Levees Not War
Make Wetlands Not War.

Après Charlie Hebdo, Thoughts on Free Expression and Islamic Violence


CoverStory-Solidarite-690-938-08192139Will we give the enemy the satisfaction of changing ourselves into something like their hate-filled, illiberal mirror image, or will we, as the guardians of the modern world, as the custodians of freedom and the occupants of the privileged lands of plenty, go on trying to increase freedom and decrease injustice? Will we become the suits of armour our fear makes us put on, or will we continue to be ourselves? The frontier both shapes our character and tests our mettle. I hope we pass the test. —Salman Rushdie, “Step Across This Line” (2002)

“Mr. [Didier] Cantat spoke for many when he said the attacks could fuel greater anti-immigrant sentiment. ‘We are told Islam is for God, for peace,’ he said. ‘But when you see this other Islam, with the jihadists, I don’t see peace, I see hatred. So people can’t tell which is the real Islam.’ ”New York Times


In our first post after wishing for a new year with less “horribilis,” we would like to offer some thoughts about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris of Wednesday, January 7.

First, along with people around the world, we are shocked and disgusted by the slaughter in Paris, and we send condolences and commiserations to the people of France—especially to the families and friends of those who were killed (eleven staff members and one police officer). Vive la France. Long live the free press and freedom of expression. Some members of LNW work in journalism and publishing, and we remember how some of our colleagues at Viking (especially in the London offices) were at risk during the Satanic Verses fatwa (1989–) against British novelist Salman Rushdie (born into a Muslim family), we feel for the victims and those still at risk.

We will not, however, echo thousands or millions of others who are saying “Je suis Charlie.” For one thing, we had never heard of the publication before Wednesday. Also, we don’t claim to be that brave—nor are we that reckless. Although we defend and depend upon freedom of speech and the principles of a free press—particularly for investigative journalism into corporate or governmental wrongdoing—it is our opinion that Charlie Hebdo was being unnecessarily, irresponsibly provocative, poking a hornet’s nest over and over, for fun and profit. Of course they did not deserve to be harmed, much less massacred. But, in a country that has about a 7 percent Muslim population, and after a fire-bombing of their offices in 2011 (in response to a satirical front-cover depiction of the Prophet Muhammad), and with police protection for the editor, they had to know that they were running a very serious risk of bloody retribution by incensed, offended believers. (We also thought Sony was extremely irresponsible in making and hoping to profit from a film about the fictional assassination of an actual, living head of state, but that’s another matter.)

Now, there is a long and life-sustaining tradition of satire in France (and it lives on, for example, in New Orleans’s satirical Carnival krewes), as there is in Britain, and any publication should be able to print anything it wants—particularly if the satire is directed at errant politicians and the rich and powerful when they obnoxiously throw their weight around. It is also true that devout Muslims are not noted for their sense of humor. But we do not know what it’s like to grow up Islamic, so we don’t understand how irreverent (or any) depictions of the Prophet Muhammad can be blasphemous; we’ll have to take their word for it.

By personal heritage and by Louisiana’s historic ties to France, we may be more sympathetic to France and French culture than the average American, but for many years we have also been friends with more than a few Muslims (from Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, etc.), so this atrocity pulls us in more than one direction.

And yet, but now . . . Even liberal, tolerant Americans and other westerners are saying enough of the familiar excuse that “[this latest atrocity] is not Islam; Islam is peace.” We want to hear the grand ayatollah and other prominent mullahs and imams denounce this kind of violence, but it seems we never do. Could it be that they have denounced the killings, but for some reason their denunciations are filtered out by a biased western media? We don’t think so.

(Former president George W. Bush did a good thing when shortly after September 11 he emphasized that “Islam is peace,” and gave signals that Americans should refrain from acts of retribution against innocent Muslims. Maybe he was asked to say this by his close family friend Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. In any case, it was the right thing to do, and we commend Bush for having made the statement.)

JeSuisCharlieThis blog has tried to be tolerant of Muslims and understanding of their grievances. As stated in a previous post, since high school and college days we’ve had quite a few friends from the Middle East, and we admire and respect and sometimes love them. But we have no tolerance for extremists of any kind, foreign or domestic. (See “Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America,” LNW 8/23/10)

There is some hope, however, that this view is shared by moderate Muslims. Last week Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in a speech to Egypt’s clerics, “It is unbelievable that the thought we hold holy pushes the Muslim community to be a source of worry, fear, danger, murder and destruction to all the world. . . . You need to stand sternly.”

Meanwhile, Think Progress says the Associated Press reports that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of a Lebanese Hezbollah group, “said extremists who murder and behead people have done more harm to Islam than ‘anyone else in history.’ ” Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah also denounced the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (though not on the Pentagon).

We are not alone in wanting to hear the ayatollah and prominent mullahs firmly and clearly denounce jihadist killings—not only September 11 but also the bombings and attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005), and Mumbai (2008), etc.—as well as ISIS’s calls for slayings of non-Muslims by “homegrown” killers in western countries. (On the Jan. 7 show, Rachel Maddow lists recent random, low-tech killings by jihadist extremists in London, Australia, and elsewhere.)

In late September 2005, while many Americans were still reeling from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published some editorial cartoons of Muhammad under the headline “The face of Muhammad.” A hot controversy about self-censorship and criticism of Islam ensued. Read more about it here.)

A few months later, after stormy protests (and about 200 deaths) around the world, Christopher Hitchens published a piece in Slate, “Stand Up for Denmark!

You wish to say that it was . . . a small newspaper in Copenhagen that lit the trail? What abject masochism and nonsense. It was the arrogant Danish mullahs who patiently hawked those cartoons around the world (yes, don’t worry, they are allowed to exhibit them as much as they like), until they finally provoked a vicious response against the economy and society of their host country. . . . The hypocrisy here is shameful, nauseating, unpardonable. The original proscription against any portrayal of the prophet, not that this appears to be absolute, was superficially praiseworthy because it was intended as a safeguard against idolatry and the worship of images. But now see how this principle is negated. A rumor of a cartoon in a faraway country is enough to turn the very name Mohammed into a fetish-object and an excuse for barbaric conduct. As I write this, the death toll is well over thirty and—guess what?—a mullah in Pakistan has offered $1 million and a car as a bribe for the murder of ‘the cartoonist.’ This incitement will go unpunished and most probably unrebuked.

—“Stand Up for Denmark!” Slate, February 21, 2006, and in Christopher Hitchens, Arguably: Essays (2011)

Why are these satirical cartoons being printed in the first place? One reason could be that there is among Europeans a profound impatience and intolerance of immigrants who refuse to assimilate, who stay in their own close-knit neighborhoods, insist on wearing attire (including the hijab) from a world that is alien to Europe, and seem to hate or keep at a distance the culture into which they have settled. The widely admired historian Walter Laqueur explained the situation in his 2007 book The Last Days of Europe (the title refers in part to the continent’s overly permissive immigration policies).

Many of the immigrants of 2006 live in societies separate form those of the host countries. This is true for big cities and small. They have no German or British or French friends, they do not meet them, and frequently they do not speak their language. Their preachers tell these immigrants that their values and traditions are greatly superior to those of the infidels and that any contact with them, even with neighbors, is undesirable. Their young people complain about being victims and being excluded , but their social and cultural separateness is quite often voluntary. Western European governments and societies are often criticized for not having done more to integrate these new citizens. But even if they had done much more, is it certain that integration would have succeeded? For integration is not a one-way street.

Do these immigrants identify with their new homeland? If you ask them, they will frequently tell you that they are Muslims (or Turks or Nigerians) living in Britain, France, or Germany. They get their politics, religion, and culture from Arab and Turkish television channels. . . . However, they have no wish to go back to Turkey or Algeria—this is their country and they show it; no one should have any doubt about it.

—Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe, pp. 7–8


We’ve probably said more than enough . . . for now. Many of us will continue to reflect on what it is we’re doing, what we have gotten ourselves into—never forget the West’s thirst for oil that has brought our corporations and armies into the Muslim lands in the first place,  and the complicated legacy of European colonialism—and how we can live together in this globalized, intermixed world. It’s an International World, after all, and we have to find ways to live together. We hope that the Muslim clerics will heed the call of Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Let’s close with the final two paragraphs of Salman Rushdie’s “Step Across this Line” (the source of the epigraph above), an address given at Yale University not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, February 25 and 26, 2002):

Even before the attacks on America, I was concerned that, in Britain and Europe as well as America, the pressures on artistic and even intellectual freedoms were growing—that cautious, conservative political and institutional forces were gaining the upper hand, and that many social groups were deliberately fostering a new, short-fuse culture of easy offendedness, so that less and less was becoming sayable all the time, and more and more kinds of speech were being categorized as transgressive. If it was important to resist this cultural closing-in before 9/11, it’s twice as important now. The freedoms of art and the intellect are closely related to the general freedoms of society as a whole. The struggle for artistic freedom serves to crystallize the larger question that we were all asked when the planes hit the buildings: how should we live now? How uncivilized are we going to allow our own world to become in response to so barbaric an assault? 

We are living, I believe, in a frontier time, one of the great hinge periods in human history, in which great changes are coming about at great speed. On the plus side, the end of the cold war, the revolution in communications technology, great scientific achievements such as the completion of the human genome project; in the minus column, a new kind of war against new kinds of enemies fighting with terrible new weapons. We will all be judged by how we handle ourselves in this time. What will be the spirit of this frontier? Will we give the enemy the satisfaction of changing ourselves into something like their hate-filled, illiberal mirror image, or will we, as the guardians of the modern world, as the custodians of freedom and the occupants of the privileged lands of plenty, go on trying to increase freedom and decrease injustice? Will we become the suits of armour our fear makes us put on, or will we continue to be ourselves? The frontier both shapes our character and tests our mettle. I hope we pass the test.


“Vive la France.” Click here for President Obama’s remarks written in a condolence book at the French Embassy in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 8. Video here.


New Yorker cover illustration by Ana Juan; broken pencils illustration by Lucille Clerc.


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Annus Horribilis : 2014 in Review


New Year
Good Riddance to a Bad Year

In a speech in late 1992, Queen Elizabeth II used the phrase “annus horribilis” to describe Great Britain’s no-good, very bad year (tabloid-quality marital troubles of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, a fire at Windsor Castle, etc.). The term is derived from the Latin annus mirabilis (wonderful year). As the queen said about 1992, we feel about 2014: “not a year on which [we] shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

First, though, let’s open with some good things that happened in 2014 that give us cause to hope that 2015 may bring more mirabilis and less horribilis.

Public health. Overall, the American medical establishment, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managed pretty well in handling the cases of Ebola that arose in the U.S. (Try not to be freaked out by TV “news” coverage of this topic; as with weather events, the more alarmist their coverage, the better for their ratings.)

ACAIn other healthy developments, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, brought more good news for the general public (though not for Fox News). In “Tidings of Comfort” (12/26/14), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says that in its first full year of full implementation (its provisions were phased in gradually after its passage in 2010), “the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million. . . . premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.”

Economy. Krugman points out that although economic recovery from the 2008 crisis has been slow, recent performance has been comparatively healthy, with steady increases in job creation and 5 percent growth in the U.S. economy overall. Some 6.7 million jobs have been created since Obama took office, compared with 3.1 million at the six-year mark under George W. Bush. If it were not for congressionally mandated austerity, the recovery would have been much better.

(Krugman does not mention this, but the recovery was strong enough in 2014 that, if we were living in normal, level-playing-field political conditions, without the artificial factors of gerrymandered congressional districts and unlimited dark money mentioned below, this year’s midterm elections should have gone more than usual in the favor of the president’s party.) For more on the president’s performance, see Krugman’s excellent and persuasive “In Defense of Obama” (Rolling Stone, 10/8/14).

Executive actions. President Obama took several positive actions on several important issues that do not depend on the constipated Congress to take effect. In November he used an executive action to grant a reprieve to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants and to strengthen border security.

People’s Climate MarchAlso in November, Obama made a landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and to rely more on renewable sources of energy and on nuclear energy. Following on the massive People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014, in which more than 400,000 marched in New York City as delegates were gathering at the United Nations, this agreement provided substantial good news for the environment and reason to hope for more progressive green achievements. (They can’t come too soon: the “climate change” the earth is undergoing may already be irreparable. But enough: we’re trying to focus on the positive here.)

And, in the kind of bold surprise we welcome and hope to see more of, in mid-December, President Obama announced that after nearly 55 years of diplomatic estrangement, the United States will normalize relations with Cuba and unfreeze the trade embargo, an agreement worked out with behind-the-scenes assistance from Pope Francis and the Vatican and the government of Canada.

About That Annus Horribilis . . .

We each have our own reasons, but it seems to be a widely shared view that even by the standards of this grim new century 2014 was a bad year—and it was already looking bad by the summer. “In this summer of global tumult” began a piece in The New York Times (“As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way,” 8/16/14). A general sense of gloom and dread was helped along by the fact that 2014 was, as many news outlets were commemorating, the centenary of the outbreak of The Great War.

In international affairs, there was Russia’s annexing of Crimea and troublemaking in Ukraine; the continuation of the dreadful Syrian civil war (two years and counting: some 76,000 died in Syria this year, including 3,500 children) and the related rise of ISIS (aka ISIL, or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq; the very destructive Israel-Gaza war that erupted in July; and of course the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But wait: there’s more.

In a nation whose middle class was still struggling if not drowning in a protracted recession and widespread unemployment since the economic collapse of 2008, while corporate profits reached record highs (“In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record [in 1965], while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948.” [NYT 8/31/14])—the already poor and jobless were further stressed by interactions with heavily armed police. In the first eight months of 2014 in the United States there were more than 400 deaths from police shootings.

Disturbances of the Peace


Here in the homeland, American society was disturbed by the still mysterious shooting on August 9 of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The death sparked outrage and dramatic protests against brutality and excessive militarization of police departments around the United States. The choking death on July 17 of a black man named Eric Garner while in police custody (“I can’t breathe,” he gasped eleven times)—he was suspected of illegally selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island ferry—was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. In December a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer in the death; this decision, just a week after a similar decision in Missouri to not prosecute the officer who shot Michael Brown, prompted widespread protests in New York and around the nation with the themes “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Tension persists in (among other places) New York City, where the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio are not seeing eye to eye. Large numbers of officers physically turned their backs on the mayor when he spoke at the funeral service several days ago of one of two officers killed in Brooklyn by a lunatic from Baltimore seeking revenge for African Americans killed by police.

“Hell No You Can’t!”

MoneybagsOne more category that should be mentioned, like it or not, is the depressing outcome of the 2014 midterm congressional elections. (So depressing, in fact, that this blog was at a loss for words for several months.) Although victorious, empowered Republicans crowed that the American people had spoken (for them and against Obama, naturally), we attribute their success to (1) gerrymandered congressional districts tailor-made for conservative dominance; (2) unlimited “dark money” from corporations and political action committees following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision (2010); and (3) voting rights restrictions that limited voting by minorities, college students, and other likely Democratic constituencies after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). (See “Dark Money Helped Win the Senate,” The New  York Times Editorial Board, 11/8/14.)

Perhaps equally disheartening, though, and certainly more infuriating, is the chronic cowardice of establishment Democrats. Dem candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and shrank from speaking up about the party’s accomplishments and defending its historic programs. (See “A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern” [LNW 11/3/10].) As our friend Cousin Pat from Georgia at Hurricane Radio has said many times, the Democratic Party cannot ally itself with Wall Street and still expect support from the middle class and working class at election time. (See his “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November” [9/28/10])

We pray that progressive activists will multiply and press the Democrats and independents to push for progressive policies. One of the developments to which we’re not looking forward is the looming 2016 presidential election. We do not salivate at the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ candidate, but if she is the candidate the Republicans most fear, then perhaps she should be the Democrats’ leader in 2016. But HRC is a Wall Street, big-money Democrat, like Chuck Schumer, and her credentials do not bode well for peace or progressive causes. On our wish list is more of populist, independent thinkers like senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. We hope that, at the very least, Warren and other liberals and defenders of the middle class will be able to push Clinton toward more progressive talk and action.

Falling Stars in the Obituary Pages

Another way of looking at the year’s toll is by considering the obituaries of entertainers and authors in 2014—some of which were not death from natural causes. Philip Seymour Hoffman (46) and Robin Williams (63), among the greatest talents of any age, both took their own lives after giving immeasurably to world culture, both in humor and in pathos. Other great lives that ended this year include Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers, Shirley Temple Black, poets Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Maxine Kumin, Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, and the global-stature novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Nadine Gordimer, as well as the popular mystery writer P. D. James.

Power to the People

LNW_USA.sleeveWe hope for a better year this next time around, but we know that 2015 is not going to be better just because the previous one was a grind. But we will do our part, “every day, in every way,” and will try to contribute to a better city, a better nation, a better world. We hope you’ll join us in trying to give to civic affairs, for example, not only through occasional contributions to progressive groups (see our blogroll, lower right column, for Anti-War and Environment groups), but also by making our views known to newspapers and elected officials: phoning mayors, members of Congress, writing letters to the editor, and so on. Let’s encourage, congratulate, thank, and support those who do good, and when elected officials are off-track, let them know. (See our Political Action page for contact information.)

Wishing you and yours a better time in 2015, and strength through peace.


Top illustration from New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Ferguson, Missouri, photograph by BBC News.


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Nathaniel Rich on the “National Crisis” of Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast



“I expected that a lawsuit taking on the entire oil and gas industry—perhaps the largest environmental lawsuit in the history of the planet—might receive major national coverage.” —Nathaniel Rich


In “Behind the Cover Story,” Rachel Nolan speaks with Nathaniel Rich, a New Orleans resident and author of last Sunday’s powerful and authoritative New York Times Magazine cover story “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever”—about how he came to write the piece, and possible consequences if the lawsuit fails . . .

Along the way, Rich hails The Lens of New Orleans as “a fantastic local investigative news site.” We could not agree more. 


Behind the Cover Story: Nathaniel Rich on the Legal Battle Over Louisiana’s Land Loss

You have lived in New Orleans for some time now. How did you first become aware of the massive land loss in Louisiana?

I was ignorant about coastal land loss before I moved to New Orleans four years ago, but that changed quickly. Louisianians have known about the loss of their wetlands for decades, but relatively few people outside the state seem to be aware of the problem or its scope. This is disturbing because it is a national crisis, endangering the existence of New Orleans as well as a large percentage of our energy infrastructure and shipping trade. It’s not just nature lovers who should be concerned. Anyone who cares about energy independence, trade or national security should be concerned.

Awareness of the issue is growing, however. Several excellent reports have been published in the last few weeks. One was published through a partnership between ProPublica and The Lens, a fantastic local investigative news site. Called “Losing Ground,” it’s a graphic representation of coastal land loss. Another is “Louisiana Loses Its Boot,” by Brett Anderson, published in Medium. Anderson makes the case for a new official state map that would reflect Louisiana’s changing shape.

How did you first hear about this lawsuit, and come to think that John Barry might be interesting to write about?

nathanielrichphoto-articleInline-v2I learned about it when Barry announced the lawsuit at a press conference last July. I expected that a lawsuit taking on the entire oil and gas industry—perhaps the largest environmental lawsuit in the history of the planet—might receive major national coverage, but it hasn’t come close to getting the attention of, say, the Keystone pipeline.

Barry is a true obsessive, and I’m drawn to writing about obsession. I was fascinated to see a writer abandon a successful writing career, at least temporarily, in order to devote himself to a cause. In my experience, writers are happiest when they are alone in a small room with their work, so Barry’s decision to sue 97 oil and gas companies seemed to me especially radical, and indicative of an unusual personal commitment.

Oil and gas companies conceded responsibility for 36 percent of the land loss. Why don’t the companies pay for 36 percent of the damage to the coast—at the very least as a P.R. move?

Because nobody is making them. The oil and gas industry did not become the most profitable industry in the history of human civilization by accident. Why would an oil company volunteer to donate millions or billions of dollars when nobody is requiring them to? P.R. campaigns come a lot cheaper than that. Shareholders wouldn’t stand for it. Besides, every oil company has a different level of liability. You need some authority to determine how much each company owes. That’s what the lawsuit intends to do.

Who or what is responsible for the rest of the lost land?

Levees, primarily, mostly those built on the Mississippi River by the Army Corps of Engineers. The levees prevent flooding, which deposits sediment into the marshes and builds land. Of course without levees you couldn’t have cities in southern Louisiana. This is one reason it’s difficult for the state to press the oil and gas industry for reparations. Historically, Louisiana has pushed aggressively for the construction of levees, which may be an even greater cause of land loss than the canals and wells dredged by the industry. Thousands of dams built on the Mississippi’s tributaries, which reduce the river’s sediment load, are another factor. Then you have global warming. The land is sinking, and the sea is rising. It’s a pitiful combination.

If this lawsuit fails, what does the future look like for Louisiana?

If the Coastal Master Plan is not fully funded, the coast as we know it will be gone. Over the next century the towns and cities will be abandoned. New Orleans, if it continues to exist, will be an island. The coast might be doomed regardless, but the Master Plan at least gives it a fighting chance.

What might this whole fight in Louisiana mean for Bobby Jindal’s presidential ambitions?

I’m not a political analyst, so I couldn’t speculate with any authority about the next presidential election. Nearly everybody I interviewed in Louisiana, however, believed that Jindal’s extreme hostility to the lawsuit was motivated, at least partially, by his national political ambitions. He is in his final term as governor, after all, and he won’t likely run for state office again. Politically he no longer has much to gain, or lose, in Louisiana. But if he wants to run for president, he will need to win the support of big money. The defendants in the levee-board lawsuit include the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil and Shell Oil—three of the Republican Party’s top donors. As William Goldman wrote: Follow the money.


Read “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever” by Nathaniel Rich in The New York Times Magazine (10/5/2014).


 Photo of Nathaniel Rich by Meredith Angelson for The New York Times.


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Highlights from “The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever” in The New York Times Magazine


Whitehall Canal, in the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary.Jeff Riedel@NYT“The idea of making the industry live up to its legal responsibility is not going to die.”John M. Barry

Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 6, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story titled “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever.” Aside from the cover of Time, a story does not get much more prominent coverage than a cover article in the magazine of The New York Times. Nathaniel Rich, who has written intelligently and sensitively about New Orleans (see here and here), now gives an overview of the environmental reasons why the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East (SLFPA-E) last July filed a suit against nearly 100 oil and gas corporations for failing to honor the terms of their licenses to do business in the wetlands of Louisiana and have caused catastrophic environmental damage to the state’s land. Rich also profiles the leader of that lawsuit, author and environmental activist John M. Barry, who was until recently the vice president of SLFPA-E, and the unprecedented efforts of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, with the help of compliant or fearful legislators, to kill the lawsuit in the state legislature rather than let it work its way through the courts.

Read All About It—And Restore Louisiana Now

Following are some highlights from “Waterworld.” We hope you will forward this post, or the article itself, and also check out John Barry’s new foundation, Restore Louisiana Now. We also urge you to join us in pressing the Jindal administration and the Louisiana state representatives to support efforts to make the oil and gas industry pay for the damage it has done and to restore the critical wetlands that act as a buffer against hurricane storm surge. Scientists say about every 2.5 square miles of wetlands absorbs a foot of storm surge. The oil and gas industry has already conceded responsibility for 36 percent of land loss—but they have not paid for damages. Jindal’s plan, apparently, is to let industry off the hook and to let the Coastal Master Plan for restoration to fall on the taxpayers—a curious position for an anti-tax politician.

This politically ambitious governor, who imagines he has a chance at becoming president of the United States, continues in his efforts to bend the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East (intended to be politically independent) to his will. The lawsuit’s attorney has requested that a federal judge rule on the constitutionality of a controversial bill, pushed for and eagerly signed by Jindal, that would kill the lawsuit. The judge will hear that motion, along with motions filed by oil companies to dismiss the suit, on Nov. 12.

From “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever”

Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.

Canals dredged by the energy industry south of Lafitte.The land loss is swiftly reversing the process by which the state was built. As the Mississippi shifted its course over the millenniums, spraying like a loose garden hose, it deposited sand and silt in a wide arc. This sediment first settled into marsh and later thickened into solid land. But what took 7,000 years to create has been nearly destroyed in the last 85. . . .

Beneath the surface, the oil and gas industry has carved more than 50,000 wells since the 1920s, creating pockets of air in the marsh that accelerate the land’s subsidence. The industry has also incised 10,000 linear miles of pipelines, which connect the wells to processing facilities; and canals, which allow ships to enter the marsh from the sea. Over time, as seawater eats away at the roots of the adjacent marsh, the canals expand. By its own estimate, the oil and gas industry concedes that it has caused 36 percent of all wetlands loss in southeastern Louisiana. . . .

A better analogy than disappearing football fields has been proposed by the historian John M. Barry, who has lived in the French Quarter on and off since 1972. Barry likens the marsh to a block of ice. The reduction of sediment in the Mississippi, the construction of levees and the oil and gas wells “created a situation akin to taking the block of ice out of the freezer, so it begins to melt.” Dredging canals and pipelines “is akin to stabbing that block of ice with an ice pick.”

The oil and gas industry has extracted about $470 billion in natural resources from the state in the last two decades, with the tacit blessing of the federal and state governments and without significant opposition from environmental groups. Oil and gas is, after all, Louisiana’s leading industry, responsible for around a billion dollars in annual tax revenue. Last year, industry executives had reason to be surprised, then, when they were asked to pay damages. The request came in the form of the most ambitious, wide-ranging environmental lawsuit in the history of the United States. . . .

When John Barry met with Congressman Bobby Jindal (2006): In Washington, where Barry lives for part of the year, he met with a freshman representative from the state’s First Congressional District, which includes much of southeastern Louisiana: Bobby Jindal. He begged Jindal to demand action from the White House [following Hurricane Katrina]. New Orleans couldn’t count on its mayor, or on the governor, he said; the city needed a hero on Capitol Hill. After speaking for two hours, Barry recalled, Jindal said that taking a leadership position on Hurricane Katrina “didn’t fit his timing for running for governor.” (Jindal, who declined to comment for this article, was elected governor in 2007.) “I left in total disgust,” Barry said. . . .

The state did have a plan in place to rebuild the barrier islands and coastal wetlands. Originally published in 2007 and revised in 2012, the so-called Coastal Master Plan was endorsed by scientists, as well as the oil and gas industry. . . . The state, however, had not figured out how it was going to finance the Coastal Master Plan. The main source of funding would be the settlement from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill lawsuits, which is expected to be as much as $20 billion. That would leave about $30 billion.

Barry believed that other oil and gas companies should also contribute. His argument was simple: Because the industry conceded responsibility for 36 percent of land loss, it should pay its part: $18 billion would be a start.

near Myrtle Grove, La.[Barry] knew that nearly every company that has operated in the marshes since the 1920s has used permits obliging them to maintain and repair any environmental damage it caused. In 1980, Louisiana began adhering to a federal law that required companies operating in the marsh—a list that includes ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP, Chevron and Koch Industries—to restore “as near as practicable to their original condition” any canals they dredge. After consulting with legal experts, Barry became convinced that most companies never filled in their canals and that the state had failed to enforce the law. In fact, many of the projects listed in the Coastal Master Plan called for plugging canals that should have been restored years ago. . . .

“Louisianians who make money in oil buy politicians, or pieces of politicians, as Kentuckians in the same happy situation buy racehorses. Oil gets into politics, and politicians, making money in office, get into oil. The state slithers around it.” These sentences, written by A. J. Liebling in 1960 at the dawn of the deep-water offshore-drilling era, seem quaint when read today. Louisiana no longer slithers in oil; it drowns in it. It is also high on natural gas, thanks to the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing. And at some point along the way, the state, which has the oil and gas, ceded political control to the industry, which needs the oil and gas. . . .

One peculiarity about the fight over the lawsuit is that few industries are in greater need of coastal restoration than oil and gas. The next major hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast will put at risk billions of dollars of industry infrastructure—refineries, oil tanks, terminals and pipelines. This is why the industry endorsed the Coastal Master Plan. A second oddity is that Jindal, a hero of the anti-tax faction of the national Republican Party, who last year tried to eliminate the state’s corporate and income taxes, has now put himself in the position of allowing the largest single bill facing his state—for the balance of the Coastal Master Plan—to fall almost entirely upon taxpayers.


Check out Restore Louisiana Now, and see the video  from the Coastal Conservation Conversation held at Loyola University on August 20 (highlights video clips here). Thanks to Ms. Anne Mueller of The Lens, a major sponsor of the Conversation.

Also, see Nathaniel Rich’s new piece in The New Republic, “Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming (too bad the state is being destroyed from within),” and his review of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street: A History and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital for The New York Review of Books, “The Heart of New Orleans.”


Land Loss in 1984 compared with 2014



Map source: Jamon Van Den Hoek, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Map note: Land areas are derived from Landsat imagery. Photographs by Jeff Riedel for The New York Times.


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Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands and “Most Ambitious” Enviro Lawsuit Featured in New York Times Magazine


John BarryThis weekend you’ll want to go to your nearest newsstand and buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times and go straight to the Magazine for an article of major importance. The cover shows an oil industry “shortcut” canal sliced through Louisiana’s Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, overlaid with the words “Every Hour, an Acre of Louisiana Sinks into the Sea. Who Is to Blame?” The article, by Nathaniel Rich, focuses on the “high-stakes fight [that] has broken out over who is to blame—and who should bear the astronomical cost of restoring the coast” as the Louisiana wetlands continue to vanish into the Gulf of Mexico. Every year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land. Every day, 50 acres.

Rich spends quality time with John M. Barry (right), the widely respected author of the award-winning Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East that filed an historic lawsuit in July 2013 to force about 100 oil and gas companies to pay for damages to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. (Click here for more about the lawsuit; see also “Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis” on our Environment page.)

We’ll have more to say about this well-written article in the next few days—just wanted to alert you that it’s coming, and to urge you to “read all about it,” and spread the word. Buy the Sunday paper—help keep the presses rolling.

Nathaniel Rich, by the way, a novelist, is the son of New York magazine contributing writer and former New York Times columnist Frank Rich. In July Nathaniel reviewed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street: A History and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital for The New York Review of Books in a fine piece titled “The Heart of New Orleans.”



Photographs by Jeff Riedel for The New York Times.


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The People’s Climate March Is This Sunday, Sept. 21


Peoples Climate March Sept


If Greenland melts, seas will rise 23 feet.

Greenland + Antarctica = 38 feet. Or more.

“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”  —“IEA Sees ‘Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years’” (LNW, 1/21/12)


A Matter of National—Indeed, Global—Security

We hope you’ll come to the People’s Climate March in New York City this Sunday, Sept. 21. The more, the merrier. If you feel powerless, you are not alone. But don’t we have more power to change things for the better when we join together? The Climate March is timed to get the attention of the thousands of United Nations delegates in New York for the General Assembly (Sept. 16–Oct. 7), and, even more to the point, for Climate Summit 2014:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanize and catalyze climate action.  He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.

Logistics: Marchers gather at Columbus Circle and on up Central Park West between 59th and 86th Streets. March begins at 11:30 a.m. Click here for more information about transportation, how you can volunteer, etc.




Click here to see the video Disruption, an unflinching look at the devastating consequences of our inaction in the face of climate change—and gives a behind-the-scenes look at a part of the effort to organize the People’s Climate March.


More from LNW about Climate Change and Extreme Weather

Here Comes the Flood  (5/23/14)

IEA Sees “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years” (1/21/12)

Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather (5/24/11)

Polar-Palooza and the Singing Glaciologist  (2/11/09)

Penguins Are Melting (1/23/09)

Diagnosis of a Stressed-Out Planet  (10/29/07)


Further Reading

Bringing the Noise on Climate Change  (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker)

What’s the deal with this U.N. Climate Summit?  (Ben Adler, Grist)

What climate marchers have learned from anti-nuke organizers  (Ben Adler, Grist)

National Climate Assessment Report 2014 (“A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.”)

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods  (NYT 5/6/14)

Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt  (NYT 5/12/14)

This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like  (Mother Jones, 5/12/14)

Humans Have Already Set in Motion 69 Feet of Sea Level Rise  (Mother Jones, 1/31/13)

The Arctic Ice Crisis: Greenland’s glaciers are melting far faster than scientists expected  (Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone, 8/16/12)

12 things the Obama administration wants you to know about climate change  (Grist.org on the National Climate Assessment)

Just 90 Companies Caused Two-Thirds of Man-Made Global Warming Emissions  (Mother Jones, 11/20/13)

What Climate Change Will Do to Your City: By 2300, these iconic cities [New Orleans omitted] could be underwater

150 Years in 30 Seconds: Sea Level Debt Sinking U.S. Cities  (ClimateCentral)

Climate Change @ WhiteHouse.gov

NextGen Climate.org

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change

Obama’s Climate Betrayal  (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 30, 2011)

Top 10 Signs We Are Living in a Warming World, 2011 Edition  (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 12, 2011)

Two Degrees of Disaster  (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Nov. 11, 2011)

Copenhagen Climate Summit: Five Possible Scenarios for Our Future Climate  (Guardian, Dec. 18, 2009). With talks in Copenhagen descending into chaos, the prospects for stabilising temperatures ‘dangerous’ levels look increasingly slim. Here are five possible scenarios for our future climate.

Science Museum Unveils Climate Change Map Showing Impact of 4C Rise  (Guardian, October 22, 2009). A new map of the world that details the likely effects of a failure to cut carbons emissions has been developed by Met Office scientists.

International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2011

United Nations Climate Change Conference web site

Text of 12-paragraph Copenhagen Accord

Dot.Earth  (Andrew C. Revkin’s climate change blog @ NYT)

Global Climate Network


And read these writers’ excellent, fact-based environmental reporting: Fiona Harvey (Guardian), Elizabeth Kolbert (New Yorker), and George Monbiot (Guardian)


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Join the People’s Climate March in NYC Sunday, Sept. 21


People’s Climate MarchYou’re Invited—Step On Out

“There’s a world to march for—and a future, too. The only real question is why anyone wouldn’t march.”  —“Why We March: Stepping Forth for a Planet in Peril ”


Spread the word and make plans to join the People’s Climate March in New York City this Sunday, Sept. 21  (use our Facebook and Twitter icons below). Organized in part by author and activist Bill McKibben—with support from more than 1,000 groups—the march is timed to get the attention of the thousands of United Nations delegates coming to New York for the annual meeting.

More than 1,000 groups are coordinating the march—environmental justice groups, faith groups, labor groups—which means there’s no one policy ask. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a loud and pointed reminder to our leaders, gathering that week at the United Nations to discuss global warming, that the next great movement of the planet’s citizens centers on our survival and their pathetic inaction.

Logistics: Marchers gather at Central Park West between 59th and 86th Streets (map here). March begins at 11:30 a.m. Click here for more information about transportation, how you can volunteer, etc.

The organizers are pushing hard to get everyone involved. Coordinator Paul Getsos says “our march has been endorsed by the largest union in New York City, the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] and by the two largest unions in the country, SEIU [the Service Employees International Union] and NEA [the National Teachers Association].”


In a report on the march for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard writes:

Planning and decision-making for the People’s Climate March has followed a participatory, open-source model that recalls the Occupy Wall Street protests. “Anyone can contribute, and many of our online organizing ‘hubs” are led by volunteers who are often coordinating hundreds of other volunteers,” said Jamie Henn, the Strategy and Communications Director at 350.org. The initial idea for the march grew out of conversations early in 2014 involving the following groups, many rooted in New York City: 350.org, the Sierra Club, SEIU Local 32BJ, the Climate Justice Alliance, the Align Alliance for a Greater New York, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, UPROSE and Avaaz.

“To Change Everything, We Need Everyone”

The Nation reports that the People’s Climate March “is also departing from the usual script by downplaying participation by celebrities and politicians. Instead, it will have more representatives from communities that have suffered the wrath of climate impacts address the crowd and brief the press.” One such person is Alexis Smallwood, who lived in Far Rockaway, Queens, until it was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Echoing comments by New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina, Smallwood, a 30-year-old African-American, said she is joining the march because “it’s been hard in our community to get back home after the storm. There are no jobs out here, public transportation is coming back, but slowly. Now they’re raising rents, which is hard because our community has a lot of elderly and disabled folks on fixed incomes.”


Respect Ya Mominem

We will be there, fellow earthlings, and we hope to see you and your friends, too. Invite everyone. There will be at least 100,000 of us, so plan to make friends and influence people. It’ll be fun, and a nice thing to do for Mother Earth. As we say in New Orleans, “Respect ya mominem.” (Illustration by Dirty Coast.)

If you can’t be there, please help spread the word, and click here to see how you can contribute some “spare change for positive change.” Text “change” to 97779 to join in. Click here for PDFs of flyers, posters, etc.


Further Reading

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change

National Climate Assessment Report 2014 (“A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.”)

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods (NYT 5/6/14)

Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt (NYT 5/12/14)

This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like (Mother Jones, 5/12/14)

Humans Have Already Set in Motion 69 Feet of Sea Level Rise (Mother Jones, 1/31/13)

The Arctic Ice Crisis: Greenland’s glaciers are melting far faster than scientists expected (Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone, 8/16/12)

12 things the Obama administration wants you to know about climate change (Grist.org on the National Climate Assessment)

Just 90 Companies Caused Two-Thirds of Man-Made Global Warming Emissions (Mother Jones, 11/20/13)

What Climate Change Will Do to Your City: By 2300, these iconic cities [New Orleans omitted] could be underwater

150 Years in 30 Seconds: Sea Level Debt Sinking U.S. Cities (ClimateCentral)

Climate Change @ WhiteHouse.gov

NextGen Climate.org



Image by NASA.


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Obama Has Plans for ISIS; Now Congress Must Vote


obama-strategy-isis-videoSixteenByNine1050 2

The Guns of August, September, October . . .

Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. Statement by the President on ISIL, Sept. 10, 2014


Happy 9/11, everyone, on the centennial of the outbreak of the war to end all wars.

We listened closely to President Obama’s speech last night, we have read the transcript, and, like many around the world, we are profoundly uneasy. It is clear that this president is seriously reluctant to get the United States re-involved in Iraq and to start anything with Syria. He and his national security team have drawn up a four-part plan “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”

We are nervous, with a sense of dread, at the prospect of more war in the Middle East. We support the president’s preference for diplomatic solutions, for involving as many neighboring countries as possible, and assembling a coalition at the recent NATO summit meeting. It is right to push the Iraqi government to be more inclusive of Sunnis and Kurds (as the previous, U.S.-backed prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, was not). It is right to involve neighboring countries in the counterterrorism fight against ISIS; this cannot be the U.S. against ISIS. (That is what they want.)

. . . this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. 

But when the president says “we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” we have no confidence that the situation is controllable (see “dogs of war” below). With the new deployment of 475 more service members to Iraq, there will be 1,500 soldiers in Iraq (there were none in early June). As we wrote in mid-June, it’s beginning to smell like early Vietnam. Drone strikes and aerial assaults alone will not suffice, and the troops we’re supposedly partnering with, even the Kurdish pesh merga, are less than reliable. ISIS has captured serious military hardware from the Iraqi army that dropped its arms and fled. Anti-aircraft weaponry could be part of their arsenal. If one of our planes is shot down, and if the crew are taken prisoner, what happens then? The U.S. won’t abandon them on the battlefield.

BBC-mapISIS’s videos of beheading American journalists have (predictably) made the public revolted and angry—even individuals who a month earlier were not inclined to support any more U.S. military involvement anywhere. Now, most Americans say “We’ve got to do something”—and we agree—but it is important not to respond emotionally. We must not go into war angry. ISIS wants to provoke the U.S. into a fight—so did al Qaeda—and this is where the president’s patient assembling of a coalition of neighbors of Iraq and Syria is essential; this must not be a U.S. vs. ISIS (or Muslim) fight. It was good that President Obama made clear, early in his speech, that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ . . . It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq. . . . ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

And, let’s not forget, contrary to the neocons’ assertions, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. (Al Qaeda hated Saddam, a secularist too cozy with the West.) ISIS’s commanders include former generals from Iraq’s army that was disbanded, along with Saddam’s Baath Party, in 2003 by Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer, with disastrous results. These are among the reasons why we feel the U.S. is obligated to try to help clean up the mess—very carefully. (Click here for more background, and see links below.)

Congress Must Vote on This

Congress must step up and vote on whether to authorize additional force against ISIS. We want to see some “profiles in courage.” (Click here to contact your members of Congress; let’s bug hell out of ’em.) There is not a single member of Congress—Democrat, Independent, or Republican—about whose reelection hopes and job security we frankly give a damn; we want to see them do their jobs and fulfill their constitutionally required responsibility to declare war (or authorize the use of force). Per Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution:

[The Congress shall have Power . . .] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Further, the congressional Republicans who have blocked votes on more than 40 ambassador nominations—to Turkey, among other nations—should end their dangerous games and vote already. The diplomatic angle of the anti-ISIS struggle will not work without Turkey’s cooperation; we must have an ambassador now. (For much of this year—this year of all years—the U.S. did not have an ambassador to Russia because of GOP stonewalling. Country first.)

Senator Bernie Sanders makes an excellent point: that ISIS must be resisted, but we have severe problems here in the U.S. that must be tended to—a collapsing middle class, veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are not being taken care of by an underfunded Veterans Administration, and much more. National security begins at home.

Iraq War Is Already Costing $3 to $5 Trillion

Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes estimated the Iraq war would ultimately cost the United States some $3 trillion when all health care costs over the soldiers’ lifetimes are factored in. In 2008 they raised their estimate to $4 or $5 billion.

As noted by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, Jason Fields of Reuters has reported that the American airstrikes against ISIS (150 and counting) are destroying millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment the U.S. gave to the Iraqi army—the army we trained for years (“As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” said George W. Bush), the one that melted before the ISIS onslaught this year. Worse, Fields writes,

Now, U.S. warplanes are flying sorties, at a cost somewhere between $22,000 to $30,000 per hour for the F-16s, to drop bombs that cost at least $20,000 each, to destroy this captured equipment. That means if an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment. 

So here is what we want: For every dollar spent on new munitions fired at ISIS, fuel for jet fighters, etc., we want three dollars spent on veterans’ health care (including psychiatric counseling), three dollars on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and five to ten dollars spent on education, housing, and social services.

Because the escalated, re-upped war is being waged in part to make business and shipping conditions safe for the oil industry in and around the Persian Gulf, we want ExxonMobil and all the other U.S.-based oil companies doing business in the Middle East to pay higher corporate taxes—at least, say, 25 to 50 percent higher—and for the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department to enforce timely payment to the U.S. Treasury. The five largest oil firms doing business in Iraq are BP, Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Chevron.

On paper, statutorily, corporations are supposed to pay a tax rate of 35 percent. A 2011 study by Citizens for Tax Justice found that, over 2008–2010,

Exxon Mobil paid an effective three-year tax rate of only 14.2 percent. That’s 60 percent below the 35 percent rate that companies are supposed to pay. And over the past two years, Exxon Mobil’s net tax on its $9.9 billion in U.S. pretax profits was a minuscule $39 million, an effective tax rate of only 0.4 percent.


There is very much we do not know, but, as far as we can see, the Obama administration has been careful and methodical about using diplomacy, preferring to withdraw troops (not precipitously), not rushing into conflict, and judicious and cautious regarding the super-complicated, internecine snake pit of the Syrian civil war. Just because the president is not exaggerating the threat ISIS poses to the Homeland; just because he is (apparently) not lying to us as some presidents have done (weapons of mass destruction 2003; Gulf of Tonkin 1964), does not mean that the renewal of war in Iraq won’t go badly out of control. They cannot tell us how this will end.

We worry, as does David Corn at Mother Jones, whether the dogs of war can be controlled once they are unleashed. This new escalation of the counterterrorism fight against ISIS is likely to last years, into the next administration. We worry when we consider that the U.S. not always have a president with the patience for deliberation that the current president has. Just look at the attention span and patience exhibited by Obama’s predecessor, and the consequences thereof.

Now, tell us again about the guns of August . . .


Further Reading

What Obama Didn’t Say  (Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker)

Five Questions About the War Against ISIS That No One Should Be Embarrassed to Ask  (Think Progress)

The Twenty-Eight Pages: A Void in the History of September 11 (Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker)

Levees Not War on ISIS, Iraq, and Syria

Must We? For Now, But for How Long? A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq  (8/10/14)

Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad  (6/17/14)

Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”  (9/4/13)

Here We Go Again  (6/14/13)

Syria Seen as a Backdoor to War with Iran  (5/2/13)

How Many Wars? After Libya . . . ?  (3/26/11)

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)


Natl Security Team

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Top photo from The New York Times: pool photo by Saul Loeb; map in middle by BBC.


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