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Lawrence Wittner's blog
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.
In the supposedly classless society of the United States, the wealthiest Americans are doing remarkably well.
According to Forbes, a leading business magazine, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans has now reached the staggering total of $2.3 trillion. This gives them an average net worth of $5.7 billion―an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.
American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?
After thousands of years of bloody wars among contending tribes, regions, and nations, is it finally possible to dispense with the chauvinist ideas of the past?
Sometimes, amid the heated political debate about what should done by the U.S. government in world affairs, a proposal cuts through the TV babble of the supposed experts with a clear, useful suggestion.
That proposal came on August 17, when Pope Francis told journalists how he thought the world should cope with the challenge posed by ISIS, the Islamic militant group engaged in murderous behavior in Syria and Iraq. “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this,” he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. action against ISIS crimes. Instead, the United Nations is the proper forum to “discuss `Is there an unjust aggression’” and “`How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.”
Americans committed to better living for bosses can take heart at the fact that college and university administrators—unlike their faculty (increasingly reduced to rootless adjuncts) and students (saddled with ever more debt)―are thriving.
In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, 42 private college and university presidents received more than a million dollars each for their work. Robert Zimmer (University of Chicago) was the best-paid, at $3,358,723. At public colleges and universities, nine top administrators garnered more than $1 million each in 2012-2013, with the best-paid, E. Gordon Gee (Ohio State University), receiving $6,057,615.
Ever since the horrors of submarine warfare became a key issue during World War I, submarines have had a sinister reputation. And the building of new, immensely costly, nuclear-armed submarines by the U.S. government and others may soon raise the level of earlier anxiety to a nuclear nightmare.
National officials certainly assume that war has a future. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditures totaled nearly $1.75 trillion in 2013. Although, after accounting for inflation, this is a slight decrease over the preceding year, many countries increased their military spending significantly, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, 23 countries doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013. None, of course, came anywhere near to matching the military spending of the United States, which, at $640 billion, accounted for 37 percent of 2013’s global military expenditures. Furthermore, all the nuclear weapons nations are currently “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals.
Is economic inequality growing in American higher education?
A report just issued by the Institute for Policy Studies―The One Percent at State U―indicates that it is. Surveying public universities, the report finds that the 25 highest-paid presidents increased their income by a third between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012, bringing their average total compensation to nearly a million dollars each. Also, the number of these chief executives earning over a million dollars in 2012 more than doubled over the previous year. In 2013, the best-paid among them was E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, who raked in $6,057,615 from this employment.
Despite the central role of women in environmental activism, surprisingly little is known about them. Furthermore, what is known is usually limited to the work of Rachel Carson, whose powerful call to action, Silent Spring (1962), is widely credited with jump-starting the modern environmental movement. Fortunately, Robert Musil’s new book, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters (Rutgers University Press, 2014), remedies this situation.
Musil notes that, as the nineteenth century progressed, increasing numbers of American women obtained better education and the ability to travel, write, and take action. Hiking and botanizing, they observed the encroachment of manufacturing and urban life on the countryside. Eventually, they produced a flood of books, magazine articles, journals, and children’s stories about nature.
Your doctors are worried about your health―in fact, about your very survival.
No, they’re not necessarily your own personal physicians, but, rather, medical doctors around the world, represented by groups like International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). As you might recall, that organization, composed of many thousands of medical professionals from all across the globe, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for exposing the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons.
Well, what seems to be the problem today?
Is there an emotional connection between the oceans and the pursuit of peace? In the latter part of the twentieth century, the oceans were used for nuclear weapons tests and for the transport of nuclear weapons, and this might explain the advent of maritime protests against war, especially nuclear war. But, for whatever reason, peace ships have been increasing in number over the past century.
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Probably the first of these ocean-going vessels was the notorious Ford Peace Ship of 1915, which stirred up more ridicule than peace during World War I.
As the United States begins to grapple with the issue of growing economic inequality, it should not ignore the widening income gap on American college campuses.
Some of the nation’s poorest people work at higher educational institutions, and many of them are members of the faculty. Oh, yes, there are still faculty members who receive comfortable middle class salaries. But most faculty do not. These underpaid educators are adjunct faculty, who now comprise an estimated 74 percent of America’s college teachers. Despite advanced degrees, scholarly research experience, and teaching credentials, they are employed at an average of $2,700 per course. Even when they manage to cobble together enough courses to constitute a full-time teaching load, that usually adds up to roughly $20,000 per year -- an income that leaves many of them and their families officially classified as living in poverty. Some apply for and receive food stamps.
Adjunct faculty face other job-related difficulties as well. Lacking employment security of any kind, they can be hired to teach courses the day before classes begin -- or, for that matter, not hired at all. They often receive no healthcare or other benefits, have no office space, mailboxes, or email addresses at colleges where they teach, and drive long distances between their jobs on different campuses. As the impoverished migrant labor force of its day, this new faculty majority deserves its own Grapes of Wrath.
It’s heartening to see that an agreement has been reached to ensure that Iran honors its commitment, made when it signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to forgo developing nuclear weapons.
But what about the other key part of the NPT, Article VI, which commits nuclear-armed nations to “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” as well as to “a treaty on general and complete disarmament”? Here we find that, 44 years after the NPT went into force, the United States and other nuclear powers continue to pursue their nuclear weapons buildups, with no end in sight.
On January 8, 2014, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced what Reuters termed “ambitious plans to upgrade [U.S.] nuclear weapons systems by modernizing weapons and building new submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them.” The Pentagon intends to build a dozen new ballistic missile submarines, a new fleet of long-range nuclear bombers, and new intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in late December that implementing the plans would cost $355 billion over the next decade, while an analysis by the independent Center for Nonproliferation Studies reported that this upgrade of U.S. nuclear forces would cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years. If the higher estimate proves correct, the submarines alone would cost over $29 billion each.
When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.
The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples. In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision. By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent. Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public. By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.
In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon. Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917. But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away. In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “No.”
And so it went. When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval. By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake. The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War. In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “No.” But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to 28 percent.
Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval. And this was a very unusual war – one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.
In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported. How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?
By Lawrence S. Wittner
The State University of New York (SUNY) – 64 higher education campuses with nearly half a million students – is the largest university system in the United States. Therefore, when university administrators join the state’s governor in turning SUNY into a loyal servant of big business, that fact has significant ramifications.
The university’s new mission became increasingly evident in the spring of 2013, when Andrew Cuomo –New York’s pro-corporate Democratic governor – began barnstorming around the state, calling for a dramatic “culture shift” in the SUNY system. Faculty, he said, would have to “get interested and participate in entrepreneurial activities.” The situation was “delicate because academics are academics. . . . But . . . you’d be a better academic if you were actually entrepreneurial.”
Some 47 million Americans live in poverty, and a key reason is the decline of the minimum wage.