Category Archives: Nukes

The Final 100 Seconds

(Courtesy of Globe and Mail)

Never before this year 2020 has the world-famous Doomsday Clock registered only “100 seconds-to-midnight.”  According to the Science & Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, since WWII, the world has never been so perilous.

Alas, it’s been a long journey (73 yrs) all the way up to 100 seconds to midnight versus the original 1947 setting of seven minutes to midnight. The safest setting was at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The wonderfully famous iconic clock is located in the lobby of the Bulletin offices at the University of Chicago.

Unceremoniously, recklessly the Trump administration carries the indisputable title as one of the most dangerous executives in the history of the country with two key issues that determine the clock’s settings:  (1) climate change deniers and (2) atomic bomb explosion enthusiasts for simplicity of political gain, nothing else.

The Doomsday Clock is set by a board of scientists and professionals with depth of knowledge about nuclear technology and climate science. They are established professionals that often provide expert advice to governments and international agencies. Impressively, the Bulletins’ Board of Sponsors includes 13 Nobel Laureates.

The Doomsday Clock is internationally recognized as an important SOS of impending catastrophe. University of Chicago scientists that developed the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project founded the concept back in 1945. Thereafter, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later.

Accordingly, as of June 2020:

In the view of many, the Trump administration’s proposal to expand spending on nuclear weapons is a sad and dangerous illustration of wildly misplaced federal spending priorities. As it proposed a 19 percent increase for nuclear weapons next year, the White House initially planned to slash the budgets for the Centers for Disease Control by 19 percent and the National Institutes of Health by 7 percent. The Pentagon’s proposal to cut the budget for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program in order to fund weapons modernization amid a global pandemic is shockingly reckless.1

In an incredibly mind-boggling act of near lunacy, senior White House officials have discussed conducting the first U.S. nuclear weapon test explosion since 1992, as a multi-billion dollar chest-thumping gesture aimed at Russia and China.

Several organizations have sent letters to Congress demanding prevention of funding for such boldfaced recklessness, and as a consequence, the likely start of a new nuclear arms race.

Eighty members of Congress have called on Trump to drop the insanity of renewed atomic bomb testing, calling it an “awful” and “dangerously provocative” proposal that would likely re-ignite a new nuclear arms race.

According to former Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., who led the successful US effort to indefinitely extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such tests would “undermine 50 years of foundational global agreement that has curbed the spread of nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 2

Additionally, Sara Z. Kutchesfahani of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said:

A U.S. resumption of nuclear tests would send a bad signal to other countries and prompt them to test and create their own nuclear weapons. Moreover, innocent bystanders could be exposed to the radioactive fallout from a nuclear explosion. Tens of thousands of people have been afflicted by leukemia, thyroid cancer, miscarriages, and severe birth defects as a result of past nuclear testing in the United States alone.3

Radioactive isotopes kill and/or maim protoplasm; i.e., living cells in people. A relatively new study by Keith A. Meyers, Danish Institute for Advanced Study, traced the effects of US radiation from 1951 to 1963 from above ground atomic tests in Nevada. Meyers utilized National Cancer Institute records of Iodine 131, a dangerous isotope released in the Nevada tests, found in county-level mortality records, thereby discovering the gruesome fact that US nuclear testing killed hundreds of thousands of people, previously not accounted for.  After all, nuclear emissions or radioactive isotopes drift in the atmosphere or otherwise lodge in soil and water, ending up in udders of cows that produce milk, amongst other horrors and misdeeds committed by radioactive isotopes.

As it happened, development of atomic bombs by the US carelessly created a weapon against its own people. This gruesome fact has largely been ignored by politics of all persuasions, but it’s a crime against humanity. Isn’t it?

For example, US atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 250,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Whereas, Meyers’ research found the hidden human costs in developing nuclear weapons to be much, much, much larger than ever realized with radioactive fallout responsible for 340,000 to 690,00 American deaths from 1951 to 1973. 4  That’s roughly equivalent to one-half of America’s WWII deaths.

Yet, there remains a missing component to the fallout of radioactivity, as nobody has measured the number of cases of chronic illnesses attributable to America’s nuclear testing in the barren desert. Alas, it is likely impossible to do so. Nevertheless, something anomalous in the environment, maybe radioactive isotopes and/or toxic chemicals in soil and water, or both, are responsible for an outbreak of 150,000,000 cases of chronic illness in the United States (RAND Corporation 2017 study) for example: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, COPD, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Only a toxic environment can be responsible for such large-scale chronic illnesses of nearly 50% of an entire population!

The truth is that chronic diseases are not a function of infectious diseases like coronaviruses that spread person-to-person. Rather, chronic diseases are largely a result of a combination of a despoiled environment and unhealthy life styles.

America’s unique experience of radioactive isotopes (the Nevada test site conducted 1,021 nuclear explosions from 1951-1992) combined with thousands of chemicals exposed to the environment since 1950 are likely responsible for a major chunk of America’s sickness epidemic of chronic diseases numbering 150,000,000, and still counting.

On August 5, 1963, President Kennedy, along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, allowing the Doomsday Clock advisory committee to take a deep breath, Whew!

The Doomsday Clock was designed to warn the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. The final 100 seconds doesn’t leave much room for error.

For additional context on nuclear explosions see Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (Columbia Pictures, 1964) staring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and reminisce along with the inspirational WWII song “We’ll Meet Again” alongside a montage of nuclear explosions at film’s end, visually exciting but ghastly in person, especially for B-52 pilot Major King Kong (Slim Perkins) riding the nuclear bomb to a Soviet target. That phallic imagery is hugely relevant today.

  1. Kingston Reif, “Debating US Nuclear Spending in the Age of the Coronavirus”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 10, 2020.
  2. “The Trump Administration’s Nuclear Test Delusions”, Just Security, June 10, 2020.
  3. Andrea Germanos, staff writer, “80 Lawmakers Demand Trump Ditch Any Thought of Resuming ‘Dangerously Provocative’ Nuclear Tests”, Limitless Life, June 14, 2020.
  4. “US Nuclear Tests Killed Far More Civilians Than We Knew”, Quartz, Quarterly Sector Update, December 21, 2017.

Beating Swords to Plowshares

Baghdad, March 20, 2003

Inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations in New York City are ancient words of incalculable yearning:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

— Isaiah 2:4

I’ve stood with activists in front of that same wall singing Down by the Riverside, a song promising we’ll lay down our swords and shields — “and study war no more, no more.”

In memorably eloquent words spoken after the onset of COVID-19, the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, had this message for the world:

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown….. Put aside mistrust and animosity. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.

Some of my closest friends now await sentencing  for having embraced the call, quite literally, to “beat swords into plowshares.” They entered a U.S. naval base which is the home port to “one of the largest known collections of nuclear weaponry in the world.” The Kings Bay Nuclear Naval Station in St. Mary’s, GA operates a fleet of Trident nuclear submarines. On April 4, 2018, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta and Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. prayed, poured blood, spray painted messages against nuclear weapons, hammered on a replica of a nuclear weapon, hung banners and waited to be arrested.

Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest, has been locked up in the Glynn County Detention Center ever since the night the seven entered Kings Bay Naval Station. Now beginning his third year in jail, he writes that his cramped, dingy quarters are “a 21st Century monastery.” He prays, reads, listens, learns and writes. The Glynn County jail will only allow correspondence that uses 3 x 6 pre-stamped post cards. Steve has mastered the art of condensing his thoughts into short messages.  “Nuclear weapons will not go away by themselves,” he says.

Steve’s co-defendants have served varying lengths of time in the Glynn County jail and several had to wear ankle monitors, something like wearing leg irons, during home confinement. The six now await sentencing. Liz McAllister’s telephonic hearing will be held on June 8th. The others expect to appear in the Glynn County Courthouse on June 29 and 30. They face years in prison.

In October of 2019, a jury found the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 guilty of destruction and depredation of government property, trespassing, and conspiracy. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ruled that the jury wouldn’t be allowed to hear expert witnesses or learn what motivated each of the seven to nonviolently resist nuclear weapons. She ruled out faith-based testimony.

In 2003, the Sisters of St. Brigid of Kildare, Ireland asked me to speak at a retreat for people whose faith-based convictions motivated them to nonviolently resist the impending U.S. war against Iraq. During the retreat I listened to concerns of five people who felt they were ready to risk their lives and futures, and might want to join our Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad. But when I returned to Baghdad, I learned they had instead committed a Plowshares action at Shannon airport.

Parked on the tarmac there was a U.S. Navy warplane. Ireland is a neutral country, and the activists believed they were justified in trying to prevent Ireland’s airport from being used to stage a belligerent war  in Iraq against civilians already beleaguered by earlier U.S. attacks and 13 years of economic sanctions. Entering the Shannon airport, they easily reached a U.S. Navy warplane, and they hammered on it. Harry Browne writes about the action in a book called Hammered by the Irish.

Fortunately, they were represented by extremely talented lawyers. One of them, Mr. Nix, (since deceased) has been referred to as the last of the great Irish orators. The judge wouldn’t allow expert witnesses, and, in fact, the only defense witness she would allow to speak was me since the five said they resolved to take action after hearing me speak at their retreat. She also declared there would be no faith-based testimony in her courtroom. Although she insisted war was not going to be put on trial, she had to comply with Irish law which allows lawyers to say anything they want in the final summation. Near the end of the trial, Mr. Nix rose to speak. He assured the judge and jury that the greatest pacifist of all time was Jesus of Nazareth and the greatest pacifist document ever written was the Sermon on the Mount, “and,” he said, “I’m about to read it to you right now!”

Finishing the beatitudes, he pointed to the defendants and described them as people who didn’t practice their faith as though they were at the delicatessen, choosing a bit of this or rejecting that. “They believe in their faith!” he said.

Then his tone changed as he reminisced about how happy he’d felt, recently, listening to children at play in a park near his home. The children chased the geese up a hill and then the geese chased the children downhill. What could be more beautiful than the sound of children at play? Then he began telling about children in Lebanon whose parents had taken them for a dip in the park the previous day. His face suddenly seemed to glower as he roared out that children were dying in a pool of their own blood. He described an Israeli missile blasting into the swimming hole, killing the children. And then it was as though he was putting all of us on trial. “Would you not try, if you could, to stop a Hezbollah missile from slamming into southern Israel? Would you not try, if you could, to stop an Israeli missile from slamming into a swimming hole in Lebanon? The question isn’t: did these five have a lawful excuse to do what they did! The question is: what’s our excuse not to do more?!  What will rise ye?!

The jury acquitted the five on all five counts. The lawyers had been able to skillfully introduce a necessity defense. In U.S. courts, during many dozens of Plowshares trials, the defendants are next to never allowed to invoke the necessity defense, to argue that they needed to act in order to prevent a greater harm. The laws protect those who develop, store, sell and use weapons. Those who call for disarmament and try to sound an alarm regarding the omnicidal consequences of nuclear weapons are tried narrowly on issues of property damage and trespass.

Riots have broken out in cities across the United States as protesters have vented frustrated rage following the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes. Some observers have rushed to judge the protesters, highlighting the irrationality of looting and burning buildings in their own neighborhoods, ruining places that might even provide services or jobs. Yet what could be more self-defeating and irrational, during the midst of a pandemic while climate catastrophes threaten planetary survival, than the action of spending more money on nuclear weapons and possibly conducting nuclear bomb tests. Why squander resources on military capacity to burn other people’s homes and cities through use of nuclear and conventional weapons?

The prophet Isaiah’s vision arouses action on the part of people longing to build a better world. Mr. Nix’s questions should be ours today, earnestly asking:

Who are the criminals?

The question isn’t: did the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 have a lawful excuse to do what they did. The question is, what’s our excuse not to do more? What will rise us?

Pivot To Peace Must Replace US Pivot To War With China

US and Chinese Fists and Weapons face-off (from the Financial Times)

The Trump administration, in seeking to divert attention from its bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mishandling of the economic collapse, is escalating the bipartisan anti-China policy, which has a long history. This increases the potential of military conflict and economic war between our countries.

President Trump is making both a global depression and war more likely. The United States needs to de-escalate its conflicts and work with China and other countries to confront the pandemic and economic collapse, as well as the climate crisis and nuclear proliferation. This is not the time for escalation of conflicts, but for de-escalation and a new era of a multipolar and cooperative world.

Bipartisan Escalation Against China Is Longterm US Policy

While some blame Trump for the escalation of conflict with China, in this century, it began with President Obama’s pivot to Asia. It now includes a full spectrum dominance strategy of military, information, and economic aggression.

The roots of treating the Asian Pacific as a ‘US lake,’ just as Latin America is ‘our backyard,’ go back to 1878 when Navy Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt of the USS Ticonderoga described the Pacific as “the ocean bride of America.” Declaring a Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific, he described Asia as where the “search for Empire ceases and human power attains its climax.” Interestingly, it was the Panic of 1873 that led to a depression that resulted in a search for new markets. The US failed its invasion of Korea in 1871 and Shufeldt needed to improve US relations. In 1882,  his mission resulted in the first treaty in the Pacific Rim signed by the US and South Korea.

Today’s economic collapse is a major reason for Trump’s escalation with China but Trump is building on the policies of Barack Obama who declared himself the “first Pacific president” as part of a geopolitical strategy to challenge China. His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote “America’s Pacific Century” that claimed the future will be decided in Asia and the US will be right at the center of the action. They put in place the Asian Pivot, an escalation of military confrontation with China with 60 percent of US war capacity shifting to the Pacific.

The US was already at war with China before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. The US military and other branches of government were gearing up for a long-term conflict, involving both economic and diplomatic pressure on China with a buildup of military forces along the country’s periphery. Last Thursday, on Flashpoints on KPFA, KJ Noh pointed out that the Pivot came with the Air-Sea Battle War Doctrine designed to ensure the US maintained freedom of action throughout the globe. The US built a networked land, sea, air, space, and cyber collective warfighting capability with allied countries.

In 2011, the Council of Foreign Relations began urging the US to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF )Treaty. The RAND Corporation, which advises the US military, published “Thinking through the unthinkable” in 2016. It described how the US could win a war with China, which it argued the US needs to do before 2025. The strategy is to focus on the South China Sea in a long and costly way that cuts off Chinese fuel supplies and trade. Almost a decade ago, military strategists James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara found the First Island Chain was a natural barrier that could bottle-up the Chinese Navy.

RAND urged the US to void the INF Treaty so missiles could be directed at China. In 2018, Trump declared–as if on his own volition–the US would drop out of the INF Treaty. The US falsely claimed Russia had violated the treaty, but it was really about targeting China. In August 2019, the US withdrew from the treaty and started developing new missiles. The US then conducted the first test launch of a new ground-launched cruise missile.

The US has also been expanding military bases and military agreements in the Pacific. In September 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called for further expanding military base locations in the Pacific region while speaking at the Naval War College, calling the Indo-Pacific “our priority theatre.” Esper believes “The United States network of alliances and partnerships provides us an asymmetric strategic edge that our adversaries cannot match.”

The hybrid war against China includes an information war as well as economic conflict. Just before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the propaganda war was most evident around the Hong Kong protests and the disinformation campaign about the Uyghurs. The US has been funding anti-China activities in Hong Kong since 1996. People have mistakenly called the anti-China protests ‘democracy protests’. While there was confusion about the protests, it is obvious when they called for “Trump to Save Us” and worked with right-wing anti-China senators that Hong Kong is part of Washington’s anti-China strategy. The US passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which the US will use to justify intruding into the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong.

Similarly, reports based on dubious studies claimed mass imprisonment of millions of Muslim Uyghurs, or even that there is a Muslim Holocaust in China. These were vast exaggerations used to stoke anti-China views. The US has long backed the World Uyghur Congress as part of its effort to undermine China from within. A small minority of poor, radicalized Uyghurs, who have been involved in terrorism and violence in China and have also fought with ISIS in Syria, are a problem for China.  People who visited the region and reported on the Uyghurs describe what we are hearing as ‘shameful lies’ peddled by the US empire.

Under Obama, economic domination involved the largest corporate trade agreement in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP included the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries, excluding the largest economy in the hemisphere, China. It was designed to ensure US hegemony in the Asia Pacific through corporate dollar domination. Popular Resistance helped organize a five-year ‘movement of movements’ campaign that stopped the TPP. This defeat was seen as the beginning of the end of US hegemony in Asia.

But, the defeat of the TPP did not stop the US’ focus on Asia. In 2018, the United States announced a new national defense strategy, “Great Power Conflict,” with China as the top target. Around the same time, the Nuclear Posture Review announced the escalation of nuclear weapons development, which also started under Obama. The new arms race also includes space, traditional weapons, cyber defense, and surveillance.

The US fears the 21st Century will be the Chinese Century and is doing all it can to prevent that development. This has resulted in a bipartisan policy of militarily surrounding China with nuclear and other weapons.

The Trump COVID Escalation

The Trump administration is now using the novel coronavirus to escalate opposition to China. This includes a propaganda offensive that is becoming a Chinese version of Russiagate. The Trump administration made a point to call it the “Chinese” or “Wuhan virus” until it was told this was an inaccurate description as we still do not know where it began. The propaganda continues with claims that China was not transparent, is hiding the number of deaths, punished doctors who discussed the issue, and leaked or manipulated the virus.

A thorough reality check of these claims has shown them to be false but they have built hatred for China, resulting in prejudice against Asian people and laying the groundwork for escalation. Now Trump and Biden are accusing each other of being soft on China. Biden accuses Trump of not holding China accountable while Trump is seeking to use China as a scapegoat for his failed response to the virus. Fearmongering is being used to justify escalating the economic and military conflict with China.

The reality is China had a rapid, breathtaking, and impressive response to the virus that bought countries time to respond and won praise from health experts. China allowed public health officials to examine its response, independently confirming its successful response. China’s approach provides other nations with lessons they can learn to combat the virus. In addition, China is providing assistance to nations throughout the globe to help them respond to the pandemic. Indeed, while countries received little or no help from the European Union and the United States, China along with Cuba provided aid to them.

Last month, China’s top intelligence ministry, the Ministry of State Security, presented a report by China’s Institutes of Contemporary International Relations to top Beijing leaders that warned China needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for an armed confrontation with the United States. This risk comes from the backlash against China over the pandemic.

This week, Reuters reported the US is investing heavily in weapons for use against China. Budget documents show the Marines sought $125 million to buy 48 Tomahawk missiles next year and $3.2 billion for hypersonic technology, mostly for research on new, long-range missiles. The Pentagon also seeks $224 million for another 53 new Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles in 2021. They expect to have more than 400 of them in service by 2025. These will be used on Navy Super Hornet jets and Air Force B-1 bombers.

Testimony also reported the Marines had successfully tested new shorter-range anti-ship weapons, the Naval Strike Missile. Reuters reports “in a radical shift in tactics, the Marines will join forces with the US Navy in attacking an enemy’s warships. Small and mobile units of US Marines armed with anti-ship missiles will become ship killers.”  These would be dispersed at key points in the Western Pacific and along the First Island Chain.

China has urged the US to stop “moving around the chess pieces” in the Asia Pacific. A Chinese military spokesman, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, warned last October that Beijing would “not stand by” if Washington deployed land-based, long-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific. The US moves are leading to an arms race in the Asia Pacific. Reuters has published a series on China’s military that revealed in most categories, China’s missiles now rival or outperform US counterparts.

In addition to these plans, the US has already increased military activity in the Asia Pacific. The South China Morning Post reported on May 10, that the US increased military operations in waters close to China. This has included 39 flights over the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea, and the Taiwan Strait, more than three times the number carried out in 2019. The US Navy also conducted four so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in the first four months of 2020 – compared with just eight for all of 2019.

A conflict between the United States and China presents a risk of global warfare as the US has directed NATO to focus on China and has been building military relations in the Asia Pacific, especially with its closest military ally, Japan. China has also built relationships with numerous countries including Russia. The United States has been increasing military spending in the region while Russia and China have responded with the development of new weapons and also increased spending. The Pentagon is planning for a new long war with China and Russia.

Stephen Melkisethian from cc-nc-nd-flickr

Time for a Pivot to Peace

Rather than a national security strategy of major power conflict, the US needs a strategy of major power cooperation. The United Nations has called for international cooperation and a global ceasefire, which the US blocked this week.

People need to promote and work toward peace as a top priority as the risk of conflict escalates. We urge you to sign onto Peace Pivot where you can find more information on the conflict between China and the US and what you can do about it. US elected officials should not be rewarded for China-bashing. We must work together to call out the falsehoods about China so that doing so backfires against the politicians who make them.

China’s rise from poverty to becoming an engine for the global economy should not be seen as a threat to the United States. China’s Belt and Road Initiative can help all nations. If the United States responds with an escalation of economic and military conflict it will undermine US leadership and bring greater insecurity to the world. The US must work with China, and other nations in this new multipolar world to stop the pandemic, economic collapse, climate catastrophe, and the risk of nuclear war.

Will America’s Corruption End on a Ventilator or in a Mushroom Cloud?

Little by little, Americans are understanding just how badly our government has let us down by its belated and disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how thousands more people are dying as a result. But there are two other crises we face that our government is totally unprepared for and incapable of dealing with: the climate crisis and the danger of nuclear war.

Since 1947, a group of scientists with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have warned us about the danger of nuclear war—using their Doomsday Clock to symbolize just how close we are to destroying human civilization on Earth. Over the years, the minute hand on the clock has gone back and forth, measuring the rising and falling risks.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, in January 2020, just before the Covid-19 crisis broke, the Atomic Scientists, who include 13 Nobel Prize winners and dozens of scientists and other experts, sounded the alarm that the double risks of nuclear war and climate change have now brought us closer to self-destruction than at the most dangerous moments of the Cold War. For the first time ever, they moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock beyond the 2-minute mark to 100 seconds to midnight.

“The world is sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape,” they wrote, highlighting the New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, plans to “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and “lowered barriers to nuclear war” as a result of new “low-yield” nuclear weapons. Arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia that took decades to negotiate are being abandoned, removing restraints that were carefully calibrated to prevent either side from upsetting the balance of terror that made it suicidal to use nuclear weapons. What is now to prevent a conventional war from escalating to the use of “low-yield” nuclear weapons, or a low yield nuclear war in turn escalating to Armageddon?

On the climate crisis, the annual UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Madrid in December 2019 failed to agree on any new steps to cut carbon emissions, despite record heat, unprecedented wildfires, faster melting of glacial ice, and a scientific consensus that the commitments countries made in Paris in 2015 are not sufficient to avert catastrophe. Most countries are falling short of even those insufficient pledges, while U.S. CO2 emissions actually rose by 2.6% in 2018, after falling by only 11% under the Obama administration. Obama’s policy of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” for U.S. power plants fueled a huge expansion in the fracking industry, and the U.S. is now producing more oil and more gas than ever before in our history.

Now the next COP in Glasgow has been postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the pandemic, further delaying any chance of decisive action. Covid-19 is temporarily restraining our destruction of our own life support system. But this will be only a temporary respite unless we pivot from lockdowns to a COP in Glasgow that launches a global program to very quickly convert our energy systems from fossil fuels to green energy.

The Atomic Scientists wrote that both these existential dangers are severely compounded by political leaders who “denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats – international agreements with strong verification regimes – in favor of their own narrow interest and domestic political gain… these leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe sooner rather than later.”

It is the political leaders of the United States, not Russia or China, who have withdrawn from nuclear arms agreements, undermined the Kyoto Protocol (the only binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gases), rejected the jurisdiction of international courts, failed to ratify 46 multilateral treaties and systematically violated the UN Charter‘s prohibition against the threat or use of force.

The Republicans have been more aggressive in many of these policies, but Democratic leaders have also gone along with them, consolidating U.S. imperialism and disdain for international law as bipartisan U.S. policy. When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under the UN Charter, Senator Joe Biden, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed that out of hand. “Nobody in the Senate agrees with that,” Biden sneered. “There is nothing to debate. He is dead, flat, unequivocally wrong.”

The Democratic Party has now closed ranks behind Joe Biden as its presidential candidate, presenting Americans with a choice between two leaders from the two administrations that have governed the U.S. since 2009 and therefore bear the greatest responsibility for the current state of the nation. Biden has based his candidacy on the premise that everything was just fine in America until Trump came along, just as Trump based his 2016 candidacy on the idea that everything was great until Obama came on the scene.

Most Americans understand that our problems are more entrenched and systemic than that, but we remain trapped in a closed political system that presents us with limited choices between leaders who have already proved unable to solve our problems, even when the solutions are well-known or obvious and have broad public support, like Medicare For All.

When it comes to war and peace, the American public wants to keep the U.S. out of wars, but leaders of both parties keep fueling the war machine and stoking dangerous tensions with other countries. The Russiagate fiasco failed to bring down Trump, but it succeeded in unleashing a propaganda blitz to convince millions of Americans, from MSNBC viewers to Members of Congress, that Russia is once again an irreconcilable enemy of the United States and a threat to everything Americans believe in. In the hall of mirrors that is American politics, Democrats now hate Russia more than China, while Republicans hate China more than Russia—although the Biden campaign is now vying with Trump to see who can be more hostile to China.

Bipartisan hostility to Russia and China is only helping to justify the Pentagon’s pivot from “counterterrorism” to its New Cold War with our nuclear-armed neighbors and trillions of dollars in spending on new weapons that make the world more dangerous for all of us.

With almost no public debate, Members of Congress from both parties quietly rubber-stamp every record military budget placed in front of them. Only 8 Senators (4D, 4R) and 48 House Members (41D, 6R, 1I) dared to vote against final passage of the outrageous $712 billion 2020 Pentagon budget. The Trump administration is fully committed to Obama’s plan to spend at least a trillion dollars to “modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which the Atomic Scientists warn is taking us closer to nuclear catastrophe than ever. Of this year’s Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders is the only one who routinely votes against record military budgets, approving only 16% of military spending bills since 2013.

On this and many other issues, Sanders has dared to say what Americans know but no major party candidate would say before: that our neoliberal emperors sit stark naked on their thrones, tossing sacks of money to their friends as they rule over an obscene empire of corruption, inequality, war, poverty and racism.

In dogged defiance of American conventional wisdom, Sanders built a political movement based on real solutions to the structural problems of American society, directly challenging the powerful interests who control and profit from the corrupt status quo: the military-industrial complex; the prison-industrial complex; the medical-industrial complex; and the Wall Street financial complex at the heart of it all.

Sanders may have lost the Democratic nomination, but he successfully demonstrated that Americans don’t have to be passive in the face of a corrupt political system that is leading us down a path to self-destruction. We do not have to accept a dysfunctional for-profit healthcare system; ever-worsening inequality and poverty; structural racism and mass incarceration; an overheated, dying natural world; or a military-industrial complex that fears peace more than a nuclear apocalypse.

A political system that is structurally incapable of acting for the common good, even when millions of lives are at stake, is not just failing to solve our problems. It is the problem. Hopefully, as we struggle to emerge from today’s tragic pandemic, more and more Americans are understanding that healing our sick, corrupt political system is the vital key to a healthy and peaceful future.

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Like Other Global Catastrophes, Reveals the Limitations of Nationalism

We live with a profound paradox.  Our lives are powerfully affected by worldwide economic, communications, transportation, food supply, and entertainment systems.  Yet we continue an outdated faith in the nation-state, with all the divisiveness, competition, and helplessness that faith produces when dealing with planetary problems.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the coronavirus, like other diseases, does not respect national boundaries, but spreads easily around the world.  And how is it being confronted?  Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, the governments of individual nations have largely gone their own way―some denying the pandemic’s existence, others taking fragmentary and sometimes contradictory steps, and still others doing a reasonably good job of stemming the contagion.  The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) should be at the center of a global campaign to contain the disease.  But its early warnings were ignored by many national officials, including those of the U.S. government, who rejected the WHO’s coronavirus testing kits.  Moreover, the WHO has limited funding―more than three-quarters of which now comes from voluntary contributions rather than from the dwindling assessments paid by individual nations.  Undermined by parochial national concerns, the WHO has been less effective in safeguarding the health of the world’s people than it could have been.

Similarly, the unfolding climate disaster presents a stark contrast between a worldwide problem and the behavior of national governments.  The world’s leading climate scientists have concluded that urgent changes are needed by 2030 to rescue the planet from irreversible climate catastrophe, including extreme heat, drought, floods, and escalating poverty.  And yet, despite an upsurge of social movements to save the planet, national governments have been unable to agree on remedial action, such as sharps curbs on fossil fuel production.  Indeed, two of the biggest oil producers―the Russian and Saudi Arabian governments―are currently opening the spigots in an oil production war.  For its part, the U.S. government has turned sharply against the solar power industry and is heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.  This national irresponsibility occurs despite the urgent pleas of UN leaders.  “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in late 2019.  “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Warfare, of course, constitutes yet another problem of global dimensions.  Over the centuries, war has shattered countless lives and brought human civilization to the brink of annihilation.  It is estimated that, during the 20th century alone, war (including two world wars) caused 187 million deaths, plus far greater numbers of injuries, widespread devastation, and economic ruin.  Furthermore, nuclear war, unleashed in 1945 as the culmination of World War II, today has the potential to wipe out virtually all life on earth.  And how are individual nations preparing to avert this global catastrophe?  By getting ready to fight wars with one another!  In 2018 (the last year for which figures are available), world military expenditures rose to a record $1.8 trillion, with the governments of the United States and China leading the way.  Ignoring the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the nine nuclear-armed nations, at enormous cost, are currently busy ramping up their nuclear production facilities and producing a new generation of nuclear weapons.  In response to the looming nuclear menace and climate catastrophe, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently reset the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at an unprecedented 100 seconds to midnight.

Nor are these the only global threats that the nation-state system has failed to adequately address.  Among other things, the world is undergoing a refugee crisis of vast proportions, suffering from the predatory policies of multinational corporations, and experiencing widespread poverty and violations of human rights.  Do we really think that the current crop of flamboyant, flag-waving nationalist leaders, busy promising to make their countries “great” again, are going to solve these or other global problems?

Of course, for centuries there have been great ethical, intellectual, and political leaders who have sought to move beyond nationalism by emphasizing the common humanity of all people.  “The world is my country,” declared the adopted American revolutionary Tom Paine, and “all mankind are my brethren.”  Albert Einstein dismissed nationalism as “an infantile disease,” while British novelist H.G. Wells, like Einstein, became a staunch advocate of world government.  The idea of limiting national sovereignty in the interest of global security helped spark the creation of the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.

But, unfortunately, the rulers of numerous countries, though often paying lip service to international law and international security, have never accepted significant limitations on their own government’s ability to do what it liked in world affairs.  Thus, major military powers hamstrung the League and the United Nations by refusing to join these world organizations, withdrawing from them, vetoing or ignoring official resolutions, and refusing to pay their annual dues or other assessments.  A particularly flagrant example of contempt for global governance occurred in mid-March 2020, when the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, ridiculed the International Criminal Court and threatened its staff (and even their family members) for daring to investigate U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

Thus, although robust and capable global governance is now more necessary than ever, a primitive, shortsighted nationalism continues to frustrate efforts to come to grips with massive global problems.

Even so, an extraordinary danger presents humanity with an extraordinary opportunity.  The coronavirus disaster, like the other current catastrophes ravaging the planet, might finally convince people around the globe that transcending nationalism is central to survival.

Billionaire “Job Creators” and the Keyboard Revolutionaries Who Enable Their Candidates

Capitalism’s “invisible hand” gives us the middle finger with ever more contempt these days.

With the national unemployment rate soaring to Depression-era levels and beyond, the self-proclaimed “job creators” of our glorious free-market paradise are now drowning in gluttonous excess from sucking the tit of the “Nanny State” they allegedly abhor. While workers are prohibited from working by shelter-in-place orders, the private owners of what should be public assets get trillions of taxpayer dollars through the Federal Reserve, which they will use to buy up everything they don’t already own at depressed, pandemic era prices. Then when foreclosures begin to soar they’ll buy up the distressed properties for a song. In other words, we’re paying them with our own money to kick us out of our homes.

Meanwhile, the great dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky and friends (Mike Albert, Norman Solomon, Barbara Ehrenreich etc.) urge us not to vote for the Green Party this November, except in places where the vote won’t have any effect on the outcome (the states where either Trump or Biden are sure to win). These keyboard revolutionaries regard themselves as the vanguard of popular rebellion, but a key fact seems to have escaped their attention: Trump is a threat to elites; Biden isn’t. Which is why so many Rust Belt workers took a chance on Trump in 2016. In other words, American workers are much more fed up with the system than Chomsky and his political friends are. Change will come from them, not keyboard revolutionaries.

Though Chomsky regularly reminds his audiences that trying to predict the future is hopeless, that we can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather, let alone complex political trends, he nevertheless regards his judgment as infallible in determining how we should vote! But as John Dewey used to say, individuals know better than experts “where the shoe pinches, the troubles they suffer from,” a quote Chomsky is well aware of, as he cites it himself. Who the hell are we to tell people how they should vote? Or run their political campaigns?

Of course, Chomsky counters that the Greens have themselves stated that they want to see Trump defeated “as much as anyone,” and on that basis he counsels a “safe states” strategy; i.e., voting Green in the 40 states where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, but not in the 10 states that are “in play,” that is, where it can’t be safely predicted whether Trump or Biden will win. Here Chomsky is correct that the Greens are not as eager as he is to see Trump defeated, but there is no reason they should be. Again, Biden poses no threat to the establishment, and is so out of it mentally that he frequently lapses into outright gibberish. It took him six days to come out with a video in response to the corona virus crisis, one in which he appeared in a darkened basement with a confused look in his eyes mumbling incoherently to the effect that the government should do something about medical shortages. Duh.

On other occasions he has said that poor kids are just as capable as white kids of high achievement, and that parents should turn on the record player at night so that they can learn new words. His record is so appalling and his gaffes so prolific that his handlers carefully shield him from all but the most limited public contact, and even then can’t prevent him from snapping at voters or mangling his syntax to the point of random babbling. Even Barack Obama was reluctant to support him.

In short, it is not at all obvious that Trump is the greater evil. On the issues, Trump is slightly worse than Biden, but also more prone to sparking massive popular resistance, while Biden is clearly suffering cognitive disintegration whereas Trump is not.  Furthermore, the Democrats in opposition are a fake resistance, while the Republicans (during a Democratic presidency) are an actual resistance. So the choice between Biden and Trump is all too much like “Sophie’s Choice” in the movie starring Meryl Streep, in which Nazi guards force a terrified Polish mother to choose which of her two children shall live and which shall die. She makes the choice – perhaps “rationally” – and ends up committing suicide. We as a nation will, too, if we continue to take such choices seriously.

In 2016, the Republican base recognized Trump was a threat to the establishment and voted him into office, in spite of a tsunami of articulate opinion saying it couldn’t be done. In 2020, elite fear-mongering divided the Democratic base, insuring that it failed to nominate Bernie Sanders, a different and better kind of threat to the establishment. Polls show that Sanders’ signature issue – Medicare For All  – captures a substantial majority even among Biden voters, and in fact his New Deal politics are very popular across the American population. A successful elite campaign to falsely convince everyone that “other people don’t think like me” is the only reason he won’t be the party nominee.

To an electorate already drowning in manipulative fear, Chomsky and friends recommend we adopt a “rational” fear – terror actually – of Trump, on the pretext that he is destroying the world with his indifference to climate change. Though this is a possible outcome, it is far from a certain one, and it cannot plausibly be blamed on a single person in any case.  Simply put, the claim that a vote for Trump invites “global catastrophe” is alarmism, not analysis.

We are in the midst of a global catastrophe right now with COVID 19, but Chomsky himself properly credits four decades of bi-partisan profiteering, not just Donald Trump. And if the profit system is the problem, it is difficult to see how voting Democrat helps, as not one of them voted against the recent multi-trillion dollar give-away to Wall Street – not AOC, not Bernie Sanders, not Rashida Tlaib, not Ilhan Omar, not Tulsi Gabbard. And those are the best Democrats, far superior to Joe Biden. The lone opponent of the greatest financial heist in history was Republican Thomas Massie, who called for a quorom and a formal vote on the package that passed by voice vote.

Clearly there are no “safe states”: all the states are always “in play,” and are currently bleeding badly from the anus.

Chomsky’s fear-mongering contrasts sharply with what he advised vis-a-vis nuclear weapons in the 1980s, another issue that portends massive and possibly terminal self-destruction. Back then he correctly pointed out that the Nuclear Freeze’s obsession with giving detailed descriptions of the massively destructive consequences of dropping nuclear bombs on human cities was intellectually insulting and politically paralyzing, preventing the change it hoped to foster. The correctness of this view has been confirmed by events, as the Nuclear Freeze was ultimately absorbed into official arms control efforts, and forty years later the world is closer to nuclear war than ever.

So why should we repeat the mistake today, spreading apocalyptic visions of total destruction via climate change? No reason that a sensible person should embrace. After all, the only prediction we can safely make about climate change is that electing either Biden or Trump will make our current bad situation considerably worse. The only electoral result that could make it better would be one that put the Green Party platform in power, an outcome that will never be achieved if Green voters feel compelled to vote for candidates bought by the fossil fuel industry.

We need to stop the incantations of “existential threat” and “special danger” about Trump. He isn’t Hitler. He doesn’t believe in the genetic superiority of white people. And he at least hasn’t started any new wars during his 38 months in office, which is unlikely to have been the case with Hillary Clinton. What’s different about him is his eagerness to insult rather than utter focus-group tested banalities, but this carries no policy implications. So where is the argument that Trump has dramatically deviated from the plutocratic policies embraced by both establishment parties?

“Real solutions require Trump out of office,” chorus Chomsky and friends, just as they did about Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, John McCain and Ronald Reagan. No. Real solutions require a society committed to real solutions. As long as profiteers run the government, this is impossible.

Apparently, Chomsky and friends are for radical change every day except election day.

A Tale of Two Stockpiles

The United States Strategic National Stockpile of essential medical supplies maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seems unable to respond to the present COVID-19 crisis.  There is much discussion in today’s news about who is responsible for the shortcomings. Did Trump find the shelves empty or full when he took office after President Obama? Is the stockpile meant to support local governments in dealing with shortages in such a crisis, as the DHHS website said until last Friday, or is it specifically meant for use by the federal government, “our stockpile… not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner insists, a view supported by the newly amended DHHS website?

The United States maintains other strategic stockpiles, more carefully and at a far greater expense. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a stockpile of oil and gasoline and in 2009, President Obama announced the “Stockpile Stewardship Program,” pledging more than a trillion dollars to ensure the “safety, security, and reliability” and the “life extension” of the deteriorating nuclear weapons stockpile. A common dictionary definition of the word “stewardship” is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources for the future, but in 2009, President Obama was not speaking of stewardship over the fragile environment, nor over the crumbling infrastructure of roads, bridges and tunnels, nor hospitals or schools, nor even stewardship for our national parks and forests, but stewardship for a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The “life extension” he called for was not for the world’s elderly increasingly at risk, but for the aging arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that threaten the obliteration of all life.

President Trump’s determination to purge his predecessor’s legacy does not apply to Obama’s Stockpile Stewardship Program. With unique bipartisan support, the life extension of nuclear weapons has been kept safe from Trump’s budget cuts that decimated the United States’ ability to respond to a pandemic.

On this day in 1967, one year before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at New York’s Riverside Church titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” that speaks to the present situation where weapons of mass destruction have priority over instruments of healing. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” Dr. King declared, “is approaching spiritual death.” In this speech Dr. King labeled the “triple evils of militarism, racism, and materialism” and he lamented that “adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube” while human needs, especially those of the poor, went unmet.

Among the synonyms for the word “stockpile,” along with “cache,” “hoard,” “store” and “lay-away” is the word “treasure.” We stockpile what is valuable to us, the things that we treasure, what we want to keep for the future. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Judging by our budget priorities, preserving the threat of nuclear destruction is closer to our collective heart than even our health and our lives and we have arrived at the spiritual death Dr. King warned of 52 years ago.

While there is life, there is hope, though, and we are at a critical moment. As horrible as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it will run its course and humanity will go on. The same cannot be said, however, of the imminent threats of nuclear destruction and climate collapse. We will not survive on this planet so long as stewardship over stockpiles of fossil fuels and nuclear weapons takes priority over ventilators and surgical masks. So long as what “life extension” means is keeping nuclear weaponry up to date and not healthcare, housing, education, the peace and well-being of all, there can be no hope.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” said Dr. King. Fifty-two years later, our very existence as a species is at risk and the radical revolution of values that he preached is our best hope.

“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”

On April 4, 2020, my friend Steve Kelly will begin a third year of imprisonment in Georgia’s Glynn County jail. He turned 70 while in prison, and while he has served multiple prison sentences for protesting nuclear weapons, spending two years in a county jail is unusual even for him. Yet he adamantly urges supporters to focus attention on the nuclear weapons arsenals which he and his companions aim to disarm. “The nukes are not going to go away by themselves,” says Steve.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 now await sentencing for their action, performed two years ago inside the Kings Bay Trident Submarine base in southern Georgia. They acted in concert with many others who take literally the Scriptural call to “beat swords into plowshares.”  Commenting on their case, Bill Quigley, a member of their legal team, told me “their actions speak louder than  their words and their words are very powerful.” Bill encourages us to remember each of them in our thoughts, prayers, and, hopefully, through our actions. “The legal system is not big enough for the hearts, minds and spirits of these folks,” he adds. “The legal system tries to concentrate all of this down to whether you cut a fence or sprayed some blood.” Bill believes we should instead look at the impending disaster nuclear weapons could cause, and the continuing disaster they do cause by wasting crucially needed resources to potentially destroy the planet.

“You’ve got eight numbers just like everybody else.” Jailers sometimes use this line to subdue or humiliate a prisoner who complains or seems to ask for special treatment. I learned this during a two-month stint in a Missouri county jail, (for planting corn on top of nuclear missile silo sites).

Once inside the prison system, your number is more useful to the Bureau of Prisons than your name, and you grow accustomed to responding when your number is called. The eight numbers help blur personalities and histories.

I think jailers have a hard time finding any instances when Steve Kelly tries to pull rank or claim extra privileges. He’s a well-educated Jesuit priest who has traveled the world. Outside the prison, he’d often be found walking alongside people who migrate from one difficult situation to the next, blending in, trying to help. Inside a jail or prison, he has often preferred solitary confinement to “general population” which requires obedience to all rules. The cramped confines of the Glynn County Jail don’t have a more punitive space in which to put him. Amid the jail’s crowded, noisy, unhealthy conditions, he uses his time remarkably well. I surmise this from reading his weekly post cards which are always humorous, thoughtful, and encouraging.

From his vantage point, amid people immiserated by poverty and mass incarceration systems, he yet sees the nuclear threat as the one that most endangers people. When “nuclear states” insist on superiority because they can menace non-nuclear states, a dangerous nationalism arises. Using arsenals to back up a fortress mentality undermines our capacity for international cooperation now massively needed to tackle the major problems we face. “You’ve got eight numbers just like everybody else” could point to a humbling yet helpful reminder that we are confined together on this planet and constrained by the prospect of real crises like the pandemic we’re now weathering.

I can recall walking through wet markets in far-away places and shuddering at the sight of slaughtered, bloody carcasses hanging from hooks in the open air. I imagine Steve would catch me, with a certain glance and nod, and ask what could be more savage and destructive than a lab creating nuclear weapons to incinerate people.

At the end of World War I, soldiers emerged from trenches in the front lines and felt puzzled by the silence. Realizing the terrifying, horrific explosions had ended, that the war was over, they didn’t clap or cheer. Exhausted, they slumped over their packs, awaiting migration back to their homes.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, global silence may be appropriate. A new biological threat will still be conceivable, one that could equal climate change and a nuclear meltdown or nuclear winter. Climate catastrophes could exacerbate our human immunological vulnerability. It’s grim to reckon with the potential for a new, mutated wave of coronavirus or another virus altogether to cause further sorrow and death.

We’ll all need to pick up our packs and go back to work, determined to be far better prepared for life saving actions as we move into an uncertain future. Ideally, nuclear weapon arsenals will be recognized as a crazed burden we must finally shed if we’ve any hope of surviving our past recklessness.

At some point, hopefully, my friend Steve Kelly will hear a voice over a loudspeaker telling him to pack his belongings. He’ll have survived this chapter of punishment. He won’t very likely be released, as there is a warrant for his arrest for a previous protest action, but he’ll carry a small pack beyond the confines of the Glynn County Jail. More importantly, he’ll carry the challenge to continue dedicating his life to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In these challenging times, those eight numbers distinguish him as a fine and invaluable leader to follow.

Are Humans Both Destroyers and Lemmings?

The venerable professor Noam Chomsky continues to speak and write about human rights, equality, and improving the lot of the working class. But his concern focuses on the exigent: the survival of the human race. This is one of many reasons I appreciate Chomsky. I may differ, foolishly or not, with some of his conclusions, but I admire that Chomsky didn’t just slide into a cozy retirement away from the turmoil in the world. He is a warrior, a warrior for peace and social justice, who continues to fight the good fight.

In the important booklet Internationalism or Extinction (Routledge, 2020), Chomsky identifies three great threats to the continuance of the human race: the nuclear threat; the Anthropocene,1 i.e., the threat posed by human-caused climate warming; and the hollowing out of democracy.

Chomsky presents his views buttressed with a bevy of facts, with a levity, and without offering false hopes. But he does not surrender to the inevitability of human demise as long as numbers of humans band together to resist, and as long as the possibility of increasing mass numbers of people will emerge to oppose the militaristic, capitalistic order.

And it is not just the extinction of humanity that is threatened but also other species “that we are destroying with abandon.” (p 21)

Chomsky knows well that the US political system is one dominated by two business parties; however, he focuses his criticism primarily at the Republican establishment: “a major political organization in the most powerful country in the world’s history is quite literally dedicated to the destruction of much life on Earth.” (p 22) Literally dedicated? Chomsky claimed a “Republican denialism”; thus, it seems an unwitting destruction that Republicans bring about rather than a dedication to the destruction. Or is it a willful blindness fueled by the greed for profits, such that the consequences, whatever they may be, be damned? Unwitting or dedicated, the threat of extinction demands study (and it has been studied to death), demands making public the results of the studies, and demands action on solutions to avoid the end of the human race.

When has the Democratic establishment meaningfully sought to dismantle the government-military-industrial complex, oppose regime change wars, and agree to the elimination of nuclear weapons? Obama argued for a reduction in nuclear arms but also put his signature to a trillion dollar upgrade of America’s nuclear arsenal. Do the Democrats meaningfully fight the interests of Big Oil? I would agree that compared to Republicans the difference is palpable. After all Obama did sign on to the Paris Climate Agreement. There is some difference between the parties, but in some respects the Democrats may be worse. As far as hollowing out so-called democracy in America, the Democratic establishment refused to accept the results of the Electoral College in 2016 presidential election. It blamed Russia, and it still does despite no solid, or flimsy, evidence to support such an allegation. Yet Chomsky continues to advocate strategic lesser-evilist voting in swing states. There is a logic in this only so far as the verisimilitude of the premise that the Democratic Party is substantially better for the American people and the world than the Republican Party holds true. This contention is debatable though.

The dangers pointed out in Internationalism or Extinction demand the predicaments being brought to widespread consciousness; the foremost need is to tackle the predicaments. One can quibble about who/which party deserves most blame afterward.

Chomsky states it is a miracle that the human race hasn’t been wiped out so far, and humanity can not continue to rely on miracles. As the well known aphorism states: if one continues to play with fire, sooner or later one will get burnt.

Among the solutions Chomsky mentioned in Internationalism or Extinction are the formation of a world government. He cites a UN resolution for an international treaty banning nuclear weapons in October 2016, was “expected to gain the support of more than 120 states but without large-scale public support” (p 30).  In fact, the UN General Assembly did adopt this resolution in 2017 (with 123 states voting in favor, 38 against, and 16 abstaining).

As for the lack of large-scale public support, Chomsky identifies this dynamic in the US, as

much of the population remains where it was, culturally traditional and pre-modern in many respects. For example, for 40% of the US population, these issues of species survival are of little moment because Christ is returning to Earth… and then all will be settled… (p 43)

Some might chortle or guffaw, but this is unhelpful in persuading people to consider the predicament of extinction. Chomsky says this reality needs to be understood. “[I]t has to be understood that churches really mean something to the people, plenty of people, including the Trump supporters.” (p 57)

The institute professor calls for organization and activism. “Proper approaches to the problem take effort, sensitivity, and understanding…” (p 59) Notably, Chomsky is especially critical about the intelligentsia calling its lack of understanding “appalling.” (p 61)

One intellectual did understand the danger posed by nuclear weapons and militarism. The pacifist physicist Albert Einstein pointed out: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”2

Elementary logic has posited the Precautionary Principle: that humanity not introduce devices or systems into the environment unless demonstrated to be harmless to humans.

When the Precautionary Principle has been ignored and dire consequences have transpired as a result, it is incumbent that right-thinking people undo the mistakes and tread a new path that upholds principles meant to safeguard the Earth and its inhabitants.

In this vein, Internationalism or Extinction is a primer for all humans concerned about the viability of current and future generations to become informed and engaged.

  1. I tend to agree with historian James Moore that a more accurate designation for the looming Sixth Extinction may be the Capitalistocene. (p. 8).
  2. In “Atomic Education Urged by Einstein,” New York Times (25 May 1946).

Life and Death in the Predatory Universe

His broken body crushed into the soil so closely resembled a tiny green human, he gave me cause to reflect upon my dirty deed.  Those dying remains matched perfectly the leaves of the newly planted Valencia Orange tree, upon which he had been happily feeding, only moments before the sole of my sandal abruptly ended his short life.  Tiny legs still contracting in his final death throes, the three inch long grasshopper no longer posed a threat to my future orange crop.  A wave of guilt and remorse swept over me, causing momentary nausea and light-headedness.  Poor little guy was only doing what it took to live another day, to find love, reproduce, and experience joy in his grasshopper world.  In the grand scheme of things, whether or not there is a scheme and whatever that scheme may be…was his life any less important than mine?   And how do we know that, if there happens to be a god, she doesn’t look more like a grasshopper than a human?

It’s dog eat dog out there, as they say.  Survival of the fittest, strongest, smartest, most voracious, and greediest determines the fate of our tiny blue sphere, and has likely been repeated, on a zillion planets within the unfathomable predatory universe, since the beginning of time (if indeed time had a beginning).  If I really was the kind, empathetic soul I claim to be, I’d have shared the little orange tree with the tiny being whose body would now instead, decompose and enhance its growth and food production. Dust to dust, orange trees to oranges.  Time to face facts:  That gentle, kind man in my bathroom mirror is a merciless predator, simply obeying universal laws, protecting the tree which will someday feed him.

I’m a vegan, and a sometimes smug, self-righteous vegan.  I don’t kill, nor condone the killing of fellow sentient beings, for my consumption.  Friend to bovines, brother to pigs, comrade to chickens, I don’t knowingly eat their flesh, drink their lactations, nor consume their unborn embryonic progeny.  In full disclosure, I’ve done so in the past, but I had an epiphany.  I’d truly love to show you my halo, and prove that I’m Buddha or the second coming of Jesus, but truth be known, it was “The China Study”, the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, and written by T. Colin Campbell Ph.D., and Thomas M. Campbell M.D. which convinced me that the consumption of animals and animal by-products by humans, is largely responsible for a vast majority of all of the killer diseases of our era.  So, prove to me otherwise, and show me conclusive evidence that Big Macs consumed daily will help me live a healthy life well into the next century, and I’ll join you at the bloody table under the golden arches.  We are all predators in this predatory universe.  Even Hindu sadhus must occasionally swat a pesky fly or mosquito, clumsily step on an ant, or at least inadvertently swallow a gnat or two.

So it seems to me that there are questions all thoughtful humans must answer:  Where do we draw that line in the sand?  Why are the lives of puppies and kittens so much more important than those of cows and pigs?  Which sentient beings must die so that we may find comfort and sustenance?  As earth’s top predators, we hold the power of life and death over all species, and must at some point decide whose throat gets cut, who gets skinned/plucked, gutted, sliced up, cooked, and consumed, and whose bodies get nourished by all that lifeless, yet life-sustaining flesh.

Enter writer’s block.  Four long months of writer’s block.  This intermission was brought to you by Arby’s.  We’ve got the meat.  Resume article:

Here we are again, well into a new year, with the season of peace on earth in our rear-view mirror.  I vaguely remember something about Christmas being the time when the lion lays down with the lamb.  Bullshit.  The lion ate the lamb, and she’ll eat it’s siblings and parents if she gets half a chance.  And I might just join her, since I’ve recently discovered that my veganism has caused a severe Vitamin B-12 deficiency, which has created some serious discomfort and life threatening symptoms.  Fuck this veganism.  I’m back in the game.  Bring on the fajitas…maybe a bowl of menudo for starters, pepperoni pizza, and oh, my God…an In and Out Burger and a chocolate milkshake.  This predator is back on the prowl.

There will, however, be no human flesh or body parts on my menu in the days to come.  The line must be drawn somewhere, and it will not, under any circumstances, include any sentient being with whom I share DNA.  This includes, and is mostly limited to, the seven billion fellow humans, along with whom I occupy this marvelous swirling blue sphere.  Of course gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and pretty much all primates are off the table.  And I don’t want to even think about chowing down on puppies, kittens, koalas, pandas, ponies, or hummingbirds.  With a few exceptions, all else is fair game.  I see mucho meaty mastication in the near future of this born-again omnivore.  In full disclosure; I should warn my fellow humans that I’ve obviously changed my mind in the recent past, so watch your backs if there’s ever a food shortage here in the belly of the beast.

Ah yes, ’tis a predatory universe…and what all this is leading up to is the simple concept that, up until now, tribes-kingdoms-nations-empires of humans have made a common practice of preying on neighboring groups…of burning crops and villages…of raping the women, killing the rest, and stealing all the good stuff.  Dog eat dog, and no real rules other than survival of the fittest.  But…and correct me if I’m wrong…it seems to me that a perfectly nightmarish storm has led us all to the brink of a disaster with the potential to wipe earth’s slate clean of all life forms.  Humans included and foremost.

I’d love to blame this situation on the jackals who run the U.S. Government which is, arguably, the most violent example of a crop-burning, raping, killing empire in the history of the world.  But the poor saps we elect to public office are there to carry on the old tradition of warfare (mass-murder) for profit.  No matter how honorable their intentions in the beginning, they soon learn that bucking the system means losing the next election.  So all the homicidal nuclear weapons, which we’ve authorized with our complacency, now have the power to erase us all.

There is only one social issue of any real importance.  My mentor, John F. Rohn…”Pops”…the last honest lawyer…told me when I was about five, that killing another human being is, far and away, the worst, most heinous and unforgiveable crime.  He said that nobody gets away with murder.  Nobody.  He was wrong.  If we humans have any intentions to survive into the distant future, we need to stop cannibalizing our brothers and sisters.  The earth has shrunk…we’re all electronically connected now…all major religions teach that homicide is verboten…and yet the wars rage on.  The bombs are falling now.  Silently, unnoticed by the compliant media.  Hatred stirred violently…an aura of fear of “the other”.  Render unto Caesar, my ass!  Lock Caesar up some place where he can do no further harm.

Seems to me, and as always…correct me if I’m wrong, that it’s high time for an abrupt end to business as usual, and for a rebirth of a concept which tried to gain some traction about a century ago, in the bloody wake of the war to end all wars.  That is the outlawry of war.  An end to the mass murder and cannibalization of our fellow humans.  Forget global warming, racism, women’s rights, LGBT rights, equal pay for equal work, GMO’s, saving the whales, dolphins, and manatees…for until we cease raining death down upon our fellow human beings, all else seems meaningless, and eventually some power-hungry nutcase is going to push the envelope far enough to release the nuclear fires of Dante’s Inferno upon Pachamama.  And we’ll all go out wishing our asses were in a sling, rather than being vaporized before our melting eyes.

Can’t exactly remember the quote, or whether it was Vonnegut, Abbey, or Twain who said it, but it was something like…When you think about how few people are capable of running their own lives, what makes you think that anyone is capable of making decisions for a whole country?  Thing is that the well meaning predators we elect are all going to do exactly what is expected of them, and that is not upsetting the apple cart.  Of not biting the bloody hand that feeds them.  Of voting for ALL so-called “defense” bills and perpetuating the system of wars for profit into perpetuity…or the end of the world as we know it.

Live in peace or die in pieces.  Our choice.  Although not a choice which can currently be made at the voting booth.  Do I have a plan?  Of course:  A mandatory worldwide ban on ALL homicide, to be signed by representatives of every nation on earth.  The outlawry of war and the end of capital punishment.  A treaty to cease and desist the slaughter of our neighbors.  A mandate to sanctify human life.  A plan to stop this suicidal spiral into oblivion.  And if there’s really any semblance of a democracy left in the U.S. of A. (a concept which I seriously doubt), we must demand support from those who we’ve chosen to trust with the keys to the kingdom in Washington, D.C.  All of them.

If our scions are to see the sunrise a century from now, we must draw this line in the sand, honor it, obey it, and embrace the life we’re so lucky to have.  I know a lot of good Christians who know for certain that it is the peacemakers who are the children of God.  And yet, come election day, they settle for what appears to be the lesser of two evils…sending wolves in sheep’s clothing to vote for more mass murders for profit.  It’s a rare aspiring politician who’d want to end up like 2 or 3 Kennedys, King, Evers, Malcom X, or Wellstone.  So if we’re to have a future, we’re going to have to find some folks with giant testicles or ovaries to change the way this empire to end all empires does its business.

Peace.  It’s more than a dream concept.  It is within our grasp.  If it is our will, we shall have it.  We’re fast approaching the obvious alternative, and nobody’s going to be happy.  So I’m keeping the grasshoppers at bay, but plan on sharing my orange crop with my neighbors.