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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

FIGHTING HATE // TEACHING TOLERANCE // SEEKING JUSTICE

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

DECEMBER 16, 2017
Good morning Leroy,

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

“That makes no sense,” said Jiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama

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Hyping U.S. Missile Defense Capabilities Could Have Grave Consequences

In Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

In response to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, which flew higher and farther than any of its previous launches, President Trump told Americans not to worry. “We will take care of it,” he said. “It is a situation that we will handle.”
The big question is how. Unfortunately, Trump’s assertion may rest on his unwarranted confidence in the U.S. missile defense system. During a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity about the threat posed by a potential North Korean nuclear strike, he declared that the United States has “missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time.”

The facts, however, tell a different story.

The reality is that the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has succeeded in destroying a mock enemy missile in only 56 percent of its tests since 1999. And, as I’ll explain, none of the tests approached the complexity of a real-world nuclear launch.

What’s more, ever since the George W. Bush administration, the GMD program has been exempt from routine Pentagon oversight and accountability procedures. The result? Fifteen years later, all available evidence indicates that it is still not ready for prime time, and may never be.

Of course, Trump is prone to exaggeration. In fact, he has averaged more than five lies per day since taking office. But it is critical to understand the potential ramifications of this particular Trumparian boast: It could lull Americans into a false sense of security and, even more alarming, embolden Trump to start a war. As veteran military reporter Fred Kaplan pointed out, if the president truly believes the U.S. missile defense system is infallible, “he might think that he could attack North Korea with impunity. After all, if the North Koreans retaliated by firing their nuclear missiles back at us or our allies, we could shoot them down.”

Such wishful thinking could clearly lead to a disastrous miscalculation. And what’s worse, Trump just may believe his preposterous claim because he’s not the only one making it.

If You Repeat a Lie Often Enough…

Missile defense advocates have a long history of hyperbole. A 2016 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists included an appendix with a selected list of some three dozen statements administration and military officials have made extolling the GMD system’s virtues. They are incredibly consistent, and given the facts, consistently incredible.

In March 2003 — before the GMD system was even deployed — then-Undersecretary of Defense Edward Aldridge assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that its “effectiveness is in the 90 percent success range” when asked if it would protect Americans from the nascent North Korean threat.

Seven years later, in December 2010, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee that “the probability will be well over in the high 90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept” an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) targeting New York City.

Fast forward to April 2016, when Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. “The U.S. homeland,” he maintained, “is currently protected against potential ICBM attacks from states like North Korea and Iran if it was to develop an ICBM in the future.”

Wrong, wrong, and yet again, wrong. As Washington Post “Fact Checker” columnist Glenn Kessler wrote in mid-October, the claim that the GMD system has a success rate in the “high-90s” is based on “overenthusiastic” math. Although the system has succeeded only 56 percent of the time over the last two decades, the calculation is predicated on a hypothetical, never-been-tested launch of four GMD interceptors with a 60-percent success rate producing a 97-percent chance of destroying one incoming ICBM. If one interceptor missed because of a design flaw, however, the other three would likely fail as well. “The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50,” Kessler concluded, “and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.”

No surprise, defense contractors also wildly overstate the GMD system’s capabilities.

This September on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security division, stated unequivocally that the GMD system would “keep us safe” from a North Korean attack. The system is “doing exactly what is needed,” Caret said, but added that it will ultimately require even more rocket interceptors from her company, the prime GMD system contractor since 1996. There are currently 40 interceptors in underground silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, all made by Boeing.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy, whose company produces the “kill vehicle” that sits atop Boeing’s interceptor, was equally sanguine about the GMD system when he appeared on Squawk Box the following month. “I say relative to the North Korean threat, you shouldn’t be worried,” Kennedy said. “But you should ensure that you’ve talked to your congressman or congresswoman to make sure they support the defense budget to the point where it can continue to defend the United States and its allies.”

Given such glowing reviews, it’s no wonder President Trump asked Congress for $4 billion for the GMD system and other programs, such as the ship-based Aegis system, designed to intercept short- to intermediate-range missiles. In a November 6 letter to lawmakers, Trump wrote: “This request supports additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners.”

The House of Representatives apparently is even more enthused about the GMD system’s much-touted capabilities. It passed a $700-billion defense authorization bill on November 14 that includes $12.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency — more than triple what Trump requested. Some of that money would cover the cost of as many as 28 additional GMD interceptors, but lawmakers asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to develop a plan to add 60, which would increase the overall number of interceptors to 104.

Unrealistic, Carefully Scripted Tests

If members of Congress bothered to take a closer look at the GMD system’s track record, they would hopefully realize that committing billions more is throwing good money after bad. Even the most recent test, which the Missile Defense Agency declared a success, would not inspire confidence.

That test, which took place on May 30, resulted in a GMD interceptor knocking a mock enemy warhead out of the sky. At a press conference afterward, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring claimed it was “exactly the scenario we would expect to occur during an operational engagement.”

Not exactly. Yes, the Pentagon did upgrade its assessment of the GMD system in light of the May exercise, but — like previous tests — it was not held under real-world conditions.

In its 2016 annual report, the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office cautioned that the GMD system has only a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” The “reliability and availability of the operational [interceptors],” it added, “are low.” After the May test, however, the office issued a memo stating that “GMD has demonstrated capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures.”

Despite this rosier appraisal, Laura Grego, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) physicist who has written extensively about the GMD system, is not convinced that the latest test represents a significant improvement. After analyzing an unclassified Missile Defense Agency video of the May 30 exercise, she concluded that it was clearly “scripted to succeed.”

As in previous tests, system operators knew approximately when and where the mock enemy missile would be launched, its expected trajectory, and what it would look like to sensors, she said. And, like the previous tests, the one in May pitted one GMD interceptor against a single missile that was slower than an ICBM that could reach the continental United States, without realistic decoys or other countermeasures that could foil U.S. defenses.

The key takeaway? The GMD system has destroyed its target in only four of 10 tests since it was fielded in 2004, even though all of the tests were held under improbably ideal conditions. If the tests had been more realistic, the GMD system likely would be zero for 10. Moreover, the system’s record has not improved over time. Indeed, it flunked three of the four tests preceding the one in May, and not because the Missile Defense Agency made the tests progressively more difficult.

According to the 2016 UCS report Grego co-authored, a primary reason for the GMD system’s reliability problems is not funding, but lack of oversight. In its rush to get the system up and running, the George W. Bush administration exempted the program from standard military procurement rules and testing protocols. That ill-advised decision has not only run up the system’s price tag, which to date amounts to more than $40 billion, it also has produced a system that is incapable of defending the United States from a limited nuclear attack.

“Regardless of what President Trump and other missile defense boosters want us to believe, the data show that we can’t count on the current system to protect us,” said Grego. “We need to reduce the risk of a crisis escalating out of control. Only diplomacy has a realistic chance of doing that.”

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reach High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

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

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

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

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

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

And in particular we call on:

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

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

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

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

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

We actually have made enormous progress since then.

Among other things from 1985:

1. US Senate

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

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

2. German Foreign Minister

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

3. Official Nobel Press Conference in Oslo

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

4. Other Western Media coverage

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

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

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

Lesson/Conclusion:

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

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

–Lachlan

Lachlan Forrow, MD

Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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

Socialism, Capitalism and Health Care

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

James Petras

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing Costs of Medical Visitation by Economic System

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

High Tech Billionaires Speak of ‘Values’ while Maximizing Profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Roots of the Superior European Health Care System

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

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

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

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

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

Present and Future Consequence of a Capitalist ‘Health System’

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Report: In modernizing nuclear arsenal, U.S. stokes new arms race

In Cost, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on November 26, 2017 at 3:15 am

Scott Paltrow, Reuters, Nov. 25, 2017

President Barack Obama rode into office in 2009 with promises to work toward a nuclear-free world. His vow helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

The next year, while warning that Washington would retain the ability to retaliate against a nuclear strike, he promised that America would develop no new types of atomic weapons. Within 16 months of his inauguration, the United States and Russia negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, meant to build trust and cut the risk of nuclear war. It limited each side to what the treaty counts as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads.

By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the risk of Armageddon hadn’t receded. Instead, Washington was well along in a modernization program that is making nearly all of its nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly.

And Russia was doing the same: Its weapons badly degraded from neglect after the Cold War, Moscow had begun its own modernization years earlier under President Vladimir Putin. It built new, more powerful ICBMs, and developed a series of tactical nuclear weapons.

The United States under Obama transformed its main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon, made its submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave its land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.” To deliver these more lethal weapons, military contractors are building fleets of new heavy bombers and submarines.

President Donald Trump has worked hard to undo much of Obama’s legacy, but he has embraced the modernization program enthusiastically. Trump has ordered the Defense Department to complete a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal by the end of this year.

Reuters reported in February that in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump denounced the New START treaty and rejected Putin’s suggestion that talks begin about extending it once it expires in 2021.

Some former senior U.S. government officials, legislators and arms-control specialists – many of whom once backed a strong nuclear arsenal — are now warning that the modernization push poses grave dangers.

“REALLY DANGEROUS THINKING”

They argue that the upgrades contradict the rationales for New START – to ratchet down the level of mistrust and reduce risk of intentional or accidental nuclear war. The latest improvements, they say, make the U.S. and Russian arsenals both more destructive and more tempting to deploy. The United States, for instance, has a “dial down” bomb that can be adjusted to act like a tactical weapon, and others are planned.

“The idea that we could somehow fine tune a nuclear conflict is really dangerous thinking,” says Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based think tank.

One leader of this group, William Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, said recently in a Q&A on YouTube that “the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War.”

Perry told Reuters that both the United States and Russia have upgraded their arsenals in ways that make the use of nuclear weapons likelier. The U.S. upgrade, he said, has occurred almost exclusively behind closed doors. “It is happening without any basic public discussion,” he said. “We’re just doing it.”

The cause of arms control got a publicity boost in October when the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in getting the United Nations General Assembly in July to adopt a nuclear prohibition treaty. The United States, Russia and other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations.

The U.S. modernization program has many supporters in addition to Trump, however. There is little or no pressure in Congress to scale it back. Backers argue that for the most part the United States is merely tweaking old weapons, not developing new ones.

Some say that beefed up weapons are a more effective deterrent, reducing the chance of war. Cherry Murray served until January as a top official at the Energy Department, which runs the U.S. warhead inventory. She said the reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles under New START makes it imperative that Washington improve its arsenal.

During the Cold War, Murray said in an interview, the United States had so many missiles that if one didn’t work, the military could simply discard it. With the new limit of 1,550 warheads, every one counts, she said.

“When you get down to that number we better make sure they work,” she said. “And we better make sure our adversaries believe they work.”

An Obama spokesman said the former president would not comment for this story. The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Asked about Trump’s view on the modernization program, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said the president’s goal is to create a nuclear force that is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

A BUDGET BUSTER?

The U.S. modernization effort is not coming cheap. This year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will cost at least $1.25 trillion over 30 years. The amount could grow significantly, as the Pentagon has a history of major cost overruns on large acquisition projects.

As defense secretary under Obama, Leon Panetta backed modernization. Now he questions the price tag.

“We are in a new chapter of the Cold War with Putin,” he told Reuters in an interview, blaming the struggle’s resumption on the Russian president. Panetta says he doubts the United States will be able to fund the modernization program. “We have defense, entitlements and taxes to deal with at the same time there are record deficits,” he said.

New START is leading to significant reductions in the two rival arsenals, a process that began with the disintegration of the USSR. But reduced numbers do not necessarily mean reduced danger.

In 1990, the year before the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States had more than 12,000 warheads and the Soviets just over 11,000, an August 2017 Congressional Research Service report says. Soon the two countries made precipitous cuts. The 1991 START treaty limited each to somewhat more than 6,000 warheads. By 2009 the number was down to about 2,200 deployed warheads.

Tom Collina, policy director of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control group, says that both Moscow and Washington are on track to meet the 1,550 limit by the treaty’s 2018 deadline. The treaty, however, allows for fudging.

At Russia’s insistence, each bomber is counted as a single warhead, no matter how many nuclear bombs it carries or has ready for use. As a result, the real limit for each side is about 2,000. Collina says the United States currently has 1,740 deployed warheads, and Russia is believed to have a similar number. Each side also has thousands of warheads in storage and retired bombs and missiles awaiting dismantlement.

The declining inventories mask the technological improvements the two sides are making. There is a new arms race, based this time not on number of weapons but on increasing lethality, says William Potter, director of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

“We are in a situation in which technological advances are outstripping arms control,” Potter says.

One example of an old weapon transformed into a more dangerous new one is America’s main hydrogen bomb. The Air Force has deployed the B61 bomb on heavy bombers since the mid-1960s. Until recently, the B61 was an old-fashioned gravity bomb, dropped by a plane and free-falling to its target.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE BOMB EVER

Now, the Air Force has transformed it into a controllable smart bomb. The new model has adjustable tail fins and a guidance system which lets bomber crews direct it to its target. Recent models of the bomb had already incorporated a unique “dial-down capacity”: The Air Force can adjust the explosion. The bomb can be set to use against enemy troops, with a 0.3 kiloton detonation, a tiny fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, or it can level cities with a 340-kiloton blast with 23 times the force of Hiroshima’s. Similar controls are planned for new cruise missiles.

The new B61 is the most expensive bomb ever built. At $20.8 million per bomb, each costs nearly one-third more than its weight in 24 karat gold. The estimated price of the planned total of 480 bombs is almost $10 billion.

Congress also has approved initial funding of $1.8 billion to build a completely new weapon, the “Long Range Stand-Off” cruise missile, at an estimated $17 billion total cost. The cruise missiles, too, will be launched from aircraft. But in contrast to stealth bombers dropping the new B61s directly over land, the cruise missiles will let bombers fly far out of range of enemy air defenses and fire the missiles deep into enemy territory.

Obama’s nuclear modernization began diverging from his original vision early on, when Republican senators resisted his arms reduction strategy.

Former White House officials say Obama was determined to get the New START treaty ratified quickly. Aside from hoping to ratchet down nuclear tensions, he considered it vital to assure continued Russian cooperation in talks taking place at the time with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. Obama also feared that if the Senate didn’t act by the end of its 2010 session, the accord might never pass, according to Gary Samore, who served four years as the Obama White House’s coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction.

Obama hit resistance from then-Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona. Kyl, the Senate’s minority whip, assembled enough Republicans to kill the treaty.

In e-mailed answers to questions, Kyl said he opposed the accord because Russia “cheats” on treaties and the United States lacks the means to verify and enforce compliance. Moscow’s deployment of new tactical weapons since 2014, he said, was a violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Russia denies violating the treaty.) Kyl also faulted New START for omitting Russia’s large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons for use on battlefields, a subject the Russians have refused to discuss.

But Kyl proved willing to let the treaty pass – for a price. In exchange for ratification, the White House would have to agree to massive modernization of the remaining U.S. weapons. Obama agreed, and the Senate passed the treaty on the last day of the 2010 session.

Samore, the former White House arms control coordinator, says Obama did not oppose taking steps to refurbish superannuated weapons. He just did not plan the costly decision to do it all at once, Samore said.

DESTABILIZING THE STATUS QUO

While the number of warheads and launch vehicles is limited by the treaty, nothing in it forbids upgrading the weaponry or replacing older arms with completely new and deadlier ones. Details of the modernized weapons show that both are happening.

The upshot, according to former Obama advisers and outside arms-control specialists, is that the modernization destabilized the U.S.-Russia status quo, setting off a new arms race. Jon Wolfsthal, a former top advisor to Obama on arms control, said it is possible to have potentially devastating arms race even with a relatively small number of weapons.

The New START treaty limits the number of warheads and launch vehicles. But it says nothing about the design of the “delivery” methods – land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, hydrogen bombs and cruise missiles. Thus both sides are increasing exponentially the killing power of these weapons, upgrading the delivery vehicles so that they are bigger, more accurate and equipped with dangerous new features – without increasing the number of warheads or vehicles.

The United States, according to an article in the March 1 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has roughly tripled the “killing power” of its existing ballistic missile force.

The article’s lead author, Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, said in an e-mail that he knows of no comparable estimate for Russia. He noted, however, that Russia is making its own extensive enhancements, including larger missiles and new launch vehicles. He said Russia also is devoting much effort to countering U.S. missile defense systems.

The U.S. modernization program “has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal,” Kristensen wrote in the article. “This increase in capability is astonishing.”

Kristensen says the most alarming change is America’s newly refitted submarine-launched Trident II missiles. These have new “fuzing” devices, which use sensors to tell the warheads when to detonate. Kristensen says that for decades, Tridents had inaccurate fuzes. The missiles could make a direct hit on only about 20 percent of targets. With the new fuzes, “they all do,” he says.

Under New START, 14 of America’s Ohio Class subs carry 20 Tridents. Each Trident can be loaded with up to 12 warheads. (The United States has four additional Ohio subs that carry only conventional weapons.) The Trident II’s official range is 7,456 miles, nearly one-third the Earth’s circumference. Outside experts say the real range almost certainly is greater. Each of its main type of warhead produces a 475-kiloton blast, almost 32 times that of Hiroshima.

RUSSIA’S DIRTY DRONE

Russia, too, is hard at work making deadlier strategic weapons. Ploughshares estimates that both sides are working on at least two dozen new or enhanced strategic weapons.

Russia is building new ground-based missiles, including a super ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. The Russian missile has room for at least 10 warheads that can be aimed at separate targets. Russian state media has said that the missile could destroy areas as large as Texas or France. U.S. analysts say this is unlikely, but the weapon is nonetheless devastatingly powerful.

Russia’s new ICBMs have room to add additional warheads, in case the New START treaty expires or either side abrogates it. The United States by its own decision currently has only a single warhead in each of its ICBMS, but these too have room for more.

Russia has phased in a more accurate submarine-launched missile, the RSM-56 Bulava. While it is less precise than the new U.S. Tridents, it marks a significant improvement in reliability and accuracy over Russia’s previous sub-based missiles.

A Russian military official in 2015 disclosed a sort of doomsday weapon, taking the idea of a “dirty bomb” to a new level. Many U.S. analysts believe the disclosure was a bluff; others say they believe the weapon has been deployed.

The purported device is an unmanned submarine drone, able to cruise at a fast 56 knots and travel 6,200 miles. The concept of a dirty bomb, never used to date, is that terrorists would spread harmful radioactive material by detonating a conventional explosive such as dynamite. In the case of the Russian drone, a big amount of deadly radioactive material would be dispersed by a nuclear bomb.

The bomb would be heavily “salted” with radioactive cobalt, which emits deadly gamma rays for years. The explosion and wind would spread the cobalt for hundreds of miles, making much of the U.S. East Coast uninhabitable.

A documentary shown on Russian state TV said the drone is meant to create “areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

Reif of the Arms Control Association says that even if the concept is only on the drawing board, the device represents “really outlandish thinking” by the Russian government. “It makes no sense strategically,” he said, “and reflects a really egregiously twisted conception about what’s necessary for nuclear deterrence.”

 

The Senate Questions the President’s Power to Launch Nukes

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 17, 2017 at 12:26 am

The Editorial Board, New York Times, November 15, 2017

President Trump and North Korea have prompted Congress to do something it hasn’t done in more than four decades: formally consider changes to the law that gives American presidents the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons.

In a governing system that relies on checks and balances, that may strike some people as odd. But the uncomfortable truth is that Mr. Trump, like all his post-World War II predecessors, is uniquely empowered to order a pre-emptive strike, on North Korea or anywhere else. We’re talking about the authority to unleash thousands of nuclear weapons within minutes. And with scant time to consult with experienced advisers.

As the first formal hearing on the issue in 41 years unfolded before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, bluntly outlined the stakes with a president who “is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

Republicans were not as harsh nor so Trump-centric. But Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is the committee’s chairman, and recently expressed concern that Mr. Trump could lead the country to World War III, said it was important to examine the “realities of this system” by which the use of nuclear weapons is decided. He’s right.

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Mr. Trump has brought on himself this examination of his authority to order the launch of the world’s most deadly weapons. His erratic, taunting threats to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea and even destroy the country, his glib talk about nuclear weapons and his impulsiveness generally raise serious questions about his willingness to incite war.

He is engaged in a dangerous game of chicken with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, who has kept up his own steady stream of bombastic insults against Mr. Trump and threatened attacks on the United States with an arsenal that has gone from zero to at least 20 nuclear weapons, plus the missiles to deliver them, over the past 30 years.

 

The president’s sole control of nuclear launches stems from the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, passed when there was more concern about hawkish generals than elected civilian leaders. C. Robert Kehler, a retired Air Force general who once headed the Strategic Command that oversees the nuclear arsenal, said at the hearing on Tuesday that the military could refuse to follow what it considers a disproportionate and unnecessary order. He said he did not know what the president’s response would be in such a case. But Brian McKeon, a former Pentagon official, told the committee that the president could appoint a new general and defense secretary to carry out his orders — further evidence, not at all reassuring, of the president’s unilateral powers.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Ted Lieu of California, both Democrats, have introduced legislation to bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress. A president would, of course, still have the power to retaliate if America was attacked, but their bill could help restrain a trigger-happy president. Another idea would be to stipulate that the vice president or the secretaries of state and defense, or all three, must concur in any decision to strike first with nuclear weapons.

Because such changes could affect the country’s ability to deter adversaries with the threat of a rapid nuclear attack, they must be carefully considered. The Republican-led Congress, which has shown few signs of pushing back against presidential powers, may end up taking no action. Mr. Corker says he does not see a legislative solution at the moment, though “over the course of the next several months one might develop.” What we do know is that there are hard questions to be addressed, especially now that the American people have been alerted to the scope and potential peril of Mr. Trump’s powers.

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

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

November 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters.

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

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

by Ramzy Baroud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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