Truthout Stories Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:53:23 -0400 en-gb Naomi Klein on Visiting the Vatican and the Radical Economic Message Behind Papal Climate Encyclical

Following the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, a major conference on climate change was held at the Vatican. Speakers included our guest, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We speak to Klein about her trip to the Vatican and the importance of the pope's message - not only on climate change, but the global economy.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Naomi Klein, journalist, best-selling author. Her most recent book is This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, out today in paperback. A documentary film directed by Avi Lewis based on This Changes Everything will be released in the fall.

Naomi, you have recently returned from the Vatican. Can you describe that experience? What were you doing there?

NAOMI KLEIN: So I was there at a conference that was convened by Cardinal Peter Turkson. And Cardinal Peter Turkson is—has been doing a lot of the speaking on the encyclical. It wasn’t convened by Francis, just to set that record straight. It was convened by the Cardinal Turkson’s office and also by the organization representing Catholic development agencies. And it was part of the rollout for the climate change encyclical. The organizers described what they were doing as building a megaphone for the encyclical, because they understand that it’s words on a page unless there are groups of people around the world who are amplifying that message in various ways. So there were people from around the world.

There were people there, for instance, from Brazil, who were talking about how the movements there that have been fighting large dams, oil drilling, fighting for more just transit, are going to be putting huge resources behind popularizing the climate change encyclical, buying radio ads, producing videos, creating teaching materials for every chapter of the encyclical, and really using it as an organizing tool. That was one of the things I was really struck by while I was there, was just how ready particularly the movements in Latin America are to operationalize the encyclical, if you will.

And they also talked about not wanting it to be domesticated, was a phrase I heard a lot, domesticated by the church. You know, there’s a way in which you can just take this document that is, you know, almost 200 pages and just take out the safest parts of it—you know, "Oh, we’re against climate change, and we all need to kind of hold hands." But, in fact, if you read the document, it’s very clear in calling for a different economic model, and it’s a challenge to what Pope Francis calls our throwaway culture. So they want to make sure that the parts of the encyclical that really do represent the deepest challenge to our current economic system and represent the most hope for the people who are excluded from the benefits of that economic system are really highlighted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last month, Pope Francis went on a tour of South America in his first foreign trip after unveiling the historic encyclical urging climate action. In Ecuador, he reiterated his call for social justice and environmental preservation.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] The goods of the Earth are meant for everyone. And however much someone may parade his property, it has a social mortgage. In this way, we move beyond purely economic justice, based on commerce, toward social justice, which upholds the fundamental human right to a dignified life. The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Pope Francis speaking in Ecuador. Naomi Klein, could you talk—you’ve mentioned in the past the significance of the pope’s origins in Argentina and the particular form that Catholicism took in Latin America. Could you talk about the significance of that and the kind of turn that you witnessed at the Vatican in the focus of this new pope and the church under his leadership?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure, Nermeen. Yeah, it was definitely striking that a lot of the people who are real players in the Vatican right now come from the Global South. As you mentioned, Pope Francis is from Argentina, and he is the first pope from the Global South. And Cardinal Turkson is originally from Ghana and is talked about as potentially going to be the first African pope. And you see the influence. There are a lot of people who have a history with liberation theology around this pope. He doesn’t come from that particular tradition, but there’s clearly an influence, because before he became pope, he worked with the Latin American Council of Bishops, which—you know, the form of Catholicism in Latin America is one that is more influenced by indigenous cosmology than perhaps in North America, and definitely in Europe, precisely because the genocide of indigenous people in Latin America was far less complete.

So, the first phrase of the encyclical, the first paragraph of the encyclical quotes Francis of Assisi, referring to the Earth as "sister" and as "mother," and then goes on to talk about Francis—Francis of Assisi, not Pope Francis—and it’s significant that Pope Francis chose the name Francis, the first pope in history to choose that as his name—how we ministered to plants and animals, and saw them as his brothers and sisters. And obviously, in there, you have echoes of indigenous cosmologies that see all of creation as our relations. And while I was at the Vatican, I did ask and, before and afterwards, talked to different theologians about whether there is any precedent for a pope talking—using this language of Mother Earth so prominently, and nobody could think of a single example of this. So, I think what is significant about it is that it is very much a rebuke to the worldview that humans have been put on Earth to dominate and subjugate nature. That is very clear in the encyclical. And the major theme of the encyclical is the theme of interdependence.

You also mentioned—or you played that clip where Francis talks about natural resources as being something that everybody has a right to. And this, of course, is a challenge to a pretty basic principle of private property under capitalism, that if you buy it, it’s yours to do with whatever you want. And that’s something else that’s very strong in the encyclical, is the idea of the commons, that the atmosphere is a commons, that water is a right. And I do think that you can see the influence of Pope Francis’s many years in Argentina. You know, he ministered in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and that’s somewhere where I spent some time doing reporting and filmmaking. And the outskirts of Buenos Aires, they have had one of the most catastrophic experiences with water privatization, where a French water company came in and put in the pipes, but then refused to put in the sewers. So every time it rains, there are these huge floods, and there’s even cases of bodies being washed up in the streets and in people’s basements, so—which is simply to say he knows of which he speaks. I mean, he has seen a very brutal form of deregulated capitalism introduced in the Southern Cone of Latin America, and he also understands that this is a form of capitalism that, in that part of the world, was imposed with tremendous violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, as we wrap up, very quickly, the pope is coming to the United States in September, but before that, he will go to Cuba first. Can you talk about the significance of the Cuba trip, and then, within the presidential race here, the pope landing in the United States?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think the timing of this trip is obviously going to be very awkward for several Republican candidates who are Catholic and understand that this is a very, very popular pope. He’s particularly popular among Latinos, and that’s a really coveted voting bloc. So, you know, picking a fight with this pope is not a very smart political move if you’re running for office right now.

And I met somebody while I was—I can’t use his name, because it was just—it wasn’t an interview situation. But I met a fairly prominent Catholic, while I was at the Vatican, from the United States, from a major U.S. organization, who said, "The holy father isn’t doing us any favors by going to Cuba first," by which he meant that there are a lot of people talking about how this pope is sort of a closet socialist, and by going to Cuba first, he was reinforcing that narrative. So I think for conservative Republican Catholics, the fact that this pope is going to Cuba first, but also because he has said such critical things about deregulated capitalism and everything he’s saying about climate change, is putting them into, frankly, uncharted territories. They really don’t know how to navigate these waters.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s President Obama’s birthday today. Do you have any particular birthday wishes for him?

NAOMI KLEIN: Amy, I had no idea. Thanks for telling me. And I wish him a very happy birthday.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, we want to thank you for being with us, journalist, best-selling author. Her most recent book is called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s out in paperback today. And she’s got a documentary film coming out. It’s directed by Avi Lewis, based on This Changes Everything. It’s out in the fall. She also, together with Avi Lewis, made The Take, about Argentina. Her past books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

When we come back, another journalist has been killed in Mexico, along with four women, in Mexico City. We’ll go to Mexico City. Stay with us.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Are Journalists and Activists Safe Anywhere in Mexico? Protests Erupt Over Killing of Five in Mexico City

In Mexico City, thousands of protesters are continuing to denounce the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. Espinosa, who worked for the leading newsmagazine Proceso, was killed by gunmen alongside human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women in an apartment in Mexico City Friday. Both Espinosa and Vera had been working in the southern state of Veracruz, which has seen increasingly deadly violence against journalists and activists. According to human rights groups, Espinosa's murder signals a new level of violence against Mexican journalists, as he may be the first to be killed while in exile in Mexico City. We go to Mexico City to speak with Sebastián Aguirre of the human rights organization Article 19 and Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy. We also speak to Andalusia Knoll, freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Naomi Klein: Obama Is Beginning to Sound Like a Climate Leader; When Will He Act Like One?

As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. But does the plan go far enough? We speak to Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which is out in paperback today.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. During a speech at the White House, Obama said no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than a changing climate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Climate change is no longer just about the future that we're predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it's about the reality that we're living with every day, right now. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. While we can't say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we've seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons. Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. As one of America's governors has said, we're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. And that's why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

AMY GOODMAN: Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from the 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. President Obama defended the regulations, which are expected to be challenged in court.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now our power plants are the source of about a third of America's carbon pollution. That's more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined. That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, and we're better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air. For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As President Obama spoke, the impacts of extreme weather could be seen across the globe. In California, more than 9,000 firefighters are battling more than 21 active wildfires. In Japan, temperatures topped 95 degrees on Monday for a record fourth day in a row. Heat records are also being broken across the Middle East. In one Iranian city, the heat index reached 164 degrees last week. Temperatures have been regularly topping 120 degrees in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Meanwhile, a group of scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, have warned that sea levels could rise as much as 10 feet before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced. The rise would make cities such as London, New York and Shanghai uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about climate change and President Obama's plan to cut emissions, we're joined by Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which is out in paperback today. She recently spoke at a Vatican climate change summit organized by Pope Francis. Naomi Klein joins us from Washington, D.C.

Naomi, welcome. Your assessment first of President Obama's plan that he unveiled yesterday at the White House?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, good morning, Amy. It's great to be with you, and Nermeen.

So I think that what we're seeing from Obama is a really good example of what a climate leader sounds like. You know, everything he's saying is absolutely true about the level of threat, about the fact that this is not a threat for future generations, it is a threat unfolding right now around the world, including in the United States. It's a threat that is about people's daily health, with asthma levels, and also about the safety of entire cities, huge coastal cities. So he's doing a very good job of showing us what a climate leader sounds like. But I'm afraid we've got a long way to go before we see what a climate leader acts like, because there is a huge gap between what Obama is saying about this threat, about it being the greatest threat of our time, and indeed this being our last window in which we can take action to prevent truly catastrophic climate change, but the measures that have been unveiled are simply inadequate.

I mean, if we look at what kind of emission reductions this is going to deliver, we're—you know, when you talk about emission reductions, we don't look at just one sector, just at electricity generation; you have to look at the economy as a whole. And what climate scientists are telling us is that relatively wealthy countries, like the United States, if we are going to stay within our carbon budget and give ourselves a chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, which is already very dangerous but is what the United States negotiated, under Obama—when they went to Copenhagen in 2009, they agreed to keep temperatures below two degrees warming, and, in fact, we're still on track for more like four degrees warming—if we were to stay below two degrees, we would need to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Those are numbers from the Tyndall Centre on Climate Research in Manchester. And this plan would lower emissions in the United States by around 6 percent overall—I'm not just talking about the power sector, but overall emissions by 6 percent by 2030. So compare what we should be doing—8 to 10 percent a year—with 6 percent by 2030. That's the carbon gap, and it's huge.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, Naomi Klein, in your view, why did President Obama choose to focus so much on the power sector and not on other equally important sectors?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look, it is an incredibly important sector, as he says. It's just that we have to do it all. And I think that this should be seen as a victory for the grassroots social movements that have been fighting dirty coal plants in their backyards, and the clean coal—the campaign that the Sierra Club has led over years now to shut down hundreds of coal plants. So this should be claimed, I think, as a grassroots victory. This phase of the plan is better than the last draft, in some ways, in that it's less of a gift to the natural gas sector and has more supports for renewables. It also has more supports for low-income communities for energy efficiency. It's inadequate, but it's still better than the last draft. There are parts of the plan that are worse than the last draft, because of pressure from industry and from states that are very reliant on coal.

But that's at—you know, the problem is not that this plan itself is bad. If this was announced in Obama's first year in office, I would be the first to celebrate this and say, "OK, great. So now let's bring on a carbon tax. Let's prevent leasing of new oil and gas and coal on public lands. You know, let's do the rest of the package. Let's have huge investments in public transit, and we'll really be on our way." But at the end of his two terms in office, or coming near the end, you know, frankly, this does not buy a climate legacy. It's not enough, because it isn't in line with science, and it also isn't in line with technology. I mean, the team at Stanford University under Mark Jacobson is telling us that we could get to 100 percent renewables, powering our entire economy with renewables, in two decades. So, if the scientists are telling us we need to do it, and the engineers are telling us we can do it, then all that's missing are the politicians willing to introduce the bold policies that will make it happen. And that's what we're missing still.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, during his speech Monday, President Obama also talked about his visit to the Arctic at the end of the month.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll also be the first American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where our fellow Americans have already seen their communities devastated by melting ice and rising oceans, the impact on marine life. We're going to talk about what the world needs to do together to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it's too late.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's President Obama. Can you talk about what's happening in the Arctic and the activism that's going on, from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, to prevent what President Obama has allowed—drilling in the Arctic?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it's extraordinary, actually, that he would be announcing this now, because what the world needs to do to save the Arctic, for starters, is to declare a moratorium on Arctic drilling. And the U.S. could be leading that effort, bringing together all Arctic nations to agree that this is untouchable, this is a no-go zone. And because that leadership is not there, and because indeed Obama has—is opening up the Arctic to drilling for the first time—we know that Shell has drilling rigs there right now, that they began the very preliminary stages of drilling on Thursday—and because his administration has failed to provide leadership on such a basic issue, I mean, Amy, it is the definition of insanity, it would seem to me, to be drilling in the Arctic for oil that is only available because Arctic ice is melting and it's now passable and ships are able to go there and do this.

The CEO of Shell, a few days ago, talked about how they are expecting to find oil underneath that melting ice that is an even bigger deposit than there is off the Gulf of Mexico. He described it as a huge play, but more significantly, he described it as a long-term play. It's unfortunate that the oil and gas industry describes all of this, you know, in the language of games, because obviously it's not a game, but they call it a play. And he says that they don't expect this to be in production until 2030. I mean, that is really striking, because by 2030 we should be really winding down our reliance on existing oil and gas infrastructure, not ramping up and opening up whole new fossil fuel frontiers.

And so this is what I mean about how Obama does not deserve to be called a climate leader simply because he has introduced what is a pretty good plan for cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants. I'm not saying that's not important. It's a step in the right direction. But simultaneously, he's taking some significant steps in the wrong direction with Arctic drilling, with—you know, he's overseen an explosion of fracking for gas. He's still waffling on the Keystone XL pipeline. You know, he's opened up new offshore oil and gas leases. So, you know, when you take one step in the right direction and five steps in the wrong direction, you're going in the wrong direction. You're not going in the right direction. And we have to be honest about this, despite the fact that he's under huge fire from the coal lobby right now.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the activists who have been trying to stop the drilling—


AMY GOODMAN: —that the Obama administration has provided license for—I mean, what was it? Forty people—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, in Portland.

AMY GOODMAN: Forty people were—40 people were hanging from the bridge. You had all these kayaktivists outside. Can you talk about how it is he can announce—as they are all being taken away, as activists are charged for doing the activism they do, he's announcing he's going to the Arctic.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, you know, frankly, if we want to look for climate leaders, climate leaders are the people who rappelled down from that bridge in Portland. Climate leaders are the people who have been taking to their kayaks in Portland, in Seattle, you know, 21-year-olds who have been trying to stop Arctic drilling with their bodies, they feel so passionately about this. People stayed on that bridge, hanging from that bridge, in order to block Shell's icebreaker, for 40 hours, and they did so despite the fact that Shell had gone to the courts and got an injunction and they were being threatened with huge fines. That is real leadership. That is real, moral action, standing up in the face of huge amounts of money and power and might-makes-right logic.

And we've seen this all over the Pacific Northwest. It's one of the ironies of the extreme energy era that we've been living in this past decade or so, where North America has been in the midst of this extreme energy frenzy, with fracking, mountaintop removal and tar sands oil. In order to get this stuff out, it's required that the oil and gas and coal companies build all kinds of new infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest, which is the part of the United States that is probably most environmentally aware, even militant. It's where a lot of the tree sits began. You know, you think about Portland and the history of anti-logging activism, tree sits. In that part of the world, there are a lot of people with deep history in this kind of activism. And Shell, I think, you know, just in order—just logistically, in order to get to the Arctic, they needed to use various ports in the Pacific Northwest as a parking lot for their machinery and also to get repairs done. And, you know, the Pacific Northwest has given them a very, very, very hostile welcome and made it clear that they don't want to be a gateway to this, frankly, suicidal action of drilling in the Arctic.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to be clear, to clarify this point, explaining what the activists were doing, the Greenpeace activists spending 40 hours suspending from a bridge in order to block the icebreaking ship commissioned by Shell from leaving for the Arctic, hundreds of activists gathering on the bridge in kayaks in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. They did temporarily stop the ship—


AMY GOODMAN: —but then, ultimately, the ship made its way and is now making its way to the Arctic.

NAOMI KLEIN: They stopped the ship for 40 hours. And, you know, I think sometimes this can be seen as a sort of a stunt or a token action, but it really isn't. You know, I was speaking with Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace, yesterday, and the really significant part of this is that there is a very small window when it is possible to do this drilling for Shell, because the period where the Arctic is sufficiently ice-free is just a few months. They have until late September to do this. So every day that they're delayed is one less day when they're able to look for this deposit that they claim is going to be a game-changing play. So this is more than token activism. Anything that slows them down is really significant. And these really are heroes.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton and President Obama's position on Keystone XL?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, Hillary, first of all, she was asked about drilling in the Arctic, and she said she was skeptical of it, which some people claimed as, you know, it was Hillary coming out against Arctic drilling. I think it's Hillary understanding that this is a very unpopular position. But just saying that you're skeptical or have doubts, which is another phrase she used, is not anything that she can be held accountable to. That's language that is slippery enough to get a glacier through, Amy. It's not a straight-up "no." She's also refused to comment, as you mentioned, on the Keystone XL pipeline.

And let me say, you know, Hillary Clinton's plan, green energy plan, that she unveiled a few days ago—we're going to get more details soon—is surprisingly bold. There's parts of this that the plan really gets right, in terms of the speed with which she's promising to roll out renewable energy. She's getting the yes part of this equation pretty close to right, in the sense that we need supports for renewable energy. But it's not enough, because if you look at a country like Germany, they have introduced a bold plan to support renewable energy, and in fact Germany now has what Hillary Clinton is promising she would do in the U.S., which is it has 30 percent of its electricity coming from renewables, but Germany's emissions are not going down fast enough, and in some years they've even gone up. And that's because in Germany that yes to renewable energy hasn't been accompanied by a no to fossil fuels. They've allowed a continued mining at very high rates of dirty coal, of lignite coal, the dirtiest coal on the market, and they just export it, if they don't have a market for it in the U.S.

And, you know, this is the problem with Hillary. She is willing to say yes to green technology, green jobs, but she is showing no signs of being willing to say no to the oil and gas lobby, which we know is funding her campaign significantly. So, as secretary of state, we know that there was quite a revolving door between the oil and gas lobby and her people at State and on her previous campaign staff. And I think there's real reason for concern about whether or not she would be willing to stand up to the oil and gas lobby on Keystone, on Arctic drilling, on any of these other issues.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, and when we come back, we want to ask you, Naomi, about what happened at the Vatican. You were there over July 4th weekend, one of the people—keynoters of this conference led by Pope Francis. This is Democracy Now! We're speaking with Naomi Klein. Her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, is out in paperback today. Back with her in a moment.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Our "Merciful" Ending to the "Good War": Or, How Patriotism Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

"Never, never waste a minute on regret. It's a waste of time."

- President Harry Truman

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

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

It does, however, apply remarkably well to the way many Americans think about that broader form of love we call patriotism. With rare exceptions, like the 1988 congressional act that apologized to and compensated the Japanese-American victims of World War II internment, when it comes to the brute exercise of power, true patriotism has above all meant never having to say you're sorry. The very politicians who criticize other countries for not owning up to their wrong-doing regularly insist that we should never apologize for anything. In 1988, for example, after the US Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, proclaimed, "I will never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."

It turns out, however, that Bush's version of American remorselessness isn’t quite enough. After all, Americans prefer to view their country as peace-loving, despite having been at war constantly since 1941. This means they need more than denials and non-apologies. They need persuasive stories and explanations (however full of distortions and omissions). The tale developed to justify the bombings that led to a world in which the threat of human extinction has been a daily reality may be the most successful legitimizing narrative in our history. Seventy years later, it’s still deeply embedded in public memory and school textbooks, despite an ever-growing pile of evidence that contradicts it. Perhaps it’s time, so many decades into the age of apocalyptic peril, to review the American apologia for nuclear weapons - the argument in their defense - that ensured we would never have to say we're sorry.

The Hiroshima Apologia

On August 9, 1945, President Harry Truman delivered a radio address from the White House. "The world will note," he said, "that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians." He did not mention that a second atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki.

Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a "military base," then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. US officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon’s power and so selected the "virgin targets" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could "show its strength" to the fullest. According to Stimson's diary, Truman "laughed and said he understood."

The president soon dropped the "military base" justification. After all, despite Washington's effort to censor the most graphic images of atomic annihilation coming out of Hiroshima, the world quickly grasped that the US had destroyed an entire city in a single blow with massive loss of life. So the president focused instead on an apologia that would work for at least the next seven decades. Its core arguments appeared in that same August 9th speech. "We have used [the atomic bomb] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor," he said, "against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans."

By 1945, most Americans didn't care that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not committed Japan's war crimes. American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of "yellow peril" racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of "savages" - "ruthless, merciless, and fanatic" people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true "civilians" and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America's willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William "Bull" Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, "The only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead six months."

In the years after World War II, the most virulent expressions of race hatred diminished, but not the widespread idea that the atomic bombs had been required to end the war, eliminating the need to invade the Japanese home islands where, it was confidently claimed, tooth-and-nail combat would cause enormous losses on both sides. The deadliest weapon in history, the one that opened the path to future Armageddon, had therefore saved lives. That was the stripped down mantra that provided the broadest and most enduring support for the introduction of nuclear warfare. By the time Truman, in retirement, published his memoir in 1955, he was ready to claim with some specificity that an invasion of Japan would have killed half-a-million Americans and at least as many Japanese.

Over the years, the ever-increasing number of lives those two A-bombs "saved" became a kind of sacred numerology. By 1991, for instance, President George H.W. Bush, praising Truman for his "tough, calculating decision," claimed that those bombs had "spared millions of American lives." By then, an atomic massacre had long been transformed into a mercy killing that prevented far greater suffering and slaughter.

Truman went to his grave insisting that he never had a single regret or a moment's doubt about his decision. Certainly, in the key weeks leading up to August 6, 1945, the record offers no evidence that he gave serious consideration to any alternative.

"Revisionists" Were Present at the Creation

Twenty years ago, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. At its center was to be an extraordinary artifact - the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But the curators and historical consultants wanted something more than yet another triumphal celebration of American military science and technology. Instead, they sought to assemble a thought-provoking portrayal of the bomb's development, the debates about its use, and its long-term consequences. The museum sought to include some evidence challenging the persistent claim that it was dropped simply to end the war and "save lives."

For starters, visitors would have learned that some of America's best-known World War II military commanders opposed using atomic weaponry. In fact, six of the seven five-star generals and admirals of that time believed that there was no reason to use them, that the Japanese were already defeated, knew it, and were likely to surrender before any American invasion could be launched. Several, like Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight Eisenhower, also had moral objections to the weapon. Leahy considered the atomic bombing of Japan "barbarous" and a violation of "every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war."

Truman did not seriously consult with military commanders who had objections to using the bomb.  He did, however, ask a panel of military experts to offer an estimate of how many Americans might be killed if the United States launched the two major invasions of the Japanese home islands scheduled for November 1, 1945 and March 1, 1946. Their figure: 40,000 - far below the half-million he would cite after the war. Even this estimate was based on the dubious assumption that Japan could continue to feed, fuel, and arm its troops with the US in almost complete control of the seas and skies.

The Smithsonian also planned to inform its visitors that some key presidential advisers had urged Truman to drop his demand for "unconditional surrender" and allow Japan to keep the emperor on his throne, an alteration in peace terms that might have led to an almost immediate surrender. Truman rejected that advice, only to grant the same concession after the nuclear attacks.

Keep in mind, however, that part of Truman's motivation for dropping those bombs involved not the defeated Japanese, but the ascending Soviet Union. With the USSR. pledged to enter the war against Japan on August 8, 1945 (which it did), Truman worried that even briefly prolonging hostilities might allow the Soviets to claim a greater stake in East Asia. He and Secretary of State James Byrnes believed that a graphic demonstration of the power of the new bomb, then only in the possession of the United States, might also make that Communist power more "manageable" in Europe. The Smithsonian exhibit would have suggested that Cold War planning and posturing began in the concluding moments of World War II and that one legacy of Hiroshima would be the massive nuclear arms race of the decades to come.

In addition to displaying American artifacts like the Enola Gay, Smithsonian curators wanted to show some heartrending objects from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, including a schoolgirl's burnt lunchbox, a watch dial frozen at the instant of the bomb's explosion, a fused rosary, and photographs of the dead and dying. It would have been hard to look at these items beside that plane’s giant fuselage without feeling some sympathy for the victims of the blast.

None of this happened. The exhibit was canceled after a storm of protest. When the Air Force Association leaked a copy of the initial script to the media, critics denounced the Smithsonian for its "politically correct" and "anti-American" "revision" of history. The exhibit, they claimed, would be an insult to American veterans and fundamentally unpatriotic. Though conservatives led the charge, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Smithsonian for being "revisionist and offensive" that included a tidy rehearsal of the official apologia: "The role of the Enola Gay... was momentous in helping to bring World War II to a merciful end, which resulted in saving the lives of Americans and Japanese."

Merciful? Consider just this: the number of civilians killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone was more than twice the number of American troops killed during the entire Pacific war.

In the end, the Smithsonian displayed little but the Enola Gay itself, a gleaming relic of American victory in the "Good War."

Our Unbroken Faith in the Greatest Generation 

In the two decades since, we haven't come closer to a genuine public examination of history's only nuclear attack or to finding any major fault with how we waged what Studs Terkel famously dubbed "the Good War." He used that term as the title for his classic 1984 oral history of World War II and included those quotation marks quite purposely to highlight the irony of such thinking about a war in which an estimated 60 million people died. In the years since, the term has become an American cliché, but the quotation marks have disappeared along with any hint of skepticism about our motives and conduct in those years.

Admittedly, when it comes to the launching of nuclear war (if not the firebombings that destroyed 67 Japanese cities and continued for five days after "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki), there is some evidence of a more critical cast of mind in this country. Recent polls, for instance, show that "only" 56% of Americans now think we were right to use nuclear weapons against Japan, down a few points since the 1990s, while support among Americans under the age of 30 has finally fallen below 50%. You might also note that just after World War II, 85% of Americans supported the bombings.

Of course, such pro-bomb attitudes were hardly surprising in 1945, especially given the relief and joy at the war's victorious ending and the anti-Japanese sentiment of that moment. Far more surprising: by 1946, millions of Americans were immersed in John Hersey's best-selling book Hiroshima, a moving report from ground zero that explored the atomic bomb's impact through the experiences of six Japanese survivors. It began with these gripping lines:

"At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk."

Hiroshima remains a remarkable document for its unflinching depictions of the bomb's destructiveness and for treating America's former enemy with such dignity and humanity. "The crux of the matter," Hersey concluded, "is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?"

The ABC Radio Network thought Hersey's book so important that it hired four actors to read it in full on the air, reaching an even wider audience. Can you imagine a large American media company today devoting any significant air time to a work that engendered empathy for the victims of our twenty-first century wars? Or can you think of a recent popular book that prods us to consider the "material and spiritual evil" that came from our own participation in World War II? I can't.

In fact, in the first years after that war, as Paul Boyer showed in his superb book By the Bomb’s Early Light, some of America's triumphalism faded as fears grew that the very existence of nuclear weapons might leave the country newly vulnerable. After all, someday another power, possibly the Soviet Union, might use the new form of warfare against its creators, producing an American apocalypse that could never be seen as redemptive or merciful.

In the post-Cold War decades, however, those fears have again faded (unreasonably so since even a South Asian nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India could throw the whole planet into a version of nuclear winter).  Instead, the "Good War" has once again been embraced as unambiguously righteous. Consider, for example, the most recent book about World War II to hit it big, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Published in 2010, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list in hardcover for almost four years and has sold millions of copies. In its reach, it may even surpass Tom Brokaw's 1998 book, The Greatest Generation. A Hollywood adaptation of Unbrokenappeared last Christmas.

Hillenbrand’s book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of World War II or even of the war in the Pacific. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a child delinquent turned Olympic runner turned B-24 bombardier. In 1943, his plane was shot down in the Pacific. He and the pilot survived 47 days in a life raft despite near starvation, shark attacks, and strafing by Japanese planes. Finally captured by the Japanese, he endured a series of brutal POW camps where he was the victim of relentless sadistic beatings.

The book is decidedly a page-turner, but its focus on a single American's punishing ordeal and amazing recovery inhibits almost any impulse to move beyond the platitudes of nationalistic triumphalism and self-absorption or consider (among other things) the racism that so dramatically shaped American combat in the Pacific. That, at least, is the impression you get combing through some of the astonishing 25,000 customer reviews Unbrokenhas received on Amazon. "My respect for WWII veterans has soared," a typical reviewer writes. "Thank you Laura Hillenbrand for loving our men at war," writes another. It is "difficult to read of the inhumanity of the treatment of the courageous men serving our country." And so on.

Unbroken devotes a page and a half to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all of it from the vantage point of the American crew of the Enola Gay. Hillenbrand raises concerns about the crew's safety: "No one knew for sure if... the bomber could get far enough away to survive what was coming." She describes the impact of the shockwaves, not on the ground, but at 30,000 feet when they slammed into the Enola Gay, "pitching the men into the air."

The film version of Unbroken evokes even less empathy for the Japanese experience of nuclear war, which brings to mind something a student told my graduate seminar last spring. He teaches high school social studies and when he talked with colleagues about the readings we were doing on Hiroshima, three of them responded with some version of the following: "You know, I used to think we were wrong to use nukes on Japan, but since I saw Unbroken I've started to think it was necessary." We are, that is, still in the territory first plowed by Truman in that speech seven decades ago.

At the end of the film, this note appears on the screen: "Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness. He returned to Japan, where he found and made peace with his former captors."

That is indeed moving. Many of the prison camp guards apologized, as well they should have, and - perhaps more surprisingly - Zamperini forgave them. There is, however, no hint that there might be a need for apologies on the American side, too; no suggestion that our indiscriminate destruction of Japan, capped off by the atomic obliteration of two cities, might be, as Admiral Leahy put it, a violation of "all of the known laws of war."

So here we are, 70 years later, and we seem, if anything, farther than ever from a rejection of the idea that launching atomic warfare on Japanese civilian populations was an act of mercy. Perhaps some future American president will finally apologize for our nuclear attacks, but one thing seems certain: no Japanese survivor of the bombs will be alive to hear it.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Tissue-Gate ]]> Art Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Did the SCOTUS Obamacare Ruling Open the Door for a Single-Payer System?

When the Affordable Care Act was first implemented, many (mainly Republican) states refused to set up health insurance exchanges, putting pressure on the federal government to run the exchange. The hope was that it would fail having to coordinate coverage for more than half the nation. When the exchanges largely functioned as they should, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the federal exchanges were not legal under the law. The suit eventually made it to the Supreme Court where the Court ruled that the exchanges were indeed legal and could continue. This prevented tens of thousands of Americans from losing their coverage.

It has also opened the door for more states to shut down their failing exchanges and rely on the federal government's.

The initial rollout of the federal exchange was less than smooth. Delays and technical issues had the site down and forced an extension of the initial enrollment period. As national attention focused on the federal website, the 14 states that chose to run their own sites were having varying degrees of success. All together these states, along with the District of Columbia, represented less than a third of the U.S. population. In the early months of open enrollment, however, these same states accounted for nearly half of all Medicaid enrollments and 75 percent of the private insurance signups. This was due in large part of the state run website exchanges outperforming the federal one.

Kentucky, the lone red state that decided to run its own exchange, had one of the most trouble-free experiences. Due to its simple interface, it far outpaced large exchanges in the number of enrollments, averaging almost 1,400 enrollments per week for private insurance and enrolling 29,000 in Medicaid in its first month of operation. As the exchanges got larger across the states, more problems would present themselves, largely due to the volume of visitors and issues regarding the exchange of data with insurance providers.

Still, for many states, the roll out was less than spectacular. The federal government spent more than $4 billion to help states set up their exchanges. There were myriad reasons why different state exchanges failed, but all were some combination of politics, poor planning, poor technological design (including hardware and software), and contractors that were not up to the herculean task of setting up a health exchange.

As a result, three of the states, Oregon, Nevada and Massachusetts, shut down their exchanges while they tried to rectify the problem and sent their residents to the website. Massachusetts has plans to reopen its exchange in the next enrollment period. Now nearly half of the remaining states are considering whether they want to continue their own exchanges and how. While some are continuing to have technical issues, for most it's due to costs from not having enough enrollees.

Hawaii and Colorado have not had enough enrollees to maintain the costs of the exchange. Hawaii will now join the federal exchange along with Oregon and Nevada for the upcoming enrollment period. Colorado is also considering dismantling theirs, but is looking at other solutions. For smaller states the costs can be prohibitive if there aren't enough people to use the exchange. Several are looking at options to reducing costs such as creating regional exchanges or pooling resources for administrative tasks such as call centers.

For larger states, like California which has one of the most successful enrollments and exchanges in the nation, they are much better off maintaining their independence, control costs, and offer a better range of plans. However, with the federal government handling enrollment for most of the nation, there it could be more effective for most states to use their exchange. This, of course, is exactly what opponents did not want.

After all, it would not be a huge leap to go from handling signups through one central system and having people pay directly to the government, instead of insurance companies, when they signed up. That would also give the government more buying power and control over the types of plans offered, lowering costs even further. Not to mention, they could make the rules as to what would be covered.

In other words, in a bit of karmic retribution, opponents' efforts to stop Obamacare has led to further consolidation with the federal government and may have just opened the door to their worst nightmare – a single payer healthcare system.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump: Hero of the Republican Base

Donald Trump, a Republican presidential hopeful, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, on July 18. (Photo: Joshua Lott for the New York Times)Donald Trump, a Republican presidential hopeful, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, on July 18. (Photo: Joshua Lott for the New York Times)

Last month we were told that our pass-the-popcorn moment - I mean, our long national nightmare - was finally over: Presidential candidate Donald Trump would implode now that he had dared to question Republican Senator John McCain's heroism.

But lo and behold, he's still hanging on to front-runner status for the Republican nomination. How is that possible?

The short answer is that the inside-the-Beltway crowd - not for the first time - confused its own perceptions with those of actual voters.

Inside the Village, Mr. McCain is a sacred figure. After all these years of being a conventional ideologue, he is still perceived as McCain the Maverick. And despite his warmongering, he's still considered a wise man when it comes to national security, and he is a near-constant presence on the Sunday talk shows. So the villagers expected everyone to recoil in horror when Mr. Trump ridiculed Mr. McCain's war record - you're only supposed to do that to Democrats.

But the Republican base really doesn't care very much. Whatever they may say, its members aren't all that impressed by military heroism. It's not just the treatment of John Kerry when he was running for president - think about how little Republican voters seemed to care when we killed Osama bin Laden.

And they really, really don't care about some old guy who lost an election.

Mr. Trump surely hurt himself a bit with his recent attack on Mr. McCain, but he still embodies the base's id in a way that the Village doesn't seem to understand.


Not surprisingly, Talking Points Memo's Rick Perlstein, our foremost expert on the rise of movement conservatism, has the best take so far on the Trump phenomenon.

As Mr. Perlstein says, nobody should be surprised to find that there are a lot of Republicans who are furious and won't take it any more: "This is important: Conservatism is like bigotry whack-a-mole," he wrote recently. "The quantity of hatred, best I can tell from 17 years of close study of 60 years of right-wing history, remains the same. Removing the flag of the Confederacy, raising the flag of immigrant hating: The former doesn't spell some new Jerusalem of tolerance; the latter doesn't mean that conservatism's racism has finally been revealed for all to see."

And crucially, a key part of conservative mythology is that the silent majority shares this hatred, and that it's only the liberal elite with its political correctness that is keeping Americans from saying what they know to be true. (It's similar to the constant trope from Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that anyone who disagrees with him is a "far-left" type, no matter how mainstream the person's ideas.)

So why shouldn't the Republican base rally around "The Donald"? The elite considers him ridiculous, but the base has been told again and again that the elite is corrupt and anti-American. The base has also been told again and again that it represents the true views of everyone except Those People. So why shouldn't its members go with someone who is their kind of guy, in style as well as substance?

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Obama Ramps Up Climate Battle, McConnell Readies Counterattack

Washington - Your move, Mitch McConnell.

The just-released Clean Power Plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a far-reaching attempt to cut the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the atmosphere, all in a bid to help curtail climate change. It's part of President Barack Obama's legacy-building climate change agenda, designed to make the United States an international leader in addressing the issue in advance of major talks set for Paris at the end of the year.

The plan's formal release comes with what the administration said will be an "all-out climate push" by the White House, with the president scheduled to hit the road to sell his vision for attacking climate change."Climate change is not a problem for another generation," the president says in a video the White House released this week to detail the plan's environmental and health benefits. "Not anymore."

And while he's on the road, McConnell – the Senate majority leader, a Republican from coal-rich Kentucky – will be doing whatever he can to undermine it.

McConnell laid out his case in a statement Monday on the Senate floor, saying that the rule would hurt workers and possibly even the environment, as energy production is outsourced to nations with poor environmental records.

"It represents a triumph of blind ideology over sound policy and honest compassion," McConnell said. "And in Kentucky, these regulations would likely mean fewer jobs, shuttered power plants, and higher electricity costs for families and businesses. I will not sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state's economy. I'm going to keep doing everything I can to fight them."

Even before the White House and the EPA came out with their plan, McConnell has been laying the groundwork for a major challenge to it. First elected to the Senate in 1984, McConnell became Senate majority leader when Republicans took over the body this year – and in that role, McConnell is in a key position to oversee the interests of his party's agenda as well as the needs of his coal-country constituents.

He joined a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this year specifically so he could oversee the EPA's budget – and the influence that agency has over his state.

"Leader McConnell's actions on this issue have literally changed the game," said Bill Bissett, president the Kentucky Coal Association, an industry group. "His 'just say no' policy that he's suggested to all 50 governors really moved the issue forward, and I think started a drumbeat of discontent."

Bissett added that the EPA expected "some response, some negatively, harsh letter-writing" – but nothing like it has received. "The EPA, we've heard, has been absolutely caught flat-footed regarding this criticism," he said.

The Clean Power Plan was announced in draft form in June 2014 and finalized this week. It's designed to shift power production from carbon-heavy sources such as coal to cleaner ones. That shift is already under way in many states, while other have – or will –struggle to do so.

The news this week is merely a continuation of a battle that's been underway for more than a year. On Monday, Obama and the EPA formally announced the final version of the plan, which differs in some details from the draft but keeps the same general structure.

It gives individual states carbon-reduction targets and lets them work alone or with neighbors to modify their mix of coal, natural gas and renewables such as wind to achieve those targets. The plan seeks to cut power-sector carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels.

"Just say no" is a reference to one of the strategies McConnell is using to try and derail the Clean Power Plan.

In a March letter to governors across the nation, McConnell said he has "serious legal and policy concerns" about the plan and that "it is the EPA that is failing to comply with the law here."

In the three-page letter, McConnell reviewed a list of reasons for what he said was the plan's questionable legal underpinnings and urged states to "carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan. I believe you will find, as I have, that the EPA's proposal goes far beyond its legal authority and that the courts are likely to strike it down."

Rather than submitting state-specific plans now, he said, states should allow the courts to rule on the merits of the overall Clean Power Plan.

That the plan will be challenged in court is a given, and as soon as the rule is formally published in the Federal Register some states and industry groups will pounce.

But Ann Weeks, senior counsel and legal director for the Clean Air Task Force, said it's clear the president has the authority to do what he's doing on the power plan. One recent U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged aspects of a separate EPA clean-air rule still let that basic rule stand.

"It's quite clear there will be challenges to what they do," Weeks said. "But that's always the case. Everything the EPA does is challenged in court. Everything. Always. But is there legal authority to regulate power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions? Yes. I think that's very clear."

Whatever becomes of the legal push-back, McConnell and others in Congress are employing another strategy to try and derail the power plan: tacking what are known as "riders" onto other pieces of legislation, seeking to force the administration's hand.

In a recent appropriations bill, McConnell inserted language that prohibits the administration from retaliating against states that don't submit a state implementation plan under the Clean Power Plan, thus effectively neutralizing it.

It's one of multiple riders on both the House and Senate appropriations bills that seek to hamstring EPA activities on the Clean Power Plan and other regulations. The White House has challenged those efforts, deriding "numerous highly problematic ideological provisions that have no place in funding legislation."

What the rider strategy is setting up is a game of climate change chicken, one in which Republicans in Congress are trying to make Obama back down from what is a key part of his legacy.

It's certain Obama would veto any spending bill with riders attached that kill the climate change plan, said Norman Ornstein, a centrist scholar on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.

And the Republicans don't have enough votes to override the president's veto, so a government shutdown could result.

"I don't see much chance at all that they can use the appropriations process to accomplish the goal," Ornstein said of the Republican strategy.

"I think the bottom-line reality of this is that all the leverage when it comes to these showdowns is with the president," Ornstein said. "Republicans, in the leadership at least, understand full well that if you shut down the government, they will get blamed."

McConnell could attempt to negotiate with the White House on a continuing resolution to keep the government running, offering to trade spending on other areas for an easing of the climate change rules.

But Obama is not likely to agree to that, and many Republicans – including senators running for president – won't support a deal for more spending, Ornstein said.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Concealed Carry" Magazine and a Plea to Reason

Screengrabs from the subscription page for Concealed Carry magazine.Screengrab from the subscription page for Concealed Carry magazine. (Images:'s sitting here on my desk, just to the left of my hand, in the shade of the potted plant, resplendent in the shine of daylight coming through the window, right there, real as raindrops ... but there is a part of my brain that simply won't accept the fact of its existence even as I pick it up and turn the pages.

I guess I should explain.

I took a run down to the store yesterday to grab some milk and other basic necessities. As I drove the dirt road, lightly dazzled by the dollops of sunlight slapping the windshield through the overhanging trees, my mind was a perfect void. I thought nothing, and was for that small stretch at genuine peace. I walked into the store, collected my items, and even gifted myself one of those terrible Slim-Jim meat-and-cheese combo packs that could kill a yak with cholesterol poisoning at 20 paces ... and then I passed the magazine rack.

There was Time, and Newsweek, and Vogue, and Glamour, and about nine different fishing magazines because this is New Hampshire, and then there was the thing currently haunting my desk. Bright yellow it was, titled CONCEALED CARRY 2015.

It had HOT NEW PERSONAL DEFENSE LOADS FOR 2015 across the top, HIDDEN COMFORT: HOT NEW CARRY RIGS in the corner, GREAT CARRY GUNS (GLOCK // SMITH & WESSON // SIG // HK // RUGER) across the bottom, and a giant picture of an FNS 9-milimeter dead center on the cover.

"Hot," twice.

I had to have it, just to prove it was real. Yes, the people who published the thing got six bucks from me, but it was unavoidable. I wasn't going to stand there with a gallon of milk in my hand and plow through it. I didn't even open it at first, but when I set it before the man at the register, he expected money for it, which I suppose is positive proof I wasn't hallucinating.

The very first page carries an advertisement for a belt designed specifically to carry a pistol holster; across the top of the page in towering bold print is DESIGNED TO CARRY THE CROSS. The last guy I've heard of who carried a cross was a pacifist from Nazareth who was too poor to afford sandals, so that's got to be one hell of a belt.

The "Contents" page greets you with a picture of a beautiful woman emerging from an SUV pointing a gun that's almost bigger than she is ... but because the producers of this magazine care about safety and stuff, her finger is notably not on the trigger. The list of article titles include "Editor's Shot," "Know Your Cartridge," "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Carry a Big Stick," "Carry Rigs," and of course, "Market Trends."

Most of the middle content is advertisements for pistols. The Editor's note, titled "The Mind Is the Weapon," comes off as reasonable at first, as it speaks highly of safety and training ... until you get to phrases like "deadly force" and "lethal force encounter," and you realize you're dealing with a level of sheer paranoia, in magazine form, that has no peer. What lawless hellhole do these people live in that makes them think they not only have to pack hidden heat at all times, but have to make a glossy magazine about it?

Fifteen people were shot in Chicago on Sunday, including a five-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. According to the report on the incident in the Chicago Tribune, "Ten people and a small dog were clustered on a porch right next to the scene. One woman tried to calm a crying baby by pointing out the flashing lights on parked police cars."

There have been 215 mass shootings in the United States since New Year's Day, shootings that have left dozens dead, hundreds injured, and have turned so many families into smoking craters. A 21-year-old shot up a church, and not so long ago, a 20-year-old shot up a grammar school ... and the leadership we get on this ongoing bloodbath is either Ted Cruz saying, "We define gun control real simple - that's hitting what you aim at," or total windswept cowardly silence.

This magazine here on my desk actually exists, as do the bodies that keep dropping and the blood that runs in the gutters. The time has come for reasonable people to lay themselves on the gears of this machine and force it to stop grinding. Being a gun owner is one thing, when done within the boundaries of the law. Looking the other way when toddlers shoot toddlers on nearly a daily basis, 15 people get dropped in one day in one town, and thousands more die upon the barrel every year is something else altogether.

The butcher's bill: tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of people have been shot in just the last few years, a great many of them are dead, and a great many of them were children. If you want to call yourself a responsible gun owner, take responsibility. Lead the charge against this utterly senseless carnage by deciding, here and now, not to be associated with this mayhem, and by demanding that people must be able to display a modicum of basic sense before buying amazingly lethal weapons one aisle over from the tube socks at Walmart. There are more guns than people in this country, so advocating for a process to collect and destroy these loose tools of destruction would also be a good place to start.

Defend your own reputations by defending the nation from this menace. Set aside the paranoid ethos represented by things like CONCEALED CARRY MAGAZINE. By doing so, you will not lose your rights, but keep and protect them, because sooner or later this rampant bloodletting is going to have actual consequences even for those who own guns responsibly. Be a responsible gun owner for real ... and someday, maybe, no more children will bleed out in the street with the stench of cordite in their nose.

It's up to you.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Feds Call for More Scrutiny of Nursing Home Errors Involving Blood Thinner

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths. In a memo, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

Nursing home(Image: Nursing home via Shutterstock)

Also see: Popular Blood Thinner Causing Deaths and Injuries at Nursing Homes

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths.

In a memo sent last month to state health departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a report by ProPublica and The Washington Post that focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

The analysis of government inspection reports found that, between 2011 and 2014, at least 165 nursing home residents were hospitalized or died after errors involving Coumadin or its generic version, warfarin. In some cases, homes gave residents too much of the drug, which caused internal bleeding. In other cases, they gave residents too little, leading to blood clots and strokes.

ProPublica's findings "highlighted the adverse effects of poor Coumadin management for our beneficiaries and nursing home stakeholders," Thomas Hamilton, director of CMS' survey and certification group, said in a written response to questions from ProPublica. "We wanted the public to have confidence that CMS is aware of this as well as other high risk medications."

In its July 17 memo, CMS – the federal agency that regulates nursing homes – also told state health departments that inspect nursing homes on its behalf about a new tool for identifying and reducing medication errors. The tool, developed with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is designed to help determine whether nursing homes are taking adequate steps to prevent mistakes and whether they respond appropriately if they occur.

Although Coumadin has clear benefits and is life-saving for those taking the right dose, a number of peer-reviewed studies suggest that it is can be dangerous if not closely monitored. A 2007 study in The American Journal of Medicine estimated that nursing home residents suffer 34,000 fatal, life-threatening or serious events each year related to the drug.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services identified Coumadin and other anticoagulants as a category of drugs frequently implicated in "adverse drug events" and called on government agencies to work on solutions.

"Adverse events related to high risk medications can have devastating effects to nursing home residents," the July 17 memo said. "We are very concerned about the prevalence of adverse events involving such medications."

Despite such evidence, Coumadin deaths and hospitalizations have drawn far less attention than other problems in nursing homes, including the use of antipsychotic medications. Such medications can put elderly patients into a stupor and increase their risk of falls.

Officials with the American Health Care Association, a trade group for the nursing home industry, said that they want to know whether the government intends to use its new medication error tool as a means to help nursing homes improve or a way to punish them.

"This document is written to detect stuff after the fact, to catch folks if they've done something wrong," said David Gifford, the group's senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs. "I'm a little worried about that. We'll wait and see."

About 1 in 6 of the nation's 1.3 million nursing home residents take an anticoagulant, according to federal data from earlier this year; the majority are believed to be on Coumadin or its generic.

Newer anticoagulants such as Eliquis, Pradaxa and Xarelto have entered the market in recent years and, in some ways, are easier to use than Coumadin. Patients taking these drugs don't need regular blood tests and don't have to avoid certain foods.

But unlike Coumadin, the effects of which can be reversed with vitamin K, there's currently no antidote if patients taking the newer drugs begin bleeding uncontrollably.

Janet Snipes, administrator at Holly Heights Care Center in Denver, recently discussed her home's approach to preventing Coumadin errors on a national call with other nursing home leaders. Nursing supervisors in every unit monitor a document that tracks each patient on Coumadin, their dose, the rate at which their blood clots, their ideal clotting rate, when tests are ordered, whether they have been performed, and whether doctors have been identified.

"If there's a mistake, we want a system in place so that it's caught," Snipes said. "People get busy and they forget things but if you have a system, then it gets caught."

This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400