Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Israel’s Military-Industrial Complex

In Peace, Politics, War on March 29, 2017 at 2:19 am

By Tom Mayer, March 28, 2017

Few Americans understand the magnitude and importance of Israel’s military-industrial complex. Israel is a small country. Its population in 2016 was 8.6 million, 75% of whom were classified as Jews and 21% were classified as Arabs. Despite its diminutive size, Israel is a formidable military power with a massive (and politically essential) military-industrial complex. Even disregarding its nuclear capacity, Israel was ranked as the world’s 11th strongest military power in 2015. And for the last eight years the Global Military Index has rated Israel as the most militarized country on earth.

Israel has received well over $100 billion in military aid from the United States since 1949, not to mention privileged access to U.S. military technology, which is probably worth far more. In addition to such lavish military assistance (from Germany, France, and England as well as the USA), Israel devotes about 6% of GDP to its military establishment. The United States spends about 4.5%. The Israeli military consumes over 15% of the government’s annual budget.

Israel specializes in the production of high technology weapons, military software, and population control systems (also called homeland security methodologies). In 2013 Israel produced 18,000 military related commodities including missiles, guided bombs, anti-missile defense systems, satellites, satellite launchers, drones, smart munitions, battlefield armor, and naval engines. Israel is the world leader in training militarized police forces and population control specialists. Having been operationally tested in Israel’s numerous military encounters and long-standing efforts to control the Palestinian people, Israel’s military and security products have high credibility and strong appeal to elites with population control problems.

Israel exports 75% of the weapons it produces. It is currently the world’s the sixth largest weapons exporter. 28% of its weapons exports are missiles, drones, or missile defense systems. Israel has weapons marketing or security training protocols with over 130 countries. 20% of Israel’s military exports go to the United States; but China, India, Poland, South Korea, Australia, and Brazil are also important weapons customers.

Five companies manufacture over 95% of the arms produced in Israel: Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Military Industries, and Israel Weapon Industries. Elbit Systems has mixed private/government ownership while the other four companies are state owned. Israel’s military industries are closely integrated with those of the United States. Indeed, one knowledgeable observer claims that Israel’s military-industrial complex “constitutes a bonanza for the US defense industries, advancing US national security, employment, research & development and exports” (Yoram Ettinger, 2011).

Israel’s military-industrial complex plays a vital role in the country’s foreign relations. Israel routinely attempts to sell military goods and security services to any country irrespective of its human rights record or attitude towards Zionism. It hopes to make the purchasing country dependent upon Israeli military equipment, training capacities, and/or technical know-how. Once such a relationship is established, the now dependent country is less likely to criticize Israeli aggression or human rights violations. Such relations have apparently moderated criticisms of Israel by China, India, and Brazil among others.

The Israeli human rights activist-scholar Jeff Halper writes that: “Israel is by far the most conflict-prone state in modern history. It has fought six or seven interstate wars, three major Palestinian uprisings …, [and] has been involved in over 166 dyadic militarized interstate disputes….[C]ultural militarism has become part of the natural order in Israel.” For further information about the Israel’s military-industrial complex, see Halper’s important book War Against the People (Pluto Press, 2015).

Could Gov. Jerry Brown be the new face of an anti-nukes campaign? He’s thinking about it

In Democracy, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 28, 2017 at 9:58 pm

By John Myers, LA Times, March 23, 2017
For Gov. Jerry Brown, the question isn’t why he spent so much time in Washington this week talking about the growing threat of nuclear annihilation — it’s why everyone else isn’t doing the same.

“Most people are kind of blithely unaware,” Brown said of the issue. “It doesn’t show up in the press. That’s why I say, ‘The end of the world is not news.’ ”

Brown, though, may be ready to launch a visible new effort to change that. His busy schedule in the nation’s capital this week was filled with discussions of disaster relief, transportation and healthcare. But those meetings were scheduled to accommodate time he spent with leaders of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

What the governor took from his Washington visit was an appetite for action, perhaps even a rebirth of his former evangelical fervor for nuclear disarmament.

“I’m looking for ways to generate more activism, to build the awareness and the momentum for more discussion between these hostile powers,” Brown said in an interview. “And I think that may involve more public activity.”

Brown was invited to join the group’s board of directors earlier this year, alongside some of the world’s most distinguished nuclear experts. His own views were shaped amid California protests over nuclear power and weapons research in the late 1970s, an era in which the young governor had tapped in to a broader national discussion.

That discussion, though, faded from the spotlight.

“It’s a hard subject and people don’t like to think about it,” said former Democratic Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, now chief executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Nunn said that he and Brown have talked about nuclear threats “on a number of occasions” over the years and that he was urged to enlist the governor’s help by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who served under President Clinton and President Reagan, respectively.

“Citizens have to be interested” in shrinking the risk of a nuclear incident, Nunn said.

The Washington-based organization prides itself on the network of connections its international experts can tap to take action. Its projects have included a “fuel bank” for countries interested in nuclear energy to receive low-enriched uranium without creating a program that could produce more weapons.

That proactive approach is one Brown supports.

“Nobody seems to be worried about the general trajectory toward disaster,” the governor said in lamenting the tepid reaction the topic inspires in the general public.

Gov. Jerry Brown heads to Capitol Hill and dives into Washington’s healthcare battle »

Should nuclear tensions spill over into conflict, there would be few politicians as justified as Brown in saying, “I told you so.” The issue was a staple of his platform during three failed races for president, though his earnest approach to the topic often produced ribbing among political writers.

“Vote for Jerry Brown or die,” wrote journalist Roger Simon in a 1980 column published by The Times after Brown railed against nuclear weapons in the run-up to the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Brown’s focus often shifted to other issues during the rebirth of his political career, when he was elected as Oakland mayor in 1998 and attorney general in 2006. Now in the home stretch of a final term as governor, he said he’s ready to again sound the nuclear alarm — a cause that he said has parallels to his efforts on climate change.

Trump to Roll Back Obama Climate Policies

In Climate change, Environment, Politics on March 28, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Foreign Policy, March 28, 2017
Top News: U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a wide-ranging executive order Tuesday to undo key parts of the Obama administration’s climate regulations.

The “Energy Independence” decree seeks to make good on Trump’s campaign pledges to unshackle the fossil fuel industry and boost domestic energy production. It will sweep aside the Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut carbon emissions. The order will also cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, reverse a ban on coal leasing on federal lands, and cut rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas production.

It is not clear if the United States, the world’s second largest polluter, will continue to support the Paris Climate Accord. Environmental groups have promised to challenge the order in court.

Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Politics on March 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky said his poor, rural district – which voted 80 percent in favor of Trump – would be hit harder than anywhere else in the country.

Francine Kiefer, Staff writer | @kieferf
MARCH 17, 2017 WASHINGTON —President Trump’s “skinny” budget proposal would make deep cuts in many government programs in the name of pruning the federal bureaucracy. But in doing so it might disproportionately (and surprisingly) affect a particular demographic sector of America: Trump voters.

“It’s unacceptable,” says Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, whose district voted about 80 percent in favor of Trump. “The president’s biggest support came from the rural and poor areas like mine…. And that area is going to be hit harder than anywhere else in the country quite frankly.”

That’s due to the plan’s focus on non-defense, discretionary spending – everything Uncle Sam does outside the Pentagon and mammoth entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

It includes many programs that are important to rural, lower-income areas that went big for Trump last November, such as subsidies for regional airports, funds to clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, and support for regional economic development.

It’s possible these proposed reductions wouldn’t hurt Trump much in his political heartland. Many of his voters view the president not as appropriator-in-chief, but as an agent of change who’ll bring heartache to Washington’s powers that be, whatever the consequences.
Trump’s biggest executive actions, explained
It’s also possible the cuts would hurt Trump. At the least, they’ve already driven a wedge between the White House and many Republican members of Congress. These lawmakers often get the credit or blame for federal efforts in their districts. While they support Trump’s aim to increase military spending while cutting elsewhere, their first loyalty is to constituents.

$69 billion in proposed cuts

Overall, the Trump budget proposal would cut funding for non-defense discretionary spending by $15 billion in fiscal 2017 (despite the fact that year has already begun) and by $54 billion in fiscal 2018. All of this money would be shifted to military spending.

Two departments outside the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, would get increases. All other non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by more than 15 percent of current levels on average, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Many of these areas have already borne significant cuts over the past seven years, due to the tight caps that the 2011 Budget Control Act placed on non-defense discretionary program funding,” writes CBPP director Robert Greenstein in a statement on the Trump budget.

At least 19 federal agencies would be zeroed out under the Trump budget. These include the Appalachian Regional Commission, founded to help promote development in an impoverished part of the US; the Delta Regional Authority, another economic development group; the US Trade and Development Agency, which promotes US exports; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a main means of support for rural public TV and radio stations.

Job training programs, worker safety efforts, and federal housing and energy assistance would also face deep cuts, according to CBPP.

‘Devastating’ to Trump voters

Representative Rogers, a former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents one of the most impoverished regions in the nation – eastern Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country. The Trump budget proposal would be “devastating” to his district, he says in an interview with the Monitor.

Funding for two key regional groups that recruit businesses and jobs and help retrain laid-off miners for other work would be zeroed out under the president’s budget. Those programs are making a difference he says.

Nor is the Kentucky lawmaker alone. Some other GOP members shared his reaction. Take Rep. John Moolenaar, a former Dow Jones chemist who now represents a big swath of Michigan’s mitten.

Representative Moolenaar, a Republican, is unhappy about Trump’s proposal to eliminate almost all of the $300 million federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He vows to fight to ensure that cut won’t happen. The lakes are a “national treasure” that hold 80 percent of the US supply of fresh surface water, he says.

“We need to fund that,” he says. He adds that other Appropriations Committee members agree with him.

These Republicans and others say they agree with Trump’s general thrust of increasing military preparedness while restraining domestic spending. But they take issue with these specific reductions.

Moolenaar feels that voters are more interested in Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and keeping jobs in America than they are in the specifics of the budget proposal.

Not that Trump’s budget will pass intact, or even largely intact. As these members point out, Congress controls the purse strings. Much will change before the House and Senate cast final budget votes.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balert (R) of Florida, who is a member of the House Appropriations committee, told reporters: “It’s not the real thing,” speaking of the president’s budget. The budget process is lengthy, this appropriator points out.

A European Nuclear Weapon Alliance?

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on March 18, 2017 at 12:27 am

New York Times, March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

Those in Europe arguing in favor of a continental nuclear arsenal (“Fearing U.S. Withdrawal, Europe Considers Its Own Nuclear Deterrent,” The Interpreter, March 7) are heavy on politics, but glaringly light on law and humanity.

Some Western nations like to squarely blame North Korea’s 2003 withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or Iran’s program to enrich nuclear fuel for undermining the global nonproliferation regime. Without condoning the actions of North Korea or Iran, it is still plain to see that the creation of a European nuclear weapon alliance would violate both the spirit and the letter of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Any use of even “smaller, shorter-range tactical weapons” would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The majority of the world’s nations will gather at the United Nations in New York at the end of March to begin negotiating a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Such a treaty is urgently needed and long overdue.

Those advocating European nuclear weapons say they are seeking an “insurance policy.” Insurance policies pay out only when something goes wrong, which, in the realm of nuclear weapons, means it’s too late. The only way to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used is to abolish them. The world will begin an important step toward that goal this month.


The writer is director of programs for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Senators Reject Call for New Nuclear Weapons, Ending Nuclear Testing Ban

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on March 15, 2017 at 8:58 am

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined with 12 Senate colleagues demanding the Defense and Energy departments reject a recent Pentagon report that called for new “limited-use” nuclear weapons and suggested ending the nuclear testing ban.

“There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war, and the United States should be seeking to raise the threshold for nuclear use, not blur that threshold by building additional so-called low-yield weapons,” wrote the senators.

Full text of the letter is available below.

March 14, 2017

The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

The Honorable Rick Perry
Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20585

Dear Secretary Mattis and Secretary Perry:

We write today in opposition to two nuclear weapons-related recommendations outlined in the Defense Science Board’s most recent report, “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration.” The report encourages the Departments of Defense and Energy to build new nuclear weapons and questioned their ability to maintain our nuclear warheads in the absence of testing, which we wholly reject.

Specifically, the Defense Science Board recommends “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use.” We strongly believe that there is no such thing as the limited use of nuclear weapons or limited nuclear war. In fact, the Board’s recommendation reminds us of an effort by the Bush Administration to build a new nuclear weapon specifically designed to destroy deeply buried enemy targets. That program, named the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or a nuclear “bunker buster,” was halted by the leadership of former Republican Congressman David Hobson in 2005.

The only role of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others and we are aware of no evidence demonstrating that new nuclear weapons are needed to preserve or enhance deterrence. Our nation’s security is better protected by investments in advanced conventional weapons, not new nuclear weapons.

We also fundamentally disagree with the Board’s belief in the utility of limited nuclear use. There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war, and the United States should be seeking to raise the threshold for nuclear use, not blur that threshold by building additional so-called low-yield weapons. We strongly agree with Deputy Secretary Work’s testimony last year when he stated: “anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

Additionally, as you know, U.S. nuclear capabilities are already highly credible, flexible, and lethal. The arsenal includes lower-yield weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, including the B61 gravity bomb, which is being modernized at an estimated cost of as much as $10 billion.

Finally, we do not believe it is an “open question,” as the board claims, whether the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program and associated nuclear warhead life extension programs can maintain our confidence in the long-term reliability of our nuclear deterrent. The Department of Energy has for decades supported the capacity of the scientists and supercomputers at the National Laboratories to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without conducting nuclear tests. This program of subcritical experimentation has worked, and has taught us more about our stockpile than explosive testing would have.

Additionally, in 2015, the three nuclear weapons lab directors reported that the country was in a better position to maintain the nuclear arsenal than it was during the era of test explosions, which ended more than 20 years ago. We strongly believe that the United States does not need to resume nuclear testing, which will only encourage others to do the same. Instead, we should seek to reinforce the global norm against nuclear weapons testing.

As you know, the United States is already planning to undertake a trillion-dollar nuclear sustainment and recapitalization program that includes investments in refurbished nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems and supporting infrastructure. Successfully executing this program while simultaneously modernizing our conventional forces presents an enormous challenge.

While we appreciate the work of the Defense Science Board, we strongly disagree with the wisdom or need to develop new nuclear weapons or resume nuclear testing. For 71 years the United States has led the world in opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, leadership that would be called into question should the United States develop new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons. As you prepare to lead the Trump administration’s review of U.S. nuclear policy and posture, we urge you not to act on the Board’s recommendations.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Edward J. Markey
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Ron Wyden
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Tammy Baldwin
United States Senator

Jeffrey Merkley
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

Chris Van Hollen
United States Senator

Kamala D. Harris
United States Senator

Not-so-innocent hyperbole

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

By Dave Anderson –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump Casually Suggests the U.S. Should Lead the World Into a New Nuclear Arms Race

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 24, 2017 at 10:59 pm

By Elliot Hannon, Slate, Feb. 23, 2017

Donald Trump, after a lifetime of real-estate deals and reality TV show whatever, is now the president of the United States, and as the president, he now gets to have an opinion about things he knows little about, has never shown an interest in, and, unfortunately, affect us all. The latest example of this is Trump’s advocating—in an interview with Reuters Thursday—for the United States to bulk up its nuclear arsenal. Really. “It would be wonderful; a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” Trump said. Russia currently has roughly 400 more deployed nuclear warheads than the U.S., which has 1,367 deployed, according to the State Department.
That’s unsettlingly loose rhetoric after decades of careful negotiation to try to limit the supply of nuclear weapons and their potential for use. Trump went one step further during the interview, suggesting that he was dissatisfied with the New START strategic arms–limitation treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which requires both countries to limit their nuclear arsenals to equal levels over the next decade. “The treaty permits both countries to have no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons, and contains equal limits on other nuclear weapons,” according to Reuters.

At least in December he was only about to be the leader of the free world, he wasn’t the actual thing yet.

If you were watching a news program, say, three years ago on any station, even Fox News, and a discussion about nuclear proliferation came on, and the anchor turned from his panel of guests and said “let’s bring Donald Trump in on this discussion to get his take on things,” you would have lost your mind. But here we are.

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test early on Sunday morning (local time), the first such test of the new Trump administration. The missile was fired into the sea, a provocative, though not unprecedented move by Pyongyang, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning such tests by North Korea in order to deter the country from developing nuclear capability.

Here’s more on the test from CNN:

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told CNN that the missile appears to be a modified intermediate-range Musudan level missile. Earlier analysis had guessed it to be a shorter-range Rodong. They ruled out the possibility that it was a longer-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) — which are usually designed to carry nuclear warheads — based on the flight distance. Sources told CNN that the missile traveled 500 kilometers (310 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, and that it was launched from North Pyongan Province.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the test from Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, stating that it “can absolutely not be tolerated.” “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” Trump said on Saturday.


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

Washington Post — February 23, 2017
By Philip Bump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In age of Trump, apocalyptic rhetoric becomes mainstream

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

By Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor,
Staff writer | @_jessicamendoza

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sense of alarm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous cycle

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

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

Such mistrust has paved the way for more extreme partisanship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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