Truthout Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 06:15:45 -0400 en-gb Why the Web of Life Is Dying

2014 930 life fw"There's eventually a point at which the biological systems of planet Earth that support human life will just stop functioning if it loses too many species and thus too badly frays the web of life." (Photo: Dom Dada)

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Could you survive with just half of your organs?

Think about it.

What if you had just half your brain, one kidney, half of your heart, one lung, half a liver and only half of your skin?

It would be pretty hard to survive right?

Sure, you could survive losing just one kidney or half of your liver, but at some point, losing pieces from all of your organs would be too much and you would die.

Well, this is exactly what's happening to the web of life on planet Earth right now.

Like the human body, our planet is a living organism, and like the organs in the body, all of our planet's species are interconnected. They form the web of life.

And, just like the human body can survive with just one kidney or one eye, our planet and the web of life can survive without a few species here and there.

But, like with the loss of organs in the body, there's eventually a point at which the biological systems of planet Earth that support human life will just stop functioning if it loses too many species and thus too badly frays the web of life.

And that point could be coming a lot sooner than most people thought.

According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, a staggering 52 percent of the world's mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians disappeared between 1970 and 2010.

We're not talking about just a few species here and there. After all, species extinctions are normal. They're part of the web of life, too.

But, losing 52 percent of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians in just 40 years is not normal.

It's a sign of the devastating toll that human activity is having on our planet and its many ecosystems.

And, that 52 percent statistic doesn't paint the full picture of what's really going on here, because every time a species dies off, the web of life unravels just a little more and loses more of its balance.

For example, coyotes and hawks help keep the rabbit population in check. But what if these predators disappeared?

Rabbit populations would skyrocket, and that growth would strip the earth bare of green things.

Another great example of balance and interconnectedness in the web of life was laid out by famed biologist Stuart Pimm.

Pimm once told a story about how forests in the Pacific Northwest were lacking iodide in their soil, a chemical that's necessary to keep the trees of those forests alive.

Suddenly the forests began to come back, as more and more iodide was being discovered in the forest soil. What had happened?

No one could figure out why this was happening, until a connection was made with none other than bear poop.

Basically, some of the dams on the rivers had been torn out, so the bears in the woods were eating the salmon from nearby rivers. Fish are great sources of iodide, as they absorb it from the ocean.

The iodide was then transferred from the bears to the forests via bear poop, which helped to fertilize the forests and promote growth.

This is the kind of interconnectedness that drives our planet and the web of life.

But, as more and more species continue to die off, our planet is losing this interconnectedness and balance, and the web of life is becoming badly unraveled.

Fortunately, there's still time for us to prevent a complete disaster.

As the World Wildlife Fund report points out, 7.1 percent of the species losses between 1970 and 2010 were because of climate change.

And as climate change continues to rear its ugly head, our planet will lose more and more species.

So, if we want to save our planet and take the web of life off life support, now is the time to get serious about fighting back against the greatest threat our planet and the human race have ever faced. If we put a price on carbon, it will help save an ecosystem that can support human life. Check out Green World Rising for more information.

Opinion Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:41:28 -0400
Failure Is Success: How US Intelligence Works in the 21st Century

2014 930 nsa stNSA Museum's StorageTek tape library (Photo: Austin Mills)What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters.  You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities.  Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for... well, the salacious hell of it.  Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.

You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.  You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order.  You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts.  You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies).  Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt.  Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world.  You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut).  You undoubtedly spy on Congress.  You hack into congressional computer systems.  And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population).  You do everything to wreck their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex.

What They Didn’t Know

Think of the world of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” or IC, as a near-perfect closed system and rare success story in twenty-first-century Washington.  In a capital riven by fierce political disagreements, just about everyone agrees on the absolute, total, and ultimate importance of that "community" and whatever its top officials might decide in order to keep this country safe and secure.

Yes, everything you’ve done has been in the name of national security and the safety of Americans.  And as we’ve discovered, there is never enough security, not at least when it comes to one thing: the fiendish ability of “terrorists” to threaten this country.  Admittedly, terrorist attacks would rank above shark attacks, but not much else on a list of post-9/11 American dangers.  And for this, you take profuse credit -- for, that is, the fact that there has never been a “second 9/11.”  In addition, you take credit for breaking up all sorts of terror plans and plots aimed at this country, including an amazing 54 of them reportedly foiled using the phone and email “metadata” of Americans gathered by the NSA.  As it happens, a distinguished panel appointed by President Obama, with security clearances that allowed them to examine these spectacular claims in detail, found that not a single one had merit.

Whatever the case, while taxpayer dollars flowed into your coffers, no one considered it a problem that the country lacked 17 overlapping outfits bent on preventing approximately 400,000 deaths by firearms in the same years; nor 17 interlocked agencies dedicated to safety on our roads, where more than 450,000 Americans have died since 9/11.  (An American, it has been calculated, is 1,904 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a terrorist attack.)  Almost all the money and effort have instead been focused on the microscopic number of terrorist plots -- some spurred on by FBI plants -- that have occurred on American soil in that period.  On the conviction that Americans must be shielded from them above all else and on the fear that 9/11 bred in this country, you’ve built an intelligence structure unlike any other on the planet when it comes to size, reach, and labyrinthine complexity.

It’s quite an achievement, especially when you consider its one downside: it has a terrible record of getting anything right in a timely way.  Never have so many had access to so much information about our world and yet been so unprepared for whatever happens in it.

When it comes to getting ahead of the latest developments on the planet, the ones that might really mean something to the government it theoretically serves, the IC is -- as best we can tell from the record it largely prefers to hide -- almost always behind the 8-ball.  It seems to have been caught off guard regularly enough to defy any imaginable odds. 

Think about it, and think hard.  Since 9/11 (which might be considered the intelligence equivalent of original sin when it comes to missing the mark), what exactly are the triumphs of a system the likes of which the world has never seen before?  One and only one event is sure to come immediately to mind: the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden. (Hey, Hollywood promptly made a movie out of it!)  Though he was by then essentially a toothless figurehead, an icon of jihadism and little else, the raid that killed him is the single obvious triumph of these years.

Otherwise, globally from the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events.  As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.  Leaving aside the issue of intelligence failures in the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, for instance, is there any indication that the IC offered President Obama a warning on Libya before he decided to intervene and topple that country’s autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011?  What we know is that he was told, incorrectly it seems, that there would be a “bloodbath,” possibly amounting to a genocidal act, if Gaddafi's troops reached the city of Benghazi.

Might an agency briefer have suggested what any reading of the results of America's twenty-first century military actions across the Greater Middle East would have taught an observant analyst with no access to inside information: that the fragmentation of Libyan society, the growth of Islamic militancy (as elsewhere in the region), and chaos would likely follow?  We have to assume not, though today the catastrophe of Libya and the destabilization of a far wider region of Africa is obvious.

Let’s focus for a moment, however, on a case where more is known.  I’m thinking of the development that only recently riveted the Obama administration and sent it tumbling into America’s third Iraq war, causing literal hysteria in Washington.  Since June, the most successful terror group in history has emerged full blown in Syria and Iraq, amid a surge in jihadi recruitment across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  The Islamic State (IS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which sprang to life during the U.S. occupation of that country, has set up a mini-state, a “caliphate,” in the heart of the Middle East.  Part of the territory it captured was, of course, in the very country the U.S. garrisoned and occupied for eight years, in which it had assumedly developed countless sources of information and recruited agents of all sorts.  And yet, by all accounts, when IS’s militants suddenly swept across northern Iraq, the CIA in particular found itself high and dry.

The IC seems not to have predicted the group’s rapid growth or spread; nor, though there was at least some prior knowledge of the decline of the Iraqi army, did anyone imagine that such an American created, trained, and armed force would so summarily collapse.  Unforeseen was the way its officers would desert their troops who would, in turn, shed their uniforms and flee Iraq’s major northern cities, abandoning all their American equipment to Islamic State militants.

Nor could the intelligence community even settle on a basic figure for how many of those militants there were.  In fact, in part because IS assiduously uses couriers for its messaging instead of cell phones and emails, until a chance arrest of a key militant in June, the CIA and the rest of the IC evidently knew next to nothing about the group or its leadership, had no serious assessment of its strength and goals, nor any expectation that it would sweep through and take most of Sunni Iraq.  And that should be passing strange.  After all, it now turns out that much of the future leadership of IS had spent time together in the U.S. military’s Camp Bucca prison just years earlier.

All you have to do is follow the surprised comments of various top administration officials, including the president, as ISIS made its mark and declared its caliphate, to grasp just how ill-prepared 17 agencies and $68 billion can leave you when your world turns upside down. 

Producing Subprime Intelligence as a Way of Life

In some way, the remarkable NSA revelations of Edward Snowden may have skewed our view of American intelligence.  The question, after all, isn’t simply: Who did they listen in on or surveil or gather communications from?  It’s also: What did they find out?  What did they draw from the mountains of information, the billions of bits of intelligence data that they were collecting from individual countries monthly (Iran, 14 billion; Pakistan, 13.5 billion; Jordan, 12.7 billion, etc.)?  What was their “intelligence”?  And the answer seems to be that, thanks to the mind-boggling number of outfits doing America’s intelligence work and the yottabytes of data they sweep up, the IC is a morass of information overload, data flooding, and collective blindness as to how our world works.

You might say that the American intelligence services encourage the idea that the world is only knowable in an atmosphere of big data and a penumbra of secrecy.  As it happens, an open and open-minded assessment of the planet and its dangers would undoubtedly tell any government so much more.  In that sense, the system bolstered and elaborated since 9/11 seems as close to worthless in terms of bang for the buck as any you could imagine.  Which means, in turn, that we outsiders should view with a jaundiced eye the latest fear-filled estimates and overblown "predictions" from the IC that, as now with the tiny (possibly fictional) terror group Khorasan, regularly fill our media with nightmarish images of American destruction.

If the IC’s post-9/11 effectiveness were being assessed on a corporate model, it’s hard not to believe that at least 15 of the agencies and outfits in its “community” would simply be axed and the other two downsized.  (If the Republicans in Congress came across this kind of institutional tangle and record of failure in domestic civilian agencies, they would go after it with a meat cleaver.)  I suspect that the government could learn far more about this planet by anteing up some modest sum to hire a group of savvy observers using only open-source information.  For an absolute pittance, they would undoubtedly get a distinctly more actionable vision of how our world functions and its possible dangers to Americans.  But of course we’ll never know.  Instead, whatever clever analysts, spooks, and operatives exist in the maze of America’s spy and surveillance networks will surely remain buried there, while the overall system produces vast reams of subprime intelligence.

Clearly, having a labyrinth of 17 overlapping, paramilitarized, deeply secretive agencies doing versions of the same thing is the definition of counterproductive madness.  Not surprisingly, the one thing the U.S. intelligence community has resembled in these years is the U.S. military, which since 9/11 has failed to win a war or accomplish more or less anything it set out to do.

On the other hand, all of the above assumes that the purpose of the IC is primarily to produce successful “intelligence” that leaves the White House a step ahead of the rest of the world.  What if, however, it's actually a system organized on the basis of failure?  What if any work-product disaster is for the IC another kind of win.

Perhaps it's worth thinking of those overlapping agencies as a fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg-style machine organized around the principle that failure is the greatest success of all.  After all, in the system as it presently exists, every failure of intelligence is just another indication that more security, more secrecy, more surveillance, more spies, more drones are needed; only when you fail, that is, do you get more money for further expansion. 

Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.  That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history.  (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)  However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.

You could, of course, say that the world is simply a hard place to know and the future, with its eternal surprises, is one territory that no country, no military, no set of intelligence agencies can occupy, no matter how much they invest in doing so.  An inability to predict the lay of tomorrow's land may, in a way, be par for the course.  If so, however, remind me: Why exactly are we supporting 17 versions of intelligence gathering to the tune of at least $68 billion a year?

Opinion Tue, 30 Sep 2014 14:05:46 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Activists Take Over Wall Street After Climate March, and More

In today's On the News segment: Activists take over Wall Street after the massive march for action on climate change; the Obama administration is standing up to corporate tax dodgers; Google finally drops ALEC; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. After the recent, massive march on climate change, activists and protesters took over Wall Street. Three thousand people held a sit-in around the infamous charging bull statue, and demanded an end to the "economic system based on exploiting frontline communities, workers, and natural resources." Protesters say that the root of the climate crisis is capitalism itself, and they want the banksters to stop profiting off of our planet's destruction. Rising temperatures, toxic water, mega droughts, and super storms are some of the environmental risks of global warming, but these protesters wanted to shine a light on the economic causes, and dangers, of climate change. The profiteers on Wall Street are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry, and they rake in more cash every time a company destroys a community with drilling. These oil and gas profits continue to make billionaires richer, and help keep the working poor from gaining any economic ground. In turn for all those profits, Wall Street's investments help finance the Oil Lobby's destruction of our planet, which is already having a much more devastating effect on the world's poor. The billionaires on Wall Street think they can afford to shield themselves from the dangers of a warming planet, but storms and droughts don't pardon those with large bank balances. They might not care about how their investments destroy the planet, but we do, and the "Flood Wall Street" protest brought our fight to their doorstep. Now we must keep the pressure up until they put our planet ahead of their oil profits.

The Obama administration is standing up to corporate tax dodgers. Last week, the Treasury Department announced new rules that will make it harder for companies to use "inversions" to avoid paying their taxes. Although Congress refuses to act on corporations off-shoring profits, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are doing what they can to stop companies from dodging their taxes. In a statement about the new rules, President Obama said, "We've recently seen a few large corporations announce plans to exploit this loophole, undercutting businesses that act responsibly, and leaving the middle class to pay the bill." The Treasury Department's new rules will prevent companies from using so-called "hopscotch" loans to move profits to overseas subsidiaries, and block these "inverted" companies from getting tax-free access to foreign earnings. Congress has the power to reform the tax code and make corporations pay their fair share, but for the time being, they refuse to act. Thankfully, our president and our Treasury secretary are doing what they can to make corporations pay their fair share.

It may have taken some public pressure, but Google has finally dropped ALEC. Last Monday, the tech giant announced their plans to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council. Their announcement comes only a few weeks after Microsoft also dropped the lobbying group, saying that ALEC's policies did not align with the company's renewable energy projects. Although there are numerous reasons why these corporations should disavow the group, Google's decision was also influenced by ALEC's anti-science views on global warming. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said, "Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a worse place." He added, "And so, we should not be aligned with such people – they're just, they're just literally lying." It's about time that Google took a stand on ALEC's anti-science, anti-worker, anti-regulation policies. Many large corporations have dumped the lobbying group in recent years, and it's nice to see Google has finally done the same.

There're only a few weeks before the November elections, and voters in Wisconsin are scrambling to get photo IDs to vote. Thanks to a last-minute ruling by a three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court, election officials are working frantically to make sure eligible voters get an ID in time. Although state officials have tried to make the process easier, by allowing voters to apply for a free ID without showing a birth certificate, that may still prevent some eligible voters from casting a ballot. For instance, Shirley Brown, one of the lead plaintiffs in ACLU's lawsuit against the voter ID law, was delivered by a midwife, so she lacks the documentation that the DMV requires to get a photo ID. The ACLU has filed a demand that the full appeals court re-hear the case, arguing that there is simply not enough time to ensure that all voters have the proper ID. They explained to the court, "It is not only unreasonable, but also mathematically, logically, and physically impossible that by November 4th, hundreds of thousands of voters will learn about the need for ID, collect multiple required documents, get to a DMV office, and obtain the ID." Three hundred thousand people in Wisconsin lack the identification needed to vote, and the DMV would have to issue about 6,000 IDs per day to serve all of them. As it is simply impossible, the full 7th Circuit must re-hear the case and ensure that everyone has the right to participate in the democratic process.

And finally... Students in Denver are standing up for history. Last week, hundreds of high school students walked out of class to protest a decision by the Jefferson County School Board to limit history education to lessons that shine a "positive light" on American Heritage. Subject matter would be limited to materials that "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect authority and respect for individual rights." Students disagreed with the school board's decision to sensor their education, and many teachers supported their decision by staying home as well. One high school senior who took part in the walk out said that protest is an important part of American History, "and if you take that from us, you take away everything that American was built off of." And he is exactly right. Standing up to authority is how our nation was formed, and school boards should not be omitting that idea from our history books. Students in Denver are demanding a real history education, and they're learning the art of civil disobedience in the process.

And that's the way it is - for the week of September 29, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 13:49:04 -0400
Conflict Keeps Mothers From Health Care Services

Bastar, India - Twenty-five-year-old Khemwanti Pradhan is a ‘Mitanin’ – a trained and accredited community health worker – based in the Nagarbeda village of the Bastar region in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Since 2007, Pradhan has been informing local women about government health schemes and urging them to deliver their babies at a hospital instead of in their own homes.

Ironically, when Pradhan gave birth to her first child in 2012, she herself was unable to visit a hospital because government security forces chose that very day to conduct a raid on her village, which is believed to be a hub of armed communist insurgents.

In the panic and chaos that ensued, the village all but shut down, leaving Pradhan to manage on her own.

“Security men were carrying out a door-to-door search for Maoist rebels. They arrested many young men from our village. My husband and my brother-in-law were scared and both fled to the nearby forest.

“When my labour pains began, there was nobody around. I boiled some water and delivered my own baby,” she said.

Thanks to her training as a Mitanin, which simply means ‘friend’ in the local language, Pradhan had a smooth and safe delivery.

But not everyone is so lucky. Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services.

This past June, for instance, 22-year-old Anita Reang, a Bru tribal refugee woman in the conflict-ridden Mamit district of the northeastern state of Mizoram, began haemorrhaging while giving birth at home.

The young girl eventually bled to death, Anita’s mother Malati told IPS, adding that they couldn’t leave the house because they were surrounded by Mizo neighbours, who were hostile to the Bru family.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a global charity that provides healthcare in conflict situations and disaster zones across the world, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity all increase during times of conflict.

This could have huge repercussions in India, home to over 31 million women in the reproductive age group according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The country is a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 103 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015, and is still nursing a maternal mortality rate of 230 deaths per 100,000 births.

There is a dearth of comprehensive nationwide data on the impact of conflict on maternal health but experts are agreed that it exacerbates the issue of access to clinics and facilities.

MSF’s country medical coordinator, Simon Jones, told IPS that in India the “most common causes of neonatal death are […] prematurity and low birth weight, neonatal infections and birth asphyxia and trauma.”

The government runs nationwide maternal and child health schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karykram that provide free medicine, free healthcare, nutritional supplements and also monetary incentives to women who give birth at government facilities.

But according to Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, an advocate in the Guwahati High Court in the northeastern state of Assam, who also leads a rights protection group called the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, women wishing to access government programmes must travel to an official health centre – an arduous task for those who reside in conflict-prone regions.

In central and eastern India alone, this amounts to some 22 million women.

There is also a trust deficit between women in a conflict area and the health workers, Laskar told IPS. “Women are [often] scared of health workers, who they think hold a bias against them and might ill-treat them.”

For Jomila Bibi, a 31-year-old Muslim refugee woman from Assam’s Kokrajhar district, such fears were not unfounded; the young woman’s newborn daughter died last October after doctors belonging to a rival ethnic group allegedly declined to attend to her.

Bibi was on the run following ethnic clashes between Bengali Muslims and members of the Bodo tribal community in Assam that have left nearly half a million people displaced across the region.

Daniel Mate, a youth activist in the town of Tengnoupal, which lies on India’s conflicted border with Myanmar, recounted several cases of women refusing to seek professional help, despite having severe post-delivery complications, due to compromised security around them.

“When there is more than one armed group [as in the case of the armed insurgency in Tengnoupal and surrounding areas in northeast India’s Manipur state], it is difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy,” he told IPS.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel,” added Mate, who campaigns for crowd-funded medical supplies for the remotest villages in the region, which are plagued by the presence of over a dozen militant groups.

The solution, according to MSF’s Jones, is an overall improvement in comprehensive maternal care including services like Caesarean sections and blood transfusions.

Equally important is the sensitisation of health workers and security personnel, who could persuade more women to seek healthcare, even in troubled times.

Other experts suggest regular mobile healthcare services and on-the-spot midwifery training to women in remote and sensitive regions.

According to Kaushalendra Kukku, a doctor in the Kanker government hospital in Bastar, “When violence erupts, all systems collapse. The best way to minimise the risk of maternal death in such a situation is to take the services to a woman, instead of expecting her to come to [the services].”

Pradhan, who has now resumed her duties as a community health worker, agrees. “I was able to deliver safely because I was trained. If other women receive the same training, they can also help themselves.”

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:25:01 -0400
The United States' New War in the Middle East

As Congress skipped town and avoided a vote on war, President Obama announced this week that the US was taking the lead in bombing jihadists in Iraq and Syria, opening what is being widely interpreted as another long and costly American military campaign in the Middle East.

This week, Bill discusses the latest on the conflict with Jonathan Landay, a veteran national security reporter for McClatchy Newspapers and Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and foreign service officer in Afghanistan.

“As much as President Obama wishes we weren’t the world’s policemen, perhaps we are,” Landay tells Moyers. “And there’s no escaping that curse.”

Hoh, who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over US strategic policy there, adds: “Is this really our model for the Middle East that we are going to bomb countries, continuously, take part in civil wars, sometimes supporting one side, maybe supporting the other, with no means or no real desire or effort to achieve a peace?”


BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…

MATTHEW HOH: Is this really our model for the Middle East that we are going to bomb countries, continuously, take part in civil wars, sometimes supporting one side, maybe supporting the other, with no means or no real desire or effort to achieve a peace?

JONATHAN LANDAY: As much as President Obama wishes we weren’t the world’s policemen, perhaps we are, and there’s no escaping that curse.

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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Here we go again.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH on January 16, 1991: As I report to you, air attacks are underway against military targets in Iraq.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON on December 16, 1998: Good evening. Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH on March 19, 2003: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA on August 7, 2014: To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.

BILL MOYERS: Over 23 years, four consecutive presidents have ordered the bombing of Iraq by U.S. forces. It’s what one of my guests calls the nightmare of Groundhog Day – facing the same problem, over and again. Just a year ago Barack Obama told the United Nations that he was determined to end America’s perpetual war footing in the Middle East region. But this week the President returned to the UN to announce – not yet! And to assert that the US intends to unleash more airpower to defeat the Islamic militants who have swept across large areas in Iraq and Syria. With a first round of drones and missiles unleashed inside Syria even before he spoke at the UN, the president has plunged America into the midst of a civil war that involves over one thousand different militia. You need a mighty big scorecard just to figure who’s on whose side.

We’ve asked a couple of experienced hands to help us do just that. Jonathan Landay is a senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy newspapers. He’s also an unsung hero of Washington journalism. During the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Landay and his colleague Warren Stroebel dug deep to find evidence refuting the Bush administration’s case for going to war. You can see Landay and Stroebel at work in our documentary “Buying the War,” at

Matthew Hoh fought in Iraq as a Marine Corps captain. He then joined the Foreign Service and became the widely praised senior American civilian in Afghanistan's Zabul province, that’s a Taliban stronghold. He resigned in protest when he came to believe the war was making things worse and American soldiers should not be dying in what was a long-running civil war. Matthew Hoh is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC.

Welcome to both of you.


BILL MOYERS: Let me read you something one of your colleagues, Ryan Cooper, wrote this week in "Who's ready to squander billions of dollars on yet another pointless, almost-certain-to-backfire war in Iraq? The mainstream media for one," he says, "… which for weeks has been shamelessly fearmongering the supposed threat … by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria … Many Republicans, meanwhile, insist that ISIS represents an ‘imminent threat’ to the United States, which, strangely enough, is just how George W. Bush justified his war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 … Let's get one thing straight: … ISIS poses ‘no specific, credible threat’ to the U.S … Indeed, ISIS's slickly produced beheading videos are quite obviously designed to bait the media into stoking a panic — and it has succeeded spectacularly.”

JONATHAN LANDAY: See, I disagree with that interpretation because I think the point of those videos was to try and undermine that turn in American public opinion. Don't come back here. Don't get--


JONATHAN LANDAY: --involved. This is what’s going to happen to your soldiers. Look what happened to your soldiers before. You have to look at some of their previous videos where they show American tanks being blown up, American soldiers being killed. Don't get involved here. And I think that that's what-- I don't see them being able to bait, at least at this point, Obama into coming back, because he, you know, beyond special forces I don't think there's any way he's going to introduce American forces on the ground at this point. I don't think he wants to. He may have to.

BILL MOYERS: At this point.

JONATHAN LANDAY: At this point. He may have to. We'll have to wait and see. But I'm not--

BILL MOYERS: But is-- go ahead.

JONATHAN LANDAY: I'm not sure that, again, I'm not sure that that was the point of the videos, to suck Americans in, and in fact, in one of the videos after the Steven Sotloff beheading, the executioner turns to the camera and says, back off. Leave us alone.

BILL MOYERS: So what do you think the Islamic State wants?

MATTHEW HOH: They subscribe to a form of Islam where they believe there's only one authority within Islam. And they want to form a caliphate and they want to have that one authority that all Muslims follow. They attract, I think a wide group of followers. Some are people who've just been dispossessed, some are people who, many of whom I think have been caught up in this cycle of revenge, of killings, of retribution that have been wracking the Middle East for decades now and specifically in Iraq for 11 years now.

You have some who are, I think, adherents to this religious philosophy. And then you have some quite like the British gentleman who murdered Sotloff and Foley, who are psychopaths. But you also have to remember that throughout history there's always been people who want to go fight, who like the romance of war, who are looking to fulfill something deeper, some purpose.

I will say with the beheading videos, I do believe they were bait. I think this is-- they want to validate their narrative that the Islamic State is the protector of Islam, that it is protecting the people, the faith, the culture of their lands from the quote, unquote, "crusaders," for lack of a better term.

JONATHAN LANDAY: I think there's a deeper problem here, and it's one that I haven't-- that the president has touched on. He touched on it in his speech to the UN General Assembly. And I think it's one that could really prove to be the undoing of this campaign that he's unleashing. And that is the immediate threat is the Islamic State, but it's a phenomenon. It's a consequence of decades, centuries of despotic rule in that part of the world by dictators, by kings who have provided no semblance of responsible governance, no accountability.

If you look at what's going on in the Middle East today, you have enormous poverty. You have this huge youth bulge, the enormous number of young men between the ages of 17 and 30 who are underpaid or have no jobs, you know, lack skills. You have this massive corruption that favors a very thin elite in all of these countries. And now the United States, you know, I remember when the newly elected Obama went to Cairo for that historic speech.

BILL MOYERS: 2009, right.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Exactly, where he delivers this speech and he's says, you know, we're not-- no more business as usual by the United States. We're not going to align ourselves with these regional despots. We want to see reform, we want to see democratic reform. And what has he done now is he's re-aligned himself with these regional powers, with these regional despots, including the guy who this administration condemned for the coup that he staged in Egypt, overthrowing an elected government, albeit, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood and I'm talking about Egyptian President Sisi. I mean, he is now counted as part of this coalition. So if you are one of these young men who are looking at all of this and seeing and listening to the propaganda about Islam being under threat from the west, this Islamic State thing has an appeal. And if somehow Obama succeeds in degrading and eventually destroying the Islamic State, something will come along to replace it because those problems that create this phenomenon are not going to go away.

BILL MOYERS: But meanwhile the Islamic State is a threat to Saudi Arabia, a threat to Jordan, a threat to Qatar, a threat to Bahrain, those autocratic regimes you were talking about, a threat ultimately possibly to Egypt. So why isn't it an option for the president to have said or to say this is your doorstep, if you don't put billions of dollars you're earning from oil and all of those young men who are available into the fighting of the Islamic State, we're not going to be there. This is your fight.

MATTHEW HOH: Because our priorities for decades have been on military first solutions, not on political solutions. We have, as Jonathan said, we've embraced dictatorships. Backing ourselves out of those relationships is very hard in a Washington, DC where the climate of politics overwhelms everything else.

So you see President Obama, and I'm reminded of an article you wrote, Bill, five years ago on Lyndon Johnson's decision to escalate the Vietnam War and how Johnson at that point felt that there was no good was going to come out of that escalation, that there was no purpose in it. But how could he face down these senators if he didn't stand up to-- and I feel that President Obama has the same challenge. How does he not come across as being weak-willed or not tough on terror? The other thing, too, is that again we, for decades now this has been our policy. So how do you extricate yourself from that policy? We spend a trillion dollars a year on national security in this country.

And when you add up to the Department of Defense, Department of State, CIA, Veterans Affairs, interest on debt, the number that strikes me the most about how much we're committed financially to these wars and to our current policies is we have spent $250 billion already just on interest payments on the debt we've incurred for the Iraq and Afghan wars. So we're in this system that how do you start to break down, how do you start to dismantle, because the result has been these Frankensteins like the Islamic State.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the dilemma. The whole world has seen what ISIS is doing now. When you see evil playing out in front of your eyes: rape, beheadings, whole villages wiped out, don't you as a human being, as a free nation have to do something?

MATTHEW HOH: You have to remember that this is not a singular unique event occurred this summer, that all sides have been guilty of atrocities in this conflict. Half a million Iraqis have been killed in the war since 2003. To put that in perspective, in World War II, the United States lost 400,000 people, killed.

So if you look at the conflict now in Iraq and understand it as this continuing cycle of violence, this continuing cycle of retribution, this continue cycle of sectarian hatred that groups like the Islamic State ,which I characterize as a parasite of war, benefit from, how do you stop that cycle? Because as horrific as the killings have been this past summer, remember 10,000 civilians were killed in Iraq last year. How do you stop it from 20,000 next year?

JONATHAN LANDAY: When we look at the situation there and the utter horror with which, you know, we're focused on two videos of two Americans being killed. But there were other videos. There were videos where they killed 600 people. 600 young Iraqi, young Iraqi men. They've slaughtered men from a tribe in Syria that tried to resist them. Hundreds of them. And you say to yourself, as a human being, can we allow this to go on? And I think, you know, we're talking about the complexity of this. But it's really hard to put yourself in the shoes of the president of the United States who commands the only military in the world that's capable, perhaps, of stopping this.

Here you have this horrendous civil war in Syria, and I've been there twice now this year. And I have, you know, and I've covered a lot of war. I have never seen such urban destruction anywhere. Anywhere. I don't know how they're going to rebuild that country.

BILL MOYERS: Two to three million refugees, Syrian refugees and six and a half--

JONATHAN LANDAY: That's just outside of the country.

BILL MOYERS: --million inwardly--


BILL MOYERS: --displaced people--

JONATHAN LANDAY: It's nine million people displaced. But beyond that, and you see, like, street after street, town after town, just completely devastated. Infrastructure, bridges, roads, hospitals, schools, how are they rebuild that? How are you going to repatriate the two to three million people who are living outside of Syria?

I think something like 20 percent of the Lebanese population is Syrian now. How are you going to put that all back together again? If you allow that to continue, then you're looking at something that perhaps a disaster on an even greater scale.

So here you are as the president of the United States, preaching human rights, trying to repair as best you can this unbelievable damage that was done to the United States' reputation and its ability to wield soft power, diplomatic power, by the invasion of Iraq, by Guantanamo, by Abu Ghraib, by the CIA's torture program. And you say to yourself, I may-- I need to do something because you got the pressure on you as the only commander of a military in the world that can do something about it.

BILL MOYERS: But is it conceivable that the president, looking at the situation there, thinks that air power, that you can bomb the Islamic State into submission and oblivion?

MATTHEW HOH: I don't think he believes that. And I think he's said as much when he says that there's no military solution, only a political solution to these conflicts. However, I unfortunately, I feel that's just lip-service. And unfortunately, I feel that we are going to join in the violence in Syria without any end state. Without any goal. Without any ability to finalize some type of agreement that is going to bring about an end to the killing.

One of my favorite lines I've heard about our Syria plan is that it's not a strategy, it's a spending plan. That we are going to-- we have authorized $500 million to train 5,000 Syrian rebels, moderate rebels. And you've been in a lot of combat zones, and have you ever seen anything moderate in combat? You know, I mean, like--

JONATHAN LANDAY: No, there's no--

MATTHEW HOH: I mean, like, because I don't know where this term comes from. But this moderate-- and now we're going to train them at a cost of $100,000 for one guy, it's going to cost to train. $100,000 per person. And we're going to send them to Saudi Arabia, the people who have been training and fostering and helping a lot of these groups, like al-Nusra, which is the Al Qaeda organization, or the Islamic State that are now out of control, in response to a beheading video. Which to me makes no sense because Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 people in August.

BILL MOYERS: This past August?




MATTHEW HOH: One was for witchcraft or sorcery, several for drug possession. In Saudi Arabia, you can be beheaded for a whole list of offenses, including adultery and homosexuality. And--

BILL MOYERS: But these are our good allies in this--

MATTHEW HOH: These are--

BILL MOYERS: --new coalition.

MATTHEW HOH: And this is where I think a lot of us say, what are we doing here? This makes no sense. All we are going to achieve is perpetuation of this conflict. Now at least I think the Pentagon and the White House has been honest about that, this is going to take years. But what's going to be achieved? How are we going to achieve it? Are we just going to bomb? I think it's quite striking that the president said the model for these operations will be Somalia and Yemen. And then almost as soon as he said that, Yemen descended into utter chaos. Hundreds are dead on the streets of the capital of Yemen. The prime minister forced to abdicate.

And that's the model. So is this really our model for the Middle East that we are going to bomb countries, continuously, take part in civil wars, sometimes supporting one side, maybe supporting the other, with no means or no real desire or effort to achieve a peace?

BILL MOYERS: What are the options in Syria? I mean, I just wrote down what seems to me to be the conundrum. The jihadists want to control Syria, which is 70 percent Sunni, so they should have a natural constituency there, since they are Sunni.

To stop ISIS, mustn't there be a truce between President Assad and the rebels who are trying to bring him down and given the mutual hatred between Assad and the rebels, between the Sunnis and the Shiites, how can that political solution be found?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely and I think that's what kept Obama out of there for so long. You know, how do you deal with this incredible tangle of not just sectarian hatreds, but there's ideological differences between these groups, there's personal differences, that's why eventually I think the administration has all, despite what it says, all but given up on this moderate political leadership that it helped-- it crafted and has been living in-- on our tab in Turkey, has basically given up on this central command of the Free Syrian Army and has bypassed--

BILL MOYERS: I literally saw a reference in some major newspaper story the other day, said the moderately extremist militia--

JONATHAN LANDAY: Yeah, that sounds right.

BILL MOYERS: I'm serious.

JONATHAN LANDAY: And no, and again, I really think that that's what's kept him from intervening in Syria. And how he's going to be able to create these buffers between, okay, so we're going to bomb the Islamic State, but we're not going to help Assad by doing that. And we're only going to help these moderates.

And you know, I understand the conundrum. But then if you're looking at that part of the world, you're looking at the potential collapse of Iraq into this absolute chaos where this group is going to be able to expand, recruit, let's not forget its goal is not just stopping at Iraq and Syria.

They want Lebanon. They want al-Sham which is this region of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and parts of Turkey. But they have also said, they have also said before the Americans got involved, that eventually, they plan to go after Western targets too, Americans and Europeans. Let's not forget--

BILL MOYERS: You don't doubt that, do you?

JONATHAN LANDAY: No, not at all. In fact, we've seen evidence of this already. There-- I forget what the-- I think the latest estimate is 15,000 foreign fighters now are in Syria and Iraq, mostly fighting for the Islamic state, over a hundred Americans, over a thousand Europeans. I forget exactly what the number, the Brits are talking about, something like 400. They all have passports.

There is evidence indeed that this group is, if not planning, at least encouraging its foreign supporters to stage attacks. Now are these existential threats to the countries in which they're taking place? No, I think that has been so overblown.

The idea that these Islamic terrorists are an existential threat, particularly to the United States. No. They're more of a threat to the politicians who are in power who fail to stop these attacks. And yet, nevertheless the duty of these leaders are to protect their citizens. And I think that also to a certain extent drove Obama.

But you know, it's hard to put yourself in his shoes. He ran for election to be the leader of the United States. As a leader, you have to make some incredibly difficult decisions. Whether he's made the right ones in this case, we'll have to wait and see.


MATTHEW HOH: No, I think this is a very tragic mistake the president is making, intervening in these conflicts. I think it's giving the Islamic State exactly what they want. I go back to some of the guiding strategy that Osama bin Laden had. And bin Laden said, all we have to do is send two Mujahideen to the farthest point East, raise the flag of Jihad and Al Qaeda, and the American generals will come racing and exhaust themselves economically, militarily, politically. And I think that strategy has been successful. We're-- that cost for these wars are already totaled at $6 trillion at our lifetime.

We have suffered casualties much greater than I think the American people understand. There is the 7,000 dead, the 50,000 wounded, but of the two and a half million veterans who served, including myself, a third of us suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other type of mental health injury. We also have 250,000 veterans and service members who suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

So I don't think people understand the level of violence that we were talking about in these conflicts. And I think by jumping back-- let alone, again, the half million Iraqis killed, the tens and ten thousands of Afghan killed, the spillover effects with the war in Syria. So I think jumping back into these conflicts is a very tragic mistake. A very shortsighted mistake. And I think it plays right into the hands of groups like Islamic State that need sectarian tension. That’s why I think jumping in on one side of the conflict is-- it makes the-- exacerbates the problem.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I'm not sure this conversation was a good idea, because listening to you, both of you, I think, aren't we crazy to think we can untangle a mess like this and bring peace on Earth, good will to all men?

MATTHEW HOH: I think this is the lesson we learn from it. So stop our policy of trying to play one group against the other. I mean, this has gone back for decades. This is policy under Kissinger, under Brzezinski, of playing one ethnic group against another, playing one religion against another.

And for me, it's stop trying to pick sides in these conflicts. Stop rewarding one side with a lot of American cash at the expense-- I look at it this way. If you went into Kentucky and West Virginia, or wherever the Hatfield and McCoys were and you back the Hatfields, what would the McCoys do? They'd fight harder and they would try and find some other-- I mean, so stop-- and you don't even know why the Hatfields are fighting the McCoys. And so, I mean, it's a very simple way to say it, but stop getting in the middle of all these conflicts.

JONATHAN LANDAY: I think that, you know, to a certain extent, he's right. Matt's right. But I agree, the odds that we're going to be able to put, you know, to bring peace to the Middle East, no. But I don't even know if that's really, underneath everything, the goal. I think right now perhaps the goal is, let's just try and contain it and stop it from spreading. If we can do that, perhaps we can call that a success.

BILL MOYERS: We’re out of time for the broadcast, but we will continue this conversation online. Matthew Hoh, Jonathan Landay, thank you very much for being with me.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Thanks for having me.

MATTHEW HOH: Thanks, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: At our website,, more on the Islamic State and the international response. And our documentary, “Buying the War.”

Producer: Gina Kim. Segment Producer: Rob Booth. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Intro Editor: Donna Marino.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:19:11 -0400
Don't Blame Climate Change Deniers

MythicAmerica is on a forced hiatus while I deal with health problems. But over 300,000 people in New York City the other day reminded us all that no one's health will matter much unless we take care of the planet's health. So I felt moved to polish up a previously unpublished column and share these thoughts with you:

The old joke, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it," is no laughing matter any more. It's dead serious. Yet the United States seems politically paralyzed on this most vital issue.

It's easy to blame the climate change deniers. But it's wrong. In Gallup's most recent poll only 18% of us denied climate change. In a CBS poll, only 11% were outright deniers.

The vast majority of Americans are well aware that there's a real problem. More than four out of five agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening now or surely will happen soon. And a solid majority believe that what they read in the news about climate change is either accurate or underestimates the problem.

Nevertheless, Americans put the climate almost dead last on the list of problems facing the nation.

30% of Americans believe climate change is here or on the way but simply do not worry about it. Virtually the same percentage believe it's already happening or will in their lifetimes but doesn't pose any serious threat to them.

Another public opinion study, by scholars at Yale and George Mason (Y/GM), found Americans falling into rather clear-cut categories. The "Cautious" and "Disengaged" -- neither true believers nor deniers -- add up to exactly 30%. A sizeable majority of them believe climate change poses a high risk to future generations. Yet virtually none of them "have thought a lot" about climate change.

The biggest political stumbling block is not the deniers. It's all those ignorers. How can so many ignore what they know is coming?

The Y/GM study found one crucial reason: uncertainty about the facts. Though most of the ignorers see a danger looming, few are really sure that it's happening now. Only about a third of them think that scientists agree on the facts. About four out of five say they "need more information to form an opinion." Nearly all say they could "easily" change their minds.

Don't be too quick to blame the 30% though. Even those the Y/GM study calls the "High Involvement Public" show surprising levels of uncertainty and apathy. About two-thirds of the "Concerned" say they're sure climate change is happening now. Yet four out of five say they need more information to make up their minds and 70% could "easily" change their minds. And only a tiny 13% have thought about it "a lot."

Among the thin sliver of the public (16%) who are "Alarmed" -- who all know climate change is happening and poses a danger to future generations -- roughly half say they need more information, and nearly a quarter are open to changing their minds. More than one-third have not thought "a lot" about the issue, and only about a third have expressed their concern to any public officials.

Which means (I'm embarrassed to admit) that I'm a pretty typical American. For years I've written thousands of words on a wide range of subjects. Yet I've rarely addressed climate change, even though I've known that it's happening and poses unthinkable danger.

When I look in the mirror and try to figure out why I've avoided the issue, what I see staring back at me is that word unthinkable. When I write I try to be sure I know what I'm talking about. When it comes to climate change, the science seems so complex, so daunting, so far over my head that I hesitate to say or even think anything. I can never feel certain.

And I know that even the best scientists have to deal with uncertainty. They understand, as Elizabeth Kolbert recently noted in the New Yorker, that "while it is possible that the problem could turn out to be less serious than the consensus forecast, it is equally likely to turn out to be more serious."

That's why one of my friends, who is on the UN's Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, taught me long ago to call the problem "climate chaos." She and her colleagues are sure that climate change is happening. But they also know that the dangers to human life come from the unpredictable, erratic, and often massive weather events that it causes (like the storm that dropped some 20 inches of rain in just a few days on her neighborhood, triggering unprecedented flooding).

Moreover, my friend tells me, climate scientists have been talking about all kinds of uncertainties for years. Recently she organized a conference on "Uncertainty in Climate Change Research: An Integrated Approach," because "uncertainty is present in all phases of climate change research."

Even climate change philosophers deal with uncertainties that make our national conversation on the issue chaotic. Dale Jamieson points out that we can't be sure who to blame: "A lot of our thinking about policy tends to be oriented around a sort of good guy-bad guy polarization. Climate change is an issue that doesn't fit very neatly into that stereotype. ... We're all involved in contributing to the problem to some extent and we're all involved in suffering from the problem to some extent."

The noisy climate change deniers bear some of the responsibility, of course, but surely not all. The fossil fuel corporations are a big part of the problem, too. Yet, as Paul Krugman recently wrote, "it's not mainly about the vested interests. ... The monetary stakes aren't nearly as big as you might think."

Then there are the huge greenhouse gas emissions from poorer countries, especially China and India. Can we really say they are part of "the enemy" on this issue, when we Americans emit so much more per capita? Millions of us in the U.S. drive our cars, and use more energy than we need, every day. We have met the enemy and they is us.

The evildoers in this tale are such a vast, diverse, vaguely-defined mass of people they're virtually invisible.

If we think of carbon dioxide as the enemy, it's also invisible: "tasteless, odorless -- it doesn't present to our visual systems," as Jamieson says. David Ropeik, an expert on risk perception, agrees. The public doesn't worry because the threat "doesn't feel immediate/imminent. It doesn't feel...well...real. It's more of an idea, a concept, an abstraction."

And we can't even be sure how big a problem carbon dioxide is. Methane may be the major culprit here.

Moreover, the effects of climate change are creeping up on us so slowly that they, too, are largely invisible. If this is an apocalypse, it's an agonizingly gradual one, the kind we just don't know how to think about or even believe in, much less deal with.

All in all, when I try to grasp the chaotic truth about climate change, I think I've got good reason to feel unsure and confused.

So I ask myself: Is there anything I know pretty much for sure? I know that in politics "a narrative is the key to everything," as Democrat polling guru Stanley Greenberg once wrote. The Yale/George Mason scholars agree that if there's any chance of motivating the ignorers to get involved, new narratives are a key:

"Narratives foster involvement with a story and characters, and prior issue involvement is unnecessary for drawing the audience's attention. Memory of narrative content tends to be high ... and studies find that the persuasive effects of fiction can be as high as for non-fiction."

I know that the best politicians of every stripe -- from FDR to Reagan, from Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz -- are always great storytellers. Of course they aren't novelists. Though they may lie when it's useful, the stories they rely on most to get themselves elected and their policies enacted have to include some dose of real facts. Yet those facts have to be embedded in a simple, emotionally powerful narrative rooted in familiar cultural traditions.

The best politicians understand that shared stories are the glue that hold communities together. People cling to comfortable narratives because they want to cling to the other people in their comfortable group. Research now shows that even among the small minority who actually deny climate change, many probably know the scientific facts. They deny them mainly to reinforce their status as "true conservatives" -- the group bond that gives them a sense of identity.

Here's another thing I know pretty much for sure: The dominant narrative of climate change activists isn't working well enough. " We are absolutely certain," that narrative insists. "Virtually all scientists agree. Unless we act urgently we are doomed." What could be simpler or more emotionally gripping?

Nevertheless, this story has not in made much headway in the American political arena. The group Gallup calls "Concerned Believers" has held steady at only 39% for the last 14 years. And, as we've seen, not many of them are moved to consistent action or even apprehension. Hence the lack of political action.

Maybe that's because most of them, like the "Cautious" and "Disengaged," aren't impelled by a narrative that relies on a claim of absolute certainty. As long as climate change activists don't have any other kind of story to offer, they aren't likely to win any big political victories.

That doesn't mean the activists should throw out their prevailing narrative. Because here's another thing I know for sure: Every good political campaign needs niche marketing. There's still a sizeable minority of the U.S. population that believes the claims of scientific certainty, and they should hold on to their story.

The people I worry about are in all those other niches, the ones who will respond only to stories that begin with "No one knows for sure, but ..."

Then I ask myself, "Why worry?" I study and write about political narratives all the time. It should be fun to find some that allow for uncertainty. And it should be easy. In fact there's lots to choose from already.

A Republican stalwart, Henry Paulson, says flatly: "It is true that there is uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of these risks ... We'll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. " But "we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing." Good businessmen don't wait for certainty. They calculate the odds and then take action.

That story about benefits to the marketplace from an all-out attack on climate change is growing. And it's bipartisan. Tom Steyer, perhaps the nation's wealthiest climate change activist, funds Democratic candidates and NextGen Climate, whose slogan is: "Act politically to avert climate disaster and preserve American prosperity."

EPA head Gina McCarthy took a similar tack when she announced the Obama administration's proposals for limiting coal plant emissions: "The plan will create demand for designing and building energy-efficient technology ... It spurs ingenuity and innovation. ... All this means more jobs" -- regardless of how big the threat really is.

However it's a gamble whether such a naked bid to economic self-interest will have a big impact, when so many Americans often vote against their own best economic interests.

A recent experiment tested a more idealistic message. Conservatives, in particular, proved more favorable to safeguarding the environment when they were told that "it is patriotic." Most moderates and even many liberals may respond to that kind of call too.

The Pentagon has long been touting its version of that story. Its latest Quadrennial Defense Review "identified climate change as one of our most significant national security problems"; at least that's the way the commander-in-chief read the report. Obama agreed with the Joint Chiefs that "climate change could end up having profound national security implications."

Look at it this way, and suddenly uncertainty is even less of a problem. Whenever American public opinion has believed that a potential risk to our nation and our way of life loomed the horizon, no matter how small, we've never waited for absolute certainty. We acted first and got all the facts later.

Sometimes we've prepared for war -- and even gone to war -- no matter how slim the odds of real threat, because when it comes to protecting our homeland we take no chances -- as today's events in Syria and Iraq make painfully clear.

Risk analyst Ropeik is pessimistic. He thinks the patriotic vein won't be tapped deep enough to yield political results unless we "feel we were at war -- bullets-flying ... NOW 'I am in Danger' war." He might be right; the "Climate Patriots" meme has been around for several years without garnering very much attention (perhaps because it's been yoked to a meme of absolute scientific certainty).

But political narratives are germinating, unnoticed, all the time. Occasionally, unpredictably, one bursts into powerful prominence. People were talking about abolishing slavery, for example, for more than a century before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Christopher Hayes, for one, thinks we need a new abolitionism, though he knows it will be a tough fight.

Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt called on the nation (in his first inaugural address) to "wage a war" against the Great Depression as if "we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe," Americans have united to resist all sorts of non-military dangers -- poverty, drugs, cancer, and even fat -- as long as the campaign was dubbed a "war."

They've also learned to pay big bucks for research and development in wartime that led to all sorts of unexpected and profitable technological breakthroughs. So the economic benefit, patriotism, national security, abolition, and war stories might all fit together in a tale I suggested recently: a gradual apocalyptic transformation from the possibility of catastrophic risk to the possibility of a far better world.

On the other hand, maybe the best to hope for is an endless a war of containment, like the cold war. For decades most Americans assumed that the apocalyptic communist threat could never be vanquished; we'd be staving it off forever. National security was reduced to risk management in a world of permanent uncertainty.

Now the U.S. government is funding an international project treating climate change precisely as an exercise in risk management. These scientists call it "a problem imbued with deep uncertainty." Their first, still unanswered question is "How large are the uncertainties?"

All these narratives -- and surely there can be lots more -- can start with the words, "No one knows for sure. But why take chances?" Any one of them might, or might not, be a political game-changer.

In any event, looking over all the climate change narratives, there's one last thing I know for sure: The dominant story of the American mass media, "doom-sayers versus deniers," is far too narrow to reflect the true complexity of the political landscape.

So I say let a thousand narratives bloom. Or at least plant a thousand seeds, and see which ones bloom into political successes. No one can be certain about the future.

All we can do is keep nurturing all those stories and embrace the uncertainty. Because the political landscape of climate change, like the climate itself, is bound to be chaotic at least for a while. Right now, it seems to me, the more chaotic the better.

Opinion Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:11:22 -0400
The Obvious Relationship Between Climate and Family Planning - and Why We Don't Talk About It

2014 930 pill st(Image: Contraceptive pills via Shutterstock)Several years ago, Bill Gates keynoted a breakfast for Seattle-based Climate Solutions, a nonprofit focused on advancing the clean energy economy and driving practical, profitable solutions to climate change. Gates opened his speech with an equation. To paraphrase: Our carbon problem = persons x services x the energy intensity of services x the carbon intensity of energy. The number of people is growing, Gates observed, and we all want more services. While Americans arguably consume too many goods and services, billions of people currently living in dire poverty need more. He then spent the rest of the time discussing the last two factors in the equation.

Recently, Robert Engelman and Samuel Codjoe published an article at Grist titled, “Hey, UN: Climate Change and Population are related.” They pointed out the fact that the United Nations would soon be hosting back-to-back conferences about population and climate change respectively, and they lamented that neither conference would likely address the concerns of the other. “That will be a missed opportunity,” they said, “because scientific research increasingly affirms that the two issues are linked in many ways.”

Engelman and Codjoe are not the only ones asking for a more open conversation about the relationship between family planning, population, and climate change. Articles in The New York Times and The Huffington Post also call for an increased focus on this nexus, both as a climate-resilience strategy and a means of reducing atmospheric carbon. The Aspen Institute has estimated that voluntary family planning for all who want it could provide 8 to 15 percent of needed carbon reductions. David Wheeler and Dan Hammer at the Center for Global Development argue that putting climate dollars into family planning programs (to make up for expected shortfalls) compares favorably to many investments in low-carbon technologies.

It doesn’t take scientific research or the brain of Bill Gates to figure out that our impacts grow as our numbers grow — that gains in the efficiency of, say, air conditioners or cars can be swamped by the growing number of air-conditioned houses and cars on the road. Analysis of population trajectories and effects seems like an obvious and necessary part of the climate dialogue. But in recent decades, public talk about population has been taboo, even among people who are keenly aware of the issues. If we are to foster a broader conversation about global warming, one that includes discussion of population, it is important to remember why the topic has been largely off limits for so long.

During much of history, male-dominated governments and patriarchal religions have treated a woman’s childbearing capacity as means to a societal or economic end. During the Iron Age, when the Bible and Koran were written, females, including daughters and wives as well as slaves, were literally chattel. To writers of these texts, a woman’s primary value lay in her ability to produce offspring of known lineage for her husband and his family. Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation, echoed this sentiment: “Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children … If woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.” Some Christian leaders echo it still. America’s Quiverfull movement, as exemplified by the Duggar family, is a striking example.

As culture evolved, nation-state superseded kin and creed in terms of who or what might lay claim to a woman’s uterus. To this day, authorities sometimes exhort or coerce women to bear children as a service not only to husband and deity, but to country. Leaders may decide they want more workers, for example, or cannon fodder. Pronatalist policies are most common when leaders feel threatened by the economic or military strength of a neighboring region.

In the 20th century, a peak of pronatalist coercion occurred under Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose government (1965-1989) outlawed contraception, banned most abortion, and sometimes enforced these rules via mandatory gynecological exams. The movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a gut wrenching window into the lives of two young college friends under Ceausescu’s regime. Quasi-religious, quasi-political entities including Muslim theocracies and the Vatican also may pressure or coerce constituents to increase the birthrate. In August, after Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei expressed alarm over declining birthrates, the national parliament responded by banning surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

Since modern contraception first was developed, governments have also used intimidation, coercion, and force on the other side of the equation. China’s one-child rule is a well-known example, as is India’s early attempt to set and meet population targets with enticements including transistor radios and cash incentives and, when those failed, deceit. Less known is the fact that in the 1990s, Peru’s government sanctioned the coerced sterilization of close to 350,000 poor and indigenous women. In the United States, poor and minority women and inmates have been sterilized without free and full consent, or, sometimes, when they were too young to give consent. This is not ancient history; abuses like these have been documented as recently as 2013.

Today, state-of-the-art family planning methods called LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) are rapidly growing in popularity. These methods offer women an unprecedented ability to manage their fertility — to have children when they feel ready and only when they feel ready. On the Pill, which is 1960s technology with a few updates, one in 11 women gets pregnant each year. With a state-of-the-art “fit and forget” method like an IUD or implant, that drops below one in 500. Recent research in St. Louis and Colorado showed that when women are offered the method of their choice with no co-pay, most choose one of these LARC methods, and the rates of rapid repeat pregnancy, teen pregnancy, and abortion plummet.

Evidence keeps growing that these better contraceptives transform lives by improving maternal and child health, increasing education opportunities for young women and men, and helping families to thrive financially and psychologically. Based on this evidence, doctors, educators and social service providers are increasingly enthusiastic about these options. But women haven’t forgotten the dark and all too recent history of coercion, especially poor and minority women, and some communities and advocates are wary of the new methods and the enthusiasm. They are especially wary of any enthusiasm for solving societal problems by limiting women’s choices.

What if a woman wants to use a less effective method? What if she doesn’t know what she wants? It may be tempting for a provider to push whatever he or she thinks is best. And in the urgent press to solve enormous problems like poverty, hunger, or global warming, it may be tempting to treat a woman’s family-planning decisions as a means to a bigger end. It may be tempting, but it is wrong, and it doesn’t work. Yes, governments can and have forced the birthrate up or down, but only at a high cost in human rights and suffering, and with the added cost of undermining voluntary family-planning services.

The good news is that coercive population policies and targets are not only wrongheaded, they are not needed, because hundreds of millions of women want access to better family-planning methods that will let them delay, space, or limit their childbearing. In developing countries, more than 220 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraceptives. In developed countries, removing barriers to top-tier, long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and implants dramatically changes the rate of unintended pregnancy. Women have their own reasons for wanting contraceptives they can count on. They want to learn and grow, explore and contribute to the world around them, attain financial independence, and give their children the best possible shot in life. To borrow a phrase from poet Mary Oliver, each woman’s “one wild and precious life” is her own, and so are her reasons and goals for managing the wild and precious gift of her fertility.

This is not to say that health providers should be passive prescribers of whatever a woman might request, or that they should wait for clients to initiate family-planning conversations. It’s a provider’s job to be the expert on what technologies are available, including the risks and benefits of each, and it is a provider’s job to raise awkward and difficult topics. Every family-planning method has trade-offs and no one method works for all women, and ordinary women rely on their doctors to keep abreast of the options and make recommendations just as they would do in any other field of health.

Also we know that today, even in developed countries, many pregnancies result from inertia, impulse, inebriation, or some other factor that gets in the way of thoughtful, intentional life management. (Unfortunately, the fertility default setting is “on,” which means that when we aren’t paying attention or are dragging our feet or can’t decide, pregnancy can be the result. Some of the best modern contraceptives are game-changers precisely because they toggle the default, making protection the default and pregnancy an active choice.)

By using counseling techniques like “motivational interviewing” or “One Key Question,” providers can help women clarify their own preferences and even crystalize their long-term dreams and plans. Since so many births are simply the result of “go-with-the-flow” childbearing, it is important that educators and providers step up the conversations about family planning, opening this sometimes awkward topic in primary care visits, for example.

But all of these are client-centered approaches that respect the autonomy, dignity, agency, and intelligence of reproductive-age women. With women in the driver’s seat, improvements in care do produce a lower birth rate. But that is very different from providers or governments, even with the best of intentions, trying to force an outside objective. Vyckie Garrison, former leader in the Quiverfull movement, speaks eloquently about what it was like to have her childbearing be part of a social agenda (in her case driven by religion) and how this was abusive.

Human population has grown from 2 billion to more than 7 billion in the last 85 years, and policy makers do need to talk about the trajectories and the impact of population on war, food, water, health, fuel, climate, and more. They need to recognize that family-planning policies affect a host of other issues — that the question of whether women have reliable, safe, affordable, appealing contraceptive tools is a factor in infant health, family prosperity, education of girls and women, government budgets, and the functioning of our planetary life-support system. They need to be mindful about whether public policies or the structure of social services inadvertently nudge people to have more babies. They need to recognize that family-planning dollars are an upstream investment with known dividends and that empowering young women to make thoughtful, intentional childbearing decisions is a smart, cost-effective way to help ensure sustainable abundance for all. And they need to know that even in places like the U.S. and Canada, there’s a lot we can do right now to make a difference.

But as those policies are implemented, it is critical that we not forget how very wrong humanity has gone in the past when the life-giving power of a woman’s body became a tool in the hands of men on a righteous mission.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 11:52:03 -0400
Mobilizing Youth Through Hip Hop to Fight Climate Change

Please check back later for the full transcript.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 11:44:09 -0400
The Radicalization of Phil Donahue


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, and welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. I'm Paul Jay.

Our guest today is probably someone that helped create this show in a sort of way, Phil Donahue. He's not just a legend in broadcasting. He's one of the more important figures politically, I think, at least in terms of media. There's very few people in American media that stand up and stick their neck out and take a risk and even suffer the consequences for it. Well, Mr. Donohue's one of those people. And it's a privilege for us for him to join us here.

Thanks very much.


JAY: So here's a little bit of introduction. Phil Donahue's an Emmy Award-winning media personality. He's best known as the creator and host of the Donahue Show, which ran for 29 years on cable TV and I think was the longest-running talk show on TV, or still is. Still is? That's a funny way to phrase it. It is not on the air anymore, but it's still the longest running. Nobody has caught up to you yet, I believe.

DONAHUE: To my knowledge. I'm not sure.

JAY: So Wikipedia says, anyway. He also was the host of Donahue, which ran from July 2002 to March 2003, before msnbc canceled it because of his vocal opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. This was despite it being the most highly rated show at the time on msnbc network. He's also the codirector of Body of War, a documentary film about the struggles of an Iraq War veteran and antiwar activist, Tomas Young.

So, for those of you at home that don't know, although I think most of you that watch do know, we usually start with a personal segment, and that's what we're going to do with Mr. Donahue, kind of more about what helped shape his view of the world. And then we'll talk about his views on more recent events.

So you're born in 1935 in Cleveland.


JAY: You sort of come of age, consciousness of sorts, about nine, ten years old. I think that's about at the end of one war and the beginning of another. It's not very long before the Cold War begins, with McCarthyism and House Un-American Activities Committee.


JAY: What was the politics of your household like?

DONAHUE: We weren't desperately political. My parents certainly supported Roosevelt, although I recall my mother leaned Stevenson.

But I was totally American. I thought we were the best in all things. I thought I was blessed. I lived in a country that stopped Hitler's advance in Russia. I didn't really understand the help we had from Russian soldiers, but it was America who defeated Hitler and it was America who defeated the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. I wore a bill that said "Remember Pearl Harbor". My uncle was in the Battle of the Bulge. And I was a member of the one true church. I was Catholic. I was not only Catholic; I was Irish Catholic. So I'm born—by accident, at birth I'm born in the greatest nation on earth that wins everything, all its wars, is all good in all things—the Marshall Plan, Lend-Lease. And I'm a member of the one true church. Holy cow.

JAY: So this is deeply part of your identity.

DONAHUE: Absolutely, in the '40s, yes, when my wheels began to turn.

And I came of age really in the '50s. My Notre Dame college days extended from 1953 to 1957. I wasn't really savvy to McCarthyism till later. And I carried this superiority to my college education.

And then, around ten years later—I'm a slow learner, I have to say. I'm not proud of this. I remember I had a Ohio State University professor on my program for something I don't remember, on my television program. We were a local show in Dayton, Ohio. We began in 1967. And I remember I'm in the green room talking to him, and we must have been—we were probably talking about the war or something. And he said there's not a professor at Ohio State who supports this war.

JAY: Vietnam.

DONAHUE: Yeah. And that stunned me. I mean, at least this is how I remember it.

JAY: And how old are you?

DONAHUE: Well, let's see—'35, '45, '55, '60—I'm 30.

JAY: So the official—.

DONAHUE: Or 29, 30. Twenty-eight, probably.

JAY: The rah-rah American narrative is still your narrative.

DONAHUE: I'm suddenly thinking—yes. And I'm thinking, are we going to lose a war here? This can't be. Eisenhower, the '50s, I mean, MacArthur, Roosevelt. And suddenly this guy from Ohio State.

And after a while I looked up to suddenly realize that in many ways I was prepared for a world that never materialized. Nobody told us they were going to assassinate our president. Nobody told us we were going to lose a war. Nobody told us the Japanese were going to overtake us in automotive superiority. All of—and then the cities began to explode. The whole civil rights movement began violently. And in the first year we were on the air, 1968—we premiered in November '67. Nineteen sixty-eight, Bobby is assassinated, Martin is assassinated, and the cops beat up the kids in Chicago at the convention.

JAY: So what does that do to you?

DONAHUE: Well, first of all, we're doing shows on all of this. I mean, we were smart enough to grab these issues.

JAY: But you're learning as you go.

DONAHUE: Oh, my. And then I had Noam Chomsky on my program.

JAY: Actually, hang on for sec. We're going to show little clip of Noam Chomsky on Phil's show, 'cause Noam gives this analysis of the media. And you can see—you're not sure whether Phil looks a little skeptical or not at this, and it's interesting to—I want to hear you talk about that moment. So here's just a minute or so of Chomsky.


[Source: Pozner/Donahue]

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Now, in order to maintain those contacts, you'd better present the world a certain way, or those contacts are going to be cut off. You'll lose your opportunity to appear to have special insight, to have leaks, to be able to come across with a story a couple of hours before the next person, and so on. Now, there's an interplay here which requires power in order to maintain your own power. That's another factor over and above the just structural and institutional properties.

DONAHUE: Go along to get along.


JAY: What was that sounding like to you at this time?

DONAHUE: Well, I was rattled. You know, I didn't—at this time I wasn't aware of the importance of dissent and how American it was. And I sure didn't know the pushback that you got if you dissented. I was totally naive. But I remember saying to Chomsky, what are you trying to say? In some inelegant way like that. And he looked right at me and he said, never ever trust the state. And I'm thinking, what? I mean, I grew up in a church that prayed for America, prayed for the conversion of Russia.

JAY: It to some extent blessed the war in Vietnam,—

DONAHUE: Absolutely.

JAY: —and even blessed the dropping of the atomic bomb.

DONAHUE: And absolutely so. And Catholics voted for Nixon. And so I'm beginning to—my wheels are starting to turn. I mean, really I'm ashamed to admit how long it took.

But I also look back and realize how really blessed I was, really. I mean, if I were in the junior training program at Sears, I would never have been exposed to Black Panthers, to Louis Farrakhan, to Noam Chomsky. I mean, I was a very lucky man. I got an education available at no university.

JAY: It's also interesting that you could actually put people like that on your show back then,—


JAY: —'cause on mainstream media, there's very few shows that would even dare to have those kinds of guests today.

DONAHUE: Well, we're very proud of that history, and it is born out of my awareness that Dayton, Ohio, was not the crossroads of America. This is where we began as a local television show in November 1967. And so I concluded the only way we were going to—and we were visually dull. We had two talking heads. And we're competing with Monty Hall, who's giving away $25,000 to a woman dressed like a chicken salad sandwich and the spinning wheels, "Come on down!" and people screaming. And here I am talking to a guest, one guest per hour. So for that reason we put on Madalyn Murray O'Hair, for example, for our first—a Baltimoran: there is no God, there's no heaven, there's no hell, there are no angels. You know, my God, I mean, the building fell in in Dayton, Ohio. But everybody knew there was this show on.

JAY: And what about you yourself listening to this? I mean, you grew up in the one true church.

DONAHUE: Well, that's true. It wasn't easy. Locally we were—thankfully, we were local, so my mother couldn't see this in Cleveland, where I was raised.

But I was fascinated by the questions she raised. You can worship a pet rock. I don't care what you do. But you pay for it! I'm tired of paying higher taxes because you get tax benefits because of your so-called church. I mean, she would just—. And she was a guest—. You know, nobody goes for a beer during a hockey fight, and nobody left the Donahue show when Madalyn was on the program. And in many ways I admired her. I agreed with her. I don't think you should have a crucifix on the wall of a public school.

JAY: Now, you're now opening yourself, in terms of considering, exploring, thinking, ideas that challenge everything that goes to the core of who you were.


JAY: So—.

DONAHUE: Well, remember, I don't want to fail on the air here. And, by the way, the ratings went through the roof. No one had ever seen anything like this. We put a gay guy on on the third show.

JAY: Ordinary America wanted to hear these ideas.

DONAHUE: Women especially. I think, you know, ours was a mostly female audience, remember, 1967. And nobody was out in 1967. And I'm 16 years of Catholic education, including four in Notre Dame (I'm a graduate of Notre Dame University), where we were taught that we love the sinner but hate the sin, in the most—I later realized, a very condescending thing, in that the church was promoting homophobia more virulently than [any] other institution. And here comes this gay guy, and I am scared to death. I'm figuring they're going to think I'm queer, which is what we called them then. And I remember going to high school with guys who wanted to beat up queers. I never wanted to beat up a queer, but I didn't want to be with any queers. And now I got a queer right here on my program. And, of course, the phones are going crazy. The mail is coming in to the general manager. Mothers thought their children would catch it. Why are we aggrandizing this man? You know, you put him on television, it's like there's nothing wrong with being queer. I mean, this was how we—.

But the audience—the only thing that made us survive were two things. One, we were a local show. If we had started on the network, we never would have survived. Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose. We had no place to go but up. We couldn't go down. We were already down. And sponsors canceled and we had a real pushback. But the audience was so large that even the blue suits, who were terrified—and I was, too. I thought my career would be in jeopardy if—you know. And sure enough, the third call on the gay show, the caller said, "How's Phil look to you?"

JAY: So '68, '69, we're now getting to the height of the Vietnam War, the height of the civil rights movement, assassinations of not just Martin but many leaders of the Black Panthers. And as you're interviewing, you're starting to become aware of what the state, as Chomsky says, is doing to the antiwar movement.


JAY: So at what point do you say, yeah, what I grew up with ain't the truth?

DONAHUE: Yes, I did start to see the warts in all the—you know, Chomsky helped me with this—in all the institutions, including my own church, and certainly my government.

But I still was hiding behind my job. I remember watching the American Friends Service Committee in Dayton. The Quakers would stand downtown every Tuesday at noon at 3rd and Ludlaw, downtown Dayton, Ohio, just silently—I'm not sure they even had signs—just to silently stand there to protest the Vietnam War. And I remember admiring them and wishing that I could join them, sort of, but not really wanting to. I had already begun to develop a kind of a lefty image, which is not what you want to have if you're in media. And so I was able to say, well, I can't do that, because I have to keep my—I have to walk down the center of every issue and never reveal.

As the years went by and the show became much more successful—it took a while, but we finally grew, and from Dayton, Ohio, we wound up in over 200 American cities.

JAY: You said something a little earlier—I still could kind of hide behind my journalism hat or face. There's a point somewhere where you have to—I'm assuming the coin has to drop for you, where it's, you know what? I actually agree with these guys. I'm not just interviewing them anymore.


JAY: They're actually more right than they're wrong.

DONAHUE: Yes. I don't know exactly. I was active in a protest against the construction of a church in our suburban Centerville, Ohio, neighborhood. And we argued that Jesus isn't into stained-glass windows. We bused our kids. We sent our kids to a mostly black school downtown, where the paint was peeling off the walls. The textbooks were old, with Cardinal Spellman's imprimatur. And I remember because our school, Catholic school in the suburbs, had Martin Luther King in them. But certainly there were no blacks. We felt Catholics were raising another generation of racists. We were very committed and very righteous, probably, if I recall.

JAY: Who's "we"?

DONAHUE: The people who joined—the group with whom I was allied in, for example, the busing effort. We had to get a bus and we had meetings. People in our neighborhood thought we were going to sell to a black family, and we had to deal with that. And so my kids went downtown Dayton to St. James. We had black kids over to the house and scared everybody in the neighborhood. This would be—you know, you're talking late '60s, early '70s. My show had just begun.

JAY: So were you concerned? There's two things happening at the same time here. There's the radicalization of Phil Donahue politically,—


JAY: —and Phil Donahue is becoming a star. You've got what feels like a hit show coming here. And you must have known you might be getting a point where you might go on network, you might be going national. Is there a point where you have to decide, how far can I go, how can I stick my neck out?

DONAHUE: Well, remember, we were syndicated, which I came to understand and believe is the most honest way to distribute a television program. If they don't like me in Peoria, I'm still on the air in Indianapolis, or vice versa. In other words, one vice president while he's shaving can't cut me off the network coast-to-coast, goodbye, never see you again. Each station that carried the Donahue Show made the decision on their own, by themselves, free of any—. Will this bring in revenue for us?

JAY: When you start the show, you would self-identify, to use the terminology, as a true-blue American. Then, by the end of the '70s—I'm not saying you don't consider yourself an American, but would you call yourself a progressive American? Have you kind of become, politically,—

DONAHUE: I guess so.

JAY: —that you've come to some conclusions?

DONAHUE: I never—I didn't know—honestly, I never thought of conservative/liberal. I just didn't. And again another evidence of my own slow learning here. I found these programs, these issues to be fascinating.

JAY: Well, maybe if you'd been a little more savvy, you wouldn't have had the guts to put all these people on your show.

DONAHUE: That's possible, you know? I enjoyed talking to Louis Farrakhan. I enjoyed discussing religion and more war caused by the Prince of Peace than in any other—how was religion involved in this, and how, you know, religion makes you feel superior. I remember as a child thinking, I'm glad I'm not Episcopalian. Why do I have these divisions? And if I think I've got God and you don't, I can do terrible things to you.

JAY: And God loves America.

DONAHUE: Yeah. And I can patronize you. You know, I will say how much I love you, but I really don't respect you, because I have God and you don't. All of these attitudes and how they're shaped. What jingoism is. And much later I learned about the First Amendment and the Jehovah's Witnesses who wouldn't salute, and became fascinated with that issue and how the Supreme Court, after coming down and saying, you've got to salute, and expelled kids that didn't, came down and said, hey, this is—you obey your parents.

JAY: I'm going to do something, because, in short, you went on to have a fabulously successful show, you went on to make a lot of money, you met and knew the who's who of America, and you particularly got to know, from the inside—and you didn't grow up in the elite, but you got to know the American elite. And that's what I want to talk to you about in the next segment.

DONAHUE: Very good.

JAY: Who are they? What do they want? Are they fit to govern?

So join us for the continuation of our discussion with Phil Donahue on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 11:39:37 -0400
After Civilian Deaths, Human Rights Watch Says US Strikes on Syria May Violate Laws of War

As U.S. strikes on Syria expand, Human Rights Watch says a bombing last week on the town of Idlib should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war. The strikes killed at least seven civilians, including five children, in the early morning hours of September 23 in the village of Kafr Deryan in northern Idlib province. Local activists at the scene of the attack collected and videotaped the remnants from the weapons used in the strikes. Human Rights Watch reviewed the footage and identified the remnants as debris of a turbofan engine from a Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon that only the U.S. and British governments possess. "Witness accounts suggest that the attack on the village harmed civilians but did not strike a military target, violating the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or that it unlawfully caused civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage," HRW details. The group has called on the U.S. government to investigate the allegations and publish its findings. We are joined by Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for Lebanon and Syria.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Overnight, U.S.-led warplanes hit grain silos and other targets in northern and eastern Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks killed a number of civilians working at the silos. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation of possible unlawful U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria last week. According to the group, at least seven civilians, including five children, died in the early morning hours of September 23rd in the village of Kafr Deryan in northern Idlib. Local resident Abu Ossamah said the victims were displaced civilians who had fled the Assad regime.

ABU OSSAMAH: [translated] The military headquarters are far from the city, in the mountains. There are no military headquarters inside the city. All the people who were killed today were displaced civilians from Aleppo fearing the bombs of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

AMY GOODMAN: Local activists at the scene of the attack collected and videotaped the remnants from the weapons used in the strikes. Human Rights Watch reviewed the footage and identified the remnants as debris of a turbofan engine from a Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon only the U.S. and British governments possess. Human Rights Watch put out a statement reading in part, quote, "Witness accounts suggest that the attack on the village harmed civilians but did not strike a military target, violating the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or that it unlawfully caused civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage," unquote. The group has called on the U.S. government to investigate the allegations and publish its findings. On Thursday, two days after the attack on the village, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said there had been no "credible" reports of civilian deaths from U.S.-led strikes in Syria.

Well, for more, we’re going to Beirut, to Lebanon, where we’re joined on the telephone by Nadim Houry. He is the Human Rights Watch senior researcher for Lebanon and Syria and the director of the Beirut office.

Nadim Houry, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what you have found.

NADIM HOURY: So we were able to speak with three local residents in the village of Kafr Deryan, who told us that there were actually two separate strikes that evening on the village—one that hit, actually, a Nusra group of buildings outside the village, and shortly thereafter, missile strikes that destroyed two homes in the village, that killed seven civilians, as well as two men. There is some contradictory information about the identity of these two men. One person said they may have been Nusra, while others said they were civilians. This is what we know. We also were able to review photographs and footage taken from one of the activists on the ground. We were able to speak to him on Skype. He shared with us his footage from the site where the two homes were destroyed, and we saw evidence of the remnants of the Tomahawk cruise missile that was used on those homes.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about the significance of this, Nadim.

NADIM HOURY: Well, I mean, the first step is, what we need is more clarity exactly what happened. This is why we’re calling for an investigation. Right now, we’ve got local testimonies. The area is very hard for us to reach. It’s very dangerous, so we’re not able to go there ourselves. But we believe that the U.S. should disclose what information it has and should investigate, because there is credible information that civilians were killed and that these strikes may have been illegal, because there’s no evidentiary—evidence of any military target.

Secondly, I think that there’s a very important issue here to be discussed, which is these strikes are supposed to be about protecting civilians and countering terrorists. But if they are killing civilians, they are going to actually attract more support for groups like Nusra and ISIS in northern Syria, and ultimately will be self-defeating of any initiative to protect civilians. So I think it’s very important to have full transparency about these strikes and also to remember that, you know, really, they have to—the U.S., in its strikes, has to respect international humanitarian law, distinguish between civilians and military, but also take all precautionary measures to minimize civilian harm.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military is aware of the reports of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Syria, but skeptical of their accuracy. He told the Associated Press, quote, "We don’t believe that there’s much reason to be too concerned about any collateral damage, you know, to civilian property, that kind of thing. But on the civilian casualty issue, certainly we take that seriously, and we’ll continue to look at that and review that as we work through the damage assessment process." Is that enough for you, Nadim Houry?

NADIM HOURY: Not at this stage. You know, we still don’t know—you know, so we’ve got accounts coming from local residents saying there were two different areas targeted—one outside the village, one inside the village. The U.S. still has not disclosed what they were trying to hit. You know, the sort of dismissiveness that we’ve seen over the last few days is not very encouraging. Of course it may take time, but clearly, you know, this was very expensive weaponry that was used, so clearly they were trying to hit something. And it’s important to understand what it was and what measures are being taken to minimize the civilian harm.

So we’re hoping that the U.S. administration would give more details, would conduct an investigation and actually give their answers. And we have not come out with a definite answer about what was hit. We’re saying we’ve got very credible information from three separate sources indicating at least seven civilians were killed, including five children. We’ve got their names. We’ve got images for some of the victims. And we also have a video evidence that what destroyed these homes, where these kids were, was most likely a U.S. Tomahawk missile. Now, you know, the sort of burden shifts now on the U.S. Army to sort of say, "OK, these are the precautionary measures that we took, and this is why we think, you know, there’s no credible reporting that there were civilian casualties," because clearly we find the information to be credible.

AMY GOODMAN: Nadim, this report from Reuters today: "U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and wounding militants ... The aircraft may have mistaken the mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij for an Islamic State base," according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Do you have any more information on this?

NADIM HOURY: Not yet. We’ve seen the reports, and we’re trying to confirm the information. It’s very hard to reach people in Manbij these days. But what I can tell you is people in Manbij had—one person in particular had contacted us because they have a relative in that town, and they were very worried, because some relatives are actually being detained by the Islamic State, they’re civilians, and they were worried that the U.S. would be striking these prisons. So there’s a lot of fear in northern Syria today that some of these strikes will injure civilians. We have to investigate these particular claims about civilians being killed. But, you know, ISIS is not just present outside of towns. They have administration buildings in the middle of towns that they operate. Some of them are military installations. Others are being used by ISIS to administer the towns, including courts, including prisons, where they’re holding inmates and so forth. And we just have to, you know, gather more information.

But clearly there’s a high risk for civilian casualties, and this is why our call is for the U.S. to take maximum precautions to minimize civilian harm and to avoid, you know, any strike that would directly target civilians or a strike that would have a disproportionate impact on civilian victims versus the military advantage that would be had. I think this is very important for the lawfulness of these strikes, but also ultimately also very important for what the U.S. is trying to achieve in Syria at the end of the day. These sort of strikes will end up alienating a lot of civilians in northern Syria. But again, we still don’t know enough, and this is why we’re calling on maximum transparency from the U.S. Army.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the shifting alliances here? You have the Syrian president, Assad, voicing his support for any international antiterrorism effort. You have people struck being people who are fleeing from the Assad regime. Can you talk about what’s happening in Syria right now?

NADIM HOURY: Obviously, it’s very complicated. I think the first point to keep in mind is the issue is not just, you know, there are the good guys and the bad guys, and let’s figure out who the good guys are or not. We have seen, for example, the Assad regime, its army has committed systematic crimes against humanity. We have also seen some groups, such as ISIS and also the Nusra Front, commit crimes against humanity. We’ve also seen some rebel groups commit violations, as well, that are very grave. The key here is, you know, that a lot of these alliances are localized. What we’re seeing now is a lot of this, my enemy—you know, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. So we see the Syrian government is quite happy to see strikes coming down on ISIS, particularly Nusra, as well, while at the same time they’re clearly—you know, the U.S. government has made it very clear that they don’t consider the Assad government to be a legitimate partner in their alliance. We’ve also seen opposition groups, more mainstream groups, divided in their views. Some have welcomed U.S. strikes on ISIS, because they have also been attacked by ISIS, while others are afraid that what the U.S. strikes will end up doing is reinforcing Assad, the Assad government. So, yes, it is confusing on one level. But for us, the main guiding principle should be, at this stage, protection of civilians. I think if one keeps this principle in mind, it will actually clarify and make it easier to pursue certain priorities in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nadim Houry, I want to thank you for being with us, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher for Lebanon and Syria, director of the Beirut office, where he is speaking to us from in Beirut, Lebanon.

News Tue, 30 Sep 2014 11:31:23 -0400