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Lawrence Wittner's blog
Although the mass media failed to report it, a landmark event occurred recently in connection with resolving the long-discussed problem of what to do about nuclear weapons. On August 19, 2016, a UN committee, the innocuously-named Open-Ended Working Group, voted to recommend to the UN General Assembly that it mandate the opening of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban them.
Shortly after the Democratic Party’s platform committee concluded its deliberations this July, Bernie Sanders announced: “Thanks to the millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process . . . we now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”
If asked to identify the world’s superpowers today, most people would name the United States, Russia, and China. Although many citizens of these countries maintain that this status is based on the superiority of their national way of life, the reality is that it rests upon their nations’ enormous capacity for violence.
Certainly none has a peaceful past. The United States, Russia, and China have a long history of expansion at the expense of neighboring countries and territories, often through military conquest. Those nations on their borders today, including some that have wrenched themselves free from their imperial control, continue to fear and distrust them. Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.
At the present time, an increase in U.S. military spending seems as superfluous as a third leg. The United States, armed with the latest in advanced weaponry, has more military might than any other nation in world history. Moreover, it has begun a $1 trillion program to refurbish its entire nuclear weapons complex. America’s major military rivals, China and Russia, spend only a small fraction of what the United States does on its armed forces―in China’s case about a third and in Russia’s case about a ninth. Furthermore, the economic outlay necessary to maintain this vast U.S. military force constitutes a very significant burden. In fiscal 2015, U.S.
Democratic socialism used to be a vibrant force in American life. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Socialist Party of America, headed by the charismatic union leader, Eugene V. Debs, grew rapidly, much like its sister parties in Europe and elsewhere: the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Australian Labor Party, and dozens of similar parties that voters chose to govern their countries.
Ever since the foundation of the American Republic, there has been both praise for and suspicion of the role the press plays in U.S. political life. Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that, if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet, Jefferson was also profoundly disturbed by the politically biased and inaccurate articles that he saw published in the press. As he told James Monroe: “My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”
Jefferson’s ambivalence about the press becomes understandable when one considers the distorted reporting that has characterized the current campaign for the U.S. Presidency.
Isn’t it rather odd that America’s largest single public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades has received no attention in the 2015-2016 presidential debates?
A fight now underway over newly-designed U.S. nuclear weapons highlights how far the Obama administration has strayed from its commitment to build a nuclear-free world.
When Americans think about nuclear weapons, they comfort themselves with the thought that these weapons’ vast destruction of human life has not taken place since 1945—at least not yet. But, in reality, it has taken place, with shocking levels of U.S. casualties.
A study released at the beginning of December by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) reported that America’s 20 wealthiest individuals own more wealth than roughly half the American population combined—152 million people. The startling level of economic inequality in the United States is also highlighted by Forbes, which recently observed that the richest 400 Americans possess more wealth than 62 percent of the American public—192 million people. Furthermore, these studies apparently underestimate the concentration of wealth in the United States, for the use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts conceals trillions of dollars that the richest Americans have amassed for themselves and their families.
Almost a Century Ago, another Democratic Socialist Ran for President of the United States—from His Prison Cell
In the early twentieth century, roughly a century before Bernie Sanders’s long-shot run for the White House, another prominent democratic socialist, Eugene V. Debs, waged his own campaigns for the presidency.
The issue of making college tuition-free has recently come to the fore in American politics, largely because the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, have each championed it. Sanders has called for free undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities, to be financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation, while Clinton has done the same, although with some qualifications and a different funding mechanism.
When all is said and done, what the recently-approved Iran nuclear agreement is all about is ensuring that Iran honors its commitment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) not to develop nuclear weapons.
But the NPT—which was ratified in 1968 and which went into force in 1970—has two kinds of provisions. The first is that non-nuclear powers forswear developing a nuclear weapons capability. The second is that nuclear-armed nations divest themselves of their own nuclear weapons. Article VI of the treaty is quite explicit on this second point, stating: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
In 1915, a mother’s protest against funneling children into war became the theme of a new American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” Although the ballad attained great popularity, not everyone liked it. Theodore Roosevelt, a leading militarist of the era, retorted that the proper place for such women was “in a harem―and not in the United States.”
Roosevelt would be happy to learn that, a century later, preparing children for war continues unabated.
The recent announcement of a nuclear deal between the governments of Iran and other major nations, including the United States, naturally draws our attention to the history of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements. What accounts for their advent on the world scene and what have they accomplished?
Ever since 1945, when the atomic bomb was built and used by the U.S. government in a devastating attack upon Japanese cities, the world has lived on the brink of catastrophe, for nuclear weapons, if integrated into war, could cause the total destruction of civilization.
Are Americans disturbed about growing economic inequality in the United States?
Where do American Christians stand on guns and gun-related violence?
The recent announcement by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist,” that he is running for the Democratic nomination for President raises the question of whether Americans will vote for a candidate with that political orientation.
For several decades, state and local governments have been showering private businesses with tax breaks and direct subsidies based on the theory that this practice fosters economic development and, therefore, job growth. But does it? New York State’s experience indicates that, when it comes to producing jobs, corporate welfare programs are a bad investment.
Today, 40 years after the American war in Vietnam ended in ignominious defeat, the traces of that terrible conflict are disappearing.
Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.
David Krieger’s new book of poems―Wake Up!―shows us that poetry engaged with world affairs can be very powerful.
In a brief introduction to the book, Krieger―the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the author of several previous volumes of poetry―remarks that people who write poetry after Auschwitz, as well as after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, wars, and threats of universal death, must not only “confront the ugliness of human brutality,” but “express the heart’s longing for peace and reveal its grief at our loss of decency.” He adds: “They must uncover the truth of who we are . . . and who we could become.” In this slender volume, Krieger succeeds brilliantly at this task.
As a scholarly specialist on the American peace movement, I am sometimes telephoned for background information by journalists writing articles about current demonstrations against war or against nuclear weapons. Almost invariably, they have no idea that the American peace movement has a rich history. Or, if they realize that it does have such a history, they have no idea that that history goes back further than the Vietnam War. This is a very big and unfortunate gap in their knowledge. Actually, the American peace movement dates back two centuries and has involved millions of people (among them prominent figures like John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, Robert La Follette, John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr.). Another relatively unknown fact is the importance of New York State―and particularly New York City―in that movement’s history.
Within a matter of months, the U.S. government seems likely to become the only nation in the world still rejecting the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sometimes called “the most ratified human rights treaty in history,” the Convention has been ratified by 195 nations, leaving the United States and South Sudan as the only holdouts. South Sudan is expected to move forward with ratification later this year. But there is no indication that the United States will approve this children’s defense treaty.
A quarter century after the end of the Cold War and decades after the signing of landmark nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, are the U.S. and Russian governments once more engaged in a potentially disastrous nuclear arms race with one another? It certainly looks like it.
With approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons between them, the United States and Russia already possess about 93 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, thus making them the world’s nuclear hegemons. But, apparently, like great powers throughout history, they do not consider their vast military might sufficient, especially in the context of their growing international rivalry.
Now that the Republican Party―the conservative voice in mainstream U.S. electoral politics―has attained the most thoroughgoing control of Congress that it has enjoyed since 1928, it’s an appropriate time to take a good look at modern conservatism.
Review of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 596 pages. Notes, Index. Hardcover $29.95; paperback $16.95).
In a recent article about Shirley Jackson, the president since 1999 of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)―a private university located in Troy, New York―the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that, in 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), she received over $7 million from that institution. Like many modern campus administrators, President Jackson was also given a large mansion, first class air travel, and a chauffeured luxury car to transport her around the campus.
Thanks to the fact that Jackson also serves on at least five corporate boards, including those of IBM and Marathon Oil, she supplements this income with more than a million dollars a year from these sources.
U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom. But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.