‘Another mass shooting in America’: Oregon killings a grim familiarity for U.S.

The Guardian reports: The US is reeling from another school shooting, the 45th this year, after a 26-year-old gunman murdered as many as nine people and wounded seven more at a community college in Oregon before he was killed.

The gunman was named as Chris Harper Mercer, a 26-year-old man who lived near Umpqua college in the rural town of Roseburg. He is thought to have been born in England before moving to the US as a young boy.

Investigators were focusing on reports from survivors that Mercer told students to state their religion before he opened fire.

The police were also looking at reports that hours before the attack he posted messages on an internet chat site warning people to stay away from school. Investigators said they were attempting to trace people on the site who discouraged him while others urged him on. It does not appear anyone reported the messages to the authorities before the shooting. [Continue reading…]

Quartz reports: A study this summer from Arizona State University found “significant evidence” that school shootings and other mass shootings were far more likely if there had been reports of a similar shooting in the previous two weeks.

And last year, after analyzing 160 mass shootings in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013, Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded, “The copycat phenomenon is real.”

“As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks,” Simons said at the time.

The reporter’s typical mandate—to paint the clearest, most accurate picture of an event using all available information—may, in this case, be unintentionally encouraging further crime, sociologists and psychologists say. [Continue reading…]


Islamophobia has a long history in the U.S.

Khaled Beydoun writes: On the morning of 19 April 1995, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was rocked by a bomb. The domestic terrorist attack killed 168 people and injured 680 more. Minutes after, media reports speculated that “Islamic extremists” or “Arab radicals” were the culprits.

Ninety minutes after the explosions, Timothy McVeigh – a white, Christian male – was arrested and later linked to the attack. There had been no evidence to support the idea Muslims had anything to do with the bombing.

Despite people with similar ideologies to McVeigh were responsible for the majority of domestic terrorist attacks in 1995 – a figure still true today – the legislation that followed the Oklahoma city bombing did not place its focus there.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) was the beginning of policing of Muslim subjects and communities. One part of this legislation led to the disparate investigation of Muslim American political and social activity, while another led to the deportation of Muslims with links – real or fictive – to terrorist activity.

This policing was broadened and intensified after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. More recently, US Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme, as well as political demagoguery, further expands the suspicious focus on Muslims. [Continue reading…]


How the rise of America’s massive military welfare state led to the decline of the civilian welfare state

Jennifer Mittelstadt writes: Over the past four decades in the United States, as the country has slashed its welfare state and employers gutted traditional job benefits, growing numbers of people, especially from the working class, grasped for a new safety net – the military. Everyone recognises that the US armed forces have become a global colossus. But few know that, along with bases and bombs, the US military constructed its own massive welfare state. In the waning decades of the 20th century, with US prosperity in decline, more than 10 million active‑duty personnel and their tens of millions of family members turned to the military for economic and social security.

The military welfare state is hidden in plain sight, its welfare function camouflaged by its war-making auspices. Only the richest Americans could hope to access a more systematic welfare network. Military social welfare features a web of near-universal coverage for soldiers and their families – housing, healthcare, childcare, family counselling, legal assistance, education benefits, and more. The programmes constitute a multi-billion-dollar-per-year safety net, at times accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the Department of Defense budget (DoD). Their real costs spread over several divisions of the defence budget creating a system so vast that the DoD acknowledged it could not accurately reckon its total expense.

Most Americans would not imagine that the military welfare state has anything to do with them. After all, in the era since the end of the draft and the advent of the all-volunteer force, military service has become the province of the few: just 0.5 per cent of Americans now serve in the armed forces.

But the history of the military welfare state tells us a great deal about citizenship and welfare. Its rise correlated with and, in some instances, caused the decline of the civilian welfare state, creating a diverging and unequal set of entitlements. And the recent transformation of the military welfare state – a massive privatisation and outsourcing – signals an even more dangerous future for the civilian welfare state. [Continue reading…]


Scientists say California hasn’t been this dry in 500 years

The Washington Post reports: Researchers knew California’s drought was already a record breaker when they set out to find its exact place in history, but they were surprised by what they discovered: It has been 500 years since what is now the Golden State has been this dry.

California is in the fourth year of a severe drought with temperatures so high and precipitation so low that rain and snow evaporate almost as soon as they hit the ground. A research paper released Monday said an analysis of blue oak tree rings in the state’s Central Valley showed that the amount of mountain snow California relies on for moisture hasn’t been so low since the 1500s. That was around the time when European explorers landed in what became San Diego, when Columbus set off on a final voyage to the Caribbean, when King Henry VIII was alive.

A team of researchers embarked on the study in April when state officials announced they had found “no snow whatsoever” in the Sierra Nevada mountains for the first time in 75 years of measuring. The research showed the level of snowpack is actually the lowest it has been in five centuries. Mountain snowpack provides 30 percent of California’s annual water supply when it melts and flows to rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. Across the state, the levels of water in those bodies are nearing historic lows. [Continue reading…]


The United States of ISIS: More popular than Al Qaeda ever was

The Daily Beast reports: In April, a 16-year-old in South Carolina was charged with illegal weapons possession in family court, but this was no routine gun case. Prosecutors claimed the Syrian-American teen planned to shoot up a U.S. Army base for ISIS. He and an older man allegedly planned to move to Syria and continue fighting for ISIS there.

Police said they found an ISIS flag in the teen’s room during a search. Because South Carolina doesn’t have its own terrorism statute, the state charged him with possession of a firearm by a minor. He pleaded out and is in juvenile detention, where he might remain until age 21.

This overlooked case is one of more than 66 against Americans for making common cause with ISIS since the beginning of 2014. For all the talk of al Qaeda “sleeper cells” after the 9/11 attacks, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS has drawn far more people to its cause inside the U.S. and from a broad swath of the Muslim population.

“The typical American recruit is anything but typical,” Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism told The Daily Beast. “They run a spectrum between loners online to hardened fighters.”

The majority of the ISIS cases, involving several dozen people, allege they planned to join the caliphate in the Middle East. Half of the total cases involved FBI informants and agents, which has opened the U.S. government to criticism of inflating the ISIS threat through entrapment. [Continue reading…]


Most mass shootings in the U.S. take place in private — most of the victims are women and children

Melissa Jeltsen writes: The untold story of mass shootings in America is one of domestic violence. It is one of men (yes, mostly men) targeting and killing their wives or ex-girlfriends or families. The victims are intimately familiar to the shooters, not random strangers. This kind of violence is not indiscriminate — though friends, neighbors and bystanders are often killed alongside the intended targets.

The Huffington Post analyzed five years of mass shooting data compiled by Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization backed by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. We looked at shootings in which at least four people were killed with a gun (the common definition of mass shootings, though there is debate over the best way to define them).

We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent. [Continue reading…]


William deBuys: Entering the mega-drought era in America

The other day here in New England it was chilly, rainy, and stormy and I complained. Where was the sun? The warmth? The summer? I happened to be with someone I know from California and he shook his head and said, “It’s fine with me. I like it rainy. I haven’t seen much rain in a while.” It was a little reminder of how insular we can be. California, after all, is in the fourth year of a fearsome drought that has turned much of the North American West, from Alaska and Canada to the Mexican border, into a tinderbox. Reservoirs are low, rivers quite literally drying up, and the West is burning. In rural northern California, where the fires seem to be least under control, the Rocky Fire has already burned 109 square miles and destroyed 43 homes, while the Jerusalem Fire, which recently broke out nearby, quickly ate up almost 19 square miles while doubling in size and sent local residents fleeing, some for the second time in recent weeks.

Fires have doubled in these drought years in California. The fire season, once mainly an autumnal affair, now seems to be just about any day of the year. (This isn’t, by the way, just a California phenomenon. The latest study indicates that fire season is extending globally, with a growth spurt of 18.7% in the last few decades.) In fact, fire stats for the U.S. generally and the West in particular are worsening in the twenty-first century, and this year looks to be quite a blazing affair, with six million acres already burned across the region and part of the summer still to go. And here’s the thing: though “I’m not a scientist,” it’s pretty hard at this point not to notice — though most Republican candidates for president seem unfazed — that this planet is heating up, that today’s droughts, bad as they are, will be put in the shade by the predicted mega-droughts of tomorrow, and that the problem of water in the American West is only going to deepen — or do I mean grow shallower? TomDispatch regular William deBuys, an expert on water in that region and author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, has already written dramatically of a future “exodus from Phoenix.” For clues to what we will all experience sooner or later, he now turns to California, that bellwether state in which, as he writes, the future always seems to play itself out first. Tom Engelhardt

California first
As both climate victim and responder, the national style-setter leads the way
By William deBuys

Long ago, I lived in a cheap flat in San Francisco and worked as the lone straight man in a gay construction company. Strangely enough, the drought now strangling California brings back memories of those days. It was the 1970s. Our company specialized in restoring the Victorian “gingerbread” to the facades of the city’s townhouses, and I got pretty good at installing cornices, gable brackets, and window hoods, working high above the street.

What I remember most, though, is the way my co-workers delighted in scandalizing me on Monday mornings with accounts of their weekend exploits.

We were all so innocent back then. We had no idea of the suffering that lay ahead or of the grievous epidemic already latent in the bodies of legions of gay men like my friends, an epidemic that would afflict so many outside the gay community but was especially terrible within it.

It’s unlikely that many of those guys are alive today. HIV was already in the population, although AIDS had yet to be detected or named, and no one had heard of “safe sex,” let alone practiced it. When the epidemic broke out, it was nowhere worse than in trendsetting San Francisco.

[Read more…]


White supremacy dogs our steps, waging niggling wars on our peace

Ezekiel Kwedu writes: I was driving north up the coast of California, back to my home in the Bay Area. It was 12 days after Sandra Bland was pulled over and arrested by a police officer in Waller County after failing to signal a lane change. Nine days after she was found dead in her jail cell, a plastic bag wrapped around her neck. It was five days after a police officer pulled over Samuel DuBose for having his front license plate in the glove compartment. Five days after he was shot point blank in the head, safety belt fastened, his hands up. As I drove, I idly brainstormed a new protocol to follow if I were stopped by the police.

If stopped by the police, I thought to myself, I would set my phone to record audio and put it on the passenger seat. I would send a tweet that I was being stopped and had every intention of complying with the police officer. I would turn on Periscope and livestream the stop, crowdsourcing witnesses. I would text my family and tell them that I was not feeling angry or suicidal, that I was looking forward to seeing them soon. There would not be time to do all of these things, but maybe if I prepared in advance I could pull off one or two of them. What all of these plans had in common were that none of them were meant to secure my safety, but rather to ensure that my death looked suspicious enough to question.

I was figuring out how to enter evidence into the inquiry of my own death. [Continue reading…]


The difference between Americans who do or don’t believe in evolution

Dan Kahan writes: It’s well established that there is no meaningful correlation between what a person says he or she “believes” about evolution and having the rudimentary understanding of natural selection, random mutation, and genetic variance necessary to pass a high school biology exam (Bishop & Anderson 1990; Shtulman 2006).

There is a correlation between “belief” in evolution and possession of the kinds of substantive knowledge and reasoning skills essential to science comprehension generally.

But what the correlation is depends on religiosity: a relatively nonreligious person is more likely to say he or she “believes in” evolution, but a relatively religious person less likely to do so, as their science comprehension capacity goes up (Kahan 2015).

That’s what “belief in” evolution of the sort measured in a survey item signifies: who one is, not what one knows.

Americans don’t disagree about evolution because they have different understandings of or commitments to science. They disagree because they subscribe to competing cultural worldviews that invest positions on evolution with identity-expressive significance. [Continue reading…]


Cutting emissions through biofuels will lead to water shortages – study

By Neil Edwards, The Open University

Climate change mitigation could actually increase water shortage in some areas rather than reduce it, according to new research. The source of the problem is clear: greater demand for biofuels, intended to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, requires massive increases in irrigation in productive but relatively arid American farmland.

The study, published in the journal PNAS, is alarming as it suggests one of the major strategies for dealing with global warming may lead to greater political strife. One of climate science’s most confident findings is that an increase in the average surface temperature will lead to greater extremes in amount of rainfall. That is likely to mean more damage from floods and storms in already vulnerable regions, and increased drought in areas that currently experience water shortage. Climate change mitigation strategies are, in theory, designed to avoid or reduce these consequences.

If the unhelpful impact of biofuels comes as a surprise to some, that will be because current models of energy systems typically ignore the fact that water is a limited resource. Links between different aspects of models are often missing or broken. Biofuels require land as well as water, using up valuable farmland that could be used to grow food. Meanwhile irrigation relies heavily on groundwater, a system that functions on longer timescales than most climate models as groundwater is only very slowly replaced.

[Read more…]


The U.S. uses more electricity for air conditioning than Africa uses for everything

Ana Swanson writes: Some people take frequent breaks outside. Others bring in a sweater, a scarf or an “office blanket.” Some block air vents with cardboard, or quietly switch on space heaters under their desks. If you’ve ever sat shivering in your office in the dead of summer, you too may be a victim of excessive air conditioning.

Even as the temperature outside rises to sweltering temperatures, America’s extreme air conditioning habit mean that people in offices, movie theaters and restaurants end up being chilled like TV dinners.

How did this happen? How did America become the land of overpowering air conditioners? Will it ever change?

It’s not just a matter of taste or personal comfort. Some studies have found that worker productivity falls with the temperature. Customers aren’t happy either: In a 2008 survey, 88 percent of people said they find at least some retail establishments too cold, and 76 percent said they bring extra layers of clothing with them to movies and restaurants. The Post’s Petula Dvorak has observed that in offices, the trend exacts a particular toll on women, and, of course, it wastes huge amounts of energy. The U.S. uses more electricity for air conditioning than Africa uses for everything.

America, it turns out, is addicted to A/C for reasons of fashion, physiology, gender norms, architecture and history. Over the last century, air conditioning improved our health, happiness and productivity. But somewhere along the way we grew dependent on it, and now we don’t know how to find our way back. [Continue reading…]


Christian Appy: America’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years later

So many decades later, it’s hard to remember the kind of nuclear thinking top American officials engaged in during the Cold War. In secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, for instance, the country’s top strategists descended willingly into the charnel house of futuristic history, imagining life on this planet as an eternal potential holocaust. They wrote in those documents of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans and of a “blow” that might result in the “complete destruction” of the Soviet Union.

And they weren’t just whistling Dixie. After all, in 1960, the top military brass found themselves arguing about the country’s first Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear war. In it, a scenario was laid out for delivering more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world. Targets included at least 130 cities, which, if all went well, would cease to exist. Classified estimates of possible casualties from such an attack ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured. That’s what “the complete destruction” of the Soviet Union and Communist China meant then and, until Dr. Strangelove hit the screens in 1964, those figures were simply part of the sort of “rational” war planning that led to perfectly serious debate about launching a “preemptive strike” — what, if another country were considering it, would have been a “war of aggression” — to eradicate that enemy. To give credit where it’s due, Army and Navy officials did worry “about the lethal impact of downwind fallout, with the Army explicitly concerned about limiting exposure of ‘friendly forces and people’ to radioactive fallout. By contrast, the Air Force saw no need for additional constraints [on surface nuclear blasts].”

It’s this world that we “celebrate,” having now reached the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). Today, we know that delivering so many nuclear weapons (or, in fact, many less) would have done a lot more than wipe out the “Communist world.” It would have plunged the planet into nuclear winter and undoubtedly eradicated humanity as definitively as the dinosaurs were wiped out by that asteroid 65 million years ago.

Apocalypse was — and remains — us. After all, despite the recent nuclear agreement that will stop a country without nuclear weapons from building them, this planet is still loaded with a world-ending arsenal that is constantly being expanded, updated, and modernized. Call us lucky, but don’t call us particularly thoughtful. Today, Christian Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, considers the way in which — except in rare moments when antinuclear movements gained brief strength here — Americans managed to ignore how this country’s leaders ushered us into the nuclear age by annihilating not one but two cities and killing hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians. Tom Engelhardt

Our “merciful” ending to the “good war”
Or how patriotism means never having to say you’re sorry
By Christian Appy

“Never, never waste a minute on regret. It’s a waste of time.”

— President Harry Truman

Here we are, 70 years after the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I’m wondering if we’ve come even one step closer to a moral reckoning with our status as the world’s only country to use atomic weapons to slaughter human beings. Will an American president ever offer a formal apology? Will our country ever regret the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” those two bombs that burned hotter than the sun? Will it absorb the way they instantly vaporized thousands of victims, incinerated tens of thousands more, and created unimaginably powerful shockwaves and firestorms that ravaged everything for miles beyond ground zero? Will it finally come to grips with the “black rain” that spread radiation and killed even more people — slowly and painfully — leading in the end to a death toll for the two cities conservatively estimated at more than 250,000?

Given the last seven decades of perpetual militarization and nuclear “modernization” in this country, the answer may seem like an obvious no. Still, as a historian, I’ve been trying to dig a little deeper into our lack of national contrition. As I have, an odd fragment of Americana kept coming to mind, a line from the popular 1970 tearjerker Love Story: “Love,” says the female lead when her boyfriend begins to apologize, “means never having to say you’re sorry.” It has to be one of the dumbest definitions ever to lodge in American memory, since real love often requires the strength to apologize and make amends.

[Read more…]


In the West, drought, heat and climate change leave the land thirstier than ever

The New York Times reports: Another summer of record-breaking drought and heat has seized the West, setting off costly and destructive wildfires from Southern California, where a single blaze burned more than 30,000 acres of national forest east of Los Angeles, to Montana, where a fast-moving fire in Glacier National Park recently forced tourists to flee hotels, campgrounds and vehicles.

No measurable rain has fallen here in Walla Walla since May. Temperatures have broken decades-old records. And, though known for soaking skies and cool summers, Washington State is well on track to surpass last year’s wildfire season, its busiest on record.

Dozens of homes and thousands of acres have burned over the past few months — in the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula, in suburban communities on the edge of the wild lands, and in this city of wheat farms and vineyards where hundreds of firefighters are still battling a blaze on the western slopes of the Blue Mountains, digging and scraping the earth, building barriers of dirt to shield the dried-out forests from the approaching flames.

“Our fire season started a month ahead, our crops matured weeks ahead and the dry weather we usually get in August, we’ve had since May,” said Peter J. Goldmark, Washington’s commissioner of public lands. Walking along the edge of the Blue Creek fire, burning near the Oregon-Washington border, he added, “By heavens, if this isn’t a sign of climate change, then what is climate change going to bring?” [Continue reading…]


Missing: One year’s worth of California rain

Climate Central reports: The amount of rain that California has missed out on since the beginning of its record-setting drought in 2012 is about the same amount it would see, on average, in a single year, a new study has concluded.

The study’s researchers pin the reason for the lack of rains, as others have, on the absence of the intense rainstorms ushered in by so-called atmospheric rivers, the ribbons of very moist air that can funnel water vapor from the tropics to California during its winter rainy season.

Overall, the study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, found that California experiences multi-year dry periods, like the current one, and then periods where rains can vary by 30 percent from year to year. Those wet and dry years typically cancel each other out. [Continue reading…]


Watch out! Millions of angry, impulsive Americans with guns

Another day, another shooting.

While it’s hard to construct a profile of the typical American shooter who engages in random killing, there are a few generalizations that can be made with reasonable confidence:

1. The shooter will be male,
2. his weapon(s) will much more often than not have been acquired legally, and
3. he’ll probably be white.

Whether a demographically disproportionate number of homicidal, gun-wielding Americans are white, I have no idea. But the latest shooting — this time the gunman, at 59-years-old, was probably above average age — illustrates the fundamental problem with the idea that carrying a gun is the best way to defend yourself against another gun owner who’s on the rampage: By the time you’ve figured out who the crazy guy is, it’s too late. Why? Because the crazy guy looks just like the regular guy.

The gun lobby would have everyone believe that guns are really only dangerous if they get in the wrong hands and thus when gun ownership turns deadly we are encouraged to overlook the central fact: guns are designed to kill.

There are lots of things that can be deadly — cars, alcohol, cigarettes, passenger aircraft, and so forth — but when these become instruments of fatality, they are not performing the function for which they were designed.

But when a gun owner goes on the rampage, unless his weapon malfunctions, each time he kills or injures someone, his gun and its ammunition were functioning exactly in accordance with specifications.

Although guns can be used to pop holes in paper targets or shatter bottles, what they’re really meant to do is rip flesh apart and end lives. This is machine tooled, high precision, state of the art, carnage.

Lisa Wade writes:

While it seems that much of the discourse around curbing gun violence focuses on the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, these two issues — gun violence and mental illness — “intersect only at their edges.” These are the words of Jeffrey Swanson and his colleagues in their new article examining the personality characteristics of American gun owners.

To think otherwise, they argue, is to fall prey to the narrative of gun rights advocates, who want us to think that “controlling people with serious mental illness instead of controlling firearms is the key policy answer.” Since the majority of people with mental illnesses are never violent, this is unlikely to be an effective strategy while, at the same time, further stigmatizing people with mental illness.

What is a good strategy, then, short of the unlikely event that we take America’s guns away?

Swanson and colleagues argue that a better policy would be to look for signs of impulsive, angry, and aggressive behavior and limit gun rights based on that. Evidence of such behavior, they believe, “conveys inherent risk of aggressive or violent acts” substantial enough to justify limiting gun ownership.

By Wade’s estimate, based on an unspecified national data set, there are several million American gun owners who pose a risk.

Political realism may dictate that America’s gun owners can’t be deprived of their cherished weapons, but civil libertarians would just as surely guarantee that no screening process would ever be put in place (if such a process could even be devised) that would keep guns out of the hands of impulsive, angry, and aggressive Americans.

The remedy, it seems to me, will have to come from the other end by making legally available weapons less deadly and by holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for the effects of their products.

No other industry enjoys impunity from product liability yet in 2005, Congress, under pressure from the NRA, conspired with the gun makers to protect their profits at the expense of American lives.

The authors of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act have blood on their hands. Each time the families of victims of yet another mass shooting attempt to sue the gun makers, this law provides them with protection.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 on those stymied efforts.

Marc Bern, a New York trial lawyer representing family members of Aurora victims, said the gun law severely limited his clients’ options. He is pursuing a case against the movie theater company, although some of his clients had expressed interest in trying to pursue companies that provided guns or ammunition to the shooter.

“We looked at the gun industry, but they were able to insulate themselves with this law,” Bern said. “It is absolutely outrageous that the gun industry is not accountable when virtually every other industry in this country is accountable.”

President Obama bemoans the fact that the U.S. does not have “sufficient, common-sense gun safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings,” and the chances of new legislation being crafted during what remains of is term are slim.

He could, however, push for the repeal of the 2005 law.


Cyber attack on U.S. power grid could cost economy $1 trillion: report

Reuters reports: A cyber attack which shuts down parts of the United States’ power grid could cost as much as $1 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to a report published on Wednesday.

Company executives are worried about security breaches, but recent surveys suggest they are not convinced about the value or effectiveness of cyber insurance.

The report from the University of Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies and the Lloyd’s of London insurance market outlines a scenario of an electricity blackout that leaves 93 million people in New York City and Washington DC without power.

The scenario, developed by Cambridge, is technologically possible and is assessed to be within the once-in-200-year probability for which insurers should be prepared, the report said. [Continue reading…]


Greg Grandin: How endless war helps Old Dixie stay new

“They finally shot the nigger!” the sparrow-slight soldier whooped. Nicknamed “Georgia” for the obvious reason, that’s what he apparently ran around shouting once word of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination wound its way out into the electric-green paddy fields of South Vietnam. I was told the story more than once by a member of his unit and often imagined what it must have been like, especially for his black brothers-in-arms, to be smacked with that news and that epithet all at once. Yet, on some level, it wasn’t the least bit shocking. Labeled a “total racist” by a fellow member of his unit, Georgia was one of many white soldiers hailing from the former Confederate States of America whose bigotry was on full display during the Vietnam War.

As “soul brothers” and “bloods” across South Vietnam embraced emerging ideas about black consciousness, black pride, and black power, racist white troops responded by donning Ku Klux Klan robes, burning crosses, and embracing other symbols of white supremacy. Reflecting on his decision to join the militant Black Panthers after returning from Vietnam, Reginald Edwards, who served as a rifleman with the Marines, recalled: “We had already fought for the white man in Vietnam. It was clearly his war. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have seen as many Confederate flags as you saw.” Dwyte Brown, who served in the Navy, told journalist Wallace Terry that, in the barracks at the U.S. base in Cam Ranh Bay, “there would be nothing but Confederate flags all over the place.”

In the midst of the recent Confederate flag fallout following the massacre in Charleston, TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin revisits this much-neglected history and so much else that came before and after. Tracing the sordid story of the Old South’s battle flag, that symbol of bitter-end racism, from its raising by Marines on Okinawa during the Second World War to more recent appearances in Iraq and Afghanistan, Grandin shines a light on a larger and more troubling military embrace of the Confederacy — something the Pentagon would, no doubt, rather keep hidden from view.

Georgia, the soldier who cheered King’s 1968 murder, seemingly conformed to all the stereotypes you might imagine. “He had a little tape player. And all he had was one tape of every Hank Williams song there ever was and he played them constantly whenever we were in base camp,” I was told. But what he did out in the field — where the stifling heat of the day gave way to dank nights in cool, clammy foxholes — shocked me. “Georgia was this little white racist and Mitchell was this great big black guy, and when it would rain and get cold, they’d get in and sleep together to stay warm,” a fellow unit member told me. Perhaps racists are like atheists and can’t be found in foxholes. Or perhaps Georgia’s and Mitchell’s bunker brotherhood is a reminder that there’s always reason for hope.

The Pentagon now stands where South Carolina did just weeks ago. With a groundswell of grassroots activism, the U.S. military’s long-cherished symbols of racism and Confederacy-veneration might also be brought to the brink of welcome exile, if not banishment to history’s dustbin. If that ever comes to pass, one person we’ll have to thank is Greg Grandin, author of the much-anticipated Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman. Nick Turse

The Confederate flag at war
(But not the Civil War)
By Greg Grandin

The Pentagon just can’t let go. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, Amazon and Walmart have announced that they will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise. Ebay says it will stop offering Confederate items for electronic auction. The Republican governor of Mississippi calls his state flag, which includes the Stars and Bars in the top left corner, “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Even Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, agrees that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his state’s capitol building belongs in a museum.

Yet the Department of Defense says it isn’t even “reviewing” the possibility of a ban on the flag, deciding instead to leave any such move to the various service branches, while military bases named after Confederate officers will remain so. One factor in this decision: the South provides more than 40% of all military recruits, many of them white; only 15% are from the Northeast.

[Read more…]


Koch-backed group calls for no more national parks

Claire Moser writes: Just in time for the Fourth of July — when millions of people across the country will visit America’s national parks and other public lands — the Koch brothers are rolling out their latest campaign against these treasured places: pushing for no more national parks.

In an op-ed published in Tuesday’s New York Times, Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), along with a research associate at the Center, call for no more national parks, citing the backlog in maintenance for existing parks.

“True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself,” the op-ed reads. “Let’s maintain what we’ve already got, so we can protect it properly,” it concludes. [Continue reading…]