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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Russian Blast Points to Danger of New Nuclear Arms Race


By JEREMY KUZMAROV

Counterpunch

On Thursday August 8th, an explosion at the Nenoksa Missile test site in northern Russia during testing of a new type of nuclear propelled cruise missile resulted in the death of at least seven people, including scientists and was followed by a spike in radiation in the atmosphere.
Analysts in Washington and Europe are of the belief that the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.
The deeper concern, however, should be of the perilous consequences of the new Cold War and arms race that is developing between the United States and Russia.
In February, the Trump administration pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), an arms control treaty considered to be among the most successful in history by former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Huntsman, which banned land-based ballistic missilescruise missiles, and missile launchers with ranges of 500–1500 kilometers.
The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty, though did not wait for this accusation to be verified by international inspectors.
Russia previously accused the United States of violating the treaty through its adoption of drone warfare, and by stationing missile launchers in Deveselu Romania.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

To Understand the El Paso Massacre, Look to the Long Legacy of Anti-Mexican Violence at the Border



The El Paso shooter wasn’t a “lone wolf.” His act of white supremacist terror is part of a century of racial violence targeting fronterizo communities.


In the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting—the largest massacre of Latinx people in the history of the United States—politicians of all stripes stood before the cameras and gave their diagnosis of what just happened. They sounded like the proverbial blind men who touched one part of the elephant and confused the different fragments for the whole. El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican who once praised the “freedom fence” for keeping out “riff raff,” emphasized that the atrocity was committed by an outsider. Other voices blamed mental health, video games, and the lack of gun control laws.

But none of these diagnoses went deep enough, looking only at the symptoms. Before we know how to fight back effectively against white supremacist terrorism like the El Paso massacre, we have to know exactly what we’re up against. History offers an important instrument to determine the root causes of what I characterize as a deadly epidemic.

The chilling manifesto reportedly posted online by the alleged shooter tapped into entrenched narratives with deep roots in the history of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s unlikely that the 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, knew just how utterly repetitive his words and actions were.

The shooter wrote that he was protecting whites in America from “cultural and ethnic replacement” brought on by “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He claimed that “Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.”

According to one witness, as the perpetrator gunned down people in each aisle, he allowed anyone who “didn’t look Mexican” to walk away unharmed. Individuals with brown skin had no such pass. It didn’t matter to the alleged killer whether his targeted victims had legal papers or on what side of the barbed-wire fence they were born. He couldn’t have cared less whether the eight Mexican nationals among the 22 people he murdered had permits to shop in the United States.

The manifesto explains why distinctions of legal status were irrelevant to him: “Even though new migrants do the dirty work, their kids typically don’t. They want to live the American Dream which is why they get college degrees and fill higher-paying skilled positions.” In other words, brown people with college degrees threaten the racial purity of white America.



I am a third-generation native of El Paso. One of the Mexican Americans killed by the assassin’s bullet was Art Benavides, a friend of mine from high school, a happy-go-lucky guy who served for 23 years in the U.S. Army and Texas National Guard. He and I had been co-captains of the Jefferson High School swim team. El Paso, population 700,000, has been described as one of the largest small towns in the United States. Here, everyone seems to be connected by only one or two degrees of separation, and a tragedy such as this one is very personal.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

America’s Deadly Stealth War on the Mexico Border Is Approaching Genocide



A Democracy Now Interview with John Carlos Frey on deep roots of the crisis, its militarization, and ongoing causalities.

For a powerpoint useful for a study group on the book by Carl Davidson, go HERE. Carl is also available to do deliver the presentation, via Zoom or face-to-face.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

America’s Indefensible Defense Budget















By Jessica T. Mathews
New York Review of Books 

JULY 18, 2019 ISSUE - A parable, to begin: in 2016, the 136 military bands maintained by the Department of Defense, employing more than 6,500 full-time professional musicians at an annual cost of about $500 million, caught the attention of budget-cutters worried about surging federal deficits. 

Immediately memos flew and lobbyists descended. The Government Accountability Office, laying the groundwork for another study or three, opined, “The military services have not developed objectives and measures to assess how their bands are addressing the bands’ missions, such as inspiring patriotism.” Supporters of the 369th Infantry Regiment band noted that it had introduced jazz to Europe during World War I. How could such a history be left behind? A blues band connected effectively with Russian soldiers in Bosnia in 1996, another proponent argued, proving that bands are, “if anything, an incredibly cost-effective supplement” to the Pentagon’s then $4.5 billion public affairs budget.

When the dust cleared, funding for the bands was not cut, because the political cost entailed in reducing the number of them by, say, half would have been enormous. The resulting $250 million in annual savings, on the other hand, while a significant sum for most government agencies, would have produced the almost unnoticeable difference of three one-hundredths of one percent in the Pentagon budget.

The sheer size of the military establishment and the habit of equating spending on it with patriotism make both sound management and serious oversight of defense expenditures rare. As a democracy, we are on an unusual and risky path. For several decades, we have maintained an extraordinarily high level of defense spending with the support of both political parties and virtually all of the public. The annual debate about the next year’s military spending, underway now on Capitol Hill, no longer probes where real cuts might be made (as opposed to cuts in previously planned growth) but only asks how big the increase should be.

The political momentum that drives this annual increase, disconnected from hard thought about America’s responsibilities in a transformed world, threatens to become—or may have already become—unstoppable. The consequences are huge. At home, defense spending crowds out funds for everything else a prosperous economy and a healthy society need. Abroad, it has led us to become a country reflexively reliant on the military and one quite different from what we think ourselves to be or, I believe, wish to be.

If you have read anything about defense spending in recent years, it was probably expressed as a percentage of GDP. At roughly 3–4 percent (it was more than 40 percent in 1944, 15 percent during the Korean War, and over 10 percent in the early 1960s), it seems eminently affordable.

But this almost universally used measure is close to meaningless, except to make rough international comparisons. It makes no sense to expect that external threats will expand in parallel with a country’s economic growth. A country whose economy has grown by, for example, 30 percent has no reason to spend 30 percent more on its military. To the contrary, unless threats worsen, you would expect that, over time, defense spending as a percentage of a growing economy should decline.

Instead, the valid measure of affordability is defense spending’s share of the federal discretionary budget: that is, of all federal spending other than the mandatory allotments to entitlements and interest on the national debt. Discretionary spending is everything else the government does: pay not just for the military but for the federal judiciary and law enforcement; support infrastructure, education, and agriculture; invest in science and technology; protect the environment, wilderness, and National Parks; manage relations with the rest of the world and with international organizations overseeing everything from trade to arms control; fund the National Weather Service; police the border; explore space; develop energy resources; ensure the safety and soundness of food, drugs, communications, airline travel, consumer products, banks, the stock exchanges, and on and on.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Nuclear Weapons: Experts Alarmed by New Pentagon 'War-fighting' Doctrine
















© AFP/Getty Images North Korean ballistic missiles. The document said nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability’.

By Julian Borger
MSN.COM

June 19, 2019 - The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week.

The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war – which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.

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

At the start of a chapter on nuclear planning and targeting, the document quotes a cold war theorist, Herman Kahn, as saying: “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.”

Kahn was a controversial figure. He argued that a nuclear war could be “winnable” and is reported to have provided part of the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove.

The Nuclear Operations document was taken down from the Pentagon online site after a week, and is now only available through a restricted access electronic library. But before it was withdrawn it was downloaded by Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

A spokesman for the joint chiefs of staff said the document was removed from the publicly accessible defence department website “because it was determined that this publication, as is with other joint staff publications, should be for official use only”.

In an emailed statement the spokesman did not say why the document was on the public website for the first week after publication.

Aftergood said the new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The US Cult of Bombing and Endless War



For many of the U.S.'s decision makers, air power has clearly become something of an abstraction.

By William J. Astore
TomDispatch

June 4, 2019 - From Syria to Yemen in the Middle East, Libya to Somalia in Africa, Afghanistan to Pakistan in South Asia, an American aerial curtain has descended across a huge swath of the planet. Its stated purpose: combatting terrorism. Its primary method: constant surveillance and bombing — and yet more bombing. 

Its political benefit: minimizing the number of U.S. “boots on the ground” and so American casualties in the never-ending war on terror, as well as any public outcry about Washington’s many conflicts. 

Its economic benefit: plenty of high-profit business for weapons makers for whom the president can now declare a national security emergency whenever he likes and so sell their warplanes and munitions to preferred dictatorships in the Middle East (no congressional approval required). Its reality for various foreign peoples: a steady diet of “Made in USA” bombs and missiles bursting here, there, and everywhere.

Think of all this as a cult of bombing on a global scale. America’s wars are increasingly waged from the air, not on the ground, a reality that makes the prospect of ending them ever more daunting. The question is: What’s driving this process?

For many of America’s decision-makers, air power has clearly become something of an abstraction. After all, except for the 9/11 attacks by those four hijacked commercial airliners, Americans haven’t been the target of such strikes since World War II. 

On Washington’s battlefields across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, air power is always almost literally a one-way affair. There are no enemy air forces or significant air defenses. The skies are the exclusive property of the U.S. Air Force (and allied air forces), which means that we’re no longer talking about “war” in the normal sense. No wonder Washington policymakers and military officials see it as our strong suit, our asymmetrical advantage, our way of settling scores with evildoers, real and imagined.

In a bizarre fashion, you might even say that, in the twenty-first century, the bomb and missile count replaced the Vietnam-era body count as a metric of (false) progress. Using data supplied by the U.S. military, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that the U.S. dropped at least 26,172 bombs in seven countries in 2016, the bulk of them in Iraq and Syria. Against Raqqa alone, ISIS’s “capital,” the U.S. and its allies dropped more than 20,000 bombs in 2017, reducing that provincial Syrian city to literal rubble. Combined with artillery fire, the bombing of Raqqa killed more than 1,600 civilians, according to Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, since Donald Trump has become president, after claiming that he would get us out of our various never-ending wars, U.S. bombing has surged, not only against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq but in Afghanistan as well. It has driven up the civilian death toll there even as “friendly” Afghan forces are sometimes mistaken for the enemy and killed, too. Air strikes from Somalia to Yemen have also been on the rise under Trump, while civilian casualties due to U.S. bombing continue to be underreported in the American media and downplayed by the Trump administration.

U.S. air campaigns today, deadly as they are, pale in comparison to past ones like the Tokyo firebombing of 1945, which killed more than 100,000 civilians; the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year (roughly 250,000); the death toll against German civilians in World War II (at least 600,000); or civilians in the Vietnam War. (Estimates vary, but when napalm and the long-term effects of cluster munitions and defoliants like Agent Orange are added to conventional high-explosive bombs, the death toll in Southeast Asia may well have exceeded one million.) 

Today’s air strikes are more limited than in those past campaigns and may be more accurate, but never confuse a 500-pound bomb with a surgeon’s scalpel, even rhetorically. When “surgical” is applied to bombing in today’s age of lasers, GPS, and other precision-guidance technologies, it only obscures the very real human carnage being produced by all these American-made bombs and missiles.

This country’s propensity for believing that its ability to rain hellfire from the sky provides a winning methodology for its wars has proven to be a fantasy of our age. Whether in Korea in the early 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s, or more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the U.S. may control the air, but that dominance simply hasn’t led to ultimate success. 


Sunday, May 5, 2019

CODEPINK Ranks the 2020 Presidential Candidates on War, Peace and Military Spending















By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies
CodePink

Forty-five years after Congress passed the War Powers Act in the wake of the Vietnam War, it has finally used it for the first time, to try to end the U.S.-Saudi war on the people of Yemen and to recover its constitutional authority over questions of war and peace. This hasn’t stopped the war yet, and President Trump has threatened to veto the bill. But its passage in Congress, and the debate it has spawned, could be an important first step on a tortuous path to a less militarized U.S. foreign policy in Yemen and beyond.

While the United States has been involved in wars throughout much of its history, since the 9/11 attacks the US military has been engaged in a series of wars that have dragged on for almost two decades. Many refer to them as “endless wars.” One of the basic lessons we have all learned from this is that it is easier to start wars than to stop them. So, even as we have come to see this state of war as a kind of “new normal,” the American public is wiser, calling for less military intervention and more congressional oversight.

The rest of the world is wiser about our wars, too. Take the case of Venezuela, where the Trump administration insists that the military option is “on the table.” While some of Venezuela’s neighbors are collaborating with US efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government, none are offering their own armed forces.

The same applies in other regional crises. Iraq is refusing to serve as a staging area for a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi war on Iran. The US’s traditional Western allies oppose Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and want peaceful engagement, not war, with Iran. South Korea is committed to a peace process with North Korea, despite the erratic nature of Trump’s negotiations with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jung Un.

So what hope is there that one of the parade of Democrats seeking the presidency in 2020 could be a real “peace candidate”? Could one of them bring an end to these wars and prevent new ones? Walk back the brewing Cold War and arms race with Russia and China? Downsize the US military and its all-consuming budget? Promote diplomacy and a commitment to international law?

Ever since the Bush/Cheney administration launched the present-day “Long Wars,” new presidents from both parties have dangled superficial appeals to peace during their election campaigns. But neither Obama nor Trump has seriously tried to end our “endless” wars or rein in our runaway military spending.

Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and vague promises for a new direction were enough to win him the presidency and the Nobel Peace Prize, but not to bring us peace. In the end, he spent more on the military than Bush and dropped more bombs on more countries, including a tenfold increase in CIA drone strikes. Obama’s main innovation was a doctrine of covert and proxy wars that reduced US casualties and muted domestic opposition to war, but brought new violence and chaos to Libya, Syria and Yemen. Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, the fabled “graveyard of empires,” turned that war into the longest US war since the US conquest of Native America (1783-1924).

Trump’s election was also boosted by false promises of peace, with recent war veterans delivering critical votes in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But Trump quickly surrounded himself with generals and neocons, escalated the wars in Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, and has fully backed the Saudi-led war in Yemen. His hawkish advisers have so far ensured that any US steps toward peace in Syria, Afghanistan or Korea remain symbolic, while US efforts to destabilize Iran and Venezuela threaten the world with new wars. Trump’s complaint, “We don’t win any more,” echoes through his presidency, ominously suggesting that he’s still looking for a war he can “win.”

While we can’t guarantee that candidates will stick to their campaign promises, it is important to look at this new crop of presidential candidates and examine their views – and, when possible, voting records – on issues of war and peace. What prospects for peace might each of them bring to the White House?

Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders has the best voting record of any candidate on war and peace issues, especially on military spending. Opposing the oversized Pentagon budget, he has only voted for 3 out of 19 military spending bills since 2013. By this measure, no other candidate comes close, including Tulsi Gabbard. In other votes on war and peace, Sanders voted as requested by Peace Action 84% of the time from 2011 to 2016, despite some hawkish votes on Iran from 2011-2013.

One major contradiction in Sanders’ opposition to out-of-control military spending has been his support for the world’s most expensive and wasteful weapon system: the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet. Not only did Sanders support the F-35, he pushed – despite local opposition – to get these fighter jets stationed at the Burlington airport for the Vermont National Guard.

In terms of stopping the war in Yemen, Sanders has been a hero. Over the past year, he and Senators Murphy and Lee have led a sustained effort to shepherd his historic War Powers bill on Yemen through the Senate. Congressman Ro Khanna, whom Sanders has chosen as one of his 4 campaign co-chairs, has led the parallel effort in the House.

Sanders’ 2016 campaign highlighted his popular domestic proposals for universal healthcare and social and economic justice, but was criticized as light on foreign policy. Beyond chiding Clinton for being “too much into regime change,” he seemed reluctant to debate her on foreign policy, despite her hawkish record. By contrast, during his current presidential run, he regularly includes the Military-Industrial Complex among the entrenched interests his political revolution is confronting, and his voting record backs up his rhetoric.

Sanders supports U.S. withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria and opposes US threats of war against Venezuela. But his rhetoric on foreign policy sometimes demonizes foreign leaders in ways that unwittingly lend support to the “regime change” policies he opposes – as when he joined a chorus of US politicians labeling Colonel Gaddafi of Libya a “thug and a murderer,” shortly before U.S.-backed thugs actually murdered Gaddafi.

Open Secrets shows Sanders taking in over $366,000 from the “defense industry” during his 2016 presidential campaign, but only $17,134 for his 2018 Senate reelection campaign.

So our question on Sanders is, “Which Bernie would we see in the White House?” Would it be the one who has the clarity and courage to vote “No” on 84% of military spending bills in the Senate, or the one who supports military boondoggles like the F-35 and can’t resist repeating inflammatory smears of foreign leaders? It is vital that Sanders should appoint genuinely progressive foreign policy advisors to his campaign, and then to his administration, to complement his own greater experience and interest in domestic policy.

Tulsi Gabbard

While most candidates shy away from foreign policy, Congressmember Gabbard has made foreign policy – particularly ending war – the centerpiece of her campaign....