My Empire is More Fun 5/17/17

Watergate II? A Scenario for Trump’s Resignation – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” said Donald Trump to James Comey on February 14, a day after General Flynn was fired as national security special assistant. With those words, which Comey is said to have dutifully recorded in a memo, Trump may have put himself on the path to political oblivion. For the first time we have proof that the president directly interfered in a federal investigation, a criminal offense. To his credit, Comey did not “let it go.”

Every day brings bad news for Trump’s presidency. Every day is a reminder that this man is mentally, temperamentally, and politically unfit for the highest office. Every day also brings new risks to national security, which is in the hands of a commander in chief who is impulsive, uninformed, impervious to expert advice, and given to sudden movements that could mean war. Donald Trump must go, but how?

Up until now I thought our and the nation’s best hope was that somehow, some way, the Republican leadership in Congress would feel compelled by Trump’s outrageous behavior to start the ball rolling toward impeachment. Trump’s bald-faced interference on Flynn’s behalf leads me to a different denouement: his resignation, forced by the same Republicans who would otherwise never be persuaded to start impeachment proceedings.

What is the decisive factor now? Trump’s clear obstruction of justice may be the tipping point for Republican leaders who see no way that a conservative social and economic agenda can be achieved with Trump in office. Trump’s criminal interference shortens the timeline, and feeds their well-reported impatience with him. The Republicans knew all along that Trump was a wild card; but they had no idea how extraordinarily difficult his conduct would make their job. Now they surely must see that their preferred road ahead is going to be eternally blocked by Russiagate investigations. Immigration, taxes, health care, infrastructure jobs, environmental protection laws, abortion, border security—dramatic legislative changes the Republican leadership had planned in all these areas simply cannot move forward with Trump at the helm.

In short, I believe the Republicans are going to decide that they cannot keep sitting on their hands, making up excuses for Trump while watching their moment for remaking America slip by.

The other side of the coin for Republican leaders is a Pence presidency: Would it make their life easier? From their perspective, I believe they would think so. To be sure, Pence would lose a fair number of Trump working-class supporters as well as the Breitbart-Bannon wing of the conservative elite. But Pence would be much more ideologically in tune with Ryan and McConnell, and far more devoted to pushing their legislative agenda. The Republicans would still have the edge in Congress, and under Pence would have a better chance than under Trump to keep that edge in 2018. Maybe they would have to bend a little when dealing with the Democrats, but bending might now look much better than breaking.

So at the risk of engaging in wishful thinking, I am going to predict a Republican turnabout on Trump. Its leaders are going to push Trump to resign “for the good of the country and the party.” And Trump will decide that resignation—“I never liked the job anyway, and running my empire in more fun”—is a better way out than suffering the prolonged indignity of the impeachment process. To which the Republicans will say, amen.

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

How About You 5/17/17

Radical Love – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

I used to think of love as a side dish to social political change – the green beans next to the meat and potatoes of power and struggle. But, the more I live in the gritty world of honest humanity, the more I suspect that love is the essential mineral lacking in our nation’s veins. We’ve got deficiency symptoms: tremors, shakes, deliriums, rages, madness, fits, addictions, and lashings out. Every cell in our collective and individual bodies is screaming for this nutrient called love. And because we can’t get it, we crave paltry substitutions such as power, domination, money, and violence.

Privilege provides no shelter from this deficiency. In fact, it tends to make it worse. For the structure of success in the United States of America has been built on a centuries-old devil’s bargain in which we cut out a piece of our heart to secure money, power, and position. From the early colonists massacring Native Americans to ensure their place on this continent to contemporary politicians giving tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting healthcare funding for the poor, we see the trade off of love over and over again. Our compassion atrophies in the dog-eat-dog version of reality that we’ve created in the United States. It shrinks down to a peanut-sized organ capable of loving only one’s family, or dog, or the people who look, act, and think just like one’s self. The withered hearts sold piecemeal for wealth and power have lost the capacity to love boldly and widely, in broad and inclusive ways that extend to their fellow citizens or even to the whole of humanity worldwide.

When our souls cry out in shakes and rages from lack of love, we lash out to the extent our power permits. The poor hurt each other. The rich pass policies that hurt millions of people. Some pull guns on one another; politicians drop bombs on foreign countries. We start fights in our families; our military wages war overseas. A child steals candy from a younger sibling; the wealthy steal trillions from the rest of us. The neighbor refuses to help us when we’re sick; our Congresspersons cut funding for healthcare. Rich, poor, powerful and marginalized, wherever this deficiency of love arises, cruelty and suffering abound. Beneath the screaming torrent of other rationales and excuses are broken human beings shuddering in the grips of a multi-generational deficiency that is slowly – or rapidly – killing us, our nation, and the earth.

Hundreds of campaigns are launched on all sides of the political spectrum to “save the world” or the whales or the workers or the economy or family values or civil rights . . . everything! Most of them deliver a right-left punch to the other side that essentially shouts, “you bad, evil people, stop that at once!” Every time we attack each other in such a manner, our mineral deficiency drops lower on both sides of the conflict.

Perhaps people in the social justice movements don’t notice. The feelings of solidarity that can arise within movements can mask the ways hate for one’s opposition depletes the soul. More obvious is the effect within the opposition. Sensing hate from the movement, their hearts close off, the deficiency of love drops further, and they lash out violently, entrenching in defense of their actions. It’s ironic, because the very behaviors or policies the movement objects to came about because the people involved in the injustice sought to satisfy their aching craving for love through greed, domination, control, power, violence, or discrimination. By attacking them, we’re sowing the seeds for more of the same vicious cycle.

Vilifying people often fails to address the root of the problem, the deep hurts and wounds, fears and insecurities that people carry. There are thousands of wounded people in positions of power, millions waiting in the wings to take their places, and a whole nation raging and moaning for love, hurting one another in large and small ways.

So, I propose a radical approach: that we bring love into our movements for change, adopting Dr. King’s principle to be against injustice, not against people. We cannot condone destructive and harmful behaviors and policies. However, we can learn to see each other with the eyes of love, to look at our fellow human beings with compassion and sorrow over such actions, rather than hate and fury. In so doing, we can begin to replenish that mineral deficiency that is killing our nation’s soul, not to mention the bodies of our brothers and sisters, and the vitality of the planet. We can recognize the underlying void in the cells and marrow of people that causes them to behave in such destructive ways. We can begin to satisfy the deep craving for respect and understanding – which are often ways that love is expressed in public settings.

I believe we will go further in our efforts toward justice if we break down the walls of hate and fear that have arisen between factions of our populace. I think bringing groups who currently stand opposed to one another into face-to-face encounters is as radically transformational as protests, boycotts, and strikes. Creating situations where people must listen to each other’s viewpoints, hear each other’s stories, and deal with real humans, not just statistics, can be as positively confrontational as direct action. And, I have faith that approaching one another with basic love and respect even in the midst of opposing unjust policies and practices allows the humanity that exists in all of us to resurface. It helps those who have made devil’s bargains to reclaim pieces of their hearts. It prevents us from making the same mistake and cutting off a part of our broad love for humanity in order to hate our opposition. I think this approach is complementary to a movement’s use of firm, strategic, nonviolent action to stop injustice and harm. In addition, it offers us a powerful path toward healing in a deep and profound way.

Our other option – the one we’ve been using – is to hate each other more, attack more, despise one another in increasing cycles of animosity and division. We are locked in modes of trying to overpower our “enemies,” prove them wrong and punish them for their bad ways of thinking. In response, they attack us back, defend their positions, and try to dominate us in response. We have dug ourselves into a deep and dangerous hole that has led to horrific suffering, cruelty, and pain. I’d like to climb out of that hole. If that requires a radical act of love against impossible odds, I’m willing to do it.

How about you?

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and cohosts Love (and Revolution) Radio.

Fellow Human Beings 5/17/17

Resisting the Politics of Fear – by Andrew Moss

Andrew Moss

Some time ago I attended a “know your rights” workshop sponsored by an immigration rights organization near my home in Los Angeles. The attorneys conducting the workshop offered a broad array of ideas and suggestions, but one piece of advice stood out for me. It dealt with potential workplace raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and the attorneys’ advice was straightforward: if you are told at your workplace to get into two lines – one for those “with papers” and one for those “without” – simply refuse. Stay in one group.

I thought about that suggestion when reading the text of a recent address by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at George Washington University. In his address, Kelly hammered home a basic theme: “we are a nation under attack,” and this attack, he claimed, is directed at us from many quarters: from transnational criminal organizations, and from “failed states, cyber-terrorists, vicious smugglers, and sadistic radicals.” As he declared, “we are under attack every single day. The threats are relentless.” And, as Kelly also maintained, the policies and approaches of the Trump administration represent a new level of support for Homeland Security personnel, a support that finally allows them to “do the jobs they were hired and trained to do, and recognize them for doing it.”

In an editorial published a few days later, The New York Times editorial board criticized the address for its ominous, apocalyptic tone, maintaining that this kind of fearmongering – and the policies it justifies – actually make us less safe, “driving segments of immigrant communities underground, making them fearful of any encounters with law enforcement.” The Times board rightly chastised Kelly for this fearmongering and the threat it poses to civil society. But they also neglected to take two important additional steps: naming the political functions performed by this rhetoric and exploring the deeper implications it carries.

One function, of course, is to distract. If crafted skillfully enough, the rhetoric helps draw attention from the administration’s utter incapacity and unwillingness to address the needs of citizens, whether these have to do with health care, job growth, the ensuring of workers’ rights and benefits, or the protection of our air and water. A fear-based rhetoric also helps divert attention from the administration’s various efforts to promote the Trump brand worldwide while it helps out wealthy allies and friends.

But fearmongering doesn’t simply distract. It also casts a veil of complicity over unwitting listeners and readers. Nowhere in his long address does Kelly once mention the new rules on immigration enforcement promulgated this past February by the Trump administration, rules that vastly expanded the government’s potential net for detention and deportation. No longer is the emphasis on individuals who have committed violent crimes; now anyone who has committed a crime, including the “crime” of illegal entry, is subject to this new regime of enforcement. And it is this regime that has inflicted untold suffering upon families wrenched apart by detainments, deportations, and fear – families I know, or know of, personally through my affiliations with immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles.

In his omissions as much as in his declarations, Kelly presents a persona more sophisticated than that of race-baiting, scapegoating candidate Trump in last year’s presidential election. Yet Kelly’s words and omissions are just as repressive as those of his boss insofar as they enable the criminalization of people not on the basis of crimes they’ve committed against others but simply on the basis of who they are. We don’t expect Secretary Kelly to recount the events leading up to this benighted moment, but some attention must be paid to a history of intentional, conscious disenfranchisement. Only four years ago, the US Senate passed an immigration reform bill (Senate Bill 744) providing some kind of path, albeit a tortuous one, to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people, and it wasn’t long after that Speaker John Boehner, under pressure from the Tea Party and others, allowed the bill to languish, then die, in the House of Representatives. There is a direct link between the nativist, anti-migrant politics that long pre-dated Donald Trump and the suffering and fear experienced by so many people today.

This is why the sanctuary movement – and the kind of workplace solidarity strategy I mentioned above – are so critical in resisting the politics of fear and the complicity it can easily induce. But as the rhetoric of fear gets more sophisticated, it is equally important to take it on frontally and expose it for what it is. To do so means that one recognizes that citizenship is not simply bestowed by a protective piece of paper (a birth certificate, a “green card,” a certificate of naturalization) but by the fulfillment of one’s responsibilities to one’s fellow human beings and to their rights – and to the democratic institutions that sustain those rights.

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.
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Death Sentence for ? 5/10/17

The American Healthcare Act: who would Jesus kill?

by Robert F. Dodge, M.D.

Robert Dodge, MD

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives finally executed their plan to end Obamacare and in so doing initiated a death sentence for thousands of Americans.

Classically, in the guise of “compassionate conservatism,” and so often touting family values and piety, this action paradoxically or hypocritically took place on the National Day of Prayer. The Republican caucus, largely made up of wealthy white men, finally succeeded in their wishes to strip healthcare from poor people, lower middle class people, and people of color across this nation.

Make no doubt about it, people will die due to this action if successful in the Senate. The proposed plan, rushed to passage before the Congressional Budget Office has made its assessment, will most likely result in the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. The previous Republican plan was anticipated to take care away from some 24 million Americans. This plan will take care away from millions more as states and employers will have the ability to determine what coverage will be included or excluded and remove the mandates for coverage. Studies have estimated that for every thousand people not insured, one person will die prematurely. Thus, some 24,000 Americans would be expected to die prematurely due to this legislative action.

In addition, they approved gutting $880 million from the federal Medicaid program, which affects half of all kids in the United States. They allowed pre-existing conditions to again be considered in pricing and excluding health coverage, leaving that decision up to the states. It is vital to know that 52 million Americans have pre-existing conditions—how many of these people will lose coverage when their states decide to make that ruling? Also removed are the mandates for essential benefit coverage such as hospitalization, emergency room, maternity, preventative care and prescription.

The determination of what will be covered and for whom is ultimately tantamount to the illegal practicing of medicine without a license.

As a practicing family physician for more than 36 years, I know this action will further complicate my ability to deliver and provide the health care that my patients need and deserve. Throughout my entire practice, I have had to fight, modify, and negotiate as an advocate for my patients while watching them struggle with what they can and cannot afford, resulting in significant impacts on their health outcomes.

A far more equitable and comprehensive plan is possible and the time has come for us as a nation to move in that direction. That sensible, fair, and affordable plan is for us to move to a single payer Medicare for all coverage for every person in this country without regard to age or state of residence. The sole pre-existing condition that must be eliminated is the continued representation of our citizens by these congressional representatives. We can no longer afford self-serving hypocrisy. The health of our nation depends upon this.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician and writes for PeaceVoice.

Nuclear Yes & No 5/10/17

United States Says ‘Yes’ to Nuclear Weapons Tests, ‘No’ to a Nuke Ban Treaty   – by John LaForge

John LaForge

Twice in seven days the United States shot nuclear-capable long-range missiles toward the Marshall Islands, but the same government refused in March to join negotiations for a new treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Tests conducted April 26 and May 3 from Vandenberg Air Force Base launched modernized Minuteman-3 ballistic missiles, and the US Air Force said in a statement that such tests ensure “the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of US national security…”

In late March, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley explained why the US would boycott the “treaty ban” negotiations that began March 27 at the UN in New York City. Haley said about nuclear weapons, “[W]e can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” North Korean president Kim Jong-un could have said the same thing about his seven nuclear warheads, especially in view of US bombs and missiles currently falling on seven countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — and engagement in massive war games off the Korean peninsula.

Ambassador Haley managed to avoid being two-faced on one level. Joining the ban treaty talks would have been openly hypocritical while her colleagues in the war department were preparing both new nuclear weapons production and a series of test launches. Another April test, at the Tonopah bombing range in Nevada, dropped a so-called “B61-12” the newest US H-bomb now in development and scheduled to go into production after 2022.

Jackie Cabasso, of the Western States Legal Foundation, explained April 20, “In 1997… President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Directive-60, reaffirming the threatened first use of nuclear weapons as the ‘cornerstone’ of US national security.… President Obama left office with the US poised to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads…. Over the past couple of years, the US has conducted a series of drop tests of the newly modified B61-12 gravity bomb…. Each new bomb will cost more than twice its weight in solid gold.” Of the 480 B61s slated to become B61-12s, about 180 are scheduled to be placed at six NATO bases in Europe.

US military: “We are prepared to use nuclear weapons”

As it did Feb. 21 and Feb. 25, 2016, the Air Force regularly tests Minuteman-3s. Deputy Pentagon Chief Robert Work explained before the Feb. 25 launch that the US had tested “at least” 15 since January 2011, “And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” This is a Big Lie. To “use” nuclear weapons produces only massacres, and massacres are never defensive.

Jason Ditz put the rocket tests in context for Antiwar.com: “Everywhere and (mostly) without exception, the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) would be angrily condemned by the United States as a dangerous provocation, and the firing of a nuclear-capable rocket would be treated as tantamount to an act of war. Not today [April 26], of course, when the missile in question was test-fired from California by the United States flying some 4,000 miles before hitting a test target near the Marshall Islands. The missile was identified as a Minuteman III, a nuclear-capable weapon of which the US has 450 in service.”

The two times Haley flubbed her March 27 “peace and safety” speech were alarming. Haley stumbled once saying, “We would love to have a ban on nuclear treat… nuclear weapons.” A ban on nuclear treaties is clearly what Haley’s bosses do want. So she didn’t correct herself when she said, “One day we will hope that we are standing here saying, ‘We no longer need nuclear weapons.’” Translation: today the US does not even hope to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Instead, the United States is simultaneously bombing and rocketing across the Middle East, hitting civilians with drones, Cruise missiles, depleted uranium, and even a 21,600-pound “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or MOAB bomb, also tested April 13, destroying caves in Afghanistan. This giant “thermobaric” or “fuel-air” explosive (FAE) has the mass of five Lincoln Continentals, and reportedly killed 95 people including a teacher and his son. Such is the peace and safety delivered by “those of us that are good.”

One Defense Intelligence Agency report uncovered by Human Rights Watch said that because “shock and pressure waves cause minimal damage to brain tissue…it is possible that victims of FAEs are not rendered unconscious by the blast, but instead suffer for several seconds or minutes while they suffocate.”

On March 29, two days after her UN speech Haley spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations and cleared up any confusion the Pentagon’s bombing spree might cause. Haley declared, “The United States is the moral conscience of the world.” Well, “And I,” Dorothy Parker said, “am Marie of Romania.”

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

It Rains in the USA 5/3/17

“Wherever it rains in the United States”  – by John LaForge

John LaForge

Commercial media recollections of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe almost always minimize its global impact. A New York Times editorial last Dec. described the April 26 explosions and fires as “a volcano of deadly radioactivity that reached Poland and Scandinavia.” This picture is both factually true and grossly understated — because Chernobyl’s carcinogenic fallout went far beyond northern Europe and all around the world — a fact that is easy to verify.

For example, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) concluded in 2011 that the disaster “Resulted in radioactive material becoming widely dispersed and deposited … throughout the northern hemisphere.” Then, hammering the lesson home like a drill sergeant, UNSCEAR’s report (“Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident”) repeats the phrase “throughout the northern hemisphere” at least five times. Chernobyl’s hemispheric contamination was well known long before the UNSCEAR review, noted in hundreds of books, journals and scientific papers. The March 30, 2005 Oxford Journals reported, “The releases of radioactive materials were such that contamination of the ground was found to some extent in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.” An Environmental History of the World (2002) by Donald Hughes says, “There were measurable amounts throughout the Northern Hemisphere.”

Yet trivialization is the mainstream media rule, especially after three simultaneous reactor melt-downs at Fukushima-Daiichi have contaminated the whole of the Pacific Ocean. On April 23, Abu Dhabi’s “The National” said about Chernobyl: “Half a million ‘liquidators,’ mostly military reservists from all over the Soviet Union, tried to clean up the affected area.” This is flatly untrue, because no one decontaminated the entire Northern hemisphere. Soviet conscripts worked only the region knows as the “exclusion zone” around Chernobyl reactor No. 4 in Pripyat, Ukraine.

Understatements rewrite history, deceptively misinform

Understatements were the rule in the 1990s. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on April 27, 1998, described “a deadly cloud of radiation across large sections of Russia and Europe.” ¶ The Appleton, Wisc. Post Crescent, April 26, 1998, said, “Ukraine and parts of Russia were hard hit.” ¶ The New York Times, on April 23, 1998, depicted the disaster as “a poisonous radioactive cloud north of Kiev.” ¶ The Los Angeles Times, on April 27, 1995, limited the fallout to “a radioactive cloud across Ukraine, Russia and parts of Europe.” ¶ A June 1, 1998, Associated Press story restricted the “deadly cloud of radiation” to “large sections of Russia and Europe.”

The website GlobalVoices.org reported this April 19: “Chernobyl… caused radioactive material to be spewed into the atmosphere, exposing hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to extremely high doses of radiation.” In fact, half of Chernobyl’s total fallout was spewed far beyond the three hardest-hit states, going to every corner of the hemisphere.

Of course ignoring the fact that reactor disasters have poisoned the whole earth misinforms the public, but why?

One reason is that downplaying the severity of Chernobyl — and Fukushima-Daiichi as well — sugar-coats the threat posed today and every day by operating power reactors beyond their original time-limited licenses, or near earthquake faults, volcanic regions, or tsunami zones. The hidden agenda behind the profit-driven media’s deliberate belittling of reactor accidents — and the dangers of radiation — is to protect significant advertising revenue. Big utilities, big pharma, big mining, big universities, and big weapons labs makes billions of dollars from increasing the “background” level of radiation. Official background exposure was 170 millirems per-year for decades; 18 months after Chernobyl it doubled to 360 mR/yr; and it nearly doubled again a few years ago to 620 mR/yr.) “Nuclearists” intend to keep it this way, even if it means buying pricey ads claiming that reactors are safe and “small” radiation doses are harmless.

Chernobyl Doused the Whole Hemisphere

Early on in Chernobyl reporting, it was common for the Associated Press and others to broadcast its global impact using plain language. On May 14, 1986, AP noted, “An invisible cloud of radioactivity… has worked its way gradually around the world.” On Oct. 9, 1988, it said flatly, “Chernobyl … spewed radiation worldwide.” And it reported in the Duluth Herald, May 15, 1986: “Airborne radioactivity from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now so widespread that it is likely to fall to the ground wherever it rains in the United States, the EPA said.” This warning should never stop being flabbergasting, and should have been the death knell for nuclear power.

The Duluth News-Tribune & Herald reported May 22, 1986: “For the second time since the [Chernobyl disaster] last month, a slightly elevated level of radioactive iodine has been found in a Minnesota milk sample, state health officials said.” Western officials were precautionary. The AP reported May 15, 1986 that “State authorities in Oregon have warned residents dependent solely on rainwater for drinking that they should arrange other supplies for the time being.”

In his 2002 book An Environmental History of the World, Donald Hughes notes, “For example, an increase of [radiation in rainwater] recorded on May 12 in Washington State was more than 140 times the background level measured immediately before the Chernobyl cloud reached the USA.” Today, remember to read corporate minimization of Chernobyl’s effects with a radioactive grain of salt.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Gravity Fake Science 5/3/17

Trump kleptocracy  – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

The Trump budget—pure profit for Pentagon corporate contractors. The Trump tax “reform”—massive tax cuts for the rich. Really? We are going to stand for this?

Compared to last year, if his corporations truly paid the going corporate tax rate, Trump would “richly benefit,” in multiple ways when his proposed cuts kick in. His corporate tax burden would be cut by at least 4.9 percent—millions of dollars—and his personal taxes would likely be cut even more massively, although since he alone amongst modern presidents has refused to let the American people see his returns, we cannot pin a number on his projected undeserved gains.

This is the textbook definition of corruption.

Fortunately for him, the Senators are wealthy too and love these ideas, as are most of the members of the House of Representatives. Corrupt Congress, corrupt president—and somehow the white male voters generally suppose this will all work out for them, since a reported 96 percent of his voters say they would vote for him again (and white males voted for him in overwhelming numbers, with white males without a college education voting for him a 72 percent rate).

This is not working out for those uneducated white men, but they love him. Could it be that blowing off a Mother of All Bombs on Afghans, deporting Mexicans, ending Department of Justice investigations of police killings of people of color, and banning many Muslims from entering the US is more important than getting totally hosed by a kleptocratic kommander-in-chief and kongress? Interesting priorities.

Just to further pound in the financial punishment to the very voters who put him and the other Republican lawmakers into office, they are gutting healthcare to millions of the least well off Americans as the Tea Partiers are now lining up to repeal Obamacare—unless enough moderate Republicans save the day, which will only happen by ongoing constituent pressure.

Meanwhile, in a regime just as Orwellian as his BFF Putin’s, Trump keeps tweeting and repeating that CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other evidence-based mainstream media are “fake news.” If Donald Trump tripped and fell he would blame it on CNN and call gravity fake science.

When will we all be embarrassed enough or properly terrified enough to halt this charade? Will we get this charlatan impeached before he launches a Wag the Dog nuclear war? Before Miami and Manhattan are inundated from rising seas due to his sheaf of anti-environment Executive Orders? When does that 25th Amendment kick in?

Since our “leaders” seem incapable, we will need to lead ourselves, it appears. This is our democracy and we want it back. These are our children and grandchildren and we want them protected. We cannot allow this to continue for 1300 more days.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Everything to Gain 5/3/17

Syria’s Guilt  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

On April 4 chemical weapons were used in an attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun in which about 80 people were killed and several hundred wounded. The city is in Idlib Province, home to anti-government fighters and refugees who have fled since the fall of Homs and Aleppo to Bashar al-Assad’s forces. I support the view, challenged by only a few observers, that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the sarin attack. Syria has a history of use of chemical weapons against its own people, motives for using chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians, and a variety of weapons and chemicals for weapons production that were never destroyed under a 2013 international agreement.

The Trump administration’s missile strike in Syria was said to be in retaliation for the April 4 attack. Russia and Syria challenged that action as a violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the actual facts on the ground. My main concern is with those facts, which point directly at the Syrian regime’s responsibility. As I show below, that conclusion is not only the Trump administration’s; British, French, and Turkish experts who investigated the attack all agree with it, and the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Human Rights Watch likewise leave no doubt as to Syria’s guilt. My opinion is also reinforced by a private group of 30 people who belong to an informal roundtable of long-term CW experts from Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, the US, and Japan. To be clear, however, I do not support the Trump administration’s retaliatory strike.

The April 4 Attack

British scientists were among the first to identify use of sarin in Syria on April 4. Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the OPCW (which is the implementing body for the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention), told a meeting at the group’s headquarters in The Hague in April that the preliminary assessment of OPCW experts investigating the alleged chemical attack was “that this was a credible allegation.” He said investigators collected samples that were sent for analysis. French intelligence backed up the British and OPCW findings. A French foreign ministry statement reported in late April that “the Syrian armed forces and security services perpetrated a chemical attack using sarin against civilians,” based on samples collected from the scene of the attack and compared with samples from a previous Syrian regime chemical attack on Saraqeb in April 2013. The chemical compounds matched those in Syrian stockpiles, says the French report, which also identifies the Syrian aircraft that carried out the attack.

Victims of the attack were taken to Turkish hospitals, where biological samples were obtained and sent to the OPCW for analysis. Turkey’s health ministry reported after autopsies were conducted that sarin was the cause of death. Officials from the World Health Organization also participated in the autopsies.

As for the Russian and Syrian argument concerning the April 2017 attack, Syria alleges that it hit an opposition chemical-weapon warehouse five hours after sarin casualties were video-recorded in the town and disseminated internationally. But Syria’s story has a big hole in it. Journalists with The Guardian visited the site of the attack and found the warehouse, which was “nothing but an abandoned space covered in dust and half-destroyed silos reeking of leftover grain and animal manure.” Syria distributed a video recording of a small ceremony by the Syrian Army chief honoring the pilot who attacked the alleged warehouse—an admission of how the attack took place. Human Rights Watch has just confirmed that conclusion: “Photos and videos of weapon remnants that struck Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 appear to be consistent with the characteristics of a Soviet-made air-dropped chemical bomb specifically designed to deliver sarin.”

The Past Is Prologue

The April attack is only the latest chemical attack by the Syrian regime since 2013, when it used sarin against the opposition-held town of Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. That attack, which caused roughly 1,400 deaths, was characterized by the UN Human Rights Council in a 2014 report as involving “ significant quantities of sarin . . . used in a well-planned indiscriminate attack targeting civilian-inhabited areas . . . ” Faced with a possible US attack on Syria, Russia and the US reached agreement on the complete destruction of Syria’s CW arsenal under international inspection, and Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). But complete destruction never occurred, and the OPCW considered that Syria’s declaration on joining the CWC was incomplete. Chemical weapons specialists from the OPCW who were invited to visit Syria’s principal facility in Damascus found that the inspection was “a ruse.”

An examination of last year’s international effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons, based on interviews with many of the inspectors and U.S. and European officials who were involved, shows the extent to which the Syrian regime controlled where inspectors went, what they saw and, in turn, what they accomplished. That happened in large part because of the ground rules under which the inspectors were allowed into the country, according to the inspectors and officials. The West was unable, for example, to prevent Mr. Assad from continuing to operate weapons-research facilities, including the one in Damascus visited by inspectors, making it easier for the regime to develop a new type of chemical munition using chlorine. And the regime never had to account for the types of short-range rockets that United Nations investigators believe were used in an Aug. 21, 2013, horrific Ghouta sarin gas attack, these officials say.

As the OPCW later confirmed, the Assad regime did everything possible to frustrate its work. Only facilities declared by the Syrian government were open to inspection. The US and other governments had to be content with the 1300 metric tons of chemicals that were destroyed, since to challenge Syria on other facilities might have prevented access to all 23 declared sites. Gregory Koblentz points to the chain of command in Syria’s decision making on chemical weapons use. “Syria, despite being a member of the CWC, maintains a well-organized capacity to conduct multiple types of chemical attacks in support of the regime’s tactical and strategic objectives.” Assad is at the top of the chain of command, one of only a few people Koblentz (and the French declaration noted above) identifies as having decision authority over chemical weapons.

Syria’s Motives

The Assad regime has a history of blaming opposition forces for chemical-weapon attacks. Syria’s, and Russia’s, position is that Syria no longer has chemical weapons, and certainly not sarin. Any chemical weapons not destroyed in 2013 under international inspection must have been hidden in opposition-held territory. The attack, if it occurred at all, was committed by anti-government forces who had hidden the chemicals in a warehouse. Syria says its aircraft struck that site to destroy the chemicals. Syria would never conduct such an attack, Bashar al-Assad says. Why would he do such a terrible thing? As for the pictures of the dead women and children, they were faked.

But most such charges have been refuted by on-the-spot international inspectors. For example, regarding a chemical weapon attack on Aleppo in August 2016:

Based on the evidence presented by the National Authority of the Syrian Arab Republic, the medical records that were reviewed, the results of the sample analyses, and the prevailing narrative of all of the interviews, the FFM [Fact Finding Mission] cannot confidently determine whether or not a specific chemical was used as a weapon in the investigated incident. From the results of the analyses of the samples, the FFM is of the opinion that none of the chemicals identified [by the Syrian regime] are likely to be the cause of death of the casualties in the reported incident.

Finally, there’s the question of motive: Why would Assad order a chemical attack when the war is going well for him and rebel forces are being squeezed into smaller and smaller territory? A Beirut-based journalist, Annia Ciezadlo, provides a very good answer:

The chemical attack came at a time when Assad’s military is overstretched. Chemical weapons are a cheap, effective force multiplier — a way to inflict terror despite limitations of manpower and supply. Their use instills fear in civilians and rebels alike. By discouraging them from joining the last pockets of resistance, this tactic saves Assad something more precious than money: time. The sooner he finishes cleaning up, the more money he saves, and the sooner he can start raking in the billions that international donors and investors have already pledged to “reconstruct” his shattered country. . . . Assad has already used chemical weapons to kill his own people, and he has paid a negligible price. Why would he risk it again? Because his experience shows him that he’ll probably face only minimal consequences. In fact, a look at history — particularly Syrian history — shows that he has everything to gain.

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

Deeper Implications 5/3/17

Resisting the Politics of Fear
by Andrew Moss

Andrew Moss

Some time ago I attended a “know your rights” workshop sponsored by an immigration rights organization near my home in Los Angeles. The attorneys conducting the workshop offered a broad array of ideas and suggestions, but one piece of advice stood out for me. It dealt with potential workplace raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and the attorneys’ advice was straightforward: if you are told at your workplace to get into two lines – one for those “with papers” and one for those “without” – simply refuse. Stay in one group.

I thought about that suggestion when reading the text of a recent address by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at George Washington University. In his address, Kelly hammered home a basic theme: “we are a nation under attack,” and this attack, he claimed, is directed at us from many quarters: from transnational criminal organizations, and from “failed states, cyber-terrorists, vicious smugglers, and sadistic radicals.” As he declared, “we are under attack every single day. The threats are relentless.” And, as Kelly also maintained, the policies and approaches of the Trump administration represent a new level of support for Homeland Security personnel, a support that finally allows them to “do the jobs they were hired and trained to do, and recognize them for doing it.”

In an editorial published a few days later, The New York Times editorial board criticized the address for its ominous, apocalyptic tone, maintaining that this kind of fearmongering – and the policies it justifies – actually make us less safe, “driving segments of immigrant communities underground, making them fearful of any encounters with law enforcement.” The Times board rightly chastised Kelly for this fearmongering and the threat it poses to civil society. But they also neglected to take two important additional steps: naming the political functions performed by this rhetoric and exploring the deeper implications it carries.

One function, of course, is to distract. If crafted skillfully enough, the rhetoric helps draw attention from the administration’s utter incapacity and unwillingness to address the needs of citizens, whether these have to do with health care, job growth, the ensuring of workers’ rights and benefits, or the protection of our air and water. A fear-based rhetoric also helps divert attention from the administration’s various efforts to promote the Trump brand worldwide while it helps out wealthy allies and friends.

But fearmongering doesn’t simply distract. It also casts a veil of complicity over unwitting listeners and readers. Nowhere in his long address does Kelly once mention the new rules on immigration enforcement promulgated this past February by the Trump administration, rules that vastly expanded the government’s potential net for detention and deportation. No longer is the emphasis on individuals who have committed violent crimes; now anyone who has committed a crime, including the “crime” of illegal entry, is subject to this new regime of enforcement. And it is this regime that has inflicted untold suffering upon families wrenched apart by detainments, deportations, and fear – families I know, or know of, personally through my affiliations with immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles.

In his omissions as much as in his declarations, Kelly presents a persona more sophisticated than that of race-baiting, scapegoating candidate Trump in last year’s presidential election. Yet Kelly’s words and omissions are just as repressive as those of his boss insofar as they enable the criminalization of people not on the basis of crimes they’ve committed against others but simply on the basis of who they are. We don’t expect Secretary Kelly to recount the events leading up to this benighted moment, but some attention must be paid to a history of intentional, conscious disenfranchisement. Only four years ago, the US Senate passed an immigration reform bill (Senate Bill 744) providing some kind of path, albeit a tortuous one, to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people, and it wasn’t long after that Speaker John Boehner, under pressure from the Tea Party and others, allowed the bill to languish, then die, in the House of Representatives. There is a direct link between the nativist, anti-migrant politics that long pre-dated Donald Trump and the suffering and fear experienced by so many people today.

This is why the sanctuary movement – and the kind of workplace solidarity strategy I mentioned above – are so critical in resisting the politics of fear and the complicity it can easily induce. But as the rhetoric of fear gets more sophisticated, it is equally important to take it on frontally and expose it for what it is. To do so means that one recognizes that citizenship is not simply bestowed by a protective piece of paper (a birth certificate, a “green card,” a certificate of naturalization) but by the fulfillment of one’s responsibilities to one’s fellow human beings and to their rights – and to the democratic institutions that sustain those rights.

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.

Do Not Disappear 4/26/17

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

Lawrence Wittner

by Lawrence Wittner

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why is there so little public protest today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

It’s Worth It 4/26/17

Happy Earth Day  – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

It was 21 years ago on April 22, I awoke in the middle of the night, got my co-actor up, then roused the others and we all got into two vehicles, drove to a deserted part of the Chequamegon National Forest in the boreal forest of northern Wisconsin, and unloaded our tools, statements, and general gear. My father, in his 70s then, hugged me goodbye and drove off on slushy roads. It was still pre-dawn. We were operating by moonlight.

We had come to a place where the gravel road passed under an antenna that carried command signals to all US thermonuclear submarines, as well as fast attack and hunter killer submarines, and this command facility, for a number of technical reasons, had one and only one mission, to issue the command to launch a pre-emptive nuclear war.

So we hiked in about a quarter mile to where we had done our reconnaissance and hung signs, sprayed painted the wooden poles on which the antenna was strung (one pole every few hundred feet), and, with swede saws, notched three poles. By then the media arrived, including a reporter from the Progressive magazine, a tribal station radio reporter, and a reporter from Wisconsin Public radio, along with a television crew from a Duluth, Minnesota station (the only ones I didn’t know nor invite, but the WPR man did).

I had sent media packets to everyone beforehand, explaining our action and the difference between what we were doing to prevent bombing and the property destruction we sometimes see, unfortunately, in mass actions (broken windows, vandalized mailboxes, etc.). We were the 58th Plowshare action, a tradition begun by Phil and Dan Berrigan and others by “hammering swords into a plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4).

We administered the coup d’grace and three poles, all about 40 feet tall with the antenna strung between them, crashed to the Earth. Happy Earth Day. We knew we had shut if down; I took my metal saw and tossed it to hit the antenna to make sure the 125 million watts weren’t still running through it, and sure enough, we had shut it down. We chatted with the media folks and waited for the sheriff. The Navy crew showed up and the first one out of the snow machine said to me, “You’re going to prison for this.” I said, “Yup. It’s worth it.”

We did. We had a very interesting trial with a world-class defense, and we were acquitted of sabotage but convicted of destruction of property, three-year sentences. We each served about a year, and then released wearing electronic ankle bracelets. That’s when I applied to teach peace at a local college (I had been doing so before our Earth Day action through the U of Wisconsin) and was hired. I taught there until coming to Portland.

So that’s my Happy Earth Day story. We stopped any first strike nuclear war, even if only for a few days until they could repair it. But we kept fighting it, alongside the Lake Superior Ojibwe, and we eventually succeeded. It is now shut down, dismantled, removed, and the forest has been coming back since then, since 2004.

Earth Day was our way to use robust nonviolence to participate in democracy that day. Dr. King said the purpose of direct action is to get to the negotiating table. We did.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Nope It Matters 4/26/17

Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness  – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

The airplane is packed shoulder to shoulder. In my row, sat a young couple from Texas. She is wearing a red “Make America Great Again” tee-shirt. My laptop bears a bumper sticker for my novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, about a nonviolent movement is a (slightly) fictional United States. Her boyfriend – who has the build of a football player – is reading a romance novel with his ball cap pulled low over his brow.

Out of mischief and curiosity, I asked her, “So what makes America great?”

Flustered, she deferred to her boyfriend. I inwardly rolled my eyes at a woman who would defer to a man to articulate an answer about the slogan she was wearing.

“Well,” he answered, “I think everyone should support the President no matter what.”

A dozen counter-remarks popped into my head about the dangers of blind devotion, totalitarianism, dictators, and how dissent is essential for democracy, but before I can sort out how to begin, he continued.

“And, I think the ability to work one’s ass off and get ahead in the world – you know, like rags-to-riches. That makes America great. A lot of countries don’t have that.”

Before I can tell him that India has a higher upward mobility than the United States, he clams up, reopening his book and clearly closing the conversation. Does he realize that the rags-to-riches story of Horatio Alger was fiction? The notion was always more mythological than metaphorical, hinging on our ideals rather than our reality. Even in the best of times, the journey from rags to riches was not an equal opportunity employer due to sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination that stacked decks of fortune in favor of some more than others.

A real-life Horatio Alger story might involve some hard work, but they often rely on access to capital, networks of social and business connections, illegal maneuvers (such as Bill Gates stealing time on government computers to build his first software program), the helping hand of government programs like the GI Bill, or the homeowner lending programs that excluded Hispanics and African Americans. I wonder if the young man realizes that Trump built his fortune with millions of dollars inherited from his father. If we all received millions to fund our businesses and projects, I have little doubt that most of us would rapidly advance up the social and economic ladders of our world.

On the other hand, there’s an honest grievance to the young man’s comment, one with which I can largely agree. The notion that we should be rewarded for hard work is an honorable concept, one that emerged out of centuries of class injustice wherein serfs, peons, slaves, indentured servants, and forced or conscripted laborers were denied advancement both socially and economically. To be born poor was to live poor, work hard, and die poor, often buried in a pauper’s grave. The idea that hard work could improve one’s lot in life is a form of resistance to such widespread class injustice. Had he not stuck his head back in his book (ironically, a romance novel about impossible love between a nobleman and a peasant woman), I might have taken the opportunity to agree with his view that we should be able to work hard and get ahead . . . with a few qualifications.

First, we shouldn’t have to “work our asses off.” A sustainable, eight-hour workday ought to provide a living wage, including our current social necessities such as cellphones and Internet access, transportation, healthcare, and higher education. This requires that the standard wage for the 40-hour workweek be significantly higher than our current low and minimum wage jobs provide.

Second, the ability to work should not be a requirement for survival. A society should be able to provide and care for those who cannot work – such as children, elders, the infirm, injured, disabled, or ill. A social safety net should be set in place to ensure basic needs for everyone in our society.

Third, the inequities and injustices that plague our nation must be addressed. It does not “make America great” to allow advancement for some people, but not others, based on distinctions of race, gender, sexuality, political views, or age. Equality and justice for all has been a long-held, much cherished, and largely unrealized American deal for a long time . . . which brings me to my last point.

What “makes America great” needs to be a longer list than merely working hard and making money. It needs to contain an analysis of what doesn’t make America great, where we need to be critical and sharply observant of our behaviors, policies, and beliefs. It needs to include stark understandings of the Grand Canyon wide gap between our slogans and our realities. Trump’s slogan on the tee-shirt demands long, hard conversations, not blind loyalty and unquestioned patriotism. Our discussion about what makes America great (or doesn’t make it great) could have lasted the entire three-hour flight.

But it didn’t.

He closed the conversation. She squirmed uncomfortably. I eyed her for a moment then decided to try asking for her opinion again. Turning to the blonde-haired, blue-jeaned 20-something year old, I asked,

“Do you have any thoughts to add? You’re wearing the tee-shirt after all.”

She waved her hand in denial of the question.

“Oh, I’m not political,” she said.

Yes, you are, my silent thoughts answered in a steely tone. We all are. Our tee-shirts, words, silence, assumptions, myths, lies, inaccuracies, fears, policies – all of it is political.

She avoided the look in my eyes and studied her phone. He read his romance novel. I gritted my teeth. We flew in silence across the vast distance of our nation.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and cohosts Love (and Revolution) Radio.

Fails to Connect Dots 4/26/17

No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Three opinion pieces on US policy toward North Korea have appeared in the New York Times in the past week. They deserve critical comment. The writers are all very capable people who share a deep concern about Korea’s security and the possibility of a major blowup that would cause enormous human and material losses throughout the Asia Pacific. As a longtime student of Korean affairs, however, I find that these commentaries—which reflect analysis in the US mainstream media generally—are narrowly focused and alarmist. They would make it seem that, like climate change, we are doomed because “the situation” has entrapped us.

The first of the three articles is by Nicholas Kristof. He correctly points out that China cannot be relied on to pressure North Korea, nor can attacking North Korea end the nuclear problem. We’re running out of time, he writes, and the danger increases that Trump will stumble into war. So what’s left to try? He offers a “lousy option”: increase the pressure on NK with China’s cooperation “while pushing for a deal in which North Korea would verifiably freeze its nuclear and missile programs without actually giving up its nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief.”

This is a lousy option, though perhaps not for the reason Kristof thinks. Though North Korea certainly wants to keep its nuclear and missile programs, it is very unlikely to agree to freeze them under pressure from US and Chinese sanctions. It’s a case of sticks before carrots—a non-starter. The North Koreans for some strange reason don’t respond well to blackmail. Why not dispatch a high-level US emissary to Pyongyang to negotiate a freeze while sanctions are being scaled back, accompanied by other inducements (such as the promise of US diplomatic recognition and a pledge, as both sides made in 2000, of “no hostile intent”)?

The second article, by Max Fisher, agrees with Kristof that there are no good options for dealing with North Korea, for instance severe sanctions and threats of a missile attack. He’s right there. Fisher warns that the particular problem is the North’s survival instincts, which require it to maintain repression and “a permanent state of near-war.” North Korea’s behavior pattern is to keep provoking tensions, raising the risks of war and threatening preemptive attack. No concessions, Fisher suggests, seem likely to move North Korea from its risk-accepting strategy, which puts the onus on the US and its allies who have so much more to lose. He then offers four conditions that he believes constitute North Korea’s “minimally acceptable” terms: the right to keep its nuclear and missile programs; no regime change; end of sanctions; and “withdrawal or reduction” of the US alliance with South Korea. But Fisher believes these conditions are very unlikely to be met, and thus, like Kristof, wonders if we aren’t headed to “disaster.”

The New York Times editorial board joins with these writers in worrying about Trump’s impulsiveness and the possibility of a disastrous preemptive strike on North Korea. The board holds out hope that China and the US might somehow be able to rein in the North; but its best suggestion is that Trump “ratchet up sanctions and find a way to engage the North in negotiations.”

These three writings share a number of misconceptions. First, the sources they consult—those mentioned and those we may reasonably presume have informed the articles—are weighted in favor of evaluating military capabilities, not diplomacy. Thus, the key analytical question is not what inducements may persuade North Korea to freeze or reduce its nuclear and missile programs, and put them under international inspection, but rather what kind of punishment will hurt North Korea enough for it to surrender its nukes and missiles. Focusing on military capabilities, moreover, ignores intent: It makes quite a difference whether North Korea’s military buildup is for attack or deterrence. And if, as a number of former US officials have said, deterrence of a US attack is responsible for the buildup, that suggests a menu of incentives to provide North Korea with strategic reassurance.

Second, the writers never examine any of the history of US-DPRK diplomacy. So it’s easy to dismiss negotiations as an option, as though it is hopeless to try. There’s more than a little hint here of Cold War-era “you can’t trust the communists.” Yet many in the Korea-watching community have long argued that diplomatic engagement with the North has been productive at times. The 1994 Agreed Framework during the Bill Clinton administration halted North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons for a decade, and the 2005 accord under the Six Party Talks produced an “action-for-action” agreement on political and economic issues that still has value for all sides. And let’s not forget that North Korea is not the only party that has failed to comply with agreements or undermine them with belligerent behavior.

US administrations have consistently posed obstacles to compliance, such as refusal to restart talks until the North has given up its nuclear weapons, refusal to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions, and annually carrying out large-scale military exercises jointly with South Korea.

Third, in the case of Fisher’s article, his list of presumed North Korean conditions for an agreement come from his imagination, not from examination of the record. Ending the US-South Korea alliance is no doubt a North Korean hope; but that’s not among its central demands. Even ending sanctions isn’t a condition per se. What North Korea wants is the legitimacy that comes from diplomatic recognition and assurances of regime survival, along with a peace treaty that ends the Korean War and paves the way for economic aid from the US, South Korea, Japan, and others. What North Korea would accept as conditions for those concessions can only be determined by talking with it—a subject neither Fisher nor any others entertain.

It is hardly surprising, then, that a stalwart of liberal reporting such as the New York Times provides deeply pessimistic accounts of prospects on the Korean peninsula. Instead of offering a perspective that takes engagement-minded diplomacy as its starting point, the Times articles look at worst-case futures. To be sure, the word “negotiations” does appear in these commentaries, but without serious interest in them. We are thus left to throw up our hands and surrender to the inevitable: Trump’s threats, which the Times authors find dangerous but unable to get beyond. Strange that the Times laments the evisceration of the State Department and sidelining of its top leadership, yet fails to connect the dots to North Korea policy.

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

Love Chocolate Cake 4/19/17

The Shape-Shifter  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

People in the media are having difficulty in figuring out where Donald Trump’s administration stands on foreign policy issues. He’s a shape-shifter, and in just the last week he has completely changed his stance on Russia, China, NATO, and Syria—all without blinking, without apology, and without explanation. Frankly, I doubt that he pays attention to these changing views; to him they simply show his “flexibility.”

In the real world of international politics, such shifts can’t be dismissed as unremarkable. We’re talking, after all, about serious adversaries—Russia, China, and North Korea—each of which, if not dealt with carefully and with full understanding of the issues in contention, could take steps that lead to war, even nuclear war. The fundamental problem is that the conduct of foreign policy under Donald Trump is amateurish and dangerous, creating the possibility of a catastrophic miscalculation.

Consider: the administration must deal with a Russian leader who has ambitions to restore his country’s status as a great power; with a Chinese leader who wants his country to be co-equal with the United States in world affairs; and with a North Korean leader who wants his country to be acknowledged as a nuclear-weapon state and accorded legitimacy and security assurances. The lesson? They all need to be treated with respect and great delicacy, mindful that each has substantial military capability within easy reach of important US allies, not to mention the US itself.

A Cardinal Rule

So how has the Trump administration dealt with these adversaries? He has adopted all the standard actions typical of US-style crisis management: reprisals, sanctions, warnings, force deployments, threats. These actions violate a cardinal rule of diplomacy: Threats will most likely produce a reaction exactly opposite of the one desired. Threats incite nationalist fervor, invite counter-threats, and obstruct dialogue. Nevertheless, Trump has chosen to violate that rule, with the following results:

With Russia the US has issued what amounts to an ultimatum: distance itself from Syria, or at least do not condone Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The Russians, of course, reject an ultimatum and reject the accusation that Syria used chemical weapons. They threaten to retaliate if the US attacks Syria again.

With China the US demands a change in the terms of trade and Chinese pressure on North Korea to reduce or eliminate its nuclear weapons. Otherwise, says Trump, the US will act on its own against the North. China promises nothing other than a joint review of the trade picture. Xi Jinping didn’t even bring a trade expert with him to the meeting with Trump. As for pressuring Pyongyang, one semi-official Chinese newspaper has mentioned the idea of cutting off North Korea’s fuel supply from China, something China has done before for a short period. On the other (and more convincing) hand, China’s trade with North Korea is up 37 percent this quarter compared with a year ago. Trump sweetens the pot by withdrawing his longstanding charge that China is a currency manipulator, hoping China will salvage the uncompromising US posture. In his usual childlike way, Trump thinks that Xi’s love of the chocolate cake served at one of their dinners means Xi goes along with Trump’s gunboat diplomacy.

With North Korea Trump deploys an aircraft carrier strike force off the Korean coast, presumably to warn Pyongyang that some further provocative step might meet with a forceful US response. Dropping a “mother-of-all-bombs” in Afghanistan is widely believed to send the North Koreans a further warning of US capabilities. But North Korea threatens nuclear war if attacked, says it can easily destroy US bases in South Korea, warns that it is not another Iraq, Libya, or Syria, and carries out yet another missile test (which fails) and huge parade of its missile inventory. A sixth nuclear-weapon test may yet come.
Trump claims that his missile strike on a Syrian military airport was a great success, that his meeting with Xi went beautifully, and that North Korea and Russia are in great trouble. The reality, of course, is quite different: Trump’s actions have raised the stakes with all three countries without having resolved major issues such as Russia’s meddling in the US elections, defeating ISIS in Syria, reducing tensions with China over the South China Sea or THAAD, or ending the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile buildup by North Korea.

Alternatives

If the US objective with Russia, China, and North Korea were to avoid war by accident or design and instead create a path to potential conflict resolution, here are some thoughts about what Trump might have done and can still do.

With Russia, why not accept Putin’s proposal (supported by Bashar al-Assad) for an international investigation of the chemical warfare claim? If Washington is so convinced of Syria’s responsibility—and if Trump believes Russia might well have known about the attack in advance—the US should welcome an investigation with confidence in the outcome. As for the immediate future, the Trump administration should establish Putin’s strategic interest in protecting Assad and seek ways to substitute for it. Trump might, for example, promise no further missile strikes in exchange for Russia’s assurance that Assad will never again employ chemical warfare and will destroy the chemical stocks he has hidden under international inspection. In exchange for ruling out regime change in Syria and removing some sanctions on Russia, Russia would assure the US that it will respect safe zones for anti-Assad forces and people.

With China, Trump has already dropped his incorrect accusation that China is a currency manipulator. Now he must also drop his linkage of trade relations with Chinese pressure on North Korea. Last week Trump tweeted: “I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” But now he may have come to the realization that, as with health care, “it’s complicated.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said: “After listening [to Xi Jinping] for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. … But it’s not what you would think.” No, it isn’t.

Hopefully, Trump will stop trying to bait Xi on trade, reevaluate North Korea policy (see below), and focus on larger issues in US-China relations. Trump now says, once again in direct contrast with previous scorching criticisms of China, that he and Xi “get along really well, I really like being with him.” If so, the administration might take up China’s plea not to rely on sanctions and to resume negotiations, which its foreign minister suggested China would support in any format. The US could jump-start the process by withdrawing the fleet near Korea to a nonthreatening distance. (Doing so would remove another source of China’s upset: the US naval force en route to Korea conducted joint drills with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force in the East China Sea, in the area of islands disputed by China and Japan.) Trump might challenge Beijing to obtain Kim Jong-un’s agreement to forego new nuclear and missile tests in return for a stop to full deployment of the THAAD antimissile system and suspension of future US-South Korea military exercises. In short, test China’s goodwill and North Korean intentions.

With North Korea, it should be obvious to US policymakers that showing “resolve” in the Sea of Japan only makes Kim Jong-un more determined to show his resolve. South Koreans, including both of the two top presidential candidates, are more worried about a US-initiated war with North Korea, without their being consulted, than about a North Korean attack. (“The safety of South Korea is as important as that of the United States,” the leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, said.) Vice President Mike Pence, in South Korea, said “the era of strategic patience is over” and “all options are on the table.” But his bravado, fortunately, did not represent a departure from what the two previous administrations have said, which still rejects a diplomatic initiative with North Korea.

The US and North Korea need to get back to the negotiating table with two objectives in mind: first, remove the sources of current tension, as noted above; second, restore the “action-for-action” principle in the 2005 Six Party Talks agreement and reconsider security assurances and economic assistance to North Korea in exchange for verifiable international inspection of its nuclear weapons and weapons-related facilities.

Conclusion

Successful conflict management calls for establishing a peaceful way of doing business. That other way includes inducements, which may stimulate talks and reciprocal concessions; use of all three levels of diplomacy—official, nonofficial, and people-to-people; and actions on the ground that, by reducing tensions, reverse the momentum for conflict. These actions may pave the way for a process of reengagement and trust-building. At the very least, “getting to yes” with an adversary takes the use of force off the table. Force is always available, but is best when rarely used. Let’s hope the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and Pence speak for Trump when they say the US wants to deal “peacefully” with North Korea. But they need a serious plan, not just words for public consumption.

 

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

Bombs are Dumb 4/19/17

Mad bombers just so 20th century – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Bombing is dumb. The Age of Destruction is a foolish logic. Mother Nature is offended and is showing us that annoyance—and this will worsen as we fail to correct our conduct. Simply put, anyone anywhere from the top of the command chain to the frustrated lone fertilizer bomber is acting foolishly. We are looking at you, Kim. And you, Donald. Our Era of Strategic Patience is wearing thin.

The solution to bombs is not more bombs—or rather it is the worst and most costly “solution” that usually leads, eventually, to even more bombs exploding and destroying even more innocent noncombatants. Idiot’s Delight.

And so, even as impulsively cathartic as Trump’s bombing the Syrian airbase might have been, it was Wag the Dog gratuitous. As dime store tough-talking as Mike Pence is in Asia, his braggadocio is simply annoying to anyone with a shred of humanity and coherence.

Can we, at some point very soon, move to thinking critically and in our national/transnational enlightened self interest? Simply put, Trump is threatening Life on Earth and it’s intolerable.

This guy can’t even show us his taxes. Dearest Trump supporters, it is time. Time to join the rest of us who want to survive, who want to salvage democracy, who want to have a President we can trust—even if we disagree with some of his decisions. You must know by now, if you have been paying attention even a wee tiny little bit, that Donald Trump is stone incompetent, a buck naked liar, a flipper and flopper who will betray you in a New York second, and someone who tosses his “promises” overboard when the first whitecap appears in the sea of public policy questions.

Let him go. Help us impeach this Tweeting Nuclear Option—and for Trump the nuclear option is not REPEAT NOT a metaphor. For your daughter, for your granddaughter, for all the daughters to come, stop this. End this aberrant administration. Yes, US presidents have been bad. But this one is an existential threat who must be turned out to pasture. Now. Before he turns Pyongyang into vitrified kimchi and Kim Jong-un transmogrifies Seoul, San Francisco, Tokyo and Seattle into seas of fire. We have two testosterone-addled rulers with pudgy fingers on nuclear code launchers. The Humankind Era of Strategic Patience is ended. Impeach one, impeach both—but stop this dummy dance to death now.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

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