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Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, America’s Billionaires Thrive and Prosper

Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, America’s Billionaires Thrive and Prosper

Although most Americans currently face hard times, with unemployment surging to the levels of the Great Depression and enormous numbers of people sick or dying from the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s super-rich remain a notable exception.

Financially, they are doing remarkably well. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, between March 18 and April 28, as nearly 30 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, the wealth of America’s 630 billionaires grew by nearly 14 percent. During April 2020 alone, their wealth increased by over $406 billion, bringing it to $3.4 trillion. According to estimates by Forbes, the 400 richest Americans now possess as much wealth as held by nearly two-thirds of American households combined.

Some of the super-rich have fared particularly well. Jeff Bezos (the wealthiest man in the world) saw his wealth soar between January 1 and early May 2020 to $142 billion―an increase of $27.5 billion. During that same period, Elon Musk’s wealth grew by $11.4 billion to $39 billion and the wealth of Steve Ballmer (ranking sixth in wealth) increased by $8 billion to $66.1 billion. The gains of Mark Zuckerberg (ranking third) were more modest, but his wealth did rise to $79.3 billion.

Although some billionaires lost money, this was not likely to put them out on the streets. The wealth of Bill Gates (ranking second) dropped from about $113 billion to $106 billion, while the wealth of Larry Ellison (ranking ninth) slipped from $58.8 billion to $58.7 billion.

During this time of economic crisis, two features of the U.S. government’s economic bailout legislation facilitated the burgeoning of billionaire fortunes: first, the provision of direct subsidies to the wealthy and their corporations, and, second, the gift of huge tax breaks to rich Americans and their businesses. Consequently, although the U.S. economy continues to deteriorate, stock prices, helped along by this infusion of cash, are once again soaring.

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As Nations Get Ready for Nuclear War, Their Governments Work to Create the Illusion of Safety

As Nations Get Ready for Nuclear War, Their Governments Work to Create the Illusion of Safety

Ever since the U.S. atomic bombings of Japanese cities in August 1945, a specter has haunted the world―the specter of nuclear annihilation.

The latest report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, issued on January 24, reminds us that the prospect of nuclear catastrophe remains all too real.  Citing the extraordinary danger of nuclear disaster, the editors and the distinguished panel of experts upon whom they relied reset their famous “Doomsday Clock” at two minutes to midnight.

This grim warning from the scientists is well-justified.  The Trump administration has withdrawn the United States from the painstakingly-negotiated 2015 nuclear weapons agreement with Iran and is in the process of withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.  In addition, the 2010 New Start Treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia, is scheduled to expire in 2021, thus leaving no limits on the world’s largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.  According to Trump, this agreement, too, is a “bad deal,” and his hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, has denounced it as “unilateral disarmament.”

Furthermore, while nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements crumble, a major nuclear weapons buildup is underway by all nine nuclear powers.  The U.S. government alone has embarked on an extensive “modernization” of its entire nuclear weapons complex, designed to provide new, improved nuclear weapons and upgraded or new facilities for their production.  The cost to U.S. taxpayers has been estimated to run somewhere between $1.2 trillion and $2 trillion.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin used his televised 2018 State of the Union address to laud his own nation’s advances in nuclear weaponry. 

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Lurching Toward Catastrophe: The Trump Administration and Nuclear Weapons

Lurching Toward Catastrophe: The Trump Administration and Nuclear Weapons

In July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with one abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percentand have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war. The treaty prohibitedall ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Curiously, though, despite official support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by almost two-thirds of the world’s nations, the Trump administration―like its counterparts in other nuclear-armed countries―regarded this historic measure as if it were being signed in a parallel, hostile universe. As a result, the United States and the eight other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations, as well as the final vote. Moreover, after the treaty was approved amid the tears, cheers, and applause of the UN delegates and observers, a joint statement issued by the UN ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France declared that their countries would neverbecome party to the international agreement.

One clear indication that the nuclear powers have no intention of dispensing with their nuclear arsenals is the nuclear weapons buildup that all of them are now engaged in, with the U.S. government in the lead. Although the Trump administration inherited its nuclear weapons “modernization” program from its predecessor, that program―designed to provide new weapons for nuclear warfare, accompanied by upgraded or new facilities for their production―is constantly increasing in scope and cost.

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Getting Ready for Nuclear War

Getting Ready for Nuclear War

Although many people have criticized the bizarre nature of Donald Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea, his recent lovefest with Kim Jong Un does have the potential to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

Even so, buried far below the mass media coverage of the summit spectacle, the reality is that Trump―assisted by his military and civilian advisors―is busy getting the United States ready for nuclear war.

This deeper and more ominous situation is reflected in the extensive nuclear “modernization” program currently underway in the United States. Begun during the Obama administration, the nuclear weapons buildup was initially offered as an inducement to Senate Republicans to vote for the president’s New START Treaty. It provided for a $1 trillion refurbishment of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex―as well as for new weapons for nuclear warfare on land, in the sea, and in the air―over the following three decades.

Characteristically, this program, though unnecessary and outlandishly expensive, was not nearly grand enough for Trump, who, during his election campaign, repeatedly assailed what he claimed was the pitiful state of America’s nuclear preparedness. In fact, in his first campaign announcement, he went so far as to proclaim: “Our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work.” In December 2016, shortly after his election victory, he tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” The next day, speaking with his usual brashness, he told Mika Brzezinski, the host of an MSNBC program: “Let it be an arms race.” He added: “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Trump unveiled his official “America First” National Security Strategy in December 2017. Criticizing the downgraded role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy since the end of the Cold War, it broadened the role of nuclear weapons in future policy.

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U.S. Government Is Boosting Military Spending to Record Levels 

U.S. Government Is Boosting Military Spending to Record Levels 

Photo by DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

Early this February, the Republican-controlled Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed new federal budget legislation that increased U.S. military spending by $165 billion over the next two years.  Remarkably, though, a Gallup public opinion poll, conducted only days before, found that only 33 percent of Americans favored increasing U.S. military spending, while 65 percent opposed it, either backing reductions (34 percent) or maintenance of the status quo (31 percent).

What is even more remarkable for a nation where military spending has grown substantially over the decades, is that, during the past 49 years that Gallup has asked Americans their opinions on U.S. military spending, in only one year (1981) did a majority of Americans (in that case, 51 percent) favor increasing it.  During the other years, clear and sometimes very substantial majorities opposed spending more on the military.

Although the Gallup survey appears to be the only one that has covered American attitudes toward military spending in 2018, reports by other polling agencies for earlier years reveal the same pattern.  The Pew Research Center, for example, found that, from 2004 to 2016, the percentage of Americans that favored increasing U.S. military spending only ranged from 13 to 35 percent.  By contrast, the percentage of Americans that favored decreasing U.S. military spending or continuing it at the same level ranged from 64 to 83 percent.

This opposition to boosting U.S. military spending became even stronger when pollsters provided Americans with information about the actual level of federal government spending and arguments for and against particular programs.  In March 2017, before opinion polling began by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Integrity, it distributed a rough outline of the federal budget and a series of statements about spending programs vetted for fairness by opposing groups.  The result was that a majority of survey respondents reported that they favored cutting the military budget by $41 billion.

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