New poll shows if the two-state solution fails, U.S. public favors democracy over Jewishness

n13-iconShibley Telhami writes: A public opinion survey I commissioned, which was conducted by the polling firm GfK, found that U.S. popular support for a two-state solution is surprisingly tepid. What’s more, if the option is taken off the table, Americans support the creation of a single democratic state — in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories — in which Jews and Arabs are granted equal rights. The GfK survey consisted of 1,000 interviews conducted through an Internet panel and was weighted to ensure that the results were consistent with several demographic variables, such as age, education, and income.

The Obama administration’s focus on mediating an end to the conflict has been predicated on two assumptions — that a two-state solution is in the national security interest of the United States, and that the current diplomatic efforts may be the last chance to achieve it. Americans themselves, however, are more lukewarm on the possibility of Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side: fewer than four in 10 survey respondents preferred a two-state solution. [Continue reading...]


Greg Grandin: The reparations of history, paid and unpaid

When Americans think about slavery, we think about the Civil War, cotton plantations in Georgia, and the legacy that those centuries of bondage left in the United States. But we forget that, 200 years ago, the institution in various forms extended throughout the world: hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian peasants were in debt bondage to landowners, indigenous slavery was widespread in Africa, and most people in Russia were serfs.

No slaves suffered more, however, than those who were force-marched to the African coast and, if they survived, transported in the packed, suffocating holds of sailing vessels across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, too, we forget that it was not just to the United States that these ships brought their human cargo.  Far greater numbers of captive Africans in chains were shipped to the West Indies and to Latin America, especially Brazil. There, and in the Caribbean, the tropical climate and its diseases made field labor particularly harsh and the death rate especially high. At one time or another, however, slaves could be found almost everywhere in the Americas where Europeans had settled, from Quebec to Chile.

Slavery was the cornerstone of the modern world in more ways than we can imagine today. The structure of banking, insurance, and credit that underlies international commerce, for instance, has its origins, at least in part, in the “triangle trade”: slaves being transported from Africa to the Americas; slave-cultivated products like cotton and sugar traveling from the Americas to Europe; and trading goods meant to buy yet more slaves moving from Europe to Africa. Because a voyage on any leg of that triangle might last months and risked shipwreck, bankers, merchants, and ship owners wanted systems that both guaranteed payment for losses and protected their investments.   

Historian Greg Grandin is the author of remarkable — and highly readable — books like National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Fordlandia and his most recent work, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. Today, he vividly suggests just how the bodies of slaves became something on which our world was built, zeroing in on one connection that we seldom think about — the development of modern medicine. Adam Hochschild

The bleached bones of the dead
What the modern world owes slavery (it’s more than back wages)
By Greg Grandin

Many in the United States were outraged by the remarks of conservative evangelical preacher Pat Robertson, who blamed Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake on Haitians for selling their souls to Satan. Bodies were still being pulled from the rubble — as many as 300,000 died — when Robertson went on TV and gave his viewing audience a little history lesson: the Haitians had been “under the heel of the French” but they “got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’”

A supremely callous example of right-wing idiocy? Absolutely. Yet in his own kooky way, Robertson was also onto something. Haitians did, in fact, swear a pact with the devil for their freedom. Only Beelzebub arrived smelling not of sulfur, but of Parisian cologne. 

Haitian slaves began to throw off the “heel of the French” in 1791, when they rose up and, after bitter years of fighting, eventually declared themselves free. Their French masters, however, refused to accept Haitian independence. The island, after all, had been an extremely profitable sugar producer, and so Paris offered Haiti a choice: compensate slave owners for lost property — their slaves (that is, themselves) — or face its imperial wrath. The fledgling nation was forced to finance this payout with usurious loans from French banks. As late as 1940, 80% of the government budget was still going to service this debt.

In the on-again, off-again debate that has taken place in the United States over the years about paying reparations for slavery, opponents of the idea insist that there is no precedent for such a proposal. But there is. It’s just that what was being paid was reparations-in-reverse, which has a venerable pedigree. After the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the U.S., London reimbursed southern planters more than a million dollars for having encouraging their slaves to run away in wartime. Within the United Kingdom, the British government also paid a small fortune to British slave owners, including the ancestors of Britain’s current Prime Minister, David Cameron, to compensate for abolition (which Adam Hochschild calculated in his 2005 book Bury the Chains to be “an amount equal to roughly 40% of the national budget then, and to about $2.2 billion today”).

[Read more...]


We must give the land back: America’s brutality toward Native Americans continues today

o13-iconSteven Salaita: I write often about liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation, a habit that evokes passionate response. I have yet to encounter a response that persuades me to abandon the commitment to Palestinian liberation.

I have, however, encountered responses that I consider worthy of close assessment, particularly those that transport questions of colonization to the North American continent. You see, there is a particular defense of Zionism that precedes the existence of Israel by hundreds of years.

Here is a rough sketch of that defense: Allowing a Palestinian right of return or redressing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-49 is ludicrous. Look what happened to the Native Americans. Is the United States supposed to return the country to them?

Israeli historian Benny Morris puts it this way: “Even the great American democracy couldn’t come to be without the forced extinction of Native Americans. There are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruel deeds.”

This reasoning suggests a finality to the past, an affirmation of tragedy trapped in the immutability of linear time. Its logic is terribly cliché, a peculiar form of common sense always taken up, everywhere, by the beneficiaries of colonial power.

The problems with invoking Native American genocide to rationalize Palestinian dispossession are legion. The most noteworthy problem speaks to the unresolved detritus of American history: Natives aren’t objects of the past; they are living communities whose numbers are growing.

It’s rarely a good idea to ask rhetorical questions that have literal answers. Yes, the United States absolutely should return stolen land to the Indians. That’s precisely what its treaty obligations require it to do. [Continue reading...]


The new Dust Bowl: ‘epochal’ drought hits California’s Central Valley

f13-iconThe Telegraph reports: On the road into the small California farming community of Mendota the signs read “Stop – dust bowl!” and “Save Water” as farmers in orchards are busy bulldozing withered almond trees.

It didn’t used to be like this here. Until recently this town of 11,000 people was proudly known as the “Cantaloupe Capital of the World”. Of all the many local crops its melons were most prized. Mendota’s farmers have been growing them since the 1920s, when Greek immigrants arrived and found the soil was perfect. The lush fields used to provide 70 per cent of America’s cantaloupes.

But today Mendota is becoming known for another reason. It sits at ground zero in an unfolding, slow motion billion dollar disaster, what climatologists are calling an “epochal” drought. Analysis of the rings in ancient sequoia trees suggests the region is experiencing a lack of rain not seen since 1580, around the time Sir Francis Drake reached the California coast and claimed it for Elizabeth I.

In a neat and modern town hall, built in the good times, Mendota Mayor Robert Silva shakes his head ruefully as he looks at the latest unemployment figures. It stands at 34 per cent and is likely to top 50 per cent as farmers leave more fields fallow in the next few months.

“We will soon have the highest unemployment in the nation. Things are really not good,” Mr Silva says understatedly. “There’s going to be a lot of dust flying around all over the place here.” On the streets outside workers in cowboy hats loll on benches under a baking sun, not a cloud or a job in sight. Times are so bad the 99 Cents store has competition from a 98 Cents store, and people are queuing for donated clothes at the youth centre.

Similar scenes are evident in towns up and down California’s Central Valley. The scale of the drought is staggering. The Central Valley is known as the “breadbasket of America” and covers a vast area half the size of England. It produces 50 per cent of the fruit and vegetables in the United Sates. For several years the resolute Mr Silva has been writing to the White House pleading for help. In December he wrote: “Dear President Obama. Our cities, businesses and residents desperately seek immediate relief.”

It now appears someone finally read one of his missives. Mr Obama was due to helicopter in on Marine One to a farm near Mendota yesterday. At the customary photo opportunity he was due to propose a major new $1 billion (£600m) fund to mitigate the impact of climate change, including $100 million aid for stricken livestock farmers, $60 million for food banks to supply hungry families, and 600 sites that will give out free meals this summer in drought-hit areas.

For farmers there was relief that their plight has been noticed, and gratitude that Mr Obama was prepared to stand in a field on Valentine’s Day. But there was also, among some, a feeling that the president has been slow to address this crisis. He has visited Los Angeles countless times to glad-hand movie stars and political donors, but it was his first ever trip to California’s farming heartland. Mendota is four hours’ drive, and a world apart, from Hollywood. [Continue reading...]


Video: America as a horror show


How the U.S. continues to flood the world with weapons

n13-iconThe Express Tribune reports: While the biggest arms companies recorded a slump in sales during 2012, Russian companies posted sharp increases, noted the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its latest data on international arms production released on Friday.

Despite the slump, seven US companies remained amongst the world’s top ten entities in terms of 2012 arms sales, with Lockheed Martin emerging at top.

The list excluded China, about which SIPRI says:

“Although several Chinese arms-producing enterprises are large enough to rank among the SIPRI Top 100, it has not been possible to include them because of lack of comparable and sufficiently accurate data.”

The global top 100 list had 42 companies from the US and six from Russia. The total sales of arms and military services by these hundred companies in 2012 amounted to no less than $395 billion.

“Sales by the 42 US-based arms producers amounted to 58 per cent of the total arms sales of the Top 100, with 30 companies based in Western Europe making up another 28 per cent of the total,” SIPRI says.

The US-based Lockheed Martin was followed by Boeing (also US-based) and United Kingdom’s BAE Systems on number three. [Continue reading...]


Why the apocalypse is in America’s DNA

FeatureStefany Anne Golberg writes: Harold Camping expected a spectacular death. He thought he would see horses and towering flames. Instead Harold Camping fell down at home last month at the age of 92 and never got up again.

Judgment Day is upon us, the radio evangelist proclaimed a few years ago, setting May 21, 2011 as the date. All across America, billboards became Camping advertisements for Apocalypse. “Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS Mercy” was one suggestion, “Joy to the World” claimed another. All across the nation, there were Americans who laughed, and those who readied themselves. Camping’s believers stopped paying their credit cards, quit their jobs, said farewell to friends. Some spent their life’s savings in preparation for the End — some spent it on the Rapture campaign itself.

When Judgment Day did not come, Camping tried to assuage believers. “Please forgive me, America!” a new billboard read. “I was terribly wrong about … May 21, 2011. There is forgiveness in those who trust in Jesus Christ.” Then he said that he had gotten the timing wrong and that the End would, in fact, happen in October. But October passed the same as ever and then Harold Camping had a stroke. By that time, accounts of thousands who had mistakenly given up their Earthly existence came pouring through the news. “Yet though we were wrong,” wrote Camping in a letter to his Family Radio Family, “God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.” Look at the millions and billions of people who heard the message of Christ’s imminent return, Harold Camping wrote. And he would still come, Camping assured us.

Reporters and Average Joes expressed outrage at Camping’s Rapture campaign. Camping’s followers were treated in the media as ridiculous and occasionally as tragic, Camping as a fraud and a heretic. The whole thing is an anomaly, the American media told the world, America is not like this.

But America is like this, and it always has been. [Continue reading...]


Why I hate coming home to America

OpinionHost/producer for HuffPost Live, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, writes: It’s not easy coming back home to America when your name is Ahmed.

I want to look forward to returning home from a trip abroad, but thanks to my name or as the TSA officer put it — my “profile” — I’ve come to dread it.

The last four times I’ve traveled abroad (to Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon and Switzerland), Homeland Security has detained me upon arrival. It’s as frustrating as it is ironic, because although in Arabic my name, Ahmed, means, “blessed,” each time I land at JFK airport, I can’t help but feel somewhat cursed.

On Sunday night, after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos for the first time, I was detained for two hours upon arrival. In October, I was held for almost four, returning home after a 14-hour trip to Turkey where I moderated a UN conference on peace in the Middle East. For what it’s worth, I breezed through security in Istanbul.

In Davos — where I interviewed some of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful and highest-profile people — the running joke among our production team, and many of the other participants was how unusually friendly and hospitable the thousands of police officers, special forces, and security guards were. My team passed through security checkpoint after checkpoint at each of the various venues with respect and dignity.

Why then, you might be wondering, am I detained every time I set foot on U.S. soil? As it is always abstractly and bluntly explained to me: My “name” and “my profile” are simply a “match.”

Like all Americans (and every human being for that matter), I want to be safe. But I can’t help but question the efficacy of our national security policy, including the practice of detaining U.S. citizens because something (never specifically explained) about a name or person’s identity is said to match that of someone somewhere in the world who is deemed to pose a threat to America. [Continue reading...]


Ellen Cantarow: The frontlines of fracking

FeatureWhat kind of world is this?  In China, an almost 1,350 square mile freshwater lake — that’s more than four times the size of New York City — recently dried up due to an ongoing drought.  In the high Sierra of America’s West, bears have forgone hibernating as a result of (what were once, at least) unseasonably warm conditions.  Across the continent in Maine, increasing ocean acidity is thought to be behind the spread of coastal “dead mud” which may have “disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers, and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.”  Meanwhile, across the globe in Australia, blistering heat chased koalas from the trees and sent many to the hospital, possibly baked 100,000 bats to death, and is threatening cattle and crops.

In a world wracked by increasing climate chaos, the seemingly appropriate response would be immediate remediation and mitigation efforts.  Instead, this world being what it is, we have just the opposite.  In the U.S., this means increased coal consumption and a resulting rise in carbon emissions for the first time in years.  It means that, despite so much recent damage from “wild weather” flooding all over the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency often relies on inaccurate flood maps, leaving property owners in jeopardy.  It also means the administration of embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pushing to, as the New York Times put it, “thread a 22-mile-long [gas] pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands, a 1.1-million-acre protected expanse of scrub pines, gnarly oaks, and yellow-brown river deltas.”

New Jersey is far from alone when it comes to pipeline peril.  Today, TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow takes us to the frontlines of fracking.  Once, this would have meant a trip to the ancient undulating hills of Wisconsin, which are being despoiled for the silica used in hydraulic fracturing, or the increasingly toxic towns of rural Pennsylvania where such silica and water, as well as a noxious chemical stew, are all forced at high pressure into deep underground deposits of shale.  With a gas pipeline snaking toward her hometown, Cantarow points out that the frontline of increasing fossil-fuel use and abuse is everywhere. You don’t need to go looking for a frack fight, anymore.  It’s coming looking for you. Nick Turse

No pipe dream
Is fracking about to arrive on your doorstep?
By Ellen Cantarow

For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.

But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York.  Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too.

We all are.

[Read more...]


Justin Bieber is lucky that he’s rich — and white. Poor immigrants don’t get off so lightly

OpinionSadhbh Walshe writes: Anytime I feel called upon to devote column inches to the antics of a teenage pop sensation in meltdown mode, I die a little. But after seeing a petition to the White House calling for the deportation of Justin Bieber for allegedly egging his neighbor’s mansion and subsequently driving under the influence has already gathered nearly 80,000 signatures, it seems necessary to take up his cause. This is not, I assure you, because he turned in what must be the sweetest mugshot ever or even because I’m so terribly concerned about his ultimate fate – I think we all know he’s going to be just fine – but simply because many other legal immigrants in the same position would almost certainly not be.

Since Bieber came under investigation earlier this month for the egg throwing incident, lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and elsewhere have been trying to use his case to highlight the fact that, if convicted, the potential consequences could be much more severe for Bieber, who is a legal immigrant from Canada (he has a US visa for his extraordinary ability in the arts), than they would be if he were an American citizen. As the ACLU’s Diana Scholl pointed out in a recent blog post, if the damage to his neighbor’s property were found to be over $400, Bieber could be charged with felony vandalism under California law and, if convicted, could be subject to mandatory detention in a privately run immigrant prison before being deported back to his native Canada. This is because under US immigration law, any legal alien convicted of an aggravated felony faces mandatory detention and deportation and many Americans might be surprised to know just how many crimes are classified as “aggravated felonies” when they are committed by immigrants.

Before any concerned Beliebers start flinging their bras over the barbed wire fences of one of our many immigrant detention centers that are mostly run by for profit corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, Inc, I should stress that it’s highly unlikely that Bieber will end up in one of them. Although his neighbors have claimed the damage to their property is in the region of $20,000, well over the threshold that would make the egg attack a felony, investigators who subsequently searched Bieber’s home unsurprisingly failed to uncover any evidence against the performer. (As the Guardian’s Marina Hyde succinctly put it, “What were they looking for? An omelette?“) But even if the police had unearthed a nest of egg bombs in the star’s kitchen, chances are Bieber would still be safe, simply because the kind of immigrants that get deported do not tend to be either Canadian or rich. [Continue reading...]


America’s rise as a superpower

In Der Spiegel, Hans Hoyng writes: “Sarajevo, 21st-century version.” This is how political scientist Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, refers to what is currently brewing off the Chinese coast, where the territorial claims of several nations overlap.

The analogy to the period prior to the outbreak of World War I is striking. China, “the Germany of (that) time,” as American historian Robert Kagan puts it, is the emergent world power still seeking to define its role within the global community. At the same time, China is staking its claim to natural resources, intimidating its neighbors and developing massive naval power to secure its trade routes.

In taking these steps, China could easily become a rival to another world power, the United States of America, which would assume the role once played by Great Britain in this historical comparison. Just as the United Kingdom did at the time, the United States is now building alliances with its rival’s neighbors. And leaders in Beijing have responded to such attempts to encircle their country with a similar sense of outrage as that displayed by the German Reich.

The current crisis in the East China Sea illustrates once again that there are still lessons to be learned from World War I a century after it began and, upon closer inspection, that politicians on both sides are trying to avoid making the same mistakes. But the current crisis in East Asia diverges from the situation leading up to World War I in one important respect: There is currently no country able to assume the role once played by the United States, which, with its late entry into the war, decided its outcome and eventually outpaced both its winners and losers.

The US’s entry into the war in 1917 marked the beginning of its path to becoming a world power. In fact, according to historian Herfried Münkler, this was precisely the goal of some politicians in Washington. Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo, a son-in-law of President Woodrow Wilson, was already forging plans to replace the pound sterling with the dollar as the foremost international reserve currency.

But his father-in-law, a lawyer and political scientist, and America’s only president to enter politics after serving as the president of a university, had no such prosaic intentions. Wilson, the descendent of Scottish Presbyterians and a staunch idealist, and yet down-to-earth and in many respects, such as his racism, a son of the South, wanted to save the world and end war once and for all.

He failed, of course, with peace lasting only 20 years after World War I. Nevertheless, American politicians today justify military intervention with the same arguments Wilson used to convince the country to put an end to its isolation and intervene in Europe. [Continue reading...]


The United States’ disproportionate impact on global warming


New Scientist reports: It’s a chart that no one wants to top, but global warming’s worst offenders, in absolute terms, are the US, China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the UK. New calculations suggest that these nations are responsible for more than 60 per cent of the global warming between 1906 and 2005.

Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and his colleagues calculated national contributions to warming by weighting each type of emission according to the atmospheric lifetime of the temperature change it causes. Using historical data, they included carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and changes in land use – such as deforestation. They also accounted for methane, nitrous oxide and sulphate aerosols. These together account for 0.7 °C of the world’s 0.74 °C warming between 1906 and 2005.

The US is the clear leader, responsible for 0.15 °C, or 22 per cent of the 0.7 °C warming. China accounts for 9 per cent, Russia for 8 per cent, Brazil and India 7 per cent each, and Germany and the UK for 5 per cent each. [Continue reading...]


Americans’ views of other countries

PolicyMic: A new Pew Poll conducted near the end of 2013 asked Americans which countries they liked and which ones they didn’t. While the results are colored by ongoing events across the world, they also reflect Americans’ long-standing attitudes towards some of our neighbors.

At the top of America’s favorite-country list is Canada, at 81% approval, presumably because Canada is about as inoffensive and friendly a country as you can imagine. Americans also remained steadfast friends with Great Britain at 79% approval, and were big fans of Japan at 70% approval despite the two nations’ economic competition.

Other countries didn’t fare so well on the favorability index. Israel remains largely liked by Americans at 61%, but if a Gallup poll from 2012 is to be believed, that’s down from 68% in 2011 and 71% in 2012 (Gallup’s numbers seem higher than Pew’s, so the spread may be less significant). But it’s now more widely disliked than France at 26% and 24% respectively. The ratings have a partisan spin, with 74% of Republicans and just 55% of Democrats approving of Israel this year. [Continue reading...]

None of these numbers are particularly surprising, but for me the most striking one is a 52% unfavorable view of Mexico.

I’m inclined to assume that American views of Mexico and of Mexicans are firmly intertwined and thus that this unfavorable view of America’s southern neighbor is mirrored in views about Mexicans who live this side of the border.

I used to live in California and was at that time a legal alien but like the many illegal aliens in that state, I was more struck by the fact that we were being branded as aliens rather than which might be deemed legal or illegal.

Moreover, since I was not visibly alien (so long as I kept my mouth shut), the greatest insult in being branded this way was clearly being imposed on the people who were visibly indigenous to this continent.

Whether it’s in North America or the Middle East, the settlers have no right to pass judgement on who belongs on these lands.


Record-high 42% of Americans identify as independents

Gallup: Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.

The results are based on more than 18,000 interviews with Americans from 13 separate Gallup multiple-day polls conducted in 2013.

In each of the last three years, at least 40% of Americans have identified as independents. These are also the only years in Gallup’s records that the percentage of independents has reached that level.

Americans’ increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Republican identification peaked at 34% in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office. Since then, it has fallen nine percentage points, with most of that decline coming during Bush’s troubled second term. When he left office, Republican identification was down to 28%. It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans “shellacked” Democrats in the midterm elections.

Not since 1983, when Gallup was still conducting interviews face to face, has a lower percentage of Americans, 24%, identified as Republicans than is the case now. That year, President Ronald Reagan remained unpopular as the economy struggled to emerge from recession. By the following year, amid an improving economy and re-election for the increasingly popular incumbent president, Republican identification jumped to 30%, a level generally maintained until 2007.

Democratic identification has also declined in recent years, falling five points from its recent high of 36% in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected. The current 31% of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.


Naturally, more people see the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace — and would like to live here

Huffington Post reports: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: The rest of world believes that the United States is the country that poses the greatest threat to world peace, beating out all challengers by a wide margin.

This is the conclusion of a massive world opinion poll conducted by Win/Gallup International and released at the close of 2013. The poll, which was first conducted in 1977, asked over 66,000 thousand people across 65 countries this year a variety of questions about the world, including which country they would most like to call home, whether or not the world is becoming a generally better place and which country poses the greatest threat to world peace.

The U.S. was voted the biggest threat by far, garnering 24 percent of the vote. Pakistan was a very distant second with 8 percent, followed by China (6 percent) and Afghanistan (5 percent).

Emily Barasch at PolicyMic finds this assessment of the U.S. “startling.” But for people around the world to see the U.S. as a threat to world peace should be about as surprising as hearing that most people understand that a hippopotamus is a dangerous animal. Sure, a hippo might look like a cuddly animal, but anything that weighs 15,000 pounds and can run at 30 mph is potentially lethal.

The United States is the world’s military hippo — with none of the charm. No other country in modern history has spent as much money engaged in warfare or unleashed as much explosive force with its weaponry.

What’s most disturbing is that when Americans were asked which country they think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today, the largest number (20%) named Iran. But not only that — the more educated they were, the more likely they were to name Iran.


Less than one third of Americans believe in evolution

(Note: Because of the misleading way in which Pew presents its own findings, multiple reports run with a headline similar to this one in USA Today: “One-third of Americans reject human evolution.” That would appear to imply that two-thirds of Americans accept the theory of evolution that provides the foundation for evolutionary biology. However, the rejectionists that the survey identifies are those who believe in the literal truth of Genesis, Adam and Eve etc.. Those who subscribe to Intelligent Design or other non-scientific Creationist evolutionary narratives are viewed by Pew as believing in human evolution.)

I am not a militant atheist. I have little patience for the anti-religion campaigning engaged in by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and their ilk. The idea of trying to rid the world of religion makes no more sense than trying to abolish sport.

Human beings are not governed by reason and people who become enslaved by rationality, inevitably become emotionally malformed. The human capacity to express and experience love is a capacity without which we would cease to be human. As Pascal said: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”

We live in a world constructed by thought and shared ideas and our ability to make sense of life springs in large part from the fact that we continuously filter our experience through stories — stories through which we tell ourselves who we are, where we live, and why we live.

Because of this, I don’t think that science should or can be thrust down anyone’s throat…

And yet to learn that less than a third of Americans believe in evolution is deeply depressing — even if not surprising.

Those who want to put a strong political spin on the results of a new Pew Research Center poll on views about evolution are emphasizing the fact that the greatest concentration of skepticism on evolution is among Republicans while pointing to the figure of 67% of Democrats believing in evolution.

The pollsters, however, fudged the basic question by implying that it’s possible to believe in evolution without accepting its scientific basis.

Pew’s primary interest was in differentiating between those Americans who take Genesis literally and those who don’t. Those Americans who believe “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today” are counted as believing in evolution, even though they don’t believe in natural selection.

The fact that Pew chose to slice the question in this way is itself illustrative of the weak influence science has in American culture. “Evolution” is being treated as an object of belief coming in many varieties, rather than as hard, incontrovertibly proven scientific fact.

No one would conduct a poll asking Americans whether they believe the Earth revolves around the Sun and yet when it comes to the subject of evolution, the deference to religious belief is so engrained that evolution is treated as a completely subjective term — evolution, whatever that means to you.

Why does this matter?

The world cannot tackle climate change if America turns its back on science. And yet as a culture, America currently stands somewhere between the sixteenth and the twentieth century. Copernicus was successful but the jury’s still out on Darwin.

If two-thirds of the population is skeptical about evolution, what chance is there of persuading them that climate change is caused by human activity?

It hardly seems coincidental that almost exactly the same number of Americans who believe in human-caused climate change also believe in evolution through natural selection. (I would hazard a guess that it’s not just the same number, but also the same Americans.)