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Friday, 24 February 2017 05:45

The Peril of Nuclear War in the Age of Trump


isaiahploughshareIsaiah: "Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares" (Photo: Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

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The possibility of nuclear war is no longer theoretical.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Donald Trump boasted that the US would ratchet up its nuclear weapons to dominate nuclear capability throughout the world:

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he wants to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal is at the "top of the pack," saying the United States has fallen behind in its weapons capacity....

"It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack," Trump said.

Russia has 7,000 warheads and the United States, 6,800, according to the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear group.

If Trump carried through on this promise, it could mean reneging on the New START Treaty of 2010 signed by President Obama, or perhaps just violating it by expanding the US ability to utilize nuclear weapons. The New START agreement placed definitive limits on US and Russian nuclear delivery systems and bombs, according to Reuters.


6116744005 7edcffd9d3 zBoston Harbor (Photo: Bertrand Duperrin)

Keeping watch on the Trump-Pence administration is a dirty job, but it’s a responsibility that we take seriously. Support Truthout and BuzzFlash in this pursuit: Make a tax-deductible donation!

Anyone who reads Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail's work on the deleterious impacts of climate change knows that it is not a theoretical threat. However, we live in a time when the administration of Donald Trump is silencing talk of climate change -- and research about it -- in the federal government. The gap between Jamail's on-site researched reporting and current national public policy is immensely troubling and ominous for the future of the planet and its people.

Although the Earth-altering impact of climate change could become catastrophic, it is not immediately visible to many people. Therefore, it remains an abstract threat to them -- not an immediate concern. However, that has not deterred many states and local communities from preparing for some of the destruction that will likely result from climate change.

That's the case with Boston, which according to The Boston Globe is considering a giant sea barrier to protect the heart of the city from rising water:

As rising sea levels pose a growing threat to Boston’s future, city officials are exploring the feasibility of building a vast sea barrier from Hull to Deer Island, forming a protective arc around Boston Harbor.

The idea, raised in a recent city report on the local risks of climate change, sounds like a pipe dream, a project that could rival the Big Dig in complexity and cost. It’s just one of several options, but the sea wall proposal is now under serious study by a team of some of the region’s top scientists and engineers, who recently received a major grant to pursue their research.


2192681164 90044c30c8 zSoldier working on military drone in Afghanistan. (Photo: The U.S. Army)

The din coming from Washington with the bombastic, pernicious arrival of the Trump spectacle has continued to keep America's longest war in the back pages of the news, if it makes the news at all. However, it is vital that we remember this war that was begun by the US and that has been raging for more than 15 years now. The original impetus was, ostensibly, to punish the Taliban government in the wake the of 9/11 attacks for harboring Al Qaeda. Yet it would be hard to define why we are there now except for the imperatives of US hegemony and military empire.

The war began on October 7, 2001. The US combat mission in the nation was declared at a formal end in 2014, but the US never really withdrew all its advisers and soldiers stationed there for "training" purposes. In addition, military contractors affiliated with the US government likely remained active in the country.

In fact, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), according to National Public Radio (NPR), confirmed that "There are still more than 13,000 NATO troops -- including 8,400 U.S. service members -- deployed to Afghanistan." McCain's opinion was that there should actually be more troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Now, it appears possible that the US will officially return to combat in Afghanistan, reaffirming that it is a war without an end in sight.


US Capitol west side copy33US Congress (Photo: Martin Falbisoner)

I noted in a January 31 commentary that President Trump signed an executive order that took "two steps backward in public protection regulations." His action requires that executive branch agencies can only create a new regulation by eliminating two existing ones. Many of the regulations that may now be on the chopping block are key protections of civil, human and environmental rights. Furthermore, remember that a new regulation could be pro-corporate, and it might replace two regulations that benefit the public good.

In thinking about regulations in the age of Trump, it is also essential to remember that Congress initiates its own regulations -- and acts of deregulation. Public Citizen, a national advocacy agency for the public good, points out in an email, as one example, that Congress can repeal recently enacted executive branch orders, noting:

As a result of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Americans could lose dozens of important health, safety, pocketbook and environmental protections established during the final six months of the last administration. The CRA allows Congress to strike down recently issued rules -- with limited debate and no possibility of a filibuster -- and blocks agencies from ever again issuing “substantially similar” standards without express authorization from Congress....

Two rules already have been struck down: the stream protection rule and the overseas drilling anti-corruption rule. More are at risk of repeal every week. In practical terms, Congress will have 60 legislative working days – until sometime in May or June – to torpedo rules finalized after June 13, 2016.

In short, that means the Republican-controlled Congress that has made deregulation (with a few pro-corporate exceptions) a priority, and it has nearly half a year to annul many of the important regulations that were put in place during the last six months of the Obama administration.


EWarren 0208wrp opt(Photo: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, by Tim Pierce)Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) refused to allow Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to criticize Trump Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). In fact, he invoked a rarely used Senate rule to force Warren to end her remarks prematurely, while she was reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. MSNBC reports:

Warren quoted from a letter that Coretta Scott King wrote in opposition to Sessions, an Alabama Republican, during his attempted confirmation for a federal judgeship 30 years ago.

The letter said that Sessions, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, had used the "the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge."

McConnell and other Republicans said Warren violated Senate rules. The rule, No. 19, says senators cannot "directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator."

MSNBC adds, "The Senate voted along partisan lines, 49-43, to admonish Warren." Thus, Warren was silenced and rebuked for speaking truth to power through the words of a great civil rights leader. In effect, McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate were also sanctioning Coretta Scott King.


2017.7.2 BF Karlin(Photo: Nate Bolt)

In a February 3 article on Truthout, Spencer Sunshine reported on a Trump administration plan that is circulating to roll back the monitoring and prevention of domestic white terrorism:

The Trump administration's reported new plan to change a federal program which combats violent "extremism" into a project focused exclusively on "radical Islam" looks like another step toward demonizing Muslims -- while adding to concerns that the administration will actively empower open white supremacist groups. Reuters reports that multiple inside sources say the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grant program will be being renamed either "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism."

Almost every year, the white supremacist movement is the political movement that kills the most Americans. (In the rare year that they don't come in first, they come in second.) But, for many years now, the federal government has refused to focus resources on violent far-right groups. Instead, efforts have been poured into surveilling the Muslim community at large -- even going so far as to entrap Muslims in order to arrest them.

Sunshine later notes:

Ignoring far-right movements seems to be a longstanding federal strategy


32477520531 9036c96038 z 1Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Plagiarism? (Photo :Victoria Pickering )

Maybe Donald Trump's Secretary of Education appointment Betsy DeVos thought she was just following the Trump inner circle standard.

After all, First Lady Melania Trump gave an inspirational speech at the Republican convention. Unfortunately for Mrs. Trump, her remarks were exposed to be largely the work of Michelle Obama: The remarks were plagiarized in large chunks. Melania Trump, ironically, pulled the words from a speech Michelle Obama gave at another convention: the 2008 Democratic Party gathering in Denver.

Trump surrogates defended Melania Trump at the time of her 2016 speech. According to CNN, Trump staffers twisted common sense into a pretzel to defend the current First Lady's theft of language. CNN quotes the current White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicier -- whose first public act in his position was to lie about the inaugural crowd size -- implausibly defending the plagiarized passages:

Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee's chief strategist, [at the time of the 2016 Republican convention] invoked "My Little Pony" in defending the speech in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"Melania Trump said, 'the strength of your dreams and willingness to work for them.' Twilight Sparkle from 'My Little Pony' said, 'This is your dream. Anything you can do in your dreams, you can do now,' " Spicer said.

Apparently, Betsy DeVos also took up the "My Little Pony" logic, in her responses to senators' questions in the lead-up to her confirmation hearing.


32526771855 f1e4ccf6f8 zDonald Trump signing one of his recent executive orders. (Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann)

 On January 30, President Trump signed an executive order that will make the United States less safe by rolling back regulations that protect the public. The best way to describe Trump's regulatory strategy is one step forward, two steps backward.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and chair of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, has written an analysis of the action, in which he states:

The idea that two rules should be eliminated for each one adopted has no rational basis. Rules should be considered on their own merits. Existing rules were adopted through a deliberative notice-and-comment process, subject in many cases to challenging litigation. Absent a showing that they are no longer justified, there’s just no rationale for why they should be eliminated to clear the way for new ones.

CNBC notes the appropriate concern of critics of the action:

Critics of Trump's economic and regulatory agenda have raised concerns that his administration will reduce protections for consumers and the environment in an effort to help businesses. Many of the specific regulations Trump has criticized relate to environmental protection.


3915102132 30858c9743 z(Photo: Aaron David Aznar)

Trump's strategy of creating an alternative reality based on "alternative facts" has apparently helped catapult a 67-year-old book that takes place in a totalitarian state, George Orwell's 1984, to the top of the charts. On January 25, USA Today reported:

George Orwell's tale of a sad, grim future, the book 1984, has experienced a recent resurgence, climbing to the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list of books....

It's in such demand that publisher Penguin has ordered a 75,000-book reprint, CNN reported.

The book's plot, as Penguin puts it, features the omniscient Big Brother, mind-erasing, a new language and thought process in a post-nuclear-war world. The publisher said Orwell's "vision of an omni-present and ultra-repressive state is rooted in the ominous world events."

Sounds familiar, huh? The current administration has forbidden climate change information on agency websites (including the White House's site), banned tweeting by government departments that send messages inconsistent with Trump administration policy (as it did with the National Park Service and other government departments last weekend), and ordered government scientists not to discuss their research work publicly. These are just a few examples of information suppression. By forbidding facts and research contrary to administration policy to reach the electorate, the Trump administration attempts to grant credibility to its lies, through repetition and the forced absence of real information.



13318663515 6f28038139 z 1(Photo: jaroh)

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What does Donald Trump stand to gain from repeatedly telling lies? For the answer, we can look to the Bush administration's propaganda campaign surrounding the invasion of Iraq: If you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes the truth to your followers, and even to some people who are more independently minded. After all, look at how the media and much of the public were persuaded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- when even internal CIA intelligence reports were indicating that was not the case.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that Trump and his staff claimed that his inauguration crowds were larger than the DC Women's March and President Obama's inauguration, and that he keeps on repeating the claim despite evidence to the contrary. When Trump doubles down on charging that there were up to 3 million illegal voters in the last election and calling for a Department of Justice investigation, he is reinforcing a lie -- using the mantle of "justice" to further disseminate his prevarication. Of course, the fact that Hillary Clinton beat Trump by about 3 million popular votes in the election gets lost in the maelstrom of coverage over Trump's brazenly untrue illegal voter assertion. In The Hill, Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley wrote that Trump's assertion was a "baseless claim that widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election." They noted that some Congressional civil rights leaders fear that the lie and pending investigation may be manipulated to use as an excuse for a further crackdown to keep legitimate non-Republican voters from the polls.

In a CNBC commentary, John Barry Ryan notes that Trump is facilitated in his lying by a base of supporters that is predisposed to believing him.

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