The specter of fascism before and during the Trump presidency

Bob Sheak, February 19, 2020

The demise of US democracy

The U.S. power structure is fundamentally based on three crucial centers of power, including the mega-corporations, the presidency and executive branch of the government, and the military-industrial complex. Within a system of increasingly unfettered capitalism, the decision makers in these power centers are pivotal in determining the major economic, political, and military policies for the United States and, through media, public relations, think tanks, and various experts, in shaping the society’s culture. They represent a power structure that is inimical to democracy, has always limited democracy, and is in the process of further diminishing it. Giving shape to it all is a neoliberal ideology that serves to legitimate and continuously reshape the federal government in ways that favor the rich and powerful, including policies providing low taxes, low interest rates, deregulation, privatization when it is profitable, and corporate-friendly trade agreements. And, since the 2016 election, these structures of power have benefited from having a “leader” in the White House and a Republican-dominated Senate, both of whom ensure that the interests of the corporate-dominated economy and the rich are accommodated. It’s important to understand that the anti-democratic power structure was in place prior to the election of Trump, though he has been its enthusiastic, though at times erratic, champion since then.

In this post, I first consider some of the principal characteristics of the present economic-military-political-cultural system and rely particularly for an analytical framework on a book by sociologist Carl Boggs, Fascism Old and New. The central question is just how far the existing power arrangements have advanced toward the undermining the already tenuous democracy of the country. Boggs contends that the US system already has many fascist characteristics. I then consider what is likely to happen if Trump and the Republicans are victorious in the 2020 elections. If they do, then the US would take another step toward becoming a full-blown fascist system, or, as some argue, a form of tyranny.

 Fascistic tendencies in the present system

In his book, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads (2018), Boggs opening sentences capture the thrust of his analysis: “In this book I argue that the United States, the most exemplary liberal democracy in the world in terms of reputation, is well along the path to a new type of fascism, or what might be called a ‘fascist equivalent – ruled by a modern power structure that is increasingly oligarchical and authoritarian, not only politically, but economically and culturally” (p. 1). Boggs does not argue that the US is fascist yet, but rather that there are structural and other developments that are moving in that direction.  He refers to “a merger of historical forces that seem to be gaining momentum: corporatism, super-patriotism, militarism, imperialism, racism” (p. 2).

Friendly Fascism?

Boggs’ research leads him to find that fascism can have different manifestations, depending on the conditions in a given society. The principal implication is that, if fascism comes to the U.S., it will be rooted in the history and reflect the specific conditions that prevail at the time. Citing Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism (1982), he suggests that “a distinctly American fascism is destined to be of a more ‘friendly’ type, without major social disruptions, systematic terrorism, paramilitary actions, Mussolini-style demagoguery, or outright attacks on the Constitution” (p. 11) – and that elements of liberalism will co-exist with right-wing authoritarianism (p. 10). For example, there is no large-scale fascist (or neo-fascist) movement or party” in the U.S. today. But there are troubling developments, some stretching back decades and others unleashed by Trump and his backers. Now, in early 2020, the signs that Trump and his right-wing alliance are ready and willing to pursue policies and employ methods that are anti-democratic have already surfaced, policies that spawn hatred and fear rather than the friendly pitch Bertram Gross anticipated (e.g., https://truthout.org/articles/trump-threatens-to-unleash-paramilitary-violence-in-the-us).

Henry A. Giroux captures the hate- and fear-tinged aspects of Trump’s incendiary language in his book, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, pp. 90-91, writing that Trump seems to abide by the “fascist script” identified by Robert O. Paxton in his book, The Anatomy of Fascism.

“Trump has made in his repeated claim that the United States is in a period of decline; his nationalist slogan to ‘make America great again’; his official displays of coded bigotry and intolerance, as in his symbolic association with Andrew Jackson; his portrayal of himself as a strongman who alone can save the country; his appeal to aggression and violence aimed at those who disagree with him; his contempt for dissent; his deep-rooted anti-intellectualism, or what Arendt called ‘thoughtlessness’ (denial that climate change is produced by humans), coupled with his Twitter-driven elevation of impulsiveness over reason; his appeal to xenophobia and national greatness; his courting of anti-Semites and white supremacists; his flirtation with a discourse of racial purity; his support for white Christian public sphere; his denigration of Muslims, Blacks, undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, women, and transgender people; his contempt for weakness; and his adolescent, size-matters enthusiasm for locker-room masculinity”

Power becomes more and more consolidated at the top

Boggs argues we now confront a system that is becoming more and more fascistic. Democracy and its basic values are being eclipsed. Corporate power is becoming more concentrated in a fewer corporate and seems increasingly unassailable. Right-wing forces, with support from the rich and major corporations, control the major institutional levers of state power. Republicans use their power to control the legislative process, rig congressional districts, and suppress the vote. The Supreme Court and the federal judiciary are becoming politicized and dominated by ultra-conservative justices.

The domestic and global scope of American corporate and state power has no parallel. The “integration of corporate, state, and military power is more advanced in the U.S. than anywhere except perhaps China.” The American power elite, Boggs observes, “now possesses more leverage across the globe than any ruling groups in Europe, Asia, Latin American, or elsewhere” (pp. 151-152). It has accumulated vast wealth and power within the existing domestic institutional arrangements so that “there is no need to resort to a single-party dictatorship and terror under a supreme leader” (p. 152). The major media pay little critical attention to these situations, unless they are celebrating them. All of this “co-exists with many formal structures and norms of Constitutional democracy – a ‘democracy’ to be sure,” where party competition, elections, and legislative activity still exist but have been steadily undermined by the wealth and power of ruling elites (p. 156). But sadly, Boggs writes, “corporations, Wall Street, federal government, the military, educational system, surveillance network…are systematically and unapologetically authoritarian, never much impacted by voting results” (p. 175).

On the last point, Boggs quotes from Sheldon S. Wolin’s book, Democracy, Inc. (2007): “One cannot point to any national institutions that [today] can be accurately described as democratic…” Congress, the presidency, court system, parties, state agencies, workplaces, schools and universities, and of course the military” (p. 7). A turning point for Wolin was “an enlarged ‘power imaginary’ that surfaced during and after World War II.” This was manifest in the following: “War mobilization, superpower ambitions, nuclear politics, the security state, and permanent war economy all served to extend the boundaries of power, eroding constitutional limits while feeding into statist, corporate, and imperial authoritarianism – the very stuff of historical fascism” (p. 7).

There is another recent book that serves to document the concentration of power not only in the U.S. power structure but internationally as well. Peter Philips identifies 389 individuals who lead and/or are associated with “the most important networks of the Global Power Elite.” They are “the core of the policy planning nongovernmental networks that manage, facilitate, and protect the continued concentration of global capital,” “providing the ideological justifications for their shared interests and establishing the parameters of needed actions for implementation by transnational governmental organizations.” The title of the book is Giants: The Global Power Elite.” The book provides the names of the individual, their bios, their connections to mega-corporations and to important nongovernmental organizations, and how they are continually thinking and planning about how to protect and advance their interests within capitalist political-economic systems. The book provides detailed evidence on anti-democratic essence and coordinated thrust of the rich and powerful.

The military-industrial complex has a central role

The military continues to grow, and does so in support of corporate interests abroad, involved in unending, destructive, counterproductive wars and interventions, and at the expense of other non-military domestic programs. It has grown amidst “a process of global expansion, development of a Cold War ideological consensus, and narrowing of elite political culture binding Democrats and Republicans to a common international agenda.” At the same time, “the political and popular culture grew increasingly militarized, visible not only in foreign policy but in the media, high rates of crime, gun mania, and the world’s largest prison system” (p. 116). There is hardly a sports or pubic event that is not begun without patriotic songs and symbols.

The costs

By 2016, Pentagon “spending consumed more than half of all discretionary spending – at nearly one trillion dollars dwarfing expenditures of potential rivals such as Russia and China.” It “employed more than three million people worldwide, held fully 80 percent of the federal inventory, operated more than 800 bases in dozens of countries, and possessed a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the planet several times over” (p. 118). In his 2021 recommended budget, Trump calls for deep cuts in social spending and large increases for the Pentagon (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/10/trump-budget-propose-savage-cuts-medicaid-medicare-and-social-security-while-hiking).

US weapons makers profit exorbitantly by leading the world in unfettered foreign weapons sales – providing the means that fuel disorder, violence, repression, and wars across the globe (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/16/donald-trump-gunrunner-for-hire).

There are other costs, as spending on the military is one of the principal sources of the climbing national debt and comes at the expense of  reduced spending and “austerity” in “social programs and public infrastructure, as spending “devoted to missiles, planes, ships, and guns” take precedence over spending for “roads, water and power facilities, bridges, public transportation, and education” (p. 118).

The enduring delusion that military power will keep the US safe

Despite this awesome military force, the elites who make up the power structure worry about losing military preeminence in the world. U.S. elites are concerned in recent years about nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Boggs refers to R. J. Lifton’s concept of “nuclearism,” or the “ideology of U.S. nuclear power…would allow the world’s dominant warfare state to set its own international rules and norms promoting its supposedly unique set of virtues, including the ‘American model’ of corporate globalization” (p. 125). But, also importantly, the U.S. military has been mired in costly and catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, has extended provocatively NATO military forces in Eastern Europe on the border of Russia, is involved in dangerous naval operations in the South China Sea with China, supports Saudi Arabia’s military onslaught on Yemen, while expanding its present in Africa, allows US arms producers to sell by far more armaments to other countries than any other nation, and is making outer space the new battleground. And, as Michael Klare documents, the US and Russian are building up military (and nuclear) forces in the Arctic region very close to one another to control access to oil and other minerals buried at the bottom of the ocean, increasing the conditions for a new and existentially-threatening Cold War ((https://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176661/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_war_in_the_arctic/#more). Along with all this, Trump has authorized the creation of a Space branch to join the existing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard services. There are now no places on earth and in near space that are safe from US military operations and nuclear attacks.

US military policy in the Trump years increases the chances of nuclear war

Acknowledging this reality, the board of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have just made their annual adjustment of “the doomsday clock” for 2020 (https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time). The prestigious scientific board uses the doomsday clock as a symbol of how distant or close the minute hand is from midnight, which, if ever reached, would, in their considered estimation, result in a cataclysmic outcome, most likely the end of humanity and much of life on the planet in the case of nuclear war. In their 2020 report, editor John Mecklin writes: “the members of the Science and Security Board have concluded that the complex technological threats the world faces are at least as dangerous today as they were last year and the year before, when we set the Clock at two minutes to midnight (as close as it had ever been, and the same setting that was announced in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons).” In January, the board moved the minute hand to 100 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been to this end-game time over all the years the board has been publishing its assessments. While the board includes both the prospects of climate change as well as nuclear war in is recent decisions, the focus in this post will be on the threat of nuclear war.

No closer to peace

The huge military force is said by to be a force for peace. In realty, it has done little to promote peace and has been stuck in unauthorized wars that have ravaged countries, killed and uprooted millions of people, created the conditions for the spread of “terrorist” groups, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars along with many tens of thousands of American casualties, men and women, who have fought in these wars. The published work of Andrew J. Bacevich in such books as The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism or Chalmers Johnson’s book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. Among other proposals, Johnson writes that “[w]e need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the long-term wounds our soldiers receive and the combat stress they undergo.” And “we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives” (p. 196). In his recently published book, A Nation Made by War, Tom Engelhardt offers an apt summary.

“…we’re truly in a new American age, whether of the plutocrats, by the plutocrats, and for the plutocrats or of the generals, by the generals, and for the generals – but most distinctly not of the people, by the people, and for the people.

“After all, for more than sixteen years, the US military has been fighting essentially failed or failing wars – conflicts that only seem to spread the phenomenon (terrorism) they’re supposed to eradicate – in Afghanistan, Iraq, more recently Syria, intermittently Yemen, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Meanwhile Donald Trump’s generals have been quietly escalating those wars. Hundreds, possibly thousands, more American soldiers and special ops forces are being sent into Syria, Iraq, and neighboring Kuwait (about which the Pentagon will no longer provide even inaccurate numbers); US air strikes have been on the rise throughout the region; the American commander in Afghanistan is calling for reinforcements; drone strikes recently set a new record for intensity in Yemen; Somalia may be the next target of mission creep and escalation; and it looks as if Iran is  now in Washington’s sniper scopes” (p. 146).

Fewer constraints on the power elite amidst the “war on terror”

 Since 9/11, constraints on U.S. power have further diminished, Boggs contends, “as the War on Terrorism perpetually legitimates the imperial state, cloaking its naked drive for economic and geopolitical advantage behind the wounded innocence of avenging victim, as in the case of Germany following its World War I defeat and then added humiliation at Versailles” (p. 7). And the ascendance of Trump to the White House, along with a right-wing cabinet, the systematic assaults and diminution of the federal bureaucracy, the undermining scientific research and environmental protections and attacks on the science itself, the ruthlessness of the Republican Party, the concurrence of most segments of the corporate community, and a cult-like following of tens of millions of Americans – all indicate that the U.S. has more fascist elements and tendencies than ever before. Boggs notes: “The sad truth is that popular movements, local organizations, and third parties ultimately constitute the only hope for challenging, possibly reversing, the seemingly relentless fascistic trends identified through this book. Such resistance will be the last line of defense in a world of unprecedented crises, overwhelming challenges, and potential disasters” (p. 179). But this line has yet to reverse the growing concentration and consolidation of corporate power and abuses of power by Trump.

A private-public system of surveillance is massively expanding

There are ominous signs and the federal government and mega-corporations are consolidating enormous control of the society’s principal economic, political, and military sectors. In addition to the fascist tendencies already discussed, our privacy is in danger of being eclipsed by an ever-more sophisticated state surveillance system augmented by large communications corporations. Julia Angwin offers an insightful analysis of this phenomenon in her book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. And Yasha Levine documents the historical and contemporary influence of the military in creating the internet and how tech-industry giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon now collect massive amounts of information on millions of Americans in the book, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. The internet can be used for good or bad. On the one hand, Levine writes:

“Today, we live in a troubled world, a world of political disenfranchisement, rampant poverty and inequality, unchecked corporate power, wars that seem to have no end and no purpose, and a runaway privatized military and intelligence complex – and hanging over it all are the prospects of global warming and environmental collapse. We live in bleak times, and the Internet is a reflection of them: run by spies and powerful corporations just as our society is run by them. But it isn’t all hopeless.”

On the other hand:

“Not all surveillance is bad. Without them, there can be no democratic oversight of society. Ensuring oil refineries comply with pollution regulations, preventing Wall Street fraud, forcing wealthy citizens to pay their fair share – none of these would be possible. In that sense, surveillance and control are not problems in and of themselves. How they are used depends on our politics and political culture” (p. 274).

Under the current power arrangements, however, there is every reason to believe that most of us have lost control over our personal information and live in a world where we have little privacy. David Gray looks at how use of the internet technology by corporations and the federal government is now little protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in his book The Fourth Amendment in an Age of Surveillance. The Fourth Amendment was designed to guarantee a basic degree of security against threats of unreasonable governmental intrusion.” However, it is increasingly irrelevant today and fails to address issues related to the electronic media. Gray writes:

“…in a recent ranking compiled by Privacy International comparing surveillance practices and privacy protections among nations, the United States landed at the very bottom, earning the designation ‘endemic surveillance society’ along with Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia, China, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom” (p. 6).

Boggs points to the enormous expanse of the government’s intelligence/surveillance systems as follows.

“…the system has expanded to include no fewer than 17 federal agencies along with hundreds of state and local bodies charged with homeland security, surveillance, espionage, covert operations, and everyday law enforcement.”

“…American surveillance entities vacuum up billions of electronic transactions daily, enabling them to locate and observe millions of people through cell-phone activity, social media transactions, and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. The NSA in turn shares part of its voluminous information with such intelligence-oriented bodies as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FBI, CIA, Defense Information Agency (DIA), IRS, and multiple layers of state and local police forces.”

He continues:

“The NSA, moreover, has worked closely with such corporations as Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T, Apple, and Google, all central to the smooth functioning of American communications technology. The agency has produced a massive watch list, identifying more than a million potential ‘threats,’ entered into the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) and Terrorist Identities Group (TIG).”

“…in 2013 alone, the NSA collected more than 125 billion telephone items and 97 billion pieces of computer data from around the world, much from (theoretically exempt) American citizens….” (p. 183).

There are additional concerns stemming from the current power structure. Dissent is fraught with risks, though not yet systemically quashed. More and more government functions are privatized, the infrastructure deteriorates, and ecosystems are degraded and depleted in record numbers, while increasingly cataclysmic climate change unfolds with little restraint on corporate polluters in the context of an unplanned and increasingly unregulated, profit-first, unending-growth capitalist economy.

Reactionary Populism gets a boost under Trump

 Along with all the rest, the right-wing political forces have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Boggs points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).

Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of “the white power movement” in the U.S. in her brilliant, but disturbing, book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.

“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.

“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).

And they thrive.

“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).

The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view.

The Democratic Party falters

While there are policy differences that divide the Democrats from the Republicans on “secondary or tertiary” issues like immigration, gay marriage, abortion, both parties, Boggs contends, support “modern capitalism and the warfare state” (p. 159). Though it is important to recognize that in the Democratic Party there is a progressive caucus  and leftist Democrats mounting presidential campaigns that sets them apart from the Republicans on most issues and even from the Democratic leadership on some issues. Certainly, progressive Democrats strongly support civil rights, progressive taxes, the need to regulate the economy and break up some of the mega-corporations, less spending on the military, immigration reform that provides for pathways to citizenship and honors international laws on refugees, the need to ratchet up support for renewable forms of energy and energy efficiency, and the vital importance of government spending on infrastructure, housing, education, job training, and other policies that provide benefits to ordinary Americans. And Obama and his administration should be given credit for signing the international agreement in Paris in December 2015 aimed at limiting greenhouse emissions, the advance of federally-binding fuel-efficiency standards for cars, vans and light truck, and in the successful multilateral agreement signed with Iran, the UK, France, the EU, Germany, Russia on banning Iran from ever developing nuclear bombs. But Trump has negated Obama’s initiatives through various executive orders.

And it also true that Obama and many Democrats in the US Congress supported the bail-out of the big banks in 2008, allowed the banks to sell its junk assets to the Federal Reserve. They supported increased military spending, military engagements throughout the world, drone warfare, an “all of the above” energy policy that included oil, gas, and nuclear energy, and were weak on poverty, public job creation, raising the minimum wage, single-payer medical insurance. Much of the party remains tied to big money for campaign contributions. Obama did little to reach out to peace groups, unions, or other civic organizations. His trade proposals, like the TPP, had “bad labor laws and practices, few if any consumer or environmental protections that can be enforced in courts of law, and precious little freedom of speech” (Ralph Nader, To the Ramparts: how Bush and Obama paved the way for the Trump presidency, and why it isn’t too late to reverse course, p. 165).

Programs created to have wide benefits are attacked and citizen participation declines

 To reiterate, social-welfare programs are being eviscerated, along with environmental and consumer protections. There is increasing inequality in all aspects of the society, trends that go back to the 1970s, especially arising during the years of the Reagan administration. Citizens are increasingly detached from community and political activity and preoccupied with private worries, how to pay the bills, debt, entertainment, consumption. Boggs refers to signs of how vigorous democratic politics have declined, as evidenced by how “widespread and dynamic participating, institutional accountability, broad access, issue knowledge and awareness, sense of political efficacy – have sharply declined in recent decades.” Forty to fifty percent of the electorate don’t vote in presidential elections and sixty percent or more who don’t typically vote in mid-term elections. And, Boggs points out, “[r]ecent history shows…that counterforces to the political establishment – social movements, alternative parties, community enclaves – have not been sufficiently durable to challenge the status quo” (p. 165).

What if Trump is re-elected in 2020?

There is a question of just how far the forces embodied in the interconnected multifaceted economic, political, military, ideological power will take us toward the demise of democracy. Certainly, the election of Trump in 2016 has increased had a damaging effect on democracy and justice. The chances that the United States will end up with a more tenuous and limited democracy than before would be enhanced if Trump were to be re-elected in November 2020. Perhaps, it would be totally eclipsed. Certainly, Trump’s re-election would further consolidate these right-wing forces and threaten the country with a tyrannical or neo-fascist government intent on enhancing corporate capitalism.

A dystopian vision

With the Republican Party in control of the House as well as the Senate, the checks and balances provisions in the US Constitution would become irrelevant. The Trump political base would be energized. In this context, there would be more regressive taxes enacted, more subsidies for favored industries, more lucrative contracts especially notable in military and prison contracting, cheap access for corporate and other interests to the timber, ranch land, oil, and minerals on public land, along with corporate-friendly trade deals. A Trump administration would continue the buildup of the already bloated, wasteful military forces, already larger than at any time since WWII, and with one with far more lethal firepower than ever, stretching around the world and into space, and more likely to use nuclear weapons.

With Trump’s re-election, inequality would grow even more than it has, as the gig economy would expand and, with unions stymied by “right to work” laws and inadequate minimum wage laws in many states, wages would stagnate or barely keep up with rising prices. Many, if not most, Americans would be left increasingly dependent on the private sector for expensive medical care, high prices for prescription drugs. They would have increasingly limited opportunities for affordable and decent housing. The number of public school systems that are severely under-resourced would increase. The system of public higher education that would lead more students and graduates leads to terribly burdensome student debt. Furthermore, Trump would act on his threats to cut such government programs as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social safety net programs. The dominant right-wing political narrative would spread through the culture, including appeals to ultra-patriotism, gun rights, the end of women’s legally-based reproductive rights, the strengthening consumerist values, and the promotion of the fear of the “other,” like most immigrants, Muslims, people of color, those with certain sexual orientations, and those who dissent from the pro-corporate, neoliberal agenda.

 Concluding thoughts

The information and analysis compiled in this post indicates that America is dangerously on a path toward some form of fascism. It is grounded in a capitalist system legitimated by a neoliberal ideology, and now abetted by a reactionary president whose policies are aimed at protecting and enhancing this system. It remains to be seen whether progressive/radical forces can win in the 2020 elections and start the kind of “revolution” that Bernie Sanders has in mind. But it is clear, as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and others have so often written, when all is said and done, it is up to the “people” and “social movements” to determine the outcome, good or bad. Henry Giroux writes: “In the end, there is no democracy without informed citizens, no justice without a language critical of injustice, and no change without a broad-based movement of collective resistance” (American Nightmare, p. 323). I would add, there is no democracy without a political party with an agenda to limit the power of the mega-corporations and the rich, to foster the replacement of neoliberalism with a radical alternative narrative emphasizing the need for a mixture of progressive and democratic socialist policy changes, and to persuade voters that not only their personal circumstances are at stake but so is the fate of the world. Put it another way: It is imperative the Americans elect a new president and other candidates who have a vision of a society and world that can be based on informed civic engagement by citizens, egalitarian values, environmentally sustainable economies and life styles, and peace and justice domestically and internationally.

There is resistance

On this score, Henry Giroux writes:

“While Trump attempts to expand its alt-right social base under its authoritarian hierarchy, forces for grassroots resistance are mobilizing around a renewed sense of ethical courage, social solidarity, and a revival of the political imagination. We see this happening in the increasing number of mass demonstrations in which individuals are putting their bodies on the line, refusing the fascist machinery of misogyny, nativism, and white supremacy. Airports are being occupied, people are demonstrating in the streets of major cities, town halls have become the sites of resistance, campuses are being transformed into sanctuaries to protect undocumented students, scientists are marching in masses against climate change deniers, and progressive cultural workers, public intellectuals, and politicians are speaking out against the emerging authoritarianism. In a number of red states, middle-aged women are engaged in the ‘grinding scutwork of grassroots organizing’ while addressing the big issues such as ‘health care and gerrymandering, followed by dark money politics, education, and the environment.’ Democracy may be in exile in the United States,  and imperiled in Europe and other parts of the globe, but the spirit that animates it remains resilient” (American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, p. 306).

The looming danger of nuclear war: the context and the doomsday clock

Bob Sheak, February 7, 2020
bobsheak@gmail.com

Overview

The current post was inspired by the 2020 annual report of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists specifying its decision to move the minute hand on the “doomsday clock” closer to midnight (end-game for humanity) than ever before in the over 70 years of such decisions. This year’s decision was based on their assessments of the chances for nuclear war and the ongoing cataclysmic advances of the climate crisis. This post focuses on the nuclear war part of the report, since I have recently written on the climate crisis.

There are three parts to my post. The first part provides background and context for understanding the existential threat of nuclear war. The second part reviews the Board’s report. The third part includes my “concluding thoughts.”

The concern about the increasing likelihood of nuclear war is not a topic that much surfaces in the media, or gets much attention in the Democratic presidential primaries, though pocketbook issues understandably resonate with broad swaths of the public. But indications from polls and news reports are that the growing potentiality of nuclear war won’t have much of an impact on how people vote in 2020. However, like the unfolding climate crisis, the growing danger of nuclear war is a well-documented reality that, if we are not extremely lucky, could destroy everything in a wisp of time. And this is not a new concern. Prior to the onset of the Cold War, Albert Einstein sent a telegram on May 1946 to several hundred prominent Americans “asking for contributions to a fund ‘to let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential’ in the atomic age.” In the telegram, he wrote: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein’ statement is truer today than ever.

Part 1 – The historical and contemporary background on nuclear weapons and the threat to human existence

Nuclear weapons are the deadliest of weapons ever created by humans, in this case by scientists with financing by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayers). Along with anthropogenic climate disruption, or “climate change,” nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy all human societies and much of life on the earth. What a sad accomplishment for us creatures with the most complex organ in the universe – the brain.

The Manhattan Project – letting the genie out of the bottle

The project to create nuclear weapons (then called atomic bombs) was initiated by the government and paid for by taxpayers during the early 1940s. The story of the project, called the Manhattan Project, is captured in detail by Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project).

Nuclear weapons – some facts

In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of nationalism, “national security,” a vapid patriotism, and the self-serving assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons. (Richard Falk takes issue with the view that the existing nuclear arsenals can be managed and makes an argument for banning these weapons: https://popularresistance.org/contesting-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge.

While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and thousands of warheads in non-operational status that can readily be made operational (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

Some of these warheads are on missiles located on launching pads in the US, on submarines, and on large bombers – and are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).

Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. And it appears that the Trump administration is aching for the opportunity to wage war on Iran.

There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan). These figures come from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

What about other countries. Per the Nuclear Weapons Archive:

“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).

The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident.

It can be safely assumed that most citizens who even think about these weapons have no idea of how fragile nuclear weapons launching technology and procedures are. Couple this with a president who thinks in tweeter-length thoughts, who likes being right and winning every time, who glories in the spotlight, and you end up with an irrational and accident-prone nuclear weapons control and command system.

The crumbling of nuclear arms agreements between the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union)

After having some success in nuclear weapons reduction agreements in the 1960s and first years of the new mellinium, the US and Russia now are on a course that is taking the world in the opposite direction, a position taken up and considered later in this post by the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. This topic has received some attention in the media, especially on important progressive/leftist online websites (e.g., Democracy Now, Truthout, Truthdig, Counterpunch, Antiwar.org). Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control organization, reviews the US-Russian nuclear arms control agreements from 1969 to 2014 (https:///www.armscontrol.org/2556).

#1 – An overview of strategic nuclear arms agreements

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) commenced in November 1969 and led to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, limiting strategic missile defense to 200, later 100, interceptors each, and then an Interim Agreement, “an executive agreement that capped US and Soviet ICBM and SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines.” There were gaps. “The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs.” There was a follow-up agreement, SALT II, signed in June 1979, that “limited US and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube [or missile launcher], or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces.” However, when the Soviet’s invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter “asked the Senate not to go ahead with the next round of negotiations known as SALT III.

In July 1991, President Ronald Reagan signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which “required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads….[and] required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles.” The implementation of this agreement was “delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and Start agreements.” In January 1993, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin signed a follow-on agreement, called START II, which “called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles.” However, “START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 US withdrawal from the ABM treaty.” In between 1991 and 2002, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin “agreed to a framework for START III negotiations… ‘to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” But when START II was abandoned, the negotiations over START III never happened.

Later in 2002, on May 24, 2002, “Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow treaty), requiring that the United States and Russia reduce their arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each.” This was to take effect on December 31, 2002. One of the limitations of the treaty was that the US limited reductions to warheads “deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., operationally deployed’ warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. Nonetheless, the Senate and Duma approved the treaty and it entered into force on June 1, 2003.

The process of nuclear arms control agreements got another boost on April 8, 2010, when “the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800.” This lowered the warhead limits of SORT and included tighter verification requirements, including “on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical mans for treaty monitoring.” Additionally, the treaty “provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities.” The Treaty was finalized on December 22, 2010, after it was approved by the Russian parliament and the US Senate.

#2 – Non-strategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

This involves “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers,” or 311 miles and 3,418 miles. The US and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on December 8, 1987, including ‘intrusive on-site inspections.” The two sides “completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles, and later extended after the breakup of the Soviet Union to include “the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.” The US became concerned in 2014 that Russia was violating the agreement by deploying ground-launched missiles that were prohibited. This would later give Trump a reason to withdraw from the agreement – rather than to seek a negotiated resolution.

The undoing of nuclear arms control agreements

Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn provides an informative analysis of the breakdown of US-Russian nuclear weapons treaties in an article titled “US Refusal to Negotiate with Russia Increases likelihood of Nuclear War” (https://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43811-us-refusal-to-negotiate-with-russia-increases-likelihood-of-nuclear-war). She reminds us that George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia, which called for the reductions of anti-ballistic missile defenses in both countries. Cohn quotes David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: “The fuel for a new nuclear arms race was already on fire, and a Russian strategic response was predictable, when the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty and began developing a replacing missile defense systems globally. The US withdrawal and abrogation of the ABM Treaty may prove to be the greatest strategic blunder of the nuclear age.” Obama also contributed to the undermining of the nuclear détente with Russia when he signed off on the policy to “modernize” the US nuclear bomb arsenal. The official US nuclear arms position as reflected in the US Nuclear Posture Review has also, Cohn notes, reduced “the threshold for using nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in ‘extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.”

Enter Donald Trump

Now there is increased concern about US nuclear weapons and control and command over the nuclear arsenals. President-elect Trump has twittered and blustered in his braggadocio, narcissistic manner, that it may be better for the world if even more countries possessed their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea), implied that he might use nuclear weapons in the Middle East to “wipe out ISIS,” suggested that the US could win an escalated nuclear arms race, has withdrawn the US from the multilateral agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, is totally and unconditionally in support of Israel (which is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation international treaty and whose policies intensify the repression of Palestinians and the expropriation of their land), appears to be committed to steamlining the “modernization” of the US nuclear weapons system. Trump has tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” From Trump’s shallow knowledge of the subject and bully-boy temperament, there is no place for a policy of nuclear weapons reductions or nuclear weapons free zones, such as been proposed for the Middle East. From what we know, Trump is likely to behave impulsively in a crisis – and order helter-skelter the lunch nuclear weapons against Iran, Russia, North Korea, or some other perceived adversary. That would cause unimaginatively catastrophic and irreversible war. Indeed, a war to end all wars. Bear in mind that Trump’s mental instability, impulsiveness, malicious narcissism, and con man approach to policy does not bode well for America or humanity given the power of his presidency. (See the new books: (1) Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, A Very Stable Genius, and (2) Mark Green and Ralph Nader, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t.)

History professor and author Lawrence Wittner writes on how arms control and disarmament agreements have been “rapidly unraveling” under Trump’s administration (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/29/dear-moderates-presidential-debates-how-raising-issues-how-avert-nuclear-war). He gives the following examples. On May 2018, “the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the laboriously-constructed Iran nuclear agreement that had closed off the possibility of that nation developing nuclear weapons.” Then on February of 2019, “the Trump announced that, in August, the US government will withdraw from the Reagan era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the historical agreement that had banned US and Russian ground-launched cruise missiles – and would proceed to develop such weapons.” Russian President Vladimir Putin responded in kind. The 2010 New Start Treaty is also on the chopping block, that is the treaty that “reduces US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, limits US and Russian nuclear delivery vehicles, and provides for extensive inspection.” Wittner notes that if the treaty is allowed to expire, “it would be the first time since 1972 that there would be no nuclear arms control agreement between Russia and the United States.” Then there are other ominous message from the White House and Pentagon. Wittner adds: Some in Trump’s administration are pressing for a US resumption of nuclear weapons testing. The push for “modernizing the nuclear arsenal, with the introduction of new types of nuclear warheads, is gaining support in the White House, a violation of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And the US Joints Chiefs of Staff are expressing “new interest in nuclear warfare,” declaring in a June 2019 planning document that “using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability.”

A history of nuclear weapons accidents

There is a long history of accidents at nuclear weapons’ launching missile sites, both in the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), that came within minutes of starting a nuclear war. This history is painstakinglydocumented by Eric Schlosser in his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, and in an article for The New Yorker, titled “World War Three, by Mistake (Dec 23, 2016). You can find the article at: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake.

Schlosser’s main argument is that “harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.” He concludes his long article with the following ominous words.

“My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, someday, they will. The ‘Titanic Effect’ is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.”

Fred Pearce devotes an entire book to how accidents, mis-judgements, out-right lies have almost triggered nuclear war. See his book Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and The Legacy of the Nuclear Age. In his book, The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg writes: “every president from Truman to Clinton has felt compelled at some point in time in office – usually in great secrecy – to threaten and/or discuss with the Joint Chiefs of Staff plans and preparation for possible imminent US initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing non-nuclear conflict or crisis” (pp .319-322). There were also such instances during the Bush Jr administration and, much more blatantly under Trump, who have talked about bombing North Korea and Afghanistan with nuclear weapons (see Mark Green and Ralph Nader’s book, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t, the chapter on “War and Peace”).

There are more fingers on the nuclear launch button that the president’s

Ellsberg explains:

“For decades, Americans have been told that there is “exclusive presidential control of the decision to go to nuclear war and how it is to be conducted.” This officially propounded view is “embodied by the iconic ‘football,’ the briefcase carried by a presidential military aide that is to accompany the president ‘at all times,’ containing codes and electronic equipment by which the president, on receiving warning of a nuclear attack, can convey to the military his choice of a response ‘option’ to be executed” (p. 67-68). Ellsberg argues this is not true: “It was not only the president who could make the decision and issue the orders, and not even…the secretary of defense or the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, but commanders in the field thousands of miles from Washington who thought their forces might be about to be destroyed…. In some circumstances, commanders of four-star rank could issue in their own name an authorized directive to undertake nuclear attack without the immediate prior involvement of the president” (p. 68).

This “hidden” decentralized command structure is considered to be necessary because of the threat of decapitation, that is, that the president and other high government officials in Washington DC could be wiped out by a surprise nuclear attack. Ellsberg puts it this way. “A single nuclear warhead on the capital could kill not only the president but all of his legally designated successors in the cabinet and Congress (and the JCS along with the secretary of defense, the only civilian aside from the president in the military chain of command) – all of them who were in town at that moment. If nuclear deterrence were to have any substantial backing at all – if it were to be more than an empty bluff – it could not be the case that one such explosion would definitively block any authorized, coordinated nuclear response to that or any subsequent attack” (p. 69).

America’s “First Use”policy of nuclear weapons

Ellsberg makes this point.

“Preparation for preemption or for carrying out threats of first use or first strike remains the essence of the ‘modernization’ program for strategic weapons for the last seventy years – prospectively being extended by Presidents Obama and Trump to one hundred years – that has continuously benefited our military-industrial-complex” (p. 324)….“The felt political need to profess, at least, to believe that the ability to make and carry out nuclear threats is essential to US national security and to our leadership in our alliances is why every single president has refused to make a formal ‘no-first-use’ (NFU) commitment” (p. 324)

“…the United States has tenaciously resisted the pleas of most other nations in the world to make an NFU pledge as an essential basis for stopping proliferation, including at the Nonproliferation Treaty Extension Conference in 1995 and the Review Conference since 2000. Moreover, the United States has demanded that NATO continue to legitimize first-use threat by basing its own strategy on them, even after the USSR and the Warsaw Pact had dissolved (and most of the former Pact members had joined NATO. Yet this stubborn stance – along with actual threats of possible US nuclear first use in more recent confrontations with Iraq, North Korea, and Iran – virtually precludes effective leadership by the United States (and perhaps anyone else) in delegitimizing and averting further proliferation and even imitation of US use of nuclear weapons” (324-325)

“UN Resolution 36/100, the Declaration on the Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe… was adopted on December 9, 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s endorsement of the Carter Doctrine – openly extending US first-use threats to the Persian Gulf – which this resolution directly contradicted and implicitly condemned. It declares in its preamble: ‘Any doctrine allowing the first use of nuclear weapons and any actions pushing the world toward a catastrophe are incompatible with human moral standards and the lofty ideals of the UN” (p. 325) – 82 nations voted in favor of it, 41 abstained (under pressure from US), 19 opposed it (including the US, Israel and most NATO member nations).”

Nuclear Winter

No nation, no people, can survive an even limited, regional nuclear war with warheads in the present nuclear arsenals. Even a first-use attack by, say, the US to destroy the nuclear-launching capacity of, say Russia, would produce a worldwide catastrophe. The smoke from nuclear bomb blasts would rise into the atmosphere and remain there for an extended period, enough to cripple food production around the world. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter). There are no winners in nuclear war. However, the “doctors strange loves” in the Pentagon are busy at designing smaller nuclear weapons that may not themselves produce a nuclear winter.

Other effects of a nuclear war

Then there is the radiation from nuclear blasts. Robert Jacobs describes some of the chaos and hardship that would prevail after nuclear war had commenced (https://truth-out.org/news/item/3290-we-cannot-survive-a-nuclear-apocalpse-by-ducking-and-covering). He offers this graphic example: “After a nuclear attack, the suggestion that one [a survivor] can go somewhere and find clean water is ridiculous. Or that one could take their contaminated clothes off and simply find uncontaminated clothes nearby. Or that washing your hair one time will remove the systemic dangers of being in a radiologically contaminated environment, and your hair would not simply reabsorb some of that radiation. Or that shampoo would be contaminated, etc.” Jacobs refers to a study by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) which concluded that the radiation produced by a hydrogen bomb “detonated over Washington DC would have the following effects: “not only would everyone in Washington DC be dead from the blast and heat of the weapons, but everyone in Baltimore, Philadelphia and half the population of New York City would soon die of radiation sickness if they did not immediately evacuate.”

Part 2 – The Minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is moved closer to “midnight”

The Science and Security board of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have just made their annual adjustment of “the doomsday clock” (https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time). The prestigious scientific board uses the doomsday clock as a symbol of how distant or close the minute hand is from midnight, which, if ever reached, would, in their considered estimation, result in a cataclysmic outcome, most likely the end of humanity and much of life on the planet in the case of nuclear war. In their 2020 report, editor John Mecklin writes: “the members of the Science and Security Board have concluded that the complex technological threats the world faces are at least as dangerous today as they were last year and the year before, when we set the Clock at two minutes to midnight (as close as it had ever been, and the same setting that was announced in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons).” In January, the board moved the minute hand to 100 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been to this end-game time over all the years the board has been publishing its assessments. While the board includes both the prospects of climate change as well as nuclear war in is recent decisions, the focus in this post will be on the threat of nuclear war. (I have recently written on the climate crisis.)

The board offers two multifaceted justifications for its decision. One is that the danger of nuclear war is increased by“cyber-enabled information warfare.” This is a multifaceted technology that will have the effect of reducing the time it takes to recognize a nuclear missile attack, but at the same time increases the chances of launching nuclear bombs because of mistaken information….computers that control bombs may be hacked….“many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations.”

They refer specifically to “the emergence of new destabilizing technologies in artificial intelligence, space, hypersonics, and biology,” all of which, the board contends, “portend a dangerous and multifaceted global instability.” ICAN provides an in-depth analysis of how these “emerging technologies” increase the risk of nuclear war, as they “add another layer of risk to an already unacceptable level of risk of nuclear weapons use” (https://popularresistance.org/emerging-technologies-and-nuclear-risks ). A 2018 study by Chatham House of cyber security and nuclear weapons found, according to ICAN: “The risks of a cyber-attack on nuclear weapons systems raise significant doubts about the reliability and integrity of such systems in a time crisis, regarding the ability to: a) launch a weapon b) prevent an inadvertent attack c) maintain command and control of all military system d) transmit information and other communication e) maintenance and reliability of such systems.”

The board’s second justification for moving the minute hand on the doomsday clock closer to midnight concerns that the heightened danger of nuclear war is compounded by the erosion of the “international political infrastructure for managing” the nuclear arsenals of the US and other countries. “They write: “national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.”

The Board concludes its report on a positive note, despite all the bad news, and assume, first, the nuclear dangers can be potentially managed and kept from happening and, second, that “there are many practical, concrete steps that leaders could take – and citizens should demand – to improve the current, absolutely unacceptable state of world security affairs.” What are the practical steps?

“US and Russian leaders can return to the negotiating table to: reinstate the INF Treaty or take other action to restrain an unnecessary arms race in medium-range missiles; extend the limits of the New START beyond 2021; seek further reductions in nuclear arms; discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and start talks on cyber warfare, missile defenses, the militarization of space, hypersonic technology, and the elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.”

Further: “The United States and other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal can work together to restrain nuclear proliferation in the Middle East….Whoever wins the United States’ 2020 presidential election must prioritize dealing with this problem, whether through a return to the original nuclear agreement or via negotiation of a new and broader accord.”

Additionally: “The international community should begin multilateral discussions aimed at establishing norms of behavior, both domestic and international, that discourage and penalize the misuse of science.”

Finally, there must be attention given to the need “to prevent information technology from undermining public trust in political institutions, in the media, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good. Deception campaigns – and leaders intent on blurring the line between fact and politically motivated fantasy – are a profound threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other existential dangers.”

Part 3 – Concluding thoughts

The proposals by the Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists may be the best that can be advanced, however unlikely they are to be implemented, especially during the ascendancy of the Trump administration. Trump often refers to nuclear weapons as a tool to be used to threaten and intimidate adversarial nations at a whim, to get attention, or to really mean it without any understanding or regard of the dreadful and irretrievable consequences of launching nuclear weapons. As the nuclear situation stands now, one thing is crystal clear, that is, Trump, the Republican Party, and their corporate enablers will not follow the recommendations of the Board or anyone else who proposes that more diplomacy with the goal of multilateral agreements should be the basis for moving away from “midnight,” with the goal of phasing out nuclear weapons.

Indeed, in a rationale world based on verifiable, scientifically based evidence, the world leaders would be not only taking “practical” steps to reduce the chances of war but making efforts to ban nuclear weapons altogether. This is not so far-fetched. On July 7, 2017, “some 130 countries” at the United Nations successfully negotiated a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons and, according to a report by Kennette Benedict for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “agreed to make the developing, testing, manufacturing, possessing, or stockpiling of nuclear weapons by any state illegal” (https://thebulletin.org/prohibition-nuclear-weapons-treaty-10936). As with the festering and accelerating climate crisis, nations have little time to come together and truly advance such an effort.

In the US, the 2020 elections will represent a seminal moment in the country’s history. If Trump and the Republicans win, the existential threats faced by the country – and the world – will be ignored and made worse than they are. If “moderate” Democrats win, then there is the possibility that the threats will be acknowledged but insufficiently addressed. It will take political candidates with transformative agendas to give the country a chance of possibly advancing policies that lead us away from the “midnight” of nuclear war. The odds of this happening are not good, but not impossible.

There is some public concern. Wittner refers to a May 2019 opinion poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland that found “two-thirds of US respondents favored remaining within the INF Treaty, 80 percent wanted to extend the New START Treaty, about 60% supported ‘phasing out’ US intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 75 percent back legislation requiring congressional approval before the president could order a nuclear attack” (cited previously). Dahr Jamail offers a detailed report (Truthout, Nov 11, 2018) on how “physicians work to bring back the anti-nuclear movement (https://truthout.org/articles/physicians-work-to-bring-back-the-anti-nuclear-movement). According to an article by Jon Letman (Truthout, January 13, 2020), “cities in the crosshairs are pushing back against nuclear weapons” (https://truthout.org/articles/cities-in-the-crosshairs-are-pushing-back-against-nuclear-weapons). And, in a report by Marjorie Cohn (Truthout, Oct 28, 2019), some brave anti-nuclear activists engage in non-violent acts of disobedience against US nuclear facilities, even though it may result in long-term imprisonment (https://truthout.org/articles/convicted-anti-nuclear-activists-speak-out-pentagon-has-brainwashed-people). And James Carden writes in an article for the Nation magazine (Oct 2, 2019): “women state legislators and advocacy groups are uniting to call for a no-first-use nuclear policy” (https://thenation.com/article/trump-nuclear-proliferation). There are, moreover, some Democrats in the US Congress who vote against increases in the bloated military budget and who favor nuclear arms control initiatives, if not a ban on these horrendous weapons.

The lethal mixture of neoliberalism and corporate capitalism

The lethal mixture of neoliberalism and corporate capitalism
Bob Sheak, January 26, 2020

The US political-economic system of corporate capitalism is beset with multiplicity of problems that will only be intensified if Trump is re-elected in 2020. This is the thesis of economist Jack Rasmus in his new book, The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump. Rasmus presents a persuasive case that the US economy has not recovered from the 2008-2009 crisis and, despite the claims of Trump and his allies, the economy is hardly “great.” Rather, it is plagued with problems (“contradictions’) that cannot be surmounted by the policies advanced by the Trump administration and Republican Party. Rasmus is also skeptical that modest reforms of the system will be adequate. The US is coming to a historic fork in the road. On one path, the neoliberal-based policies, selectively implemented, of the Trump/Republicans will not only continue but be strengthened. This path will only deepen the crisis. The other path, rarely taken, will be taken if a radical alternative is chosen by voters, an alternative that is committed to a policy agenda more aligned with the spirit and content of the New Deal, European Social Democracy, or the idea of democratic socialism. The ideas of a Green New Deal or Medicare for All are in these intellectual currents.

The title of Rasmus’ book highlights the importance of Neoliberal, but it would have been better if he had used the concept “corporate capitalism,” with the title “the scourge of corporate capitalism.” Neoliberalism is an ideological framework that justifies policies and programs that serve the interests of the mega-corporations, the private sector of the economy generally, and calls (selectively) for minimal government. Corporate capitalism is an economic-political system dominated by mega-corporations whose principal goals are to maximize profits and who have a disproportionate influence on the political system.

The powerful advocates and political and intellectual enablers of Neoliberalism do two things to mystify the public about their real goals, which are about maximizing/optimizing profits, satisfying their shareholders, and keeping executive compensation going up. They equate less government with “freedom,” however they love tax cuts, government subsidies, and military spending, Indeed, they promise that tax breaks, deregulation, privatization, de-unionization, a low-interest monetary policy, bailing out big banks, will generate economic growth, innovation, and lots of good jobs. The reality is different. Corporate concentration increases, as competition is stifled. The number of multi-millionaires and billionaires rise. Income and wealth inequalities reach levels not seen since before the 1930s. The number of “good jobs” in the economy shrink. And government support for all sorts of social, educational, and health care benefits declines, while the prison population remains the largest in the world. The system is rigged against democracy because, in the absence of massive grassroots mobilizations and the rise of a progressive/radical Democratic candidates, the corporate and political decision-makers have the power to make it that way.

Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism was given intellectual legitimacy in right-wing circles by the work Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises in Europe who argued for a political system based on “unfettered individualism,” a system very different from what Classic Liberals such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and John Locke had in mind (Rasmus, p. 6).

In 1947, there was “a watershed meeting of what was called the Mont Pelerin Society” that laid the foundation for a Neoliberal policy agenda. Wendy Brown points out that the term “neoliberalism “was coined at the 1938 Colloque Walter Lippman, a gathering of scholars who laid the political-intellectual foundations for what would take shape at the Mont Pelerin Society a decade later” (In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, p. 17).

The Mont Pelerin Society convened its first meeting in Geneva as Hayek and Milton Friedman and other right-wing economists gathered to contest the precepts and practices of John Maynard Keynes, whose economic ideas influenced the New Deal, and where an alternative framework of how the economy should operate was articulated. It took time for the ideas to congeal into a full-blown economic doctrine. According to Rasmus, Neoliberalism developed “a cohesive…set of related economic, political, and philosophical ideas sometime in the 1970s” (p. 2). Wendy Brown adds this about the fortunes and meaning of neoliberalism: “By the end of the 1970s, exploiting a crisis of profitability and stagflation, neoliberal programs were rolled out by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, again centering on deregulation capital, breaking organized labor, privatizing public goods and services, reducing progressive taxation, and shrinking the social state” (p. 18).

The doctrine entered the mainstream of US politics with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, Neoliberalism has significantly shaped the content and limits of government economic policies and justified attacks on Democracy. However, Neoliberalism is not the basic driver of the policies and attacks, as already indicated. Rasmus cogently analyzes how Neoliberalism and its variants gain influence as ideological response to economic crises linked to changing political realities and technological changes. In the course of the crises, Neoliberalism is modified, but not basically compromised. In crises, there is among decision-makers the aim of offering rationales, policies, and programs that continue to aid and abet the positions and interests of the corporate power and the rich.

Rasmus makes clear that the advocates of Neoliberalism, ideological advocates, corporate elites, and those who occupy the White House, along with many of those in the US Congress, call for policies that reflect the Neoliberal framework. At the same time, their very assertions and proposals increasingly contradict economic realities. Rather than looking for alternatives, these advocates continue to endorse Neoliberalism’s basic principles and goals, now with a blustering, authoritarian champion in the White House. The questions are how far will the advocates for Neoliberal policies and the maintenance and strengthening of corporate power stretch the truth and how long will US publics continue to go along with their self-serving, anti-democratic narrative?

Economic reality contradicts Neoliberal principles and rhetoric

The advocates of Neoliberalism favor economic policies and an economy based on “free markets,” but in practice they support the mega-corporations that dominate all sectors of the economy and “do all they can to suppress free markets and competition.” Here are the points made by Rasmus on pp. 3, 7-19 of his book.

They say they are “concerned about the individual,” but “these same corporations have moved tens of millions of jobs from the US to cheaper costs of production abroad.”

They say they favor “efficient markets” that keep prices for their products and services low, arguing that markets are always better than “government intervention or production of public goods and services. But prices typically decline not so much in response to market forces as to the power of corporate executives to keep wages low and other practices that have little to do with efficiency in production (e.g., union-busting and avoidance, two-tier labor contracts, opposition to raising the minimum wage).

They say they favor “free trade,” but trade deals are “rife with tariffs, quotas and other limits on free trade,” with the goal of “guaranteeing favorable terms and conditions for US corporations,” ensuring the repatriation of profits back to the multinational corporations’ headquarters in the US.

They want to minimize government intervention in the economy, but they do so selectively, allowing, for example, “spending on social programs and public works to decline in the name of austerity, while pushing for increases in military spending.”

They contend that lower taxes have the effect of increasing the number of jobs in the labor market, without providing any empirical evidence. Trump’s recent tax cut overwhelmingly favored the corporations and the rich and affluent.

They maintain that deregulation and privatization are good, but express little or no concern for the environmental devastation or climate-disrupting emissions that are linked to corporate activities.

They think that there is nothing worrisome about the rising national debt or large and growing government budget deficits, but such budgetary realities rests on the strength of the US dollar currency and the willingness of trading partners to use the currency and buy US “debt” from the Federal Reserve in the form of US securities. It is an increasingly fragile arrangement, given that China and other countries are in a position to develop alternative currencies for the purposes of international trade and

And finally, they express a decided bias in favor of monetary policy on the false assumptions that increases in the money supply will lower interest rates and the excess cash will be invested in the production of goods and services; however, much of the money generated in this way goes to buy backs their own stocks or for acquisitions of and mergers with already existing businesses. In the meantime, sectors of the real economy have difficulty raising money for investment purposes.

The “material forces” driving the economy will push Neoliberal narratives beyond their limits

Thus, Rasmus argues that the economy is plagued by “contradictions” that are not acknowledged by those in power. But Rasmus digs deeper into the crisis-laden economy. It is not the Neoliberal-inspired ideas and apologies that explain economic conditions and trends but rather specific “material forces” that will either lead to radical changes in policies or intensify the contradictions.

However, the current situation and the way it is unfolding are disconcerting. Rasmus analyzes “concurrent revolutions in several key technologies, accelerating changes in production and distribution processes, change in the very nature of money, and the consequent rapid changes in product markets, financial markets due to technological processes, financial markets, and labor markets due to the technological, processes, and money form revolutions.” His chief contention: “Neoliberal policy will not be able to harness, nor contain, the negative consequences of these forces as they evolve full blown into the 2020s decade ahead.” Unless these changes are addressed based on radically different assumptions, policies, and practices, “[g]rowth will continue to slow, stagnate and even contract, and financial instability will grow in frequency, scope, and magnitude” (p. 211). In this case, a growing share of the society will face economic hardship.

Trump’s policies of maximizing fossil fuels in the production and distribution of electricity will exacerbate the climate crisis (pp. 213-214). The rapid introduction of Artificial Intelligence will increase “the automation of decision making made possible by massive databases of information plus equally massive computing power to withdraw and process information virtually instantaneously from those databases.” Among other developments, “5G wireless technology” will accelerate “sensor technologies,” which, in turn, “will enable driverless cars, trucks, public transport, and even aircraft, “while also expanding “private corporate and government surveillance capabilities” (p. 215). With the onset and expansion over the 2020s of driverless vehicles, “more than one million truck drivers in the US alone will be displaced.” AI will enable online commerce and the faster delivery of goods and will have the effect of replacing millions of small manufacturing companies and distribution companies (p 218). Amazon is a leader in this area. Warehouses will become increasingly automated, as the “stocking and retrieving of goods warehoused will be done by intelligent machines which will know where every item is stored” (p. 220). Photovoltaic cells are being embedded in glass technology, solar panels will be replaced by “cells embedded in the windows of a building, and thereafter, eventually, in new forms of paint” (p. 220). Again, there will be major labor dislocations that Neoliberal ideology leaves to the working of the “free market,” but also perhaps create the conditions to give rise to oppositional social movements.

There is no place in the Neoliberal policy arsenal for a universal basic income, major infrastructure projects, Medicare for All, re-unionization, a sufficient federal minimum wage, money for retraining dislocated workers, expansion of vocational education, support for debt-burdened college students, or for the potential job-creation that would accompany a Green New Deal. Large corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft will destroy more jobs than they create (p. 231). Rasmus refers to a recent survey by Mckinsey Consultants that “estimates no less that 30% of the US workforce will be negatively impacted by AI, with either complete loss of jobs or severe reduction in hours worked, that is “more than 50 million redundant workers in the next decade,” and these will be added to “the already 50 million “contingent, part-time-temporary-independent contractor…jobs.” There will be good jobs for about 10%-15% of the workforce, but “two thirds or more will in AI/GIG/Amazoned/low paid/few benefits/no job security employment” (p. 236).

The US has already, since the 1980s, “flooded the world economy with excess dollars, leading to “widespread and chronic excess money supply and chronic negative interest rates,” and thus limiting the ability of central banks to manage monetary policy. In addition, Rasmus writes: “the flooding has reached extreme and is resulting in financial over-investment and asset bubbles” (p.225). The potential spread of cryptocurrencies (e.g., Bitcoin) will exacerbate the problem. The financial problem has been further complicated by the growth of a shadow banking system, which is “essentially unregulated, global in scope, and determined to engage in highly speculative risk taking investments in derivatives, properties, and other financial securities….The shadow banking system was at the center of the cause of the 2008-2009 crash. Shadow banks consist of investments banks (like Lehman Brothers, Bear-Stearns, etc.) private equity companies, hedge funds, finance companies, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies, and so on” (227-228). In the event of a recession, Neoliberal policies of reducing interest rates will not be available and there will be no controls over rampant financial speculation that will divert financial support away from investment in the real economy.

Under the current corporate-dominated power structure and Neoliberal rationalizations, profits and tax savings will continue to go to shareholders. Rasmus refers to these stunning facts. “Trillions of dollars have been distributed, more than $1 trillion on average every year, by US corporations to their shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividend payouts since 2010. Trillions more in personal income tax cuts. That has produced a $23 trillion national government debt load, projected to rise further to $34 trillion by 2028. Meanwhile, chronic low interest rates have enabled US corporations to raise more than $1 trillion a year more in debt – much also distributed to shareholders” (240). The tax cuts, combined with enormous military expenditures, have “produced massive deficits and debt and thus have now largely negated future fiscal spending on much needed infrastructure and other social investments” (240). To have any hope in reversing such trends, it will take a “democratic revolution” in the 2020 elections. But those in power have done their utmost to eliminate this option.

Destroying Democracy

This is been done in many ways. Republicans have used their control in the US Senate to influence appointments to the US Supreme Court. As a result, the Supreme Court now has a conservative majority that, among other decisions, has eliminated limits on corporate political spending (p. 248). At least a dozen states, mainly concentrated in “red” states like Georgia, Florida, Ohio, North Dakota, Texas, and others, have used their power over congressional redistricting to gerrymander such districts. Today, Rasmus writes, “22 states are firmly in Republican control – both through the governorship and the combined legislative houses.” With respect to gerrymandering, Chief Justice Roberts has argued that “the Supreme Court justices lacked the competence to decide when partisan politics in gerrymandering was undermining democracy,” thus allowing partisan gerrymandering to be permitted everywhere (p. 252). Meanwhile, gerrymandering technology has made it “possible to draw precise and detailed ‘voter maps’ showing where one’s party’s voters were distributed and concentrated, and where the other party’s voters might be broken up and allocated to another district” (p. 252).

The Electoral College allows states with small populations to have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of presidential elections. Rasmus quotes the expert political forecaster, Nate Cohn on the implications of this fact and writes: “Trump could very well win the 2020 election even if he loses the popular vote by an even greater margin than the 2.8 million by which he lose it n 2016” (p. 256). Red states have as well employed various voter suppression laws to limit the votes of populations who tend to vote for Democratic candidates, including purging voter rolls, placing holds on voter registration just prior to an election, using old voting machines without paper trails that can be hacked, requiring voter IDs that many voters may not have, reducing the number of voting places, and limiting the days before an election that citizens can register to vote Ari Berman documents such anti-democratic political tactics in articles for The Nation magazine and in his book, Give US the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Carol Anderson’s book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy buttresses the authoritative documentation of how the political system works against democracy.

There is more. The assault on democracy is undermined when 35,000 lobbyists work the halls of the US Congress, “the vast majority of whom are either direct employees of corporations, or of their trade associations, or their law firms.” Rasmus adds that the number of lobbyists is under-estimated and does not include “the ‘unregistered’ lobbyists or lobbying at the state and local government level” (p. 258). He draws out attention to how the corporate, Neoliberal, agenda is articulated and fostered by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization created by the Koch Brothers to provide right-wing “boilerplate” bills for states to pass into legislation.

Trump’s assault on democracy takes it to another level

Rasmus sums it up well. Trump is taking us – “Toward a view that his presidency is more than a ‘co-equal’ branch of government. Toward a view he can and should govern when necessary by bypassing Congress. Toward a view the Constitution means he can force states to abandon their rights to govern. And toward a view the president can publicly attack, vilify, insult, coerce, and threaten opponents, critics, and whomever he chooses” (266). This is a path that leads to tyranny. (See Timothy Snyder’s book On Tryanny for an explanation of the concept and its relevance for the US political system today.)

For example, Rasmus reminds us, Trump invoked a national emergency and “transferred money allocated by Congress and authorized by the US House for defense spending to fund the border wall” (266-267). Trump has proclaimed periodically that he “considers himself personally ‘above the law’” (267). He abuses the presidential authority to “pardon” and says that he can pardon himself and anyone else (267). He refuses “to allow executive branch employees to testify to Congress, subpoenas notwithstanding” (268). He “expands” the typical reading of the Supremacy Clause by ordering that California’s fossil fuel emission standards cannot be any stricter that the much lower federal standards (268). He uses the billions the US has received from his tariffs to subsidize sympathetic interests, like US farm interests. And he attacks opponents in the media as “fake news,” and others as “traitors” and “criminals,” and incites his supporters at his rallies to violent attack protestors (269).

Concluding Thoughts

Rasmus makes a strong case that the economic conditions of a growing number of Americans are not so good, and if the economy falters as his analysis indicates, the number will increase over the next decade, if not longer. The evidence supports the proposition that many Americans are not able or are having a hard time making ends meet. At the same time, Trump promised that the steep tax cuts for corporations and the ultrarich in 2017 have not fostered increased investment, increased economic growth, and a rise in good jobs in manufacturing and generally across the economy. At the January 2020 meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Trump blustered triumphantly, as reported by Sonali Kolhatkar: “The US is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,” “America is thriving, American is flourishing, and yes America is winning again like never before,” and “No one is benefiting more than America’s middle class” (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/trumps-rosey-economic-outlook-is-a-big-lie).

But the evidence gathered by Rasmus and others challenge Trump’s rosy claims. Here are some other accounts that support the thrust of Rasmus’ analysis.

Contrary to Trump’s claims, economist Joseph Stiglitz reports that the tax cuts favored corporations and the rich, and when fully implemented will “result in tax increases for most households in the second, third, and fourth income quintiles,” that for 60% of households in the broad middle class” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/01/17/heres-the-truth-trumps-economy-absolute-disaster-people-and-planet).

With respect to investment, Stiglitz writes that instead of a new wave of investment, the tax cuts “triggered an all-time record binge of share buybacks – some $800 billion in 2018 – by some of America’s most profitable companies.” Economist Dean Baker refers to data from the Commerce Department for December 2018, and finds that investment was down or hardly rising in orders for new equipment, for intellectual property products, and nonresidential construction (https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-tax-cut-has-failed-to-deliver-promised-investment-boom).

The stock market has risen, but most Americans do not own stocks or bonds. Trump said there would be economic growth of 4%, even 6%, but economic growth has been barely above 2 to 2.4%. Stiglitz says this is a “remarkably poor performance considering the stimulus provided by the $1 trillion deficit and ultra-low interest rates.” And Trump’s “great economy” has not stopped budget and trade deficits from rising.

What about Trump’s claim that his policies would “bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. and create good jobs generally. Stiglitz reports employment in manufacturing “is still lower than it was under his predecessor, Barak Obama…and markedly below its pre-crisis level.” On wages, Stiglitz writes: “Real median weekly earnings are just 2.6% above their level when Trump took office. The modest increases in median wages have not offset long periods of wage stagnation. For example,” he continues, “the median wage of a full-time male workers (and those with full-time jobs are the lucky ones) is still more than 3% below what it was 40 years ago.” Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman find in an analysis of data for nearly 400 metropolitan areas that “low wage work is more pervasive than you think, and there aren’t enough ‘good jobs’ to go around. Their central finding is that “53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64 – accounting for 44% of all workers – qualify as ‘low-wage,” with “median hourly wages” of just $10.22 and median annual earnings” of $18,000” (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2019/11/21/low-wage-work-is-more-pervasive-than-you-think-and-there-arent-enough-good-jobs-to-go-around).

In short, there are many well-founded facts that dispute Trump’s triumphant claims about the US economy. In the current partisan-divided political environment, however, facts will not persuade those who are hard core supporters of Trump and his right-wing policies. However, if the Neoliberal policies of Trump have the anticipated negative impacts on his supporters that Rasmus and others anticipate, then perhaps some of these supporters may eventually look for other candidates who address their concerns. In the meantime, the facts may help to solidify the views and commitments of those who already recognize the Neoliberal rationale and the system of corporate capitalism for what they are. It is a rationale for a system that offers only disinformation, inequality, a worsening of economic prospects, and increasingly authoritarian political remedies.

Trump risks war by ordering assassinations in the ongoing US effort to maintain hegemony in the Middle East

Trump risks war by ordering assassination to maintain US hegemony in the Middle East
Bob Sheak, January 13, 2020

Overview: This post analyzes the long-standing US militaristic policy in the Middle East, Trump’s reckless and unlawful order to assassinate Qassim Soleimani and others, how the administration has attempted to justify the action, what the justification leaves out, and the negative consequences for the US in Iran and other parts of the Middle East.

Introduction

The US assassination of top Iranian military leaders is rooted in the imperialistic view that the US is right to have troops and to intervene as it wants in the Middle East and elsewhere unless confronted with a militarily strong nation and/or one that has nuclear weapons. Ali Abunimah captures the gist of this view as follows, namely, US leaders “never question the premise that the United States has the right to send troops, aircraft carriers and drones to impose its will on every corner of the world, to bomb and kill and install handpicked puppet leaders in any country that fails to toe Washington’s line” (https://electronicintifada.net/content/why-trump-escalating-us-israeli-war-iraq/29231).

Indeed, the US military as ubiquitous in the Middle East and around Iran. Along with battle ships, submarines, aircraft, all equipped with missile-launching capabilities, with 50-90 nuclear weapons housed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and, as reported by O’Connor, with 53,906 American soldiers stationed in the region as of January 4, 2020, including 800 in Syria, 3000 in Jordan, 3000 in Saudi Arabia, 6000 in Iraq, 13000 in Kuwait, 7000 in Bahrain, 13000 in Qatar, 5000 in UAE, 606 in Oman, and 2500 in Turkey, you can’t turn a corner without being in bomb or drone sight of the US military (https://newsweek.com/where-us-troops-near-iran-1480617). Why?

Some Background

Historian Andrew Bacevich reminds us that President Jimmy Carter announced what became the “Carter Doctrine” in the 1980 State of the Union address in which he said: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” There is another point. Trump and previous US Presidents want to protect the governments and oil facilities of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, along with friendly governments in Kuwait, Bahrain, etc., to ensure some degree of stability in the global oil markets, maintain markets for US military weapon producers, and ensure the bases for US military forces are allowed to continue in operation.

Middle East Oil and other US interests in the region

Trump now says that the US no longer needs Middle East oil, though US European and Japanese allies do. All the while, the US domestic appetite for oil has been ramping up under Trump, with the opening of more and more public spaces, onshore and offshore, for oil extraction and now in the competition with Russia and other countries for oil and other minerals in the Arctic region. The US appetite for maximizing the production and use of fossil fuels is also reflected in the unhinged fracking boom, the termination of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards, Trump’s enthusiastic efforts to salvage coal, the gutting of EPA regulations, the growing export of liquified natural gas, and the unwillingness to support renewable alternatives. By the way, the US still imports 25% of the oil it uses. If oil sources in the Middle East were disrupted, the effects on the US and world economies would, in time, be catastrophic.

In an in-depth, historically-nuanced article, historical economist Michael Hudson argues that oil continues to be a basic reason for US involvement in the Middle East, requiring the willingness of Saudi Arabia and oil exporters in the region to trade in dollars, use the dollars to buy US weapons, and help to ensure that countries continue use the US currency (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/06/america-escalates-its-democratic-oil-war-in-the-near-east).

Since 9/11, the militaristic aspect of the US Middle East policy it vital to US interests, as it provided the rationale for the launching of the “war against terrorism,” an ill-defined, unbounded, and virtually endless war. So, it can be surmised that US Middle East policy rests on geopolitical interests (it’s US turf!), oil (“who put our oil under their sand”), and this war on terrorism. Insofar as Trump (and past presidents) is concerned, there are good players (e.g., Israel, Saudi Arabia), who are aligned with US interests, and bad players (e.g., Iran, Syria) who are not. In this context, the bad players must be penalized (e.g., sanctions) and attacked by US-supporter terrorist groups until they are either driven into oblivion, destabilized and made dysfunctional, or come to comply with what the US demands of them. Bush reinforced US antagonism toward Iran in the 2002 State of the Union Address (January 29, 2002), when he included Iran in the “axis of evil,” as one example among many. Obama took an extraordinary – though very focused and limited – step in the opposite direction when he supported the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Though, as we know, Trump cancelled that modestly positive agreement.

Trump ups the ante and orders the assassination of Soleimani, with support by the usual right-wing forces in the US

The assassinations were carried out at the direction of Trump. In an unprecedented action, the US military launched a drone attack near Baghdad International Airport on Friday, January 3, 2020, that killed senior Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iraqi deputy commander of Iran-back militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and five others. The action has been lauded by Republicans in the US Congress, by some Democrats, the right-wing media echo chamber. Trump’s base, of course, goes along with anything he decides. Ali Abunimah reports (cited above) that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US attack and was happy that Trump had acted “with determination, strongly and swiftly. He also gives examples of other senior Israeli politicians, including opposition leaders to Netanyahu, who lauded the American attack.

Abunimah quotes scholar Greg Shupak who observes, “US and Israeli planners despise Iran principally because it is an independent regional power.” And because “[i]t has a strong military and a foreign policy that includes providing material support for armed Palestinian resistance to Israel and for Hizballah’s defense of Lebanon from US-Israeli aggressions, including the joint invasion in 1982 and the US-backed Israeli assault in 2006.”

At the same time, according to an Aljazeera report and others, there is considerable worldwide opposition to the attack. Leaders in the Middle East condemned the US attack. The Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “warned that US of ‘harsh revenge for the assassination” (https://aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/qassem/soleimani-assassination-trump-pompeo-defendl-decision-200103141834352.html).

“Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the killing as an ‘act of state terrorism. ”The Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister called it an “aggression on Iraq that would spark a devastating war,” that “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” and it could lead to “dangerous escalation that triggers a destructive war in Iraq, the region, the world.” Upon the request of the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution to ask the US military to leave the country. “Many analysts called the strike an ‘act of war.’” European leaders were taken aback and advised diplomacy as the best way to deescalate the conflict.

Back in the US, “House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the strike ‘risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.’” “Eliot Engel, Chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs point out annoyingly: “This strike went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress” in violation of the War Powers Act. Senator Bernie Sanders warned that Trump’s “dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.” But he stopped short of condemning the killing of Soleimani itself. Historian and Middle East expert Juan Cole emphasizes that the assassinations were unprecedented. In an interview on Democracy Now, he said:
“Well, both the assassination of General Soleimani and the Iranian response are unprecedented in the past 40 years of tension between the United States and Iran. In fact, the assassination of General Soleimani is unprecedented in general. I lived through the Cold War, and never do I remember the United States assassinating a Soviet general. The two countries were involved in very serious proxy wars and great tensions, but it never went to the point where they would just murder each other’s high officials. So, this is, I think, something that would only be done by an extremely erratic person such as Donald Trump. This is not a normal piece of statecraft” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/8/cole_us_iran_escalation).

One poll done after the assassination indicates that a majority of Americans think Trump action was “reckless”

ParsToday reports on a “USA Today/Ipsos poll found that Americans, by 55%-24%, said they believe the assassination has made the United States less safe, rejecting a fundamental argument the Trump administration has made.” Additionally, the poll found “that a majority of those surveyed, by 52%-34%, called Trump’s behavior with Iran ‘reckless.’” Sixty-nine percent agreed that “Soleimani’s assassination made it more likely Iran would attack American interests” in the region, 63% that there would be attacks on US soil, and 62% that the United States and Iran would go to war. Also, by 47%-39%, “those surveyed said Trump ordered the assassination of Soleimani in an attempt to divert the focus from his impeachment (https://parstoday.com/en/news/world-i115292-americans_say_soleimani%27s_assassination_made_us_less_safe_trump_%27reckless%27_on_iran_poll).

Even before the impact of the assassination, Trump received negative ratings from most countries around the globe

Trump is overall not trusted around the world. A Pew survey of 32 nations reported on January 8 found that “Trump ratings remain low around the globe” (https://pewresearch.org/globe/2020/01/08/trump-ratings-remain-low-around-the-globe….) Pew researchers report that, “[a]s has been the case throughout his presidency, U.S. President Donald Trump receives largely negative reviews from publics around the world. Across 32 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center, a median of 64% say they do not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, while just 29% express confidence in the American leader. Anti-Trump sentiments are especially common in Western Europe: Roughly three-in-four or more lack confidence in Trump in Germany, Sweden, France, Spain and the Netherlands. He also gets especially poor reviews in Mexico, where 89% do not have confidence in him.” Iraq, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and other Middle East countries were not included in the survey; however, Lebanon gave Trump a low score of 23%, while Israel gave him a score of 71% (the second highest, behind the Philippines, with 77%). The Pew survey did include one question pertinent to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear agreement. On this issue, 52% disapproved, while 29% approved.

The assassinations were unlawful.

Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, author, and public intellectual, identifies the domestic and international laws violated by the assassinations (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-threatens-war-crimes-against-iran-congress-must-stop-him). According to Cohn’s analysis, the assassinations constitute “the crime of aggression and violated both the United Nations Charter and the US War Powers Resolution.” Cohn points out that there was “no evidence to support Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iranian-sponsored attacks on US military bases were ‘imminent’” The UN Charter, Article 2.3, “requires that all member states ‘settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” And: “Article 2.4 requires all member states to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are two exceptions to the UN Charter, namely, “when a country acts in self-defense or with permission of the Security Council.” She continues: “The drone assassinations were not carried out in self-defense and the Security Council did not sanction them.”

Cohn also contends that the “drone killings violated the US War Powers Resolution.” This resolution “permits the president to introduce US armed forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in ‘a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” or when there is “specific statutory authorization.” The assassinations violate these conditions. “Iran has not attacked the US or its armed forces and Congress had not declared war on Iran or authorized the use of force against Iranian targets.” However, there are defects in this resolution that allow a president to commence military actions against another country for a short period of time without consulting with Congress.

Harry Blain underline the deficiency of the War Powers Resolution, writing “the War Powers Resolution…contains some clearly defective features. Once we read beyond the high-minded preamble, we find less potent words like ‘consultation’ and ‘reporting.’ Here, we can also see the resolution’s fundamental flaw: It lets the president move first” (https://fpfi.org/the-useless-war-powers-act). Blain continues as follows.
“Yes, he must explain his actions to congressional leaders within 48 hours (a requirement that even Trump could meet), and he is supposed to withdraw any commitments of American troops after 60 days without affirmative congressional approval. (Although, in an Orwellian caveat, the president is allowed 30 more days if he or she ‘determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.’)

“But, by then, we’re already at war. And war usually means an emboldened president, supine media, and hesitant judiciary. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop — even if popular support is lukewarm. Witness Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among other protracted catastrophes.”
The Trump administration’s “double speak” justifications for the assassinations

Aljazeera reports (cited above) that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s decision on Friday, January 3 without evidence, “saying…the administration had intelligence-based evidence that ‘Iran was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens’ and that it was going to be a big action that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.’” Pompeo said on Fox News that the actions (assassinations) will “see American resolve and that their decision will be to de-escalate, to take actions consistent with what normal nations do” (i.e., conform to the dictates of the US). He continued: “And in the event they do not, in the event they go the other direction, I know that President Trump and the entire United States is prepared to respond appropriately.”

As it turns out over the next days, the administration did not come forth with persuasive evidence and, furthermore, had misled the American public about why Qassim Soleimani was visiting Iraq. Here’s Juan Coles take on the latter point.

“Abdul-Mahdi [Iraq’s prime minister] made it very clear that he had invited General Soleimani to Iraq to be involved in negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tensions. Soleimani came on a commercial flight, where the manifest is clear. He checked through Baghdad airport with a diplomatic passport. And then Trump just blew him away, along with several other people, including a high-ranking Iraqi military official” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/8/juan_cole_us_iran_escalation).

Max Blumenthal also confirms what Abdul-Mahdi said, namely, that “he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss diplomatic rapprochement that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia, adding that “Trump had personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad” (https://thegrayzone.com/2020/01/06/soleimani-peace-mission-assassinated-trump-lie-imminent-attack).

A vacuous classified briefing for Congress to justify the assassinations
On January 8, representatives of the administration briefed members of relevant House and Senate committees supposedly to provide evidence that would establish that the assassinations were provoked by evidence of an imminent attack by Soleimani on US forces. It did not turn out well for the administration. The reactions of the elected officials, some Republicans as well as Democrats, were that the briefers were confused at times and provided no meaningful evidence to support the administration’s claim that Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack.

Reporting for Common Dreams, Jon Queally writes, “Congressional Democrats emerged from a classified briefing presented by Trump administration officials on Wednesday afternoon and decried the ‘sophomoric and utterly unconvincing’ body of evidence that was put forth to justify last week’s assassination of Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/08/strike-choice-us-lawmakers-decry-utterly-unconvincing-trump-briefing-soleimani). Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) “reacted to the briefing by saying that rather than showing Soleimani posed an ‘imminent’ threat as President Donald Trump and his top officials have repeatedly claimed, the military operation—based on the evidence presented—appears to be nothing more than a ‘strike of choice’ by the administration.” Republicans who attended the briefing expressed similar views. Queally writes: “Disgust with the presented case did not only come from Democrats. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), standing beside an equally unconvinced Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), told reporters after the closed-door session that it was ‘the worst briefing I’ve had on a military issue in my nine years’ serving in the Senate.” Lee added: “I find this insulting and demeaning”… telling reporters that he now plans to vote in favor of a War Powers Resolution put forth by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).”

But the administration says that Soleimani is a “bad” person and deserved to be assassinated

To buttress the legitimacy of illegal action, Trump and other officials identified Soleimani as a “bad” or “horrific” person who is said, for example, to be responsible for supporting Sunni rebels in Iraq that killed over 600 US soldiers and maimed many more during the years between 2003 and 2011. Trump emphasized this point, according to the Aljazeera report (cited earlier), that “Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time and was plotting to kill more… but got caught!” The evidence is flimsy for Trump’s claim, but there is no doubt that the Sunnis, including many former officers and soldiers of Saddam Hussain’s army, who were pushed out of the government and out of employment in the early days of the US occupation, were responsible for these lethal attacks. But Trump is wrong about Soleimani’s involvement. The Iraqi opposition had the expertise to construct such weapons on their own and had access in Iraq to the materials to build such weapons. The following section recaps a few relevant historical details.

The US occupation authority in the aftermath of the US unlawful invasion of Iraq created the conditions for the insurgency, not Soleimani or Iranian interference

The rise of the opposition to the US-led occupation grew out of foolish decisions made by US occupation authorities in the early stages of that occupation. From 2002 to June 2004, L. Paul Bremer, headed the Coalition Provisional Authority which had he responsibility for managing non-military aspects of the occupation. Bremer issued two directives which went a long way toward creating the conditions for the subsequent civil war and violent opposition to the US-led and -dominated occupation. Historian Andrew Bacevich writes in his book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: “The first disbanded Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and prohibited members from laying any further role in Iraqi public life. The second dissolved the entire Iraqi national security apparatus, which included the army” p. 257). The directive affected Sunnis alone. By the end of 2004, a broad Sunni insurgency fighting against the US occupation had “kicked into high gear” (p. 266). Among other weapons, the insurgency used improvised explosive devices. Wikipedia provides a useful account of the effects of these devices and other “insurgency tactics” in the fight against the occupiers. The account suggests that these and other weapons were devised with materials available in Iraq and constructed by the Iraqi insurgents themselves. The information suggests that the Iraqi insurgents did not need Iranian support in this instance. Here’s what Wikipedia says.

“Many Iraqi insurgent attacks have made use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

“In the chaos [1] after the war, mass looting of infrastructure, including munitions, occurred. According to the Pentagon, 250,000 tons (of 650,000 tons total) of ordnance were looted, providing an almost endless source of ammunition for the insurgents.[2]

“Methods of detonation include simple pull-wires and mechanical detonators, cell-phones, garage-door openers, cable, radio control (RC), and infrared lasers among others.

“55-millimetre artillery shells rigged with blasting caps and improvised shrapnel material (concrete, ball bearings, etc.) have been the most commonly used, but the makeshift devices have also gradually become larger as coalition forces added more armor to their vehicles, with evidence from insurgent propaganda videos of aviation bombs of 500 lb being used as IEDs, as well as the introduction of explosively formed penetrator (EFP) warheads.

“These explosive devices are often concealed or camouflaged hidden behind roadside rails, on telephone poles, buried underground or in piles of garbage, disguised as rocks or bricks, and even placed inside dead animals. The number of these attacks have steadily increased, emerging as the insurgents’ most lethal and favored method to attack coalition forces, with continually improving tactics.”

What is left out in the Trumpian narrative about Iran

Iran’s contribution in the subduing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria

ISIS grew out of the Sunni opposition to the US-led occupation. Iraqi militias trained by Iranians and Iranian militias played major roles in the fight against ISIS.

The official narrative dismisses or ignores the fact that Iranian militias provided a major part of the ground forces in Iran and Syria in driving ISIS out of many of the cities and areas they controlled and in the destruction of the Caliphate. The US contribution came through the aerial bombing, training by special forces, and technical and logistical support. Note the US troops were not a significant factor in the ground war against ISIS. There is an in-depth analysis of the various militias that kept ISIS from controlling major Iraqi cities and other areas and the important role played by Iranian supported militias in this process. Garrett Nada and Matthew Rowan provide the following background (https://wilsoncenter.org/article/part-2-pro-iran-militias-iraq).

“In 2014, Iraq’s army crumbled as ISIS captured wide swaths of territory in the north, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, issued a call to arms in a fatwa, a religious decree. Tens of thousands of men responded by joining new and old militias. More than 60 armed groups eventually merged under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

“By spring 2015, the PMF had some 60,000 fighters. In November 2016, Iraq’s parliament legalized the PMF, a move supported by Shiites but opposed by Sunnis, many of whom boycotted the vote. The law passed with 170 out of 328 possible votes. The PMF “would constitute something that looks like Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” Raad al Dahlaki, a Sunni lawmaker, warned. By early 2018, estimates of its strength ranged from under 100,000 to up to 150,000. Not all fighters were registered with the PMF.

“Shiite militias have formed the majority of the PMF brigades, which also include Sunnis, Christians, and Turkmen. The Shiite groups fell into roughly three categories. The first includes militias that have received arms, training and financing from Tehran. Some have pledged allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The second category includes militias loyal to Grand Ayatollah Sistani. A third category is represented by Saraya al Salam, or the Peace Brigades. It is loyal to Muqatada al Sadr, another Iraqi cleric who has connections to Tehran. The Peace Brigades are the latest incarnation of the Mahdi Army, a militia that received weapons from the IRGC and training from Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah agents in the mid-2000s. Many militias are offshoots of the Mahdi Army.”

The US role in destabilizing the Middle East

The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and involvement in Syria have done more far more to destabilize the Middle East than anything Iran has ever done. The US wars were unnecessary and based on lies. Remember the “weapons of mass destruction,” the chief justification of the invasion of Iraq, that were never found. Remember that the Taliban in Afghanistan agreed to send Osama bin Laden to a “neutral” country for a trial.

The Iraq war of choice and based n lies generated massive destruction and upheaval in Iraq, destroying vital infrastructure, killing up to a million Iraqis and maiming many thousands of others. Millions of Iraqis were forced to flee the violence by migrating out of the country or became internally displaced. The US war intensified religious and social divisions in the country. Indeed, the US created the conditions out of which ISIS emerged and expanded. And don’t forget the US war and occupation cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars, thousands of US soldiers were killed while hundreds of thousands suffered severe physical and/or psychological wounds requiring ongoing government support. Along with a slew of books and articles documenting these facts, the “cost of war” project at Brown University provides ample documentation (https://watson.brown.edu/costs-of-war).

Trump, his family, and the well-off don’t do most of the fighting

There is another point on the US costs of the wars in the Middle East that Trump and politicians generally ignore. That is, the US instigated wars are fought by “the poorer parts of America ‘bearing a greater share of the human costs of war.” This quote if from historian Andrew Bacevich’s just published book, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.” The quote is from an article by scholars Douglas Kriner and Fancies Shen that appeared in the University of Memhis Law Review, 46 (2016: 545-635). Given the relative lack of opportunities to obtain jobs with a living wage and benefits, more and more high school graduates are enlisting, because “the Pentagon is one of the dwindling number of employers offering youngsters fresh out of high school jobs that come with decent pay, comprehensive medical benefits, and the prospect of a guaranteed pension, if they live long enough to claim it” (p. 142). Bacevich points out the all-volunteer arms services don’t attract for the most part the upper class or those with the prospect of good opportunities. He gives this example.

“…Donald Trump and his offspring qualify as exemplary of upper-class Americans. During the Vietnam War, Trump avoided military service, this at a time when dodging the draft qualified as somewhere between righteous and commonsensical. His children and their spouses have followed in the family tradition. With military service officially optional, they have seen fit to opt out, as have most other well-to-do Americans” (p. 140).

Iran’s right to be an independent nation is ignored

Far from perfect, as attested by the many thousands of Iranians who have protested against their government in recent weeks over their lack of political democracy and government corruption. (See the interview with Ali Kadiva, assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College, at https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/13/iran_protests_airlines_flights_752).

Nonetheless, Iran has resisted US domination and managed to maintain its independence, while suffering an 8-year war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988 (encouraged by the US), being internally attacked by US supported terrorist groups like the Mujahedine-e Khaig (MEK) inside of Iran, having nuclear facilities bombed by Israel, while being subjected to brutal and escalating US sanctions (a financial blockade), while confronted by a US hegemon that seems to be unwilling to accept anything but regime change. On the MEK, a Brookings report, cited in an article by Tony Cartalucci for journal NEO (New Eastern Outlook), the MEK has “undeniably…conducted terrorist attacks – often excused by the MeK’s advocates because they are directed against the Iranian government.” In the years between 1998 and 2001, “the group claimed credit for over a dozen mortar attacks, assassinations, and other assaults on Iranian civilian and military targets” (https://journal – neo.org/2018/09/29/us-delisted-mek-terrorists-still-openly-committed-to-violence). John Bolton and other present and former hawks in the Trump administration promote the MEK and view it as a potential alternative to the present Iranian government. It has served the US as a “proxy” in its multiple efforts to achieve regime change.

Under Obama, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was successful

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a multilateral agreement made during the Obama administration region, was based on Iran’s willingness to submit to unprecedented, intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Commission. From all accounts, it was being implemented as planned. By January 16, 2016, Obama could report that “the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran has completed the necessary steps under the Iran deal that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful” (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/foreign-policy/iran-deal). The deal ensured that Iran would not have “enough highly enriched uranium to produce enough material to construct a uranium bomb and tens of thousands of centrifuges.” Iran was on the path to reducing “its stockpile of uranium by 98%” and keeping “its level of uranium enrichment at 3.37% – significantly below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb.” Iran would need “tens of thousands of centrifuges to create highly enriched uranium for a bomb; it had nearly 20,000 centrifuges; and it agreed to “reduce its centrifuges to 6,104.” By January 2016, Iran had already

• shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out of the country
• dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges
• removed the calandria from its heavy water reactor and filled it with concrete
• provided unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain

As a result, the US was prepared to lift nuclear-related sanctions (not all sanctions) on Iran and to integrate the country into the world economy.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement increases hardship in Iran and instability in the Middle East

Juan Cole writes that “Trump began the war with Iran on May 8, 2018, when he breached the international treaty with Iran” (https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/conducted/months-finally.html). Trump instituted “the most severe sanctions on Iran ever applied to any country by another in peacetime” and “strong-armed Japan, South Korea, Europe, and India into not buying Iranian petroleum and threatened companies throughout the world with Treasury Department third-party sanctions if they traded with Iran. No one wants to be excluded from the $22 trillion a year American economy or be forced to pay billions of dollars in finds, so everyone, including Europe, fell into line behind Trump’s ‘maximum pressure.’” Cole says that this amounts to a “financial blockade” and a “war” on Iran, which was never “mandated by an act of Congress” or a resolution from the UN Security Council. All of this, Cole maintains, “violates international laws and norms.”

The result is that Trump’s maximum-pressure policy has “cut Iran’s exports from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2017 to a few hundred thousand barrels a day last fall. Iran’s government gets 70% of its revenues from petroleum exports.

The goal, one obviously desired by Trump and his advisers, is to intensify the economic hardships on Iranian citizens in the hope they will eventually rise and throw out the present government. The administration has accomplished the goal of making life much harder for Iranians. However, the assassination of Soleimani has apparently caused Iranian citizens of all political stripes to unite around the present government and against any US threats. There are reports of up to a million people in the streets of Tehran alone protesting the assassination of Soleimani.

Narges Bajoghli, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, told host Amy Goodman on Democracy Now,

“I mean, a week ago, it would have been unthinkable to have crowds like this in Iran. Today was Tehran; yesterday in Ahvaz and Mashhad; tomorrow the body will go on to Kerman. After the violent crackdown that the state orchestrated against protesters in November of 2019 — so just a month and a half ago — there was so much anger in Iran because of the violent crackdown of the state, that there really was another crisis of legitimacy within the Islamic republic in dealing with the fallout of the maximum-pressure campaign and the severe sanctions that the Trump administration has put on them.

“So, to think that these numbers of people are coming out onto the streets really signals two things. One, Qassem Soleimani, within Iran itself, was seen as a national hero, because he was seen as keeping ISIS at bay, and, two, because of Trump’s tweets just two nights ago that he would target Iranian cultural sites, it’s creating a sense of national unity within the country. And this is no longer about support for the regime, but it’s really about standing up to a foreign aggressor. This is something that — the killing of Soleimani, the assassination of Soleimani, and then Trump’s repeated tweets and threats, is doing two things: one, rallying Shia, sort of a transnational Shia community, especially those that are loyal to the Islamic republic in Iran, and then, two, rallying national sentiment within Iran against the United States” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/6/narges_bajoghli_qassem_soleimani_assassination_iran).

Concluding thoughts

On the one hand, we are saddled with US imperialistic efforts and ambitions in the Middle East, intensified by half-baked, reckless, illusionary decisions of Trump and his advisers. With respect to Iran, the tweets and “policies” flowing out of the White House are about changing the present government to one that is favorable to US interests. So, can we gather about Trump’s “ideal” vision for Iran? He wants Iran to submit to US power. If that unlikely event happens, what would follow? The present government would be eliminated and replaced by a right-wing, pro-US government, with plutocratic, authoritarian tendencies. The agenda? The creation of regime that fits into America’s conception of a stable Middle East, based on neoliberal economics (low taxes, privatization, deregulation, encouragement of foreign investment), on opportunities for US corporations, especially in Iran’s oil sector, on a foreign policy sympathetic to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and other countries in the US orbit, and perhaps on one or two Trump towers and other benefits for the family.

As argued in the article, Trump’s anti-Iranian policy, including the unlawful assassination, increase the chances of war in the Middle East. In a revealing summing up of the negative effects of the assassinations, Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies list ten ways in which Trump’s actions hurt the US, the region, and the world (https://commondreams.org/views/2020/01/10/10-ways-trump-actions-against-iran-hurt-us-region-and-world).

• may be an increase in US war deaths across the greater Middle East
• injecting even more volatility and instability into an already war-torn and explosive region
• “embolden a common enemy, the Islamic State, which can take advantage of the chaos created in Iraq.
• leading Iran to announce it is withdrawing from all the restrictions on enriching uranium that were part of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement.
• destroying what little influence the U.S. had with the Iraqi government
• strengthening conservative, hard-line factions in Iran.
• losing the support of US friends and allies
• following US violations of international law, setting the stage for a world of ever greater
• enhancing the influence of weapons makers
• further escalation between US and Iran could be catastrophic for the world economy

There is an alternative, if the anti-war movement in the US and around the world grows and coalesces with other movements for radical change, if Bernie or another progressive presidential candidate defeats Trump in 2020 and, once in the White House, moves to cut the military budget, renew the nuclear deal with Iran, reduce sanctions on Iran, if this president is supported by the US Congress, and if such a government moves away from the present militaristic foreign policy to one based on diplomacy and efforts to strengthen the United Nations and/or other international organizations. Right now, the odds don’t seem promising. In the meantime, check out the visionary book of now deceased Jonathon Schell, The Unconquered World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (2003) for ideas on what people power has accomplished and on what a global commonwealth would look like.

The realty and challenges of the climate crisis

Bob Sheak, December 28, 2019

This post focuses on recent evidence documenting the accelerating climate crisis, what propels it, the prospects for meaningful change.

Recurrent and increasingly bad news on the unfolding climate crisis

The climate crisis grows, leaving humanity very little time to avoid a terrifying outcome. Recent scientific findings based on systematic field observations, sophisticated computer modeling, meta-analyses of research continue to document how the effects of the climate crisis are accelerating and affecting all parts of the earth.

Bob Berwyn reports for Inside Climate News (12-18-19) that scientists are “confidently saying 2019 was Earth’s second-warmest recorded year on record, capping the warmest decade. Eight of the 10 warmest years since measurements began occurred this decade, and the other two were only a few years earlier” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/18122019/decade-climate-heat-drought-extreme-storms-arctic-sea-ice-antarctica-greenland).

There were plenty of examples of this rapidly unfolding crisis in 2019. “Arctic sea ice melted faster and took longer to form again in the fall. Big swaths of ocean remained record-warm nearly all year, in some regions spawning horrifically damaging tropical storms that surprised experts with their rapid intensification. Densely populated parts of Europe shattered temperature records amid heat waves blamed for hundreds of deaths, and a huge section of the U.S. breadbasket region was swamped for months by floodwater.” And that wasn’t all. There were deadly heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in many parts of the world.

“…wildfires burned around the globe, starting unusually early in unexpected places like the UK. They blazed across country-size tracts of Siberia, fueled by record heat, flared up in the Arctic and devastated parts of California. Australia ended the decade with thick smoke and flames menacing Sydney and a record-breaking heat wave that sent the continent’s average temperature over 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Again and again, scientists completed near real-time attribution studies showing how global warming is making extremes—including wildfires—more likely.”

Leslie Hook cites evidence from a The UN’s World Meteriological Organization documenting that “global average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017.” This particularly reflects how the biggest economies of the world continue on energy paths dependent on fossil fuels. Hook quotes Petteri Taalas, Secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris agreement,” [adding] “It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago…. Back then, the temperature was 2 to 3°C warmer, and sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than now.”(https://insideclimatenews.org/news/26112019/unep-emissions-gap-report-paris-climate-greenhouse-gas-peak-2030).

Jake Johnson brings our attention to a study issued by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) on just the day after the report by the World Meteorological Organization was made public. The UNEP confirmed in its annual Emissions Gap report “that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2018.” Johnson also quotes from the report: “It is evident that incremental changes will not be enough and there is a need for rapid and transformational action….By necessity, this will see profound change in how energy, food, and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses, and markets (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/11/26/science-screaming-un-report-warns-only-rapid-and-transformational-action-can-stave). The UNEP finding that only “profound change” is enough to curtail greenhouse gas emissions has relevance for the 2020 elections. In this context, Bernie Sanders call for “revolutionary” change seems far more appropriate than Democratic candidates who want only incremental change.

Impacts on people

In another of his articles, Jake Johnson cites findings from a report by Oxfam International that shows “climate-related disasters displaced 200 million people since 2008” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/02/condemning-inaction-rich-nations-oxfam-unveils-report-showing-climate-related). According to Oxfam, “one person every two seconds being forced from their home due to hurricanes, wildfires, cyclones, and other extreme weather,” while “[o]ur governments are fueling a crisis that is driving millions of women, men, and children from their homes and the poorest people in the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price.” And: “Today, you are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by extreme weather disasters… than by geophysical disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and three times more likely than by conflict,” the organization found. “There was a five-fold increase in the reported number of extreme weather disasters that resulted in people being displaced over the last decade.”

Tipping points

The evidence is indisputable, based on authoritative and verifiable scientific research, that fossil fuel emissions continue to increase, more of the sun’s heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, temperatures rise, and climate-related disruptions and catastrophes occur more frequency and with more intensity. At some point soon, climate scientists tell us, the effects of climate change will reach a point where they overwhelm societal or international capacities to cope. They are called “tipping points.” Bob Berwyn writes on how scientists think we are closer to or have already reached climate tipping points (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27112019/climate-tipping-points-permafrost-forests-ice-antarctica-greenland-amazon-nature).

Scientists are warning, as Berwyn reports, about a point of no return, where “‘abrupt and irreversible changes’ to the climate system could be triggered by small changes in the global temperatures to create ‘a new, less habitable, hothouse climate state.’” And there are “indications that exceeding tipping points in one system, such as the loss of Arctic sea ice, can increase the risk of crossing tipping points in others.” In an article for Nature, cited by Berwyn, “scientists focused on nine parts of the climate system susceptible to tipping points, some of them interconnected:
• Arctic sea ice, which is critical for reflecting the sun’s energy back into space but is disappearing as the planet warms.
• The Greenland Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level 20 feet if it melts.
• Boreal forests, which would release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they absorb if they die and decay or burn.
• Permafrost, which releases methane and other greenhouse gases as it thaws.
• The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key ocean current, which would shift global weather patterns if it slowed down or stopped.
• The Amazon rainforest, which could flip from a net absorber of greenhouse gases to a major emitter.
• Warm-water corals, which will die on a large scale as the ocean warms, affecting commercial and subsistence fisheries.
• The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would raise sea level by at least 10 feet if it melted entirely and is already threatened by warming from above and below.
• Parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that would also raise sea level significantly if they melted.

Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern give the following examples of how the ravages in one part of the climate crisis can affect other parts, with catastrophic effects on societies (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/opinion/climate-change-costs.html).

“In some cases,” they write, “they may produce a sequence of serious, and perhaps irreversible, damage.” They give the following examples: “a sudden rapid loss of Greenland or West Antarctic land ice could lead to much higher sea levels and storm surges, which would contaminate water supplies, destroy coastal cities, force out their residents, and cause turmoil and conflict,” or “increased heat decreases food production, which leads to widespread malnutrition, which diminishes the capacity of people to withstand heat and disease and makes it effectively impossible for them to adapt to climate change,” or “Sustained extreme heat may also decrease industrial productivity, bringing about economic depressions.” But they refer to an even “worst-case scenario,” in which “climate impacts could set off a feedback loop in which climate change leads to economic losses, which lead to social and political disruption, which undermines both democracy and our capacity to prevent further climate damage. These sorts of cascading effects are rarely captured in economic models of climate impacts. And this set of known omissions does not, of course, include additional risks that we may have failed to have identified.”

(Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly have devoted an entire book to the subject: Tipping Points for Planet Earth: How Close are We to the Edge.)

International efforts to address the climate crisis fail

2015-2019

Representatives of the world’s nations came together at the U.N. Paris Climate meeting back in December 2015 and not only acknowledged the reality of the global reality of the climate crisis but, for the first time, pledged to cut their respective carbon emissions enough by 2030 to keep the world’s average temperature under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2 degrees Celsius). Climate scientists James Hansen has observed, as quoted by Nathaniel Rich (Losing Earth: A Recent History, p. 4), that a 2-degree warming is “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Overall, however, the nations have failed to live up to their pledges and the crisis has worsened.

Georgina Gustin writes that there is a “dangerous lack of urgency” in the implementation of the 2015 UN Paris Climate agreement, that their pledges to reduce carbon emissions are failing, and that, if the nations are to have any meaningful effect in next few decades, emissions will have to be effectively reduced at rates more than before (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07112019/paris-climate-agreement-pledges-lack-urgency-ipcc-timeline-warning). Gustin quotes former IPCC Chair Robert Watson (i.e., International Panel on Climate Change): “The current pledges, even if fully implemented, are placing us on a pathway to a world 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer—a world that would have devastating impacts on food and water security, human health, displacement of people, and loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services.” In early November 2019, Gustin notes, 11,000 scientists signed a report published in the journal BioScience, noting that “climate researchers have been warning of the effects of climate change since the 1970s,” that “emissions are still rapidly rising, and that the problem is being compounded by “subsidies for oil, air travel, population growth, and meat consumption.”

Unfortunately, in the four years since 2015, investments and use of fossil fuels have increased. Consider these facts as reported by Robert Hunziker for Counter Punch (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/12/19/biosphere-collapses).

“Global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel projects.” The US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, and Australia are among the countries where governments “plan to increase fossil fuels by 120% by 2030.” China “has added enough new coal-based power generation (43GW) to power 31 million new homes…. [and] plans on adding another 148GW of coal-based power, which will equal the total current coal generating capacity of the EU.” In India, coal-fired power capacity has already “increased its coal-fired power capacity by 74% over the past 7 years…. [and] expects to further increase coal-generated capacity by another 22% over the next 3 years.” China is also “financing 25% of all new worldwide coal plant construction outside of its borders, e.g., South Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. [And] kissing goodbye to its commitment to cut emissions, cuts renewable power subsidies by 30%.” In the United States, “Trump proposes slashing renewable budget items, as his administration rebrands fossil fuels ‘Molecules of U.S. Freedom.’ (Forbes, May 30, 2019).” To all this, Hunziker adds: “the Stockholm Environment Institute claims the world is on a pathway to 3C[elsius] pre-industrial, probably ‘locked-in’ because of fossil fuel expansion across the globe,” which, as Nathaniel Rich writes, is a “prescription for short-term disaster: forests sprouting in the Arctic, the abandonment of most coastal cities, mass starvation.”

In the meantime, Hunziker reports, “all three major greenhouse gas concentrations, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are accelerating. It means we are on a trend for total planetary catastrophe. We are on a trend for biosphere collapse.” In an interview with climate scientist Dr. Peter Carter, the scientist said that “Carbon dioxide is on a rate exceeding anything over the past millions of years. We are at 412 ppm [carbon dioxide in the atmosphere]. To put that into context, we have an ice core that goes back 2.2 million years. The highest CO2 over that period is 300 ppm.” (Carter)

In December 2019, the world’s nations gathered in Madrid, Spain, for another round of climate negotiations

Against the grim backdrop of a world awash in fossil fuels, 25,000 participants from countries of the world gathered again in Madrid, Span, in December 2019, to discuss their progress in setting and adjusting national goals for reducing carbon emissions and, as a secondary issue, for making financial contributions to a fund to assist poor countries in meeting their energy needs without adding to the climate crisis. In the end, though, the meeting has universally been considered a failure, in large part because the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait blocked “the science from the negotiations.”

Reporting for the New York Times, Somini Sengupta quotes the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who “offered an unusually blunt assessment of the 25th annual climate negotiations, formally known as the Conference of Parties. ‘I am disappointed with the results of #COP25,’ he said on Twitter. ‘The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis’(https://nytimes.com/2019/12/15/climate/cop25-un-climate-talks-madrid.html).

During the meeting, “there was a push from both rich and poor countries to commit, at least on paper, to ramping up climate-action targets next year.” In the end, there was “no agreement on even that.” Sengupta writes: “The final declaration included what counts as exceptionally weak diplomatic language, saying only that there was an ‘urgent need’ to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.” However, “[o]n their current trajectory, average global temperatures are on pace to increase to levels where heat waves would be very likely to intensify, storms to become more severe and coastal cities to be at risk of drowning, according to the scientific consensus.”

There was opposition, but not among the key negotiators. Julia Conley reports that close to “100 civil society organizations…released a joint statement condemning the US. Australia, the E.U., and other wealthy countries that emit much of the carbon that’s warming the planet, for insisting on a deal ‘only for the corporate elites, while damning [ignoring the plight of] people and the planet” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/14/final-hours-cop-25-denounced-utter-failure-deal-stripped-ambitions-and-us-refuses).

Why does the US continue as a reactionary and obstructionist force on the climate crisis?

The systemic need for growth and fossil fuels.

Most fundamentally, as many have cogently argued, the US corporate-dominated capitalist system must continuously expand in ways that are incompatible with more and more of the earth’s ecosystems (e.g., John Bellamy Foster, Ecology Against Capitalism). This system, as currently organized, requires in turn continuous access to fossil fuels and other natural resources (e.g., Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left). But the extraction, processing, and transportation of fossil fuels and other natural resources are environmentally devastating and contribute significantly to the climate crisis. As the economy grows, the environmental devastation grows along with it. The economic power of the corporate elites and rich are at the center of the climate crisis, but they are hardly alone. And it is rare for members of the corporate elite and rich to call for significant government action on the climate crisis.

The existence of a grand right-wing alliance.

In the US, there are, obviously, powerful forces arrayed against any action or policy that include but go beyond but include what Trump has unleashed. These forces are connected variously in an opportunistic alliance that includes most notably Trump, his hand-picked advisers and administrators, all levels of the Republican Party, most of the corporate community which pours money into candidate selection and lobbying, right-wing media, right-wing think tanks, ideological compliant “experts,” as well as tens of millions of apparently stalwart, often single-issue, followers.

The incipient rise of this right-wing alliance can be traced back to corporate elites who opposed the 1930s’ New Deal, and it has never gone away and has always been organized around corporate elites and supportive political regimes. This alliance gained momentum with the further politicization of the corporate community in the 1970s. The Reagan administration boosted its legitimacy and expansion in the 1980s. The alliance expanded through subsequent administrations, especially but not only Republican ones. It is based on the propositions that include but go beyond energy policies, though energy policies are critical to any understanding of the climate crisis. Now the culmination of this process is embodied in the current President.

Amidst all of Trump’s blustering about how good the economy, amidst his lies and stream of tweeting, he is filling regulatory agencies like the EPA with people who deny or dismiss the climate crisis, introducing or eliminating regulations designed to reign in greenhouse gas emissions (see: https://environmentalintegrity.org/trump-watch-epa/regulatory-rollbacks), withdrawing from the UN climate agreement, pushing pro-coal proposals, opening up more public land – onshore, offshore, in the Arctic- to drilling, and continuing a foreign policy based significantly on the protection and access to oil and other vital minerals. Indeed, Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan argue that Trump’s climate policies are criminal and “his most impeachable offenses” (https://commondreams.org/views/2019/11/19/trumps-climate-crimes-are-his-most-impleachable-offenses?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=AO&utm_campaign=Dailey%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email).

What are the prospects for radical change in the US?

It may be that there will be a growing number of Americans who recognize that the carbon-soaked, exploitative, endless-growth system cannot be sustained without contaminating the air, water, and soils, and without increasing the catastrophic events that accompany the climate crisis. And, at some point, more and more of people will be forced to grips with the reality that there must be extensive structural changes in the economic, political, energy, and social systems. The Democratic victories in the 2018 elections may be a precursor of what is to come, though the elections did not end Republican control of Trump and the Senate and the federal judiciary and Supreme court have been filling up with right-wing justices. Thus, a lot is at stake in the upcoming 2020 elections. Given the dire state of the climate crisis, it will not be enough to displace Republicans with centrist, moderate Democrats who limit their agenda to incremental changes and hope of achieving bipartisanship in the Senate and House. There is a need for radical, systemic, structural changes in US energy policy, and other policies that negatively affect the environment and spur the climate crisis. Proposals for a New Green Deal provide a framework for a process of changes that go in a desirable direction. Though Arn Menconi points out that there is still not any bill in the US Congress, even in the House, related to the Green New Deal (https://consortiumnews.com/2019/11/21/theres-still-no-green-new-deal-bill-in-congress).

Outside of electoral politics, Naomi Klein (On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal) and Bill McKibben (Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself out) are among the brilliant analysts and activists who been leaders in the efforts and struggles to mobilize people to phase out fossil fuels and restructure the society on a sustainable basis. Many authors have written books and articles on what such a sustainable society would look like (e.g., Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, Creating an Ecological Society: toward a revolutionary transformation; ). Economists like Robert Pollin offer details on how to create a sustainable economy (Greening the Global Economy). A Stanford report charts a path for 143 nations to implement a “green new deal” (https://phys.org/2019-12-country-green-stanford-paths-countries.html). Then there are writers who offer a case for being optimistic. Jeremy Brecher writes a book Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual. Wendy Becktold , from the Sierra Club, offers “10 Reasons to Feel Hopeful About Climate Change in 2019”(https://sierraclub.org/series/10-reasons-feel-hopeful-about-climate-change-2019). There is an unknown number of activists and organizers working for ecologically-sound solutions (https://popularresistance.org/social-ecology-radicalizing-the-climate-movement). Some cities are committed to achieving zero-carbon emissions within a few decades. Greta Thornburg has helped to ignite a global movement of young people and has done as much as or more than anyone to bring the world’s attention to the climate crisis.

There are other difficult challenges. Robert Jensen points to two that are overlooked by proponents of a Green New Deal such as Naomi Klein. He writes that societies like the US have to be re-organized, so they consume much less than they do presently. And a sustainable world cannot become ecologically sustainable with close to 8 billion people. On the first point, he writes: “There’s no simple answer to how much energy and material resources we can consume without undermining the ecosystems on which our own lives depend, but I’m confident in saying that it’s dramatically less that we consume today, and that reducing aggregate consumption—even if we could create equitable societies—will be difficult.” And on the second point: There’s no specific number to offer for a sustainable human population, but I’m confident in saying that it’s fewer than 8 billion and that finding a humane and democratic path to that lower number is difficult to imagine. What then to do? Jensen answers: “Such challenges may not be overcome, but Our challenge is to highlight not only what we can but also what we cannot accomplish, to build our moral capacity to face a frightening future but continue to fight for what can be achieved, even when we know that won’t be enough.”

Near the end of his journeys to climate engendered devastated places around the world, Dahr Jamail gives his thoughts near the end of his brilliant book, “The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, on how to live without hope but without giving up.

“A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing…. My acceptance of our probably decline opens into a more intimate and heartfelt union with life itself….Falling in love with the Earth in a way I never though possible…to reach a place of acceptance and inner peace, while enduring the grief and suffering that are inevitable as the biosphere declines.”

He has learned from the wisdom on indigenous cultures that teach “obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself. When I orient my self around the question ‘what are my obligations,’ the deeper question immediately arises: ‘From this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life?

The US military is not going to save us or itself from the climate crisis

The US military is not going to save us or itself from the climate crisis
Bob Sheak, December 11, 2019

Introduction

This post focuses on Michael T. Klare’s new book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, outlining the highlights of Klare’s analysis. The book is based on Klare’s extraordinary research, in which, as he describes, he examined “hundreds of Pentagon and intelligence community reports, studies, directive, and statements as well as the testimonies of senior military officers before assorted committees of Congress.” Additionally, Klare “spoke with dozens of retired and active military officials” and his work was “further enhanced by extensive dialogue with serving officers while delivering talks at such institutions as the National War College, National Defense University, Army War College, Naval War College, Air University, Naval Postgraduate School, and the Naval Academy at Annapolis” (p. 13).

Klare informs readers that senior officials in the Department of Defense (DoD) and at regional commands have come to accept, officially as of 2007, that they must devote more time and resources to planning for and acting on the worsening effects of climate change. (I use the term climate crisis as well.) The views of these senior officials, buttressed by various research findings, are based on two interrelated considerations. First, they accept the accumulating abundance of scientifically based evidence that validates the unfolding reality of the crisis. Second, they seem compelled to plan and act by the impacts this multifaceted crisis is having and will increasingly have on military preparedness and operations domestically and internationally.

One of the most striking revelations of Klare’s book is that the US military under the guidance of senior officials are, up to now, ignoring Trump’s policies that demand that all federal agencies disregard the climate crisis and do what they can to advance policies that favor fossil fuel interests and development, the major sources of the climate crisis. Here’s what Klare writes.

“Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2017, Donald Trump rescinded Executive Order 13653, ‘Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change,’ a measure that had been signed by President Barack Obama in late 2013. The Obama order, steeped in the science of climate change, instructed all federal agencies to identify global warming’s likely impacts on their future operations and to take such action as deemed necessary to ‘enhance climate preparedness and resilience.’ In rescinding that order, Trump asserted that economic competitiveness – involving, among other things, the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves – outweighed environmental protection as a national priority.” Accordingly, all federal agencies, now headed by Trump appointees, heeded the president’s ruling (p.1).

That is, with one exception. The Department of Defense stands alone among federal agencies in ignoring this particular presidential order. Rather, Klare writes, the DoD has “continued to identify warming as a significant threat to American national security,” especially as “the military’s own bases are coming under assault from rising seas, extreme storms, and raging wildfires” (p. 3). While China and Russia remain the top DoD priorities, “climate change” is viewed as a growing threat. Klare puts it this way: “top military officials perceive climate change as a secondary but insidious threat, capable of aggravating foreign conflicts, provoking regional instability, endangering American communities, and impairing the military’s own response capabilities” – and “expected to grow increasingly severe” (p.3).

However, the ability of the DoD to define its own path is limited. Its actions are subject to Presidential intervention and reversal. According to Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militias of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” So, the generals and other senior officials are ignoring Trump’s orders but at some point could be called out for officially acknowledging and acting on the reality of the climate crisis. And, with an administration and Republican Party that are hostile to efforts to address climate change, the military’s responses to climate change is, in practice, piecemeal and limited.

While, as Klare documents, top military officials are taking steps to address some aspects of the climate crisis and doing more than other major sectors of American society, the efforts are sorely inadequate with respect to curtailing, let alone reversing, the magnitude and accelerating pace of the crisis. And the share of the overall military budget going to address the climate crisis is vastly overshadowed by the immense resources devoted to supporting the troop and their families, training operations, massive international logistical functions, while also replacing and acquiring military equipment and supplies of all kind, maintaining vast international network of deployments, and, most of all, protecting the ever-changing and expanding political conceptions of “national defense.” On the latter point, history tells a sad story. The US armed forces have been the spearhead in waging unnecessary, destructive, and very costly wars that have caused widespread civilian casualties, exacerbated ethnic and religious divisions, undermined governing institutions, crippled economies, deepened poverty, contributed to the conditions that have produced an unprecedented number of displaced people, and created out of all of this the conditions that have destabilized governments and given rise to terrorist movements. While “green” initiatives by the DoD should be welcome, what is needed is a progressive national government in the US that finds ways to reduce the military budget, to find ways to work with other countries diplomatically, while at the same time addressing the climate crisis comprehensively through a Green New Deal, rejoining and giving new life to the Paris Climate Agreement, and supporting efforts in the Global South to develop sustainable energy systems. Presently, such changes seem remote.

In the absence of a radical change in US politics and government, military policy will continue to reflect the interests of the military-industrial complex and a foreign policy that gives priority to protecting US corporate interests abroad, to winning the international competition for increasingly scarce vital resources, and generally to preserving a geopolitical order that revolves around the goal of maintaining the preeminence of US power in world affairs despite arrangement’s deleterious effects on the climate.

The US military belatedly acknowledges the reality of the climate crisis

The DoD’s acknowledgement of the climate crisis is recent. Klare traces the Pentagon’s awakening concern with global warming to the 2007 publication of the “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” carried out by the CNA Corporation, a “Pentagon-funded think tank.” This was “the first major study to view global warming as a security concern.” They study predicted that in coming decades there would increasingly be “extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, habitat shifts, and the increased spread of life-threatening diseases,” that is, these events would be amplified by rising temperatures accompanying climate change, that is, in the terms of the report, a “threat multiplier” (pp. 20-21). Naomi Oreskes points out that “Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in).

Subsequent reports sponsored or authored by the Pentagon and CIA then doubled down on the concerns about the unfolding climate crisis. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council, an arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, released a report titled “National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030.” Klare highlights two points from this report. One, “climate change could undermine the stability of US allies, especially those already suffering from resource scarcity and internal friction, and, two, it “could threaten domestic stability in some states….contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources” (22).

In 2010, the Pentagon offered its first official recognition of the growing climate crisis and its implications for the US military in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), reiterating many of the points raised in the 2007 CAN study and a 2008 NIC report and adding that “climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments,” which in turn “will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration” (p. 22).

A 2014 report revealed more about how the DoD’s view of the climate change had risen to a new level, viewing the effects of climate change as posing “immediate risks to US national security,” the meaning of which is clarified in the 2015 National Security Strategy. That is: “it means they [US military forces] must be trained and equipped to engage in a wide variety of military missions that could arise as a consequence of it [climate change], including diverse emergencies occurring simultaneously in several areas of the world” and involving “adapting troops, bases, and military equipment to a hotter planet with more extreme weather conditions” (p. 23).

Threats to military bases in the US

One major concern has been about how military bases in the US and around the world needed to prepare and adapt to the growing climate crisis. In 2015, during the Obama administration, “Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a full-scale assessment of climate-related threats to all U.S. military bases. In response to that congressional directive, the DoD commenced a detailed survey of such risks to every one of its major domestic facilities – a total of over thirty-five hundred installations” (p. 5). In January of 2018, the DoD released an interim report that found over half of the bases and installations “reported exposure to at least one climate-related impact, and many identified multiple effects” (pp. 5-6). However, under pressure from the Trump White House, Pentagon officials “scrubbed the report of numerous references to climate change and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.” Klare refers to a Washington Post investigation that had obtained an earlier, uncensored, version of the report, and found that it “referred to climate change twenty-three times, while the text released in 2018 mentioned it only once; instead it substituted terms like extreme weather or simply change.” Klare continues: “Discussions of rising sea levels and the melting of Arctic sea ice were also removed” (p. 6). Forty-four members of Congress, including ten Republicans, “wrote to [then] Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and insisted that the final survey report provide an accurate account of warming’s potential impacts, with ‘candid assessments’ of base vulnerabilities.”

Despite these maneuvers by Trump’s administration, the bottom line is that the “armed forces…will be called upon more frequently to provide emergency relief and assistance at home” (28). And there will be growing climate-related threats abroad that will stretch the capabilities of the military, including all six of the DoD’s regional commands: the Pacific Command, Central Command, Africa Command, European Command, Northern Command, and Southern Command. The Pacific Command has been renamed the Indo-Pacific Command (in May 2018) (p. 24).

The crises abound: The ladder of escalation

Klare organizes much of his book around the military’s concept of “the new ladder of escalation” and how at each level the changing climate is exacerbating the threats and challenges that confront the military. His detailed analysis illuminates not only the climate-related challenges that military officials identify but the extent of the large and growing problems stemming from the climate crisis. Klare’s extensive analysis of the myriad and proliferating threats identified by senior military officials confirms what climate scientists have long been telling us.

Klare identifies five levels in the “new ladder of escalation” that call for large and rising military resources. They include (1) humanitarian disasters (climate disasters, civil disorder, and US military relief operations) , (2) states on the brink of failing or already failing states, where “humanitarian aid needs to be combined with counterinsurgency missions, (3) “global shock waves” spanning multiple countries(food shortages, energy crises, pandemics, and mass migrations), (4) great power clashes stemming from international competition and potential military conflict rooted in the melting of the arctic and associated opportunities for trade routes and the extraction of oil and minerals, and (5) “the homeland at risk” (increasing domestic climate disasters and the military’s strategic predicament in coping with them). I’ll review the highlights from Klare’s analysis that reveal the great extent to which the climate crisis has already caused harm and disruption in the US and around the world.

Level 1 – Humanitarian disasters

Humanitarian operations have become more challenging as climate-related disasters have become more frequent, complex, hazardous and long lasting. In such circumstances, military forces are frequently having to remain for longer periods of time and devote considerable resources to support humanitarian efforts and to supply the troops involved more than ever before.

As one example, Klare describes events around Super Typhoon Haiya that struck the eastern Philippines in November 2013. There were “sustained winds exceeding 95 miles per hour and gusts up to 235 mph. The storm killed 6,293 people, injured 28,689, damaged or destroyed 1.1 million homes, and displaced 4 million individuals (p. 40). Survivors sometimes resorted to looting and, in one case, “a Red Cross aid convoy being stampeded by hungry survivors seeking food and water, with police killing some of them” (42). Obama responded on November 9, announcing “a full-scale response” and “promising a substantial donation of humanitarian aid, as “he ordered the Department of Defense to employ all available resources in assisting civilian agencies in the delivery of emergency relief” (43). Over the duration of the catastrophe, 14,000 US military personnel “plus sixty-six aircraft, the George Washington carrier group, and a dozen other surface vessels” were deployed to the disaster areas (44). The US military personnel were “used to clear roads and airstrips, deliver food and water supplies to hard-hit areas, restore water and power lines, provide emergency medical assistance, and evacuate those in extreme danger” (44). By the time the relief efforts ended, the US military had “conducted more than thirteen hundred flights in support of relief operations, delivered over twenty-five hundred tons of relief supplies to devastated areas, and evacuated more than twenty-one thousand people” (44).

In 2017, the Department of Defense mobilized a vast array of forces to provide emergency assistance, a task that involved both Southcom and Northcom,” in response to the devastation caused by hurricanes Havey, Irma, and Maria. The hurricanes pummeled the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and the US mainland (60). Earlier reports by the National Research Council (2013) and the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment on climate change and US national security anticipated such disastrous situations and worried that “The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax US military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased depth for combat operations” (61).

Level 2: States on the Brink

In 2012, National Intelligence Council published Global Water Scarcity, the first official document on the subject that included inputs from the CIA, NIC, NSA. This report guaged “how water scarcity and related problems would impact US national security over the ensuing thirty years” (74). According to Klare, the publication warned than water scarcity will grow in many countries in Asia as rainfall diminishes and mountain glaciers in the Himalayas shrink major river systems such as the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, and Yangtze. This will mean that “an ever-greater share of the world’s population…[will be] destined to live in areas of severe water stress, with insufficient supplies to meet minimum daily requirements,” conditions that are bound to increase social and political tensions. Growing water scarcity will reduce the availability of food, which will in turn contribute to social unrest and conflict in “places where government authorities are widely considered corrupt or overly beholden to privileged elites. Sudden “jumps in food prices can provide the spark that sets off anti-government protests and so-call food riots” (75). Such faraway problems cannot be ignored because they involve countries that are important to the US because “of their size, location, natural resource endowments, contributions to US-led military operations, or some combination of all of those factors” (78). Consequently, “each of the Pentagon’s geographic combatant commands is required to maintain reasonable up-to-date contingency plans as the regional (‘theater’) and national level within its areas of responsibility” and, as Klare emphasizes, “global warming has been specifically factored into these blueprints” (89).

Klare gives examples to how climate-related effects like drought and desertification are compounding the ability of governments in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, all of which are involved with the US in important geopolitical relations and/or pose particular threats to international stability. I’ll just review Klare’s points on Pakistan.

Pakistan is of strategic importance because it is “a partner in the war on terror” and “it possesses a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons” (p. 79). Amidst considerable social and ethnic conflict, its stability is affected by climate change, among other factors. The agricultural sector is a principal economic activity and depends on having access to water for the irrigation of crops, the main source of which is the Indus River. The population is expected to grow from 189 million in 2015 to 310 million in 2050 while the glaciers in the high Himalayas that feed the Indus “are losing mass and will eventually disappear.” The water problem is exacerbated by prolonged draughts, by monsoons that lead to flooding and the loss of valuable topsoil, and by government corruption and in the military as well. According to Klare, the US military is mainly concerned that the instability of the government could open opportunities for extremist groups to gain access to the country’s nuclear arsenal. The US military has been attuned to such an eventuality. “If the nuclear weapons were at risk, the US military ‘would respond with decisive force” (81). Bear in mind that nuclear weapons policies under Trump (and in some ways under Bush and Obama) increased the overall threat of nuclear war. The US nuclear bomb arsenal is being modernized, treaties with Russia are being ended, US military exercises and deployments occur on the border of Russia and in the sea off the southern China coast, while Trump periodically threatens to use nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea, encourages countries like Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons, and wants to weaponize space.

Level 3 – Global Shock Waves – Disruptions to Global Supply Chains

At this level, “the prospect of large-scale ‘climate shocks’ that trigger a succession of failed states and mass migrations” (33), resulting from “food shortages, energy crises, pandemics, and mass migrations” (91). Klare recounts how drought and rising food prices were important factors in the rise of the Arab Spring, first in Tunisia, then in Libya, Jordan, and other Arab nations (95). One concern of the US military is these popular movements opened opportunities “for the expansion of terrorist organizations and produced vast waves of human migration” (96). The Arab Spring, Klare writes, “exemplified a new type of security threat from global warming: one arising not from a single natural disaster limited in time and space, but from a compound series of events spreading quickly across the planet. Such events – call them climate shock waves – are far more threatening than the dangers discussed earlier…as they have the capacity to destabilize numerous states simultaneously rather than just one at a time” (96). Such multinational crises “can also imperil the world-spanning trade and logistical systems upon which the international economic order” on which American prosperity rests (97).

American military analysts are particularly worried about how climate change will disrupt the world’s vital energy systems. For example, all but a handful of countries are self-sufficient in oil and natural gas, while “most industrial powers – including Japan, the United States, and the EU countries – depend on imports for at least some of their energy needs. In 2018, for example, Japan relied on imports for nearly 100 percent of its petroleum requirements, the EU countries for 89 percent, and the United States for 25 percent” (101). Klare adds that China imports 65 percent of petroleum; India 82 percent (102). Citing facts from British Petroleum, “on an average day in 2018, some seventy-one million barrels of crude petroleum and refined fuels – approximately 75 percent of daily world output – were being shipped from one country to another for natural gas, the share of world output in transit was about 24 percent.” Even though the US no longer relies on Persian Gulf oil, “US leaders continue to worry about the safety of the global oil flow, given its critical importance to the world economy” (104).

Pandemics

As global warming widens the geographic extent of hot, moist breeding areas, the range of many virus-bearing mosquitoes will grow as well,” leading to outbreaks of malaria, Zika virus, dengue fever (107). Furthermore, the conditions for pandemics are facilitated as people travel internationally by air and sea travel, “possibly carrying the pathogens with them and so igniting fresh outbreaks of contagion” (108). Klare gives the example of the Ebola epidemic of 2014-2015 that “ravaged Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and affected several other countries.” The public health systems in these countries became overwhelmed. Amidst this health crisis, President Obama declared a “national security priority” and turned to “turned to the US African Command. Africom announced in September 2014 [that it] would establish a ‘military command center in Liberia to support civilian efforts across the region,’ with General Darryl Williams, commander of the Africom’s US Army contingent, overseeing the operation.” The US military “undertook a massive logistical effort in West Africa, establishing emergency hospitals and clinics in each of the three most heavily affected countries and providing support services for a bevy of doctors and other health workers flown in from the United States and other countries. At least three thousand US military personnel participated in this extraordinary effort, dubbed Operation United Assistance” (111).

Level 4 – Great Power Clashes

The ice is melting in the Arctic region and around Greenland as temperatures rise there at twice the rate of the global average. Klare tells us that “the extent of winter sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean was an astonishing 43 percent less in 2017 than it was in 1979, and its summer reach had shrunk by an equivalent amount; the ice cap is expected to shrink even more in the future, and could disappear entirely in summers soon to come.” This is region that is rich in natural resources, where in many other parts of the world resources are dwindling or insufficient to satisfy demand. (Klare has discusses this issue in his books, Resource Wars; Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet; and The Race for What’s Left). Klare cites evidence from a US Geological Survey that found “the area north of the Arctic Circle possesses approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources along with 30 percent of its remaining natural gas.” There are also deposits of “iron, copper, uranium and rare earths, especially around Greenland. Additionally, there are “many valuable fish species that reside or migrate through the region. But, while “many of these resources are in areas under the undisputed control of one or another of the Arctic powers… others are located in contested areas or in the polar region itself….” (131-132).

As the ice melts, countries in the region are gearing up militarily to take advantage of the consequent opening of sea lanes to commercial and military traffic and for a race to control access to the oil and other minerals at the bottom of the surrounding seas. The region is “encircled by Russia, US, Canada, Denmark (responsible for Greenland’s defense), Iceland and Norway” (124), and China “has expressed interest in the region” (125). Klare points out how “…the Arctic could prove to be the first region of the world in which climate change plays a direct role in provoking conflict among the major powers” (124). It is becoming another hotspot and one in which there are nuclear powers involved. This is certainly true, but it is also true that the DoD is devoting its resources in the arctic region to military and protecting US commercial interests, not to climate change itself.

For example, in March 2016, “some three thousand American military personnel joined twelve thousand soldiers from other NATO countries in Exercise Cold Response, the largest multinational maneuvers conducted in Europe’s Far North since the end of the Cold War (123). And: “…the US Department of Defense is storing vast quantities of military material in climate-controlled caves in Norway’s mountainous interior for potential use by American forces. This program, initiated during the Cold War, was substantially expanded in 2014, when the Norwegian government gave the DoD the right to store advanced M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks in the caves, along with other heavy combat systems. The cave complex now contains enough tanks, artillery pieces, and other equipment to sustain a Marine Corp Air Ground Task Force for some fifteen thousand combatants for thirty days of intense combat….if Norway were to be invaded, American troops would be flown into the area and use those weapons to help defend the country” (122). Russia has also undertaken a major military buildup in the region, expanding its northern fleet at Murmansk (123).

Level 5 – The Homeland at Risk – Domestic climate disasters and the military’s strategic predicament

The US military officials recognize that the effects of global warming will have an increasingly damaging impact on the US itself as well as elsewhere. It doesn’t take an expert to see the effects of rising temperatures everywhere on sea levels and on “more frequent and severe storms, protracted droughts, and catastrophic wildfires” with the probability that they will be accompanied by “more frequent and more complex civil disasters” (p. 35). Beginning in August and September of 2017, the Northern Command, as referred to earlier, was forced to respond to the devastation from tropical storms Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The long-range concern among military planners is that such storms will more regularly occur and that “the Pentagon could reach a point where requests for disaster relief and reconstruction at home consume such a large share of the military’s assets and personnel that they imperil its ability to sustain an invincible forward presence abroad” (158).

Superstorm Sandy struck the northeast in 2012, leaving 8 million people without power in severe cold and “major transport disturbances due to inoperable ferries and flooded tunnels; severe disruptions of the East Coast fuel distribution system, including 2,500 inoperable gas stations; and regional commerce at a near standstill due to the closure of the Port of New York” (162). Over 14,000 DoD personnel were mobilized “to provide direct support, and at least an additional 10,000 who supported the operation in various capacities in the areas of power restoration, fuel resupply, transportation infrastructure repair, water and meal distribution, temporary housing and sheltering, and debris removal” (161). In 2013, Secretary of Defense “Leon Panetta directed the armed services to prepare for an entirely new category of disasters,” events he labeled ‘complex catastrophes,’ later defined by the DoD as “cascading failures of multiple, interdependent, critical, life-sustaining infrastructure sectors,” resulting in “extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, environment, economy, public health, national morale, response efforts, and/or government functions” (162).

The US military’s “green” initiatives

Klare completes his analysis by on how senior military officials are attempting to lower their operational carbon footprint.

Steps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

The DoD has taken steps to reduce the military’s dependence on fossil fuels by the Navy, on the battlefield, and on US military bases.

The Navy has begun using a blend of petroleum and liquified beef fat to fuel some of its ships. One of the Navy’s fleets, the John C. Stennis Strike Group, is being fueled in this manner and has been named the Great Green Fleet” (205). The USS Stockdale, a guided-missile destroyer is, as of January 20, 2016, is motored by the blended fuel. However, Klare notes, the “alternative fuel’ consumed by the Stockdale and other vessels of the 2016 fleet was composed of only 10 percent animal fat, with the remainder being ordinary petroleum” (210).

The Marine Corps has introduced energy efficiency and renewable energy equipment for combat troops in Iraq, beginning in 2006. They introduced “a project to swap gas-guzzling power generates at forward operating bases with energy-efficient replacements,” generates fueled by “a mix of solar and wind power to augment diesel energy” (212). They also introduced a pilot project to test the Solar Portable Alternative system, involving “a flexible solar panel that can be carried by an individual Marine and used to recharge radio batteries, and PowerShade, a larger solar tarp that fits over a standard Marine Corps tend and provides enough energy to power the tent’s lighting system. Additionally, the Marines introduced “a portable 300-watt photovoltaic battery setup to deliver all electricity needed for a platoon-size command center” (212-213)

The US Army is testing its transportation requirements “advanced vehicle power and technology including fuel cells, hybrid systems, battery technologies and alternative fuels” (215). As a result of these innovations, the DoD could report in its Fiscal Year 2016 Operational Energy Annual Report that the DoD’s “total petroleum consumption by the DoD’s operating forces declined by nearly 20 percent over the preceding five-year period from approximately 112 million barrels in FY 2011 to 86 million in FY 2016.”

Getting off the commercial grid in the US
The DoD officials are also concerned about how “most domestic military installations rely on the commercial grid for their electrical suppl and, as climate change advances, those networks have suffered more and more breakdowns from demand overload and intense storm activity” (218). Over 500 installations are tied to the commercial grid for their electrical supply while “the number of extended disruptions to the electrical grid has skyrocketed in recent years.” The goal set forth by the DoD was to replace 20 percent of all electricity with renewables by 2020. Already by the end of 2015, they had made “substantial progress.”

A few concluding thoughts

The US military’s main objectives, certainly over the past 60+ years, have been to protect the national interest, and this is an “interest” defined by the President, often with the bipartisan support of the US Congress. That overriding objective has been to protect the foreign economic interests of US corporations, to protect corporate supply chains, to keep the resources of “developing countries” available to corporations, to support countries that are viewed as allies, and to counter any forces that seek to challenge these goals, whether they be groups identified as “terrorists,” extreme Islamists, or nation states such as Russia, China, North Korea, Iran. And, like other institutions in the US capitalist system, the military and military contractors want to keep growing. This is so although the US already spends more on the military than any other country in the world, far more than Russia and China. The US Congress is about to buttress the DoD base budget by over $20 billion for FY2020. Overall, military-related expenditures exceed $1 trillion. It has huge military force levels, including more than two million personnel, 11 nuclear aircraft carriers, and the most advanced military aircraft. And, despite its humanitarian efforts, the US has been continuously at war since late 2001 and have combat or counterterror operations in more than 80 countries.

Now Klare has authoritatively documented how the varied and mounting effects of the climate crisis have forced the DoD to plan for and respond to the climate crisis. But when all is said and done, dealing with the climate crisis is not among the high and immediate priorities of the US government and therefore will not be one of the military’s.

A report written by Neta C. Crawford for Brown University’s “Costs of War” project draws attention to the contradictory position of those in the military who take the climate crisis seriously. The title of her article is the “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Crawford_Costs%20of%20War%20Estimates%20Through%20FY2019.pdf).

Crawford offers this insight. “In sum, the DOD assumes that climate change will be a disaster for the institution and the planet no matter what they do, even as they believe that they must continue to protect access to Persian Gulf oil so that the US and the rest of the world can burn as much oil as it wants at as low a price per barrel as possible. The Pentagon focuses their efforts on adapting to climate change and preparing for climate caused insecurity, even as they continue to ensure that Americans continue to have relatively inexpensive access to imported oil.” And, further, “Although the Pentagon has, in recent years, increasingly emphasized what it calls energy security – energy resilience and conservation – it is still a significant consumer of fossil fuel energy. Indeed, the DOD is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.”

The lesson: The US military is not going to save us or itself from the increasingly cataclysmic and accelerating climate crisis.

Boss Trump withdraws US from Paris Climate Agreement, to the delight of fossil fuel interests and other reactionary forces

Overview

I have attached below my article dealing with Trump’s decision to formally begin the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the first international agreement, however limited, to win the participation and approval of over 190 nations. In the article, I describe what Trump did, and then put it in the historical context of how scientists over many decades came to understand the link between fossil fuel emissions and global warming and, in recent years, the need to phase out fossil fuels. I consider how ExxonMobil researchers were finding the links in the 1970s but then decided on a strategy to dismiss this research and create a network to challenge the very idea that global warming was underway. Naomi Oreskes lists and debunks the false claims stemming from ExxonMobil and their network of supporters.

At the same time, there were efforts beginning in 1988 by the UN to create a panel of scientists to investigate the problem and a series of international meetings to figure out to bring the nations of the world together to deal with the growing problem of global warming.

I discuss the positive and skeptical responses on the left to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the accumulating evidence of the reality and increasingly catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis, how the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement are not being met. And I also refer to a just-published book by Michael T. Klare that documents in great detail how the seniors officials at the Pentagon and at regional commands around the world not only accept the reality of global warming but view it as national security problem, while, despite Trump, take steps to protect military facilities around the world, deal with the emergency situations that stem from global warming.

Without US participation and leadership in the international climate agreement, other countries have backed off their commitments to lower carbon emissions – including China.

In the final analysis, as in so many other policy arenas, any solution to global warming is genuine engagement by the US in international efforts and that will require electoral victories by Democrats in 2020 who have bold visions and agenda.

Article

Boss Trump’s withdraws US from Paris Climate Agreement, to the delight of
fossil fuel interests and other reactionary forces
Bob Sheak, November 15, 2019

Trump’s decision to withdraw formally from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

According to an entry in Wikipedia, “[o]n June 1, 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_withdrawal_from_the_Paris_Agreement).”

This was not a surprise. Wikipedia continues: “Trump stated that ‘The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,’ and ‘puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.’ [And] During the presidential campaign, Trump had pledged to withdraw from the pact, saying a withdrawal would help American businesses and workers.[2][3] Trump stated that the withdrawal would be in accordance with his America First policy.”

Further clarifying the rules of withdrawal, Wikipedia notes that “in accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date in the relevant country, which was on November 4, 2016 in the case of the United States. On November 4, 2019, the administration gave a formal notice of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020, four years after the Agreement came into effect in the United States and one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The White House later clarified that the U.S. will abide by the four-year exit process. Until the withdrawal takes effect, the United States may be obligated to maintain its commitments under the Agreement, such as the requirement to continue reporting its emissions to the United Nations.

“While celebrated by some members of the Republican Party, international reactions to the withdrawal were overwhelmingly negative from across the political spectrum, and the decision received substantial criticism from religious organizations, businesses, political leaders of all parties, environmentalists, and scientists and citizens from the United States and internationally.

“Following Trump’s announcement, the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. As of July 1, 2019, 24 states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance,[11] and similar commitments have also been expressed by other state governors, mayors, and businesses.”

By any evidence-based reasoning, this was a terrible decision for all those who want a sustainable world to live in. Bear in mind, however, his decision should, unfortunately, not be viewed in isolation of a larger political reality dominated by a long-standing climate denial movement lead by mega fossil-fuel corporations. Of course, Trump has happily fallen in line. In addition to always wanting the limelight, he likes being associated with the powerful and rich and, for all the thousands of twitters, he never acknowledges the growing body of scientific evidence that substantiates the reality of increasingly catastrophic climate change. His decision to withdraw formally from the Paris climate agreement is also another confirmation of his right-wing ideology and the sheer recklessness of his actions and policies. His motto of “Making America Great Again” is based on the belief that it’s best for the US to avoid multilateral treaties and trade deals and approach such matters by negotiating bi-lateral deals, always with the looming threat of sanctions, military action, or trade wars. He is a mixed-up troubadour and facilitator of America’s empire and the idea that America’s power is unmatched and must remain as such.

In the present case, he wants to go along with the long-standing energy status quo and maximize the extraction and use of fossil fuels. But to support a fossil-fuel dominated energy system, he must – and does – discount or ignore what the science says about “climate change,” dismissing the accumulating body of scientific evidence as fake science. He seems untroubled by the indisputable evidence that there is a rise in the incidence of extreme weather events (wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods). He never speaks about how the oceans may soon be emitters rather than absorbers of the sun’s heat, or how sea levels are rising and threatening coastal cities and regions, or about how the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic and polluted and threatening all aquatic life. He is even appears to be buoyed psychologically by the current massive deforestation efforts in Brazil and across the world because it means enterprises are making profits and environmental activists are being defeated. He pays no attention to the fragility of our industrial, chemically based, agriculture and its negative effects on the soil or how the runoffs from the over use of herbicides and insecticides pollutes waterways and, in some cases, lead to the creation of dead zones in the ocean.

At the same time, as mentioned, Trump’s decision to withdraw formally from the Paris climate agreement needs to be put in a larger context for us to understand how his action is undermining a long historical process, involving at various times scientists, national leaders, the UN, environmental activists – all slowly coming to an understanding of the links between fossil fuel emissions, and the rising global temperature, and the multiple harmful effects that stem from all of this and seeing the need for serous action. His decision, along with his policies overall, continue leading us up a path toward increasingly climate-related catastrophes and, if nothing or too little is done, possible societal collapse, if not worse.

The discovery in 1896 of how human activities drive global warming

There has been a long journey preceding the gathering of nations in Paris in December 2015. Richard Monastersky and Nick Sousanis point out in an article, “The Fragile Framework,” published by Nature on November 24, 2015 that as early as 1896 “the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated how changes in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could warm or cool Earth.”

Arrhenius “later suggested humans were raising the planet’s temperature and it would become noticeable in a few centuries.” Arrhenius was right on how human activity was causing the earth’s temperature to rise and that would affect the whole planet, but wrong on how long it would take for this to have a substantial impact. (https://nature.com/articles/527427a).

Here’s what Arrhenius’s insights implicitly captured, as described by Bill McKibben: “When we burn them [fossil fuels], the carbon atoms combine with oxygen atoms in the air to produce carbon dioxide. The molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would have otherwise radiated back out to space. We have, in other words, changed the energy balance of our planet, the amount of the sun’s heat that is returned to space” (Falter, p. 21).

Concern about global warming grew

Naomi Oreskes points out that “Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the last 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long.” Oreskes is professor of history of science and affiliated professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in).

The momentum is sidetracked

ExxonMobil’s research confirms the link between fossil fuel emissions and then hides it and helps create a reactionary movement to dispute it

Evidence about the link between fossil fuels and the climate crisis was uncovered by research carried out by ExxonMobil in the 1970s. However, the research findings by this oil giant were hidden from the public after it became clear that such research would potentially have a crippling effect on the oil industry and its profits. It is an example, among many, of how corporate power can have decisive and negative impacts on government policy and public understanding of the issue.

Inside Climate News journalists published a series of reports, based on eight months of investigations, on how scientists at Exxon Corporation (now ExxonMobil) were in the late 1970s and into the 1980s leaders in climate research. You can see the full series of articles at: http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken.

In collecting the evidence, the Inside Climate News journalists “interviewed former employees, scientists and federal officials, and consulted hundreds of pages of internal Exxon documents” and “combed through thousands of documents including those held at the University of Texas-Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

The scientists at ExxonMobil carried out research that documented the connection between the burning of fossil fuels, emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas effect from growing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the potential deleterious impacts on humankind and the environment. The view among some in the corporation was that such research would enhance Exxon’s competitiveness in any future energy transition away from fossil fuels.

But in the late 1980s, Exxon executives decided that the corporation’s future profitability would continue to be in oil and gas. The research then took a back seat to the corporation’s continuing commitment to fossil fuels. But there was more than that. Exxon also spent the next decades up to the present promoting the position that the “science” on climate change was uncertain and in creating a network of think tanks to foster this view, while giving a platform and support to “independent” and “skeptical” scientists to generate doubt and confusion about global warming/disruptive climate change. Exxon thus became one of the chief forces in slowing down a transition away from fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, and toward an environmentally sustainable energy system. It unfurled its massive resources to influence elections, lobby government, manipulate public opinion through its public relations offices and media ads, and generally to mislead and confuse the media, government officials, and large segments of the public. This was done while climate scientists in the U.S. and other countries were finding more and more evidence of global warming and a host of ever-more harmful effects to people and ecosystems.

Again, Exxon Mobil was not alone in these efforts.

The mega-energy corporation was joined by other corporations in the fossil fuel industry, industry trade groups, the auto industry and other industries, and other powerful economic, political, and media forces such as the Chamber of Commerce, right-wing media, and the Republican Party. In a recent article, Naomi Oreskes documents the large network of groups directly connected to the fossil-fuel industry that were created or recruited to advance climate-change denialism (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in). Here’s some of what she writes.

“If only it has just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific finding, and attempt to discredit climate scientists.”

“In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt; that we weren’t really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn’t settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreak the American Economy.”

“Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute.”

In some cases, they personally attacked the reputations of legitimate scientists. Republicans in the US Congress invited representatives of the climate denying groups to hearings to offer testimony that buttressed the fossil-fuel industry’s climate positions.

Intentionally deceptive and false

Oreskes identifies and debunks the main climate denying arguments of the fossil-fuel corporations. Here are the highlights. She writes that climate-change (crisis) deniers have falsely claimed and continue to falsely claim:

#1 – that “climate change will be ‘mild and manageable.’” She counters: “literally hundreds of scientific reports over the past decades, including those US National Climate Assessments, have affirmed that any warming above 2 degrees Centigrade will lead to grave and perhaps catastrophic effects on ‘health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth. The UN’s IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] has recently noted that avoiding the worst impacts of global warming will ‘require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy… infrastructure … and industrial systems.”

#2 –that “global prosperity is actually being drive by fossil fuels.” This may have been true during the Industrial Revolution that began in mid- or early-1800s, the overwhelming scientific and observation evidence now finds that “[d]ruptive climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil, coal, and natural gas now threatens both the prosperity that parts of this planet have already achieved and future economic growth of just about any sort.”

#3 – that “fossil fuels represent ‘cheap energy,” though they are hardly cheap when one takes into account “not just the price of extracting, distributing, and profiting from them, but what it will cost in all our lives once you add in the fires, extreme storms, flooding, health effects, and everything else that their carbon emissions into the atmosphere will bring us – they couldn’t be more expensive.”

#4 – that “fossil fuels are the solution to the energy needs of the world’s poorest.” No. “As Pope Francis, global justice leader Mary Robinson, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – as well as countless scientists and advocates of poverty reduction and global justice – have repeatedly emphasized, climate change will, above all, hurt the poor. It is they who will first be uprooted from their homes (and homelands); it is they who will be migrating into an increasingly hostile and walled-in world; it is they who will truly feel the heat, literal and figurative, of it all.” What do they need? “They need affordable energy” – solar and wind power.

#5 – that renewable energy is too costly. “According to Bloomberg News, however, in two-thirds of the world, solar is already the cheapest form of newly installed electricity generation, cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, or coal.” And there are technological advances that address the intermittency challenge. “Between 2010 and 2017, the price of battery storage decreased a starling 79% and most experts believe that, in the near future, many of the storage problems can and will be solved.”

#6 – that, under Trump, greenhouse gas emissions have been cut. “In fact, US CO2 emissions spiked in 2018, increasing by 3.1% over 2017. Methane emissions are also on the rise and President Trump’s proposal to rollback methane standards will ensure that unhappy trend continues.”

Despite the reactionary denialists, an international movement did emerge to address the climate crisis

[I’ll draw in this section and the next one on the article by Richard Monastersky and Nick Sousanis, “The Fragile Framework,” published by Nature on November 24, 2015 (https://nature.com/articles/527427a).]

Jim Hansen’s 1988 congressional testimony

On June 23, 1988, 102 years after Arrhenius discovery and after the emergence and flourishing of the climate-change denial movement, “NASA s scientist James Hansen told a US Senate hearing that humans were having a clear impact by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. This is an important example of how science follows its own trajectory, unless squashed by authoritarian or fascistic government. Hansen testified: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Hansen’s testimony helped to spark a series of UN organized international meetings to address the issue

Representatives of Nations from around the world gather to figure out how to address the climate crisis

Subsequent to Hansen’s revelations in 1988, “the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 to assess the issue.” In its first report, the IPCC forecasted that if current trends continue until 2100, the world would be 4 °C warmer than it was in 1850, far above the 2 degrees level later adopted by the international community. At 4 degrees Celsius, rising ocean levels would be a major problem because half of humanity inhabits coastal regions; indeed, at this level, a problem for all of humanity.

Then in June 1992, more than 170 nations gathered for the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Representatives of the nations in attendance “adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which declared: “The ultimate objective of this Convention … is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” While this was an unprecedented step and while there was concern that global action was needed quickly, “it contained no binding commitments.”

Recognizing this problem, “nations gathered in 1995 in Berlin to “negotiate a stronger accord. But the assembled countries couldn’t agree on specifics,” until Angela Merkel, Germany’s environmental minister at the time, brokered a deal that gave countries two years “to agree on emissions limits for developed nations. It was limited to developed countries because they have been responsible for most of the problem. However limited, some nations were expected to come up with targets reducing their carbon emissions.

As scheduled, countries gathered in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 “to hash out a new treaty. But the representatives couldn’t agree on how much developed nations should trim their respective emissions. The European Union called for a 15% cut. Island nations demanded a 20% cut. Japan proposed a 5% cut. And the US wanted developing countries to act to propose limits on carbon emissions. In a last-ditch effort, negotiators reached an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol. This was progress. The Protocol divided the world in two, “industrialized countries with emissions limits and developing countries without.” Furthermore, agreement also allowed for flexibility in how countries met their commitments.” For example: “Developed nations could get credit for reducing emissions in poorer ones.” Specifically, “Developed countries promised to cut their overall emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels for the period 2008–12,” with each country determining its own target. In the end, however, the US, with the support of then US President George W. Bush, refused to ratify the pact because of concerns that the American economy would suffer while developing nations increased their pollution without limits.

In the meantime, global temperatures soared, partly as a result of the rising carbon emissions from China’s booming economy along with the absence of international standards. In the US, there were political divisions over the issue. Some politicians, like US Senator James Inhofe, denied the “phony science” on which global warming rested and called any such claims “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Such denial or avoidance of the growing scientific evidence became a prominent position of Republicans and the Republican Party. Some Democrats such as US Representative Henry Waxman took an opposite view, defended the science, and cast blame on ExxonMobil and other major US oil corporations of manufacturing controversy and promoting doubt on the reality of global warming. From this viewpoint, the big fossil fuel corporations led efforts to stifle any political action by the US federal or state governments to stem fossil fuel emissions and to garner support, by whatever means, to continue and expand policies fostering fossil fuels.

Amidst it all, the scientific evidence accumulated. In 2007, the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year, declared: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” The research by 2009 indicated that carbon emissions should not exceed 1 trillion tons if nations wanted to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 Fahrenheit). But the “world had already used up more than half of that budget” and was continuing the wrong track.

The next important meeting of the nations occurred at the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Activists “organized demonstrations around the world to push for tighter emission caps,” though their efforts failed while the negotiations delivered only a “provisional accord,” but no treaty or binding agreement.

The process continued in 2010, when the nations met in Cancun, Mexico, and agreed to set a general target to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and also created “a Green Climate Fund, supported by developed countries to help poorer ones reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.” The developed countries were expected to contribute US$100 billion a year to the fund by 2020. And for the first time, all countries agreed to reduce emissions according to their different responsibilities and capacities.” More than 160 countries had submitted their pledges by 2014.

The stage was thus set for what was to become an historic meeting in 2015 in Paris, historic because it was the first international agreement in which nations agreed to establish targets limiting carbon emissions and to a process by which their success or failure would be assessed.

The terms of the 2015 Climate agreement

The following summary of the context, goals, and limits of the December 2015 UN climate meeting in Paris is provide in a Wikipedia entry titled “2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

“The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.[1]

“The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, the text of which represented a consensus of the representatives of the 196 attending parties.[2] The agreement enters into force when joined by at least 55 countries which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.[3][4][5] On 22 April 2016 (Earth Day), 174 [some report 186] countries signed the agreement in New York, [6] and began adopting it within their own legal systems (through ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession).

“According to the organizing committee at the outset of the talks,[7] the expected key result was an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below 2 °C’ Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century. In the adopted version of the Paris Agreement,[3] the parties also agreed to ‘pursue efforts to’ limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.[2] The 1.5 °C goal will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050, according to some scientists.[2]

“Prior to the conference, 146 national climate panels publicly presented a draft of national climate contributions (called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”, INDCs). These suggested commitments were estimated to limit global warming to 2.7 °C by 2100 [generally considered insufficient].[8] For example, the EU suggested INDC is a commitment to a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.[9] The agreement establishes a ‘global stocktake’ which revisits the national goals to ‘update and enhance’ them every five years beginning 2023.[3] However, no detailed timetable or country-specific goals for emissions were incorporated into the Paris Agreement – as opposed to the previous Kyoto Protocol.”

A first step?

The climate summit in Paris ended on Dec. 12, 2015. It culminated in an agreement signed initially by 186 to 195 of the participating nations with the promise that each signatory nation would do something, more or less, to reduce its carbon emissions in coming years. Nothing like this had ever been achieved before.

Craig Welch captures at the time the almost ecstatic feeling, a feeling of profound relief, of many who acclaimed the Agreement in an article for National Geographic (http://news-nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151212-Paris-climate-change-agreement-fossil-fuels/#.VmyojCdAAK.twitter). He writes:

• “The world came together.”
• “More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas.”
• “’It’s rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world,’ French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time).”
• “After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, ‘What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”
• “’Countries have united around an historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,’ said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.”
• “Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, ‘Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

Just a few hours after the final Agreement was announced in Paris on Saturday, December 12, President Obama read a statement to the nation
(https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/12/statement-president-paris-climate-agreement).

The President said the Agreement is an unprecedented achievement of historic proportions and it’s taking us in the right direction toward a carbon-free global environment. He also acknowledged that ultimate success depends not only on the signatory nations’ willingness and capacity to follow through on their initial pledges for carbon-reduction but also on their ability to go beyond these pledges. Here is some of what he said:

• “Now, no agreement is perfect, including this one. Negotiations that involve nearly 200 nations are always challenging. Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere. So we cannot be complacent because of today’s agreement. The problem is not solved because of this accord. But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis. It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”

• “This agreement is ambitious, with every nation setting and committing to its own specific targets, even as we take into account differences among nations. We’ll have a strong system of transparency, including periodic reviews and independent assessments, to help hold every country accountable for meeting its commitments. As technology advances, this Agreement allows progress to pave the way for even more ambitious targets over time. And we have secured a broader commitment to support the most vulnerable countries as they pursue cleaner economic growth.”

• “Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future. And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before.”

• “What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation.”

You can find the President’s full 31-page text of the agreement here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/l09.pdf, or at the United Nations: Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties, Twenty-first session, Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015: “Adoption of the Paris Agreement.”

There were many other laudatory articles on the Agreement. John Atcheson wrote on Common Dreams that the Paris Climate Conference established “a framework in which the majority of the world came together and reached agreements to cut back on carbon, and both developed and developing nations recognized a shared responsibility to act” (Atchison, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/12/cop-21-what-it-does-and-doesnt-accomplish).

Also writing on Common Dreams, Gwynne Dyer wrote: “We are not out of the woods yet, but we are probably heading in the right direction – and it would be right at this point to put in a good word for the much maligned organization, the United Nations. It is the only arena in which global negotiation like this can be conducted, and its skills, traditions and people were indispensable in leading them to a more or less successful conclusion” (www.commondreams.org/view/2015/12/13/cop21-cheering-and-fearing).

Juan Cole considered that the Agreement, whatever its flaws, “is still important, as a clear signal of sea change in world public opinion” (www.juancole.com/2015/12/after-climate-accord.html). “You can’t address a problem unless you recognize it exists.” He continues: “The argument for moral suasion in international affairs should not be discounted. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 began as no more than a set of aspirations for human dignity. But it has been incorporated into international treaties and instruments and is the background for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which has prosecuted war criminals such as Chad’s Hissen Habre. Many of its principles have also been incorporated into European Union human rights law.” Cole would like the United Nations to “establish by treaty an International Climate Court where torts can be decided.”

New York Times reporter Justin Gillis pinned an article titled “Climate Accord Is a Healing Step, if Not a Cure” (www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/science/earth/climate-accord-is-a-healing-step-if-not-a-cure.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.) Although he had reservations, Gillis also recognized the Agreement of historical importance and as a possible turning point toward a de-carbonized world. He writes:

“And yet 50 years after the first warning about global warming was put on the desk of an American president, and quickly forgotten, the political system of the world is finally responding in a way that scientists see as commensurate with the scale of the threat.”

And then later in the article:

“The deal, in short, begins to move the countries of the world in a shared direction that is potentially compatible with maintaining a livable planet over the long term.

Jamie Henn saw the influence of environmental movements, particularly the divestment movement [calling on financial institutions and pension funds to sell off investments in fossil fuels], in causing the Climate Conference to take positive steps internationally on the climate crisis:

“The fossil fuel industry has tried to critique the divestment campaign from a thousand different angles, but they’ve never been able to argue with its basic logic, which is why every week more and more divestment wins keep coming in. At the reality of the situation begins to sink in, institutions that care about addressing the climate crisis realize that to maintain their investments would amount hypocrisy. Those with moral character, divest. Those who lack it, come under immense pressure to do so.” (www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/13/after-paris-climate-talks-end-and-movement-continues).

In short, there is a lot to be grateful for. Representatives from most of the nations of the world supported the Agreement, or at least its principal aspiration, that is, to lower greenhouse gas emissions. There is general agreement that fossil fuels must be phased out. Most nations have signed onto an agreement that requires them to reduce the emissions in their own nations. There is flexibility in the Agreement to allow countries to set their own emission-reduction targets within the contexts of their own national situations. There is a framework and process in place for monitoring the progress of the various nation-signatories and for increasing emission mitigation targets. The U.N. seemed to have proven to be an effective organization for organizing the international to take an unprecedented step in dealing with the burgeoning climate crisis.

There were skeptics

The agreement was far from perfect. There were some on the left who were less than impressed. Climate scientist James Hansen perhaps was the most blunt and critical of all, when he called COP21 “a fraud.” He was quoted by Caroline Mortimer in an article for The Independent online as saying the Agreement is just “worthless words.” Mortimer goes on: “Speaking as the final draft of the deal was published on Saturday afternoon, he say: “It’s just b******t [bullshit] for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years….There is no action, just promises.” (www.independent.co.uk/environment/cop21-father-of-climate-awareness-james-hansen-denounces-paris-agreement-as-a-fraud-a677171.html)

The evidence tends to support Hansen’s disappointment that the national representatives at the gathering were unwilling or unable to take the necessary action immediately to limit emissions from fossil fuels. Hansen had long argued that unless we keep the earth’s temperature from rising no more than 1.5degreesC (we’re now over 1 degree), the climate will fall into chaos, societies will collapse, and our grandchildren will inherit a nightmarish world, if they survive. It appears that the 1.5 degree C target was now unreachable, unless there would be something like revolutionary changes in the policies of the US and other major carbon emitters.

What about the 2 degree Celsius goal?

Craig Welch writes: “Before arriving in Paris, 187 countries, representing more than 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, submitted plans to reduce their emissions in coming decades. [However] [t]hose plans come nowhere close of reaching the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees – let alone 1.5 degrees. In fact, analysis by two teams – one in Germany, one associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – say the plans, if followed, would lead to between 2.7 degrees or 3.5 degrees of warming.” (http://news-national-geographic.com/2015/12/151212-Paris-climate-change-agreement-fossil-fuels/#VmyojCdAAK.twitter):

On this point, Dyer similarly writes: “United Nations experts did the math and concluded that these emission cuts fall far short of what is needed. If this is all that is done, then we are headed for at least +2.7 degrees C – or, rather, for a lot more, because of the feedbacks.”

On the question of feedbacks, McKibben gives the following example. “The sea surface temperature has gone up by seven degrees Fahrenheit in recent years in parts of the Arctic. Hidden ice, locked beneath the soils of the Arctic, is now starting melt fast, too, and as the permafrost thaws, microbes convert some of the frozen organic material into methane and carbon dioxide, which cause yet more warming – perhaps, say scientists, enough to add a degree and a half Fahrenheit or more the eventual warming,” (Falter, p. 30).

Atcheson points out, “Scientists know that we are at or near thresholds which have/will trigger feedbacks that will cause even more warming. For example, just 3 of these known feedbacks, by themselves, would add about 2.5 C more warming on top of the 3.5 [2.7 or more] resulting from the Paris agreements, bring total warming to 6 C, or nearly 11 F. At this point we’re really talking about a different planet, not simply a warmed-up Earth.” He adds: “There are no fewer than 12 feedbacks that could amplify warming, so even this could be an understatement.”

Dyer writes that once we have raised the earth’s temperature to 2 degrees C, we have gone too far. “The plus-two limit was always too high. It began as a scientific estimate of when natural feedbacks, triggered by the warming that human beings had caused, take over and start driving the temperatures much, much higher.” This will happen because the “feedbacks will kick in and it will be Game Over.” What we get with plus-two or thereabouts: “runaway warming that can no longer be halted just be stopping human emissions of carbon dioxide. Nature will take over, and we will be trapped on a one-way escalator that is taking us up to +3, +4, +5, even +6 degrees. Hundreds of millions or even billions of people would die as large parts of the planet ceased to be habitable by human beings.” (www.commondreams.org/view/2015/12/13/cop21-cheering-and-fearing)

So far, the evidence supports the Skeptics. The voluntary pledges made in Paris are insufficient

Georgina Gustin writes in November 2019 that, according to a report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is “a dangerous lack of urgency” reflected in the fact that “most countries are not cutting emissions fast enough, and their pledges for the next ten years fall far short of what’s needed” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07112019/paris-climate-agreement-pledges-lack-urgency-picc-timeline-warning).

She quotes former IPCC Chair Robert Watson: “The current pledges, even if fully implemented, are placing us on a pathway to a world 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer – a world that would have devastating impacts on food and water security, human health, displacement of people, and loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services.” The report includes such details as these: “Nearly two-thirds of the pledges under the Paris climate agreement are ‘totally insufficient’ to meet critical climate targets” and even if current pledges were full implemented, the world would still be “on a pathway to a world 3 or 4 degrees Celsius warmer….”

Bill McKibben refers to disquieting evidence, writing: “In November 2017, fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issues a stark ‘warning to humanity,” depicting “everything from the decline in fresh-water per person to the spread of anaerobic ‘dead zones’ in the world’s seas.” They “predicted [that] we face ‘widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss” [and] soon…it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” McKibben also refers to a NASA-funded group that recently created the Human and Nature DYnamics (Handy). This group found evidence to justify a pessimistic forecast: “Global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution” (pp. 11-12).

The US is failing to meet its inadequate pledge

This point is taken up by Marianne Lavelle in an article also published by Inside Climate News (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04112019/trump-pull-out-paris-climate-agreement-timing-rules). Her chief point is that, contrary to statements from White Officials like Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “the consulting firm Rhodium Group estimates that in 2018, as Trump policies took hold, emissions increased 3.4 percent….And the US Energy Information Administration, basing its forecast on current US policies, projected earlier this year [2019] that US greenhouse gas emissions would hold steady through 2050,” that is, would continue increasing.

Examples documenting the growing climate crisis from McKibben’s book Falter

“By most accounts, we’ve used more energy and resources during the last thirty-five years than in all of human history that came before” (13). “In 2015 a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough ‘to stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis” and “Given that two-thirds of the earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would ‘likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans” (p. 34). The ice sheets are melting in the Arctic and Greenland contributing to rising ocean levels. Here’s an astounding finding. In the early summer of 2018, “eight-four researchers from forty-four institutions pooled their data and concluded that the frozen continent had lost three trillion tons of ice in the last three decades, with the rate of melt tripling since 2012.” Considering this finding, scientists are now pointing to sea rises of two meters in he next fifty to 150 years.” Sooner than later. McKibben refers to the book by Jeff Goodall, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (publ 2017), who notes that the rising sea levels “will create generations of refugees that will make today’s Syria war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production” (p. 40). And, according to the International Organization of Migration, “we may see two hundred million climate refugees by 2050” (p. 42).

Increasingly severe draughts are affecting food production. Already wheat production has stagnated in Australia and the outlook for corn production in the US is poor, with a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) rise in temperature project to “cut US corn production yields by 18 percent” (p. 36). And it’s not only the production of food that is increasingly at risk but also the transporting of food. On this point McKibben writes: “US rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years” (p. 38). Reports also are finding that “raising carbon dioxide levels” speed “plant growth…[and] seem to have reduced the amount of protein in basic stable crops” (p. 38).

Furthermore, researchers have found that bees are affected, as indicated by the decline in “the protein content of the pollen,” which “tracks with the rise in carbon dioxide” (p. 39). There’s more. “…in August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat…Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent.” Why? “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate.” With rising temperatures, pests become hungrier and their reproductive rates speed up (p. 39).

McKibben offers documentation of other climate-related crises. For example, he refers examples of how we are polluting and overfishing the oceans. “By the middle of this century the ocean may contain more plastic than fish by weight, partly because we toss away so many bottles and partly because we take far more life from the ocean than it can reproduce.” On this latter point, McKibben gives this example: “Since 1950 we’ve wiped out perhaps 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean: swordfish, marlin, grouper” and adds: “This not surprising when one bluefin tuna can bring $180,000 on the Japanese market, or when 270,000 sharks are killed each day for their finds, which add no taste but much status to bowls of soup” (p. 46). And the dominant industrial, chemically dependent, agriculture system is responsible for the “dead zones at the mouths of all major rivers where fertilizers pour into the sea.” Though “overwhelming threat comes…from the fossil fuel we burn and the effects that carbon dioxide that it produces.” “The deep sea is now warming about nine times faster than it was in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.” And coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Port Douglas in Queensland Australia, are dying (p. 47).

Along with the increasing environmental devastation and human and social costs that accompany rising temperatures, there are rising economic costs. McKibben refers to “testimony submitted by climate scientists to a federal court in 2017 [which] said that if we don’t take much stronger action now, future citizens would have to pay $535 trillion to cope with global warming” (p. 41). He gives this little example, among others. “Take one small county in Florida, which needs to raise 150 miles of road to prevent flooding from even minimal sea level rise. That costs $7 million a mile, putting the price tag at over $1 billion, in a county that has an annual road budget of $25 million” (41).
The unhappy truth is that we are on the road to “biological annihilation,” with already half the planet’s individual animals lost over the last decades and billions of local populations of animals already lost. In 2018, researchers reported that some local populations of insects had declined 80 percent – and its’ hard to wipe out insects” as habitats are destroyed by wildfires, forests cleared for mining and farmland, ranching, and poor agricultural practices, large-scale animal feeding operations, pipelines, new housing developments in suburbia and exurbia.

The evidence documenting the escalating climate crisis continues to be reported

A paper published in BioScience on November 5, 2019 by researchers at Oregon State University, as reported by Julia Conley, says that “[m]ore than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries…officially declared a climate emergency and warned of ‘untold human suffering’ if immediate bold action is not taken to stop the warming of the globe” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/11/05/warning-untold-human-suffering-over-1100-scientists-araound-world-declare-climate).

William Ripple, who co-authored the study and led the worldwide coalition of scientists who warned of the climate emergency, stated: “Global surface temperatures, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising.”

The US military brass recognize the climate crisis and, despite Trump, have been taking steps to prepare for it

This is the theme of the just released book (November 12, 2019) by Michael T. Klare, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. His major point is that the senior officials at the Pentagon and in regional commands around the world accept the scientific evidence on the climate crisis and, despite Trump, are planning accordingly. He points out in his Introduction (pp. 1-2) that Trump rescinded Obama’s Executive Order 13653 in 2017, shortly after his ascension to the presidency. Obama’s order “instructed all federal agencies to identify global warming’s likely impacts on their future operations and to take such actions as deemed necessary to ‘enhance climate preparedness and resilience.”

Trump justified his cancellation of the order by asserting “that economic competitiveness – involving, among other things, the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves – outweighed environmental protection as a national priority.” Trump’s command was to “abolish any rules or regulations adopted in accordance with Executive Order 13653.” However, Klare points out, the US Department of Defense quietly but defiantly continued its steps to address the effects of global warming. They did this, Klare finds after investigating Pentagon reports and initiatives, because “many senior officers are convinced that climate change is real, is accelerating, and has direct and deleterious implications for American national security.”

He refers to evidence of that the military have been taking steps “on three crucial fronts: better preparing the military’s own forces and installations to withstand the harsh impacts of climate change; reducing the DOD’s reliance on carbon-emitting fuels; and, not least, cooperating with the militaries of other nations in adopting similar measures.” One basic point is that, contrary to Trump’s policies, US officials have an international aspect in their reasoning on how to deal with the problem. Here’s an example of what Klare’s extensive investigation generally reveals.

“From the very beginning, senior officials have stressed the need to work with other countries in reducing their own climate change vulnerabilities, thereby enhancing regional and international stability. In accordance with this precept, US services have collaborated with foreign militaries in preparing for extreme events, for example, by stockpiling emergency relief supplies, conducting joint disaster relief drills, and helping to harden critical facilities” (p. 236).

The impacts of Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement

Climate scientist Michael Mann was interviewed by Greg Wilpert on the implications of Trump’s decision on The Real News Network (https://therealnews.org/stories/us-withdrawal-from-paris-climate-agreement-will-cause-real-harm). Wilpert reminds us that the US is about to become “the only UN member country in the world that is no longer part of the agreement, even though it “is the world’s largest economy, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and historically has admitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world.” Recognizing the limits of the Paris agreement, Mann nonetheless says that it is the only international game in play, though one that needs significant improvements. He then notes that there are problematic direct and indirect effects of Trump’s decision. The direct effect is that it further diminishes the chances of averting catastrophic warming of the planet by keeping the planet from warming two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The indirect effect is that is “sends the wrong message to other major players, in particular China and India.”

Since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was first made public, Mann says “we’ve actually seen China now begin to build more coal fired power plants, their carbon emissions have gone back up and we have seen global carbon emissions now being to tick back up because of that.” From Mann’s perspective, the only way to have any hope of curtailing or reversing greenhouse gas emissions is by voting Trump out of office in 2020 and voting in a president and US Congress that takes the climate crisis seriously, rejoins the international climate agreement, and takes bold action to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with solar and wind power and undertake massive action to advance energy efficiencies throughout the society.

Concluding thoughts

The evidence that catastrophic climate change is an accelerating problem is indisputable on any scientific or reasonable basis. At the same time, Trump and the fossil-fuel-led movement ignore or dismiss this evidence and continue brazenly to support practices and policies that exacerbate the climate crisis. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is just one recent example. The resolution of the conflict will be political, and this makes the 2020 elections of utmost importance, given there is so little time to reverse global warming.

If Trump wins the presidency and one or both chambers of the US Congress remain under Republican control, then the growing efforts, domestically and internationally, to curtail and reverse the problem will be marginalized and ineffective.

So, we want a Democratic victory, but hope for one that reflects a bold vision and agenda to deal with the climate crisis, However, there must be narratives and proposals that include but go beyond the climate crisis to win over enough voters. As Green New Deal advocates insist such a vision and agenda must include not only a green transformation of the economy and support for international agreements/treaties to address the climate crisis, but also an agenda that includes a progressive overhaul of the tax system, that plans and implements job creation and assists in retraining workers for the new jobs, that prioritizes the needs of vulnerable communities, that funds adequately public education, that begins a transition to universal health care, and more.

There are many ways to pay for such a progressive agenda. Naomi Klein refers to a few of them in her new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (pp. 282-284). The US Congress could simply authorize the funds, “backstopped by the Treasury of the world’s currency of last resort.” She also mentions: the need for a “global minimum corporate tax rate to capture the tax revenue that the Apples and Googles of the world currently dodge with transnational schemes.” The funding for a Green New Deal also “calls for a reversal of monetary orthodoxy, with public investment floating green bonds, supported by central banks.” There should be measures to ensure that polluters pay for the damage they cause. End government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, worth “about $775 billion a year globally, and more than $20 billion in the United States alone.” Subsidies “should be shifted to investments in renewables and efficiency.” Impose a transaction tax on stock transactions on the stock exchange. Cut the military budget by 25 percent. Impose a billionaire’s tax.

Economic professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman go into detail on how to create a truly progressive tax system in their recent book, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. For example, they propose: “a sharply progressive wealth tax to curb the forms of rent extraction associated with extreme and entrenched wealth; an effective taxation of global-straddling companies to reconcile globalization of tax justice; a national income tax to fund the modern social state and alleviate the crushing cost of health care” (p. 195). Their wealth tax proposal would tax at a rate of 2% the fortunes about 50 million and 3% above $1 billion, increase the marginal tax rate of the top 0.1% to 60%, increase the corporate tax rate back to 35%.

In the final analysis, though, we only succeed on the climate front if we win politically.