H. Patricia Hynes – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 09 May 2021 05:15:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.17 On Tax Day, the Billionaires must Start Paying their Fair Share https://www.juancole.com/2021/03/billionaires-start-paying.html Thu, 25 Mar 2021 04:03:39 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=196839 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) – On Tax Day, there’s more than one elephant in the room, and they’re all in mansions.

Elephants occupy the bulging mansions of 657 American billionaires, 43 of them new this past pandemic year. Their combined wealth soared to $4.2 trillion – up $1.3 trillion – between March 21, 2020 and February 6, 2021. Nor do these billionaires pay taxes on the new wealth unless they sell these assets at a profit. During this same period, more than 78 million working people lost their jobs.

Someone has spotted these elephants in their mansions: Senator Elizabeth Warren and colleagues in the House have proposed the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act. Millionaires would pay 2 cents on every dollar of wealth above $50 million and billionaires, 3 cents on every dollar of wealth above a $1billion. Would they even feel it? Couldn’t these mega-rich afford more like a nickel and 10 cents tax on a dollar respectively, given that most of the 2017 Trump-Republican tax cuts accrue to them?

But the biggest tax day elephant in the room resides in the 5-sided

military mansion, the Pentagon, with its criminally large budget – nearly a trillion dollars each year siphoned from our tax dollars. Why criminal? Consider these five facts:

Wars unwon, trillions spent, and millions of innocent dead: Since the early 1950s Korean War, the US has waged both short, quick and long, large unwinnable wars against non-Western and darker skinned people and overturned governments “not in out national interest” (translate “we don’t like them”): from Iran, Vietnam, Granada, Libya and Panama, to Afghanistan and Iraq. Even the majority of recent US war veterans do not support the wars they fought in.

In a 2013 lecture at Lafayette College, former US president and Korean War veteran, Jimmy Carter spoke bluntly about American militarism: “Almost constantly since World War II, our country has been at war.” He added that he could not think of any place on earth today where the United States is working to promote peace – nor could the then Secretary of State John Kerry when Carter queried him.

Arming the world: The US supplied 37% of major weapons to 96 countries in 2020, thereby feeding war and starving people. Saudi Arabia received ¼ of our arms, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in waging its war and blockade on Yemen, with our tax dollar weapons. What God blesses America for starving, maiming and killing the children of Yemen?

Climate crisis and pollution: The US military is the largest institutional user of oil in the world, and thus, the largest institutional contributor to greenhouse gas warming. If the military were a country, the Department of Defense would rank 47th out of 197 countries for its greenhouse gas emission. From 2003-2007, the US war in Iraq released more greenhouse gas emissions annually than 139 countries.

Our wars have also poisoned countries with Agent Orange and depleted uranium as well as our own soldiers who were also exposed to open-air toxic burn pits on bases throughout the Middle East.

Ruse of “national security”: our politicians never consult the public about what makes us feel secure in order to give us a voice defining national security. Were we polled, I would wager that a quick recovery from the pandemic; secure jobs with a living wage; quality education for children; safe roads and bridges; affordable housing, and investing in renewables to protect from climate crises would rank up there, above threats from China, as our national security.

But inside the Pentagon mansion the reverse priorities rule. The Department of Defense and their weapons contractors want to increase defense spending annually by 3-5% to ready for war with China, which is now seen as our #1 national security threat for its economic and military power. And the Senate and Congress, with the exception of 50 House Democrats, buy into this Beltway obsession with national security through military superiority, even though we don’t win wars and our veterans have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population.

Defense industry coddled during pandemic; “weapons before citizens”:

“Congress awarded $130 billion more than requested to defense contractors for the nuclear-armed Columbia class submarine program” while they “whittled down the second round of stimulus payments to Americans to $600…” reports Trystan Guyette of Beyond the Bomb. Since the inception of the pandemic, the Washington consensus assured that major weapons makers, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, would receive larger payments in advance of work.

The chief pandemic profiteer Lockheed Martin received an estimated $450 million to keep its supply chain for weapons funded. So generous was the advance funding that the company advertised thousands of new jobs during the pandemic. Major weapons contractors Raytheon and Northrop Grumman reported being satisfied in meeting their customers’ needs throughout the pandemic.

Will Roper, who led acquisitions for the US Air Force, bragged, “I really felt like Covid was just as much about sending a signal to adversaries that no domestic crisis can disrupt military readiness.” Financial Analyst Jim McAleese recently described the major weapons of contractors as “swimming in excess cash” thanks to a mix of government efforts – this largesse, while 24 million Americans are hungry, one-half of them children

Let’s take a look at what our tax money went to this past year.

57 cents of each dollar we paid in our discretionary taxes went to support the military, our wars, weapons, and bases, including 800 military bases abroad and military operations in an estimated 150 countries.

A few pennies of each discretionary tax dollar went to support each of these essential human security needs: environmental protection, education, housing, public health, food and agriculture, research on renewable energy, road and bridges, public lands and parks, diplomacy and more.

No wonder military readiness stayed intact during year 1 of Covid while most other sectors of national life suffered.

President Eisenhower captured this tradeoff in privileging weapons over people in his 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

…Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense…it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

This timeless wisdom from a man seasoned by World War II was proffered as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was building ominously in the early 1950s. Has our government learned nothing in the ensuing 70 years as it continues to use the lion share of our tax dollars to ensure global military supremacy while neglecting our security and well being at home?

I wonder: has this fanatic quest for weapons-based dominance globally come home to afflict us with the January 6 armed insurrectionists’ attack on Congress, many dressed in old and new military garb? Has the War on Terror come home to roost when the major terrorist threats to the US are largely angry, armed white men from within, as even the Pentagon acknowledges.

Is this our cross of iron?

We know where national priorities lie when the military weapons’ contractors were thrown a lifeline and every other sector was doled band aids through whittled down temporary relief acts. This will only shift if the child social security becomes permanent, a living wage of $15 or more is mandated, we invest in an inspired, committed public sector, and we skill up to use and prize diplomacy in contexts of potential conflict.

——

Bonus Video:

MSNBC: “Elizabeth Warren: ‘The Wealth Tax Is Popular Across America’ | The ReidOut | MSNBC”

]]>
Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A New Chance, as 50 Countries Pledge no Nukes https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/abolishing-nuclear-countries.html Fri, 22 Jan 2021 05:01:09 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195691 ( Portside ) – A nuclear darkness has engulfed the world for seven decades, with only intermittent breakthroughs of light when treaties among nuclear nations were negotiated. Some treaties have been violated for decades; others, walked away from by Trump. Any progress made on eliminating nuclear weapons has ceased. Worse, a new weapons upgrade is in the works by the nuclear nations. In 2009 President Obama spoke of the dream of a world without nuclear weapons, yet a handful of years later he put the U.S. on course to spend nearly $2 trillion on upgrading its nuclear weapons arsenal and delivery systems over a period of 30 years. Trump has augmented the budget for and added new nuclear weapons with threats to use them.

The 70-year nuclear gloom begins to lift on January 22, 2021. The nine countries that have held the world captive to the threat of nuclear war are losing moral ground to 122 smaller countries that approved the world’s first nuclear weapons ban in July 2017. Once 50 of those 122 approving countries completed the ratification process of the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in their legislatures, it became international law in October 2020.

The law goes into effect January 22, 2021 to the profound relief of most people of the world. Those now 51 “freedom fighter” countries commit to having nothing to do with nuclear weapons – no design, testing, manufacturing, storage, transport, use or threat of use. Consider this a marathon for disarmament to outpace the current nuclear arms race in which all nuclear-armed countries are, in lockstep, upgrading their weapons.

And this is only the beginning. Thirty five additional countries are in the process of ratifying the Treaty; 50 more support the Treaty; a dozen more have immense popular support, among them Canada, and are one election away from signing the Treaty. If the United States, where a majority of citizens does not want to use nuclear weapons, signed the Treaty, the rest would follow.

Actions of note:

  • The General Electric Company stopped production of nuclear weapons in 1993.
  • Two of the world’s largest pension funds have divested from nuclear weapons.
  • Mitsubishi UFG Financial Group, 1 of the 5 largest banks in the world, has excluded nuclear weapons production from its portfolio, labeling them “inhumane.”
  • Kennedy and Khrushchev were working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons when Kennedy was assassinated.
  • Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to a radical dismantling of their nuclear weapons.
  • Our goal must be a world “without nuclear weapons… “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought:” Former Republican Secretary of State George Schultz and former Democrat Secretary of Defense William Perry.
  • Mayors for Peace: 7675 cities in 163 countries support the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
  • 56 former presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers from 20 NATO countries and Japan and South Korea recently signed an open letter in support of the UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons. “Sooner or later our luck will run out – unless we act…There is no cure for a nuclear war,” they asserted. “Prevention is our only option.”
  • Pope Francis: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral. As is the possession of atomic weapons.”

A limited nuclear war could trigger a global famine that would likely end billions of lives. A full scale nuclear war would end human and most other life on Earth, reminding us of the classical depiction of total war: they had to destroy the village to save it. A nuclear war, whether by accident, misjudgment or intention to destroy the enemy would destroy the rest of us as well – how insane is that?

What then can President-elect Biden do?

Open dialogue with and renew nuclear agreements and diplomacy with Russia immediately.

Change US policy in 3 key ways: No first use of nuclear weapons; take weapons off of hair trigger alert; and select another senior official to share decision-making about “pressing the button.”

Revive the agreement with Iran: they do not develop nuclear weapons, we lift sanctions.

With South Korea, engage in diplomacy with North Korea to freeze and roll back their nuclear weapons program.

Stop the new program of upgrading nuclear weapons.

Listen to the world’s majority and lead the United States toward signing the new UN Treaty and the others will follow. It is our only solution to exit a dead-end system that permits a single human being, in the words of national security analyst Joseph Cirincione, “to destroy in minutes all that humanity has constructed over millennia.”

Via Portside )

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

UNIDIR: “Implementation Of The Treaty On The Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons”

]]>
50 Nations of UN seek A-Bomb Ban, but US, Russia, China, N. Korea are accelerating Dangerous Arms Race https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/nations-accelerating-dangerous.html Fri, 30 Oct 2020 04:03:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194144 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) – We are living in the year 2020 AD, signifying two thousand twenty years after the birth of Christ. For the writer and atomic bomb survivor, Kyoko Hayashi, however, “the significance of the birth of Christ pales in comparison” with the event that demonstrated “humans had gained the means to destroy their own species, all other species and the earth.” Thus, she invents a new calendar “the A-Bomb calendar” that designates 1945 as year 1.

The fatal act of using and showcasing the unrivalled power of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 launched a Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, an arms race that has culminated today in nine countries possessing approximately 16,000 nuclear weapons (the US and Russia having most). Moreover the current B83 nuclear weapons of the US arsenal are 80 times, more powerful than the two atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities. Further, under the Obama and subsequent administration, the US government is in the process of modernizing its nuclear arsenal by 2046, carrying an estimated cost of $1.7 trillion in current dollars. And so also are Russia, China and the other 6 nuclear nations. They are the biblical Goliaths in our midst.

We have never been so close to nuclear annihilation, in the opinion of many nuclear weapons experts, as today. The seminal measure of this risk to all life on the planet is the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, an annual gauge of nuclear Armageddon since 1947. This gauge of risk has ranged from 7 minutes to midnight in 1947 to 2 minutes in 1953, and 17 minutes in 1991, due to the détente with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the agreement with Russia to mutually reduce nuclear weapons. But by 2020 the Bulletin set the Doomsday Clock at its closest time to midnight ever: 100 seconds. Two other dooming factors also figured into their calculation: the accelerating climate crisis and cyber-based disinformation. In the Bulletin’s words “trends…in nuclear weapons and climate change…have failed to improve…[and] the international political infrastructure for controlling existential risk is degrading, leaving the world in a situation of high and rising threat.”

As we finish 2020, the US is in a “full-blown arms race” – both nuclear and conventional – with Russia and China; and Iran and North Korea are building nuclear programs out of self-protection from US threats. Further, Trump has withdrawn from nuclear treaties and the 2017 nuclear accord with Iran; and Saudi Arabia may have nuclear ambitions. Currently the US has no coherent foreign policy on nuclear weapons and no climate policy. Increasingly it is flying nuclear-capable bombers ever closer to Russian and Chinese territory, stimulating a higher paced arms race. Arms control and security expert Michael Klare depicts this taunting maneuver as “simply nuts” and rushing us to Armageddon. The 2021 Doomsday Clock will likely move closer to midnight.

But perhaps not: a strong shaft of light now pierces the gloom of a nuclear weaponized world. On October 24th, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Under the treaty’s provisions, the possession, manufacture of, threat of and any actual use of nuclear weapons is an international crime. On January 22, 2021, the treaty will become international law.

The backdrop to this landmark Treaty encompasses the unstinting work of non-governmental organizations laboring for decades to educate countries about the mortal risks of nuclear weapons and war and, most significantly, the lifelong heart-rending public testimonies of the thousands of Hibakushas – survivors of the atomic bomb, like writer Kyoko Hayashi. Together their efforts culminated in 122 nations in the UN adopting the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons in 2017, despite heavy pressure by nuclear nations, foremost the US, not to do so.

Three years later 50 of those countries have ratified the treaty, the number of signatories needed for the treaty to become international law. Many more are in the process of their legislatures ratifying the treaty.

What can we make of scarce US media coverage of this global humanitarian advance in eliminating nuclear weapons? Yes, we are numbed by ongoing bad news of Covid, economic recession, climate crises and an anti-science administration entrenched in denial. But we are also benighted by a press and politicians for whom nuclear weapons seem to be a non-issue, gauging by primary and presidential debates.

Nuclear weapons are the biblical David and Goliath struggle of our day. Let us keep in mind that David prevailed.

——

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

SABC: “UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons to come into force within 90 days”

]]>
Atomic Poet Survivors, Military Realists and Millennials: August 6 and 9 https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/survivors-military-millennials.html Thu, 06 Aug 2020 04:03:04 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192368 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) –

Poet survivors of the merciless, savage US atomic bombing of Japan guide us to the deepest, most intimate loss and suffering of survivors, the hibakusha.

Give back my Father

give back my Mother.
Give Grandpa,

Grandma back;
Give my sons

and daughters back.

Give me back

myself.
Give back

the human race.

As long as this life lasts,

this life,
Give back Peace
Peace that will never end.
Sankichi Toge

At 28, Sankichi Toge suffered the atomic bombing at home, 1.8 miles from the epicenter in Hiroshima. After working tirelessly as an anti-war activist, he died at the National Hiroshima Sanatorium at the age of 36. This poem is engraved on his monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Poet and writer, Kyoko Hayashi nearly died on August 9, 1945 in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. She was fourteen years old and working at a factory less than a mile from the epicenter of the atomic explosion. She traveled barefoot for nine hours through the ruins of Nagasaki passing many dead and dying who had been crushed, burned and mutilated beyond recognition.

The unique tragedy of those who lost their lives to the bomb, Hayashi feels, is that the bomb not only deprived them of their lives but also of “their own personal deaths.” And for the survivors like herself, “…the shortening of a given life, not being able to live fully–this was the promise made between an atomic bomb and its victims.” The bomb changed time for her. “I could not make an appointment longer than a month ahead,” given many hibakusha friends died from unpredictable bleeding. “The past is always present and the future is never countable.”

In one of her many published stories, Hayashi invents a new calendar, the “A-bomb calendar” which designates 1945 as the first year. Why? “The significance of the birth of Christ or Buddha pales in comparison,” with the event that demonstrated that “humans had gained the means to destroy their own species, all other species and the earth.”

Fifty-four years after surviving the bomb, she journeyed from Japan to the Trinity Site in New Mexico, site of the first atomic bomb explosion, a national landmark since 1975, and “a hibakusha’s birth place,” as she deems it. She may be the sole atomic bomb survivor to have made this morbid pilgrimage.

Standing in “Ground Zero” at Trinity Site, she looks out to the red mountains and wilderness beyond and suddenly senses a kinship with desert plants and animals. “Until now as I stand at Trinity Site, I have thought it was we humans who were the first atomic bomb victims on Earth. I was wrong. Here are my senior hibakusha. They are here but cannot cry or yell.”

Military Realists

Opposition to nuclear weapons has been unfailingly bipartisan since 1945. Key World War II military leaders from all branches of the armed forces, including generals Eisenhower, Arnold, Marshall and MacArthur; and admirals Leahy, Nimitz and Halsey strongly dissented, for both military and moral reasons, from President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bombs on two civilian Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At their 40th anniversary reunion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, 70 of 110 physicists who had worked on the atomic bomb signed a statement supporting nuclear disarmament.

No high-level military insider has renounced nuclear weapons so starkly and definitively as retired Air Force General Lee Butler, former commander of the Strategic Air Command that oversaw the entire nuclear arsenal. In December 1996, he used a National Press Club luncheon as his forum to urge his government to take the lead in abolishing all nuclear weapons. “Nuclear war,” he said, “is a raging, insatiable beast whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but cannot possibly control.” Nothing, he concluded, not peace through deterrence, nor national security, justifies these weapons of physical and genetic terror.

The pity here is that he waited until retirement to speak out.

One shaft of light – in this time of U.S. complacence regarding our $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program – are young people. In 2019 the International Committee of the Red Cross polled 16,000 millennials (ages 20-35) from every region of the world regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Overall a great majority (average 84%) responded that the use of nuclear weapons is “never acceptable,” with strong agreement from those in nuclear-armed countries.

May the hibakusha and this generation guide us to global abolition of nuclear weapons.

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Hiroshima atomic bomb: Survivor recalls horrors – BBC News

]]>
Bailouts for Weapons Firms, Tent Cities for Vets: Covid Reveals U.S. Military Priorities https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/bailouts-military-priorities.html Wed, 17 Jun 2020 04:03:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191542 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) – On May 18, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched a Salvation Army-like charity drive asking the public for donations of money, food, and mobile phones to help an estimated 40,000 homeless veterans during the pandemic. More than one-half of all homeless veterans are African American and Hispanic, while they account for only 15% of U.S. veterans, another punishing consequence of pervasive racism.

How is it that a country that spends nearly $1 trillion each year on the military, national security, cybersecurity and weapons manufacture, a country that touts itself as the military superpower of the world, with soldiers and weapons on every continent except Antarctica, needs charity for its veterans?

The current massive Covid bill, titled the HEROES Act, has proposed funding for the VA to set up tent cities for homeless vets in the parking lots of VA hospitals. Reminiscent of refugee camps, what a pitiful “thank you for your service.” The final end for World War II veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers Home in Massachusetts tragically mirrored their wartime experiences.

Feted when first built in 1952, the Soldiers Home has suffered serious shortages of protective gear during Covid and has been chronically underfunded and understaffed, such that the administrator combined wards of uninfected and infected men. Of the 210 veterans living there, 89 had died by late May – “one of the highest death tolls of any end-of-life facility in the country.”

In late March, Captain Brett Crozier sent an e-mail up his chain of command regarding the hazardous conditions for the 4,800-crew members aboard the tightly- quartered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on which cases of coronavirus were growing. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

When his message was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, the captain was removed from his post. “We all have one mission and that’s to defend the nation,” said then Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modley who removed Crozier, suggesting the sailors at risk were dispensable. As of June 10, 1200 of the 4,800 crew members aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt had contracted the coronavirus.

If soldiers and veterans are disposable, who and what does matter to the deepest pocket of our tax dollars, the Department of Defense?

Since the inception of the pandemic, the Washington consensus assured that major weapons makers, such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon (major seller of bombs to Syria, used against Yemen) and Northrup Grumman, would receive payment in advance of work. The chief pandemic profiteer Lockheed Martin received an estimated $450 million to keep its supply chain for weapons funded. So generous is the advance funding that the company is advertising thousands of new jobs. This while millions of unemployed have waited desperately for their belated $1200 aid and relief payment from the federal government.

Elsewhere, tucked away in the House Heroes Act, that will fund tent cities for vets, is a provision to reimburse defense contractors, not only for unemployed workers but also for executives’ salaries and business costs of marketing and sales.

Why the preference for the industry of war and death, over its vets and soldiers? For one, the Pentagon is driven to remain the military superpower of the world, given our losing ground economically to China. Marshall Billingslea, the US arms control negotiator, has sets his sights on spending Russia and China “into oblivion” in an arms race. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper worries that the $3 trillion infusion into the economy for the now 16% unemployed, those who can’t pay for rent or food or medications, “may throw us off course of increasing the DOD budget 3 to 5%.”

Every “good” in our federal discretionary budget – education, housing, health, renewable energy, diplomacy, and more is cut in Trump’s proposed 2021 budget, while weapons of mass destruction, fossil fuels, anti-immigration staffing and resources are increased. Worse, the DOD has insulated the weapons manufacturers from the economic crash of Covid in order to assure our military security and dominance in the world. How can a government in the midst of a deadly and complex epidemic – this includes elected Democrat and Republican members of Congress alike – continue to pour our taxes into instruments of death?

With a new administration, we have a chance to cut the defense budget. However, as one analyst writes “even the most liberal legislators are likely to rush to the defense of plants [and jobs] in their own district.” However, an aggressive Green New Deal Germany’s economic recovery plan could replace lost defense jobs with solar and wind technology jobs.

We need to redefine our militarized national security embodied in weapons and global top cop mentality as urgently as cities and states need to rethink community security embodied in militarized police. We need to replace the “necessary” arms manufacturing sector with a more necessary Green New Deal that can revive our economy and slow the climate crisis upon us.

——–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

WHAS 11: “COVID-19 quarantine affecting veterans”

]]>
The Other Pandemic: We haven’t Even begun to Flatten the Curve on the Climate Crisis https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/pandemic-flatten-climate.html Fri, 29 May 2020 04:03:30 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191173 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) –

We are living with two life-threatening crises: Covid-19 and the climate crisis. They pose a common stark fate for us – the risk of illness in the case of Covid, and injury and destruction of our environment in the case of climate; both are harbingers of death for many. But it is their equally stark differences and our response as a world that matter most for survival.

Countries that acted quickly against Covid and with strict restrictions, which kept most residents at home, were successful in keeping their death rates lower and slowing the virus spread (“flattening the curve”) than countries with looser restrictions and that waited to act. A recent study found “if cities across the U.S. had moved just one week faster to shut down restaurants and businesses and require residents to stay at home, they could have avoided 35,000 coronavirus deaths by early May;” if they had acted two weeks earlier, “more than 50,000 people who died from the pandemic might be alive.”

There is, however, no flattening of the global emissions curve or of global temperature rise, despite successive UN climate conference agreements. We are on a course to crash past emissions targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The recent plummet in global carbon dioxide emissions from Covid-induced economic slowdown is incidental not intentional. Further, the US government – in diabolic denial of science, facts, and truth – has spurned the 2015 agreement, weakened our environmental regulations, and coddled the nearly bankrupt fossil fuel industry with Covid recovery funds.

Unlike Covid, no one country or city can save itself from the global climate crisis, even with emergency plans and equipment. Turning back from the perilous path of unchecked global warming and biodiversity loss requires global cohesiveness and a massive cooperative effort among all countries, especially the largest, most industrialized, most consuming and most militarized. Unchecked global warming and the accelerated loss in biodiversity could collapse whole ecosystems within 10 years, according to the most recent climate science. Ten years of action, beginning now, to aggressively slow the climate crisis, is akin to acting one week sooner to stem the pandemic.

At the pace of deforestation in the Amazon for cattle farming and resource extraction, the rainforest is moving from capturing and storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to releasing more than it removes. The same pattern is true in African and Central African rainforests. Virtually every threat to biological life on earth being studied is revealing an accelerated pace of loss: massive death of coral reefs, which support 25 percent of marine life, from faster warming oceans; more destructive monster storms with winds over 155 mph have increased since the 1980s especially in Southeastern US and the Caribbean. We are nearing the threshold temperatures that will melt most of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice shelves and the Arctic sea ice, presaging slow, long-term sea level rise that will threaten the world’s coastal cities – none spared. A decade of studies reinforces that the American west and southwest are moving inexorably toward desert with record-breaking drought, tree death and wildfire.

The Covid crisis was immediate and stark, and many, if not most, countries acted successfully in their own deserved self-interest. An exceptional Cuba acted also in solidarity with others, offering generous medical assistance to a stranded cruise ship and to countries in need. But the climate crisis, which has never been covered by the media with the intensity and non-stop reporting dedicated to Covid, will be far worse in the not-so-long term. The climate crisis will end up killing an estimated 250,000 people per year within two decades if little is done and potentially causing up to a billion climate migrants within three decades according to the UN, if the world does not act now and aggressively.

How to turn this climate crisis into a fragment of opportunity?

Recover and rebuild the economy, which may take 10 years, with the goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and intensive efficiency. How to finance? Eliminate 100-year-old subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, which in turn will save billions of dollars in health costs from their pollution; and end the costly naval defense of Persian Gulf oil. All together these actions would save an estimated $650 million dollars per year. Re-route the more than $1 trillion dollars committed to new nuclear weapons production and the technically skilled jobs to the green energy sector. Reduce substantially the nearly $750 billion dollar war and arms budget and re-invest the funds and arms industry jobs into the Green New Deal infrastructure. Leave existing natural forests untouched. Listen to and support youth climate activists.

The European Commission has released a green economic recovery plan. Why not we also?

See also:

Women Have Risen to Heroic Heights and Covid-19: The Great Equalizer?

—–

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Could coronavirus change how we tackle the climate crisis? | The Stream”

]]>
Covid-19: No, we’re not all in this Together; Some Americans are being put at much Greater Risk https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/together-americans-greater.html Wed, 13 May 2020 04:03:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190849 Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) – There is a meme circulating in this time of pandemic that we are all in this together, that Covid-19 is, as New York Governor Cuomo stated, the “great equalizer.” From one vantage point, this appears to be true: last week a staff person to Vice President Pence and another to President Trump were found to be infected with the coronavirus, adding to 11 infected US Secret Service agents. But from many other outlooks, this statement – implying we are all at equal risk – is a blatant cover-up of inequalities baked into our society. Before the virus, 78% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. Since the virus, many billionaires and wealthy have become richer while the working poor (millions of whom have lost jobs and lack benefits and health insurance), are poorer. As the fissure of financial inequality widens, so also does the disparity in infection and death rates.

Economic inequality in the United States – or the gap between the rich and the rest – is directly linked with, drives in fact, much of the health and social problems of our society. Rising income inequality leads to a plague of ills: higher rates of people in prison, higher teenage birth rates, higher rates of mental illness, more child neglect and children bullying other children, higher rates of homicide, lower educational performance, and lower life expectancy.

The United States ranks highest in income inequality and correspondingly ranks highest in ill health and social problems among other rich, developed countries. And, conversely, the Scandinavian countries and Japan, which score highest on income equality, fare best in health and social well-being.

How then does this inequality manifest in the pandemic we are experiencing?

The United States, with the greatest total wealth of any country, has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world, though France and Italy rival it proportionately. Still, the number of US victims is higher than countries with four times as many people, namely China and India, a relatively poor country. Our failure in public and medical health is worsened by a callous, know-nothing president who underfunds federal health agencies, disbands pandemic expert teams, refuses to respect the basic rudiments of science, and cares more about the fallout of Covid-19 on the upcoming election and his faltering poll numbers than his citizens.

Who are, then, the most likely victims of the virus? Workers of color, both black Americans and Latinos, are proportionately found in the lowest-paying service and domestic occupations. Two thirds of these workers are women. This means more exposure to risk-laden work in many cases – agricultural workers, meat processing, hospital and nursing home, janitorial and housekeeping in health care facilities. They are more likely to plunge into deeper poverty if infected, laid off, without health insurance or paid sick leave. They cannot “stay in place” working from home online, like the professional class can. Further, Black and Latinos are more likely to live in environmental justice communities, meaning they are more frequently exposed to air and water pollution and toxic wastes than whites. Recent Harvard-based research has found that those exposed to greater air pollution from cars and factories are more vulnerable to contracting Covid 19.

Add to economic and environmental inequality the social inequality of racial discrimination – in hiring, in pay, in “driving while Black,” in persistent housing segregation, in greater rates of arrests and prison terms, in day-to-day interpersonal exclusion and slights inducing unrelenting stress – and we find reasons for higher rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths among Latinos and Blacks.

In New York, for example, African Americans are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. As of mid-April, counties with a majority of African Americans had three times infection rates as counties with a white majority. Chelsea, Massachusetts, long a working class city with a majority of Latinos and immense daily air polluting traffic to Boston across the Tobin Bridge overhead, is the hotspot of infections in Massachusetts.

No, Covid-19 is not the “great equalizer.” If anything, it exposes the fault line of injustice that runs through this country, wherein the wealthy can “stay in place” on gigantic yachts; wealthier, private and non-profit hospitals hold much larger cash reserves than safety net hospitals for the poor and uninsured; larger businesses get preference over smaller ones for government loans; the professional class can work from home with their children having access to computers for online learning; and corporate insurance and pharmaceutical companies lobby against a single-payer health care system.

We urgently need health care for all and a working social democracy.

——-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Why COVID-19 is a “perfect storm of terribleness” for Black Americans”

]]>
How we gave up our Health, Environment and Diplomacy for Wars, Walls and Plutocracy https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/environment-diplomacy-plutocracy.html Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:02:15 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190019 Greenfield, MA (Special to Informed Comment) -Budgets are moral documents (or immoral, depending on priorities). So also is tax policy.

Consider Trump’s proposed $1.3 trillion discretionary budget for 2021. In snapshot, the Pentagon gets 55% and every other need of 331 million people–from health, education, agriculture, transportation, environmental protection to housing–is left with 45%. As one retired colonel observed, “the military gravy train is running at full speed.”

Military weapons makers are the biggest winners raking in nearly ½ of every Pentagon dollar, an estimated $350 billion, annually. Moreover in the midst of the coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic, the Pentagon is increasing periodic progress payments made to military manufacturers to keep them on schedule, a move described as a “taxpayer rip-off” by one retired Pentagon official.

Military corporations, though, trump military personnel. Tens of thousands of soldiers and their families rely on food stamps. For at least two weeks after our country was advised to implement social distancing, Army and Marine soldiers, against their own fears, were compelled to continue training in close mass formation. Paralyzed by indecision, mid-level leaders were waiting for higher command decisions. US Army Aviation aircrews were ordered to airlift coronavirus patients to local hospital without masks, disinfectant and medical guidelines. With no plan to quarantine the crew, they talked of taking off doors in flight.

Two other winners are Immigration and Customs Control (ICE) and its sister agency Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Under Trump’s proposed budget, ICE – the agency whose agents seize parents from their jobs and homes for deportation – will double by 2024. The proposed CBP budget would go from $14.8 billion to $15.6 billion, to bolster snatching babies and children from their parents at the US-Mexican border and caging them in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Budget priorities also include $2.3 billion investments in militarized border security technology, infrastructure and equipment, new border fencing, and hiring an additional 750 Border Patrol agents.

Another winner: Wealth

The 2017 tax cut – hyped as a bonus for all – has left our government with a multi-billion dollar debt that could have funded the missing coronavirus test kits, medical safety equipment, vaccine research, and urgently needed basic health care.

Thanks to this tax cut – the rich get richer: 72 percent of the tax cuts were directed to the wealthiest 20 percent of households. Ninety-one of the flourishing Fortune 500 companies paid no income taxes in 2018, and most of the rest paid half the rate they ought to have paid by tax regulation.

Trump’s proposed budget is one that prizes corporate life over human life; militarized security and walls over tackling the challenge of a humanistic immigration policy; and the wealthy over the rest of us. Another gift to corporate America is granting Gilead Sciences the exclusive right to research the drug remdesivir that shows potential for treating the coronavirus. If successful the company is guaranteed a 7-year patent, can set prices controls on it, will benefit from grants and tax credits, and could block manufacturers from developing generic versions at lower costs and more affordable for patients.

Losers in Trump’s budget:

State Department: If Trump has his way, the State Department may be cut by 23 percent, thus undermining potentially more effective and intelligent response to conflict, such as diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Why not build our diplomacy capacity, given we have failed wretchedly in war since World War II in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the second Iraq War, and Syria, leaving millions dead, injured physically and spiritually, homeless and hungry. Even a majority of US veterans doubt that the trillion dollar wars they fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were worth fighting

The Environmental Protection Agency: The proposed cut of 27% is nothing less than insane, given increased coastline flooding and erosion, more extreme wildfires, worsened hurricanes and prolonged droughts from the climate crisis, all of which is estimated to cripple economic growth in this decade. Further, researchers recently calculated that 80,000 additional lives would be lost every decade if this administration completes its rollback of clean air protections. All to coddle some well-connected fossil fuel, auto and truck corporations.

Health and Human Services: The proposed cut of 9% to Health and Human Services, including a 16% cut to the Centers for Disease Control, is homicidal. Local and state health departments across the country have lost nearly ¼ of their workforce–frontline health workers critical to stemming the spread of the virus–since 2008, when their positions were eliminated during the Great Recession.

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant who helped eradicate smallpox underscored our underfunded and underprepared public health system: “by the time South Korea had done 200,000 Covid-19 tests, we had probably done less than 1,000.”

Among 20 peer countries, which are well-to-do, developed and industrialized, the United States has the largest opioid users per capita, the highest drug-death rate, the highest use of anti-depressants per capita, the highest suicide and homicide rates. In additional comparisons of health with these comparable countries, we have the highest infant mortality rate and the shortest life expectancy.

Why do we fail in protecting our own people’s health and well-being while we squander more than a trillion dollars each year – with the assent of both Republicans and Democrats – on maintaining a failed and futile military empire across the world?

Now what could be done to chart a better future for the 99%?

· Repeal the 2017 Tax cuts

· Invest in diplomacy, lower the defense budget. Retrain workers for the Green New Deal as described in Warheads to Windmills, and quarantine fossil fuels where they are – in the ground.

· Restore the capacity of our health and environmental agencies to at least pre-2008 recession. Enact universal health coverage.

· Heed the call of the UN Secretary General Guterres:

“Put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives — the pandemic.”

——-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Trump signs US defense budget: what $716B buys in military might”

]]>
Civil Disobedience in the Time of Climate Crisis https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/disobedience-climate-crisis.html Tue, 10 Mar 2020 04:02:24 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189562 On March 27, 2018, a Massachusetts judge found thirteen protestors who obstructed construction of a high-pressure fracked gas pipeline in West Roxbury, Massachusetts not responsible for their crime of trespassing and disturbing the peace. The judge ruled that the potential environmental and public health impacts of the pipeline – including the risk of climate change – had made civil disobedience legally necessary.

On February 27 of this year, a Portland, Oregon jury refused to convict the so-called Zenith Five – activists fighting for a “habitable future” – for blockading a train track used by Zenith Energy Corporation to transport crude oil. Their blockade consisted of building a garden over the rail line making it impassable for the transport train. Their defense: they were justified in breaking the law on behalf of the planetary climate crisis. Five of 6 jurors voted to acquit them.

The next day sixteen members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance (and supporters) gathered in Orange, Massachusetts Municipal Court for closing arguments on why their trespassing to prevent state-supported logging in the Wendell state forest was necessary and justifiable. The judge will likely render his decision in May. “Social change happens by people who…make sacrifices to bring critical issues to the attention of a larger public,” explained their lawyer.

Thanks to citizens who practiced civil disobedience throughout the past 250 years, we are not only an independent country but also a more democratic, inclusive and moral country.

Think of the Boston Tea Party: On December 16, 1773, colonists dumped 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company into Boston Harbor to protest a British tax (taxation without representation) and monopoly on tea. Our history books lionize their act of civil disobedience as a catalyst of the American Revolution.

Think of Henry David Thoreau of Concord, Massachusetts: He was arrested In July of 1846 for refusing to pay his taxes in protest of slavery and the US violent occupation of Mexican territory (later Texas) for the sake of expanding slavery. Today Thoreau is an icon, a model of acting by one’s conscience in the face of government wrongdoing and for laying an ethical foundation for civil disobedience in his pamphlet Civil Disobedience.

Think of Harriet Tubman: She escaped slavery and, then, at extreme risk to her own life, became a conductor on the Underground Railway, leading African slaves to freedom in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. Today Tubman is a nationally revered symbol of living by conscience; and our country is more democratic for her actions.

Think of the suffragists: Their picketing, relentless lobbying, creative civil disobedience and nonviolent confrontation compelled a reluctant President Wilson to support a federal women’s suffrage amendment, ratified as the 19th Amendment in 1920. Their successful dissent gave one-half of the population of this country the freedom to vote and the goal of equal rights for women.

Think of Rosa Parks: In Montgomery, Alabama, “the mother of the civil rights movement” was jailed for refusing to give her seat on a public bus to a white man, in violation of the city’s racial segregation laws. Her historic challenge to Montgomery’s racist bus laws sparked the successful Montgomery bus boycott, organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, the US Congress honored her by having her body lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Think of decades of protest and civil disobedience by hundreds of disability rights activists: In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history.

Thousands of climate scientists are warning governments, with an existential sense of urgency, that we are doomed within decades if we do not act immediately to slow the climate crisis.

· October 2019: 400 scientists state that civil disobedience to slow the climate crisis is necessary and justified.

· Same month: 11,000 scientists worldwide declare a climate emergency.

· November 2019: UN reports that devastating impacts of climate crisis are imminent. Drastic action is needed.

· Same month: Scientists warn that our earth is approaching tipping points, which will cause a cascade of irreversible climate impacts.

· Tipping point is reached in January 2020 forest and bush fires in Australia. The ecosystem will never return to forest and bush.

What we – citizens, corporations, courts and government – do about the climate crisis will determine life on earth within the next few decades. It is a paramount ethical issue of our day – as were independence from the British Empire, abolishing slavery, winning women’s right to vote, and civil rights for African Americans and the disabled. The historic protesters were judged criminals by the courts of their day. In time they were regarded as people of conscience who held their country to a higher moral standard against unjust laws, policy and practices – that is, their crimes were justified in order to prevent greater harm.

And we are the better for it.

Pat Hynes, a former Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts. https://traprock.org

———

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

KTLA 5: “Jane Fonda Brings Climate Change Campaign to L.A.”

]]>