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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

The Coming Ban on Nuclear Weapons

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 25, 2017 at 12:08 am

By Zia Mian, Project Syndicate, Marcg 24m 2017

PRINCETON – On March 27, the United Nations will start negotiations on an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons. It will be a milestone marking the beginning of the end of an age of existential peril for humanity.
This day was bound to come. From the beginning, even those who set the world on the path to nuclear weapons understood the mortal danger and moral challenge confronting humanity. In April 1945, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson explained to President Harry Truman that the atomic bomb would be “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history.” Stimson warned that “the world in its present state of moral advancement compared with its technical development would be eventually at the mercy of such a weapon. In other words, modern civilization might be completely destroyed.”
Soon afterwards, the newly created UN, established with the express purpose “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” took the threat posed by nuclear arms as its first priority. In January 1946, in its very first resolution, the UN called for a plan “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.”
The Soviet Union submitted such a plan that June. Now largely forgotten, the Gromyko Plan included a “Draft International Convention to Prohibit the Production and Employment of Weapons Based on the Use of Atomic Energy for the Purpose of Mass Destruction.” At the time, only the United States had nuclear weapons, and it chose to maintain its monopoly. But it couldn’t hold onto it for long. Where it led, others soon followed, forcing humanity to endure the decades of weapons development, arms races, proliferation, and nuclear crises that followed.
Anti-nuclear movements took root, and, in a phrase made famous by the historian E.P. Thompson, began to protest to survive. They found allies in a growing number of countries. In November 1961, the UN General Assembly declared that “any state using nuclear and thermonuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity, and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”
As the number and destructive power of nuclear weapons grew, and as even developing countries began to acquire them, recognition of the danger gave rise to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970. “Considering the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war,” the NPT begins, there is a “consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples.”
To this end, the treaty committed all signatories to “undertake negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” The US, the Soviet Union, and Britain signed the NPT. France and China, the only other nuclear weapon states at the time, held out for more than 20 years, until 1992. Israel, India, and Pakistan have never signed, while North Korea signed and then withdrew. Although all professed support for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world, disarmament negotiations never began.
Countries without nuclear weapons – the overwhelming majority – took matter into their own hands. Through the UN General Assembly, they asked the International Court of Justice to rule on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. In July 1996, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion, with two key conclusions. First, “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.” And, second, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
But, in the 20 years since the highest court in the international system issued its judgment, the states affected by it have still failed to launch “negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.” Instead, they have set out on long-term programs to maintain, modernize, and in some cases augment their nuclear arsenals.
Non-weapon states began to take action through a series of international conferences and UN resolutions. Finally, in October 2016, the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, which is responsible for international peace and security, voted “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” On December 23, the General Assembly ratified the decision, with 113 countries in favor, 35 opposed, and 13 abstentions.
The Year Ahead 2017 Cover Image
The new resolution’s instructions are straightforward: “States participating in the conference” should “make their best endeavors to conclude as soon as possible a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” The treaty could be ready before the end of the year.
The nine nuclear weapon states will finally be put to the test. Will they keep their promises to disarm and join the treaty, or will they choose their weapons over international law and the will of the global community? The non-weapon states that join the treaty will be tested, too. How will they organize to confront those countries in the world system that choose to be nuclear outlaws?

A Legal First: Japanese Government and Tepco found liable for Fukushima disaster

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on March 21, 2017 at 3:42 am

BY DAISUKE KIKUCHI, JAPAN TIMES, MARCH 17 2017
http://tinyurl.com/k3g3xy4

MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – A court in Japan has ruled for the first time that the government and the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for failing to take preventive measures against the March 11, 2011, quake-triggered tsunami that killed scores and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Friday’s stunning ruling by the Maebashi District Court was the first to recognize negligence by the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. It called the massive tsunami predictable and said the major nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
The district court ordered the two to pay damages totaling ¥38.55 million to 62 of 137 plaintiffs from 45 households located near the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown caused by the tsunami, awarding ¥70,000 to ¥3.5 million in compensation to each plaintiff.
The plaintiffs had demanded the state and Tepco pay compensation of ¥11 million each — a total of about ¥1.5 billion — over the loss of local infrastructure and psychological stress they were subjected to after being forced to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings.
Citing a government estimate released in July 2002, the court said in the ruling that “Tepco was capable of foreseeing several months after (the estimate) that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators.”
It pointed out that the state should have ordered Tepco to take bolstered preventive measures, and criticized the utility for prioritizing costs over safety.
Of the plaintiffs, 76 who lived in evacuation zones were forced to move, while another 61 evacuated voluntarily even though their houses were located outside evacuation zones. The ruling was the first of 30 similar class-action suits filed nationwide involving more than 10,000 plaintiffs.
About 80,000 citizens who had lived in Fukushima reportedly left the prefecture after the March 2011 disaster.
“I believe that the ruling saying both the government and Tepco were equally responsible is an important judgment,” Katsuyoshi Suzuki, the lead lawyer for the defense said at a news conference following the ruling. “But thinking about the psychological distress (the plaintiffs faced) after being forced to evacuate from their homes, I think the amount is not enough.”
Takehiro Matsuta, 38, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama, hailed the ruling, but called the damages “disappointing.”

“The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide,” he said.
But called the payout “disappointing,” as his child, who was 3 years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, was not granted compensation. “My wife and I are struggling everyday, but it’s my child who suffers the most.”
The group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, which have had suits filed since September 2011, claimed that the Fukushima disaster resulted in serious human rights violations by forcing victims to relocate after the crisis caused widespread environmental damage.
The plaintiffs argued that Tepco could have prevented the damage if it had implemented measures, including the building of breakwaters, based on its 2008 tsunami trial calculation that showed waves of over 10 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Those calculations took into account the 2002 estimate by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which concluded that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake rocking areas off Fukushima within 30 years.
However, the government and Tepco have argued that the massive tsunami was unexpected, claiming that there were different opinions among scholars over the long-term evaluation. Both attacked the credibility of the study, calling it unscientific.
The government also objected to the ruling, saying that because it had no authority to force Tepco to take such preventive measures as argued by the plaintiffs, it bore no responsibility.
According to the defense, a number of other class suits are inching closer to rulings, with one in the city of Chiba scheduled for Sept. 22 and another in the city of Fukushima involving 4,000 plaintiffs expected by the year’s end.

Dreams of ‘Winning’ Nuclear War on Russia

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 13, 2017 at 9:23 am

Exclusive: Official Washington’s anti-Russian hysteria has distorted U.S. politics while also escalating risks of a nuclear war as U.S. war planners dream of “winning” a first-strike attack on Russia, reports Jonathan Marshall.
By Jonathan Marshal, Consortiumnews.com, March 10.1917

In 1961, senior Pentagon consultants drafted a 33-page blueprint for initiating — and winning — a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. It was based on top-secret intelligence that Soviet nuclear forces were few in number and poorly defended — making them an easy target for a U.S. preemptive strike.
A U.S. government photograph of Operation Redwing’s Apache nuclear explosion on July 9, 1956.
Convinced of U.S. superiority, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began advising President John F. Kennedy to risk nuclear war over Cuba and Vietnam — even though their own analysis conceded that if something went wrong, 75 percent of Americans might die. If JFK hadn’t rejected their advice, we might not be here today.

President Trump may soon face a similar test. With almost no public awareness, the Pentagon’s nuclear program has achieved unprecedented capabilities that once again raise the possibility that a U.S. first strike could cripple Russia’s nuclear arsenal and “decapitate” its leadership. Such capabilities all but ensure that hawks will begin lobbying for more aggressive measures toward Russia, based its growing vulnerability to U.S. nuclear weapons.

A frightening new analysis for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — by three eminent strategic arms experts at the Federation of American Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and MIT — provides evidence that U.S. nuclear planners have “implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal,” giving it for the first time in decades “the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

U.S. Navy’s ‘Super-Fuse’

The concept of nuclear superiority seemed to lose its relevance in the mid-1960s, when Moscow finally built a large enough nuclear arsenal to withstand attack. Subsequent arms control treaties, starting in the Nixon years, maintained reasonable parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, discouraging either side from contemplating the use of atomic weapons for anything but deterring a nuclear attack.
With absolutely no fanfare, however, U.S. technology advances have once again called mutual deterrence into question. The secret is a “super-fuse” first implemented by the U.S. Navy in 2009 as part of its “life-extension” program for submarine-based nuclear missiles. By permitting more accurate timing of nuclear blasts, this flexible trigger gives America’s sub-launched missiles three times their former killing power — enough to take out even “hardened” Russian missile silos and command centers with a high probability of success.

The authors calculate that a mere 272 warheads could wipe out all of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in hardened silos — leaving in reserve more than 600 lethal warheads deployed on U.S. submarines, as well as hundreds more on U.S. land-based missiles.

Although U.S. war planners would still be challenged to target warheads on Russia’s submarines and mobile land-based missiles, the authors support claims by other scholars that “for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy.” Russia’s vulnerability will likely increase over time, as the Pentagon’s implements its planned trillion-dollar nuclear “modernization” program over the next 30 years.

From the standpoint of many Pentagon planners, greater war-fighting capabilities are always better because they increase U.S. military options. But there are good reasons to be worried by this stealthy advance in U.S. missile technology.

Beware the ‘Clever Briefer’

The first is the risk that a “clever briefer” — a convincing salesman for “limited” nuclear war — will persuade a president that fighting and winning such a conflict is possible. The president might then behave more rashly in a conventional conflict, triggering a series of military escalations that unintentionally lead to mass annihilation. (Imagine, for example, if President Kennedy had followed the advice of his generals and bombed Russian forces in Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis.)
The idea that some adviser might try to talk President Trump into a nuclear showdown would have seemed absurd until very recently. But escalating military tension between NATO and Russia has prompted some experts, like former Defense Secretary William Perry, to warn that the world is closer to a “nuclear catastrophe” than at any time during the Cold War. And Trump himself, who once called for greater cooperation with Russia, now declares that the United States needs to build up its nuclear arsenal to make it “top of the pack.”

Reflecting this harsh new environment, the Pentagon’s influential Defense Science Board in December advised the new administration to begin acquiring low-yielding nuclear weapons to give the United States more options for waging “limited” wars against other nuclear powers. The assumption behind such hotly contested advice is that enemies will back down, knowing the United States could fight and win an unlimited nuclear war with “acceptable” casualties.

Growing Risk of Accidental War

Second, perhaps even more worrisome, is the impact of U.S. first-strike capabilities on Russia’s nuclear planning. Faced with the possibility of only a few minutes’ warning of a devastating U.S. attack, Moscow will continue to keep its nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert, and even give local commanders the right to launch if communications with the Kremlin are lost. That policy gives rise to the chilling possibility of nuclear war triggered by an accidental alert — of which there have been several.
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Austria on June 24, 2014. (Official Russian government photo)
“The new kill capability created by super-fuzing increases the tension and the risk that US or Russian nuclear forces will be used in response to early warning of an attack — even when an attack has not occurred,” the arms experts write. “The combination of . . . dangerously short warning times, high-readiness alert postures, and the increasing US strike capacity has created a deeply destabilizing and dangerous strategic nuclear situation.”

Indeed, as U.S. nuclear capabilities have quietly grown, Russia has shortened its time from warning to launch to just four minutes. “Today, top military command posts in the Moscow area can bypass the entire human chain of command and directly fire by remote control rockets in silos and on trucks as far away as Siberia in only 20 seconds,” reports Princeton University expert Bruce Blair. “This situation is a mistaken launch waiting to happen.”

Blair recently warned that President Trump’s apparent support for a new arms race “would be an alarming reversal of decades of nuclear weapons reductions that should scare everyone.”

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was alarmed enough by growing talk in Washington of nuclear warfighting to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, reminding readers, “There is no such thing as ‘limited use’ nuclear weapons, and for a Pentagon advisory board to promote their development is absolutely unacceptable.”

As she wisely noted, “When it comes to nuclear weapons, victory is not measured by who has the most warheads, but by how long we last before someone uses one.”

Jonathan Marshall is author of many recent articles on arms issues, including “Obama’s Unkept Promise on Nuclear War,” “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears,” “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s ProvocativeAnti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” and “Ticking Closer to Midnight.”

Not-so-innocent hyperbole

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on March 10, 2017 at 10:35 am

By Dave Anderson –

Boulder Weekly, March 9, 2017
Only 11 percent of the media coverage of the 2016 presidential
primaries dealt with the candidates’ policy positions, leadership
abilities and professional histories according to a study by the
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Instead,
there were stories of personality conflicts, gossip, scandals,
campaign strategy and polls.

Politics has been treated as entertainment for a long time but Donald
Trump made things worse. As a celebrity and TV star, he developed the
skills to manipulate the media. His business career taught him to
“play to people’s fantasies,” as he (or rather his ghostwriter) wrote
in The Art of the Deal. He added, “People want to believe that
something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I
call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration —
and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

The Trump circus continues to dominate the news with everybody
discussing his latest outrageous insults, lies and conspiracy
theories. Meanwhile, the Republicans quietly plan to turn back the
clock several decades now that they control the presidency, the
Congress, 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. Many noticed
this and a resistance was born.

It was organized spontaneously on social media. On the day after
Trump’s inauguration, about 5 million Americans turned out for the
Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and the sister marches in over 600
other cities. This was one of the biggest protests in U.S. history.
Less than a week later, huge crowds marched again opposing Trump’s
Muslim ban. When people from the banned countries were being detained
at airports, lawyers and protesters showed up.

Widespread protest has continued at the offices of Republican members
of Congress and at town hall meetings. Can we keep up the pressure? It
is difficult to sustain a sense of outrage and indignation over four
years.

Right after the election, progressive economist Max Sawicky tweeted,
“With a Democratic win, we’d be listing stuff to hold them to. Now we
have to list things we don’t want destroyed.” But Trump wasn’t the
usual rightwing Republican. He tapped into a populist fever. He
promised to bring back jobs, rebuild the middle class and end stupid
trade policies. He presented a classic rightwing populism that
directed his supporters’ anger at (some of) the rich and powerful and
a violent criminal underclass who are ruining the country. He claimed
that his solutions — tax cuts for the rich, decimation of business
regulations, Obamacare repeal — would bring back the American dream.

Actually these solutions would make the lives of ordinary Americans even worse.

We progressives have to resist, but we need to be pushing a strong
alternative. The ideas and programs are already there: Medicare for
all, tuition-free college, expanded Social Security benefits,
progressive taxation and a Green New Deal that will start a “just
transition” from fossil fuel jobs to jobs in renewables. That was
Bernie’s message in the primaries.

Hillary had a similar if milder bunch of proposals. But in the general
election she figured she would emphasize the perfectly sensible notion
that Trump was spectacularly unfit to be president. She calculated
that people would prefer a good manager with a “steady hand” who would
continue the Obama status quo.

There are furious debates over why Trump became president. The Clinton
campaign was criticized for not campaigning much in the Rust Belt, and
the Republicans for engaging in voter suppression of racial minorities
in many parts of the country. Hillary won the election by three
million votes but lost in the Electoral College. You can cite many
more factors.

But where do we go from here? Longtime union organizer Marshall Ganz
argued that progressives need to start at the grassroots. In an
interview on Talking Points Memo, he said, “Conservatives successfully
created a more or less coherent network of organizations linked to
local, state and national politics, which is a traditional form of
effective political organization in the U.S.” They organized in
evangelical churches, the religious schools that Betsy DeVos helped
sponsor, the gun clubs, the NRA, the Koch brothers network and ALEC.

He argued, “Many Democrats confuse messaging with educating, marketing
with organizing. They think it is all about branding when it is really
about relational work. You engage people with each other, creating
collective capacity. That’s how you sustain and grow and get
leadership.”

Ganz wants progressives to learn from the unions. He said, “When you
are organizing a union, a workplace, you have got to organize who’s
there. One of the troubles with the progressive groups is that they
respond to those who already agree with them, but don’t have much
incentive to actually go out and build a base by persuading and
engaging and converting those who don’t. If you are organizing a
union, you have to do that, because that’s how you win. Now ignoring
all these red and purple states is like pretending you don’t need them
to win, but you do.”

It isn’t easy. We need to resist. But we will win if we present an
alternative moral vision of how we can create a better society.

Marshall Islands Nuclear Zero Lawsuit Appeal to Be Heard in Ninth Circuit Court on March 15

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 10, 2017 at 10:12 am

March 9, 2017

San Francisco– On Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:00 AM, the appeal of the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ “Nuclear Zero” lawsuit will be heard in the Ninth District Court of Appeals. The case, initially filed on April 24, 2014, alleges that the United States failed to uphold its legal obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary International law to begin negotiations “in good faith” for an end to the nuclear arms race “at an early date” and for nuclear disarmament.

The suit contends that the United States has clearly violated its legal obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament by spending large sums of money to enhance its nuclear arsenal. The U.S. already plans to spend an estimated $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next three decades and President Trump has said he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal even further to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has “fallen behind in its nuclear weapons capacity.”

Scott Yundt, Staff Attorney of the Livermore-based disarmament group Tri-Valley CAREs (which closely monitors the large nuclear weapons program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) filed an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Marshall Islands. “As people directly affected by radioactive fallout from US nuclear weapons testing, the Marshallese are a particularly powerful voice calling for enforcement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In this time of escalating international tension, the US Courts, and really all of us, should be listening and taking our international obligations under the Treaty seriously.”

Marshall Islanders suffered catastrophic and irreparable damages to their people and homeland when the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests on their territory between 1946 and 1958. These tests had the equivalent power of exploding 1.6 Hiroshima bombs daily for 12 years.

The Marshall Islands does not seek compensation with this lawsuit. Rather, it seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the United States to comply with its commitments under international law.

On February 3, 2015, the Marshall Islands case at the federal district court was dismissed on the jurisdictional grounds of standing and political question doctrine without getting to the merits. David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a consultant to the Marshall Islands in their lawsuit, stated, “We believe the Court of Appeals should reverse the decision of the lower court and allow the case to be heard on its merits. But, no matter the outcome of this appeal, the Marshall Islands has shown great leadership with their Nuclear Zero lawsuits. They are a small nation that has acted on behalf of all humanity.”

Note from Inside the EPA

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Public Health on March 10, 2017 at 1:38 am

This just came to me from one of my daughters.

From friend of a friend of a friend, I guess. Because the EPA staffers can’t talk to the media, and…we need to know this stuff:
From a friend in DC: Sharing with permission. From an Environmental Protection Agency staffer:
“So I work at the EPA and yeah it’s as bad as you are hearing: The entire agency is under lockdown, the website, facebook, twitter, you name it is static and can’t be updated. All reports, findings, permits and studies are frozen and not to be released. No presentations or meetings with outside groups are to be scheduled.
Any Press contacting us are to be directed to the Press Office which is also silenced and will give no response.
All grants and contracts are frozen from the contractors working on Superfund sites to grad school students working on their thesis.
We are still doing our work, writing reports, doing cancer modeling for pesticides hoping that this is temporary and we will be able to serve the public soon. But many of us are worried about an ideologically-fueled purging and if you use any federal data I advise you gather what you can now.
We have been told the website is being reworked to reflect the new administration’s policy.
Feel free to copy and paste, you all pay for the government and you should know what’s going on. I am posting this as a fellow citizen and not in any sort of official capacity.”

 

 

 

What Is the Anthropocene?

In Environment, Justice, Peace, Public Health, War on March 5, 2017 at 3:36 am

By Tom Mayer, Peace Train, Colorado Daily, March 3, 2017

Geologists divide the history of the Earth into time periods based upon the nature of the rocks formed during that period. The Holocene epoch began about 11,700 years ago after the last Ice Age. Seventeen years ago the Nobel Prize winning Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen claimed that human beings have changed the Earth’s environment so drastically that we now live in a very different geological period. He called this new period the Anthropocene, which means resulting from human action. Crutzen argued that industrialization, intensive agriculture, population growth, and the destruction of biodiversity were the main forces transforming the Earth’s ecology.

Most scientists date the Anthropocene from the atomic era, which began in 1945 and has left radioactive traces in sediments around the globe. The post World War Two period also experienced “The Great Acceleration”, a huge global expansion of economic production, human population, and energy consumption. The magnitude of environmental destruction during and before the Anthropocene is truly shocking.
Greenhouse gases, which trap heat in our atmosphere, have increased dramatically since 1750 (end of the preindustrial era). Carbon dioxide has increased by 43%, nitrous oxide by 63%, and methane by 150%. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the maximum tolerable temperature increase over preindustrial levels is 2°C. Without radical social changes, the IPCC predicts average temperature will increase between 3.7°C and 4.5°C by 2100, and between 8°C and 12°C by 2300. This would mean the end of organized human life on planet Earth.

But global warming is only part of the Anthropocene crisis. Around 90 million tons of plastic junk has been dumped into our oceans, not to mention mountains of raw sewage and toxic fertilizer runoff. Ocean acidification is 26% above the preindustrial level causing brutally high mortality of sea life. Biologists estimate that overall species extinction now occurs at about 1,000 times the natural rate. At the current pace, 20% of animal species will disappear by 2030. Human beings and their domestic animals now constitute 97% of all land vertebrate biomass, leaving only 3% of biomass for the remaining 30,000 land dwelling vertebrate species. In light of these realities, paleontologists often speak about a looming “sixth extinction” (the fifth was the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago).

Energy use has also leaped ahead during the Anthropocene era. Between 1800 and 2000 human energy consumption increased by a factor of 40. Agricultural land and cities covered about 5% of the Earth’s land area in 1750. They now occupy almost one-third. It is estimated that 84% of the Earth’s ice free land is presently under direct human influence. A few years ago a team of Swedish scientists specified nine ecological parameters which must not be crossed if the Earth’s biosphere is to avoid catastrophic decline. Four of these tipping points are already passed: greenhouse gas emissions, extinction of biodiversity, nitrogen cycle, and phosphate cycle.

Former Vice President Al Gore says that “the climate crisis is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.” Indeed, it is not clear that humanity will survive two more centuries of the Anthropocene epoch. Many rational observers would bet against it. In contrast to Paul Crutzen, some ecologists think the Anthropocene should be re-named the Capitalocene (Bonneuil and Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016)). This seems appropriate because the current environmental crisis is largely caused by a tiny fraction of humanity: owners of capital and their rabid addiction to capital accumulation.

Marshalls marks 71st anniversary of first Bikini tests

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 3, 2017 at 7:22 am

Category: Pacific/Regional News
02 Mar 2017
By Giff Johnson – For Variety

MAJURO — “Grief, terror and righteous anger” has not faded for Marshall Islanders despite the passage of 71 years since the first nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, President Hilda Heine told a Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday in Majuro.

The event included a parade, ringing of a bell 71 times to mark the years since the first Bikini tests, and speeches to mark March 1, the anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954. It is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands.

This year’s nuclear test commemoration did not end as usual with the morning program. A three-day “Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice” kicked off Wednesday afternoon in Majuro with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony deBrum, and presentations by Marshall Islanders and experts from the United States and Japan who traveled to Majuro to attend the conference.

At Wednesday morning’s ceremony, President Heine said the U.S. government had not been honest as to the “extent of radiation and the lingering effects the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program would have on our lives, ocean and land.”

She pointed out that U.S. government studies kept secret from the Marshall Islands during negotiations on a compensation agreement reached in the 1980s “have now shown that 18 other inhabited atolls or single islands were contaminated by three of the six nuclear bombs tested in Operation Castle, as well as by the Bravo shot in 1954. The myth of only four ‘exposed’ atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, has shaped US nuclear policy on the Marshallese people since 1954, which limited medical and scientific follow up, and compensation programs.

“As your president, I cannot and will not accept the position of the United States government. Unlike the U.S., we acted in good faith. That is why ours is a moral case for which we are more than justified to seek redress.”

U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart honored islanders who suffered from nuclear testing and said “we will never forget Marshallese who sacrificed for global security.” Speaking about those who had already passed away, she said she was “encouraged by their and your courage for justice and your courage to build a better society.” Stewart said the U.S. “will continue to be your partner…for a brighter future for the Marshall Islands.”

Enewetak Sen. Jack Ading, speaking on behalf of other nuclear-affected atolls, pointed out that few survivors of the 1940s evacuations and nuclear weapons tests are still alive. “For most of us, the paradise that God created is just a legend from our elders,” he said. “By the time most of us were born, our paradise was a paradise lost.”

Ading said the 67 weapons tests left a “toxic legacy” that will affect the Marshall Islands for generations. Although 43 of those tests were at Enewetak, Ading said “my homeland was gone after the first nuclear device was exploded in 1948.”

The testing vaporized three islands in Enewetak, and a crater from one test was turned into “a massive dump for radioactive waste” that is now “leaking and devoid of warning signs or barriers. It is a constant source of concern.”

A number of doctors, scientists and researchers from the United States and Japan are participating in the three-day Nuclear Legacy Conference that started Wednesday afternoon.

MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN APPARENTLY INCLUDES COLD WAR-ERA DOMINANCE

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 24, 2017 at 11:18 am

Washington Post — February 23, 2017
By Philip Bump

President Trump has called nuclear weapons “the single greatest problem the world has” – but he’s also made some controversial statements about them. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

At the end of last year, after he won the election but before he was inaugurated, President-elect Donald Trump decided to proactively set U.S. nuclear policy via Twitter.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he tweeted Dec. 22. It was an out-of-the-blue declaration that made sense only as a response to a comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made earlier in the day, in which Putin suggested that his country planned to strengthen its own strategic nuclear arsenal.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump revisited the issue, declaring that the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” He placed some of the blame for this on the 2010 New START agreement, a successor to the 1991 START agreement that was signed by President Barack Obama and aimed at further reducing the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States. New START, Trump said, was “another bad deal that the country made.”

“I am the first one that would like to see nobody have nukes,” he said, “but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country. We’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”

“If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he added.

During his daily news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the comments by Alexis Simendinger of RealClearPolitics.

“What he was very clear on is that the United States will not yield its supremacy in this area to anybody,” Spicer said. “That’s what he made very clear in there. And that if other countries have nuclear capabilities, it will always be the United States that has the supreme … supremacy and commitment to this.”

“Obviously, that’s not what we’re seeking to do,” he continued, apparently referring to expanding the nuclear arsenal. “The question that was asked was about other people growing their stockpiles. And I think what he has been clear on is that our goal is to make sure that we maintain America’s dominance around the world and that if other countries flout it, we don’t sit back and allow them to grow theirs.”

There’s a reason that the United States is cutting nuclear deals with Russia, of course: Only our two countries have nuclear arsenals of any significance. It’s a bit like Paul McCartney and John Lennon entering a music competition against two Nickelback cover bands and Jimmy Buffett. There are really only two people in the running.

While it’s impossible to know exactly how many nuclear weapons each nuclear nation has (such things are generally not public information), the Federation of American Scientists puts together estimates. Per its numbers, the United States has an arsenal of about 6,800 weapons to Russia’s 7,000 — with the next most heavily equipped nation being France at 300.

A lot of considerations come into play when assessing nuclear arsenals, including the nuclear triad, the tripartite delivery system the military relies on for delivery. The Obama administration had proposed modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including the triad, though it later sought to scale that back.

The position of the United States and Russia as defined in the New START agreement was that both nations desired to “forge a new strategic relationship based on mutual trust” and, therefore, work to “bring their respective nuclear postures into alignment with this new relationship” and “to reduce further the role and importance of nuclear weapons.”

It’s not clear where Trump sees a threat to our nuclear position, if not from Russia. It’s not as though North Korea’s nascent nuclear program is going to suddenly challenge our own, necessitating a quick ramp-up in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. If Trump’s concerned about Russia having slightly more nuclear weapons than us, well, it has for some time.

According to the FAS, Russia (then the Soviet Union) had passed the United States in the size of its nuclear arsenal before Ronald Reagan took office.

Trump’s assertions in December and to Reuters fit with his broad policy toward military strength: peace through dominance. While Spicer is correct that this doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate build-up of nuclear capability, it continues to represent a break from Trump’s predecessors — and from the negotiated New START agreement, which remains in effect until February 2018.

full story with graphics — https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/02/23/making-america-great-again-apparently-includes-cold-war-era-nuclear-dominance/

In age of Trump, apocalyptic rhetoric becomes mainstream

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on February 23, 2017 at 9:06 am

By Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor,
Staff writer | @_jessicamendoza
FEBRUARY 22, 2017 LOS ANGELES

The longer President Trump is in office, the more Cat Deakins worries about the future – for herself and her children.

With every executive order and cabinet appointment, she envisions another scenario: an America that rejects immigrants, that succumbs to climate change, that erupts in war.

“It’s scary to me that [people within the administration] are promoting this idea of, ‘We are at war with Islam.’ That’s the kind of thinking that leads to World War III,” says Ms. Deakins, a cinematographer in Los Angeles. “I don’t think we can be alarmed enough.”

It’s a strain of thought that’s begun to take root in leftist narratives as the Trump administration enters its second month. The idea is that since taking office, the president has led the nation – and continues to lead it – down a path that will culminate in a dictatorship, a police state, or both. As Slate columnist Michelle Goldman writes, “To talk about Trump as a menace to our democratic way of life understates the crisis.”

To some degree, such statements reflect the pendulum swing of political power; conservatives made similar claims during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. And observers warn against reacting in an apocalyptic way to policies that are merely partisan.
Still, Mr. Trump is unpredictable, a president unprecedented in modern times, who has already used an expanded set of executive powers to pursue his agenda – one that many see as threatening widely held democratic principles.

“There is legitimate basis for concern,” says John Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “While apocalyptic rhetoric might be exaggerated, there have been real invasions of civil liberties, deep threats to civil rights. It’s perfectly appropriate to be watchful and wary.”

A sense of alarm

Sinister talk and ominous rumors are not new to American politics – from Ronald Reagan’s supposed propensity toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union to the Clintons’ purported involvement in the death of White House attorney Vince Foster.

“It was on the fringes,” Professor Pitney says. “But what we’ve seen since the turn of the century is the mainstreaming of apocalyptic rhetoric.”

During former President Barack Obama’s tenure, conservative pundits regularly made apocalyptic pronouncements about his heritage and religion. Some on the far right predicted his presidency would transform America into an Islamist or communist state.

Those prophecies proved groundless – and fed into a dangerous cycle of partisan antipathy, political analysts say.

Today, the sense of alarm has trickled down into the lives of some Americans who face a constant barrage of headlines and disputes, especially on social media.

Olaf Wolden, a documentary filmmaker in New York City, says he worries about Trump’s strained relationship with the press and the truth. “When information doesn’t fit the narrative he needs, he attacks it,” Mr. Wolden says. “That’s a classic move out of the playbook of [Joseph] Stalin or [Augusto] Pinochet.”

Others, like Deakins, are troubled by the upheaval in the administration’s early days, such as the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “It’s horrifying to watch it roll out,” she says.

Still others point to the president’s attitude toward immigrants, which they say stokes racism and xenophobia.

“Building a border wall, scapegoating immigrants as one of the major problems for folks here in America – that is a threat to democracy,” says Alex Montances, an advocate for the rights of Filipino migrants in Long Beach, Calif.

That said, a line must be drawn between critiques of poorly crafted policies and apocalyptic concerns, says Peter Berkowitz, an expert on US conservatism and progressivism at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

There’s a difference, he says, between those who harshly criticized Mr. Obama because they saw the Affordable Care Act as government overreach and those who cast him as un-American and a tyrant based on false allegations about his race or religion

Likewise, a distinction must be made between those who are horrified by Trump’s immigration policy – like his border wall and temporary ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries – and those who say that the US is now a fascist state.

Journalists remain free to cover the news as they see fit, the Supreme Court to block executive orders it deems unconstitutional, and Congress to wrangle over laws they disagree about, he points out.

“Some of Trump’s rhetoric provides reason for heightened concern,” Berkowitz says. “That we are already fascistic – none of the evidence I see brought forward suggests that.”

Not being judicious in one’s criticism risks losing credibility, says Erik Fogg, co-author of the 2015 book, “Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment, and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again.

“Regardless of what party you come from – but in particular for the left right now – the key is to be very, very selective about where they raise the alarm,” says Mr. Fogg.

A dangerous cycle

A key consequence – and driving factor – of apocalyptic rhetoric is political polarization.

In 2004, only about 1 in 10 Americans were consistently liberal or conservative across most values, the Pew Research Center reports. By 2014, the figure had doubled. The same year, Pew found that 27 percent of Democrats saw the Republican Party as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” Thirty-six percent of Republicans said the same of the Democratic Party.

Such mistrust has paved the way for more extreme partisanship.

In one of countless tirades against the former president, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh – whose program remains one of the most popular talk shows on the air today – lambasted Obama in 2012 for saying that the rich often have help earning their wealth.

“Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “This is what we have as a president: A radical ideologue, a ruthless politician who despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great.”

Progressive pundits have since made their own proclamations of Trump’s evil intentions.

In January, Salon politics writer Chauncey DeVega accused the GOP of mobilizing “anti-black and anti-brown animus for political gain” and blamed “obsolete journalistic norms of ‘fairness,’ ‘balance,’ and ‘objectivity’ ” for failing to call out Trump’s fascism.

“Donald Trump and his supporters represent the tyranny of minority opinion,” Mr. DeVega wrote. “Consequently, they are the worst example of the will, spirit and character of the American people.”

“You have extremity on both sides of the spectrum. That’s what leads to apocalyptic thoughts about politics,” says Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “But there are probably apocalyptic thoughts that lead to polarization. It’s all rather cyclical.”
By making caricature monsters of the other side, “you make reconciliation harder and harder,” says Fogg, the author. And it also could affect both parties’ ability to see the real threat, he adds.

“You can’t write off the other team’s apocalyptic ideas as pure hysteria and embrace our own, and then when it doesn’t come to pass let it go,” he says. “I think the trick is going to be … figure out the real threat, and counter that. If we don’t, we’ll be scattered.”