Engagement with N. Korea works

July 19, 2017 Op-Ed

Engagement With North Korea Works

With a little will, both sides can take small steps to ratchet down the pressure — and avoid a catastrophic war.

By Kerri Kennedy

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are at an all-time high — and continue to escalate following North Korea’s test of a missile that can supposedly reach Alaska.

It’s still possible to turn down the heat with small steps that could lead to more robust diplomacy later on. But this requires the political will to engage instead of trading threats.

The Obama administration’s approach to North Korea was “strategic patience” — basically, waiting for things to get better. It was an undeniable failure. And while the Trump administration once signaled an interest in diplomatic engagement, since then their saber rattling has pushed us even closer to the brink of war.

There’s another, better way forward. Observers have noted over several decades that when the U.S. has opened lines of engagement, North Korean missile tests have been scaled back or stopped all together.

Simply put, engagement works.

Diplomacy is the only option for addressing this conflict — war would be catastrophic. And diplomatic engagement even has the benefit of being supported by most Americans.

There are a number of options available for low-level diplomacy that can open lines of dialogue.

Addressing humanitarian concerns, for example, could lead to political progress, as it has between the U.S. and other countries. This can be done at lower levels of government, or even by non-government organizations.

I’ve seen firsthand the power of engagement to open important doors. I work for the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit organization that’s had a presence on the Korean peninsula since 1953, when we responded to calls for refugee assistance.

In particular, AFSC is one of the few U.S.-based organizations that’s kept a presence in the North since the 1980s, and we’ve done it through exchanges of delegations hoping to reduce tensions.

We didn’t originally intend to provide humanitarian aid at that time, but when famine struck we sprung into action. Because we’d opened lines of communication and identified the crisis early on, we were ideally positioned to help. Since the end of the famine, we’ve been working with farmers in the region on sustainable agriculture practices.

Ours has been the most continuous example of a successful relationship between U.S and North Korean-based organizations. And we’ve seen that engagement lead directly to opportunities to address a humanitarian crisis and save lives.

Peer-to-peer exchanges like those we participate in have the potential to open diplomatic lines of communication. But this requires a willingness to do the work of engagement from those in political power.

What other options might be on the table?

Retrieving U.S. veterans’ remains from North Korea and reunifying Korean families divided by the war are both important and politically viable humanitarian issues that need to be addressed before time runs out, as survivors of the Korean War are aging. Working together on those goals could prime the pump for further diplomacy.

Americans want to see diplomatic engagement with North Korea, not an escalation of tensions and the threat of nuclear war. We know proven methods for engagement can and do lead to further opportunities for diplomacy, and that diplomacy leads to a decrease in military tensions.

We know what we need to do to begin to address this conflict in a productive, non-violent manner. What we need now instead of military threats is the political will for real engagement.

Kerri Kennedy is the Associate General Secretary for International Programs at the American Friends Service Committee. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

EDITORIAL: Don’t let US majors chip away at Open Skies

Jul 13, 2017

By Karen Walker

The single largest benefit to airlines and consumers that has occurred in the history of commercial air transportation began as a concept that crystallized into the US model known as Open Skies.

Twenty-five years and more than 100 agreements since the signing of that first pact between the US and the Netherlands, Open Skies has become a model around the world for air service liberalization.

The positive impact that liberalization has on aviation markets is huge and measurable. A survey by InterVistas shows that liberalization spurred a 16% growth in traffic between nations in 2016. This percentage hike is consistent in aviation markets that are opened up, with traffic growth typically averaging 12% to 35%.

For a classic before-and-after example, look to the US-Japan market. An InterVistas case study shows that between 2000 and 2009, traffic in this market dropped 33%—by almost 5 million. After the 2010 Open Skies agreement, and despite slot constraints and a global recession, seven new nonstop routes were created, frequency increased by 60 flights per week, and traffic rebounded to its highest level in five years.

Air service liberalization stimulates markets and encourages new city pairs. It allows for innovation and new, low-cost entrants. Open Skies’ fifth and seventh freedoms allow cargo carriers to open new hubs, improve the supply chain and lower delivery costs. Liberalization allows the market to grow and creates millions of jobs.

The traveling public rarely recognizes the enormous good that the American-born Open Skies concept has yielded, but passengers would be truly shocked and outraged if the pre-liberalization restrictions—and inevitably, higher fares—were reinstated.

InterVistas estimates that if all markets globally were fully liberalized, there would be 500 million more passengers and 9.4 million jobs created, including those in the supply industry and aviation-dependent tourism.

So there remain huge opportunities and rewards to be harvested from further liberalization. But there is a very real danger that instead, the US’ next commercial aviation steps will mark a retreat.

Chipping away at parts of Open Skies agreements to pander to those who wish to further protect their highly dominant market positions would be bad for America and worse for the consumer. American, Delta and United sit at the very top of the world in terms of passengers carried, revenue, profitability and fleet size. They, as much as any airline, have gained enormously from Open Skies, especially in the all-important transatlantic market, where each US carrier has powerful antitrust partnerships with major European airlines. They must not be allowed to dictate new Open Skies terms that benefit only them, certainly not in the transatlantic market but also not with the UAE and Qatar.

The road that the US and its Open Skies partners around the world should instead pursue is not a backwards one, but towards an even bolder future. Lift antiquated and nonsensical airline ownership and control laws. Re-think cabotage rights. Such brave thinking—as the initial Open Skies concept indeed was—would enable the US to retain its mantle as world’s aviation leader.

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com

July 26, 2017 Column, 298 words

Billionaire Donors Plot a ‘Renaissance of Freedom’ — for the Privileged

Who needs roads when you’ve got a private jet?

By Jim Hightower

Charles and David Koch — the billionaire oil men who’ve financed a vast network of right-wing advocacy groups — have stayed out of the national limelight recently. But they’re still trying to supplant American democracy with their little laissez-fairyland plutocracy.

In fact, in late June, they held a meeting of the Koch Boys Billionaires Club, gathering about 400 other uber-wealthy rascals to plot some political high jinks for next year’s elections.

The club meets every year at some luxury hideaway, and its attendees have to pay $100,000 each just to get in. But participants are also expected to give generously to the brothers’ goal of spending $400 million to buy a slew of congress critters, governors, and others in 2018.

This year, the group gathered in Colorado Springs at the ultra-lux Broadmoor Hotel and Resort, owned by the brothers’ billionaire pal and right-wing co-conspirator, Phillip Anschutz.

Among the recent political triumphs that these elites celebrated in the Broadmoor’s posh ballroom was the defeat this year of a Colorado tax hike to fix the state’s crumbling roads.

After all, who needs adequate roads, when you can arrive in private jets?

This attitude of the Kochs’ privileged cohorts explains why the public is shut out of these candid sessions. A staffer for the Koch confab hailed such no-tax, no-roads policies as a “renaissance of freedom.” For the privileged, that is — the freedom to prosper at the expense of everyone else.

Indeed, their agenda includes killing such working class needs as the minimum wage and Social Security, and privatizing everything from health care to public education. This self-absorbed cabal of spoiled plutocratic brats intends to abandon our nation’s core democratic principle of “We’re all in this together.”

If they kill that uniting concept, they kill America itself.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

July 26, 2017

A Tale of Two Beaches

Stories about the heroism of strangers can restore your faith in humanity — but strangers are no substitute for public servants.

By Jill Richardson

This summer, a heroic group of good samaritans rescued nine stranded swimmers at a Florida beach by forming a human chain.

Initially, two young boys were stranded in the ocean by a rip current. As adults swam out to try to save them and couldn’t return to shore themselves, the number of people in danger grew.

The same day, on the opposite coast, I went with a friend and her kids to the beach. She had to stay on shore to care for her baby, so when the older children asked me to go in the water with them, I agreed. Even though my friend would be watching them from the shore, it seemed safest to have an adult with them in the water.

We hadn’t been in the water five minutes before a lifeguard approached us on a jet ski. We were swimming in a rip current, he said. We needed to move. He showed us where to move to so that we would be safer. And we did.

There was no drama at the beach that day. No rescues, no near-death experiences.

Just a group of kids and two supervising adults having a great time in the water and playing in the sand. The kids found seashells and poked at sea anemones in the tide pools. They found a slimy sea slug that squirted purple ink, and saw brown pelicans flying overhead.

Unlike the people in Florida, we didn’t make the news.

The beach in Florida had no lifeguard. That’s why, even after the first two boys became stranded, nobody but other beachgoers attempted to help them out. All nine people were struggling to stay afloat while help was called when the onlookers decided to form a human chain.

It’s the sort of story that restores your faith in humanity — but it’s not the whole story. With a lifeguard present, that day at the beach in Florida would’ve resembled my day at the beach in California, in which the worst thing that happened was that the kids fought over the sand toys.

Life in California comes with liberal “big government” at its finest. The state was the first to ban smoking in bars and restaurants back in 1995. Our cars must pass an emissions test before the state will register them. Warnings that just about everything on the planet might give you cancer are a staple in our lives.

But it’s occasions like this that remind me that it’s worth it.

It’s worth it to pay taxes so that there are lifeguards at the beach. Smog is a real problem here, so I’m even glad our cars are regulated. Without the regulations, the smog would be worse.

Sure, taxes run high. But I’d even be willing to pay more if it would finance more wildfire fighters — or, better yet, public transportation, because wildfires and traffic are two problems that the government could go a long way toward solving if it had the money.

Of course, our regulations aren’t all perfect, and it’s seldom fun to pay taxes or obey rules.

But for those of us who can’t hire private lifeguards to follow us around, pooling resources is a great way to make sure that when you get caught in a rip current — literally or figuratively — you don’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers to save your life.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org

Case Western Reserve University Professor Explains How Skinny Repeal Will Increase Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In case you missed it, the so-called “skinny repeal” would lead to millions losing coverage while driving up insurance costs on middle-income Americans and leaving taxpayers with a larger bill to cover, according to an analysis from an Ohio college professor and former insurance company chief executive. The author, J.B. Silvers, explains that skinny repeal would leave middle-income Americans unable to even purchase coverage, while giving those receiving subsidies larger subsidies to cover the higher cost. The result is these middle-income, uninsured Americans return to expensive emergency-rooms and are forced into medical debt or offset by taxpayers.

The author also noted that rising costs can be “laid at the feet” of Congress and the President for uncertainty caused by threatening to withhold risk-sharing payments and rolling back enrollment efforts.

Read the full analysis below.

NYT – Silvers: Why ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Is a Terrible Idea

By J.B. Silvers

July 26, 2017

J. B. Silvers is a professor of health care finance at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

Skinny is often read as good today. We like skinny jeans, skinny models and, apparently, skinny health reform. It is likely that the Senate, which has just rejected repeal-and-replace and repeal-without-replace bills, will vote on a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. What does this actually mean, and what would it produce?

The proposal most often labeled “skinny” would repeal the insurance mandate for individuals and larger employers under the banner of choice and freedom — both standard objectives of conservatives. It also would repeal taxes on medical-device manufacturers and, perhaps, also on insurers, with the goal of reducing the costs that must be reflected in premiums.

On the surface, both of those changes seem modest and reasonable. But I can assure Congress, as a former insurance company chief executive, that they would lead to a bloated upscale version of the Medicaid expansion so hated by conservatives. The result would be not only the loss of coverage for millions of people but also an even bigger bill for the government to pick up.

You have to look at the dynamics of the insurance market to understand this. To survive, an insurer has to predict the risk of costly claims and to obtain sufficient enrollment to balance customers who need a lot of health care with enrollees who have few or no claims. This works because while an insurer can’t know the timing or severity of illness for an individual, it can estimate the average claims of a group of individuals fairly well.

In health care, some individual needs are predictable — young people use less, and those with chronic conditions demand more. The only way to obtain a reasonable average is to have a broad pool, like the employees of a company covered by a group plan.

The individual market never had this natural grouping, so premiums varied widely, as did coverage, if it was available at all. The Obamacare individual mandate was intended to produce a representative group and to keep average premiums in bounds.

But a variety of problems resulted in predictably higher premium rates for insurance exchanges. The mandated coverage for qualified health plans was broader, enrollment was skewed by pricing that favored older customers, and risk-reduction mechanisms were insufficiently funded. Most of those can be laid at the feet of the Republican Congress and of President Trump for his sabotage in limiting enforcement of the mandate, cutting enrollment efforts and threatening to withhold the risk-sharing payments for low-income enrollees.

As a result, insurance companies’ actuaries have filed rate increases in double-digit percentages based on expected higher claim costs — fewer healthy people have signed up — and on risks that they thought were shared by the government being shifted back to them. At the same time, underlying health care inflation is closer to about 4 percent. In addition, many insurers have simply left the market because of unpredictable government policy.

Others sticking it out have bet that their higher premiums, combined with the loss of competitors, will let them cover the higher risk. They are probably right. The widely predicted “death spiral” won’t happen: Subsidies provide a low ceiling on the net premium for over three-quarters of enrollees.

So what will it mean for individuals if the mandate is jettisoned in a “skinny repeal”? Those receiving subsidies will be largely immune to higher costs — their increased premiums will be offset by larger government subsidies — but it’s actually middle-income people without subsidies who will be priced out of the market.

Without the mandate, they will just return to their previous uninsured status, frequently turning into emergency-room patients and bad debts for hospitals and doctors. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that, in a decade, about 15 million people would be hurt, including independent professionals and small-business employees.

Those remaining in the exchanges will be receiving much higher subsidies because of the higher premiums, making them very similar to existing Medicaid beneficiaries. This is why the likely outcome is a much bigger tab for the government.

In effect, a “skinny repeal” will result in an unintended expansion of ever larger government subsidies to the working poor. The difference is that those people will have higher incomes than allowed under normal Medicaid or the expanded Medicaid coverage that has been so controversial in red states.

Some liberals may consider this extension of Medicaid-like coverage to be good policy that provides an on-ramp for the working poor to higher incomes and jobs with benefits. Yet the loss of insurance for millions of others is a steep cost for that expansion.

Those Republicans who advocate “skinny repeal” as just a lighter version of “repeal and replace” are likely to be very surprised at the unintended result. Most important, this piecemeal approach is no way to do health policy.

There Is Still Time, Brother

By Winslow Myers

Like many citizens for whom the daily headlines are an invitation to ponder the mental health of our political leaders, it is hard not to wonder from time to time about the risk of slipping into yet another war to end all wars—especially when the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki roll around, on August 6th and 9th, year after passing year.

In this context Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film, “On the Beach” is still worth a look. The screenplay was adapted from a novel of the same name by the English writer, Nevil Shute, who spent his later years in Australia, where both novel and film are set.

The plot provides a coolly understated take on the end of the world. Radioactivity from all-out nuclear war, both between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. and the Soviets and the Chinese, has done in anyone in the Northern Hemisphere who might have survived the initial blasts and fires. Australia is still in one piece, but it is only a matter of months before the great cycles of upper atmosphere winds bring a fatal plague of radiation southward, making it game over for our species. A laconic Gregory Peck, stoically repressing his knowledge that his wife and children had been long since annihilated in the initial nuclear exchange, plays a submarine captain whose vessel survived by being underwater. He takes his loyal crew on a futile exploratory voyage from Melbourne across to the California coast, both to test the intensity of atmospheric radiation and to confirm that no one has survived beyond the Australian continent.

In both novel and film, nobody knows who initiated the planet-ending wars and it hardly matters after the fact, just as it would not today. The only difference is we realize almost seventy years later that not only wind-born radioactive dust but also nuclear winter could hasten our planetary end. The wintry chaos of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel “The Road” may take a more authentically grim tone, just as the film “Dr. Strangelove,” released not long after “On the Beach,” suggests that only satire could do justice to the absurdity of the “policy” of Mutually Assured Destruction.

And yet in 1959, with the Cold War intensifying and only five years beyond the red-baiting Army-McCarthy hearings, it must have taken a certain courage for Stanley Kramer to make a Hollywood film of Shute’s novel, devoid of the least sign of a happy ending to lighten the quietly enveloping darkness.

The almost antique understatement of “On the Beach,” book and film both, somehow ends up working in favor of the subject. They illustrate our frustrated awareness that we imperfect humans continue to behave stupidly and sleepily in our inability to do something about our suicidally destructive weapons. Just as it sometimes seems as if we are appendages of our smartphones and computers, we appear to be appendages of our vain approach to security by deterrence. The leaders of the nuclear powers do not dare to do anything to stop the juggernaut of technological “advance,” the “we build—they build” momentum that is taking us ever faster downriver toward the waterfall.

“On the Beach” ends with a shot of a Salvation Army banner flapping emptily in the wind with the slogan “There is still time, brother.” In fact not everyone on the planet is sticking head where the sun don’t shine. More than 120 nations recently signed a United Nations pact agreeing to outlaw the manufacture, deployment and use of nuclear weapons. None of the nine nuclear nations signed, and the U.S. refused to even attend. The historic occasion didn’t come close to making the front pages of major U.S. media outlets, saturated as they have been with the Russian attempts at subversion of our electoral processes with the willing connivance of the Trump family.

In our pig-headed refusal to face reality, the nuclear powers appear to have learned nothing in all the many years since the first halting attempts, including “On the Beach,” to use the arts to dramatize the risks with which we heedlessly flirt, and how we need to change course or die. 120 nations have changed course—why not the U.S.?

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Boards of [http://www.beyondwar.org)/]Beyond War and the War Prevention Initiative.

Opening Gitmo to the world

By Robert C. Koehler

To read Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo is to run your mind along the contours of hell.

The next step, if you’re an American, is to embrace it. Claim it. This is who we are: We are the proprietors of a cluster of human cages and a Kafkaesque maze of legal insanity. This torture center is still open. Men (“forever prisoners”) are still being held there, their imprisonment purporting to keep us safe.

The book, by Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir — two Algerian men arrested in Bosnia in 2011 and wrongly accused of being terrorists — allows us to imagine ourselves at Guantanamo, this outpost of the Endless War.

“‘Take him outside,’ the interrogator told them. They led me up a flight of eight or nine concrete steps to a long gravel drive. It was pitch black out, and completely quiet. There was no one around. One of the soldiers grabbed my left arm, and another took my right. And then they started running.

“I tried to keep up, but my legs were shackled together. First, my flip-flops fell off, and after a few barefoot strides, my legs fell out from under me. The soldiers didn’t even slow down. They kept a firm grip on my arms while my legs bounced and scraped along the ground, gravel biting into them. When the run finally ended, the soldiers brought me back to the interrogation room, bloody and bedraggled.”

This is one fragment, one story of the seven years these two innocent men endured: these two fathers who were pulled away from their wives and children, yanked from their lives, stuffed into cages, interrogated endlessly and pointlessly, humiliated, force-fed (in Lakhdar’s case) … and finally, finally, ordered by a U.S. judge to be freed, when their case, Boumediene v. Bush, was at long last heard in a real court and the lack of evidence against them became appallingly clear.

The book is the story of the courage it takes to survive.

And it’s a story that can only be told because of the work of the Boston legal firm WilmerHale, which spent more than 17,000 pro bono hours litigating the case, “work that would have cost paying clients more than $35 million.”

Lakhdar and Mustafa were freed in 2008 and began rebuilding their lives. They eventually decided they wanted to tell their story — to an American audience. Daniel Norland, who was a lawyer at WilmerHale when the case was making its way through the court process (but was not part of the litigation team) and his sister, Kathleen List, who speaks fluent Arabic, conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with the two men, which were shaped into Witnesses of the Unseen.

In October 2011, the two men, who were living and working in Sarajevo, were among six Algerians who wound up being arrested by Bosnian authorities and charged with plotting to blow up the American embassy in Sarajevo. They were held for three months, then released. There was no evidence to back up the accusation.

But this turns out to be the beginning of their story, not the end of it. The men were released not back to their own lives but to an authority more powerful than the Bosnian judicial system: They were released to the Americans, who had begun rounding up Muslims … uh, terrorists. Evidence, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. These men were shipped to a new military prison, built at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba — an offshore prison, in other words, unencumbered by the U.S. Constitution. The detainees there allegedly had zero rights. That was the whole point.

Much of what Lakhdar and Mustafa describe is the efficiency of the U.S. military in dehumanizing its prisoners. The beatings and physical pain inflicted by guards, interrogators and even medical personnel were only part of it. The men also endured sexual humiliation, endless mocking of their religion — “I heard … that a soldier went into someone’s cell and flushed his Qur’an down the toilet” — and the cruel, teasing “misplacement” or censorship of letters from the prisoners’ loved ones.

Several years into his imprisonment, Lakhdar went on a hunger strike, which meant he was subjected to force-feeding, which the U.N. Human Rights Commission has called a form of torture:

“The soldier brought out an apparatus with a long yellow tube and started measuring out the length of tube he needed. He stopped when he got to a marking somewhere between 45 and 50 inches. That was the amount of tube he was going to insert through my nostril… .

“It’s almost impossible to explain what a feeding tube feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. I felt like I was choking, and being strangled, and yet somehow still able to breathe, all at the same time.

“The soldier taped the tube in place. I could see the Ensure trickling through the tube, one droplet at a time. It felt cold as it reached my stomach. I later learned that a full feeding normally takes fifteen to twenty minutes, but that first time they went exceptionally slowly. I sat in the clinic, chained to the chair, a tube protruding down my throat, for the rest of the afternoon and all through the night.”

It took no less than a Supreme Court ruling to start ending this nightmare.

In early 2007, a U.S. Circuit Court judge had refused to hear Boumediene v. Bush on the grounds that Guantanamo prisoners had no Constitutional rights. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and in June 2008 ruled that Guantanamo counted as part of the U.S. and, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, the government couldn’t “switch the Constitution on and off at will.”

Thus the case went back to the Circuit Court and a real hearing got underway, leading to one of the most appalling revelations in the book: “Our lawyers had told us, in the days leading up to our trial, about a recent bizarre development in our case: the government had dropped its allegation that we had plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Just like in Bosnia seven years before, authorities were eager to toss around bomb-plot allegations right up until a court required them to provide evidence.

“Instead, our lawyers told us, the government now said that the reason it considered us ‘enemy combatants’ was that it had evidence — classified evidence that I wasn’t allowed to see — that we had made a plan to fly to Afghanistan and join Al Qaeda’s fight against American forces there. This was the first time I had ever heard this allegation. No one — no police officer, no Bosnian official, no American interrogator — had ever asked me a single question about it.

“And it was a ludicrous allegation… .”

And the judge ruled in their favor and they eventually were set free, to reclaim their lives, to see their children for the first time in seven years — and to give their story to the world.

But as long as Gitmo remains open and the Endless War continues — and no one is held accountable — there is no ending to this story, just an open wound.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Nukes Now

By Tom H. Hastings

We have been living with nuclear weapons for 72 years, so that must make them safe and sustainable, right?


Nuclear weapons are the only way we have of killing most humans on Earth in the space of a few hours—far more immediately than global climate chaos, which is itself a dire threat. Indeed, reliable scientists assure us that they predict no giant meteor collisions nor anything else that can wreck life on Earth for at least millennia, except the ultimate self-inflicted nuclear apocalypse.

Most of humankind understands this, most of humankind is not defended in any conceivable fashion by the godawful weapons in the arsenals of just nine of the 200 nations on Earth.

That is why we are witnessing a political showdown between the overwhelming majority of the planet’s countries and the nine nuclear powers.

Oh, you hadn’t heard about this conflict? That is hardly surprising in our strange media and political atmosphere of random bellicose presidential tweets, votes on whether to slash healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens, and narcissistic speeches to the bewildered Boy Scouts. Not to mention the deranged cockfight environment we are witnessing inside the inner circle in the oddest, most dysfunctional White House in US history.

Far more meaningful in the long arc of human history and certainly in our hopes for future generations is the recently passed treaty to ban all nuclear weapons on Earth.

Yes, there have been sidelong, kick-the-warhead-down-the-timeline attempts before, including the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the stalled Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but now comes a full frontal legal and worldwide political assault on the enemy of the generations, nukes.

And we have seen successful treaties to outlaw both biological weapons (1972) and chemical weapons (1992), neither of which have ever been capable of the immediate and long term threat to life locked and loaded in the arsenals of just nine nations.

Naturally, it is The World v Nuclear Weapons Nation-states, plus a few nations who don’t have nukes but whose economic and political arms have been twisted, primarily by the US.

The 72 years since the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is nothing more than a quick eyeblink in the long span of human history and prehistory. Nukes are a single incident away from wrecking your life, your great-grandchildren’s lives, and those of everyone else. They are now officially criminal and have always been evil.

Now is the most opportune time ever to let your federal elected officials know that we stand with the vast majority of people on planet Earth. It’s time. Sign that treaty and get it ratified. Save the world, literally.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Provide for cover crops in insurance guide

By Anna Johnson, annaj@cfra.org, Center for Rural Affairs

Farmers manage crops, maintain equipment, and market products, often while balancing a second job and family demands.

Adding a dispute with a crop insurance company is the last thing farmers need.

Kevin Glanz, a farmer near Manchester, Iowa, has planted cover crops for five years. Cover crops are usually grasses or legumes planted between crop rotations to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, and help soil quality.

Last year, his crop insurance agent raised concerns. After three in-person inspections as part of a quality control audit, Kevin understood if he filed a claim in the fall, his loss may not be covered due to a cover crop practice.

Crop insurance is managed by the federal government, which underwrites policies. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has established “Good Farming Practices” to help define good crop management and stewardship.

However, “Good Farming Practices” does not address cover crops, so there is an additional set of guidelines that direct when farmers should terminate cover crops before planting their main crop to remain eligible for crop insurance.

In 2015, the government spent nearly $8 billion on administering crop insurance, including support for farmers’ crop insurance bills (or premiums), indemnities, and expense reimbursement to crop insurance companies.

Congress is beginning work on the next farm bill, and we urge our elected representatives to consider policies that encourage crop insurance companies to support conservation practices, such as cover crops.

Farmers and good stewards like Kevin need to know they can depend on their crop insurance.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

How U.S. natural gas will help countries meet their Paris commitments

By Merrill Matthews

While critics bemoan President Trump’s decision to pull out of — or renegotiate — the Paris climate agreement, the United States has been reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade. And now the country is poised to help a number of the signatory countries reduce theirs as well.

In his commitment to the Paris negotiators, President Obama “pledged” to reduce emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. However, the U.S. was on track to meet that goal, or close to it, even before Obama weighed in.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), energy-related U.S. carbon emissions have declined from about 6,000 million metric tons in 2005 (the agreement’s baseline date) to 5,170 MMT in 2016 — a 14 percent reduction in a decade.

If the U.S. continues reducing carbon emissions at that rate, we might just meet the Paris agreement’s U.S. goal anyway.

Ironically, the U.S. natural gas production boom could help other countries meet their commitments as well.

U.S. natural gas pipeline exports to Mexico have quadrupled recently because the country realized it’s cheaper and cleaner than other fossil fuels for electricity generation.

To export natural gas overseas or to South America, it must be turned into a liquid by cooling it to -260 degrees. Hence, liquefied natural gas or LNG.

Fortunately, a number of private sector companies have been willing to make the enormous financial investment to build U.S. LNG terminals.

We can already see where the future is heading. The EIA says the U.S. exported 43,553 million cubic feet of natural gas in March.

By contrast, in March of 2016, the U.S. exported only 10,000 million cubic feet.

Cheniere Energy’s LNG terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, is by far the most active LNG terminal to date, releasing 18 cargos in May, a record for the company. The U.S. is projected to be a net natural gas exporter by next year, which could help lower the trade deficit that has Trump so concerned.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this new global market for LNG.

Natural gas releases about half the carbon emissions of coal. The primary reason U.S. carbon emissions have been declining over the past decade is power generating plants have been shifting from coal to inexpensive natural gas.

By contrast, many developing countries tend to rely on coal for power generation because historically it has been the least expensive and most available option.

In 2015 China consumed 3,732 million tons of coal, according to the Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2016. India consumed 990 Mt in 2015.

China — the country many say will become the post-Paris leader in fighting climate change — consumed more than five times the coal the U.S. consumed.

But China, along with a number of other countries, has begun importing U.S. LNG — about 30,000 million cubic feet between October and March.

Egypt imported 3,600 million cubic feet, India about 10,000 million cubic feet,; Turkey about 11,000 million cubic feet. Even several oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have begun importing U.S. LNG.

As these and other countries try to reduce their carbon emissions in accord with their Paris agreement commitments, transitioning to natural gas power generation may be one of their first steps. And the country being widely denounced as the scourge of a cleaner climate, the U.S., may be the one to help them achieve their goal.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.


Congressman Jordan: Cruz-Lee consumer choice amendment helps Republicans keep Obamacare promise

By Jim Jordan

The Resurgent, July 12

For the past six years, Republicans have been consistently campaigning on a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. We won the House of Representatives in 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016 in no small part due to this one promise.

Now it is time to keep that promise.

It’s frustrating to Americans across the country, as well my conservative colleagues, that Congress did not fully repeal Obamacare. Both the American Health Care Act in the House and the Better Care Reconciliation Act in the Senate keep the Medicaid expansion in place and keep Obamacare mandates in place. In the Senate, there’s even talk of leaving some of the Obamacare taxes in place.

Even though the AHCA that passed the House wasn’t full repeal, it became a much better bill because of the intense involvement of conservatives. Our bill brings down premium costs for consumers by allowing states to waive many Obamacare regulations. Americans across the country are being crushed by the burden of Obamacare’s out-of-control premium costs. The AHCA is a crucial first step to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The Senate’s version, the BCRA currently repeals even less of Obamacare than the House version. Thankfully, conservatives like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are pushing for an amendment that would give Americans what they need: more choices that provide relief from Obamacare’s regulations and soaring premiums.

Senator Cruz and Mike Lee’s consumer choice amendment would allow insurance companies to offer the type of lower-cost plans that consumers want – plans that aren’t forced to comply with every Obamacare regulation – as long as that company also sells at least one Obamacare-compliant plan. This would allow everyday Americans to escape the high costs driven by Obamacare’s regulations, while still offering plans that met those requirements for individuals who want them. This common-sense approach would allow Americans the freedom to choose the kind of health insurance that they want, instead of forcing them to accept what the federal government required.

I believe the Cruz-Lee amendment would reintroduce freedom and the free market into the Senate’s plan. It would provide relief to Americans across the country, and it would show that Republicans are serious about keeping their promises.

Congressman Jim Jordan represents the Fourth District of Ohio. He served as the founding Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

Protecting Ohioans from Wall Street Scams

Always read the fine print.

Almost a year after millions of fake bank accounts were uncovered, Wells Fargo is still using fine print “forced arbitration” clauses to cheat those customers out of the justice they deserve.

Ohio’s consumer cop, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is trying to put a stop to this shady practice used by predatory payday lenders and big Wall Street banks. In July, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized a rule that would block financial institutions from using forced arbitration to stop customers from seeking justice through the court system after they’ve been cheated.

But President Trump’s Comptroller of the Currency, a former Wells Fargo lawyer, and Republicans in Congress are trying to overturn that rule. Overturning the Consumer Bureau’s arbitration rule will help banks and payday lenders continue to get away with cheating customers, and I intend to put up one hell of a fight.

Wall Street banks and payday lenders have armies of lobbyists and lawyers on their sides. Our job is to fight for the servicemembers, student borrowers, seniors, and hardworking Americans who depend on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look out for them.

Over the past six years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has secured $12 billion in relief for more than 29 million American consumers who’ve been ripped off by debt collectors, for-profit schools, payday lenders, and huge banks like Wells Fargo.

Folks in Washington who want to dismantle the bureau may have amnesia about the devastation that Wall Street greed wreaked on communities across the country, but most Ohioans don’t have that luxury – they’re still recovering. The last thing Ohioans need is for politicians to turn back the clock to the days when Wall Street was free to prey on working families, wreck the economy, and hand taxpayers the bill.

Medicaid cuts hurt rural seniors and rural communities

By Jordan Rasmussen, jordanr@cfra.org, Center for Rural Affairs

Tucked within the text of both the House and Senate’s bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is language which seeks to fundamentally change the Medicaid program. While the enactment of this legislation is unknown, the principle remains, and rural seniors would be hurt.

For rural states and regions that already encounter the health care challenges of an older, poorer and less healthy population, Medicaid allows access to care to remain for even those who are not enrolled under the entitlement.

In our nation’s rural areas, 15 percent of residents over the age of 65 are on Medicaid. Yet, 36 percent of total Medicaid expenditures pay for costs accrued by Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65. Of this Medicaid spending for seniors, a significant portion covers long-term care costs – three in five nursing home residents.

Remove Medicaid from the payer source for rural seniors and entire communities are left to suffer. Nursing homes not only provide care to seniors but are major employers in rural communities. Without Medicaid reimbursements to cover the costs of care, closures and accompanying job losses would become yet another casualty of Medicaid cuts.

While the reliance upon Medicaid reimbursements to keep the doors of nursing homes open is not ideal, it is a reality for rural communities. Before Congress makes sweeping changes to Medicaid, senators and representatives need to step back and acknowledge the broader costs that will be paid just outside of the city limits.

Progress Report, Donald Trump: Failing

By Wim Laven

Assessments are a key tool in most fields. In some industries they are provided through do-well/do-better meetings, in others through critical feedback loops, and, in mine, through teacher evaluations and student report cards. In order to be effective assessments use rubrics to assess key data points, frequently against objective standards, on behavior, knowledge, and performance. Six months into his presidency Donald Trump has come up short on all counts.

People will focus on his numbers: 991 tweets, 42 bills signed into law, 40 days out golfing, 1 news conference, and 0 pieces of major legislation. Some will highlight his 38.8% approval rating. His approval rating reflects the public’s lack of approval with what he is doing. But, while the legislative output and effort are low, Trump’s growth is in need of evaluation—has he learned anything?

Trump’s administration has shown limited progress. After months of campaigning against Barack Obama’s Iran deal, he called it “disastrous” and questioned “who would make that deal?”, Trump has so far allowed the successful diplomacy to continue to work. The Iran Deal has delivered increases in safety and security with low costs. Presidents face steep learning curves, an admission that his criticisms were misplaced and wrong would be a fantastic presentation of his growth, but he hasn’t. We are left wondering is he only doing the right thing by accident? Or worse, is his inability to lead the only reason the deal is still in place?

Airwars.org, a watchdog group, tells us that since his inauguration Trump’s civilian kill rate eclipses Obama’s with “upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration.” Trump has taken Obama’s “highly unsatisfactory” policy and pushed it into the realm of “complete failure.” The U.S. is alleged to have used white phosphorus in Syria; the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is a violation of international law. The significant increase in civilian casualties is blood on his hands, but he has not developed moral accountability.

Trump’s isolationist agenda of withdrawing from the Paris Accord and abdicating the US’s role in the G20 reveal strikingly poor leadership. His all-or-nothing strategy may have done him well as a business leader, where profit was the bottom line, but he has shown no growth in taking on his new role. His competitive attitude has lost more than it has gained and previously collaborative relationships are disappearing. His impotence in dealing with increased threats from North Korea is another unfortunate example of this reality. Trump is a one trick pony: he bosses, bullies, and makes threats. He would like for other people to do his work for him, he has made quite a career out of it, but it is highly ineffective in his new position. Trump’s $54 billion budget increase in military spending showcases his awareness of his administrations’ lack of diplomatic ability. Trump needs to unlearn the fictional narrative that military force is good policy or strategy and understand why force should only be a “last option.” He also needs a primer on peace dividends.

Trump’s six-month grade is not just reflective of turning the campaign slogan: “I would bomb the [expletive] out of them” into foreign policy. His grade is reflective of his inability to learn, adapt, change, evolve, improve, etc. and he simply hasn’t matured in his role. There is but a single thing to be grateful for: he hasn’t used the nukes yet. The “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” president has not actually killed us all, yet (though he may want to)! Giving credit where it is due, for keeping the Iran Deal in place and for not using nuclear weapons yet, Trump gets an F+ and not just an F.

Areas for improvement: Donald Trump has well-developed avoidance and competiveness; he will be greatly benefitted by developing the other problem-solving temperaments of accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Trump is behind in filling key positions; these vacancies will continue to limit his ability to develop as expected. His inability to work well with others could be blocking his understanding of the importance of working with a complete team. These deficiencies will have an exaggerated and cumulative impact. Making excuses for them instead of taking responsibility demonstrates an awareness of the problem but indicates a fundamental inability to move forward. Trump could benefit from competent mentoring, but, more generally, he needs improvement applying new knowledge and skills sets.

Most significantly, however, he needs to be realistic and gain situational awareness. He won the office of president without winning the popular vote and proceeded to ignore the voters’ mandate. Since his inauguration he has continued to ignore record low approval ratings and record high disapproval ratings. The investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the outcome of the election is clearly distracting him from his responsibilities, and he should be asking questions like “how can I broker a strong North Korea Deal?” should replace “who am I allowed to pardon? Am I allowed to pardon myself?” Trump needs to pivot away from what it takes to become the hyper-touchy president to what it takes to become a good president, or, preferably, he should resign.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an instructor in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

July 26, 2017 Op-Ed

Don’t Let Corporations Pick What Websites You Visit

Broadband companies want the government to let them control the internet as we know it. And they’ve got help.

By Razan Azzarkani

Think about the websites you visit. The movies you stream. The music you listen to online. The animal videos that are just too cute not to share.

Now think about the freedom to use the internet however and whenever you choose being taken away from you. That’s exactly what Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), are trying to do.

Right now, those companies are constrained by a principle called net neutrality — the so-called “guiding principle of the internet.” It’s the idea that people should be free to access all the content available online without ISPs dictating how, when, and where that content can be accessed.

In other words, net neutrality holds that the company you pay for internet access can’t control what you do online.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted strong net neutrality rules that banned ISPs from slowing down connection speeds to competing services — e.g., Comcast can’t slow down content or applications specific to Verizon because it wants you to switch to their services — or blocking websites in an effort to charge individuals or companies more for services they’re already paying for.

But now the open internet as we know it is under threat again. Net neutrality rules are in danger of being overturned by Donald Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai and broadband companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

But these corporations aren’t doing this alone. They’re getting help from at least eight handpicked members of Congress, all Republicans (Paul Ryan being the most notable), who’ve signed statements of support for overturning the neutrality rules.

Why? All we need to do is follow the money.

These eight lawmakers have all received significant campaign contributions from these corporations. That means the big broadband corporations and their special interest groups are attempting — and succeeding — to influence policymakers’ decisions on rules that affect us all.

The fun doesn’t stop there.

Ajit Pai — the FCC chairman bent on overturning net neutrality — is a former lawyer for Verizon, one of the very companies petitioning to have the rules changed. Lately Pai has been citing an academic paper arguing that the FCC “eschewed economics and embraced populism as [its] guiding principle” in making decisions on issues like net neutrality.

The catch? This paper wasn’t written by independent experts. It was funded and commissioned by CALinnovates, a telecommunications industry trade group. Their biggest member? None other than AT&T, which stands to benefit a lot if these rules are overturned.

This is just one example of “information laundering,” in which corporate-commissioned research is being used to further corporate agendas. It’s just another way corporations are using their money and influence to lobby members of Congress.

During a recent day of action, major websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google stood up in defense of net neutrality by using pop-up ads, GIFs, and videos to inform the public of the issue and ask them to tell the FCC to “preserve the open Internet.”

You too can fight back against corporate influence by calling the FCC and telling them you won’t give up your right to use the Internet the way you want.

Razan Azzarkani is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

July 26, 2017 Op-Ed, 607 words

On Electric Cars, the U.S. Is Stuck in the Slow Lane

While Europe races toward electric vehicles, U.S. automakers are actually trying to make cars less efficient.

By Oscar Reyes

The French government recently announced a plan to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2040. Not to be outdone, the UK government is now rolling out a similar plan of its own.

These plans sound shockingly radical, but in fact many analysts think those transitions will happen anyway.

For instance, the Dutch bank ING recently predicted that all the cars sold in Europe will be electric by 2030. More conservative estimates put it at 2050. Either way, most experts now see this change on the horizon.

Electric vehicles — or EVs — are already more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts, and could soon become cheaper too. High-end models already outperform conventional engines for speed and acceleration.

Yet potential buyers will continue to be wary as long as the range of batteries remains small, and the network of charging points — think gas stations for electric cars — remains patchy.

Rapidly developing technologies could help overcome this “range anxiety,” as the distance between charges could rise from around 100 miles to over 400 in the next decade. But it’s public policy, rather than technology, that’s the real driver of the EV revolution.

Take Norway, where EVs already account for more than 40 percent of new cars sold.

There, a publicly funded network of free charging stations is driving the surge. The government also offered a range of other perks and incentives: scrapping sales and registration taxes for EVs, exempting them from parking charges and road tolls, and allowing them to dodge heavy traffic by using bus and taxi lanes.

As sales of EVs come to overtake gas-powered cars, the subsidies are being phased out. Yet the benefits continue: A growing fleet of clean vehicles will massively reduce air and climate pollution, and Norway is now well placed to develop and export technologies in a fast growing new industry.

As other European governments get more serious about supporting EVs, some conventional automakers are already embracing an electric future. The Swedish company Volvo recently announced that all of its new cars will be electric or hybrids from 2019 onwards.

U.S. manufacturers, on the other hand, could scarcely be more different.

Oil companies and automakers have successfully lobbied the Trump administration to consider reversing Obama-era fuel-economy standards, which could have supported a shift to hybrids and EVs, as well as cutting pollution that leads to thousands of premature deaths every year.

No wonder the big three U.S. automakers — Ford, GM, and Chrysler — lag way behind their global competitors in developing new EVs. Even stock markets are questioning the wisdom of that bet, as Tesla’s value starts to rival its Detroit competitors.

Fortunately, states and cities can still lead where the federal government is failing.

California is sticking with its fuel-economy standards — the nation’s toughest — and mandating automakers to sell “zero emission vehicles” alongside conventional cars.

California’s cities are also leading the way with public charging points, but they’re not alone. Cities from Seattle to Atlanta are embracing EVs through incentives ranging from tax incentives to carpool lane access.

Of course, promoting EVs alone won’t solve our air pollution problem, or help the U.S. meet its share of global action on climate change — especially where electricity is still produced from coal and other fossil fuels.

We’ll also need better public transportation and changes in how cities are planned, to bring homes closer to shops and workplaces. But electric vehicles will be an important part of getting air pollution and climate change under control.

Local politicians need to step up where the Trump administration is failing, or we risk getting left in the slow lane.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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