February 28th, 2017
By Lawrence Wittner.
The accession of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency brings us face-to-face with a question that many have tried to avoid since 1945: Should anyone have the right to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust?
Trump, of course, is an unusually angry, vindictive, and mentally unstable American president. Therefore, given the fact that, acting totally on his own, he can launch a nuclear war, we have entered a very perilous time. The U.S. government possesses approximately 6,800 nuclear weapons, many of them on hair-trigger alert. Moreover, the United States is but one of nine nations that, in total, possess nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons. This nuclear weapons cornucopia is more than enough to destroy virtually all life on earth. Furthermore, even a small-scale nuclear war would produce a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Not surprisingly, then, Trump’s loose statements about building and using nuclear weapons have horrified observers.
In an apparent attempt to rein in America’s new, erratic White House occupant, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) recently introduced federal legislation to require Congress to declare war before a U.S. president could authorize nuclear weapons strikes. The only exception would be in response to a nuclear attack. Peace groups are rallying around this legislation and, in a major editorial, the New York Times endorsed it, noting that it “sends a clear message to Mr. Trump that he should not be the first since World War II to use nuclear weapons.”
But, even in the unlikely event that the Markey-Lieu legislation is passed by the Republican Congress, it does not address the broader problem: the ability of the officials of nuclear-armed nations to launch a catastrophic nuclear war. How rational are Russia’s Vladimir Putin, or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, or the leaders of other nuclear powers? And how rational will the rising politicians of nuclear armed nations (including a crop of rightwing, nationalist ideologues, such as France’s Marine Le Pen) prove to be? “Nuclear deterrence,” as national security experts have known for decades, might serve to inhibit the aggressive impulses of top government officials in some cases, but surely not in all of them.
Ultimately, then, the only long-term solution to the problem of national leaders launching a nuclear war is to get rid of the weapons.
This was the justification for the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which constituted a bargain between two groups of nations. Under its provisions, non-nuclear countries agreed not to develop nuclear weapons, while nuclear-armed countries agreed to dispose of theirs.
Although the NPT did discourage proliferation to most non-nuclear countries and did lead the major nuclear powers to destroy a substantial portion of their nuclear arsenals, the allure of nuclear weapons remained, at least for some power-hungry nations. Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea developed nuclear arsenals, while the United States, Russia, and other nuclear nations gradually backed away from disarmament. Indeed, all nine nuclear powers are now engaged in a new nuclear arms race, with the U.S. government alone beginning a $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program. These factors, including Trump’s promises of a major nuclear weapons buildup, recently led the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” forward to 2-1/2 minutes to midnight, the most dangerous setting since 1953.
Angered by the collapse of progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world, civil society organizations and non-nuclear nations joined together to press for the adoption of an international treaty banning nuclear weapons, much like the treaties already in place that ban chemical weapons, landmines, and cluster bombs. If such a nuclear ban treaty were adopted, they argued, it would not itself eliminate nuclear weapons, for the nuclear powers could refuse to sign or comply with it. But it would make possession of nuclear weapons illegal under international law and, therefore, like the chemical and other weapons ban treaties, put pressure on nations to fall into line with the rest of the world community.
This campaign came to a head in October 2016, when the member states of the United Nations voted on a proposal to begin negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Although the U.S. government and the governments of other nuclear powers lobbied heavily against the measure, it was adopted by an overwhelming vote: 123 countries in favor, 38 opposed, and 16 abstaining. Treaty negotiations are slated to begin in March 2017 at the United Nations and to be concluded in early July.
Given the past performance of the nuclear powers and their eagerness to cling to their nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that they will participate in the UN negotiations or, if a treaty is negotiated and signed, will be among the signatories. Even so, the people of their nations and of all nations would gain immensely from an international ban on nuclear weapons―a measure that, once in place, would begin the process of stripping national officials of their unwarranted authority and ability to launch a catastrophic nuclear war.
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February 1st, 2017
By Lawrence Wittner.
When Americans criticize wasteful government spending, they often fail to realize that the biggest sinkhole for public funds is what’s described as “national defense”―a program that, all too often, does little or nothing to defend them.
Take national missile defense, a program begun with much fanfare during the mid-1980s, when President Ronald Reagan realized that U.S. nuclear weapons could not prevent a nuclear attack upon the United States. According to the President, his Strategic Defense Initiative (lampooned as “Star Wars” by Senator Edward Kennedy) would safeguard Americans by developing a space-based anti-missile system to destroy incoming nuclear missiles. Most scientists doubted its technical feasibility, comparing it to using one speeding bullet to destroy another speeding bullet. Critics also pointed out that development of such a system would simply end up encouraging hostile nations to build more missiles to overwhelm it or, if they wanted to avoid the additional cost, to use decoys to confuse it. In addition, it would create a false sense of security.
Although “Star Wars” was never built, the fantastic dream of a missile shield took hold in Congress, which began to pour billions of dollars into variants of this program. And, today, more than thirty years later, the United States still lacks an effective missile defense system. The U.S. government, however, ignoring this dismal record, continues to lavish vast resources on this unworkable program, which has already cost American taxpayers over $180 billion.
One of the major components of the missile defense program is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Better known as GMD, it is designed to use ground-based “kill-vehicles” to destroy incoming nuclear missiles by colliding with them. In 2004, before any indication that GMD would work, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of its interceptors. Today, there are four located at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and 26 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and the Obama administration has given orders to increase the total to 44 by the end of 2017. The GMD cost thus far is $40 billion.
All of this might be viewed as water under the bridge―or perhaps water down the drain―were it not for the fact that a third GMD site is now being considered. Military contractors are ferociously lobbying for it, communities in New York, Ohio, and Michigan are actively competing for it and, given long-time Republican enthusiasm for missile defense, this expansion seems very likely to be implemented by the Trump administration. The cost? An additional $4 billion.
Is this a good investment? GMD, it should be noted, was designed to defend against a nuclear attack by Iran or North Korea. But, thanks to the Iran nuclear agreement, its nuclear program is frozen until 2030 or later. North Korea is also not a nuclear threat to the United States, for it does not possess long-range missiles. Of 14 North Korean missiles tested during 2016, some failed to clear the launch pad while others traveled distances ranging from 19 miles to 620 miles. Naturally, as a small-scale system, GMD would be of no value against Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal.
In fact, at this point GMD is of no value against anything. Thus far, the Pentagon has conducted 17 tests of GMD interceptors since 1999―all in conditions that should produce success. In a situation quite unlike armed combat, the people conducting the tests knew the speed, location, and trajectory of the mock enemy missiles ahead of time, as well as when they would be launched. Nevertheless, the GMD system failed the tests eight times―a 47 percent failure rate.
Nor has the GMD test record been improving in recent years. Quite the contrary. GMD has failed six of its last 10 tests and three of its last four. In mid-2016, a report written by three physicists and released by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that the GMD system is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public.” Indeed, they concluded, “the system is not even on a path to achieve a useful ability” to do so.
Why, then, despite the enormous cost and the lack of useful results over many years, is this project continuing? One factor is clearly the U.S. fear of hostile governments. Beyond this, however, as David Willman―a journalist who has done extensive investigations of GMD―has reported, lies “the muscle wielded in Washington by major defense contractors, which have billions of dollars of revenue at stake.” Three of them, in fact―Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman―donated $40.5 million to congressional campaign funds from 2003 through October 2016.
GMD “will not work,” U.S. Representative John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Willman. “Nevertheless, the momentum of the fear, the momentum of the investments, the momentum of the industry” carry it forward.
A key factor keeping billions of U.S. tax dollars flowing to this ill-conceived project is the desperation of declining American communities, anxious to attract the jobs a GMD installation would provide. The three communities vying to house the third GMD site are all in the hard-hit Rust Belt, and their public officials are eager to secure it. “Our community has been dying a little bit at a time,” an Ohio mayor explained. “So we’re hoping that the [local] site is selected.”
But if the only good reason for missile defense is that it provides a jobs program, why not invest those billions of dollars in jobs doing useful things? Why not invest in factories turning out solar and wind power components, high-speed rail cars, and inexpensive medicines? Why not invest in health care clinics, day care centers, libraries, schools, job-training facilities, community centers, concert halls, bridges, roads, inexpensive housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes?
This country has made useful investments before. With the political will, it could do so again.
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January 17th, 2017
Members of Nevada Desert Experience hold a prayer vigil during the Easter period of 1982 at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site. National Nuclear Security Administration
The looming advent of the Trump administration in Washington threatens to worsen an already deeply troubling international situation. Bitter wars are raging, tens of millions of refugees have taken flight, relations among the great powers are deteriorating, and a new nuclear arms race is underway. Resources that could be used to fight unemployment, poverty, and climate change are being lavished on the military might of nations around the world―$1.7 trillion in 2015 alone. The United States accounts for 36 percent of that global total.
Given this grim reality, let us consider an alternative agenda for the new administration―an agenda for peace.
One key ingredient is improving U.S. relations with Russia and China. This is not an easy task, for these countries are governed by brutal regimes that seem to believe (much like many politicians in the United States) that a display of military force remains a useful way to deal with other nations. Even so, the U.S. government has managed to work out live-and-let-live relationships with their Soviet and Chinese predecessors―some of which were considerably more bellicose―and should be able to do so again. After all, the three countries have a good deal to gain by improving their relations. This includes not only avoiding a catastrophic nuclear war, but reducing their spending on useless, vastly expensive weapons systems and cooperating on issues in which they have a common interest: countering terrorism; halting the international drug trade; and battling climate change.
It is not hard to imagine compromise settlements of their recent conflicts. Behind the hard line Russia has taken in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and military meddling in what’s left of that country, lies NATO’s expansion eastward to Russia’s borders. Why not show a willingness to halt that expansion in exchange for a Russian agreement to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and other nations in Russia’s vicinity? Similarly, when dealing with the issue of war-torn Syria, why not abandon the U.S. government’s demand for the ouster of Assad and back a UN-negotiated peace settlement for that country? The U.S. government’s growing dispute with China over the future of islands in the South China Sea also seems soluble, perhaps within a regional security framework.
The three nations could avoid a very dangerous arms race and, at the same time, cut their military costs substantially by agreeing to reduce their military expenditures by a fixed percentage (for example, 10 percent) per year for a fixed period. This “peace race” would allow them to retain their current military balance and devote the savings to more useful items in their budgets.
A second key ingredient in a peace agenda is moving forward with nuclear arms control and disarmament. With over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine nations, including 7,300 held by Russia and 7,100 by the United States, the world is living on the edge of nuclear annihilation.
Although the Kremlin does not seem interested right now in signing further nuclear disarmament agreements, progress could be made in other ways. The President could use his executive authority to halt the current $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program, take U.S. nuclear weapons off alert, declare a “no first use” policy for U.S. nuclear weapons, and make significant reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. An estimated 2,000 U.S. nuclear warheads are currently deployed and ready for action around the world, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that only 1,000 are necessary. Why not cut back to that level?
The new administration could even engage in international negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Peace and disarmament organizations have pushed for the opening of such treaty negotiations for years and, this October, the UN General Assembly rewarded their efforts by passing a resolution to begin negotiations in 2017. Why not participate in them?
A third key ingredient in a peace agenda is drawing upon the United Nations to handle international conflicts. The United Nations was founded in 1945 in the hope of ending the practice of powerful countries using their military might to bludgeon other countries into accepting what the powerful regarded as their national interests. National security was to be replaced by international security, thereby reducing aggression and military intervention by individual nations. Critics of the United Nations have argued that it is weak and ineffectual along these lines and, therefore, should be abandoned―except, perhaps, for its humanitarian programs. But, instead of abandoning the United Nations, how about strengthening it?
There are numerous ways to accomplish this. These include eliminating the veto in the Security Council, establishing a weighted voting system in the General Assembly, and giving General Assembly decisions the force of international law. Two other mechanisms, often discussed but not yet implemented, are creating an independent funding mechanism (such as an international financial transactions tax) for UN operations and establishing a permanent, all-volunteer UN rapid deployment force under UN jurisdiction that could act to prevent crimes against humanity.
Of course, at the moment, little, if any, of this peace agenda seems likely to become U.S. government policy. Donald Trump has promised a substantial increase in U.S. military spending, and his new administration will be heavily stocked with officials who take a hardline approach to world affairs.
Even so, when it comes to peace, the American public has sometimes been remarkably active―and effective. In January 1981, when the Reagan administration arrived in Washington, it championed an ultra-hawkish agenda, highlighted by a major nuclear weapons buildup and loose talk of waging and winning a nuclear war. Ultimately, though, an upsurge of popular opposition forced a complete turnabout in administration policy, with Reagan joining the march toward a nuclear-free world and an end to the Cold War. Change is always possible―if enough people demand it.
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December 26th, 2016
Cato the Elder, a Roman senator and historian, once remarked: “Cessation of work is not accompanied by cessation of expenses.” For centuries, retirees have been aware of this unfortunate fact, which led them to demand and, in many cases, secure old age pensions to help provide financial security during their “golden years.” But as indicated in a recently-released report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the financial security of retiring corporate CEOs is far, far greater than the financial security of average Americans.
According to the extensively researched IPS report, A Tale of Two Retirements, 100 corporate CEOs possess company retirement funds totaling $4.7 billion―an amount equivalent to the entire retirement savings of 41 percent of U.S. families (50 million families, including 116 million Americans). The retirement funds of these 100 CEOs are also equivalent to those of 75 percent of Latino families, of 59 percent of African-American families, of 55 percent of female-headed households, and of 44 percent of white working class households.
Indeed, the top 100 CEO nest eggs, if averaged, would generate a $253,088 monthly retirement check to these 100 individuals for the rest of their lives. By contrast, workers who had 401(k) pension plans at the end of 2013 had only enough in these plans to pay them an average monthly benefit of $101. Of course, these were the lucky ones. Among workers 56 to 61 years old, 39 percent had no employer-sponsored retirement plan at all, and would likely depend on Social Security, which pays an average of $1,239 per month, for retirement security.
Although changes in public policy could close the widening pension gap, such changes do not seem likely to occur while a zealously pro-corporate party controls the White House, Congress, and the courts.
Of course, these are only averages. When one looks at individuals, the contrasts are even starker. Glenn Renwick, the Progressive Insurance Company’s CEO who retired in 2016, receives a monthly retirement check from his company for $1,035,733. Among Walmart’s 1.5 million employees, fewer than two-thirds have a company-sponsored retirement plan and, if they do, it will pay them, on average, only $131 per month. But Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon can expect to receive at least $360,000 per month―more than 2,700 times the amount a typical Walmart worker with a 401(k) account can expect. And there’s also CEO David Cote of Honeywell―a company that has locked out its workers from its factories in Green Island, NY and South Bend, IN for seven months for rejecting a contract that eliminated workers’ pensions―who receives a monthly retirement check from the company for $908,712.
Or take the case of John Hammergreen, CEO of the McKesson corporation, a drug wholesaling giant. A few months after Hammergreen arrived at McKesson in 1996, the company froze its employee pension fund, closing it to workers who came there in 1997. Even so, the company launched a lavish Executive Benefit Retirement Account that enriched Hammergreen’s pension with an average of $22,000 a day for the next 20 years. Thus, today he receives a monthly retirement check from the company for $782,339.
Things were not always like this. From 1946 to 1980, a combination of union action and government policy led to the expansion of pension benefits for American workers. By 1980, 46 percent of private sector workers were covered by defined benefit pensions. But, in the following decades, declining union strength, corporate attacks on pension funds, and government action resulted in a severe erosion of worker retirement security. By 2011, only 18 percent of private sector workers were covered by defined benefit plans.
As demonstrated by the authors of the IPS report, the growth of economic inequality in retirement provisions resulted from rigging things in favor of CEOS through new rules for pensions, taxes, and executive compensation. “Since more than half of compensation is now tied to the company’s stock price,” the authors note, “CEOs have a powerful personal incentive for slashing worker retirement benefits in order to boost the short-term bottom line. Every dollar not spent on employee retiree security is money in the CEO’s pocket.”
Although changes in public policy could close the widening pension gap, such changes do not seem likely to occur while a zealously pro-corporate party controls the White House, Congress, and the courts. Indeed, as the authors point out, thanks to the shielding of enormous CEO income in tax-deferred accounts, Fortune 500 CEOs will see very substantial gains in their retirement checks if President Trump succeeds in implementing his plan to slash the top marginal income tax rate.
It’s possible that, in the long run, the rising tide of retirement insecurity will spark a revolt challenging the severe economic inequality between corporate CEOs and their American workers. Until then, however, it’s tempting to propose updating Jonathan Swift’s eighteenth century satirical suggestion, made in A Modest Proposal, that poverty among the poor might be alleviated by selling their babies as food for the rich. Perhaps, in twenty-first century America, retirement insecurity might be alleviated by selling elderly workers to the corporate rich, who could use them for the burgers sold by their fast food companies.
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November 3rd, 2016
By Lawrence Wittner.
At present, nuclear disarmament seems to have ground to a halt. Nine nations have a total of approximately 15,500 nuclear warheads in their arsenals, including 7,300 possessed by Russia and 7,100 possessed by the United States. A Russian-American treaty to further reduce their nuclear forces has been difficult to secure thanks to Russian disinterest and Republican resistance.
Yet nuclear disarmament remains vital, for, as long as nuclear weapons exist, it is likely that they will be used. Wars have been fought for thousands of years, with the most powerful weaponry often brought into play. Nuclear weapons were used with little hesitation by the US government in 1945 and, although they have not been employed in war since then, how long can we expect to go on without their being pressed into service again by hostile governments?
Furthermore, even if governments avoid using them for war, there remains the danger of their explosion by terrorist fanatics or simply by accident. More than a thousand accidents involving US nuclear weapons occurred between 1950 and 1968 alone. Many were trivial, but others could have been disastrous. Although none of the accidentally launched nuclear bombs, missiles, and warheads―some of which have never been found―exploded, we might not be as lucky in the future.
Also, nuclear weapons programs are enormously costly. Currently, the US government plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to refurbish the entire US nuclear weapons complex. Is this really affordable? Given the fact that military spending already chews up 54 percent of the federal government’s discretionary spending, an additional $1 trillion for nuclear weapons “modernization” seems likely to come out of whatever now remains of funding for public education, public health, and other domestic programs.
In addition, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries remains a constant danger. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 was a compact between the non-nuclear nations and nuclear-armed nations, with the former forgoing nuclear weapons development while the latter eliminated their nuclear arsenals. But the nuclear powers’ retention of nuclear weapons is eroding the willingness of other nations to abide by the treaty.
Conversely, further nuclear disarmament would result in some very real benefits to the United States. A significant reduction in the 2,000 US nuclear weapons deployed around the world would reduce nuclear dangers and save the US government enormous amounts of money that could fund domestic programs or simply be returned to happy taxpayers. Also, with this show of respect for the bargain made under the NPT, non-nuclear nations would be less inclined to embark on nuclear weapons programs.
Unilateral US nuclear reductions would also generate pressures to follow the US lead. If the US government announced cutbacks in its nuclear arsenal, while challenging the Kremlin to do the same, that would embarrass the Russian government before world public opinion, the governments of other nations, and its own public. Eventually, with much to gain and little to lose by engaging in nuclear reductions, the Kremlin might begin making them as well.
Opponents of nuclear reductions argue that nuclear weapons must be retained, for they serve as a “deterrent.” But does nuclear deterrence really work? Ronald Reagan, one of America’s most military-minded presidents, repeatedly brushed off airy claims that US nuclear weapons had deterred Soviet aggression, retorting: “Maybe other things had.” Also, non-nuclear powers have fought numerous wars with the nuclear powers (including the United States and the Soviet Union) since 1945. Why weren’t they deterred?
Of course, much deterrence thinking focuses on the safety from nuclear attack that nuclear weapons allegedly provide. But, in fact, US government officials, despite their vast nuclear armada, don’t seem to feel very secure. How else can we explain their huge financial investment in a missile defense system? Also, why have they been so worried about the Iranian government obtaining nuclear weapons? After all, the US government’s possession of thousands of nuclear weapons should convince them that they needn’t worry about the acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran or any other nation.
Furthermore, even if nuclear deterrence does work, why does Washington require 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons to ensure its efficacy? A 2002 study concluded that, if only 300 US nuclear weapons were used to attack Russian targets, 90 million Russians (out of a population of 144 million) would die in the first half hour. Moreover, in the ensuing months, the enormous devastation produced by the attack would result in the deaths of the vast majority of survivors by wounds, disease, exposure, and starvation. Surely no Russian or other government would find this an acceptable outcome.
This overkill capacity probably explains why the US Joint Chiefs of Staff think that 1,000 deployed nuclear weapons are sufficient to safeguard US national security. It might also explain why none of the other seven nuclear powers (Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) bothers to maintain more than 300 nuclear weapons.
Although unilateral action to reduce nuclear dangers might sound frightening, it has been taken numerous times with no adverse consequences. The Soviet government unilaterally halted nuclear weapons testing in 1958 and, again, in 1985. Starting in 1989, it also began removing its tactical nuclear missiles from Eastern Europe. Similarly, the US government, during the administration of US president George H.W. Bush, acted unilaterally to remove all US short-range, ground-launched nuclear weapons from Europe and Asia, as well as all short-range nuclear arms from US Navy vessels around the world―an overall cut of several thousand nuclear warheads.
Obviously, negotiating an international treaty that banned and destroyed all nuclear weapons would be the best way to abolish nuclear dangers. But that need not preclude other useful action from being taken along the way.
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September 26th, 2016
In early September 2016, Donald Trump announced his plan for a vast expansion of the U.S. military, including 90,000 new soldiers for the Army, nearly 75 new ships for the Navy, and dozens of new fighter aircraft for the Air Force. Although the cost of this increase would be substantial―about $90 billion per year―it would be covered, the GOP presidential candidate said, by cutting wasteful government spending.
But where, exactly, is the waste? In fiscal 2015, the federal government engaged in $1.1 trillion of discretionary spending, but relatively small amounts went for things like education (6 percent), veterans’ benefits (6 percent), energy and the environment (4 percent), and transportation (2 percent). The biggest item, by far, in the U.S. budget was military spending: roughly $600 billion (54 percent). If military spending were increased to $690 billion and other areas were cut to fund this increase, the military would receive roughly 63 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.
Well, you might say, maybe it’s worth it. After all, the armed forces defend the United States from enemy attack. But, in fact, the U.S. government already has far more powerful military forces than any other country. China, the world’s #2 military power, spends only about a third of what the United States does on the military. Russia spends about a ninth. There are, of course, occasional terrorist attacks within American borders. But the vast and expensive U.S. military machine―in the form of missiles, fighter planes, battleships, and bombers―is simply not effective against this kind of danger.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Defense certainly leads the way in wasteful behavior. As William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project of the Center for International Policy, points out, “the military waste machine is running full speed ahead.” There are the helicopter gears worth $500 each purchased by the Army at $8,000 each, the $2.7 billion spent “on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work,” and “the accumulation of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used.” Private companies like Halliburton profited handsomely from Pentagon contracts for their projects in Afghanistan, such as “a multimillion-dollar `highway to nowhere,” a $43 million gas station in nowhere, a $25 million ‘state of the art’ headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province . . . that no one ever used, and the payment of actual salaries to countless thousands of no ones aptly labeled ‘ghost soldiers.’ ” Last year, Pro Publica created an interactive graphic revealing $17 billion in wasteful U.S. spending uncovered by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
Not surprisingly, as Hartung reports, the Pentagon functions without an auditing system. Although, a quarter century ago, Congress mandated that the Pentagon audit itself, it has never managed to do so. Thus, the Defense Department doesn’t know how much equipment it has purchased, how much it has been overcharged, or how many contractors it employs. The Project on Government Oversight maintains that the Pentagon has spent about $6 billion thus far on “fixing” its audit problem. But it has done so, Hartung notes, “with no solution in sight.”
The story of the F-35 jet fighter shows how easily U.S. military spending gets out of hand. Back in 2001, when the cost of this aircraft-building program was considered astronomical, the initial estimate was $233 billion. Today, the price tag has more than quadrupled, with estimates ranging from $1.1 trillion to $1.4 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon in human history. The planes reportedly cost $135 million each, and even the pilots’ helmets run $400,000 apiece. Moreover, the planes remain unusable. Although the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force recently declared their versions of the F-35 combat ready, the Pentagon’s top testing official blasted that assertion in a 16-page memo, deriding them as thoroughly unsuitable for combat. The planes, he reported, had “outstanding performance deficiencies.” His assessment was reinforced in mid-September 2016, when the Air Force grounded ten of its first F-35 fighters due to problems with their cooling lines.
U.S. wars, of course, are particularly expensive, as they require the deployment of large military forces and hardware to far-flung places, chew up very costly military equipment, and necessitate veterans’ benefits for the survivors. Taking these and other factors into account, a recent study at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs put the cost to U.S. taxpayers of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at nearly $5 trillion thus far. According to the report’s author, Neta Crawford, this figure is “so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”
Even without war, another military expense is likely to create a U.S. budgetary crisis over the course of the next thirty years: $1 trillion for the rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, plus the construction of new nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and nuclear-armed aircraft. Aside from the vast cost, an obvious problem with this expenditure is that these weapons will either never be used or, if they are used, will destroy the world.
Wasted money, wasted lives, or maybe both. That’s the promise of increased military spending.
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September 12th, 2016
Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?
Although the mass media failed to report it, a landmark event occurred recently in connection with resolving the long-discussed problem of what to do about nuclear weapons. On August 19, 2016, a UN committee, the innocuously-named Open-Ended Working Group, voted to recommend to the UN General Assembly that it mandate the opening of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban them.
For most people, this recommendation makes a lot of sense. Nuclear weapons are the most destructive devices ever created. If they are used―as two of them were used in 1945 to annihilate the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki―the more than 15,000 nuclear weapons currently in existence would destroy the world. Given their enormous blast, fire, and radioactivity, their explosion would bring an end to virtually all life on earth. The few human survivors would be left to wander, slowly and painfully, in a charred, radioactive wasteland. Even the explosion of a small number of nuclear weapons through war, terrorism, or accident would constitute a catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude.
Every President of the United States since 1945, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, has warned the world of the horrors of nuclear war. Even Ronald Reagan―perhaps the most military-minded among them―declared again and again: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Fortunately, there is no technical problem in disposing of nuclear weapons. Through negotiated treaties and unilateral action, nuclear disarmament, with verification, has already taken place quite successfully, eliminating roughly 55,000 nuclear weapons of the 70,000 in existence at the height of the Cold War.
Also, the world’s other agents of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, have already been banned by international agreements.
Naturally, then, most people think that creating a nuclear weapons-free world is a good idea. A 2008 poll in 21 nations around the globe found that 76 percent of respondents favored an international agreement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and only 16 percent opposed it. This included 77 percent of the respondents in the United States.
But government officials from the nine nuclear-armed nations are inclined to view nuclear weapons―or at least their nuclear weapons―quite differently. For centuries, competing nations have leaned heavily upon military might to secure what they consider their “national interests.” Not surprisingly, then, national leaders have gravitated toward developing powerful military forces, armed with the most powerful weaponry. The fact that, with the advent of nuclear weapons, this traditional behavior has become counter-productive has only begun to penetrate their consciousness, usually helped along on such occasions by massive public pressure.
Consequently, officials of the superpowers and assorted wannabes, while paying lip service to nuclear disarmament, continue to regard it as a risky project. They are much more comfortable with maintaining nuclear arsenals and preparing for nuclear war. Thus, by signing the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968, officials from the nuclear powers pledged to “pursue negotiations in good faith on . . . a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” And today, nearly a half-century later, they have yet to begin negotiations on such a treaty. Instead, they are currently launching yet another round in the nuclear arms race. The U.S. government alone is planning to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to refurbish its entire nuclear weapons production complex, as well as to build new air-, sea-, and ground-launched nuclear weapons.
Of course, this enormous expenditure―plus the ongoing danger of nuclear disaster―could provide statesmen with a powerful incentive to end 71 years of playing with their doomsday weapons and, instead, get down to the business of finally ending the grim prospect of nuclear annihilation. In short, they could follow the lead of the UN committee and actually negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons as the first step toward abolishing them.
But, to judge from what happened in the UN Open-Ended Working Group, a negotiated nuclear weapons ban is not likely to occur. Uneasy about what might emerge from the committee’s deliberations, the nuclear powers pointedly boycotted them. Moreover, the final vote in that committee on pursuing negotiations for a ban was 68 in favor and 22 opposed, with 13 abstentions. The strong majority in favor of negotiations was comprised of African, Latin American, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, and Pacific nations, with several European nations joining them. The minority came primarily from nations under the nuclear umbrellas of the superpowers. Consequently, the same split seems likely to occur in the UN General Assembly, where the nuclear powers will do everything possible to head off UN action.
Overall, then, there is a growing division between the nuclear powers and their dependent allies, on the one hand, and a larger group of nations, fed up with the repeated evasions of the nuclear powers in dealing with the nuclear disaster that threatens to engulf the world. In this contest, the nuclear powers have the advantage, for, when all is said and done, they have the option of clinging to their nuclear weapons, even if that means ignoring a treaty adopted by a clear majority of nations around the world. Only an unusually firm stand by the non-nuclear nations, coupled with an uprising by an aroused public, seems likely to awaken the officials of the nuclear powers from their long sleepwalk toward catastrophe.
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August 27th, 2016
By Lawrence Wittner.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163612#sthash.zqkkU2YO.dpuf
Shortly after the Democratic Party’s platform committee concluded its deliberations this July, Bernie Sanders announced: “Thanks to the millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process . . . we now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.” Although the Sanders forces didn’t obtain all they wanted in their negotiations with the Clinton campaign, they did secure an avant garde platform. It calls for: a $15 per hour federal minimum wage; debt-free college education (including free tuition at public colleges for families with incomes under $125,000 per year); major financial reforms (including a financial transactions tax and revival of the Glass-Steagall Act); opposition to the TPP in all but name; a pathway toward marijuana legalization; defense of women’s and LGBTQ rights; expansion of Social Security; and the reversal of the Citizens United decision. In the area of criminal justice, it backs abolition of the death penalty, a shutdown of private prisons, and an end to racial profiling. The platform also supports important measures to fight climate change, including placing a price on carbon and empowering state and local governments to ban fracking―provisions strongly backed by leading environmentalists such as Bill McKibben. Furthermore, the platform calls for significant measures to improve public access to healthcare, such as the development of a public option for health insurance, increased funding for community health centers, and the ability to buy into Medicare after age 55. When compared to the New Deal platforms of the Democratic Party in 1932 and 1936 or to the party’s later reformist platforms, such as that of 1964, the 2016 platform does, indeed, champion a more progressive domestic policy. When its provisions are set alongside the reactionary Republican Party platform of 2016, there could hardly be a more glaring contrast. But what about foreign and military policy? Despite the fact that the rival Green Party has denounced the Democratic Party as a “party of war” and Hillary Clinton as a “warmonger,” the platform actually promises to “promote peace.” Although far from pacifist, it nevertheless states that “diplomacy and development” will be “especially” drawn upon “to confront global threats and ensure war is the last resort.” Along these lines, the platform supports continuing the Iran nuclear agreement, strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Discussing the struggle against ISIS, it opposes “large-scale combat deployment of American troops.” Even though the platform does not explicitly call for cuts in U.S. military spending, there are numerous statements suggesting action along those lines, such as promises to “end the waste in the defense budget,” “rid the military of outdated Cold War [weapons] systems,” “audit the Pentagon,” and “launch a high-level commission to review the role of defense contractors.” In addition, the platform calls for “further arms control measures” and, perhaps most tellingly (in light of the Obama administration’s vast nuclear weapons “modernization” plan), opposes “expansion of existing nuclear weapons programs,” adding: “To this end, we will work to reduce excessive spending on nuclear weapons-related programs that are projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.” In short, although the Democratic Party platform is not noticeably more daring than past Democratic platforms on foreign and military policy issues, it is not particularly warlike, either. And when compared to the hawkish platform of the Republican Party and its candidate, Donald Trump―who has blithely proclaimed “I love war” and promised the substantial military buildup and action to facilitate it―the Democrats’ supposedly “warmongering” platform seems downright dovish. A variety of leftists have either ignored the Democratic platform or disparaged it as of no consequence, arguing the Democrats will simply abandon their promises after the presidential election. But, even if this turns out to be true, which is far from certain, a political platform, like a union-negotiated contract or an international treaty, provides a written agreement―a set of standards with which progressive forces can demand compliance. As such, it can serve as an important basis for future political mobilization, in the streets and in electoral politics. Bernie Sanders, who, for a politician, ran an unusually policy-oriented presidential campaign, was determined to make the Democratic Party’s platform reflect the progressive issues he raised. He was remarkably successful, particularly within the realm of domestic policy but also, to some degree, in the realm of foreign and military policy. Progressives shouldn’t throw away the opportunity to demand its implementation – See more at:
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July 20th, 2016
If asked to identify the world’s superpowers today, most people would name the United States, Russia, and China. Although many citizens of these countries maintain that this status is based on the superiority of their national way of life, the reality is that it rests upon their nations’ enormous capacity for violence.
Certainly none has a peaceful past. The United States, Russia, and China have a long history of expansion at the expense of neighboring countries and territories, often through military conquest. Those nations on their borders today, including some that have wrenched themselves free from their imperial control, continue to fear and distrust them. Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.
Nor has there been any significant reduction of their military might in recent years. Despite their professions of peaceful intentions, all three nations maintain vast armed forces and a clear willingness to use them when it suits their rulers. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, in 2014 the United States had 2.3 million active duty military, reserve military, and paramilitary personnel, Russia had 3.4 million, and China 3.5 million. These figures do not include many other people they kept fully armed, such as China’s 3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army militia. In 2015, the combined military expenditures of the three superpowers constituted more than half the world total, with 36 percent ($596 billion) spent by the United States, 13 percent ($215 billion) by China, and 4 percent ($64 billion) by Russia.
Lest anyone think that Russia’s low military expenditures―at least compared to those of the United States and China―indicate a collapse of its capacity for mass violence, it should be kept in mind that Russia continues to possess more nuclear weapons than any other nation. With an estimated 7,290 nuclear weapons in its arsenals, Russia is a formidable military power, indeed. The United States, a close runner-up, has some 7,000, giving these two superpowers possession of roughly 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons―more than enough to annihilate life on earth. China, by contrast, lags far behind as a nuclear power, with a mere 260. Even so, these Chinese weapons, if carefully directed, could kill about 52 million people.
As might be expected of countries that view themselves as the light of the world, each is dissatisfied with the nuclear status quo and is busy ramping up its nuclear arsenal at enormous cost. In the United States, a program is underway to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to build new nuclear weapons factories, new nuclear warheads, and upgraded delivery systems for the warheads via land-based missiles, submarines, and planes. Meanwhile, both Russia and China are building their own new generations of nuclear weapons. According to a recent New York Times report, Russia is developing “big missiles topped by miniaturized warheads,” while “the Russian Navy is developing an undersea drone meant to loft a cloud of radioactive contamination from an underwater explosion that would make target cities uninhabitable.” For its part, the Chinese military is flight testing a “hypersonic glide vehicle” that is fired into space “on a traditional long-range missile but then maneuvers through the atmosphere, twisting and careening at more than a mile a second,” thus rendering missile defenses “all but useless.” Americans can take heart, though, for the Obama administration “is flight-testing its own hypersonic weapon.”
Nuclear weapons, of course, have not been used since 1945. But there is nothing to prevent their employment in the future, particularly as the superpowers continue to use their military power recklessly. China, though not currently at war, is alarming its neighbors by building islands in disputed offshore waters and establishing military facilities on them. Russia is absorbing the Ukrainian territory it recently seized by military force and heavily bombing portions of Syria. And the United States is continuing its lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while launching covert military operations in numerous other countries from its 662 military bases around the globe.
Not surprisingly, these are also violent societies at home. Although most nations of the world have abolished capital punishment, both the United States and China still put large numbers of people to death. Indeed, China is the world’s most active executioner.
This state-organized violence is often accompanied by citizen violence. In 2015, the use of firearms in the United States resulted in the deaths of 13,286 people and the wounding of another 26,819. These figures include 372 mass shootings, but not suicides, of which there are many. In 2012―the latest year with comparative statistics―the number of gun murders per capita in the United States was nearly 30 times that in Britain.
Murder rates are also high in the three superpowers―though considerably lower in China than in the United States and Russia. When ranked by the lowest murder rates among the nations of the world, China was #28,the United States #96, and Russia #128.
Overall, then, the three superpowers are unusually violent powers. An extensive study by the Institute for Economics & Peace, released recently, ranked 163 independent nations and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Examining 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators linked to domestic or international conflict, the degree of militarization, and the level of safety and security in society, the study concluded that, when it came to peacefulness, the United States ranked #103, China #120, and Russia #151.
Is this really the best that these large, economically productive, educationally advanced, and technologically sophisticated nations can do? If so, the world is in big trouble.
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July 13th, 2016
By Lawrence Wittner.
At the present time, an increase in U.S. military spending seems as superfluous as a third leg. The United States, armed with the latest in advanced weaponry, has more military might than any other nation in world history. Moreover, it has begun a $1 trillion program to refurbish its entire nuclear weapons complex.
America’s major military rivals, China and Russia, spend only a small fraction of what the United States does on its armed forces―in China’s case about a third and in Russia’s case about a ninth. Furthermore, the economic outlay necessary to maintain this vast U.S. military force constitutes a very significant burden. In fiscal 2015, U.S. military spending ($598.5 billion) accounted for 54 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.
Certainly most Americans are not clamoring for heightened investments in war and war preparations. According to a Gallup poll conducted in February 2016, only 37 percent of respondents said the U.S. government spent too little “for national defense and military purposes,” compared to 59 percent who said it spent too much (32 percent) or about the right amount (27 percent).
These findings were corroborated by a Pew Research Center survey in April 2016, which reported that 35 percent of American respondents favored increasing U.S. military spending, 24 percent favored decreasing it, and 40 percent favored keeping it the same. Although these latest figures show a rise in support for increasing military spending since 2013, this occurred mostly among Republicans. Indeed, the gap in support for higher military spending between Republicans and Democrats, which stood at 25 percentage points in 2013, rose to 41 points by 2016.
When Americans are given the facts about U.S. military spending, a substantial majority of them favor reducing it.
Actually, it appears that, when Americans are given the facts about U.S. military spending, a substantial majority of them favor reducing it. Between December 2015 and February 2016, the nonpartisanVoice of the People, affiliated with the University of Maryland, provided a sample of 7,126 registered voters with information on the current U.S. military budget, as well as leading arguments for and against it.
The arguments were vetted for accuracy by staff members of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on defense. Then, when respondents were asked their opinion about what should be done, 61 percent said they thought U.S. military spending should be reduced. The biggest cuts they championed were in spending for nuclear weapons and missile defense systems.
When it comes to this year’s presumptive Presidential candidates, however, quite a different picture emerges. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, though bragging about building “a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now,” has on occasion called for reducing military expenditures. On the other hand, his extraordinarily aggressive foreign policy positionshave led defense contractors to conclude that, with Trump in the White House, they can look forward to sharp increases in U.S. military spending.
Indeed, insisting that U.S. military power has shrunk to a pitiful level under President Obama, he has promised that, under his presidency, it would be “funded beautifully.” In March 2016, when Trump appeared on Fox News, he made that commitment more explicit by promising to increase military spending.
Given the considerably more dovish orientation of the Democratic electorate, one would expect Hillary Clinton to stake out a position more opposed to a military buildup. But, thus far, she has been remarkably cagey about this issue. In September 2015, addressing a campaign meeting in New Hampshire, Clinton called for the creation of a high-level commission to examine U.S. military spending. But whether the appointment of such a commission augurs increases or decreases remains unclear.
Meanwhile, her rather hawkish foreign policy record has convinced observers that she will support a military weapons buildup. The same conclusion can be drawn from the “National Security” section of her campaign website, which declares: “As president, she’ll ensure the United States maintains the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known.”
Although the big defense contractors generally regard Clinton, like Trump, as a safe bet, they exercise even greater influence in Congress, where they pour substantially larger amounts of money into the campaign coffers of friendly U.S. Senators and Representatives.
Thus, even when a President doesn’t back a particular weapons system, they can usually count on Congress to fund it. As a Wall Street publication recently crowed: “No matter who wins the White House this fall, one thing is clear: Defense spending will climb.”
Will it? Probably so, unless public pressure can convince a new administration in Washington to adopt a less militarized approach to national and international security.
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May 7th, 2016
By Lawrence S. Wittner.
Ever since the foundation of the American Republic, there has been both praise for and suspicion of the role the press plays in U.S. political life. Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that, if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet, Jefferson was also profoundly disturbed by the politically biased and inaccurate articles that he saw published in the press. As he told James Monroe: “My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”
Jefferson’s ambivalence about the press becomes understandable when one considers the distorted reporting that has characterized the current campaign for the U.S. Presidency.
Take the case of the Times Union, the largest newspaper in New York State’s heavily-populated capital region. With a circulation of 66,835 on weekdays and 128,565 on Sundays, the Times Union focuses on the city of Albany and its suburbs, but also covers the rest of the capital region, including the cities of Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs. Although owned by the Hearst Corporation, the paper has a somewhat more centrist tone. With the New York Presidential primaries looming, it endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and John Kasich for the Republican. This “moderate” stance meshes well with the politics of Albany, a city that, though overwhelmingly Democratic, has long been controlled by a rather conservative Democratic political “machine.”
Consequently, it must have come as an unpleasant shock to the Times Union’s editors when, in the April 19 New York State Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders emerged victorious not only in the city of Albany, but in the entire capital region. Indeed, Sanders garnered 53.3 percent of the Democratic vote in New York’s 20th Congressional district (an area comprising all of Albany and Schenectady Counties, as well as portions of Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Montgomery Counties). Having defeated Hillary Clinton by a healthy margin of almost 7 percent, Sanders won 4 out of the 7 delegates allocated to the district by the New York State Democratic Party. The outcome of the race was a reversal of the results in the 2008 Democratic primary, when Clinton handily defeated Barack Obama in the capital region.
This could have provided quite a dramatic feature item for a local newspaper, especially given the fact that a ragtag, volunteer campaign had defeated the Clinton juggernaut―a juggernaut reinforced by Clinton’s eight years of representing New York State in the U.S. Senate, the backing of Clinton by every major Democratic politician in the state, and the loyal campaigning for Clinton by the Albany Democratic “machine.” The David versus Goliath aspects of this story were also strengthened by the contrasting delegate slates for the two rival candidates that appeared on the 20th Congressional district election ballot: the top local elected public officials and Democratic Party leaders for Clinton and a group of obscure community members for Sanders. Here, it seemed, was a newspaper’s dream story.
But it wasn’t printed. In fact, the Times Union even failed to report that Sanders had won the race in the capital district.
The Times Union article posted on the night of the primary didn’t mention Sanders’s victory at all. Instead, the article, headlined “Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton win in New York,” gave the impression of a Clinton and Trump sweep. “New York,” it proclaimed, “turned out to be the state where the presidential front-runners regained their mojo.” Although the article devoted a good deal of attention to the activities of primary voters in the capital district, it somehow omitted reporting on whom they had voted for.
An updated version of the article appeared the following day in the Times Union, after the five counties’ boards of election had posted the election results online. By this time it was clear that Sanders, though losing heavily to Clinton in the New York City metropolitan region, had defeated Clinton in most other areas of the state. This included not only the 20th Congressional district, but the neighboring 19th and 21st which, all together, provided Sanders with 11 delegates to Clinton’s 7. Even then, however, the writers of the article could not quite bring themselves to say that, in the capital region, where almost all the Times Union’s readers lived and voted, Sanders had won. Instead, they confined themselves to declaring that “Sanders performed well in the more rural regions of upstate―and in the Capital Region.” With a headline this time proclaiming “Big home-state wins boost front-runners,” the article once again left readers with the impression that Clinton had been victorious in the newspaper’s locale while, in reality, the clear victor was Sanders.
On the night of April 22, three days after the presidential primary, seven words buried at the very end of a Times Union blog finally let slip the fact that Sanders had won in the 20th Congressional district.
The reluctance of the Times Union to report on how residents in its own region had voted, like the negligible coverage the newspaper gave to the vibrant local Sanders campaign in the months leading up to the Presidential primary, is really quite remarkable.
But should it surprise us? Probably not.
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January 19th, 2016
By Lawrence Wittner.
“B-61 bomb rack” by United States Department of Defense (SSGT Phil Schmitten) – DefenseLINK Multimedia Gallery, asset DFST8712392.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
A fight now underway over newly-designed U.S. nuclear weapons highlights how far the Obama administration has strayed from its commitment to build a nuclear-free world.
The fight, as a recent New York Times article indicates, concerns a variety of nuclear weapons that the U.S. military is currently in the process of developing or, as the administration likes to say, “modernizing.” Last year, the Pentagon flight-tested a mock version of the most advanced among them, the B61 Model 12. This redesigned nuclear weapon is the country’s first precision-guided atomic bomb, with a computer brain and maneuverable fins that enable it to more accurately target sites for destruction. It also has a “dial-a-yield” feature that allows its handlers to adjust the level of its explosive power.
Supporters of this revamped weapon of mass destruction argue that, by ensuring greater precision in bombing “enemy” targets, reducing the yield of a nuclear blast, and making a nuclear attack more “thinkable,” the B61 Model 12 is actually a more humanitarian and credible weapon than older, bigger versions. Arguing that this device would reduce risks for civilians near foreign military targets, James Miller, who developed the nuclear weapons modernization plan while undersecretary of defense, stated in a recent interview that “minimizing civilian casualties if deterrence fails is both a more credible and a more ethical approach.”
Other specialists were far more critical. The Federation of Atomic Scientists pointed out that the high accuracy of the weapon and its lower settings for destructiveness might tempt military commanders to call for its use in a future conflict.
General James E. Cartright, a former head of the U.S. Strategic Command and a retired vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that possessing a smaller nuclear device did make its employment “more thinkable.” But he supported developing the weapon because of its presumed ability to enhance nuclear deterrence. Using a gun as a metaphor, he stated: “It makes the trigger easier to pull but makes the need to pull the trigger less likely.”
Another weapon undergoing U.S. government “modernization” is the cruise missile. Designed for launching by U.S. bombers, the weapon—charged William Perry, a former secretary of defense—raised the possibilities of a “limited nuclear war.” Furthermore, because cruise missiles can be produced in nuclear and non-nuclear versions, an enemy under attack, uncertain which was being used, might choose to retaliate with nuclear weapons.
Overall, the Obama administration’s nuclear “modernization” program—including not only redesigned nuclear weapons, but new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs, and production plants—is estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion over the next thirty years. Andrew C. Weber, a former assistant secretary of defense and former director of the interagency body that oversees America’s nuclear arsenal, has criticized it as “unaffordable and unneeded.” After all, the U.S. government already has an estimated 7,200 nuclear weapons.
The nuclear weapons modernization program is particularly startling when set against President Obama’s April 2009 pledge to build a nuclear weapons-free world. Although this public commitment played a large part in his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize that year, in succeeding years the administration’s action on this front declined precipitously. It did manage to secure a strategic arms reduction treaty (New START) with Russia in 2010 and issue a pledge that same year that the U.S. government would “not develop new nuclear warheads.” But, despite promises to bring the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification and to secure further nuclear arms agreements with Russia, nuclear disarmament efforts ground to a halt. Instead, plans for “nuclear modernization” began. The president’s 2016 State of the Union address contained not a word about nuclear disarmament, much less a nuclear weapons-free world.
Two formidable obstacles derailed the administration’s nuclear disarmament policy. At home, powerful forces moved decisively to perpetuate the U.S. nuclear weapons program: military contractors, the weapons labs, top military officers, and, especially, the Republican Party. Republican support for disarmament treaties was crucial, for a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate was required to ratify them. Thus, when the Republicans abandoned the nuclear arms control and disarmament approach of past GOP presidents and ferociously attacked the Obama administration for “weakness” or worse, the administration beat an ignominious retreat. To attract the backing of Republicans for the New START Treaty, it promised an upgraded U.S. nuclear weapons program.
Russia’s lack of interest in further nuclear disarmament agreements with the United States provided another key obstacle. With 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in the arsenals of these two nations, a significant reduction in nuclear weapons hinged on Russia’s support for it. But, angered by the sharp decline of its power in world affairs, including NATO’s advance to its borders, the Russian government engaged in its own nuclear buildup and spurned U.S. disarmament proposals.
Despite these roadblocks, the Obama administration could renew the nuclear disarmament process. Developing better relations with Russia, for example by scrapping NATO’s provocative expansion plan, could smooth the path toward a Russian-American nuclear disarmament agreement. And this, in turn, would soften the objections of the lesser nuclear powers to reducing their own nuclear arsenals. If Republican opposition threatened ratification of a disarmament treaty, it could be bypassed through an informal U.S.-Russian agreement for parallel weapons reductions. Moreover, even without a bilateral agreement, the U.S. government could simply scrap large portions of its nuclear arsenal, as well as plans for modernization. Does a country really need thousands of nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack? Britain possesses only 215. And the vast majority of the world’s nations don’t possess any.
Given the terrible dangers and costs posed by nuclear weapons, isn’t it time to get back on the disarmament track?
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October 29th, 2015
This college building in Kansas was one of the first created under the 1862 Morrill Act
The issue of making college tuition-free has recently come to the fore in American politics, largely because the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, have each championed it. Sanders has called for free undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities, to be financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation, while Clinton has done the same, although with some qualifications and a different funding mechanism.
The major argument for free public college and university education is the same as for free public education in general: like the free public elementary and high schools already existing in the United States, free public higher education provides educational opportunity for all.
Actually, until fairly recently, the United States had a free or virtually free system of public higher education. In 1862, to provide educational opportunity for the “sons of toil,” the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act, establishing land-grant public colleges and universities on a tuition-free basis. For roughly a century thereafter, many American public colleges and universities either charged no tuition or a nominal fee for attendance. The State University of New York (SUNY) system—the largest in the nation—remained tuition-free until 1963. The University of California system, established in 1868, had free tuition until the 1980s.
In recent decades, however, the situation has changed dramatically, with tuition costs soaring to dizzying heights at both public and private colleges. Between 1978 and 2013, American college tuition reportedly rose by 1,120 percent. Last year, the average annual cost for undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities was $9,139 for state residents and $22,958 for out of state residents. At the University of California, yearly undergraduate tuition and fees now stand at $13,251 for state residents and $37,959 for out of state residents. The cost is considerably higher at private colleges and universities, which average $32,599 yearly for tuition and fees. The ten most expensive average $50,632 a year. These figures, of course, do not include additional thousands of dollars for room, board, books, and other living costs.
This enormous hike in tuition has had a devastating impact upon educational opportunity. Unable to afford college, many young people never attend it or drop out along the way. Studies have found that the primary reason young people cite for not attending college is its enormous cost. Many other young people can afford to attend college only by working simultaneously at paying jobs (which takes time away from their studies) and/or by running up enormous debt. As recently as the early 1990s, most college students did not take out loans to finance their education. Now, however, nearly three out of four college graduates have borrowed to cover their college costs, running up a debt averaging $30,000 each. As a result, American student loan debt now totals $1.3 trillion. Paying off this debt at high interest rates constitutes a heavy burden for young Americans, and all too many of them either default on it or, to repay it, give up on their dreams and settle for working at jobs they dislike.
The tuition squeeze on young Americans results largely from severe reductions in state and local funding for public colleges and universities, usually initiated by conservative, budget-cutting governments. Since 2008 alone, state funding for public universities has dropped 16 percent. During that same period, state funding for SUNY’s 64 campuses dropped by 28 percent. Indeed, there is considerable question as to whether public colleges and universities are still public institutions, for most of their costs—once covered by government funding—are now met by student tuition. Today, state funding covers only about 30 percent of SUNY’s costs; students pick up the remaining 70 percent.
This campus austerity program hurts not only students, but the entire educational process. Anxious to maintain or expand operations despite declining levels of government funding, college and university administrators cut campus costs by replacing tenured and tenure-line faculty with rootless, powerless, low-paid part-timers (adjuncts) and underpaid full-timers in temporary positions (contingents). In 1969, tenured and tenure-track faculty held three out of four teaching positions. By 2013, this “regular” faculty held one out of five. Faculty morale and the quality of education have plummeted.
In addition, campus administrators, faced with declining income, are increasingly inclined to accept funding from wealthy individuals and corporations that are reshaping higher education to serve their interests. From 2005 to 2013, two rightwing billionaires, Charles and David Koch, spent $68 million funding the kinds of programs they wanted on 308 U.S. college and university campuses. In New York State, when Governor Andrew Cuomo initiated Start-Up NY, a scheme to provide a tax-free haven to businesses that moved onto or near public (and some private) college campuses, there was never any question about how SUNY’s chancellor and other administrators would respond. Instead of resisting this business takeover of university facilities and mission, they became leading cheerleaders for it.
In these circumstances, free tuition would, at the least, restore educational opportunity to millions of Americans and lift the terrible burden of debt from the shoulders of young people. In addition, by bringing large numbers of new students and their funding to public colleges and universities, it would reduce the incentive for administrators to turn the faculty into powerless, impoverished migrant laborers. Indeed, a surge of fully-funded students might even provide administrators with the backbone to resist the growing corporate takeover of higher education. Furthermore, although private colleges might resent this enhanced funding of their public competitors, the resulting competition for students might encourage them to decrease their astronomical tuition, thus providing them with a more economically diverse student body.
Overall, then, tuition-free college makes a lot of sense, which explains why Americans established it in the first place.
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September 23rd, 2015
When all is said and done, what the recently-approved Iran nuclear agreement is all about is ensuring that Iran honors its commitment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) not to develop nuclear weapons.
But the NPT—which was ratified in 1968 and which went into force in 1970—has two kinds of provisions. The first is that non-nuclear powers forswear developing a nuclear weapons capability. The second is that nuclear-armed nations divest themselves of their own nuclear weapons. Article VI of the treaty is quite explicit on this second point, stating: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
What has been the record of the nuclear powers when it comes to compliance with the NPT?
The good news is that there has been some compliance. Thanks to a variety of nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements negotiated among the major nuclear powers, plus some unilateral action, the world’s total nuclear weapons stockpile has been reduced by more than two- thirds.
On the other hand, 45 years after the NPT went into effect, nine nations continue to cling to about 16,000 nuclear weapons, thousands of which remain on hair-trigger alert. These nations not only include the United States and Russia (which together possess more than 90 percent of them), but Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. If their quarrels—of which there are many—ever get out of hand, there is nothing to prevent these nations from using their nuclear weapons to lay waste to the world on a scale unprecedented in human history.
Equally dangerous, from the standpoint of the future, is that these nations have recently abandoned negotiating incremental nuclear disarmament agreements and have plunged, instead, into programs of nuclear weapons “modernization.” In the United States, this modernization—which is projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years—will include everything from ballistic missiles to bombers, warheads to naval vessels, cruise missiles to nuclear weapons factories. In Russia, the government is in the process of replacing all of its Soviet era nuclear weapons systems with new, upgraded versions. As for Britain, the government has committed itself to building a new nuclear-armed submarine fleet called Successor, thereby continuing the nation’s nuclear status into the second half of the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, as the Arms Control Association recently reported, China, India, and Pakistan “are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based delivery systems.”
Thus, despite the insistence of the nuclear powers that Iran comply with the NPT, it is pretty clear that these nuclear-armed countries do not consider themselves bound to comply with this landmark agreement, signed by 189 nations. Some of the nuclear powers, in fact, have been quite brazen in rejecting it. Israel, India, and Pakistan have long defied the NPT—first by refusing to sign it and, later, by going ahead and building their own nuclear weapons. North Korea, once a signatory to the treaty, has withdrawn from it.
In the aftermath of the Iranian government’s agreement to comply with the treaty, would it not be an appropriate time to demand that the nuclear-armed nations do so?
At the least, the nuclear nations should agree to halt nuclear weapons “modernization” and to begin negotiating the long-delayed treaty to scrap the 16,000 nuclear weapons remaining in their arsenals. Having arranged for strict verification procedures to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, they should be familiar with procedures for verification of their own nuclear disarmament.
After all, isn’t sauce for the goose also sauce for the gander?
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August 31st, 2015
By Lawrence S. Wittner.
In 1915, a mother’s protest against funneling children into war became the theme of a new American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” Although the ballad attained great popularity, not everyone liked it. Theodore Roosevelt, a leading militarist of the era, retorted that the proper place for women who criticized war was “in a harem―and not in the United States.”
Roosevelt would be happy to learn that, a century later, preparing children for war continues unabated.
That’s certainly the case in today’s Russia, where thousands of government-funded clubs are producing what is called “military-patriotic education” for children. Accepting both boys and girls, these clubs teach them military exercises, some of which employ heavy military equipment. In a small town outside St. Petersburg, for example, children ranging from five to 17 years of age spend evenings learning how to fight and use military weapons.
These efforts are supplemented by the Voluntary Society of Cooperation with the Army, Air Force, and Navy, which prepares Russian high school students for military service. This society claims that, in the past year alone, it has held 6,500 military patriotic events and channeled more than 200,000 young people into taking the official “Ready for Labor and Defense” test. Government funding of the society’s budget is lavish, and has grown dramatically in recent years.
Russia’s “patriotic education” also benefits from frequent military historical reenactments. The head of the Moscow branch of the All-Russian Military History Movement observed that groups hosting such reenactments help people “realize that they can’t spend their whole life playing with Kinder Eggs or Pokemon.”
Apparently sharing that opinion, the Russian government opened a vast military theme park in June 2015 in Kubinka, an hour’s drive from Moscow. Frequently referred to as a “military Disneyland,” Patriot Park was proclaimed “an important element in our system of military-patriotic work with young people” by President Vladimir Putin. On hand for the opening and backed up by a military choir, Putin also brought the good news that 40 new intercontinental missiles had been added to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. According to news reports, Patriot Park, when completed, will cost $365 million and draw up to 100,000 visitors per day.
Those attending the park’s opening found the rows of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and missile launching systems on display, plus the riding of tanks and shooting of guns, deeply moving. “This park is a gift to Russian citizens, who can now behold the full power of the Russian armed forces,” declared Sergei Privalov, a Russian Orthodox priest. “Children should come here, play with the weaponry and climb on the tanks and see all the most modern technology.” Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves, a violent biker gang planning a similar park, remarked: “Now we all feel closer to the army” and that is “a good thing.” After all, “if we don’t educate our own children then America will do it for us.” Vladimir Kryuchkov, a weapons demonstrator, admitted that some missile launchers were too heavy for very small children. But he maintained that smaller rocket-propelled grenade launchers would be perfect for them, adding: “All males of all ages are defenders of the motherland and they must be ready for war.”
They are certainly ready in the United States. In 1916, Congress established the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), which today flourishes in some 3,500 American high schools and enrolls well over half a million American children. Some government-run military training programs even operate in U.S. middle schools. In JROTC, students are taught by military officers, read Pentagon-approved textbooks, wear military uniforms, and conduct military parades. Some JROTC units even use automatic rifles with live ammunition. Although the Pentagon covers some of the expense of this costly program, the rest of it is borne by the schools themselves. This “youth development program,” as the Pentagon calls it, pays off for the military when JROTC students come of age and join the armed forces―action facilitated by the fact that U.S. military recruiters are often right in the classrooms.
Even if high school students do not participate in JROTC activities, military recruiters have easy access to them. One of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires high schools to share students’ names and contact information with military recruiters unless students or their parents opt out of this arrangement. In addition, the U.S. military uses mobile exhibits―replete with gaming stations, huge flat-screen television sets, and weapons simulators―to reach children at high schools and elsewhere. GI Johnny, an inflatable, goofily-grinning doll dressed in Army fatigues, has been a great hit among young children. According to one military recruiter, “the little kids are very comfortable with Johnny.”
In 2008, the U.S. military, recognizing that video arcades with first person shooter games were far more popular than its dreary recruiting centers in urban ghettoes, established the Army Experience Center, a giant video arcade in the Franklin Mills mall just outside Philadelphia. Here children immersed themselves in hi-tech warfare at computer terminals and in two large simulation halls, where they could ride Humvee vehicles and Apache helicopters and shoot their way through waves of “enemies.” Meanwhile, Army recruiters circulated through the youthful throngs, signing them up for the armed forces.
Actually, video games might do a better job of militarizing children than do the recruiters. Created at times in cooperation with major arms contractors, violent video games played by children dehumanize opponents and provide justifications for “wasting” them. They not only promote a level of ruthless aggression that the Wehrmacht might well envy―see, for example, the immensely popular Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter―but are very effective in warping children’s values.
How long will we continue raising our children to be soldiers?
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July 17th, 2015
“Placed in the context of over a half century of nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, the Iran nuclear deal does not seem at all outlandish,” the author writes. (Photo: Lamerie/flickr/cc)
The recent announcement of a nuclear deal between the governments of Iran and other major nations, including the United States, naturally draws our attention to the history of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements. What accounts for their advent on the world scene and what have they accomplished?
Ever since 1945, when the atomic bomb was built and used by the U.S. government in a devastating attack upon Japanese cities, the world has lived on the brink of catastrophe, for nuclear weapons, if integrated into war, could cause the total destruction of civilization.
To cope with this ominous situation, the Truman administration, in 1946, turned to promoting the world’s first nuclear arms control agreement through a U.S. government-crafted proposal, the Baruch Plan. Although the Baruch Plan inspired enthusiasm among nations friendly to the United States, America’s emerging rival, the Soviet Union, rejected this proposal and championed its own. In turn, the U.S. government rejected the Soviet proposal. As a result, the nuclear arms race surged forward, with the Soviet government testing its first nuclear weapons in 1949, the U.S. government testing additional nuclear weapons and expanding its nuclear weapons stockpile, and the British government scrambling to catch up. Soon all three nations were building hydrogen bombs―weapons that had a thousand times the destructive power of the atomic bombs that had annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But this escalation of the nuclear arms race, combined with growing popular protest against it in the United States and around the world, led to new international efforts to forge a nuclear arms control agreement. In 1958, the Eisenhower administration joined the governments of the Soviet Union and Britain in halting nuclear weapons testing and began serious negotiations for a test ban treaty. In 1963, the Kennedy administration, along with its Soviet and British counterparts, negotiated and signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere.
In subsequent years, Democratic and Republican presidents, anxious to reduce nuclear dangers and to pacify a restive public, uneasy about nuclear weapons and nuclear war, signed numerous nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements. These included: the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Lyndon Johnson); the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the SALT I Treaty (Richard Nixon); the SALT II Treaty (Jimmy Carter); the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Ronald Reagan); the START I and START II treaties (George H.W. Bush); the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (Bill Clinton); the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (George W. Bush); and the New START Treaty (Barack Obama).
These agreements helped dissuade the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations from developing nuclear weapons. Many nations had the scientific and technological capability to build them, and in the early 1960s it was assumed that they would do so. But, given the new barriers, including international treaties banning further nuclear testing and discouraging nuclear proliferation, they refrained from becoming nuclear powers.
Nor was this the only consequence of the agreements. Even the small number of nuclear nations agreed not to develop or to maintain particularly destabilizing nuclear weapons and to reduce their nuclear stockpiles substantially. In fact, thanks largely to these agreements, more than two-thirds of the world’s nuclear weapons were destroyed. Also, to enforce these nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, extensive inspection and verification mechanisms were developed.
Perhaps most significant, nuclear war was avoided. Wouldn’t that nuclear catastrophe have been more likely to occur in a world bristling with nuclear weapons―a world in which a hundred or so nations, many of them quite unstable or led by fanatics, could draw upon nuclear weapons for their armed conflicts or sell them to terrorists eager to implement their fantasies of destruction? Only the NRA or a similarly weapons-mad organization would argue that we would have been safer in such an environment.
To be sure, nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements have always had their critics. During the debate over the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Edward Teller―the prominent nuclear physicist who is sometimes called “the father of the H-bomb”―told U.S. senators that “if you ratify this treaty . . . you will have given away the future safety of this country.” Phyllis Schlafly, a rising star in conservative politics, warned that it would put the United States “at the mercy of the dictators.” A leading politician, Barry Goldwater, spearheaded the Republican attack upon the treaty in the Senate and during his 1964 presidential campaign. Nevertheless, there turned out to be no adverse consequences of the treaty to the United States―unless, of course, one views the rapid decline of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear confrontation as an adverse consequence.
Placed in the context of over a half century of nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, the Iran nuclear deal does not seem at all outlandish. Indeed, it seems downright practical, merely ensuring that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is implemented in that major nation. Toward this end, the agreement provides for Iran’s sharp reduction of its nuclear-related materials that, potentially, could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, this process will be accompanied by extensive monitoring and verification. It is hard to imagine what more today’s critics could want―except, perhaps, another unnecessary Middle East war.
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July 4th, 2015
By Lawrence Wittner.
Where do American Christians stand on guns and gun-related violence?
Christianity is a religion that professes love and peace. Admittedly, the Christian Bible’s frequent depiction of Christ (“The Prince of Peace”) as rejecting violence seems contradicted by his remark that he had come not to bring peace, but a sword. But this statement can be interpreted as meaning that his preaching would cause religious divisions in society, rather than that he approved of the spread of weapons and war. Also, of course, Christians are supposed to revere the Ten Commandments, which include the injunction: “Thou shalt not kill.” Not surprisingly, then, during the first three centuries of the Christian church, it was staunchly pacifist. And even thereafter, Christianity has often emphasized turning the other check and loving one’s enemies. So you would expect that, by a wide margin, American Christians — and particularly Protestants, who emphasize their return to early Christianity — would reject the plague of guns and gun violence that has engulfed the United States.
But you would be wrong.
According to the polls, white evangelical Protestants are the U.S. religious group most likely to have access to guns, with 57 percent of them living in homes with one or more person owning such weapons. The runners-up are the less numerous white mainline Protestants, 55 percent of whom have one or more gun owners in their households. By contrast, only 31 percent of Catholics fall into this category, whileJews appear even less likely to live among people packing guns.
The divergence in attitudes toward gun control is even more striking. According to anAugust 2012 survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 42 percent of white mainline Protestants favored the passage of stricter gun control laws, as compared to 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of people without religious affiliation. In 2013, after additional gun massacres, another opinion survey by the same non-partisan organization found that white evangelical Protestants continued to constitute the religious group least likely to support stricter gun control laws, with only 38 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed. By contrast, the passage of stricter gun control laws was favored by African American Protestants (76 percent), Catholics (67 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (60 percent), and, for a change, white mainline Protestants (57 percent). Although Jews were apparently not polled on these issues, there were numerous indicationsthat they also supported gun control by a wide margin.
How should this white Protestant (and particularly white evangelical Protestant) fondness for gun ownership and hostility to gun control be explained? After all, there should be something disturbing to people committed to love and peace about the fact that, among all economically-developed countries, the United States has by far thehighest rate of gun-related murders in the world — indeed, about 20 times the average for the next 30 countries on the list. Also, 87 percent of white evangelical Protestants describe themselves as “pro-life.”
The embrace of guns by many white Protestants is bolstered by a number ofarguments linked to their religious assumptions. One contention is that the United States was established by God and, therefore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution (which they allege guarantees individual gun ownership) is sacred. Another is that depriving people of “self-defense” deprives them of a God-given right. In addition, they tend to believe that corrupt, un-Christian values, rather than the easy availability of guns, lie behind the frequency of gun massacres.
Mike Huckabee, who has a strong appeal to white Protestants, particularly of the evangelical variety, often draws upon these themes. “We don’t have a crime problem, or a gun problem, or even a violence problem,” he said on Fox News after one massacre. “We have a sin problem. And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools and communities . . . we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.”
If gun murders simply reflect a turning away from God, though, it’s hard to understand why gun violence is so much more prevalent in the United States than in other economically developed countries. Americans, after all, are much more religious than people in other developed nations. According to a 2009 Gallup poll conducted in 114 countries, 65 percent of respondents in the United States said that religion played an important role in their daily lives. By contrast, only 30 percent said that in France, 27 percent in Britain, 24 percent in Japan, 19 percent in Denmark, and 17 percent in Sweden. Similarly, the murder rate in the American South — where the white Protestant Bible Belt is located — has long been the highest in the United States.
A more satisfactory explanation for the unusually high rate of U.S. gun murders and massacres might lie in the fact that other countries have strict gun control laws that have limited gun ownership and use. And this, in turn, might result from the fact that they do not labor under the burden of a predominantly evangelical white Protestantism, committed to gun-owners’ “rights” at all costs.
Given the size of this constituency in American life, as well as its disproportionate influence in American politics, gun killings — which claim some 30,000 American lives each year — are unlikely to taper off soon. Indeed, racists, religious fanatics, the mentally ill, criminals, police, and, yes, average Americans will continue to gun down their neighbors with great frequency year after year. As Sarah Palin, an evangelical Protestant, told her enthusiastic followers: “We say keep your change, we’ll keep our God, our guns, our constitution.”
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June 12th, 2015
By Lawrence S. Wittner.
Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs
The recent announcement by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist,” that he is running for the Democratic nomination for President raises the question of whether Americans will vote for a candidate with that political orientation.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the idea of democratic socialism — democratic control of the economy — had substantial popularity in the United States. At the time, the Socialist Party of America was a thriving, rapidly-growing political organization, much like its democratic socialist counterparts abroad — the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the German Social Democratic Party, the Australian Labor Party, and numerous other rising, working class-based political entities around the world. In 1912, when the United States had a much smaller population than today, the Socialist Party had 118,000 dues-paying members and drew nearly a million votes for its candidate, Eugene V. Debs, the great labor leader, for President. (The victor that year was the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who drew six million votes.) Furthermore, the party held 1,200 public offices in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. Socialist administrations were elected in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Butte, Montana, Flint, Michigan, Schenectady, New York, and all across the country. In 1912, the Socialist Party claimed 323 English and foreign language publications with a total circulation in excess of two million.
Of course, this socialist surge didn’t last. The Democratic and the Republican parties, faced with this threat to their political future, turned to supporting progressive agendas — breaking up or regulating giant corporations, curbing corporate abuses, and championing a graduated income tax — that stole the socialists’ thunder. In addition, after U.S. entry into World War I, an action opposed by the socialists, the federal and state governments moved to crush the Socialist Party — arresting and imprisoning its leaders (including Debs), purging its elected officials, and closing down its publications. Moreover, one portion of the party, excited by the success of revolutionaries in overthrowing Russia’s Czar and establishing the Soviet Union, broke with the Socialist Party and established Communist rivals. Co-opted by the mainstream parties, repressed by government, and abandoned by would-be revolutionaries, the Socialist Party never recovered.
Even so, democratic socialism retained a lingering influence in American life. When a new wave of reform occurred during the New Deal of the 1930s, it included numerous measures advocated and popularized by the Socialist Party: Social Security; public jobs programs like the WPA; minimum wage laws; maximum hour laws; and a steep tax on the wealthy. Here and there, although rarely, socialists even secured public office, and Milwaukee voters regularly elected socialist mayors until 1948. Starting in 1928 and running through the early post-World War II era, Norman Thomas became the attractive, articulate leader of the Socialist Party, and was widely respected among many American liberals and union leaders.
What nearly eliminated the Socialist Party was a combination of New Deal measures (which drew labor and other key constituencies into the Democratic Party) and the public’s identification of Socialism with Communism. Although, in fact, the American Socialist and Communist parties were bitter rivals — the former championing democratic socialism on the British model and the latter authoritarian socialism on the Soviet model — many Americans, influenced by dire conservative warnings, confused the two. Particularly during the Cold War, this further undermined the Socialist Party.
In the early 1970s, with the party barely surviving, most democratic socialists decided it was time to reassess their strategy. They asked: Did the collapse of the Socialist Party mean that, in the United States, democratic socialism was unpopular, or did it mean that third party voting was unpopular? After all, large numbers of Americans supported democratic socialist programs, ranging from national healthcare to public education, from public transportation to taxing the rich, from preserving the environment to defending workers’ rights. What would happen if democratic socialists worked for their programs within the Democratic Party, where the typical constituencies of the world’s democratic socialist parties — unions, racial minorities, women’s rights activists, and environmentalists — were already located? Led by the party’s titular leader, Michael Harrington, whose book The Other America sparked the War on Poverty of the 1960s, they organized Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and plunged into major social movements and into the Democratic Party.
Although, in the ensuing decades, DSA made little progress toward rebuilding a mass, high profile democratic socialist organization, it did manage to pull thousands of union, racial justice, women’s rights, and environmental activists into its orbit. DSA also discovered a significant number of leftwing Democratic and, sometimes, independent candidates for office who welcomed its support and occasionally joined it. Bernie Sanders — an independent who was elected as mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s only Congressman, and a U.S. Senator from Vermont — is certainly one of the most successful of these politicians. Indeed, in 2012 he won re-election to the Senate with 71 percent of the vote.
But will Americans actually support a democratic socialist in the Democratic Presidential primaries? Sanders himself has conceded that the odds are heavily against him. Even so, although a Quinnipiac poll of American voters in late May of this year found him far behind the much better known and better funded Hillary Clinton, his 15 percent of the vote placed him well ahead of all other potential Democratic candidates. Also, there’s great potential for broadening his support. The latest poll on Americans’ attitudes toward “socialism,” taken in December 2011, found that 31 percent of respondents had a positive reaction to it. And what if Americans had been asked about their attitude toward “democratic socialism”?
Consequently, even if Hillary Clinton emerges as the Democratic nominee, as seems likely, a good showing by Sanders could strengthen the democratic socialist current in American life.
– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/159564#sthash.SAIpYKIu.dpuf
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May 28th, 2015
The Sad Case of Start-Up NY
For several decades, state and local governments have been showering private businesses with tax breaks and direct subsidies based on the theory that this practice fosters economic development and, therefore, job growth. But does it? New York State’s experience indicates that, when it comes to producing jobs, corporate welfare programs are a bad investment.
In May 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, with enormous fanfare, launched a campaign to establish Tax-Free NY—a scheme providing tax-free status for ten years to companies that moved onto or near the state’s public college and university campuses. According to Cuomo, this would “supercharge” the state’s economy and bring job creation efforts to an unprecedented level. It was “a game-changing initiative,” the governor insisted, and—despite criticism from educators, unions, and some conservatives — local officials fell into line. Reluctant to oppose this widely-touted jobs creation measure, the state legislature established the program—renamed Start-Up NY and including some private college campuses—that June.
After that, Start-Up NY moved into high gear. A total of 356 tax-free zones were established at 62 New York colleges and universities, with numerous administrators hired to oversee the development of the new commercial programs on their campuses. New York State spent $47 million in 2014—and might have spent as much as $150 million over the years—advertising Start-Up NY in all 50 states of the nation, with ads focused on the theme: “New York Open for Business.” Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of the State University of New York, crowed: “Nowhere in the country do new businesses and entrepreneurs stand to benefit more by partnering with higher education than in New York State, thanks to the widespread success of Governor Cuomo’s Start-Up NY program. With interest and investment coming in from around the globe and new jobs being created in every region, Start-Up NY has provided a spark for our economy and for SUNY.” This was, she declared, a “transformative initiative.”
The government entity that oversees more than 50 of the state’s economic development programs, during all of 2014 Start-Up NY generated a grand total of 76 jobs.
But how “transformative” has Start-Up NY been? According to the Empire State Development Corporation, the government entity that oversees more than 50 of the state’s economic development programs, during all of 2014 Start-Up NY generated a grand total of 76 jobs. Moreover, the vast majority of the 30 companies operating under the program had simply shifted their operations from one region of the state to another. The New York Times reported that, of the businesses up and running under Start-Up NY, just four came from out of state. Indeed, in some cases, the “new” businesses had not even crossed county lines. One company moved one mile to qualify for the tax-free program. Furthermore, when it came to business investment, there was a substantial gap between promises and implementation. As theEmpire State Development Corporation noted, companies promised $91 million in investments over a five year period, but only invested $1.7 million of that in 2014. Thus, not surprisingly, during 2014 the companies operating under Start-Up NY created only 4 percent of the new jobs they had promised.
Actually, Start-Up NY’s dismal record is not much worse than that of New York’s other economic development programs. According to a December 2013 study by the Alliance for a Greater New York, the state spends approximately $7 billion every year on subsidies to businesses, including “tax exemptions, tax credits, grants, tax-exempt bonds, and discounted land to corporations, ostensibly in the name of job creation, economic growth, and improved quality of life for all New Yorkers.” But 33 percent of spending by the state’s Industrial Development Agencies resulted in no job promises, no job creation, or a loss of jobs. In fact, “with little accountability, businesses often take the money and run.”
A recent report by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reached similar conclusions. According to DiNapoli, in 2014 the programs overseen by the Empire State Development Corporation cost the state $1.3 billion (not including the voluminous tax breaks granted to companies) and helped create or retain only 14,779 jobs — at a cost to taxpayers of $87,962 per job. The comptroller’s scathing report concluded that there was no attempt by the state agency to ascertain whether its programs “have succeeded or failed at creating good jobs for New Yorkers or whether its investments are reasonable.”
Of course, instead of shoveling billions of dollars into the coffers of private, profit-making companies, New York could invest its public resources in worthwhile ventures that generate large numbers of jobs — for example, in public education. In 2011, as a consequence of severe cutbacks in state funding of New York’s public schools and a new state law that capped local property tax growth—two measures demanded by Governor Cuomo — 7,000 teachers were laid off and another 4,000 teacher positions went unfilled. Overall, 80 percent of school districts reported cutting teaching positions.
Today, with New York’s schools severely underfunded—more than half of them receiving less state aid now than they did in 2008-2009—this pattern of eliminating teachers and closing down educational opportunities for children has continued. But what if the billions of dollars squandered on subsidizing private businesses in the forlorn hope that they will hire workers were spent, instead, on putting thousands of teachers back to work? Wouldn’t this policy also create a better educated workforce that would be more likely to secure employment? And wouldn’t this shift in investment have the added advantage of creating a more knowledgeable public, better able to understand the world and partake in the full richness of civilization?
It’s a shame that many state and local government officials have such a limited, business-oriented mentality that they cannot imagine an alternative to corporate welfare.
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March 31st, 2015
By Lawrence S. Wittner
Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.
Nine nations, however, have flouted the NPT by either developing nuclear weapons since the treaty went into effect or failing to honor the commitment to disarm. These nine scofflaws and their nuclear arsenals are Russia (7,500 nuclear warheads), the United States (7,100 nuclear warheads), France (300 nuclear warheads), China (250 nuclear warheads), Britain (215 nuclear warheads), Pakistan (100-120 nuclear warheads), India (90-110 nuclear warheads), Israel (80 nuclear warheads), and North Korea (10 nuclear warheads).
Nor are the nuclear powers likely to be in compliance with the NPT any time soon. The Indian and Pakistani governments are engaged in a rapid nuclear weapons buildup, while the British government is contemplating the development of a new, more advanced nuclear weapons system. Although, in recent decades, the U.S. and Russian governments did reduce their nuclear arsenals substantially, that process has come to a halt in recent years, as relations have soured between the two nations. Indeed, both countries are currently engaged in a new, extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. The U.S. government has committed itself to spending $1 trillion to “modernize” its nuclear facilities and build new nuclear weapons. For its part, the Russian government is investing heavily in the upgrading of its nuclear warheads and the development of new delivery systems, such as nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines.
What can be done about this flouting of the NPT, some 45 years after it went into operation?
That will almost certainly be a major issue at an NPT Review Conference that will convene at the UN headquarters, in New York City, from April 27 to May 22. These review conferences, held every five years, attract high-level national officials from around the world to discuss the treaty’s implementation. For a very brief time, the review conferences even draw the attention of television and other news commentators before the mass communications media return to their preoccupation with scandals, arrests, and the lives of movie stars.
This spring’s NPT review conference might be particularly lively, given the heightening frustration of the non-nuclear powers at the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill their NPT commitments. At recent disarmament conferences in Norway, Mexico and Austria, the representatives of a large number of non-nuclear nations, ignoring the opposition of the nuclear powers, focused on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. One rising demand among restless non-nuclear nations and among nuclear disarmament groups is to develop a nuclear weapons ban treaty, whether or not the nuclear powers are willing to participate in negotiations.
To heighten the pressure for the abolition of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament groups are staging a Peace and Planet mobilization, in Manhattan, on the eve of the NPT review conference. Calling for a “Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World,” the mobilization involves an international conference (comprised of plenaries and workshops) on April 24 and 25, plus a culminating interfaith convocation, rally, march, and festival on April 26. Among the hundreds of endorsing organizations are many devoted to peace (Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, and Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom), environmentalism (Earth Action, Friends of the Earth, and 350NYC), religion (Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Unitarian Universalist UN Office, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist General Board of Church & Society), workers’ rights (New Jersey Industrial Union Council, United Electrical Workers, and Working Families Party), and human welfare (American Friends Service Committee and National Association of Social Workers).
Of course, how much effect the proponents of a nuclear weapons-free world will have on the cynical officials of the nuclear powers remains to be seen. After as many as 45 years of stalling on their own nuclear disarmament, it is hard to imagine that they are finally ready to begin negotiating a treaty effectively banning nuclear weapons―or at least their nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, let us encourage Iran not to follow the bad example set by the nuclear powers. And let us ask the nuclear-armed nations, now telling Iran that it should forgo the possession of nuclear weapons, when they are going to start practicing what they preach.
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