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Jessica Corbett

U.S. Politics Expert Environmental reporter
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Jessica’s writing has been published by The NationIn These TimesThe Ithaca Voice, London’s Peace News, and Common Dreams, where she is currently a staff writer. She has fact-checked for Rolling Stone, VICE, and Splinter. Her work in journalism primarily explores the intersection of politics, public health, and environmental policy. She also writes about human and civil rights, gender, and labor issues.

Jessica graduated magna cum laude from Ithaca College, where she earned a B.A. in journalism and politics with an international studies concentration. A trained dancer and yogi, Jessica is a health nut who loves strong coffee, long books, live music, and adventures abroad. She hails from the Chicago suburbs but now lives in Portland, Maine.

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Jessica Corbett, USA 01/23/2018 0

U.S. Politicians and Public Criticized for ‘Whitewashing’ King’s Legacy

As U.S. politicians across the political spectrum turn to social media to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the national holiday celebrating his life, students of history, citing the civil rights leader’s complex legacy, have issued a warning: “Don’t fall for their scams.”

“Modern day Republicans and Democrats often speak as if they love King, even as they excoriate the real heirs to his legacy: the Black Lives Matter activists and other social justice warriors who fight for racial and economic liberation.”
—Steven Thrasher,
The Guardian

“As you listen to American politicians from both parties invoke MLK,” writes Steven Thrasher in the Guardian, “think about if their actions live up to King’s vision of justice—and push them as hard as he would have when they fall short.”

“Modern day Republicans and Democrats often speak as if they love King, even as they excoriate the real heirs to his legacy: the Black Lives Matter activists and other social justice warriors who fight for racial and economic liberation,” Thrasher notes. “But the truth is, many of these American politicians would have hated King when he was alive as much as they hypocritically dishonor his radical legacy today.”

Thrasher outlines how King’s critiques of American exceptionalism, imperialism, and capitalism flagrantly contrast with the actions of so many politicans who have spent the weekend blasting out tweets in his honor, and how America’s embrace of King has changed since he was assassinated nearly 50 years ago:

As often as American politicians are always saying they wish Ferguson or NFL protesters did things “more like King,” white Americans have never really liked any kind of racial protest, and didn’t especially like King when he was alive. They didn’t like him marching at Selma or helping run a bus boycott in Montgomery. The didn’t like him organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to try to bring together economically exploited people of all races. And they certainly didn’t like him showing up in Memphis to help sanitation workers strike for better working conditions after two of their own, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on the job.

Writing for The Intercept on Monday, Zaid Jilani points to a notable shift in public opinion polling before and decades after King’s death; in 1966, 63 percent of Americans held a negative view of him, but by 1999, King was ranked second, behind Mother Theresa, on a list of the most admired figures of the 20th century. King had been more widely accepted in the early 1960s, but his popularity declined with his decisions to publicly denounce the Vietnam War and launch more provocative anti-poverty initaitves.

“He labeled the war an ‘enemy of the poor,’ saying that its budget was draining anti-poverty programs; he also pointed out that it was hypocritical for him to preach nonviolence to activists at home, while watching his government reject that principle abroad,” Jilani writes. “The backlash from a liberal establishment that had once praised King for his civil rights campaign came as hard and fast,” as did that of the African-American establishment and 168 newspaper editorial boards nationwide.

However, after King was killed in April of 1968, “the mood shifted quickly,” Jilani notes. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson, “who had once terminated all communication with King and privately cursed his name, issued a statement saying the ‘heart of America is heavy, the spirit of America weeps‘” while “Bobby Kennedy, who once authorized the wiretaps of King’s phones, attended the funeral.”

Several people turned to Twitter on Monday to decry the “whitewashing” of King’s legacy, with journalist Glenn Greenwald observing that 50 years after his life was cut short because of his political activism, today King is “celebrated only by ignoring and deleting his core beliefs.”

King’s daughter Bernice posted a series of tweets urging the public to also honor her mother, Coretta Scott King, “the architect of the King Legacy,” and calling on the global community to “truly hear” her father’s voice, “follow his teachings, and demonstrate his love for humanity.”

Jessica Corbett, USA 12/19/2017 0

Poll: US Concern Over ‘Pervasive’ High-Level Corruption Surging Under Trump

Since President Donald Trump entered office in January, the number of Americans concerned about rampant corruption in the White House has surged, according to public opinion polling conducted in October and November.

The Berlin-based Transparency International—a global anti-corruption coalition that defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”—conducted a survey entitled the U.S. Corruption Barometer 2017. The survey found that 44 percent of those polled believe corruption is “pervasive” in the Office of the President, a 12-point jump from last year, before Trump took office.

Overall, there was an increase in the percentage of Americans who believe the government is failing to fight corruption. Under Trump, about seven of 10 people believe the U.S. government is doing a poor job of eradicating and preventing corruption, up from about half of Americans in 2016.

In spite of the Trump campaign rallying cry “drain the swamp,” as president, Trump has filled his administration with former lobbyists and corporate insiders. As Newsweek summarizes, the White House “has been rocked by almost daily legal and investigatory bombshells related to corruption,” including:

  • Trump is being sued in Maryland and Washington, D.C. for violating the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.;
  • Paul Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, has been indicted on money-laundering charges;
  • Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in an investigation that also uncovered secret lobbying work for the Turkish government;
  • and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, failed to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real estate company, and has repeatedly had to revise his financial-disclosure forms to add items he “forgot.”

Additionally, at least six members of his Cabinet have been questioned regarding seemingly excessive travel expenses. The Justice Department has allowed Trump to skirt anti-nepotism laws to appoint his daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Kushner, as senior advisers. His sons Eric and Don Jr., meanwhile, have taken over his company’s daily operations, though Trump’s frequent presence at his hotels and golf courses alongside lobbyists and foreign officials has raised concerns about the ultrarich “buying access” to him.

While Trump’s White House was seen as the most corrupt entity in the U.S. government and business spheres, Congress trailed closely behind; 38 percent of Americans said they believe Congress as corrupt, followed by about a third who believe individual government officials and business executives are engaged in corruption.

Although 55 percent said fear of retaliation is the main reason to not report corruption—up from 31 percent last year—nearly three-quarters of respondents said they still believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against it.

Despite a small drop in those who see voting as an effective deterrent to corruption, the ballot box remains the most popular method for fighting corruption as an ordinary person. Other forms of direct action—such as “speaking out on social media, joining a protest march, joining an anti-corruption organization, signing a petition, talking to friends or relatives, or boycotting a business”—saw increased support among respondents to this year’s survey.

“Americans have expressed their frustration with Washington and its elected officials in myriad ways,” Transparency International noted in response to the the results. “Yet there are things that can be done to ensure that institutions are clean and that taxpayer dollars are spent in alignment with the public’s concerns and not just with special corporate and elite interests.”

To combat corruption in the United States, the coalition recommends:

    1. Promoting transparency in political spending by providing the public with real-time information—accessible in online—about political spending by publicly traded companies and on every level of influence, including political ad campaigns, lobbying, and bundled campaign contributions.
    2. Preventing revolving doors by ending the unchecked exchange of personnel among corporations, lobbying firms, elected offices, and other high-level government roles.
    3. Establishing public awareness of ownership by outlawing anonymous shell companies that can be conflicts of interest and/or vehicles for illegal activity.
    4. Strengthening the ethics infrastructure by reinforcing the independence and oversight capabilities of the Office of Government Ethics.
    5. Improving and implementing more whistlerblower protections to shield from retaliation those who expose corruption and other misconduct by the government officials and contractors.
    6. Increasing public access to basic information about the government to empower ordinary people to help fight corruption.

Top photo | President Donald Trump, second from right, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, Vice President Mike Pence, and others, listen during a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2017, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)


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Jessica Corbett, USA 12/17/2017 0

North Korea Ready for Direct Talks With U.S., Says Russian Foreign Minister

After talking with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of an international summit in Vienna on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said North Korea is ready for direct talks and Russia is willing to help the two nations enter diplomatic discussions in order to decrease rising nuclear tensions and the threat of war.

“We spoke about the situation on the Korean peninsula,” Lavrov, told TASS, a Russian news agency, about his talks with Tillerson. “Our position on this matter is unchanged. We are confident that it the vicious spiral of confrontation and provocations must be stopped.”

“We know that North Korea wants first of all to speak with the United States about its security guarantees,” he added. “We are ready to support it. We are ready to help promote such talks.”

The State Department, however, seems unlikely to pursue the offer, and the department’s spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, told Reuters that direct talks with North Korea were “not on the table until they are willing to denuclearize.”

“It is something that Russia says it agrees with; it is something China has said it agrees with, and many other nations around the world as well,” Nauert claimed, adding that North Korea was “not showing any interest in sitting down and having any kind of serious conversations when they continue to fire off ballistic missiles.”

A spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry emphasized the costs of war, and told Reuters: “We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and take steps to alleviate tensions and not provoke each other…. The outbreak of war is not in any side’s interest. The ones that will suffer the most are ordinary people.”

These comments come as peace advocates continue to say that a diplomatic settlement through direct talks is the only way to resolve the volatile situation, and as one U.S. lawmaker expressed worries this week that too few realize just “how close we are to this war.”

“I think that the president is playing to a segment of the population and, I think, relying on the fact that most Americans don’t realize how close we are to this war,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran, in an interview with Vox published Thursday. “Look: I’m not someone who’s going to avoid war at all costs. That’s not me. But I want the American people to know what this will cost.”

Duckworth—who lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was downed in Iraq—recalls how the Bush administration was “selling a lie” ahead of the invasion of Iraq, and warns that “we don’t have the troops in the region, on the ground, to do what would need to be done to fully contain [North Korea’s] nuclear capabilities,” but “just ramping up—prepositioning troops, stocks, and logistics in a place where we could do it—could prompt the North Koreans to do something.”

The United States continues to conduct joint military exercises with South Korean forces over the Korean peninsula, despite warnings from the North Koreans that the drills are perceived as provocations of war, as Common Dreams reported Wednesday.

“The large-scale nuclear war exercises conducted by the U.S. in succession are creating touch-and-go situation on the Korean peninsula, and series of violent war remarks coming from the U.S. high-level politicians amid such circumstances have made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact,” a North Korean spokesperson said this week. “The remaining question now is: when will the war break out.”

Top photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Russia is willing help the United States and North Korea open a diplomatic dialogue to stave off the mounting threat of a nuclear crisis. (Photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS)

By Common Dreams

Jessica Corbett, USA 12/16/2017 0

‘This. Is. Big.’: After Years of Pressure, World Bank to Drastically Curb Funding of Fossil Fuels

As world leaders convene at the One Planet Summit on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, environmental advocates are cautiously celebrating the “historic announcement” by the World Bank on Tuesday that it will stop funding oil and gas exploration and production projects after 2019.

Though 350.org responded to the news by saying “more still needs to be done” to curb funding for fossil fuel projects, Oil Change International (OCI) executive director Stephen Kretzmann said, “It is hard to overstate the significance of this historic announcement.”

“Environmental, human rights, and development campaigners have been amplifying the voices of frontline communities for decades in calling for an end to World Bank financing of upstream oil and gas projects,” Kretzmann explained. “Today the World Bank has raised the bar for climate leadership.”

The announcement comes less than a day after more than 200 civil society groups, including OCI, signed an open letter demanding that the World Bank, G20 governments, and multilateral development banks stop funding fossil fuels. It also coincides with the summit in Paris, which was jointly organized by World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, French President Emmanuel Macron, and António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

While world leaders come together to discuss how their nations can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the World Bank’s announcement also reaffirmed its commitment to the climate accord and outlined additional actions the group will take to address the climate crisis.

“Major financial institutions like the World Bank are pulling their support of fossil fuel projects because they recognize that the pressure to do so is only going to increase and because they are bad investments,” said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.

Alongside the World Bank’s announcement, the French company Axa—one of the world’s largest insurers—announced Tuesday that it plans to dump investments and stop providing insurance to U.S. oil pipelines as well as quadruple its investments in environmentally-friendly projects by 2020.

Martin compared Axa’s decision to those of American banks such as Wells Fargo, which has been criticized for funding TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline. “Wells Fargo has a choice to make,” Martin said. “They can get with the program and take a meaningful step forward by pulling their support from Keystone XL, or they can further tarnish their suffering reputation by sinking more money into the dirty, dangerous fossil fuels of the past.”

Following Tuesday’s announcements, Patrick Bonin, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, called on the cooperative financial group Desjardins to “immediately reverse its recent decision to lift its moratorium on tar sands pipeline funding” and cancel its $145 million loan to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project. He also demanded that TD Bank “finally answer the public’s questions about its deep involvement in financing” that same pipeline.

“AXA has set a new global standard, raising the bar for other actors in the financial sector,” Bonin added. “Meanwhile, the decision to exit from upstream oil and gas by the World Bank—one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions—has sent a damning vote of non-confidence rippling through the finance community. This is new proof that the oil industry’s days are numbered.”

Top photo: Tuesday’s announcement world leaders convene in Paris for the One Planet Summit, which the World Bank organized with France and the United Nations. (Photo: U.N. Global Goals/Twitter)

By Common Dreams

Jessica Corbett, USA 0

Meat Tax Crucial, Says Analysis, to Combat Climate Crisis and Global Health Threats

“Driven by a global consensus around meat’s negative contributions to climate change and global health epidemics such as obesity, cancer, and antibiotic resistance,” a new report by a British investor network concludes that a meat tax should be considered “inevitable” for any government serious about addressing the climate crisis and other health concerns that stem from factory farms and livestock production.

“If policymakers are to cover the true cost of livestock epidemics like avian flu and human epidemics like obesity, diabetes, and cancer, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidization to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable.”
—Jeremy Coller, FAIRR

For more than a decade, the United Nations and environmentalists have warned that “livestock is a major threat” to the environment, due to land and water degradation as well as the substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions that farm animals generate.

As of 2013, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found (pdf) that agriculture, including livestock, accounted for nearly 15 percent of anthropogenic emissions. The majority of emissions came from cattle raised for beef and milk.

A report from Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR)—which will be released in full next month—advises that meat is “on the same pathway to taxation as goods such as sugar, carbon, and tobacco,” which has led more than 180 countries to tax tobacco, 60 jurisdictions to tax carbon, and at least 25 to tax sugar.

FAIRR researchers point to a 2015 move by the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as a probable carcinogen, reflecting “similar reports on the harmful effects of tobacco and sugar.” They also acknowlege that since the early 1990s, global meat consumption has grown by more than 500 percent.

In response to skyrocketing rates of meat consumption, last year a team at Oxford University conducted the first-ever global analysis of meat taxes, which concluded—as the lead researcher put it—”It is clear that if we don’t do something about the emissions from our food system, we have no chance of limiting climate change.”

In light of the worldwide surge in consumption and the research illustrating its consequences, as governments look for ways to reduce emissions to meet goals established by the Paris Climate Accord,“it is increasingly probable we’ll see meat taxes become a reality,” said FAIRR founder Jeremy Coller.

“Countries such as Sweden and Denmark have already looked at meat tax proposals,” Coller noted. “If policymakers are to cover the true cost of livestock epidemics like avian flu and human epidemics like obesity, diabetes, and cancer, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidization to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable.”

“Current levels of meat consumption are not healthy or sustainable,” said Marco Springmann, a senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health at Oxford University. “They lead to high emissions of greenhouse gases that threaten to jeopardize existing climate commitments, as well as to large numbers of avoidable deaths from chronic diseases.”

“Taxing meat for environmental or health purposes could be a first and important step in addressing these twin challenges,” Springmann added, “and it would send a strong signal that dietary change toward more healthy and sustainable plant-based diets is urgently needed to preserve both our health and the environment.”

Jessica Corbett, USA 12/14/2017 0

Honduran Government Denounced for Using ‘Dangerous and Illegal Tactics’ to Silence Dissent

As Honduras’ right-wing government continues to crack down on dissenting voices amid widespread violence and national protests over allegations of election fraud in last month’s presidential election, Amnesty International is calling on officials to immediately stop “deploying dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices,” while the nation’s former president blames the United States, which backed the 2009 coup that ousted him from power, for creating “a military state.”

“Evidence shows that there is no space for people in Honduras to express their opinions. When they do, they come face to face with the full force of the government’s repressive apparatus.”
—Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International

Efforts to silence opponents of incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández have continued, as protesters pour into the streets in spite of a government-imposed curfew, under which Amnesty says “security forces operated with the greatest impunity.”

Even as some members of the Honduran National Police force have started refusing to follow orders to quash protests because, as a spokesperson said, they “don’t want to repress and violate the rights of the Honduran people,” the violence has persisted.

“Honduras seems to be on a very dangerous free fall where ordinary people are the victims of reckless and selfish political games,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. “Evidence shows that there is no space for people in Honduras to express their opinions. When they do, they come face to face with the full force of the government’s repressive apparatus.”

Amnesty International sent a delegation to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capitol, following the Nov. 26 election to meet with activists, victims of violence, and police officers. The group has “documented a plethora of human rights violations against protesters and other people” as well as at least 14 deaths since the protests broke out after the election.

Guevara-Rosas urged the Honduran government to “start undoing some of the many wrongs documented in recent days” by “halting all use of illegitimate or excessive force against protesters by security forces, ending arbitrary detentions, and investigating all instances of human rights violations.”

In an exclusive interview with Democracy Now!, Manuel Zelaya—who was ousted by a U.S.-backed coup in 2009—urged protesters to maintain their presence in the streets, and called on Hernández and the Honduran government to count the votes. The former president says the protesters “know that [leftist coalition leader] Salvador Nasralla won the election,” but Hernández, a “reliable” U.S. ally, has remained in power because of U.S. influence over Honduran institutions.

“Since the coup d’état, the United States has done what it wants with this country,” Zelaya said. “They changed all the laws. This is a military state, with laws like Plan Colombia, like the laws in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is what’s happening in Honduras. And they’ve done away with guarantees and with respect. What’s being done in this country is unjust.”

Top photo: The former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, center, leads a march demanding President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation in Tegucigalpa on 5 June. (Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

By Common Dreams

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Jessica Corbett, USA 12/11/2017 0

In Pictures/Video: Hundreds Arrested in Peaceful Protest as Thousands March Demanding ‘Clean’ Dream Act

As undocumented young people lose their temporary protected status and Republican lawmakers push for legislation that would ramp up deportations, an estimated 15,000 people marched on Capitol Hill Wednesday while hundreds—including two lawmakers—were arrested in a peaceful protest to demand that Congress pass a clean Dream Act.

The Dream Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001, would enable undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children and meet other criteria to remain in the United States legally. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implemented by former President Barack Obama, was seen as a temporary fix until Congress could agree on legislation that addressed the status of this group.

Since the Trump admininstration announced in September its plans to phase out the DACA program—with no legislation in place to provide similar protections—immigrant rights advocates have increased the pressure on legislators to pass a bill that allows DACA recipients to remain in the country without including provisions that would target other undocumented immigrants, hence the term “clean” Dream Act.

The protesters also called for the administration to stop its rollback of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is offered to citizens of certain countries impacted by war and violence or natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Last month, the Trump administration ended TPS protections for Haitians and Nicaraguans displaced by natural disasters, forcing thousands of legal residents to either leave the United States before their status expires or face deportation.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) addressed the crowd on Wednesday, with Gutiérrez vowing to not vote for the budget unless it includes a clean Dream Act.

Gutiérrez, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and national leaders of United Farm Workers were reportedly among the hundreds who were arrested for peacefully demonstrating on the steps of the Capitol building.

The group Popular Democracy said it was “one of the largest” acts of civil disobedience in the history of the U.S. immigrant rights movement.

Some marchers with DACA status shared the number of days they are legally allowed to remain in the U.S. before they will face possible deportation.

Those who were unable to march were urged to call their members of Congress to encourage them to pass a Dream Act for DACA recipients that is potentially more expansive than the terminated program and that does not endanger other immigrants who will not be eligible for protections.

Organizers and demonstrators shared photos and videos from the march with the hashtags #DreamActNow and #SaveTPS.

Top photo:

Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building on Wednesday Dec. 6 while demanding that Congress pass a clean Dream Act to provide legal protections to undocumented people who came to the United States as children. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

By Common Dreams

Jessica Corbett, USA 11/21/2017 0

As Support Grows for Ban on Killer Robots, Viral ‘Slaughterbots’ Video Warns of Threat to Humans

As support grew last week for a ban on killer robots during the first formal United Nations talks about imposing limits on lethal autonomous weapons systems, artificial intelligence experts and advocacy groups released a viral video depicting what a future could look like with small and affordable drones that murder targets without any meaningful human control.

“This short film is more than just speculation; it shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies that we already have,” warns Stuart Russell, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley, near the end of the video.

AI’s “potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense, but allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom. Thousands of my fellow researchers agree,” Russell continues. “But the window to act is closing fast.”

Watch:

The film was created to raise support for a global ban on killer robots, which has developed out of urgent warnings from human rights organizations, advocacy groups, military leaders, lawmakers, tech experts, and engineers, including Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Russell and the Future of Life Institute screened the video in Geneva, Switzerland last week at an event hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, in an effort to increase pressure on the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems who were gathered for a week-long meeting organized by the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

When the talks concluded Friday, representatives established a final report calling for future discussions about the mounting threat of killer robots. Campaign for Killer Robots expressed disappointment with the report, but celebrated new support for banning these types of weapons. During the talks, three countries—Brazil, Iraq, and Uganda—joined the list (pdf) of 22 nations that are demanding an outright ban.

Top image: The short film shows small, autonomous drones target and kill lawmakers and college students who advocate for human rights. (Photo: “Slaughterbots“/Screenshot)

By Commondreams

Jessica Corbett, USA 11/19/2017 0

Fearing Trump, Congress Holds First Hearing in Decades on President’s Nuclear Authority

Despite Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) insistence that the congressional hearing on Tuesday about the authority to use nuclear weapons “is not specific to anybody,” it is the first hearing on this topic in decades, and comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump seems to have made a sport out of taunting North Korea’s leader as his nation advances its nuclear abilities.

Even before Trump took office and started threatening North Korea with “fire and fury,” the Pentagon had developed a $1.7 trillion plan under Barack Obama “to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, as well as new generations of warheads to go with them”—even though, as William Hartung describes in an excerpt from his new book about nuclear weapons, “in every sense of the term, the U.S. nuclear arsenal already represents overkill on an almost unimaginable scale.”

Trump’s behavior throughout his campaign and presidency has heightened concerns about the threat of nuclear annihilation and has, for months, provoked global demands that the U.S. Congress strip Trump of his nuclear authority. “A tough-guy attitude on nuclear weapons, when combined with an apparent ignorance about their world-ending potential,” writes Hartung, “adds up to a toxic brew.”

Thus, advocates of nuclear disarmament welcomed the decision by Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to hold the first nuclear authority hearing since 1976. Several groups and individuals offered real-time analyses and critiques of the testimonies, tweeting with the hashtag #NoRedButton.

A key takeaway seemed to be the president’s sweeping authority over whether the U.S. ever uses its nuclear weapons—and, as Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione put it, “If a crazy president orders a legal nuclear strike from one of the already vetted war plans, there is no one that can stop him.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said members of Congress are concerned the president “is so unstable, is so volatile” that under the current authorization process, “he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

As Bloomberg News outlined—with help from Global Zero co-founder and nuclear expert Bruce G. Blair—earlier this year, despite brief consultation with military and civilian advisers, the commander-in-chief “has the sole authority to use nuclear weapons.”

“About five minutes may elapse from the president’s decision until intercontinental ballistic missiles blast out of their silos, and about fifteen minutes until submarine missiles shoot out of their tubes,” Bloomberg notes. “Once fired, the missiles and their warheads cannot be called back.”

“Trump can use the nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) quipped during the hearing.

“There may be plans in place, right now, at the White House, to launch a preemptive war with North Korea using nuclear weapons—without consulting Congress,” Markey added. “No one human being should ever have the power.”

Earlier this year, Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaraton of war by Congress, with Markey saying at the time that “neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack.”

Although the bill has been praised as fears continue to mount in the U.S. and beyond, many critics of nuclear weapons point to it as merely, in the words of Global Zero executive director Derek Johnson, “an important first step to reining in this autocratic system and making the world safer from a nuclear catastrophe.”

By Commondreams

Jessica Corbett, USA 10/13/2017 0

As Wall Street Vultures Circle, Demands For Immediate Puerto Rico Debt Relief

While Wall Street vultures circle amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis and try to entice Puerto Rico with “relief” offers in the form of more debt, advocates for economic justice are demanding immediate debt relief and federal stimulus spending to rebuild the island’s devastated infrastructure.

“Puerto Rico needs immediate humanitarian assistance before many more lives are lost thanks to America’s latest climate catastrophe, and reconstruction aid to help them rebuild their infrastructure,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote for Common Dreams on Friday. She continued:

The hurricane only made a bad situation much, much worse: Puerto Rico has been reeling from austerity measures for years that were put in place by Wall Street, which has been calling to recoup the debt. One of Donald Trump’s first responses to the mounting humanitarian crisis was to remind people of the “billions of dollars” the territory owes to the bank, “which must be dealt with”—signaling what the priorities will be.
“Instead, we should consider forgiving Puerto Rico’s debt and federally fund its reconstruction,” Hauter added. “It’s important to demand federal funding for our precious water infrastructure before disasters happen as well; indeed, this funding was cut off to Puerto Rico because of its debt, making a bad situation much worse when the hurricane hit.”
Since Hurricane Maria struck the island last week, nearly half of the commonwealth’s 3.4 million residents remain without access to potable water and 97 percent remain without electricity—which its governer has warned may not be fully restored for up to six months.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, as Common Dreams reported Tuesday, has continuously offered assurance that the recovery efforts are “doing well” while also suggesting the government can offer only limited assistance because of Puerto Rico’s debts.

 

“For the president to bring up Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and its debt to corporate America during a time of tremendous suffering is shocking, even for Trump,” Sonali Kolhatkar wrote for Truthdig on Thursday. “The fact that he accompanied this statement with very little action to actually help Puerto Ricans intensified the cruelty of his words.”

Trump has faced intense criticism for his response to the disaster, and though on Thursday he finally caved to mounting pressure and temporarily suspended the Jones Act—a shipping restriction that prevents countries from docking at island ports to directly deliver aid—many are already drawing comparisons to how former President George W. Bush poorly handled Hurricane Katrina.

Though Kolhatkar notes how the government’s “botched response to hurricane damage in New Orleans caused devastation that the city never fully recovered from,” she warns that Puerto Rico now “faces a proportionately larger dilemma.”

Unlike New Orleans—Louisiana’s coastal city that was destroyed by Katrina in 2005—Puerto Rico, is a U.S. commonwealth with a complex colonial history, which has not only complicated disaster relief efforts but also helped create the economic crisis that hobbled the island even before the hurricane hit.

“Just as it is impossible to separate Puerto Rico’s economic crisis from its status as a U.S. territory,” Kolhatkar notes, “it is impossible to disentangle the devastation of the hurricane from the man-made disaster stemming from the island’s subservient relationship with the U.S.”

And while the federal government, under Trump, refuses to commit federal funds to rebuild Puerto Rico’s decimated infrastructure, some profit-motivated creditors are trying to benefit from the bankrupt island’s dire situation, as David Dayen reported for The Intercept this week.

“A group of bondholders, who own a portion of Puerto Rico’s massive $72 billion debt, has proposed what they are calling relief—but in the form of a loan,” Dayen reported. On Wednesday, the PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) Bondholder Group offered the island $1 billion in new loans and to replace $1 billion in existing bonds with a new $850 million bond.

The bonds would have had top priority for repayment, “and between that increased value and interest payments after the first two years, the bondholders would have likely come out ahead on the deal, despite a nominal $150 million in debt relief,” Dayen explained.

Officials with Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority said as much when they determined that the offer was “not viable” and would harm recovery efforts. In addition to rejecting the offer, Dayen reported, officials “suggested that profit motive rather than altruism was the bondholder group’s real goal.”

“Puerto Rico’s vulnerability to such a disaster is the result of putting bondholder interests over those of Puerto Ricans,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). “Now, urgent debt relief is necessary to allow for the rebuilding of the island’s infrastructure and to stimulate growth.”

On Friday Weisbrot demanded not only debt relief for the commonwealth but also “a significant fiscal stimulus package to fund the recovery efforts and jump-start the austerity-ravaged economy; allowing Puerto Rico the same Medicaid funding as U.S. states, and the permanent abolition of the Jones Act.”

As Jake Johnston, CEPR research associate, concluded: “Washington must abandon its austerity agenda and support the removal of all manmade obstacles to Puerto Rico’s recovery and reconstruction.”

Top photo | This undated photo provided by Hector Alejandro Santiago shows his farm in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, destroyed by September 2017’s Hurricane Maria. For 21 years Santiago raised poinsettias, orchids and other ornamental plants which were sold to major retailers including Costco, Walmart and Home Depot. In a matter of hours Maria wiped it away. (Héctor Alejandro Santiago via AP)

By Mintpressnews