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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on May 23, 2017 at 7:12 am

 

New York, 27-31 March 2017 and 15 June-7 July 2017

22 May 2017 Original: English

Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Submitted by the President of the Conference

The States Parties to this Convention,

Deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons and the consequent need to make every effort to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances,

Cognizant that the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and for the health of future generations, and of the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on maternal health and on girls,

Mindful of the suffering of the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (Hibakusha) as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons,

Basing themselves on the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the principle that the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited and the rule that care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long term and severe damage, including a prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population,

Declaring that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law,

Reaffirming that in cases not covered by this convention, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience,

Determined to contribute to the realization of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

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Bearing in mind that the prohibition of nuclear weapons would be an important contribution towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament,

Stressing the urgent need to achieve further effective measures of nuclear disarmament in order to facilitate the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery,

Determined to act towards that end,
Determined also to act with a view to achieving effective progress towards general

and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,

Affirming that 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,

Reaffirming the crucial importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, the vital importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as a core element of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, and the contribution of the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones toward strengthening the nuclear non- proliferation regime and to realizing the objective of nuclear disarmament,

Stressing the role of public conscience in the furthering of the principles of humanity as evidenced by the call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and recognizing the efforts to that end undertaken by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, numerous non-governmental organizations and the Hibakusha,

Have agreed as follows: Article 1

General obligations

1. Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

(a) Develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly;

(c) Receive the transfer or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly, or indirectly;

(d) Use nuclear weapons;
(e) Carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion;

(f) Assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention;

(g) Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

2. Each State Party undertakes to prohibit and prevent in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control:

(a) Any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(b) Any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.

Article 2 Declarations

1. Each State Party shall submit to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, not later than 30 days after this Convention enters into force for it a declaration in which it shall declare whether it has manufactured, possessed or otherwise acquired nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices after 5 December 2001.

2. The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall transmit all such declarations received to the States Parties.

Article 3 Safeguards

Each State Party undertakes to accept safeguards, with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as provided in the Annex to this Convention.

Article 4
Measures for States that have eliminated their nuclear weapons

1. Each State Party that has manufactured, possessed or otherwise acquired nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices after 5 December 2001, and eliminated all such weapons or explosive devices prior to the entry into force of the Convention for it, undertakes to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency for the purpose of verification of the completeness of its inventory of nuclear material and nuclear installations.

2. Unless otherwise agreed by the States Parties, arrangements necessary for the verification required by this Article shall be concluded in an agreement between the State Party and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Negotiation of such an agreement shall commence within 180 days of the submission of the declaration provided for in Article 2. Such agreements shall enter into force not later than eighteen months after the date of the initiation of negotiations.

3. For the purpose of performing the verification required by this Article, the International Atomic Energy Agency shall be provided with full access to any location or facility associated with a nuclear weapon programme and shall have the right to request access on a case-by-case basis to other locations or facilities that the Agency may wish to visit.

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Article 5
Measures for situations not covered by Article 4

Proposals for further effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament, including provisions for the verified and irreversible elimination of any remaining nuclear weapon programmes under strict and effective international control, which may take the form of additional protocols to this Convention, may be considered at the Meetings of States Parties or Review Conferences. All States represented at the meeting or review conference may participate fully in such consideration. The meeting or review conference may agree upon additional protocols which shall be adopted and annexed to the Convention in accordance with its provisions.

Article 6 Assistance

1. Each State Party in a position to do so shall with respect to individuals affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons in areas under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion.

2. Each State Party with respect to areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, shall have the right to request and to receive assistance toward the environmental remediation of areas so contaminated.

3. Such assistance may be provided, inter alia, through the United Nations system, international, regional or national organizations or institutions, non-governmental organizations or institutions, or on a bilateral basis.

Article 7
National implementation

1. Each State Party shall, in accordance with its constitutional processes, adopt the necessary measures to implement its obligations under this Convention.

2. Each State Party shall take all appropriate legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control.

Article 8
International cooperation

1. Each State Party shall cooperate with other States Parties to facilitate the implementation of the obligations of this Convention.

2. In fulfilling its obligations under this Convention each State Party has the right to seek and receive assistance.

Article 9
Meeting of States Parties

1. The States Parties shall meet regularly in order to consider and, where necessary, take decisions in respect of any matter with regard to the application or implementation of this Convention and on the further elaboration of effective measures for nuclear disarmament, including:

(a) The operation and status of this Convention;

(b) Reports by States Parties on the implementation of their obligations under this Convention;

(c) Matters arising from the declarations submitted under Article 2 of this Convention;

(d) Proposals for effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament, including provisions for the verified and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapon programmes, including additional protocols to this Convention.

2. The first Meeting of States Parties shall be convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations within one year of the entry into force of this Convention. Further Meetings of States Parties shall be convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on a biennial basis, unless otherwise agreed by the States Parties.

3. After a period of five years following the entry into force of this Convention, the Meetings of States Parties may decide to convene a conference to review the operation of this Convention with a view to assuring that the purposes of the preamble and the provisions of the Convention, including the provisions concerning negotiations on effective measures for nuclear disarmament, are being realized.

4. States not party to this Convention, as well as the United Nations, other relevant international organizations or institutions, regional organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and relevant non-governmental organizations may be invited to attend the Meetings of States Parties and the Review Conferences as observers.

Article 10 Costs

1. The costs of the Meetings of the States Parties and the Review Conferences shall be borne by the States Parties and States not parties to this Convention participating therein, in accordance with the United Nations scale of assessment adjusted appropriately.

2. The costs incurred by the Secretary-General of the United Nations under Article 2 of this Convention shall be borne by the States Parties in accordance with the United Nations scale of assessment adjusted appropriately.Article 11 Amendments

1. At the Meetings of States Parties or Review Conferences consideration may be given to any proposal for amendments of this Convention. The meeting or review conference may agree upon amendments which shall be adopted by a majority of two- thirds of the States Parties present and voting at the meeting or review conference.

2. The amendment shall enter into force for each State Party that deposits its instrument of ratification of the amendment upon the deposit of such instruments of ratification by a majority of the States Parties. Thereafter, it shall enter into force for any other State Party upon the deposit of its instrument of ratification of the amendment.

Article 12
Settlement of disputes

1. When a dispute arises between two or more States Parties relating to the interpretation or application of this Convention, the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to the Meetings of States Parties and, by mutual consent, referral to the International Court of Justice in conformity with the Statute of the Court.

2. The Meeting of States Parties may contribute to the settlement of the dispute by whatever means it deems appropriate, including offering its good offices, calling upon the States Parties concerned to start the settlement procedure of their choice and recommending a time limit for any agreed procedure.

Article 13 Universality

Each State Party shall encourage States not party to this Convention to ratify, accept, approve or accede to this Convention, with the goal of attracting the adherence of all States to this Convention.

Article 14 Signature

This Convention shall be open for signature to all States before its entry into force.

Article 15 Ratification

This Convention shall be subject to ratification by signatory States.

Article 16 Entry into force

1. This Convention shall enter into force 90 days after the fortieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been deposited.

2. For any State that deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession after the date of the deposit of the fortieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, this Convention shall enter into force 90 days after the date on which that State has deposited its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

Article 17 Reservations

The Articles of this Convention shall not be subject to reservations.

Article 18 Duration

1. This Convention shall be of unlimited duration.

2. Each State Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Convention if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Convention, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Convention and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.

3. Such withdrawal shall only take effect three months after the receipt of the instrument of withdrawal by the Depositary. If, however, on the expiry of that three- month period, the withdrawing State Party is engaged in the situations referred to in Article 2 common to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the Protection of War Victims, including any situation described in paragraph 4 of Article 1 of Additional Protocol I to these Conventions, the Party shall continue to be bound by the obligations of this Convention and of any annexed Protocols until the end of the armed conflict or occupation.

Article 19
Relations with other agreements

This Convention does not affect the rights and obligations of the States Parties under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Article 20 Depositary

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is hereby designated as the Depositary of this Convention.

Article 21 Authentic texts

The Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts of this Convention shall be equally authentic.

World Beyond War

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on May 11, 2017 at 9:43 am

Please read the very informative article at http://worldbeyondwar.org/f-35-incinerating-ski-slope/  As my friend Bob Kinsey says, “Not the usual Greenwash stuff but real facts in context.”

Thanks, LeRoy

Laugh, don’t fight

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on May 5, 2017 at 11:36 pm

By Dave Anderson, Boulder Weekly, May 4, 2017
On April 15, a distinctly disturbing event took place in Berkeley,
California. Several hundred proto-fascists gathered in a downtown
park. They were armed and itching for a fight. Most of them were from
out of town and many from all over the country. This was a pro-Trump
Patriots’ Day rally for “free speech” organized online by a far right
alliance of white supremacist/nationalist, alt-right, anti-feminist,
neo-Nazi and militia groups.

They wore motorcycle helmets, ski goggles, gloves and carried weapons.

Many wore masks. Quite a few performed the Nazi salute. Mother Jones
reporter Shane Bauer said it seemed like many had only known each
other on social media and were meeting in person for the first time.

He overheard discussion and debate of obscure far right positions. A
man carried a sign saying “Da Goyim Know” which refers to a popular
alt-right internet meme about how powerful Jews control everything and
silence the critics who expose them.

They wanted revenge for an earlier event on the University of
California campus. In February, a small group of rock-throwing masked
Black Bloc leftists had forced the cancellation of a speech by
Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

On April 15, the far rightists and the Black Bloc fought each other
for hours in the streets. At the end, 11 people were injured and six
hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a number of charges.

The organizers of the rally, the Proud Boys, said they had won an
“enormous victory.” On their Facebook page, the Proud Boys said they
are “founded on a system of beliefs and values of minimal government,
maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt,
pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders, anti-masturbation,
venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives, and reinstating a
spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and
multiculturalism.”

The group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, claims that Proud Boy meetings
mainly consist of drinking, fighting and reading from Pat Buchanan’s
book, Death of the West.

McInnes was a Fox News commentator who left the network because it
wasn’t conservative enough. He’s also a contributor for the racist
website VDARE, where he belittled Muslims and called Asian Americans
“slopes” and “riceballs.” He once received an award for “hipster
racism.” Being a “hipster racist” involves engaging in behavior
commonly regarded as racist and defending your antics by claiming you
are just being ironic or satirical.

The Proud Boys have a frat boy three-degree initiation. You publicly
declare yourself a Proud Boy. Then you get beaten up until you cry out
the names of five breakfast cereals. Finally you get a tattoo. You
have to maintain a “#NoWanks masturbation regimen” at all times. That
is, you can only masturbate once a month. However, Proud Boys can
always masturbate within a yard of a woman if she consents.

Recently the Proud Boys added a fourth degree: fighting the
anti-fascists. They have also formed a “fight club” military arm
called the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights.

Most likely, the battle in Berkeley is only the beginning. The left
will make a mistake if we get into a war with the far right, argues
David Neiwert, an investigative journalist who has been reporting on
neo-Nazis and fascist types in the Pacific Northwest for over 30
years. From his observations and from his reading of history, he says
that fascists provoke violence by their enemies in order to portray
themselves as victims.

Consider what happened in the last days of Germany’s democratically
elected Weimar Republic in the 1930s. The country was in the middle of
a political and economic crisis that left the society on the brink of
civil war. Street violence by paramilitary organizations on the left
and the right increased discernibly. Shortly before the July 1932
parliamentary elections, Prussian authorities reported 300 acts of
politically motivated violence that left 24 people dead and almost 300
injured.

In Berlin, Nazi Party leader Joseph Goebbels deliberately provoked
Communist and Social Democratic actions by marching their storm
troopers into working-class neighborhoods where those parties had
strongholds. Nazi fighters who were injured or killed became martyrs
romanticized by Nazi newspapers, photographs, films and paintings.

“The Horst Wessel Song” became the Nazi anthem. It lionized a
23-year-old storm trooper who was killed in 1930.

Neiwert says, “Fascists… are the ultimate psychic vampires: They feed
off hate. They want to stoke it as much as possible. They want things
to become as violent as possible. They love it when you become violent
and give them martyrs.”

Neiwart says the most successful anti-fascist demonstration he ever
observed occurred in 2005 in Olympia, Washington. A neo-Nazi group
held a rally calling for a “race war.” The townspeople mocked them
with a loud and mostly good-natured musical celebration of diversity.

Their noise drowned out the fascists on the loudspeakers. There was a
troupe of clowns mimicking Nazis goose stepping around.

Don’t punch Nazis. Laugh at them.

Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 4, 2017 at 9:59 pm

 

This article was originally published by LA Progressive.

In recent weeks, the people of the world have been treated to yet another display of the kind of nuclear insanity that has broken out periodically ever since 1945 and the dawn of the nuclear era.

On April 11, Donald Trump, irked by North Korea’s continued tests of nuclear weapons and missiles, tweeted that “North Korea is looking for trouble.” If China does not “help,” then “we will solve the problem without them.” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded by announcing that, in the event of a U.S. military attack, his country would not scruple at launching a nuclear strike at U.S. forces. In turn, Trump declared: “We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on earth.”

During the following days, the governments of both nuclear-armed nations escalated their threats. Dispatched to South Korea, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declared that “the era of strategic patience is over,” and warned: “All options are on the table.” Not to be outdone, North Korea’s deputy representative to the United Nations told a press conference that “thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.” Any missile or nuclear strike by the United States would be responded to “in kind.” Several days later, the North Korean government warned of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” that would reduce U.S. military forces in South Korea and on the U.S. mainland “to ashes.” The United States and its allies, said the official statement, “should not mess with us.”

Curiously, this North Korean statement echoed the Trump promise during his presidential campaign that he would build a U.S. military machine “so big, powerful, and strong that no one will mess with us.” The fact that both Trump and Kim are being “messed with” despite their possession of very powerful armed forces, including nuclear weapons, seems to have eluded both men, who continue their deadly game of nuclear threat and bluster.

And what is the response of the public to these two erratic government leaders behaving in this reckless fashion and threatening war, including nuclear war? It is remarkably subdued. People read about the situation in newspapers or watch it on the television news, while comedians joke about the madness of it all. Oh, yes, peace and disarmament organizations condemn the escalating military confrontation and outline reasonable diplomatic alternatives. But such organizations are unable to mobilize the vast numbers of people around the world necessary to shake some sense into these overwrought government officials.

The situation was very different in the 1980s, when organizations like the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (in the United States), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in Britain), and similar groups around the world were able to engage millions of people in protest against the nuclear recklessness of the U.S. and Soviet governments―protest that played a key role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.

So why is there so little public protest today?

One factor is certainly the public’s preoccupation with other important issues, among them climate change, immigration, terrorism, criminal justice, civil liberties, and economic inequality.

Another appears to be a sense of fatalism. Many people believe that Kim and Trump are too irrational to respond to reason and too autocratic to give way to public pressure.

Yet another factor is the belief of Americans and Europeans that their countries are safe from a North Korean attack. Yes, many people will die in a new Korean War, especially one fought with nuclear weapons, but they will be “only” Koreans.

In addition, many people credit the absence of nuclear war since 1945 to nuclear deterrence. Thus, they assume that nuclear-armed nations will not fight a nuclear war among themselves.

Finally―and perhaps most significantly―people are reluctant to think about nuclear war. After all, it means death and destruction at an unbearable level of horror. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply forget about it.

Of course, even if these factors explain the public’s passivity in the face of a looming nuclear catastrophe, they do not justify it. After all, people can concern themselves with more than one issue at a time, public officials are often more malleable than assumed, accepting the mass slaughter of Koreans is unconscionable, and if nuclear deterrence really worked, the U.S. government would be far less worried about other nations (including North Korea) developing nuclear weapons. Also, problems―including the problem posed by nuclear weapons―do not simply disappear when people ignore them.

It would be a terrible thing if it takes a disastrous nuclear war between the United States and North Korea to convince people that nuclear war is simply unacceptable. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should already have convinced us of that.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

 

Climate Change as Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2017 at 12:17 am

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won’t even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

US strike sends message to Syria: what it didn’t say

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

Christian Science Monitor, APRIL 7, 2017 BEIRUT AND ISTANBUL

By Nicholas Blanford and Scott Peterson

The US has launched its first punitive military strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria since the civil war there began six years ago, a powerful message that Washington will no longer tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

President Trump’s administration indicated that the strikes, which saw 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at Syria’s Shayrat airbase near Homs, were linked only to the chemical weapons attack Tuesday that killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, in Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib Province.

And while they may have chastened Mr. Assad, analysts say, they do not appear to signal a broader change of US policy on Syria that would pose a longer-term threat to his hold on power.

“This [missile attack] clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Thursday. “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

Those comments might offer some reassurance to Assad that the air strikes were more a slap on the wrist than the beginning of a knockout blow. And with the war in Syria slowly turning in his favor – and with his two key allies, Russia and Iran, continuing to stand by him – Assad looks likely to stay in power, a reality that Syria’s neighbors and the international community reluctantly have had to accept.

“We should not invest the limited American military attack with any strategic connotations so far,” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics (LSE). “It’s an attack divorced from any strategic political vision. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration has any concrete ideas to find a political solution. I’m very skeptical.”

Mr. Gerges warns, however, that military action on its own, absent a strategy, is inherently hard to contain, and could lead to an unintended deepening of US military involvement if Russia and Iran redouble their support for Assad even as Syrian rebels try to use the US strikes as leverage.

“This administration is enamored with hard power,” says Gerges, author of the book, “ISIS: A History.” But “without soft power – without diplomacy, and a political strategy – military actions might be counter-productive.”

Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the strikes’ ability to trigger an escalation derives from the region’s very different perceptions of US military power, including fears in Syria and Iran that the ultimate objective could become regime change.

“Obviously, Trump has framed this through a narrow proliferation lens, and the attacks were very limited. But I don’t think anyone else on the ground or internationally is going to see them through that same narrow lens,” says Mr. Barnes-Dacey, speaking from Brussels.

“For [Syria’s] opposition and its backers, there’s long been a sense that once you get US skin in the game, an escalatory cycle will quickly take over.”

Cost of Assad’s rule

Whether or not the retaliatory strikes have any impact on Assad’s hold on power, his survival after six years of war has come at an increasing cost. Assad took office in 2000 on the death of his father, Hafez, and hopes were initially invested in him as a reformer who would modernize the ossified police state he inherited.

Seventeen years later, Assad has achieved an international pariah status unseen since the days of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. His country has been devastated, the economy ruined, an estimated more than 400,000 people are dead, and the conflict has created the largest refugee crisis Europe has witnessed since World War II.

His regime controls only about 35 percent of Syria, with the rest carved up between various Arab and Kurdish militias and the extremist Islamic State group (ISIS). He stands accused of employing chemical nerve agents against his own population and executing tens of thousands of people in regime prisons. Even if the war subsides and thoughts turn to rebuilding, it is difficult to see which countries or what global institutions would be willing to bankroll a multi-billion dollar reconstruction process with Assad still enthroned in the presidential palace.

“Maybe Bashar will stay for some time now, but eventually, sooner or later [he will go], nothing stays the same in this region,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said recently, speaking to a group of foreign reporters. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005, with Assad’s Syria widely believed to have been involved.

“It would be foolish to think that this regime is still in control in Syria,” Hariri adds. “The people who are in control in Syria are the Russians and the Iranians.”

Russia holds its fire

Moscow, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to the air strikes, calling them an “aggression against a sovereign nation” and announcing an end to the de-confliction mechanism set up between Washington and Moscow to prevent accidental clashes between US and Russian aircraft over Syria, where both nations fly ostensibly on “anti-terror” missions against ISIS.

The Pentagon alerted Russia before it launched the cruise missile attack, as well as NATO allies Turkey and Britain, and the Russian forces do not appear to have activated their S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, which could have intercepted some of the cruise missiles.

“There was an effort to minimize risk to third party nationals at the airport – I think you can read Russians from that. We took great pains to try to avoid that,” Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, told reporters.

The Pentagon’s target, meanwhile, an operational air base, is seen as having a negligible impact on Assad’s ability to continue waging war. Initial accounts of the attack suggest that aircraft and hangars were destroyed and the runway rendered inoperable.

Assad’s real military weakness, however, is not a lack of aircraft but insufficient ground forces to battle rebel groups, which is why his regime has had to rely on allies such as Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite paramilitary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia’s contribution to the Assad war effort has been mainly air support, and Moscow could deploy more aircraft to Syria if needed to plug any shortfall caused by US bombing.

On Thursday, Assad was quoted as repeating his determination to claw back the entire country, telling a Croatian newspaper that there was no “option except victory.”

“If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map,” he told Vecernji List newspaper. “We have no choice in facing this war, and that’s why we are confident, we are persistent, and we are determined.”

Why chemical weapons?

Assad’s critical manpower shortage may be a reason the regime allegedly opted for chemical weapons in Idlib, analysts say.

“Assad doesn’t have anywhere close to the men to retake his territory, that’s why he’s using chemical weapons,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This [US strike] is a clear message he will not be able to gas his way over the two-thirds of Syrian territory outside his control.”

Some analysts suspect that despite the posturing from the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin believed Assad deserved some kind of punishment for the gratuitous use of chemical weapons against civilians – as well as his lack of cooperation in a Russian-led effort to negotiate a peace deal between the regime and the opposition.

“I suspect that the Russians are furious with their ne’er-do-well client,” says Frederic Hof, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department point man on Syria under President Barack Obama. “Why in the world would you use chemicals when everything is going your way?”
It remains to be seen whether the missile strike against the air base is a one-off response to the use of nerve agents or whether the Trump administration will repeat such operations anytime Syrian government forces inflict mass civilian casualties, whether with chemical weapons or conventional means.

Military action “would not likely reverse the tide of the conflict against Assad,” says Mr. Hof. “But it could be significant enough to teach Assad that mass civilian casualty events will no longer be cost-free. This would be important, because as long as civilians are on the bullseye, there can be no meaningful or productive peace negotiations.”

Democratic Socialists of America Condemns the U.S. Bombing of Syria

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Posted by Dsa 🌹 on 04.08.17
A Statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic
Socialists of America

April 8, 2017

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has consistently opposed U.S.
military intervention in the civil war in Syria and condemns the
Tomahawk cruise missile attack by the Trump administration. DSA has
also supported from spring 2011 onwards the massive and democratic
Syrian uprising against the brutal Assad regime, a regime that has
shown no hesitation to use massive force, including chemical weapons,
to suppress its people.

The Trump administration has committed an act of war that both
violates domestic law (having not been authorized by Congress) and
international law (having not been authorized by the United Nations).
Foreign power intervention, however, whether by Russia, the United
States, Iran or the Gulf States, has only served to militarize the
conflict and severely weaken the democratic forces within Syria. As
illustrated by the futile U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, United
States imperialist and unilateral military power cannot liberate the
Syrian people. U.S. air power cannot surgically take out those
individuals who develop and deploy chemical weapons; what it has done
and will do is kill scores of innocent civilians.

Therefore, we urge our members and friends to protest the Trump
administration’s military action and to lobby Congress to halt any
further U.S. military intervention. We urge our members and friends to
protest all bombings of Syrians and the war waged by the Assad regime
through foreign forces against the people of Syria. The U.S. coalition
and Russia have been actively bombing Syria for years, as documented
by https://t.co/tBPcySVVn4, in effect both siding with the regime,
allegedly to fight ISIS (while the context of massive pro-regime
violence is the fertile soil on which ISIS has grown). The Trump
Tomahawk cruise missile strike continues a long-standing U.S. policy
of bombing Syria, which is why Secretary of State Tillerson can state
that these attacks are in accord with ongoing U.S. policy.

In opposing all foreign military intervention in Syria we act to end
the mass slaughter of civilians and to honor the memory of those
civilians who fought for freedom, a fight that might have been won if
not for the militarization of the conflict by the Assad regime and by
U.S. and other foreign powers. As abhorrent as the use of chemical
weapons may be, DSA opposes all forms of mass violence against
civilians, including the U.S. bombing of mosques.

The United States should join the international community in
condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and press for a
return of United Nations inspectors to monitor the regime’s chemical
weapons capacity. The United States must also immediately reverse its
policy opposing the intake of Syrian refugees and grant refugee status
to at least one hundred thousand Syrian asylum seekers (of all faiths)
and challenge the European Union nations to take in proportionate
numbers. It is the ultimate hypocrisy to bomb a country while refusing
to give shelter to refugees from a carnage to which many foreign
powers, including the United States, have contributed.

Furthermore, the United States should join the international community
in providing massive humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrian
refugees in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. The United States and all
other countries should engage in the necessary diplomacy to press
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to cease their military aid to the Assad
dictatorship, as well as end United States and Gulf State funding of
internal Syrian combatants. The Syrian people alone can liberate
themselves; the task cannot be accomplished by external powers.

NO TO ASSAD’S BRUTALITY NO TO ISIS NO TO U.S. AND RUSSIAN BOMBING AND MILITARY FORCES IN SYRIA FOR A REVIVAL OF THE ARAB SPRING

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Statement of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy
April 8, 2017
http://www.cpdweb.org/letters/Syria-bombing.shtml

We are horrified by the relentless, cruel attacks of the Assad regime, aided by Moscow and Tehran, on the Syrian people. For sheer brutality the butchers in Damascus have few equals in the world today. But we also wholeheartedly condemn U.S. bombing and military forces in Syria, which will kill innocent people and contribute nothing towards a just solution to the Syrian conflict, while at the same time serving to deepen the reactionary U.S. military presence in the Middle East and reinforce Assad’s rhetorical claim that he is defending the Syrian people against Western imperialism, hollow though that claim may be.

Assad claims to be the only force standing between “stability” and the victory of ISIS, but this ignores the fact that authoritarian, repressive regimes like those in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria are highly effective recruiting agents for ISIS and similar jihadis. The other major recruiters for religious extremists and terrorists in the Middle East are the United States and its allies, with their bloody history of intervention and, in the case of the U.S., virtually carte blanche support for Israel. And while President Trump’s missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat airbase may have been limited, such bombing has its own logic, dangerously putting U.S. imperial prestige on the line and thus potentially triggering escalating attacks and counterattacks.

We are witnessing a set of deadly symbioses in Syria: Assad and ISIS use one another as justification for their own savageries, while the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, point to the very real crimes of one another to excuse interventions which in no way protect or defend the Syrian people, but rather serve their imperial (or in the case of Iran, sub-imperial) interests in the region.

The war in Syria cannot be understood apart from the broader political landscape in the Middle East. The popular revolutionary uprisings of the Arab Spring, from Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain to Syria, Libya and Yemen, offered a glimpse of a democratic and just future for the peoples of the region. For now, they have been thwarted, and in most cases, apparently crushed by a combination of domestic reactionary forces and the support of their foreign patrons.

However, the resistance in Syria has proven amazingly resilient: as recently as March of last year courageous street protests under the slogan “The Revolution Continues” erupted in Syrian cities during the brief cessation of hostilities. As reported in The New Statesman, “When fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra tried to storm one of these demonstrations in the town of Maarat al-Numan, the protesters drowned them out by chanting, ‘One! One! One! The Syrian people are one!’ This is a maxim from the incipient, secular phases of the uprising, in which Syrians struggled to stem the tide of rising sectarian and ethnic tension injected by the jihadists’ engagement in the conflict.” (1)

It is truly a time of colossal, obscene double standards.

We see Donald Trump, along with most of the mainstream media and leading Republican and Democratic Party politicians, hypocritically deploring the massacre of innocent men, women and babies in Syria — while they remain coldly indifferent to the massacres and loss of human life at the hands of the U.S. and the forces it supports in Mosul and Yemen. And meanwhile desperate refugees from Syria’s carnage are cruelly turned away from U.S. borders.

We also see Donald Trump welcoming Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, while brazenly dismissing any human rights concerns and continuing Obama’s policy of generous military aid, despite Sisi’s horrific record of murdering and imprisoning thousands of his opponents. It is safe to predict, moreover, that if and when the Islamic State gains more and more supporters in Egypt in response to Sisi’s dictatorial rule, we will hear a chorus of apologists saying that unsavory as he may be, Sisi as a secularist leader is better than the barbaric jihadis, has significant popular support, and therefore has to be supported.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and its news agency RT deplore the heartrending destruction of neighborhoods and deaths of civilians in Mosul and Yemen and decry the callousness of the U.S. military — while justifying Assad’s attacks on the people of Aleppo and across Syria. In fact, Russian military involvement, including aerial support for attacks on civilian and military opponents of the regime, has actually played a significant, likely critical, role in keeping Assad’s regime in power.

We completely reject these grotesque alternatives. We urgently hope for a revival of the movements and the spirit of the Arab Spring, which offer the only possibility of breaking out of the death spiral of Middle Eastern politics. Many will dismiss this perspective as impractical, but what is truly impractical is the idea that the great powers, each with its own imperial agenda, will bring justice or democracy. If, against enormous odds, democratic forces are able to wrest an agreement that protects them from continuing slaughter by Assad and ISIS and leaves them in a position to struggle and fight again another day, then their decision to accept such a limited agreement should be respected. But even such an agreement will only be won as a result of pressure from the Syrian people, not through the initiative of outside powers who, despite their differences and rivalries, share a deep hostility to a resurgence of autonomous popular forces in Syria or anywhere else.

Democratic popular forces may be weak today, but our only principled and practical course is to declare our solidarity with their struggles, try to strengthen them, and oppose all those who attempt to subvert and destroy them.

(1) The 2016 demonstration in Maarat al-Numan is described in this New Statesman article
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/03/amid-fragile-ceasefire-syria-s-original-protesters-are-rediscovering-their-voice.

Protests in other Syrian cities are described in these articles:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/syria-ceasefire-aleppo-peaceful-protests.html

https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/new-demonstrations-throughout-free-syria

Thoughts about what the Syrian airstrike might mean for our work

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The following was written April 6, 2017, by my colleague and good friend Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — also very active with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
There was little warning. That is the nature of a surprise attack. Still, the reality that our country had carried out an act of war against another country was shocking. Knowing that our historic nuclear-armed nemesis is on the other side, on the ground in that country quickly turned my shock into a heavy dread.

There are many reasons for Russia to stand aside in response to the US attack on a Syrian airbase after Donald Trump was affected by scenes of children who had been murdered by chemical weapons.
There are also reasons for Russia to express concerns about a US President deciding to become the global enforcer of UN conventions without waiting for a greenlight from the security council or anyone else—what seems swift and decisive to President Trump could seem abrupt and impetuous to someone else.
And there could be reasons for Russia to take it personally—if Russian personnel were on the ground at the airbase and were killed in the attack, for instance.
The US President will receive accolades or condemnations from members of Congress and others who agree or disagree with his action. He declared his order to strike the airbase was based on the US’s “vital national security interest” in preventing the spread of chemical weapons. Pundits did not blink an eye; we have grown accustomed to defending any action we deign to take by invoking our vital national interest. In this case, no US citizens or military personnel were harmed by Assad’s horrific attack; no US corporate or government properties were at risk. If the US at this moment now holds UN conventions sacred, one can only hope we apply that same solemn obeisance to the Land Mines Convention and, when it enters into force, the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons.

But the hard looming question of this night is this: What if Russia decides to test the mettle of Donald Trump and the divided United States by countering with firepower in a limited strike? What if Russian personnel were killed in the attack, and Vladimir Putin’s pride requires a concomitant response?
That What If has numbed me this night. That What If is unspeakable on Talk-TV tonight.
How quickly could this spiral out of control—two deeply offended egos, puffing themselves up for the honor of their country, acting decisively, precipitously, provocatively to face down the enemy—
Could one or the other, feeling tested, decide to put any questions to rest by reaching for the nuclear codes?

We pray that would never happen, of course. We pray for our lives, and the lives of future generations. We pray whether or not we believe in God or a god or goddess.
But we cannot pray that it could never happen, and therein lies our deepest problem and the unmasking of the fundamental, fatal flaw in the concept of nuclear deterrence. It could happen.
And the fact that all we can do about it at this moment is pray should motivate every woman, man and child in the country to take up the cause of nuclear disarmament. We don’t all have to be on the same page, we don’t all have to agree on the nuts and bolts or the schedule.
We also don’t all have to sit back and say it can’t be done, because it can. Hundreds of millions of people around the world believe it can. One hundred twenty-three nations that convened last week at the United Nations to discuss a treaty to ban nuclear weapons believe that it can. History says that it can—several countries that once possessed nuclear weapons no longer have stockpiles or manufacturing capabilities. Other countries that could produce their own nuclear weapons have chosen not to.
Only three things are lacking, and they are connected.
One is political will translated into political power—the people, when asked directly, express by large majorities the desire to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second thing lacking is courage to embrace a power greater than our fears.
And the third thing is the liberation of our governing officials in the House and Senate from the golden chains of the nuclear weapons institutions—the corporations and weapons communities and federal agencies that drain the national coffers to build weapons of mass destruction.

Tonight, as we wait to see how Russia might respond and what will happen as this chess game plays out with pieces bathed in blood, we must confront the terrible truth of the times we live in: decisions made by these few men could end us all in one afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon, or the one after that, before we can even reach our children to hug them to our chests.
If that is not acceptable to you, find a group working for the abolition of nuclear weapons—not talking about it, but working for it—and throw yourself behind them. If you belong to such a group already, double down. If you can’t find a group, start one. Nothing is more important.

Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts

In Art, Democracy, Justice, Poetry, Politics on April 7, 2017 at 7:07 am

Be Eve L. Ewing, New York Times, April 6, 2017

In 1937, ascending leaders of the Third Reich hosted two art exhibitions in Munich. One, the “Great German Art Exhibition,” featured art Adolf Hitler deemed acceptable and reflective of an ideal Aryan society: representational, featuring blond people in heroic poses and pastoral landscapes of the German countryside. The other featured what Hitler and his followers referred to as “degenerate art”: work that was modern or abstract, and art produced by people disavowed by Nazis — Jewish people, Communists, or those suspected of being one or the other. The “degenerate art” was presented in chaos and disarray, accompanied by derogatory labels, graffiti and catalog entries describing “the sick brains of those who wielded the brush or pencil.” Hitler and those close to him strictly controlled how artists lived and worked in Nazi Germany, because they understood that art could play a key role in the rise or fall of their dictatorship and the realization of their vision for Germany’s future.

“Degenerate Art,” a Nazi-curated exhibition, at the Haus der Kunst in Berlin, February 1938. Credit Reuters
Last month, the Trump administration proposed a national budget that includes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA operates with a budget of about $150 million a year. As critics have observed, this amount is about 0.004 percent of the federal budget, making the move a fairly inefficient approach to trimming government spending. Many Americans have been protesting the cuts by pointing out the many ways that art enriches our lives — as they should. The arts bring us joy and entertainment; they can offer a reprieve from the trials of life or a way to understand them.

But as Hitler understood, artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible.

The artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, after being released from jail, in Havana in 2015. He had been held for 10 months for anti-Castro art. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press
Authoritarian leaders throughout history have intuited this fact and have acted accordingly. The Stalinist government of the 1930s required art to meet strict criteria of style and content to ensure that it exclusively served the purposes of state leadership. In his memoir, the composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich writes that the Stalinist government systematically executed all of the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian folk poets. When Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973, muralists were arrested, tortured and exiled. Soon after the coup, the singer and theater artist Víctor Jara was killed, his body riddled with bullets and displayed publicly as a warning to others. In her book “Brazilian Art Under Dictatorship,” Claudia Calirman writes that the museum director Niomar Moniz Sodré Bittencourt had to hide works of art and advise artists to leave Brazil after authorities entered her museum, blocked the exhibition and demanded the work be dismantled because it contained dangerous images like a photograph of a member of the military falling off a motorcycle, which was seen as embarrassing to the police. Such extreme intervention may seem far removed from the United States today, until we consider episodes like the president’s public castigation of the “Hamilton” cast after it issued a fairly tame commentary directed at Mike Pence.

In its last round of grants, the NEA gave $10,000 to a music festival in Oregon to commission a dance performance by people in wheelchairs and dance classes for people who use mobility devices. A cultural center in California received $10,000 to host workshops led by Muslim artists, including a hip-hop artist, a comedian and filmmakers. A chorus in Minnesota was granted $10,000 to create a concert highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ youth, to be performed in St. Paul public schools. Each of these grants supports the voices of the very people the current presidential administration has mocked, dismissed and outright harmed. Young people, queer people, immigrants, and minorities have long used art as a means of dismantling the institutions that would silence us first and kill us later, and the NEA is one of the few wide-reaching institutions that support that work.

Ai Weiwei and remnants of an installation for the Venice Biennale in 2013. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
American observers shook their heads in disapproval when the performance artist Danilo Maldonado was arrested and jailed for criticizing the Castro regime, and when the Chinese sculptor and photographer Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest and had his studio demolished by the government. But closer to home, it is imperative that we understand what Trump’s attack on the arts is really about. It’s not about making America a drab and miserable place, nor is it about a belief in austerity or denying resources to communities in need. Much like the disappearance of data from government websites and the exclusion of critical reporters from White House briefings, this move signals something broader and more threatening than the inability of one group of people to do their work. It’s about control. It’s about creating a society where propaganda reigns and dissent is silenced.

We need the arts because they make us full human beings. But we also need the arts as a protective factor against authoritarianism. In saving the arts, we save ourselves from a society where creative production is permissible only insofar as it serves the instruments of power. When the canary in the coal mine goes silent, we should be very afraid — not only because its song was so beautiful, but also because it was the only sign that we still had a chance to see daylight again.

Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and the author of the forthcoming book “Electric Arches.” Follow her on Twitter @eveewing.

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