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Living in Society

Fall Cleanup 2020

Big Grove Township, Nov. 8, 2020

While returning from a walk in the state park I picked up four yard signs a neighbor placed in their yard. Two of the candidates are poised to win and two are not.

While crossing the street, another neighbor called out but I couldn’t hear them. They walked over to discuss Saturday’s events in the general election. They had considered leaving the country if the president were reelected. Like many in our neighborhood, they keep their politics private. Sigh of relief the president was defeated. They are good neighbors.

After my walk I drove over to a damaged street sign and removed the signs from the pole. It is hard to get the screws loosened so I brought it home to repair in the garage if I can. Leaves are mulched with the mower so the minerals can return to the soil. The smell of neighbors burning leaves permeated the neighborhood. What fall work remains in the yard is optional. Today looks to be in the 70s so it is a chance to work outdoors.

Emails began arriving from groups with which I associate after the election. This one from the Climate Reality Project is typical.

We will mobilize support like never before for federal-level climate policy, and will bolster this with continued state and local-level work, which has been so instrumental in building this movement since 2016. We will persist in fighting for climate justice, by forging partnerships and adding capacity to campaigns that address systemic ways the climate crisis hurts historically marginalized communities. And we will continue to the grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, ensuring we have even more voices conveying our clear message. We have the solutions at-hand, and there is no more time to waste.

Ken Berlin, President and CEO, The Climate reality Project

To work on any of the received requests, I had to get organized. Here is what I came up for post-election priorities from an email to friends:

My first Iowa work will be determining a leverage point to advocate for mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus prevents us from organizing as we are accustomed. I plan to follow State Senator Rob Hogg’s lead on this. As you likely know, experts are saying we will be challenged by the virus into 2022. This is a high priority.

I’m working on nuclear arms control issues with the Arms Control Association, and on the climate crisis with the Climate Reality Project. I’m also working with the Sierra Club on the Pattison Sand proposal to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it to arid western states. However those things dovetail with your organization will be our points of opportunity to work together.

The Biden administration will quickly become besieged with its efforts to undo the four years of the current administration, therefore I view moving the ball forward on our issues as something our folks in DC should lead. My expected local contributions include writing an op-ed for the Cedar Rapids Gazette every 4-6 weeks (arms control and social topics), organizing a group in Solon to help me work on issues including politics and political advocacy, and set the stage for a Democratic comeback in the 2022 election. Tall orders all.

I don’t see Iowans devoting much bandwidth to the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) until there is an opportunity for the administration to listen and take action on the treaty. I forget who’s having the Zoom meeting that includes Rose Gottemoeller but I plan to listen in. For the time being, the U.S. government and those of the other nuclear states are ignoring the treaty. If that changes in the next couple of years I’ll get more involved.

If we don’t get organized ourselves, we will be hindered in working with others. Onward we go!

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Sustainability

UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Ratified

The weekend has been a stream of emails from friends leading to ratification of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

On Oct. 24, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), reported Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the treaty. This started a 90-day clock for the treaty to enter into force and become international law on Jan. 22, 2021.

Congratulations to everyone who worked to achieve this significant milestone.

What we have known all along is the nine nuclear states have scant interest in eliminating nuclear weapons, even if most of them give lip service to Article VI of the Non-proliferation Treaty which calls for it.

During the Obama administration activists fully understood the United States would not lead on abolition of nuclear weapons. ICAN, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and others took the cause to the international stage and yesterday set the world on a more definitive path by making nuclear weapons illegal. The hard work now begins.

There remains a growing danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. In an Oct. 24 statement, reacting to the 50th state ratification of the TPNW, IPPNW laid out the risks:

The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. The hands of the Doomsday Clock stand further forward than they have ever been: 100 seconds to midnight. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, more accurate and “useable” weapons; their leaders making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed, while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. If the Trump administration allows the New START Treaty to expire, then from 5 February 2021, for the first time since 1972, there will be no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyberwarfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.

~ Tilman Ruff, Ira Helfand, Arun Mitra, and Daniel Bassey—Co-presidents of IPPNW

This milestone is a moment for celebration as the plan to eliminate nuclear weapons comes together as well as it has since the United Nations was established 75 years ago. Whatever uncertainties there are in our global civilization — the coronavirus pandemic, economic injustice, and armed conflict — today there is hope for a better world. That’s worth noting.

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Living in Society

Turning Point 2020

Predawn light. Sept. 20, 2020

A few things in the election campaign need doing before turning toward home. Compared to past years the work ahead is enough to keep busy yet less.

Chaos in the pandemic response, racial tensions, economic turmoil, and the obvious impact of global warming made it easier to get to this point in the 2020 election cycle.

I’ve been discussing candidates with friends, family and neighbors. Everyone is planning to vote. Most have decided for whom.

I want to finish the lit drop for the state house candidate, take a look at our budget to see if we can afford another contribution to congressional candidate Rita Hart and state house candidate Lonny Pulkrabek, and finish the last writing for the campaigns before boxing up the memorabilia and moving on. Unlike in past years we won’t likely have a final get out the vote gathering or operating center in town because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What bothers me most about 2020 is the inadequate government response to the coronavirus pandemic. If African nations, with a lot fewer resources than the United States, can control the virus what is our problem? I don’t have good answers.

The fact that Russia is blatantly trying to influence the outcome of the election gets to me. It’s not because I viewed the former Soviet Union and Russia as an adversary while serving in the U.S. Army in West Germany. It’s because Republicans apparently agree with the Russian view that reelecting Trump serves their purposes. When did we become susceptible to Russian propaganda? I don’t know but Trump is without question their favored candidate. What the president does to contain Russian global aggression is pitiful. Did he think we wouldn’t notice?

The issue of China is problematic. In a new world order with the United States diminished by the president’s America first agenda, China is rising. They have been for a while. It’s been 11 years since I retired from my job in transportation and logistics when the appetite for American companies to do business with China could not be sated.

There were many examples, Hon Industries in Muscatine is one. They pursued a deal with China to manufacture and distribute office equipment in the Asian market. Manufacturing costs were much lower in China and there was proximity to developing markets combined with transportation infrastructure to export the goods. Doing business in China seemed obvious from a global perspective. The kicker was they could own no more than 49 percent of any China-based business, surrendering control to the Chinese. I don’t know how this worked out for Hon but they were vulnerable to the Chinese and deemed it worthwhile to expand use of their technologies into new markets.

Republican politicians repeat the words “Chinese Communist Party” without end. If China was such a good business partner a short while ago, what turned us on them now? The answer sounds dumb but rings true: the problem the president created with his management of foreign affairs is coming home to roost. Instead of managing diplomatic and economic relations with China the president let the whole thing turn into a mess. Our former governor now outgoing ambassador to China Terry Branstad’s personal relationship with the Chinese president couldn’t stop the president’s inept policy.

Part of the president’s message is about jobs. It is incoherent. For anyone following this as long as I have, history tells a different story about job migration. Once President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA the job exodus began. Jobs first went to the Mexican side of the border where labor was cheaper than in unionized plants in the United States. These plants were called maquiladoras. Ultimately corporations left Mexico and chased cheap labor around the globe, ending up in China and Southeast Asia. As I’ve written previously, there is no bringing those jobs back. The global system American business created would be difficult and costly to dismantle. I’m not sure we want it dismantled.

Whatever the outcome of the election we’ll go on living. As the disaster of 2020 governance has shown, it will be better with Democrats in positions of power. I’ll continue working to elect Democrats until the polls close on Nov. 3. At the same time I am ready to turn toward winter and what’s next.

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Living in Society

Slaying a Foreign Government Official

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Office Aug. 31, 2015

The politics of Iran has been on my radar since the Iranian Revolution when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic replaced the monarchy.

I lived in Mainz, Germany that year. I was a mechanized infantry battalion adjutant in the Eighth Infantry Division, which, as part of V Corps, was training for a war in the Middle East over oil. Across the Rhine river from us was Wiesbaden, the evacuation point for American citizens fleeing Iran in the wake of the revolution. Our unit provided support to the Wiesbaden operation during the evacuation.

One of the choices I made during that time was which of my peers in the battalion would be sent to Iran during the aftermath of the Shah’s overthrow. I picked someone whose family wasn’t with him in Germany. My friend was never deployed to Iran and we were all grateful for that.

In this context it is natural that the United States assassination of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force would catch my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was spending so much time following developments. When I write “developments” what I really mean is the slow, uneven release of information about what happened and what it means. Yesterday’s post is a list of the main questions raised early on in the discovery process. Answers have proven complicated and elusive.

I was reading the news right when I wrote Soleimani was a target of opportunity. That means the U.S. intelligence community had long been tracking his movements and after President Trump gave the order to slay him, when his movements at the Baghdad airport exposed him and his entourage, there was an opportunity to take action and our military did. While our president seems impulsive, in this case there was a developed plan to assassinate Soleimani.

Two things make this different. First, Soleimani was revered in Shia Muslim culture. His death by unmanned drone attack elevated him to martyrdom and could bring a ruptured Iranian society together in opposition to the United States. Second, he was part of the Iranian government the way Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley is. It is important to note Soleimani’s status was distinct from a figure like Osama bin Laden who was a rogue, non-state actor. People who make a proportional comparison between Soleimani and bin Laden are wrong to do so.

The politics of this have been predictable as Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her daily Letters from an American:

Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.

Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.

If you are reading this post, you should consider subscribing to Richardson’s daily emails.

Whether President Trump had constitutional or legal authority to assassinate a member of the Iranian government without consulting the Congress remains an open question. The administration claimed it was free to act under the 2002 Authority for the Use of Military Force enacted by congress in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks. The U.S. named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which Quds Force is a part, a terrorist organization. Friends Committee on National Legislation has been lobbying the Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The incident yesterday in Baghdad highlights the pressing nature of Congress reasserting its authority over the executive branch of government in matters of war and peace.

In today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, Zachary Oren Smith posted the reactions of three people running for congress. Smith’s framing was “early reactions to the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani fell along party lines in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democrat Newman Abuissa, a native of Damascus, Syria, reacted to the assassination, “If the goal of the U.S. is a regime change or to negotiate a better deal, this attack makes both goals impossible to achieve. It strengthens the government of Iran and makes it impossible for them to sit down with the U.S. president.”

Both Republicans supported the president and Schilling was quoted at length, parroting long-debunked talking points.

What makes easy media narratives like Smith’s difficult is the decades-long context in which Thursday’s assassination took place. Simple comparisons serve little purpose and push a struggling news outlet closer to irrelevance.

My questions from yesterday aren’t answered. After spending too much time following the news, my work on other projects lagged behind. I need to keep moving. 2020 is here and there is much I want to accomplish.

I did make time to visit a friend whose spouse died Wednesday. She said of him, “at least he got out of here before all this shit happened.” It remains for those of us living to deal with it and carry on.

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Living in Society

Questions About Our New War With Iran

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

At 3:15 a.m. CST my phone rang. It was an international call from Jordan. I don’t know anyone in Jordan and the caller did not leave a message.

I know a few people who travel in the Middle East from time to time. None of them stood out as a person who might be calling the morning our country assassinated Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, as a target of opportunity at the Baghdad airport.

I had not heard of Soleimani so I found and read Dexter Filkins Sept. 23, 2013 New Yorker profile. However this decision was made, intentionally or not, the U.S. Government kicked the beehive of Shia efforts toward hegemony in the Middle East. We will likely be stung by this extrajudicial exercise of American military force.

There is not enough information despite the rapid response of social media. The vacuum generates questions:

Why didn’t the president inform the gang of eight of the imminent assassination? Given the prominence of the target in Iranian and Middle East society he should have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear he hadn’t.

Why didn’t the administration seek an authorization for the use of force from the U.S. Congress? According to Pelosi, there is no existing authorization relative to Iran.

When will the president address the public on what he did and why?

Was this assassination retaliation for the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad or part of a long-term plan to enter war with Iran?

What will be the consequences for U.S. interests in the region? Iranian officials have already stated publicly there will be revenge for the slaying. We can expect them to act with thoughtful reserve and to think outside the box.

Who will replace Soleimani in the established and future operations for which he was responsible?

What was the benefit to U.S. interests of elevating Soleimani to the status of martyr?

There are a lot of questions, few answers, and a grim pall has been cast over this Friday in Iowa.

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Sustainability

Iran Deal Update

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

Except for the president and members of his administration, the world supports the Iran Deal negotiated by the Obama administration with key allies and Iran.

On June 28, Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, which are not party to the agreement, issued a statement supporting the Iran Deal:

“(We) attach the utmost importance to the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by Iran and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, as a key instrument for the non-proliferation regime and a major contribution to stability in the region.”

The purpose of the agreement was to restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The United States, under President Donald Trump, chose to violate the JCPOA because the chief executive thought it was a “bad deal.”

Last week the president authorized new sanctions against Iran, but they already felt economic pain from previous ones. What this round of sanctions tells Iran and the rest of the world is the U.S. is running out of options, according to Jarrett Blanc at Politico,

With Iranian oil sales down to 300,000 barrels per day (from 2.5 million before sanctions were reapplied) and Iran’s economy suffering, the United States has effectively cut Iran out of international commerce already. The real signal Iran will take from the new sanctions is that the Trump administration either does not understand this reality or cannot come up with a more effective option to improve upon it.

Iran recently announced it would exceed the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium required by the Iran Deal. They did exceed it, which was widely reported on Monday. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association made this June 27 press release with Kelsey Davenport, ACA director for nonproliferation policy, which summarizes where we stand regarding the Iran Deal (emphasis mine):

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. re-imposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

If interested in following the progress of the Iran Deal, discussions with North Korea, and potential extension of the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States, follow Daryl Kimball on twitter @DarylGKimball.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa. Paul Deaton is, among other things, a member of the Arms Control Association.

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Living in Society

Stability Should Matter

Snowfall in Big Grove

Between three and four inches of snow fell overnight. It’s still coming down. I have 80 feet of driveway and a shovel to deal with when the sun comes up. The first buckets of salt and sand were emptied yesterday — there is plenty in reserve.

It’s not our first winter in Big Grove.

I filled the bird feeder for the first time this year and expect birds to find it this morning. Deer, used to the cultural resonance of last year’s seeds, have been stopping by to check the feeder since hunting season began.

Despite the unbroken crystalline sheet of snow it’s not a blanket, that clichéd word. We need a new vocabulary. Neighborhood sounds are muffled in pre-dawn hours yet we know global tensions have increased rendering nothing comforting about newly fallen snow this January.

President Trump’s “America first” slogan and the actions behind it are unraveling what global order existed before his rise to power. We all know it and the dissonant, unwelcome noise of his administration conditions us with its absurdity. Columnist George Will characterized the effect in the Washington Post,

Half or a quarter of the way through this interesting experiment with an incessantly splenetic presidency, much of the nation has become accustomed to daily mortifications. Or has lost its capacity for embarrassment, which is even worse.

I’m interested in U.S. foreign affairs. The last two years have been exhausting.

Step-by-step, we withdrew our leadership from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There’s talk about withdrawal from the INF treaty, the New START treaty, and even from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which our country helped found.

Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un was a head scratcher. After decades of unsuccessful negotiations regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambition, the president held a brief meeting in Singapore then declared in social media, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

It is hard to describe the instability we created in the Middle East where we’ve engaged third string envoys like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to do our work, in Pomeo’s case, only until the Rapture.

Last week the president introduced his Missile Defense Review which is certain to destabilize relationships with China and Russia, potentially fueling a new nuclear arms race.

By these actions and more, the United States under Trump created a vacuum of leadership which China in particular, but Russia as well, are ready to fill. What is lost in “America first” is the American people benefit from international stability. This president and Republicans who back him apparently could care less.

We understand there will be a 46th president. The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to check this one. The only question is when he will exit the office. In the meanwhile, it is time to clear snow from the driveway and get out in society, to sustain our lives while the absurdity continues.

I don’t like the national disgrace under which we currently live and the instability this president created. Few I know do. Time and good work will cure some of it. At least that’s what I hope now that we’re getting into winter.

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Sustainability

Nuclear Disarmament in Trump World

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

Elimination of nuclear weapons remains a priority for many of us who followed disarmament progress through the years. Our work hasn’t ended. What should be our priorities in Trump World?

To a large extent, society answered that question in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which the United States is a party. Article VI has been and remains a sticking point in meeting treaty obligations. Here’s the text,

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Nuclear states have taken inadequate steps toward compliance with Article VI. U.S. backpedaling on disarmament treaties began when in 2002 President George W. Bush removed the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Under Donald Trump, the United States is expected to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and negotiations for renewal of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) have yet to commence. The Trump administration is heading the opposite direction of good faith negotiations to end the arms race. It is creating a political environment for a new arms race, a complete refurbishment of the U.S. nuclear triad, and development of new nuclear weapons.

Where should disarmament advocates focus their efforts? Here’s my list.

As the two largest nuclear states, the U.S. and Russia should de-escalate nuclear competition and establish a regular dialogue on strategic stability. At a minimum, we should make a mutual decision to extend the New START Treaty before it expires in 2021.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said publicly Russia would not make first use of nuclear weapons. The United States should adopt a no first use policy regardless of what Russia says or does.

During negotiations for U.S. Senate ratification of New START, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl negotiated a refurbishment of the nuclear weapons complex. Under President Trump, this budget has grown to over a trillion dollars. We should encourage the new U.S. House of Representatives leadership to cut back on the administration’s plan to upgrade the nuclear complex.

There has been talk of developing new types of more usable nuclear weapons. We should advocate to block administration plans to develop such weapons.

As President Trump withdraws from the Iran Nuclear Deal we should encourage and support our international partners to implement it without us.

Now is the time to implement realistic, action-for-action steps toward disarmament with North Korea. Any dialogue with North Korea should proceed with that goal as the basis for talks.

Finally, advocates should promote compliance with Article VI in the run up to the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

A nuclear weapons-free world remains possible. In Trump World making progress toward that goal will continue to be challenging. Like most citizens we have limited resources and a large number of issues wanting our attention. This list serves to focus on what’s most important politically, and look for opportunities to advance each item as they present themselves.

To learn more about nuclear disarmament efforts in the U.S., check out the Arms Control Association website by clicking here.

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Kitchen Garden Living in Society

Why Don’t Iowa Farmers Export More to Europe?

Sundog Farm

During a brief appearance at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta on July 26, President Trump claimed a trade breakthrough with European allies.

“We just opened up Europe for you,” he said.

Not so fast!

On Saturday, European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who met with Trump, said trade talks almost collapsed over U.S. agricultural demands.

Agricultural trade will remain off the table in any trade talks between the U.S. and EU, Juncker said, according to Deutsche Welle. A European commitment to buy more U.S. soybeans is driven by market conditions.

Europe is the second largest importer of soybeans after China and prices are low because of the U.S. trade war with China. In other words, after market conditions driven by the president beat the price of soybeans down, Europe sees a bargain. It is hard to fathom how Trump sees Europe “opened up” under these conditions. Granted Iowa farmers planted more acres in soybeans this year, but the president’s statement can only be seen as political posturing in advance of the 2018 midterm elections and everyone should know it.

There is a more significant problem with “opening up” Europe for agricultural trade — the issue of genetically modified organisms.

There are very few genetically modified crops grown in Europe compared to the U.S., according to a July 27 New York Times article. The reason is in 2001, the EU issued a directive about GMOs. From the early stages of research to the marketplace, these products would have to pass a series of tests for environmental risks and human safety. The consequence of the directive in Europe is few farmers produce GMO crops.

In the U.S., neither the USDA nor the National Academy of Sciences is concerned that GMO crops have any impact on consumers different from non-GMO crops, despite a slate of regulations. Driven by science, farmers embrace GMO crops because of their acceptance in the U.S. marketplace combined with the attributes of genetically modified seeds. Regardless of science, increasing the amount of GMO crops exported to Europe seems unlikely given the fact many European countries have banned GMOs.

Shorter version of Trump’s statement, “Farmers, here’s a bone.”

It’s hard to see how help for Iowa farmers will materialize from current discussions with Europe. The irony of increased soybean sales to Europe after Trump’s trade war beat down prices as something positive seems lost on his true believers. They may swallow this hook, line and sinker, but other sentient beings should not. It is another deception from a president with an unending supply of deceit.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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Sustainability

Helsinki and New START

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

I don’t know one person, acquaintance or public figure who thought the July 16 meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki went well.

The only people who found a ray of hope in the awkward encounter are those in the arms control community who pointed out some positives, not the least of which is an easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers evidenced in the meeting.

“It looks like Trump and Putin may have agreed in Helsinki to resume strategic stability talks.” Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, posted on twitter. “One key issue: New START, which can be extended without complex negotiation, without further approval by Senate or Duma, and without Trump making unwise concessions.”

Such a move makes sense and would be an easy win for Trump. It may not be well received among Trump’s base supporters because, after all, the Obama administration negotiated New START. The 44th president called in his markers to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty. Some of us felt he gave away too much with a complex offering of perquisites to Republican hawks led by Jon Kyl. Not the least of these was an expensive, unneeded modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex. The Trump crowd won’t like it, regardless of the efficacy of an extension, because of the association with President Barack Obama.

Republicans have expressed disappointment with Trump’s foreign policy, such as it exists. They may (publicly or privately) attempt to reign in the president. At some point the U.S. wants to address perceived Russian violations of the INF treaty negotiated between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, signed in 1987. Russia has threatened to withdraw from the INF treaty for many years, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

As we look forward with trepidation to the next meeting between the two heads of state, the arms control community will be working to advance the causes of nuclear disarmament and abolition. It is something they do regardless which party has majorities in the Congress or who is president.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa