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Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

06/17/14

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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Here Comes the Flood

05/23/14

Noah (cropped) Tony Harrison @ Flickr

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National Assessment Finds Climate Change “Has Moved Firmly into the Present”

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States. . . . If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, [scientists] said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.

—“U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods,” New York Times (5/7/14)

Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet “Has Passed Point of No Return”

Scientists say that the melting will continue as long as the heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. Even if carbon dioxide and temperatures stabilize, the melting and shifting of glaciers will continue for decades or centuries as they adjust to the new equilibrium.

—“The Big Melt Accelerates,” New York Times (5/20/14)

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Two major reports released in recent weeks state emphatically that dramatic changes in climate are under way in the United States and globally, with a 10-degree average temperature rise in the U.S. possible by 2100, and world sea levels likely to rise by 4 to 12 feet or more by the end of the century. Perhaps most ominous of all, according to papers published last week in Science and Geophysical Research Letters, the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has already “passed a point of no return,” which will lead to alarming sea level rises that will imperil—or render uninhabitable—coastal and low-lying cities around the planet: New Orleans, New York, Miami, Boston, Venice, Shanghai, Mumbai . . .

A good summary by NASA of the Science and Geophysical Research Letters papers’ findings, along with an explanatory video, can be found here.

 


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More Intense, Frequent Extreme Weather Projected for U.S.

The National Climate Assessment, released by the White House on May 6, was conducted by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Among the Assessment’s many noteworthy findings: “The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. Hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”

SalonThe Assessment also projects increases in extreme weather generally, both in intensity and frequency: heat waves, droughts, wildfires, along with (in other places) excessive rainfall, flooding, tornadoes “and other severe thunderstorm phenomena,” etc.:

The number of extremely hot days is projected to continue to increase over much of the United States, especially by late century. Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer.

In a good summary of 12 points the Obama administration wants the American public to understand from the Climate Assessment, Grist.org includes one point (among others) that this blog takes very seriously: “Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projected to increase with continued climate change.” (See Further Reading below.)

The Climate Assessment’s findings on sea level rise make for chilling reading:

The oceans are absorbing over 90% of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity. Like mercury in a thermometer, water expands as it warms up (this is referred to as “thermal expansion”) causing sea levels to rise. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets is also contributing to sea level rise at increasing rates.

Recent projections show that for even the lowest emissions scenarios, thermal expansion of ocean waters and the melting of small mountain glaciers will result in 11 inches of sea level rise by 2100, even without any contribution from the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. This suggests that about 1 foot of global sea level rise by 2100 is probably a realistic low end. On the high end, recent work suggests that 4 feet is plausible. . . .  some decision makers may wish to use a wider range of scenarios, from 8 inches to 6.6 feet by 2100.

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7 Million Cheers for ‘Obamacare’

04/3/14

more than 7 millionPublic Health, Too, Is ‘National Security’

Congratulation to President Obama, the White House, and the courageous Democrats in Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the most ambitious expansion of health care for Americans since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

After the March 31 deadline for enrollments, President Obama announced that the goal of 7 million by April 1 has been met—and more: some 7.1 million previously uninsured Americans have signed up for coverage. And the numbers will rise because those who were not able to finish signing up by midnight Monday will have another two weeks to complete their registration. (Go to Healthcare.gov to learn more.)

So, congratulations to the elected officials and policy makers, and “best of health” to the American people—those who are now covered, and especially to those who do not yet have health insurance.

Let’s look briefly at some numbers. According to The New Yorker:

Three million young people remain on their parents’ health-care plans; more than eight million uninsured people are eligible for Medicaid; and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than a hundred million people have received preventive-care services, like mammograms and flu shots, at no cost.

ObamacareWhat Does Obamacare Do for You?

Per “The Affordable Care Act by the Numbers” at WhiteHouse.gov (2012):

Click here for more benefits.

The present system of Medicare and Medicaid was signed into law in 1965 by Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson. As Jeffrey Toobin explains in The New Yorker:

Medicare, providing health insurance for all Americans over the age of sixty-five, proved popular almost immediately: after the rollout, about nineteen million people signed up, more than ninety per cent of those eligible. Medicaid, covering the poor of all ages, is financed jointly by the federal government and the states. The first year, only twenty-six states agreed to participate, and the program didn’t include all fifty until 1982, when Arizona, the final holdout, joined.

Conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been principally directed at the Medicaid aspects that are mainly tailored to the very poor: “Ideas such as the requirement that everyone obtain insurance, with subsidies for people who can’t afford it; the mandate that insurance companies offer coverage to all comers; and the incentives for states to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid have meant political war,” as Toobin explains.

Steven Benen at The Maddow Blog points out that “the single biggest hindrance to expanding coverage to the uninsured is Republican governors in red states blocking Medicaid expansion. That’s not conjecture; it’s what the CBO has already documented.” Benen wrote last August:

The Affordable Care Act originally made Medicaid expansion mandatory for states, guaranteeing coverage for millions, but a narrow Supreme Court majority ruled that it must be optional – if states want to take advantage of an amazing deal they could, but if they choose to turn down the federal money, Washington can’t force them to accept it. 

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Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Dianne Feinstein Calls Out CIA for Spying on Congress

03/12/14

DF.Photo.by Tom Williams-CQ Roll Call-Getty.

California Senator, Long a CIA Defender, Charges Obstruction of Congressional Oversight

Please join us in calling Senator Dianne Feinstein (202-224-3841 or 415-393-0707) to say thanks and, as we said to her staffer, “keep up the courage” for having spoken out yesterday on the floor of the Senate against the CIA’s spying on Congress and trying to sabotage the oversight efforts of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The particular investigation at issue concerns a report on the “enhanced interrogations” conducted by the CIA in secret prisons from shortly after September 11, 2001, until January 2009.

Here we’ll hand it over to The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, who posted “Diane Feinstein Calls Out the CIA” online March 11:

This all goes back to the first years after September 11th. The C.I.A. tortured detainees in secret prisons. It also videotaped many of those sessions. Those records should have been handed over, or at least preserved, under the terms of certain court orders. Instead, in November, 2005, a C.I.A. official named Jose Rodriguez had ninety-two videotapes physically destroyed. “Nobody wanted to make a decision that needed to be made,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2012. (He also said, “I really resent you using the word ‘torture’ time and time again.”)

Feinstein, in her speech, said that the C.I.A.’s “troubling” destruction of the tapes put the current story in motion. Michael Hayden, then director of the C.I.A., had offered the committee cables that he said were just as descriptive as the tapes. “The resulting staff report was chilling,” Feinstein said. The committee voted to begin a broader review. The terms were worked out in 2009, and staff members were given an off-site facility with electronic files, on computers supposedly segregated from the C.I.A.’s network, that added up to 6.2 million pages—“without any index, without any organizational structure. It was a true document dump,” Feinstein said. In the years that followed, staff members turned that jumble into a six-thousand-page report, still classified, on the C.I.A.’s detention practices. By all accounts, it is damning.

But, Feinstein said, odd things happened during the course of the committee members’ work. Documents that had been released to them would suddenly disappear from the main electronic database, as though someone had had second thoughts—and they knew they weren’t imagining it, “Gaslight”-style, because, in some cases, they’d printed out hard copies or saved the digital version locally. When they first noticed this, in 2010, Feinstein objected and was apologized to, “and that, as far as I was concerned, put the incidents aside.” Then, after the report was completed, the staff members noticed that at some point hundreds of pages of documents known as the “Panetta review” had also, Feinstein said, been “removed by the C.I.A.”

The Panetta review was the C.I.A’s note to itself on what might be found in all those millions of documents. Apparently, it is damning, too. The six-thousand-page report didn’t rely on it; the report didn’t have to, because it had the documents themselves. The Panetta review became important only after the C.I.A. saw the draft of the committee’s report and fought back. The agency offered a classified rebuttal (again, the report is still classified); publicly, without being specific, it said that the Senate had gotten a lot wrong, that its facts were off, its judgments mistaken. Then, in December, Senator Mark Udall, in an open hearing, said that this was a funny thing for the C.I.A. to say, given that its internal review (the Panetta review) sounded a whole lot like the Senate report. Or, as Feinstein put it this morning,

To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the C.I.A.’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?

This is where the C.I.A. seems to have lost its bearings and its prudence. As Feinstein noted, there have been comments to the press suggesting that the only way the committee staff members could have had the Panetta review is if they’d stolen it. The pretense for the search of the committee’s computers—where the staff kept its own work, too—was that there had been some kind of security breach. Feinstein says that this is simply false: maybe the C.I.A. hadn’t meant for the Panetta review to be among the six million pieces of paper they’d swamped the Senate with, but it was there. (Maybe a leaker had even tucked it in.) And she made a crucial, larger point about classification:

The Panetta-review documents were no more highly classified than other information we had received for our investigation. In fact, the documents appeared based on the same information already provided to the committee. What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant C.I.A. wrongdoing.

In other words, there were no particular secrets, in the sense of sources and methods and things that keep us safe. Instead, there was the eternal category confusion of the classifier: that avoiding political embarrassment, and basic accountability, is the same thing as safeguarding national security.

Whose embarrassment? John Brennan was at the C.I.A. when it used torture. During President Obama’s first term, he was in the White House, and got the President’s trust. In his confirmation hearings, he suggested that he had learned something from the Senate report; as director, he has tried to discredit it. Obama had made a decision early on not to pursue prosecutions of C.I.A. officials for torture and other crimes. He gave them a bye. Feinstein herself has been a prominent defender of the intelligence community, notably with regard to the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance and collection of telephone records. It is bafflingly clumsy of the Agency to have so alienated her.

Feinstein suggested that this was why it particularly enraged her that the acting general counsel of the C.I.A., who had been, she noted, the lawyer for “the unit within which the C.I.A. managed and carried out this program,” had referred her committee’s possession of the Panetta review to the Department of Justice as a possible criminal act. (There is also an investigation of the C.I.A.’s own role.) “He is mentioned by name more than sixteen hundred times in our study,” Feinstein said. (That name is Robert Eatinger.) “And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff”; the people working for her were “now being threatened with legal jeopardy just as final revisions to the report are being made.”

There were crimes, after September 11th, that took place in hidden rooms with video cameras running. And then there were coverups, a whole series of them, escalating from the destruction of the videotapes to the deleting of documents to what Feinstein now calls “a defining moment” in the constitutional balance between the legislature and the executive branch, and between privacy and surveillance. Senator Patrick Leahy said afterward that he could not remember a speech he considered so important. Congress hasn’t minded quite enough that the rest of us have been spied on. Now Feinstein and her colleagues have their moment; what are they going to make of it?

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See also:

•  The New York Times, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry” by Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman (3/12/14): “A festering conflict between the Central Intelligence Agency and its congressional overseers broke into the open Tuesday when Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee and one of the C.I.A.’s staunchest defenders, delivered an extraordinary denunciation of the agency, accusing it of withholding information about its treatment of prisoners and trying to intimidate committee staff members investigating the detention program.”

•  The New York Times, “C.I.A. Employees Face New Inquiry Amid Clashes on Detention Program” by Mark Mazzetti (3/4/14): “The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.”

•  And see Rachel Maddow’s March 11 coverage here.

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Photo credit: Detail of photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty in The New Yorker online.

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Happy Mardi Gras, Y’all

03/4/14

Riders by Bart Everson, 2011

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We wish everyone, wherever you be, a happy Mardi Gras. Where we are this morning—not at the Zulu or Rex parades, sorry to say, but in New York where it’s 17 degrees—it’s too cold to quite grasp that today is Mardi Gras, but this is indeed the day. The cold rain in New Orleans doesn’t feel convincingly festive for the people there, either.) A friend visiting from Baton Rouge brings warmth of spirit (including that of the Spanish Town Parade) and beads of purple, green, and gold. Where we wish we were right now is on St. Charles Avenue, on lower Royal Street in Bywater with the Society of St. Anne’s parade into the Quarter, and on Canal Street and the Quarter. For us, this year, a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner this evening at Calvary/St. George’s Church in New York City will be our place of celebration.

Click here and crank it up: The NOLA Defender posts a YouTube video playlist of Classic Mardi Gras music, featuring “Iko Iko” by the Dixie Cups and “Big Chief” played by Earl King, Dr. John, the Meters, and Professor Longhair.

Check out our friends’ Mardi Gras Flickr sets here, here, and here.

Today, let the good times roll, and Be a New Orleanian—wherever you are. Tomorrow, it’s Ash Wednesday, and still you can be a New Orleanian wherever you are. Keep the faith, and keep the good times rollin’.

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BeANewOrleanian

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Top photo courtesy of Bart “Editor B” Everson. “Be a New Orleanian” design by Dirty Coast (click here to buy the T-shirt!).

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John Kerry: Climate Change Is ‘World’s Most Fearsome’ Weapon of Mass Destruction

02/20/14

climate-change_Image Credit-kwest:Shutterstock

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“When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond. . . . And the results of our human activity are clear. If you ranked all the years in recorded history by average temperature, . . . you’d see that all 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.” —Secretary of State John Kerry in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 16, 2014

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But Will He Oppose Keystone XL Pipeline?

In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and urged international action to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. . . . When I think about the array of . . . global threats . . . terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—all challenges that know no borders—the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them. . . . 

We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and . . . extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. . . . This is not opinion. This is about facts. This is about science. The science is unequivocal. . . . 

Notwithstanding the stark choices that we face . . . there is still time. . . . But the window is closing. . . . The United States is prepared to take the lead in bringing other nations to the table.

us-state-kxl-co2-scenarios-When he was a United States senator (1985–2013) and the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, Kerry was a strong advocate for environmental protection and action against climate change. However, as Think Progress points out, his fine-sounding speech “is utterly at odds with State’s logic-twisting Keystone-friendly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” Joe Romm of Think Progress writes:

A must-read new analysis by Oil Change International finds that “all of the scenarios used by the State Department” in their Final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “result in emissions that put us on a path to 6 degrees C (11°F) of global warming according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).” Talk about mass destruction! 

A report about Kerry’s speech on the BBC’s Global News podcast (2/16/14) includes comments by  environmental correspondent Matt McGrath suggesting that, with President Obama under intense political pressure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and with a decision possibly to be announced this year (after the 2014 midterm elections?), “this is Kerry laying down [for the eyes of the world] the Obama administration’s green credentials, their determination to get a [climate change] deal in the future.” Kerry’s speech, he said, was not only for an international audience but also for American listeners.

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Back to 2009: How “Hopenhagen” Became “Brokenhagen”

Countdown-Copenhagen1In related news see BBC environmental correspondent Matt McGrath’s report, “Emissions Impossible: Did Spies Sink Key Climate Deal?,” on how the NSA helped U.S. officials monitor the communications of other nations’ negotiators at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, “according to documents released to a Danish newspaper by [Edward] Snowden.”

“All the spying in the world wouldn’t have secured an agreement in Copenhagen,” said a Danish source of McGrath’s. “We all knew the Gordian knot was that China wouldn’t accept an agreement that omitted the Kyoto Protocol and the US wouldn’t accept one that included it. This was impossible to cut through and everyone knew this beforehand.” 

And so it was that “Hopenhagen” rapidly became “Brokenhagen.”

•  See LNW’s “Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing (Sound Familiar?)” (12/19/09), which includes links to many climate-related articles and web sites.

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Photo credit: kwest / Shutterstock

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Pete Seeger, 1919–2014: A Life of “Defiant Optimism”

02/1/14

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“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. . . . there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.”Pete Seeger, on Democracy Now

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Let Us Now Praise Him and Thank Him

There is so much to admire about Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, that one hardly knows where to begin. “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—there are so many great songs he wrote, or refreshed and arranged for popular use, always inviting the audience to sing along, that it is difficult, and not at all cheering, to imagine what a different and poorer world this would have been without Pete Seeger and his music (the two are indistinguishable). Think of all the protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, and celebrations those songs and others have accompanied.

We admire Pete Seeger for his activism, generosity, his indomitable optimism, his ever-open mind, and sheer energy. For many of us, he was an old man (and a very accomplished, legendary one) for so many years that we could be forgiven for asking, upon hearing of his death, Oh, was he still alive?

ToshiSeege-obit-popupHe was indeed, and he performed as recently as 2009 at Barack Obama’s first inaugural celebrations, singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo below), and at an Occupy Wall Street concert in 2011 when he was a young man of 92. His wife, Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. (The picture at right shows the Seegers in 1992.)

Pete Seeger knew everyone and played with everyone, from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to Paul Robeson, and Bob Dylan, to Emmylou Harris and David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1930s he collected folk songs with Alan Lomax and traveled and sang with Woody Guthrie. He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 50s (including for Eleanor Roosevelt and others at a racially integrated party at a CIO hall in Washington in 1944), and sang for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1950s and 60s, and for environmental causes from the 1970s to the 2010s. He sang with the Almanac Singers (including Woody Guthrie) in the 1940s and the Weavers in the 50s. In the late 1950s he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and narrowly avoided being sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” —Pete Seeger, testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on Aug. 18, 1955

He was picketed by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, which boosted ticket sales, and for many years he was blacklisted from performing on TV because in the 1930s he had been a member of the Young Communist League. He did, however, eventually manage to perform his antiwar song “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, after it was initially censored by CBS. As the New York Times obituary explains:

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

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Dave Van Ronk, the Brooklyn-born folk and blues singer on whom the Coen brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis is (loosely) based, wrote of his admiration for Seeger in the late 1950s:

I think that the man is really great, in almost every sense of the word. . . . Artists of Seeger’s genre are hard to come by in this day and age. He is, in my opinion, taste and honesty personified, and a Seeger concert is a lesson which no singer of folksongs can afford to miss. When he speaks on the stage, his voice rarely rises above a conversational level, and yet he is heard. There is no phony upstaging at all. As a matter of fact, “stage presence” of the Broadway variety is entirely absent. Seeger does not act; he is.

I think that this is the key to his entire greatness. The man has no need to act in order to establish contact with his audience. He genuinely respects the people who are listening to him and refuses to insult their sensibilities with insincere theatrics. . . .

He is not “preserving” folklore but living it, and so are we, and he knows it. He neither sings up nor down to his material but with it. And there is no dichotomy between the performer and the content of his songs. . . . When he sings, all of him is involved. Which is another lesson that many singers of folksongs could profit by.

—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (pp. 67–68)

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For more about Pete Seeger’s exemplary life of “defiant optimism” in music and activism, we recommend the following • New York Times obituary, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” and “Pete Seeger, a Folk Revivalist Who Used His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s” • Democracy Now’s special report • Amy Goodman’s “Pete Seeger: Troubadour of Truth and Justice” • John Nichols’s obituary in The Nation, “Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced It to Surrender” • and this affectionate appreciation by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

The photograph below shows Seeger performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (left) and Bruce Springsteen in January 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Below that, Pete Seeger, 92, in 2011 joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle (photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times).

This Land

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Occupy

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An ‘Obamacare’ Success Story

01/9/14

AFAInsurers, Too, Must Be Held Accountable

Our friend Stephen in NYC, who has contributed good ideas to this blog before, shares his experience in enrolling with an insurer. Stephen makes the very important point that the news media (including us bloggers) would serve the public interest if we would “start reporting on the incompetence of the health insurance companies and their technologically defective systems for enrollment, rather than putting all the blame for the recent mishaps of health insurance enrollment on the ACA rollout. My own experience is a case in point.”

One week after his old health-insurance policy lapsed, and three weeks after he mailed his application (with payment) to a New York health insurance company—and after speaking to eight customer service representatives and supervisors at the new insurance company over the past week—he was finally enrolled in the policy he had applied for (retroactive to Jan. 1), perhaps moved along by the threats he made earlier that day to alert the New York State attorney general, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and WOR-TV’s “Help Me, Howard” if his policy was not in effect within 24 hours—in addition to the letter that he had sent to The New York Times the day before, which is copied below.

To the Editors:

The NY Times and most other (all other?) news organizations have been covering the mishaps of the ACA rollout and ascribing them entirely to the incompetent programming of the new fed health-exchange website and some state health-exchange websites. I’d like to suggest, from my recent experience trying to get a 2014 health-insurance plan by enrolling directly with a NY health-insurance company (i.e., NOT through an exchange), that much of the incompetence is with the health-insurance companies themselves and has nothing to do with ACA. I’m still trying to get my new health-insurance company, Emblem Health, to actually enroll me in their 2104 health-insurance plan (as opposed to theoretically enrolling me)—and I applied directly through their own system, not through the fed or state health exchange.

As of today, Jan. 7, I still don’t have health insurance (my 2013 plan lapsed on Dec. 31), even though I sent my application for enrollment, along with a check for payment, by mail on Dec. 16—and it was received there on Dec. 19. Since then, I have called Emblem Health numerous times and have spoken to seven customer representatives and two supervisors, and was assured on Dec. 31 that my enrollment was in fact being processed, and that I would receive an e-mail affirming that I would be enrolled shortly and that my coverage would be retroactive to January 1. I have received nothing. I called Emblem Health again today and spoke to another customer representative, who searched on the Emblem Health system and found that my name was not on it yet. Tomorrow, I will be calling the supervisor to whom I spoke on Dec. 30 AND ON Dec. 31 (when I stayed on the phone continuously for 3 hours), to ask her why I have not heard from her about my enrollment nor received the e-mail confirming my imminent enrollment and retroactive coverage. (It’s a good thing I’ve had no health emergencies during this past week.)

So when I read or hear news reports of how bad ACA is, I’ve decided to be skeptical, and I’d like the NY Times to demonstrate some of that same skepticism, and to report on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the insurance companies and what appears to be their technologically defective systems for enrollment. I would be happy to share with a NY Times reporter more details of my frustrating experience trying to enroll for a health-insurance plan outside the exchange.

Well done, Stephen. Congratulations. But note how much time and effort he had to expend—time he had to take from his freelance work, which means a loss of some potential income. It should not have to be so difficult.

Dear readers, we encourage you to share your experiences in enrolling with health care providers under the Affordable Care Act. You can also share your stories—success stories, we hope—on Facebook at ACA Success Stories (facebook.com/acasuccessstories). Bloggers, reporters, hold the companies accountable, too, as well as the elected officials and pundits who are obstructing progress and exaggerating glitches and malfunctions for political gain.

We would also recommend that readers take a look at Rachel Maddow’s emphasis on the slow start of ‘Romneycare’ in Massachusetts (TRMS 1/2/14). This healthcare coverage expansion program, now regarded as a success for the people of Massachusetts, is roughly the template on which the Affordable Care Act was designed.

Despite Successes, 47 Million Americans Lack Health Coverage

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo finds that some 9 to 10 million people have gained health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, and that about 5 million “currently do not have coverage because individual states decided not to opt into Medicaid expansion.” By the end of 2013, more than 1.1. million Americans had signed up for healthcare coverage through Healthcare.gov. (One Charles Gaba has been compiling data on the number of people who have enrolled for healthcare coverage through the 14 states that have exchange sites.) Still, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, some 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage.

For political reasons, of course, Republicans want the president’s healthcare expansion initiative to fail.

While we’re “redistributing blame” for the ACA’s rocky start, let’s look also at what Steve Benen calls “the scourge of the wingnut hole” (the term “wingnut hole” was coined by Ed Kilgore). Whenever the totals of people enrolled in healthcare insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act are given, Benen says, “it’s worth remembering that the coverage totals would be far greater were it not for “red” states refusing to accept Medicaid expansion”—5 million greater, as Josh Marshall reports above.

In a related article, Ryan Cooper at the Washington Post’s Plum Line points out: 

About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America. . . . The court effectively left it up to states to decide whether to open Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, to more people, primarily poor working adults without children. . . .

Twenty-five states declined. That leaves 4.8 million people in those states without the health care coverage that their peers elsewhere are getting through the expansion of Medicaid, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate. More than one-fifth of them live in Texas alone, Kaiser’s analysis found.

Expanding healthcare coverage has been, and will continue to be, a struggle. But it is the good fight. It’s our hope that the circle of coverage will expand steadily, eventually to include all Americans, and that the insured will be able to have their policies in good health (that is, not to need them for anything too serious).

Further Reading

Healthcare.gov

Kaiser Family Foundation

Healthcare coverage at Think Progress

Healthcare at Mother Jones

Healthcare at The Nation

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