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FIGHTING HATE // TEACHING TOLERANCE // SEEKING JUSTICE

In Democracy, Race, Nonviolence, Human rights, Justice, Politics 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

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Nuclear disarmament now a ‘moral imperative’ as Pope Francis rejects deterrence

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 11:18 pm

In a landmark statement on nuclear arms on Nov. 10, Pope Francis has categorically condemned not only “the threat of their use” but also “their very possession.”

Nuclear weapons, he told participants at a Vatican symposium on “integral disarmament,” exist “in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.”

His audience included representatives from the United States and Russia. He told them that “international relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
World leaders are meeting at the Vatican to discuss nuclear weapons. Here’s why.
Kevin Clarke

He said that “weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

He is the first pope ever to condemn the possession of nuclear weapons since they were initially developed at the end of World War II and then used twice by the United States at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, causing the deaths of 210,000 people.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told America, “Pope Francis was clear that because of the significant risks of even an anticipated or accidental war, and of the gargantuan and devastating effects of nuclear war, and of provoking other nations to perhaps use them, the possession itself of these weapons is now condemned, regardless of the intention.”

“International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
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He called the pope’s statement “new and, of course…very significant.” “It is going beyond the questions raised before about the ethic of nuclear deterrence not being warranted in the present day,” Bishop McElroy said. “It’s really going beyond that to the possession itself being morally wrong.”

The bishop said that “the moral imperative” for Catholics and indeed the whole world is a move “progressively and dramatically toward getting rid of nuclear arms.”

Ambassador Douglas Roche, who served as Canada’s ambassador on disarmament to the United Nations (1984-89) and was elected chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee in 1988, told America: “I consider Pope Francis’ categorical condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons to be of a historic nature, a breakthrough. It’s the strongest statement that a pope has made in opposition to the very holding of nuclear weapons, as distinct from their very use.”

Ambassador Roche noted that the United States is currently leading a fight against a recent U.N. treaty supporting the global abolition of nuclear weapons, a position which just took a “big hit” because of the pope’s condemnation.

“Now along comes Pope Francis who gives his moral authority to [nuclear abolition], too,” he said. “This removes the last band the United States had in justifying nuclear weapons, which was John Paul II’s statement in 1982 in which the church gave a limited acceptance for deterrence as long as it would not become permanent.”

He believes the pope’s statement “was a courageous step because he knows that he’s got a lot of bishops that are going to be extremely uneasy about this,” and “the governments [who possess nuclear arms] will not like it at all and especially the United States, where there is a very significant Catholic population.”

“The Holy See has said this before, but putting the words in the mouth of the pope gives it a whole new standing,” said Drew Christiansen, S.J., of Georgetown University, who delivered a talk at the symposium. “This is a very dramatic break from the popular mind; the church has dropped the other shoe and said it is wrong to possess nuclear weapons.”

The Holy See, for its part, is fully aware that there is no movement among those who possess nuclear arms toward negotiating their elimination. On the contrary, they are making significant new investments in their modernization.

Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons represents a significant departure from the stance taken by his predecessors. St. John Paul II had accepted the ethic of deterrence with the understanding that the nations who possessed nuclear arms intended to move forward from deterrence to disarmament as outlined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Article VI) signed in 1968.

Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons represents a significant departure from the stance taken by his predecessors.
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Bishop McElroy told the conference on Nov. 11 that Pope Benedict had recognized the great risk nuclear weapons posed to humanity and called for an effective demilitarization. But that has not happened.

Bishop McElroy said, “In 2008, Pope Benedict, surveying the nuclear landscape in the world, lamented that an ethic of complacency and even a toleration of limited nuclear expansion had become inextricably intertwined with the ethic of deterrence.” Pope Benedict, he said, observing that possession of nuclear weapons “was increasingly becoming a sign of great power status,” saw them as “a temptation for newly emerging powers to defend their interests and their peoples, and a spur to modernization.”

Pope Francis’ condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons came in his keynote address to the 350 participants at this Vatican symposium on “perspectives for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament,” organized by the Dicastery for the Promoting Integral Human Development.

The pope began his address by underlining the importance of their discussion at this moment in history when “a climate of instability and conflict” is growing and the prospects of a world without nuclear arms seems “increasingly remote.” He said that “the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.”

As a result, Francis said, “the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and health care projects, and the development of human rights are relegated to second place.”

His condemnation came from a realization of “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices” and “the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind.”

Faced with this situation, Francis said, “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

The two-day symposium (Nov. 10 to 11), whose sponsors included the German and Japanese bishops’ conferences, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame, brought together 11 Nobel Peace laureates and experts in the field of nuclear arms from civil society, states and international organizations as well as influential academics.

Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish-born executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, told America that the pope “is giving moral leadership” on nuclear disarmament.

She hailed the fact that under his leadership the Holy See “ratified the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons so quickly.” This was a reference to the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear arms, which was approved at a U.N. conference on July 7. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the secretary for Relations with States, signed the treaty on behalf of the Holy See and the Vatican City State on Sept. 20 in what Ms. Fihn described as “a strong signal to the world.”

Ms. Fihn told America: “I am not a religious person, and I am usually not very impressed with celebrities, but I was very taken with Pope Francis, and when he came into the room I was very moved by his presence. He was very warm when I greeted him, and I asked him to ask people to pray for the abolition of nuclear weapons on Dec. 10, international human rights day, when we receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Ms. Fihn was “delighted” to have been invited to this conference, which, she said, “is a sign that Pope Francis and the Vatican are taking this seriously, and that it’s one of their priority issues now.” She emphasized that the movement to abolish nuclear weapons “is going to need the support of religious communities if we are going to be able to take this forward.” She believes there is “an opportunity” to do so now because of “the tensions between the United States and North Korea and the growing fear of a confrontation.”

Today nine states possess nuclear arms: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The United States and Russia together have 14,000 out of the 15,000 nuclear weapons known to exist in the world, 2,000 of which “are still on high alert,” according to Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and one of the main speakers at the symposium.

Mr. El Baradei described the argument that nuclear weapons have kept the peace as “bogus.”

“A peace that hangs on a doctrine of mutually assured destruction,” he said, “is underpinned by human fallibility and, in addition, is irrelevant to extremists. It is a peace that is unsustainable and highly perilous.”

Nuclear weapons, he warned, “are the most urgent threat facing humanity today, and the risk of their use is higher than at any time in the recent past.”

According to Mr. El Baradei, “The entire landscape is frightening and shameful. It shows no genuine commitment whatsoever to nuclear disarmament.”

He said, “A U.S. or Russian president has a mere seven to eight minutes to respond to a ‘reported’ nuclear attack, with the odds of miscalculation increasing exponentially as a result of cyber-manipulation.”
World leaders are meeting at the Vatican to discuss nuclear weapons. Here’s why.
Kevin Clarke

Alexei Georgevich Arbatov, who has spent most of his life working on these issues and now heads the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Russia, agreed with Mr. El Baradei. “The nuclear arms control regime of the last 50 years is disintegrating,” he said.

Several other speakers, including Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for leading the successful campaign to get an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, emphasized the need for all-out global mobilization to get more and more states to sign and ratify the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Everyone recognizes that it is a steep, uphill struggle, but there is confidence that it can be done.

A number of participants called for Pope Francis to write an encyclical on this subject, as a companion to “Laudato Si’.” But others, like Northern Ireland Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, told America they would like the issue to be part of an encyclical on “non-violence.” Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Vatican’s integral human development office, said he has heard these calls but believes his dicastery must first work on a revision of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church on the question of nuclear arms.

As this important and energizing symposium drew to a close, Wada Masako, a “Hibakusha”—the Japanese name for the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—gave a deeply moving testimony. She recalled that she was 22 months old when Nagasaki, the city where she lived, was devastated. She went on to narrate in graphic detail what her mother had told her about “the hellish scenes” she witnessed then. When she concluded her testimony with a passionate appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons, she was given a standing ovation.

Reach High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 2:37 am

Youth appeal to world leaders to participate constructively in the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament

Participants of the Reaching High conference* in Prague, November 27-29, 2017 express our;

  1. Alarm at the risks of nuclear weapons use by accident, miscalculation or intent, especially in these times of increasing conflict;
  2. Concern at the catastrophic human, economic and environmental consequences the use of nuclear weapons would have, possibly ending civilization as we know it;
  3. Sorrow at the extensive impact already caused by the production and testing of nuclear weapons on human health and the environment, and the fact that such impact will last for generations;
  4. Agreement with the notion that ‘There are no right hands for wrong weapons’ and that nuclear weapons are wrong weapons as they could not be used without affecting civilians, the environment and future generations;
  5. Opposition to the $100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons, when such funds are sorely needed for climate protection, to achieve the sustainable development goals, and for other social and economic need;
  6. Support for efforts to slash nuclear weapons spending directly through budget allocations and indirectly through ending investments of public funds and banks in nuclear weapons corporations;
  7. Affirmation that the goal of nuclear disarmament is a universal goal that transcends differences in politics, nationalities, religions, cultures and ages;
  8. Insistence that nuclear weapon states and their allies fulfill their obligation to nuclear disarmament by replacing nuclear deterrence with common security approaches, such as those outlined in the UN Charter of diplomacy, negotiation, mediation, adjudication and application of international law;
  9. Highlight the important role of civil society, including all ages from youth to seniors, in the promotion of nuclear disarmament and participation in international disarmament forums such as the 2018 UN High- Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;

10. Encourage governments to work with civil society organisations to educate and engage public in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as agreed by governments in the final report of the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education.

And in particular we call on:

  1. All governments to participate at the highest level (Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister or Minister for Disarmament) in the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;
  2. Non-nuclear countries to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the 2018 UN High- Level Conference, if they have not already done so, in order to secure 100 signatories by the end of the conference;
  3. Nuclear reliant countries (nuclear armed countries and their allies) to adopt a declaration at the conference to never use nuclear weapons first, and to ensure that all nuclear weapons systems are taken off high-readiness to use, and to commit to negotiations on phased nuclear disarmament.

* The Reaching High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World conference, held at the Charles University in Prague, included university students, young academics, policy analysts and activists from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. The conference was organised by the Abolition 2000 Youth Network. Co-sponsored by the Basel Peace Office, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Prague Vision Institute for Sustainable Security, Centre for Security Policy at Charles University (SBP) and UNFOLD ZERO.

Statement by a Harvard Physician about Treatment of Those Receiving the Nobel Prize for the Nuclear Ban Treaty

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 3, 2017 at 8:22 am

While this is unfortunate but not surprising, this is actually very mild compared to the reaction of the U.S. and some allies, and much of the Western media, at the time of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize to IPPNW.

We actually have made enormous progress since then.

Among other things from 1985:

1. US Senate

The US Senate approved a resolution condemning the awarding of the Prize to IPPNW, and the official Congressional Record still contains that resolution, which was something along the lines of “…Whereas IPPNW Co-President Dr. Yevgueni Chazov is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, whereas he therefore shares responsibility for…[then a long list, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, human rights abuses, etc. etc.], the U.S. Senate condemns the award and requests that the Nobel Committee rescind…”

We (IPPNW) chose to ignore that, since protesting would just draw more attention to it.

2. German Foreign Minister

The German Foreign Minister asked the Nobel Committee to rescind the award, and my memory is that then Chair of the Nobel Committee Egil Aarvik, when asked by the media about this, replied something along the lines of “We stand by our decision. The last time such a high-ranking German official asked us to rescind an award was when Adolf Hitler asked us…and we didn’t change our mind that time, either.”

3. Official Nobel Press Conference in Oslo

Almost all that the Western media wanted to talk about was Andrei Sakharov, 1975 Nobel Peace laureate, and why Dr. Chazov was not insisting that he be released from internal exile. It was a very heated press conference, in a very warm room, and at one point a few feet away from me a Soviet correspondent, Lev Novikov, collapsed to the floor. Western media around me called out things along the lines of “Ignore him, he’s faking, he’s just trying to interrupt the press conference, we need our questions answered!!” Dr. Lown and Dr. Chazov, both cardiologists, rushed from the dias to join Drs. Jim Muller and Marcia Goldberg, who had found that he was in cardiac arrest, and while others around kept calling out that he was faking, the IPPNW doctors performed prolonged CPR during the extensive time it took emergency medical personnel to arrive to take him by ambulance to the hospital, where fortunately he survived and largely recovered. (See UPI story here, including report that the US and German Ambassadors would be boycotting the Nobel Ceremony the next day.)

4. Other Western Media coverage

Two Wall Street Journal editorials condemning the award were titled “Nobel Peace Fraud” and “Embarrassment in Oslo”. An editorial condemning the award in the Detroit Free Press (USA) called us “Heirs to Joseph Mengele”, because one of our senior Soviet colleagues, Dr. Marat Vartanyan, was one of the most senior psychiatrists in the Soviet Union, and since we were working with him in IPPNW we were therefore guilty of promoting Soviet psychiatric abuses of dissidents.

5. Years Earlier: Albert Schweitzer (1952 Nobel Peace laureate)

When Dr. Albert Schweitzer spoke out against nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s, condemning equally US and Soviet nuclear test explosions, the US government stole his mail and did all it could to destroy his reputation — this was the exact time that stories started appearing in the media about “Schweitzer the racist” and “Schweitzer the colonialist”, which still circulate on the internet.

Lesson/Conclusion:

The most important lesson for us from this history – apart from the fact that these attacks from nuclear weapons states and their allies are inevitable, and are really just evidence that they take our work very seriously – is that when President Kennedy signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the White House then bragged about Dr. Schweitzer’s support. President Kennedy wrote a letter to Dr. Schweitzer in which he wrote “You are one of the transcendent moral influences of our century.”

I think Beatrice Fihn’s comments are exactly right. We should stay focused on our mission. We have both scientific facts behind us and the moral high ground, and just need to keep successfully recruiting support from the people of the world, from growing numbers of nation states, and one day even from all of today’s nuclear weapons states.

–Lachlan

Lachlan Forrow, MD

Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Past Board Chair and CEO
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW
1985 Nobel Peace Prize laureate organization and Founding Partner Organization of ICAN, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

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.

The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order

In Democracy, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 26, 2017 at 11:41 pm

By Marjorie Cohn

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42697-the-duty-to-disobey-a-nuclear-launch-order

On November 19, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command, declared he would refuse to follow an illegal presidential order to launch a nuclear attack. “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail,” the general explained at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia. “You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

Gen. Hyten is correct. For those in the military, there is a legal duty to obey a lawful order, but also a legal duty to disobey an unlawful order. An order to use nuclear weapons — except possibly in an extreme circumstance of self-defense when the survival of the nation is at stake — would be an unlawful order.

There is cause for concern that Donald Trump may order a nuclear strike on North Korea. Trump has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons. In early 2016, he asked a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing and then queried, “If we have them why can’t we use them?” During a GOP presidential debate, Trump declared, “With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

As the heated rhetoric with North Korean president Kim Jong-un escalated, Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” by pursuing diplomacy with North Korea. Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. During his visit to South Korea earlier this month, Trump distinguished his administration from prior ones, who refrained from using nuclear weapons against North Korea. “This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past,” he said. “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”

In April, “multiple senior intelligence officials” told NBC News that the administration was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike” if they thought North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test. Preemptive strikes violate the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of military force except in self-defense or with permission from the UN Security Council.

A Duty to Obey Lawful and Disobey Unlawful Orders

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that all military personnel obey lawful orders. Article 92 of the UCMJ provides, “A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the laws of the United States….” Additionally, both the Nuremberg Principles and the Army Field Manual create a duty to disobey unlawful orders.

Article II of the Constitution states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” However, Article I specifies that only Congress has the power to declare war. Taken together, the articles convey that the president commands the armed forces once Congress authorizes war.

The president can only use military force in self-defense or to forestall an imminent attack. There must exist “a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” under the well-established Caroline Case. A president has no lawful authority to order a first-strike nuclear attack.

In its advisory opinion, “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined in 1996 that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.”

The ICJ continued, “However … the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” That means that while the use of nuclear weapons might be lawful when used in self-defense if the survival of the nation were at stake, a first-strike use would not be.

Article 509 of Field Manual 27-10, codifying a Nuremberg Principle, specifies that “following superior orders” is not a defense to the commission of war crimes, unless the accused “did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful.”

“Every violation of the law of war is a war crime,” Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states. The law of war is largely contained in the Geneva Conventions.

Gen. Hyten, who said he had been trained in the law of war for many years, cited its four guiding principles: distinction, proportionality, necessity and unnecessary suffering.

The first is distinction. “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives,” Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol 1, says. Article 85 describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach, which is considered a war crime. Nuclear weapons do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Another guiding principle is proportionality. “Loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained,” according to the US Army Field Manual FM27-10: Law of Land Warfare. The damage a US nuclear weapon would inflict — the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — would vastly exceed the military object of destroying North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Military necessity is also a well-established law of war. It allows “those measures not forbidden by international law which are indispensable for securing the complete submission of the enemy,” according to the Lieber Code. It is never necessary to use a nuclear weapon, except in certain hypothetical cases of self-defense if the survival of the US were at stake.

Finally, there is the principle of unnecessary suffering. “It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering,” according to Article 35.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. A nuclear attack on North Korea would kill and maim untold numbers of people.

If the president ordered a nuclear strike, Gen. Hyten said he would offer legal and strategic advice, but he would not violate the laws of war simply on the president’s say-so.

Who’s in the Nuclear Chain of Command?

Last month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) worried that Trump may be leading the United States “on the path to World War III.” On November 14, Corker convened the first congressional hearing on the president’s power to use nuclear weapons since 1976.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national security interests.”

Ret. Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of the US Strategic Command, testified at the hearing that the military can refuse to follow what it views as an illegal order, including an order to launch a nuclear strike. To be lawful, an order must come from a source with legal authority and must be legal under the law of armed conflict, Gen. Kehler added.

Duke University Professor Peter Feaver testified that the president does not simply press a button to launch nuclear weapons. He can only give an order to others, who would then cause “missiles to fly.”

However, although he cannot “press a button,” the president has considerable power to manipulate circumstances in ways that would allow him to launch those missiles. Brian McKeon, senior policy adviser in the Pentagon in the Obama administration, testified that if a commander balked at carrying out a launch order, the president could tell the secretary of defense to order the reluctant commander to launch the missiles. “And then, if the commander still resisted,” McKeon added, “you either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander.” One way or another, McKeon said, the president would get his way.

Moreover, Bruce Blair, former nuclear missile launch officer and cofounder of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, told the Associated Press that a president can send a nuclear attack order directly to the Pentagon war room. From there, Blair said, that order “would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys.”

William Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, concurs. Perry told Politico that defense secretary James Mattis could not necessarily stop a nuclear launch order. “The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command,” Perry said. “So, in a five- or six- or seven-minute kind of decision, the secretary of defense probably never hears about it until it’s too late.”

Ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) advocated congressional reassertion of authority. He said they should not trust the generals or a set of protocols to act as a check on the president, or rely on individuals hired by the president to resist an illegal order.

“Donald Trump can launch nuclear war as easily as his Twitter account,” Cardin cautioned.

Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional War Powers

On October 27, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) introduced H.R. 4140, the No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act. The bipartisan bill, which currently has more than 60 co-sponsors, would prohibit the use of any federal funds to launch a military strike against North Korea or to introduce the US Armed Forces into hostilities with North Korea before Congress either declares war on, or enacts an authorization for the use of military force in, North Korea.

Contact your Congress member and insist that he or she sign on to H.R. 4140 as a co-sponsor.

MARJORIE COHN

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. She is co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. The second, updated edition of her book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, was published in November. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

Pope Says World Should Condemn ‘Very Possession’ of Nuclear Weapons

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 11, 2017 at 12:54 am

November 10, 2017

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, in some his strongest comments ever on nuclear weapons, said on Friday that the world should condemn not only their possible use but “their very possession”.

The appeal came at the start of a two-day conference on nuclear disarmament that has brought together 11 Nobel Peace Prize winners, as well as United Nations and NATO officials, discussing prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Addressing the group, Francis spoke of “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices” and added:

“If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters.

Atomic bomb survivor to jointly accept Nobel Peace Prize on ICAN’s behalf

In Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 27, 2017 at 12:33 am

October 26, 2017

An 85-year-old survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima will jointly accept this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Setsuko Thurlow, who was 13 years old when the United States attacked her city, will receive the award together with ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on 10 December.

Thurlow has been a leading figure in ICAN since its launch in 2007. She played a pivotal role in the United Nations negotiations that led to the adoption of the landmark treaty outlawing nuclear weapons in July.

For more than seven decades, she has campaigned against the bomb. Her powerful speeches at diplomatic conferences and in classrooms have inspired countless individuals around the world to take action for disarmament.

Two other survivors of the atomic bombings, to be selected by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, will also attend the prize ceremony, as will survivors of nuclear testing.

Fihn, who is based in Geneva, has worked in the area of disarmament for the past decade, including with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She has a law degree from the University of London.

“In our advocacy, we have always emphasized the inhumanity of nuclear weapons. Devices that are incapable of distinguishing between a combatant and a child are simply unacceptable,” said Fihn.

“Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are living witnesses to the horror of nuclear war. They have played a central role in ICAN. World leaders must heed their call for a nuclear-weapon-free future.”

Thurlow and Fihn will jointly deliver the Nobel lecture and receive the medallion and diploma from the Norwegian Nobel committee. They will do so as representatives of ICAN, this year’s Nobel peace laureate.

ICAN was awarded the prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

ICAN is a diverse coalition of 468 non-governmental organizations in 101 countries promoting adherence to and implementation of the United Nations nuclear weapon ban treaty.

ICAN campaigners around the world will take part in celebrations on 10 December and renew their appeal for governments to sign and ratify this crucial new international accord without delay.

Thurlow said that she was overjoyed by the news that ICAN had won the Nobel Peace Prize, describing it as a wonderful and well-deserved honour. “I am so deeply humbled to have been invited to jointly accept the prize on behalf of the campaign,” she said.

“It has been such a privilege to work with so many passionate and inspirational ICAN campaigners around the world over the past decade. The Nobel Peace Prize is a powerful tool that we can now use to advance our cause.”

Anti-nuke nuns return to crime scene with a treaty and a Nobel Prize

In Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on October 22, 2017 at 9:50 pm

By DIANE CARMAN | The Denver Post
October 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm
It was a lovefest — warm embraces, beaming smiles, raspy renditions of old-timey peace songs and nonstop visits to military bases and nuclear weapons sites. Fifteen years to the day after they succeeded in getting themselves arrested at a Minuteman III site in Weld County, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert were back, performing in a reunion tour across Colorado.
This time they didn’t end up in the slammer. Quite the contrary, in many of the places they visited this month, they were given a hero’s welcome.”

Well, not at the mayor’s office in Colorado Springs. They stopped by for a friendly visit — Catholic-to-Catholic — with John Suthers, who had prosecuted them for sabotage and destruction of federal property back when he was U.S. Attorney.

He wasn’t, um, available, so they left him a note saying their visit was “an act of love.”

In the years since they served their sentences in federal prison, the Dominican sisters, hardly deterred by the threat of future incarceration, have become pop culture icons.

A character on “Orange is the New Black” is based on Platte, who practiced yoga at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution with Piper Kerman, author of the book on which the series is based.

Gilbert had her own brush with celebrity. She struck up a friendship with Martha Stewart when they served their sentences at Alderson Federal Prison.

The women are the subject of a documentary called “Conviction,” and The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post and numerous international publications have told their story.

Another Dominican sister, Jackie Hudson, who participated in the Weld County demonstration and also served time in federal prison, died of cancer in 2011.

“She’s with us here in spirit,” said Platte.

They wish she could have been here to share the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, which was announced on Oct. 6 while they were visiting Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

The prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, which succeeded in getting 69 nations to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The sisters spent weeks at the U.N. working with ICAN, meeting with world leaders from Ireland, Sweden, Cuba and other countries, and lobbying foreign ministers to get the treaty enacted.

The United States was not among the signers. U.S. diplomats boycotted the U.N. conference along with foreign ministers from the other nuclear nations.

Gilbert and Platte were not surprised by the boycott, and they flatly refuse to be discouraged. They remain fiercely determined to see the treaty ratified and, to get the word out, they are delivering copies to military commanders across the country. They even thoughtfully left one for Suthers in his absence.

“This is an urgent time for us,” said Platte, who advertises her cause on a shirt that proclaims “I’m already against the next war.”

With the Trump administration threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” and Kim Jong-un responding by calling Trump a “dotard” and ordering more ballistic missile tests, Gilbert and Platte said nuclear anxiety has helped generate overwhelming support for their work, especially on college campuses.

“The young people want to live in a nuclear-free world, a world without war,”

Gilbert said. “Everywhere we went, we felt such hope for the future because of the young people.”

Young people were with them when the sisters returned to the missile site, opened the gates and left a copy of the treaty not far from the spot where they were arrested in 2002.

“That was a highlight for me, having all those people with us,” said Platte. “That was touching.”

After decades of anti-nuke activism, marches, die-ins, prayer vigils, fasts, acts of civil disobedience and countless arrests, Platte, 81, and Gilbert, 69, admit it was nice to feel the love.

Because, after all, that’s the whole point.

No matter how craven the politics, how divided the country, how hateful the speeches and tweets become, these sisters of resilience and resistance fight their battles with messages of peace.

“This is our vow,” said Gilbert. “It’s why we keep on keeping on. We will never give up.”

Platte nodded in agreement.

“I refuse to have an enemy,” said the gentle convicted felon, her face suddenly breaking into a beatific smile.

“I simply won’t.”

Diane Carman is a communications consultant and a regular columnist for The Denver Post.

The Real Reason Behind Trump’s Angry Diplomacy in North Korea

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 21, 2017 at 12:19 am

by Ramzy Baroud

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/18/the-real-reason-behind-trumps-angry-diplomacy-in-north-korea/

To understand the United States’ stratagem in the Pacific, and against North Korea in particular, one has to understand the fundamental changes that are under way in that region. China’s clout as an Asian superpower and as a global economic powerhouse has been growing at a rapid speed. The US’ belated ‘pivot to Asia’ to counter China’s rise has been, thus far, quite ineffectual.

The angry diplomacy of President Donald Trump is Washington’s way to scare off North Korea’s traditional ally, China, and disrupt what has been, till now, quite a smooth Chinese economic, political and military ascendency in Asia that has pushed against US regional influence, especially in the East and South China Seas.

Despite the fact that China has reevaluated its once strong ties with North Korea, in recent years, it views with great alarm any military build-up by the US and its allies. A stronger US military in that region will be a direct challenge to China’s inevitable trade and political hegemony.

The US understands that its share of the world’s economic pie chart is constantly being reduced, and that China is gaining ground, and fast.

The United States’ economy is the world’s largest, but not for long. Statistics show that China is blazing the trail and will, by 2030 – or even sooner – win the coveted spot. In fact, according to an International Monetary Fund report in 2014, China is already the world’s largest economy when the method of measurement is adjusted by purchasing power.

This is not an anomaly and is not reversible, at least any time soon.

The growth rate of the US economy over the past 30 years has averaged 2.4 percent, while China soared at 9.3 percent.

Citing these numbers, Paul Ormerod, an economist and a visiting professor at University College, London, argued in a recent article that “if we project these rates forward, the Chinese economy will be as big as the American by 2024. By 2037, it will be more than twice the size.”

It is no wonder why Trump obsessively referenced ‘China’ in his many campaigning speeches prior to his election to the White House, and why he continues to blame China for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to this day.

As a business mogul, Trump understands how real power works, and that his country’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons, is simply not enough to reverse his country’s economic misfortunes.

In fact, China’s nuclear arsenal is quite miniscule compared to the US. Military power alone is not a sufficient measurement of actual power that can be translated into economic stability, sustainable wealth and financial security of a nation.

It is ironic that, while the US threatens to ‘totally destroy North Korea,’ it is the Chinese government that is using sensible language, calling for de-escalation and citing international law. Not only did fortunes change, but roles as well. China, which for many years was depicted as a rogue state, now seems like the cornerstone of stability in Asia.

Prudent US leaders, like former President Jimmy Carter understand well the need to involve China in resolving the US-North Korean standoff.

In an article in the Washington Post, Carter, 93, called for immediate and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea that involves China as well.

He wrote on October 4, the US should “offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.”

A few days leader, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, quoted Carter’s article, and reasserted her country’s position that only a diplomatic solution could bring the crisis to an end.

In a recent tweet, Trump claimed that “Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid … hasn’t worked.”

He alleged that North Korea has violated these agreements even “before the ink was dry”, finishing with the ominous warning that “only one thing will work!”, alluding to war.

Trump is a bad student of history. The ‘agreements’ he was referring to is the ‘Agreed Framework’ of 1994, signed between President Bill Clinton and Kim Jong-il – the father of the current leader Kim Jong-un. In fact, the crisis was averted, when Pyongyang respected its side of the agreement. The US, however, reneged, argued Fred Kaplan in ‘Slate’.

“North Korea kept its side of the bargain, the United States did not,” Kaplan wrote. “No light-water reactors were provided. (South Korea and Japan were supposed to pay for the reactors; they didn’t, and the U.S. Congress didn’t step in.) Nor was any progress made on diplomatic recognition.”

It took North Korea years to react to the US and its partners’ violation of the terms of the deal.

In 2001, the US invaded and destroyed Afghanistan. In 2003, it invaded Iraq, and actively began threatening a regime change in Iran. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were already blacklisted as the “axis of evil” in George W. Bush’s infamous speech in 2002.

More military interventions followed, especially as the Middle East fell into unprecedented chaos resulting from the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Regime change, as became the case in Libya, remained the defining doctrine of US foreign policy.

This is the actual reality that terrifies North Korea. For 15 years they have been waiting for their turn on the US regime change path, and their nuclear weapons program is their only deterring strategy in the face of US military interventions. The more the North Korean leadership felt isolated regionally and internationally, the more determined it became in obtaining nuclear devices.

This is the context that Trump does not want to understand. US mainstream media, which seems to loathe Trump in every way except when he threatens war or defends Israel, is following blindly.

Current news reports of North Korea’s supposed ability to kill “90% of all Americans” within one year is the kind of ignorance and fear-mongering that has dragged the US into multiple wars, costing the economy trillions of dollars, while continuing to make bad situations far worse.

Indeed, a recent Brown University Study showed that, between 2001 and 2016, the cost of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan has cost the US $3.6 trillion.

Perhaps, a better way of fending against the rise of China is investing in the US economy instead of wasting money on protracted wars.

But if a Trump war in North Korea takes place, what would it look like?

US Newsweek magazine took on this very disturbing question, only to provide equally worrying answers.

“If combat broke out between the two countries, American commanders in the Pacific would very quickly exhaust their stockpiles of smart bombs and missiles, possibly within a week,” military sources revealed.

It will take a year for the US military to replenish their stockpile, thus leaving them with the option of “dropping crude gravity bombs on their targets, guaranteeing a longer and bloodier conflict for both sides.”

Expectedly, North Korea would strike, at will, all of the US allies in the region, starting with South Korea. Even if the conflict does not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons, the death toll from such a war “could reach 1 million.”

Both Trump and Kim Jong-un are unsavory figures, driven by fragile egos and unsound judgement. Yet, they are both in a position that, if not reigned in soon, could threaten global security and the lives of millions.

Calls for diplomatic solutions made by Carter and China must be heeded, before it is too late.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net