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The Often Overlooked Role of Natural Gas in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 6:10pm
Known oil and gas fields in the Levant Basin US Energy Information Administration/Wikimedia

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Guess what? Almost all the current wars, uprisings, and other conflicts in the Middle East are connected by a single thread, which is also a threat: these conflicts are part of an increasingly frenzied competition to find, extract, and market fossil fuels whose future consumption is guaranteed to lead to a set of cataclysmic environmental crises.

Amid the many fossil-fueled conflicts in the region, one of them, packed with threats, large and small, has been largely overlooked, and Israel is at its epicenter. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1990s when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began sparring over rumored natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. In the ensuing decades, it has grown into a many-fronted conflict involving several armies and three navies. In the process, it has already inflicted mindboggling misery on tens of thousands of Palestinians, and it threatens to add future layers of misery to the lives of people in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Eventually, it might even immiserate Israelis.

Resource wars are, of course, nothing new. Virtually the entire history of Western colonialism and post-World War II globalization has been animated by the effort to find and market the raw materials needed to build or maintain industrial capitalism. This includes Israel's expansion into, and appropriation of, Palestinian lands. But fossil fuels only moved to center stage in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the 1990s, and that initially circumscribed conflict only spread to include Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Russia after 2010.

The Poisonous History of Gazan Natural Gas

Back in 1993, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that were supposed to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and create a sovereign state, nobody was thinking much about Gaza's coastline. As a result, Israel agreed that the newly created PA would fully control its territorial waters, even though the Israeli navy was still patrolling the area. Rumored natural gas deposits there mattered little to anyone, because prices were then so low and supplies so plentiful. No wonder that the Palestinians took their time recruiting British Gas (BG)—a major player in the global natural gas sweepstakes—to find out what was actually there. Only in 2000 did the two parties even sign a modest contract to develop those by-then confirmed fields.

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Ellen Pao Loses Her Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Silicon Valley VC Firm Kleiner Perkins

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 5:16pm

This is a breaking news story. We'll be updating this post regularly.

Ellen Pao's $16 million lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, has captivated Silicon Valley for the past month. Pao, now the interim CEO of Reddit, sued her former employer on charges of gender discrimination and retaliation. Many have called the trial Silicon Valley's version of the Anita Hill hearings, in part because it offers a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by women at the Valley's elite companies, where cases of this rank usually settle rather than go public. At 2 PM pacific today, the jury returned a verdict, voting no on all four counts of alleged gender discrimination and retaliation by Kleiner Perkins.

But the official verdict barely lasted a half hour, thanks to an error in basic math: The judge asked each juror to list their individual verdict for the court. This revealed that on the fourth count—which alleges that Pao's termination was retaliation for raising concerns about gender discrimination and filing her lawsuit—4 of the 12 jurors, two men and two women, voted yes. The judge ruled that 8-4 was an insufficient majority—a consensus among nine jurors is needed—and asked the jurors to return to the deliberation room for further discussion. That means that there hasn't yet been an official verdict. We'll keep updating this post as news unfolds.

Update, Friday, 7:45 p.m. EDT: After the first jury miscount, an official verdict is in and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has prevailed on all counts. The jury returned to the courtroom after several hours of additional deliberations to deliver the verdict. Juror 3, one of the four original "yes" votes on the retaliation count, flipped his vote. With a consensus of nine jurors or more on all counts, the case is over. Ellen Pao gave a brief statement to the press, thanking her family and friends for their support throughout the trial. "I have told my story and thousands of people have heard me," she said. "If I've helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it."

BREAKING: Italian Court Reaches Verdict In Amanda Knox Case

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 5:06pm

AFP has the breaking news:

Italy's top court on Friday cleared Amanda Knox of the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher, bringing a sensational end to an eight-year legal drama.

Judges at the Court of Cassation also cleared Knox's Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito after ten hours of deliberations in Rome.


Illegal Pot Farms Are Literally Sucking California Salmon Streams Dry

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 3:06pm
Outlet Creek watershed in Northern California's Mendocino County. Scott Bauer

Northern California pot farmers are using up all of the water that normally supports key populations of the region's federally protected salmon and steelhead trout.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study, published last week in the journal PLOS One, that examined four California watersheds where salmon and trout are known to spawn. In the three watersheds with intensive pot cultivation, illegal marijuana farms literally sucked up all of the water during the streams' summer low-flow period, leaving nothing to support the fish.

Author Scott Bauer, a biologist with the state department of fish and wildlife, estimated the size and location of outdoor and greenhouse pot farms by looking at Google Earth images and accompanying drug enforcement officers on raids. He did not include "indoor" grows—marijuana grown under lamps in buildings.

After visiting 32 marijuana greenhouses in eight locations and averaging the results, Bauer extrapolated his findings to all greenhouses in the study area—virtually nothing else is grown in greenhouses in this part of the country. The sites contained marijuana plants at a density of about one per square meter, with each plant (taking waste and other factors into account) using about six gallons of water a day. Overall, he calculated, pot operations within the study yielded 112,000 plants, and consumed 673,000 gallons of water every day.

And that is water the area's fish badly need. The Coho salmon population is listed as threatened under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts, and is designated as a key population to maintain or improve as part of the state's recovery plan. 

Bauer collected his data last year, at a time when California's drought had already become its worst in more than 1,200 years. When I spoke to him at the time, he told me that pot farming had surpassed logging and development to become the single biggest threat to the area's salmon. Now that that the drought is expected to extend into a fourth year, the same streams could run dry again this summer, and remain so for an even longer period of time.

Overall, the outdoor and greenhouse grows consume more than 60 million gallons of water a day during the growing season—50 percent more than is used by all the residents of San Francisco.

"Clearly, water demands for the existing level of marijuana cultivation in many Northern California watersheds are unsustainable and are likely contributing to the decline of sensitive aquatic species in the region," Bauer's study concludes. "Given the specter of climate change"—and the attendant rise of megadroughts—"the current scale of marijuana cultivation in Northern California could be catastrophic for aquatic species."

Forget Elizabeth Warren. Another Female Senator Has a Shot to Fill the Senate's New Power Vacuum.

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 2:58pm

In the nanoseconds after Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid announced Friday morning that he will give up his leadership post and retire in 2016, liberal groups raced to promote their go-to solution for almost any political problem: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Much like the movement to draft Warren for president, the idea of putting her in charge of the Democratic caucus was more dream than reality. Warren's office has already said she won't run, and as Vox's Dylan Matthews explains, putting Warren in charge of the Democratic caucus would prevent her from holding her colleagues accountable when they stray too far from progressive ideals.

Instead, Reid's likely replacement is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who already has endorsements from Reid and Dick Durbin, the outgoing minority leader's No. 2. But lefties have long been wary of Schumer, who, thanks to his home base in New York City, is far more sympathetic to Wall Street than the rest of his caucus. And lost in the Warren hype is another female senator: Washington's Patty Murray.

As caucus secretary, Murray is the fourth-ranking member of Senate Democratic leadership, behind Reid, Durbin, and Schumer. If she decides to take on Schumer for Reid's job, Murray could be the first woman to serve as a party leader in the US Senate. Murray's office didn't respond to a request for comment on whether she'd run for the job and, besides a general statement praising Reid, was notably quiet on Friday.

In 2013, I cowrote a profile of Murray for The American Prospect looking at her role in leading Democrats' negotiations with Republicans on the budget, and explained how she's a pragmatic progressive who will push for the most liberal policies she can pass while still being willing to forge compromise with the centrists in her party:

There's something peculiarly undefined about Murray's ideology. She's a liberal, a West Coast liberal to be precise: strong on social issues, the environment, workers' rights, and the government's role in society. She hews closely to the Democratic talking points of the day. But it's hard to discern a coherent vision or theory behind her views. She is as far left as you can go without alienating the centrists in the party. More than anything, she's a pragmatist. Success trumps belief in the "right" things. At the same time, Murray doesn't venerate moderation for its own sake—she's no Rahm Emanuel. "She's a strong progressive," says a former Budget Committee staff member, "but she won't tilt at windmills, she won't force a vote on something she knows she's not going to win."

Murray certainly has the résumé to compete for the job. She led the Democrats' campaign arm in 2012, when the party picked up two Senate seats, defying pundits' predictions. She forged a budget agreement with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in 2013 that averted across-the-board budget cuts. Murray is generally press-shy—she flies home across the country each weekend instead of doing the Sunday show circuit—which would leave room for other Senate stars, including Warren, to be the party's public face while Murray controls the behind-the-scenes negotiations. But as that budget committee staffer told me in 2013, Murray isn't known for picking fights she can't win. If she runs against Schumer, it'll be because she thinks she has a real shot at Reid's post.

Japan Wants You to Believe That These Coal Plants Will Help the Environment

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 2:26pm

Japan is at it again. Back in December, the country got caught trying to pass off $1 billion worth of investments in coal-fired power plants in Indonesia as "climate finance"—that is, funding to fight climate change. Coal plants, of course, are the world's single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Today, the Associated Press discovered over half a billion more:

Japanese officials now say they are also counting $630 million in loans for coal plants in Kudgi, India, and Matarbari, Bangladesh, as climate finance. The Kudgi project has been marred by violent clashes between police and local farmers who fear the plant will pollute the environment.

Tokyo argues that the projects are climate-friendly because the plants use technology that burns coal more efficiently, reducing their carbon emissions compared to older coal plants. Also, Japanese officials stress that developing countries need coal power to grow their economies and expand access to electricity.

Putting aside Japan's assumption that developing countries need coal-fired power plants (a view still under much debate by energy-focused development economists), the real issue here is that there isn't an official, internationally recognized definition of "climate finance." In broad strokes, it refers to money a country is spending to address the problem of climate change, through measures to either mitigate it (i.e., emit less carbon dioxide from power plants, vehicles, etc.) or adapt to it (building sea walls or developing drought-tolerant seeds, for example). But there remains little transparency or oversight for what exactly a country can count toward that end.

The reason that matters is because climate finance figures are a vital chip in international climate negotiations. At a UN climate meeting in Peru late last year, Japan announced that it had put $16 billion into climate finance since 2013. Likewise, President Barack Obama last year pledged $3 billion toward the UN's Green Climate Fund, plus several billion more for climate-related initiatives in his proposed budget. Other countries have made similar promises.

Each of these commitments is seen as a quantitative reflection of how seriously a country takes climate change and how far they're willing to go to address it, and there's always pressure to up the ante. And these promises from rich countries are especially important because in many cases the countries most affected by climate change impacts are developing ones that are the least equipped to do anything about it—and least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that caused global warming in the first place. But the whole endeavor starts to look pretty hollow and meaningless if it turns out that "climate finance" actually refers to something as environmentally dubious as a coal plant.

These numbers will take on increasing significance in the run-up to the major climate summit in Paris in December, which is meant to produce a wide-reaching, meaningful international climate accord. So now more than ever, maximum transparency is vital.    

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 March 2015

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 11:00am

Today I get to spend six hours in a chair getting Cytoxan pumped into my body. So this is it. No more tests or consults. This is the first actual step in the second stage of my chemotherapy. Following this infusion, I will spend a week injecting myself with a drug that (a) stimulates white blood cell production and (b) will apparently make me feel like I have the flu. Next, I spend a week in LA sitting in a chair several hours a day while they extract stem cells from my body. Then a week of rest and then the stem cell transplant itself, which will put me out of commission for a minimum of three weeks.

So no blogging today. Next week is iffy. Probably nothing much the week after that either. Then maybe some blogging during my rest week. And then I'll go offline probably completely for a month or so. It all depends on just how quickly I recover from the transplant. We'll see.

In the meantime, here are Hopper and Hilbert, hale and hearty as ever. Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Andrew Seifter: WSJ Ed Board Should Read Journal 's Own Reporting On EPA Mercury Rule

Media Matters - March 27, 2015 - 9:52am

A Wall Street Journal editorial contradicted the Journal's own news reporting by falsely claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) never considered costs when setting regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollution.  The Journal editorial also deceptively downplayed the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and baselessly dismissed the dangers of mercury pollution.

WSJ Editorial Contradicted Own Paper's Reporting By Claiming EPA Never Considered Costs

Supreme Court Heard Oral Arguments In Case Challenging EPA's Decision Not To Consider Costs Before Deciding To Regulate Toxic Pollutants. National Journal reported:

On Wednesday, justices heard oral arguments in a case challenging whether the EPA was justified in deciding to regulate mercury and other pollutants based solely on the fact that exposure posed a public health threat.

A decision is expected in June.

At issue is the agency's decision not to consider how much the rule would cost for the utility industry to comply with before deciding it would set limits on toxic pollutants. 


Administration officials say the EPA was justified in considering cost after making the decision to regulate, rather than before. [National Journal, 3/25/15]

WSJ Editorial: EPA Never "Considered Costs" When Setting Mercury And Air Toxics Standards. In a March 25 editorial, the Wall Street Journal claimed that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer "pull[ed] a fast one" during oral arguments by suggesting that the EPA could consider costs "at some point later ... after deciding to regulate" toxic pollutants. The Journal editorial board claimed that Breyer's "invention" would require belief in a "fantasy EPA" that after initially ignoring costs would "all of a sudden become reasonable at step two." The Journal then further claimed that the EPA acknowledged it "didn't" consider costs:

[Justice Breyer suggested] that the EPA will consider costs at some point later when it enforces the mercury rule. The Clean Air Act allows the [EPA], after deciding to regulate, to divide power plants into different "sub-categories" and apply tailor-made rules to each if they are also "appropriate and necessary." The EPA could in theory use this discretion to mitigate any inappropriate costs.

The problem is that this invention requires you to believe in a fantasy EPA that, having willfully disregarded the statute at the "appropriate and necessary" listing stage, will all of a sudden become reasonable at step two. The EPA has never taken Justice Breyer's position, and administrative law requires the agency to explain its decision-making. Neither did the Administration nor any friend-of-the-court brief during the Michigan litigation.

Justice Breyer's theory is also self-contradictory on the merits. If the EPA had determined at the outset that costs could be assuaged at some late date, then it would have considered costs--exactly what it asserted it didn't and wasn't required to do. [Wall Street Journal editorial, 3/25/15] (emphasis added)

WSJ News Article: "[The EPA] Said It Took Costs Into Account Later When It Determined Exactly How To Set Emissions Standards." By contrast, a March 25 Wall Street Journal news article reported that the agency did, in fact, explain that costs were considered at the later stage:

[The EPA] said it was appropriate to consider only public health risks--not industry costs--when it decided to regulate coal- and oil-fired generation plants. That decision was the crux of 90 minutes of oral argument.

The court was considering a section of the Clean Air Act that said the EPA "shall" regulate utilities' emissions of the hazardous air pollutants if it found that such regulation "is appropriate and necessary." The agency said it took costs into account later when it determined exactly how to set emissions standards. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/25/15]

Oral Arguments, Legal Documents Make Clear EPA Did Consider Costs When Setting Standards

U.S. Dept. Of Justice Brief For The Case: EPA Does Not Consider Costs When "Assessing the Dangers," But Does Later When "Setting Standards." In its brief on behalf of the EPA in Michigan v. EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice noted: "EPA does not consider costs when assessing the dangers at the first stage, but it does consider costs, in accordance with the relevant provisions, when setting standards at the second stage." At one point Justice Breyer himself recognized this point during the Supreme Court's oral arguments in the case, stating: "[T]he [Solicitor General's] brief unambiguously required EPA to consider costs at the second stage of the regulatory process. That's what it said." During oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor similarly noted to U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: "Basically, you have consistently in your brief, and so has the  other Respondents, basically said at the listing stage we don't consider costs, we consider it later." [U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments, Michigan v. EPA, 3/25/15; Michigan v. EPA, Brief for the Federal Respondents, accessed 3/26/15]

U.S. Solicitor General During Oral Arguments: EPA Did Consider Costs At A Later Stage By Separating Out Standards For Different Types Of Power Plants. During the Supreme Court oral arguments Verrilli directly responded to Breyer's inquiry about addressing costs by noting that EPA placed different sources into "subclasses." Verrilli stated: "And EPA did that in this case. It broke out power plants that generate power burning natural gas, and it said that's a separate subcategory." In addition, Paul M. Smith, an attorney representing industry groups that side with the EPA, noted: "[The EPA] categorized oil-fired plants into four categories. They categorized coal-fired plants into various categories. And that was all done through a notice and comment process which led then to different emission standards." Smith then confirmed to Justice Anthony Kennedy that this was "done based on cost." As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan described it, "costs become relevant later in the analysis, and in a variety of ways." [U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments, Michigan v. EPA, 3/25/15]

NYU's Institute For Policy Integrity: Federal Regulatory Review Confirms "EPA Considered Costs And Benefits In A Reasonable Manner." In an amicus curiae supporting the EPA's position in the case, the New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity noted:

When a rule's benefits do not justify its costs, [the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] OIRA can return a rule to the proposing agency for further review.


Here, OIRA reviewed EPA's analysis, including the Rule's substantial indirect benefits, and allowed the agency to proceed, indicating that EPA considered costs and benefits in a reasonable manner. [Institute for Public Integrity amicus curiae in Michigan v. EPA, accessed 3/26/15; OIRA regulatory review, Fall 2011]

Business Insider: "The EPA Did Factor In Costs At A Later Stage." Business Insider reported, "The EPA did factor in costs at a later stage when it wrote standards that are expected to reduce the toxic emissions by 90 percent." [Business Insider, 3/25/15]

Vox: EPA Says It Considered Costs When Setting Regulations. According to Vox, "the agency considers costs in the later stage, when it's actually setting regulations. And, the EPA says, that's what it did." [Vox, 3/25/15]

WSJ Editorial Deceptively Compared Full Cost Of Rule To A Fraction Of Its Health Benefits

WSJ Editorial: Reducing Mercury Emissions Will "Produce Merely $500,000 To $6 Million In Direct Public Health Benefits." The Journal editorial alleged: "The EPA's own estimate shows that reducing mercury emissions will produce merely $500,000 to $6 million in direct public health benefits annually. But it will cost the electric industry some $10 billion a year to comply--meaning as much as $20,000 may be needed to produce a single dollar of gains." [Wall Street Journal editorial, 3/25/15]

WSJ News Article: EPA Found "The Actual Benefits Of The Regulations Would Be At Least $37 Billion." By contrast, the Wall Street Journal news article noted that Solicitor General Verrilli "referenced EPA findings that the actual benefits of the regulations would be at least $37 billion." Indeed, in its regulatory impact analysis, the EPA found that the Mercury And Air Toxics Standards would "yield annual monetized benefits (in 2007$) of between $37 to $90 billion," largely due to "co-benefits from 4,200 to 11,000 fewer [fine particle pollution]-related premature mortalities." [The Wall Street Journal, 3/25/15; EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, December 2011]

EPA: Agency Reduced Costs In Response To Public Input, Allowing Americans To Get $3-9 In Health Benefits For Each Dollar Spent On The Rule. According to an EPA fact sheet on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

After proposal, EPA received more than 900,000 comments. Based on this input and data, the agency has finalized standards that follow the law, maintain vital and significant health benefits and can be implemented for $9.6 billion, about a billion dollars less than the proposed standards. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution, Americans get $3-9 in health benefits in return. [EPA Fact Sheet, accessed 3/26/15]

Even Health Benefits Just From Reduced Mercury Pollution Are Likely Higher Than Figures Cited By WSJ. The figure the Journal editorial cited was based on EPA's estimate of the "economic benefits associated with avoided IQ loss due to reduced [mercury] exposure among recreational freshwater anglers" in the continental United States.   However, while the EPA noted that "ingestion of fish" is the "primary route for human exposures in the U.S.," it added that limitations on the ability to measure the full economic value of reduced mercury pollution "suggest that the benefits of mercury reductions are understated by our analysis." [EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, December 2011]

WSJ Editorial Baselessly Dismissed Dangers From Mercury Pollution

WSJ Editorial Claimed Mercury Pollution Is Not Worthy Of Concern. In order to smear the EPA's intentions, the Wall Street Journal editorial claimed: "Mercury pollution is already de minimis and well controlled, but the rule isn't really about mercury. It is part of the EPA's larger campaign to drive coal-fired power plants out of business." [Wall Street Journal editorial, 3/25/15]

WSJ News Article: EPA Said Power Plants Are Single Largest Source Of Mercury, Which Can Be "Particularly Harmful To Children And Unborn Babies." In contrast to the editorial, the Wall Street Journal news article reported, "The EPA said such plants are the single largest source of U.S. emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin that can be particularly harmful to children and unborn babies. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/25/15]

Greenwire: Scientists Say Each Pound Of Mercury In The Environment Makes 2 Million Pounds Of Fish Unsafe To Eat. According to a Greenwire report:

The sectors subjected to new rules -- coal plants, industrial boilers, cement plants, hazardous waste incinerators, gold mines and chlor-alkali plants -- together produce about 80 of the 100 tons of mercury that American facilities release into the air each year.

That doesn't sound like much, considering the United States produces 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, but mercury is extremely potent. Scientists estimate that 1 pound in the environment is enough to make about 2 million pounds of fish unsafe to eat. [Greenwire,12/8/10]

Jessica Torres: Hispanic News Media Blast Ted Cruz's Policy Positions

Media Matters - March 27, 2015 - 8:01am

Republican presidential-hopeful Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has faced criticism from Hispanic news media for his extreme conservative policy positions on health care and immigration, which are out of line with the majority of Latino voters.

Ted Cruz Announces His Candidacy For President, Bringing Media Attention To His Extreme Policy Positions

Ted Cruz Announces Presidential Bid For 2016 With Differing Spanish- And English-Language Ads. On March 23, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) officially announced his presidential bid at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Cruz also announced his run via a Spanish-language and English-language campaign ad. As Time explained, the Spanish-language ad focused entirely on Cruz's personal life story, while the English-language version discussed Cruz's policy positions, several of which are unpopular among Latinos:

Two of the policy positions Cruz doesn't mention in his [Spanish] YouTube ad -- his opposition to immigration reform and his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- are unpopular in the Hispanic community. [Time, 3/23/15]

National Journal: Cruz Has Made "Repealing" The Affordable Care Act "Central" To His Career. Cruz said he wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during his March 23 campaign announcement. As the National Journal noted, while other Republican hopefuls have made similar gestures, "none have made it as central to their political careers thus far as Cruz." [National Journal, 3/23/15]

USA Today: Cruz Suggests Undocumented Immigrants Should Be Denied Path To Citizenship, Emphasizing Border Security Instead. According to USA Today's Alan Gomez, though Cruz "spoke in lofty terms about the virtues of immigrants" during his campaign announcement, elsewhere he has "made clear" that he is not interested in a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and focuses instead on increasing border security:

From barring undocumented immigrants from ever becoming U.S. citizens to remaking our immigration system into one that welcomes mostly university-trained foreigners, Cruz has made clear that he celebrates only a certain kind of immigrant. [USA Today, 3/24/15]

Hispanic Media Hit Cruz For Being Out Of Step With Latino Voters

La Opinión: Cruz's "Agenda And Style" Have Made Him "Incompatible With The Hispanic Majority." As Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión pointed out, Cruz is the third Latino to officially announce a run for presidency in U.S. history, but his "presence opens the door to the question of whether it is enough to have a Spanish-speaking or Latino candidate to gain support of the Hispanic community." Moreover, the editorial argued, Cruz's "agenda and style" make him "incompatible with the Hispanic majority." [La Opinión, 3/26/15]

El País: Cruz May Be Latino And Speak Spanish, But He Does Not "Crusade" For This "Identity." Spanish-language newspaper El País criticized Cruz for his policies, writing (in Spanish), "while he is Latino and speaks Spanish, he doesn't crusade with this identity and is opposed to measures that would legalize Latin American immigrants." [El País, 3/23/15]

Huffington Post Latino Voices: Cruz "Doesn't Represent Latino Public Opinion" On The Affordable Care Act. Huffington Post Latino Voices reported on multiple ways in which Ted Cruz's views "diverge from prevailing opinion among Hispanics," noting that despite the fact that 47 percent of Hispanics support the health care law, Cruz "appears likely" to make repealing the ACA a focal point of his campaign. [Huffington Post Latino Voices, 3/24/15]

La Opinión Highlights Cruz's "Two Faces" With Spanish-Speaking And Non-Spanish Speaking Voters. La Opinión criticized Cruz's "two faces" on immigration, arguing that he switches his messaging for Latino and non-Latino voters. The paper noted that in his campaign ads, Cruz "celebrates his Hispanic heritage, but omits his attacks on undocumented immigrants" in Spanish, while in English Cruz falsely calls Obama's immigration actions "illegal and unconstitutional amnesty." [La Opinión, 3/24/15]

Univision 41 (San Antonio): Hispanics "Reject" Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, Largely Due To His Anti-Immigration Reform Policy Positions. According to Univision41.com, Hispanics have rejected Cruz, accusing him of "holding anti-immigrant positions." More specifically, immigration rights activists like the Dream Act Coalition said: "While Ted Cruz has a Hispanic name and an immigration background in his past, that is where all of the similarities between him and the Latino community stop." [Univision41.com, 3/23/15]

Despierta America: Cruz's "Latino Last Name" And Background Cannot Distract Hispanic Voters From His Anti-Immigrant Positions. During the March 23 edition of Univision's Despierta America, Newsport reporter Danay Rivera explored reactions to Cruz's presidential announcement, noting that "getting the Latino vote would be really hard for him as he hasn't precisely championed the interests of Hispanics." Co-host Ana Patricia Gonzalez opened the segment by highlighting Cruz's Latino and immigrant background, noting that he has become known for his "anti-immigrant policies." [Univision, Despierta America, 3/23/15]

Polls Show Widespread Support Among Hispanics For Immigration Reform And The Affordable Care Act

Pew: Latinos Prioritize Pathway To Citizenship For Undocumented Immigrants Over Border Security. According to findings from Pew Research Center, "84% of Latino registered voters say that creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should either be the top priority (46%) or just as important as better border security (38%)" for immigration reform, and "[o]nly 14% of Latino registered voters believe that better border security should be the priority":

[Pew Research Center, 10/29/14]

Pew: 47 Percent Of Hispanics Support The Affordable Care Act. A 2014 study from Pew Research found that while the popularity of the Affordable Care Act has decreased somewhat among Hispanics, 47 percent still support the health care law. [Pew Research Center, 3/27/14]

Harry Reid Announces His Retirement

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 7:21am

Update, 12:26 p.m.: Shortly after announcing his retirement, Reid endorsed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to replace him. "I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” he told the Washington Post in an interview at his DC residence. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced on Friday he will not be seeking reelection when his term comes to an end next year. He announced his retirement in a YouTube video:

My life’s work has been to make Nevada and our nation better. Thank you for giving me that wonderful opportunity. https://t.co/dwy2rDWYhO

— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) March 27, 2015

The decision to retire, the 75-year-old senator from Nevada said, "has absolutely nothing to do" with the injury he sustained back in January from an exercising accident or his new role as minority leader following the Democrats' loss during the midterm elections. In an interview with the New York Times he explained, "I want to be able to go out at the top of my game. I don’t want to be a 42-year-old trying to become a designated hitter."

In the video, Reid continues with a message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "Don't be too elated. I'm going to be here for 22 more months, and you know what I'm going to be doing? The same thing I've done since I first came to the Senate. We have to make sure the Democrats take control of the Senate again."


We Could Stop Global Warming With This Fix—But It's Probably a Terrible Idea

Mother Jones - March 27, 2015 - 5:30am
Mount Pinatubo erupting in 1991 Bullit Marquez/AP

Back in the late 1990s, Ken Caldeira set out to disprove the "ludicrous" idea that we could reverse global warming by filling the sky with chemicals that would partially block the sun. A few years earlier, Mount Pinatubo had erupted in the Philippines, sending tiny sulfate particles—known as aerosols—into the stratosphere, where they reflected sunlight back into space and temporarily cooled the planet. Some scientists believed that an artificial version of this process could be used to cancel out the warming effect of greenhouse gases.

"Our original goal was to show that it was a crazy idea and wouldn't work," says Caldeira, who at the time was a climate scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. But when Caldeira and a colleague ran a model to test out this geoengineering scenario, they were shocked by what they found. "Much to our surprise, it worked really well," he recalls. "Our results indicate that geoengineering schemes could markedly diminish regional and seasonal climate change from increased atmospheric CO2," they wrote in a 2000 paper.

You might think that the volume of aerosols needed to increase the Earth's reflectivity (known as albedo) enough to halt global climate change would be enormous. But speaking to Kishore Hari on this week's Inquiring Minds podcast, Caldeira explains that "if you had just one firehose-worth of material constantly spraying into the stratosphere, that would be enough to offset all of the global warming anticipated for the rest of this century."

So does Caldeira think it's time to start blasting aerosols into the air? Nope. "It's a funny situation that I feel like I'm in," he says. "Most of our published results show that it would actually work quite well, but personally I think it would be a crazy thing to do." He thinks there's just too much risk.

Caldeira, now a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, recently contributed to a massive National Academy of Sciences report examining various geoengineering proposals. The report concluded that technologies to block solar radiation "should not be deployed at this time" and warned that "there is significant potential for unanticipated, unmanageable, and regrettable consequences in multiple human dimensions…including political, social, legal, economic, and ethical dimensions." As my colleague Tim McDonnell explained back when the NAS study was released:

Albedo modification would [use] airplanes or rockets to deliver loads of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, where they would bounce sunlight back into space. But if the technology is straightforward, the consequences are anything but.

The aerosols fall out of the air after a matter of years, so they would need to be continually replaced. And if we continued to burn fossil fuels, ever more aerosols would be needed to offset the warming from the additional CO2. [University of California-San Diego scientist Lynn] Russell said that artificially blocking sunlight would have unknown consequences for photosynthesis by plants and phytoplankton, and that high concentrations of sulfate aerosols could produce acid rain. Moreover, if we one day suddenly ceased an albedo modification program, it could cause rapid global warming as the climate adjusts to all the built-up CO2. For these reasons, the report warns that it would be "irrational and irresponsible to implement sustained albedo modification without also pursuing emissions mitigation, carbon dioxide removal, or both."

Still, the NAS report called for further research into albedo modification, just in case we one day reach a point where we seriously consider it.

Caldeira hopes it never comes to that. Like most other advocates of geoengineering research, he'd much rather stave off global warming by drastically cutting carbon emissions. In fact, he calls for a target of zero emissions. But he doesn't have much faith in politicians or in legislative fixes like carbon taxes or cap and trade. "The only way it's really going to happen," he says, "is if there's a change in the social norms." Caldeira envisions a world in which it's socially unacceptable for power companies to "use the sky as a waste dump."

And if that doesn't work out?

Caldeira points out that if we keep emitting huge amounts of CO2, temperatures are going to keep rising. That could lead to increased crop failures and possibly even "widespread famines with millions of people dying." In that type of hypothetical crisis, he says, "there's really only one way known to cool the planet on a politically relevant timescale"—aerosols. "So I think it's worth understanding it now," he adds. "At some point in the future it could make sense to do. I hope we don't get to that state, but it's possible."

To hear the full interview with Ken Caldeira, stream below:

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

Lis Power: Conservative Media's Fantasy That Obama Leaked Info On Israel's Nuclear Capabilities

Media Matters - March 27, 2015 - 2:29am

Right-wing media are up in arms over the Department of Defense's (DOD) release of a 1987 report suggesting Israel has nuclear capabilities, claiming the acknowledgement of the country's nuclear program is an "unprecedented" "leak" and act of "treachery" from the White House. In reality, the Bush administration declassified information on Israel's nuclear program years ago, and the DOD only released the 1987 report after years of fighting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Conservative Media Stoke Fears That Obama "Leaked" Info On Israel's Nuclear Program "For The First Time"

Rush Limbaugh: Obama Released Report That "Revealed" Israel Has Nuclear Capabilities, An "Unprecedented" Decision Meant To Anger Netanyahu. During the March 26 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that the Obama administration "quietly declassified a 336-page Defense Department document -- top-secret document" that details Israel's nuclear program. Limbaugh called the decision "unprecedented" and asserted it was because Obama's "nose is out of joint" over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress. He went on, "No one has ever admitted that Israel has nukes" until this document was released. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show3/26/15]

Sean Hannity: "Obama Has Now Leaked Israel's Nuclear Secrets To The World," An Act Of "High Crimes And Misdemeanors." On the March 26 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity asserted the administration "actually leaked Israeli nuclear secrets," calling the release of the report "a level of treachery I can't even begin to comprehend." Hannity claimed Obama engaged in "espionage" and "sabotage" against Israel. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show3/26/15

Mark Levin: This Is "A Leak" Of A "Top-Secret" Report Because Obama's "Decided That Israel Has Got To Go." During the March 26 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show, Mark Levin called the DOD's release "a leak" and asserted that it "means that Obama has decided that Israel has got to go." [Cumulus Media Networks, The Mark Levin Show3/26/15]

The Weekly Standard: "In Shocking Breach," U.S. Declassifies Report Acknowledging Israel's Nuclear Program For "The First Time." In a March 26 blog post, The Weekly Standard asserted that the release of the document was a "shocking breach" and the "first time Israel's alleged nuclear program has ever been officially and publically referenced by the U.S. authorities." [The Weekly Standard, The Blog, 3/26/15]

But The Bush Administration Declassified Information About Israel's Nuclear Capabilities Years Ago

In 2008, Bush Administration Declassified Report That Stated Israel "Has Produced Nuclear Weapons." In January 2008, the Bush Administration declassified a 1974 "top-secret" report, "Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," that noted Israel "has produced nuclear weapons." The report was declassified in response to a FOIA request. [The Washington Post1/13/08]

In 2006, Bush Administration Declassified Documents Detailing Secret Policy Debates Over The Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program. In April 2006, the National Security Archive published 30 declassified U.S. government documents that "disclosed the existence of a highly secret policy debate... over the Israeli nuclear weapons program." The documents were used for an article which found, "Israel already had a nuclear device by 1967." [The National Security Archive, 4/28/06]

DOD Only Released Report After Battling A FOIA Request In Court 

DOD Fought FOIA Request To Release Document In Federal Court. A January 8 article from Washington Examiner explained the long legal battle for the release of the report due to a FOIA request by Grant Smith, writing, "Defense officials are fighting a three-year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act to release a 1987 report supposedly discussing Israel's nuclear technology." [Washington Examiner1/8/15]

And DOD Asked Israel To Review Before Releasing Report

Pentagon Asked Israel To Review The Document Before Releasing It. Washington Examiner also reported:

In a seldom-used legal move known as optional review, Pentagon officials have asked the Israeli government to review the report before they consider releasing it. 


While the Israeli government is not obligated to respond, U.S. defense officials said "diplomatic relations dictate that DoD seeks Israel's review," according to documents filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. [Washington Examiner1/8/15]

Oliver Willis: Media Ignores Scott Walker's Dark Money Controversy

Media Matters - March 27, 2015 - 1:05am

The press has almost entirely ignored the revelation that after the "richest man in Wisconsin" made secret donations benefitting Republican Governor Scott Walker, his company received special tax credits for that same donor's company.

By contrast, the media have frequently invoked donations to the Clinton Foundation in their coverage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, baselessly suggesting that those donations create conflicts of interest.

Yahoo News reported March 23 that John Menard Jr., the billionaire owner of a chain of hardware stores in the Midwest, donated over $1.5 million to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which "pledged to keep its donors secret." Walker helped generate large, undisclosed donations for the group, according to records unveiled as part of a criminal investigation into whether the interactions of such groups with Walker's campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws. The Club defended Walker in the 2012 recall election, where he prevailed.

Since then, Menard's company "has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs, according to state records." Walker appointees also scaled back enforcement actions by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "a top Menard priority."

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow gave a detailed account of the story on her March 24 broadcast:

Yet the pay-to-play allegations swirling around Walker, a possible Republican presidential candidate, have been widely ignored by others in the media.

The story hasn't been covered on the three major broadcast networks, CNN, or Fox News, according to a search of Nexis and Media Matters' video archives. The Rachel Maddow Show appears to be MSNBC's only mention of the story. Besides a reprint of an Associated Press article noting a denial of wrongdoing from the Walker administration, the New York Times hasn't covered the story. And the only references from The Washington Post are in a post on the progressive Plum Line blog and the same AP story the Times reprinted.

By contrast, the media has repeatedly raised the specter of "ethical concerns" over donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments and individuals, among others. They have persisted with this coverage despite the clear indications from Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state that the donations did not influence her politically and the reality that the donations went to a global charity, not a fund benefiting her election.

NYC Building Collapse Was Probably Gas-Related

Mother Jones - March 26, 2015 - 6:16pm

An apparent gas explosion caused two New York City buildings to collapse on Thursday, injuring at least a dozen people, with at least three in critical condition. 

#BREAKING: Aerial view of building collapse @NYPD9Pct. Numerous rescue units on scene #SOD #ESU #K9 #Aviation #FD pic.twitter.com/d9iX4GOBUd

— NYPD Special Ops (@NYPDSpecialops) March 26, 2015

Fire crews first responded to calls of a building collapse at 3:17 p.m. on Second Avenue near Seventh Street in Manhattan. Less than an hour later, about 250 firefighters rushed to the scene as the fire upgraded to a seven-alarm blaze. Two other buildings were damaged in the fire, and at least one of them is at risk of collapsing. Thursday's blast comes a year after a gas explosion destroyed two buildings in East Harlem and left eight people dead. National Transportation Safety Board investigators later found a crack in the city's aging gas pipeline near one of the buildings. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference with reporters that preliminary findings suggest the explosion may have been caused by plumbing and gas work. He added that Con Edison inspectors arrived at the site more than an hour before the blast to examine private gas work being done at one of the buildings, but found the work had not passed inspection. No gas leaks were reported before the explosion. A Con Edison spokesperson told the New York Times a few of the buildings on Second Avenue had been "undergoing renovations" since August. The gas and electric utility company planned to shut down gas in the area.

#BREAKING: 2nd Ave - 7th Street - Building collapse @NYPD9Pct #SOD #ESU #K9 #Aviation #FD pic.twitter.com/HoWmtfWKeW

— NYPD Special Ops (@NYPDSpecialops) March 26, 2015

There was just an explosion on 2nd avenue and 7th street east village pic.twitter.com/jvSbfdCSSe

— Jonathan (@jmeyers44) March 26, 2015  

"We are praying that no other individuals are found injured and that there are no fatalities." -@BilldeBlasio

— Erin Durkin (@erinmdurkin) March 26, 2015

12 injured, 3 critical in building explosion in Manhattan, NYC Mayor @BilldeBlasio says pic.twitter.com/EwIbVNBJ9D

— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) March 26, 2015

We'll continue to update as we learn more. 

Yes There's a Bush and a Clinton, but the 2016 Elections Represent Something Scary and New

Mother Jones - March 26, 2015 - 5:10pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here's what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it's as if we can't bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1 percent Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you'll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn't be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, "Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race," a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton's historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not "be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory."  It's the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven't left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary's electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower's or even Al Gore's America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year's primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries—this year mainly a Republican affair—are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These "contests" involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1 percent electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, "The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending," Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

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