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Can We Really Blame Sociopaths?

I've been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves.  Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.

I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent.  I don't think the "because chickenhawks" dissent found, for example, in John Horgan's "The End of War" is sufficient.  That is to say, just because a politician doesn't want to do the killing himself or herself doesn't mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn't heartless and calculating.  Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.

But are they?

When I look at national politicians in the United States -- presidents and Congress members -- I can't identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other.  They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences.  They all make bad compromises.  There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum.  They all fund the largest killing machine in history.  The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget.  Some support wars on "humanitarian" and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way. 

The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies.  Or at least that's true much of the time on many issues.  Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience.  Senator Dianne Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it's turned against her.  Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam.  Weren't four million people killed there? Didn't many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones?  Shouldn't we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder?  In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable -- and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.

The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won't suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don't even put up a pretense.  But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to "humanize" humans.  That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail -- as if we are supposed to imagine that people don't have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things. 

When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones.  They all talked the same.  The mercenary fraudsters fit right in.  It's the same with any sociopaths in Congress.  They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?

Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as "House of Cards," and speculates that people admire sociopaths' ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others.  That's probably right.  And such shows spread sociopathy by example.  But there's also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad.  There's also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong.  But watch the real-life "journalists" playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don't imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades.  Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you'll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.

Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations.  Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not.  Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.

Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil.  They treat 100% -- not 2% or 10% or 80% -- of elected officials as potential psychopaths.  Elections are made open and verifiable.  Bribery is forbidden.  Powers are checked and balanced.  Abuses are exposed and punished.  Secrecy is curtailed and openness required.  War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished.  Standing armies are disbanded.  Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided.  Adversarial journalism is encouraged.  Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but. 

Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage.  He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath.  Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization.  He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites -- later reassuring us that he doesn't want to kill them.

The identification process is not clear cut.  Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us.  We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn't matter at all.  Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program.  That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars.  But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney.  Excitement gripped us.  For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers.  And that was that.  Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.

Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable.  What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick?  How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war?  How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn't matter?  How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance?  How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change?  How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn't possibly have known any such things?

But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others?  Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that's the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we've rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.

There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths' existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease.  Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be.  What kind of a culture would produce such an idea?  A sick one, I believe.

I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed.  Excellent proposal!  But not every immoral decider is a billionaire.  Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath.  Wouldn't it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds?  What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name?  If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable.  If recognizing that such a person's emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific.  But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it's hurting the cause of justice. 

It's not as if we can't recognize the sociopaths coming.  Molly Ivins warned us about Bush.  He lost his election. Twice.  Many of us warned about Obama.  Twice.  But Bush wasn't born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions.  Obama wasn't born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays.  Our entire system moves in that direction.  Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues -- as a step toward fixing the system.  But their bodies shouldn't be studied for clues about whom to sterilize.  Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.

Ego trumps principle: Sen. Feinstein Finally Goes after the CIA, but not for Lying to and Spying on Us

By Dave Lindorff


Of all the people to come to the rescue of the Constitution, who would have thought it would be Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA).

Feinstein, after all, as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2009, has yet to see an NSA violation of the Constitution, an invasive spying program or a creative “re-interpretation” of the law that she hasn’t applauded as being lawful and “needed” to “keep people safe.”

The Feinstein Syndrome: “The Fourth Amendment for Me, But Not for Thee”

By Norman Solomon

Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: "Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?"

A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.

In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein -- more than any other senator -- has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.

A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” -- a position she has maintained.

Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.

Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.

This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance -- insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.

A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.

More than 40 years ago, under the Nixon administration -- when the U.S. government was breaking into the offices of the Socialist Workers Party, busting into the homes of members of the Black Panther Party in the middle of night with guns firing, and widely shredding the civil liberties of anti-war activists -- few among ruling elites seemed to give a damn. But when news emerged that one of the two big political parties had severely transgressed against the other with a break-in at the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, the Republican White House had gone too far.

As spring 2014 gets underway, we might be nearing a pivotal moment when major sectors of the establishment feel compelled to recognize the arrival of a constitutional crisis. Consider how the New York Times editorialized in its Wednesday edition, declaring that Feinstein “has provided stark and convincing evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were ‘far different and far more harsh’ than anything the agency had described to Congress.”

In the euphemism lexicon of official Washington, “far different and far more harsh” refers to outright torture by the U.S. government.

At the surveillance-state garrison known as the Washington Post, where cognitive dissonance must be something fierce right now, quickly out of the box was conventional-wisdom columnist Dana Milbank, who portrayed Feinstein as a savvy and angelic force to be reckoned with. The adulatory logic was classic for journalists who like to conflate complicity with credibility.

Noting Feinstein’s record as “an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs,” Milbank wrote: “So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”

News media accounts are filled with such statements right now. On the surface, they make sense -- but there’s a pernicious undertow. With the underlying logic, the only time we could become sure that Wall Street malfeasance was a real problem would be if someone with the stature of Bernie Madoff stepped up to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

History tells us that we’d be deluded to depend on entrenched elites to opt for principle rather than continuity of the status quo. With few exceptions, what bonds those at peaks of power routinely trumps what divides them. It takes a massive and sustained uproar to really fracture the perversity of elite cohesion.

Consider the fact that the CIA, under the current Democratic administration, has gone to extraordinary lengths to transgress against a CIA-friendly Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence committee, in an effort to prevent anyone from being held accountable for crimes of torture committed under and by the Republican Bush administration.

While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out -- and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.

________________________________________

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

The Lawlessness of the Enforce the Law Act

Not being mush much of a masochist, I don't usually read emails from the Democratic Whip in Congress, but I opened one Tuesday night and was mildly excited to read that the U.S. House of Representatives would spend Wednesday debating the "ENFORCE the Law Act of 2014." Wow, I thought, which law will they pick? Will it be the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act? Would I, moments from now, be phoning a bunch of people to tell them jobs are on the way? Or ... wait a minute! Oh my god, would large corporations be paying taxes now? Or will it be the Kellogg-Briand Pact or maybe the U.N. Charter -- Are we about to announce to the world that the wars are over?  Perhaps, I thought, it's going to be the anti-torture statute -- hot damn! I wonder when the tickets for the CIA trials go on sale and how much a front row seat will cost. Or are bankers going to be subject to laws?

The New Crimean War: Balls, Brains and History

By John Grant


Making political sense out of the events in Ukraine and Crimea has become great sport. Does it mean a new Cold War? Is Vladimir Putin a better, more “potent” man than Barack Obama? Who has bigger balls?

Testimony: Record 36% of North Dakota Fracked Gas Was Flared in December

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The recent March 6 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing titled "Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Fuel Supply and Infrastructure" never had over 100 online viewers watching the livestream at any point in time. And it unfolded in an essentially empty room. 

Powerful story, but not a true one: Using a Widow's False Memory to Stir Up Hatred for Imprisoned Man and for Obama Nominee

By Dave Lindorff



Maureen Faulkner, widowed as a young wife by the shooting of her husband, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, has spent the over 32 years since his death on a crusade, first to have the man convicted of his death, Mumia Abu-Jamal, executed, and then, since the overturning of his death sentence on Constitutional grounds, trying to ensure that he remains a pariah in prison.

Vote trashes ‘rule of law’: Senate Majority Uses Abu-Jamal to 'Tar' Obama Nominee

By Linn Washington, Jr.



Members of the U.S. Senate, who now of late are blasting Russia for violating "the rule of law' in the Ukraine, trashed that same fundamental legal precept during a vote to reject the man President Obama recently nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Pandering to the Fraternal Order of Police: Senator Calls Winning Constitutional Case on the Death Penalty ‘Undermining Justice

By Dave Lindorff

Pennsylvania Senator Republican Pat Toomey last week went before the whole US Senate to oppose the nomination by President Obama of Debo Adegbile, former head of the litigation department of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In his speech, Toomey tried to argue that Adegbile is unfit for the job because he supervised the Legal Defense Fund’s successful appeal in federal court of the death sentence of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal -- an appeal that ended up vacating that sentence, and that was left standing by the US Supreme Court.

Toomey’s position -- that Adegbile had “undermined the justice system” by filing that appeal claiming that Abu-Jamal’s death sentence had been unconstitutional -- is ludicrous on its face. Given that the appeal was successful in federal court, and then upheld on appeal by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and given that the US Supreme Court, asked to reverse that ruling by Philadelphia’s District Attorney and the Pennsylvania Attorney General, refused to hear the case, thereby affirming it -- to say that Adegbile had “undermined justice” is the same as saying that a Federal District Judge, an Appellate Court panel, and the Supreme Court all “undermined justice.”

That’s a pretty heavy indictment, even for a self-styled “Tea Party” senator!

But Pennsylvania’s junior senator didn’t stop there.

New weekly ThisCantBeHappening! radio show Climate change: Washington and the Oil Companies Know but Won’t Act to Stop It

ThisCantBeHappening! has a new radio program of the same name. TCBH founder Dave Lindotff  will be hosting the show every Wednesday at 5 pm Eastern Time on theProgressive Radio Network.

OVER 100 MEMBERS OF CONGRESS CALL FOR DIPLOMACY WITH IRAN

Washington, D.C. — Days before talks on a permanent agreement between P5+1 countries and Iran are set to begin in Vienna, 104 Members of the US House of Representatives sent President Obama a bipartisan letter supporting continued diplomatic engagement with Iran.

Representative David Price (D-NC) said, “I believe that we must take advantage of the opportunity before us to pursue a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to Iran’s nuclear program, and that we must resist calls by some in Congress to prematurely enact a bill or resolution that risks inadvertently derailing or impeding our ongoing negotiations.”

“While difficult and uncertain, diplomacy represents our best hope to prevent nuclear weapons in Iran and ensure the safety of our families and others around the world. Congress should not undermine diplomacy by giving the Iranian hardliners an excuse to scuttle the negotiations. So many of our colleagues have expressed their determination for diplomacy, and so many more share the same view,” added Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee.

The text of the letter and the list of signers in alphabetical order are included below.

***
Dear Mr. President,

As Members of Congress—and as Americans—we are united in our unequivocal commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would threaten the security of the United States and our allies in the region, particularly Israel.

The ongoing implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed to by Iran and the “P5+1” nations last November increases the possibility of a comprehensive and verifiable international agreement. We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation. At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance. A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.

We remain wary of the Iranian regime. But we believe that robust diplomacy remains our best possible strategic option, and we commend you and your designees for the developments in Geneva. Should negotiations fail or falter, nothing precludes a change in strategy. But we must not imperil the possibility of a diplomatic success before we even have a chance to pursue it.
Sincerely,


1 CA Bass
2 OH Beatty
3 GA Bishop, Sanford
4 OR Blumenauer
5 Guam Bordallo
6 FL Brown
7 NC Butterfield, GK
8 CA Capps
9 MA Capuano
10 IN Carson
11 PA Cartwright
12 VI Christensen
13 NY Clarke, Yvette
14 MO Clay
15 MO Cleaver
16 SC Clyburn
17 TN Cohen
18 VA Connolly
19 MI Conyers
20 TN Cooper
21 CT Courtney
22 MD Cummings
23 IL Davis, Danny
24 OR DeFazio
25 CO DeGette
26 CT DeLauro
27 MI Dingell
28 TX Doggett
29 TN Duncan Jr (R)
30 MD Edwards
31 MN Ellison
32 IL Enyart
33 CA Eshoo
34 CA Farr
35 IL Foster
36 OH Fudge, Marcia
37 CA Garamendi
38 AZ Grijalva
39 IL Gutierrez
40 NY Hanna (R)
41 NJ Holt
42 CA Huffman
43 TX Jackson-Lee
44 TX Johnson, EB
45 GA Johnson, Hank
46 NC Jones, Walter (R)
47 OH Kaptur
48 MA Keating
49 IL Kelly, Robin
50 MI Kildee
51 NH Kuster
52 CT Larson
53 CA Lee, Barbara
54 GA Lewis
55 IA Loebsack
56 CA Lofgren
57 MA Lynch, Stephen
58 UT Matheson
59 KY Massie (R)
60 NY McCarthy
61 MN McCollum
62 WA McDermott
63 MA McGovern
64 CA McNerney, Jerry
65 NY Meeks
66 CA Miller, George
67 WI Moore
68 VA Moran, Jim
69 CA Negrete McLeod
70 MN Nolan
71 DC Norton
72 TX O'Rourke
73 AZ Pastor
74 NJ Payne
75 PR Pierluisi
76 ME Pingree
77 WI Pocan
78 CO Polis
79 NC Price, David
80 WV Rahall
81 NY Rangel
82 CA Roybal-Allard
83 MD Ruppersberger
84 IL Rush
85 OH Ryan, Tim
86 NMI Sablan
87 IL Schakowsky
88 VA Scott, Bobby
89 NH Shea-Porter
90 NY Slaughter
91 CA Speier
92 CA Takano
93 MI Thompson, Bennie
94 CA Thompson, Mike
95 MA Tierney
96 NY Tonko
97 MA Tsongas
98 MD Van Hollen
99 NY Velazquez
100 IN Visclosky
101 MN Walz
102 CA Waters
103 VT Welch
104 KY Yarmuth

It’s always darkest before the dawn: The Irrepressible and Irreplaceable Pete Seeger

By Dave Lindorff


I never really knew Pete Seeger, but he taught me how to play the banjo.

Climate Changes-- Washington Freezes (Part III of three part Climate Change series)

By Dave Lindorff


(This is Part III of a three-part series on climate change by Dave Lindorff that is running in WhoWhatWhy News)


The case for harm reduction: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Drug War Sanity

By John Grant


It was to be expected. A famous person’s death by heroin overdose becomes a catalyst for today’s equivalent of the lynch mob. Leading the pack, Bill O’Reilly immediately and aggressively called for heads to roll. Soon, four people were arrested in Manhattan for allegedly selling the drugs to the Academy Award winning actor.

Justice gets the shaft when it involves Mumia: Sen. Toomey and Philly DA Williams Slam Obama Rights Nominee for Seeking Justice

The latest from ThisCantBeHappening!:

 

Justice gets the shaft when it involves Mumia:

Sen. Toomey and Philly DA Williams Slam Obama Rights Nominee for Seeking Justice


By Dave Lindorff


It’s Not News, It’s Propaganda, Part 2

  “You said that the F.B.I. cleared Edward Snowden of acting with anyone else or as part of a spy ring.  Why are we even talking about this then?  How can Mike Rogers pretend the F.B.I. report doesn’t exist, go on TV, and accuse Snowden of being a spy for the Russian secret police?”

 

It’s Not News, It’s Propaganda, Part 1

  I was out walking my dog the other morning, and my neighbor Tom--known locally as “the gentle radical”--was out shoveling the snow from his walk.  He was puffing, and I asked him if he’d like to take a break and give me a turn at the shovel.

 

“Thanks for the offer, Ace,” he said with a smile, “but I need to do things like this to work off my frustration.  If I couldn’t shovel snow, rake leaves, and tend to my garden, I think the top of my head might periodically blow off.”

 

Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump: State Dept Releases KXL Final Environmental Review

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The State Department has released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed northern leg of the controversial and long-embattled TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Image credit: Kris Krug.

In a familiar "Friday trash dump" — a move many expected the Obama administration to shun — John Kerry's State Department chose to "carefully stage-manage the report's release" on Super Bowl Friday when most Americans are switching focus to football instead of political scandals. **See bottom of this post for breaking analysis**

Anticipating the report’s release, insiders who had been briefed on the review told Bloomberg News the SEIS -- not a formal decision by the State Department on the permitting of the pipeline, but rather another step in the department’s information gathering -- “will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline.”

And, indeed, the new report reads“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

This reiterates one of the earlier draft’s most heavily criticized conclusions that the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and thus avoids a comprehensive assessment of those climate impacts.

In June 2013, President Obama said in a speech announcing his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University that he would only approve the permit if it was proven that “this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."  

The final environmental review is being released on the heels of damning revelations about the close ties between the Canadian pipeline builder, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ERM was hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review.

Insulting Workers, Coddling the Rich: Obama’s ‘Raise’ for Federal Workers is a Bad Joke

By Dave Lindorff


President Obama, five years late, decried the terrible income gap in the US, which has worsened during his years in the White House, and offered the puny “fix” of raising the minimum wage paid to employees working on federal projects from its current $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. This executive order, which could have been done when he took office in the depths of the Great Recession back in 2009 would be not immediate but would be phased in over the next three years.


To See Climate Change in Florida, Check Out Miami Beach’s Storm Sewers

By Dave Lindorff


Miami Beach – Len Berry was relaxing with colleagues on a hotel patio here one evening last October when one of them shouted, “Look! It’s happening!”  Peering over the railing, the group could see water pushing up onto the street below from storm sewer drains – something that thanks to sea level rise has been happening with increasing frequency in this low-lying resort city. Berry, director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, says he and the others were in town to attend a conference on climate change when they got this first-hand view of the crisis.

State Dept's Keystone XL Contractor, ERM Group, Also OK'd Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor performing the U.S. State Department's environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — gave the greenlight to Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine proposal in June 2013.

Same criminal spying but with a White House blessing: Obama in NSA Speech Says Nothing Will Change

By Alfredo Lopez


This past week, the Federal government threw a one-two punch that will effectively destroy the Internet as we know it. Demonstrating, once again, his talent for obfuscation and misdirection, President Obama made a speech about reforming the NSA and controlling surveillance that actually officially recognized, sanctioned and even expanded the NSA's domestic spying and cyber-warfare.

Short-term profits trump survival: Washington and the Oil Industry Know the Truth about Climate Change

By Dave Lindorff


Climate skeptics in Congress, and oil and coal industry lobbyists like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coal Council may be preventing any significant action in the US on reducing this country’s emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, but at the Pentagon, and in the executive suites of the oil industry giants, there is no doubt about the reality of climate change.


$1.1 Trillion Spending Bill Overturns Pentagon Cuts

From Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com

Congressional negotiators have unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill tonight that officials say will avoid a government shutdown, and will also increase Pentagon spending above the levels a previous sequestration deal called for.

As usual, the Pentagon spending is still being spun as a “cut,” since it was lower than the Pentagon’s own demand for an increase, but it is actually $20 billion above the sequestration deal, and includes $90 billion in war funding, more than initially sought.

The nearly 1,600 pages of the bill include all sorts of putative compromises, and a lot of major disappointments, including an official authorization from Congress for President Obama to continue breaking the law by funding the Egyptian military junta.

President Obama has indicated he intends to continue sending $1.5 billion to the Egyptian military annually despite the June coup d’etat. US law explicitly bans military funding after coups, but the administration has insisted they just are going to pretend they didn’t hear that.

Addicted to the fruit of a poisoned tree: Thanks to George Bush, Talks with Iran Make Sense

By John Grant


US military history from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan is too often a combination of destructive stumbling around followed by an effort to sustain and project forward the notion of US power and exceptionalism. To forge another narrative is very difficult.

Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law. 

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