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Donald Trump Has a New Website but It’s Bad

Mother Jones Magazine -

When then-President Donald Trump permanently lost his tweeting privileges in January, he entered uncertain territory: How would the second president ever to have a Twitter account communicate to the world without a Twitter account? As the weeks went by, Trump talked about creating a new social media platform for himself and his supporters—a place to engage in public discussions and weigh in on the issues of the day, free of the Big Tech censors and oppressive wokeness. What would this new shitposting arcadia look like?

Apparently, it would look a lot like a blog.

On Tuesday, in a story that sounds weirdly like someone trying to describe the internet in 1992, Fox News reported that Trump had “launched a communications platform, which will eventually give him the ability to communicate directly with his followers.” The story continued:

The platform, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” appears on www.DonaldJTrump.com/desk. The space will allow Trump to post comments, images, and videos. 

Donald J. Trump dot com backslash desk. Donald J. Trump dot com backslash desk. Donald J. Trump dot com backslash desk. Donald J. Trump dot com backslash desk. This is a website! You’re describing a blog, on a website! Why does this description sound like Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric in that old Today Show video?

This is old technology, man. Anyone can set one of these up! Clicking on the website—again, that’s Donald J. Trump dot com backslash desk—takes you to a landing page that looks sort of like a Twitter homepage, but which consists entirely of little farts of enlightenment from Trump, which up until now he had been sending to reporters using something called “email.” Finally, a place to communicate one’s thoughts, on the internet. It’s not exactly reinventing the spinning wheel—or is it:

The technology appears to be powered by Campaign Nucleus— the ‘digital ecosystem made for efficiently managing political campaigns and organizations,’ created by his former campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

Okay, I take it back: it is not just a blog; it is probably a very expensive blog.

 

America’s New Climate Normal: Sweltering

Mother Jones Magazine -

In case you needed further proof that the world is heating up, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released its updated climate averages from the past 30 years, showing a 1 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures since the beginning of the 20th century.

The NOAA applies complex statistical methods to readings from thousands of reporting stations to determine “climate normals.” The new data from the 30-year span from 1991 to 2020 shows an average temperature for the contiguous United States of 53.3 degrees Fahrenheit—the highest ever recorded, the Washington Post reports. That represents a 1.7 degree Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) increase since 1901–1930, the first period for which NOAA has calculated normals. That number may not seem like a lot, but it has huge implications for everything from farming to utility regulation.

Precipitation, while not as simple to parse as rising temperatures, is trending higher as well. Rainfall and snowfall are increasingly characterized by intense bursts separated by long dry periods. This reminds me of the pattern laid out by Al Gore 15 years ago in An Inconvenient Truth: “Warmer water increases the moisture content of storms, and warmer air holds more moisture. When storm conditions trigger a downpour, more of it falls in the form of big, one-time rainfalls and snowfalls. Partly as a result, the number of large flood events has increased decade by decade, on every continent.”

If you want to see what a short and particularly intense cloudburst looks like, check out this recent footage from Austria.

Dear friends watch this surprising video Photographer Peter Maier captured this Cloudburst over Lake Millstatt in Carinthia, Austria.
A cloudburst is a sudden and violent rainstorm capable of producing an extreme amount of precipitation in a short period of time @honeyviscous pic.twitter.com/IOom4fCEgv

— चन्द्र भान सिंह कौरव (@singhcbk) October 5, 2020

And here’s some video from Pattrn, one of our Climate Desk partners.

.@NOAA revealed their new climate normals today.

See why one major Alaskan city can no longer be classified as “subarctic.” pic.twitter.com/OCXlB8RaFD

— Pattrn (@pattrn) May 4, 2021

Houthi Advances and Secret Saudi-Iranian Talks Prompt New Conciliatory Tone from Saudis

Mint Press News -

SANA’A, YEMEN — Amin Jayyash, a laborer at Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport, is celebrating Labor Day (May Day) as an unemployed man. But, unlike many workers the world over, he did not lose his job due to Covid-19, but because Saudi Arabia has effectively put his employer out of business by restricting nearly all flights to it as part of a six-plus year campaign of total war on Yemen. Amin is among over 5 million Yemeni workers — 65% of the overall workforce — who have lost their jobs as a result of the ongoing war and blockade on the country, according to newly released data from the General Federation of Trade Unions of Yemen.

According to the Yemeni Workers Authority, more than 3,355 factories, 4,134 agricultural fields,  193 power stations, 793 water storage tanks and pieces of related infrastructure, 38 government-run universities, and 95 higher-education institutions and community colleges have been destroyed by Western weapons dropped on Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition. The organization added that at least 17,000 workers have been killed or injured on the job as a result of the war.

Despite the grim statistics, many Yemeni workers celebrated this year’s Labor Day with a renewed sense of optimism, as they see hope for an end to the war and blockade on the horizon as a result of the apparently impending defeat of Saudi-backed fighters in Yemen’s oil-rich Marib province. That and the escalation of Houthi attacks on Saudi targets, including oil facilities and airports, have provided the leverage needed to bolster international efforts, led by U.S. Special Envoy Timothy Lenderking in conjunction with the United Nations, to place enough pressure on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to force him to at least pay lip service to putting an end to the war he spearheaded over six years ago.

 

A new tone?

In a television interview broadcast across Saudi state-owned media outlets on Tuesday night, Salman flirted with the idea of reconciliation with the Houthis, using uncharacteristically endearing language to describe the group and acknowledging their Arab identity. While the latter description may seem trivial, it is a stark departure from the Kingdom’s efforts to portray the group as an outside force, an Iranian proxy bent on the destruction of ethnically Arab Yemen. This portrayal is, of course, demonstrably false, as Ansar Allah (the political wing of the Houthis) is comprised of a coalition of indigenous Yemeni tribes and the movement was active in the country long before Iran even existed in its current form, created as a stalwart against militant Sunni attackers backed by Saudi Arabia as far back as the 1960s.

“We still have our offer open to [have a] ceasefire and provide economic support and everything they need as long as the Houthis agree to a ceasefire and sitting at the negotiating table,” Salman said in the interview, in seemingly stark contrast to earlier Saudi ceasefire offers pegged on a Houthi withdrawal from Marib but without the concomitant lifting of the blockade and military occupation demanded by the Houthis nor the requirement that Saudi Arabia cease its support for the highly unpopular former president, Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi. Hadi was ousted during the Arab Spring but placed back into power to run a sort of parallel government in absentia ever since.

The Saudi offer allegedly included generous economic support, huge sums of cash for Ansar Allah political leaders, and compensation to rebuild the war-destroyed country. It also came with the promise that Saudi Arabia would “allow” the movement to rule the entirety of northern Yemen with international recognition. In return, however, the Kingdom demanded something that the Houthis were unwilling to cede, that they drop their alliance with Iran and abandon support for the Palestinian cause.

In fact, Salman’s half-hearted appeal for peace did little to convince Ansar Allah’s leadership to ease the pressure on the Kingdom. Mohammed Abdulsalam, the group’s chief negotiator, responded to Salman’s statement by saying:

Positive words about Yemen must be accompanied with action… Any positive discourse on Yemen hinges on practical application, like lifting the blockade and giving priority to humanitarian issues, as they are urgent and touch the needs of all Yemeni people. Such a step would be welcomed and prove the legitimacy of a trend towards peace in Yemen.”

 

What is behind Saudi shift?

Mohammed bin Salman’s change of course in Yemen came just days after Saudi officials held secret talks with Iranian officials in Iraq, which culminated in statements by Saudi officials hinting that they were ready to seek reconciliation with Iran. A high-ranking member of Ansar Allah told MintPress, on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, that the offer for reconciliation came tied to a demand that Tehran pressure Ansar Allah to halt its drone and ballistic missile attacks against Saudi oil facilities, abandon efforts to recapture the oil-rich Marib province, and accept a Saudi-brokered peace deal in the war-torn country.

Ostensibly, Salman’s statements come in the context of international efforts to rekindle the Iran nuclear deal. But the facts on the ground cannot be ignored. Namely, the economic repercussions of the missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities that have been launched by the Ansar Allah-backed Yemen Army and the group’s advances in the oil-rich Marib province, a lucrative source of income for the Saudi state-owned ARAMCO oil company. In fact, just two weeks ago, Ansar Allah launched more than 20 operations using dozens of drones and ballistic missiles against Saudi facilities in Riyadh, Jeddah, Jizan and Najran. Some of the operations were publicly announced and others were kept secret. Moreover, a high-ranking commander of Saudi forces — Saleh Dirham Ramadi of Brigade 129, who was rumored to be a ringleader of ISIS — was killed in clashes with Houthi forces west of Marib.

Feature photo | Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, accompanies Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 9, 2021. Photo | Saudi Press Agency via AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Houthi Advances and Secret Saudi-Iranian Talks Prompt New Conciliatory Tone from Saudis appeared first on MintPress News.

A Federal Appeals Court Will Decide if Trans Students Can Continue to Play School Sports

ACLU News -

This year, more than 30 states introduced laws banning trans students from participating in school sports. This is part of an ongoing assault on trans youth — particularly transgender girls — that has been brewing for years. In 2020, Idaho became the first state to pass such a law and the ACLU quickly filed suit along with Legal Voice and Cooley LLP. Yesterday, my colleague Chase Strangio argued in the first case about a law banning trans women and girls from sports to reach an appeals court. The decision in this case will be pivotal as other states adopt similarly discriminatory laws.

Shortly after the law in Idaho passed, runner Lindsay Hecox, a student at Boise State University, and Jane Doe, a cisgender high school athlete, challenged Idaho’s law in federal court. Last August, a federal judge barred the state from enforcing the law, ruling that the law discriminates against Lindsay based on her sex and transgender status and against both Lindsay and Jane because they are women. The judge observed that women athletes like Lindsay, who have been on hormone therapy for a year, have no competitive advantage over other women, so it is discrimination to treat them differently from other women. The NCAA, the International Olympic Committee, and World Athletics all recognize the same reality and allow women who are transgender to compete in women’s events.

The court’s injunction allowed Lindsay to try out for the Boise State women’s cross country team. She didn’t make the team, but that’s the way athletics are supposed to work — she was simply asking to be evaluated based on her athletic abilities, not pre-judgments by a profoundly misguided legislature. Yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the ACLU defended that right.

While Idaho was the first state to pass a ban on trans athletes, it was not the last. In 2021, the national ACLU and our state affiliate offices have fought sports bans in more than 30 state legislatures so far, with those bans becoming law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The Florida legislature passed its version of a ban just last week. We are preparing court challenges to several of these new laws as well, building on the decision in Lindsay Hecox’s case.

ACLU/Joshua Roper

Lindsay isn’t the only trans athlete to have had recent success in court. Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller are two athletes who ran track in high school in Connecticut. Several cisgender high school girls sued the state athletic conference for allowing Andraya and Terry, who are transgender, to compete on the girls’ team. They argued that it is illegal to protect trans people from discrimination — an extreme claim that, if accepted by the courts, would have prevented states and schools from taking action to protect trans students from discrimination. Andraya and Terry joined in the lawsuit so that they could help the athletic conference defend its trans-inclusive policy. Just last week, a federal judge dismissed the cisgender girls’ lawsuit, leaving Connecticut’s affirming sports policy intact. It was a great moment for inclusive education.

This year’s fight is just beginning, but we’ve seen these types of cruel and misguided attacks before. The organizations leading these coordinated attacks on trans student athletes are the same ones that pushed false myths about trans people in restrooms a few years ago. Just as those legislative efforts were not actually about restrooms, these laws are not about sports. They are about excluding transgender people from public life and trying to prevent people from being transgender. They are about creating “solutions” to “problems” that do not exist while harming some of the most marginalized youth in the country.

No matter how long it takes, the ACLU will work alongside trans people like Lindsay, Andraya, and Terry to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of public life, including sports.

What you can do:Support Trans AthletesAdd your name

To Address Systemic Racism, We Must Dismantle Housing Discrimination and Segregation

ACLU News -

Equal access to housing is a civil right, but systemic racism within our housing institutions has long kept communities of color from accessing fair housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act with its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision (AFFH) is a critical piece of legislation that aims to address our country’s legacy of systemic racism, by dismantling housing discrimination and segregation. But during Trump’s presidency, they came under attack. Now, the Biden administration must work to restore important housing protections to ensure all people have equal access to fair housing.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a key part of Congress’ response to a report commissioned by President Johnson to investigate civil unrest in Black and Brown communities between 1965 and 1967. The Kerner Commission’s report warned Congress that “America is dividing into two societies, Black and White, separate and unequal.” It also named residential segregation, which relegated Black communities to crowded and under-resourced urban areas, as one of the primary manifestations of this inequality. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and in response to the report’s findings, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 in an effort to curtail widespread segregation and discrimination in housing and protect marginalized communities from discrimination when purchasing or renting a home.

Congress also used the Fair Housing Act to charge the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to use its programs to “affirmatively further” fair housing. With this provision, Congress intended for HUD to take active steps to dismantle housing segregation and to expand access to fair housing opportunities for everyone. While this obligation has been in the Fair Housing Act since 1968, there was no road map for jurisdictions to implement this requirement until HUD adopted the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation (AFFH). This 2015 rule established a community centered process for analyzing patterns and causes of segregation and neighborhood disparities that could serve as the basis for local jurisdictions to establish actionable steps for achieving fair housing goals.

To join our Systemic Equality agenda to take action on racial justice, click here.

While the 2015 AFFH rule made the affirmatively furthering fair housing requirements of the Fair Housing Act enforceable, in July 2020, HUD rescinded the 2015 AFFH regulation and replaced it with the “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice” rule. This regressive rule eliminated the requirement for jurisdictions to take active steps to end segregation and allows municipalities to decide for themselves whether they are “affirmatively furthering fair housing.” This removes any accountability and permits complacency among jurisdictions that have failed to take proactive steps to ensure fair housing opportunities are open to all.

We’re urging the Biden Administration to withdraw the Trump-era replacement for the AFFH rule and reinstate the 2015 AFFH regulation, which would require local jurisdictions to take active steps to end housing segregation and address systemic racism in housing. This includes requiring jurisdictions to:

  • promote integration and ensure all neighborhoods are well-resourced and residents have equal access to opportunities;
  • consider data analysis or public input on local patterns of segregation and integration;
  • address disparities in access to community resources and amenities; and
  • address discrimination and systemic racism.

Reinstating the 2015 AFFH regulation would mean that students now living in segregated, low income communities could have an opportunity to live in a neighborhood with better funded schools, families living in communities where they are more likely to be exposed to environmental toxins would have opportunities to live in healthier neighborhoods, and people living in communities that are food deserts would now have an opportunity to live in a neighborhood with access to grocery stores that sell fresh foods.

Leaving the “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice” rule intact is a tacit endorsement by the Biden administration, and a signal that fair housing isn’t a priority. The administration must take action now to reinstate the 2015 AFFH regulation. This will combat housing segregation and provide families of color with equal access to safe and stable housing, thus advancing systemic equality across our nation.

What you can do:Further Racial Justice: Attend a Systemic Equality EventRSVP

Between the Lines: Congressional Report Finds US Sanctions to Blame for Venezuela Crisis

Mint Press News -

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Venezuela was once one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America. The popular classes enjoyed major advances from the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chávez. Today Venezuela is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis with severe humanitarian consequences.

The U.S. government blames the crisis on the mismanagement and corruption of the Venezuelan government headed by Nicolás Maduro. The Venezuelan government faults the U.S. and its allies for imposing sanctions, unilateral coercive measures illegal under international law.

An official U.S. Congressional Research Service report entitled “Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations,” issued April 28, suggests the Venezuelan government has valid arguments that it is being strangled by U.S. sanctions. According to the report:

It is difficult to attribute precisely the extent of Venezuela’s economic collapse that is due to U.S. sanctions versus broad economic mismanagement. A February 2021 Government Accountability Office report asserted that ‘sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy.”’The Maduro government has defaulted on all its bonds, and U.S. sanctions prohibit debt restructuring with creditors.

 

Reverse-engineering history

The Congressional Research Service report provides a brief revision of history to fit an imperialist narrative produced to justify the hybrid war to achieve regime change in Venezuela. Hence the U.S.-backed coup in 2002, when the U.S. government welcomed a “return to democracy,” is euphemistically referred to as President Chávez’s “brief ouster from power.”

The subsequent employers’ lockout in 2002-2003, designed to economically cripple the government and cause its fall, is called an “oil workers’ strike.” The lethally violent guarimbas, calculated to overthrow the elected Maduro government, are called “student-led” protests.

While in all the above instances, the U.S. role in events is rendered invisible, the report describes how “Congress has provided funding to support democratic civil society in Venezuela,” which is Washington’s duplicitous shorthand for regime-change programs.

The report continues: “For more almost [sic] two decades, the U.S. has provided democracy-related assistance to Venezuelan civil society through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy (the former through its appropriately named Office of Transition Initiatives)…. For FY2021, the Administration requested…$200 million to support transition in Venezuela.”

In January 2019 the U.S. and its allies ceased to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president after then-National Assembly Leader Juan Guaidó, who had never run for national office, “announced he was willing to serve as interim president.” Guaidó’s coup attempts are euphemistically described as “high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to encourage security forces to abandon Maduro.”

Even the U.S. allies that have recognized Guaidó, “oppose military intervention in Venezuela and have expressed concerns about the humanitarian effects of broad sanctions,” according to the report, which laments: “The Venezuelan government has made it difficult for Venezuelans to obtain a valid passport and therefore legal status outside the country.” The difficulty, conveniently omitted from the report, is that when a foreign state expels the legitimate Maduro representatives and installs Guaidó’s, Caracas is left with no means of conducting normal embassy activities.

 

Economic crisis

Key in the hybrid war to achieve regime change in Venezuela are economic sanctions. The report forthrightly describes:

[the] multiyear economic crisis, one of the worst economic crises in the world since World War II: [Venezuela’s] economy has contracted by more than 75% since 2014, estimated as the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years and more than twice the magnitude of the Great Depression in the U.S.

Imports — which Venezuela relies on for most consumer goods — have fallen by almost 95% since 2013. The country faces shortages of critical food and medicine.

Contrary to the official narrative that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is the root cause of the country’s economic woes, the report admits: “The trigger for Venezuela’s economic crisis was the crash in world oil prices in 2014.” It goes on to explain how U.S. sanctions confounded the Venezuelan government’s efforts to address this crisis:

Piecemeal efforts to address the crisis, including price controls and the creation of a new digital currency, the petro, were ineffective [because they were blocked by the U.S. government]. Some initiatives, such as restructuring debt or bringing the government budget into balance, were pledged and then abandoned [again prevented by the U.S. government sanctions].

Subsequent rounds of U.S. sanctions targeting the government, central bank, and gold sectors, as well as limiting Venezuela’s access to the U.S. financial system, likely exacerbated economic pressures in Venezuela. With private creditors unwilling and unable (due to sanctions) to purchase new Venezuelan debt, the Maduro government routinely turned to its main international financial backers — China, Russia, and more recently, Iran — but China and Russia are increasingly reluctant to extend further assistance [due to secondary sanctions].

A man waits to unload bags of basic food staples provided by a government food assistance program in Caracas, April 10, 2021. Photo | AP

The sanctions are not just against Venezuela but affect other countries, amounting to a blockade:

The sanctions framework also prohibited non-U.S. entities from transacting with PdVSA [the Venezuelan state-owned oil company] in U.S. dollars and made non-U.S. entities subject to having their U.S. property blocked, should it be determined that they materially assisted PdVSA…

Under the sanctions framework, Treasury also has sanctioned numerous individuals, vessels, and companies involved in trading and shipping Venezuelan oil. This progressive application of sanctions — designed to prevent export and sale of oil produced in Venezuela — has made it more difficult, though not impossible, for PdVSA to complete petroleum sales and export transactions.

 

Venezuela’s dilemma: patria o muerte

The U.S. government imposes the choice on Venezuela – in the words of the Latin American revolutionary slogan – of patria o muerte (homeland or death). In the period 2017-2018 alone, some 40,000 deaths were attributed to the sanctions. And that was pre-COVID and before the most devastating sanctions fully took effect.

In a weaponization of the pandemic, the U.S. took advantage of the health vulnerability to make conditions even worse, according to the report:

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic challenges facing the Venezuelan government… Fuel shortages, exacerbated by the end of U.S.-licensed oil for diesel swaps in the fall of 2020, reportedly have made food distribution and humanitarian aid delivery more challenging. 

Noting that “it is unclear how Venezuela’s economy can rebuild in the absence of a significant reorientation of economic policies,” the report calls for the abandonment of the Bolivarian social project and adoption of an IMF structural adjustment program, which would remove price controls on vital necessities, privatize banks, and fully open the economy to the dictates of international finance.

“The economic crisis, now exacerbated by the pandemic,” the report coldly explains, “has been devastating for its citizens, with no clear or quick resolution on the horizon in the absence of a resolution to the concurrent political crisis.” The “political crisis” is the U.S. regime-change program designed to subjugate Venezuela.

“Although sanctions do not seem to be physical warfare weapons,” the Lancet (3/18/20 as quoted by FAIR) noted, “they are just as deadly, if not more so. Jeopardizing the health of populations for political ends is not only illegal but also barbaric.”

 

No good deed…

The findings in the congressional report are a recommended counterpoint to those of the corporate media, such as CNN, which anguish over the dire conditions in Venezuela but obscure the major perpetrator. Ditto for leftish analysts such as Chris Gilbert, who writes: “The silent event that shook Venezuela in 2015-16 involved an abrupt return to capitalist normality. At about that time Maduro’s government decided to step back from interventions in the economy.” Left out of Gilbert’s picture is the fact that U.S. sanctions were imposed on Venezuela at precisely that time.

If the U.S. government’s propaganda is correct that the current crisis is due to Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption, then illegal and inhumane sanctions would not be needed to dislodge the “regime.” Conversely, given that the sanctions and accompanying blockade are so overwhelming, the impacts of mismanagement and corruption would be difficult to parse out. In fact, the report says, “data suggest that production declines accelerated following sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector.”

The one sure conclusion is that the U.S. is punishing the Venezuelans for the good things (such as poverty reduction, documented in the report) and not the bad. Otherwise, demonstrable narco-states like Colombia and Honduras, which are guilty of manifest human rights violations, would be treated like Venezuela, and Venezuela would be the largest recipient of U.S. aid.

The Congressional Research Service report concludes:

The failure to dislodge Maduro from power demonstrated the limits of U.S. and other international efforts to prompt political change in Venezuela. Unilateral U.S. policies, such as oil sanctions, arguably worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country and caused divisions within the international coalition that once backed Guaidó.

In other words, despite inhumane sanctions by the U.S. and its allies, the Bolivarian Revolution has endured because of its popular support.

Feature photo | In this March 3, 2021 file photo, youths who cull through trash for items to resell ride on the back of a garbage truck entering the Pavia landfill on the outskirts of Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights organization Task Force on the Americas.

The post Between the Lines: Congressional Report Finds US Sanctions to Blame for Venezuela Crisis appeared first on MintPress News.

How the US gov’t cultivated environmental and Indigenous groups to defeat Ecuador’s leftist Correísta movement

The GrayZone -

When socialist Rafael Correa became Ecuador’s president, CIA cutouts poured money into environmental and Indigenous groups, while the US embassy cultivated opportunistic leaders to undermine his constituency. These forces helped secure victory for right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso in 2021. The people of Ecuador were hit by a surprise in the April 2021 presidential election: Hard-right banker Guillermo Lasso, one of the richest and most corrupt oligarchs in the country, who had unsuccessfully run in two previous races, scored a narrow […]

The post How the US gov’t cultivated environmental and Indigenous groups to defeat Ecuador’s leftist Correísta movement appeared first on The Grayzone.

McCarthy Makes It Clear: Embrace Trump’s Election Lies or Get Kicked Out of Leadership

Mother Jones Magazine -

Rep. Liz Cheney’s refusal to go along with the GOP’s increasing embrace of Donald Trump’s lie, that the 2020 election was stolen from him, appears to have reached a crisis point for the third-ranking House Republican.

“I have heard from members, concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News Tuesday. “We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority.” The remarks come on the heels of a tweet from Cheney, in which the Wyoming congresswoman unequivocally pushed back on a statement Trump had issued earlier on Monday falsely calling Joe Biden’s victory “THE BIG LIE.”

The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.

— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 3, 2021

But by simply telling the truth, as Cheney did with her tweet, she has since set off a firestorm of outrage among her Republican colleagues, many of whom are now clamoring for her removal as Republican conference chair. The tensions spilled into a closed-door meeting later on Monday, where Cheney once again warned Republicans not to accept Trump’s falsehoods about the election, nor should they “whitewash” the events of the deadly January 6 Capitol insurrection. “It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” Cheney said referring to Trump’s lies, according to sources in the room who spoke to CNN.

“We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie,” she continued. “It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”

What’s notable now is that Cheney’s position has not changed; she’s simply repeating her stance on Trump’s actions in the Capitol insurrection. Instead, it’s the note of reproval in McCarthy’s newest comments that signals that Republicans, in the months since January 6, have grown comfortable in openly supporting Trump’s blatant lies. Where once McCarthy had stood by Cheney, thereby saving her from a party vote to remove her from the leadership team, he now appears to have had enough of the truth.

"Exterminate All the Brutes": Filmmaker Raoul Peck Explores Colonialism & Origins of White Supremacy

Democracy Now! -

A new four-part documentary series, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” delves deeply into the legacy of European colonialism from the Americas to Africa. It has been described as an unflinching narrative of genocide and exploitation, beginning with the colonizing of Indigenous land that is now called the United States. The documentary series seeks to counter “the type of lies, the type of propaganda, the type of abuse, that we have been subject to all of these years,” says director and Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck. “We have the means to tell the real story, and that’s exactly what I decided to do,” Peck says. “Everything is on the table, has been on the table for a long time, except that it was in little bits everywhere. … We lost the wider perspective.”

Headlines for May 4, 2021

Democracy Now! -

In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner Wanted Trans Athletes to Play As “Who They Really Are.” What Changed?

Mother Jones Magazine -

In July of 2015, Caitlyn Jenner had just publicly come out as a trans woman. She took the stage at the ESPYs—a quasi-award show hosted by ABC to crown ESPN as much as attendees—and thanked a series of trailblazers: Renee Richards, Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, Arthur Ashe. She finished by saying she wanted “to acknowledge all the young trans athletes who are out there—given the chance to play sports as who they really are.”

This week Jenner, the former Olympic gold medalist and Kardashian TV personality, who has now announced her hopes to unseat California Governor Gavin Newsom in an expected recall election later this year, reversed herself.

In an interview with TMZ, when Jenner was asked her opinion on “biological boys” participating in school sports, she responded that it was it “is a question of fairness.” “That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans from competing in girls sports in school,” she continued. “It just isn’t fair. We have to protect girl’s sports in our schools.”

The interviewer pressed her for more comment: “But if someone transitions and now identifies as a girl isn’t it delegitimizing their identity to prevent them?”

Jenner declined to responded. “Have a good day,” she said as she got into her car and closed the door.

This isn’t a surprise from Jenner. She voiced support for Donald Trump in 2016. She is a Republican candidate for office. Though some news outlets have called Jenner a “trans activist,” that designation has always been murky. She is a trans person; her coming out became symbolic of wider acceptance for trans people. But activism requires moving beyond oneself to the larger needs of those with you in a struggle. Jenner at times seems uninterested in this.

Her disavowal of trans girls in sports is damaging. And it fits with a history of comments that expose how much her wealth and whiteness have allowed her to ascend to a level of power that she can vocally oppose those in her own community. Not to mention that the news cycle would rather focus on one right-wing trans voice than the hundred of trans youth who are currently being written out of existence. Yesterday the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for an appeal on the constitutionality of Idaho’s ban on trans athletes, which passed last year before a federal judge blocked it. Jenner’s words have the potential to translate to real violence against trans people. But she doesn’t care—she’s playing the game to gain points for herself and her gubernatorial run.

Charlotte Clymer, the former press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign told CNN that Jenner “basically gives legitimacy to Republican candidates, to the Republican Party. The very fact that she said that Donald Trump would be rational on trans issues—that did an enormous amount of damage to the trans rights movement.”

Though Jenner backtracked her support for Trump in 2018, her recent statement mirrors that of many Republican state legislators currently enacting bills that target trans kids from participating in sports and accessing gender affirming care. California, Jenner’s state of residence, has explicitly protected the rights of trans students to participate in sports since 2013.

This year has already seen a wave of anti-trans bills pass through Republican-controlled state legislatures. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia have all passed bills banning trans girls from playing on girl’s sports teams. Meanwhile, Arkansas became the first state in the country to outlaw doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers to trans youth under the age of 18.

“If there’s one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight,” Jenner said back in 2015. “I know I’m clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way, for me, to keep learning, to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated.”

But who is the spotlight for if not for Jenner alone? If her coming out in 2015 marked a trans tipping point, her words this week show that the only measurement of progress she cares about is her own fame. 

“It’s about what happens from here. It’s not just about one person. It’s about thousands of people,” she said at the ESPYs. “It’s not just about me.”

Arizona Republicans Make Climate Fears Their Latest Anti-Immigrant Tactic

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich accused the Biden administration of failing to protect the environment in a recent lawsuit, it seemed like an unusual claim from a Republican better known for distorting climate science in legal briefs defending oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. That is, until you read what Brnovich considers the source of pollution: immigrants.

In a lawsuit filed April 12, Brnovich seeks to reinstate President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, on the argument that Biden has failed to carry out mandatory environmental reviews on how more immigration could increase climate-changing pollution. 

The US-Mexico border wall in Yuma, Arizona.

Allison Dinner/ZUMA

“Migrants (like everyone else) need housing, infrastructure, hospitals, and schools. They drive cars, purchase goods, and use public parks and other facilities,” the suit reads. “Their actions also directly result in the release of pollutants, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which directly affects air quality.”

Using pro-environment arguments to defend anti-immigration views dates back decades, to a time when the environmental movement harbored a powerful faction of Malthusians who believed the preservation of nature merited harsh, even violent, restrictions on immigration and childbearing. That faction faded to the fringes over the years as the political right moved to championing both climate denial and hardened borders, and environmentalists marginalized any openly racist elements in their camp.

Now, Arizona’s lawsuit is one of the highest-profile examples of how the political right will shift on climate change as warming-fueled disasters mount and render denial an untenable position.  “As it becomes more and more difficult to deny that climate change is real and human caused, the Republican Party is going to need new strategies, especially if they have any hope of attracting a younger generation,” said John Hultgren, a professor of environmental politics at Bennington College in Vermont. “This is a potential strategy. It won’t do anything to help us mitigate or adapt to climate change, but it will give the thin veneer of an appearance that they care about climate change.” 

The Specter Of ‘Ecofascism’

It is also a sign that a more nefarious ideological view could be making its way into mainstream politics: the idea that the response to ecological collapse and rising seas should be to limit who gets a seat in a finite number of civilizational lifeboats. That view has already gained traction in Europe, where far-right parties are increasingly adopting that rhetoric as voters’ concern over climate change converges with anger at migrants.

After green parties picked up votes in the 2019 European parliamentary elections, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen pledged to remake Europe as “the world’s first ecological civilization” and railed against “nomadic” people who “do not care about the environment” as “they have no homeland,” harkening to the Nazis’ “blood and soil” slogan that described a belief in a mystical connection between race and a particular territory. Le Pen is now a frontrunner in France’s 2022 presidential election.

“If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.” 

In Germany, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party’s Berlin youth wing urged its leaders to abandon climate denialism. The green arm of Italy’s neo-fascist movement CasaPound, meanwhile sent trees to towns across the country, to pay homage to former dictator Benito Mussolini. 

In the English-speaking world, far-right eco-fascist thinking animated the manifestos of two mass shooters posted in 2019. The white male gunman who killed nearly two dozen people in a Walmart store in El Paso in August 2019 said he sought to end the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” 

“The environment is getting worse by the year,” the manifesto, posted online, stated. “Most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.” 

The document explicitly cited the 74-page message the gunman who killed 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, posted in March 2019. That shooter, a 28-year-old white Australian, thrice described himself as an “eco-fascist” motivated to repel waves of migrants fleeing climate change-ravaged regions of the world from Anglophone nations’ shores. 

“It is shocking to see what was in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto described in more legalistic language in this suit by the Arizona attorney general,” said Alexandra Stern, a historian at the University of Michigan. “It’s leaning in toward ecofascism.”

‘These Arguments Have Long Existed’

But Hultgren expressed wariness about labeling the Arizona lawsuit as “ecofascism,” which he said conjures images of a foreign enemy in Nazi Germany. It also obscures what he called the rich history of American “right-wingers instrumentally appropriating nature to advance xenophobic goals.”

“When we call things ‘fascist,’ there’s a sense that it’s outside the American political norm,” he said. “In reality, these arguments have long existed.”

“This is a blatant first act on the national stage of this legal strategy.”

The most vocal proponents of using environmental concerns to oppose immigrants have been the so-called Tanton Network, a collection of more than a dozen anti-immigration groups founded or funded by John Tanton, a rich opthamologist from Michigan. A one-time national leader in the Sierra Club, Tanton, who died in July 2019, “believed that the root cause of environmental destruction is overpopulation by the wrong sorts of people” and that “to protect both nature and the nation, one must preserve white supremacy by keeping immigrants out,” Betsy Hartmann, a researcher who studies ecofascism at Hampshire College, wrote last year in the Columbia Journalism Review

“It’s a Tanton Network strategy,” Hartmann said of the Arizona lawsuit. “This is a blatant first act on the national stage of this legal strategy.” 

Indeed, the Center for Immigration Studies, which Tanton founded in 1985, trumpeted the lawsuit as “an important stand for the American environment.” 

“Arizona is the first state to sue, but we can hope that it will not be the last,” wrote Julie Axelrod, the group’s litigation director and a former adviser to the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. “The environmental consequences of immigration have never been more apparent.”

Axelrod pioneered the strategy with a 2016 lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, which she accused of violating “our nation’s preeminent environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), by completely failing to perform environmental analysis of its legal immigration and amnesty policies, which have directly led to the entrance and permanent settlement of tens of millions of foreign nationals to the United States.” 

A federal judge dismissed most of the claims in 2018. 

What The Science Actually Shows 

The effects of climate change, meanwhile, are already plaguing Central America, where many migrants to the U.S.’s southern border originate. Two of last year’s named 30 Atlantic hurricanes made landfall over the region, wreaking havoc with devastating floods and winds in what scientists said was a sign of a warmer future. Historic droughts parched hillsides in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, incentivizing rural villagers to make the dangerous trek north to the regional superpower and world’s largest economy. Between 1.4 million and 2.1 million people in Central America and Mexico are likely to be displaced from their homes by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change, according to a 2018 World Bank report.

The United States produced nearly 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions currently accumulated in the atmosphere, by far the largest share. Today, the US is the second-largest emitter of planet-heating gas after China and has the fourth-highest per capita emissions rate.

A 2019 study found that native populations are associated with worse air quality, and foreign-born populations with better air quality.

But research does not support the idea that immigrants increase pollution. In a 2011 study published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review, scientists analyzed federal pollution data in 183 different metropolitan areas and determined “that immigration does not contribute to local air pollution levels across any of the seven pollution measures examined.” 

A 2019 study in the Social Science Journal compared air quality data in counties populated by immigrants and native-born citizens in a series of models and found “that native population is strongly associated with worse air quality, while foreign-born population is associated with better air quality.”

Taking that a step further, a January 2021 study in the journal Population and Environment looked at state-level data from 1997 to 2014 and concluded that “immigration may indeed yield environmental benefits and that environmental quality may represent an important factor or amenity influencing immigration flows.”

A Center for Immigration Studies spokeswoman declined an interview request for Axelrod.

In an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Brnovich, whose office did not make him available for an interview, said he was simply opting to use the same flexibly interpreted law “the left always uses to stop highway projects and airport reconstruction.” 

“We are saying that by stopping the wall construction, they’re violating NEPA because it’s allowing more and more people to come into this country—migrants—and that’s having a devastating impact on our environment,” Brnovich said. “It’s also impacting the increased population, which will have all sorts of impacts down the road.” 

The political opportunism shows how “the outer bounds of NEPA are quite undefined,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “Environmentalists have been trying to push it outward for half a century,” Gerrard said. “So it’s not surprising to see the right attempt to push it as well.” 

Stern said the future of this kind of rhetoric within the Republican Party could depend on whether the Arizona lawsuit proves successful in federal court. “It’s not clear where this is going,” she said. “But ultimately rhetoric that identifies certain groups of people as pollutants is dehumanizing, and dehumanization is a key component and often the first step toward greater violence toward those groups.” 

Biden’s Foreign Policy and Nuclear Weapons: a Dialogue

Counterpunch Articles -

B61 nuclear warheads in storage. Photo: US DOE.

Ricard Falk: The humane and competently handled responses that the Biden presidency has pursued with respect to the COVID challenge, mitigating economic burdens on the poor, empathy for abuses of persons of color, and moves toward proposing a massive infrastructure program are uplifting changes in policy and leadership of the country, especially welcomed after enduring Trump for four years. Even the handling of the seasonal surge of asylum aspirants at the Mexican border, although disturbing, exhibits a presidential approach seeking to find ways to reconcile ethics with practicalities of governance. Yet if we turn from these impressive beginnings at home to the early indications of Biden’s foreign policy the picture seems bleaker, and this includes our primary focus on nuclear weaponry.

Of course, it makes perfect political sense for Biden to tackle these domestic challenges first, and avoid distractions that would arise if the government were to pursue international policies that agitated pro-military Republicans and even so-called moderate Democrats. To get his emergency programs past legislative obstacles in a robust form required mustering as much unity across the political spectrum as possible, yet even with this acknowledgement I feel uncomfortable about what Biden has so far done with respect to foreign policy.  I am worried by the Biden stress on restoring the alliance/deterrence approach to global security as if the Cold War never ended. In slightly veiled language that conveys a militarist spirit Biden expresses these sentiments in a cover letter to his March 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guidance official document, advancing as “..a core strategic proposition: the United States must renew its enduring advantages so that we can meet today’s challenges from a position of strength.”

Apparently without forethought Biden called Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, ‘a killer,’ and lacking ‘a soul,’ then followed up by rejecting Moscow’s temperate call for a diplomatic meeting between the leaders to address disagreements between the two countries. Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have followed suit with interactions in their Alaska meetings with Russian counterparts that were calculated to raise tensions. Such postures are all about projecting American strength and conveying to others a dangerous geopolitical disposition that refuses to back down in crisis situations that are certain to arise, and for these important public figures, it means encounters with China and Russia.

When it comes to the nuclear agenda, despite agreeing to renew the START Treaty for another five years, preliminary glimpses of Biden’s general outlook seem driven by viewing America’s global experience as one of confronting, deterring, and overcoming. More concretely, it seems to involve reconstructing the Cold War atmosphere of friends and enemies, which is accompanied by national self-love, American exceptionalism, and a strong tendency to blame others for whatever goes wrong in the world. We lecture others, while bitterly resent being criticized, especially along similar lines.

It is not that the shortcomings of Russia and China are unworthy of concern, but not less so than systematic racism, gun violence, and persisting poverty in the United States, national deficiencies that are well within our capabilities to correct. Foreign policy aims are cynically disclosed by whether human rights violations are obscured as with Saudi Arabia and India or stridently asserted as with Russia and China.

In such an atmosphere to have the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard proclaim that relations with these two adversaries of the U.S. is likely to produce a regional crisis in the months ahead is a signal that should not be ignored. Worse, Richard adds that given the stakes and force postures in the South China Seas, such a faceoff could quickly escalate to the point of provoking a nuclear war. The admiral is not inclined to suggest ways to reduce such risks of confrontation. Instead, he issues a solemn assertion that it is imperative for the U.S. to shift the focus of its security planning from the supposedly prevailing idea that the use of nuclear weapons is not possible to the view that such use “is a very real possibility.” [See Richard, “Forging 21st Century Strategic Deterrence,” Proceedings of United States Naval Institute, Feb. 2021.] The failure to repudiate or to tone down such a public statement might well be causing panic among strategic planners in Beijing and Moscow.

It seems Inexcusable to let matters move so quickly in such menacing and unacceptable directions. Not only is Admiral Richard’s language chilling, but it is being used to plead for increased spending devoted to the modernization of the U.S. already outsized nuclear arsenal. I think we at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation should be depicting an alternative denuclearizing future with all the energy and resources at our disposal. As serious as are the domestic challenges we must remain vigilant, doing our best to avoid the scenarios that Admiral Richard projects as probable, and even more so, the way he envisions nuclearizing responses to such geopolitical challenges should they arise. Such conjectures are made more menacing if account is taken of recent Pentagon simulations that suggest that China’s regional naval prowess is such that if war making erupts China is likely to prevail if the confrontation is confined to conventional weaponry.

Is it already too late to awaken Biden and his entourage to this heightened nuclear risk? Let’s hope we never find out? To be clear, I would argue that this overarching issue commands our immediate attention, but there are other pressing concerns and opportunities for those of us devoted to achieving a world without nuclear weapons as a necessary and attainable goal.

David Krieger: Biden embarked on the presidency with a full and pressing domestic agenda, starting with bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control in the U.S., and dealing with an economy in serious trouble as a consequence of the pandemic. In addition, Biden has pushed forward legislation on rebuilding infrastructure in the country and in support of voting rights for all Americans.  He has been ambitious and determined in pursuing his domestic agenda, but has so far paid little attention to foreign policy.

Biden’s choices for Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have been from the foreign policy establishment, individuals who support, as does Biden, a strong U.S. nuclear posture based in Cold War thinking.  You raise some worrisome examples of expressions of nuclear arrogance toward Russia and China, which demonstrate more of a taunting attitude than the compassion and empathy that Biden has expressed toward victims of Covid, mass shootings, and poverty.

Biden should be commended for acting quickly upon assuming the presidency to extend the New START treaty with Moscow.  He has not, however, brought the U.S. back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018.  Nor has he pursued relations with North Korea concerning their nuclear weapons program.  On balance, it appears that Biden has not given much attention to foreign policy matters and that his default position is a Cold War stance based upon nuclear deterrence, and a world divided into alliance partners (friends) and adversaries (enemies). This is a dangerous posture because nuclear deterrence is not guaranteed to work and, in fact, cannot be proven to work because it is not possible to prove a negative (something does not happen because something happens).  Nuclear deterrence is based on threats of nuclear use, which could encourage one side to act first in launching nuclear weapons at an adversary before the adversary launches first.

I doubt that Biden or those around him have seriously considered the critique of nuclear deterrence and simply accept it at face value.  Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev concluded that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”  Biden seems comfortable basing U.S. security on a policy of nuclear strength.  But strength in the form of nuclear deterrence is extremely dangerous.  A nuclear war could begin by malice, mistake, miscalculation, or madness.  Of these, only malice is even possibly subject to nuclear deterrence. Mistake, miscalculation and madness are not influenced by nuclear deterrence posture (threat of nuclear retaliation).

I believe that Biden is a good and decent man who is guided in his life and leadership by compassion and empathy. Nonetheless, he has not shown up to now that he brings those traits to bear on U.S. nuclear policy.  He must be pressed to understand the global dangers of policy based upon U.S. nuclear dominance. Such a policy, although it has been U.S. policy since the end of World War II, could fail catastrophically, were nuclear deterrence to fail. It is as if we were playing a game of nuclear roulette with the gun pointed at the heart of humanity. This is the message that the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and other like-minded groups must convey to Biden. If we are to reduce the dangers of standing at the nuclear precipice, he must bring as much compassion and leadership to U.S. nuclear policy as he has shown he is capable of bringing to U.S. domestic policy.

What do you see as the specific policy initiatives that we should press for in the area of foreign and nuclear policy?

Falk: I don’t want to come across as someone who has only one arrow in his quiver, but I believe the danger of a confrontation with China in the South China Seas poses the highest risk of nuclear warfare since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I recall no prior occasion where top military officials were arguing in public that a regional confrontation with China was not only probable, but that the U.S. naval capabilities would not be able to avoid defeat in such combat if conducted with conventional weaponry. Since an American defeat at the hands of China would be an unacceptable option, preparation for the use of nuclear weaponry should be seen by American strategists as probable, imperative, and strategically necessary. All indications are that China regards this region off its coast as properly within its sphere of influence, and would be unlikely to back off if confronted either mistakenly or deliberately. We know further that both sides have engaged in provocative activity in the region to convey their commitment to defend strategic interests, which could easily have produced a military encounter due to bluff or miscalculation, if not by deliberate intention.

What is disturbing is Biden and Blinken’s failure, given these risks, to seek a de-escalation of tensions, but have acted in directly the opposite manner. I don’t share your sense that the Biden presidency has not accorded a significant amount of attention to foreign policy. Throughout his campaign and in comments since in the White House three connected ideas have been stressed: (1) making a great effort to restore a bipartisan consensus in foreign policy with a revived emphasis on alliance diplomacy of the sort that flourished during the Cold War; (2) treating China as a prime adversary because it challenges U.S. economic and technological primacy in the world, and adheres to an alien ideology that includes the oppression of the Uyghur minority; when U.S. foreign policy stresses human rights is wants to inflame tensions, when it wants to nurture allies it shuts up—for example, silence about the Modi discriminatory moves against Muslims in India or Sisi’s persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; (3) the combination of (1) + (2), points to rising geopolitical tensions and an alarming dependence on nuclear weapons to ensure a favorable balance; this is enough for me to reach the conclusion that a pre-crisis atmosphere exists between these two globally dominant states that must be exposed, and bold steps taken with no time to waste, seeking peaceful coexistence with China (and Russia) coupled with a tangible readiness to cooperate on meeting the challenges of climate change.

I do not want to evade your invitation with regard to specific steps that would have denuclearizing effects. I have long been supportive of seeking to engage nuclear weapons states in a joint pledge of No First Use, and if that were not forthcoming, then a bilateral pledge along such lines by the United States and Russia, the two countries with 90% of the nuclear warheads in existence. Such a step, accompanied by adjustments in doctrine, deployments, and strategic planning would considerably reduce the risks of stumbling into a nuclear war and would go part way to repudiate the unconscionable development of first use weaponry and missions, as well as the failure to take the immediate step of confining deterrence to a situation of ultimate self-defense, thereby partially conforming to the views of the International Court of Justice as expressed by the majority in the rendering of 1996 Advisory Opinion.

A second specific step would be to restore the JCPOA Nuclear Agreement with Iran as you suggest. Again, I think that rather than explain the failure of Biden to move constructively to undo the damage done by Trump’s withdrawal by inattentiveness, the hard bargaining stance taken by the U.S. is an attempt to be responsive to Israeli and Saudi pressures, as well as to avoid giving rise to distracting controversies at home.

Let me conclude by feeling less positive about Biden’s political profile. I do, like you, as I earlier indicated, commend his sensitive and energetic responses to the pandemic, the need for equity in government efforts to hasten an economic recovery, and thinking big on infrastructure. And yet I don’t see evidence in his past for an optimistic rendering of either his policies or character. He is the political variant of ‘a company man’ as near I can tell. Recall Kamala Harris’ acerbic takedown of Biden during an early campaign debate. He not only supported the Iraq War in 2003, he championed the public and Congressional mobilization for it as chair of the relevant Senate Committee; he was always a reliable proponent of large peacetime military budgets, a Cold Warrior in all respects, who was also compliant with Wall Street’s agenda, and certainly did not do himself proud during the Clarence Thomas hearings while presiding over the pillorying of Anita Hill. Let’s hope this past is not a prelude to his foreign policy future. Yet we should refrain from canceling his complicities in some of America’s worst past political moments. We can forgive, but we are foolhardy if we forget.

Krieger: I share your concern that a confrontation between China and the U.S. could escalate into a nuclear war, but the same holds true of a confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.  There are any number of ways in which a nuclear war could be initiated and, so long as nuclear arsenals exist, escalation of a conflict to nuclear war is always a possibility.  De-escalation of tensions in a nuclear-armed world is always called for, but even more important is recognizing the chronic danger of nuclear weapons in the world and taking actions to move away from the precipice of nuclear catastrophe by committing to and developing a plan for moving to nuclear zero.  I am most interested in what actions need to be taken now to achieve the goal of nuclear zero.  In other words, what actions must be taken to assure that the world is on the way to a place where fear of nuclear war is matched by steps leading to total nuclear disarmament. Thus far, Biden has shown no inclination to move in this direction. He has not opposed such steps, but neither has he proposed them, For the most part he has been silent on issues related to nuclear policy and his silence has been worrisome.

You mention that one step toward nuclear sanity would be a pledge of No First Use of nuclear weapons.  This is a controversial step in that it seems to give some legitimacy to second use (retaliatory use) of nuclear weapons. Still, though, it is the case that if no country used nuclear weapons first, there would be no use at all, except for the possibility of mistake or accident, which would remain a serious problem. A further critique of No First Use is its reliance on a pledge, which could be broken. The best way to deal with the danger of breaking the pledge would be to accompany the pledge with deployment strategies that make first use far more difficult, such as separating warheads from delivery vehicles, as I believe is still done by China.  Further, in the case of the U.S., it would be appropriate to dismantle and destroy all land-based nuclear-armed missiles, since, as fixed targets, they are “use them or lose them” weapons.

It was reported that Barack Obama wanted to make a pledge of No First Use near the end of his presidency, but this idea received considerable push-back from his national security team.  It would be interesting to know what position Biden took on the possibility of a U.S. No First Use pledge. Regardless, though, of where Biden stood on this issue then, it should be pressed on him now or, even better, he should be pressed to make a pledge of No Use of nuclear weapons.  This would be an even larger step toward nuclear abolition, demonstrating that the U.S. had no plans to use these omnicidal weapons and, in that way, demonstrating serious leadership toward the goal of nuclear zero.  The push-back for this step would be that it would likely cause the states under the U.S. nuclear umbrella to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

In addition to restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), there is much more restoring of agreements that should be done.  Trump pulled the U.S. out the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, which eliminated a whole class of missiles.  Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Open Skies Agreement, a confidence building agreement between the U.S., many European countries, and Russia, which allows for overflights of each other’s territories. Additionally, George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia.  These treaties were important means of restraint of nuclear arms races.  They should be restored and expanded.

There is much more that Biden could do if he had the inclination to protect U.S. security by moving toward eliminating the nuclear threat to the U.S. and the world.  He could, for example, make a pledge of No Launch on Warning, in order to protect against launching to a false warning. He could change U.S. policy so that the president no longer has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. He could stop plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and use the one trillion dollars saved to support his plans for replacing infrastructure and supporting social welfare programs.

Biden has given little indication as of now that the issues of nuclear catastrophe and nuclear policy are on his mind.  But, as I said previously, he has been focusing on eradicating the Covid pandemic and on his domestic agenda. You are right to say that we should not forget that Biden has made some unfortunate decisions, such as supporting the initiation of the Iraq War, during his long political career. Regardless, he is who we have as president, and he is certainly far more thoughtful and rational than his predecessor. He may not be ideal, but we have no choice but to try to influence his nuclear policies in the direction of nuclear sanity. I think the most important thing that we could do is to challenge the efficacy of nuclear deterrence. If we can successfully do this, it opens the door to moving the U.S. to play a leadership role in seeking the abolition of all nuclear weapons, as it is required to do under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Falk: I agree with all that you propose in your last response, and agree that those who favor denuclearization and the abolition of nuclear weaponry should suspend final judgment on whether Biden, once that the domestic challenges have been addressed, would seem responsive to some of the points of emphasis that you encourage. My supposition is that he is so much a product of the Cold War mentality that he will not be willing to question the continuing reliance on a deterrence role for nuclear weapons beyond adapting its delimitation to the present realities of political rivalry. His imaginary featuring an American-led global alliance of democratic states also presupposes deterrence to reassure allies such as Japan, South Korea, and others that the U.S. security umbrella remains trustworthy enough so that other governments will not feel a need for obtaining their own national nuclear option. In other words, deterrence and non-proliferation are tied together in what could be described as ‘a suicidal knot.’

I would add two issues to those you have proposed. First of all, I think it would be opportune to argue for either the good faith implementation of the NPT as interpreted by the ICJ Advisory Opinion in 1996 at least at the level of the majority decision, which called unanimously for adherence to Article VI of the treaty. This would have the advantage of putting not only the question of nuclear disarmament diplomacy at the top of the political agenda, but would also look toward a more general international obligation to seek the demilitarization of International relations more generally. It often forgotten that Article VI mandates ‘general and complete disarmament’ as well as ‘nuclear disarmament.’

If Biden refuses such a course of action, then it would be appropriate for non-nuclear states to threaten to withdraw from the NPT if compliance with Article VI is not forthcoming within two years. The movement for nuclear zero should make clear that the record of the nuclear weapons states has been to treat these Article VI requirements as ‘useful fictions’ rather than as an integral element in the treaty bargain between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states. It would also be analytically helpful to make clear that NPT has been supplemented by an American-led geopolitical regime of ‘enforcement’ that denies certain states their Article X right of withdrawal, and as applied is relied upon to justify sanctions against North Korea and Iran, which constitute unlawful threats and uses force in circumstances other than self-defense, violating the core prohibition of the UN Charter set forth in Article 2(4).

In other words, the NPT was drafted to reflect an acceptance of a denuclearization agenda, but it has been geopolitically interpreted over its more than half century of existence from an arms control perspective that seeks to lower some costs and risks of nuclearism but implicitly rejects the treaty premise of denuclearization. We at the NAPF can contribute to vital public education by making this understanding clear, and demystifying the behavior of nuclear weapons states that rhetorically affirm denuclearization while operationally pursuing security in a manner consistent with the logic of nuclearism, including the retention of deterrence as an indispensable element. At the very least, the next NPT review conference tentatively rescheduled for August 2021 should examine adherence to Article VI in a systematic and high-profile manner, and perhaps the diplomatic practice surrounding Article X as well.

Closely related, is the status of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), with 86 signatories, which entered into force earlier in 2021 after the receipt by the UN of the 50thratification. The five permanent members of the Security Council have removed any doubt about their posture toward nuclear weaponry by issuing a joint statement opposing the philosophy underlying TPNW, and essentially opting for the benefits of deterrence, which would be lost if the comprehensive prohibition of all aspects of nuclearism were to be implemented. The anti-nuclear movement throughout the world, despite its many differences, should seek unity through supporting ratification by all sovereign states of TPNW, and most of all the nuclear weapons states. I would hope that an argument to the effect could be made, possibly by a widely circulated statement endorsed by a range of moral authority figures, from William Perry and Jerry Brown to Dan Ellsberg and David Krieger. It would lead, I believe, to a necessary national debate that would alert the public to the dangers of the present structure of nuclearism and point to the existence of a preferred alternative peaceful path to enhanced global security at reduced cost.

My final point is to suggest that we are now at the early stages of a major geopolitical reconfiguration of global relations. It seems likely that the near future will bring either a new form of bipolarity pitting the West against China, and possibly Russia, or an acceptance of coexistence among major states as the basis for multilateral problem-solving with respect to such global challenges as climate change, biodiversity, industrial agriculture and fishing, worldwide migration, and transnational crime. This kind of global cooperative order will not materialize if a regional confrontation in the South China Seas occurs between the U.S. and China, and especially not if nuclear weapons are threatened or used to avoid a U.S. defeat. Such a scenario, even if its occurrence is conjectural, is an added reason to deescalate frictions with China as a foreign policy priority. Martin Sherwin in his fine book, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2021) convincingly documents his central finding that it was dumb luck that saved the world from a nuclear war occurring in the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Let’s at least learn to be prudent before our luck as a nation and species runs out.

Krieger: You add two treaties, one relatively old and one relatively new, to the set of options available to Biden that could lead to progress on nuclear abolition.  The older of the two treaties is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with its Article VI obligations of good faith negotiations to end the nuclear arms race at an early date, for nuclear disarmament, and for general and complete disarmament. Article VI was the quid pro quo for on the part of the nuclear weapons states for nonproliferation on the part of the non-nuclear weapon states.  It was never intended, at least by the non-nuclear weapon states, for the NPT to be the justification for setting up a permanent structure of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” and Article VI was the means by which the playing field would be leveled in achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  The problem with Article VI is that it has never been pursued in any serious or sustained fashion by the nuclear weapons states.

When the parties to the NPT met in 1995 for a review and extension conference, 25 years after the treaty entered into force, it was already clear that the nuclear weapons states, and their allies under their nuclear umbrella, were not acting in good faith on Article VI.  Nonetheless, the nuclear weapons states and their allies argued for and achieved an indefinite extension of the treaty rather than a series of shorter extensions contingent upon progress on the Article VI obligation of good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.  I strongly agree with you that the public needs to be educated on the actual bargain of the NPT, and the behavior of the nuclear weapons states toward their end of the bargain needs to be demystified and exposed to public scrutiny.  It may be that Biden is too much of a cold warrior to play a leadership role on this, but we need to try to influence both him and the public under any circumstances.  The longer the Article VI obligations remain unfulfilled, the more likely it becomes that a bad nuclear outcome will ensue, by accident or design.  As I have said before, the nuclear status quo is akin to playing nuclear roulette with the gun pointed at the heart of humanity.

The second treaty you refer to, the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is a relatively new treaty.  It is a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, and was achieved as a result of a civil society campaign led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which lobbied and worked with non-nuclear weapon states to create and support the treaty.  The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, and entered into force on January 22, 2021.  The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation was one of some 500 member organizations in ICAN, and shared along with the other member organizations the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

You are certainly right that the nuclear weapons states have put on a full-court press to oppose this nuclear ban treaty, and therefore we must do all we can to educate the public on the existence and importance of the treaty.  If we could spark a national debate on the treaty, it could take us a long way toward changing attitudes about nuclear weapons and the need to abolish them before they abolish us.

Upon considerable reflection, it still remains hard to understand why weapons that could destroy civilization and possibly the human species have been so small a part of our national discussion, and the leadership of the country seems so reliant upon this weaponry.  Nuclear deterrence is not a shield; nor is it a reasonable justification for threatening or committing mass murder. It is a strategy that puts a target on every man, woman and child in the nuclear weapons states, with ripple effects endangering all of humanity.  Until these weapons are abolished we are all at risk of nuclear annihilation.  The leaders of the nuclear weapons states seem to have learned very little about nuclear dangers or risks over the decades since they were first used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Our luck has held since then, but such luck is not guaranteed to continue. There have been many close calls, many near nuclear disasters.

Biden may be, as you say, most comfortable as a cold warrior, but his compassion could move him to explore alternatives to nuclear deterrence, which could result in new hope to end the scourge that nuclear weapons pose to humanity and other forms of life.  There is still time to bring about change, moving us back from the precipice of annihilation, and this must serve as a source of hope.  Biden could take the all-important step of convening the leaders of the nuclear weapons states in a nuclear abolition summit to chart a path to move from the Nuclear Age to nuclear zero, to change the course of our nuclear future.  This would be a valuable step in fulfilling the obligations of Article VI of the NPT and could open the door to the nuclear weapons states and their allies joining the rest of the world in becoming parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. While this may seem like an improbable step at this time, stranger things have happened and it does have the potential of combining hope with logic and vision.

The post Biden’s Foreign Policy and Nuclear Weapons: a Dialogue appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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