Those who believe godless science must be met by holy resistance

Gary Wills writes: When a Republican politician, asked about climate change, says, “I’m not a scientist,” most of us hear just a cowardly way of dodging the question; but the politician’s supporters hear a brave defiance of an alien force. When we hear only “science,” they hear “godless science,” the kind that wants to rob them of their belief in creation and force evolution into their minds. That science is marching in a battalion of forces—the media, the academy, the government—that has them besieged. “I’m not a scientist” does not mean, “I have not heard enough about the science, and need to hear more,” but “I know the evil intent or effect of science, and I will not let it affect me.” They summon a courage not to know.

Now Pope Francis, with his encyclical on climate change, has introduced a concern for the poor into the environmental discussion. But conservative Catholics (including five actual or potential candidates for president) forgive him, since he knows nothing about science—if he did, he would realize its anti-biblical animus. He does not know, as the conservatives do, that the masked godless thing must be met by a holy resistance. This is what the French anthropologist Olivier Roy calls “holy ignorance.” It is not a failure of intelligence, but a proud refusal to know things tainted by the arrogance of inevitability. He writes: “There is a close link between secularization and religious revivalism, which is not a reaction against secularization, but the product of it. Secularism engenders religion.” The defenders of the lost cause feel persecuted, and the more support there is for their opponents, the grander they are in their lonely war. [Continue reading…]

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Naomi Oreskes: Why climate deniers are their own worst nightmares

When I go out with my not quite three-year-old grandson, his idea of a good time is hide-and-seek. This means suddenly darting behind a bush too small to fully obscure him or into a doorway where he remains in plain sight, while I wander around wondering aloud where in the world he could possibly be. In this, there’s a kind of magical thinking and denial of reality that has great charm. When similar acts of denial are committed by adults, when they refuse to see what’s right before their eyes — the melting sidewalks and roads of India, the emptying reservoirs of parched California, the extreme rain and flooding in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, the news that last year was a global heat record for the planet and this year is already threatening to be another, or that Alaska just experienced its hottest May ever, or that 13 of the 14 hottest years since temperatures began to be recorded took place in this century, or that a supposed post-1998 “pause” in the planetary warming process was a fantasy — the charm fades fast. When you discover that behind this denial of reality lies at least $125 million in dark money, it fades even faster. In just three years, unidentified conservative sources have poured that eye-popping figure into a web of think tanks and activist outfits dedicated to promoting climate denial (and not even included in that amount are the vast sums that Big Energy continues to contribute to the promotion of denialism, as it has done since the 1980s). In other words, some of the most powerful and profitable interests on the planet are determined to deny reality with a ferocity meant to confuse the public and put a damper on any moves or movement to save a planetary environment that has long nurtured humanity. It’s a charmless spectacle.

The well-funded climate deniers and the politicians who support them (and are, in turn, supported by the same set of funders) repeatedly yell “hoax.” In truth, they are the hoax and by now, were we looking, we would see that they are standing in a nearby doorway stark naked and in clear sight. And yet, backed by all that money, they essentially control the Republican Party and the Republican Congress. (Seventy-two percent of the Republican Senate caucus, for instance, now qualify as climate deniers.) This means that, for the party’s increasing horde of presidential candidates, the phrase “I’m not a scientist, but…” followed by doubts about or the rejection of climate science will be a commonplace of election year 2016. It couldn’t be a grimmer vista, even though in the decades to come achieving a relatively speedy changeover to non-greenhouse-gas-releasing fuels seems ever more possible.

This means, of course, that taking on the climate deniers directly couldn’t be more important. That’s why TomDispatch is lucky to have historian of science Naomi Oreskes return — having only recently given testimony before a Republican-controlled congressional committee dotted with climate deniers — to take on their false claims, fantasies, and lies. She co-authored with Erik Conway the now-classic book Merchants of Doubt on how the fossil fuel companies, like the tobacco companies before them, created a public sense of uncertainty about the dangers of their products when a scientific one didn’t exist. More recently, again with Conway, she wrote The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a look back at the effects of global warming and climate denialism from the point of view of a historian of 2393. Tom Engelhardt

The hoax of climate denial
Why “politically motivated” science is good science
By Naomi Oreskes

Recently, the Washington Post reported new data showing something most of us already sense: that increased polarization on Capitol Hill is due to the way the Republican Party has lurched to the right. The authors of the study use Senator John McCain to illustrate the point. McCain’s political odyssey is, in some dismaying sense, close to my own heart, since it highlights the Republican turn against science.

As unlikely as it might seem today, in the first half of the twentieth century the Republicans were the party that most strongly supported scientific work, as they recognized the diverse ways in which it could undergird economic activity and national security. The Democrats were more dubious, tending to see science as elitist and worrying that new federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health would concentrate resources in elite East Coast universities.

In recent decades, of course, the Republicans have lurched rightward on many topics and now regularly attack scientific findings that threaten their political platforms. In the 1980s, they generally questioned evidence of acid rain; in the 1990s, they went after ozone science; and in this century, they have launched fierce attacks not just on climate science, but in the most personal fashion imaginable on climate scientists.

[Read more…]

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The GOP’s core is dying off by the day

Politico reports: It turns out that one of the Grand Old Party’s biggest — and least discussed — challenges going into 2016 is lying in plain sight, written right into the party’s own nickname. The Republican Party voter is old — and getting older, and as the adage goes, there are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Right now, both are enemies of the GOP and they might want to worry more about the former than the latter.

There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all.

The party’s core is dying off by the day.

Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this? [Continue reading…]

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Debate over war authorization in Congress fades with little result

The Washington Post reports: As lawmakers continue to spar with President Obama over his use of executive power on an Iran nuclear deal and a slew of domestic matters, most appear willing to let him have his way on at least one issue — the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and potentially beyond.

It has been nearly three months since Obama, responding to congressional demands and his own pledge to seek legislative blessing, sent proposed war authorization language to Capitol Hill. Now, the subject appears to be dying a quiet death.

A feisty bipartisan minority is not prepared to let it go without a fight. Thirty House lawmakers from both parties Thursday signed a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) demanding that he force action on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, against the Islamic State.

If not, wrote its primary authors, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), “this shirking of our duty will have lasting effects, serving to expand the scope of executive power at the expense of Congress.”

But Boehner and other GOP leaders, blaming the Democrats, have already effectively announced the demise of the AUMF. They say they see no way to bridge deep partisan disagreements over how much authority to give the president.

The AUMF saga is a twist on conventional Washington wisdom in more ways than one. Unlike virtually every other issue before lawmakers, it is the Democrats who have argued for narrowing Obama’s latitude. They worry that vague language in his proposal, including about the possibility of ground troops, would deprive Congress of its ability to check executive action and allow Obama or his successor unlimited expansion of global military actions. [Continue reading…]

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Key Republican is not on board with NSA reform

National Journal: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is not yet ready to support legislation that would curtail the National Security Agency’s surveillance authorities, meaning a major roadblock to post-Snowden spying reforms has yet to budge.

Despite weeks of negotiations involving his staff, the Iowa Republican said Tuesday he still has concerns about the USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan package that would effectively end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

“Not until I have discussions with people on the Intelligence Committee,” Grassley said Tuesday when asked whether he might support the bill. When pressed on what reservations he still had, Grassley offered, “Just finding a balance between national security and privacy.”

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If hardliners kill the Iran nuclear program deal, it will be in Washington, not Tehran

Ariane Tabatabai writes: The scenes in Tehran in the hours following the announcement of the nuclear deal were a testament to how important Iranians felt it was to their lives. In different cities, people took to the streets on Thursday, honking horns, waving flags, cheering. It had been a long time coming. In the months leading up to the deadline, whenever I visited or called friends and family in Iran, the first questions I heard were typically, “What’s going on in the talks? Will we get a deal?” A day after the agreement was made public in Lausanne, when Friday prayers were held across Iran, prayer leaders welcomed a “success” for the Islamic Republic, and upon his arrival at the airport, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s return to the country was celebrated as if he’d led Iran to the next World Cup.

With the technical issues on the table in Lausanne now virtually all addressed, many eyes are turning toward Washington and Tehran to see what will happen next. As the parties draft a final deal ahead of the June 30 deadline, the key challenges won’t be in the international arena, but in the domestic politics of both capitals. There are, to be sure, a number of skeptics in Iran, some of them in positions of power: Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the influential hardline newspaper Kayhan, for instance, said Iran had “given up a horse with a saddle for a broken harness.” Esmail Kowsari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, claimed that the Iranian negotiating team “has only killed time” in the past year, and that “the nation and country’s time has been wasted.”

But despite these protests, it is Washington, not Tehran, where domestic politics are most likely to become a stumbling point. The three months between the announcement of the agreement and when the final deal will be made public are a crucial phase that could make or break its success. Interim deals have been brought home to skeptical audiences before. But this time — at least in Tehran — a combination of factors, from the savvy salesmanship of the negotiating team to the implicit backing of some of the country’s most important stakeholders seem primed to ensure, if not smooth sailing, then at least enough buy-in keep the accord viable. [Continue reading…]

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Koch Industries refuses to comply with U.S. senators’ climate investigation

The Guardian reports: The Koch brothers’ conglomerate Koch Industries has refused to comply with an investigation by three Senate Democrats into whether the company has funded groups or researchers who deny or cast doubt on climate change.

In response to a request from senators Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse for information about Koch Industries’ support for scientific research, Koch general counsel Mark Holden invoked the company’s first amendment rights.

“The activity efforts about which you inquire, and Koch’s involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution,” Holden wrote the senators in a letter dated 5 March and posted online by Koch Industries this week.

“I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate committee inquiry into activities protected by the first amendment,” he wrote, concluding, “we decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental first amendment activities.”

Asked by the Guardian to elaborate on how the first amendment protects such funding and whether Koch Industries would pursue legal action to prevent disclosing information, Holden said: “Our letter speaks for itself.”

In his letter to the senators, Holden suggested that such funding represents part of “Koch’s right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association.”

On 25 February, the three Democratic senators – each a ranking member of committees that oversee environmental affairs – sent letters to 100 fossil fuel companies and thinktanks “to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.” [Continue reading…]

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Why a ‘bad’ deal with Iran is better than no deal at all

Jeffrey Lewis writes: I am old enough to remember when, back in 2006, I argued that the United States should let Iran keep 164 centrifuges in standby mode during talks. Do you know what people said? “164 centrifuges? Are you mad? You are giving away the store to the Iranians!” Well, now Iran has more than 15,000 centrifuges (that we know about) in at least two sites.

One of the most frustrating things about following the past decade of negotiations is watching the West make one concession after another — but only after the Iranians had moved so far forward that the concession had no value. The people arguing now for a “better” deal at some later date are the same people who in 2006 said 164 centrifuges was way too many and, that if we just held out long enough, we’d haggle the Iranians down to zero. Look what that got us.

This is a fantasy, a unicorn, the futile pursuit of which ends with a half-assed airstrike against Iran, a region in flames, and eventually an Iranian nuclear weapon. And let’s be clear: If negotiations collapse, the United States will take the blame from Europe and the sanctions regime will unravel. And here’s the best-case scenario:

Any military action against Iran will set its nuclear program back, at best, a couple of years. But the anger will last generations. [Continue reading…]

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Drama turns to farce in U.S.-Israel ties

Rami G. Khouri writes: The contentious diplomatic drama of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress last week has now expanded into political farce, after 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian supreme leader this week.

The letter basically insulted the Iranians by suggesting that they did not know how the American political system operates, because, they argued, the next administration could reverse any agreement President Barack Obama reaches with Tehran.

The tension between the Republican-dominated Congress and Obama is nearly a constitutional crisis over the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It is also quite unusual to see a sitting Congress actively trying to thwart a foreign policy objective that the president is actively pursuing in close coordination with five other world powers.

Those issues will blow over in time, but the more lasting impact of these developments might well be the evolving relationship between the Israeli government, the Republican Party in the United States and the traditional bipartisan position in the U.S. to policy toward Israel and wider Middle Eastern issues. Both the right-wing Netanyahu-led coalition government and the Republican Party in Congress have reasons of their own to challenge President Barack Obama, and they have chosen the nuclear agreement being negotiated with Iran as the issue on which to confront him in a very hard and very public way. [Continue reading…]

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The GOP’s Islamophobia problem

Peter Beinart writes: Did Craig Hicks murder Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha yesterday in Chapel Hill because they were Muslim? We don’t yet know for sure.

But we know this: In America today, the level of public anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly high. Politicians and pundits, usually on the right, say things about Muslims that they would be immediately fired for saying about Christians or Jews. And they’ll keep doing so until prominent conservatives express the same outrage when Muslims are defamed that they summon when the victims are Christians or Jews. In the 1950s, National Review founder William F. Buckley ran anti-Semites out of the conservative movement. It’s time for his successors to do the same with Islamophobes.

In 2016, for the second straight presidential election, the Republican primary field will include at least one candidate with nakedly anti-Muslim views. I’m not talking about candidates who denounce “radical Islam.” I’m not talking about Newt Gingrich, who in 2011 absurdly claimed that “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States.” I’m not even talking about Bobby Jindal, who kept repeating the lie that Europe contains “no-go” zones where non-Muslims are not allowed, even after it was repudiated by Fox News. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans still afraid of evolution

Mark Oppenheimer writes: On Wednesday, in an interview in London, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a potential Republican presidential candidate, sidestepped the question of whether he believed in evolution.

“I’m going to punt on that one,” he said to an audience at a research organization in London, which he was visiting for a trade mission. “I’m here to talk about trade, not to pontificate on other issues. I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker’s response was not all that surprising — evolution is a sensitive issue for the evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party and presidential candidates have had to tread carefully around it.

The theory of evolution may be supported by a consensus of scientists, but none of the likely Republican candidates for 2016 seem to be convinced. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it should not be taught in schools. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is an outright skeptic. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will not talk about it. When asked, in 2001, what he thought of the theory, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said, “None of your business.”

After Mr. Walker’s response, the interviewer in London, an incredulous Justin Webb of the BBC, said to the governor: “Any British politician, right or left wing, would laugh and say, ‘Yes, of course evolution is true.’ ” [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: A Republican neo-imperial vision for 2016

Don’t think for a minute that this president isn’t proud of his climate-changing energy program.  To be clear, however, I don’t mean his efforts to check the advances of climate change.  Consider the introduction to the new U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) his administration unveiled last week.  It’s a 29-page document filled with the usual braggadocio about America’s “indispensable” role in global leadership in a “complex world.”  And it’s true that part of that indispensability, the document claims, involves offering leadership when it comes “to turn[ing] the corner on global carbon emissions.”  Hence, assumedly, the recent deal with China on capping those emissions.

But when the president and his national security officials really walk the walk and talk the talk, that’s not what they’re focused on.  Read the NSS and the first fossil fuel reference you come upon, smack-dab in the middle of the second paragraph of that intro, goes like this: “America’s growing economic strength is the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad… We are now the world leader in oil and gas production.”  You can practically hear the cheering in the background.  And just in case you think that’s a bit of passing bravado, here’s a key paragraph from a section later in the document entitled “Advance Our Energy Security”:

“The United States is now the world leader in oil and gas production. America’s energy revival is not only good for growth, it offers new buffers against the coercive use of energy by some and new opportunities for helping others transition to low-carbon economies. American oil production has increased dramatically, impacting global markets. Imports have decreased substantially, reducing the funds we send overseas. Consumption has declined, reducing our vulnerability to global supply disruption and price shocks. However, we still have a significant stake in the energy security of our allies in Europe and elsewhere. Seismic shifts in supply and demand are underway across the globe. Increasing global access to reliable and affordable energy is one of the most powerful ways to support social and economic development and to help build new markets for U.S. technology and investment.”

Keep in mind that President Obama understands well the dangers of global warming. His sideline moves — increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, reducing coal-powered plants in the U.S., setting aside parts of Alaska’s Arctic seas as no-drill areas — reflect an often repeated “commitment” to bringing climate change under control.  At the same time, however, he has overseen a startlingly drill-baby-drill energy program from the Gulf of Mexico and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to the waters of the coastal southern Atlantic, which his administration has just opened to a future bonanza of oil and natural gas drilling.  He has, in short, presided for six years over the turning of this country into “Saudi America.”

And mind you, that’s actually the good news: now, for the bad news, which comes to us thanks to the invaluable Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of The Race for What’s Left.  No matter what Obama does to open the way for the further exploitation of American fossil fuel reserves, his Republican opponents blast him as a wimp, a hopeless weakener of American global power. They mean it, too. They imagine the U.S. they would run as a “Saudi North America” which would, if they had their way, turn Russia into rubble and the Arctic into Club Med. Tom Engelhardt

Keystone XL, Cold War 2.0, and the GOP vision for 2016
How energy coordination on one continent could bring the planet to its knees
By Michael T. Klare

It’s a ritual long familiar to observers of American politics: presidential hopefuls with limited international experience travel to foreign lands and deliver speeches designed to showcase their grasp of foreign affairs. Typically, such escapades involve trips to major European capitals or active war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, however, has broken this mold. Before his recent jaunt to London and into the thickets of American vaccination politics, he chose two surprising destinations for his first trips abroad as a potential Republican candidate.  No, not Kabul or Baghdad or even Paris, but Mexico City and Alberta, Canada.  And rather than launch into discussions of immigration, terrorism, or the other usual Republican foreign policy topics, he focused on his own top priority: integrating Canada and Mexico into a U.S.-led “North American energy renaissance.”

By accelerating the exploitation of fossil fuels across the continent, reducing governmental oversight of drilling operations in all three countries, and building more cross-border pipelines like the Keystone XL, Christie explained, all three countries would be guaranteed dramatic economic growth.  “In North America, we have resources waiting to be tapped,” he assured business leaders in Mexico City.  “What is required is the vision to maximize our growth, the political will to unlock our potential, and the understanding that working together on strategic priorities… is the path to a better life.”

At first glance, Christie’s blueprint for his North American energy renaissance seems to be a familiar enough amalgam of common Republican tropes: support for that Keystone XL pipeline slated to bring Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, along with unbridled energy production everywhere; opposition to excessive governmental regulation; free trade… well, you know the mantra.  But don’t be fooled.  Something far grander — and more sinister — is being proposed.  It’s nothing less than a plan to convert Canada and Mexico into energy colonies of the United States, while creating a North American power bloc capable of aggressively taking on Russia, China, and other foreign challengers.

[Read more…]

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Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress raises eyebrows among some U.S. generals

Mark Perry writes: The uniformed leaders of the U.S. military have had a testy relationship with President Barack Obama since he took office in 2009, with a number of relatively public spats revealing discord over how his administration has approached the use of military force. So it might be assumed that when a politician confronts Obama, portraying his policies on threats overseas as naive, many in the senior uniformed ranks would nod in silent affirmation. But that’s not what has happened since House Speaker John Boehner invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Obama’s Iran policy in Congress. Instead the speech, planned for next month, has rallied senior military figures behind the president, with some warning that there’s a limit to what U.S. military officers consider acceptable criticism of the commander in chief.

Obama and his generals have clashed privately and publicly since 2009 over his plans to draw down troops and exit from Afghanistan, and a number of respected recently retired top commanders told Congress that what they called the administration’s piecemeal strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria is destined to fail. Some have also publicly recorded misgivings about Obama’s Iran strategy. Still, Netanyahu’s planned speech has prompted a number of senior military men to rally around the office of a president whose policies they regularly, if privately, question.

Serving uniformed officers are loath to comment on an inflammatory political question — “You’re inviting me to end my career,” one senior Pentagon officer told me when asked to comment on Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, “but, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not.” But a senior Joint Chiefs of Staff officer who regularly briefs the U.S. high command was willing to speak bluntly in exchange for anonymity. “There’s always been a lot of support for Israel in the military,” the officer said, “but that’s significantly eroded over the last few years. This caps it. It’s one thing for Americans to criticize their president and another entirely for a foreign leader to do it. Netanyahu doesn’t get it. We’re not going to side with him against the commander in chief. Not ever.” [Continue reading…]

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Washington’s undying love for Israel

Aaron David Miller writes: This time, the argument from some American pundits goes, the Israelis have gone too far. This time, to paraphrase Howard Beale in Network, we’re really not going to take it anymore. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress without even informing the Obama administration is an act that’s just too brazen to be ignored. Such blatant intervention in American politics crosses a red line that requires a tough response.

Only it’s not gonna happen. Whether Netanyahu ultimately does come or not, the United States will continue to take it. And for reasons of politics, policy and shared values, Washington will continue to accord Israel tremendous leeway in this Administration and in the years ahead regardless of opposition to some of its policies. And here’s why.

First, the Middle East is melting down at a rate nobody could ever have predicted. And despite the risks this turbulence may pose to Israel’s own Israeli security interests, the Middle East muddle is good for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The behavior of various Arab actors — ISIL, Assad, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, even Egypt — reinforces the value affinity that binds Israel and the United States and to a great extent puts them together in the same trench. When Islamic State terrorists are beheading Americans and Syria is murdering thousands of its own people with barrel bombs and chemical weapons, Israeli transgressions — settlement activity, occupation policies — pale by comparison.

Easy for Washington-based Miller to say — many would argue — but this surely ignores the experience of Palestinians — or does it?

For years it would be reasonable to observe that few populations in the Middle East lived under more oppressive conditions than Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, but that’s no longer true.

That’s no thanks to the Israelis, but even when their talent for brutality and destruction is seen at its worst, such as during the last assault on Gaza, it now turns out that Israel’s violence is routinely surpassed — and massively so — by others.

That’s no reason for Obama and Netanyahu to act like best pals or complement each other on their shared values. Nor can Israel be excused or its disregard for human rights be sanitized with euphemisms like “transgressions.”

But to continue insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core wound that afflicts the whole region more egregiously than any other, is to ignore reality.

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How the Republicans in Congress will help Netanyahu get re-elected

Nahum Barnea writes: The invitation Netanyahu received from United States House of Representative Speaker John Boehner, to address a joint session of the two houses of Congress, is a brilliant electoral trick.

Netanyahu will deliver the speech on February 11, five weeks before Election Day. The room will be filled to the brim. The audience will interrupt the speech with rapturous applause 23 times, and diligent spokespersons will stress that this is a number which has not been seen since foreign leaders began addressing the Congress. Senators will praise and glorify the man and the speech, and will glance as they speak at the gallery of distinguished guests, to make sure that the billionaire writes the check.

Will the Israelis who watch the show on television, live from Washington, be impressed? Of course they will. Netanyahu knows how to impress. One of the Likud leaders once told me that even when Netanyahu had reached a low point, both among the broad public and in his own party, people were amazed when they heard him speak clear American, with all the manners. “Listen to that English,” they said. “Listen to that English. Just like an American.”

Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to be aided by the American political system on his way to the polls. It’s wrong and it harms the purity of the democratic process, but it’s the reality. There are pressing interests on both sides, and there is a lot of temptation. One can only take comfort in the fact that in most cases these attempts fail.

But Netanyahu is taking it one step further this time. There has never been a deal like the one struck here: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It’s dangerous. It’s poisonous. It’s not so amusing anymore. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans strongly pro-torture, Democrats divided

Pew Research Center reports: Following the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices in the period following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 51% of the public says they think the CIA methods were justified, compared with just 29% who say they were not justified; 20% do not express an opinion.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 11-14 among 1,001 adults, finds that amid competing claims over the effectiveness of CIA interrogation methods, 56% believe they provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, while just half as many (28%) say they did not provide this type of intelligence.

Partisan divides on these questions are wide. A large majority of Republicans (76%) say the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 were justified. Democrats are divided – 37% say the methods were justified, while 46% disagree. About twice as many liberal Democrats (65%) as conservative and moderate Democrats (32%) say the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not justified. [Continue reading…]

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Bill to restrict NSA data collection blocked in vote by Senate Republicans

The New York Times reports: Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a sweeping overhaul of the once-secret National Security Agency program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls in bulk.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans who supported the measure failed to secure the 60 votes they needed to take up the legislation. The vote was 58 to 42 for consideration.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who drafted the bill, blamed what he said was fear-mongering by the bill’s opponents for its defeat. “Fomenting fear stifles serious debate and constructive solutions,” he said. “This nation deserves more than that.” [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: The new Congress and planetary disaster

Looking for a little hope on climate change?  Believe it or not, it’s here and it’s real. And I’m not referring to the fact that, at least temporarily, oil prices have gone through the floor, making environmentally destructive “tough oil” projects like western oil-shale fracking and Canadian tar sands extraction look ever less profitable.  Nor do I mean the climate change deal that was just reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and is being called “historic.” It’s true that President Obama made a positive move at that summit, another symbolic gesture in its wake, and is promising more of the same in the future.  These steps to check the worst future depredations of climate change have been hailed as perhaps more transformational than they are.  Nonetheless, in the face of a new Republican Congress in which anti-climate-change hawks may outnumber war hawks (no small feat), this is well worth noting.

I’m talking, of course, about the potentially carbon-reducing long-term deal between the planet’s two major greenhouse gas polluters, between, that is, Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Both of them have been running “all of the above,” drill-baby-drill — or in China’s case dig-baby-dig and import-baby-import — energy programs to devastating effect. China, for instance, is slated to bring online the equivalent of a new coal-powered plant every 10 days for the next decade, even as it’s taken a leading position in developing solar power technology.

The steps agreed to in somewhat hazy language by the two presidents fall far short of what will be needed to keep this planet from overheating drastically, and yet they do at least pave the way for the first global climate change negotiations that might actually matter in a long while.  The genuinely good news, however, was none of the above.  It has to do instead with the thinking behind Obama’s Beijing decision.  The “architect” of the American negotiating position, months in the making, was presidential senior adviser John Podesta. And here’s what you need to know about him: he’s reportedly going to leave the Obama administration early in 2015 to run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This means that he’s essentially committed the leading Democratic candidate in 2016 to run her campaign on Obama’s gesture in China and whatever other climate change moves he plans to make in the coming year — on, that is, reducing carbon emissions.

As Coral Davenport of the New York Times explained recently, the thinking behind this is clear.  Despite the historically low-turnout 2014 midterm elections, Podesta — and the Democrats — are making a different kind of bet on 2016 based on polling figures showing that, among key presidential election year Democratic demographics (young voters, Hispanics, African Americans, and unmarried women), concern over climate change is rising in striking ways.  In other words, if you can tune out an election in which an aging 19% of the prospective electorate swept a whole crew of climate deniers into office and focus on deeper, longer-term calculations, something is happening, possibly generationally, that’s potentially big enough to change future elections.

It’s big enough, at least, to catch the attention of pragmatic political types in Washington, and may be the beginning of a tectonic transformation in this country.  Despite the power of Big Energy and the present hue and cry about “job destruction,” a “war on coal,” and all the rest, a rising climate movement could potentially transform our politics and our world.  No one who attended the enormous climate change rally in New York in late September could doubt that this was so, but that John Podesta has also been paying attention matters.  It tells us in a nitty-gritty way that sometimes the work of activists does pay off.

All those years in the (overheating) wilderness organizing and proselytizing, all those years when the mainstream media managed to look the other way, all those years when climate change activists in groups like 350.org had to struggle to avoid despair, may turn out to matter.  That’s the positive side of the picture.  Then there’s the other side, and it couldn’t be grimmer, as TomDispatch’s energy and climate-change expert Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today. Tom Engelhardt

Fossil-fueled Republicanism
The Grand Oil Party takes Washington by storm
By Michael T. Klare

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.

The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.

[Read more…]

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