These are not normal times. These are extraordinary times

 

These are not normal times. These are extraordinary times. And extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
When you have a spokesperson for the president of the United States wrap up a lie in the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts”…
When you have a press secretary in his first appearance before the White House reporters threaten, bully, lie, and then walk out of the briefing room without the cajones to answer a single question…
When you have a President stand before the stars of the fallen CIA agents and boast about the size of his crowds (lies) and how great his authoritarian inaugural speech was….
These are not normal times.
The press has never seen anything like this before. The public has never seen anything like this before. And the political leaders of both parties have never seen anything like this before.
What can we do? We can all step up and say simply and without equivocation. “A lie, is a lie, is a lie!” And if someone won’t say it, those of us who know that there is such a thing as the truth must do whatever is in our power to diminish the liar’s malignant reach into our society.
There is one group of people who can do a lot – very quickly. And that is Republicans in Congress. Without their support, Donald Trump’s presidency will falter. So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.
Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question. More

Rapidly Mobilizing American Politics On Climate

CHANNELING THE POWER OF THE POPE’S ENCYCLICAL THROUGH THE PLEDGE TO MOBILIZE CLIMATE STRATEGY

The Pope calls on each of us to undertake an “ecological conversion” to protect humanity and the natural world — Creation — from climate catastrophe. He also calls for the “ecological conversion” of civilization.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a tool to achieve this ecological conversion — on the individual and national level.

The Pledge to Mobilize calls on the federal government to convert the American economy to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 through an emergency, WWII-scale mobilization.

When Individuals take the Pledge, they commit their time, money, and vote to achieving this goal. Most importantly, they commit to spreading the Pledge to others—to spreading the ecological conversion. More

 

 

To avoid counting civilian deaths, Obama re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone

Virtually every time the U.S. fires a missile from a drone and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were “militants” — even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed.

They simply cite always-unnamed “officials” claiming that the dead were “militants.” It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.

This practice continues even though key Obama officials have been caught lying, a term used advisedly, about how many civilians they’re killing. I’ve written and said many times before that in American media discourse, the definition of “militant” is any human being whose life is extinguished when an American missile or bomb detonates (that term was even used when Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen two weeks after a drone killed his father, even though nobody claims the teenager was anything but completely innocent: “Another U.S. Drone Strike Kills Militants in Yemen”).

This morning, the New York Times has a very lengthy and detailed article about President Obama’s counter-Terrorism policies based on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” I’m writing separately about the numerous revelations contained in that article, but want specifically to highlight this one vital passage about how the Obama administration determines who is a “militant.” The article explains that Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths “did not significantly change” the drone program, because Obama himself simply expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by his drone strikes. Just read this remarkable passage;

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

For the moment, leave the ethical issues to the side that arise from viewing “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; that’s nothing less than sociopathic, a term I use advisedly, but I discuss that in the separate, longer piece I’ve written. For now, consider what this means for American media outlets. Any of them which use the term “militants” to describe those killed by U.S. strikes are knowingly disseminating a false and misleading term of propaganda. By “militant,” the Obama administration literally means nothing more than: any military-age male whom we kill, even when we know nothing else about them. They have no idea whether the person killed is really a militant: if they’re male and of a certain age they just call them one in order to whitewash their behavior and propagandize the citizenry (unless conclusive evidence somehow later emerges proving their innocence).

What kind of self-respecting media outlet would be party to this practice? Here’s the New York Times documenting that this is what the term “militant” means when used by government officials. Any media outlet that continues using it while knowing this is explicitly choosing to be an instrument for state propaganda — not that that’s anything new, but this makes this clearer than it’s ever been. More

 

 

Obama to Unveil Tougher Climate Plan With His Legacy in Mind

WASHINGTON — In the strongest action ever taken in the United States to combat climate change, President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry.

The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

As the president came to see the fight against climate change as central to his legacy, as important as the Affordable Care Act, he moved to strengthen the energy proposals, advisers said. The health law became the dominant political issue of the 2010 congressional elections and faced dozens of legislative assaults before surviving two Supreme Court challenges largely intact.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Mr. Obama said in a video posted on Facebook at midnight Saturday. He called the new rules “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

The most aggressive of the regulations requires the nation’s existing power plants to cut emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.

That new rule also demands that power plants use more renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power. While the proposed rule would have allowed states to lower emissions by transitioning from plants fired by coal to plants fired by natural gas, which produces about half the carbon pollution of coal, the final rule is intended to push electric utilities to invest more quickly in renewable sources, raising to 28 percent from 22 percent the share of generating capacity that would come from such sources.

In its final version, the rule retains the same basic structure as the draft proposal: It assigns each state a target for reducing its carbon pollution from power plants, but allows states to create their own custom plans for doing so. States have to submit an initial version of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.

But over all, the final rule is even stronger than earlier drafts and can be seen as an effort by Mr. Obama to stake out an uncompromising position on the issue during his final months in office.

The anticipated final climate change regulations have already set off what is expected to be broad legal, legislative and political backlash as dozens of states, major corporations and industry groups prepare to file lawsuits challenging them.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, has started an unusual pre-emptive campaign against the rules, asking governors to refuse to comply. Attorneys general from more than a dozen states are preparing legal challenges against the plan. Experts estimate that as many as 25 states will join in a suit against the rules and that the disputes will end up before the Supreme Court.

Leading the legal charge are states like Wyoming and West Virginia with economies that depend heavily on coal mining or cheap coal-fired electricity. Emissions from coal-fired power plants are the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution, and lawmakers who oppose the rules have denounced them as a “war on coal.”

“Once the E.P.A. finalizes this regulation, West Virginia will go to court, and we will challenge it,” Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia, said in an interview with a radio station in the state on Friday. “We think this regulation is terrible for the consumers of the state of West Virginia. It’s going to lead to reduced jobs, higher electricity rates, and really will put stress on the reliability of the power grid. The worst part of this proposal is that it’s flatly illegal under the Clean Air Act and the Constitution, and we intend to challenge it vigorously.”

Although Obama administration officials have repeatedly said states will have flexibility to design their own plans, the final rules are explicitly meant to encourage the use of interstate cap-and-trade systems, in which states place a cap on carbon pollution and then create a market for buying permits or credits to pollute. The idea is that forcing companies to pay to pollute will drive them to cleaner sources of energy.

That new rule also demands that power plants use more renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power

Mr. Obama tried but failed to push through a cap-and-trade bill in his first term, and since then, the term has become politically toxic: Republicans have attacked the idea as “cap and tax.”

But if the climate change regulations withstand legal challenges, many states could still end up putting cap-and-trade systems into effect. Officials familiar with the final rules said that in many cases, the easiest and cheapest way for states to comply would be by adopting cap-and-trade systems.

The rules take into account the fact that some states may refuse to submit plans, and on Monday, the administration will also unveil a template for a plan to be imposed on such states. That plan will include the option of allowing a state to join an interstate cap-and-trade system.

The rules will also offer financial benefits for states that choose to take part in cap-and-trade systems. The final rules will extend until 2022 the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, two years later than originally proposed. But states that begin to take actions to cut carbon pollution as early as 2020 will be rewarded with carbon reduction credits — essentially, pollution permits that can be sold for cash in a cap-and-trade market.

Climate scientists warn that rising greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly moving the planet toward a global atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point past which the world will be locked into a future of rising sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, and shortages of food and water. Mr. Obama’s new rules alone will not be enough to stave off that future. But experts say that if the rules are combined with similar action from the world’s other major economies, as well as additional action by the next American president, emissions could level off enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Mr. Obama intends to use the new rules to push other countries to commit to deep reductions in their own carbon emissions before a United Nations summit meeting in Paris in December, when a global accord to fight climate change is expected to be signed.

Mr. Obama’s pledge that the United States would enact the climate change rules was at the heart of a pact that he made last year with President Xi Jinping of China, committing their nations, the world’s two largest carbon polluters, to substantially cut emissions.

“It’s the linchpin of the administration’s domestic effort and international effort on climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a research organization. “It raises the diplomatic stakes in the run-up to Paris. He can take it on the road and use it as leverage with other big economies — China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia.”

While opponents of the rules have estimated that compliance will cost billions of dollars, raise residential electricity rates and slow the American economy, the administration argues that the rules will save the average American family $85 annually in electricity costs and bring additional health benefits by reducing emissions of pollutants that cause asthma and lung disease.

The rules will be announced at a White House ceremony on Monday and signed by Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. While the ceremony is scheduled to take place on the White House’s South Lawn, officials said it might be moved indoors to the East Room after forecasters predicted that the weather would be too hot.

 

 

Century of Water Shortage Ahead? Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

1075 feet. That’s the water level Lake Mead must stay above before mandatory multi-state water rationing goes into effect. A level just 25 feet above the highest intake pipe used to supply cities across the Desert Southwest. Last night water levels at the key national water storage facility fell below that hard line to 1074.99 feet — a record low never before seen in all of its history.

If water levels remain below the 1075 foot mark through January of 2016, then a multi-state rationing will go into effect (with most acute impacts for Arizona and Nevada). A rationing that will have serious consequences for desert cities across the Southwest, cities like Las Vegas which rely on Lake Mead for so much of their water.

Despite Lake Mead hitting the 1075 hard line, it appears that rationing may be forestalled through 2016. It’s a silver lining of all the severe summer storms that have rolled through the Colorado River Basin this spring and summer — pumping up water flows to Lake Mead and Lake Powell. A flush of much needed moisture that will, hopefully, prevent water rationing from going into effect during 2016. But prospects for the future, despite this temporary respite, are starting to look a bit grim.

Risk of Future Megadrought

The trend set in place by a human-forced warming of the Desert Southwest has resulted in an increasing number of dry years. The added heat forces water to evaporate more rapidly. So even when it does rain an average amount, moisture levels still fall. The result is not only an increase in single year droughts, but an increased risk of decadal droughts (called megadroughts).

As the years progress and more of the impacts of human-forced global warming become apparent, the drought impacts and severe drought risks are only expected to rise. For according to a recent Cornell University report (2014) the chance of a 10 year drought for the US Southwest under a moderate warming scenario (RCP 4.5) is 50% this century (greater for states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada — see graphic below). The chances of a 30 year drought range from 20-50 percent depending on the severity of the human greenhouse gas emission. More

 

Dry Heat

Last week, Lake Mead, which sits on the border of Nevada and Arizona, set a new record low—the first time since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s that the lake’s surface has dipped below 1,080 feet above sea level.

The West’s drought is so bad that official plans for water rationing have now begun—with Arizona’s farmers first on the chopping block. Yes, despite the drought’s epicenter in California, it’s Arizona that will bear the brunt of the West’s epic dry spell.

The huge Lake Mead—which used to be the nation’s largest reservoir—serves as the main water storage facility on the Colorado River. Amid one of the worst droughts in millennia, record lows at Lake Mead are becoming an annual event—last year’s low was 7 feet higher than this year’s expected June nadir, 1,073 feet.

If, come Jan. 1, Lake Mead’s level is below 1,075 feet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river, will declare an official shortage for the first time ever—setting into motion a series of already agreed-upon mandatory cuts in water outlays, primarily to Arizona. (Nevada and Mexico will also receive smaller cuts.) The latest forecasts give a 33 percent chance of this happening. There’s a greater than 75 percent chance of the same scenario on Jan. 1, 2017. Barring a sudden unexpected end to the drought, official shortage conditions are likely for the indefinite future.

Why Arizona? In exchange for agreeing to be the first in line for rationing when a shortage occurs, Arizona was permitted in the 1960s to build the Central Arizona Project, which diverts Colorado River water 336 miles over 3,000 feet of mountain ranges all the way to Tucson. It’s the longest and costliest aqueduct in American history, and Arizona couldn’t exist in its modern state without it. Now that a shortage is imminent, another fundamental change in the status quo is on the way. As in California, the current drought may take a considerable and lasting toll on Arizona, especially for the state’s farmers.

“We need to stop growing alfalfa in the deserts in the summertime.”

Robert Glennon, water policy expert at the University of Arizona

“A call on the river will be significant,” Joe Sigg, director of government relations for Arizona Farm Bureau, told the Arizona Daily Star. “It will be a complete change in a farmer’s business model.” A “call” refers to the mandatory cutbacks in water deliveries for certain low-priority users of the Colorado. Arizona law prioritizes cities, industry, and tribal interests above agriculture, so farmers will see the biggest cuts. And those who are lucky enough to keep their water will pay more for it.

According to Robert Glennon, a water policy expert at the University of Arizona, the current situation was inevitable. “It’s really no surprise that this day was coming, for the simple reason that the Colorado River is overallocated,” Glennon told me over the phone last week. Glennon explained that the original Colorado River compact of 1922, which governs how seven states and Mexico use the river, was negotiated during “the wettest 10-year period in the last 1,000 years.” That law portioned out about 25 percent more water than regularly flows, so even in “normal” years, big reservoirs like Lake Mead are in a long-term decline. “We’ve been saved from the disaster because Arizona and these other states were not using all their water,” Glennon said.

They are now. Since around 2000, Arizona has been withdrawing its full allotment from the Colorado River, and it’s impossible to overstate how important the Colorado has become to the state. About 40 percent of Arizona’s water comes from the Colorado, and state officials partially attribute a nearly 20-fold increase in the state’s economy over the last 50 years to increased access to the river.

On April 22, Arizona held a public meeting to prepare for an eventual shortage declaration, which could come as soon as this August. The latest rules that govern a shortage, established in 2007 by an agreement among the states, say that Arizona will have to contend with a 20 percent cut in water in 2016 should Lake Mead fall below 1,075 feet, which will decrease the amount available to central Arizona’s farmers by about half. At 1,050 feet, central Arizona’s farmers will take a three-quarters cut in water. At 1,025 feet, agriculture would have to make due largely without water from the Colorado River. That would probably require at least a temporary end to large-scale farming in central Arizona. Below 1,025 feet, the only thing Colorado River states have agreed to so far is a further round of negotiations. In that emergency scenario, no one really knows what might happen. More

 

Iran Calls GOP Letter ‘Propaganda Ploy,’ Offers To ‘Enlighten’ Authors

A letter from U.S. senators suggests the lawmakers “not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution,” says Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Republican senators’ letter to Iran about ongoing nuclear talks has prompted a lengthy response from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who delivered an overview of international law as he critiqued the letter.

Zarif said he was astonished by the letter, saying it suggests the U.S. lawmakers “not only do not understand international law” — a subject in which he is a professor — “but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy,” according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

The Iranian minister said that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”

His response (we have more of it below) came after it was announced Monday that 47 Senate Republicans who oppose a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear program had signed a letter to the country’s leaders.

Coming two weeks before the deadline for envoys to reach general terms with Iran, the signatories wrote that they had been observing the negotiations over potentially relaxing economic sanctions — and told Iran’s leaders they were concerned “that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

The letter seemed to strike a nerve for Zarif, who moved to the U.S. as a teenager and holds a doctorate and two other advanced degrees from American universities.

As NPR’s It’s All Politics blog noted, “The letter was written by freshman Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and co-signed by 46 of his GOP colleagues, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

The senators cited the U.S. process of ratifying treaties in Congress and President Obama’s term that expires in January of 2017, writing:

“What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The Republicans’ message was quickly criticized by Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator who said it was “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.”

Seven Republicans did not sign the letter, as NPR’s Ailsa Chang reported today on Morning Edition.

President Obama said, “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran” who are also against making a deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

Zarif, noting that negotiations are ongoing and haven’t yielded an agreement, said the U.S. lawmakers’ “unconventional methods” show that they “are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”

Saying he hopes to “enrich the knowledge of the authors,” Zarif said:

“I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”

Zarif also noted that many previous international agreements the U.S. has been a party to have been “mere executive agreements,” and not full treaties that received Senate ratification.

He said any deal on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program would not be bilateral; would require approval by the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council; and would not be subject to modification by Congress.

He added, “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.”

For a different perspective, Ailsa spoke to Richard Nephew, who was on U.S. teams negotiating with Iran during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Nephew said, “The idea that a sitting group of senators of either party would write to the other side of a negotiation to say, ‘Eh, don’t sign a deal with these guys’ — to me, it really smacks of a misplaced understanding of how the international system is supposed to work.” More