Sunday, September 28, 2014

176.5 - Not Good News: global warming continues

Not Good News: global warming continues

Okay. I gave you the Good News about global warming aka climate change, now it's time for the Not Good News.

Every day it seems, more research, more peer-reviewed scientific research, is published showing that global warming is already happening, it's already having a measurable effect. All these papers come with the proper scientific caution, all expressing the proper scientific doubt, all saying this is what know and this is what don’t, some expressing more confidence in their conclusions than others - but, this is the important point, all point in same direction: Climate change is already here. We are screwing with the climate and the effects can already be seen.

Worldwide, May was the hottest May on record since record-keeping began in 1880.

June was the hottest June.

July was the fourth hottest July and the other three all came since 1998.

August was the hottest August, again, since 1880.

Of course, you can't judge climate change based on records for a few months. You have to look at trends over time and climatologists say you should look at decades (or even longer). But I note these records just to point out that the world is still warming, despite claims of a "pause" or a "hiatus," or even a "halt" in global warming. World temperatures are still rising, just not as dramatically as before. Never forget that the 1980s set a record for the warmest decade ever, a record that was broken by the 1990s, which record was broken in turn by the 2000s, and if current trends continue that new record will be broken by the twenty-teens.

Scientists have been studying the question of why, with all evidence, including glacial melt, sea level rise, and a host of others, pointing to continued heating of the planet, that fact is not reflected in the world's average surface temperatures, which should, it seems, be rising faster than it is.

It has long been suspected that the extra heat is being hidden in the deep ocean, and now there is new research backing that up. That research indicates that there is a natural cyclical change in a major Atlantic Ocean current that is results in warm water being stored in the deep waters of the Atlantic. That also means that when the cycle goes back to its other state in several years, with the warmer waters at the surface and the cooler waters in the deeps, global warming could come back with a vengeance.

By which time it may be too late, especially as there are powerful economic forces using the slowing of the rate of global warming as leverage to delay doing anything about it which might hurt their bottom line. Someone, I can't recall who now, accurately noted that what we're trying to do is reframe the world's economy and compared it to trying to turn an aircraft carrier with a tugboat.

And make no mistake, time is short.

A new study by the Global Carbon Project, an international team that tracks and calculates global carbon emissions every year, determined that the world spewed far more carbon pollution into the air in 2013 than ever before.

As a result, the World Meteorological Organization found that concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting not only rising emissions but also a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans.

In fact, the Global Carbon Project says that human activities have added 1,430 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere from 1870 to 2013. That's 45 percent of the total carbon budget the world has to maintain if it's to maintain a rise in global temperatures of below 2 degrees Celsius, a level all but universally regarded as the danger level.

At the current rate of emissions, the world will blow through its carbon quota in no more than 30 years. Let me make clear what that means: At the world's current rate of carbon release, if as of 2045 the world at that point suddenly totally and instantly stopped all human means for producing greenhouse gases - totally and instantly stopped all releases of carbon, never used another bit of fossil fuel, never used another lump of coal, never burned another drop of oil - it would still be too late.

That means that if we just reduce our carbon output - which is all that those UN negotiations are trying to achieve and some nations will only pledge to slow the increase of their production -  just reducing our carbon output doesn't solve the problem, it only puts off the reckoning.

Which in turn means that ultimately, if we are going to protect the environment not just for ourselves but for our child, our grandchildren, and future generations, ultimately we will have to reduce our carbon output, our carbon footprint, to level below that of natural reabsorption. And that is a level of change, a level of change in how we do things, in how resources are distributed not only here but around the world, a level of technological change, that I think that none of our leaders and very few of us are prepared to contemplate.

For proof of that we need go no further than the speech the Amazing Mr. O gave at the UN climate summit on Tuesday, where he glossed over inconvenient facts and used carefully-parsed statistics to give the impression the US has done much more than it has.

For example, he said "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth." Well, yeah, but when you have by far the world's largest economy, that's not saying much. By a better standard of effort, the proportion of emissions cut, over PHC's* time frame the European Union has done clearly better: a cut of 14% as compared to the US's 10%. And some of those cuts in US emissions come from the fact that instead of burning coal here, it was shipped to power plants overseas, which means those emissions were not cut, they were merely moved to poorer nations.

What's more, since 1990, the benchmark year the EU uses to judge progress, it's emissions are down by 18% while those of the US are up 10%.

In his speech, O urged other nations to follow our lead. Let's hope that, as is often so true of him, they follow the rhetoric rather than the reality.

But make no mistake on this either: The fight isn't over, it's not hopeless no matter how often it feels that way.

There are still things that can be done, economically, socially, technologically, on the international, the national, and even the state and local level, to preserve the environment and a healthy and decent life for the future.

But time is running out. Save where you can. Preserve where you can. Conserve where you can. And be on the streets where you can.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey, which I haven't called him in a while but since here he's back to saying in effect that things will be great if we just want them to be enough, it deserved a return.

Sources cited in links:

176.4 - Footnote: some corporations and foundations are realizing climate change requires action

Footnote: some corporations and foundations are realizing climate change requires action

And as a Footnote to that, here is a little more good news of at least a sort, indicating that some things are changing and who knows, maybe they will change fast enough. I still have grave doubts on that matter, but it's another case where I would love to have to say "I was wrong."

Corporations - including some major ones - are starting to realize that global warming is bad for their bottom line and making pledges to do something about it and sometimes even doing it.

As part of events surrounding the UN climate summit, about two dozen large companies - including Nestlé, Kellogg's, Hershey's, and General Mills - are committing to reduce deforestation by not obtaining products such as palm oil, soy, and beef from areas where forests have been recently or illegally cut down. Deforestation releases more carbon into the atmosphere, worsening global warming.

In addition, six of the world's largest oil and gas companies will commit to steps to reduce methane leaks in fossil fuel production. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.

And perhaps most significantly, at least 50 foundations will pledge to divest any holdings in the world's top 200 oil and gas producers, including ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron. Perhaps most symbolically, among those 50 is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the charitable arm of the Rockefeller family. That's right, the Rockefellers, a family which made its money in oil, is disinvesting from fossil fuels, starting with coal and tar-sands mining.

(Yeah, yeah, it would have meant even more if they'd started by disinvesting from oil. Don't harsh my buzz, k? Which it seems is another phrase proving my further approach to senility since I just saw a site where someone was asking what his father means when he says that, but don't do it anyway.)

Some of this may just be feel-good stuff, but not all of it can be. And it remains true that money talks. Unhappily, it usually talks louder than nearly 600,000 people in the streets - but at least here it's saying some of the right words.

Sources cited in links:

176.3 - Good News: massive world-wide protests demanding action on climate change

Good News: massive world-wide protests demanding action on climate change

There is also Good News on another front.

Sunday, September 21, saw the largest mobilization against climate change in the history of the planet. It was called the People’s Climate March and hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, classes, and genders turned out in over 2600 events in 162 countries.

All told, it's estimated that over 570,000 people - nearly 600,000 people - took part in the day, ranging from a handful in Aleppo, Syria to 30,000 in Melbourne to 40,000 in London to the biggest of all, at least 310,000 and maybe as many as 400,000 in New York City.

The crowds in New York were so massive, three to four times what organizers expected, that the march spread out over four miles. So many came that at 5pm organizers had to send a text message asking marchers to leave because the route allowed for the march had filled to capacity.

In New York, there were marchers from around the world, including China, India, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Turkey, South Africa, and the Philippines, joining with folks who came in 550 buses from all over the US to demand that political and economic leaders take action against climate change before it is too late.

More directly, the marches, rallies, and protests are intended as a message to the leaders of the 120 nations gathered for a UN climate summit that began two days later on Sept. 23: We expect action and we expect it now. Not someday. Now.

The day after the march, September 22, thousands took part in an action called Flood Wall Street, a massive sit-in to take the climate crisis to the home of one of its biggest causes: financial greed. The idea was to confront the mavens of the Financial District with the possibility that rising sea levels could flood Lower Manhattan - that climate change affects them, too.

This march and rally were without a permit, so it was civil disobedience. But unlike the Occupy Wall Street protests that began three years ago this past week, the NYPD acted with surprising restraint and the sit-in, which blocked street traffic in lower Manhattan, continued for some hours. The only confrontations and the only arrests occurred when protesters tried to force their way past metal barricades which had been set up by police to block off Wall Street itself - because after all, golly gee whiz, those people can't be inconvenienced.

New York
As always, there were the dissenting voices on the effort, those who dismiss marches and protests, including this one, and I don't mean dismiss it from the right but from the left, dismissed both by the kewl kidz who sneer at anything so "old school" as actually doing things in public, on the streets, and regard tweets and Facebook posts as the epitome of social action and voting for Democrats as the highest political calling and the sui dissant radicals whose main purpose in life seems to be looking for ways to declare themselves "more radical than thou" and whose main talent seems to be either flaming out in an orgy of rock-throwing nihilism or burning out in fuming desperation.

Now, let me be clear, I'm not trying one of those "I don't like either side so I must be right" deals. Overall, I agree with the analysis, the political and social analysis, of the radicals, but if you say something like this march, the over half-million people in the streets across the world is, as one called it, a "farce" because the message is not radical enough, not sufficiently anti-capitalist, did not involve enough physical aggression, did not produce enough arrests, if you say that's a "farce," I say you're an idiot who has no conception of how social and political change occur.

Because everything matters. Everything is a contribution. This as much as anything and more than a lot.

Flood Wall Street
Because marches and rallies, even if they do not achieve their ends immediately, which they never do, even if there is some disagreement on the means to achieve those goals - for a good example, there were people in the march in New York supporting nuclear power as the best way to deal with global warming with others saying that's a terrible way to deal with global warming (which it is) - even if the message should be sharper and more radical, still such actions do one thing superbly well: They let everyone involved know that they are not alone. As Michael Brune of the Sierra Club wrote, "After this week, no one ever needs to feel alone in this fight."

And there is little that is more disheartening than thinking you are the only one and nothing more encouraging - dare I use cliche "empowering" - than knowing that you are not.

And when they are large, especially this large, and this well organized, they do one other thing extremely well: They get attention. They get the message, the broad message, out, that message this time being that climate change, the global warming, is a worldwide threat to humanity:, which was the main organizer of the event, compiled over 5200 articles written about the action. TV news, of course, failed again for the most part, as it usually does in cases like this, but the fact, the undeniable fact, is that climate change was made a public issue in a way it has not been for some time. For at least a day, it even pushed ISIS off the front page. And that took some doing.

All in all, it was a brilliant, exciting, invigorating event that sends a message that political leaders ignore at their peril: Action. Now.

And that's good news.

Sources cited in links:

176.2 - Footnote: is support for marriage justice "leveling off?"

Footnote: is support for marriage justice "leveling off?"

As a Footnote to that, there's something that's been in the news of late, it's gotten some coverage, and I think more than it deserves. But for just that reason, I think it deserves mention here, if only to explain why some are making more out of it than they should.

It involves a recent survey by the widely-respected Pew Research Center, which indicates that American support for same-sex marriage could be leveling off or even declining some after several years of dramatic growth.

This most recent poll found support for same-sex marriage at 49%, a five-point drop since February. Those opposed to the idea went from 39% to 41% over the same time.

Okay, this is why I think this is getting too much attention:

First, Pew Research itself said "it's too early to know" if this "modest decline" means anything or it just an "anomaly" in the general overall upward trend reflected by its own surveys since 2001.

That idea, that this just a glitch or an anomaly is supported by other surveys which have shown some variation in support for same-sex marriage but that it remains a majority belief: Gallup has had support above 50% since it first broke that barrier in 2011 and the Public Religion Research Institute says its polls show some variance but backing remaining between 51 percent and 56 percent.

Here's the other thing: I would not be surprised at all to see a leveling or even moderate drop in support. People tend to become more conservative in face of realities as opposed to abstractions. It's easy to say "sure, I support same-sex marriage" when it's an abstraction, an idea, but when it is starting to actually happen, when the idea of it becoming a nation-wide fact based not only on the advances but on a potential US Supreme Court decision starts to be seriously discussed, there are always going to be some people who will say "Gee, I dunno, maybe I need to think more about this." So some leveling of support is to be expected.

Finally, the most important point:  One thing all the polls agree on is that the younger the age group, the greater the level of support for marriage equality, which bodes well for the future. As I just said: Justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

176.1 - Good News: another small step toward marriage justice

Good News: another small step toward marriage justice

Starting, as I always like to, with some Good News, we have some from a frequent area of good news this year: same-sex marriage.

Recently, a federal judge for the district that includes Louisiana, one Martin Feldman, upheld that state's ban on same-sex marriage in a clumsy ruling that in significant part relied on the notion that, quoting him,  “the regulation of marriage was left up to the states and the democratic process” so, in essence, your Constitutional rights be damned.

It was the first decision in a federal court upholding a ban on same-sex marriage

It's up to the states, he said. Okay, then. On September 22 a Louisiana state judge, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Edward Rubin, ruled that Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriage violates the US Constitution in three ways: It violates the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and it violates the "full faith and credit" clause of Article IV.

That last point was particularly significant in that it addresses the issue of recognizing marriages performed legally elsewhere. The couple involved, Angie Costanza and Christy Brewer, were married in 2008 in California. Judge Rubin is saying that the full faith and credit clause requires Louisiana to acknowledge that they are married.

This is bit complex than may at first appear. The full faith and credit clause says states must recognize "legislative acts, public records, and judicial decisions" of other states. That's why if you have a California driver's license and drive from California to Louisiana, Louisiana cannot say you are driving without a license: It is required to recognize the license issued by California. But if you take up residence in Louisiana, if you move to Louisiana, at some point Louisiana could require you to get a Louisiana license.

Similarly, it would appear clear that if a same-sex couple married in California were to go to Louisiana as tourists, while they are there Louisiana must accept that they are married. (Note that this does not mean such a couple would not face discrimination and other hassles in areas such as public accommodations but only that it seems clear that as a matter of law they should not.)

But what if you move there? Is there some point at which Louisiana can say that now that couple has to go by Louisiana standards which don't recognize their marriage so suddenly they are no longer married?

The answer to that is relatively simple: Driver's licenses have expiration dates. After a certain point, your California license is no longer valid and Louisiana can say that as a resident of Louisiana you have to meet Louisiana standards. Marriages, on the other hand, do not have expiration dates. There is no point at which your marriage simply runs out. So there should be no point at which a state can say your marriage performed elsewhere has expired and so is no longer valid.

The fact that some states, including Louisiana, have tried to say essentially that, that by moving from one state to another your marriage has somehow expired, is exactly what Judge Rubin was rejecting as violating the full faith and credit clause.

The other interesting point here is that because it is a state court, particularly because federal judge Feldman said it's up to the states, Judge Rubin's decision has precedence. Even though Feldman is in federal court, Rubin's decision is the controlling one unless and until it's overturned.

The state attorney general's office says they are appealing to the Louisiana state Supreme Court and the ruling will likely be stayed pending that appeal, as is common. The couple's attorney says he's confident the Louisiana Supreme Court will agree with Judge Rubin, but then again lawyers always want to come off as confident.

No matter what, it's another small step and that is good news. I say again, as I have often enough before, on this issue justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #176

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 25 - October 1, 2014

This week:

Good News: another small step toward marriage justice

Footnote: is support for marriage justice "leveling off?"

Good News: massive world-wide protests demanding action on climate change

Footnote: some corporations and foundations are realizing climate change requires action

Not Good News: global warming continues

Sunday, September 21, 2014

175.4 - Mr. Obama's War

Mr. Obama's War

I'm not going to spend lots of time on the day-to-day details of our Nobel Peace Prize president's latest celebration of the benefits of bombing. I am, however, going to make some general observations.

The first and most important observation is that we are being stampeded into another war. Or more correctly, into re-expanding a war that never actually ended.

Bombing in Iraq. Bombing in Syria now. Over 1500 so-called "advisers" on the ground in Iraq, "advisers" who have already been in firefights, all amid cries from jackasses like Buck McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and BFFs Lindsay Graham and John McCain to "go all in now" because they just can't wait to see the spurting blood amid the shrieks of the wounded writhing in pain because after all why should ISIS have all the fun.

Stampeded by the hawks, stampeded by the ideologues, stampeded by the media, stampeded with cries of "9/11" and "the gates of hell," and "kill them there or they don't kill us here," stampeded into, as we keep on doing, creating even more extremism by seeing threats against the US - that is, against us - that don't actually exist, as neither the FBI nor Homeland Security nor the Pentagon nor the National Counterterrorism Center, none of which have a reputation for downplaying dangers to the Glorious Fatherland, find any cause for alarm. The stampede has become a crashing wave, a tsunami of equal parts ideology, paranoia, bigotry, and bloodlust.

And the Amazing Mr. O rides his surfboard through the tube, the wave breaking over his head as he uses it to go along as he damn well pleases, taking step after step into the Big Muddy. Yes, all that is a horribly mixed jumble of metaphors. It still fits.

Make no mistake, we are being set us up for years of this, years of bombing and death and fear-mongering that will extend far beyond Obama's presidency, setting up his successor, whoever that is, to deal with a volatile and incomplete war against an enemy - terrorism - that, unlike some group of terrorists, can never be defeated, because you can't defeat a tactic, as the scenes from 1984 about a population kept subdued by perpetual reports of perpetual wars perpetually far away become a daily reality. Obama came into office dealing with Bush's Iraq war; the next president will come into office dealing with Obama's Iraq and Syria war.

Some in Congress, bless their day-late-dollar-short little hearts, are mumbling questions about just what is Obama's authority to carry out these attacks even as most of that august body are more concerned about campaigning than about doing their jobs and so will just dump the whole thing until the lame-duck session after the election - assuming they'll actually address the issue of authority even then.

But here's the thing that gets me about this, what especially gets me about this:

More than four years ago, I was asking what is the authority? Where is the authority? What gave Obama the right, the legal right, the legal power, to do what he was doing? "Mr. President," I asked, "just who the hell do you think you are?"

That was in response to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen murdered with a drone strike - put more directly, they dropped a bomb on him - without a pretense of anything a rational person would call due process. But it wasn't the only case.

Three years ago, in the case of Libya, I was making the same demand to know "by what authority." At the time, I said that instead of calling Obama "PHC," for "President Hopey-Changey," as I had been calling him, I would start calling him "GHC" - for Generalissimo Hopey-Changey - because he had apparently decided that the US military is his to use in any way he sees fit, any time he thinks appropriate, anywhere in the world he in his own personal, not-to-be-judged opinion thinks merited. So much so that Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, told members of Congress that the White House would simply ignore any attempts by Congress to invoke the War Powers Resolution.

The questions beginning to be raised, oh so tentatively, oh so gently, oh so don't-rock-the-boatly, should have been asked four years ago - at least four years ago.

It is so incredibly frustrating to be always expected to deal with these sorts of things after the fact. After four years - and more - of standing by, of watching the bombings, the drone strikes, the assassinations, after four years - and more - of letting all this slide because you didn't want to make a fuss, to now be saying "golly gee whiz, um, do you have any authority," well, there is an old saying about barn doors and horses that applies here.

But be fair, Obama has claimed a basis for his supposed legal authority to not only bomb Iraq but to expand the campaign into Syria. a legal basis that, what did you expect, does not require any Congressional vote. And he knows it's true 'cause gosh darn it, he had "top lawyers" at the Office of Legal Counsel at the DOJ check it out and what do you know, they told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

And what is that legal authority? What is the Congressional authorization?

Why it's the AUMF, the Authority to Use Military Force that was passed in a rush without significant debate in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The same legislation that over a year ago Obama called "outdated."

The guts of that act is the statement that, quoting,
the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.
So how does ISIS fit that description?

It doesn't.

ISIS was founded in Jordan in 1999 under the name Group of Monotheism and Jihad. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it became involved in the resistance to the US occupation.

In 2004, to build its prestige as compared to other radical groups in the Iraqi resistance, it declared itself faithful to al-Qaeda and became commonly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq,even though that was never the actual name.

It later broke off from al-Qaeda, claiming in effect that the older group had gone soft. It's now a rival of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda has even denounced ISIS for the extreme nature of its violence.

So sum it up: ISIS was not involved in 9/11. It did not harbor anyone involved in 9/11. It was not active in Iraq until after our invasion. It had no connection to al-Qaeda until 2004, and now is a bitter rival.

So I ask again: How does ISIS fit the definition of those covered by the AUMF? And I answer again: It doesn't. Obama's claim is crap.

So where is the actual authority to militarily attack ISIS?

There isn't any.

And Obama knows it. Of course he knows it, he's not stupid. Of course he knows it - but he just doesn't care. Because as long as he can make some claim that he has some sort of authority, even if it's transparently bogus, he knows that enough people in Congress will fold like a beat-up accordion.

You've got to realize, this has nothing to do with whether or not you think ISIS is a threat to the US, even though it's not. This has nothing to do with whether or not you think bombing ISIS is a good idea or not or the right thing to do or not and it has nothing to do with whether or not you want to see "boots on the ground" or I should say more boots on the ground.

It has to do with the legal, the Constitutional authority to commit the US to year upon year of war and death and destruction. That is a power no one person should ever have and one the Constitution was originally designed to prevent, but it's one that Obama is claiming for himself and one that the members of Congress - or at least a good number of them - are prepared to passively let him take. It is disgraceful, it is dangerous, it is frightening.

The other day someone asked me what I as a believer in nonviolence would do about a group like ISIS. Now I'm not going to get into a discussion about nonviolence, because that's not relevant here. What is relevant here is that the first thing I said was that I wouldn't be in this situation because I wouldn't have done the things that got us into it.

And maybe, just maybe, if people had started asking "where's the authority" four - or more - years ago, we might not be in this situation now.

Sources cited in links:

175.3 - Update: whaling

Update: whaling

After that, we have an Update which I was going to say was to lighten things a bit, but actually it doesn't do any such thing.

Last week, I offered the Good News that the population of California blue whales had, due to conservation efforts, recovered to nearly its historical, 19th-century levels.

The Update here is the reminder that they are not the only sorts of whales out there and that various types are still hunted for commercial profit.

The two biggest whaling nations in the world are Japan and, sadly, Iceland, sadly because Iceland is one of my favorite countries and having the chance to go there is probably the biggest item on my bucket list.

Japan annually kills over a thousand whales in the Antarctic: minkes, humpbacks, and fins. It uses a loophole in the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling which allows for taking of whales for "scientific research." Japan simply declares that it alone gets to decide what constitutes such research for the whaling permits it issues, even though that "research" has for some time consisted of simply counting the numbers and types of fish in the stomachs of the whales that are killed - after which, it's "hey we have all this whale meat, no point in just throwing it away, and hey, what a coincidence, whale meat is a popular dish in Japan, so let's sell it there!"

After years of protest, that argument came crashing down in March when in response to a suit by Australia, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's "scientific" whaling was not scientific.

Now, Australia and New Zealand are taking the lead at the current meeting of the IWC, the International Whaling Commission, to press that body to incorporate the court's judgment into the actual policies and practices of the Commission. New Zealand has put forth a resolution which would restrict the ability of governments which are members of the Commission to issue permits for "scientific" whaling until those permits undergo a full review by the IWC itself.

Japan says it will establish a "highly transparent" process of scientific review as it goes back to whaling in the summer of 2015-16 (which will be the winter of 2015-16 for us here in the Northern Hemisphere) but it opposes any IWC review of permits. In other words, Japan proposed to keep on doing just what it has been doing. In fact, a lobbyist for Japan told the Australian paper the Sydney Morning Herald that the New Zealand resolution will probably pass - but that Japan will simply ignore it.

Meanwhile, Iceland, which has openly resumed commercial whaling, has received a sharply worded complaint from the European Union, the US, and other nations including Brazil, Mexico, and Australia. Like Japan, Iceland claims its killing of whales has a scientific basis; unlike Japan, it doesn't pretend that science rather than making money is the purpose. But again like Japan, Iceland says it will simply ignore the protest.

The diplomatic note does not threaten government sanctions against Iceland, but does note that
public opinion in the countries that are Iceland's main trading partners is very much against the practice of whaling
and that if Iceland does not stop whaling, international boycotts of Icelandic products could damage the nation's economy.

Yeah. From their mouths to your ears - to your wallets.

Sources cited in links:

175.2 - Footnote: Israel and Hamas both under criticism

Footnote: Israel and Hamas both under criticism

As a quick footnote to that, it's worth noting that there are other forces pushing on both Israel and Hamas that may have something to do with those slivers of daylight which may be appearing.

One pressure point is that Israel has been condemned by a number of sources for various human rights violations in its war on Gaza. Most recently, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes in three specific cases involving attacks on UN-run schools in Gaza while at the same time expressing skepticism about the investigations announced by the Israeli military. "Israel," the group declared, "has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes."

That position was echoed by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which said in a statement that based on past experience, it isn't holding out hope that the military investigation will lead to anything other than a whitewash.

For its part, under pressure from international news reports, Hamas has admitted that "mistakes" were made during the summer war in launching rocket attacks on Israel from sites too close to residential areas or civilian facilities. The group insists that usually rocket launchers were placed 200-300 meters (about 220-330 yards) from sites such as schools and hospitals but admitted that sometimes they were closer, sometimes too close. And the UN sharply criticized Hamas for two instances where rockets were stored inside schools. The schools were closed for the summer, there were no students there, but still they were schools, civilian facilities where those rockets simply should not have been.

So both sides have been smarting under international attention in the wake of the war, so maybe both feel the need to at least try to make nice for a little while. I fear it will simply dissolve into another missed opening because, as I have said so many times before, I believe that the Israeli government does not want peace because that would hinder the goal of a "greater Israel" encompassing all of the West Bank - but I can still hope that I am wrong and that by some combination of war-weariness and political boldness on either or both sides this will turn into a Sadat-goes-to-Israel moment.

Like they say, hope springs eternal.

Sources cited  in links:

175.1 - Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East

Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East

>We always like to start with some Good News, so we have this, this week - which I don't know if it's good news or not, but I hope it is, I want it to be; but the fact is we have been down this road too many times before to have much hope that it really is the good news I want it to be. But it's true that "little hope" is not the same as "no hope," so hope there is.

The ground in the Middle East appears to be shifting - at least slightly - in the wake of the brutal war over the summer.

One big thing is that last week Musa Abu Marzouk, the second-ranking leader in Hamas, stated that Hamas is willing to talk directly to Israel. Previously, Hamas had rejected the idea of doing so unless Israel first totally lifted its economic embargo against the Gaza strip and opened all border crossings and even then there was no guarantee it would happen.

Musa Abu Marzouk
But now, Marzouk says that "Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo."

Okay, to go from here you  need a little context.

Back in 2007, in the wake of elections in the West Bank and Gaza, the two big Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, worked out a coalition government after some months of painful negotiations. The US and Israel refused to recognize or even deal with this government, even though it arose out of the very elections they demanded take place.

The result of that intransigence is that the unity government fractured, leading to civil war among the Palestinians. The result of that war was that Fatah, in the form of the Palestinian  Authority, remained in control of the West Bank while Hamas had the lead in Gaza.

Okay. In April of this year, the two reached a new unity agreement so that a new Palestinian government, composed mostly of technocrats, took office on June 2.

Now, wasn't it just two weeks ago that I said that a coalition government would by the nature of the political realities involved push Hamas to moderate its positions? I say that's what we're seeing happening here.

Still, there was a quick reaction from the Hamas press office, saying that direct talks with "the Zionist enemy" are "not even under consideration." Those conflicting statements can be seen as in line with reports from media sources with contacts inside Hamas which say that the party's leadership is divided on the question of direct talks. Even that, however, is a shift, if only in that, as those contacts revealed, the idea has come up before but has never before been broached publicly.

Which means, even if you want to dismiss this as not representing formal Hamas policy, you would in that case still have to regard it as a trial balloon, as throwing the suggestion out there to see what the reaction is.

Which means the real issue for the moment is how Israel will react. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off talks with the Palestinian Authority after it reached the reconciliation deal with Hamas, saying he - Netanyahu - would not return unless Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas broke off all contacts with Hamas. And Israel does have a history of responding to any signs of moderation among Palestinian radicals with some kind of provocative action - for example, as I mentioned two weeks ago, marking the end of the summer war by engaging in the biggest ever illegal seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

So which path will Israel take? It could say something like, in appropriately vague diplomatese "Well, if Hamas is serious about that, we certainly would be open to the idea."

Remember, that's how the first significant peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state - Egypt - came about: Anwar Sadat said in a speech that he would go anywhere, "even Jerusalem," to discuss peace. In response, the Israeli government of Menachem Begin said that if Israel thought that Sadat would accept an invitation, Israel would invite him, to which Sadat said, in effect, "Thanks for the invitation! When can you have me there?" The ultimate result was the Camp David Accords of 1978.

But unfortunately, Israel's history of the past few decades points in a different direction, points to it rejecting the possibility of moderation on the part of Hamas, points to it grabbing on to the reference from the Hamas press office about "the Zionist enemy" to dismiss Marzouk's statement out of hand except, possibly, as representing an effort to "distract the world from Hamas's terrorism," slamming the door shut rather than seeing - just seeing - if it will open wider.

In fact, Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly to Hamas until the group recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence. Which seem like conditions laid down in the full knowledge that they could never be accepted because what does Hamas have to offer in negotiations other than recognition and security guarantees? What Israel is demanding is that Hamas come to the table not as an enemy with who you make peace or even as an opponent or even as a "negotiating partner," but as a supplicant. So for Israel to take advantage of the open Marzouk provided would be a real change in policy.

Still, still, just maybe, that outright rejection is not what will happen. That may be false hope, but sometimes false hope is better than no hope so while this may be false hope, I'll take it.

That false hope lies in the fact that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group so totally pro-Israel that they should just drop the word "American" from the name and register as a group lobbying for a foreign government, appears to have shifted its position about the new unity Palestinian government.

In the wake of the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, AIPAC pushed Congress to enact sanctions against the Palestinian Authority for daring to reach that agreement.

But now AIPAC has signed on to a letter circulating among Senators which while claiming Hamas "has no interest in peace," nonetheless drops the demand for the sanctions that were intended to undermine the new unity agreement.

This is significant because AIPAC generally reflects Israeli government policy, and if it's doing it here, it would be hinting that Israel is softening its own position. And that would also be good news.

On the other hand, the letter itself is not helpful if your interest is actually some measure of peace with some measure of justice rather than in advancing the interests of Israel. The letter is ultimately a call for efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza over and above Hamas. That is, it's picking sides in what is still an exceedingly delicate situation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and it will hardly help maintain that still-tenuous unity government if you enable the most militant elements of Hamas to claim that the policy of that unity government is being dictated by AIPAC.

Sometimes it seems to me that the hardest thing about finding peace, about ending a conflict, is not both sides wanting peace but both wanting ii at the same time. I still don't know if that condition exists between Israel and the Palestinians, I just say there is some glimmer of hope. Sometimes that's the best you can do.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle 175

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 18-24, 2014

This week:

Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East

Footnote: Israell and Hamas both under criticism

Update: whaling

Mr. Obama's War

Sunday, September 14, 2014

174.7 - Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Last but never least, it's the clown award, awarded weekly for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is GOPper House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and few have deserved it more.

Okay. Start with the fact that the USDA has a website, gasp, which includes a blog, again gasp.

On August 29, Kathryn Sosbe of the US Forest Service posted on that blog. Her post was titled "How Does Your Marshmallow Roast" and was in honor of National Roasted Marshmallow Day and yes there is such a thing; it was August 30.

Anyway, in the post Sosbe talks about s'mores, which, as she says, is for some people the best possible use of the humble marshmallow. She goes over how to make them and a brief history.

She then gives some safety tips for roasting, especially if children are the ones doing it - safety tips which, oddly, the children in the accompanying pictures are not following.

Next, she suggests some variations on s'mores, such as substituting grilled pineapple slices for the chocolate, before closing out with some other ways to use marshmallows as campfire treats

It's like one of those silly filler things you can find in the free newspaper you picked up somewhere, right? Nothing of importance, right?

Kevin McCarthy
Not to Kevin McCarthy! He knows the real agenda here and it's horrifying, I tell you, horrifying! And he told other House GOPpers about it in a memo last week.

“This perfectly captures what is wrong with our government," he rages. "Hard-earned tax dollars supporting bureaucrats who can’t pass up an opportunity to tell us how to live our lives."

Yes, because a blog post including alternatives to traditional s'mores is undermining American initiative! It's telling us how to live our lives, says Kevin McCarthy, who offered no calculation of how many "hard-earned tax dollars" he had spent getting out this vital missive.

Kevin McCarthy, the man who knows what's really wrong with government: dictating how we roast our marshmallows!

Kevin McCarthy: clown.

Sources cited in links:

174.6 - Update: fast-food workers' strike

Update: fast-food workers' strike

Here's an update for you. Last week I said that fast food workers were planning another one-day strike to push for a living wage but it was kind of odd telling you much about it because it was to happen the day after I recorded the show - which meant that it hadn't happened yet when I did the show but would have happened by the time you saw the show.

Well, it's a week later, and it all happened and frankly I think it was terrific. Protests and strikes occurred in over 100 cities, involving thousands of workers at  places like McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy's, and more. There was nonviolent civil disobedience - generally sit-ins blocking traffic - at a number of sites. A representative of Fight for 15, the group organizing the walkout, said nearly 500 people had been arrested or cited - that is, given the equivalent of a traffic ticket without an arrest - during the actions.

This was a country-wide protest: Police arrested 47 people in Kansas City; 27 in West Milwaukee; 19 in New York City; 30 in Detroit; 11 in San Diego; 8 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania; seven in Miami; three in Denver. Nineteen citations were issued in Chicago; 10 in Indianapolis; 13 in Hartford; 10 in Las Vegas.

Now, I will say that there are people who don't think the movement's goal of a living wage of $15 an hour is wise on the grounds that such a wage will encourage more highly-educated people to compete for those jobs, leaving the less educated even further behind. This "argument," I will note, is based on nothing but their own assumptions, one of which is that raising the wages for these low-paid workers, in effect creating a baseline for the prevailing wage in an area, would not affect other wages for other jobs in that same area, raising the wages for more skilled work with higher educational requirements, which would do away with that supposed incentive of more educated people to go flip burgers.

Still, the reason I mention that at all is that even some of those people will admit the strikes have been what one called "a stunning success," saying that, again quoting,
Kansas City
[f]or the cost of a few Super Bowl ads, the SEIU and some dedicated fast food workers have managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages.
As I noted last week, these strikes have been central to the effort to keep the twin issues of the minimum wage and wage inequality in the public debate even as corporate America, the rich, and many in government, to the extent those don't overlap, would rather not have us thinking about them.

And there is a lot to think about.

According to a survey by the Federal Reserve released last week, the gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the nation widened after the Great Recession, worsening the already-bad  income inequality in the US.

From 2010 to 2013, average income for U.S. families rose about 4 percent after accounting for inflation. All of the income growth was concentrated among the top 3 percent of earners, who sucked up 30.5 percent of all income.

Looking at wealth rather than income made it worse: In 1989, the richest 3 percent held 44.8 percent of the net worth in the country. By 2007 that was up to 51.8 percent and by 2013, it was 54.4 percent.

According to a new study out of the Harvard Business School, release September 8, that widening gap is "unsustainable" and will ultimately be damaging not only to the economy as a whole, but to the corporations that depend on it for their profit.

Even so, the same study concluded, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon and workers will continue to struggle to make ends meet while corporations continue to reap the benefits of that inequality.

Janet Yellen
Although that study doesn't say this, one reason it's unlikely to get better without seeing people in the streets was found in the response of Fed Chair Janet Yellen - Janet Yellen was another of those "great choices" that we were all obliged to love because Obama nominated her and so this is what you get when you do that - Janet Yellen responded to evidence of growing income inequality by calling it a disturbing trend, attributing some of it to the weak jobs market but also to underlying trends like technology and globalization.

Note the passive voice. In other words, income inequality, she's saying, is not the result of conscious decisions by corporate leaders to maximize their profit by squeezing their workers, it's not the result of a decades-long right-wing campaign to contain, undermine, and ultimately destroy unions, it's not the result of any refusals or failures of the Congress and the White House - or the Fed - to address it, it's not, that is, the result of anything anyone actually did. It's all about disembodied "trends" such as "technology and globalization." Forces of economic nature not subject to or driven by human control or direction. It's "a disturbing trend," but hey, what can you do?

That's what you get when you forget that when it comes to the interests of corporate America and our economic elite, people like Janet Yellen are not on your side. Barack Obama is not on your side. The workers in the streets are on your side. And don't you forget it.

Sources cited in links:

174.5 - Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

We're going to lighten things up for just a moment with an installment of our occasional feature, Unintentional Humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

And my oh my do we have a knee-slapper this time.

It came from the TV on September 3 when in an attempt to trash John Stewart of "The Daily Show," Bill O'Reilly ringingly declared to his audience "When you hear something on a partisan-driven program, do not believe it!"

You heard the man.

Sources cited in links:

174.4 - Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Now it's time for one of our regular weekly features, it's the Outrage of the Week.

The United States Air Force has apparently decided that the Constitution doesn't apply to it.

The case is that of an unnamed technical sergeant at Creech Air Force base in Nevada. His service time is coming to an end in November and last month he tried to re-enlist. But he was refused. The Air Force wouldn't take him. They told him he's got to go.

Why? Was he a troublemaker? Did he have a bad reputation? Was he insubordinate? A security risk? What?

None of the above. He's an atheist and since he enlisted, the Air Force has changed its rules about the oath you have to take to join (or re-join), which ends with "So help me god." Formerly, someone joining the Air Force could opt for a different phrase, but in October 2013 the Air Force said no, you have to say it, no option, no choice: You have to declare a belief in God or you can't be in the Air Force. The USAF is the only branch of the US military with the requirement.

If the Air Force doesn't budge, the sergeant is prepared to sue in federal court. The American Humanist Association has taken up his case and will represent him if need be.

It's hard to see how this could not be unconstitutional, not only based on the First Amendment but on the fact that Article VI of the Constitution says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While it appears from the rest of that clause that it is thinking about elected or appointed offices, don't forget that at the time the Constitution was framed there was no expectation of a standing army and they would not have even imagined an air force. Given that, and given that we have both a standing army and air force, it surely seems that being a member of the Air Force should be considered a "public trust" under the meaning of that article.

This may seem like a minor thing for an Outrage of the Week - after all, who cares about atheists, there are so few of them - but don't forget that this involves a basic constitutional right and it's not only atheists who would be affected. It could impact agnostics, depending on how strongly they feel about saying they believe in God, and even more directly, there are religions that are not monotheistic, that don't believe in God as a single entity, and still others that don't hold a belief in a "God" that is anything like the Judeo-Christian version.

But all of that is ultimately irrelevant because the issue here remains the same: basic rights. The basic - the fundamental - right to be able to fully participate in society and stripping away that right from a group does not become unimportant just because a majority, even a large majority, of the population feels it is not affected.

It's important for another reason: This is not the first time this sort of evangelizing has been found in the Air Force. Several years ago, the US Air Force Academy faced accusations that evangelical Christians exerted a dominating influence over the institution.

When the Air Force responded with what seemed an honest attempt to emphasize respect for all belief systems, even setting up a pagan/nature religions worship area at the Air Force Academy, it was assailed by right-wing Christians and their allies in Congress on the wacko claim that the efforts to avoid religious favoritism were actually an attack on freedom of religion - "freedom of religion" being defined here as "evangelical Christians being able to say and do whatever they want, including officers telling subordinates what religious practices they should follow."

It was after that -  not immediately after, but not much more than a year after that - that the Air Force started requiring enlistees to declare they believe in God. And then a month later, this is now last November, the Air Force Academy, the same academy earlier found to be overrun with evangelicals abusing their authority, hired a long-time advocate and practitioner of the thoroughly-bogus and often harmful "gay conversion therapy" to oversee its counseling program for young cadets.

So you may still think it's unimportant that an atheist is barred from the Air Force - even though it's not - but I doubt you think it's unimportant that it appears that the most conservative forms of right-wing Christianity still are finding a warm and welcoming embrace at the Air Force academy to the point of controlling the sort of counseling cadets get. That, I suspect you will agree, is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:
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