Brainwashed and Silent 2/14/18

Brainwashed    – by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Everyone should watch Nick Kristof and his team’s riveting 26-minute documentary, on the New York Times website, “From North Korea, with Dread.” Unlike the oft-asked post-9/11 question, there’s no ambiguity about why the North Koreans hate us. They are not allowed to forget that General Curtis LeMay’s U.S. Strategic Air Command bombed them almost to oblivion back in the mid-20th century. And now they have our juvenile president’s intemperate threats, let alone the fate of Saddam and Qaddafi, to remind them just how worthy of their ill will we remain so many years later.

Mr. Trump fits perfectly into the script of Kim Jong Un’s hatemongering propaganda. Kim distracts his Stepford-citizens from realizing that they have either completely lost the ability to think for themselves or they are terrified to say what they really think—at least the ones captured by Kristof’s cameras. Trump’s threats allow Kim to distract his people from his own venality and murderousness. The North Koreans, the privileged ones in Pyongyang and not in concentration camps, live in a dream world where the repeated motif of a ballistic missile is used as a bizarre decorative central theme in amusement parks, at concerts, at museums of technology, even in kindergartens. Almost their entire national identity seems to be bound up in their presumed capacity to destroy the United States.

Kristof asserts that we are far closer to actual war than most of us realize. That is horrifying because so many on the Korean peninsula, North and South both, would die—for nothing other than a 3rd grade pissing contest between two unpredictable leaders lost in an echo chamber of threat. Fear of the weapons themselves enlarges the mutual paranoia and willful ignorance that is a major cause of conflict. Kim assumes that he can avoid the fate of other dictators if only he can deploy enough missiles and warheads; Trump wonders how long he can afford to wait before Kim becomes too much of a threat and he himself looks like an appeaser. The result is, to use the title of an excellent new book on 21st century nuclear weapons edited by Dr. Helen Caldicott, we are “Sleepwalking to Armageddon.”

Brainwashing is not confined to North Korea. Our media culture in the U.S. has become a free-for-all, a polarized babble that is the obverse side of the coin of North Korean repression. Free (and much too quick) to speak our minds, we are losing the capacity to find common ground in proven scientific, moral and political truths. The president and Fox News form a closed feedback loop, where bloviators like Sean Hannity revel in their influence over Trump and cater to his worst instincts. The press toadies to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ bullying in ways that recall abject subservience to Kim Jong Un.

Without sinking into false equivalence, both countries are brainwashed in their separate ways. If the North Koreans are brainwashed by a complex system of almost complete internet censorship, blanket propaganda, and “minders” listening day and night for hints of sedition, we in the U.S. are brainwashed by our splitting off into separate camps that forget we are all in this together. We live in the illusion that our nuclear “superiority” will save us—a convenience for the faceless weapons corporations who are all too happy that we are distracted by our oppositional social media posts as they vacuum more and more taxes out of our pockets and into theirs.

Skirting this close to the edge of the abyss concentrates the mind wonderfully. It reminds us that all life on this tiny blue planet came from the same stupendous process of emergence—from pure energy, matter; matter from life in all its diversity; and from life, mammalian care for offspring and a conscious capacity to wonder, question and explore. Will we allow the end point of this great evolutionary story to become the vaporization of millions? With what dreams is our childish behavior as “adults” haunting the sleep of the world’s children, many of them already traumatized by war?

The religious sages all come up with variations on the same notion of what our fulfillment as humans is meant to be: we are here to discover how to love. Just as we care for our children, we are meant to care for each other. This began as a tribal lesson—we care for the children of our tribe and protect them at all costs from yours. Now the lesson has become transnational, universal, inescapable: there is only one tribe, the human tribe, tasked with the challenge of sustaining the living system around us that makes our own lives possible. In an interdependent world, all war has become civil war. To remain stuck in brittle North Korean tribalism or decadent American tribalism is to court mass death. We can find ways to connect, even with our worst enemies, on the basis of our shared desire to survive.

Given that, in Reagan’s words “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” the first task of American presidents and their generals in the nuclear age is war prevention. Toward that end, out of the 195 nations of the world, the vast majority, 122, have agreed at the United Nations that nuclear weapons must be completely outlawed. Worldwide verifiable mutual nuclear disarmament is ultimately the only way out of our present impasse with North Korea.

Meanwhile, as Kristof and others have pointed out, a reasonable first step could be that we back off our incessant military patrols up and down the borders of North Korea, lessening the threat to an impoverished, proud little country in exchange for a possible nuclear freeze. And would it not be a prudent investment on the part of our eviscerated State Department to bring some North Koreans into our country to begin to break down some dangerous stereotypes and misunderstandings?

Somewhere in a North Korean concentration camp we should have faith that more than one truth-telling Solzhenitsyn keeps difficult watch. With time and patience, change can come to North Korea without war. Auden ended his great poem about brainwashing, “September 1, 1939” on a tentatively optimistic note:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

Time to Fix It 2/14/18

Time to send thoughts and prayers or time to fix it? – by Melissa Work

It was a nice warm evening where children, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and friends gathered to listen to country music in Las Vegas, Nevada. They came from all different walks of life, but one thing they had in common was their love for country music singer Jason Aldean. At 10:05 p.m. thousands of lives changed forever. Bullets starting ringing out by the hundreds, and in turn fear. Some realized what was happening in seconds and managed to move to safety while others were not so fortunate. It took a few minutes until everyone realized that the dreadful sound was truly, in fact, bullets. Many lost a loved one. Some lost a father, mother, sister, brother, daughter, and or son. The Las Vegas shooting took 58 innocent lives—the deadliest shootings in the US since the massacre of some 300 Sioux children, women, and elders 127 years ago at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

Gun control has been a heated topic for years. The Second Amendment states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This was created in 1791, 226 years ago. Since then, many things have changed including technology, style, cars, but what I would like to focus is mass shootings.

Gun violence in the United States is a major national concern that results in more than 30,000 deaths and even more injuries annually. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 U.S. citizens), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens). Of the 2,596,993 total deaths in the US in 2013, 1.3 percent were related to firearms.

The United States by far exceeds any country in the amount of deaths that are caused by guns per year. It is also one of the countries that continues to have mass shootings without any legislation changing. The United States is not the only country that has seen a mass shooting before; Australia experienced one in 1996 where a 28-year-old man, armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot and killed 35 people and injured 18 others.

That year Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, which banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. It also instituted a mandatory buy-back program for firearms banned by the 1996 law. During the buy-back program, Australians sold 640,000 prohibited firearms to the government, and voluntarily surrendered about 60,000 non-prohibited firearms. In all, more than 700,000 weapons were surrendered. Since then, the number and rate of homicides-has fallen drastically. Presently, Australia is considered one of safest countries in the world.

So what is it that is holding the United States back from passing stricter gun laws? Is it the fact that Americans would like to have a gun in case they need to protect themselves? Is it the fact that the clear majority of Americans feel that they must protect themselves from the government in case they come knocking on their doors unlawfully? Is it the power that one feels when carrying a gun? Or is it simply the fact that the NRA is more powerful than the American people when changing legislation to develop stricter gun laws?

After 20 children were killed by gun violence in Sandy Hook politicians did nothing. They made no changes, and continued to say, “Now is not the right time to talk about gun control. It is the time to mourn.” My question to you is when is the right time to talk about gun control? We see something that worked elsewhere—Australia—and we cannot learn from that?

Melissa A. Work is earning degrees in Social Science, Criminal Justice, and Conflict Resolution at Portland State University.

Applaud or Hang 2/7/18

Trumped up treason  – by Tom H. Hastings

“Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean — yeah I guess, why not. Can we call that treason? Why not. I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.” –Donald Trump on Democratic Senators and Congress members who didn’t clap for him in his State of the Union speech.

Tom Hastings

Really? We have a temporary resident of the White House whose definition of loyalty to the United States of America is loyalty to, and expressed enthusiasm for, his boneheaded ideas and false claims of greatness? We would expect such autocratic monomaniacal pronouncements from Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, or any other egomaniac warlord. Hitler and Stalin were such demented oppressors. Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet—the anti-democratic autarchs are easy to name.

If the new definition of treason is being willing to not clap for Trump’s utterances, I hereby formally and publicly admit to treason.

If we still live in a democracy, I charge Trump with treasonous statements. If there were one united value embedded in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, it is the right to dissent, politically and publicly, without fear of reprisal. Let the views contend in our public discourse.

Instead, this is how a country slides from democracy toward dictatorship, one thought control episode, one veiled threat, after another. We are on a very slippery slope here and the signs are not good.

We have zero guarantees of the future of democracy in the US. Indeed, Freedom House, a nonpartisan think tank which measures and ranks all countries on Earth every year in the aggregate values and indices of democracies, has us sliding downward. They analyze both the US role in promoting democracy worldwide and practicing it at home. They note that this slide began slowly in 2010—the year the Republican rightwing gained control of the House–and is accelerating dramatically since Trump took office.

Meanwhile, we see the strongman sort of government using Trump’s tactics now and in history. In Cambodia in September, dictator Hun Sen trumped up charges of treason against a candidate for office, Kem Sokha, who dared to call for peaceful changes toward more democracy and more human rights. Sokha faces 30 years in prison, where he has been since his arrest five months ago.

In Venezuela in August, despot Nicolas Maduro engineered a path to charge political opponents with treason, targeting Julio Borges and other opposition leaders with potential arrest and imprisonment. Borges is out of office as of last month.

This is a slippery slope toward tyranny. Trump is the most treasonous occupant of the White House since Richard “Break-and-Enter” Nixon. He too deserves a swift exit from power for his foul rule, his abdication of responsibilities to defend democracy and right to dissent, and his lies about collusion with Russian government operatives to steal our election.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

An Orchestra of US 2/7/18

Trump’s Immigration Reform is Tone Deaf  – by Jose-Antonio Orosco

Jose-Antonio Orosco

President Trump laid out a new plan for immigration reform in his State of the Union address. It calls for building a wall with Mexico, a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and eliminating family sponsorship or chain migration policies. It’s not clear whether Congress will pick up on these suggestions but one thing seems obvious: the Trump plan will reduce the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States in the future.

Both the conservative Cato Institute and the Washington Post have analyzed the plan and estimate that it would eliminate between 300,000 and half a million immigrants annually. Most of those cuts would come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In other words, Trump’s plan would keep America white for some time.

The White House’s plan is not something forward looking; in fact, it restores immigration priorities that were in place for most of the twentieth century. The US restricted immigration on the basis of race throughout most of its history. It insisted that those few immigrants that made it would have to assimilate or “Americanize” in order to stay.

Today, a majority of Americans insist that immigrants should be willing to give up part of their cultures in order to become Americans. During his campaign, President Trump complained that Muslim immigrants were not assimilating into US culture. A recent Pew Trust poll reveals that about half of Muslims immigrants do think of themselves as Muslims first, and then Americans. But the poll also revealed that about 46 percent of Christians in the US feel the same way about their religious identity. These kinds of double standards demonstrate that we have still have trouble imagining what a diverse country means.

About a hundred years ago, a play opened in Washington DC that gave us the metaphor for understanding the role of immigrants in the US. That play was titled “The Melting Pot.” It told the story of immigrants coming here and shedding their cultural baggage in order to forge new lives. Almost immediately, the philosopher Horace Kallen rejected this model and suggested a new way to understand what a diverse nation could look like.

Kallen thought the melting pot worked to boil down differences into a bland mixture. He believed that those who talked about assimilation were really insisting that immigrants try to mimic the ways of life of the white, Protestant, settlers in order to be accepted. Indeed, immigration reform in 1924 heavily restricted immigrants that didn’t come from Northern and Western Europe because the thought was those peoples couldn’t easily assimilate into US culture.

Kallen recommended we reject the melting pot and take up new metaphor: the orchestra. His idea was that an orchestra works not by insisting on a unison of voices, but on a harmony of difference. Think of a choir: you have bass, baritone, tenor, soprano, and alto. They don’t all sing the same musical notes in performance, but their voices complement one another to make a complete song. Kallen wanted us to try to imagine how different immigrant cultures could be allowed to pursue their own traditions, while at the same time harmonizing with one another and with the great political values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The US has always struggled with how to incorporate diverse peoples into a modern democracy. Kallen insisted that part of this work had to be about our imagination and the way we talk and listen to one another across cultural differences. Trump’s plan would be like insisting that all voices of the choir have to sing baritone in order to make beautiful music. His plan is not innovative; it’s tone deaf to the current needs of our society.

José-Antonio Orosco, Ph.D, writes for PeaceVoice and is Associate Professor of Philosophy: School of History, Philosophy, and Religion; Director, Oregon State University Peace Studies Program. He is the author of Toppling the Melting Pot: Immigration and Multiculturalism in American Pragmatism (2016) and other scholarly works.

Hope, Sanity & Us 2/7/18

The other superpower?  – by Robert C. Koehler

“I’m so honored to be alive at such a miraculous time in history. I’m so moved by what’s going on in our world today.”

Robert Koehler

This was 2003. The words were those of Robert Muller — the other one, the one from Costa Rica, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations — who was speaking just after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, to the horror and outrage of most of Planet Earth. Millions of people took to the streets, in the U.S. and around the world, to protest the invasion. Muller called this movement “the other superpower.”

“Never before in the history of the world,” he went on, “has there been a global, visible, public, viable, open dialogue and conversation about the very legitimacy of war.”

Oh! Such ancient history, right? Yet in the wake of current events — in particular, the Trump administration’s release of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review — I feel an urgent need to summon Muller’s words back to the present moment. Is this moment empty of all hope and sanity, occupied as it is by the forces of empire and a militarized presidential ego? Or was Muller right? Is there a global, evolutionary counterforce out there as well, equal to or greater than the corporate militarism that seems to have a stranglehold on the future?

To talk about outrage — over war, over poverty, over environmental devastation — is one thing. It’s reactive, emotion-driven and without either a long-term plan of action or a reliable flow of funding. To talk about “the other superpower” implies something far more coherent and focused — or at least, something with enough power to seriously challenge the aims of . . . for instance, the nuclear arms establishment, which begins with the unacknowledged certainty that war is inevitable and winning the next one is always the first order of business.

As the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation pointed out in a press release following last week’s release of the new Nuclear Posture Review, the document “represents a reckless realignment of an already dangerous U.S. nuclear policy.

“The review specifically calls for the development of new, low-yield nuclear weapons that have lower explosive force. Many experts warn that such smaller weapons would blur the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons, representing a significant and dangerous increase in the likelihood of their use. . . .

“The review seeks to deter nuclear war by making it easier to start nuclear war,” the press release noted.

“Last year, the price tag for a 30-year makeover of the U.S. nuclear arsenal was estimated at $1.2 trillion. Analysts say the expanded plan put forth in the Trump NPR review would push the cost vastly higher.”

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation was one of numerous organizations to express shock and outrage about the document. And psychiatrists Bandy X. Lee and James R. Merikangas, in an op-ed in USA Today published shortly after the NPR’s release, pushed the concern about it beyond the political realm.

“Trump,” they write, “with the psychological vulnerabilities he displays, in an office that invests enormous power in one individual, may present a situation of unusual risk. Our military ensures that every officer handling nuclear weapons has the mental capacity to do so — but does not take the same precautions regarding the person who can command a strike. . . .

“There has already been a shift in international norms regarding nuclear weapons due to Trump. He has bragged about them, threatened to use them and expressed a desire to increase his stockpile in ways that suggest more psychological than policy-driven motives.”

Add to this the U.S. bombing going on throughout the Middle East and Trump’s recent orders to the Pentagon to organize a huge military parade in Washington, D.C., summoning, it seems, the glory of dictatorships past and present, and I found myself trying to reach for something beyond outrage. I started to feel a cold chill in my soul. What matters here is the emergence of a different sort of power that understands the reality of peace: It’s not something forced on the loser by the winner’s superior weaponry.

That’s the building block of nationalism. “What’s deeply engrained in our emotional makeup,” writes Barbara Ehrenreich in Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, “is something that’s very positive — the capacity to band together to experience a kind of euphoria from collective defense against a common enemy. . . . Those are the emotions we bring to wars and (they) are very noble and generous and altruistic.”

The paradox of reaching beyond war, as I noted in the wake of the Iraq invasion, is that doing so disrupts “the mobilized public at its level of deepest bonding” and sows “doubt in the psychic well of patriotism.”

In a world organized as a conglomerate of nations, we bless our worse instincts — to strike out in weaponized fear, to kill en masse — with our best instincts: generosity, altruism, cooperation, sacrifice. Those who support the war of the moment do so from their largest, most selfless instincts, just as do those who oppose the war.

The “other superpower” Muller envisioned a decade and a half ago is still in the process of creating itself out of this paradox. Love thy enemy as thyself? Actually, the creation process has been going on for a few thousand years now.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Don’t Do That 2/7/18

Donald, Donald, Donald, we told you a million times not to exaggerate

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

In his little munchkin voice—surprising coming from such a big fat man—and his chemically hardened helmet hair, Donald Trump gave us his version of the State of the Union.

It was, to borrow some of his superlatives, incredibly, amazingly, totally annoying.

Great, beautiful. Wonderful. Everything is great.

I am reaching back, searching my memory for another speech so rife with shallow, meaningless platitudes.  “Beautiful clean coal.”

Trump’s newfound gift is combining lying with gushing and faux compassion. Coal accounts for some 83 percent of US air pollutants, is a serious factor in exacerbating our climate chaos—hurricanes, floods, fires—and yet its share of energy production continues to fall. Yes, stripping the law of environmental protections can give coal a bit longer to survive, but natural gas, solar, and wind farms are increasing despite Trump and the market forces will ultimately prevail over coal. Trump has made the coal industry the new corporate welfare queen, with all the costs passed on to the consumers and taxpayers. Beautiful.

Waxing on about how much he loves the flag, the national anthem, and those, unlike him, who served in the military, one can try to hold down one’s dinner. It’s not easy.

The stock market fell 400 points in anticipation of Trump’s talk.

He called on Congress to remove all government employees who fail to work for the good of the American people. Buh-bye, Trump!

“Exciting progress is happening every day.”

Please, let that progress lead with impeachment.

The elasticity of the truth was the leitmotif, as he claimed credit for far more than he actually achieved.

When he made claims about ICE imprisoning or deporting “thousands and thousands and thousands” of MS-13 gang members and the current estimates vary far lower from all official sources except Trump himself, that is such a stretcher that you can almost hear the facts groan.

More whoppers included his claims of the biggest tax cut in history—not even close—the decline in African American unemployment—most of which happened before he took office—that vehicle manufacturing is coming back, which we “haven’t seen for decades”—actually George W. Bush and Obama were in office when several plants returned—and the list goes on. The only fact-checkers who agree with Trump seem to be the ones who don’t actually check.

Trump could not even resist lying about the numbers who tuned into watch the SOTU, tweeting that it was “the highest number in history.” Nope, his numbers were eclipsed by Obama, Dubya, and most resoundingly by Clinton in 1993. Not even close.

While the citizen stories his aides found for him were the highlights—especially the inspiring story of North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, one wonders, then, how Trump can continue to hypocritically deny refugees from bloody war zones, children and women and old people who manage to flee with their lives and little else.

We deserve better leadership, but we won’t get it until we the people make it happen.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

Electric Trains for Us 2/7/18

Bring on Solutionary Rail! – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

It’s not every day that you run across an idea so elegant, so eminently practical that your jaw literally drops as you stagger beneath the shock of your huge “aha” moment. Solutionary Rail did that for me. Rail experts and long-time activists from Backbone Campaign have struck gold with their well-researched proposal to electrify America’s railroads.

Solutionary Rail: a people-powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads and open corridors to a clean energy future is a book, a proposal, a profound vision, and an exciting multi-pronged solution all rolled into one bundle. Electrifying our rail system to run on renewable energy is just plain good sense. It creates jobs. It reduces carbon emissions. It increases freight transport efficiency. It solves the looming highway repair budget shortfalls. It works toward economic justice for rural and Indigenous communities. It contains an astonishing multiplier effect as it meets the demands of climate change.

So, what’s the drawback? (I can hear you, oh skeptics.) The usual: money and political willpower. The Solutionary Rail team addresses those concerns with interestingly viable solutions. To deal with the hefty investment required to transition to electrified rails, they propose a public-private partnership that minimizes the profit-motive from the investor side. It’s not a new idea. It’s how the original rail system was built. And speaking of old-fashioned ideas turned new, electric rail was actually a viable part of our railroading history. In the 1960s, however, internal politics and the development of the interstate highways that sank electric rail, even though the system was far more economical and efficient than diesel.

United States citizens have long bemoaned the sad state of our rails. As an avid rail rider myself, I’ve traveled across our beautiful country by train more times than I can count. It’s amazing. The rail lines are national (and neglected) treasures. You can see the heart and soul of the United States from these routes less-traveled. Also, when riding trains, you hear and see your fellow Americans in ways you never do while shuffling through airport security or crammed into your tiny airplane seat.

Revitalizing rail travel holds some unusual bonuses, such as a deepened understanding of the vast terrain and tangible unique diversity of this nation. It might rekindle our experiential understanding of our incredible ecosystems, and also remind everyone of the small towns, rural regions, urban corridors, water ways and mountain crossings that are hidden from the view of the interstate highway system.

Solutionary Rail offers us a vision for transforming our railroads and creating jobs along the way. In a nation the size of the United States, rail travel and transport makes nothing but sense. Solutionary Rail shows that electrified rail is more than feasible. It’s being done around the world. Seventy percent of Russia’s freight lines are already electrified. Ninety percent of France’s passenger rail trips are on an electrified system. Renewable energy experts demonstrate that we have the renewable resources to run our rails on solar and wind. In the book, railroad engineers also explain how electric engines can even generate energy while braking, something we see in our hybrid cars now.

And, where the political willpower is lacking, well, that’s Backbone Campaign’s specialty. They’re skilled campaigners for change – if anyone can put Solutionary Rail on the national agenda, it’s them. Pairing their knowledge with the expertise of railroad engineers, and renewable energy experts, it takes Solutionary Rail out of the realms of dreams and halfway into reality. Their proposal is well-researched, solid, and tantalizingly possible. The Solutionary Rail book includes action steps for citizens to get involved in the campaign to bring this proposal to the plates of policy makers and power holders. The sooner the better, I say!

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books. She is a nonviolent strategy trainer and a regular contributor to journals across the country.

Reject the Reckless 2/7/18

Poor posture: Trump’s nuclear doctrine resumes Cold War
by Robert F. Dodge, M.D.

Robert Dodge

While elected officials of our increasingly dysfunctional democracy debated “memogate,” the world became more dangerous as Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review was officially released on Friday, February 2. Ignoring scientific studies of the past decade and growing global sentiment by the world’s non-nuclear states to abolish nuclear weapons, with this announcement the new arms race begins and the Cold War resumes.

Scientific studies have demonstrated the potential catastrophic global environmental effects following a limited regional nuclear war, using just 100 12-kiloton Hiroshima-size weapons (of the 16,300 in the arsenals of the nine nuclear nations, which is approximately one-half of just one percent) that would potentially kill two billion people.

This new Doctrine proposes the development of two new generations of nuclear weapons including “low-yield nukes,” Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) and the long-term development of Submarine Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM). These “low-yield nukes” are 20 kt—same as the larger Nagasaki size bombs that killed more than 70,000 people. Seemingly ignoring the fact that nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons regardless of size with the same horrific initial devastation and radioactive fallout, these weapons are proposed to demonstrate America’s resolve in deterring nuclear attack.

In fact this circular argument of smaller nuclear weapons being a greater deterrence actually increases the likelihood of their use. This further promotes the mythology of deterrence which actually drives all nine nuclear states to follow suit. Coupled with the Trump Doctrine’s new non-nuclear circumstances under which nuclear attack would be launched, such as certain cyberattacks, the risk of nuclear war is dramatically increased, bringing the imminent threat of nuclear war to the center of US military policy and foreign policy. This fact was also acknowledged in the recent Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ movement of their nuclear Doomsday clock to two minutes till midnight, the closest since World War II.

Unless we reject this reckless Trump Doctrine and the false notion that nuclear weapons make us safe we all become complicit with Trump and therefore support his vision of a desolate irradiated future. Trump’s ideas erase rationality and move blind luck to the center of US security policy.

This is a reality that does not have to be. This irresponsible doctrine, which breaches the United States obligation to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, requires congressional funding. Estimates place additional funds up to $50 billion per year over the next 20 years for the new arms race. We must demand that these funds that would be taken from the pressing needs of our nation such as healthcare, education and infrastructure not be spent on these suicidal weapons.

We must demand this change now. Each of us has a role to play. We can encourage our communities, legislatures and cities to endorse the multi organization “Back From the Brink: A Call to Prevent Nuclear War Resolution” that is spreading across our nation. We can also make sure that our money is not going to support institutions and companies that build, develop and fund nuclear weapons by divesting using the Don’t Bank On The Bomb website.

We must celebrate those nations that have been working to ratify and bring forth the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and celebrate the day when their efforts will have eliminated nuclear weapons entirely. The choice is ours. Silence implies consent.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician and writes for PeaceVoice. He is co-chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility National Security Committee and the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Do NOT Exaggerate 2/7/18

Donald, Donald, Donald, we told you a million times not to exaggerate

Tom Hastings

by Tom H. Hastings

In his little munchkin voice—surprising coming from such a big fat man—and his chemically hardened helmet hair, Donald Trump gave us his version of the State of the Union.

It was, to borrow some of his superlatives, incredibly, amazingly, totally annoying.

Great, beautiful. Wonderful. Everything is great.

I am reaching back, searching my memory for another speech so rife with shallow, meaningless platitudes.

“Beautiful clean coal.”

Trump’s newfound gift is combining lying with gushing and faux compassion. Coal accounts for some 83 percent of US air pollutants, is a serious factor in exacerbating our climate chaos—hurricanes, floods, fires—and yet its share of energy production continues to fall. Yes, stripping the law of environmental protections can give coal a bit longer to survive, but natural gas, solar, and wind farms are increasing despite Trump and the market forces will ultimately prevail over coal. Trump has made the coal industry the new corporate welfare queen, with all the costs passed on to the consumers and taxpayers. Beautiful.

Waxing on about how much he loves the flag, the national anthem, and those, unlike him, who served in the military, one can try to hold down one’s dinner. It’s not easy.

The stock market fell 400 points in anticipation of Trump’s talk.

He called on Congress to remove all government employees who fail to work for the good of the American people. Buh-bye, Trump!

“Exciting progress is happening every day.”

Please, let that progress lead with impeachment.

The elasticity of the truth was the leitmotif, as he claimed credit for far more than he actually achieved.

When he made claims about ICE imprisoning or deporting “thousands and thousands and thousands” of MS-13 gang members and the current estimates vary far lower from all official sources except Trump himself, that is such a stretcher that you can almost hear the facts groan.

More whoppers included his claims of the biggest tax cut in history—not even close—the decline in African American unemployment—most of which happened before he took office—that vehicle manufacturing is coming back, which we “haven’t seen for decades”—actually George W. Bush and Obama were in office when several plants returned—and the list goes on. The only fact-checkers who agree with Trump seem to be the ones who don’t actually check.

Trump could not even resist lying about the numbers who tuned into watch the SOTU, tweeting that it was “the highest number in history.” Nope, his numbers were eclipsed by Obama, Dubya, and most resoundingly by Clinton in 1993. Not even close.

While the citizen stories his aides found for him were the highlights—especially the inspiring story of North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, one wonders, then, how Trump can continue to hypocritically deny refugees from bloody war zones, children and women and old people who manage to flee with their lives and little else.

We deserve better leadership, but we won’t get it until we the people make it happen.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

Governing by Scapegoat 1/31/18

Governing by scapegoat – by Robert C. Koehler

Got a problem?  Simplify and project.

Robert Koehler

When you have a country to govern and you have no idea what to do — and, even more to the core of the matter, you also have a crony-agenda you want to push quietly past the populace — there’s a time-proven technique that generally works. Govern by scapegoat!

This usually means go to war, but sometimes that’s not enough. Here in the USA, there’s been so much antiwar sentiment since the disastrous quagmires of the last half century — Vietnam, the War (To Promote) Terror — we’ve had to make war simply part of the background noise. The military cash bleed continues, but the public lacks an international enemy to rally against and blame for its insecurity.

Creating a scapegoat enemy domestically has also gotten complicated. Thugs and punks — predatory (minority) teenagers — shoulder much of the responsibility for keeping the country distracted, but in this era of political correctness, politicians have to be careful. Thus the Trump administration has turned to the immigrants. Not all of them, of course — only the ones from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In particular, it has turned to . . . the illegals!

Why is America so violent?

“It’s pure evil,” runs the newly released Trump campaign ad. “President Trump is right: Build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants. President Trump will fix our border and keep our families safe.”

Governing by scapegoat is more than just a stupid appeal to the base. Its cruel consequences are manifold. In essence, doing so both wrecks lives and ignores the real causes of the country’s problems. Often enough, it contributes to the social collapse at the root of the problems it purports to address.

Here’s one look at the humanity of DACA: “It meant we did not fear that today — any day — was going to be the last day we could hug our children, parents or siblings,” Dreamer Reyna Montoya writes at Truthout. “It allowed us to have inner peace, knowing that we were not going to be thrown to a country we no longer know. DACA provided safety, and that is now being ripped away.”

Leaving hundreds of thousands of lives “hanging by a thread,” as Montoya put it, strikes me as contributing to the problem, not the solution. Trump’s claim that “illegals” contribute in a serious way to American violence is totally without factual basis, but because violence has become a plague in this country, explaining its cause with scapegoat propaganda has a feel-good resonance for a lot of people. It’s so much easier to blame some designated “other” than to look within.

But consider . . .

“The governor and several people in Benton (Kentucky) said they couldn’t believe a mass shooting would happen in their small, close-knit town. But many such shootings across the nation have happened in rural communities.”

Yeah, another one, at a high school in rural Kentucky. This was just the day before yesterday, as I write. Two students killed, as many as 20 injured, a 15-year-old boy arrested. He fired a handgun into a crowded atrium at the school until he ran out of bullets. This is now minor news in America: ho hum, another mass murder. Unless the death toll is in double digits, it commands only perfunctory headlines.

Indeed, the Associated Press account of the shooting — complete with stats and data putting it into the context of similar occurrences — read almost like coverage of a sporting event. “The attack marked the year’s first fatal school shooting.”

And, oh yeah: “Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath High School in Paducah, Ky., where a 1997 mass shooting killed three and injured five. Michael Carneal, then 14, opened fire there about two years before the fatal attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, ushering in an era when mass school shootings have become much more common.

“Meanwhile, in the small North Texas town of Italy, a 15-year-old girl was recovering Tuesday after police said she was shot by a 16-year-old classmate in her high school cafeteria on Monday, sending dozens of students scrambling for safety. Police in Louisiana, meanwhile, are investigating shots fired Monday as students gathered outside their charter school.”

The agenda that Trump and his cohorts are focused on moving forward is not the one that addresses American misery, but the one that slashes corporate taxes and privatizes as much of the social infrastructure as possible. For instance, four months after Hurricane Maria, 30 percent of Puerto Rico remains without electric power. Government relief efforts didn’t go much beyond the presidential tossing of paper towels — a racist gesture if ever there was one — but now the Puerto Rican governor has a plan to privatize the island’s power utility. Appalled critics are calling this a blatant example of disaster capitalism: the use of tragedy to further a corporate agenda.

Let the rich grow richer. When that causes trouble, blame the ones who have the least.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Hashtag Happenings 1/31/18

After #MeToo and #TimesUp  – by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

I’m writing today about hashtags. In particular, I want to focus on what happens now that we’ve said #MeToo and #TimesUp.

Like many women and girls, I said Me Too. And, like most, mine was not a one-time experience but rather a lifetime of inappropriate comments, catcalls, and unwanted sexual contact. As I’ve written before, I’m glad the Hollywood and USA gymnastics scandals have us talking about powerful men who abuse that power. But it isn’t just men in power who commit these same acts of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Men harass women and girls in the streets, at the stores, in schools. Everywhere.

I am 45 years old. Not long ago, I experienced unwanted sexual conduct from someone half my age. The only power he has over me is that he’s a man who feels he’s entitled to say and do as he pleases to women. I have been catcalled by boys recently out of high school on the campus where I teach, a university with a commitment to social justice. A random guy at the gym thinks it’s OK to make a lewd comment about my weight, while another one at the market felt it was complimentary to mutter about my body to the poor female cashier, as if she wanted to hear his verbal diarrhea. As I drove to present a version of this piece at the Miami Women’s March second annual event, a man pulled up next to me so he could make a vulgar sexual gesture.

So, yeah, MeToo. Speaking up matters. Shedding light on the scope of these problems to those who had inexplicably missed it, matters. Solidarity matters. And no, I do not believe this is fake feminism. But now what?

Celebrities like Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes have launched #TimesUp as perhaps a next step. With their attention, which wonderfully dominated the Golden Globes, they’ve also started a legal defense fund to help individuals come forward without fear of legal, career or financial retaliation. This is great, and they’ve pledged to help create a cultural shift that will end sexual harassment.

That’s where things get a bit more vague. What does that look like? And how does it happen? Stories and accountability are elements of it, but they alone do not shift the culture.

Perhaps some other hashtag ideas can be helpful here. I have to admit, I’m not that big of a hashtagger, so forgive me if some of these may already be in circulation. But, how about #Iwilldisruptit? Someone saw or heard all of the instances I mentioned earlier, and in most cases of harassment, abuse and assault, that is true. What if in addition to being committed to speak up as persons who have been victimized, we also committed to speak up when we see or hear troublesome comments or behavior? Some of us do this, others need to start doing it.

Or how about #teachkidsgenderequality? If we want to change our culture, we need to socialize both boys and girls differently. All kids need to know that no one is entitled to control your decisions and your bodies but you. I am guilty of being too nice, of too easily dismissing or forgiving. Many of us are. And yet I’m pissed off that I still have to live in this rape culture, and that my daughter does, too. As Barbara Kingsolver so importantly wrote, “Feminine instincts for sweetness and apology have no skin in this game.” As this last year has affirmed, when women channel their anger about gender inequality, amazing things happens.

I’m sure we can think of many more ideas—and they are that, not just hashtags—that will help transform our culture into one in which women don’t face these daily micro aggressions. But in honor of the event I just spoke at, #powertothepolls. Let’s elect women, and the progressive men who support us, and make some political changes that will make male entitlement a thing of the past.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Apocalypse Doomsday 1/31/18

Approaching the Apocalypse, the Doomsday Clock Moves Forward
by Robert F. Dodge, M.D.

Robert Dodge

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just moved their Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes till midnight. Midnight represents nuclear apocalypse. The Clock is recognized around the world as an indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies. Each year the decision to move the Clock forward, backward, or not at all, is determined by the Bulletins Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors which includes 15 Nobel Laureates.

In making this year’s move to two minutes till midnight, the Bulletin stated that “in 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threat of nuclear war and climate change, making the world’s security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago-and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.”

In recent years the Bulletin has added climate change to nuclear weapons as a major risk of global conflict. This year the greatest threat remained that of nuclear conflict with the ongoing North Korea crisis featuring dangerous rhetoric and actions coming from both sides. World experts have made their assessments; leadership in the US and North Korea have now radically elevated the risk of nuclear war either by accident or miscalculation.

Coupled with deteriorating relationships between the world’s nuclear powers, with US and Russian relations at the lowest point in decades and rising tensions between the US and China, all while the United States plans to rebuild its nuclear arsenal—prompting all of the other nations to follow suit. The situation is further undermined from a diplomatic standpoint by an understaffed and demoralized US State Department and thus the Clock ticks forward.

The Board stated, “To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy.”

It was also emphasized that this urgent warning of global danger described a future that did not have to be, but in order to change demanded action now from the citizens of the world. We have the ability and now the legal framework with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to abolish nuclear weapons, just as we have the ability to address climate change.

What is necessary is the political will for change arising from the people across the country and the globe demanding this action now.

At this year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the leader of the recipient, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Beatrice Fihn, said regarding abolishing nuclear weapons, “those who say that future is not possible need to get out of the way of those making it a reality.”

It’s time, possibly our final chance, to abolish nuclear weapons. It’s two minutes till midnight.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician and writes for PeaceVoice. He is co-chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility National Security Committee and the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles

Cannot Trivialize 1/31/18

Post-Truth and the Dreamers  – by Andrew Moss

“Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

Andrew Moss

This statement closes one chapter of historian Timothy Snyder’s recent book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Snyder wrote the book as a primer on tyranny: an analysis of forces that helped destroy democracies in Germany and other nations in the twentieth century and that threaten democracy today. In saying that “post-truth is pre-fascism,” he was describing the profound hostility in totalitarian regimes to truthfulness and verifiable reality. Without reference to such reality, it’s difficult if not impossible to hold authoritarian regimes accountable.

The hostility is apparent in the current administration, and it’s particularly egregious in the administration’s treatment of the Dreamers, the young people brought here as children and who, until recently, had been protected by the Obama-era DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program. To see the antipathy clearly, all you need to do is connect a few dots.

Start with Trump’s announcement of his candidacy on June 16, 2015, when he told his listeners that Mexico is “not sending their best . . . they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” In this statement alone, Trump made it clear he’d be using racist language to advance his candidacy, showing contempt for truth in the distorted, dehumanizing way that such language characterizes groups and individuals. In the campaign and in the first year of his administration, Trump continued to show his contempt in descriptions of Muslims and other immigrant groups, including expletive-laced labels like “shithole countries” to describe Haiti, El Salvador, and apparently all African nations.

In his book, historian Snyder wrote about the use of “shamanistic incantations:” endlessly repeated catch-phrases like “Crooked Hillary” or “Cryin Chuck Schumer.” In ceaseless repetition, these caricaturing phrases cast a kind of hypnotic spell, focusing our attention on the immediate moment and distracting us from reflection on larger patterns, bigger pictures. When talking about immigrants during the recent government shutdown, a shutdown precipitated in large measure by a stalemate over the fate of the Dreamers, Trump and his officials used highly charged phrases to taint all immigrants, including the Dreamers, in sinister tones. Trump himself tweeted, “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked,” while one of his reelection campaign officials, Michael Glassner, declared that the president was keeping Americans safe from “evil, illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes against lawful U.S. citizens.” Meanwhile, the reelection campaign released that weekend a video asserting that, “Democrats who stand in our way [i.e. opposing Trump’s immigration policies] will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.” The racist discourse hasn’t abated at all.

Amidst this barrage of inflammatory discourse, it’s understandable if one forgets that the shutdown was entirely a manufactured crisis, instigated by Trump last September when he fulfilled his campaign pledge to end the DACA program. Though Trump declared at various times that the Dreamers were “terrific people” and that some were “absolutely incredible kids,” his treachery was readily apparent in his call for a legislative fix (or, as he termed it, a “bill of love”). His strategy was clear: cast the Dreamers into the unfriendly waters of a Republican-controlled Congress while attempting to use them as bargaining chips to advance a nativist immigration agenda.

It’s possible that the administration’s latest immigration proposal may mark the beginning of a productive process of legislative negotiation. The proposal offers a 10-12-year path to citizenship to 1.8 million DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals in exchange for new, highly restrictive immigration measures.

But any optimism may be premature, to say the least. It’s not simply that the proposed restrictions, such as new constraints on family reunification, are highly onerous. It is, instead, that the political atmosphere itself is so tainted by untruth and deception, so driven by racist impulses, that a broader strategy is needed.

We can’t trivialize the broader threats by focusing on the incompetence, ignorance, and personality flaws of Trump himself; there are too many enablers and handlers within the administration and within Congress involved. Instead, it’s necessary to see the struggle over the Dreamers’ fate, and over immigration policy itself, as fronts in a broader struggle against authoritarianism and the “post-truth” that supports it.

The legislative effort on behalf of the Dreamers must still go forward, and so, too, must the legal battles being fought on their behalf. But still more is needed: the continuing effort to educate and inspire – to show that an inclusive immigration policy is both humane and democratic, and that the fate of the Dreamers, our brothers and sisters, is bound up with the fate of us all.

Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an emeritus professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught in Nonviolence Studies for 10 years.

Poor Rex 1/31/18

Capitalize on the Olympic Truce, Formalize a Freeze for Freeze with North Korea    – – by Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

Poor Rex Tillerson. Secretary of State must have sounded like an awesome job to the former Chairman and CEO of Exxon/Mobil, it certainly would to most people. The massive pay cut must have given him at least some pause, as he made more than $25 million in 2016.

Now he finds himself working for a “very stable genius,” or an (expletive) moron depending on Trump’s or his own description of our president, with no discernible direction coming from the White House as to how to handle the very serious crisis with North Korea.

Recently Tillerson has sounded very much adrift or at least inconsistent in his public statements on the Korea situation, at times somewhat optimistic, and at other times pretty downbeat. He does come across as serious, appearing to be someone who would like to succeed at his job (assuming he keeps it, though he has survived rumors of his imminent ouster for several months now).

At the recent Vancouver meeting of foreign ministers from countries that (mostly) participated in the UN Command in the devastating 1950-53 war on the Korean peninsula, Tillerson threw cold water on what might be the most promising starting point for negotiations with North Korea, a “freeze for a freeze.” Under this approach, North Korea would pause its nuclear and ballistic missile testing in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea postponing their twice annual military exercises, which involve more than 200,000 troops rehearsing for war with the North, including simulated nuclear bombing runs and “decapitation strikes.” It’s no wonder the North loathes these exercises, hence their potential value as a bargaining chip.

Tillerson stated, “Let me be clear: We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or our solidarity. We reject a ‘freeze-for-freeze’ approach in which legitimate defensive military exercises are placed on the same level of equivalency as the DPRK (North Korea)’s unlawful actions.”

The equivalency of nuclear and ballistic missile tests and massive war games is an interesting question, legally, morally, geo-strategically, and where one stands might well depend on where one sits. It’s certainly possible to imagine Pyongyang, faced with the massive military, political and economic might of the U.S.-South Korea (and Japan) alliance thinking it needs nuclear weapons to ensure its survival, observing how the U.S. invaded Iraq and Libya and overthrew Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi after they gave up their nuclear weapons programs. In his New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced the North had achieved its goals for its nuclear program and intended to spend more resources on developing its economy.

Still, the U.S., South Korea and Japan cannot guess at his intentions. They must be prepared for North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, and are justifiably alarmed at the thought of a nuclear strike on Seoul, Tokyo or Los Angeles, which could kill millions and wreck the global economy. They could also reasonably argue the massive war drills are meant to make Pyongyang think twice about any military aggression.

The question of equivalency is perhaps unanswerable, and ultimately moot, if it provides a place to start negotiations. And, while Tillerson might not admit it, there is a de facto freeze for freeze in place right now. North Korea has not tested nuclear weapons or missiles recently (there could be any number of reasons for that), and the U.S. agreed to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s request to postpone the war exercises until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, so practically speaking, through March.

One could go even further; not only is there in reality a freeze for a freeze in place, but also an Olympic Truce, a tradition that dates to the ancient Greek games and is officially recognized by the United Nations and International Olympic Committee. The U.N. vote on the current Olympic Truce was supported by both Koreas. The recent thaw in North-South tensions and initial talks resulting in agreements for North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Games beginning February 9 are certainly steps, perhaps small, back from the brink of war—a marked departure from the awful threats Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have volleyed at each other.

Effective negotiators build on any points of agreement the parties to a dispute have at the outset. So why not ditch the “non-equivalency” argument and state the U.S.-South Korea war drills are on indefinite hiatus as long as North Korea continues to observe a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing? That would be solid footing on which to begin real diplomacy. South Korea isn’t afraid to talk to the North, why is the U.S.? If Tillerson can’t do his job, the least he can do is support the North-South talks, and let Koreans make peace.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, convenes the Korea Collaboration, a network organizing around the Olympic Truce and other initiatives for peace and diplomacy with North Korea, and is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Family Adoration 1/24/18

Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

In recent months Donald Trump has shown no hesitation to comment critically on political developments in Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, and North Korea. He supported protests in Iran against “the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.” He deplored the many years of US military aid to Pakistan, for which “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. . . . No more!” His criticisms of the Maduro government in Venezuela were accompanied by the threat to use the “military option,” reminiscent of what Trump had once said when talking about Mexico. And of course his personal insults directed at North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are now legendary.

Such interference is now taken for granted, for in Trump’s world, relying on diplomacy and abiding by the principle of noninterference in others’ affairs have no currency in Washington. Of course trying to destabilize other countries, even to the point of seeking regime change, has been part and parcel of US foreign policy for a long time. The difference now may be the constancy of Trump’s interference, and the undiplomatic language he uses.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Trump reserves his harshest tweets for governments he dislikes. When it comes to friends like Israel, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, the operating principle is “hands-off.” They are allowed to use every trick in the book to buy influence in Washington: gaining special access to decision makers, investing in the US economy and offering investment opportunities in their own country, hiring former US officials to lobby, inviting American opinion leaders to lavish conferences, putting on opulent displays of affection when top US officials visit. These folks know Americans will bite at a chance for profit and attention, and pay back with access and influence. Russia’s successful hookups with Trump’s campaign and administration officials in order to end US sanctions are only the latest and most glaring examples of a longstanding problem of influence-buying. They haven’t succeeded so far, but the effort has literally cost them peanuts.

Saudi Arabia has played the influence game just as aggressively as the Russians, and for much longer. Saudi money has effectively lobbied in Washington for many years, often relying on former members of Congress. The Saudis also seek to influence US politics by funding NGOs (e.g., the Clinton Foundation), think tanks, law firms, social media, and even political action committees. Saudi investors, including members of the royal family, may have as much as a half-trillion dollars invested in US real estate, the stock market, and US treasury bills. At the time of Trump’s visit in May the Saudi leadership committed to another $40 billion in infrastructure investments, though whether or not that will actually happen is another matter.

The payoff for the Saudis is arms acquisitions that have usually put Saudi Arabia first on the US arms export list. The $110 billion arms deal announced while Trump was in Saudi Arabia came on top of billions more weapons sold during the Obama years—and consistent US political support since before World War II of the royal family’s authoritarian rule. The Saudis have also bought continued US support of the Saudi air war in Yemen—a humanitarian disaster that probably amounts to war crimes. For the US, cultivating Saudi Arabia yields not only low oil prices and a reliable arms customers but also an easing of Arab pressure on Israel and leadership in Sunni confrontation of Shiite Iran and Iran’s partner, Hezbollah.

Now comes Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman’s coup, or purge if you like, to solidify his power and eliminate rivals to the throne. We cannot take seriously the proclaimed reasons for Salman’s purge—in order to modernize the country and fight corruption. To Saudi leaders, modernization means dictating the content and timing of social and economic change, a method almost sure to fail. Women may now drive, the cultural scene may look more permissive, and education may open up a bit. But such changes fall well short of removing the ruling family’s control of the courts and the press. Likewise fighting corruption: It clearly doesn’t apply to King Salman and family, who run a blatantly corrupt system that controls many key businesses, nor to the crown prince, who thinks nothing of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on yachts and chateaux while ordering the detention of 320 wealthy citizens. Conflicts of interest are rampant, and ignored. No wonder the Trump family adores these people.

Trump’s Man in Riyadh

Donald Trump was all in on Salman’s coup, tweeting his support: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing. Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!” (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has Trump and Jared Kushner boasting, “We’ve put our man on top!”) Was it merely coincidental that Jared Kushner had just visited Saudi Arabia (from October 25-28), and reportedly met with Trump’s buddy, the crown prince? (The trip, Kushner’s third to Saudi Arabia in 2017, was unannounced, supposedly linked to his Middle East peace efforts. But perhaps meetings with other Middle East leaders were merely a cover, since among those purged was a frequent critic of Trump, the billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who once called Trump a “disgrace” to America, after Alwaleed had twice bailed out Trump financially.

It’s all about Iran.

For the Saudis, as for Trump and Kushner, Iran is the main target of the current Saudi-US honeymoon. The Kushner-led regional “peace plan” he supposedly leads—one that is short on substance and even shorter on qualified people (they’re all businessmen) to sell it—is riveted on Iran’s “aggression.” In Lebanon, where Hezbollah is entrenched, Iran seems to be the proxy target. Might Iran have been correct in accusing Kushner of being responsible for the surprise (actually, forced) resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister the following weekend—a resignation announced in Riyadh, where the prime minister was apparently held against his will because he was considered too soft on Hezbollah? The Saudis are ratcheting up the pressure on Lebanon, telling its citizens to leave and dangling the prospect of kicking out around a half-million Lebanese workers in Saudi Arabia who send home some $3 billion annually in remittances.

Salman’s moves against Qatar, which Trump (but not Tillerson), condoned, and now against Hezbollah and Iran, will inevitably further complicate the US position in the Middle East, where “stability” is already so far out of reach. As one astute commentator argues, the Washington-Riyadh axis against Iran “seems to mistake presidential and princely preference and mutual agreement for statecraft and implementation.” But that critique merely suggests that Saudi Arabia be “less aggressive” in its hostility to Iran. More creative statecraft would involve a Saudi diplomatic initiative on Iran to moderate their rivalry in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. But now, with Trump on board in place of Obama, who in fact urged just such a Saudi initiative, diplomacy is out the window. Iranian nationalism is on the rise even among the educated anticlerical class. Trump and Salman have succeeded in generating “widespread support for the [government’s] hard-line view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted and that Iran is a strong and capable state . . . .”

If Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is accurate, Donald Trump believes that by getting close to the Saudis, he can resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Fantasy; it’s the Saudis who have Trump just where they want him. They have to be as satisfied as Russia over what their money has bought: a US Middle East policy that relies on continued arms sales, confrontation with Iran in company with Israel, and acceptance of massive human rights violations in Yemen—in short, further chaos in the Middle East. Fareed Zakaria is correct to conclude: “With Trump so firmly supporting the Saudi strategy, the United States could find itself dragged further into the deepening Middle East morass.” That morass might well include war with Iran, the common obsession of Trump and his national security team. Better to jettison Saudi Arabia; like Pakistan, it is a dubious partner that promises endless trouble for the United States and no help in dealing with terrorism.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

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