Monday, June 13, 2016


Monday, June 13, 2016, Issue #228
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The Hudson Valley Activist Calendar: click on 06-01-16 JUNE CALENDAR


1.   Photo of The Month
2.   The Champ has Left the Ring For the Last Time
3.   The Next U.S. Foreign/Military Policy
4.   Weak Unions Mean Richer Top 10%
5.   Spectacular Finding in French Cave
6.   The Neuro Weapons Threat
7.   Will U.S. Escalate the Afghan Wars?
8.   Washington's Middle East Wars To Nowhere
9.   Top World Leaders Ignore Humanitarian Summit
10. Biodiversity Loss: An Existential Matter
11. Gov. Cuomo Punishes Israel Boycott Movement
12. A Look at Three of Hillary's Big Donors
13. CBO Warns of Climate Change's Budget Impact
14. Suffragette, the Movie
15. God Admits Stealing Idea of a Messiah

Dear readers: We are leaving for vacation in a few days and will be tied up much of July and parts of August with an important project. My co-editor and partner Donna Goodman has written a book on the American women's movement and there are certain pre- and post publication tasks. I'll try to get the Activist Newsletter and our regional activist events calendar online sometime in July but it may not make it until August. If you have an interest in the feminist movement and where its going as well as where it should go from an activist point of view, make sure to order a copy when it is published.  Have a good summer. Jack


What's going on in this picture? First it must be understood that the Sunni Islamic State harbors multitudes of hatreds but members of the minority Shi'ite branch of Islam top the list. Iraq is a majority Shia country, and after a number of setbacks it's regular army and Shi'ite militias are on the offensive. IS is fighting back on the battlefield but is losing ground. The photo shows Shi'ite militiamen in the battle for Fallujah enjoying a brief respite from shelling IS positions to take a selfie. (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images.)


[Muhammad Ali, three-time world heavyweight champion boxer, died June 3 at the age of 74. He was a victim of Parkinson's disease for the last 32 years of his life. The following appreciation of Ali concentrates on his political influence during the opposition to the Vietnam War and antiracist struggles of the 1960s.]

By Dave Zirin

The reverberations. Not the rumbles, the reverberations. The death of Muhammad Ali will undoubtedly move people’s minds to his epic boxing matches against Joe Frazier and George Foreman, or there will be retrospectives about his epic “rumbles” against racism and war. But it’s the reverberations that we have to understand in order to see Muhammad Ali as what he remains: the most important athlete to ever live. It’s the reverberations that are our best defense against real-time efforts to pull out his political teeth and turn him into a harmless icon suitable for mass consumption.
When Dr. Martin Luther King came out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, he was criticized by the mainstream press and his own advisors who told him to not focus on “foreign” policy. But Dr. King forged ahead and to justify his new stand, said publicly, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.”

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he said that Muhammad Ali gave him hope that the walls would some day come tumbling down.

When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City, one of their demands was to “Restore Muhammad Ali’s title.” They called Ali “the warrior-saint of the Black Athlete’s Revolt.”

When Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteers in Lowndes County, Alabama launched an independent political party in 1965, their new group was the first to use the symbol of a black panther. Beneath the jungle cat’s black silhouette was a slogan straight from the champ: “WE Are the Greatest.”

When Billie Jean King was aiming to win equal rights for women in sports, Muhammad Ali would say to her, “Billie Jean King! YOU ARE THE QUEEN!” She said that this made her feel brave in her own skin.
The question is why? Why was he able to create this kind of radical ripple? The short answer is that he stood up to the United States government… and emerged victorious. But it’s also more complicated that that.

What Muhammad Ali did — in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin — was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage. Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost. He was a boxer whose very presence and persona taught a simple and dangerous lesson: “real men” fight for peace and “real women” raise their voices and join the fray. Or as Bryant Gumbel said years ago, “Muhammad Ali refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage.”

My favorite Ali line is not him saying, “I hospitalized a rock. I beat up a brick. I’m so bad I make medicine sick” or anything of the sort. It was when he was suspended from boxing for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Ali was attending a rally for fair housing in his hometown of Louisville when he said:

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years."

Damn. This is not only an assertion of black power, but a statement of international solidarity: of oppressed people coming together in an act of global resistance. It was a statement that connected wars abroad with attacks on the black, brown and poor at home, and it was said from the most hyper exalted platform our society offered at the time: the platform of being the Champ. These views did not only earn him the hatred of the mainstream press and the right wing of this country. It also made him a target of liberals in the media as well as the mainstream civil rights movement, who did not like Ali for his membership in the Nation of Islam and opposition to what was President Lyndon Johnson’s war.

But for an emerging movement that was demanding an end to racism by any means necessary and a very young, emerging antiwar struggle, he was a transformative figure. In the mid-1960s, the antiwar and antiracist movements were on parallel tracks. Then you had the heavyweight champ with one foot in each. Or as poet Sonia Sanchez put it with aching beauty, “It’s hard now to relay the emotion of that time. This was still a time when hardly any well-known people were resisting the draft. It was a war that was disproportionately killing young Black brothers and here was this beautiful, funny poetical young man standing up and saying no! Imagine it for a moment! The heavyweight champion, a magical man, taking his fight out of the ring and into the arena of politics and standing firm. The message was sent.” We are still attempting to hear the full message that Muhammad Ali was attempting to relay: a message about the need to fight for peace.

Full articles can and should be written about his complexities: his fallout with Malcolm X, his depoliticization in the 1970s, the ways that warmongers attempted to use him like a prop as he suffered in failing health. But the most important part of his legacy is that time in the 1960s when he refused to be afraid. As he said years later, “Some people thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a leader. I just wanted to be free.” Not the fight, the reverberations. They are still being felt by a new generation of people. They ensure that the Champ’s name will outlive us all.

Bill Russell said it best in 1967. “I’m not worried about Muhammad Ali. I’m worried about the rest of us.” That is more true than ever.

— From the Nation, June 4, 2016. Dave Zirin, the Nation’s sports editor, is the author of eight books on the politics of sports, most recently, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.

U.S. fleet patrols South China Sea on behalf of allies who contest China's territolrial claims.
By Jack A. Smith

From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 2011 as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appeared to be ending:

"There are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition [to Asia], but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities. These impulses are understandable, but they are misguided. Those who say that we can no longer afford to engage with the world have it exactly backward — we cannot afford not to.... Rather than pull back from the world, we need to press forward and renew our leadership. The Asia-Pacific represents such a real 21st-century opportunity for us to secure and sustain our leadership abroad."

President Obama's recent journey to Japan and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, beyond visiting Hiroshima and being welcomed by crowds in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, was primarily aimed at strengthening his administration's most important foreign policy objective — the political, commercial and military encirclement of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Now that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Obama may rest assured that if she defeats Republican Donald Trump in November, as expected, his "rebalance" to Asia will continue apace. Indeed, a Clinton administration may move faster and more decisively.

Clinton was a strong advocate of the rebalance and thoroughly agrees with Obama that Beijing must never be allowed to diminish Washington's global hegemony, even within China's own South Asian region, and, like Obama, she always uses the code words "American leadership" in place of "American domination."
Hillary Clinton and Chinese  President 
Xi Jinping in 2012.during his U.S. vist.

Obama announced what he first termed a "pivot" to Asia in the fall of 2011 just after a 5,500-word article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton titled "America's Pacific Century" appeared in Foreign Policy magazine. It began:

"As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region." The "otherwise" meant military.

While in Japan, Obama told the newspaper Asahi Shimbun May 26:

"Renewing American leadership in the Asia Pacific has been one of my top policy priorities as President, and I’m very proud of the progress that we’ve made. The cornerstone of our rebalance strategy has been bolstering our treaty alliances — including with Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines and Australia — and today each of these alliances is stronger than when I came into office. We’ve forged new partnerships with countries like Vietnam, which I just visited, and with regional institutions like ASEAN and the East Asia Summit. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the highest-standard trade agreement in history, we have the opportunity to write the rules for regional and global trade for decades to come. I believe that America’s position in the region has never been stronger, and I’m confident that the next U.S. President will continue to build on our progress."

A week later in San Diego Clinton delivered a foreign policy speech. Its purpose was to show that she would be much better than Republican Donald Trump in furthering America's global interests. Accusing Trump of not understanding that Russia and China "work against us," she declared:

“If America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum — and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety — and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit. Now Moscow and Beijing are deeply envious of our alliances around the world, because they have nothing to match them. They’d love for us to elect a president who would jeopardize that source of strength. If Donald gets his way, they’ll be celebrating in the Kremlin. We cannot let that happen.”

Instead of defining the November election as a contest between the right/far right Republicans and the center right Democrats, Clinton depicted it as a choice between "a fearful America that’s less secure and less engaged in the world [under Trump], and a strong, confident America that leads to keep our country safe and our economy growing.”

Clinton has thus committed herself to a continuation of Washington's decades-long imperial foreign/military policies, replete with cold war rhetoric, the notion of an indispensible America, the commitment to "lead" the world, and targeting China and Russia as virtual enemies. There was no hint of making any efforts to reduce world tensions peacefully. As a result of Obama-Clinton policies the relationship between Beijing and Moscow has become considerably closer in recent years.

Meanwhile the Bush-Obama Middle East wars are expected to continue indefinitely, at least throughout the next administration and maybe much longer. If Clinton gains the White House she is expected to intensify U.S. involvement in these conflicts, particularly in Syria and Libya. Her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is significantly to Clinton's left in domestic politics but only moderately less hawkish in foreign affairs. Trump is a dangerous enigma, correctly identified by Clinton as “temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.”

U.S. arms for Vietnam

President Obama plunges into happy crowd in Ho Chu Minh City. He walked over and shook hands.
President Obama was warmly received by the Vietnamese Communist Party, the government and it seems by the people as well during his three-day visit starting May 22. A number of U.S. news articles marveled at the fact that Washington appeared to be totally excused for its brutal two-decade intervention to prevent the unification of temporarily divided North and South Vietnam. After all, some to 3.8 million Vietnamese people died from the American air and ground war, as did nearly two million in Cambodia and Laos combined due to U.S. led attacks on suspected North Vietnamese trails and hideouts in these neighboring countries. U.S. war deaths were 58,193 between 1955-1975.

Part of the reason Vietnam doesn't hate the U.S. is that it won the long war against the world's most powerful military state following Hanoi's victory against French colonialism and the earlier Japanese invasion and occupation. Vietnam was exhausted and in economic difficulty after 30 years of continual conflict when the Americans finally fled South Vietnam in April 1975.

Another reason for cautiously partnering with the U.S. is the existence of China on Vietnam's northern border. Chinese dynasties dominated Vietnam for over 900 years between 111 BCE and 1427 CE. Both Russia and China supported Vietnam in the fight against U.S. aggression but grave tensions and even the possibility of an armed conflict between the two giant nations was an additional worry for Hanoi, which needed their material support to pursue the war. On Dec. 25, 1978,Vietnam invaded and occupied adjacent Cambodia in order to drive out the ultra-left Khmer Rouge government after a number of border clashes between them. In February 1979, China — which had supported the Khmer Rouge — invaded northern Vietnam in a brief but bloody one-month war, with both sides claiming victory. Several short skirmishes took place until 1989 when Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. Since then relations between the two neighboring countries with governments that seem to share the same socialist ideology have been peaceful but distant.

During his stay in Vietnam, Obama was publicly critical of what he considered Vietnam's human rights shortcomings, as though killing five million people in Indochina, millions in the contemporary Middle East, and uncritically supporting dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia gave Washington the international standing to wag its finger in Hanoi's face.

But Obama's criticisms of the country were primarily for show, paving the way for him to announce the ending of he 41-year ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam. In Hanoi, Obama told a press conference that "we already have U.S. vessels that have come here to port [at Cam Ranh Bay and] we expect that there will be deepening cooperation between our militaries."

According to The Diplomat May 31: "Uncorroborated Vietnamese sources in Hanoi [state that] prior to Obama’s visit, U.S. officials proposed to their hosts the possibility of raising their comprehensive partnership to a strategic partnership [an important upgrading]. Vietnamese officials reportedly got cold feet at the last minute and politely left this proposal for future consideration. At the same time, although U.S. officials, including the president, described bilateral relations as entering a new phase, no new adjective was placed in front of comprehensive partnership in the official joint statement issued by the two presidents to indicate that relations had advanced significantly since 2013."

China's Global Times, a party daily tabloid that tends to speak directly, argued May 26 in reference to the U.S. decision to sell arms to Vietnam: "This is a new move by the U.S. to advance its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy, displaying Washington's desire to reinforce military cooperation with China's neighboring countries.... Now, Washington is ironically trying to manipulate Vietnam's nationalism to counter China. U.S. Senator John McCain, a prisoner in the Vietnam War and now Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, plays a key role in rescinding the ban on the sale of lethal arms to Vietnam, believing it will rope in Hanoi to counter China's rise."

In the same issue of Global Times, Nguyen Vu Tung, acting president of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in Hanoi, wrote an op-ed that expressed his "personal" views, stating: "In July 2013, Vietnam and the U.S. agreed to elevate their relationship to a 'comprehensive partnership' designed to further promote bilateral ties in all fields. 

It is noteworthy that the enhancement of Vietnam-U.S. relations ran parallel with Vietnam's forging its relations with China, a big neighbor that is of increasing importance to Vietnam's peace, stability and prosperity....  Vietnam-U.S. relations are not developing at the expense of the links between Vietnam and China. Instead of choosing sides, Hanoi tries its best to promote relations with both China and the U.S. and sees its relations with them in positive-sum terms.....

"The independent posture of Vietnam's foreign policy applies especially to Vietnam's defense policy where Vietnam strictly follows a 'three-no principle.'  Vietnam will not enter any military pact and become a military ally of any country, will not allow any country to set up a military base on its soil, and will not rely on any country to oppose any other country. Recently, Hanoi has been under some domestic pressure to review this principle. Yet, adhering to it is still the policy mainstream."

With the arms sales Vietnam is now considered an allied member of the informal U.S. coterie of East Asian and Southeast Asian nations, six of which are contending with China's claims to most of the South China Sea, with Washington's backing. Beijing says it is willing to negotiate with the six on a one to one basis but the U.S insists on multilateral talks. In addition to Vietnam the countries involved in the claims include Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Japan.

China's claim is based on two points: 1. Implicitly, its long history — about 4,000 years, nearly all of it under Chinese dynastic imperial rule until 104 years ago. 2. Explicitly, the 1947 "nine dash line" map produced by the Chinese Nationalist government in 1947, two years before the success of the Chinese communist revolution replaced the semi-capitalist/semi-feudal Nationalist enterprise called the Republic of China with the People's Republic of China. The Nationalist government, army and many civilians fled to Taiwan, an offshore province of China that still maintains that the nine dash line is absolutely legitimate, as does the PRC. The U.S. — which supported the Nationalists to the extent of keeping Taiwan in China's permanent Security Council seat until 1971 — did not question China's claims until fairly recent years. U.S. support for the six claimants is an important political part of the containment of China by increasing the number of regional allies and dependencies that will support Washington's political goals.
China's original nine dash line. It begins on the upper right with
three small marks that go down and around. It's not very complete.

There are military and commercial aspects of the rebalance to Asia in addition to using allies to strengthen opposition to China.

The U.S. has militarily dominated the East Asia region since the end of World War II in 1945 but it has been significantly increasing its military might since launching the pivot to Asia. More Army and Air force units have been ordered to existing bases in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Guam, and other nearby locations, as well as a new base in Australia. Up to 90,000 U.S. military personnel are in the vicinity. Navy aircraft carriers, other warships and submarines have been shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. An aircraft carrier battle group is patrolling the East China Sea. Some U.S. ships navigate extremely close to small Chinese islets that are being upgraded — a practice that could inadvertently spark an armed confrontation.

The principle commercial element of the effort to contain China is the corporation-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — Washington's neoliberal free-trade proposal for 12 Pacific Rim countries that is intended to enlarge U.S. economic influence in the region at the expense of China, which has not been invited to join. The 12 signatories to the TPP agreement in 2010 included Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.

Ratification of the trade pact the may not happen, not least because recent political developments in the U.S. may bury this major Bush-Obama initiative. Hillary Clinton, once a strong advocate as secretary of state, turned against the TPP during the Democratic primary in order to opportunistically convey the impression she was as radical as Sanders in order to attract his constituency. She also wanted to retain the support of the AFL-CIO, which strongly opposes the pact. Trump rejects the TPP because many working class supporters believe that such trade deals take away American jobs, which they do. Some commentators suggest Obama may be able to get it passed after the elections and before the new president assumes office, but it's a long shot.

Vietnam supports the TTP because its economy stands to gain from increased trade. It is of interest that China is Vietnam's biggest trading partner and will remain so, as is true of most regional nations aligning with the U.S. superpower. Beijing's rise over the last 20 years has benefitted all these states, not to mention the transfer of reasonably priced reliable goods throughout area.

U.S. President visits Hiroshima

President Obama made an anti-nuclear weapons speech in Hiroshima but wherever he goes a subordinate always carries his codes for instantly launching a U.S. nuclear attack.

Obama arrived in Japan May 25 to attend a Group of Seven meeting and to further strengthen Japan's commitment to help in the effort to surround China, but the international media focused entirely on the first American presidential visit to Hiroshima in the 71 years since the United States obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons.

He didn't apologize to Japan because that would be unpopular with many Americans and also with Korea and China, countries that suffered woefully from the vicious and racist Japanese invasion and occupation. They believe Japan hasn't sufficiently atoned for its numerous wartime atrocities.

Instead Obama delivered a quite moving speech: "We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are...."

His address was hypocritical, particularly when he declared: "We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil. So nations and the alliances that we formed must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly materials from fanatics. And yet, that is not enough, for we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mindset about war itself."

In reality Obama is not only slower than his three predecessors in reducing nuclear weapons but he has initiated a trillion dollar effort to upgrade America's entire nuclear arsenal and delivery systems.

In his Asahi Shimbun interview Obama also said: "I believe that we’ve substantially enhanced America’s credibility in the Asia Pacific, which is rooted in our unwavering commitment to the security of our allies. We continue to modernize our defense posture in the region, including positioning more of our most advanced military capabilities in Japan. As I’ve said before, our treaty commitment to Japan's security is absolute. With our new defense guidelines, American and Japanese forces will become more flexible and better prepared to cooperate on a range of challenges, from maritime security to disaster response, and our forces will be able to plan, train and operate even more closely. I’m very grateful for Prime Minister Abe’s strong support of our alliance."

Abe is a hawk about China. "No one country is more enthusiastic than Japan to advocate containing China," according to a May 19 commentary by Zhang Zhixin, the head of American Political Studies at China's Institute of American Studies. He continued:

"The strategic competition between the [U.S. and China] is becoming more apparent. In economic and trade areas, the EU and U.S. denied granting market economy status to China. In the South China Sea, where China is trying to secure its maritime sovereignty and rights, the U.S. believes China is challenging its regional hegemony and military dominance in the area. As deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said, the U.S. is intensely focused on China’s 'assertive and provocative behavior.' Therefore, the U.S. Navy is pushing for a more aggressive policy of patrolling close to Chinese-fortified islands and caused more dangerous encounters between the U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and Chinese jet planes.

"What makes the situation more complicated is that Japan, as an outsider in the South China Sea issue, is trying to insert itself into the conflict. At the end of last year, the Japanese Foreign Minister talked about the possibility of joint patrol with the U.S. Navy in the [South China Sea] area. This year, Japan is becoming increasingly aggressive in charging that China's a threat in the Asia Pacific region. It is understandable for the Prime Minister Abe to do so to the domestic audience to sell his proposal of revising the pacifist Constitution, but when he was selling his viewpoint to the EU countries, that’s too much. Japan is allied with the U.S., but the latter never restrained Japan’s anti-China rhetoric. Furthermore, Japan actively sold advanced weapons to countries around the South China Sea, participated in more multilateral military exercises, and conducted more port calls in the area, which just made the regional situation more tense."

Big vacant  rocks of contention between China and Japan in East China Sea.

Another area of sharp Chinese-Japanese dispute is in the East China Sea. Both countries claim rocky, uninhabited protuberances known as Senkaku by Tokyo and Diaoyu by Beijing. China scrambled jets to meet Japanese military aircraft in disputed airspace May 21. Japanese officials said it was the closest Chinese jets had flown to their planes. It came as China was holding air-sea naval exercises with Russia in the region. Tokyo officially protested to Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua June 9 about a "Chinese and three Russian warships" that entered what Japan called the "contiguous zones" near the disputed Islands. The Chinese Defense ministry responded June 9 calling the navigation legal and reasonable, insisting "China's naval ships have every right to navigate in waters under its jurisdiction." The reply came a day a before the June 10 beginning of a large-scale eight-day joint military drill in the western Pacific involving the U.S., Japan and India.

According to Stratfor in a June 10 analysis: "Japan under Abe has upset Beijing by broadening the geographic and functional scope of the operations of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which Japan's postwar pacifism long limited. Perceptions of Chinese expansionism have prompted Japan to prioritize responding in the South China Sea. In 2015, Japan announced the start of talks with the Philippines on a Visiting Forces Agreement that would permit Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel to rotate through Philippine bases. Later that year, Japan secured an agreement with Vietnam to allow Japanese warships to make port calls at Cam Ranh Bay, which they did in April of this year. Even more ambitiously, Japan has responded that it might be amenable to U.S. calls for regional powers to join freedom of navigation operations in waters far beyond the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's traditional domain in Japan's near seas. Though these steps are incremental, they represent slow and steady progress toward a clear endpoint most unwelcome in Beijing — the routine presence of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operations in the South China Sea."

The 42nd G7 summit meeting in Japan May 26–27 accomplished little. It was "an opportunity lost" according to Montreal Star columnist Thomas Walkom, who wrote June 1: The leaders of seven important countries had a chance to do something that would rekindle the sputtering global economy. Some, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canada’s Justin Trudeau urged their fellow leaders to foreswear austerity and, among other growth-inducing measures, spend money to stimulate the world economy.

"They failed. Italy’s Matteo Renzi was on side with Canada and Japan, as were France’s François Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama. But Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron insisted that debt and deficit control were more important than fiscal stimulus. The final communiqué from the session said essentially that each nation would continue to do what it thought best. So what do we make of the G7? In some ways, its time has passed. It no longer represents the world’s major economies. China is conspicuously absent. Russia, briefly a member of what was then called the G8, was summarily expelled in 2014 for annexing Crimea."

The importance of India

Indian Prime Minister Modi surrounded by admiring members of Congress before giving his speech June 8. Whether India will truly align with the U.S. regarding China is unknown.

As soon as President Obama returned home he put aside time to work out plans for ensnaring rising India more deeply into Washington's informal anti-China coalition. He met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the White House June 7. This was their seventh meeting in the two years since the Indian leader was elected in May 2014, which must be some kind of record. Modi addressed Congress the next day and his speech was received with great applause. Earlier Indian governments, while friendly to the U.S. were closer to Russia (and the USSR in earlier days) and nonaligned countries than to America.  Modi is campaigning for a much closer relationship with Washington, which is exactly what the Obama administration wants.

The Economist noted June 11: "China worries about signs that Western countries are cozying up to its giant neighbor. It fears that Modi will exploit better ties with America as a source of advantage. For years the Pentagon has pursued India as part of an effort to counterbalance growing Chinese strength, but only in recent months have Indian military officials begun to show eagerness for co-operation. This month the two countries will hold their annual naval exercises not in Indian waters, but in the Sea of Japan, with the Japanese navy, near islands claimed by both Japan and China. In a wide-ranging speech before a joint session of Congress on June 8 Modi said that America was India’s “indispensable partner.” An outright military alliance between India and America remains unlikely, but even the remote prospect of one will concentrate Chinese minds.

In her pivot to Asia article referred to earlier, Clinton foresaw intense U.S. involvement in the region "stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas.... Among key emerging powers with which we will work closely are India and Indonesia, two of the most dynamic and significant democratic powers of Asia, and both countries with which the Obama administration has pursued broader, deeper, and more purposeful relationships." India and Indonesia are second and fourth ranking countries in population. (China is first, U.S. third.)

According to the Center for International Studies "Washington has made it clear that Jakarta is central to the U.S. rebalance, toward the Asia Pacific, both in its own right and as a leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN.)" It is also the largest Muslim country by far.

India, however, is the big prize. As a result of U.S-Indian talks after the Modi government took power
India has been designated a "Major Defense Partner" by Washington, although it is not entirely understood what this unusual title obligates India to do. For its part the U.S. is supplying India with technology, loans, equipment and other means of enhancing India's economy and military.

Commenting on the Obama-Modi meeting June 7 the Associated Press reported "The two governments said they had finalized the text of a defense logistics agreement to make it easier for their militaries to operate together. The U.S. and India share concern about the rise of China, although New Delhi steers clear of a formal alliance with Washington.

In an article published by the Cato Institute April 29 and titled Persistent Suitor: Washington Wants India as an Ally to Contain China, Ted Galen Carpenter wrote:

"A growing number of policymakers and pundits see India not only as an increasingly important economic and military player generally, but as a crucial potential strategic counterweight to a rising China.... Strategic ties have gradually and substantially deepened. President Barack Obama has characterized the relationship between the United States and India as 'a defining partnership of the 21st century,' and Indian Prime Minister Modi has termed it 'a natural alliance.'” Perhaps more significant, India has contracted to receive some $14 billion in supposedly defensive military items from the United States in less than a decade. Washington has now edged out Moscow as India’s principal arms supplier.

"Bilateral strategic ties received an additional boost in mid-April 2016 with the visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to Delhi. That trip generated considerable uneasiness in China, where opinion leaders noted not only was it Carter’s second trip to India during his relatively brief tenure as Pentagon chief, but that he cancelled a previously scheduled trip to Beijing so that he could make this latest journey. That move, they feared, suggested a rather unsubtle tilt against China in favor of one of its potential regional geostrategic competitors. The agreement that came from Carter’s visit would do nothing to reassure the Chinese....

"Moreover, India maintains an important economic relationship of its own with China.  Indeed, according to most calculations, China has now emerged as India’s largest trading partner. Trade between the two Asian giants topped $80 billion in 2015. In addition to the economic stakes, there are bilateral security issues, primarily unresolved border disputes, as well as security issues throughout Central Asia of concern to Delhi that could be exacerbated if relations with Beijing deteriorated. Shrewd Indian policymakers may well conclude that the best position for their country is one of prudent neutrality (perhaps with a slight pro-American tilt) in the growing tensions between the United States and China."

U.S.-China Relations

Presidents Xi and Obama in Beijing. They address each other carefully
and with respect. Each is the others' most important relationship.
The contradiction between Washington's words and deeds is no better exemplified than in its relations with China. U.S. rhetoric rarely includes threats, except occasionally regarding the South China Sea. Most though not all its multitude of discussions with Chinese leaders are soft spoken and civil. From time to time the U.S. speaks of China as a "partner." Never stated openly is the fact that Washington will continue pressuring Beijing until it learns how to behave in a fashion acceptable to the world's only military and economic superpower. Part of that pressure consists of continual exaggerations of China's military power, which is far behind that U.S.

The Beijing government never threatens the U.S. It is well aware of the meaning behind Washington's friendly words because it is surrounded by U.S. military power and Washington's obedient allies in the region, by exclusionary trade deals, the rejection of its claims in the South China Sea and innumerable efforts by the White House to undermine China in all the political and economic associations and coalitions in the East Asia region.

Beijing rarely mentions this publicly and works to develop a cooperative "win-win" relationship with Washington. China clearly recognizes the U.S. as the world's great power and occasionally appears slightly deferential.

The following June 6 report from Xinhua news agency about the annual China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue held in Beijing that day is typical example of the Chinese approach:

"President Xi Jinping urged China and the United States to properly manage differences and sensitive issues and deepen strategic mutual trust and cooperation at a high-level bilateral dialogue. The differences between China and the United States are normal, Xi said.

"As long as the two sides tackle differences and sensitive issues in the principle of mutual respect and equality, major disturbances in bilateral relations can be avoided, Xi said, adding that China and the United States should strengthen communication and cooperation on Asia-Pacific affairs.

"The broad Pacific Ocean, Xi said, 'should not become an arena for rivalry, but a big platform for inclusive cooperation. China and the United States have extensive common interests in the region and should maintain frequent dialogues, cooperate more, tackle challenges, jointly maintain prosperity and stability in the region, and "cultivate common circles of friends' rather than 'cultivate exclusive circles of friends.'

"The Chinese president also called on the two sides to expand mutually beneficial cooperation, uphold the win-win principle, and raise the level of bilateral cooperation.... [He] stressed that China will unswervingly pursue the path of peaceful development and promote the building of a new model of international relations with win-win cooperation at its core."

At the same time, as we have written at length [1], China openly rejects in principle the existence of a unilateral global hegemon — a position the U.S. has occupied for the last quarter century since the implosion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Beijing advocates a form of shared global leadership. Washington is convinced that it deserves the right to in effect rule the world and has no intention of dismantling its shadow empire. This is the principal contradiction between the U.S. and China.

Beijing is doing what it can to avoid a major clash with the United States, short of appearing to kowtow to Washington. The U.S. does not want a clash as well.  Both sides fear the possibility of war and each is aware that one may eventually take place. That is certainly one of the reasons the Obama administration has launched its decades-long program costing a trillion dollars to modernize America's nuclear arsenal.

China, for all its progress since the 1980s, is still a developing country and behind the U.S. in many ways, but is destined to become a major power in a few decades at most. The U.S. cannot but accept China's inevitable growth. At issue is whether Beijing will eventually subordinate itself to the U.S. as have other powers, such as Germany, UK, France and Japan, have done, or in any other acceptable fashion.

There are current and historical reasons why China will not do so. At this point the U.S. is drawing upon all its resources to contain and surround the growing giant. This can only lead to big trouble in time, for both countries and the world.

Unfortunately, both U.S. neoliberal capitalist political parties are absolutely dedicated to world domination and ultimately to the use of terrible violence to defend American "leadership." Unless this changes substantially imperialism eventually will lead to global calamity. This is a matter that goes far beyond the Hillary, Donald, and Bernie political preoccupation of the moment. None of them would substantially transform the existing foreign/military policy. Only a genuinely left wing mass movement has a chance of changing direction.

— [1] For article "The Hegemony Games — USA v. PRC," click on 5-31-15 Newsletter Hegemony Games


By Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder

As union membership has fallen over the last few decades, the share of income going to the top 10% has steadily increased. Union membership fell to 11.1% in 2014, where it remained in 2015. The share of income going to the top 10%, meanwhile, hit 47.2% in 2014  — only slightly lower than 47.8%t in 2012, the highest it has been since 1917 (the earliest year data are available). When union membership was at its peak (33.4% in 1945) the share of income going to the top 10% was only 32.6%.

Insert pix here

The single largest factor suppressing wage growth for working people and suppressing union membership over the last few decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining. This erosion has affected both union and nonunion workers alike, contributing to wage stagnation and growth in inequality. To boost wages for working people, policymakers need to intentionally tilt power back to working people by strengthening their rights to stand together and negotiate collectively for better wages and benefits, raising and improving labor standards, and achieving persistent low unemployment.

Strong unions and employee organizing rights foster a vibrant middle class because the protections, rights, and wages that unions secure affect union and nonunion workers alike. Unfortunately, eroded labor standards, weakening unions, changing norms, guestworker policies that undercut wages, and monetary policies that prioritize controlling inflation over lowering unemployment have helped depress wages and erode living standards for all workers.

— From the Economic Policy Institute, May 24, 2016:

A scientist takes measurements for the archaeo-magnetic survey in the Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France. (Photo:Etienne Fabre / SSAC via Reuters.)
By the Activist Newasletter     

Scientists have revealed that ring-shaped structures made of stalagmites located in a cave in southern France date back 176,500 years, much older than previous estimate of 47,600 years. The rings in the Bruniquel Cave, first discovered in 1990 and teeming with artifacts, are older than any known cave painting. Scientists had already determined the structures were made by early humans, but the new findings confirm they were built by Neanderthals, so often considered dimwitted, and not Homo sapiens.

These discoveries are part of the Neanderthals’ ongoing rehabilitation. Since their discovery, scientists have tried to understand why they died out and we did not, with the implicit assumption that they were inferior in some important way. Indeed, to describe someone as a Neanderthal today is to accuse them of unsophisticated brutishness.

— A fascinating article about this extraordinary discovery is at:

Weapons to potentially be used by the military in behavior modification and
mind-control are remotely operated electromagnetic frequency weapons. These weapons
 use microwave, ELF (Extremely Low Frequencies) and acoustics frequencies to covertly
manipulate the minds of persons under attack. 
[Here is one more situation — neurotechnology in this case  — where brilliant scientific discoveries that can help humankind also possess military and other negative applications that could lead to human disaster. The author of this article is a professor of neurology, chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program, and co-director of the O’Neill-Pellegrino Program in Brain Science and Global Health Law and Policy at Georgetown University Medical Center. He is also a member of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s panel on neuroethics, legal, and social issues, and serves as a senior science advisory fellow to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Author’s note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of DARPA, the Joint Staff, or the United States Department of Defense.]

By James Giordano

Nearly two years ago, Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old paraplegic man, kicked off the World Cup in Brazil with the help of a brain-interface machine that allowed his thoughts to control a robotic exoskeleton. Audiences watching Pinto make his gentle kick, aided as he was by helpers and an elaborate rig, could be forgiven for not seeing much danger in the thrilling achievement.

Yet like most powerful scientific breakthroughs, neurotechnologies that allow brains to control machines — or machines to read or control brains — inevitably bring with them the threat of weaponization and misuse, a threat that existing UN conventions designed to limit biological and chemical weapons do not yet cover and which ethical discussions of these new technologies tend to give short shrift.

It may seem like science fiction, but according to a September 2015 article in Foreign Policy, “The same brain-scanning machines meant to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or autism could potentially read someone’s private thoughts. Computer systems attached to brain tissue that allow paralyzed patients to control robotic appendages with thought alone could also be used by a state to direct bionic soldiers or pilot aircraft. And devices designed to aid a deteriorating mind could alternatively be used to implant new memories, or to extinguish existing ones, in allies and enemies alike.”

Despite the daunting complexity of the task, it’s time for the nations of the world to start closing these legal and ethical gaps — and taking other security precautions — if they hope to control the neuroweapons threat.

The technology on display in São Paulo, pioneered by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, exhibited the growing capability of neurorobotics — the study of artificial neural systems. The medical benefits for amputees and other patients are obvious, yet the power to read or manipulate human brains carries with it more nefarious possibilities as well, foreshadowing a bold new chapter in the long history of psychological warfare and opening another front in the difficult struggle against the proliferation of exceptionally dangerous weapons.

The full range of potential neuroweapons covers everything from stimulation devices to artificial drugs to natural toxins, some of which have been studied and used for decades, including by militaries. Existing conventions on biological and chemical weapons have limited research on, and stockpiling of, certain toxins and “neuro-microbiologicals” (such as ricin and anthrax, respectively), while other powerful substances and technologies — some developed for medical purposes and readily available on the commercial market — remain ungoverned by existing international rules. Some experts also worry about an ethics lag among scientists and researchers; as the Foreign Policy article pointed out, a 200-page report put out last spring on the ethics of the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative didn’t once mention “dual use” or “weaponization.”

In America, federally funded medical research with potential military applications can be regulated by Dual-Use Research of Concern policies at the National Institutes of Health, which reflect the general tenor of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Yet these policies do not account for research in other countries, or research undertaken (or underwritten) by non-state actors, and might actually create security concerns for the United States should they cause American efforts to lag behind those of other states hiding behind the excuse of health research or routine experimentation, or commercial entities sheltered by industry norms protecting proprietary interests and intellectual property.

n addition to a more robust effort on the part of scientists to better understand and define the ethics of neuroscience in this new era, one obvious solution to the neuroweapons threat would be progress on the bioweapons convention itself. In preparation for the biological weapons convention’s Eighth Review Conference at the end of this year, member states should establish a clearer view of today’s neuroscience and neurotechnology, a better understanding of present and future capabilities, and a realistic picture of emerging threats. They should also revise the current definitions of what constitutes a bioweapon, and what is weaponizable, and set up criteria to more accurately assess and analyze neuroscience research and development going forward.

I would also argue that the United States and its allies should take the proper security precautions in the form of increased surveillance of neuroscience R&D around the world. As a preliminary measure, government monitors can develop a better understanding of the field by paying attention to “tacit knowledge” — the unofficial know-how that accumulates among individuals in labs and other venues where a particular science is practiced or studied. (For more on tacit knowledge and arms control, see Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s recent Bulletin article about its crucial importance for the bioweapons convention.) In a similar vein, authorities should also follow the neuroscience literature in an effort to assess trends, gauge progress, and profile emerging tools and techniques that could be enlisted for weaponization.
Of course these are only preliminary measures, easily stymied by proprietary restrictions in the case of commercial research and state-secret classifications in the case of government work. Thus deeper surveillance will require a wider effort to collect intelligence from a variety of sources and indicators, including university and industrial programs and projects that have direct dual-use applications; governmental and private investment in, and support of, neuroscience and neurotech R&D; researchers and scholars with specific types of knowledge and skills; product and device commercialization; and current and near-term military postures regarding neurotechnology. This type of surveillance, while requiring more nuanced and more extensive investigations, could produce highly valuable empirical models to plot realistic possibilities for the near future of neuroscience and neurotechnology. These could then be used to better anticipate threats and create contingency plans.

It’s important to note the danger of this type of surveillance as well. As a 2008 report by the National Academies in Washington warned, increased surveillance could lead to a kind of arms race, as nations react to new developments by creating countering agents or improving upon one another’s discoveries. This could be the case not only for incapacitating agents and devices but also for performance-enhancing technologies. As a 2014 report by the National Academies readily acknowledged, this type of escalation is a realistic possibility with the potential to affect international security.

The United States and its allies should therefore be cautious if they deem it necessary to establish this kind of deep surveillance. And on the international front, they should simultaneously support efforts to improve the Biological Weapons Convention to account for neuroweapons threats in the offing.

Finally, they should keep in mind just how hard it is to regulate neuroscience and neurotechnology during this time of great discovery and expansion. Ethical ideals can be developed to shape guidelines and policies that are sensitive to real-world scenarios, but the flexibility of these approaches also means that they are not conclusive. Those charged with monitoring potential threats must be constantly vigilant in the face of changing technologies and fuzzy distinctions between medical and military uses, all while navigating the complexities of the health-care industry, political and military ethics, and international law. In light of the work ahead, it remains to be seen just how well the nations of the world will rally to face the neuroweapons threat.

— From the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists May 31. James Giordano's latest book is Neurotechnology in National Security and Defense: Practical Considerations, Neuroethical Concerns (CRC Press).

Afghan troops mount army vehicle as smoke billows from a building after a Taliban attack in Helmand Province on March 9. (Photo: Abdul Malik / Reuters.)
By The Economist, June. 11, 2016

Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of America’s forces in Afghanistan, this month completed a review of what will be needed to contain the growing insurgent threat posed by the Taliban and its allies. After reading his recommendations, President Obama will have to make a decision he surely hoped to pass on to the next president: whether to ramp up American troop numbers in Afghanistan again.

Nicholson has probably asked Obama at least to halt his planned reduction of America’s troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of the year. Obama has often seemed to think he could end the war in Afghanistan simply by declaring it over. But the enemy has not cooperated. Afghan forces have fought bravely since the end of 2014, when NATO combat troops formally left. But they were not ready to cope with the sudden departure of their allies, while the Taliban remained resilient and capable.

The Afghans are suffering losses that American commanders warn are .tainable Not since 2001 have the Taliban held as much territory as they now do. Civilian casualties are mounting, as Afghan soldiers have been stretched thin across multiple fronts. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says that the loss of American air power has particularly hampered the Afghan army’s ability to carry out attacks.

Even current troop levels — 6,954 Americans to train and help Afghan forces and 2,850 on separate counter-terrorism missions, with NATO contributing a further 5,859 soldiers — appear inadequate. The Obama administration understands this, at least tacitly. The House Armed Services Committee recently revealed that 26,000 military contractors are in Afghanistan — an unusually high number. They do a lot of jobs that troops would normally do, allowing Obama to hold the headline figure for troops deployed below 10,000.

Nor is it just a question of numbers: what the White House lets its soldiers do also matters. American Special Forces go discreetly into action with their Afghan counterparts. But most troops in the “train and assist” mission are not embedded with Afghan combat units, where they would be in harm’s way but also of most practical help.

Restrictions on air power are even more frustrating for field commanders. American combat aircraft may only be used against designated terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State, or when either NATO troops are imperiled or “strategic collapse is imminent” (for example, if a big city is about to be captured).

David Petraeus, a former commander in Afghanistan, and O’Hanlon recently urged the president to change the rules of engagement. They pointed out that America is dropping and firing 20 times more bombs and missiles in Iraq and Syria than in Afghanistan. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that “U.S. and allied air power is critical” to prevent the Afghan army’s defeat.

Note: A related article is directly below.


Families flee the city of Fallujah last week with the help of Iraqi forces. The Iraqi military, backed by Shia militias and U.S. airstrikes, have launched a operation to retake Falluja from Islamic State, which has used the city as a redoubt within reach of Baghdad for more than two years.
By Andrew J. Bacevich

We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary -- the New York Times reporting, for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.”
But a question remains: A milestone toward what exactly?

Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose.

Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised.

One imagines that Obama himself understands this perfectly well. Just shy of five years ago, he was urging Americans to “take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president insisted, “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

“These long wars,” he promised, were finally coming to a “responsible end.” We were, that is, finding a way out of Washington’s dead-end conflicts in the Greater Middle East.

Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity, or question his oft-expressed wish to turn away from war and focus instead on unattended needs here at home? But wishing is the easy part. Reality has remained defiant. Even today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama show no sign of ending.

Like Bush, Obama will bequeath to his successor wars he failed to finish. Less remarked upon, he will also pass along to President Clinton or President Trump new wars that are his own handiwork. In Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and several other violence-wracked African nations, the Obama legacy is one of ever-deepening U.S. military involvement.  The almost certain prospect of a further accumulation of briefly celebrated and quickly forgotten “milestones” beckons.

During the Obama era, the tide of war has not receded. Instead, Washington finds itself drawn ever deeper into conflicts that, once begun, become interminable -- wars for which the vaunted U.S. military has yet to devise a plausible solution.

Once upon a time, during the brief, if heady, interval between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 when the United States ostensibly reigned supreme as the world’s “sole superpower,” Pentagon field manuals credited U.S. forces with the ability to achieve “quick, decisive victory -- on and off the battlefield -- anywhere in the world and under virtually any conditions.” Bold indeed (if not utterly delusional) would be the staff officer willing to pen such words today.

To be sure, the United States military routinely demonstrates astonishing technical prowess -- putting a pair of Hellfire missiles through the roof of the taxi in which Mansour was riding, for example. Yet if winning -- that is, ending wars on conditions favorable to our side -- offers the measure of merit by which to judge a nation’s military forces, then when put to the test ours have been found wanting.

Syrian security forces and residents gather at the site of 2 euicide bombings in the area of a revered Shi'ite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of Damascus. The first blast was caused by a car bomb that went off at a bus station by a public transport garage near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine. Two suicide bombers then set off their explosive belts when people gathered at the scene, according to official SANA news agency.
Not for lack of trying, of course. In their quest for a formula that might actually accomplish the mission, those charged with directing U.S. military efforts in the Greater Middle East have demonstrated notable flexibility. They have employed overwhelming force and “shock-and awe.” They have tried regime change (bumping off Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, for example) and “decapitation” (assassinating Mansour and a host of other militant leaders, including Osama Bin Laden). They have invaded and occupied countries, even giving military-style nation-building a whirl. They have experimented with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention, retaliatory strikes and preventive war. They have operated overtly, covertly, and through proxies. They have equipped, trained, and advised -- and when the beneficiaries of these exertions have folded in the face of the enemy, they have equipped, trained, and advised some more. They have converted American reservists into quasi-regulars, subject to repeated combat tours. In imitation of the corporate world, they have outsourced as well, handing over to profit-oriented “private security” firms functions traditionally performed by soldiers. In short, they have labored doggedly to translate American military power into desired political outcomes.

In this one respect at least, an endless parade of three- and four-star generals exercising command in various theaters over the past several decades have earned high marks. In terms of effort, they deserve an A.
As measured by outcomes, however, they fall well short of a passing grade. However commendable their willingness to cast about for some method that might actually work, they have ended up waging a war of attrition. Strip away the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel reassurances regularly heard at Pentagon press briefings or in testimony presented on Capitol Hill and America’s War for the Greater Middle East proceeds on this unspoken assumption: if we kill enough people for a long enough period of time, the other side will eventually give in.

On that score, the prevailing Washington gripe directed at Commander-in-Chief Obama is that he has not been willing to kill enough. Take, for example, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by that literary odd couple, retired General David Petraeus and Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon, that appeared under the pugnacious headline “Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban.” To turn around the longest war in American history, Petraeus and O’Hanlon argue, the United States just needs to drop more bombs.

The rules of engagement currently governing air operations in Afghanistan are, in their view, needlessly restrictive. Air power “represents an asymmetric Western advantage, relatively safe to apply, and very effective.” (The piece omits any mention of incidents such as the October 2015 destruction of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz by a U.S. Air Force gunship.) More ordnance will surely produce “some version of victory.” The path ahead is clear. “Simply waging the Afghanistan air-power campaign with the vigor we are employing in Iraq and Syria,” the authors write with easy assurance, should do the trick.

When armchair generals cite the ongoing U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria as a model of effectiveness, you know that things must be getting desperate.

 Five-year-old Sheima, who lost both eyes when hit by a stray bullet in Syria, sits on her
 hospital bed in a small clinic near the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern
 city of Kilis, Turkey, on Feb. 9, 2016
 (Photo Osman Orsal/Reuters.)
Granted, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are on solid ground in noting that as the number of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan has decreased, so, too, has the number of air strikes targeting the Taliban. Back when more allied boots were on the ground, more allied planes were, of course, overhead. And yet the 100,000 close-air-support sorties flown between 2011 and 2015 -- that’s more than one sortie per Taliban fighter -- did not, alas, yield “some version of victory.” In short, we’ve already tried the Petraeus-O’Hanlon take-the-gloves-off approach to defeating the Taliban. It didn’t work. With the Afghanistan War’s 15th anniversary now just around the corner, to suggest that we can bomb our way to victory there is towering nonsense.

Petraeus and O’Hanlon characterize Afghanistan as “the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight.” Eastern sinkhole might be a more apt description. Note, by the way, that they have nothing useful to say about the “broader fight” to which they allude. Yet that broader fight -- undertaken out of the conviction, still firmly in place today, that American military assertiveness can somehow repair the Greater Middle East -- is far more deserving of attention than how to employ very expensive airplanes against insurgents armed with inexpensive Kalashnikovs.

To be fair, in silently passing over the broader fight, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are hardly alone. On this subject no one has much to say -- not other stalwarts of the onward-to-victory school, nor officials presently charged with formulating U.S. national security policy, nor members of the Washington commentariat eager to pontificate about almost anything. Worst of all, the subject is one on which each of the prospective candidates for the presidency is mum.

From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford on down to the lowliest blogger, opinions about how best to wage a particular campaign in that broader fight are readily available. Need a plan for rolling back the Islamic State? Glad you asked. Concerned about that new ISIS franchise in Libya? Got you covered. Boko Haram? Here’s what you need to know. Losing sleep over Al-Shabab? Take heart -- big thinkers are on the case.

As to the broader fight itself, however, no one has a clue. Indeed, it seems fair to say that merely defining our aims in that broader fight, much less specifying the means to achieve them, heads the list of issues that people in Washington studiously avoid. Instead, they prattle endlessly about the Taliban and ISIS and Boko Haram and al-Shabab.

Here’s the one thing you need to know about the broader fight: there is no strategy. None. Zilch. We’re on a multi-trillion-dollar bridge to nowhere, with members of the national security establishment more or less content to see where it leads.

May I suggest that we find ourselves today in what might be called a Khe Sanh moment? Older readers will recall that back in late 1967 and early 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, one particular question gripped the national security establishment and those paid to attend to its doings: Can Khe Sanh hold?

Now almost totally forgotten, Khe Sanh was then a battlefield as well known to Americans, as Fallujah was to become in our own day. Located in the northern part of South Vietnam, it was the site of a besieged and outnumbered Marine garrison, surrounded by two full enemy divisions. In the eyes of some observers, the outcome of the Vietnam War appeared to hinge on the ability of the Marines there to hold out -- to avoid the fate that had befallen the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu slightly more than a decade earlier. For France, the fall of Dien Bien Phu had indeed spelled final defeat in Indochina.

Was history about to repeat itself at Khe Sanh? As it turned out, no... and yes.The Marines did hold -- a milestone! -- and the United States lost the war anyway.

U.S. Army soldiers and Special Forces will remain indefinitely in Afghanistan.
In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that those responsible for formulating U.S. policy back then fundamentally misconstrued the problem at hand. Rather than worrying about the fate of Khe Sanh, they ought to have been asking questions like these: Is the Vietnam War winnable? Does it even make sense? If not, why are we there? And above all, does no alternative exist to simply pressing on with a policy that shows no signs of success?

Today the United States finds itself in a comparable situation. What to do about the Taliban or ISIS is not a trivial question. Much the same can be said regarding the various other militant organizations with which U.S. forces are engaged in a variety of countries -- many now failing states -- across the Greater Middle East.
But the question of how to take out organization X or put country Y back together pales in comparison with the other questions that should by now have come to the fore but haven’t. Among the most salient are these: Does waging war across a large swath of the Islamic world make sense? When will this broader fight end? What will it cost? Short of reducing large parts of the Middle East to rubble, is that fight winnable in any meaningful sense? Above all, does the world’s most powerful nation have no other choice but to persist in pursuing a manifestly futile endeavor?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine the opposing candidates in a presidential campaign each refusing to accept war as the new normal. Imagine them actually taking stock of the broader fight that’s been ongoing for decades now. Imagine them offering alternatives to armed conflicts that just drag on and on. Now that would be a milestone.

— Andrew J. Bacevich was a former U.S. Army colonel during and after the Vietnam war and then a Professor of History at Boston University. In recent decades he has written a number of books critical of U.S military policy, including his most recent America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.
— From


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Humanitarian conference hailed the gathering as a “turning point” that has “set a 
new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness 
to take better care of one another.” Ban said.

By the Activist Newsletter (based on various press reports)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the leaders of the world's wealthiest countries May 24 for failing to attend a pivotal humanitarian summit in Istanbul, Turkey, that culminated with a long list of commitments and question marks over their implementation.

At the closing of the two-day first World Humanitarian Summit — an event the UN has been preparing for three years — Ban said it was "disappointing that some world leaders" couldn't attend, singling out the Group of 7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Only German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the summit.

Ban also criticized the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who have prevented progress "not only in critical issues of war and peace, but even on humanitarian affairs," stressing that the absence of these leaders didn't "provide an excuse for inaction."

The countries Ban criticized are not only among the richest and most powerful states in the world but a few of them are deeply involved in the wars that have caused much of today's humanitarian crisis.

The summit, which aimed to boost humanitarian responses to global crisis, drew the participation of 10,000 participants, 173 countries (including 65 heads of state) and hundreds of NGO aid organizations. Despite the absence of global heavyweights, Ban was encouraged by the results of the conference saying that more than 1,500 commitments were made by 400 government representatives, humanitarian organizations and other groups in line with the conference's priorities.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian clock is ticking away faster than ever, with over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people — including millions of war refugees — in dire need of assistance that will cost billions of dollars that are not yet forthcoming.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the aid group Oxfam International, declared "It is shameful that rich countries are moaning, complaining, sending refugees back, cutting deals behind their backs.... We want to see rich countries step up to the plate, absorb refugees and give them opportunities in their own countries."

"The summit highlighted major gaps in the way the international community approaches crises," said Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

While galvanizing strong participation, the summit has also come under sharp criticism — particularly from rights groups who questioned the record of host country Turkey — and many parties from the humanitarian and development communities concerned by the non-binding nature of the commitments made.

Sara Pantuliano, managing director at the Overseas Development Institute, called the conference a "missed opportunity," saying the commitments that came out of it "fell short in substance and ambition."

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, described the conference as being "one with principles and broad statements, which is simply not good enough. People are suffering. We need action."


Even the most widespread and globally common species will not avoid biodiversity loss.
By Phil Torres

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the two greatest existential threats to human civilization stem from climate change and nuclear weapons. Both pose clear and present dangers to the perpetuation of our species, and the increasingly dire climate situation and nuclear arsenal modernizations in the United States and Russia were the most significant reasons why the Bulletin decided to keep the Doomsday Clock set at three minutes before midnight earlier this year.

But there is another existential threat that the Bulletin overlooked in its Doomsday Clock announcement: biodiversity loss. This phenomenon is often identified as one of the many consequences of climate change, and this is of course correct. But biodiversity loss is also a contributing factor behind climate change. For example, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere reduces the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by plants, a natural process that mitigates the effects of climate change. So the causal relation between climate change and biodiversity loss is bidirectional.

Furthermore, there are myriad phenomena that are driving biodiversity loss in addition to climate change. Other causes include ecosystem fragmentation, invasive species, pollution, oxygen depletion caused by fertilizers running off into ponds and streams, overfishing, human overpopulation, and overconsumption. All of these phenomena have a direct impact on the health of the biosphere, and all would conceivably persist even if the problem of climate change were somehow immediately solved.

Such considerations warrant decoupling biodiversity loss from climate change, because the former has been consistently subsumed by the latter as a mere effect. Biodiversity loss is a distinct environmental crisis with its own unique syndrome of causes, consequences, and solutions — such as restoring habitats, creating protected areas (“biodiversity parks”), and practicing sustainable agriculture.

The sixth extinction: The repercussions of biodiversity loss are potentially as severe as those anticipated from climate change, or even a nuclear conflict. For example, according to a 2015 study published in Science Advances, the best available evidence reveals “an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.” This conclusion holds, even on the most optimistic assumptions about the background rate of species losses and the current rate of vertebrate extinctions. The group classified as “vertebrates” includes mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and all other creatures with a backbone.


The article argues that, using its conservative figures, the average loss of vertebrate species was 100 times higher in the past century relative to the background rate of extinction. (Other scientists have suggested that the current extinction rate could be as much as 10,000 times higher than normal.) As the authors write, “The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history.” Perhaps the term “Big Six” should enter the popular lexicon — to add the current extinction to the previous “Big Five,” the last of which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

But the concept of biodiversity encompasses more than just the total number of species on the planet. It also refers to the size of different populations of species. With respect to this phenomenon, multiple studies have confirmed that wild populations around the world are dwindling and disappearing at an alarming rate. For example, the 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook report found that the population of wild vertebrates living in the tropics dropped by 59% between 1970.

The report also found that the population of farmland birds in Europe has dropped by 50 percent since 1980; bird populations in the grasslands of North America declined by almost 40 percent between 1968 and 2003; and the population of birds in North American arid lands has fallen by almost 30 percent since the 1960s. Similarly, 42 percent of all amphibian species (a type of vertebrate that is sometimes called an “ecological indicator”) are undergoing population declines, and 23 percent of all plant species “are estimated to be threatened with extinction.” Other studies have found that some 20% of all reptile species, 48% of the world’s primates, and 50% of freshwater turtles are threatened. Underwater, about 10% of all coral reefs are now dead, and another 60% are in danger of dying.

Consistent with these data, the 2014 Living Planet Report shows that the global population of wild vertebrates dropped by 52% in only four decades — from 1970 to 2010. While biologists often avoid projecting historical trends into the future because of the complexity of ecological systems, it’s tempting to extrapolate this figure to, say, the year 2050, which is four decades from 2010. As it happens, a 2006 study published in Science does precisely this: It projects past trends of marine biodiversity loss into the 21st century, concluding that, unless significant changes are made to patterns of human activity, there will be virtually no more wild-caught seafood by 2048.

Catastrophic consequences for civilization: The consequences of this rapid pruning of the evolutionary tree of life extend beyond the obvious. There could be surprising effects of biodiversity loss that scientists are unable to fully anticipate in advance. For example, prior research has shown that localized ecosystems can undergo abrupt and irreversible shifts when they reach a tipping point. According to a 2012 paper published in Nature, there are reasons for thinking that we may be approaching a tipping point of this sort in the global ecosystem, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic for civilization.

As the authors write, a planetary-scale transition could precipitate “substantial losses of ecosystem services required to sustain the human population.” An ecosystem service is any ecological process that benefits humanity, such as food production and crop pollination. If the global ecosystem were to cross a tipping point and substantial ecosystem services were lost, the results could be “widespread social unrest, economic instability, and loss of human life.” According to Missouri Botanical Garden ecologist Adam Smith, one of the paper’s co-authors, this could occur in a matter of decades — far more quickly than most of the expected consequences of climate change, yet equally destructive.

Biodiversity loss is a “threat multiplier” that, by pushing societies to the brink of collapse, will exacerbate existing conflicts and introduce entirely new struggles between state and non-state actors. Indeed, it could even fuel the rise of terrorism. (After all, climate change has been linked to the emergence of ISIS in Syria, and multiple high-ranking U.S. officials, such as former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA director John Brennan, have affirmed that climate change and terrorism are connected.)

The reality is that we are entering the sixth mass extinction in the 3.8-billion-year history of life on Earth, and the impact of this event could be felt by civilization “in as little as three human lifetimes,” as the aforementioned 2012 Nature paper notes. Furthermore, the widespread decline of biological populations could plausibly initiate a dramatic transformation of the global ecosystem on an even faster timescale: perhaps a single human lifetime.

The unavoidable conclusion is that biodiversity loss constitutes an existential threat in its own right. As such, it ought to be considered alongside climate change and nuclear weapons as one of the most significant contemporary risks to human prosperity and survival.

  From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 11, 2016, Phil Torres is the founder of the X-Risks Institute, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


By Activist Newsletter (based on various news reports)

New York Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order June 5 banning the state from doing business with any group that formally cuts ties to the state of Israel as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“We are against the BDS movement.... If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you,” Cuomo said at an event in Manhattan where he signed the executive order.

Cuomo made his move hours before the annual Salute to Israel parade in Manhattan —  as part of a broader effort to firm up the Democratic Party’s alliance with Israel. The governor — a longtime supporter of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — took a swipe at her opponent in the primary, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who has questioned Israel’s disproportional attacks on Gaza.

Hudson Valley Readeres: Wednesday, June 15, ALBANY:  A protest will take place here today starting at 12 noon against Gov. Cuomo's executive order banning the state from doing business with any group that formally cuts ties to the state of Israel as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is a global movement committed to fighting nonviolently to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the subjugation of the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The organization has been under increasing attack by those threatened by the support for human rights it has galvanized worldwide and for shining a critical light on the abusive policies of the Israeli government when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians. The event is sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace (Albany chapter), Palestinian Rights Committee of Upper Hudson Peace Action, CodePink, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, Middle East Crisis Response and others.


By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

In April, the Washington Post compared the state of U.S. political campaigns to that of the Gilded Age, noting that 41% of the money raised by SuperPacs by the end of February came from just “50 mega-donors and their relatives.”

New evidence suggests that tax avoidance may be at the center of what some of these mega-donors are expecting in return for that largess to Presidential and Congressional candidates.

Take the case of Priorities USA, the SuperPac supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It has already raised $67 million and just four hedge fund billionaires have ponied up 40% of that amount.

Hedge funds already receive a perverse form of taxation known as “carried interest” that allows their winnings to be taxed at rates lower than those paid by some plumbers and nurses. This cozy tax scheme allows managers of hedge funds and private equity funds to have much of their income taxed as long term capital gains rather than the almost double tax rate that would be applied if it were treated as wage income.

Now, new questions are being asked about why some of these hedge fund billionaires are turning up in the notorious Panama Papers leak. The leak resulted from a whistleblower turning over 11.5 million files from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, relating to offshore accounts in secrecy jurisdictions. The documents were provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared the information with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). A searchable public database for a portion of the leaked documents has been set up by the ICIJ, leading to almost daily new revelations.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) notes “while not all of the transactions and accounts arranged by the [Mossack Fonseca] firm were illegal, many helped extremely wealthy individuals dodge billions of dollars in taxes through the use of offshore ‘shell’ companies and other methods.” ICIJ has noted that 36 Americans implicated in fraud or other financial crimes show up in the database.

Three of Hillary Clinton’s largest donors to the Priorities USA SuperPac have turned up in the Panama Papers database or earlier leaked documents pertaining to offshore companies now housed in the ICIJ database.

Hedge fund billionaire George Soros has donated $343,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a controversial joint fundraising effort between Hillary, the Democratic National Committee and state committees, as well as donating a whopping $7 million to her SuperPac, Priorities USA. The Panama Papers show George Soros tied to Soros Holdings Limited, whose agent is Mossack Fonseca, and lists the British Virgin Islands for its registration. Another company tied to Soros is Soros Finance Inc., which shows registration in Panama and also lists Mossack Fonseca as its agent.

Employees of hedge fund Paloma Partners have donated $4 million to Hillary’s SuperPac, Priorities USA. At least $2.5 million of that came in two checks written in 2015 by S. Donald Sussman, the founder of the hedge fund. Sussman also gave $343,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund. Sussman and Paloma Partners turn up in the ICIJ offshore database from a document leak in 2013. Both he and his hedge fund are shown as connected to a company called Simply Radiant Limited which was registered in the British Virgin Islands with an agent called Portcullis Trustnet.

Billionaire hedge fund owner, David E. Shaw, wrote a check for $750,000 to Hillary’s SuperPac, Priorities USA, on March 31, 2015 and another in the identical amount on February 12, 2016 according to Federal Election Commission records. Three entities tied to Shaw turn up in the earlier leaked offshore accounts in the ICIJ database: an account in the name of David E. Shaw, a Shaw Family Trust I, and Mid Ocean Company.

Executives, employees and family members of Citigroup are the second largest lifetime donors to Hillary Clinton’s political campaigns over the course of her career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. On May 16 Wall Street On Parade reported on the octopus of ties that Citigroup’s Private Bank in Miami has to the Panama Papers, with dozens of offshore corporations showing Mossack Fonseca as their agent while using the address of “Citigroup Private Bank, 201 South Biscayne Blvd., Suite 3300, Miami, Florida 33131″ as their official address, according to the ICIJ database.

In January and March of this year, hedge fund billionaire James Simons wrote two checks to Hillary’s SuperPac, Priorities USA, for $3.5 million each, matching the $7 million Soros has also contributed. Simons is the founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies and also runs a so-called “family office” where he manages his own wealth, known as Euclidean Capital. We could not find Simons in the ICIJ database but we did find his hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, in the Wall Street On Parade database — and not in a good way.

Renaissance Technologies became the target of an investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, culminating in a charge of avoiding $6.8 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) in taxes. The Senate Subcommittee took testimony at the July 22, 2014 hearing from Steven M. Rosenthal, a Senior Fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Rosenthal explained the scheme as follows:

“I have been asked to evaluate the character of the gains of the Renaissance hedge funds based on my review of materials provided by the Subcommittee staff. The Renaissance hedge funds traded often, more than 100,000 trades a day, more than 30 million trades a year, and they traded quickly, turning over their portfolio almost completely every 3 months. Because the hedge funds adopted a short-term trading strategy, we would expect their gains to be short term. But the hedge funds, with the help of Barclays and Deutsche Bank, wrapped derivatives around their trading strategy in order to transform their short- term trading profits into long-term capital gains. This tax alchemy purported to reduce the tax rate on the gains from 35% to 15% and reduced taxes paid to the Treasury by approximately $6.8 billion. I believe the hedge funds stretched the derivatives beyond recognition for tax purposes and mischaracterized their profits as long-term gains.”

Forbes currently puts James Simons’ net worth at $15.5 billion, making his political donations a very cheap investment in the overall scheme of things.

Hillary Clinton was asked about the revelations in the Panama Papers. According to the Guardian newspaper, Clinton responded:

“Some of this behavior is clearly against the law and anyone who violates the law anywhere should be held accountable. But it is also scandalous how much is actually legal. That is why last year I proposed a plan to shut down the so-called private tax-system for the mega wealthy. We are going after all these scams and making sure everybody pays their fair share in America. I am going to hold them accountable.”

Anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton is going to hold her mega-donors accountable should probably put their campaign contributions under their pillow for the tooth fairy. Those who care to pursue a more positive path might want to sign the petition set up by USPIRG, supporting their plan to raise billions of dollars in public financing of campaigns. 

 — From Wall Street on Parade, May 18, 2016. (www. (


By Matthew Nussbaum

The Congressional Budget Office is warning lawmakers about the fiscal risks of climate change, putting the studiously non-partisan agency at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy.

The report, released as hurricane season begins, warns that hurricane damage will “increase significantly in the coming decades” due to climate change. The agency added that humans are playing a role in fueling rising temperatures and a shifting climate.

“Human activities around the world — primarily the burning of fossil fuels and widespread changes in land use — are producing growing emissions of greenhouse gases,” the report states. “Experts in the scientific community have concluded that a portion of those emissions are absorbed by the oceans, but a substantial fraction persists in the atmosphere for centuries, trapping heat and warming the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Most Republicans remain unconvinced that climate change is real, with the party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, calling it “a total hoax” and “pseudoscience.” His previous rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has called climate change a “pseudo-scientific theory.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said the science is inconclusive. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in February 2015 to argue that climate change is not real.

The CBO report included possible policies that Congress might enact to mitigate the rising costs of increased hurricane damage. Among those was a “coordinated effort to significantly reduce global emissions.”

— From Politico June 2.

A scene from the film. 
By Lara Vapnek

London, 1912. Breaking windows. Blowing up mailboxes. Bombing the home of the British Prime Minister. Crimes we might associate with anarchists were, in fact, perpetrated by militant British suffragists. Suffragette, a new film directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, dramatizes their movement. The film tells the story of laundress Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan), a composite figure, who stands in for the tens of thousands of women in Britain and in the United States who risked jobs, relationships, and respectability to demand their right to vote.

Until now, the cinematic figure of the suffragette has been limited to the comic Mrs. Banks, the mother in Mary Poppins, who leaves her children in a nanny's care to march in favor of votes for women. Maud Watts is her polar opposite. A working mother, devoted to her young son, George, Maud gets drawn into the militant suffrage movement out of her concern for her co-workers and her hope for a better world.

Although Maude initially rejects the label "Suffragette" as too subversive, like her, we come to see how gender-based political disabilities have defined her life. Testifying before Parliament in a scene shot on site, Maud describes minimal wages, long hours, and frequent burns from the iron. She has spent her life in the laundry, having been brought there as a baby by her mother, who died of lung disease when Maude was a small child. Maud does not divulge the prevalence of sexual harassment in her workplace, but that is soon revealed by her boss's lecherous looks and unwanted caresses.

Maud faces steep barriers in pursuing her right to vote as a simple matter of equity, enduring police violence, force-feeding in prison, and disapproval from neighbors for breaking the rules of respectability. Cast out of her home by her husband as punishment for being arrested during a protest, Maud finds a new family in the cross-class Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Members of the East London contingent include a female pharmacist (Helena Bohnam Carter) frustrated by her inability to attend medical school. Maud's friend from work, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), drops out of the group when she discovers she is pregnant, a plot twist that underlines working-class women's lack of access to birth control.

The filmmakers have created a rich cast of characters, effectively mixing fiction and history. It might have been easier, but less illuminating, to make a straight biopic about Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the WSPU, played with aplomb by Meryl Streep. Significantly, Maud has little real contact with Pankhurst, whose speeches become flashpoints for police brutality. Like many followers of radical movements, male and female, historical and contemporary, Maude gets drawn into a the cause in the hope of giving her life some significance. The death of Maud's friend Emily Wilding Davison, a real figure, who stepped in front of King George's hors
e while holding a suffrage banner, raises the perennial question of how much any individual should sacrifice for a cause, no matter how worthy.

The actual British suffragists over 100  years ago.
Suffragette is the first feature-length, dramatic film to capture the passion, the violence, and the repression that surrounded women's long struggle for equality. In dramatizing the civil rights movement, Hollywood films like Selma have gone for big personalities and boldface names. In contrast, these British filmmakers trace how the suffrage movement arose organically from women's daily lives. Working women's particular experiences of poverty are brought to life by watching Maud toil at home and at work. We see the strain of the "double day" in her cough, her slightly hunched back, and her perpetual exhaustion.

Despite many strengths, from a historical perspective, the movie falters at a few points. First: the problem of class. In one scene, Alice Houghton, a wealthy suffragist in the WSPU, is bailed out of prison by her husband, but he refuses to bail out the working-class women who have been arrested along with his wife. Later in the film, it seems discordant when Maud rescues a young laundry worker from sexual harassment by finding her a job in Mr. and Mrs. Houghton's home. True, working-class women had few options for employment, but many left domestic service for work in laundries and factories because they felt even more vulnerable to mistreatment and sexual abuse within wealthy homes.

Second, we are missing the labor movement as conduit for working-class women's suffrage activism. The Women's Trade Union League, which had British and American branches, worked to make these two social movements mutually reinforcing. Third, most working-class women who became activists had the support of family, coworkers, and friends. Thus, the need for a heroic journey may have stripped the fictional Maud of the community support her historical counterparts most likely received.

American viewers may wonder about similarities and differences with the British suffrage movement. For the most part, Americans eschewed violence, and working-class women seemed reluctant to be arrested. Like Maud, most could not afford bail, nor could they risk their jobs, or leave their children unattended. Equally as significant, the arrest of working-class women did not generate the headlines drawn by the incarceration of more elite women, like Alice Paul, whose class, race, and gender made them seem entitled to the bodily integrity routinely denied to working class women and women of color a century ago.

Suffragette's vivid depiction of working women's daily lives and the drama of their public protest make this film a "must-see" for anyone interested in women's history. The filmmakers capture the physical vulnerability and abuse that so many female activists suffered at the hands of their employers as well as the police. In the densely textured visual storytelling that provides so much of this film's drama, this violence fuels the fight, and inspires at least some women to stand up to authority and received wisdom against long odds. Here, the film feels contemporary, referencing, and perhaps helping us to appreciate women's ongoing struggles for equality throughout the world.  



By The Onion

Under pressure from scholars, who for centuries have pointed out strong similarities between certain aspects of the two religions, God finally admitted Tuesday that He had stolen the idea for the Messiah from Zoroastrianism and used it as a major feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

“Look, maybe they came up with the thing about the Messiah being conceived by virgin birth, but c’mon—that’s just one minor detail. I added plenty of new stuff in there,” said God Almighty, Our Lord and Heavenly Father, adding that the concept of Saoshyant, the savior of Zoroastrianism, was “barely fleshed out” and that He had “really put [His] own spin on it and humanized [His] Messiah” by having Jesus Christ physically walk the earth and interact with other people.

“I mean, how many ideas are truly original when you think about it? And anyway, I made my guy a carpenter — gave him a nice real-world job. That’s so much more relatable than their mysterious, magical man who lives for decades without eating anything. Okay, okay, I may have also taken the part about him raising the dead and being the judge of all humankind, too, but that’s it. The rest is all me.”

God attempted to silence further criticism by announcing that there were some “big surprises” in store for the upcoming Apocalypse, assuring reporters it would be “totally different” than Frashokereti, the Zoroastrian description of the final battle between good and evil.