Open thread for night owls: To avoid annihilation

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

John Carl Baker is a Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow. His writing has appeared in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the New Republic, War Is Boring, and elsewhere. At Jacobin, he writes—Averting Annihilation:

These fears of nuclear apocalypse were on full display this week, as three full days of nuclear-tinged Trumpisms inspired half-serious jokes about our impending doom across social media. On Tuesday, Trump made his now-infamous comments about unleashing “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea. On Wednesday, in the preferred presidential medium of Twitter, Trump took credit for modernizing the nuclear arsenal — despite the fact that this process began under Obama and will take thirty years (and $1.2 trillion) to complete. Yesterday, Trump wondered aloud whether his initial comments about the DPRK weren’t “tough enough,” thereby ensuring the apocalyptic fervor continues for yet another news cycle.

Trump is clearly capable of heightening atomic terror all on his own, but the media-fed dynamic he inhabits with Kim Jong-un, autocratic leader of the latest nuclear-armed state, exacerbates the situation even further. Between them, they’ve increased public fears of nuclear war like no set of national leaders since Reagan and Andropov.

That said, it’s probably unfair to lay fully half the blame for this heated environment at the feet of Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government. After all, it’s difficult for experts, let alone laypeople, to separate out the real Jong-un from the omnipresent media caricatures tailor-made to reaffirm North Korea’s bogeyman status. This rich and racist tradition of foreign policy journalism drinks deeply of what Hugh Gusterson calls “nuclear orientalism” — essentially, the idea that our nuclear monarchs are calm and rational while those in the East are inscrutable, impulsive, and dangerous. […]

Any nuclear attack would be met by a devastating flurry of counter-strikes from the US, whose military resources — nuclear and otherwise — are so superior to North Korea’s that it’s rather silly to even compare the two. The DPRK nuclear weapons program is worrisome, but it exists because the government is terrified of regime change — an outcome Kim Jong-un has legitimate reason to fear, given US actions in Iraq and Libya.

The real danger — the one that definitely exists right now — is that the two countries could unintentionally reignite the Korean War. The situation has been extraordinarily tense for months (remember the Carl Vinson episode in April?), and Trump’s bellicose comments are exactly the sort of thing that could turn a heated environment into, well, “fire and fury” in a heartbeat. If the president issues something that sounds like a threat, it might be interpreted precisely as such, pushing the other side to take preemptive action in anticipation of an immediate attack. […]

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                ~Justice William O. Douglas, Speech delivered to the Authors Guild Council upon receiving the Lauterbach Award, (Dec. 3, 1952)
 

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BLAST FROM THE PAST

At Daily Kos on this date in 2003—Billions for Iraq, Part II:

How much the U.S. ultimately spends on reconstruction projects in Iraq is a question of no small consequence since aspects of our country’s own infrastructure suffer gravely from what budget-makers call “deferred maintenance.” However, another question comes to mind. Given how much taxpayer money is being dished out, how can we be certain the corporations that take on reconstruction projects are on the up and up?

This question arises because many of the corporations – some of them America’s biggest – have run afoul of the law on numerous occasions. And there’s far more than reconstructing Iraq that’s at issue. There is the overall Defense budget, which is soaring independently of the extra $67 billion that Bush seeks for military operations in Iraq.

Don’t we need a strong defense? Absolutely. Wouldn’t we be crazy not to spend enough money to deter another 9/11? Without a doubt. But let’s argue at another time about the proper size of the Pentagon budget.

Almost half America’s military spending now flows to corporations, and some of the biggest defense contractors are crooks. Repeat offenders. Incorrigibles.

In this era of supposedly tough-on-crime politicians across the spectrum, shouldn’t we have a “three strikes” law applied to these corporadoes?

It’s a simple approach. Get caught once or twice in fraud or other outlawry and we’ll give you another chance – just as we do street criminals. Get caught three times and you can explain to your shareholders how you came to be excluded from obtaining government contracts for, say, the next two decades. Felons can’t vote until they do their time. So why not prohibit felonious corporations from making campaign contributions, their version of voting?

Obviously, I’m dreaming. But shouldn’t we at least be able to count on Washington to enforce laws already on the books when it comes to the shenanigans of taxpayer-fueled contractors? Shouldn’t more of these crooks be incarcerated? Oops. Dreaming again. […]