of systemic injustice. We put people into generations of poverty and invest in a culture of violence, then judge them for reacting with violence? As inarticulate as it may be, even riots are typically a cry for peace from a people who have never had it.

So violence can be an effective tool to protect yourself and others against a threat, and it can be used to express outrage about injustice. There is great value in both.

Yet violence is also limited in one very important way, and that is that violence can never create relationships.

Violence can never get you closer to reconciliation, closer to King’s “beloved community,” the reconciled world with justice for all people. And that is perhaps the most significant difference between a principled nonviolent approach and an approach using violence or nonviolence that is strictly strategic. The goals are different.

Resolution vs. reconciliation

In movements that are violent or simply use nonviolent tactics, the goal is victory, where victory is defined as “your” people beating “those” people to win your demands. The victory is over your opponents. But in a principled approach, there is no victory until you’ve won your opponents over.

In a principled nonviolent approach, the goal is always reconciliation and steps toward beloved community. The goal is always to build and strengthen relationships and to bring people and communities together, not separate them. If we are not able to find ways to bring communities together, we will always have separation, violence and injustice.

Even if you are able to achieve short-term gains, if relationships between people were harmed in the conflict and you are further away from each other as a result, then it is not a victory at all. If only your tactics are nonviolent and not your worldview, whatever issue you’re working on may get resolved, but the relationships don’t get repaired.

It was a team of incarcerated Kingian Nonviolence trainers in Soledad Prison that taught me this during a conversation we were having about the difference between conflict resolution and conflict reconciliation.

Conflict resolution is about fixing issues. Conflict reconciliation is about repairing relationships. Resolving an issue is about the mind. It’s about policies, structures, laws — the causes of violence. Reconciling a relationship is about the heart. It’s about the people, the stories, the history — the human impact of violence.

The levels of violence today are so heightened that there will be times when movements will need to use assertive and militant nonviolent tactics to stop the immediate harm and demand change.

As Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication, says, we need to, “use the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the immediate harm.” And we never think about what the “minimum amount” looks like.

That is the realm of nonviolent strategies and tactics like noncooperation and civil disobedience. Tactics that could stop the construction of a pipeline, pass voter protection laws or even lead to a political revolution.

But if we stop there, the relationships between the communities are still divided, and there could still be fear, mistrust and resentment. If the human relationships are not healed, the conflict will resurface again on some other issue. Any peace gained through political revolution but not a revolution of relationships is short-lived.

Reconciliation is what a principled nonviolent approach demands.

The need for healing

The very nature of violence is unjust. As Rev. James Lawson, one of the lead trainers for the civil rights movement, has said, “Violence has a very simple dynamic. I make you suffer more than I suffer. I make you suffer until you cry uncle.” It is the very idea that we can use force, fear and intimidation to get what we want that is our enemy.

Because violence hurts. Period.

We all know that. We’ve all experienced it — physical, emotional and spiritual. It hurts to get punched, but it hurts more to feel abandoned, alone, ashamed, hopeless, desperate, unworthy, afraid, used. And too often, we are made to feel those things by people in our own families, in our own movements, in our own communities.

Being committed to a principled approach to nonviolence requires us to look at the pain that we carry ourselves, and the pain that we inflict on each other within our communities. It is easy to point the finger and say that the violence is “over there.”

I have talked to too many people who shared that the traumas they carry were only re-triggered and made worse by the violence they witnessed within movements. When we say that we are committed to nonviolence, we are not only saying that we want to stop the violence “over there” that “those people” are committing. We also try to work on the ways we ourselves perpetuate harm as a result of our own unhealed traumas. We are working to heal our own selves as much as anyone we perceive as our enemies. We are working to change how we relate to each other in own communities as much as we are working to change any policy.

Whether you live in an impoverished community or work in law enforcement where your job is to dehumanize people all day, we are not a healthy society. It hurts to witness violence, it hurts to experience violence, and it hurts to inflict violence. Each causes trauma.

Yes, we need to fight. But only so that we can create spaces to heal and to build.

Beloved community

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This universal truth comes out in many cultures and traditions throughout the world. The aboriginal peoples in Australia teach us, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

That is the vision of beloved community. A world where we acknowledge our interdependence — our “inter-being,” as Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says.

My liberation is bound up in yours. That is a beautiful concept, and a popular quote in many progressive circles. But to what extent do we really believe it? Is our liberation bound up with the liberation of some and not others? How about people who voted for Donald Trump or people who have hurt us personally? Who draws that line? Do some people fall out of the “network of mutuality” that King talked about?

What does it look like to work together to “liberate” those who commit harm? What does it mean to acknowledge that being oppressed hurts, but being an oppressor also destroys your soul? The privileges of being an oppressor doesn’t take away the violence that gets internalized when you hurt someone.

Beloved community is not about loving the people who are easy to love. It is about cultivating “agape” — a Greek word for unconditional love for all of humanity, including those who are difficult to love.

King said that the civil rights movement was a movement for the bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks. He acknowledged that being a white supremacist destroys your soul. To have so much judgment and hatred in your heart is an act of violence you do to yourself, and part of the goal of the movement was to help them. To bring them back into the network of mutuality and to remind them that they are part of beloved community.

Because our liberation depends on it.

Faith in people

The core of the theory of nonviolence for me has become an unwavering faith in the nature of humanity. That at our core, we are a species that wants to live in peace and wants to be in service and relationship; that we have the resiliency to heal no matter how hurt we are, and we have the ability to transform no matter how much harm we’ve caused.

We get asked all the time in our workshops, “Well, isn’t violence just part of human nature?” And I used to struggle responding to it, because it was hard to argue. It has always been part of our history.

Then several years ago, I met Paul Chappell, a graduate of West Point turned peace activist. During his presentation at a conference, he said that every study that has ever been conducted shows that violence is traumatic. It can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety and permanent damage to our brain. And yet not a single person has ever been traumatized by an act of love.

He then asked, “If violence is part of our nature, then why does it short-circuit our brain?” Shouldn’t we be able to engage in it and not have it cause permanent damage?

That to him was evidence that violence isn’t in our nature, that at the core of human nature are the things that fulfill us: love, joy, community, peace.

And that is what we need today: a determined and dogged belief in the goodness of people. We need the fierce tactics of nonviolence to stop the immediate harm, and the principles of nonviolence to transform the pain. Without one or the other, we are always going to be spinning our wheels, fighting the next injustice or addressing the next hurt.

I’ve been very privileged in my life. I’ve gotten to see so many people transformed from the most violent circumstances, that it might be easier for me to have faith in people. It is the greatest honor being able to work with incarcerated communities. Everyday, I get to learn from people who have survived so much violence and in many cases have inflicted so much harm, yet have transformed to become some of the greatest peacemakers I’ve ever met. It gives me faith in the resiliency of people and in the core of human nature.

And if I can have faith in their core and their ability to transform, why not the prison guards? Why not the politician who passed the laws that filled the prison? Or the corporate lobbyist who pushed for that legislation? Or the conservative voter who put those lawmakers into office?

It may take seven generations, but if we are not working for a world that works for all of us, then what exactly are we working for? If we are working to change laws and policies, but the hearts and minds of the people are still corrupt and we still see each other as exactly that — “others” — will we ever know peace?

We are in need of a truly nonviolent revolution, not just of systems and policies, but also of worldviews and relationships. We need to understand that people are never the enemy, that violence and injustice itself is what we need to defeat, and that the goal of every conflict must be reconciliation.

Each conflict we face has to be seen as an opportunity to strengthen understanding between members of a human family that have grown so far apart that we have forgotten our dependence on each other.

That is why we need a principled nonviolent approach to society’s ills. Because it is not just laws and systems that have poisoned us. It is a worldview that has made us forget that our liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people.

And only a holistic nonviolent approach — one that involves both strategies and principles — can muster the force to stop injustice in its tracks while bringing communities towards reconciliation.

Pope Warns World Is One Step Away From Nuclear War

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 17, 2018 at 9:11 am

By Philip Pullella, Reuters

15 January 18

Pope Francis said on Monday he was really afraid about the danger of nuclear war and that the world now stood at “the very limit”.

His comment, made as he flew off for a visit to Chile and Peru, came after Hawaii issued a false missile alert that provoked panic in the U.S. state and highlighted the risk of possible unintended nuclear war with North Korea.

Asked if he was worried about the possibility of nuclear war, Pope Francis said: “I think we are at the very limit. I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things.”

He did not mention Hawaii or North Korea.

Pope Francis has often flagged the danger of nuclear warfare and in November he appeared to harden the Catholic Church’s teaching against nuclear weapons, saying countries should not stockpile them even for the purpose of deterrence.

As reporters boarded his plane bound for Chile, Vatican officials handed out a photograph taken in 1945 that shows a young Japanese boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders following the U.S. nuclear attack on Nagasaki.

“I was moved when I saw this. The only thing I could think of adding were the words ‘the fruit of war’,” Francis said, referring to a caption put on the back of the image.

“I wanted to have it reprinted and distributed because an image like this can be more moving than a thousand words. That is why I wanted to share it with you,” he said.

Nuclear Citizenship

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on January 13, 2018 at 11:17 pm

By Elaine Scarry, Harper’s Magazine


A nuclear weapon, like any weapon, has two ends: the end from which it is fired and the end through which it inflicts injury. But in the case of nuclear weapons, there is a unique disproportion between the two ends. The injuring end has the capacity to kill hundreds of thousands of people instantly. The firing end, by contrast, requires only the will of a single person—or at most a set of persons whose numbers are infinitesimal compared with those who will be harmed.

In theory, laws are already in place to invalidate nuclear weapons. International laws explicitly restrict what happens at the injury end. The Geneva Protocol prohibits weapons that inflict disproportionate suffering. The Hague Conventions prohibit weapons whose lethal effects can spread to neutral regions and affect innocent populations. The UN Convention on Genocide prohibits acts committed with “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Other treaties— such as the Rio Declaration and the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer—name the earth itself, rather than people, as the injured party.

At the other end, the firing end, individual constitutions provide constraints that also ought to forbid the use of nuclear weapons. Some constitutions stipulate that the country cannot initiate war unless a large number of citizens agree that the putative enemy has done something to warrant it. Furthermore, they require that the demonstration of this consent be individually burdensome and costly, something more than the click of a mouse or an anonymous poll.

The Constitution of the United States is one such document. It places two impediments in the way of initiating war. The first is well known: the requirement for a declaration of war by Congress. The cost to lawmakers is the obligation to deliver open arguments, subject to rigorous testing, and climaxing in a roll-call vote that makes the yea voters responsible for whatever follows. The other impediment is less familiar but is implicit in the Second Amendment: confirmation by the population, which is given agency over the weapons. The cost to them is the risk of death if one agrees to fight, and the risk of ostracism or jail if one declines. Giving a voice to the citizenry as well as to legislators is key. In the debates surrounding the creation of the Constitution, the Founders repeatedly stressed that people of all ages, economic groups, and regions must be given authority over arms.

The US Constitution is not unique in stipulating such constraints. The constitutions of several other nuclear states—France, Russia, and India— assert that the legislature, not the executive, has responsibility for authorizing the country’s entry into war. And the Russian constitution includes a provision that is a close cousin of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms: it states that all adult Russian citizens bear responsibility for defending the country.

Despite the international and domestic frameworks that would seem to outlaw the existence of nuclear weapons, a handful of individuals—Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jong-un among them—currently possess the ability to condemn entire populations to sudden extinction. How did this come to pass? Given the stark incompatibility of nuclear weapons and legislatures, citizens, constitutions, and international laws, how have such weapons persisted and flourished?

One usual answer is that nuclear weapons cannot be unmade. But that is obviously false. The nine nuclear states are confined to the Northern Hemisphere; the Southern Hemisphere is blanketed with treaties making those continents and countries free of nuclear weapons. It wouldn’t be difficult for nuclear armed nations to accomplish the same. A Scottish study, for instance, has established a concrete timetable for disassembling the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. Some parts of this work (dismantling the nuclear triggers) would take hours, other parts (bringing the submarines into port), days, but the UK could ditch its nuclear weapons entirely in four years. Compared with global warming, unmaking these bombs is simple and straightforward.

Nuclear weapons have persisted not because they resist dismantling, but because they have infantilized and miniaturized our political institutions. Ever since the atomic bomb and its successors enabled leaders to wipe out millions instantly, US presidents have not bothered to seek a congressional declaration when initiating a conventional war (Korea, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan) or carrying out an invasion (Panama, Haiti). Congress, when it acted at all, issued enfeebled forms of authorization or conditional declarations. Deprived of its single greatest constitutional duty (what Justice Joseph Story once called the cornerstone of the Constitution), Congress became irrelevant at best.

During the first three decades of the nuclear age, the citizenry remained more involved than Congress, simply because the population was still needed to carry the weapons onto the battlefield. But once conscription was eliminated after the Vietnam War, and a voluntary army could be supplemented by contractors who served as the president’s private military, the citizenry, too, forgot that it was responsible for authorizing the use of the country’s arms, and finally concluded that its only responsibility was to watch executive-ordered violence unfold on television.

When the Founders described the right to bear arms as the “palladium of liberty,” they were not speaking of our right to carry a gun into a drugstore or a university classroom. They were speaking about the population’s collective power to say yes or no to war. Similarly, when John Locke described the legislature as the “soul” of any democratic government, he was speaking frst and foremost about the constraints that the legislature imposed on the executive impulse to go to war.

Over this seven-decade affair with nuclear weapons, we’ve forgotten that we still have the constitutional tools to eliminate them. We have both the moral responsibility and the legal means to enable legislatures and citizens to recover their rightful stature, and to rid the world, finally, of these obscene instruments of devastation.

BOOK EXCERPT Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 6, 2018 at 4:08 am

Mark Costantini/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris
Published 15 hours ago
Updated January 4, 2018

One day in the spring of 1961, soon after my thirtieth birthday, I was shown how our world would end. Not the earth itself, not – so far as I knew then, mistakenly – nearly all humanity or life on the planet, but the destruction of most cities and people in the northern hemisphere. What I was handed, in a White House office, was a single sheet of paper with a simple graph on it. It was headed “Top Secret – Sensitive.” Under that was “For the President’s Eyes Only.”

The “eyes only” designation meant that, in principle, it was to be seen and read only by the person to whom it was explicitly addressed – in this case, the president. I had never before seen one marked “For the President’s Eyes Only.” And I never did again.

The deputy assistant to the president for national security, Bob Komer, showed it to me. A cover sheet identified it as the answer to a question that President Kennedy had addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff a week earlier. Komer showed their response to me because I had drafted the question, which Komer had sent in the president’s name.

Read more: Danniel Ellsberg shares his views, and predictions, on U .S. nuclear arsenal

The question to the Joint Chiefs was this: “If your plans for general [nuclear] war are carried out as planned, how many people will be killed in the Soviet Union and China?”

Their answer was in the form of a graph. The vertical axis showed the number of deaths, in millions. The horizontal axis showed the amount of time, in months. The graph was a straight line, starting at time zero on the horizontal, with the vertical axis indicating the number of immediate deaths expected within hours of our attack, and then slanting upward to a maximum at six months – an arbitrary cutoff for the deaths that would accumulate over time from initial injuries and from fallout radiation. The representation below is from memory; it was impossible to forget.

The lowest number, at the left of the graph, was 275 million deaths.

The number on the right-hand side, at six months, was 325 million.

That same morning, I had drafted another question to be sent to the Joint Chiefs over the president’s signature, asking for a total breakdown of global deaths from our own attacks, to include not only the Sino-Soviet bloc but all other countries that would be affected by fallout. In sum, another hundred million deaths, roughly, were predicted in Eastern Europe, from direct attacks on Warsaw Pact bases and air defences and from fallout. There might be a hundred million more from fallout in Western Europe, depending on which way the wind blew (a matter, largely, of the season). But regardless of the season, another hundred million deaths, at least, were predicted from fallout in the mostly neutral countries adjacent to the Soviet bloc and China, including Finland, Sweden, Austria, Afghanistan, India, and Japan. Finland, for example, would be wiped out by fallout from U.S. ground-burst explosions on the Soviet submarine pens in Leningrad.

The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed at the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact satellites, and China, would be roughly six hundred million dead. A hundred Holocausts.

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I remember what I thought when I first held the single sheet with the graph on it. I thought, This piece of paper should not exist. It should never have existed. Not in America. Not anywhere, ever. It depicted evil beyond any human project ever. There should be nothing on earth, nothing real, that it referred to.

From that day on, I have had one overriding life purpose: to prevent the execution of any such plan.

Despite my knowledge of the war-planning process and the plans themselves, which was extensive and virtually unique for a civilian, I had never seen such an estimate. Others had told me they had never seen one either, and they believed it did not exist. And it was easy for someone familiar with the military bureaucracy to imagine bureaucratic considerations that would have blocked it from ever being investigated, having to do with a fear of leaks to the public, but also with the use that internal military critics of the plans could make of realistically horrific figures.

So I thought that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would probably have to admit that they didn’t know, either. Or they would have to ask for more time to calculate an answer. Either response would put them off balance in defending their current plans against our proposed alternatives. “What, you don’t even know the consequences of your own plans for human fatalities?” It was to make that as embarrassing as possible that I drafted the question to cover the Soviet Union and China alone, so that they couldn’t pretend they needed extra time merely to calculate answers for fatalities in Albania. I thought it was also possible that they would turn out a hasty answer, which could probably be shown to be absurdly low. If they came back with any estimate at all, I expected that it would be comparably unrealistic in the era of thermonuclear weapons, H-bombs. New underestimates would serve the same purposes in the inner bureaucratic bargaining over the plans as no estimates at all. The possibility that the JCS would come up quickly with a realistic estimate was one I barely considered.

I was mistaken. The answer was in the form of the graph depicted in the prologue (page 2) that showed 275 million would die in the first few hours of our attacks and 325 million would be dead within six months. (I had only asked for fatalities, not for casualties, which would have included wounded and sick.) While this was for the Soviet Union and China alone, the speed of their response suggested that they had an existing computer model and probably had estimates on hand for other areas as well.

Another hundred million or so would die in the Eastern European satellite countries from the attacks contemplated in our war plans, many of which were on air defences and military installations in those countries, most of them near cities (even though Eastern Europe cities were not targeted as such). To open “air corridors” for subsequent bombers advancing toward the Soviet Union through Warsaw Pact territories, the first wave of bombers would “bomb as they go,” dropping megaton weapons on radar stations, anti-aircraft installations, and surface-to-air missile sites as they came to them in Eastern Europe. Although population destruction was not regarded as a “bonus” in the “captive nations” – as it was in the Soviet Union and China, where it was deliberately maximized – most warheads in Eastern Europe, as elsewhere, were ground-burst, maximizing fallout.

Fallout from our surface explosions in the Soviet Union, its satellites, and China would decimate the populations in the Sino-Soviet bloc as well as in all the neutral nations bordering these countries –Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Afghanistan, for example – as well as Japan and Pakistan. Given prevailing wind patterns, the Finns would be virtually exterminated by the fallout from surface bursts on Soviet submarine pens near their borders. These fatalities from U.S. attacks, up to another hundred million, would occur without a single U.S. warhead landing on the territories of these countries outside the NATO and Warsaw Pacts.

Fallout fatalities inside our Western European NATO allies from U.S. attacks against the Warsaw Pact would depend on climate and wind conditions. As a general testifying before Congress put it, these could be up to a hundred million European allied deaths from our attacks, “depending on which way the wind blows.”

As I had intended, the JCS had clearly interpreted the phrase “if your plans were implemented as planned,” to mean “if U.S. strategic forces struck first, and executed their planned missions without disruption from a Soviet pre-emptive strike.”

These figures clearly presumed that all or most U.S. forces had gotten off the ground with their weapons without having been attacked first. That is, it was implicit in these calculations – as in the greater part of our planning – that the United States would be initiating all-out nuclear war: either as escalation of a limited regional conflict that had come to involve Soviet troops or in pre-emption of a Soviet nuclear attack of which we had tactical warning. Before enemy warheads had arrived or, perhaps, had been directed to launch, we would be striking first.

The total death count from our own attacks, in the estimates supplied by the Joint Staff, was in the neighbourhood of 600 million dead, almost entirely civilians. The greater part inflicted in a day or two, the rest over six months.

Holding the graph in my hand – the answer to my initial query, covering only fatalities from the Soviet Union and China – looking at it in an office of the White House Annex on a spring day in 1961, I realized, “So they knew.”

The graph seemed to me the depiction of pure evil. It should not exist; there should be nothing real on earth that it referred to.

To see it in print was startling, despite the fact that I had long privately thought, while reading war plans during the previous two years, that I was looking at the way the civilized world might end. These were plans for destroying the world of cities, plans that someday might be carried out. But I had thought that none of the others reading or writing them had faced up to that.

Far from being accompanied by any offers to resign, there was no evident embarrassment, no shame, apology, or evasion: no apparent awareness of any need for an explanation of this answer to the new president. I thought: this was what the United States had come to, sixteen years after Hiroshima. Plans and preparations, awaiting only presidential order to execute (and, I’d discovered, not requiring even that in some circumstances), for whose foreseen consequences the term “genocidal” was totally inadequate.

I liked most of the planners and analysts I knew: not only the physicists at RAND who designed bombs and the economists who speculated on strategy (like me), but also the colonels who worked on these very plans, whom I consulted with during the workday and drank beer with in the evening. What I was looking at was not simply an American problem or a superpower problem. With the age of warring nation-states persisting into the thermonuclear era, it was a species problem.

Excerpted from The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg published this month by Bloomsbury USA. Copyright 2017 by Daniel Ellsberg

Financing the U.S. Military Budget

In Human rights, Justice, Politics, War on December 24, 2017 at 7:22 am

Tom Mayer, Colorado Daily, December 22, 2017

United States military spending exceeds that of any other country in the world. It surpasses that of the next seven greatest military spenders combined. China is currently the second biggest military spender, but U.S. military outlays are about three times larger than those of China. In fact U.S. military spending is twice as great as the military spending of China and Russia combined. In 2017 U.S. military expenses amounted to 1.36 trillion dollars, or 44% of all federal spending. Total military spending currently runs at about 7% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, total military spending hovered around 14% of GDP. U.S. military spending in World War Two sometimes exceeded 40% of GDP. The War Resisters League estimates that U.S. military expenses in 2018 will be about 1.45 trillion dollars, constituting 48% of all federal outlays.

Income taxes pay for most U.S. military expenses. Although corporations are major beneficiaries of military spending, research shows that they do not shoulder a fair share of the resulting expenses. The new tax bill will further diminish corporate contributions to military spending. This bill is widely understood as a major giveaway to giant corporations. Among many other deficiencies, it lowers the corporate tax rate and adopts a “territorial” tax system. Under a territorial system, corporations are not be taxed for income they earn in other countries. Corporations have already avoided paying about $750 billion dollars in taxes by booking profits offshore through “creative” (i.e. dubious) accounting. The territorial tax system motivates corporations to move jobs to low taxation countries, and to book profits abroad through such creative accounting.

Our basic economic problem is not excessive corporate taxation, but insufficient demand due to gross income inequality. The arguments on behalf of the new tax bill are deeply flawed. Proponents claim that reducing corporate taxation will encourage investment and therefore create jobs. But abundant empirical evidence shows that reducing corporate taxation – other things being equal – increases shareholder income (and economic inequality) without stimulating investment.

Proponents also claim that U.S. corporate taxation is excessively high, supposedly discouraging investment. The legal (or statutory) corporate tax rate in the USA is 35%, which is indeed high relative to that in most other advanced capitalist countries. However, due to numerous loopholes and creative accounting, corporations actually pay between 13% and 21%, which is well within the standard range of corporate taxation.

Not all U.S. corporations benefit directly from military spending. One might hope that corporations outside the military industrial complex would oppose our bloated military budget and the dangerous militarism that results. However, most corporations are not hit with a really burdensome share of our huge military expenses. More importantly, corporate elites understand that military expenditures are a politically acceptable way of countering the persistent tendency towards stagnation within the U.S. monopoly capitalism.


In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Politics, Race on December 16, 2017 at 11:51 pm

DECEMBER 16, 2017
Good morning Leroy,

When it came time to cast her ballot in the presidential election last fall, Dechauna Jiles voted at the First Assembly of God in Dothan, Alabama. But when she returned to her polling place on Tuesday to vote in Alabama’s special election, poll workers told her she was “inactive.”

“That makes no sense,” said Jiles.

The African-American woman had always voted at the First Assembly of God.

Jiles told ThinkProgress’ Kira Lerner that it would be a “dishonor to her family” not to vote. Her parents, she said, grew up two blocks from the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. The church had been a rallying point for civil rights activists during the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, a pivotal moment in the movement. And it was the scene of one of the era’s most heinous acts of terror when Klansmen set off a powerful bomb on a Sunday morning – killing four little girls – in September of that year.

In fact, Doug Jones, the winner in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate election, successfully prosecuted two of the Klansmen nearly 40 years after the bombing.

But on Tuesday, workers told Jiles that she could only cast a “provisional” ballot, one that would not be counted unless she drove to another precinct to update her information. Six other voters, Jiles told Lerner, were told the same thing.

“It’s not that we’re not showing up to vote — we’re being suppressed,” said Jiles.

We were concerned going into the special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s decision to inactivate 340,000 voters a month before the August primary — and his recent threat about jailing crossover voters — would have a chilling effect on turnout.

Merrill said he was updating the voter rolls to reflect address changes.

But black voters in Alabama are right to be suspicious. The state has a long history of making it harder for them to cast their ballot. In an interview with the SPLC ahead of 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Dorothy Guilford, then 94, recounted taking a literacy test to become eligible and standing in long lines to pay her poll tax.

“Now that, I think, discouraged a lot of people, the long lines, because so many had to go back to work,” Guilford said.

The Voting Rights Act put an end to such overtly discriminatory measures, but the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 to gut key provisions of the Act opened the door to new forms of discrimination.

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that Alabama — which requires a photo ID to vote — disproportionately hurt black voters in 2015 when it closed 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in eight of the 10 counties with the highest proportion of black residents.

“All you had to do was look at a map to see it,” wrote AL.com’s Kyle Whitmore.

Thanks to the federal probe, some of the offices have since reopened. But it wasn’t the last attack by an Alabama lawmaker on the right to vote.

Just before last year’s presidential election, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill criticized automatic voter registration as the “sorry and lazy way out,” claiming that “just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything.”

Merrill’s comments were not only ignorant — the 26th Amendment gives citizens who turn 18 precisely the right to vote — but part and parcel of a broader campaign to suppress minority voters.

We’ve seen it in President Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, in lawmakers’ purges of voter rolls, in lawsuits against poor counties for out-of-date voter rolls, and in gerrymandered districts.

We saw it in Alabama on Tuesday, when voters across the state reported misleading ballots, police intimidation at the polls, and text messages erroneously telling them that their polling locations had changed.

“It’s important for everybody to be able to vote and let their choice be known,” Dorothy Guilford told the SPLC shortly after the VRA was abolished.

Without its protections, systematic voter suppression – not voter fraud – is the real cause for concern.

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama