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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

Nuclear Arsenal

In Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 17, 2017 at 10:48 am

The Independent Newspaper
Thursday, February 16, 2017

I participated in the U.S. and international movements to ban nuclear weapons in the 1980’s. Progress was made at that time in the US/Russian commitment to decommission and destroy accumulated nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world without such weapons.
That commitment to disarm has deteriorated, and the world is now only two and one-half minutes from midnight according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. They have moved the hands of their iconic Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to the nuclear hour that marks the end of humanity.
The Bulletin cited several reasons for the darkening of the global security landscape including deteriorating relations between the US and Russia (together possessing more than 90% of world’s nuclear weapons), North Korea’s continuing weapons development, the march of arsenal modernization programs in nuclear weapons states, and new doubt over the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal, (though it proved successful in meeting goals in year one.)
These are all matters President Trump has signaled that he would make worse due to “ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the US Nuclear arsenal, a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice about international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts ,” according to the Bulletin. I would add to this list his condoning of fake news and alternative facts.
I think that no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous nuclear race must be a priority. See trivalleycares.org or wagingpeace.org to take action.
Patricia Moore, MSW
Livermore

The author of this artice is a member of Tri-Valley Cares of Livermore, CA, an affiliate of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

Trump and the Doomsday Clock

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 13, 2017 at 11:06 pm

By Jeffrey D. Sachs FEBRUARY 12, 2017
The most chilling concern about Donald Trump is the worldwide fear that he puts our very survival at risk. This is not loose talk or partisanship. It was recently expressed by the most thoughtful experts who monitor the risks to our survival: The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are the keepers of the Doomsday Clock. These experts have just told the world it is “Two and a half minutes to midnight,” where midnight signifies the end of civilization. This is the closest to doom since 1953, when both the United States and Russia first possessed thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying the world.

Let’s not panic. Instead, let’s think, plan, and act. As President John F. Kennedy famously declared, “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man.” The problem of Donald Trump can be solved too, by the institutions of American democracy and the international rule of law.
The Doomsday Clock was created 70 years ago, in the early days of the Cold War and the nuclear weapons race between the United States and the Soviet Union. For the first time in human history, mankind possessed the means of causing not only great carnage and suffering, but also the very destruction of humanity. The early generation of atomic scientists recognized the profound and unprecedented dangers of the new weapons and sought to warn the world. In the first edition of the clock, in 1947, they set the it to seven minutes before midnight, nuclear Armageddon. As the Cold War intensified, and atomic bombs gave way to vastly more powerful thermonuclear bombs, the minute hand moved five minutes closer to midnight.

When JFK came into office he powerfully expressed the existential paradox of modernity. “For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” We never came closer to the end than in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when mistakes by both the United States and the Soviet Union led the world to the very brink of nuclear war. In 1963, brilliant diplomacy by Kennedy, supported by the moral leadership of Pope John XXIII and the bold statesmanship of Nikita Khrushchev, led to the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Humanity was spared. The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock moved back to 12 minutes before midnight, a margin of safety.

With America’s escalation of the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson, the minute hand began to move once again toward midnight, while Richard Nixon’s “detente” with the Soviet Union again reduced the tensions and put the minute hand back to 12 minutes before midnight. Then tensions escalated with Ronald Reagan’s new arms buildup, until Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev launched the process of political and economic reform, perestroika, that culminated in the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Humanity had, it seemed, reached a moment of relative safety; the minute hand stood at 17 minutes before midnight that year.

Yet if ever a historic opportunity for safety was squandered, this was it. Every US president since then — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — has contributed to a decline of global safety, with the minute-hand moving from 17 minutes before midnight to just three minutes before midnight last year, even before Donald Trump became president. And after just a few days in office, Trump has contributed to another 30-second jump of the minute-hand toward midnight.

What went wrong between 1991 and now? Two grave mistakes. The first was the failure to capitalize on the end of the Cold War by establishing a trustworthy relationship between the United States and Russia. While most Americans would blame Vladimir Putin for that, they should follow the Gospel advice of Jesus: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Instead of working with Russia after 1991, the United States unilaterally asserted its military power, expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders and invading several countries in the Middle East. The Cold War was revived, not ended.
The second mistake was to turn a blind eye to the second existential threat: human-induced global warming. While the threat from nuclear weapons was easy enough to perceive (though also easy to forget day to day), the existential threat from human-induced climate change was far more difficult. To understand it requires at least a basic awareness of quantum physics, the Earth’s physical dynamics, and Earth’s climate and economic history. Our presidents and Congress have lacked that. They understand money from lobbyists — oil and gas companies — not quantum physics.

There are dire risks of our continued burning of coal, oil, and gas. When these fossil fuels are burned, they emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has the special quantum-mechanical property that it absorbs infrared radiation and thereby acts as a kind of atmospheric “greenhouse” for Earth, causing the planet to warm. This is of course clear to atmospheric chemists but not to most politicians. The science and Earth history also make clear that we are recklessly gambling with future survival. The ocean level could rise by 20 feet or more as a result of even slight further increases in temperature. Only a fool would say that since such an outcome is not completely certain, we should simply continue to burn fossil fuels at the maximum rate.

After just a few days as president, Trump induced the atomic scientists to move the minute-hand another 30 seconds toward midnight. They explained their unprecedented move as follows:

“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute — something it has never before done — reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days. Many of his Cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action. Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways.’’

They then cite Trump’s recklessness both toward nuclear weapons and climate change. On nuclear weapons, Trump has casually suggested that Japan and Korea should become nuclear powers; that a new nuclear-arms race is welcome; and that the use of nuclear weapons (e.g., in regard to ISIS) is not “off the table.” Yes, for every statement such as these, there are equal and opposite statements as well. There is, in short, casualness, inconsistency, and incoherence.

On climate change, the inconsistencies are not the problem; denial is. Trump has completely turned his administration’s environmental policies over to the oil and gas industry. The State Department is now in the hands of ExxonMobil; the Environmental Protection Agency is in the hands of politicians like Scott Pruitt, long financed by the fossil-fuel industry. The word on Capitol Hill is simple: The mega-billionaire Koch brothers, who own the nation’s largest private fossil-fuel company, own Congress, or at least the Republican side.

Trump is a bully whose bluster is designed to intimidate and wrong-foot a foe, and in Trump’s worldview, just about everybody is a foe. As he has famously explained, in an attitude inherited from his father, there are “killers” and there are “losers.” The bluster is designed to put Killer Trump ahead of the losers. The key to survival in the Trump era is to look past the bluster, face down the bullying, and prevent Trump’s poorly controlled emotions from guiding the policies of the United States on these life-and-death issues.

Despite the bravado of the flood of executive orders, most of them are mere statements of intent, not legally binding instruments. The courts will have their say; and the regulatory agencies must follow rigorous procedures to change existing regulations, all of which are subject to court review and congressional supervision. This is not to say that bullies do not get their way; they can. But bullies only get their way when others back down.

Trump’s recklessness can be checked in five ways.

First, the courts will scrutinize these poorly prepared and ill-considered executive orders; many will be quashed. The Muslim ban on entry to the United States is now on hold, perhaps never to be implemented. Every one of Trump’s early executive orders is likely to face court challenges and prolonged litigation.

Second, it will just take a few patriotic Republican senators joining with the Democrats to put a stop to Trump’s mad rush of recklessness. Will Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, or Ron Paul, among others, really stand by if Trump acts recklessly brings us to the brink of nuclear war? Or would these and other senators allow the corruption and greed of the Senate to gut the Paris Climate Agreement? Of course, that’s possible, but these senators have children and grandchildren too, and most are not as stupid as their party’s official position on climate change.

Third, Trump is rapidly uniting the world — against the United States. Within just two weeks of office, Trump had the European Union president listing the Trump administration alongside Russia, China, and the Middle East as threats to the European Union. China’s President Xi Jinping has offered to take up the internationalist mantle that Trump is so eager to relinquish. Almost all of the world is also united in urging the handful of nuclear-weapons countries to honor their solemn obligations, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to take concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament, and not to instigate a renewed and dangerous arms race.

Fourth, while consumers have little sway over nuclear weapons, they have considerable sway over climate change. America’s brand names need to be put on notice: If you cower to the Koch Brothers, American Petroleum Institute, and Chamber of Commerce, you will pay a price. General Electric, are you with us or against us on saving the planet? How about you, Pepsi, Walmart, IBM, Walt Disney, GM, and other companies on Trump’s “strategic and policy forum”? Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has already walked out of the forum because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. For those who remain, the millennial generation of consumers will soon walk out on you if you are accomplices to Trump’s attempt to gut the treaty agreements restricting global warming and the domestic regulations to implement them.

Fifth, of course, is electoral politics. In moments of pessimism, it may seem that Trump will trample American democracy, thereby preventing a course correction in 2020 or earlier. Yet Trump is no Caesar or Augustus, and America is no republican Rome on the verge of succumbing to dictatorship. No doubt Trump can do great damage; our institutional checks and balances have been gravely weakened by decades of rule by the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Presidents indeed have the power to launch wars, even secret ones run by the CIA and special ops units that can kill vast numbers of innocents. Yet the first days of Trump’s mayhem show that the American people, and our political institutions, are not ready to accede to bullies. I’m counting on the millennials to lead the way.

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Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”

Building a System-Changing Response to Trump and Trumpism at All Levels

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on February 11, 2017 at 11:55 pm

By Gar Alperovitz, Truthout | Op-Ed, November 30, 2016

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/38545-building-a-system-changing-response-to-trump-and-trumpism-at-all-levels
Any serious perspective on how to respond tothe election of Donald Trump must begin by recognizing that his victory flowed in substantial part from the growing global crisis of capitalism, which demands a specific strategic response. The response must begin with — but also go beyond — the urgent work of defending, wherever and however possible, the individuals and communities most at risk.

At the most obvious level, our collective response must build upon the energies illuminated by Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialist” campaign, Black Lives Matter, climate justice, the mobilization in Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Green Party, LGBTQ activism, immigration activism, People’s Action and many, many other efforts. It must also find ways to bring such energies together with the community-level organizing aimed at democratizing the economic system from the ground up, starting with the development of alternative institutions and building toward a larger vision.

The Global Economic Crisis

The angry and unpredicted Brexit vote in Britain was clearly related to the anger that produced the Trump election. Something deeper than the contingencies of the electoral cycle is at work: both upsets are related in part to the fact that globalization is destroying jobs and undermining economic stability in nation after nation, even as the collapse of traditional unions (the previous muscle behind progressive politics) has weakened social democracy everywhere.

Anger at this economic decay, exacerbated by longstanding racism and fear of “outsiders” — immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, and a host of others — is fueling a toxic political mix throughout the world. Almost certainly we will see further explosions of unexpected political challenge as social democracy fails to deliver the goods and backing deepens for right-wing movements in support of Marine Le Pen in next year’s elections in France and political challenges to Angela Merkel’s government in Germany.

The global crisis is not likely to lead to a full collapse, as some Marxists once held (though not Marx himself in certain writings about the United States, Britain and the Netherlands). Rather, it is likely to be a crisis of protracted economic decay and deepening pain, punctuated by explosive episodes and the continuing erosion of legitimacy — and with it potentially, too, the slow build-up of a response at all levels, both practical and systemic in direction.

The Collapse of Labor Power

In the United States, the collapse of labor union strength as the basis of traditional liberalism has been dramatic: Labor union power has gone from 34 percent of the labor force to a mere 11 percent overall and 6 percent in the private sector, and it continues to decline. Though many other elements are involved, organized labor has been the necessary foundation of modern progressive politics. The right understands this fully: From Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s all-out attack on public unions, undermining labor has been a central — and highly effective — way to gut the power base of traditional liberalism. When combined with ongoing conservative efforts to suppress the vote in communities of color by any means necessary, the results are disastrous. “Institutions matter,” observes historian Michael Kazin of unions. In addition to contributing directly to the building of political power, unions “give their members (or audience) a community in which to learn about politics and discuss ways to tilt the world in a progressive direction.” Without institutional connections, individuals swim in a lonely political sea, ready to be preyed upon by the likes of Trump.

We must actively support unions whenever and wherever viable, but they are not likely to return in strength — and not only because of hostile legislation and policy, but because of structural forces at work in the global economy. Whatever can be done to strengthen unions must be done, but a new institutional base for a serious progressive direction must clearly be developed elsewhere.

Lessons From History

We may take some guidance from history. The civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the LGBTQ liberation movement — and even the modern conservative movement (which had limited capacity in the 1940s) — all understood that the development of a new political direction can only come from a long, long struggle. It is a struggle that involves practical organizing, institution-building and political activism, along with the build-up, too, of a morally serious vision of a new future direction.

Prior to the 1930s, key elements of what became the New Deal were developed slowly, step by step, in the state and local “laboratories of democracy” — as was a new politics that built from the bottom up as it created new institutions and a progressive liberal vision that, at the time, offered something to hope for, work for and counter the traditional embedded corporate power that dominated the final decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th.

In our own time, anew politics must build a new and different institutional power base, step by agonizing step, along with a compelling new vision of the future based on a radical democratization of the economy, starting at the community level and working up. It must be fleshed out with the powerful and explicit political energies illuminated by Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialist” campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, augmented and intensified by the movement-building efforts of many allied groups — above all, those organizing in defense of the civil rights of the rising new electorate in what will soon be a nation in which no single racial or ethnic group can claim the majority.

Unless an energized new fusion of local organizing, institution-building and national progressive political energies is achieved and steadily brought together around a compelling and transformative vision, the imbalance of power illuminated in the recent election is likely to get worse, not better. Donald Trump will not be the last right-wing politician who will exploit the deepening economic crisis, fear of immigrants, the collapse of union power and the lack of deep economic organizing on the left.

Building on “Local Socialism”

That millions of Americans are open to — and responsive to — a politics of “democratic socialism” is an important lesson of the Sanders campaign and of numerous polls demonstrating such support, particularly among the young who are building and will build the next politics. What is missing is recognition that institutional foundations must be established if a broad-based new politics involving diverse groups and a new direction is to move beyond sporadic explosions of excitement to the achievement of real power.

This is where little-discussed “new economy” work going on at the local level in many parts of the country comes into play: Given the decay, conservatism and disinterest of the corporate media, there has been minimal awareness of intense activist efforts to build “democratized” economic institutions at the local level in diverse parts of the nation. Nonetheless, in community after community, activists are developing cooperative businesses grounded in community ownership, community land trusts to confront gentrification and displacement, city-owned public banks and community financial institutions in response to the brutal abstractions of financialization, public broadband companies in many cities, even attempting the takeover and socialization of electric utilities to deal with climate change.

Taken together, rather than anecdotally and in isolation, there is a wave of energy invested in a steadily expanding range of cooperative and “local socialist” institutions of democratic ownership designed to lift up and strengthen local economies.

Though the intensity of this growing effort — and its likely expansive future trajectory — have yet to be fully acknowledged, three quite distinct realities are critical:

The first is that new institutions of democratic ownership are beginning to suggest the outlines that a radically decentralized, pluralist, community-nurturing democratic socialist vision might take — one that mirrors and extends some of the things Sanders pioneered long ago locally as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

The second reality is that the developing trajectory is slowly building a new institutional power base for a politics that can add strength to — but also transcend — traditional election mobilizations.

The third is that local developments are also beginning to suggest the direction of overarching, larger and longer-term, system-wide possibilities.

Working Toward a Pluralist Commonwealth

The development of a new local democratic economy buildup is also on track to converge with the current strictly political mobilization that the Sanders campaign has demonstrated is possible. It is likely to be expanded and deepened by the Sanders “Our Revolution” effort, by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, by Rep. Keith Ellison and by movement activists working on critical issues at every level throughout the country.

Ultimately, both the local efforts and the national political mobilizations will have to move beyond the faltering ideology of progressive liberalism in the United States and social democracy in Europe — both of which accept the theory that corporate power at the center of the system can be regulated and “incentivized” to achieve democratic outcomes. Those days, even at their best, were limited in their outcomes (the United States ranked last among advanced systems on virtually every major social and environmental indicator, even before Trump’s victory.)

Ultimately, too, larger institutional power must be confronted. The US government de facto nationalized General Motors, Chrysler, AIG and, in a different way, several major banks during the most recent crisis. The reconstruction of the idea of democratic ownership from the bottom up, along with a new politics, is the precondition of building a movement and the basis of a longer-term strategy that understands the need to create — and decentralize — democratically controlled public institutions at every level, including the very largest.

The diverse and plural forms democratic ownership is already taking — and is likely to take — suggest a vision that might be called a “pluralist commonwealth.”

What is perhaps even more significant than the Trump victory is Sanders’ demonstration that the ideological hegemony that has blocked new and bolder thinking can be challenged: That millions of Americans voted for a democratic socialist in the recent campaigns suggests that a compelling and practical approach that challenges the stale neoliberal consensus in ways far beyond the initial Sanders program may be viable.

This is especially the case if a new vision of community, in many senses of the word, is built and put forward from the ground up — a vision that also does not duck the larger regional and national questions as time goes on.

Facing the Challenges of the Trump Era

Clearly, the first challenge of the Trump era is to defend and protect those most threatened — including Latino and Latina, Black and Muslim communities, the gay and transgender communities, and the women who will likely face a Supreme Court hostile to their basic right to control their own bodies.

The second is to work to achieve whatever limited gains may still be possible through traditional political efforts. The deeper challenge, however, is not simply political (though it is that.) It is profoundly existential: to recognize, personally, the depth of the crisis we face and the need to deal with, rather than avoid, its demands. The old ways are now dying and are unlikely to be rebuilt in significant ways.

Even as resistance is mobilized, unless a much more serious politics is steadily developed — one that does not ignore “current” possibilities, but one that is also profoundly aware of the need to move thoughtfully beyond to deeper institutional and systemic change — there is little likelihood the powerful forces gathering around Trump in the United States and others even more dangerous in other advanced systems will be seriously challenged.

As we do the necessary work of defending those most in danger, and seek to slowly build a new coming together of traditional progressive politics with the institutional development of a radically decentralized community-based vision, it may accordingly help to reflect on the position of civil rights workers in Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s, the decades before the movement became a movement — a time of acute brutality and danger. As in the prehistory of all great eras of change, activists in that moment consciously worked to lay down the institutional foundations as well as the politics of a transformative new direction. This sort of work takes time and commitment for the long haul. Sometimes it is darkest before the dawn.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

Gar Alperovitz, author most recently of What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, is cochair of the Next System Project and cofounder of the Democracy Collaborative. Alperovitz was deeply involved in the teach-ins on the Vietnam War.

The Dysmal Cartography of the Pre-Fascist State

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, War on February 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm

By Richard Falk

Points of Departure

Listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural speech on January 20th led me to muse about what it might mean to live in a pre-fascist state. After reflecting on key passages and conversations with friends, I came to the view that all the elements were in place, although set before us with the imprecision of a demagogue.

Yet I do not doubt that there are many ideologues waiting in the wings, perhaps now comfortably situated in the West Wing, ready to cover the conceptual rough spots, and supply an ideological overlay, and add the semblance of coherence.

Considering the daily outrages emanating from the White House since the inaugural jolt, the coming years will be rough riding for all of us, with many cruelties being readied for those most vulnerable.

Of course, the Woman’s March on January 21st was temporarily redemptive, and if such energy can be sustained potentially transformative. It is odd to contemplate, but there just may be tacit and effective cooperation between the national security deep state and a progressive populism converging around their divergent reasons for being deeply opposed to the shock and awe of the Trump presidency. Trump may invent ‘alternative facts’ to restore his narcissistic self-esteem, but when it comes to program he has sadly so far been true to his word! This alone should encourage a unified, energetic, and determined opposition. If the Tea Party could do it, why can’t we?

The Pre-Fascist Moment

First, it is necessary to set forth the case for viewing Trump’s Inaugural Address as a pre-fascist plea:

1) Locating power and legitimacy in the people, but only those whose support was instrumental in the election of the new president; the popular majority that were opposed are presumed irrelevant, or worse;

2) Denigrating the political class of both political parties as corrupt and responsible for the decline of the country and the hardships inflicted on his followers;

3) Presuming mass and unconditional trust in the great leader who promises a rupture with the past, and who alone will be able overcome the old established order, and produce needed changes at home and overseas;

4) Making the vision of change credible by the appointment of mainly white men, most with alt-right credentials, billionaires either blissfully ignorant about their assigned roles or a past record of opposition to the bureaucratic mission they are pledged to carry out (whether environment, energy, education, economy);

5) An endorsement of exclusionary nationalism that elevates ‘America First’ to the status of First Principle, erects a wall against its Latino neighbour, adopts a cruel and punitive stance toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants, hostility to womens’ rights, gay marriage, trans dignity, as well as posing threats to non-white minorities, inner city residents, and independent voices in the media and elsewhere;

6) Lauds the military and police as the backbone of national character, loosens protection from civilian or military abuse, which helps explain the selection of a series of generals to serve in sensitive civilian roles, as well as the revitalization of Guantanamo and the weakening of anti-torture policies.

7) The disturbing absence of a sufficiently mobilized anti-fascist opposition movement, leadership, and program. The Democratic Party has not seized the moment vigorously and creatively; progressive populist leadership has yet to emerge inspiring trust and hope; so far there are sparks but no fire.

Fortunately, there are some more encouraging tendencies that could mount anti-fascist challenges from within and below:

1) Trump lost the popular vote, casting a cloud over his claimed mandate to be the vehicle of ‘the people.’ Furthermore, his approval rating keeps falling, and is now below 40% according to reliable polls.

2) The signs of intense dissatisfaction are giving rise to protest activities that are massive and seem deeply rooted in beliefs and commitments of ordinary citizens, especially women and young people;

3) American society is not in crisis, and right-wing extremist appeals are forced to rely on a greatly exaggerated and misleading portrayal of distress in the American economy, the evils of economic globalization and unfair trade relations that are widely understood to be largely ‘fake’;

4) There are fissures within the Republican Party and governmental/think tank establishments, especially on international economic and security policy, that could produce escalating tensions within and challenges to the Trump leadership;

5) There is growing dissatisfaction within the bipartisan intelligence and national security bureaucracies as whether Trump and Trumpism can be tamed before it wrecks the post-1945 international order that rests on America’s global military presence, a global network of alliances, and a disposition toward a second cold war focused on hostility to Russia; if untamed, impeachment scenarios will soon surface, based not on the real concerns, but constructed around economic conflicts of interests, emoluments, and unlawful transactions.

Certainly in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, America has not been tested as it is now. Maybe not since the American Civil War has so much been at stake, and put at risk.

Traditional reliance on political parties and elections will not be helpful until the political climate is radically altered by forces from below and without or above and within. It is strange, but the two main forces of resistance to the pre-fascist reality menacing the country’s and the world’s future are progressive populism as evident in the widespread grassroots protest movement taking shape in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, and the deep state as exhibited by the anti-Trump defection of intelligence and national security specialists from both Republican and Democratic ranks during and after the recent presidential campaign.

Finally, the depiction of the present political reality as ‘pre-fascist’ rather than ‘fascist’ is crucial to this effort to depict accurately the historical moment associated with Donald Trump’s formal induction as the 45th president of the United States.

To speak as if the United States is a fascist state is to falsify the nature of fascism, and to discredit critical discourse by making it seem hysterical. There is no doubt that the pieces are in place that might facilitate a horrifying transition from pre-fascism to fascism, and it could happen with lightning speed. It is also sadly true that the election of Donald Trump makes fascism a sword of Damocles hanging by a frayed thread over the American body politic.

Yet we should not overlook the quite different realities that pertain to pre-fascism.

It remains possible in the United States to organize, protest, and oppose without serious fears of reprisals or detentions. The media can expose, ridicule, and criticize without closures or punitive actions, facing only angered and insulting Trump tweets, although such a backlash should not be minimized as it could have a dangerous intimidating impact on how the news is reported.

We are in a situation where the essential political challenge is to muster the energy and creativity to construct a firewall around constitutional democracy as it now exists in the United States, and hope that a saner, more humane political mood leads quickly and decisively to repudiate those policies and attitudes that flow from this pre-fascist set of circumstances.

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Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Falk is an associate at the Transnational Foundation for Future Research, where this essay originally appeared.

Flatlining: Exploring hidden toxic landscapes and the embodiment of contamination at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, USA.

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on February 9, 2017 at 9:44 am

Stephanie Malin, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University and Becky Alexis-Martin, Senior Research Fellow in Human Geography at The University of Southampton, February 8, 2017

Within the boundaries of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, black bears prowl, elk tussle, prairie dogs burrow and porcupines forage. A diverse array of wildlife, wedged between the cities of Boulder and Denver. Within this diverse habitat, small animals nestle into the grass and burrow into the dusty alluvial soil. Superficially, this site has been transformed from military industrial complex into an ordered wilderness. However, the heart of this refuge contains a burden of atomic mass, for this bleakly lovely space encircles a Superfund site with a startling and intrusive legacy of nuclear pollution. Welcome to Rocky Flats, a disquieting relic of the American military industrial complex.
Originally, Rocky Flats was occupied by swathes of pastoral farmland. It was selected for weapons manufacturing due to its underlying geological stability and its proximity to uranium sources and other nuclear installations, and was therefore purchased by the US Atomic Energy Committee. Beginning in 1952, Rocky Flats became an all-American home for manufacturing plutonium pits, which are the triggers that detonate nuclear weapons. Local residents were grateful to have well-paid jobs and production quietly ensued, the site itself wrapped in the furtiveness of Cold War industry. Within this culture of secrecy, little transgressions gradually emerged on-site at Rocky Flats. These grew in severity, and complete technological failure eventually occurred as human errors were silenced, accidents were hidden and toxicity was concealed.

Major fires occurred in 1957 and 1969, whilst unsealed barrels of radioactive waste leached and dispersed across the surrounding hinterland (Krey and Hardy, 1970). In 1972, US Congress authorised the purchase of a buffer zone of land around the site, when traces of plutonium and elevated levels of radioactive tritium were discovered within local reservoirs (Krey, 1976). Elevated levels of plutonium were identified within the topsoil beyond this zone, and so further land was purchased to expand this buffer zone. On-site regulation was used as a technology of control, to ensure that off-site contamination was never recognised.

Protests began when local residents became concerned about the safety of the facility. Activist mobilization escalated throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as several thousand people showed up to organized protests and sit-ins. Eventually, a large-scale protest occurred in August 1989, which attracted thousands of participants. This sustained public outcry was ignored by the nuclear sector. However, it was not possible to stifle the covert material that was provided by Rocky Flats workers to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a case was gradually built up through FBI agent Jon Lipsky’s extensive work with informants. The whistleblowing reached an apogee by June 6th 1989. Operation Desert Glow was implemented by the US Department of Justice to investigate the Rocky Flats plant. This raid issued a search warrant to the manager of Rocky Flats, and led to the discovery of multiple toxic violations of anti-pollution legislation.

An array of contaminants has been discovered at the Rocky Flats site, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chromic acid, beryllium and radionuclides. Whilst chromium metal has little toxicity, chromic acid and similar hexavalent chromium compounds are both toxic and mutagenic (Barnhart, 1997; Baruthio, 1992). Symptoms of human exposure to hexavalent chromium can include: dermatitis, allergic and eczematous skin reactions, skin and mucous membrane ulcerations, allergic asthmatic reactions, bronchial carcinomas, and gastro-enteritis (Baruthio, 1992). Hexavalent chromium compounds also have ecological impacts, due to toxicity to plant life (Singh et al., 2013). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are organochlorine compounds, and also have detrimental environmental and human health effects (Robertson and Hansen, 2015, Longnecker et al., 1997). PCB compounds are toxic and can cause abnormalities of liver function; skin and the nervous system; neonatal hypotonia or hyporeflexia; and increase the likelihood of exposed persons developing cancer. The detrimental effects of heavy radionuclides, including isotopes of plutonium, americium and curium, are also well documented within medical and environmental literature (Bair, 1974, Nénot and Stather, 2013, Newman, 2014). This includes genotoxic and stochastic effects that can increase the likelihood of the development of solid body tumours and blood cancers (Durakovic, 2016).
Unfortunately, it is not possible to access the final records of contamination for Rocky Flats. Like other places that have been squatted by the Cold War military-industrial complex, there is a notable absence of publically available information that documents the exact times, quantities and conditions of contaminant release. Even when the first special Grand Jury in Colorado’s history was convened in 1989 to hear the post-raid federal case against Rocky Flats’ corporate facility operators, Rockwell, the company paid fines amounting to less than they had earned in federal bonuses for operating the plant. The Grand Jury itself contested the trial and sentencing outcomes and felt that their recommendations had been illegally ignored (McKinley and Balkany 2004).

Rocky Flats has received relatively little international attention as a significant place of atomic and industrial toxicity. Somehow, its messy atomic history has been redacted, swallowed up alongside that of many other military nuclear installations and laboratories worldwide. Whilst the wildlife flourishes across Rocky Flats, despite a legacy of contamination, the local communities suffer invisibly.

A contaminated community?

Tiffany Hansen is a member of the down-winder community and founder of Rocky Flats Downwinders. She grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Flats plant. She remembers her father and brother working there. However, Tiffany did not realise the nuclear and covert nature of manufacturing, the military significance of the work that was undertaken, or the potential health effects that surrounded the site. She remained unaware of these risks until she developed ovarian and thyroid cancers as a young woman, and became acutely aware that her experience was not unique. She soon began organizing a community of people impacted by potential environmental health impacts of living near Rocky Flats. As Tiffany explains:

“It was a challenge to connect with former residents, there was no support, the research available was limited and difficult to find, and there was no organized advocacy… Since launching our website in 2015, I have heard from thousands of people, many like myself, who felt there was a strong connection between our health problems and the close proximity to the facility… I hear from people whose entire families are sickened, many lost loved ones, others are fighting or lost the fight for their lives.”
Tiffany’s observations echo the contested yet compelling evidence of cancers associated with toxic exposure, clustered within the communities that surround the site. These communities are the embodiment of their experiences of exposure (Brown, 2016).

It is challenging to design statistically significant epidemiological studies of the health effects of long-term, low-level toxic exposure to local communities due to confounding lifestyle factors, a neoliberalized, privatized healthcare system that cannot provide answers, and the economic migration of populations away from the plant after its closure. Whilst occupational health studies of exposure to Rocky Flats employees exist, they do not reflect community health, especially that of local women and children (Gilbert et al., 1989, Viet et al., 2000, Brown et al., 2004). Further, broader environmental and community health concerns highlight the related losses of livelihood, contamination concerns, anxieties, and somatic conditions associated with trauma such as those experienced by residents around Rocky Flats, steeped in uncertainty.

Thus, public health risks remain stressfully uncertain and undefined. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently released a study showing elevated rates of certain cancers in the communities surrounding Rocky Flats, but without the community-based component that people have requested. The study did not examine cancers such as thyroid, despite community-based requests to do so, and some critics assert that the agency works with large state-wide samples that dilute evidence of cancer clusters and hot spots due to the chosen methodological approach.

Access to information about the site has been difficult to acquire – particularly for people moving in to new homes on and around the former plant grounds. To some, this is the most significant concern. Dedicated community activist, Alesya Casse, who co-founded the group Candelas Glows, leads actions and community meetings to educate the community and speaks regularly about keeping new construction and the public off of the site and the Wildlife Refuge. Casse states:

“It’s disheartening to see government agencies continue with their legacy of turning ‘weapons into wildlife’ in the face of community opposition and concern. People have a right to know the history of the area and to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. What happened at Rocky Flats is both tragic and unfortunately common, but we have an opportunity to make it right by informing the public of the risks and doing comprehensive testing to address ongoing concerns and questions that continue to arise.”

The future is unwritten

It has been 28 years since the FBI first raided Rocky Flats, and eleven years since the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the completion of on-site remediation activities. Whilst some of its clandestine toxic secrets have been unveiled, many mysteries still surround the on-going and long-term effects of this multi-contaminant environmental and social disaster. It is impossible to say what the future holds for the local community of Rocky Flats in the face of landscape regeneration, contested diagnoses, unmedicalised conditions, and denial of people’s experiences. Importantly, the long-term outcomes for this community could still yet be affected by the presidency of Donald Trump, as he has already called for sites such as Rocky Flats to be repurposed yet again as repositories for nuclear waste or even revitalized nuclear production.

In response, collaborative social science and public health research by Metropolitan State University and Colorado State University aims to discern the social and cultural impacts to health of being a Rocky Flats downwinder. Already, the health survey component of this study has found that 46% of the reported cancers are defined as ‘rare’ and are often directly related to radiation exposure. Whilst we cannot anticipate if this unique community will ever truly gain environmental or social justice, we continue to develop our understanding of the significant influence that nuclear accidents and nuclear defence has had upon their lives. In the meantime, the Rocky Flats downwinders continue to exist, without a true understanding of the future implications of their toxic fate.

References

BAIR, W. J. 1974. Toxicology of plutonium. Advances in radiation biology, 4.

BARNHART, J. 1997. Chromium chemistry and implications for environmental fate and toxicity. Soil and Sediment Contamination, 6, 561-568.

BARUTHIO, F. 1992. Toxic effects of chromium and its compounds. Biological trace element research, 32, 145-153.

BROWN, K. 2016. The Last Sink: The Human Body as the Ultimate Radioactive Storage Site. Mauch, Christof (Hg.), Out of Sight, Out of Mind. The Politics and Culture of Waste, RCC Perspectives, München, 41-47.

BROWN, K. L. 2013. Plutopia: Nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great soviet and American plutonium disasters, Oxford University Press, USA.

BROWN, S. C., SCHONBECK, M. F., MCCLURE, D., BARÓN, A. E., NAVIDI, W. C., BYERS, T. & RUTTENBER, A. J. 2004. Lung cancer and internal lung doses among plutonium workers at the Rocky Flats Plant: a case-control study. American journal of epidemiology, 160, 163-172.

DURAKOVIC, A. 2016. Medical effects of internal contamination with actinides: further controversy on depleted uranium and radioactive warfare. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 21, 111-117.

GILBERT, E. S., FRY, S. A., WIGGS, L. D., VOELZ, G. L., CRAGLE, D. L. & PETERSEN, G. R. 1989. Analyses of combined mortality data on workers at the Hanford site, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Radiation research, 120, 19-35.

KREY, P. W. 1976. Remote plutonium contamination and total inventories from Rocky Flats. Health Physics, 30, 209-214.

KREY, P. W. & HARDY, E. P. 1970. PLUTONIUM IN SOIL AROUND THE ROCKY FLATS PLANT. New York Operations Office (AEC), NY Health and Safety Lab.

LONGNECKER, M. P., ROGAN, W. J. & LUCIER, G. 1997. The human health effects of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and an overview of organochlorines in public health 1. Annual review of public health, 18, 211-244.

MALIN, S. A. 2015. The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice, Rutgers University Press.

NÉNOT, J.-C. & STATHER, J. W. 2013. The Toxicity of Plutonium, Americium and Curium: A Report Prepared Under Contract for the Commission of the European Communities Within Its Research and Development Programme on Plutonium Recycling in Light Water Reactors, Elsevier.

NEWMAN, M. C. 2014. Fundamentals of ecotoxicology: the science of pollution, CRC press.

ROBERTSON, L. W. & HANSEN, L. G. 2015. PCBs: recent advances in environmental toxicology and health effects, University Press of Kentucky.

SINGH, H. P., MAHAJAN, P., KAUR, S., BATISH, D. R. & KOHLI, R. K. 2013. Chromium toxicity and tolerance in plants. Environmental chemistry letters, 11, 229-254.

VIET, S. M., TORMA-KRAJEWSKI, J. & ROGERS, J. 2000. Chronic beryllium disease and beryllium sensitization at Rocky Flats: a case-control study. AIHAJ-American Industrial Hygiene Association, 61, 244-254.

Should Trump have sole authority to use nukes?

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 9, 2017 at 7:45 am
  • BY KENNETTE BENEDICT AND TOM Z. COLLINA
    On Jan. 20, President Donald Trump got the keys to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created. The President said it was “a very sobering moment, yes. It’s very, very scary, in a sense.”

    President Trump now has the same frightening power as all presidents since Eisenhower. President Richard Nixon boasted in 1974: “I can go back into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.”

    Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Short of mutiny, no one can stop him. Once launched, the missiles cannot be recalled.
    But never before have so many openly questioned the authority of the commander-in-chief to have his finger on the nuclear button. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said we simply could not give “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.” President Barack Obama “still doesn’t think Donald Trump can handle the nuclear codes or safely protect America from attack.”

    Adding to this unease, Trump tweeted recently that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and reportedly said, “Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

    Many would say that Trump should be the last person to entrust with the authority to launch nuclear weapons. In fact, he is the only one that is.

    The reality is that when it comes to using the bomb, the president has almost complete autonomy with no institutional checks and balances. There are no interagency meetings, congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, or UN votes. As Bruce Blair, a former Air Force nuclear missile launch officer, has said, “the presidency has evolved into something akin to a nuclear monarchy.”

    Yes, there are many systems in place to prevent nuclear weapons from being launched by an unauthorized person or by accident. But currently there is no way to prevent a president from starting nuclear war.

    How can we remedy this situation? It is long past time to bring democracy to decisions about the bomb. It no longer makes sense, it if ever did, to have so much power in the hands of one person. It is just too dangerous.

    For decades, Americans have ceded the authority to start a nuclear war to a single person. Congress has no voice in the most important decision the United States government can make. As it stands now, Congress has a larger role in deciding on the number of military bands than in initiating nuclear catastrophe. This situation completely contradicts the checks and balances created by the U.S. Constitution.

    Even though they could not imagine the dangers of nuclear war, the Framers of the Constitution understood the dangers of tyranny and gave the power to declare war to Congress—not to the President. With British rule fresh in their minds, they believed that ceding such power to the executive would result in a state of perpetual conflict, and that the only way to check that power was citizen participation in any decision to go to war.

    “Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew the President could launch a massive, potentially civilization-ending military strike without authorization from Congress,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said last year.

    On Jan. 24, Rep. Lieu and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress, except in response to a nuclear attack. The bill would effectively block the president from using nuclear weapons first in a crisis, without authorization from the people’s elected representatives.

    Some might argue that Congress would never provide this authority, and thus the president could never use nuclear weapons first. Fine. As then-Vice President Biden announced Jan. 11, “it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

    And as Sen. Markey said recently, “Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.”

    Without congressional deliberation and citizen participation in the gravest decisions of life and death, our democracy is greatly diminished. Citizens are treated as children who don’t deserve a voice in how our country’s nuclear weapons are deployed. That is not how the world’s greatest democracy should work.

    Congress must end the nuclear monarchy, exercise its constitutional responsibility and demand its rightful role in nuclear weapons policymaking. The likely outcome is a greatly reduced chance that any president, including President Trump, would push the button. The certain outcome is a restoration of our democratic institutions.

    Kennette Benedict is Senior Advisor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Tom Z. Collina is Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, D.C. Benedict contributed to and Collina edited the recent Ploughshares report, Ten Big Nuclear Ideas for the Next President.

Nobel Peace Laureates: Time to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons is now!

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on February 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

February 5, 2017

(The following statement from 21 Nobel Peace Laureates was released at the conclusion of the 16th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Bogota, Colombia.]

On March 27, negotiations will commence at the United Nations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. As Nobel Peace Laureates we applaud the UN General Assembly for convening this negotiating conference, fully support its goals, and urge all nations to work for the speedy conclusion of this treaty in 2017 and for its rapid entry into force and implementation.

The nine nuclear-armed states retain some 15,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy the world many times over. Nearly 2,000 of these warheads are on hair-trigger alert. They can be launched in a matter of minutes at the whim of an unstable or intemperate leader, and leaders of nuclear-armed states have made increasingly dangerous and irresponsible statements about the use of these weapons. Some display a shocking and appalling ignorance about the nature of nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use.

In response to this danger, more than 120 nations around the world have supported a Humanitarian Initiative that seeks the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. The nine states that possess these weapons have responded with plans to spend more than a trillion dollars to upgrade their nuclear arsenals and make them even more dangerous. Their behavior is an intolerable threat to the lives of everyone on this planet, including the citizens of their own countries. That behavior must change.

A large-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia would cause a global winter that would kill most of the people on the planet, and possibly cause our extinction as a species. Even a very limited nuclear war, as could well take place involving states with smaller nuclear arsenals, could disrupt the climate sufficiently to cause a prolonged global famine that would put up to 2 billion people at risk of starvation and destroy modern civilization.

The danger of nuclear war is growing. The time for action is now. We must prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Oscar Arias (1987)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1989)

F. W. de Klerk (1993)

Shirin Ebadi (2003)

Leymah Gbowee (2011)

Mikhail Gorbachev (1990)

International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997)

International Peace Bureau (1910)

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985)

Tawakkol Karman (2011)

Mairead Maguire (1976)

Medecins Sans Frontiere (1999)

Rigoberta Menchu (1992)

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995)

Jose Ramos-Horta (1996)

Kailash Satyarthi (2014)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984)

Lech Walesa (1983)

Betty Williams (1976)

Jody Williams (1997)

Muhammad Yunus (2006)

2,300 California scientists write to Trump over climate fears

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice on February 5, 2017 at 3:12 am

Gov. Jerry Brown promised California would continue to vigorously pursue climate science the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.
BY ADAM ASHTON, THE STATE WORKER, JANUARY 31, 2017

In response to reports that President Donald Trump would break an international climate agreement, more than 2,300 California scientists have signed an open letter to the White House urging the administration to uphold commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

State scientists have guardedly watched news about Trump’s plans for NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency since his election.

Ben Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis, is one of the California scientists who’ve signed on to a letter urging the Trump administration to uphold the 2015 Paris climate agreement. More than 2,300 California scientists wrote an open letter to the White House urging the Trump administration to uphold the Paris climate agreement. Gov. Jerry Brown participated in talks that followed the signing of the United Nations climate change pact in 2015. Ben Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis, is one of the California scientists who’ve signed on to a letter urging the Trump administration to uphold the 2015 Paris climate agreement. More than 2,300 California scientists wrote an open letter to the White House urging the Trump administration to uphold the Paris climate agreement. Gov. Jerry Brown participated in talks that followed the signing of the United Nations climate change pact in 2015.
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More than 2,300 California scientists wrote an open letter to the White House urging the Trump administration to uphold the Paris climate agreement. Gov. Jerry Brown participated in talks that followed the signing of the United Nations climate change pact in 2015. Michel Euler AP file, 2015
Their fast response to remarks made by a former Trump adviser over the weekend reflected their fears that Trump will reverse climate pacts championed by the Obama administration or make their work more difficult by restricting access to climate data that has been publicly available.

The letter is centered on the Paris climate agreement, a 2015 pact ratified by 127 countries that aims to slow global warming. It commits the U.S. to slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels over the next eight years.

“With this letter, we aim to express the degree to which the scientists and intellectual leaders of our state, speaking for themselves and not on behalf of their respective employers, agree on the facts of climate change,” reads the letter, which was drafted by UC Berkeley associate professor of astronomy Aaron Parsons. “Despite misleading portrayals, there is widespread consensus in the scientific and academic communities that human-caused climate change is real, with consequences that are already being felt.”

Former Trump adviser Myron Ebell told reporters this week that the president would back out of the climate agreement within days.

“The environmental movement is, in my view, the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” Ebell told reporters this week.

Most of the scientists signing the California letter are faculty at University of California campuses, including UC Davis. Scientists from the California State University system and California Community Colleges also are represented.

 

The United States Is Now a ‘Flawed Democracy’ — But Don’t Blame Trump

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on February 5, 2017 at 2:45 am

By Phineas Rueckert, Global Citizen News Digest,  Jan. 26, 2017
A report by the The Economist Intelligence Unit, released today, reveals a host of unsettling statistics about the scope of democracy around the globe.
One such fact — that for the first time ever, the United States is no longer considered a “full democracy,” but rather a “flawed democracy” — stands out in particular as the US ushers in a president with an approval rating hovering around 40%.
The US designation as a “flawed democracy” is really more nominal than anything, simply meaning that the country’s Democracy Index — which is based off of five categories related to governance — has fallen below eight out of 10.
But the symbolic importance of this designation should not be lost on anyone.

This rating comes just one day after Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, had some choice comments regarding the United States’ standing in the world in the era of President Donald Trump.
“We will lose the US voice as a defender of human rights around the world,” Roth said during a press conference in Geneva. “I fear that governments [around the world] are going to use the opportunity of Trump’s arrival to crack down on dissent.”
After less than week in office, Trump has implemented several policies aimed at decreasing immigration to the US, is threatening to cut off ties with the UN, and is expected to announce a temporary freeze on all refugee resettlement later this afternoon. His ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as reports of Russian hacking influencing the 2016 election, have called into question Trump’s ability to govern without foreign influence.

He comes into the presidency with a historically low approval rating, and faces an increasingly distrustful public eye. According to a poll by Pew Research Center, only 19 percent of Americans “trust the government to do the right thing.”
“The US president, Donald Trump, is not to blame for this decline in trust, which predated his election,” the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote, “but he was the beneficiary of it.”
The United States was not the only country to be downgraded by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which titled its report “Revenge of the ‘deplorables.’”
72 countries had a lower democracy score in 2016 than in 2015, compared to just 38 that improved upon their ratings.

Since 2006, when the Economist Intelligence Unit first started recording Democracy Index data, the world has become slowly and steadily less democratic. The US, which in 2006 benefited from a rating of 8.22 out of 10, has fallen to 7.98 in 2016. Overall, the Democracy Index around the world now sits at 5.52, down from 5.66 in 2006.
Although its Democracy Index has gone down slightly, Americans can sleep easily knowing they’re not living in North Korea, which has the world’s lowest Democracy Index of 1.08, or in one of 50 other countries with an authoritarian regime.

Written by Phineas Rueckert
Phineas Rueckert is a writer at Global Citizen. He graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Political Science and International Studies, and spent the past year teaching English in Toulouse, France. He is originally fro

Surge in young women planning to run for office

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, War on February 5, 2017 at 2:13 am

If a rookie politician like Donald Trump can get to the White House, why not me? That’s the question that’s prompted a surprising number of liberal young women to consider launching a campaign of their own. – Christa Case Bryant, Politics editor

Story Hinckley, FEBRUARY 2, 2017 WASHINGTON, Christian Science Monitor

Brittany Shearer has always been interested in politics.

She majored in political science in college, and regularly calls her state representatives about issues she cares about, such as education. But something changed when Donald Trump won the GOP presidential nomination last summer: She decided to run for office herself, and aims to get elected to the state Senate in Virginia within the next five years.

“Running for office is more proactive,” says the 20-something Ms. Shearer, who works for Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., as an academic adviser. “I want to bring my own ideas to the table.”

Shearer is not alone.

Since President Trump’s election, young progressive women are flooding political training programs. They are energized by a fear of what a Trump presidency might bring on issues from reproductive rights and climate change to immigration policy and education funding. Ironically, some are also inspired by Trump, a first-time candidate who won the presidency despite a lack of political experience.

For the Democratic Party, this wave of female enthusiasm for politics couldn’t happen faster. In recent years, Democratic representation at the state and local level has declined dramatically, and the party is eager to build up its bench.

“We have never seen this kind of interest in running for office,” says Andrea Dew Steele, president and founder of Emerge America, an organization that offers six-month training courses in 17 states for Democratic women interested in running for office. “We spend a lot of time begging women to run for office. This is unusual: to get women interested without trying to recruit them with numerous conversations.”

Emerge America, which launched in 2005, has witnessed an average increase in applications of 87 percent over the past year. Enrollment for Emerge Michigan, for example, increased from 28 applications last year to 81 applications this year. Emerge Pennsylvania increased from 27 to 72 applications, and Emerge Massachusetts increased from 44 to 82.

Emily’s List, an organization that helps pro-choice Democratic women win elective office, has heard from more than 4,000 women interested in running for office since Election Day. That represents four times more women than had expressed interest in the previous 22 months combined.

Another group, Run for Something, launched the day after Inauguration Day, and has already recruited more than 3,000 women and men under age 35 to run for state or local office. More than half are women, the group says.

Leaders from all three organizations agree: Trump is to thank for this outpouring of interest in elected office. Young women may have considered themselves unqualified for political office before, but Trump has broken down many of the preconceived barriers to candidacy.

“The model of what a politician looks like has expanded for better and worse, and we should take advantage of that for the better,” says Amanda Litman, former email director for the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign and co-founder of Run for Something.

Since 1970, the ranks of women in elective office have grown markedly, but in recent years the numbers have plateaued. Today, women still make up only 19 percent of members of Congress, 25 percent of state legislators, and 8 percent of governors, according to Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Politics (CAWP).

“There isn’t a bias at the ballot box where women win less,” says Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at CAWP and an assistant political science professor at Rutgers. It’s getting women to run in the first place that’s the hard part, she says. “So if today’s political energy results in more women running for office, that will really address one of the primary problems we have had in increasing the number of women in office.”

Dr. Dittmar says it’s too soon to tell if this year’s burst of interest will compare to 1992, after sexual harassment charges against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings inspired a surge of female candidates. We won’t know until next year, she says.

But in the meantime, Ms. Steele at Engage America and her colleagues at Run for Something and Emily’s List are actively trying to break down the barriers to entry.

“There is the misconception that you might be too young or too inexperienced to run for offices like city council. And you are not. You bring an important point of view if you are a young woman,” says Steele. “We have to recognize that.”

Bree Baccaglini, a 2015 graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, never considered herself “the activist type” until Trump clinched the GOP presidential nomination last spring. Then she decided to quit her job in Washington and she got hired by the Clinton campaign in Ohio. The day after Trump’s election she surprised herself once again: She wrote to Mrs. Clinton and promised to run for political office one day.

“[Trump’s candidacy] pulled back the curtain a little bit,” says Ms. Baccaglini. “It’s easy to keep the idea of running at arm’s length if you believe there is a ‘secret sauce.’ ”

Rachel Thomas, national press secretary for Emily’s List, says many women incorrectly assume they don’t have the résumé, donors, or background to run for office. But “this election flipped a switch in women to really see themselves as political candidates,” she says.

Starting local

On Jan. 22, a day after the big Women’s March, Emily’s List held a training session in Washington to teach interested women the nuts and bolts of starting their first political campaign. More than 500 women attended the session, 200 of whom were under the age of 35. An additional 500 women were on a waitlist.

This interest “speaks to the fact that this march was not just a day of action, but the start of months or years of action,” says Ms. Thomas.

Baccaglini attended the training session and says she was surprised at how young – and determined – the crowd looked. Everyone she spoke to at the event shared the same political awakening, only seriously considering a candidacy after Nov. 8. She attributes part of her own hesitation to attitudes of self-doubt and insecurity attributed to women for generations.

“I learned that, on average, men need to be tapped once to run, women need to be seven times,” she says. “Many men probably aren’t thinking they are masters of finding solutions, or adept at identifying problems, but they give it a stab.”

Baccaglini says she’ll start with a run for city council in her hometown of San Francisco, and would like to run for attorney general of California one day. The Emily’s List training taught her the importance of starting small: “You need a runway for big roles like that,” says Baccaglini. “You need a track record.”

Only 5 percent of state legislators are under the age of 35, a percentage that should be much higher, says Litman. She wants to convince young progressives that local-level positions are valuable and within reach.

“Our big picture goal is building a bench for the Democratic Party, so we need to get people in the first level of state government,” as well as local offices such as city council and mayor, says Litman. “It is a little less sexy, but it is affordable and achievable.”

And, she points out, local office is where a lot of top politicians got their start – from President Obama and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, both of whom served in their state legislatures, to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, who first served as mayor of Burlington, Vt.