Truthout Stories Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:46:51 -0400 en-gb Supreme Court Tosses EPA Rules That Would Prevent Thousands of Asthma Cases

The Environmental Protection Agency's rules limiting the amount of toxic pollution power plants can spew into the air would prevent thousands of cases of asthma, birth defects and other health problems, especially in marginalized communities - but the Supreme Court has stopped the rules' implementation.

Air pollutionEPA rules limiting toxic air pollution emissions would have prevented thousands of cases of asthma, birth defects and other health problems. (Image: Air pollution via Shutterstock)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

The Supreme Court's decision on Monday to throw out the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rules limiting dangerous pollutants from power plants was a big win for the energy industry - and a big loss for just about everybody else, especially anyone living near one of the nation's 600 power plants.

Power plants are the No. 1 source of the toxic mercury pollution that can be found in waterways and the bodies of fish and other wildlife in all 50 states. Mercury and other power plant pollutants are known to cause birth defects, developmental problems in children and respiratory illnesses like asthma, but the coal and utility industries have fought to block the EPA's efforts to reduce these dangerous emissions at every turn.

A decade after determining that reducing toxic air pollution from power plants was both "appropriate and necessary" under the Clean Air Act, the EPA issued final rules in 2011 and spent the next three years fending off attacks from the industry and its conservative allies in Congress, who were determined to block the Obama administration's environment and climate agenda. The rules finally went into effect in April, just two months before the high court nixed them in a 5-4 ruling.

The EPA rules would have required utility companies to either update aging and notoriously dirty power plants with pollution reduction technology or shut them down. The EPA estimates that air quality improvements for public health would be worth $37 to $90 billion a year, and wide-reaching impacts would be felt most in the disproportionately low-income neighborhoods and communities of color located near power facilities.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the pro-industry plaintiffs that the EPA failed to account for the cost that such upgrades would have on the industry, an estimated $9.6 billion annually. He pointed out that the EPA's cost-benefit analysis included pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and particulate matter that are removed from smokestacks retrofitted with standard pollution controls but are not included in the EPA rules for mercury and other toxics.

Regardless of which pollutants are covered under the program, forcing utility companies to spend a little extra on removing them from the pollution stream would have translated into huge public health benefits and could have saved thousands of lives. Here's a rundown of how many cases of adverse health effects the EPA estimates the rules would have prevented each year:

premature death: 4,200-11,000 cases

chronic bronchitis: 2,800 cases

heart attacks: 4,700 cases

asthma attacks: 130,000 cases

hospital and emergency room visits: 5,700 visits

restricted activity days: 3,200,000 days

In addition, the EPA estimates that the rules would have prevented 540,000 sick days among workers annually.

Some utility companies had already begun installing pollution control technologies on their dirtiest plants or simply shutting them down in anticipation of the rules, but without any federal limits on toxics, the industry at large can continue spewing as much toxic pollution into the air as it wants.

Environmentalists are confident that the EPA will go back to the drawing board and issue a new set of regulations, but those would certainly face another round of challenges from the industry and its political allies.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Greece Heads for Default, Citizens Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity

Tens of thousands of Greeks have protested against further austerity cuts ahead of a key referendum on a new European bailout. The demonstrations come as the country confirms it will not meet the deadline for a $1.8 billion loan repayment due by 6 p.m. Eastern time tonight, deepening Greece's fiscal crisis and threatening its exit from the eurozone. Greece will hold a vote this Sunday on whether to accept an austerity package of budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for new loans. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged a "no" vote, calling the proposal a surrender. We go to Greece to speak with Costas Panayotakis, professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Greece, where tens of thousands of Greeks protested Monday against further austerity cuts. The demonstrations come as the country confirms it will not meet the deadline for a $1.8 billion loan repayment due by 6:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

NIKO: [translated] We have come here today because we want to tell the government and the whole of Europe that the government must not back down. Austerity is destroying people. And this must end. The Greek people have suffered a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: The European Commission wants Greece to accept an austerity package in exchange for new loans that would help it avoid a default. But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has refused to accept the bailout deal, calling it a, quote, "humiliation." Over the weekend, Tsipras announced a national referendum set for this Sunday on whether Greece should accept the terms of a new bailout. The European Central Bank followed by rejecting Greece’s request to extend an emergency loan program until after the vote. In response, Tsipras announced the closure of Greek banks and the stock market, as well as restrictions on bank transfers. During a nationally televised interview Monday night, Tsipras called the rejection of a loan extension "blackmail" and called for Greeks to vote no this Sunday.

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: [translated] If the Greek people want to proceed with austerity measures in perpetuity, with austerity plans which will leave us unable to lift our heads, to have thousands of young people leaving for abroad, to have high unemployment rates and new programs and loans, if this is their choice, we will respect it, but we will not be the ones to carry it out. On the other hand, if we want to claim a new, dignified future for our country, then we will do that all together. People have power in their hands when they decide to use it.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down prospects of a breakthrough with Greece in the coming days, but said she would restart talks after Sunday’s referendum.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: [translated] This generous offer was our contribution towards a compromise, so it must be said that the will for a compromise on the Greek side was not there. We made clear today that if the Greek government seeks more talks after the referendum, we will of course not say no to such negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go directly to Greece, just outside Sparta, where we’re joined by Costas Panayotakis. He is a professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Costas. Can you just describe what’s happening right now in Greece?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, there are capital controls, and the ATMs were closed yesterday, so there is a limit to how much money Greeks can withdraw—60 euros. But tourists can withdraw from foreign accounts, can withdraw, you know, as much as they have in their accounts. Beyond that, politically speaking, there is lots of tension, but the situation, even though it’s an unprecedented situation, it was very orderly. And it was remarkable, actually, on a day when, you know, a government closed down the banks, that there was a massive rally in support of the government, because people are very simply tired and exhausted and angry with austerity measures that have devastated Greek society. So, this is, you know, in a nutshell, some of the things that have been going on in the last few hours.

AMY GOODMAN: So, people are allowed—Greeks are allowed to take out 60 euros from the bank. That’s what? Like 67 U.S. dollars. What has been the response in the streets? I mean, you have a lot of developments here, with the referendum being called for Sunday, mass protests taking place.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: I lost the connection.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the response in the streets, Costas?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think it’s a mixed response. On the one hand, of course, there is anxiety and people, you know, going to the ATMs and trying to get money, and some degree of frustration. But there is also some understanding that the previous policies were not working. So, it’s a mixed response. The same people oftentimes have contradictory feelings. And, of course, there is also a divide within Greek society, with some people being in support of the government and its decisive stand, and others are being more critical.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what the referendum puts to the people of Greece Sunday?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah. There are two documents with the proposals of the Europeans regarding what should have been the measures adopted by the Greek government in order to get the latest installment of the loan that it would need to keep servicing its debt in the coming months. And this has very heavy, very harsh measures. The idea that Chancellor Merkel, as in your clip, suggested that this was a generous offer would seem like a cruel joke to all Greeks, even opponents of the government. We are talking about, you know, reducing pensions even further. We are talking about escalation of sales taxes. We’re talking about undermining the livelihood of people who have seen their living standards already decrease dramatically in the last five years.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, accused the Greek government of betraying efforts to broker a deal.

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: [translated] This isn’t a game of liar’s poker. There isn’t one winner and another one who loses. Either we are all winners or we are all losers. I am deeply distressed, saddened by the spectacle that Europe gave last Saturday. In a single night, the European conscience has taken a heavy blow. Goodwill has somewhat evaporated.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Costas, can you respond?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think there is a contradiction in his speech. He starts, as in this clip, to try to seem like he’s above this dispute and claiming he wants to bring the two sides together, but then, a few minutes later into the same speech, he basically attacked the Greek government as basically lying to Greek people as to what the terms were, and that even as—even foreign journalists, from Financial Times and elsewhere, pointed out that he was the one who was lying when he claimed that there was not a proposal to cut Greek pensions. So, I mean, there is an element of hypocrisy there. And we also have to keep in mind that Juncker was the prime minister of Luxembourg, which has been a tax haven that has systematically undercut the finances of other European nations, that’s, you know, mightily contributed to the debt crisis that now he claims to want to resolve.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras responded to critics who say Greece could be pushed out of the eurozone.

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: [translated] The economic cost if the eurozone is dismantled, the cost of a country in default, which to the European Central Bank alone owes more than 120 billion euros, is enormous, and this won’t happen, in my view. My personal view is that their plan is not to push Greece out of the eurozone; their plan is to end hope that there can be a different kind of policy in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Costas Panayotakis, respond.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, I think—I think Syriza was a little over-optimistic, to begin with, as to the possibility of reversing austerity within the eurozone, and this has created difficulties for them. But I think it’s probably true that Chancellor Merkel, especially, and other leaders would not want to be responsible for the rupture of the eurozone, both for economic reasons that the prime minister mentioned but also for geopolitical reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does this mean for this experiment, for the whole Syriza movement that has arisen in Greece? What do you think is going to happen? And how would you evaluate the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, for a long time, Syriza had been making significant concessions to the eurozone’s austerity agenda. I mean, the final offer that the Greek side made, you know, had made significant concessions when compared to the platform of the party. I mean, this is—we are talking about a country that has over 25 percent unemployment, and yet the Greek government was willing to basically propose budget surpluses. I mean, this is a policy—this is not wild leftist. This is a policy well to the right of Keynesian economics. But unfortunately in the eurozone today, there is no real democracy, because basically Keynesianism is bound out of court, and basically what would be a policy that would appeal to the far right of the Republican Party in the U.S. is the only economic policy that is allowed by the eurozone, even though this policy is basically destroying European societies. And Greece is a good example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your book, Costas, is called Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy. What would you say is happening with Greece right now?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, I mean, my book was a critique of neoclassical economics, which is based on the concept of scarcity and argues that basically the free market is the best way to make effective use of scarce resources. And what we’ve seen, of course, with the Greek crisis is a precise refutation of this claim. An economy where 25 percent of the labor force cannot find a job, even though they need to, they want—they would love to work, obviously, it’s not going to—it’s not an efficient economy. An economy where, you know, the most educated young people have to leave the country, after the country invested in their education, and go somewhere else is clearly not an efficient economy. So, even though my book was not specifically on Greece—it did mention Greece, but it was not just on Greece—I think Greece is a good example of how mythical the neoliberal claim is that free markets lead to efficient use of scarce resources.

AMY GOODMAN: If you might look through the crystal ball for us, Costas, in this last minute we have, what do you think will happen on Sunday? And ultimately, what’s going to happen in Greece?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, the first question is whether the referendum will happen on Sunday. I think the European response clearly makes it clear that they want to sabotage the very possibility of a referendum. And, you know, the situation is very, very much in flux. Things have been very orderly, as I said, which is—it is good for the government, and it increases the likelihood of, you know, a "no" vote. But it would be, of course, unwise to try to make a prediction.

And I think one of the factors that will play a role is that if there is a "yes" vote to these measures, Prime Minister Tsipras has said that he would not continue being prime minister, so that would add to economic disruption the possibility of political instability, because then you might need to have new elections. And then you might have a situation where Syriza wins again, because that’s what recent polls have shown. So, I think people who are concerned about economic disruption, or even political instability, may actually find out that—may actually realize that even if they feel frustrated, you know, a "yes" vote would not necessarily solve the problem as they perceive it.

AMY GOODMAN: Costas Panayotakis, I want to thank you for being with us, author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy, professor of sociology at New York City’s College of Technology at CUNY. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, another deadline looms. It’s in Iran. That’s where we’re going. Stay with us.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Historic Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance as Talks Enter Final Round

Today marks the deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a comprehensive agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program. Iran has dispatched two top officials to Vienna in a last-minute push for a diplomatic breakthrough, but the talks will likely be extended. The outstanding differences include access to international inspectors and Iranian nuclear activity in the deal's final years. Negotiators are also trying to determine the timing of sanctions relief and the scope of Tehran's nuclear research. We are joined from Tehran by Reza Sayah, a journalist who has covered Iran for CNN International for the last seven years.


AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a comprehensive agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has dispatched two top officials to Vienna in a last-minute push for a diplomatic breakthrough. On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner expressed confidence a deal is within reach, but said negotiations may slip past today’s deadline.

MARK TONER: These talks—and it’s looking more likely now—could go beyond June 30th for a few days, if we need additional time to conclude, frankly, a strong, comprehensive agreement. And that’s still our attitude. You know, we’re still focused on getting the best agreement possible, the most comprehensive agreement possible, and if we have to work a little bit longer to do that, the team in Vienna, then they’ll do so, obviously. But nobody is talking about a long-term extension.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has returned to Iran to discuss a final negotiation position with Iran’s top leadership. Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif acknowledged gaps remain.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I think it’s fair to say that we’re hopeful. We have a lot of hard work to do. There are some very tough issues. And I think we all look forward to getting down to the final effort here to see whether or not a deal is possible. I think—I think everybody would like to see an agreement, but we have to work through some difficult issues.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: I agree. I agree maybe not on the issues, but on the fact that we need to work really hard in order to be able to make progress and move forward. We are determined to do everything we can in order to be able to make this important milestone, but that depends on a lot of things, and we’re going to work on them and find out.

AMY GOODMAN: The outstanding differences include access to international inspectors and Iranian nuclear activity in the deal’s final years. Negotiators are also trying to determine the timing of sanctions relief and the scope of Tehran’s nuclear research.

For more, we go directly to Tehran, Iran, where we’re joined by Reza Sayah. He has covered Iran for CNN International for the past seven years. After his coverage of the 2009 anti-government protests, Iranian authorities denied him permission to work for two years. He later returned to Tehran to report on the ongoing nuclear talks, the 2013 presidential elections and last year’s signing of the interim nuclear deal. He also works with the Blossom Hill Foundation, which helps children impacted by war.

Reza Sayah, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this deadline and what is happening in Iran.

REZA SAYAH: Well, the two sides are pushing to get a deal done, and the talks are reaching a crescendo. And you can sense it, because all the big names from all sides are now in Vienna. This morning, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, arrived there, reportedly saying that he has received the mandate from top officials to reach a deal. President Hassan Rouhani’s brother is there. The top nuclear official in Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, is there. And, of course, all the top diplomats from the P5+1, they’re there, as well.

It’s going to be very difficult to gauge where things stand throughout these two years in these negotiations. All sides have done a pretty remarkable job in keeping things under wraps. So I think in the next few days there’s going to be a lot of waiting, a lot of reporters waiting in Vienna. Here, much of the country is eagerly awaiting an outcome. And I think that’s going to be the case until the sides come out and make some sort of announcement. There have been a lot of vague comments. They seem to be optimistic that a deal is within reach, but they also point out that sticking points and obstacles remain.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those sticking points and obstacles, Reza?

REZA SAYAH: Well, the sticking points include the number and types of centrifuges. In the deal that was signed, the framework deal that was signed in April, Iran agreed to reduce its centrifuges from 19,000. It’s not clear if the West is pushing for an increased reduction or if Iran is pushing to keep more. Then you have the scope of the inspections. Iran has all along allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities. And when the framework was agreed on, they agreed to what’s called an additional protocol, which gives the IAEA a higher authority for increased inspections. But the West, the U.S. has given indications that they want to inspect some military facilities, and Iran has said, you know, that’s a redline, that they’re not going to allow inspections in military facilities. Then you have research and development. The West wants to limit Iran’s research and development when it comes to the nuclear program. And finally, the pace of the sanctions. Iran insists that the sanctions should be lifted once the pen hits the paper and an agreement is signed. The West, the U.S. says it’s going to be a gradual lifting of the sanctions. The most likely scenario is that it will be a gradual lifting of the sanctions, but it still remains to be seen what the time frame is and how long that’s going to take. Obviously, Iran wants it to happen faster, and the U.S. doesn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza Sayah, can you talk about the main forces against it?

REZA SAYAH: Well, I think it’s important to point out that the main forces against this agreement are in the minority—namely, the Israeli government, who has continued to raise concerns about this deal; you have the Saudis with their—with their concern; and obviously you have the U.S. Congress. You know, I think last month they pushed through a bill that enables them to review this agreement once it’s signed. If the deal is signed before July 9th, Congress has 30 days to review it; if the deal is signed beyond the July 9th date, they have 60 days to sign. But it’s important to point out that other than these groups—the U.S. Congress, the Israeli government and the Saudi government—the majority of the world, and including the world powers, are for a negotiated agreement for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program. However, these forces, as you say, against this deal, they have a lot of influence. They oftentimes dominate the media. And that’s what you’ll see if an agreement is signed. You’ll see the Israeli government, you’ll see U.S. Congress, you know, raising the alarm again. And it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza Sayah, we are having a little trouble with your audio, so I want to thank you for being with us. Reza has covered Iran for CNN International for the last seven years. After his coverage of the 2009 anti-government protests, Iranian authorities denied him permission to work for two years, but then he later returned to Tehran, where he covered a number of the political developments there. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Where Are Mayors Opposing Police Militarization?

In cities across the United States, we have seen how the militarized mold of policing and the supply of armored vehicles, assault weapons and the like have resulted in police forces who no longer see their role as one of protecting and serving, but as an occupying army. These localized armies -- backed by racist laws, upheld by stagnant leadership and fueled by the war machine itself -- are battling it out to the death with the very civilians they swore to protect in our own streets. Confrontation with this war-ready mentality is a daily lived experience for black and brown citizens across the country, and the implications impact us all. It is incumbent to get weapons out of our streets, and take the necessary steps to change the current mentality and methods of police and civilian engagement. We must return to a state where law enforcement serves and protects the communities they are in, and we need the support of local leadership to do so.

In 2011, Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon championed CODEPINK's "Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution" at the US Conference of Mayors. Along with the fearless leadership of 20 other visionary leaders who co-sponsored the resolution, we celebrated its unanimous adoption. This resolution was the first anti-war resolution since the Vietnam War to address military spending, and called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Months ago, as the snow began to melt and the #BlackSpring emerged, CODEPINK drafted a resolution calling for the demilitarization of local law enforcement, which included putting restrictions and regulations on the Department of Defense's 1033 program, and prioritizing the need for cultural sensitivity training. This resolution went out to a group of Mayors, set to attend the US Conference of Mayors, June 18th- 22nd 2015 in San Francisco, with hopes of gaining support and sponsorship. Most notably the resolution was sent to the Mayors' part of the standing committee roster for Criminal and Social Justice.

On May 18th 2015, President Obama announced a plan to ban certain military weapons from reaching the hands of local law enforcement, citing the feeling of "an occupying force" and subsequent tensions between police and communities of color. With the call to reform law enforcement at a local level echoing throughout communities nationwide, and the President announcing his own plan for reform -- surely some mayor stepped would step up to champion this resolution....

Not a single Mayor stepped up.

Locally elected officials hold the power to make a difference in our own communities. To neglect that opportunity means risking more lives for the sake of the status quo. We applaud and honor actions taken to call for an end to war on a global scale -- but who is there to call for an end to the wars carnage in our own streets?

Where are the mayors who stand for local peace?

According to the The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, since its inception in 1990 the 1033 Program has transferred more than $5.1 billion in property. Although some of the equipment was created in the military arena and, in many cases, was created for military use, law enforcement agencies have been able to repurpose the property for domestic law enforcement uses. Currently, "over 8,000 U.S. federal and state law enforcement agencies, from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program. A law enforcement agency is defined as a "government agency whose primary function is the enforcement of applicable federal, state, and local laws and whose compensated law enforcement officers have the powers of arrest and apprehension."

According to The Guardian, as of June 16, 2015 the number of people killed by law enforcement in the United States is 515-- that number reflects this year alone.

U.S. mayors need to look at the record, read the names, view the photos and videos and listen to their constituents who have experienced, or fear experiencing, the horror of having a loved one die in this way.

Illustrating the real-life pain and implications of the pernicious wedge that has been driven between the public and local law enforcement agencies is The Millions Mom March. This past Mother's Day, CODEPINK marched with a rally of dozens of grieving mothers, whose children were taken from them by police and racist vigilante violence. The rally to the Justice Department in D.C. demanded an end to racist and fatal police practices.

Mayors must show up for the powerful rallies remembering those killed by police; commit to ending these killings and other abuse; and promote peaceful methods of resolving conflict, dealing with the mentally ill, and supporting the rights of all -- no matter the race, color, sexual orientation or national origin. Mayors want to be proud of their cities. Ending police violence and abuse of city residents will go a long way toward making American cities places for genuine, not forced, civic pride.

In the words of Reverend Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was unjustly killed by a policeman on a San Francisco, BART platform on January 1, 2009:

"We have had enough of police militarization and violence, which only perpetuates fear in our communities. We deserve to live in peace and we deserve justice for the crimes committed against our children."

The world is watching and acting; and grieving communities are waiting, desperately for change... for justice.

To our Mayors... where do you stand?

Opinion Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Global Governance ... Into the Future

Global governance is failing when we need it most. The paradox of our times is that, as global problems become more complex and threatening, our global institutions lose their force as organizing frameworks for inter-state cooperation. Starting from the Lorenzetti's painting "The Allegory of the Good and the Bad Government," David Held, Master of University College, Durham and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, explains what are the reasons for such gridlocks.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Thousands Kept in Solitary Confinement in Illinois Prisons

Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)

A class action lawsuit filed this week on behalf of former and current inmates is challenging the widespread use of solitary confinement by the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A total of about 2,300 state prison inmates -- including about 15 percent of those housed in maximum security facilities -- are kept in solitary confinement, often for relatively minor offenses, said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People's Law Center, which filed the legal challenge with the law firm Winston & Strawn.  Solitary confinement is generally defined as 22 to 24 hours of isolation a day and can last years, he said. The United Nations considers isolation lasting 15 days or longer to be torture.

"I don't know anybody who spent more than a few months in solitary who doesn't come out quite damaged," Mills told the Reporter.

The suit is aimed at getting the state corrections department to implement the American Bar Association's standards on segregation, which limit how long individuals are held in solitary confinement and recommend that people living with mental illness not be subjected to the punishment.

The Illinois Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Chicago Reporter is a non-profit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Right's Rights ]]> Art Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction, but Still No Debt Relief

United Nations - A major donor conference in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world's least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, "The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives."

"This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future," he said.

"This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient."

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world's 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF's new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, "Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

"According to the most recent World Bank numbers," said Jubilee USA in a statement, "Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake."

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country's total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country's creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

"This is troubling news," said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. "Given the devastation in Nepal, it's hard to believe that the criteria was not met."

"This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference," said LeCompte.‎ "Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal's debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet."

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sticks, Stones and Names That Can Hurt: Cracking Down on Dissent in Peru

Also see: Peru's Tia Maria Mining Conflict: Another Mega Imposition

By many accounts, Peru is doing well. Investments have poured into the mining and energy sectors thanks to government efforts to create a welcome environment for foreign capital. And while economic growth has tapered off in the last year, the average annual rate from 2010 to 2014 was an impressive 5.8 percent. The country's poverty rate fell by half between 2000 and 2012, while the middle class grew faster than that of any other country in Latin America. By drawing revenue from the mining and energy sectors, the government has increased spending on education to an unprecedented 3.5 percent of its GDP and has made some progress in reducing chronic child malnutrition.

In anticipation of the Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) this month, the EU-CELAC ambassador congratulated Peru for becoming a "stable and developing country" with "responsible macroeconomic policies." She noted that over 50 percent of foreign investments in Peru now come from Europe while a substantial portion of Peru's exports are sold to European countries. Peru's progress in reducing poverty and childhood malnutrition was also touted as President Ollanta Humala signed the Schengen visa waiver agreement to ease travel restrictions to and from Europe for Peruvian citizens. The EU is one of Peru's most important partners, as he expounded, and the two share "a common history in terms of culture." The visa agreement is just one step in the plan to fortify that partnership.

Not Everyone Is Impressed

Back home, however, not everyone is so impressed by Peru's developmental path. Throughout much of southern Peru and Cajamarca region in the north, farmers and community organizations have declared their opposition to a $1.4 billion USD copper mining project known as Tía María. The project belongs to Southern Copper Corporation, which is owned by Grupo México, a Mexican American mining company.

Tía María, which would consist of two open pit mines, is to be located in the Tambo Valley in the province of Islay. Tambo Valley communities and those in surrounding regions fear the health and environmental dangers that come with the use of heavy metals in open pit mining. Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy and nearly all agricultural produce in the region and 88 percent of the fishing catch go toward feeding the population in the southern area of the country. Community members are quite familiar with Southern Copper's dismal record in neighboring regions where its mining projects have dried up water supplies and contaminated surrounding lands. The result for indigenous and other rural people has been serious illness and the loss of employment in farming and fishing. With this in mind, the Tambo Valley communities rejected the project by a resounding 93.4 percent during a popular consultation in 2009.

In an attempt to reassure the communities, Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sanchez promised to bring "environmental procedures to a higher standard of excellence." In 2010, the government signed an agreement with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for a review of 100 separate environmental studies. As was hoped, the deal brought a halt to the social protests going on at the time.

Nonetheless, Tía María was unexpectedly cancelled in March 2011. As the Tambo Valley communities learned soon after, the UNOPS report on Tía María included 138 "observations" or areas of concern regarding the project. Among the most serious observations was the finding that the company's own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) contained no hydrogeological study. Further, the water to be used at the mine would not come from the sea as the company had claimed "but rather from an estuary—a very sensitive area due to the diversity of species present and its shallowness." Nor did the EIA take into account the company's plan to extract gold in addition to copper, a process that entails the use of mercury. During the mining process, mercury can enter into the water supply and the atmosphere, causing damage to the ecosystem and serious dangers to human health.

In 2014, Southern Copper sought to revive the project by producing another EIA, which indicated that the company would create an on-site water desalination plant. At that point, however, any trust that the Tambo Valley communities may have had in Southern Copper had eroded. Few residents were convinced that the open pit mines, one of which would be a mile wide and two thirds of a mile deep, would not cut into the water table and affect the water supply. In March, an indefinite strike was declared in Islay bringing thousands of people into the streets in protest, many of whom blocked bridges and highways. By mid-May, a small but virulent group calling themselves espartambos had formed and were using sling shots to pelt stones at the police. Many are suspected of being former members of the military.

In May, Humala responded by declaring a state of emergency in nine districts of Islay, deploying hundreds of military troops into the region, and freezing the bank accounts of the various municipalities involved. Constitutional rights including the right to hold meetings and travel freely have been suspended as military troops have moved into homes, patrolled streets, imposed curfews, and even detained schoolchildren.

A quick assessment of the casualties that have occurred since the strike began indicates that most of the protestors are rural indigenous people. Many say that they feel overwhelmed by the power of the mining industry and betrayed by their president, who had vowed to support them during his presidential campaign several years ago. Instead, the land has been gradually sold out from under them—69.9 percent of the province of Islay, including 96.2 percent of the city of Cocachacra in the Tambo Valley, is now under concession to mining corporations.

In addition, the Ministry of Environment, created in 2008 to set standards for acceptable levels of pollutants, has since been stripped of this power. With little input from this ministry, EIAs are often carried out by the mining companies themselves and then placed on a fast track for government approval. In the meantime, the concerns of the affected communities are ignored, while their elected leaders can be jailed for speaking out. Furthermore, like many other private companies, Southern Copper is able to hire the local police for its private security purposes, thereby undermining the very notion of public safety.

Cracking Down on Dissent

Tía María's supporters, on the other hand, seem to have plenty of tools for advancing their interests. In the last few years, the Peruvian Congress has passed laws that make members of the police and Armed Forces less accountable for using their weapons during social protests. Legislative Decree 1095 legalized intervention in conflicts by the military without a declaration of a state of emergency. In addition, the law now treats mass protest action such as roadblocks as a form of extortion punishable by up to twenty-five years in jail. The law also prohibits local officials, who are a key source of leadership in rural areas, from engaging in protest. Rural and indigenous protestors suffer inordinately from these measures due to the greater tolerance for violence against indigenous people and the lack of adequate media coverage in remote areas.

Another powerful weapon that has been wielded against the protestors lies in the use of language. Along these lines, company officials, political leaders and the mainstream press have all been quite adept at demonizing those opposed to Tía María. As the strike began, Southern Copper spokesperson Julio Morriberón, proclaimed, "We are obliged to report this as being a totally anti-mining terrorism minority group, which is using violence to blackmail the majority who are in favor of this project." Note his use of the words "terrorism" and "blackmail" with their potential to conjure up hatred and legitimize acts of violence by the government. The expressions "anti-mining" and "minority" frame the protesters as mere ideologues with no acknowledgement of their very normal concerns about the health and well being of their communities.

This kind of language has been picked up by public officials, members of the press, and commentators in the business community. Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren called the decision to cancel the contract a "triumph of radical anti-mining interests that had taken advantage of the warmth and mediocrity" of Humala's government. In declaring the state of emergency in Islay, Humala associated the Tambo Valley protestors withSendero Luminoso, the terrorist organization that had plagued the country during the 1980s and 1990s. "There is a campaign of misinformation and stigmatization of projects for ideological and often pre-election purposes," he added. Similarly, Police Chief Eduardo Perez Rocha stated that Sendero Luminoso appeared to be "infiltrating the people." Carlos Galvez, head of Peru's National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy, has contended that Tía María's opponents are simply politicians courting votes in the countryside machinations and "outsiders" who whip up "anti-mining" sentiment. "Here everyone is anti," he said. "If you're anti-mining then you're in fashion." Foreigners, NGOs, leftists, radicals, and Venezuelan "chavistas" have all been cited as the real cause of the demise of poor Tía María.

What We Would Never Tolerate

The kinds of health and environmental risks that the Tía María mine now poses would not be tolerated in this or any other "developed" country. Nor would we accept the jailing of mayors, governors and legislators for speaking out on behalf of their constituents. And we would hardly take to having police officers freely enter our homes to carry out warrantless searches and arrests and impose restrictions on our free speech, gatherings, and travel, occasionally beating us up in the process. Yet all of this is currently taking place in Islay and other communities. While much of Peru has benefited from mining revenue, those communities at the mining sites are paying the price in health risks, increased repression, and the loss of their land, homes, and way of life.

As it now stands, Humala is caught between a copper mine and a hard place. Commodity prices and economic growth rates are falling steadily along with his approval ratings. His excursion to the EU is part of a larger plan to bolster investments and rescue his legacy before the end of his term in 2016. By supporting multi-billion dollar projects that fail to gain the trust of surrounding communities, however, he will likely leave a fractured society and embittered rural communities under military rule in his wake. We can only hope that Peru's journey toward greater integration with Europe and other parts of the world will bring about a greater demand for protecting the rights of its rural and indigenous populations.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Russia vs. China: The Conflict in Washington Over Who Should Lead the US Enemies List

America’s grand strategy, its long-term blueprint for advancing national interests and countering major adversaries, is in total disarray. Top officials lurch from crisis to crisis, improvising strategies as they go, but rarely pursuing a consistent set of policies. Some blame this indecisiveness on a lack of resolve at the White House, but the real reason lies deeper. It lurks in a disagreement among foreign policy elites over whether Russia or China constitutes America’s principal great-power adversary.

Knowing one’s enemy is usually considered the essence of strategic planning. During the Cold War, enemy number one was, of course, unquestioned: it was the Soviet Union, and everything Washington did was aimed at diminishing Moscow’s reach and power. When the USSR imploded and disappeared, all that was left to challenge U.S. dominance were a few “rogue states.” In the wake of 9/11, however, President Bush declared a “global war on terror,” envisioning a decades-long campaign against Islamic extremists and their allies everywhere on the planet. From then on, with every country said to be either with us or against us, the chaos set in. Invasions, occupations, raids, drone wars ensued -- all of it, in the end, disastrous -- while China used its economic clout to gain new influence abroad and Russia began to menace its neighbors.

Among Obama administration policymakers and their Republican opponents, the disarray in strategic thinking is striking. There is general agreement on the need to crush the Islamic State (ISIS), deny Iran the bomb, and give Israel all the weapons it wants, but not much else. There is certainly no agreement on how to allocate America’s strategic resources, including its military ones, even in relation to ISIS and Iran. Most crucially, there is no agreement on the question of whether a resurgent Russia or an ever more self-assured China should head Washington’s enemies list. Lacking such a consensus, it has become increasingly difficult to forge long-term strategic plans. And yet, while it is easy to decry the current lack of consensus on this point, there is no reason to assume that the anointment of a common enemy -- a new Soviet Union -- will make this country and the world any safer than it is today.

Choosing the Enemy

For some Washington strategists, including many prominent Republicans, Russia under the helm of Vladimir Putin represents the single most potent threat to America’s global interests, and so deserves the focus of U.S. attention. “Who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?” Jeb Bush asserted on June 9th in Berlin during his first trip abroad as a potential presidential contender. In countering Putin, he noted, “our alliance [NATO], our solidarity, and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build.”

For many in the Obama administration, however, it is not Russia but China that poses the greatest threat to American interests. They feel that its containment should take priority over other considerations. If the U.S. fails to enact a new trade pact with its Pacific allies, Obama declared in April, “China, the 800-pound gorilla in Asia, will create its own set of rules,” further enriching Chinese companies and reducing U.S. access “in the fastest-growing, most dynamic economic part of the world.”

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military strategists of a seemingly all-powerful United States -- the unchallenged “hyperpower” of the immediate post-Cold War era -- imagined the country being capable of fighting full-scale conflicts on two (or even three fronts) at once. The shock of the twenty-first century in Washington has been the discovery that the U.S. is not all-powerful and that it can’t successfully take on two major adversaries simultaneously (if it ever could). It can, of course, take relatively modest steps to parry the initiatives of both Moscow and Beijing while also fighting ISIS and other localized threats, as the Obama administration is indeed attempting to do. However, it cannot also pursue a consistent, long-range strategy aimed at neutralizing a major adversary as in the Cold War. Hence a decision to focus on either Russia or China as enemy number one would have significant implications for U.S. policy and the general tenor of world affairs.

Choosing Russia as the primary enemy, for example, would inevitably result in a further buildup of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the delivery of major weapons systems to Ukraine. The Obama administration has consistently opposed such deliveries, claiming that they would only inflame the ongoing conflict and sabotage peace talks. For those who view Russia as the greatest threat, however, such reluctance only encourages Putin to escalate his Ukrainian intervention and poses a long-term threat to U.S. interests. In light of Putin’s ruthlessness, said Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a major advocate of a Russia-centric posture, the president’s unwillingness to better arm the Ukrainians “is one of the most shameful and dishonorable acts I have seen in my life.”

On the other hand, choosing China as America’s principal adversary means a relatively restrained stance on the Ukrainian front coupled with a more vigorous response to Chinese claims and base building in the South China Sea. This was the message delivered to Chinese leaders by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in late May at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu. Claiming that Chinese efforts to establish bases in the South China Sea were “out of step” with international norms, he warned of military action in response to any Chinese efforts to impede U.S. operations in the region. “There should be... no mistake about this -- the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

If you happen to be a Republican (other than Rand Paul) running for president, it’s easy enough to pursue an all-of-the-above strategy, calling for full-throttle campaigns against China, Russia, Iran, Syria, ISIS, and any other adversary that comes to mind. This, however, is rhetoric, not strategy. Eventually, one or another approach is likely to emerge as the winner and the course of history will be set.

The “Pivot” to Asia

The Obama administration’s fixation on the “800-pound gorilla” that is China came into focus sometime in 2010-2011. Plans were then being made for what was assumed to be the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the winding down of the American military presence in Afghanistan. At the time, the administration’s top officials conducted a systematic review of America’s long-term strategic interests and came to a consensus that could be summed up in three points: Asia and the Pacific Ocean had become the key global theater of international competition; China had taken advantage of a U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan to bolster its presence there; and to remain the world’s number one power, the United States would have to prevent China from gaining more ground.

This posture, spelled out in a series of statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other top administration officials, was initially called the “pivot to Asia” and has since been relabeled a “rebalancing” to that region. Laying out the new strategy in 2011, Clinton noted, “The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics.  Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas... it boasts almost half of the world’s population [and] includes many of the key engines of the global economy.” As the U.S. withdrew from its wars in the Middle East, “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in substantially increased investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region.”

This strategy, administration officials claimed then and still insist, was never specifically aimed at containing the rise of China, but that, of course, was a diplomatic fig leaf on what was meant to be a full-scale challenge to a rising power. It was obvious that any strengthened American presence in the Pacific would indeed pose a directchallenge to Beijing’s regional aspirations. “My guidance is clear,” Obama told the Australian parliament that same November. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace.”

Implementation of the pivot, Obama and Clinton explained, would include support for or cooperation with a set of countries that ring China, including increased military aid to Japan and the Philippines, diplomatic outreach to Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other nations in Beijing’s economic orbit, military overtures to India, and the conclusion of a major trade arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that would conveniently include most countriesin the region but exclude China.

Many in Washington have commented on how much more limited the administration’s actions in the Pacific have proven to be than the initial publicity suggested. Of course, Washington soon found itself re-embroiled in the Greater Middle East and shuttling many of its military resources back into that region, leaving less than expected available for a rebalancing to Asia. Still, the White House continues to pursue a strategic blueprint aimed at bolstering America’s encirclement of China. “No matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice declared in November 2013.

For Obama and his top officials, despite the challenge of ISIS and of disintegrating states like Yemen and Libya wracked with extremist violence, China remains the sole adversary capable of taking over as the world’s top power.  (Its economy already officially has.) To them, this translates into a simple message: China must be restrained through all means available. This does not mean, they claim,ignoring Russia and other potential foes. The White House has, for example, signaled that it will begin storing heavy weaponry, including tanks, in Eastern Europe for future use by any U.S. troops rotated into the region to counter Russian pressure against countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. And, of course, the Obama administration is continuing to up the ante against ISIS, most recently dispatching yet more U.S. military advisers to Iraq. They insist, however, that none of these concerns will deflect the administration from the primary task of containing China.

Countering the Resurgent Russian Bear

Not everyone in Washington shares this China-centric outlook. While most policymakers agree that China poses a potential long-term challenge to U.S. interests, an oppositional crew of them sees that threat as neither acute nor immediate. After all, China remains America’s second-leading trading partner (after Canada) and its largest supplier of imported goods. Many U.S. companies do extensive business in China, and so favor a cooperative relationship. Though the leadership in Beijing is clearly trying to secure what it sees as its interests in Asian waters, its focus remains primarily economic and its leaders seek to maintain friendly relations with the U.S., while regularly engaging in high-level diplomatic exchanges. Its president, Xi Jinping, is expected to visit Washington in September.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, on the other hand, looks far more threatening to many U.S. strategists. Its annexation of Crimea and its ongoing support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine are viewed as direct and visceral threats on the Eurasian mainland to what they see as a U.S.-dominated world order. President Putin, moreover, has made no secret of his contempt for the West and his determination to pursue Russian national interests wherever they might lead. For many who remember the Cold War era -- and that includes most senior U.S. policymakers -- this looks a lot like the menacing behavior of the former Soviet Union; for them, Russia appears to be posing an existential threat to the U.S. in a way that China does not.

Among those who are most representative of this dark, eerily familiar, and retrograde outlook is Senator McCain. Recently, offering an overview of the threats facing America and the West, he put Russia at the top of the list:

“In the heart of Europe, we see Russia emboldened by a significant modernization of its military, resurrecting old imperial ambitions, and intent on conquest once again. For the first time in seven decades on this continent, a sovereign nation has been invaded and its territory annexed by force. Worse still, from central Europe to the Caucuses, people sense Russia’s shadow looming larger, and in the darkness, liberal values, democratic sovereignty, and open economies are being undermined.”

For McCain and others who share his approach, there is no question about how the U.S. should respond: by bolstering NATO, providing major weapons systems to the Ukrainians, and countering Putin in every conceivable venue. In addition, like many Republicans, McCainfavors increased production via hydro-fracking of domestic shale gas for export as liquefied natural gas to reduce the European Union’s reliance on Russian gas supplies.

McCain’s views are shared by many of the Republican candidates for president. Jeb Bush, for instance, described Putin as “a ruthless pragmatist who will push until someone pushes back.” Senator Ted Cruz, when asked on Fox News what he would do to counter Putin, typically replied, “One, we need vigorous sanctions… Two, we should immediately reinstate the antiballistic missile batteries in Eastern Europe that President Obama canceled in 2009 in an effort to appease Russia. And three, we need to open up the export of liquid natural gas, which will help liberate Ukraine and Eastern Europe.” Similar comments from other candidates and potential candidates are commonplace.

As the 2016 election season looms, expect the anti-Russian rhetoric to heat up. Many of the Republican candidates are likely to attack Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, for her role in the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” of ties with Moscow, an attempted warming of relations that is now largely considered a failure. “She’s the one that literally brought the reset button to the Kremlin,” said former Texas Governor Rick Perry in April.

If any of the Republican candidates other than Paul prevails in 2016, anti-Russianism is likely to become the centerpiece of foreign policy with far-reaching consequences. “No leader abroad draws more Republican criticism than Putin does,” a conservative website noted in June. “The candidates’ message is clear: If any of them are elected president, U.S. relations with Russia will turn even more negative.”

The Long View

Whoever wins in 2016, what Yale historian Paul Kennedy has termed “imperial overstretch” will surely continue to be an overwhelming reality for Washington. Nonetheless, count on a greater focus of attention and resources on one of those two contenders for the top place on Washington’s enemies list. A Democratic victory spearheaded by Hillary Clinton is likely to result in a more effectively focused emphasis on China as the country’s greatest long-term threat, while a Republican victory would undoubtedly sanctify Russia as enemy number one.

For those of us residing outside Washington, this choice may appear to have few immediate consequences. The defense budget will rise in either case; troops will, as now, be shuttled desperately around the hot spots of the planet, and so on. Over the long run, however, don’t think for a second that the choice won’t matter.

A stepped-up drive to counter Russia will inevitably produce a grim, unpredictable Cold War-like atmosphere of suspicion, muscle-flexing, and periodic crises. More U.S. troops will be deployed to Europe; American nuclear weapons may return there; and saber rattling, nuclear or otherwise, will increase. (Note that Moscow recently announced a decision to add another 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its already impressive nuclear arsenal and recall Senator Cruz’s proposal for deploying U.S. anti-missile batteries in Eastern Europe.) For those of us who can remember the actual Cold War, this is hardly an appealing prospect.

A renewed focus on China would undoubtedly prove no less unnerving. It would involve the deployment of additional U.S. naval and air forces to the Pacific and an attendant risk of armed confrontation over China’s expanded military presence in the East and South China Seas. Cooperation on trade and the climate would be imperiled, along with the health of theglobal economy, while the flow of ideas and people between East and West would be further constricted. (In a sign of the times, China recently announced new curbs on the operations of foreign nongovernmental organizations.) Although that country possesses far fewer nuclear weapons than Russia, it is modernizing its arsenal and the risk of nuclear confrontation would undoubtedly increase as well.

In short, the options for American global policy, post-2016, might be characterized as either grim and chaotic or even grimmer, if more focused. Most of us will fare equally badly under either of those outcomes, though defense contractors and others in what President Dwight Eisenhower first dubbed the “military-industrial complex” will have a field day. Domestic needs like health, education, infrastructure, and the environment will suffer either way, while prospects for peace and climate stability will recede.

A country without a coherent plan for advancing its national interests is a sorry thing. Worse yet, however, as we may find out in the years to come, would be a country forever on the brink of crisis and conflict with a beleaguered, nuclear-armed rival.

News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400