Truthout Stories Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:54:48 -0500 en-gb David Petraeus Gets Hand-Slap for Leaking, Two Point Enhancement for Obstruction of Justice

As a supine Congress sitting inside a scaffolded dome applauded Benjamin Netanyahu calling to reject a peace deal with Iran, DOJ quietly announced it had reached a plea deal with former CIA Director David Petraeus for leaking Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information materials to his mistress, Paula Broadwell.

Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:

…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.

The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.

Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”

Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.

For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.

He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,

(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.

For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officers’ identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,

Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

David Petraeus is now proof of what a lie that statement was.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:30:36 -0500
Segregation's Insidious New Look

Racial segregation dominated the American residential landscape for generations. We can't afford, suggests the research of Stanford's Sean Reardon, to let economic segregation have anywhere near as long a run.

The world’s ultra rich, filmmaker Jacques Peretti observed last month, now inhabit “their own Elysium-style biosphere.” They live in “a floating bubble high above Earth,” a “chrome Business Class tube in the sky.”

Peretti was, of course, speaking metaphorically. The rich don’t really live in their own biosphere. They live on terra firma, just like the rest of us. But they don’t live with the rest of us. In our increasingly unequal world, those of high income live more and more apart.

Just how apart? And what does this apartness mean for the rest of us? Researchers like Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon and his collaborator Kendra Bischoff of Cornell have been exploring questions like these. Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati recently spoke with Reardon about our economic segregation — and why it so matters.

Too Much: Most people today hear the word segregation and think racial segregation. You’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about economic segregation. Why?

Sean Reardon: We’re concerned about racial segregation, in part, because of the economic segregation that goes along with it. Racial segregation often means that blacks or Latinos are unequally concentrated in poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods, with poor quality schools and institutions.

I’ve been worried that in an era of rising income inequality we may also be seeing rising spatial inequality economically. I worry about the consequences that this might have, particularly for children growing up in increasingly unequal neighborhoods.

Too Much: We can see racial segregation. Economic segregation we can’t see in the same way. How do you go about measuring economic segregation?

Reardon: A couple different ways. One is simple, and I’ve used it in research with Kendra Bischoff at Cornell.

First, for all metropolitan area neighborhoods, we computed the ratio between every neighborhood’s median family income and the overall metropolitan area’s median income. Then we used this ratio to classify neighborhoods as either poor, low income, low-middle income, high-middle income, high income, or affluent. And then we looked at what proportion of families live in neighborhoods in each category.

When we do that, we find that in 1970 about two-thirds of all American families lived in neighborhoods that rated as middle-income relative to the larger metropolitan region. And only about one in six families in 1970 lived in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

Today, about 42 percent of families live in middle-income neighborhoods, and about one-third live in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

So we’ve seen a shift — from two-thirds to 42 percent — of families who live in middle-income, mixed-income neighborhoods. Many more families today are living in either very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.  You can see this very dramatically in maps showing the economic composition of neighborhoods over time.

Too Much: Is this shift toward greater economic segregation easing or accelerating?

Reardon: Economic segregation increased a lot in the 1980s. It didn’t change much in the 1990s, but it’s grown a lot again in the 2000s. So we seem to be in a period where economic segregation is rapidly increasing.

Too Much: Did the crash in 2008 bring on this latest increase?

Reardon: The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — the ACS — isn’t sufficiently fine-grained, in a temporal sense, to let us now answer that question. To get a sample big enough to estimate each neighborhood’s income distribution, the ACS averages five years of data collection. So you can’t just look at 2007 before the crash and then look at 2009 because you always have a five-year moving average.

So at this point it’s hard to say what exactly happened as a result of the crash and what’s part of a longer-term trend.

Too Much: Just how does increasing economic inequality feed economic segregation?

Reardon: We have a market-driven housing world. With inequality in family income growing, families can afford to spend increasingly different amounts on housing. They end up sorting themselves more into neighborhoods that have housing at the price they can afford.

In the work that I did with Kendra Bischoff, we showed that in metropolitan areas where income inequality increased a great deal, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the most. In places where income inequality didn’t increase as much, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the least.

Too Much: So market dynamics help explain why the more affluent the affluent become, the more they live among their fellow affluent. Is there a social-psychological motor behind that growing economic segregation as well?

Reardon: There may well be. My research with Kendra Bischoff looked at housing patterns and their relationship to economic forces. But we don’t really observe people’s feelings or motivations. So I don’t have any evidence one way or another on that.

There is, however, some interesting new research from Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. She seems to be finding that increasing income segregation among families with children is driving most of the increase in income segregation.

Childless households — whether single people or elderly people or couples who don’t have kids — aren’t becoming that much more segregated from each other, according to Owens’ evidence.

It’s really families with children that are becoming more economically segregated, and this suggests that concerns about where children are going to grow up and what schools they’ll go to — and maybe who they’re going to play with — are interacting with income inequality to drive the patterns of income segregation.

Too Much: And that brings us to the notion that increasing economic segregation itself generates increasing economic inequality.

Reardon: We can imagine lots of ways increasing economic segregation could do that.

Increasing economic segregation means that kids from high-income families live with kids from other high-income families and go to schools that have more resources. They go on to do better in school and have a better chance at attending a good college.

We have evidence over the last few decades that the achievement gap — the test score gap — between students from high- and low-income families is widening, and maybe that’s related to these processes.

But I think there’s another less direct but maybe more insidious way that these things operate.

If high-income families increasingly live among other high-income families, and far away from middle class and lower-income families, then they may have less understanding of the plight of the middle class or the working class or the poor. They may be less willing to invest their resources in public goods — like schools and child care facilities and health care and infrastructure — that would broadly benefit everyone in society.

And so I worry that income segregation means that the affluent are increasingly sequestered in enclaves where they have little incentive to understand why we should invest in broad public goods that would help everyone. And since these affluent control the vast majority of our economic resources — and also a disproportionate share of our political resources — then their disinvestment from public goods has broad repercussions for our society. Kendra Bischoff and I wrote more about this possibility in a recent post.

Now we don’t have good evidence on the extent of this dynamic. It’s a tricky thing to trace. But it’s a potential concern that I think we should take very seriously.

Too Much: Let’s talk a bit more about your work on the achievement gap between black and white students and high- and low-income students. Fifty years ago, you’ve noted, the achievement gap between black and white students was almost twice as wide as the gap between high- and low-income students. Today’s income-achievement gap is more than 50 percent larger than the racial achievement gap. How directly do you think income and economic segregation is at play here?

Reardon: I think that many different forces, acting in concert, are determining these broad changes in racial and income achievement gaps. Economic segregation plays a role, but so do big changes in how much families invest in their young children’s education and educational experiences, growing disparities in family structure and family resources, maybe even the quality of schools.

So the growth of economic segregation may be part of the story, but I suspect there are many other parts of that story as well.

Too Much: Is income and economic segregation resegregating America along racial lines?

Reardon: No. If you look at residential patterns of racial segregation, they’ve been slowly declining over the past 40-plus years. Now some claim that these declines mean the end of racial separation, but that’s far from true. We still have enormous racial segregation in America, but it is running moderately lower than decades ago and has been steadily declining.

We’re not seeing upticks in racial segregation. We’re seeing slightly less racial segregation but more economic segregation. Those things don’t operate in tandem.

Too Much: We did, through the legal system, outlaw racial segregation in the United States. How can we attack the concentration of income and wealth that fuels economic segregation?

Reardon: That’s the billion-dollar question. We could outlaw explicit racial segregation because of the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment doesn’t apply to socio-economic status. So there’s little leverage there in the legal system.

We need the public and political will to create a society that’s founded more on equal opportunity and less on extremes in inequality and inheritance. You can attack inequality through the tax code and job creation and policies that support the middle class and things like that. You can alter patterns of segregation through housing policy, zoning policy, and investments in neighborhood public goods like schools, and parks, and community centers. You can’t do it through the Constitution.

Too Much: If levels of income and wealth inequality keep growing in the United States, just how economically segregated can we become? If current trends continue, what do you think the United States might look like 25 years from now?

Reardon: I don’t think it’s possible for inequality and economic segregation to continue to rise indefinitely. But things could get worse than they are. And we don’t want to have a society of gated communities and fortress communities.

Too Much: Is the discipline of sociology doing enough now to come to grips with the impact of growing economic inequality?

Reardon: I’d always like to see it do more, but we have a number of prominent sociologists who are addressing these issues, thinking about them, writing about them, worrying about them.

In some ways, issues of inequality have entered the public conversation over the last few years in ways they really haven’t for decades. We’ve always had sociologists concerned about these issues — and political scientists and economists and historians and so on. What’s different now? These issues appear more in the public discourse, and that means there’s potentially some appetite and political will to do something to remedy them.

Too Much: Where are your future research interests taking you?

Reardon: Many directions. I’m interested in the relationship between educational inequality and social mobility. I’m also interested in the great geographic variations we have on inequality.

Nationally, we can see patterns of increasing income segregation, increasing educational inequality by income, and slowly declining racial disparities. But different states, different cities, and different school districts show enormous differences in these patterns.

Trying to find places where the trends are going in a more positive direction — and trying to figure out what’s leading them in that direction — can help us think about broader policies that might help create broader economic opportunity for a much wider stretch of America.


Interested in delving deeper into Sean Reardon’s inequality-related work? You can find much of it now available online.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:05:13 -0500
Farmer Cooperatives, Not Monsanto, Supply El Salvador With Seeds

In the face of overwhelming competition skewed by the rules of free trade, farmers in El Salvador have managed to beat the agricultural giants like Monsanto and Dupont to supply local corn seed to thousands of family farmers. Local seed has consistently outperformed the transnational product, and farmers helped develop El Salvador’s own domestic seed supply–all while outsmarting the heavy hand of free trade.

This week, the Ministry of Agriculture released a new round of contracts to provide seed to subsistence farmers nationwide through its Family Agriculture Program. Last year, over 560,000 family farmers across El Salvador planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture, and ensure food security in the rural marketplace. Drought conditions across the country made access to seed all the more vital for rural livelihoods, making the seed packets supplied through the government program the primary means for thousands of families to put food on the table.

In 2015, rural cooperatives and national associations will produce nearly 50% of the government’s corn seed supply, with 8% coming from native seed—a record high. In the Lower Lempa, where seven farmer organizations have produced corn seed since 2012, this means over 4,000 jobs and income for rural households, primarily employing women and young adults. The public procurement of seed—or the government’s purchasing power through contracts—signifies over $25 million for a rural economy still struggling to diversify and gain traction.

The success of locally-bred seed varieties, compounded with their low production costs, allowed the Family Agriculture Program to contribute to historically high yields nationwide for corn and beans. Last year, more farmers produced more corn and beans at the most efficient yield per acreage than any other year over the last decade. This has also led to a significant adjustment in El Salvador’s trade balance on corn: Imports of white corn in 2014 were a full 94% less than 2011.

Producing seed locally was no small feat. It involved savvy farming techniques, better business practices, and advocacy. It also required a government willing to take a critical look at the transnational agribusiness model that dominates the farming sector the world over.

The previous administration under Mauricio Funes understood this model, and its impact on a relatively small agricultural market like El Salvador’s. It also understood how to break these cycles of dependence on foreign agribusiness, and simultaneously build a more robust private sector through the power of public procurement. In answering his call, growers’ associations, categorized as small or medium-sized enterprises, had a steep learning curve in providing seed to meet government standards, including germination, yield rates and packaging. They also had to conform to government contracting guidelines, a task that proves difficult to navigate for many small-medium sized enterprises.

Throughout this process, EcoViva and partners at the Mangrove Association labored to prepare local cooperatives to successfully bid for and execute these contracts for corn seed. Our efforts paid off: in 2014, El Salvador successfully sourced quality seed from 16 national enterprises. Over 20% of corn seed originated in local cooperative fields in the Lower Lempa region, and participating families saw their annual income double—while saving the government hundreds of thousands of dollars by providing affordable seeds. In 2015, that number has risen to nearly 50%.

Despite these successes, some questioned the validity of Salvadoran businesses providing seed. In 2013 and 2014, the United States Trade Representative and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center circulated an annual report that cited concerns about government purchases, including seed, under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Coincidental to these reports, the American Chamber of Commerce in San Salvador complained in the press that their members were being denied contracts for seed, and Salvadoran farmers denied a superior product. These members included Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer, whose affiliates had provided seed in the past to the Salvadoran government. CAFTA Chapter 9 outlines the standards for how contracting governments, such as El Salvador’s, can purchase goods and services. It sets the rules for open, competitive and transparent contract approval. It also stipulates that governments cannot discriminate against foreign businesses.

During the period questioned by the USTR, the government of El Salvador ironically conducted a contract process that allowed more businesses to provide a better product at a cheaper price. Prior to 2013, the Salvadoran government bought 70% of its annual demand from a Monsanto affiliate, purchasing a seed variety with no field trial validation and at a price over double that being offered by local seed producers. In 2014, EcoViva and allies proved that the Salvadoran government denied this affiliate a contract because its seed was expensive and lacked proper field trials- not because it was a foreign company.

Nevertheless, in 2014, the United States threatened to deny foreign aid to El Salvador unless it opened its seed contracts to foreign businesses, then stepped back when its power to use foreign aid as leverage on free trade standards was publicly questioned.  Today, the United States now says that it supports El Salvador’s current contract process on seed—a process in which national seed producers continue–as before–to offer a better, more competitive product.

Local seed producers like the Mangrove Association and cooperatives in the Lower Lempa can guarantee the government of El Salvador seed varieties that have better yields and lower prices than what is found in the transnational agribusiness market. Salvadoran businesses have learned to compete for and win government contracts, which allows small and medium sized enterprises to innovate and employ hundreds of people in rural communities. Improving the rural economy is critical for these areas, such as the Lower Lempa, that have high rates of unemployed young adults fleeing to the United States in search of jobs and opportunities. National cooperatives and businesses have also helped to protect El Salvador’s own seed lineage, and reduce the quantities of harmful chemicals applied daily to Salvadoran soil. It’s initiatives like these that provide a way forward for El Salvador and its domestic economy in a globalized trade environment.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:57:37 -0500
Virginia Gun Bill Shootdown Shows Little Learned From Virginia Tech

In a state that witnessed one of the largest massacres in the country only eight years ago, Virginia Republicans in the legislature are now blocking all gun control regulation — and instead are passing legislation that may actually weaken defenses against massacres.

They are showing a disregard for the 107 school shootings that have occurred nationwide just since Newtown, two years ago. Prevention was inadequate for Newtown (26 dead) in December 2012, Virginia Tech (32 dead) in 2007, and Columbine (15 dead) in 1999.

We remain at risk for the next mass shooting . . . and the next. We are paralyzed by self-inflicted wounds.

It starts with interpretation. The Second Amendment has a rarely referred to modifier, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state...” Gun supporters and the media solely quote the follow-on clause, “the right to bear arms,” as an individual entitlement of weapon possession. But unless someone is part of the National Guard, the military or regulated law enforcement, the Second Amendment gives no blanket right to a gun. Limitations are justified.

Last month there was a ricochet of gun legislation in Virginia as votes and re-votes were held on proposals from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, which legislators ultimately rejected. Despite polls showing Virginians in favor of stronger firearm restrictions, Republican bills went the opposite way, moving through committee permission for guns on school property and letting people with concealed weapons buy lifetime permits instead of requiring five-year renewals with background checks.

Without adequate legislation, events like the Virginia Tech shooting will continue to take place in large numbers in Virginia and all across the U.S., in contrast to the rest of the Western world. Compare the 30,470 U.S. gun deaths (including suicide) in 2010 to 903 in Germany, 1,864 in France and 155 in the U.K.

People do not buy firearms without seeing themselves using them. It is time that the number of deaths has the opportunity to subside. The Brady Bill’s background checks, signed by President Clinton in 1994, blocked 2.1 million gun purchases by 2010, including 1 million attempts by felons, and more than 100,000 by straw-purchasers (third party buyers).

In addition, Congress allowed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, another Clinton achievement, to expire in 2004. Mass shootings (defined by the FBI as four or more killed) have tripled since 2011 with a frequency of one massacre occurring every 64 days, according to a 2012 Mother Jones mass shootings study. Since the Assault Weapon Ban expired, the average number of assault-weapons massacres per year more than doubled. We are going in exactly the wrong direction

Common-sense restrictions proposed by McAuliffe and Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, would have kept guns away from perpetrators of domestic violence, reinstated a one-gun a month purchase limit, and closed the gun show loophole.

Other proposals rejected would have prohibited gun sales to individuals with violent histories and guardians negligent enough to allow their 4-year-old (or younger) to handle a firearm.

A 2013 CBS News/New York Times poll showed that 93 percent of gun-owning households support universal background checks for purchases, including 84 percent of households with an NRA member.

The Charlton Heston-Wayne LaPierre NRA leadership extreme positions do not represent most NRA members. (Remember Heston brandishing his rifle saying, “from my cold, dead hands?”) At what point will responsible gun owners prevent the irresponsible ones from abusing the privilege of ownership?

Gun advocates at the NRA argue gun restrictions are unnecessary since crime is down. In reality, the decline correlates with a 70 percent drop in crack cocaine over three decades, which can be attributed to strong drug enforcement.

Last month, the NRA claimed that “the nation’s murder rate has fallen to what may be an all-time low,” but a death count over 30,000 is by no means low.

America seems to consider gun murders simply the price of doing business, collateral damage. Because of the nonstop pro-gun lobbying, the media and public now care more about acting on hostages killed abroad than the sons and daughters of neighbors murdered at home. Shootings in the U.S. are routine in the news, and coverage ends after a single day.

Gun advocates’ shoot-down of legislation continues the protection of gun possession and disregards the high firearm death-count in America. How many more massacres can our country withstand? Will we stop the next mass shooting . . . and the next?

Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:47:47 -0500
Chicago Police Misconduct Payouts Topped $50 Million in 2014

The City of Chicago paid $54.2 million in settlements and verdicts for police misconduct cases last year, including more than $9.5 million in attorneys’ fees, according to an analysis of city law department data by The Chicago Reporter.

That’s more than the budget for the offices of the mayor, the city treasurer, the city council, the council committees and the department of human resources – combined.

Police misconduct complaints include those alleging excessive force, extended detention, false arrest, failure to provide medical care, illegal search or seizure, malicious prosecution and wrongful conviction.

The vast majority of payments came from settlements, which usually do not require the city or police officers to admit wrongdoing. Only 9 of the 161 police misconduct cases in 2014 were the result of jury verdicts.

Many of those who received payments last year filed suits against the city years earlier, with one lawsuit going back as far as 2004.

The only year since 2008 when the city has paid more for police misconduct than last year was 2013, when verdicts for five of the torture victims of disgraced Commander Jon Burge were paid out, totaling $34.3 million. The total amount of police misconduct payouts that year was $81.3 million.

Police misconduct complaints accounted for just 15 percent of all cases brought against the city that were settled last year, but more than half of all payouts. In total, the city paid more than $95 million to settle cases against police, fire, transportation, water management and other departments. Many of the cases were for car accidents involving city vehicles.

Police misconduct cases cost the city more than three and a half times that of other city cases, on average, or about $335,000 per case. However, that figure was skewed because of a small number of payouts that were $1 million or more. The median settlement amount, where exactly half of the cases are more and half are less, is $35,550.

The $54.2 million in payments to victims and attorneys in 2014 doesn’t include the amount the city paid its own lawyers to defend against the cases, which often name both the city and specific police officers as defendants. An analysis by the People’s Law Office showed that Chicago paid nearly $63 million to 11 outside law firms to defend the city and its police officers against allegations of misconduct from 2003 to 2012, or an average of $7.1-million per year. The 57 lawyers in the city’s civil rights litigation division, which defend the city and police officers is misconduct cases, have a budget of $4.6 million this year.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:39:28 -0500
US Population Turning Away From Organized Religion in Record Numbers

With fire-breathing religion figuring anew in global conflicts, and political discussions at home often dominated by the nuttery of the Christian right, you might get the sense that somebody’s god is ready to mug you around every street corner. But if you’re the type who doesn’t like to hang your hat on organized religion, here’s a bit of good news: in America, your numbers are growing.

There are more religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. today than ever before. Starting in the 1980s, a variety of polls using different methodologies have come to the same conclusion: people who do not identify with religious labels are on the rise, perhaps even doubling in that time frame.  

Some call them “nones”: agnostics, atheists, deists, secular humanists, general humanists, and people who just don’t care to identify with any religious group. It’s not exactly correct to call them nonbelievers, because some still have faith and spirituality in some sense or another. A 2012 Pew study noted that 30 percent of these people believe in "God or universal spirit" and around 20 percent even pray every day. But according to the latest research, Americans checking the “none of the above” box will make up an increasingly important force in the country. Other groups, like born-again evangelicals, have grown more percentage-wise, but the nones have them beat in absolute numbers.

The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute has documented this sea change in its American Values Atlas, which it released last Wednesday. The fascinating study provides demographic, religious and political data based on surveys conducted throughout 2014. According to PRRI director of research Dan Cox, "The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture."

Last year, for the very first time, Protestants lost their majority status in the Institute’s annual report, making up only 47 percent of those surveyed. The religiously unaffiliated, who come in at 22 percent, boast numbers on par with major religious groups like American Catholics. All told, the unaffiliated is the second-largest group in the country. It was also the most common group chosen by residents in 13 states, with the largest share (a third or more) in Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire. In Ohio and Virginia, this group was tied for first place. The unaffiliated don’t find too many like-minded folks down in Mississippi, however, where they make up only 10 percent of the population.

The study also found that there are 15 states where the unaffiliated constitute the second-largest group.

So what do we know about these people? Nones tend to be more politically liberal — three-quarters favor same-sex marriage and legal abortion. They also have higher levels of education and income than other groups. While about one out of five Americans is unaffiliated, the number is much higher among young people: Pew research shows that a third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who studies religion, thinks the trend among younger people is part of their general lack of interest in community institutions and institutions in general.

Last year, the Washington Post ran an article citing research by Allen Downey, a professor of computer science at Massachusetts’ Olin College of Engineering, who claims that people become nones mainly for two reasons: lack of religious upbringing (OMG those hippie parents!) and... the Internet. According to Downey, as much as 20 percent of unaffiliation is attributable to Internet use. He found that between 1990 and 2010, the share of Americans claiming no religious affiliation grew from 8 percent to 18 percent while the number of Americans surfing the Web jumped from almost nothing to 80 percent. But he acknowledges, as his critics are quick to point out, that correlation does not causation make.

One thing is certain: voting nones are making their presence felt in politics. They are thought to have helped Obama win a second term.

But the GOP doesn’t seem to show many signs of reducing the outsized influence of white evangelicals, who represent only 18 percent of the population, at least publicly. Just a couple of weeks ago, presidential hopeful Scott Walker could be seen refusing to answer a question about evolution, as if embracing widely accepted science would make him an apostate. Ordained Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee, also making noises of running, just released a book titled God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, which kind of makes the Lord sound like the Great Bubba in the sky. But on the secretive big money donor trail, which all serious candidates must follow, the only religion they'll be talking about much is free market fundamentalism. Your libertarians, your supply siders, and your various fatcats care a whole lot more about their bank accounts than any spiritual reckonings. Getting the government out of their way to leave them to their plundering is their holy scripture.

But when talking to voters, the GOP really can't afford to tone it down, because while monied elites tend to be secular, selling free-market pillage to the people getting robbed is not a very effective strategy. So they still have to mask their agenda behind appeals to popular religion so the non-rich will vote against their economic interests in places like Tennessee, which has the highest share of white evangelicals, at 43 percent. (White mainline Protestants account for 14 percent of the population nationally.)

As you might expect, the fact that religion is losing its grip on the daily lives of Americans is freaking a lot of people out. The New York Times’ David Brooks is quite alarmed, admonishing nones that “secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.” Of course, secularists only form one portion of the unaffiliated group, but considering that Mr. Brooks likes to wax on about the moral probity of America’s founders — your George Washingtons and so on — he might ask himself which box they might have checked.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:32:46 -0500
Obama's Veto of Keystone XL Bittersweet for Texans Forced to Allow the Pipeline on Their Land

As expected, President Obama vetoed the Republican bill attempting to allow TransCanada to finish constructing the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. While the veto received praise from environmentalists, along with encouragement to reject the pipeline entirely, the veto provides little consolation to those in Texas who already have the southern route of the pipeline moving Canadian tar sands under their land. 

“Don't get me wrong. I’m thrilled that President Obama owned up to his promise to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill today. But in the same breath I'm spittin' mad,” Julia Trigg Crawford, Texas landowner who fought TransCanada from taking her land by eminent domain but lost, told DeSmogBlog.

“Nearly three years ago, with the exact same data in front of him he decided to 'cut through the red tape and fast track' the southern leg of this project. Where was his 'climate test' then?” “Before the ink is dry on this veto, President Obama owes all of us in Texas and Oklahoma an explanation. Better yet, an apology.”

Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

In the constant clamor from high profile environmental groups for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, there is little mention that the president fast-tracked the southern portion of the pipeline. Nor do most people know that TransCanada is already transporting tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Protesters against the Keystone XL in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2013 in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. where tens of thousands rallied in against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Protesters against the Keystone XL in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2013 in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. where tens of thousands rallied in against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

The southern route of the Keystone XL, renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, connects to TransCanada's Keystone pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Oklahoma. The southern route of the Keystone XL was put into operation in January 2014. If the northern route were permitted, the company would be able to send more tar sands product over a shorter distance, but a ban on constructing the northern route does not stop pipelines across America from transporting tar sands to refineries and export terminals. 

While the battle to stop the Keystone XL's northern route was being waged, Enbridge, another Canadian corporation, created its own pipeline. Named “The Keystone Clone” by DeSmogBlog, it runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Like TransCanada, Enbridge connected lines to make a pipeline pathway from Canada to the Gulf with the intent of reaching the global market for tar sands producers.  

Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines make up “The Keystone Clone.” As Steve Horn reported for DeSmogBlog, Enbridge's “system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline system at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen ['dilbit’] to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.”

Michael Bishop, a Marine veteran, medical student, farmer, and partner in a bio-diesel engineering venture, resides in Douglass, Texas, where he is continuing to fight against TransCanada and the government for putting the Keystone pipeline on his property. He thinks the president's veto of the bill was theater.

“Congress has no legal authority to permit this pipeline in the first place, ” Bishop told DeSmogBlog.

Michael Bishop flies his flag upside down to show his property is under distress while TransCanada installed the Keystone XL pipeline on his land in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Michael Bishop flies his flag upside down to show his property is under distress while TransCanada installed the Keystone XL pipeline on his land in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Keystone XL pipeline being installed on Mike Bishop’s property. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Keystone XL pipeline being installed on Mike Bishop’s property. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Some of the President’s concerns about the northern route of the pipeline are in line with the objections Bishop has that continue to fuel his battle against the southern route, which he’d like to see dug up. “Either Obama fast-tracked the southern route for political gain, or he is bi-polar,” Bishop said. 

“President Obama has violated my civil rights. He has put one class of people over another. How can he protect Nebraska and ignore Texas?” Bishop asks. 

Acting as his own lawyer, Bishop has challenged the US Army Corps of Engineers, alleging it didn't give Texas equal protection under the Clean Air and Water Acts as it did Nebraska, where the Keystone XL route was rerouted away from sensitive aquifers.

In his pending lawsuit, Bishop alleges:

“The Corps yielded to political pressure and expedited the permit in violation of federal environmental regulations. The state didn't do the kind of environmental impact study that was done in Nebraska, which resulted in the pipeline being re-routed away from the aquifer. The path of the southern pipeline portion goes through the Texas Ogallala Aquifer, which is also classified as an 'ultra-sensitive area’ by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Texas was not given equal protection under the law.”

Warning sign for the Keystone XL Pipeline in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Warning sign for the Keystone XL Pipeline in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

The recent ruling by Nebraska judge Mark Kozisek, denying TransCanada the right to condemn land using eminent domain, and a ruling in the Court of Appeals in Beaumont, Texas in favor of David Holland that reversed a lower court’s ruling that gave Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas LLC the right to use eminent domain, strengthen Bishops case.

“These rulings indicate landowner rights are now being seriously considered by the courts,” Bishop said.

Kathy DaSilva, a spokesperson for Tar Sands Blockade, an environmental activist group, thinks those who are serious about protecting the environment from climate change must look beyond President Obama’s gesture. “We are only talking about one segment of one tarsand-bearing pipeline being blocked,” DaSilva told DeSmogBlog.

Kathy DaSilva (second from right) at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Kathy DaSilva (second from right) at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

“The EPA makes clear that the completion of the northern segment of the KXL pipeline would be detrimental because the extraction, transport, refining and use of tar sands oil would result in an extreme increase of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, ” DaSilva said. “It is time to hold our government accountable for the EPA's findings. The extraction, transportation, refining and usage of tar sands needs to end now.”

Eleanor Fairchild, labeled an “eco-terrorist” by TransCanada after she and Daryl Hannah blocked land-clearing machinery on Fairchild's property in Winnsboro, Texas, sees President Obama’s veto as a victory.   “That they stopped even part of the pipeline is a win,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Eleanor Fairchild inspects the easement on her land in Winnsboro, Texas while TransCanada prepares to install the pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Eleanor Fairchild inspects the easement on her land in Winnsboro, Texas while TransCanada prepares to install the pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Fairchild thinks President Obama should have put his foot down against the Keystone XL long ago.

“I don't like that Obama came and blessed the southern route of the project,” Fairchild said. But, she acknowledges, “the pipeline would have been built here anyway since Texas and Oklahoma had already approved it.” 

Fairchild takes comfort knowing TransCanada cannot transport as much tar sands through America as it wanted to, but doesn't think that will put a dent in curbing climate change. “We need to look at the bigger picture and stop all tar sands developments,” Fairchild said.

Obama’s main reason for vetoing the bill is that it came from Congress. In his memo to the Senate, the president made clear the approval process needs to go through the State Department. The president reserves the right to approve or reject the northern route of the Keystone XL.

Protesters in Austin, Texas February 17th, 2013 at the same time thousands rallied in Washington DC against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Protesters in Austin, Texas February 17th, 2013 at the same time thousands rallied in Washington DC against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:24:00 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Climate Change Could Wipe a Remote Alaskan Village Off the Map, and More

In today's On the News segment: Thanks to warmer temperatures and higher oceans, the people of Kivalina, Alaska, must move their entire town or be wiped out by storm surge; environmental groups say that we must keep pushing to keep Keystone from becoming reality; police can now generate an image of a suspect's face using only DNA left at the scene of a crime; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest & green news.....

You need to know this. When he was elected, President Obama told us to push him. Well, it looks like we may have pushed hard enough when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, the president vetoed a Congressional bill that would have completed the construction of that pipeline. The veto was only the third of President Obama's six-years in office, and it is being celebrated by environmental groups and activists. However, those groups say that we must keep pushing to keep Keystone from becoming reality. May Boeve, the Executive Director of, said that the President's action is "conclusive proof that activism works." At a celebration outside of the White House she added, "After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we're thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil." But, the President's veto only stops Congress from trying to go around the State Department, which still holds the power to issue a permit for the pipeline. Annie Leonard of Greenpeace said, "The State Department needs to put the final nail in the coffin of Keystone XL, so we can focus on the real opportunity ahead: building America's new, clean energy economy." Tens of thousands of people – if not more – have been involved in the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline, and their protests, letters, actions, and even arrests likely pushed our president to issue this veto. We acted together to take on Big Oil, and we have achieved another victory in the war to protect our planet. Now, let's keep up the fight, keep the pressure on, and keep Keystone from being built once and for all.

We all know that constant stress in bad for our health, but until now, most of us couldn't explain why. According to a recent article in Science News Magazine, chronic stress causes lingering inflammation and so-called "genetic twists" that throw cells off of their normal, healthy course. Over time, those effects cause changed in our immune system, which actually make it harder for our body to heal. The article explains that our natural reaction to sudden stress can be a good thing, like a burst of hormones that we may experience when we're in danger. However, day-to-day stress makes our body release a steady stream of stress hormones that act like a poison. This is why issues like poverty, unemployment, recurring pain, or family tension actually make people sick, or make it harder for us to recover from an illness. Few of us have the ability to remove stress from our lives, but we can all improve how we deal with such situations. The science is clear, to stay healthy, we should all find a little time to chill out.

If you still have any doubts about climate change, perhaps you should take a visit to the remote Alaskan village of Kivalina. But, you may want to check in with that town to see if it's still in the same location. Thanks to warmer temperatures and higher oceans, the people of Kivalina must move their entire town or be wiped out by storm surge. That town lies on a tiny barrier island off Alaska's northwest coast, and it's home to about 400 residents. Kivalina has been populated since at least the mid-1800s, and it had been protected by sea ice, which prevented most storm surge from reaching the island. Back in the fall of 2004, residents realized that they were in big trouble when that sea ice hadn't yet formed, and since then it's been a race against time to move their community. The tiny whaling community has tried to figure out where to move and how to come up with the $100 million it's going to cost them. So far, their attempts have failed. Colleen Swan, who was born and raised in the tiny community, said, "We need to get off this island. We can't stay here. It's not an option anymore." Hopefully, the town can find answers to these tough questions, and find a new home before our planet gets any hotter.

Investigators are no longer limited when they don't have an eyewitness to a crime. According to a new piece in The New York Times, police can now generate an image of a suspect's face using only DNA left at the scene of a crime. While the sketches are not fool proof, genetics can already indicate hair and eye color, and may soon provide age, skin color, baldness, and other characteristics. Supporters of the new technology say that it could help solve crimes, opponents worry about the accuracy of DNA-based sketches, as well as privacy and profiling concerns. Erin Murphy, law professor at New York University, said, "This is another of these areas where the technology is ahead of the popular debate and discussion." She explained that this technology could completely dissolve "that firm boundary" of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. Although it may seem like science fiction, this technology is here and it's time to have a debate about police analyzing our DNA.

And finally... Forget the soy, camel milk may be the next big thing for people who don't drink cow milk. According to, camel milk is low-fat, highly nutritious, and lactose-free. The Oasis Camel Dairy has been in business for about 15 years, but federal law prevents them from selling milk to the public. The farm survives by selling specialty products like soaps and lotions, but some Amish farms are able to sell milk to stores like Whole Foods. However, camel milk is probably too expensive to really catch on. Because camels are difficult to breed, and they don't produce much milk, you'll pay $18 a pint to give camel milk a try. That's pretty pricey for most Americans, but who knows what the cost would be if camel milk was subsidized like cow milk. For now, we'll have to take the word of camel farmers that camel milk is the next big thing. I'll stick to the hemp milk and skip both the cow and camel.

And that's the way it is for the week of March 2, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:39:30 -0500
Have You Told Your Colleagues You Are Not a Terrorist Today?

Cross-posted on Defense One.

Mary Ellen Callahan is not a terrorist. But her intelligence community colleagues routinely called her one because she tried to do her job as the chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. In a recent interview, Callahan gives a personal account of the challenges she faced when trying to apply privacy protections to intelligence collection programs:

Intelligence officials have gone to great lengths to avoid public accountability. Under Director John Brennan, the CIA stonewalled and spied on congressional investigators examining its torture program, then threatened them with criminal prosecution. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper falsely denied that the NSA collects data on millions of Americans during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. These are just two of many examples of deceptive behavior designed to resist democratic oversight of intelligence activities. Clapper has argued that his “least untruthful” response was necessitated by his obligation to protect the secrecy of the critical national security programs he was responsible for managing. The public needn’t worry about the lack of sunlight on intelligence activities, officials , because vigorous internal oversight mechanisms ensure that intelligence agencies do not abuse their authority.

So it is more than disheartening to hear that members of the intelligence community would act in such a childish and unprofessional manner toward a fellow government official assigned to conduct this difficult but critical duty of internal oversight. Callahan served as the chief privacy officer and chief freedom of information officer at DHS from March 2009 to August 2012, and held some of the highest security clearances our government offers. Her job was to examine DHS policies and review its performance to ensure that as DHS officials pursued their important missions, complied with their legal obligations to protect the privacy of those they interacted with, and provide public accountability. Fulfilling these requirements is not optional in a democratic society; it is an essential part of good governance for any agency. Yet for performing her duties, her colleagues regularly called her an agent of the enemy. This experience revealed troubling attitudes within the intelligence community regarding their attitudes toward the laws governing the behavior of its agents.

It should be no surprise that people working in national security have a tendency toward overzealousness. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned in 1928 that “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” The more crucial the mission and the greater secrecy in which it is carried out the greater the potential for abuse, even among the most well-intentioned workforce. This is the reason we have internal oversight mechanisms like privacy officers embedded within these intelligence and security agencies.

The DHS privacy office was created by statute, making it one of the most powerful in government. Callahan describes the scope of her work:

Yet even with the advantages her office held, her concerns for the proper resolution of privacy issues were met with disdain by officials so singularly focused on their anti-terrorism duties that they lost sight of other essential values they are bound to protect. It is one thing to vigorously pursue an important national security mission, but quite another to view constitutional limitations on government as a scheme of the enemy.

An example of an inter-agency struggle Callahan valiantly fought but lost was her attempt to resist amendments to the National Counterterrorism Center’s guidelines proposed by the attorney general and director of national intelligence. These new guidelines, which were implemented in 2012 despite Callahan’s protest, authorized the National Counterterrorism Center to ingest any federal government database wholesale, despite containing personal information of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing, if its director determined it might also contain some terrorism-related information. Callahan describes the problem with the intelligence community’s excessive information sharing practices.

Unfortunately, the unreasonable resistance Callahan faced performing internal oversight was not unique.

Clark Kent Ervin served as the first inspector general at DHS, from January 2003 until December 2004, when his recess appointment expired after the Senate Homeland Security Committee failed to schedule a confirmation hearing. Ervin had been the State Department inspector general the previous year, so he brought that experience plus a firm belief that independent oversight is essential to ensuring the success of Homeland Security’s mission. Ervin talks about the role of oversight in ensure intelligence programs are run within the law and in a way that protects our civil rights and liberties.

As he wrote in his book, Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack, Ervin recognized the difficult challenge DHS Secretary Tom Ridge faced in leading a new department cobbled together from existing parts. But he felt his responsibility as inspector general was to assist the DHS mission by ensuring that its programs and operations ran as effectively and efficiently as possible. His audits discovered serious deficiencies in port and aviation security, as well as waste, fraud and abuse in many other DHS programs. Rather than appreciate his identification of these security gaps, Ervin discovered that DHS management saw him as “a traitor and turncoat.”

In their interviews, Callahan and Ervin are both quite gracious in laying the blame on human nature, rather than the government officials who disparaged them. They point out that no one likes being criticized or having someone looking over their shoulder, so while the resistance they met was unfortunate, it was understandable. Instead, their frustration was one of principle — that their colleagues did not recognize the value that oversight measures add to their shared mission of providing the best and most cost effective security possible, while still complying with their legal obligations to protect privacy and civil liberties.

But identifiable weaknesses in human nature can, and should, be addressed through effective leadership. Ervin’s experience at the State Department, where Secretary Colin Powell embraced the inspector general’s role in securing public trust in foreign policy, stood in marked contrast to his experiences at DHS. Similarly, Callahan reported receiving strong support from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which helped her win four of five internal battles she brought to Napolitano for resolution.

The open disdain that Clapper and Brennan display to their congressional overseers sets a poor example for the intelligence workforce. Their contempt for constitutional restraints ensures another generation of internal watchdogs will be maligned, rather than embraced as a necessary corrective to waste, error, and abuse.

For edited transcripts of the interviews of Mary Ellen Callahan and Clark Kent Ervin, click here.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:11:59 -0500
Noam Chomsky: Opposing Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel's Goal Isn't Survival - It's Regional Dominance

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in the United States as part of his bid to stop a nuclear deal with Iran during a controversial speech before the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Dozens of Democrats are threatening to boycott the address, which was arranged by House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House. Netanyahu’s visit comes just as Iran and six world powers, including the United States, are set to resume talks in a bid to meet a March 31 deadline. "For both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the hawks in Congress, mostly Republican, the primary goal is to undermine any potential negotiation that might settle whatever issue there is with Iran," says Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They have a common interest in ensuring there is no regional force that can serve as any kind of deterrent to Israeli and U.S. violence, the major violence in the region." Chomsky also responds to recent revelations that in 2012 the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, contradicted Netanyahu’s own dire warnings about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb, concluding that Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons."


AARON MATÉ: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Washington as part of his bid to stop a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu will address the lobby group AIPAC today, followed by a controversial speech before Congress on Tuesday. The visit comes just as Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., are set to resume talks in a bid to meet a March 31st deadline. At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Netanyahu’s trip won’t threaten the outcome.

PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: I think the short answer to that is: I don’t think so. And the reason is simply that there is a real opportunity for us here. And the president is hopeful that we are going to have an opportunity to do what is clearly in the best interests of the United States and Israel, which is to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program at the negotiating table.

AARON MATÉ: The trip has sparked the worst public rift between the U.S. and Israel in over two decades. Dozens of Democrats could boycott Netanyahu’s address to Congress, which was arranged by House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House. The Obama administration will send two officials, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, to address the AIPAC summit today. This comes just days after Rice called Netanyahu’s visit, quote, "destructive."

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also facing domestic criticism for his unconventional Washington visit, which comes just two weeks before an election in which he seeks a third term in Israel. On Sunday, a group representing nearly 200 of Israel’s top retired military and intelligence officials accused Netanyahu of assaulting the U.S.-Israel alliance.

But despite talk of a U.S. and Israeli dispute, the Obama administration has taken pains to display its staunch support for the Israeli government. Speaking just today in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry blasted the U.N. Human Rights Council for what he called an "obsession" and "bias" against Israel. The council is expected to release a report in the coming weeks on potential war crimes in Israel’s U.S.-backed Gaza assault last summer.

For more, we spend the hour today with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, Noam Chomsky. He has written over a hundred books, most recently On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare. His forthcoming book, co-authored with Ilan Pappé, is titled On Palestine and will be out next month. Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years.

Noam Chomsky, it’s great to have you back here at Democracy Now!, and particularly in our very snowy outside, but warm inside, New York studio.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Delighted to be here again.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Noam, let’s start with Netanyahu’s visit. He is set to make this unprecedented joint address to Congress, unprecedented because of the kind of rift it has demonstrated between the Republicans and the Democratic president, President Obama. Can you talk about its significance?

NOAM CHOMSKY: For both president—Prime Minister Netanyahu and the hawks in Congress, mostly Republican, the primary goal is to undermine any potential negotiation that might settle whatever issue there is with Iran. They have a common interest in ensuring that there is no regional force that can serve as any kind of deterrent to Israeli and U.S. violence, the major violence in the region. And it is—if we believe U.S. intelligence—don’t see any reason not to—their analysis is that if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, which they don’t know, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, their general strategic posture is one of deterrence. They have low military expenditures. According to U.S. intelligence, their strategic doctrine is to try to prevent an attack, up to the point where diplomacy can set in. I don’t think anyone with a grey cell functioning thinks that they would ever conceivably use a nuclear weapon, or even try to. The country would be obliterated in 15 seconds. But they might provide a deterrent of sorts. And the U.S. and Israel certainly don’t want to tolerate that. They are the forces that carry out regular violence and aggression in the region and don’t want any impediment to that.

And for the Republicans in Congress, there’s another interest—namely, to undermine anything that Obama, you know, the entity Christ, might try to do. So that’s a separate issue there. The Republicans stopped being an ordinary parliamentary party some years ago. They were described, I think accurately, by Norman Ornstein, the very respected conservative political analyst, American Enterprise Institute; he said the party has become a radical insurgency which has abandoned any commitment to parliamentary democracy. And their goal for the last years has simply been to undermine anything that Obama might do, in an effort to regain power and serve their primary constituency, which is the very wealthy and the corporate sector. They try to conceal this with all sorts of other means. In doing so, they’ve had to—you can’t get votes that way, so they’ve had to mobilize sectors of the population which have always been there but were never mobilized into an organized political force: evangelical Christians, extreme nationalists, terrified people who have to carry guns into Starbucks because somebody might be after them, and so on and so forth. That’s a big force. And inspiring fear is not very difficult in the United States. It’s a long history, back to colonial times, of—as an extremely frightened society, which is an interesting story in itself. And mobilizing people in fear of them, whoever "them" happens to be, is an effective technique used over and over again. And right now, the Republicans have—their nonpolicy has succeeded in putting them back in a position of at least congressional power. So, the attack on—this is a personal attack on Obama, and intended that way, is simply part of that general effort. But there is a common strategic concern underlying it, I think, and that is pretty much what U.S. intelligence analyzes: preventing any deterrent in the region to U.S. and Israeli actions.

AARON MATÉ: You say that nobody with a grey cell thinks that Iran would launch a strike, were it to have nuclear weapons, but yet Netanyahu repeatedly accuses Iran of planning a new genocide against the Jewish people. He said this most recently on Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, saying that the ayatollahs are planning a new holocaust against us. And that’s an argument that’s taken seriously here.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s taken seriously by people who don’t stop to think for a minute. But again, Iran is under extremely close surveillance. U.S. satellite surveillance knows everything that’s going on in Iran. If Iran even began to load a missile—that is, to bring a missile near a weapon—the country would probably be wiped out. And whatever you think about the clerics, the Guardian Council and so on, there’s no indication that they’re suicidal.

AARON MATÉ: The premise of these talks—Iran gets to enrich uranium in return for lifting of U.S. sanctions—do you see that as a fair parameter? Does the U.S. have the right, to begin with, to be imposing sanctions on Iran?

NOAM CHOMSKY: No, it doesn’t. What are the right to impose sanctions? Iran should be imposing sanctions on us. I mean, it’s worth remembering—when you hear the White House spokesman talk about the international community, it wants Iran to do this and that, it’s important to remember that the phrase "international community" in U.S. discourse refers to the United States and anybody who may be happening to go along with it. That’s the international community. If the international community is the world, it’s quite a different story. So, two years ago, the Non-Aligned—former Non-Aligned Movement—it’s a large majority of the population of the world—had their regular conference in Iran in Tehran. And they, once again, vigorously supported Iran’s right to develop nuclear power as a signer of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That’s the international community. The United States and its allies are outliers, as is usually the case.

And as far as sanctions are concerned, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s now 60 years since—during the past 60 years, not a day has passed without the U.S. torturing the people of Iran. It began with overthrowing the parliamentary regime and installing a tyrant, the shah, supporting the shah through very serious human rights abuses and terror and violence. As soon as he was overthrown, almost instantly the United States turned to supporting Iraq’s attack against Iran, which was a brutal and violent attack. U.S. provided critical support for it, pretty much won the war for Iraq by entering directly at the end. After the war was over, the U.S. instantly supported the sanctions against Iran. And though this is kind of suppressed, it’s important. This is George H.W. Bush now. He was in love with Saddam Hussein. He authorized further aid to Saddam in opposition to the Treasury and others. He sent a presidential delegation—a congressional delegation to Iran. It was April 1990—1989, headed by Bob Dole, the congressional—

AMY GOODMAN: To Iraq? Sent to Iraq?

NOAM CHOMSKY: To Iraq. To Iraq, sorry, yeah—to offer his greetings to Saddam, his friend, to assure him that he should disregard critical comment that he hears in the American media: We have this free press thing here, and we can’t shut them up. But they said they would take off from Voice of America, take off critics of their friend Saddam. That was—he invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in weapons production. This is right after the Iraq-Iran War, along with sanctions against Iran. And then it continues without a break up to the present.

There have been repeated opportunities for a settlement of whatever the issues are. And so, for example, in, I guess it was, 2010, an agreement was reached between Brazil, Turkey and Iran for Iran to ship out its low-enriched uranium for storage elsewhere—Turkey—and in return, the West would provide the isotopes that Iran needs for its medical reactors. When that agreement was reached, it was bitterly condemned in the United States by the president, by Congress, by the media. Brazil was attacked for breaking ranks and so on. The Brazilian foreign minister was sufficiently annoyed so that he released a letter from Obama to Brazil proposing exactly that agreement, presumably on the assumption that Iran wouldn’t accept it. When they did accept it, they had to be attacked for daring to accept it.

And 2012, 2012, you know, there was to be a meeting in Finland, December, to take steps towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. This is an old request, pushed initially by Egypt and the other Arab states back in the early '90s. There's so much support for it that the U.S. formally agrees, but not in fact, and has repeatedly tried to undermine it. This is under the U.N. auspices, and the meeting was supposed to take place in December. Israel announced that they would not attend. The question on everyone’s mind is: How will Iran react? They said that they would attend unconditionally. A couple of days later, Obama canceled the meeting, claiming the situation is not right for it and so on. But that would be—even steps in that direction would be an important move towards eliminating whatever issue there might be. Of course, the stumbling block is that there is one major nuclear state: Israel. And if there’s a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, there would be inspections, and neither Israel nor the United States will tolerate that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about major revelations that have been described as the biggest leak since Edward Snowden. Last week, Al Jazeera started publishing a series of spy cables from the world’s top intelligence agencies. In one cable, the Israeli spy agency Mossad contradicts Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own dire warnings about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb within a year. In a report to South African counterparts in October 2012, the Israeli Mossad concluded Iran is "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons." The assessment was sent just weeks after Netanyahu went before the U.N. General Assembly with a far different message. Netanyahu held up a cartoonish diagram of a bomb with a fuse to illustrate what he called Iran’s alleged progress on a nuclear weapon.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This is a bomb. This is a fuse. In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium. And Iran has to go through three stages. By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb. A red line should be drawn right here, before—before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2012. The Mossad assessment contradicting Netanyahu was sent just weeks after, but it was likely written earlier. It said Iran, quote, "does not appear to be ready," unquote, to enrich uranium to the highest levels needed for a nuclear weapon. A bomb would require 90 percent enrichment, but Mossad found Iran had only enriched to 20 percent. That number was later reduced under an interim nuclear deal the following year. The significance of this, Noam Chomsky, as Prime Minister Netanyahu prepares for this joint address before Congress to undermine a U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the striking aspect of this is the chutzpah involved. I mean, Israel has had nuclear weapons for probably 50 years or 40 years. They have, estimates are, maybe 100, 200 nuclear weapons. And they are an aggressive state. Israel has invaded Lebanon five times. It’s carrying out an illegal occupation that carries out brutal attacks like Gaza last summer. And they have nuclear weapons. But the main story is that if—incidentally, the Mossad analysis corresponds to U.S. intelligence analysis. They don’t know if Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But I think the crucial fact is that even if they were, what would it mean? It would be just as U.S. intelligence analyzes it: It would be part of a deterrent strategy. They couldn’t use a nuclear weapon. They couldn’t even threaten to use it. Israel, on the other hand, can; has, in fact, threatened the use of nuclear weapons a number of times.

AMY GOODMAN: So why is Netanyahu doing this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Because he doesn’t want to have a deterrent in the region. That’s simple enough. If you’re an aggressive, violent state, you want to be able to use force freely. You don’t want anything that might impede it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think this in any way has undercut the U.S. relationship with Israel, the Netanyahu-Obama conflict that, what, Susan Rice has called destructive?

NOAM CHOMSKY: There is undoubtedly a personal relationship which is hostile, but that’s happened before. Back in around 1990 under first President Bush, James Baker went as far as—the secretary of state—telling Israel, "We’re not going to talk to you anymore. If you want to contact me, here’s my phone number." And, in fact, the U.S. imposed mild sanctions on Israel, enough to compel the prime minister to resign and be replaced by someone else. But that didn’t change the relationship, which is based on deeper issues than personal antagonisms.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:05:22 -0500