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Hiroshima Unlearned: Time to Tell the Truth About US Relations with Russia and Finally Ban the Bomb 

Thu, 2019-08-08 16:00

Photograph Source: U.S. Navy Public Affairs Resources Website – Public Domain

August 6th and 9th mark 74 years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where only one nuclear bomb dropped on each city caused the deaths of up to 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 people in Nagasaki. Now, with the US decision to walk away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) negotiated with the Soviet Union, we are once again staring into the abyss of one of the most perilous nuclear challenges since the height of the Cold War.

With its careful verification and inspections, the INF Treaty eliminated a whole class of missiles that threatened peace and stability in Europe. Now the US is leaving the treaty on the grounds that Moscow is developing and deploying a missile with a range prohibited by the treaty. Russia denies the charges and accuses the US of violating the treaty.  The US rejected repeated Russian requests to work out the differences in order to preserve the Treaty.

The US withdrawal should be seen in the context of the historical provocations visited upon the Soviet Union and now Russia by the United States and the nations under the US nuclear “umbrella” in NATO and the Pacific. The US has been driving the nuclear arms race with Russia from the dawn of the nuclear age:

— In 1946 Truman rejected  Stalin’s offer to turn the bomb over to the newly formed UN under international supervision, after which the Russians made their own bomb;

–Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s offer to give up Star Wars as a condition for both countries to eliminate all their nuclear weapons when the wall came down and Gorbachev released all of Eastern Europe from Soviet occupation, miraculously, without a shot;

— The US pushed NATO right up to Russia’s borders, despite promises when the wall fell that NATO would not expand it one inch eastward of a unified Germany;

–Clinton bombed Kosovo, bypassing Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council and violating the UN treaty we signed never to commit a war of aggression against another nation unless under imminent threat of attack;

–Clinton refused Putin’s offer to each cut our massive nuclear arsenals to 1000 bombs each and call all the others to the table to negotiate for their elimination, provided we stopped developing missile sites in Romania;

–Bush walked out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and put the new missile base in Romania with another to open shortly under Trump in Poland, right in Russia’s backyard;

–Bush and Obama blocked any discussion in 2008 and 2014 on Russian and Chinese proposals for a space weapons ban in the consensus-bound Committee for Disarmament in Geneva;

–Obama’s rejected Putin’s offer to negotiate a treaty to ban cyber war;

–Trump now walked out of the INF Treaty;

–From Clinton through Trump, the US never ratified the 1992 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as Russia has, and has performed more than 20 underground sub-critical tests on the Western Shoshone’s sanctified land at the Nevada test site.  Since plutonium is blown up with chemicals that don’t cause a chain reaction, the US claims these tests don’t violate the treaty;

–Obama, and now Trump, pledged over one trillion dollars for the next 30 years for two new nuclear bomb factories in Oak Ridge and Kansas City, as well as new submarines, missiles, airplanes, and warheads!

What has Russia had to say about these US affronts to international security and negotiated treaties? Putin at his State of the Nation address in March 2018 said:

 I will speak about the newest systems of Russian strategic weapons that we are creating in response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States of America from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and  the practical deployment of their missile defence systems both in the US and beyond their national borders.

I would like to make a short journey into the recent past. Back in 2000, the US announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia was categorically against this. We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system. Under this treaty, the parties had the right to deploy ballistic missile defence systems only in one of its regions. Russia deployed these systems around Moscow, and the US around its Grand Forks land-based ICBM base. Together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defence systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.

We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty.

All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002. Even after that we tried to develop constructive dialogue with the Americans. We proposed working together in this area to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security. 

Despite promises made in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that the five nuclear weapons states–US, UK, Russia, France, China–would eliminate their nuclear weapons while all the other nations of the world promised not to get them (except for India, Pakistan, and Israel, which also acquired nuclear weapons), there are still nearly 14,000 nuclear bombs on the planet. All but 1,000 of them are in the US and Russia, while the seven other countries, including North Korea, have about 1000 bombs between them.  If the US and Russia can’t settle their differences and honor their promise in the NPT to eliminate their nuclear weapons, the whole world will continue to live under what President Kennedy described as a nuclear Sword of Damocles, threatened with unimaginable catastrophic humanitarian suffering and destruction.

To prevent a nuclear catastrophe, in 2017, 122 nations adopted a new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It calls for a ban on nuclear weapons just as the world had banned chemical and biological weapons.  The ban treaty provides a pathway for nuclear weapons states to join and dismantle their arsenals under strict and effective verification. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which received the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts, is working for the treaty to enter into force by enrolling 50 nations to ratify the treaty.  As of today, 70 nations have signed the treaty and 24 have ratified it, although none of them are nuclear weapons states or the US alliance states under the nuclear umbrella.

With this new opportunity to finally ban the bomb and end the nuclear terror,  let us tell the truth about what happened between the US and Russia that brought us to this perilous moment and put the responsibility where it belongs to open up a path for true peace and reconciliation so that never again will anyone on our  planet ever be threatened with the terrible consequences of nuclear war.

Here are some actions you can take to ban the bomb:

+ Support the ICAN Cities Appeal to take a stand in favor of the ban treaty

+ Ask your member of Congress to sign the ICAN Parliamentary Pledge

+ Ask the US Presidential Candidates to pledge support for the Ban Treaty and cut Pentagon spending

+ Support the Don’t Bank on the Bomb Campaign for nuclear divestment   

+ Support the Code Pink Divest From the War Machine Campaign 

+ Distribute Warheads To Windmills, How to Pay for the Green New Deal, a new study addressing the need to prevent the two greatest dangers facing our planet: nuclear annihilation and climate destruction.

+ Sign the World Beyond War pledge and add your name to this critical new campaign to make the end of war on our planet an idea whose time has come!


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A Wretched Day for Democracy: Revocation of the Special Status of Kashmir

Thu, 2019-08-08 16:00

The India that Jammu and Kashmir acceded to in 1947 had chosen democracy, secularism, and socialism as its goals. Although the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, was determined to foist a solution of the entire Kashmir issue along communal lines even prior to 1953, and its leaders had been vocal about their views, it was heartwarming that India had chosen democracy and secularism as its goals.

Democracy does not, however, merely mean conducting elections every five years, but it is, substantively, a way of life and a way of thinking. In a democracy, the majority will prevail, but it is equally incumbent on the majority to respect and defend the legitimate interests and sentiments of minorities and to alleviate their apprehensions.

The greatest test of the success of Indian democracy lies in the extent to which its minorities feels secure and content.

It is good that the some parts of the population of the Jammu and Kashmir are emotionally integrated with mainland India, but this joy is lop-sided as long as the Muslim majority of the J & K does not equally share this happiness. In 1947, our predecessors opposed the principles of the “two-nation” theory. We thought Muslims were part and parcel of India’s history, past, and future, and we were of the firm conviction that every inhabitant of this country must be given a sense of participation in the country’s affairs.

In light of the complex political history of the State, it has always been all the more pertinent to ensure that the Muslims of the State felt satisfied with their relationship with India—politically, morally, and emotionally— because that aspect of the problem was either ignored or swept under the rug for the last 70 years, with the result that the secular character of the nation was undermined.

Firstly, the special status for Kashmir as envisaged by the Constitution of India was not a favor to us but an acknowledgement of the special circumstances that constitute a part of our past and future.

Secondly, the special status was not meant for Kashmir province alone, and those who opposed it have jeopardized their own interests.

Today, there is a growing demand in BJP/ RSS strongholds regarding reconsiderations of state-center relations. It is surprising as well as painful that some short-sighted people are impatient to surrender their rights and privileges to the center. What is amusing is that all this is being done in the name of so-called national unity and emotional integration.

It is my belief that in a federal set-up the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of the federating units, which have acceded to be a part of the federation of their own volition.

In light of the present over-centralization of powers, India is gradually tending to be a unitary rather than a federal state, and I do not consider this trend as a good omen for the solidarity and integrity of the nation.

I seriously doubt that the revocation of Article 370 and 35 A will strengthen the foundations of democracy and secularism in Jammu and Kashmir, nor will the distrust between Kashmiris and India be alleviated.

The Indian Constitution has been blatantly violated in Kashmir and the ideals it enshrines completely forgotten. Forces have arisen which threaten to carry this saddening and destructive process further still.

The Indian Constitution sought to guarantee an independent judiciary, an honest electoral process, and rule of law. It is not surprising that many other countries have drawn upon this constitution, particularly the chapter on fundamental rights. The constitution provided a strong framework, and it was for those who were responsible for the smooth functioning of institutional mechanisms of government to implement constitutional provisions, so they impacted institutions.

When talking about the constitutional aspect, the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, always wanted Article 370 to be expunged from the Constitution of India. Kashmiris always maintained that the special position accorded to the State could alone be the source of a growing unity and closer association between the State and India. The Constituent Assembly of India took note of the special circumstances obtaining in the State and made provisions accordingly.

Political parties in Kashmir only wanted to deliberate upon our future and to find out ways and means to extricate ourselves peacefully from the mire we have fallen into, with the cooperation and goodwill of India and Pakistan—not treating either of them as our enemy. But even this is not permitted to us. No good can come out of this.

Today, it does not take a skeptic to question whether articles in the Constitution of India, which pledged to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, have a real impact on institution building.

It is a wretched day for democracy!

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Iran on the Precipice

Thu, 2019-08-08 16:00

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

There’s never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states. If Iran one day did cross the nuclear threshold the same deterrence will apply. No one rational would want to provoke their own incineration.

Columbia University professor, Kenneth Waltz, the distinguished theorist on the conduct of war, wrote in Foreign Affairs that with Israel possessing over 200 nuclear weapons (which the US refuses to publically admit) Iran having a bomb would bring stability.

I would never go as far as Waltz on that last point. The launch of nuclear weapons can always be done by accident or by the rogue action of one or two of the members of the launch team in the silo.

It has nearly happened in the US a number of times, and probably in the Soviet Union too. Moreover, if Iran got really close to building a bomb, Saudi Arabia would follow in short order, and perhaps Egypt too somewhat later. That would really be Iran cutting off its nose to spite its face.

The arguments between Iran, the US and Europe over the supposed bomb question are becoming confused. To be frightened or not to be? If clear thinking is not quickly restored everyone will lose out.

When President Barack Obama and his team successfully negotiated a long-term freeze in Iran’s nuclear research a milestone in international cooperation on nuclear proliferation was passed.

Russia and China joined the EU and the US as negotiating partners and made a unanimous front when presenting the agreement to the UN Security Council for approval.
Donald Trump unilaterally upended this soon after taking office. In breaking apart a deal approved by the Security Council he broke international law.

The recent UK ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, reckoned Trump’s primary motivation was not US security or anything of that ilk but was purely motivated by a gut hatred of Obama.

Now the old untruths that were churned out by the Republicans and the Israelis during the Obama-era negotiations are being recycled.

They predicted during the 1990s that Iran would have nuclear weapons by 2000. Then the estimated date was bumped up to 2005. Then to 2015. Now some are saying next year.

The CIA, for its part, has never put its name to these Iranian estimates. Apparently it still thinks that the probability is that Iran was never building a bomb.

They would have been better to focus on Brazil, now led by the extreme right wing nationalist, Jair Bolsonaro, who has close ties with the military, which is now engaged in enriching uranium to 90%, suitable for nuclear bombs, as against Iran’s just announced 5%, suitable for its Bushehr civilian power reactor and a long way from what is necessary to build a bomb.

Brazil needs this high degree of enrichment to fuel its new nuclear submarine, but it could easily be diverted to build a bomb.

There’s a danger, once removed but now back in circulation, that this negative attitude towards Iran could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if it leads to a military attack.
As two former US National Security Advisors to the president, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, have written, “a military attack by Israel or the US “would significantly increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb.”

An attack “would also increase the recruiting ability of radical Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda and ISIS.”

Does Trump want to attack Iran or not? Last month US planes were within ten minutes of bombing Iran before he had a last minute change of mind and called off the raid.

The last few days some smoke has been thrown into the air with the somewhat autonomous Iranian Revolutionary Guards seizing a British-owned ship steaming through the Persian Gulf.

Wisely, on the eve of a change in its leadership, the UK is not upping the ante with threats of retaliation. Trump has been careful not to get out in front of the British.

Nevertheless, these incidents go to show how a gunpowder trail can easily be laid. Meanwhile, the American sanctions that were supposed to be lifted because of the Obama agreement are being tightened.

Iran is suffering, especially the poor. Similar sanctions when used against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein resulted in over 30,000 children dying, according to UNICEF.

There are some hints that Trump wants to act as he has with North Korea- jump straight to the top of Iran’s decision making tree and make his own deal.

Never mind that a new deal might only have cosmetic changes, it would enable him to claim he had got a better deal than Obama. He did this with the North American Free Trade Area agreement.

Is it all a fuss about nothing? Only those who live inside Trump’s head know the answer. In this case he is truly master of the universe.

Copyright: Jonathan Power.

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NAFTA v. New NAFTA: Making a Bad Deal Worse

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:57

Photograph Source: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum – Public Domain

Marketplace radio did a piece last week that was essentially just giving the argument of the supporters of the new NAFTA. I will give a few thoughts on the other side.

First, the fact that NAFTA played a substantial role in reducing the power of unions and lowering wages of workers without college degrees doesn’t mean that we can reverse these effects by eliminating NAFTA.

The new NAFTA certainly does not eliminate the incentive to outsource jobs to Mexico to take advantage of lower cost labor, but it does reduce it, if we can count on its rules being enforced. However, this is not going to have more than a marginal effect on manufacturing employment and wages in the United States.

The jobs that are gone with few exceptions, are not coming back. There is also little reason to believe that manufacturing jobs that are saved through the new NAFTA will necessarily be high paying jobs. In 1994, when NAFTA went into effect, the average hourly wage for production and non-supervisory employees in manufacturing was 6.6 percent above the average for the private sector as a whole. In the most recent data, the average wage for manufacturing workers is 5.5 percent below. A fuller analysis that factors in health care and other benefits may still show a premium for manufacturing workers, but there is no doubt that it is much smaller than it was a quarter of a century ago.

Against the prospect of a small gain in manufacturing jobs, we have rules that lock in higher drug prices for the indefinite future. These rules could easily mean that patients in the United States and Canada and Mexico will pay tens of billions annually in higher drug prices. Just doing the math, we could easily be paying $2 or $3 million annually per manufacturing job saved. And, this is before even considering possible job loss in manufacturing due to the drain in purchasing power from higher drug prices.

In addition, the agreement locks in rules on the Internet that were designed to protect Facebook, Google, and other tech giants. I doubt anyone is satisfied that our current rules on Internet privacy and liability for spreading false information are adequate. How can it make sense to sign a treaty that could impair the ability of all three countries to adjust their rules? And, as with the rules on prescription drugs, the goal is to apply these rules to trade deals with other countries.

These are the main reasons I view the new NAFTA as a net negative. It makes a bad deal worse.

This column originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

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Jake Tapper Taps Into Racist Trope

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:56

Even though the distance between El Paso and occupied Jerusalem is 11,876 km,  during the August 4, 2019 morning CNN State of the Union program about the El Paso massacre, CNN’s Jake Tapper linked Palestinians to White Nationalists.

To quote Beto O’Rourke, “what the f—?”

Tapper pontificated the following: “You hear conservatives talk all the time—rightly, in my view—about the tone set by, well, the Arab world, …The Palestinians and the way they talk about Israelis, justifying—in the same way you’re doing, no direct link between what the leader says and the violence to some poor Israeli girl in a pizzeria—but the idea you’re validating this hatred.”

What a convoluted tangle of Byzantine syntax into which the Tapper has tapped?

To draw a parallel between White Supremacists and Palestinians, a nation under a brutal occupation and 71 years of racist apartheid, is the height of hypocrisy.

Israel is led by racist rulers and rabbis egging their citizens to kill Palestinians because (they claim) the Torah sanctions these killings and it is kosher to do so.

The day after Tapper’s racist comment, NY Times’ Bret Stephens made similar remarks on MSNBC.

No surprise there. Not only does The New York Times’ support of Israel have a very long history, but its refusal to hold Israel and her successive U.S. Congressional and Administration underlings accountable for Israel’s 71 years of crimes is duly noted.

One has to wonder whether Tapper and Stephens, ardent supporters and apologists for Israel, received their marching orders from Israel’s foreign ministry. Better yet, did they, on the previous day, the Holy Shabat Day, attend services in their respective synagogues where, I have no doubt, love, peace, harmony, and atonement for personal and communal sins are preached?

Jake’s demeanor and tone is full of sanctimonious diatribes akin to Fox’s Hannity and Company. His tone is combative; his questions are misleading; his deportment is haughty; and the hectoring of his guests is as bad as it gets. Whether it is Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN, Jake and his ilk represent a new breed of impresarios promoting the dictums of their fossilized bankrupt Republican and Democrat political affiliations.

Unfortunately journalism has morphed into a theater of the absurd, and these high priests of washed out opinions, a new a breed of arrogant promoter-entertainers, fancy themselves as masters of ceremony in one hour segments during which wall-to-wall commercials leave the viewers with perhaps 22 minutes of partisan propaganda of the worst kind.

It is also ironic that only recently avowed Neo-Nazi/White Nationalist Richard Spencer was accorded a platform on Tapper‘s show. Sana Saeed aptly observed how “It’s cool how Jake Tapper compares occupied Palestinians to white nationalists while he’s actually giving [a white supremacist] a platform on his own show.” And activist Linda Sarsour opined that “Somehow Jake Tapper still finds a way to bring the Arab world and Palestinians into a conversation about WHITE SUPREMACISTS [sic] murdering innocent people.”

Under the rather lengthy heading (Height of Unethical Journalism,’ Say Critics, After CNN’s Jake Tapper Uses Racist El Paso Shooter to Attack Palestinians),  Common Dream’s Online News Eoin Higgins wrote the following on Monday, August 5, 2019.

According to data from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, at least 3,480 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces in the last decade versus 127 Israelis at the hands of Palestinians. Of the 3,480, a total 782 were children and 338 were women.

“Aside from everything else,” said cartoonist and author Eli Valley, “the apt comparison would be to Trump’s ideological compatriots in the Israeli government who spew racist, dehumanizing, anti-Arab invective that reverberates throughout a society upheld by state-sanctioned violence.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly relies on demonization of the Palestinians for political gain and has touted Israel’s southern wall as the only thing stopping “severe attacks by Sinai terrorists, and something much worse, a flood of illegal migrants from Africa.”

Sunday’s remarks from Tapper came in for criticism on social media as activists and observers noted the connection between the president’s bigotry and Tapper’s Islamophobia.

“This is the height of unethical journalism Jake Tapper—you invoke Palestinians and Arabs as a comparison to white nationalist violence in the US?” said AJ+‘s Saeed. “This is blatant anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia. CNN needs to take action.”

Writer Derek Davidson said “that Tapper’s pretenses of objectivity made the CNN anchor’s comments even worse. Tapper is the worst person on cable news, …At least the Foxcrowd doesn’t fake objectivity.”

And Nima Shirazi, “one of the hosts of the podcast Citations Needed, which targets media lies and propaganda, tweeted that he and his co-host had let things slip on Tapper of late [adding] I am sorry to admit that Adam Johnson and I have been insufficiently hard on Jake Tapper to date,” said Shirazi. “This guy is primordial scum.”

Adam Horowitz, Mondoweiss’s fine editor, opined that: “These comments are a sad reminder to me of the cultural signifiers that ‘Palestinians’ play in US popular/media culture. It’s also a useful reminder as to who creates and deploys those signifiers.”

Tapper was also charged with ignorance “and moral and intellectual dishonesty.” Max Blumenthal states that Tapper “wins the false equivalency cup, conflating Palestinian violence against the apartheid state that besieges, occupies and slaughters them en masse with sadistic killing sprees by white Western fascists against defenseless immigrants. The definition of hasbara.”

In November 2018 CNN CEO Jeff Zucker fired Marc Lamont Hill for criticizing Israel in a non-CNN forum. For calling for a one-state solution, Zucker claimed that “Marc Lamont Hill’s anti-Israel comments don’t jibe with the network’s anti-hate coverage.”

Will Zucker fire Jake Tapper, a member of his tribe, for his hateful comments? I doubt it.

Unfortunately, the State of the Union is in a dire condition. Whether it is Trump, the Talking Heads, partisan politicians, or second rate journalists, tapping into our most loathsome sentiments Jake-style is a primordially abominable hypocrisy laden with bigotry and preached by the journalistic scum.

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White Terrorism

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:56

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The number of bereaved families and friends of those massacred by white terrorists in the United States tragically continues to expand. Within the last year alone bodies riddled with the bullets of military-style weapons lay strewn on the streets of large cities like Pittsburgh and El Paso to small towns like Poway and Gilroy. Fueled by anti-Semitic and anti-Hispanic rhetoric, the paranoid projections and racist rhetoric of white nationalism and white supremacy have been weaponized into white terrorism.

Yet white terrorism also stalks those seeking refuge at our southern border. Imagine a distraught mother, reeling from the murder of her child. With other young children at risk, she decides to begin a perilous journey to escape any further violence. Because she hopes to prevent being attacked on the long trek, she joins with others, equally at risk. Having only a vague hope of joining distant relatives once she arrives at her destination, she and her children withstand the many deprivations over the long haul. Finally, arriving at what she has been told is a land of refuge, her children are ripped from her care. She, in turn, is taken to an overcrowded caged facility where she finds hundreds of others languishing in deplorable conditions.

This story has been repeated over and over by the thousands to Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. Not only have those thousands been denied even the opportunity to request asylum, but they have been labeled by the President of the United States as an “infestation” of “invaders,” bringing with them crime and disease. Thousands of children, many violently separated from a parent, now remain in caged surroundings, denied even the basics of care.

The policies promulgated by the Trump Administration and carried out by often vindictive and uncaring Border Patrol agents can only be described as a form of white terrorism. These brutal policies and vicious rhetoric are intended to diminish the increase of brown people in the United States and reinforce the delusions of white nationalism perpetrated by its advocates in the White House and on hate-filled websites.

The fact that the most recent murderous attacks on brown people by angry armed white nationalists in Gilroy and El Paso reflects the paranoia and racism stoked by Trump, his Republican enablers, and the dark neo-Nazi and white supremacist sites on the web. Those sites reinforce the paranoid rhetoric of invasions and “white genocide” and help create a death cult of white terrorism.

Although opposing these forces of white terror is essential, the deep roots of such violence require even more radical solutions than impeachment, electoral defeat, and bans on hate speech. Confronting this history of white nationalism and white supremacy means recognizing its institutional and ideological past and its persistence under different circumstances in the present. Indeed, it is this institutional and ideological matrix that informed state-sanctioned white supremacy and white nationalism in the past, leading to forms of white terrorism against Native Americans and people of African descent. Both legal and extra-legal mechanisms, under the imperatives of settler colonialism, were used to commit genocide against Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans.

White terrorism, therefore, was bred into the expansion of the United States and the exploitation of enslaved Africans for profit. To guarantee the suppression of resistance by either Native Americans or African Americans, whites were recruited into state militias, slave patrols, and the military. Constitutional provisions, such as the Second Amendment, and laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, provided both 18th and 19th century whites with instruments of terrorism. Policing policies grew out of these slave patrols and such imperial vigilantes as the Texas Rangers.

In the aftermath of the armed rebellion of thousands of African Americans during the Civil War, white vigilantes, like the Ku Klux Klan, operated during the Reconstruction as a vindictive weapon of white terrorism. In combination with the emergence of Jim Crow laws, Southern states became bastions of white terrorism up through the 1950s and 1960s when both the legal system and the civil rights movement upended state-sanctioned white supremacy.

Immigrants from the 19th century though the mid 20th century also faced forms of white supremacist oppression and white nationalist backlash. The KKK became a national phenomenon during the 1920s as the Congress shut the doors on open immigration. Xenophobia and racism defined who was included and excluded in the American polity. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Border Patrol, established in 1924, reflected such xenophobia and racism throughout much of its early history, practicing forms of white terrorism.

Now, the resonances of xenophobia and racism continue to inform the practices of the Border Patrol and ICE. The white terrorism on our southern border may not be as lethal as the murderous massacres perpetrated by angry armed white men. On the other hand, the emotional and physical trauma suffered by those victimized by state-sanctioned white terrorism on our southern border remains a tragic reminder of the cruelty promoted by the Trump Administration.

The documentation of this cruelty by lawyers, doctors, lawmakers, and immigrant rights advocates, along with the demonstrations around the country against Trump’s border policies, indicates a determination to denounce in words and deeds such policies. However, contending with both governmental white terrorism and free-lance white terrorists will require a range of formidable resistance within the courts, Congress, and in the streets. If we are truly moved by the cries of those victimized by white terrorism, we must fight to disband ICE, demilitarize the border, decriminalize those seeking refuge, and disarm, both figuratively and literally, all of the perpetrators and advocates of white terrorism.

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Buffaloed by the Climate in Kolhapur

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:54

Photo: Rohan Bhate.

How and why does a full acre of jowar disappear from your fields at short notice? “It was the first time in two years that I left my village for a week during the season. In that time, they devoured all of it,” says Ananda Salvi. ‘They’ is a herd of gaur (bos gaurus, also sometimes called Indian bison) – the most massive bovine in existence in the world. Males can stand well over 6 feet at the shoulder and weigh anywhere between 500 and 1,000 kilograms.

Normally peaceful residents of the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, the giant bovids have been getting out on to the highways and raiding the farms around them.

“There was no one guarding my field,” says Salvi sadly in Rakshi village. “Luckily, I was able to save my one acre of sugarcane (about 80 tons of cane)].” So how do you ‘save’ anything from a bunch of 1,000 kilo behemoths? With firecrackers.

Two years ago, Salvi started sleeping in the fields every night. “We come at 8 p.m. daily and leave only at 4 a.m. after all the gava (local term for the gaur) have left,” he explains. “And we burst crackers in the fields at night.” That scares off the buffalo, he says, from entering his five acre farm. Several of his neighbours do likewise. Rakshi village, in Panhala taluka, has lost crops to bison for at least two years now.

The shrinking Savrai Sada lake is one of the main sources of water for animals and birds in the sanctuary. Photo: Sanket Jain.

“We spend nearly Rs. 50 every day in season, buying those crackers,” says Salvi’s wife Sunita. Which adds a whole new element to cultivation costs. “It’s still a risk,” she says, “farmers sleeping in the fields at night.” There’s other wildlife active in the fields in those hours. Snakes, for instance.”

People believe the buffalo will soon figure out that firecrackers won’t do them real harm. So some farmers in Radhanagari taluka have begun using electrified fences. “But even those, they’re getting used to,” says Samrat Kerkar, co-founder of the  Bison Nature Club, a Radhanagari-based wildlife NGO. “We have seen gaur placing their hooves or legs slowly on the fence to check if it gives a shock. Earlier, they feared humans, but now they don’t run away so easily on seeing us.”

“We don’t blame the gava,” says Sunita. “It’s the forest department’s mistake. If the forests aren’t maintained properly, animals will come out.”

The gaur buffalo have increasingly been coming out of the wildlife sanctuary – in search of food and water. They’re seeking, amongst other things, karvi leaves (strobilanthes callosa) which seem to be withering in the drying forests.  And also, other sources of water – with the sanctuary’s ponds shrinking. Further, forest guards and field researchers say they are also driven by the declining patches of grasslands within the sanctuary.

Data of the Central Ground Water Board show that Radhanagari taluka received 3,510 mm of rainfall in 2004, 3,684 in 2008 and 3,072 in 2012. But it got just 2,120 mm in 2018 – a steep fall. Indeed, rainfall across the entire Kolhapur district has been increasingly erratic for a decade or more – like in many other parts of Maharashtra too.

Raju Patil, a 50-year-old shepherd, first saw a group of 12 gaur on the Devgad-Nipani state highway a decade ago. He had heard of the wildlife sanctuary, on the outskirts of his village, Radhanagari. But he had never seen the gava.

“Only in this last decade, I’ve seen them coming out of the forest,” he says. Since then, for the people of Radhanagari village, the sight of the massive herbivores crossing the roads has become commonplace. Villagers have shot videos of the animals on their cellphones. The gaur have started entering farms in Radhanagari, Shahuwadi, Karvir, and Panhala talukas in Kolhapur district to eat sugarcane, shalu (jowar or sorghum), corn and rice.

And to drink water – which has become increasingly scarce for them within the forest.

In Radhanagari taluka, villagers assert, the gava have made forays outside the forest only during the past 10-15 years. In Panhala taluka, it’s a more recent occurrence. Yuvraj Nirukhe, 42, from Rakshi village whose farm is near the forest says, “We’ve seen the gava only in the last two years. Earlier wild pigs used to attack our crops.” Since January, a group of 12 bison have thrice raided his 0.75 acre plot. “I lost at least 4 quintals of shalu  and now I’m afraid to cultivate rice in this rainy season,” he says.

People in Radhanagari taluka have shot videos on their cellphones of the gaur emerging from the sanctuary and crossing roads and highways

“The weather cycle has changed completely,” says Prashant Tendulkar, forest range officer for Radhanagari. “Earlier, it used to rain at least once in March and April, which would recharge the ponds. If we are going against nature, who should be blamed? Some 50-60 years ago there was the forest land, then grazing grounds, farms and then the village. Now people have started settling on these lands and are slowly reaching towards the jungle. The land between forest and village is being encroached.”

There’s been ‘encroachment’ of a more destructive nature – bauxite mining. It’s been on and off over some decades.

“Open cast bauxite mining devastated Radhanagari over many years,” says Bittu Sahgal, founder editor of Sanctuary Asia. “There was great resistance to it, but mining companies such as INDAL [later merged with HINDALCO] had far greater clout in the corridors of power than the protestors did. The companies were writing policy in government offices. Grazing grounds, water sources, all these suffered grave damage from mining activity.”

Indeed, since 1998, both the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India have come down strongly on such activity, more than once. As late as October 2018, the apex court had ordered the presence of the chief secretary of the Maharashtra government over the ‘total lack of concern’ the state showed in the matter.

A 2012 study by researchers from Shivaji University, Kolhapur, pointed to the continuing long-term effects of mining. Their paper, Studies On The Impact Of Bauxite Mining Activities On Environment In Kolhapur District,noted that “legal and illegal mining activity has initiated serious environmental degradation in the region. Though mining initially provided job opportunities for limited inhabitants and generated revenue to Government, it would last only for a short period. However, the damage caused to the local ecology as a result of the changed land use is permanent.”

Just 24 kilometres away from Radhanagari is another wildlife sanctuary – Dajipur.  Both were a single unit till the mid-1980s when they were split up. Together, they cover an area of 351.16 square kilometres. A patch of laterite plateau in Dajipur, called Savrai Sada, also holding a lake, remains one of the major sources of food and water for animals and birds in the region. But much of the lake had shrunk or dried up by May this year.

Also, “most of the deforestation here has happened in the past decade. This has affected the [climate] cycles,” says Amit Sayyed, a wildlife researcher and president of the Wildlife Protection and Research Society.

Savrai Sada is one of the sites where the forest department has created artificial ‘salt licks’ for animals. A salt or mineral lick is a place from where animals can consume essential nutrients. Salt and konda (husk/bran) have been stored at some sites in both Dajipur and Radhanagari.

There’s another, less benign form of human intervention than salt licks: the spread of sugarcane. Kolhapur district, with its rich rainfall in some talukas, was for decades hospitable to sugarcane. It’s growth, though, is a bit alarming. Data from the state Sugar Commissionerate and gazetteers show that cane was cultivated on 40,000 hectares in Kolhapur in 1971-72. Last year, 2018-19, it covered 155,000 hectares –  a 287 per cent increase. (Sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra takes between 18-20 million litres of water per acre).

All these processes have had an inevitable impact on land, water, forest, flora and fauna, weather and climate in the region. The forest types in this sanctuary are southern semi-evergreen, southern moist-mixed deciduous and southern evergreen forest. While the impact of all the changes goes way beyond these sanctuaries, they have had profound consequences for their denizens. Human activity is growing, but the gaur herds are not.

Believed to have had over 1,000 of these magnificent animals some decades ago, Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary now has 500, according to the forest department of Maharashtra. Forest range officer Prashant Tendulkar’s personal estimate is 700. In India, the gaur is classified under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, which gives absolute protection to the listed species. Offences against these animals invite the highest penalties. Gaur also figure in the ‘Red List’ of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which classifies them as ‘vulnerable.’

The gaur are on the move, but: “they [the forest department] do not have data on their migration record,” says Amit Sayyed. “Where are they going? What kind of corridor are they using? What kind of groups? How many individuals in a group? If they are monitoring the groups, then these kinds of things will not happen. Water bodies should be set up in these corridors.”

India Meteorological Department data show that rainfall in June 2014 in Kolhapur district was 64 per cent below the normal average for that month. In 2016, minus 39 per cent. In 2018, it was plus one per cent above the average. In July 2014, it was 5 per cent above the average for that month. In July the next year it was minus 76 per cent. This year, rainfall was above average by 21 per cent for the period June 1 to July 10. But, as many here point out, this April and May saw no real pre-monsoon showers. “The rainfall pattern has become erratic over the past decade,” says Kerkar. That has sharpened the problem of fewer and fewer perennial water sources in these forests.

In April and May 2017, some ponds in the Radhanagari and Dajipur forests were for the first time recharged artificially – with water from tankers. Around 20,000 litres of water in all were supplied this way at three spots in both forests by Kerkar’s Bison Nature Club. In 2018, that rose to 24,000 litres. (There are many other forest ponds maintained by the forest department itself).

However, “this year, the forest department permitted us to only supply water at one pond in the Radhanagari range for reasons unknown,” says Kerkar.  This year, the NGO supplied 54,000 litres. In any case, “we stop supplying after the first two monsoon showers in June,” says Kerkar.

Deforestation, mining, major changes in cropping patterns, drought, a general drying up, the degradation of water quality, a sucking up of groundwater – all these processes have had their impact on forest, farm, soil, weather and climate in Radhanagari and the larger region it is located in.

But it’s not just natural climate that is deteriorating.

The incidence of gaur-human conflict is mounting. “The gava ate all the elephant grass I cultivated on 20 guntha [roughly half an acre],” says a miserable Maruti Nikam, 40, who owns six acres in Nikamwadi village of Panhala taluka. “They also wiped out the corn I had on another 30 guntha between January and April this year.

“In the rainy season, there will be a lot of water in the forest, but if they don’t find food, they will return to our fields.”

Cover photo: Rohan Bhate. Special thanks to him for giving us permission to use his images, and to Sanctuary Asia.

Sanket Jain is a journalist based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, and a 2019 PARI Fellow.

PARI’s nationwide reporting project on climate change is part of a UNDP-supported initiative to capture that phenomenon through the voices and lived experience of ordinary people.

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Jobs, the Environment, and a Planet in Crisis

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:53

When it comes to heat, extreme weather, wildfires, and melting glaciers, the planet is now in what the media increasingly refers to as “record” territory, as climate change’s momentum outpaces predictions. In such a situation, in a country whose president and administration seem hell-bent on doing everything they conceivably can to make matters worse, the Green New Deal (GND) seems to offer at least a modest opening to a path forward.

You know, the resolution introduced this February in the House of Representatives by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Edward Markey (D-MA). Unsurprisingly, the proposal has been roundly attacked by the right. But it’s stirred up some controversy on the left as well. You might imagine that labor unions and environmental organizations would be wholeheartedly for a massive federal investment in good jobs and a just transition away from fossil fuels. But does organized labor actually support or oppose the Green New Deal? What about environmental organizations? If you’re not even sure how to answer such questions, you’re not alone.

That 14-page resolution calls for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.” Its purpose: to reduce U.S. carbon emissions to net zero within a decade, while guaranteeing significant numbers of new jobs and social welfare to American workers. Read it and you’ll find that it actually attempts to overcome historical divisions between the American labor and environmental movements by linking a call for good jobs and worker protection to obvious and much-needed environmental goals.

In the process, the GND proposal goes impressively far beyond the modest goals of the Paris Climate Accords and other international agreements. It supports specific, enforceable targets for bringing climate change under control, while drawing clear connections between social, labor, and environmental rights. Acknowledging in blunt terms the urgency of making systemic change on a rapidly warming planet, it calls for the kind of national mobilization Americans haven’t experienced since the end of the Second World War. Described that way, it sounds like something both the labor and environmental movements would naturally support without a second thought. There is, however, both a history of mistrust and real disagreement over issues, which both movements are now grappling with. And the media is doing its part by exaggerating labor’s opposition to the proposal, while ignoring what environmental organizations have to say.

One Green New Deal controversy focuses on the future role of fossil fuels in that plan. A number of environmental organizations believe that such energy sources have no place in our future, that they need to stay in the ground, period. They cite climate science and the urgent need to move rapidly and drastically to eliminate carbon emissions as the basis for such a conclusion. As it happens, the Green New Deal avoids directly challenging the fossil-fuel industry. In fact, it doesn’t even use the term “fossil fuels.”

From another perspective, some unions hope that new technologies like carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) will make those fuels more efficient and far cleaner. If the addition of carbon to the atmosphere could be reduced significantly or offset in some fashion, while humanity still burned natural gas, oil, or even coal, they say, jobs in those sectors could be preserved. And the unions have other concerns as well. They tend, for instance, to look skeptically on the GND’s promises of a “just transition” for displaced fossil-fuel workers like coal miners, given the devastation that has fallen on workers and their communities when industries have shut down in the past. They also fear that, without accompanying trade protections, polluting industries will simply export their emissions rather than reduce them.

Being more of a statement of purpose than an elaborated plan, the Green New Deal is short on both detail and answers when it comes to such issues. The actual roadmap to achieving its goals, the proposal states, “must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” Both unions and environmental organizations are already mobilizing to make sure their voices are part of the process.

The right wing was quick to mockingly publicize the Green New Deal not just as thoroughly unrealistic but as utterly un-American. Under the circumstances, perhaps it’s not surprising that a recent poll found 69% of Republicans but only 36% of Democrats had heard “a lot” about it. Similarly, 80% of Republicans already “strongly opposed” it, while only 46% of Democrats strongly supported it. And 40% of those polled said that they had heard “mostly negative” things about it, while only 14% had heard “mostly positive” things. One reason for this disparity: Fox News has devoted more time to the topic than any other television news outlet. And President Trump naturally pitched in, tweeting that the GND would eliminate “Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military.” Such claims, however fantastical, have already spread widely. But even the mainstream media has tended to play up the negative.

Both right-wing and mainstream media outlets have promoted the idea that unions are in firm opposition to the Green New Deal, frequently exaggerating and distorting the nature of what opposition there is. As for the concerns of environmentalists, readers would largely have to follow radical online publications or search out the websites of green organizations.

The Media, the Labor Movement, and the Green New Deal

The Washington Examiner, Fox News, and other right-wing outlets have waxed gleeful every time representatives of organized labor, including Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, have critiqued or expressed reservations about the Green New Deal, a topic on which the rest of the mainstream media has also run stories. Labor’s position is, however, significantly more complicated than any of them have acknowledged.

In an hour-long interview at the Economic Club of Washington in April — reported in the Examiner under the headline “AFL-CIO Opposes Green New Deal” — Trumka actually devoted less than 30 seconds to responding to a question on the topic. Asked if he supported the GND, he replied “Not as currently written… We weren’t part of the process, and so the workers’ interest really wasn’t completely figured into it. So we would want a whole lot of changes made so that workers and our jobs are protected in the process.” Not exactly a wholesale rejection.

His brief reaction echoed a March letter from the AFL-CIO Energy Committee to Ocasio-Cortez and Markey signed by the presidents of the United Mine Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Among other things, it protested the absence of a labor voice in drafting the proposal. It also focused on the potential loss of jobs, as well as the fact that the GND was “not rooted in an engineering-based approach” to climate change, reflecting union hopes that improved technologies might allow the U.S. to meet climate goals while still extracting and burning fossil fuels (and so preserving jobs in that sector of the economy).

Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso, a long-time ally of the coal, oil, and gas industries, a climate-change denier, and a reliably anti-union vote in Congress, first noted the existence of the letter in a tweet headlined: “The @AFLCIO, which represents 12.5 million workers & includes 55 labor unions, slams the #GreenNewDeal.” Both the right wing and the mainstream media largely agreed with his interpretation. The Washington Post, for instance, headlined its article “AFL-CIO Criticizes the Green New Deal,” while the Examiner called the federation the “latest opponent” of the resolution.

Two facts were, however, missing in action in this reporting. First, the members of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee come from only eight unions, most of them deeply dependent on the fossil-fuel industry. In that sense, it doesn’t represent the federation as a whole. Second, the letter itself was more nuanced than the media coverage suggested and even its signers were far from unanimous. True, one of them, Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America, claimed to be unalterably opposed to the GND, saying it was “exactly how not to” address infrastructure and climate change. Linking them, he wrote, would cause “social and economic devastation.” In contrast, in an article ignored by the media and headlined “Labor Champions a Green New Deal,” another signer, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, suggested that the letter actually supported the GND.

The Energy Committee’s letter laid out its own vision of how to address the coming crisis through:

“[the] development and deployment of technologies like solar, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric, carbon capture and utilization, battery storage, and high speed rail that limit or eliminate carbon emissions. We know that the increase in natural gas production has lowered emissions in the power sector and provided a new source of construction and manufacturing jobs. We must invest in energy efficiency in the industrial and commercial sectors, retrofits and upgrades to schools and public buildings, and to make our communities safe and resilient. All of these investments must be paired with strong labor and procurement standards to grow family-sustaining, middle class union jobs.”

Much of this sounds like it’s aligned with the language of the GND, which also calls for increased efficiency, retrofits, upgrades, and labor guarantees. The differences may seem subtle, but are worth mentioning. The Energy Committee emphasizes investment in new carbon capture and storage technology, while the GND advocates only “proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation.” For obvious reasons, CCUS is the preferred path of the fossil-fuel industry itself: it’s an aspirational technology that will require massive federal investment in big energy and holds out the promise (however illusory) that fossil fuels can continue to be extracted and burned. Many environmental organizations arguethat its development is not just a gift to fossil-fuel companies, but a pie-in-the-sky distraction from the real work of ending the use of oil, coal, and natural gas.

The Energy Committee’s letter also advocated increasing the use of natural gas as part of a path to lowering carbon emissions — and it’s true that natural gas does emit less carbon than burning either coal or oil. In fact, until recently, the shift from coal- to natural-gas-fired power plants played a role in slightly lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Still, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and the more we burn, the more we contribute to climate change. It in no way falls into the GND’s category of “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” And keep in mind that, even during a decade of reductions, the United States still emitted far more greenhouse gases per capita than most other countries and, in the last two years, its carbon dioxide emissions have begun to rise again. Our per capita emissions are still way above those of, say, Europe or Japan. Shifting to a slightly cleaner fossil fuel while continuing to burn so much carbon does little to avert catastrophic climate change.

These disputes are real. Nevertheless, the right wing caricatured the AFL-CIO response to paint the GND as an outlandish, anti-worker proposal.

From the left, the environmental organization Friends of the Earth also caricatured the AFL-CIO stance, writing: “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party, and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.” Such language only exacerbates any labor-environmental divide, while ignoring union concerns that workers in affected industries will be paying the true price for lowering carbon emissions.

Friends of the Earth could have focused instead on Richard Trumka’s words at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit. The Federation, he insisted, does not question climate science.

“I learned something about science in the mine. When the boss told us to ignore the deadly hazards of the job… that sagging timber over our heads… that Black Lung cough… science told us the truth. And today, again, science tells us the truth: climate change threatens our workers, our jobs, and our economy.”

He then asked one question: “Does your plan for fighting climate change ask more from sick, retired coal miners than it does from you and your family? If it does, then you need to think again.”

Or as Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and a strong Green New Deal supporter, put it:

“The skepticism really comes from a place of generally being opposed to something that they believe is going to be an attack on their jobs, their livelihoods, and their communities… We have to do things like show communities that have been hurt that we actually mean what we say when we say ‘leave no worker behind.’”

For the unions, an emphasis on trade is also critical from both an environmental and a labor perspective. United Steelworkers President Gerard elaborated:

“The USW has aggressively demanded that climate policies include strong trade measures to ensure American jobs in energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries are not decimated by U.S. corporations evading pollution-control regulations by shipping factories to countries that ignore pollution.”

Why Labor Hesitates: A Tangled History

While a skeptic could read Gerard’s stance on trade as no more than a narrow self-interest in preserving jobs in the face of a planetary crisis, it’s also a crucial issue purely from a climate-change perspective. In addition to the shift from coal to natural gas, another factor in the slight decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions until recently was deindustrialization and the outsourcing of industrial production to Mexico, China, or Vietnam, which represents a thoroughly illusory reduction in carbon emissions. The atmosphere, of course, doesn’t care whether a factory is located in the United States or China, since total global emissions are what’s warming our planet.

While the AFL-CIO leadership has been cautious about the Green New Deal proposal, some unions have enthusiastically hailed it, among them public and service sector ones. With its two million members, the Service Employees International Union, not currently affiliated with the AFL-CIO, signed onwholeheartedly at its convention in early June. The 50,000-strong Association of Flight Attendants soon seconded that position as its president, Sara Nelson, explained that, in her industry, “it’s not the solutions to climate change that kill jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer,” since extreme weather and increased turbulence are grounding more flights and making air travel more dangerous.

Maine’s state federation and a number of labor councils followed suit, as have quite a few union locals. While the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, for instance, has been reluctant to endorse the Green New Deal, at least one of its locals has signed on. “We’re all about green jobs,” declared Lou Antonellis, the business manager of local 103 in Boston. “We’ve been promoting green technology for a long time.” (For a fuller list of labor endorsements, click here.)

There is a context — think of it as a deeply tangled history — that lies behind the complexity of labor’s response to the Green New Deal. As a start, labor in the United States has rarely spoken with a unified voice. In addition, the union movement is now distinctly on the defensive. The unionized share of the labor force has fallen from a high of 35% in the 1950s to less than 11% today, thanks to a combination of deindustrialization, automation, cutbacks, attacks on the public sector, and a virulent corporate backlash against unions that began in the 1970s. Mass production powerhouses like the auto workers, steel workers, and miners — all in sectors in which a fossil-fuel-free future is challenging to imagine — have been hit the hardest, a situation that provides some context for their suspicions about climate-change proposals.

The weak position of organized labor in the United States also contributes to the AFL-CIO’s opposition to the notion that the planet’s biggest polluting states need to make the biggest reductions. As a result, its stance on international climate agreements lags well behind the international union movement. The AFL-CIO, for instance, opposed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because it required greater reductions from the biggest polluters and, since then, has consistently supported the U.S. government position that wealthy countries should not be required to meet emissions reductions standards unless poor countries do, too.

Environmental Organizations and the Green New Deal

You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage, but environmental organizations are also divided on the Green New Deal. Many of them feel the proposal is too weak. Its language, they say, still allows for fossil-fuel extraction, use, and export, and for the expansion of nuclear energy.

The GND, after all, aims not at zero carbon emissions, but at “net-zero.” In translation, that means carbon dioxide emissions could continue as long as some kind of offset system was implemented to compensate for them. Even as the AFL-CIO Energy Committee argues that net-zero goes too far, many environmental organizations critique the GND’s unwillingness to opt for “zero emissions.” In fact, even zero emissions raises red flags for some environmentalists, who point out that nuclear power, despite its non-renewable nature and devastating potential environmental consequences, remains a zero-emissions form of energy production. Instead, many environmental organizations advocate that we move to energy sources that are both 100% renewable and zero emissions.

Like the unions, such radical environmental organizations complained that they were left out of the discussion leading up to the Green New Deal proposal and had no chance to push for moving more quickly to 100% renewables and what they call “100% decarbonization.” While they, like the unions, call for a “just transition,” their focus tends to be on indigenous and other front-line communities affected by fossil-fuel extraction as well as workers in those industries. Unlike the labor critiques, this environmental position has gotten scant attention in the mainstream media.

Many of the 600 signers of a letter outlining the radical environmental critique of the GND were small, local or faith-based organizations. Some of the large mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund were conspicuously absent from the signatories. Others like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth,, the Sunrise Movement, the Rainforest Action Network, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Amazon Watch did, however, sign on. So, notably, did the Labor Network for Sustainability, the most radical voice in the labor movement working in support of climate-change action.

The Indigenous Environmental Network wrote:

“We remain concerned that unless some changes are made to the resolution, the Green New Deal will leave incentives by industries and governments to continue causing harm to Indigenous communities. Furthermore, as our communities who live on the frontline of the climate crisis have been saying for generations, the most impactful and direct way to address the problem is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We can no longer leave any options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. And until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand as well as closing the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorse the resolution.”

Other organizations like signed on to the Green New Deal despite reservations. Greenpeace lauded it, while cautioning that “the oil, gas, and coal industry will fight this tooth and nail while continuing to dump pollution into our atmosphere. In order to get us to the green future we want, federal legislation MUST also halt any major oil, gas, and coal expansion projects like pipelines and new drilling.”

The Future of the GND

Despite challenges from parts of both the labor and the environmental movements, which its sponsors had undoubtedly hoped would be among its strongest supporters, Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution has gone a remarkably long way toward putting a genuine discussion of what an effective and just climate policy might look like in the public arena for the first time. For grassroots environmental organizations, labor unions, nongovernmental outfits, Congress, and the media, as heat waves multiply, the Arctic burns, and extreme weather of every sort becomes everyday news, the question of what is to be done is finally emerging as a subject to contend with, even in the 2020 presidential election campaign. In policy discussions, the urgency of the climate crisis is being acknowledged for the first time and the question of how to radically lower carbon emissions while prioritizing social justice is coming to the fore. These are exactly the debates that are needed in this all-hands-on-deck moment when human civilization is itself, for the first time in our history, in question.

Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

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Visions of Peace: Dreams of a New Way

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:45

After Medgar, Malcolm, and then Martin were killed, people realized there were forces in America that would keep Black people from achieving true freedom “by any means necessary.”

When the Black Panther Party started to feed children at no cost, opened free health clinics, engaged in free public education, and tried to prevent the police from brutalizing innocent people, the government agencies began their attacks.  At this point people throughout the world – whoever was healthy enough in mind, body, and spirit – came to stand with them in droves, so fiercely and loudly that it became clear to the secretive agencies that their cover was about to be blown wide open and irreparably, so they went back to their hiding places to wait for a more opportune moment to involve themselves.

When drugs and guns start flooding Black urban America, the people of the world again sent representatives to all those places, joining with those already speaking out.  The people said, “No!  Don’t take those drugs to kill yourself, don’t take those guns to kill each other.  There are forces trying to ruin you.  They’re trying to kill your Spirits, to change your memories of who you are.  They’re trying to prevent you from ever healing.”  And they dug in their heels to prevent the ongoing genocide.

They said, “All the evil things they said to you were lies.  You are beautiful.  Your hair is beautiful, your styles are beautiful, your faces are beautiful, all your shades are beautiful, your lips and eyes and noses are gorgeous.  Your culture is beautiful, your ways of speaking and being are beautiful.  Everything they said was a lie!”

The people said loudly, “When they called you stupid, they were lying.  When they said you were inferior and animals – they lied.  When they called you ‘less than’ and ugly they were lying through their teeth.  You are beautiful and profound people.  It’s obvious!  Whoever can’t see it is too unhealthy; they lie to make others sick as well.”

The people of the world stood there and said, “The things they did to you were wrong.  The kidnapping, the shackles, the degradation, the chains, the beatings, the sexual abuse, the forced breeding, the rapes, the stealing of your children, the brutality, the loss and longing between men and women, the humiliation, the hunting you down, the trying to break you, the controlling, the lying, the calling you out of your name, the stealing of the bread of your hands, the terrorizing, the inability to escape, the starvation, the constant suffering, the pretending to be better, all these things were wrong.  All these things were immoral.  You did not deserve any of it.  You deserved love and respect.  You deserved to be honored and treated with dignity.  You deserved equality, kindness, love, compassion.  You deserved true friends and safety.  All these things that were done were wrong.  The stain is not on you.”

And the people of the world said these things in word and deed throughout America until the despair began to wash out of Black people’s hearts and minds, until their visions cleared, until the memories they carried were not just of nightmares and cages with no way out, or cold indifference, not just of shackles and hatred and violence, but began to be replaced with something new.  They found true friends willing to stand with them to make sure the trauma abated, to make sure they knew they would never be alone again.

No more would the world stand back and watch while people struggled to their hands and knees after having survived unprecedented and nearly-crushing attacks.  No more would the world’s people busy themselves contentedly acquiring money and status, looking down on those from whom everything was stolen, wondering why they couldn’t catch up. No more would the world stand back to coldly observe what would happen to these people now.  No more.  All those who were healthy enough in mind, body, and spirit made sure of that.


The work was not easy.  At times an almost blind rage would erupt from people as they let go of pain, lashing out in whatever direction their gaze happened to land.  At times there were betrayals, at times great loss.  There was no money in it, and little acclaim.  There was repression, the world’s misunderstanding, and obstacles that tried to stop them over and over.  But it had become clear that, if this work was neglected, the sickness would spread exponentially and from generation to generation.  It became clear that those healthy enough to do the work had to simply withstand, and walk through the storm of the emotional pain until it cleared from people’s lives.  They had to be true friends in a world where that very thing was so hard to find, to believe in the people without waver.


After Japan’s defeat in World War II, when Japanese people awoke from the mind control and thought police way of life, they realized that they had brutalized nearly all of Asia.

Those Japanese people healthy enough in mind, body, and spirit joined with other world representatives to travel throughout the affected Asian countries.  Each village, each town, each city that had been subjected to the ferocious brutality of the Japanese imperial military was visited one after one.  It took a long time, but it wasn’t too much for the soldiers to do, so it wasn’t too much for the people to do either, and they made the sacrifice.

To each woman who had been raped by countless Japanese soldiers, to each family whose lives had been deeply wounded, to each railroad that war captives were forced to build, to each place marred by sickening violence and cold eyes, these Japanese people went and offered deeply profound heartfelt apologies, bowing deep and long, shedding tears, and listening to the pain that the people had suffered.  The people of the world joined them, playing their own role.

Those Japanese people who made these long journeys knew that Japan tried to take over Asia because of a belief in their superiority.  Economic wealth would not save Japan now.  Viewing themselves as victims of an atomic attack while avoiding responsibility for the countless atrocities would not save the Japanese Soul now.

Instead of focusing on making money and working themselves into exhaustion – only to become the most-indebted nation in the world – Japanese people made a different choice.  It involved soul searching instead of saving face.  It involved stepping out of rhythm with the ruling class that led them so astray in order to find a way to live truly-fulfilling lives.  It involved Soul, integrity, genuine humility, and a deep desire to contribute to humanity.  For these things, these people were deeply honored.


After the Holocaust, the world’s people who were healthy enough gathered and made sure to wash away this pain thoroughly, patiently.  Throughout lands they met with Jewish people and spoke for a long, long time, listening for even longer.  They listened as Jewish people described how it felt to have the world turn their backs on them just as the killings started.  They spoke of the nightmare of feeling hated by the entire world.  Of feeling alone.  They spoke of a brutality they could not have imagined.

The world’s representatives spoke and acted until, one after one, the Jewish people’s minds and hearts began to clear, until visions of backs against the wall and repeated victimization stopped clouding their eyes.  They were not alone.  They were not despised.

People put in the time and energy to wash away this pain, instead of giving Jewish people guns and tanks and deeds to Palestinian land so they could try to fight away their pain and memories.  The world did not stand back and let harm pile upon harm while ceremoniously averting their gaze, and then criticize both sides with the utmost hypocrisy.  No.  They worked hard to stop the sickness from spiraling into the pain of untold generations.

Instead of leaving the Jewish people to alone say “Never Again” until their hearts grew cold, the compassionate people of the world said it with them so loudly that its truth was evident, and there was little need to say it anymore.  Never again would they be made to feel alone and hated.  Never again would people stand back and do nothing.  That deepest of pain – of a world lost in coldness while pretending to be fine – had faded away.  There were people who would always come to help each another in their time of deepest need, arms outstretched, willing to put in the time, wanting the pain to end, from all over the world.


As more and more people healed from the pain of trauma and cold aftermaths, as more and more minds cleared of the visions of deep night descending, of backs against the wall, of cold eyes watching, of a self-interested humanity and no chance for real change, as these visions cleared, a new way to address war and colonization grew and grew.  Not each war could be stopped, but the aftermaths could be attended to clearly and strongly each time.  The traumas didn’t need to go on forever, unaddressed and seething.

No more did people have to wonder, ‘why should I fight for a world that turned its back on me?  Why fight for people who would never fight for me?’  It was no longer the case.  Sickness stopped spreading so rapidly, and more and more people became healthy enough to participate themselves.  The tide could begin to turn.

No one waited for governments or armies or politicians.  People built humanity themselves, addressing needs with urgency.  They knew what was at stake.

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Hiroshima and the New Arms Race – No Winners

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:41

Seventy-four years ago today the United States dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. This nuclear weapon resulted in the deaths of an estimated 140,000 individuals. Three days later on August 9, a similar attack was carried out on the city of Nagasaki, Japan killing an additional 80,000 people. These events changed history and made the U.S. the most feared and ultimately most dangerous country in the world. That danger continues to this day as the new arms race unfolds.

Following World War II the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union resulted in our most immediate existential threat and the bloated nuclear stockpiles of today that contain 13,850 weapons. The vast majority, 91 percent, of these weapons are controlled by these two countries with the rest in seven other nuclear states. Most of today’s weapons are many times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

For decades, arms control treaties have been the mainstay of efforts to contain and check the arms race and continue a dialogue with Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union. At the height of the Cold War there were in excess of 60,000 nuclear weapons. This resulted from a false sense of security derived from the theory of deterrence where if my enemy had two weapons, I was safer with three¾and so on to 60,000 weapons! It was as though the superpowers existed together in a pool of gasoline and one had a single match and the other had one and wanted more to be “safer.” There can be no winner with that thinking.

The 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) committed the nuclear powers to work in “good faith” to eliminate nuclear weapons under Article VI. The non-nuclear nations—almost all the nations on Earth, signed that agreement not to develop nuclear weapons on that condition, that promise, which is so broken it means other nations, betrayed, seek their own nukes. Safer?

In 1987, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), negotiated at the peak of the Cold War, went into force. This landmark treaty eliminated an entire class of exceptionally dangerous weapons capable of immediate launch-on-warning and first-strike capacities. In total, 2,692 short, medium and intermediate-range nuclear missiles with a range of between 550- 5,500 km were eliminated.  The treaty which contains language to address concerns and compliance was terminated on August 2nd of this year when the United States withdrew from this treaty. This move was just the latest by the Trump administration following on the withdrawal of the U.S. last year from the multinational Iran Nuclear Deal. Safer?

Unfortunately, with this latest move coupled with others before, the United States has lost its credibility in arms control.

The new arms race began in 2011 as President Obama made his “grand bargain,” when he agreed to modernize the U.S. weapons arsenal in trade for needed Republican support to ratify the New Start Treaty. This renewed arms race has been estimated to cost $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years with inflation. And again with deterrence theory, each of the seven nuclear nations, not to be outdone is following suit in rebuilding and expanding their arsenals.

In January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, identified the risk posed by nuclear weapons and climate change as the “new abnormal” announcing their Doomsday Clock setting at 2 minutes till midnight where midnight represents nuclear apocalypse, the closest at any point during the Cold War.

Then in June, the United States inadvertently showed its hand, temporarily, when the Joint Chiefs briefly published online and later took down their “Nuclear Operations” Document 3- 72. It outlines plans for fighting and “winning” a nuclear war. Incredibly, the document states:

Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability…Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.

These statements fly in the face of scientific fact and reality. Nothing but death will “prevail” in any nuclear war.

Nuclear war and climate change are the two existential threats we face today. As the planet warms, competition for scarce natural resources increases causing conflict potentially involving the superpowers as they vie for influence and access in their proxy states.

The current presidential debates have seen minimal questioning on proposed climate change policy, but no significant questions have been asked of candidates regarding their positions about the imminent threat of nuclear war. As if a code of silence existed between our corporate media and political parties, or a complete lack of understanding of this risk, the silence persists.

Fortunately, the United States medical and scientific communities working with the international community continue to speak out, warning of these threats. Identifying the humanitarian and climate effects of even a small nuclear war, Physicians for Social Responsibility in the “Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion People at Risk” report, has documented that even a limited regional nuclear war using less than 1/2 of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals would result in the potential deaths of two billion people on the planet. There is no adequate medical or humanitarian response to nuclear war. Prevention is the only answer and that can only be achieved with the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Civil society and the non-nuclear states have responded. With the leadership of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the international community has spoken. The 2017 United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is their response. This Treaty, now with 70 signatory nations and 23 states parties, is positioned to go into effect in 2020 once 50 nations have ratified it. At that point nuclear weapons will join all other weapons of mass destruction in becoming illegal. From that point forward it will be a breach of international law to have, develop, produce, transfer or threaten the use of nuclear weapons.

American citizens, faith communities, scientific, medical and NGOs are endorsing a growing movement supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons. This is a national movement called “Back from the Brink” that supports the Treaty and the precautionary steps necessary while waiting for it to go into effect and while nuclear arsenals still exist. All organizations and individuals are invited to endorse the campaign. Ultimately, our security policy has relied on luck to protect us from nuclear attack either by accident, miscalculation or intent and time is running out.  Now is the time to make our voices heard. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.

When our children’s children look back, it will be noted and remembered what side of history we were on when our planet was threatened.  The choice is ours.

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Mobilizing Muslim Resistance to the War in Yemen

Thu, 2019-08-08 15:37

Right now, the people of Yemen are suffering through the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, continues to bomb Yemen and launch unlawful airstrikes that have hit homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques. This violence has left millions at risk of starvation and death due to repeated outbreaks of diseases like cholera, and an estimated 3 million women and girls at risk of violence. According to a recent UN-commissioned report by the University of Denver, even if the conflict were to end this year, it would account for 233,000 Yemeni deaths.

Amid this deteriorating situation, President Trump recently vetoed a series of bipartisan measures that were aimed at blocking the sales of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia. Trump’s veto signaled a strong message to the people of Yemen that the profits of U.S. arms manufacturers — and the Saudi-U.S. alliance — are more important than their human rights.

Saudi Arabia, of course, isn’t just a U.S. ally and a regional power in the Middle East. As the birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, the kingdom also brands itself as an authority on the faith. Yet as a Muslim American watching the Saudis cause the world’s worst humanitarian tragedy, I wonder: How Islamic is Saudi Arabia? Are they the righteous representatives of Islam they so desperately portray themselves to be?

For many Muslims in the west, including myself, it’s been increasingly frustrating to witness our faith being exploited and weaponized in service of a regime that so wantonly violates human rights. Whether it’s the domestic repression, the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the blatant human rights violations committed in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is acting against what it means to pursue justice against oppression in the name of Islam.

Don’t take my word for it — ask the Yemeni Alliance Committee (YAC), a community advocacy organization founded in the Bay Area. They work to resist anti-Yemeni policies and promote stability and security for Yemenis and Yemeni Americans.

I had the privilege to interview Jehan Hakim, chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee and former community advocate for the Asian Law Caucus. I wanted to better understand the inspiration behind the formation of YAC and her thoughts on the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which group members started protesting in 2014 before officially establishing YAC in 2017. The group’s members include over 100 Yemeni-American Muslims, and they’ve forged alliances with progressive and peace groups across the country — including Win Without War, Just Foreign Policy, Action Corps NYC, and Freedom Forward.

Throughout our conversations, Hakim referred often to how she and other members of her organization have drawn from faith to speak out against oppression. “We have this perspective where our Islamic values come in where we have to fight for justice even in the face of a tyrant, even if it’s speaking against your own family,” she told me. Hakim argued it was a duty for every Muslim to uplift those who are oppressed and give voice to the voiceless.

In YAC meetings, Hakim and her team begin and end by remembering God in their work and reading hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) to remind themselves why they do this work. “It’s very draining and tiring,” Hakim reflected. “What keeps us motivated is faith and seeking justice.”

Around the Bay Area, YAC members have organized rallies calling for an end to the war and the U.S. role in it. They’ve met with California Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Ro Khanna’s office to push for the congressional War Powers Resolution on Yemen — which was ultimately successful, before Trump vetoed it — and protested outside Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office as well as on the streets.

By calling out Saudi Arabia’s violence as entirely contradictory to the tenants of Islam as most Muslims practice it, YAC has demonstrated what it means to pursue justice in the name of religion. Yet while they’ve formed alliances with anti-war movements and other advocacy groups, they hope that more Muslim organizations will use their platforms and lobbying efforts to put an end to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

The Muslim community must be united to oppose a system that has weaponized hate to legitimize wars. We must stand firm and reclaim the true spirit of Islam that has been abused by the Saudi government and their pro-war proponents. If you are ever in doubt of what Muslim activism looks like in action, remember the Yemeni Alliance Committee.

Huzaifa Shahbaz is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This essay first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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