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U.S. Corporate-Foreign Policy Alliance in Ukraine

By: JP Sottile Saturday March 22, 2014 12:38 pm
Ukraine. Kiev. Street View

Ukraine. Kiev. Street View

FDL’ers: Usually I cross-post from my Newsvandal blog, but my last two stories were written as original pieces, one for BuzzFlash and one for Robert Parry’s Consortiumnews. Both are on the subtle partnerships behind the scenes of U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Russia.

The visible maneuvering over Crimea and the Cold War nostalgia expressed by belligerent U.S. politicians doesn’t quite match the corporate takeover we saw in Iraq. Rather, it feels more like Guatemala & the United Fruit Co. in 1953, or Iran & the CIA in 1953.

The moves are happening on two fronts: energy and agribusiness.

To read the story on Condi Rice and Chevron’s new 50-year lease to develop shale gas in Ukraine go to BuzzFlash: The Business of America Is Giving Countries Like Ukraine the Business

Like most American Exceptionalists, Condi Rice’s bluster and posturing can be reverse-engineered to find the banal truth about U.S. foreign policy. For example, her steadfast belief that Ukraine “should not be a pawn in a great-power conflict but rather an independent nation” might have something to do with Chevron’s 50-year lease to develop Ukraine’s shale gas reserves.

When that lease was signed on November 5, 2013, it stoked Russian fears about losing its influence on, and a major gas market in, a former satellite. It also came on the eve of the much-disputed trade deal with the European Union that, once abandoned due to Russian pressure, led to the toppling of Ukraine’s government. Reuters characterized Ukraine’s “$10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron” as “another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia.”

To read the story on growing investments by Cargill, Monsanto and Big Ag in the Soviet Union’s former breadbasket go to Consortiumnews: Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch

Despite the turmoil within Ukrainian politics after Yanukovych rejected a major trade deal with the European Union just seven weeks earlier, Cargill was confident enough about the future to fork over $200 million to buy a stake in Ukraine’s UkrLandFarming. According to Financial Times, UkrLandFarming is the world’s eighth-largest land cultivator and second biggest egg producer. And those aren’t the only eggs in Cargill’s increasingly-ample basket.

On Dec. 13, Cargill announced the purchase of a stake in a Black Sea port. Cargill’s port at Novorossiysk — to the east of Russia’s strategically significant and historically important Crimean naval base — gives them a major entry-point to Russian markets and adds them to the list of Big Ag companies investing in ports around the Black Sea, both in Russia and Ukraine.

Both touch on the “Deep State” of interlocking interests, political fixers and policymakers steering U.S. policy into a long-desired collision with Russia. Ultimately, it’s about opening the door to Ukraine’s resources for well-connected corporations (and, of course, the Neo-Cons are still jury-rigging the whole thing behind the scenes).

 

Edward Snowden to Appear via Video Link at SXSW

By: JP Sottile Tuesday March 4, 2014 11:58 am
Caricature of Edward Snowden holding a swirling spiral of light

Austinites will virtually welcome Snowden to town at SXSW.

Austin, Texas is preparing to host a rock star. The ACLU’s Blog of Rights announced today that Edward Snowden is going to appear at Austin’s famous festival via live video at SXSW Interactive.

SXSW is heavily attended by music and film industries, but Austin is also a fast-growing tech hub, a long-standing oasis in the vast desert of Texas fundamentalism and one of America’s coolest counter-culture havens. As the ACLU blog points out, SXSW is…

…the festival that brings together tens of thousands of technology professionals and enthusiasts every year in Austin. He’ll be talking to the ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian. The panel will take place on March 10 at 11 a.m. Central Time. A live stream will be available on The Texas Tribune‘s website, and the video will be available here afterwards.

SXSW’s website is promoting it as “A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden” that will focus “on the impact of the NSA’s spying efforts on the technology community, and the ways in which technology can help to protect us from mass surveillance.”

This is a rare opportunity to hear him in his own words, something that most Americans were denied when he was interviewed by German TV ARD in January.  The New York Times only had excerpts and the full interview — which is quite enlightening and shows Snowden to be bright, circumspect and clear about his motivations — was mostly blacked-out by the mainstream media.

In fact, it is still blacked out. Go to ARD’s website and you will be denied access to the English-language interview. Luckily, you can access it here at “Next News Network.”

If you haven’t watched it, you probably should … and do it soon. The NSA’s Secret Squirrel State is always on the prowl and ready to pull the plug on the truth.

And here’s a hearty “thank you” the denizens of Austin for always “keeping it weird!”

Things are Getting Weird at First Look Media – UPDATED

By: JP Sottile Friday February 28, 2014 8:13 pm

We like Edward Snowden and his broadside against the NSA’s Secret Squirrel State.

We are glad that DNI James “the Clapper” Clapper is moaning that the NSA can’t stop another Snowden from blowing their cover.

OnInnovation Interview: Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar

And we really like Glenn Greenwald for speaking truth to power, and for leveraging those revelatory documents into a whole new venture–First Look Media and The Intercept–with Jeremy Scahill, Matt Taibbi and noted FDL alum, Marcy Wheeler.

But there is a problem.

Ironically, it’s a problem Marcy Wheeler postulated about broadly, but didn’t realize how specifically close to the truth she really was.

Today, Mark Ames at Pando.com wrote:

Just hours after last weekend’s ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, one of Pierre Omidyar’s newest hires at national security blog “The Intercept,” was already digging for the truth.

Marcy Wheeler, who is the new site’s “senior policy analyst,” speculated that the Ukraine revolution was likely a “coup” engineered by “deep forces” on behalf of “Pax Americana”:

“There’s quite a bit of evidence of coup-ness. Q is how many levels deep interference from both sides is.”

These are serious claims. So serious that I decided to investigate them. And what I found was shocking.

Yeah, it is shocking. It turns out that the eBay founder-billionaire backing First Look also funded anti-government forces in Ukraine. Ames reports:

What’s shocking is the name of the billionaire who co-invested with the US government (or as Wheeler put it: the “dark force” acting on behalf of “Pax Americana”).

Step out of the shadows…. Wheeler’s boss, Pierre Omidyar.

Yes, in the annals of independent media, this might be the strangest twist ever: According to financial disclosures and reports seen by Pando, the founder and publisher of Glenn Greenwald’s government-bashing blog,“The Intercept,” co-invested with the US government to help fund regime change in Ukraine.

So. Here we are…looking for great reporting, cutting-edge journalism and something to rely upon in this ever-evolving news scrum of the 21st Century, and it turns out that Mr. Moneybags not only has his hand in journalism, but he’s got his other hand in covert regime change with cohorts who might make some of us a bit squeamish. Ames continues:

When the revolution came to Ukraine, neo-fascists played a front-center role in overthrowing the country’s president. But the real political power rests with Ukraine’s pro-western neoliberals. Political figures like Oleh Rybachuk, long a favorite of the State Department, DC neoconsEU, and NATO—and the right-hand man to Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Last December, the Financial Times wrote that Rybachuk’s “New Citizen” NGO campaign “played a big role in getting the protest up and running.”

New Citizen, along with the rest of Rybachuk’s interlocking network of western-backed NGOs and campaigns— “Center UA” (also spelled “Centre UA”), “Chesno,” and “Stop Censorship” to name a few — grew their power by targeting pro-Yanukovych politicians with a well-coordinated anti-corruption campaign that built its strength in Ukraine’s regions, before massing in Kiev last autumn.

And that’s where the Omidyar’s money enters the picture:

According to the Kyiv Post, Pierrie Omidyar’s Omidyar Network (part of the Omidyar Group which owns First Look Media and the Intercept) provided 36% of “Center UA”’s $500,000 budget in 2012— nearly $200,000. USAID provided 54% of “Center UA”’s budget for 2012. Other funders included the US government-backed National Endowment for Democracy.

In 2011, Omidyar Network gave $335,000 to “New Citizen,” one of the anti-Yanukovych “projects” managed through the Rybachuk-chaired NGO “Center UA.”

In fact, Ames points out that the Omidyar Network even bragged about their involvement in Ukrainian politics. Of course, like George Soros, Mr. Omidyar is super-rich and super-free to do what he wants with his money. But, like critics of politically-active Rupert Murdoch, we have a duty to question whether or not a source of journalism is in some ways compromised when the founder and chief funder is screwing around with government agencies, political agendas and playing covert fun and games around the world.

Ames is scathing in his criticism of the “fawning” indy media cadre Omidyar has assembled around himself. And rightly so. But the stuff coming out of The Intercept–like Greenwald’s terrifying exposé of the GCHQ playbook for destroying the reputations and lives of critics, dissenters and political opponents–has so far been stellar and much-welcomed by me, particularly after my own scrapes within the mainstream media. But these questions have to be asked, and Ames is doing his journalistic best to keep the truth flowing. Ultimately, First Look is going to have to find a way to keep Omidyar’s hands out of its day-to-day business if he wants to play kingmaker in other nations.

If he wants to keep his hands in journalism, he’s going to have to keep them solely in journalism–that is, if he wants to keep ‘em clean and keep First Look trustworthy.

UPDATE: Here is Glenn Greenwald’s quite thorough response to Pando:  “On the meaning of journalistic independence

Excerpts:

Despite its being publicly disclosed, I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jermey Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me – any more than I cared about the political views of the family that owns and funds Salon (about which I know literally nothing, despite having worked there for almost 6 years), or any more than I cared about the political views of those who control the Guardian Trust.

re: Omidyar’s access to NSA docs:

Other than generally conveying that there is much reporting left to be done on these documents – something I’ve publicly said many times – I don’t believe I’ve ever even had a single discussion with him about a single document in the archive.

re: the independence if First Look staff:

But what I do know is that I would never temper, limit, suppress or change my views for anyone’s benefit – as anyone I’ve worked with will be happy to tell you – and my views on such interference in other countries isn’t going to remotely change no matter the actual facts here. I also know that I’m free to express those views without the slightest fear. And I have zero doubt that that’s true of every other writer at The Intercept.

Ultimately,  I suspect that these questions–like those raised by Ames–will continue to pop up until First Look publicly establishes an organizational structure that shows/establishes a clear divide between GG & Co. and Omidyar.  In journalism it’s long been called “the separation between church and state”–meaning an organizational independence between the editorial folks and the money. Clarifying that with an organizational disclosure could end these speculations for good.

Can America Afford To Bring Home The Employee Army?

By: JP Sottile Wednesday February 26, 2014 4:38 pm

What happens when a war ends and an army comes home?

What happens when a war ends and an army comes home?

It’s been a vexing problem for centuries.

After completing the long Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th Century, a newly-united Spain turned its attention and its Conquistadors toward the New World.

At the end of the Civil War, the Re-United States shifted its victorious army westward, quickly making the American Indian the Civil War’s biggest loser.

Now the United States faces the problem once again.

The question is whether the Pentagon’s planned reduction of the Army to “pre-World War II levels” will be met with post-World War II solutions, or post-Vietnam-like problems?

The issue now, unlike with those wars, is that America’s army is a “professional” army. Since the post-Vietnam reboot of the Reagan years, military service has become a jobs program, a wide-ranging technical school and training program, and a de facto safety valve for the poor, the working poor and for immigrants seeking a path to citizenship. And for some in the middle class it’s been their only chance of ever affording college.

The “Be All You Can Be” military of the 1980s—along with the “One Weekend a Month” National Guard and Reserves—matched Reagan’s Cold War calculations, but it also met a more subtle desire by a chastened Pentagon to transform the military into a professional army, with economic motivations filling the patriotic void left by the catastrophe of Vietnam.

The Vietnam demobilization was a disaster for many vets who struggled with drug abuse, PTSD, homelessness and, even to this day, a high suicide rate. The inability to absorb scarred and disillusioned draftees during the economically stagnant 1970s was in stark contrast to the overwhelming success of the G.I. Bill and the “go-go” manufacturing economy of the 1950s, which quickly and effectively assimilated a large standing army into comfortable civilian employment.

The assimilation is staggering—active duty forces dropped from the wartime high of 12 million in 1945 to roughly 1.5 million by 1947. A combination of conscription and volunteerism sustained U.S. troop levels thereafter, meeting the increased needs of the Korean War and various Cold War deployments until the burning of draft cards and widespread protests challenged the system.

The Vietnam backlash led to the functional end of the draft and the marketing of military service as a career development program.

As a bonus, this re-branding of service created a new pro-military constituency within the body politic. Like defense contractors’ use of civilian manufacturing jobs to secure congressional support, the new “employee army” offered enlistees a rational economic benefit beyond patriotism. It also gave the economy some help along the way, providing an injection of good old fashioned socialism under the guise of patriotic duty.

While many high school grads accumulated massive, inescapable debts as college students, the all-volunteer military offered a way out of the economic dead-ends created by the unleashing of Wall Street’s financial wizards, the end of manufacturing and the outsourcing of, it seemed, just about everything.

Military service mitigated the effects of Reaganomics in the 1980s, offered an alternative to the free trade and tech-bubble economy of the 1990s and, with a rapid post-9/11 ramp up, created an economic safety net for the faux economy of the new century. Americans were asked to support the troops while employing the troops actually helped to support America’s hollow economy.

Although these Army personnel cuts come at a time when Wall Street enjoys record highs and policymakers talk about “The Recovery” as if it’s an actual thing, Americans remain unconvinced that the rising tide is lifting their boats. Gallup’s latest poll shows unemployment atop their list of concerns, with the “economy in general” a close second. Americans want and need jobs, and not just the type of jobs that will benefit from a rise in the minimum wage.

For those scheduled to leave military service in the near term, they will find themselves in a wage-depressed, job-scarce economy. For those who planned on using the military “safety valve” as a way out of a stagnant future, the Pentagon is curtailing one of the only employment and job-training programs available to the poor, the working poor and the dwindling middle class.

Some called it the “poverty draft”—meaning that the poor had few options other than military service. Military recruiters called it “easy cash,” reaping illicit signing bonuses in what’s become a huge kickback scandal reaching up the chain of command. But none dare call it what it often is—a safety net for those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Just think what the Great Recession could’ve been like if America didn’t have over 540,000 people in the Army or a total of 1.4 million in uniform, all earning paychecks, getting healthcare and removed from the harrowing competition of a severely depressed job market?

And what would happen if even a quarter of the 1,387,638 active duty military serving in 2013 tried to get jobs in an economy of $19 billion companies with only 55 employees, bank tellers who depend on public assistance to scrape by and Americans who are one missed paycheck away from disaster?

Maybe the answer is coming, or maybe the answer is that the army isn’t really coming home. Rather, it’s just pursuing some cost-cutting measures designed to lower overhead and increase profitability.

The rise of flying killer robots, warfare by algorithm and a wide array of high-tech options to low-tech boots on the ground all give the Pentagon an easy way to reduce personnel costs without curtailing its global appetite for destruction. On the surface it looks like an incremental step away from empire. But it’s really a corporate-style move to cut the one thing all executives like to cut most—the cost of labor.

In addition to trimming the Army down to around 440,000, other cost-cutting measures include:

  • a one-year salary freeze for most officers
  • a meager one-percent pay raise for military personnel
  • “slowing of growth” in the tax-free housing allowance
  • a $1.4 billion subsidy cut to military commissaries
  • a rise in health insurance deductibles and co-pays for some retirees and active service family members

Of course, there is nothing here about closing down the Pentagon’s world-wide network of lush golf courses, freezing the F-35 program until rampant cost overruns can be stopped or cutting the actual defense budget. In fact, the White House is plotting a rise in spending for 2016. In light of Secretary Hagel’s plan, these cuts really amount to a windfall for the Military-Industrial makers of high-tech weaponry by shifting cost savings into new, profitable weapons systems.

Meanwhile, active duty enlistees are increasingly reliant upon on food stamps. Last year, military families redeemed $104 million worth of taxpayer-supplied food stamps at those subsidized commissaries the Pentagon wants to trim. That’s up from nearly $25 million in 2007. But it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the 44 million Americans who rely on those same food stamps, but don’t have access to subsidized commissaries.

So, like civilian workers, military personnel face a daunting future of stagnant wages and declining benefits. If they do come home, the one part of the economy that can absorb them is the growing police state—which receives excess military hardware doled out by the Pentagon, and the flourishing prison system—which leads the world in incarceration. Perhaps out of work soldiers can leverage their training to get jobs guarding the 700,000 veterans currently imprisoned in America.

If so, they’d be closing the “circle of professionalism” that began as a response to Vietnam, but also typified an ongoing unwillingness to invest in the civilian economy like America did at the end of World War II.

cross-posted from Newsvandal / follow @newsvandal

Boeing’s Amazing Shrinking Tax Rate!

By: JP Sottile Monday February 24, 2014 11:14 am

Boeings massive tax return highlights our nation's corporate welfare system.Last year, government contracting behemoth Boeing paid an effective tax rate of -1.4%.

Yes, you read that correctly—negative 1.4%.

According to a new report from the Center for Effective Government, one of America’s biggest corporations, with profits ranging from $1.6 to $5.9 billion over the last five years, found ways to whittle down its effective tax rate so much that it became, in effect, a source of revenue as they reaped a whopping $82 million tax refund on $5.9 billion in profits.

And this isn’t new.

As Scott Klinger at CFC points out, “Over the last six years, Boeing has reported $26.4 billion in pre-tax profits to its shareholders, while claiming a total of $105 million in refunds from the IRS [for] an effective tax rate of -0.4 percent.”

But wait, there’s more!

Boeing is also the second largest federal contractor. Last year, the aerospace, aircraft and military hardware giant captured 4.4% of the federal contracting pie, which accounted for just over one-third of all of Boeing’s sales!

The grand total?

Public servants in the White House, the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill redistributed $20,182,591,732 of taxpayer wealth to the patriots populating the plush boardrooms of a 36-story skyscraper in downtown Chicago.

With that type of reliable, tax-free income, you’d imagine that Boeing’s corporate headquarters might just be one of the happiest places on earth. But the denizens of Boeing—like CEO W. James McNerney, Jr., who pulled in $27.5 million in 2012—are not sitting alone in the cornered market of defense-related spending. They and their cohorts who sit atop a great federal contracting pyramid scheme—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Raytheon and General Dynamics—are in no small part why the Washington, D.C. region is the reigning champion in economic confidence.

In fact, Gallup’s tracking survey found that D.C. is the only place in America with any economic confidence at all. Of the fifty states, every one of them has a confidence score mired in the negative. But D.C. scored an astonishing +19 in the most recent tally. In case you hadn’t noticed, the D.C. real estate market shrugged off the Great Recession of 2008 and, beginning in March of 2009, it has registered positive growth each and every year since.

As the Wall Street Journal declared in 2013, the nation’s capital is “a boomtown!”

Unlike Boeing, companies like the aforementioned Northrop Grumman and SAIC, along with uber-luxury carmaker Bentley, have decided to move their headquarters into the region and, therefore, closer to the cutting of the contracting pie.

And that pie is getting bigger.

According to Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, “…annual government spending on federal contractors in the D.C. metro area increased from $12.6 billion in 1990 to $29.3 billion in 2000, and to $82.5 billion in 2010. And 70% of the $82.5 billion was for technology services.”

The spike from 2000 to 2010 is staggering and, not coincidentally, concurrent with the coming of the Global War on Terror, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the growth of the NSA-Spying Complex. Since 9/11, the iron reliability of defense and national security-related spending has drawn profit-seeking companies into the D.C. area like moths to an eternal flame.

It has also enriched elected officials—the Representatives in this so-called “representative government” who are charged with the duty of serving the public interest. Infamous examples like Halliburton, Blackwater, the Rendon Group and the hilariously-named “Custer Battles” are exactly what we’d expect to come out of the revolving doors at the Department of Defense and the Pentagon.

After all, there’s no business like war business.

Rather, it’s the cronyism and job security system of self-serving public servants in Congress that strips away—almost irrevocably—the veneer of democracy or the sense that voting even matters. The defense industry is among the most generous when it comes to lobbying, campaign donations and financial glad-handing. The list of top defense dole-meisters features the usual suspects: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and, of course, Boeing.

God’s Plan for Climate Change

By: JP Sottile Saturday February 22, 2014 10:58 am

Could droughts, heatwaves, superstorms and, for good measure, a polar vortex or two finally force a real change in U.S. policy? Not if God’s Plan gets in the way.

Secretary of State John Kerry declared climate change “a threat to national security”and likened it to a “weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

His declaration during a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia came on the heels of President Obama’s visit to drought-stricken California to deliver both aid and pointed remarks on the need to make climate change a political priority.

At least one senator—Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—thinks Congress is getting closer to taking some action on carbon-limiting fees and regulations. But his is a “contrarian view” stoked by pending EPA regulations on coal-fired plants and, perhaps, the demonstrable link in other nations between the increasingly bad weather that people experience and their growing trepidation about a changing climate they may not fully understand.

Could droughts, heatwaves, superstorms and, for good measure, a polar vortex or two finally force a real change in U.S. policy?

Not if God’s Plan gets in the way.

That’s the dirty little secret sustaining the Holy Trinity of big oil, natural gas and “clean” coal. They preserve their grip on both U.S. policymaking and those swollen wads of taxpayer-amplified profits by greasing the palms of political roundheels who, more often than not, are elected by a political base built on the Evangelicals and various mega-churchgoers who dominate gerrymandered districts, act as gatekeepers in primary elections and protest loudly over Biblically-bereft school curricula.

The “protest loudly” part is important because Big Carbon and their coterie of concubines cannot endure without some reliable public acquiescence or, even more alarming, the mechanical recalcitrance of their political base, even in the face mounting evidence. That sort of recalcitrance in the face of evidence is contrary to the practice of science, but almost requisite for adherence to creationism, climate denialism or the idea that our destinies are made manifest by the will of the Almighty.

According to a 2011 Baylor University study, seventy-three percent of Americans believe that God has a plan for everyone. And the more strongly they believe in God’s Plan, the more likely they are to see government overreach in the affairs of Americans. As Christianity Today pointed out, this distaste for government’s role in human affairs “…diminishes as belief in God’s plan wanes.”

It’s a simple juxtaposition—God’s preset course for history trumps any scheme concocted by humans. And any human-centered efforts that deny the Almighty’s heavy hand in the writing of history are, at best, apocryphal and, at worst, heretical.

In the case of the environment and climate change, human impact on something as big as the whole of God’s creation is, in and of itself, a dubious proposition. This makes human-centered explanations of climate change or the sixth mass extinction not only incidental, but even self-aggrandizing. It also fosters a willingness to accept the otherwise unacceptable, and this willingness is predicated on one simple turn of phrase—it’s all part of God’s plan.

Climate is part of God’s Plan.

Extinction is part of God’s Plan.

In fact, the end of the world is part of God’s Plan.

And because it nullifies Genesis—the alpha that sets up Armageddon’s omega—the science of evolution remains the biggest challenge to the veracity of that plan. If evolution is right, then Genesis is wrong. If Genesis is wrong, then God is either a liar or superfluous. And if we are not created in God’s image or living out God’s script for our lives, then humans are not quite as special and unique as we’d like to think.

For that thirty-three percent of Americans who, according to the most recent Pew poll, refuse to accept anything but Genesis, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Without God’s Plan, humans alone have to shoulder the burden of responsibility for turning a once quite real Eden into sweltering Hell on earth.

That’s why almost a century after the sad circus of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and over one and a half centuries after Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was first published, the obvious fact of evolution remains a relentless, if completely mind-boggling, controversy for a group of devout Americans who inadvertently, subconsciously or intentionally abet the greed and avarice of Big Carbon.

Maybe it is just a coincidence that two primary fronts in the war on evolution are Texas and Louisiana. They just so happen to be two of America’s most oil-centric states and, therefore, most prolific producers of carbon. Both states are also steeped in fundamentalism. Texas may or may not be the shiny Buckle on America’s Bible Belt, but there is little doubt its political class is awash in oil dollars and its environment tainted by the toxic consequences of fracking. Louisiana is not only in the midst of a $60 billion oil, gas and refining boom, it’s also the home of duck-hunting Bible experts and it’s a national leader in vouchers that allow parents to steer their children away from perilous “humanism” and into “classrooms” featuring anything but the basics of science.

Not coincidentally, America’s kids are perennial laggards in math and science education and too many of America’s adults lack a general knowledge of basic scientific facts. This works hand in glove with Big Carbon’s use of the Big Tobacco playbook for dealing with troubling scientific evidence. When in doubt, create doubt—but call it “scientific” doubt.

This doubt reflex dominated a flaccid debate on Meet the Press between tenacious science educator Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ms. Blackburn, a red-blooded social conservative from Tennessee’s 7th District, benefits from an almost Pavlovian voting pattern that has seen her and her GOP predecessor win anywhere from sixty-six to one-hundred percent of the vote over the last seven elections. In the last year, she’s raised $38,000 from the oil and gas industry and she scooped up over $93,000 for her 2012 campaign. She practically has a Minnie Pearl-style price-tag dangling off of her hat.

So, it made perfect sense that she dismissed the scientific consensus about climate change even as another polar blast was inundating the East Coast. The indefatigable Nye, fresh off his debate with creation science promoter Ken Ham, implored Blackburn to “…really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

But denial is her bread and butter. She, like so many others who use the specious specter of doubt to cloud complicated scientific issues, basically runs interference for the geologists, chemists, engineers and corporate captains who profit from the oil and gas industry, but should know better.

Science and religion can and do work together, even if not for the greater good. A brand new survey by Rice University found that nearly fifty percent of Evangelicals “…believe that science and religion can work together and support one another.”

Alas, they do.

This marriage of convenience works together to deny inconvenient truths about the real and lasting damage Americans are causing each and every day. It’s a match made in heaven, like God and mammon.

French Fries and Freedom Ticklers: America Loves France Again!

By: JP Sottile Friday February 14, 2014 12:40 pm

It’s official—America has finally forgiven France.

France's Arc de Triomphe with a reflecting pool lit with a golden light at night.

Why is American foreign policy friendly with France again?

This is big news, particularly after such a messy break-up over America’s infatuation with remaking the Middle East. That fixation on Iraq turned into an international affair when France spurned America’s proposition and then-President Jacques Chirac refused to get sucked into a morally and legally sticky ménage à trois with George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Despite the infamous French appetite for such things, they didn’t join the aptly-named “Coalition of the Willing.” It seems that the French weren’t willing get screwed by America’s clumsy, juvenile power-play.

But hell hath no fury like an imperialist scorned.

In 2003, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s succinctly stated the administration’s policy towards the unwilling—”Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.” That petty policy quickly became a series of petty punishments. The U.S. “downgraded its participation” in a French air show. It excluded France—officially a NATO member—from some NATO military exercises. French scientists were barred from meetings on Galileo, the European satellite program, and the U.S. blocked selection of France’s leading nuclear institute as the site of a cutting-edge nuclear fusion experiment called the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER).

The coup de grâce, though, came from those patriot actors in Congress. If you really want to hurt the French, you gotta go after their food, right? So, on March 11, 2003, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. of North Carolina drew a line in the menu. Upon their direction, both French Fries and French Toast were re-christened as “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast.” And it became a national sensation, with hash jockeys, greasy spooners and burger flippers across the country marching lock-step toward a menu that better reflected their values.

This national outpouring of righteous indignation even reached into condom dispensers in truckstop bathrooms, where patriotic fornicators could purchase “Freedom Ticklers.” Seriously. Freedom Ticklers. The best part of “the “Ticklers-formerly-known as French” was that the package depicted the Statue of Liberty, which was made in France and given to America as a gift. It’s a little irony that was probably lost on the target audience.

But now that’s all in the past. Congress eventually put the French back into their fries and, according to a new Gallup poll, Americans have decided to pull out the Barry White records and kiss and make-up with the apple of Thomas Jefferson’s eye. Although Americans’ favorability toward France plummeted from 79% just after 9/11 to a staggering 34% in March of 2003, it has finally recovered to the historical norm established throughout the 1990s. It took 11 years to recover, but now 78% of Americans sing “Je t’aime” when asked what they think about the French.

To seal the deal, President Obama invited an actual French Socialist—President Hollande—over to the White House for fancy dinner, some drinks and little dancing and then…who knows?

The two leaders were moonstruck enough to plan a big date between NASA and the French National Center of Space Studies (CNES). America and France have decided to go to Mars together. Sure, some will see a nefarious subtext in a European Socialist and President Obama agreeing to go to the “Red Planet,” but this scientific cooperation should put to rest any a lingering resentment over the petty punishments ordered by the Bush Administration.

President Hollande returned the favor by publicly putting to bed his government’s concerns in the wake of the Snowden-NSA spying revelations. “Mutual trust has been restored,” said Hollande, and he reaffirmed his commitment to work together with the U.S. to fight terrorism. And this is where the United States and the French are really getting into bed together—increasingly cooperating around Africa to quell insurgencies, fight jihadists and counter militants.

The al-Qaeda Menace: A Tale of Two Headlines

By: JP Sottile Sunday February 9, 2014 3:58 pm

What exactly is al-Qaeda?

What exactly is al-Qaeda?

Is it a group of committed jihadists previously led by Osama bin Laden? Or is it a “brand?”

Is the enemy just the so-called “core” al-Qaeda, or is it now an amorphous conglomerate of affiliates, franchisees and enthusiasts?

If “core al-Qaeda” is, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just said in his most recent congressional testimony, those “remnants” of the original ideological core still in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by what criteria are other groups not self-identifying as “al-Qaeda” then deemed as “designated al-Qaeda”

Considering the President’s State of the Union anti-terrorist to-do list of Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali, is al-Qaeda really “on the path to defeat?” Is it “resurgent?” Or is the to-do list just a broad wish list of militants and insurgents not really associated with “core” al-Qaeda?

And now that Osama bin Laden is long-since dead, is Ayman al-Zawahri truly running a massive network of evildoers? Or is he, as CNN’s Peter Bergen wrote in 2012, “a black hole of charisma” who will never fill the void left behind by Osama bin Laden?

Questions are manifold. Answers are, as ever, scarce.

The confusion about al-Qaeda’s role in Syria and Iraq—supposed fronts in the nearly thirteen year war on those responsible for 9/11—illustrates the extent to which an ill-defined al-Qaeda is the crucial element sustaining the War On Terror.

It has been both officially asserted and widely accepted that al-Qaeda is actively fighting to take control of both Syria and Iraq. Both print and television news media used alarming headlines to emphasize the persistent specter of al-Qaeda in Syria and to bemoan its takeover of two Iraqi cities—Fallujah and Ramadi.

But then came a poser. Zawahri seems to have distanced himself and his “core” version of al-Qaeda from the proceedings in Syria. The way two major news agencies handled the story tells as much about the problem of defining al-Qaeda as it does about al-Qaeda itself.

Here’s how the Associated Press headlined the story: “Al-Qaida breaks with Syria group in mounting feud.”

However, that was not the first version to appear on AP’s website. The original headline from AP was: “Al-Qaida breaks ties with group in Syria.” And that was the headline run by Yahoo! News, US News & World Report, the San Francisco Chronicle and a variety of outlets that use AP’s wire service. FOX News altered AP’s headline a bit: “Al Qaeda announces it’s breaking ties with militant group fighting in Syria,” and the Times of Israel followed suit by also adding a qualifier: “Al-Qaeda breaks ties with rebel group in Syria.”

On the other hand, The Guardian took the story from Reuters and, therefore, a completely different tack: “Al-Qaida denies links to ISIL in Syria.”

This isn’t a simple difference in style. In this second headline, al-Qaeda “denies” a connection to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—a group consistently identified as “al-Qaeda” by the U.S. news media. Other European outlets used both “denies” and “ISIL” in their versions, and Haaretz used the Reuters wire story and an even more precise headline: “Al-Qaida denies link to Syrian militant group ISIL.”

“Syrian militant group” is a far cry from al-Qaeda, which is how the ISIL is consistently referred to by the US government, members of Congress and much of the U.S. media. Make no mistake, it matters how these groups are characterized. Although decision-makers like to raise the all-inclusive threat posed by “The Terrorists,” there is a black and white distinction at the very center of who’s who in the wide world of terrorism.