Focal Points Blog

Eric Schlosser of “Command and Control” Fame Honors Plowshares and Dorothy Day

Inside an ICBM silo. (Photo: Matt Blaze / Flickr Commons)

Inside an ICBM silo. (Photo: Matt Blaze / Flickr Commons)

With his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser, who previously wrote Fast Food Nation, has arguably done more to bring nuclear weapons to the forefront of the consciousness of Americans than anyone since President Obama with his 2009 Prague speech, in which he announced his commitment (since misplaced under a White House sofa or somewhere) to a world without nuclear weapons. Still, it was an unexpected surprise to find a piece by Schlosser in the March 12 New Yorker titled Break-in at Y-12 that chronicled the history of the anti-nukes Plowshares movement, as well as profiling Dorothy Day.
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Germany’s Selective Memory About Greece’s Debt

he profile of Golden Dawn in Greece, pictured here demonstrating in 2012, is eerily similar to that of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party in its early years. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons)

The profile of Golden Dawn in Greece, pictured here demonstrating in 2012, is eerily similar to that of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party in its early years. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons)

Memory is selective and therein lays an explanation for some of the deep animosity between Berlin and Athens in the current debt crisis that has shaken the European Union (EU) to its foundations.

For German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, “memory” goes back to 2007 when Greece was caught up in the worldwide financial conflagration touched off by American and European speculators. Berlin was a major donor in the 240 billion Euro “bailout”—89 percent of which went to pay off the gambling debts of German, French, Dutch and British banks. Schauble wants that debt repaid.

Millions of Greeks are concerned about unpaid debts as well, although their memories stretch back a little further.
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From Hubris to Humiliation: the Republicans’ Letter to Iran

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who wrote the now infamous letter to Iran. (Caricature: DonkeyHotey / Flickr Commons)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who wrote the now infamous letter to Iran. (Caricature: DonkeyHotey / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from Leon’s Op-Ed.

Remarkable!

There could be no clearer demonstration of the destructive psychology of “American exceptionalism” than the way the negotiations with Iran are being viewed.

Of course, the most egregious attitude, defiant of constitutional precedent and contemptuous of international law, is in the letter of almost the entire GOP Senate majority to the Iranian government. What the GOP ignores completely, the media treats as an occasional footnote: France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain (the UN Security Council +1) are vital participants in the negotiations and any hoped for agreement. They too, not just Obama, would be wiped away by “the stroke of a pen” with which the outlaw Senators promise to trash any agreement.

From hubris to humiliation, the Senators had to be enlightened by the Iranian foreign minister. He suggested that they misread and defied US constitutional proscriptions about the conduct of foreign policy. No surprise that they also had to be informed about international law. Apparently it doesn’t exist for them: war is the preferable alternative to diplomacy and international cooperation.

Meanwhile Democrats, including more than a few who have gone along with efforts to sabotage the Iran negotiations, are offended by the brazen partisan behavior of Netanyahu, Boehner and now the GOP Senators. It’s time to see this issue as far beyond petty politics. It’s a matter of war or peace, one battle in the existential fight for the future.

The Gulf Cooperation Council Clueless About New Security Measures

Lately, the Gulf Cooperation Council has been brainstorming security solutions. Pictured: a hill town in Yemen. (Photo: Charles Roffey / Flickr Commons)

Lately, the Gulf Cooperation Council has been brainstorming security solutions. Pictured: a hill town in Yemen. (Photo: Charles Roffey / Flickr Commons)

For quite some time now, countries at the centre of the world — Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and even Lebanon for that matter — have had their share of troubles and disturbances. Be it the Arab Spring or militant insurgency, the overall atmosphere in most countries of the region has been turbulent, to say the least.

However, right next to these countries, the Gulf states, in spite of all their internal and external problems, have enjoyed relative comfort. Partly due to the fact that the natives of Gulf tend to prefer political stability over chaos, and partly on account of the cash reserves that oil and hydrocarbons keep generating, the Gulf states have, by and large, kept insurgency and instability away from their respective territories.
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Republican Senators’ Letter to Iran Has Some Invoking the T Word

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

As you have no doubt heard by now, 47 Republican senators wrote an open letter directed at Iran’s leadership. Its main message:

We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. … The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of an agreement at any time.

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It’s Not That Gen. Petraeus’s Punishment Is Too Lenient, But That Others’ Is Too Heavy

Gen. Petraeus’s likely punishment contrasts dramatically with that of Richard Kim and John Kiriakou. (Photo: Michael Ruhl, Talk Radio News Service / Flickr Commons)

Gen. Petraeus’s likely punishment contrasts dramatically with that of Richard Kim and John Kiriakou. (Photo: Michael Ruhl, Talk Radio News Service / Flickr Commons)

Retired four-star general and former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, as you have no doubt heard, pled guilty to lending classified journals to his biographer and, briefly, paramour, Paula Broadwell. He will most likely receive two years of probation and a $40,000 fine.

As stated in the federal district court case against, Petraeus “entered into various agreements into the United States regarding the protection and proper handling of classified information.” While commander of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, he kept notebooks dramatically called in the filing “black books,” which contained “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes, and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and [the defendant’s discussions] with the President of the United States of America.” They also contained “Top Secret/SCI and code word information.”
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Greece: Echoes of Battles Past

Can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured) repeat the Greek army’s success of 480 B.C.E. at Salamis and best what looks like another unbeatable foe? (Photo: Subversive Interview / Wikimedia Commons)

Can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured) repeat the Greek army’s success of 480 B.C.E. at Salamis and best what looks like another unbeatable foe? (Photo: Subversive Interview / Wikimedia Commons)

The recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union (EU) bring to mind Themistocles, a man who knew when to retreat and when to fight. The year was 480 BC and Xerxes I—“the king with half the east at heel”—was marching on Greece with a massive army accompanied by an enormous fleet. Against the invasion stood a small Greek army, led by Leonidas of Sparta, and an equally outnumbered navy, commanded by the Athenian, Themistocles.

It didn’t look good for the Greeks in August 480 BC. The Persian army was at least 10 times the size of the Greek force, and Themistocles was outnumbered almost three to one. It didn’t look good for Syriza in 2015: not a single EU member supported the Greek call for easing the debt crisis and ending the punishing austerity regime that has shattered the country’s economy and impoverished many of its people.
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Netanyahu’s Fears — and What Really Matters

The process of real negotiations, especially with a diversity of states, runs counter to Netanyahu’s formula for sustaining and expanding the occupation. (Photo: IsraelinUSA / Flickr Commons)

The process of real negotiations, especially with a diversity of states, runs counter to Netanyahu’s formula for sustaining and expanding the occupation. (Photo: IsraelinUSA / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from Leon’s Op-Ed.

The battle over whether the Iran negotiations go forward or are forced to fail is bigger than the terms of any “deal.” An agreement won’t decide any of the great issues of our time, but it bears on which way the world will turn in this century.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran are at the table negotiating a difficult issue. Sadly, that’s a rare phenomenon in a world torn by chaotic violence, wars, big power rivalries, and fears of worse to come. Negotiations and cooperation could be viewed as a sign of hope, one small step toward coming together on humanity’s most unavoidable challenges: climate change and the threat of nuclear war.
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U.S. and Iran’s Two-Track War Against the Islamic State

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was observed drinking tea on the front lines of the war with the Islamic State. (Photo: BBC)

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was observed drinking tea on the front lines of the war with the Islamic State. (Photo: BBC)

President Obama is loath to commit troops on the ground to halt and roll back the progress of the Islamic State. Instead, writes the Helene Cooper in the New York Times, he “is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.” At least until the United States is able to bring Iraq’s armed forces up to speed (don’t hold your breath). Though “American officials have said the United States is not coordinating with Iran, one of its fiercest global foes, in the fight against a common enemy.”
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Boulder, Colorado Boy Makes Media Splash as Islamist Extremist Blogger in Istanbul

Arab Spring protest in Paris, 2011. (Photo: Gwenael Piaser / Flickr)

Arab Spring protest in Paris, 2011. (Photo: Gwenael Piaser / Flickr)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

Boulder Colorado

Gotta love it and I do — although it’s kind of an American Disney World: mountains, Boulder Creek that I used to tube down on hot summer days 45 years ago with my friend Michael Neuschatz, one of the best public libraries anywhere and, of course, the University of Colorado with its library and (to my tastes anyhow) its stunning location. There’s also the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center — one of the few locally grown and subsidized independent peace centers in the country, founded by, among others, LeRoy Moore who remains, now in his early 80s, one of the foremost authorities on the nuclear arms race, nuclear weapons, etc. and David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, with worldwide listener-ship. Then there is the Boulder Farmers’ Market — admittedly a bit pricey — but still, one of the better places to get locally grown organic food in the state, one of the founders of which was one Lowell Fey, my father-in-law. In an attempt to lower its carbon emissions, Boulder is also leading the country as a municipality intent on buying back, re-introducing into the public sphere its energy company from XCel Energy.
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