Working towards peace and sustainability

Donald Trump, this is NOT a “National Emergency.”

Some of the participants in a rally held Sunday, Feb. 17 opposing the "national emergency" declaration. Peaceworks joined our allies in CoMo for Progress in co-sponsoring this gathering outside the Boone County Courthouse.

As virtually everyone reading this now knows, on Friday, February 15, unable to get Congress to appropriate the funds he claimed were needed for a border wall/barrier, President Donald Trump declared a “national emergency.” He claimed this would allow him to override the will of Congress and transfer funds from other governmental programs to fast track wall construction.

Minutes after declaring an “emergency” and claiming the wall was urgently needed to respond to an “invasion,” Trump acknowledged: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.”  And just a few hours later he took off to spend the weekend golfing at the Florida White House. Not what one who expect as a response to an “emergency.”

“Us vs. them,” fear-based rhetoric has been the hallmark of Trump’s MAGA movement from Day One. Recall that on June 16, 2015, in announcing his campaign, Trump declared that Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with [them]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It makes little difference to Trump’s supporters that the number of undocumented people crossing the border having declined significantly over the past 15 years.  Moreover, there are fewer undocumented people living in the U.S. now than there were a decade ago, and approximately two-thirds of these undocumented residents have lived in the country for a decade or longer. Clearly, our country is not being “overrun.”

Trump’s fear-mongering is not limited to the specter of darker-skinned people—most of whom are branded as criminals—sneaking into the U.S. Another fear button he pushes regularly is the threat of illegal drugs “flooding” our country. But critics have pointed out that the vast majority of contraband is being snuck in through ports of entry and not hauled across rivers or overland through deserts, over mountains, etc.

In fact, “According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, 90 percent of heroin, 88 percent of cocaine, 87 percent of meth and 80 percent of fentanyl seized along the border in the first 11 months of 2018 was intercepted at legal crossing points.”

Donald Trump might believe that there is an urgent threat posed by the lack of a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, but somehow the people he’s appointed to head up our national intelligence services are not on this page. In fact when Dan Coats, Director of the Office of National Intelligence, along with CIA Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, provided their annual assessment of global threats to Congress, on January 29, the supposed threat from across the southern border did not make their list. They focused instead on cyber threats, Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, etc.

The “National Emergency” is a Threat

Trump’s actions themselves constitute a serious threat that must be addressed. To begin with, the Big Lie approach to political rhetoric undermines our ability to engage in rational dialogue on the issues we face.

We have now lived with Trump’s oft-repeated lies for nearly four years (counting from the start of his campaign in 2015), and this has compounded already existing fear and loathing. Anyone who listened to Trump’s rambling talk when he declared the “national emergency,” should be able to recognize just how far off-base his claims are. While they should be able to, a sizeable minority are not. In fact millions have “drunk the Kool-Aid” and this will make it more difficult, now, and in the future, to create a society that respects and even celebrates diversity.

To be clear, American racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other bigoted attitudes did not start with Donald Trump. But he has not just exploited the existing fear and hate, he has exacerbated it, and we really need to work to turn this around.

The other threat that this bogus “emergency” triggers is constitutional. Under our system of shared power, the legislative branch—that is Congress—decides how much money to appropriate for each governmental purpose. This is called “The Power of the Purse,” something most of us learned in high school civics classes, something Donald Trump seems to have missed taking. The executive branch—the President and the Federal agencies—are then in charge of spending the funds provided.

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 was established to allow some flexibility in times of crisis, but to also put limits on a president’s ability to simply declare an open-ended emergency. While the act has been utilized dozens of times over the past four decades, never has it been used to override Congress and provide funding for something Congress has explicitly decided not to approve. Never, that is, until now.

This sets a horrible precedent and should not be allowed. If any time a president—this one, or any of his successors—decides he or she would like to override Congress he or she can do so just by declaring an emergency, it will greatly diminish the role of our elected representatives. While there are numerous flaws in our electoral system Congress is, at least in theory, both closer to and more responsive to their constituents than the president.

Speaking of Congress, it would be a good idea to weigh in and let them know what you are thinking on this set of concerns. It seems that even those who support the wall might at least respond to Trump’s power-grab, as it would diminish their power, both under Trump and, if the precedent is set, under future presidents as well.

Contact info for Missouri reps. and senators is available if you CLICK HERE. Note that it is possible for Congress to reject Trump’s emergency claim, but it needs to be done by a two-thirds majority that can override a presidential veto, so winning over a significant number of GOP members would be necessary. Please help as you can, and please share your concerns widely.
President Trump announces his national emergency declaration from the White House Rose Garden, Feb. 15, 2019.

INF Treaty Withdrawal Increases Nuclear Danger.

Under the INF Treaty the U.S. destroyed 846 missiles, while the Soviets destroyed 1,846.

On February 1, the Trump administration took another step in the direction of making the world a more dangerous place. By withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, agreed to by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987, Trump is setting the stage for a new, dangerous and expensive, nuclear arms race.

The INF Treaty was a major step forward in ratcheting down Cold War tensions. It is the only arms control agreement that eliminated an entire class of weapons, land-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500 km (310-3,420 miles). This led to the elimination and destruction of 2,692 missiles.

This class of weapons is especially dangerous and they have the ability to reach their targets in just a handful of minutes, and thus are seen as first-strike capable. This also means that an adversary might put their missiles in a hair-trigger, launch-on-warning mode, and this increases the likelihood of accidental or mistaken launches with disastrous consequences.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the INF Treaty was negotiated in the context of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. both abiding to the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Unfortunately, in 2002 George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from this treaty, and the U.S. began installing “missile defense” systems in some of the new NATO countries of Eastern Europe.

While “missile defense” sounds both harmless and difficult to accomplish, in fact it would be most effective not for true defense, but as part of an offensive first strike strategy. If a surprise attack on an adversary knocks out a significant fraction of their nuclear arsenal, a defense system, that would likely be overwhelmed by a full-blown attack, might be effective in handling an attenuated and expected retaliatory strike.

The Nuanced Present Moment

The U.S. has maintained for several years that Russia’s new missiles violate the treaty. Russia disputes this and claims that the U.S. is out of compliance. In our opinion the dispute should be resolved through negotiations. The INF Treaty should not be scrapped.

But this is part of a dangerous pattern. Since entering office, the Trump administration has not only withdrawn from this important arms control agreement. They also have pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, heightening tensions in the Middle East, despite the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has verified that Iran is in compliance. And on another important track, they are in the process of pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.

It seems that Trump thrives on creating international tension. This dovetails nicely with increasing military budgets, which Trump has pushed since Day One. More weapons procurement leads to fatter profits for military contractors, who, in turn, lend support for his political agenda.

Russia has now announced that it, too, is withdrawing from the INF Treaty. This is really a no-brainer, as when the U.S. leaves there is no longer an agreement. That said, it is unclear what, short of getting the U.S. to give up “missile defense,” or the dissolution of NATO, would the Russians like to see.

It is clear that they feel threatened by the eastward expansion of NATO right up to their western border. And they certainly wouldn’t want the U.S. to base offensive intermediate range missiles in Eastern Europe. It is also questionable that any NATO country would agree to hosting such missiles, making themselves a prime target in the process.

It seems that it would be in both countries’ security interests to continue the treaty, but this does not seem to fit Trump’s game-plan. What he really wants is unclear, and relations between the U.S. and Russia are all suspect at this point simply because Trump, accused of collusion with Russia regarding the 2016 election campaign, is seen by many as perhaps posturing with regard to any conflicts—real or not—with the country that is defined by the mass media and many in the political establishment as a primary adversary of the United States.

Further complicating the equation is the rise of China. When the INF Treaty was put in place, it was only between the two nuclear superpowers. Trump has, in recent months, asserted that China should also be included in any future permutation of an INF Treaty.

While Peaceworks supports multilateral arms control and disarmament efforts, dismantling the current bi-lateral agreements does not seem to point us in the direction of eliminating very real threats. In fact, it seems to extend an invitation to emerging and potential nuclear weapons states to aggressively pursue their nuclear ambitions, as that’s exactly what the states with the vast majority of all such weapons are, sadly enough, doing. 
U.S.Pershing II Missiles being Dismantled Under the Terms of the Treaty.

We Say “No!” to Regime Change in Venezuela.

As we prepare to post this it seems the campaign to unseat the government of Venezuela is intensifying. We urge all reading this to speak out now. Contact Congress and the White House. Write letters to the editor. Join in weekly peace demonstrations held locally Wednesdays, 4:30-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 10-11 a.m. Contact Peaceworks for more info.

Today we in the United States find ourselves in a challenging political moment. The Trump administration is threatened, with many of Trump’s closest allies ensnarled in legal trouble, and his administration facing one embarrassing defeat after another, from the 2018 midterms to the unpopular shutdown. The President’s strategy seems to be one of distracting public attention from his failings, even if it means doing something that will have terrible consequences, for our country and/or others.

It seems that this plays in to the decision to put regime change in Venezuela front and center at the moment, something that delights Neo-Cons like National Security Advisor John Bolton, even though this risks pushing that nation into a bloody and destructive civil war.

Right at the get-go we want to make it clear that Peaceworks is not offering a blanket endorsement of the current Venezuelan government’s actions, some of which are troubling. Rather, we are sharing our thinking as to what is appropriate for our government to be doing right now.

First and foremost, it is clear that pushing for the overthrow of that nation’s government is not a legitimate use of our government’s economic, political or military power. Moreover, it is likely to cause serious harm to the Venezuelan people, and have adverse consequences for us as well.

While interventions—overt and covert alike—by our government are quite familiar do we not have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this justifiable?” Clearly, there are times when some form of international action is called for. The Rwandan genocide is a good example. But such an action should be undertaken only in extreme circumstances and with the blessings of the United Nations, not unilateral action by the United States.

Some might object and say “Maduro’s government is repressive.” Perhaps so, but how many repressive governments are there in this world? And how many of these are U.S. allies and client states? And, if it’s legitimate to attempt to take out Venezuela’s government on these grounds, how many governments might be targeted for replacement, and what else is legitimate?

Should the U.S. unseat a government that uses the death penalty, which many recognize as a human rights violation? What about one that harms the environment? This is clearly a slippery slope. And, as many of us right now are rather unhappy over Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. and other elections, how do we square opposition to their electoral intervention here and support for U.S. involvement in the process whereby other nations choose their leaders?

Those of us who tune in to the mainstream media are subjected to a daily barrage of condemnation of Nicolas Maduro’s government. While we are offered up countless examples of how hard life is for the people of Venezuela, there is little discussion as to why, except for vague claims by rightwingers that this is all due to “socialism.”  

The U.S. Role

One factor that is fairly consistently overlooked is the twenty-plus year history of our government attempting to undermine Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. The U.S. has consistently been in cahoots with the Venezuelan opposition. Washington has supported coup attempts and helped fund opposition parties. It has also used sanctions as a means of economic warfare.

The CIA has been involved in several Venezuelan coup attempts, including it seems the current one. Juan Guaido’s attempt to seize power is just the latest in a string of attempts to remove Hugo Chavez or his successor Maduro. The main difference is that this time the U.S. role is blatantly overt, with Trump himself actively and publicly encouraging this violation of Venezuelan and international law.

While the current push to unseat President Maduro was launched in January, the U.S.’s economic attack on Venezuela has been going on for years.

According to The Independent, “Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in ‘economic warfare’ against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.”

They further report: “Mr. de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.”

Beyond simply opposing the actions of any state that refuses to accept the neo-liberal economic model, and the fear that any state succeeding in steering an independent course could set an example that might be emulated by others, the U.S., in this case, apparently has another, all-too-familiar motive.

Venezuela has, depending upon how they are measured, the largest, or one of the largest, inventories of proven petroleum reserves in the world. The Trump administration would like to see U.S.-based companies take charge of developing and marketing these dirty fuels.

In fact, Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton recently told Fox News “We’re in conversation with major American companies now . . . It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

We all know the Trump has basically zero respect for the truth and that, when it comes to U.S. interventions around the world, our whole government has a habit of telling those Big Lies over and over again. It is no surprise, therefore, to hear prominent Neo-Con Elliott Abrams, who has been made Trump's point-person on Venezuela, talking about “U.S. efforts to restore Democracy in Venezuela,” and apparently doing so with a straight face.

On the other hand, some analysts do seem to get it right. On January 30, former UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas tweeted: “The disinformation campaign about Venezuela is reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 2003.” Seems to us like he’s got that right.

While the administration’s plan of attack is unclear, whether that includes overt U.S. military intervention, covert actions, or just the use of proxies, it is clear that the stakes are quite high. First and foremost millions of Venezuelan citizens are in harm’s way. They are already suffering due to the ongoing economic warfare and, if this comes to actual hostilities, with bullets and bombs flying, many innocent people may lose their lives.

Moreover, if the Venezuelan people lose the ability to choose their own future, this is problematic not just for them, but for others around the world, as it would set an example and encourage similar actions in the future. For all these reasons and more, we urge you to join Peaceworks in opposing our government’s actions aimed at regime change in Venezuela. The time to make our voices heard is now.

Put Yourself in the Picture

Check out this amazing picture. One of our supporters, Jon Asher, took this pic at the 2018 Solidarity March and Rally. If you were there, besides looking for yourself in the picture, you are likely recalling the sense of community and mutual support that was in the air.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, this year, we have another opportunity to come together to demonstrate our concerns. We are building a strong alliance of progressive groups and individuals throughout mid-Missouri. We intend to turn out in large numbers to challenge the retrograde agenda of the Trump administration and, simultaneously, to advance policies and programs that work for all of us.

If you recognize the necessity of economic and social justice, peace, sustainability, climate action, civil rights and liberties and meaningful, participatory democracy, please plan to put yourself in the picture this year as we gather for the 2019 Solidarity March and Rally.

The Details

This event, put together collaboratively by Peaceworks and our allies in the Mid-Missouri Solidarity Network (see list below), will begin at 1 p.m. at the Missouri Theatre.

We have an amazing lineup of speakers. Participants will hear from Barb Kuensting, student activist from the University of Missouri, Michela Skelton, vice-chair of the Missouri Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, Carolyn Amparan, chair of the Sierra Club Osage Group and Reverend Cassandra Gould, director of Missouri Faith Voices. There will be music from Violet & the Undercurrents.

All this is a prelude to our keynote speaker, author and activist, Frances Moore Lappé (CLICK for more info). Lappé is the author or co-author of 19 books about world hunger, living democracy, and the environment, beginning with the three-million copy Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. In Fall 2017, she coauthored Daring Democracy: IgnitingPower, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want with Adam Eichen.

What You Can Do

Besides participating yourself in the March and Rally, there are several important ways you can help make this event a success. First, you can talk it up with friends, family, neighbors, work or school colleagues, co-parishioners, etc. Encourage others to attend. Offer to go together, share rides, etc. If you’re on Facebook, you can also invite friends that way. For the FB event CLICK HERE.

You can also be an event volunteer. We are seeking more Peacekeepers. This requires participation in a non-violence training session that will be held this Saturday, Jan. 12, 1-5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia. If you are interested in attending, please sign up by calling Jeff Stack at 573-449-4585. There is also a Facebook event for this. CLICK HERE.  If you’ve had previous non-violence training it might be possible to volunteer without attending the Jan. 12 training. Please speak with Jeff to discuss this.

There are also a number of other volunteer slots still open. You can find these on-line if you CLICK HERE.

What to Bring?

If you have the time and wherewithal, you might want to make a sign or banner for the march. The theme for the march is “Unity Moving Forward” and signs that reflect or expound on this, intersectional, message are very appropriate. You are, of course, welcome to bring signs focused on what you oppose. This said, we’d urge you to consider making signs that reflect what we’re for. This could be peace, climate action, reproductive rights, fair taxes, LGBT rights, infrastructure investments, asylum rights, universal healthcare, tuition-free education, student loan relief, etc.

We probably don’t need to remind you to come dressed for the weather. It is January, and it’s highly unlikely to be unseasonably warm for a third year in a row. You might also want to bring along a little money. The event is free, but we will be passing the hat for donations to help cover our costs. There also will be a book-signing with Frances Moore Lappé. Her books are available now at the Peace Nook and will be available for sale at the Theatre on the 19th.

Who’s Behind This?

The Mid-Missouri Solidarity Network is a loose alliance of progressive groups. Peaceworks has been part of this effort from its inception. We’ve been working closely with many of the groups in the Network on a variety of efforts. Besides the Solidarity Marches and Rallies in 2017 and 2018, the SN is also the alliance of groups that put together Citizens’ University this past August. To date, 19 area organizations have signed on for this year’s Solidarity March and Rally, and the list is still in formation.

To date, the co-sponsors include:  Callaway County Concerned Citizens, CoMo for Progress, Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, Mid-Missouri NORML, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, Missouri Faith Voices, Missouri National Organization for Women, Mizzou Energy Action Coalition, Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America, MU Peace Studies Program, NAACP Columbia Branch, Osage Group Sierra Club, Our Revolution Mid-Missouri, Physicians for a National Health Plan Mid-Missouri Chapter, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Rock Bridge Christian Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia Social Action Team, Vets for Peace – Charlie Atkins Chapter, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom - Mid-Missouri Chapter.

How Does This Fit Into Peaceworks’ Mission?

Peaceworks is a progressive, multi-issue organization and we have long understood the importance of creating coalitions and alliances. We have done this around specific issues in the past, but today we are in need of broader, Popular Front-style, politics that bring together all groups that oppose the dangerous, neo-fascist Trump administration.

By coming out in large numbers, we embrace the theme of the national Women’s March, “Unity Moving Forward.” We hope you share the sense that this is needed, now more than ever, and will plan to participate as actively as possible in this effort.