Coming up soon:
And open thread!
Retired chemist. I've done a lot of chemistry that has to do with policy, particularly nuclear policy.
Cheryl Rofer has been a Balloon Juice writer since 2017.
Coming up soon:
And open thread!
The Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where Daunte Wright was killed by an officer, has been flying a “Thin Blue Line” flag just below the American flag. The mayor of Brooklyn Center requested that the flag be taken down because it is inflammatory, and the police complied. Its use has been banned by the University of Wisconsin and Pelham, NY, police departments.
The TBL flag has a lot wrong with it. It is related to the “Blue lives matter” slogan, which developed in response to “Black lives matter” to minimize that claim. It is used by white supremacist factions. The flag was displayed in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, with attackers somewhat contradictorily attacking Capitol police with poles with the flag attached.
It’s not just the flag. Search for thin blue line images and you will find skulls, crosses, angels, crusaders, helmets, Superman symbols, mourning bands, and flags of Australia and the UK. Many of the flags are depicted as weathered, and you can buy a weathered flag from Etsy. Not immediately clear why weathered flags are valued.
It is an American flag, flattened to black and white, with a blue stripe substituting for the white stripe just below the field of stars. Interpretations of the red, white, and blue of the American flag vary, and there seems to be no official interpretation, but the black and white of the TBL flag eliminate them. Changing the American flag is an act of arrogance and claimed power to override its values.
Many interpretations are possible of that black and white scheme. Black and white suggest a radical division of right and wrong, or skin color. Removing the colors and substituting one symbolizing a single group suggests that that group is the most important in the nation.
Black and white color schemes often indicate mourning.
Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner
This morning brought an onslaught of robins to the juniper tree outside my office window. I thought that an onslaught last fall had eaten all the berries, but no. The robins are incredibly messy.
They were here yesterday, but today they brought friends – cedar waxwings, the loveliest birds ever!
A white-crowned sparrow got into the mix, but left too quickly for me to get a good photo.
Great way to start the morning!
[The Biden adminstration’s foreign policy is surprising in many ways. I’ve been thinking it out. The posts summarized here set up a background for development of that foreign policy. In later posts, I’ll look at specifics relating to various countries.]
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Asia and Europe the past two weeks, rebuilding relationships with allies. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accompanied him to Asia. He and Jake Sullivan also met with their Chinese counterparts in Asia last week, with rhetorical fireworks.
The administration faces five big foreign policy challenges:
Afghanistan is the most time-urgent, and it looks like the administration is leaning toward delaying the deadline.
Rejoining the JCPOA also has a time-dependent aspect. Iran threatened to end cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, but Director General Raphael Rossi persuaded Iran to extend cooperation for three months, one of which has passed. Additionally, Iran has a presidential election coming up on June 18.
The other three are less time-urgent but not standing still.
None, however, can be adequately addressed without America’s allies. Donald Trump made no secret of his contempt for NATO and the European Union and picked fights with Japan and South Korea. Mending those relationships is essential to dealing with the challenges, and that is what Blinken has been doing the past two weeks.
The administration is setting expectations and positioning for negotiations. American policies must be developed in place of the previous administration’s whim-driven actions. Although many of the Biden appointees were in the Obama administration, four hard years have passed, and the world situation has changed, along with perceptions of the United States by other countries.
There was no foreign policy under Trump. There were several centers of activity – Secretaries of State, National Security Advisors, trade and arms control officials, and, of course, Trump himself. The players changed rapidly, as did positions that might have been called policy if they had been more connected. Positions were often at odds both between players and over time.
Biden’s appointees have been preparing to start anew since the campaign. Full development of policies had to wait until they could learn the status of America’s relations with the rest of the world. Trump made that as slow and difficult as possible during the transition. Blinken has said that Iran and North Korea policy are under review. Conferring with allies would be a part of that review.
Not everything revolves around the United States and its actions. Russia has experienced sporadic protests; its neighbor Belarus is in an almost continuous state of protest over a stolen election; its economy is going nowhere. China is trying to expand its influence while presenting a hostile face in diplomacy. North Korea continues its secrecy on Covid-19 (no cases in the Hermit Kingdom, they say) and pours its resources into developing missiles and nuclear weapons. Iran has an election coming up in June and is engaged in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
The administration needs to define its priorities in the context of the “foreign policy for Americans” that they have put forth. Past practices, like threats of war for the defense industry and actions taken to please special interest groups like limiting relations with Cuba, could be said to be foreign policy for Americans, but Biden’s people have a larger view.
As bad as the continuing effects of Trump actions may be, changing them does not make sense until a clear plan is in place with buy-in from relevant parties. Improvisation is what brought us to where we are.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner
The New Yorker got a copy of a conference call between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups, including one run by the Koch brothers’ network. The gist of the call was that many conservative voters like HR1, the voting rights bill, and there’s not much messaging that works against it. The article has the audio.
The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.
They describe an AOC-related message that seemed to move voters a bit, but I can’t figure out what it means. They admit it doesn’t make sense. They also think lying might work, claiming that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood oppose the bill when they have criticized parts of it.
Of most concern in the bill is the limitation of dark money and identification of donors. Why, that might open them to harassment! Republicans get more dark money than Democrats do.
And here is some information to help illuminate a particularly West Virginian mystery.
With so little public support, the bill’s opponents have already begun pressuring individual senators. On March 20th, several major conservative groups, including Heritage Action, Tea Party Patriots Action, Freedom Works, and the local and national branches of the Family Research Council, organized a rally in West Virginia to get Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat, to come out against the legislation. They also pushed Manchin to oppose any efforts by Democrats to abolish the Senate’s filibuster rule, a tactical step that the Party would probably need to take in order to pass the bill. “The filibuster is really the only thing standing in the way of progressive far-left policies like H.R. 1, which is Pelosi’s campaign to take over America’s elections,” Noah Weinrich, the press secretary at Heritage Action, declared during a West Virginia radio interview. On Thursday, Manchin issued a statement warning Democrats that forcing the measure through the Senate would “only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government.”
In the 1990s, the United States and other countries helped the newly independent states that had been part of the Soviet Union to deal with their nuclear weapons and materials. It’s a story that has been almost completely forgotten, but it contains a number of lessons that might be helpful today.
David Frum reminds us of that effort. I was involved in it. A few additional thoughts.
It wasn’t just the United States that helped. Although Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) started the funding, the International Science and Technology Committee, funded by the European Union, Japan, and Norway, in addition to the United States, also helped to support nuclear weapons scientists suddenly without jobs.
And it wasn’t just Kazakhstan. Most of the former Soviet republics had leftovers from the Soviet nuclear weapons programs – from mining through production plants to the weapons stationed in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Help was needed in materials accountability and in moving the weapons back to Russia, which inherited the USSR’s status as a nuclear weapons power.
I am pretty sure that I have seen the site pictured in Frum’s article. The caption is “The destruction of a Soviet-era nuclear testing site in Kazakhstan in 2000.” It looks like the sealing of one of the tunnels in the Degelen Mountain testing area. Nuclear tests were carried out in the tunnels. Some of them left metallic plutonium behind.
When I saw in 2001 that the tunnels had been sealed, I realized that they would have to be opened up again. They were, in the recovery of plutonium during 2005-2007. It probably was a good idea to seal them early, though, because scavengers were at the test site, removing copper wire that had been used for the tests.
The Soviet Union formally ended December 25, 1991. In early February, the three directors of the American weapons laboratories – Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia – were on their way to Sarov, Russia’s equivalent of Los Alamos. Scientists and engineers from those laboratories and others followed. As Frum notes, Vladimir Putin ended the cooperation in 2012. Kazakhstan now has removed its weapons-related nuclear material. The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site and other nuclear operations left a great many things to clean up.
President George H. W. Bush eliminated a large number American nuclear weapons in a unilateral gesture intended to show Mikhail Gorbachev that the US would not take advantage of Russia in its disarray. Frum emphasizes that Soviet weapons were eliminated, but weapons were eliminated on both sides.
Those of us who were part of it made new friends and spent time in countries we never imagined would be open to us. It felt like making the world a better place. It was the best thing I did in my career.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.