Pruitt Guts EPA Science Panels,
Will Appoint New Members Michael Biesecker / Associated Press
WASHINGTON (October 31, 2017) — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday he intends to replace the outside experts that advise him on science and public health issues with new board members holding more diverse views.
In announcing the changes, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suggested many previously appointed to the panels were potentially biased because they had received federal research grants. The 22 boards advise EPA on a wide range of issues, including drinking water standards and pesticide safety.
“Whatever science comes out of EPA shouldn’t be political science,” said Pruitt, a Republican lawyer who previously served as the attorney general of Oklahoma. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency.”
Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the consensus of climate scientists that man-made carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming. He also overruled experts that had recommended pulling a top-selling pesticide from the market after peer-reviewed studies showed it damaged children’s brains.
Pruitt said he will name new leadership and members to three key EPA advisory boards soon — the Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Board of Scientific Counselors.
It was not clear from the EPA’s media release if all current board members serving out their appointed terms were immediately dismissed. EPA’s press office did not respond to messages seeking clarification on Tuesday.
As part of his directive, Pruitt said he will bar appointees who currently are in receipt of EPA grants or who are in a position to benefit such grants. He exempted people who work at state, local or tribal agencies, saying he wants to introduce more “geographic diversity” to the panels.
The five-page policy Pruitt issued Tuesday makes no mention of other potential conflicts of interest, such as accepting research funding from corporate interests regulated by EPA.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after Pruitt in May said he would not reappoint nine of the 18 members of the Board of Scientific Counselors to serve a second three-year term, as had been customary.
Current board chairwoman Deborah Swackhamer said the members were already required to follow rules intended to prevent conflicts of interests.
“It obviously stacks the deck against scientists who do not represent corporate special interests,” said Swackhamer, a retired professor who taught environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota. “It speaks volumes that people funded by special interests are OK to be advisers, but not those who have received federal grants.”
Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who shares Pruitt’s skepticism of mainstream climate science, cheered the move. He said EPA’s science boards would now better reflect the views of rural states like his own.
But environmentalists worried that Pruitt will now select board members with financial ties to the fossil fuel and chemical industries.
“The Trump EPA’s continued attack on science will likely be one of the most lasting and damaging legacies of this administration,” said Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that approves EPA’s funding. “Pruitt is purging expert scientists from his science boards — and replacing them with mouthpieces for big polluters.”
BILLINGS, Mont. (October 25, 2017) — Spurred by the chemical industry, President Donald Trump’s administration is retreating from a congressionally mandated review of some of the most dangerous chemicals in public use: millions of tons of asbestos, flame retardants and other toxins in homes, offices and industrial plants across the United States.
Instead of following President Barack Obama’s proposal to look at chemicals already in widespread use that result in some of the most common exposures, the new administration wants to limit the review to products still being manufactured and entering the marketplace.
For asbestos, that means gauging the risks from just a few hundred tons of the material imported annually — while excluding almost all of the estimated 8.9 million tons (8.1 million metric tons) of asbestos-containing products that the US Geological Survey said entered the marketplace between 1970 and 2016.
The review was intended to be the first step toward enacting new regulations to protect the public. But critics — including health workers, consumer advocates, members of Congress and environmental groups — contend ignoring products already in use undermines that goal.
The administration’s stance is the latest example of Trump siding with industry. In this case, firefighters and construction workers say the move jeopardizes their health.
Both groups risk harm from asbestos because of its historical popularity in construction materials ranging from roofing and flooring tiles to insulation used in tens of millions of homes. Most of the insulation came from a mine in a Montana town that’s been declared a US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site and where hundreds of people have died from asbestos exposure.
“Hundreds of thousands of firefighters are going to be affected by this. It is by far the biggest hazard we have out there,” said Patrick Morrison, assistant general president for health and safety at the International Association of Fire Fighters. “My God, these are not just firefighters at risk. There are people that live in these structures and don’t know the danger of asbestos.”
The EPA told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there were measures to protect the public other than the law Congress passed last year, which mandated the review of asbestos and nine other chemicals to find better ways to manage their dangers. For example, workers handling asbestos and emergency responders can use respirators to limit exposure, the agency said in a statement.
Asbestos fibers can become deadly when disturbed in a fire or during remodeling, lodging in the lungs and causing problems including mesothelioma, a form of cancer. The material’s dangers have long been recognized. But a 1989 attempt to ban most asbestos products was overturned by a federal court, and it remains in widespread use.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health analyzed cancer-related deaths among 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 2015 study concluded firefighters contract mesothelioma at twice the rate of other US residents.
Firefighters also face exposure to flame retardants included in the EPA’s review that are used in furniture and other products.
“I believe the chemical industry is killing firefighters,” said Tony Stefani, a former San Francisco fireman who retired in 2003 after 28 years when diagnosed with cancer he believes resulted from exposure to chemicals in the review.
Stefani said he was one of five in his station to contract cancer in a short period. Three later died, while Stefani had a kidney removed and endured a year of treatment before being declared cancer-free.
“When I entered the department in the early 70s, our biggest fear was dying in the line of duty or succumbing to a heart attack,” he said. “Those were the biggest killers, not cancer. But we work in a hazardous-materials situation every time we have a fire now.”
Mesothelioma caused or contributed to more than 45,000 deaths nationwide between 1999 and 2015, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in March. The number of people dying annually from the disease increased about 5 percent during that time.
In one of its last acts under Obama, the EPA said in January it would judge the chemicals “in a comprehensive way” based on their “known, intended and reasonably foreseen uses.”
Under Trump, the agency has aligned with the chemical industry, which sought to narrow the review’s scope. The EPA now says it will focus only on toxins still being manufactured and entering commerce. It won’t consider whether new handling and disposal rules are needed for “legacy,” or previously existing, materials.
“EPA considers that such purposes generally fall outside of the circumstances Congress intended EPA to consider,” said EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones, adding the agency lacks authority to regulate noncommercial uses of the chemicals.
One of the law’s co-authors, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, disputes that Congress wanted to limit the review.
“It doesn’t matter whether the dangerous substance is no longer being manufactured; if people are still being exposed, then there is still a risk,” Udall told AP. “Ignoring these circumstances would openly violate the letter and the underlying purpose of the law.”
Democrats and public health advocates have criticized EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for installing people with longstanding ties to the chemical industry into senior positions at the agency.
On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on a party-line vote, advanced the nomination of Michael Dourson, a toxicologist whose work has been paid for by the industry, to oversee the EPA’s chemical safety program.
Two prior appointments worked for the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s lobbying arm: Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator for chemical safety Nancy Beck and Liz Bowman, the associate administrator for public affairs.
The council pushed back against the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law, urging the EPA’s new leadership to narrow its review. The Trump administration did that in June.
“Did we get everything we wanted? No. But we certainly agree the (Trump) administration put forth a reasonable final rule,” said council vice president Michael Walls. Broadening the review, he added, would send the EPA “down a rabbit hole chasing after illusory risks.”
The politically influential National Association of Homebuilders, which represents the residential construction industry, fears broadly interpreting the new law would lead to burdensome regulations that are unnecessary because it says asbestos disposal rules already are adequate.
Many of those regulations are based on a 1994 Occupational Safety and Health Administration finding that materials had to contain at least 1 percent asbestos to qualify for regulation. But public health experts say the 1 percent threshold is arbitrary.
“It’s bad medicine, and it’s harmful,” said Michael Harbut, an internal medicine professor at Detroit’s Wayne State University and medical adviser to an insulation workers’ union.
“There’s still a lot of asbestos out there,” said Harbut, who helped establish criteria used by physicians to diagnose and treat asbestos-related diseases. “It’s still legal, it’s still deadly, and it’s going to be a problem for decades to come.”
Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at www.twitter.com/matthewbrownap
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Destroying Raqqa in Order to Save It The devastation of Raqqa was not covered in the English
language press with the same vigor as the earlier battle for Aleppo Derek Royden / Nation of Change
“Why do they demolish and burn the houses?
Why do they burn the trees?
Are these trees ISIS supporters?
(October 29, 2017) — It may be a bit premature, but it does seem like the brutal fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is nearing its end. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by American and allied air-forces, took ISIL’s (Islamic State in the Levant) ‘capital’, the Syrian city of Raqqa, after a four-month siege that left the city in ruins.
Simultaneously, to the east, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies are on the offensive against the group’s remaining holdouts in the province of Deir Ezzor.
Although many analysts warn that ISIL has now become a brand that has spread to Africa and south Asia, the leaders of the core group, pejoratively called Daesh in Arabic, will not for the time being be able to control much, if any, territory in the Levant, a promise contained in their very name. The physical ‘caliphate’ was one of the main things that differentiated it from other Salafist groups like the original Al Qaeda.
As reported by the UK Guardian earlier this month, what’s left of the leadership of the group, possibly including its ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has retreated to three main towns, Mayedin and Sukhna on the Syrian side of the border and Bukmal on the Iraqi side.
As an unnamed regional official explained to the paper of the Euphrates valley, where these towns are located, “The people there are traditionally conservative and many are allied to the ISIS cause. They will be hard to oust.”
The first problem of reconstruction in Raqqa, as in other cities that fell to ISIL and other salafist groups, will be removing the vast amounts of ordinance, including unexploded coalition bombs and artillery shells. As elsewhere, Islamic State fighters also mined and booby-trapped much of the city, including private residences, making it too dangerous for Raqqa’s displaced residents to return to assess the damage to their homes and places of business.
As Ibrahim al-Hassan, an engineer who was preparing to work with the Raqqa Civilian Council (RCC) on the reconstruction of the city told AFP shortly after the battle had ended, “This is a huge challenge — we can’t do anything else before getting rid of the mines.”
Thus, the almost 300,000 people who once called Raqqa home won’t be able to return with winter fast approaching; the lucky ones will remain abroad but the majority will live rough in camps like Ain Issa, north of the city.
“The camps are overcrowded and we need to be thinking about that now,” a spokesperson for the aid group Mercy Corps related to IRIN News, “The time frame that we’re really looking at is weather. At this particular moment, everybody is keeping an eye on the approaching winter, and nobody wants to spend this winter under a tent.”
While the United States is providing some immediate aid, the current administration in Washington has made it clear that it isn’t interested in ‘nation building’ over the long term. The massive amounts of money that will be needed to rebuild so many cities in Iraq and Syria will probably lead most of the country’s coalition partners to take a similar position, if more quietly. This leaves the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), the main ground force that took the city, facing a new set of problems going forward.
Facing outright hostility from Turkey, which hosts the Raqqa Provincial Council (RPC), another group that claims it should govern the area, and a strained relationship with the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan (which has problems of its own), the SDF will probably need to look to Damascus (and its partners Iran and Russia) for help with reconstruction or to wealthy Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who no less a figure than Hillary Clinton said were funding the very group they just displaced in an email published by Wikileaks last year.
Unfortunately for the city, there is no guarantee that either of these opposed groupings will be forthcoming with the aid that will be needed for rebuilding.
This is mainly because the SDF is essentially window dressing for the PYD (Democratic Union Party), a Kurdish party that has said that it won’t forcibly annex the city and its namesake province to its self-declared Rojava territories, which are engaged in a unique experiment based on feminist principles and direct democracy.
Instead, they have said that the province and city should form part of a new decentralized and federal Syria. This has the potential to ratchet up tensions with almost every other player in a country full of heavily armed great and regional powers and their proxies.
Like most of the cities leveled in the fight against ISIL, Raqqa was majority Arab and, although the SDF is nominally a multi-ethnic coalition with Arab and Assyrian Christian members, the majority of its fighters are drawn from the PYD’s military wings: the YPG and its all female force, the YPJ. This may make some former Arab residents of the city wary of returning, especially if stories of looting and ethnic cleansing previously leveled at these militias are true.
Speaking to the website, Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered, a man named Abd from a village that once had around 15,000 residents called Big Sweidiyeh, taken earlier by the SDF, lamented the looting and dispossession that took place in the aftermath of this victory, including the burning of olive trees that had provided for the community for generations: “Why do they demolish and burn the houses? Why do they burn the trees? Are these trees ISIS supporters? Or this is only a systematic policy to take vengeance from Arabs? It is not Sweidiyeh issue, it is the issue of all the villages in Taqba countryside. What if this was made by ISIS? The whole world will be talking about it.”
It didn’t help that Kurdish fighters held a celebration in Raqqa almost immediately after taking the city, waving banners featuring the face of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Turkish PKK, the PYD’s sister organization and inspiration, who is in jail in that country for treason, provoking a new round of saber-rattling from Ankara.
It also brought a rare rebuke from the U.S. by way of its embassy in Turkey, who released a statement that read in part, “The PKK is listed among foreign terror organizations. Ocalan has been jailed in Turkey for his actions related to the PKK. He is not a person to be respected.”
While the celebration itself was understandable after the fierce fighting that led to the loss of many of their comrades in arms, it was provocative to Turkey and other countries with large Kurdish minorities, including Iran. It also seemed a little early as one looked at the ruins of a city that has a long and distinguished history beginning with its association with the ancient Babylonian city of Tuttul.
Early on in this conflict by proxy, this writer and some others with much greater reach, looked with favor on the PYD and its ideological roots in the thinking of one of the U.S.’ most underrated political philosophers, the late Murray Bookchin, whose interest in feminism, deep ecology and direct democracy is still ahead of its time.
The roots of the PYD are in Kurdish nationalism and a cult of personality built around Ocalan, who converted from Marxism to Bookchin’s ideas while in prison. The question remains whether the idealistic experiment in Rojava can survive such a brutal conflict, which by its very nature has divided people into smaller and smaller groups, not to mention the power politics of regional and world powers on the ground.
On the other hand, the PYD do have the potential to be a game changer in the Middle East and the world if they are able to live up to their ideals.
As Kimmy Taylor, a young woman from the UK who participated alongside the YPJ in the siege of Raqqa told Sky News during the celebration that followed city’s fall: “If women understand how to protect themselves . . . how to defend themselves physically and also mentally, this is how we gain freedom.
“It’s not just for here it’s for all over the world. We need to learn why we are protecting ourselves, what are we protectingâ€¦ Our morals as women, our ethics as women, our history and our culture as women. This is what we need to protect and defend, and from this we can build something new, where we can build an equal society.”
The devastation of Raqqa was not covered in the English language press with the same vigor as the earlier battle for Aleppo. The Russian and Syrian assault there was no more acceptable to people of principle than the leveling of the IS ‘capital’ by the United States and its allies. Far too many in the West, including on the left, are willing to accept that the brutality of those they support comes is well-intentioned while accusing those they oppose engaged in similar behavior of war crimes. After more than 5 years, it should be clear that no group fighting in Syria (or Iraq) is without the blood of innocents on its hands.
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Winter Is Coming: Who Will Rebuild Raqqa? Exploring the future of Raqqa provides clues
to the endgame of Syria’s long and complex war IRIN News
STOCKHOLM (October 23, 2017) — After years of fighting, the so-called Islamic State has finally been driven out of Raqqa, its main stronghold in Syria. This is a major victory for those fighting the group, but Raqqa is now a ghost town, strewn with rubble and unexploded bombs. As winter approaches, the city’s new rulers are in a race against time to make it habitable once again.
Central Raqqa’s Naeem roundabout has become emblematic of IS rule: The group’s gory propaganda films delighted in showing black banners fluttering over crucified bodies and severed heads at the traffic circle.
That’s all over now. Today, the roundabout is draped in the yellow flags of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab coalition fighting to destroy IS, aided by the United States and dozens of other countries.
For the SDF and its allies, taking Raqqa was a harbinger of victory and cause for great celebration. But in the process of eliminating IS, Naeem roundabout and everything around it was reduced to rubble.
“One hundred and thirty-five days of clashes created huge destruction in the city,” SDF media official Perwar Mohammed Ali told IRIN by phone from Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, describing a wasteland of collapsing buildings strewn with land mines and unexploded bombs.
“As of now, we cannot tell civilians to come back to Raqqa, because it’s dangerous.”
A City without People
Since the SDF offensive began in June, the US-led coalition has reportedly dropped some 20,000 munitions on Raqqa. According to the monitoring group Airwars, in August alone the city was pummelled with 10 times more bombs than all of Afghanistan over the same period.
Airwars counts US bombing as responsible for most of the 1,800 civilian deaths it recorded during the Raqqa offensive, although the coalition disputes these numbers.
Echoing SDF estimates, a UN official told IRIN that at least four-fifths of Raqqa city is now uninhabitable, partly because of material destruction, but also due to unexploded ordnance and a lack of electricity and water.
The UN says more than 312,000 people have fled Raqqa province as a whole, and many of the city’s former inhabitants are now stuck in camps in the barren, SDF-controlled countryside north of the city. Conditions there are “miserable”, according to Save the Children, which warns that many of the displaced could be trapped in makeshift camps for “months or years to come”.
That’s why aid workers insist there’s no time to lose in creating the conditions for a safe return to Raqqa.
“The camps are overcrowded and we need to be thinking about that now,” Christy Delafield, spokeswoman for Mercy Corps — an aid group that was shut down by the government in Turkey but still has some operations on the ground in Syria — told IRIN. “The timeframe that we’re really looking at is weather. At this particular moment, everybody is keeping an eye on the approaching winter, and nobody wants to spend this winter under a tent.”
In the meantime, the UN is already distributing “winterization kits” across Syria — these include insulation, floor mats, waterproofing, and a heater for tents.
Bombs Under the Rubble
The security situation in Raqqa is extremely precarious. SDF sources told IRIN that IS fighters are still thought to be hiding inside the city, claiming to have caught one as recently as Friday.
Apart from flushing out the last few IS snipers, the SDF’s to-do list is topped by the need to clear out landmines and unexploded US bombs — or at least figure out where they are. Landmines have already killed members of least nine families that have tried to return to Raqqa, coalition sources say.
“IS had years of time to prepare and place booby traps in buildings,” Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, told IRIN.
Delafield said there are “quite a few unknown dangers in terms of unexploded ordinance and other kinds of explosive devices, such as booby-trapping,” in Raqqa. “People need to be given accurate information about what clearance has been done in their neighbourhoods and their homes, to ensure that people are not moving into harm’s way when they are trying to return,” she added.
And once the tough job of demining has been completed, there’ll be the not-so-small matters of governing and rebuilding to worry about.
The Raqqa Civil Council
The SDF has said it will hand power over to the Raqqa Civil Council, a group set up in Ain Issa last April. Like most SDF-backed organs, and in stark contrast to the values enforced by IS, the council has a gender-balanced double presidency: Leadership is shared by Leila Mustafa, a Kurdish woman from the border town of Tel Abyad, and her male Arab counterpart Mahmoud al-Borsan, a former member of the Syrian parliament and a leader of the Walda tribe, which is influential in Raqqa.
Co-opting tribal figures to win Arab support is a tried and true tactic of the SDF, and it has worked fairly well elsewhere in northeastern Syria.
The Raqqa Civil Council seems to be an attempt to draw on those experiences: Mustafa even served in a similar council set up to govern her hometown Tel Abyad, which is also majority Arab, when that city was taken from IS in 2015.
But Kheder Khaddour, a Syrian scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, warns that Raqqa — a city at least 10 times larger than Tel Abyad — is a very different social landscape than the SDF has dealt with in the past.
“Raqqa is a city of [around] 200,000, where you have educated middle classes and traders who operate in autonomy from their tribal belongings. A legitimate local governance body cannot function without involving this largely displaced educated middle class,” Khaddour told IRIN by email.
According to Khaddour, the Kurdish factions that dominate the SDF have faced trouble before in co-opting educated urban elites, even in cities like Qamishli, which has been under their control for more than five years.
It is an open secret that these Kurdish groups are the real power behind the Raqqa Civil Council and the SDF, and that they are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a long insurgency against the government in Turkey.
Huge portraits of PKK founder Abdullah Ã–calan were on display in the Naeem roundabout as a group of female Kurdish fighters staged the first round of victory celebrations, and their commanders dedicated the victory to him.
It drove home the point: For all the councils and front groups created to obscure it, there’s no doubting that Raqqa, like much of northern Syria, is now under de facto PKK control.
The Politics of Reconstruction
Though the PKK’s Syrian affiliates are known to run a tight ship — they have proven themselves far more adept at administering territory than most of Syria’s armed groups — they lack the resources and trained cadre necessary for launching a major rebuilding programme on their own. The SDF will have to depend on foreign allies to fund the reconstruction of Raqqa, and that’s where things start to get complicated.
In the best of worlds, reconstruction supplies would already be flooding in across the Turkish border, paid for by an international community eager to get the Raqqa Civil Council up and running and demine residential neighbourhoods in time for winter.
Humanitarian aid does cross Syria’s northern border regularly — but the SDF’s PKK connection means Turkey may block anything headed for Raqqa.
Ankara views the group as a major threat to its national authority, and seems more likely to attack Kurdish-ruled regions than help them rebuild and recover.
Neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan is not necessarily a reliable conduit for support to Raqqa, either. The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, is a fierce rival of the PKK and, most of the time, a close ally of Turkey.
Plus, Barzani’s decision to stage an independence referendum on 25 September prompted both Turkey and Iran to put his autonomous area under blockade, while the Iraqi central government moved to recapture swathes of disputed, Kurdish-controlled land, including border regions that might otherwise have been used by the SDF to supply reconstruction efforts in Syria.
So what about the Americans? The US government has been a reliable ally of the Syrian Kurds on the battlefield, and it has already given some aid that can be used in the post-conflict phase.
“During the clashes, the coalition provided the SDF with mine sweepers and some machines to clear the mines, but the amount of destruction is huge and we need much more,” insisted the SDF’s Perwar Mohammed Ali.
Yet Washington has repeatedly signalled that there are limits to how much non-military assistance it will provide, and that it won’t engage in long-term nation-building. “We’re not here forever to fix everything. We have no money or desire to spend 20 years here demining the homes,” a US State Department official told AFP last week.
The US State Department did not respond to IRIN’s request for comment by publication.
The Americans are also constrained by their need to balance investments in the SDF against a much older relationship with NATO member Turkey. Ankara is already outraged by US military support for the SDF, and any hint of American backing for Kurdish civil governance and state-building efforts in northern Syria would strain ties further.
The issue is divisive and controversial inside the US government, and Thursday’s Ã–calan shindig in Naeem roundabout did nothing to help the SDF’s allies in Washington.
“There is a very active debate right now within the US government about whether the SDF, or the Kurdish components within it, can actually pull off sustainable post-IS governance,” said Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based fellow at the Center for a New American Security who is regularly in touch with US policymakers on Syria.
He told IRIN the Naeem roundabout episode “came unexpectedly and at the wrong time”, embarrassing key Pentagon officials who have advocated for continued US support to the SDF.
A Role for Riyadh?
But there may be ways to bypass the political blockages in Washington: The US-led coalition has reportedly tried to get Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to step in and pay for Raqqa’s reconstruction.
On Tuesday, Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan visited the Raqqa Civil Council in Ain Issa alongside the US special envoy to the anti-IS coalition Brett McGurk. According to both council officials and the Dutch journalist Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, who was on site in Ain Issa, the meetings dealt with reconstruction funding. But al-Sabhan’s visit seems to have been a first contact, and no clear indication of Saudi support has yet materialised.
“McGurk came and some Saudi Arabian officials came, but still we have seen nothing,” said the SDF’s Perwar Mohammed Ali. “We expect in the coming days they will help us, but so far it is only promises.”
While getting the Gulf Arabs to fund reconstruction efforts sounds like a jackpot for the SDF, it would come with its own set of risks and strings attached.
The conservative Sunni Arab regimes in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have traditionally taken a dim view of Syrian Kurdish aspirations, and they seem to view the PKK’s feminist and socialist guerrillas with particular distaste. Nevertheless, their interests are temporarily aligned, as it just so happens that the PKK’s arch-enemy Turkey has lined up behind the Gulf states’ local rival Qatar, and the Syrian regime is tightly allied with their regional foe, Iran.
Any Gulf money to northern Syria would have to hinge on the SDF’s continued ability to serve as a thorn in the side of Turks and Iranians, and it could dry up if the Saudis and Emiratis were to reconcile with either the Qataris or the Turks, or if the Gulf royals were to conclude that the SDF was too cosy with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.
Hurdles on the Road to Damascus
This is a bit of a problem for the SDF, which seems to view cooperation with al-Assad as a necessary evil to ensure the survival of their project in northern Syria.
As the Syrian regime drives east, gobbling up desert cities in the dying days of the IS “caliphate”, it has mostly avoided clashes with the SDF. Russia and the United States are of course working hard to prevent friction between their respective allies, but that could change now that Syria is visibly moving toward some form of endgame, with al-Assad still in uncontested control of Damascus.
With Turkey an implacable enemy, and northern Iraq an unreliable ally at best and another enemy at worst (but mostly just a weird mess), and the United States unwilling to put both feet down and nation-build, Damascus represents the Syrian Kurds’ only window on the world.
Al-Assad holds the keys to the rest of Syria’s borders, airports, roads, and infrastructure, to accessing the state bureaucracy and the Syrian economy, to public sector services and salaries, and to a significant portion of UN aid.
The SDF leaders might not like it, but they know it, and they seem to have decided that it would be better to lay out their case while they still have the US Air Force at their back.
“We will negotiate in the future with the Syrian regime,” said the SDF spokesman, Perwar Mohammed Ali. “If they attack us, of course we have a right of self-defence, but we are ready for talks and negotiations with everybody.”
In the coming days, Damascus-allied Moscow will organise a round of talks between the Kurds and the al-Assad government at the Russian-run Hmeymim Air Base in western Syria.
“Let’s see what the other parties to the conflict say,” said Perwar Mohammed Ali. “It will be good to sit down and listen to each other. It’s better than fighting.”
Indeed, shaped by Russia’s intervention and fading foreign support for the anti-regime insurgents, the Syrian war now appears to have settled into a logic where all roads lead to Damascus.
Yet much could still change. If the SDF moves too quickly or too close to al-Assad and his Iranian allies, it can kiss its hopes of Saudi and Emirati reconstruction funding goodbye.
Following Russia down the road to Damascus might also trigger pushback from the American government, whose main goal in Syria, which is to smash jihadis and ignore the rest, is a poor match with its main goal in the Middle East more generally, which is to hurt Iran. And finally, how do you deal with a regime whose overriding instinct seems to be to not compromise about anything ever?
A slew of questions remain to be answered before we’ll know how all this will play out. Syria’s local politics have a tendency to get snagged in international rivalries. Raqqa’s reconstruction will clearly be no exception.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
New York Times Acknowledges US Global Empire Sheldon Richman /AntiWar.com
(October 30, 2017 ) — One big advantage the war party has is the public’s ignorance about the activities of the far-flung American empire. Although frustrating, that ignorance is easy to understand and has been explained countless times by writers in the public choice tradition. Most people are too busy with their lives, families, and communities to pay the close attention required to know that the empire exists and what it is up to.
The opportunity cost of paying attention is huge, considering that the payoff is so small: even a well-informed individual could not take decisive action to rein in the out-of-control national security state.
One vote means nothing, and being knowledgeable about the US government’s nefarious foreign policy is more likely to alienate friends and other people than influence them. Why give up time with family and friends just so one can be accused of “hating America”?
In light of this systemic rational ignorance, we must be grateful when a prominent institution acknowledges how much the government intervenes around the world. Such an acknowledgment came from the New York Times editorial board this week. The editorial drips with irony since the Times has done so much to gin up public support for America’s imperial wars. (See, for example, its 2001-02 coverage of Iraq and its phantom WMD.) Still, the piece is noteworthy.
The Oct. 22 editorial, “America’s Forever Wars,” began: The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. [See the full editorial below — EAW]
That alone ought to come as a shock to nearly all Americans. The UN has 193 member states — and the US government has a military presence in at least 89 percent of them! The Times does not mention that the government also maintains at least 800 military bases and installations around the world. That’s a big government we’re talking about. And empires are bloody expensive.
The Times went on: While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.
The editorial writer might have mentioned that the US government has been bombing seven Muslim countries for years when you count Pakistan and Libya. Civilian casualties were high under Barack Obama and are growing under Donald Trump. Having an alleged isolationist in the White House hasn’t done much for the long-suffering Muslims in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.
The Times then provided this useful tidbit: “An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as ‘unknown.’ The Pentagon provided no further explanation.”
Unknown, that is, to the people whom in theory the government is of, by, and for. Under the government’s actual operating principle, no explanation is required. Who the hell do the people think they are anyway?
To its credit, the Times reminded us “there are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) . . . along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.”
The writer suggested these are defensive deployments. I guess it’s too much to expect the Times to acknowledge that the US government has a knack for creating the threats it then claims it must defend against.
The editorial writer pointed out that: America’s operations in conflict zones like those in Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them.
One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May. On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.
The US presence in Niger was surely news to most people — it certainly was to senior members of the US Senate. One of them, warhawk Lindsey Graham, anticipates that Africa will be America’s next major battlefield.
A few members of Congress object that the post-9/11 authorization for military force has become a blank check for US operations anywhere and everywhere, but rather than passing a new AUMF, Congress should stop all overseas operations. They endanger Americans, not to mention the people who live in the targeted societies (For the US role in the horrors wracking in Somalia, see this. Regarding Niger, see this and the links therein.)
Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance . . . .
Hold on there, New York Times editorial writer. The Taliban is a terrorist organization? They ruled Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden and his then-small al-Qaeda organization operated there, but that does not make the Taliban a terrorist organization, no matter what other bad things you may justly say about them. Resistance to an invading army (America’s) falls outside the definition of terrorism. When the same people resisted the Soviets, Americans labeled them “freedom fighters.”
. . . against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen.
Here the writer fails his readers miserably. The US bombing of al-Qaeda in Yemen is mentioned, but not America’s complicity in Saudi Arabia’s genocidal bombing and blockade of Yemen — a war (against alleged by not actual Iranian proxies) that helps al-Qaeda by creating violent chaos like that in Libya. (Some members of Congress are trying to stop Trump from waging this war. Let’s help them succeed.)
Summing up, the Times is right: “it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists.” Or, I’d add, whether the strategy is really about killing terrorists at all when even top military people acknowledge that US actions in the Muslim world create terrorists.
Yet we have little cause for optimism: The Pentagon . . . thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators . . . approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.
Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.
We can hope against hope that the Times and other high-profile media outlets will finally begin to put the US empire under a microscope.
Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute, senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.
(October 22, 2017) — The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not.
American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.
An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as “unknown.” The Pentagon provided no further explanation.
There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed, along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.
Note: As of June 30, 2017. Source: Defense Manpower Data Center. By The New York Times.Scroll to right to see entire graphic
America’s operations in conflict zones like those in Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May.
On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.
Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely.
Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.
For that reason alone, it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done.
If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed.
Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on a firm legal footing.
President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.” The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:
During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.
American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. T
his year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments.
Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.
Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s scaremongering, have reinforced the public’s sense of siege.
The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe. So do robust diplomacy and America’s engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives.
After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.
Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
‘Divest The Globe’ Protests Urge
Banks to Cut Ties with Fossil Fuels Brandon Jordan / Waging Nonviolence
“The system is not going to break people down.
We will stand stronger together no matter the distance.”
(October 25, 2017) — While banking executives from over 90 of the world’s largest financial institutions gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Monday for the start of a three-day meeting on the environmental and social impacts of their infrastructure investments, activists in at least 15 US states and several other countries staged protests under the banner of “Divest The Globe.”
Their message to the banks was simple: cut ties with fossil fuel companies, or face major divestment campaigns.
The demonstrations unfolded in over 50 cities — including Seattle, where at least six people were arrested during a protest at a Chase bank — and are being called the largest ever protest against banks’ investments in fossil fuels. As the meeting continues in Sao Paolo over the next two days, solidarity protests are expected in more cities across Europe, Asia and Africa.
The group largely responsible for organizing these Divest The Globe actions is the Seattle-based, indigenous-led divestment campaign Mazaska Talks, which means “money talks” in Lakota.
They chose this gathering of bankers as their target because it’s the annual meeting of the Equator Principles Association, which provides guidelines, or so-called Equator Principles, “for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.”
According to organizer Jackie Fielder, activists want to ensure the association gets its “Equator Principles in line with the Paris Agreement, as well as internationally-recognized standards on indigenous rights upheld in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”
Fielder went on to cite “the spirit of the Standing Rock resistance camps” as inspiration for the Divest The Globe protests, saying it “really raised the consciousness of people to think about where their money has been going when it’s sitting in a bank.”
Protests around the country differed, with some involving the closure of bank accounts, while others focused on demonstrations outside of banks.
In an entirely different approach, Alice Warner, an activist in Eugene, Oregon, took her protest not to a bank, but rather the national outdoor cooperative Recreational Equipment Incorporated, or REI. She and other members of the co-op want REI to divest itself from any bank tied to the fossil fuel industry and are petitioning its board of directors to have a member-vote on the matter next year.
On October 21, as REI members waited in line for a special sale of products, Warner and others spoke with members about the co-op having money in banks tied to fossil fuel companies, whose business threatens the outdoor life of REI owners.
“[We talked] to people about how the co-op was based on purpose over profit, and how its long-term survival depends on a stable climate,” she said, highlighting the wildfires in Oregon as an example of climate change’s impacts in the state.
“This year — especially in parts of Oregon — has been frightening and very emotional,” Warner said. “Not so much as for the people in Puerto Rico or other parts of the globe, but we had days here where you could not go outside because of the smoke from the forest fires. That’s a new thing here.”
Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, local activists headed to a number of banks across the city. While activists stood outside demonstrating, some locals entered their banks to close accounts and provide a letter of explanation. Those who didn’t have accounts called the banks to voice their demands and express their intention to boycott.
“In a capitalist society, the way you stop [these fossil fuel companies] is through money,” said 350 Austin activist Gil Starkey, citing divestment and boycotts as the two most powerful tactics. He then pointed to institutions and individuals who have pledged to divest nearly $5.5 trillion since 2012, all thanks to the efforts of activists. Divest The Globe aims to keep this momentum going.
“It’s incredible these days of action are happening and that we are shining a spotlight on this issue,” said Justin Morris, a local coordinator for Greenpeace St. Petersburg and a member of the Tampa Bay Divestment Coalition. “We will never stop shining a spotlight until the work is done.”
Morris and other Florida activists went to a Chase bank in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday to deliver a petition signed by 152,000 people from around the world, calling on the bank to respect the rights of indigenous people and withdraw from funding oil and gas projects that negatively affect the environment and health of people.
Despite their firm demands, activists are being careful not to target employees or individuals involved with the banks. Isabella Zizi, an activist with Idle No More San Francisco Bay, stressed that the Divest The Globe actions were about the nature of the institutions.
“We’re not targeting these individuals for the jobs they have. It’s more about letting them see how corrupt their job is,” she said, noting that the protest she attended in Oakland was more of a teach-in — since Oakland already divested from fossil fuels and is in the process of divesting from banks tied with oil and gas firms. Nevertheless, Zizi said she admired the resiliency of activists in fighting for a cause.
“The system is not going to break people down. We will stand stronger together no matter the distance,” she said.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Where the New York Times Fails to Understand War David Swanson / David Swanson.org
(October 23, 2017) — Let’s read a New York Times editorial from Monday:
“The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not.
“American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.”
That’s a big “elsewhere” that includes Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc.
“An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as ‘unknown.’ The Pentagon provided no further explanation. There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed.”
The gratuitous claim that what US troops are doing halfway around the globe is defensive helps explain why this extreme militarism is tolerated. This editorial will go on to scratch its head in bewilderment, but the US would not have gotten into these wars without the hard work of the New York Times, which has so normalized the mouthing of patent nonsense in defense of permanent war that it goes unnoticed even in an editorial lamenting permanent war.
“. . . along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.”
Plus 14,617 in Italy, 12,489 in Afghanistan with 4,000 more on the way, 12,342 in Kuwait, 5,963 in Iraq, etc, etc, plus many more mercenaries and contractors than troops in some of these locations. And of course “has naval bases” in plain English is “props up brutal dictatorships with horrific results to come.”
“America’s operations in conflict zones like Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May.
On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.”
The pattern of increased terrorism following the spread of “counter terrorism” can be found, but is never pointed out, in the New York Times.
“Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely.
“Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.”
When the hell were we asked? Are there polls showing that we’ve embraced these wars and the war-making that they “require”?
“For that reason alone, it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists.”
How in the world could any of it be necessary? Why must the New York Times create that assumption?
“Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed.
“Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on a firm legal footing.”
That “broad public support” is very dubious and not documented here in any way. Polls have often shown the same people horrified of ISIS and wanting ISIS destroyed opposing continuing or escalating US warmaking.
The “firm legal footing” is a highly dangerous lie by one of its top promoters: the New York Times. None of these wars is legal under the UN Charter or under the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and there is nothing that Congress can do to make them legal.
If some foreign nation attacked this one, the New York Times wouldn’t look into the manner in which that nation’s government decided on war and whether it was in compliance with that nation’s constitution. It would recognize that a criminal cannot legalize a crime through a proper criminal procedure.
“President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for Oct. 30.”
Good god. These wars have been slaughtering people by the hundreds of thousands for 16 years, and only US deaths are tragedies? And a Congressional authorization of a crime will make them less tragic?
“Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that ‘a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.’ The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:
During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.”
In any other enterprise labeled “volunteer” the supposed volunteers would be allowed to quit.
“American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying.
“This year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.”
Wow. If only there were — oh, I don’t know — a newspaper that could report things. And what if it reported those figures, and then reported something beyond those figures? What if the New York Times, which does not technically serve the US government, were to give each war death the same significance as US war deaths?
What if people discovered that these wars were one-sided slaughters, and that all the deaths they’d been hearing about made up only a few percent of the total? What if the dead and injured and those made homeless and those crushed by disease epidemics and famine and anarchy were each, by the millions, given the attention that’s given to a US war death?
“Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s scaremongering, have reinforced the public’s sense of siege.”
What if the New York Times were to counter the counter terrorism with the well-established fact that the counter terrorism produces more terrorism? What if war crimes were not simply “led to” by external events, but were the concrete choices of the criminals who made them, and were written about as such?
“The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe.”
This is a central lie. When it falls, the military-industrial-journalistic complex falls.
“So do robust diplomacy and America’s engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons.”
Well who the hell wouldn’t accept that quite passively as long as it’s described, contrary to fact, as improving readiness? What does dumping trillions of dollars on stealth nuclear bombers that can barely fly make one ready for?
“Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.”
The bulk of it goes to things that nobody can seriously argue are “defensive.” This is not a case of using the formal name of the former War Department. The New York Times is choosing to advance the pretense that militarism is all defensive.
“Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.”
Plus the questions not asked: How many of the current ones must be ended, how many bases closed, how many weapons decommissioned, how many conflicts resolved diplomatically, before a reverse arms race is created and all the tired talk of US leadership is actually given some substance.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.organd campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswansonand FaceBook, and sign up for: Activist alerts. Articles. David Swanson news. World Beyond War news. Charlottesville news.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
NATO General Threatens ‘Consequences’
For Turkey Buying Russian S-400 Turkey Announced Air Defense System Purchase in September Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(October 27, 2017) — In looking to upgrade their air defense system, Turkey had a choice: buying the advanced Russian S-400 systems, or more expensive, US-made alternatives. Turkey chose to buy Russian, and NATO isn’t happy.
While NATO was initially just complaining the S-400 was incompatible with their own systems, top NATO General Petr Pavel told reporters this week that Turkey is likely to be punished by the alliance for not buying American.
â€œThe principal of sovereignty obviously exists in acquisition of defense equipment, but the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision,â€ Pavel insisted.
Pavel dismissed reporter questions about the Turkish government’s recent anti-democracy moves, insisting nobody is perfect. Apparently the same leeway does not apply for the question of buying American weapons.
Russia’s S-400, and its predecessor the S-300, have been praised as advanced, cost-effective alternatives to American anti-aircraft systems. The US is used to having a virtual monopoly on this market, by ensuring that no one buys Russian without facing some very public criticism.
WASHINGTON (October 26, 2017) — A top NATO official has warned of â€œnecessary consequencesâ€ for Turkey should the alliance member purchase a Russian air-defense system.
Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, said Wednesday that while each nation is free to make its own defense decisions, Turkey’s planned buy of the S-400 system would preclude Anakara from being part of any integrated air-defense system with NATO allies, and may result in other technical restrictions.
â€œThe principal of sovereignty obviously exists in acquisition of defense equipment, but the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision,â€ Pavel told a group of reporters hosted by the Defense Writers Group.
While Turkey announced its choice of the S-400 in September, Ankara has yet to sign final paperwork on the deal, and until they do, Pavel said it is â€œfair among allies to have that discussion, to raise all concerns and potential difficulties.â€
Other concerns raised by Pavel about the system were â€œmost securityâ€ focused, noting that even if NATO missile defense systems are not integrated with the S-400, its mere presence â€œcreates challenges for allied assets potentially deployed onto the territory of that country.â€
Notably, Turkey is both a partner nation and a sustainment hub for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, which is central to the future air power of several NATO nations, including the US and the U.K. Some experts have questioned if an S-400 system active in Turkey could gain information about the stealthy jet that could have operational impact down the line.
Still, Pavel said Turkey remains a key part of NATO, even as outside groups have raised concerns that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is sliding away from democracy.
â€œWhen it comes to democratic deficits, show me one single nation that is perfect. No one is perfect,â€ Pavel said. â€œNo one challenges the role of Turkey as an important ally at the very difficult crossroads of challenges to the alliance.â€
Aaron Mehta is the Senior Pentagon Correspondent and Associate Editor for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Department of Defense and its international partners.
(July 13, 2017) — It’s generally assumed that NATO member nations are going to import their weapons from NATO arms dealers, which pretty much always means the United States, with a few small deals for Britain and France. Turkey however, is going a different way on air defense, signing a deal to buy a $2.5 billion S-400 system from Russia.
Since the whole rest of the NATO alliance is night and day building up military forces on the Russian frontier, such a purchase is raising more than a few eyebrows, and not just because they aren’t going to buy a more expensive alternative from Raytheon or Lockheed.
The deal means Turkey’s new air defense system won’t be compatible with the rest of the alliance for the purposes of integration, though the S-400 is widely considered among the most advanced in the world. Russia will directly provide two S-400 batteries on the deal, and will also produce two more batteries within Turkey in the future.
This isn’t the first time Turkey looked to an alternative supplier outside NATO, as they very nearly bought missile systems from a Chinese company, before the US convinced them not to because the company had sold similar systems to the Iranians.
That Turkey still went outside the alliance may reflect the continued tension with both the US and Western Europe, as well as the Erdogan government’s interest in staking out a more independent foreign policy, as the Russian systems likely won’t come with the same restrictions on deployments as a Patriot missile battery.
(July 13, 2017) — Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades.
The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey.
Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO. Under pressure from the US, Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the US for alleged missile sales to Iran.
Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Tensions with Washington mounted over US support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn. Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there.
The missile deal with Russia â€œis a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the US and Europe,â€ said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think-tank. â€œBut until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.â€
The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said.
The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said. The partnership could boost Turkey’s defense industry and serves the nation’s goal of diversifying arms suppliers.
For Turkey, the key aspect of any deal is transfer of technology or know-how, the Turkish official said. Turkey wants to be able to produce its own advanced defense systems, and the Russian agreement to allow two of the S-400 batteries to be produced in Turkey would serve that aim, the official said.
â€œThere are a lot of different levels of technology transfer,â€ and any offer to Turkey would probably be limited in terms of sophistication, said Makienko, the Moscow-based analyst. â€œFor Turkey to be able to copy the S-400 system, it would have to spend billions to create a whole new industry.â€
The S-400 is designed to detect, track and then destroy aircraft, drones or missiles. It’s Russia’s most advanced integrated air defense system, and can hit targets as far as 250 miles away. Russia has also agreed to sell them to China and India.
The sides are currently sorting out technical details and it could take about one year to finalize the project, the Turkish official said. One battery may be available earlier if Russia decides to divert it from another country, the official added. The missiles are not ready to sell off-the-shelf and Russia will have to produce the batteries before delivering them, the official said.
The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.
US and European rivals have also bid to co-produce missile defense systems with Turkey, as it seeks partnerships allowing it to enhance its domestic arms production amid a military buildup in the region.
Disagreements between Turkey, which has the second-largest army by personnel numbers in NATO, and the US, the bloc’s biggest military, have also impacted business. No US companies bid for a Turkish attack helicopter contract in 2006 after Turkey insisted on full access to specific software codes, which the US refused to share, considering it a security risk. Turkey partnered with Italy instead in a $3 billion project to co-produce 50 attack helicopters for its army.
With assistance by Ilya Arkhipov, and Gregory White.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION ALERT: Trump’s War on Clean Air and Low-cost Transportation Robert Weissman / Public Citizen
(October 25, 2017) — The Dirty Energy lobby likes to say that dealing with climate change will drain consumers’ bank accounts.
That’s a lie.
Here’s proof: Clean car standards issued by the Obama administration and formally supported by Ford will slice carbon emissions and save consumers billions in fuel bills. But Ford and the rest of the auto industry are now working with the Trump administration to undo the biggest federal climate policy on the books — at your expense.
Clean car standards issued by the Obama administration and formally supported by Ford will slice carbon emissions and save consumers billions in fuel bills. But Ford and the rest of the auto industry are now working with the Trump administration to undo the biggest federal climate policy on the books — at your expense.
That’s why we are launching a new campaign. With other consumer and environmental groups, we’re going to send a clear message to Ford: Keep your promise and support clean car standards. Go forward, not backward.
Just two days after the 2016 election, Ford’s lobbyists called on the Trump transition team to alter the standards. They’ve already succeeded in getting Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency to reopen a review of the protections.
On the chopping block are fuel cost savings that amount to thousands of dollars for each individual consumer. By applying direct pressure on Ford and other auto companies, we can protect our planet and our pocketbooks.
ACTION: Join us, and send a message to Ford: Rolling back the clean car standards is unacceptable. Sign our petition now.
Dear Ford: Thanks to the clean car standards, Americans like me are saving money at the pump, breathing cleaner air and starting to ratchet down emissions from the single largest source of carbon pollution in this country.
In 2012, you committed to meet and uphold these standards. And your chairman Bill Ford has championed the company’s commitment to tackle climate change for future generations.
That’s why I am disturbed to see you and other automakers working with the Trump administration to undo these critical safeguards.
Ford can’t claim to be a responsible company while it lobbies to drive us backward.
Please drop any efforts to delay, weaken or block the clean car standards. Seize the opportunity. Go forward, not backward!
Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen
Copyright 2017 Public Citizen â€¢ 1600 20th Street, NW / Washington, D.C. 20009
Save the Clean Power Plan
Stop the Trump/Pruitt Assault on Climate Action Rhea Suh / The Natural Resources Defense Committee
(October 25, 2017) — Millions of families are still struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to ash by wildfires that have raged across the American west. Yet President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just officially proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan, our country’s best hope for reversing the worst impacts of climate change.
It’s outrageous, it’s short-sighted, and it’s a blatant handout to Trump’s fossil fuel industry allies at the expense of the air we breathe and our families’ health — all while driving us closer to the brink of climate catastrophe.
NRDC is fully prepared to fight this unconscionable move tooth and nail, in and out of court. You’ve already sent your official comment to the EPA demanding that the Trump administration reverse course and save the Clean Power Plan. Today, I hope I can count on you to stand with us at this critical moment once again.
Help us defend our environment and escalate our massive, nationwide outcry against the Trump administration’s outrageous scheme. NRDC activists — including you — have already flooded the EPA with over 100,000 messages in staunch support of the plan. Thank you for speaking out.
You’ll also be helping us prepare to fight in court to block Trump’s destructive repealfor as long as it takes to win . . . arm major media outlets with the true facts about the Clean Power Plan . . . and build an aggressive campaign to pressure state and local leaders, from governors and state legislators to city council members and ordinary citizens, to follow through with tough action on climate where Trump and his oil-loving cronies won’t.
But we simply can’t fight and win on all these fronts without generous support today.
The Clean Power Plan would reduce harmful emissions from power plants — one of the single largest sources of dangerous carbon pollution in the US — and bolster the fast-growing clean energy economy. It’s our best shot at mitigating the impacts of climate change that are all around us, from massive hurricanes and historic floods to tragic wildfires and record-breaking heat waves. We must do everything we can to defend it.
ACTION: Help save the Clean Power Plan: Donate to support NRDC and help fuel the fights ahead — so we can be ready to take on the Trump administration whenever and wherever the next threats arise. Sign here.
None of our victories for the environment would be possible without your support. Thank you for standing with us at this urgent moment for our climate and our future.
Rhea Suh is president of the NRDC.
The mission of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Donations will be used to fight the Trump administration’s attacks on the Clean Power Plan and for other campaigns that allow NRDC to protect the environment in the most effective way possible.
WASHINGTON (October 25, 2017) — In the next five years, millions of acres of America’s public lands and waters, including some national monuments and relatively pristine coastal regions, could be auctioned off for oil and gas development, with little thought for environmental consequences.
That’s according to a leaked draft, obtained by The Nation, of the Department of the Interior’s strategic vision: It states that the DOI is committed to achieving “American energy dominance” through the exploitation of “vast amounts” of untapped energy reserves on public lands.
Alarmingly, the policy blueprint — a 50-page document — does not once mention climate change or climate science. That’s a clear departure from current policy: The previous plan, covering 2014â€“18, referred to climate change 46 times and explicitly stated that the department was committed to improving resilience in those communities most directly affected by global warming.
Interior’s new strategic plan fits within a broader effort by the Trump administration to marginalize climate-science research. (DOI did not respond to questions about the draft.)
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly withdrew two of its scientists and a contractor from a conference in Rhode Island, where they were due to address the impacts of climate change on coastal waters. EPA websites have also been scrubbed of most references to climate change.
At Interior and the Department of Energy, scientists have been discouraged from referring to climate change in grant proposals or press releases. Earlier this month Joel Clement, a top policy adviser and climate scientist at DOI, resigned after being transferred to an accounting position, where he was assigned to collect royalties from the oil and gas industry.
Clement, who had spoken out about the impacts of climate change on Native American communities in Alaska, alleges that his reassignment was politically motivated.
Understanding the threat of climate change had been an integral part of the Interior Department’s mission, said Elizabeth Klein, who served as associate deputy secretary at Interior from 2012 to 2017 and was involved in drafting the earlier strategic plan. That document sought to address a number of the risks associated with climate change, including drought, sea-level rise, and severe flooding.
One section referred specifically to the need for more research on erosion along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, which are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes.
To completely ignore climate risks, Klein said, is an abdication of Interior’s responsibility as a manager and steward of the nation’s public lands. “It’s yet another example of an unfortunate regression,” she said.
While disregarding climate change, the 2018â€“2022 strategic plan places a premium on facilitating oil and gas development. It calls for speeding up the processing of parcels nominated for oil and gas leasing on public lands. It establishes an Executive Committee for Expedited Permitting to facilitate on- and -offshore leasing, and aims to reduce the time it takes to green-light energy projects on Native land by 50 percent.
The department is also seeking to speed up the application process for drilling permits, even though industry is currently sitting on thousands of approved permits.
“It is bewildering that the agency would prioritize approving more permits — at the inevitable expense of your environmental responsibilities — when companies have plenty and appear to be simply stockpiling them,” wrote Representative RaÃºl Grijalva, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, in an April letter to the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Not surprisingly, one of the DOI’s key performance indicators for the next five years will be the number of acres of public lands made available for oil and natural-gas leasing. Interior’s role in promoting renewable-energy development largely goes unmentioned. The new plan also has little to say about conservation, a word mentioned 74 times in the previous strategy blueprint and only 25 times in the new version.
Instead of the protection of landscapes and ecosystems, the new report emphasizes Interior’s role in policing the US-Mexico border. The department manages nearly half of the southern border region, the report notes, as well as the third-largest number of law-enforcement officers in the executive branch. It intends to deploy them “to decrease illegal immigration and marijuana smuggling on DOI managed public lands.”
In his resignation letter, Clement pointed to the fact that Americans are increasingly confronting the realities of climate change in their daily lives, whether it’s families fleeing the devastation of a hurricane, businesses in coastal communities forced to relocate because of rising sea levels and coastal erosion, or farmers grappling with “floods of biblical proportions.”
“If the Trump administration continues to try to silence experts in science, health and other fields,” Clement warned, “many more Americans, and the natural ecosystems upon which they depend, will be put at risk.”
Adam Federman is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He is the author of Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The Danger of President Pence Trump’s critics yearn for his exit.
But Mike Pence, the corporate right’s
inside man, poses his own risks Jane Mayer / The New Yorker
(October 23, 2017) — On September 14th, the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who last year published a book titled In Trump We Trust, expressed what a growing number of Americans, including conservatives, have been feeling since the 2016 election.
The previous day, President Trump had dined with Democratic leaders at the White House, and had impetuously agreed to a major policy reversal, granting provisional residency to undocumented immigrants who came to America as children. Republican legislators were blindsided. Within hours, Trump disavowed the deal, then reaffirmed it. Coulter tweeted, “At this point, who doesn’t want Trump impeached?” She soon added, “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.”
Trump’s swerve did the unthinkable — uniting Coulter and liberal commentators. After Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, Gail Collins, the Times columnist, praised Vice-President Mike Pence as someone who at least “seems less likely to get the planet blown up.” This summer, an opinion column by Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, appeared under the headline ” ‘president pence’ is sounding better and better.”
Pence, who has dutifully stood by the President, mustering a devotional gaze rarely seen since the days of Nancy Reagan, serves as a daily reminder that the Constitution offers an alternative to Trump. The worse the President looks, the more desirable his understudy seems. The more Trump is mired in scandal, the more likely Pence’s elevation to the Oval Office becomes, unless he ends up legally entangled as well.
Pence’s odds of becoming President are long but not prohibitive. Of his forty-seven predecessors, nine eventually assumed the Presidency, because of a death or a resignation. After Lyndon Johnson decided to join the ticket with John F. Kennedy, he calculated his odds of ascension to be approximately one in four, and is said to have told Clare Boothe Luce, “I’m a gambling man, darling, and this is the only chance I’ve got.”
If the job is a gamble for Pence, he himself is something of a gamble for the country. During the tumultuous 2016 Presidential campaign, relatively little attention was paid to how Pence was chosen, or to his political record. And, with all the infighting in the new Administration, few have focussed on Pence’s power within the White House.
Newt Gingrich told me recently that the three people with the most policy influence in the Administration are Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Pence. Gingrich went on, “Others have some influence, such as Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn. But look at the schedule. Pence has lunches with the President. He’s in the national-security briefings.” Moreover, and crucially, Pence is the only official in the White House who can’t be fired.
Pence, who declined requests for an interview, is also one of the few with whom Trump hasn’t overtly feuded. “The President considers him one of his best decisions,” Tony Fabrizio, a pollster for Trump, told me. Even so, they are almost comically mismatched. “You end up with an odd pair of throwbacks from fifties casting,” the former White House strategist Stephen Bannon joked, comparing them to Dean Martin, the bad boy of the Rat Pack, and “the dad on ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ ”
Trump and Pence are misaligned politically, too. Trump campaigned as an unorthodox outsider, but Pence is a doctrinaire ideologue. Kellyanne Conway, the White House counsellor, who became a pollster for Pence in 2009, describes him as “a full-spectrum conservative” on social, moral, economic, and defense issues.
Pence leans so far to the right that he has occasionally echoed ACLU arguments against government overreach; he has, for instance, supported a federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to identify whistle-blowers.
According to Bannon, Pence is “the outreach guy, the connective tissue” between the Trump Administration and the most conservative wing of the Republican establishment. “Trump’s got the populist nationalists,” Bannon said. “But Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win.”
Pence has taken care to appear extraordinarily loyal to Trump, so much so that Joel K. Goldstein, a historian and an expert on Vice-Presidents who teaches law at St. Louis University, refers to him as the “Sycophant-in-Chief.” But Pence has the political experience, the connections, the discipline, and the ideological mooring that Trump lacks. He also has a close relationship with the conservative billionaire donors who have captured the Republican Party’s agenda in recent years.
In a recent meeting in the White House,
Donald Trump was asked about gay rights.
Trump reportedly gestured toward Mike Pence and said, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”
During the 2016 campaign, Trump characterized the Republican Party’s big spenders as “highly sophisticated killers” whose donations allowed them to control politicians. When he declared his candidacy, he claimed that, because of his real-estate fortune, he did not need support from “rich donors,” and he denounced super pacs, their depositories of unlimited campaign contributions, as “corrupt.”
Pence’s political career, though, has been sponsored at almost every turn by the donors whom Trump has assailed. Pence is the inside man of the conservative money machine.
On Election Night, the dissonance between Trump’s populist supporters and Pence’s billionaire sponsors was quietly evident. When Trump gave his acceptance speech, in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan, he vowed to serve “the forgotten men and women of our country,” and promised to “rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, and hospitals.”
Upstairs, in a room reserved for Party elites, several of the richest and most conservative donors, all of whom support drastic reductions in government spending, were celebrating. Doug Deason, a Texas businessman and a political donor, recalled to me, “It was amazing. In the VIP reception area, there was an even more VIP room, and I counted at least eight or nine billionaires.”
Deason’s father, Darwin, founded a data-processing company, Affiliated Computer Services, and in 2010 he sold it to Xerox for $6.4 billion. ACS was notorious for outsourcing US office work to cheaper foreign-labor markets. Trump campaigned against outsourcing, but the Deasons became Trump backers nonetheless, donating a million dollars to his campaign.
Doug Deason was enlisted, in part, by Pence, whom he had known and supported for years. “Mike and I are pretty good friends,” Deason said, adding, “He’s really the contact to the big donors.” Since the election, Deason has attended two dinners for wealthy backers at the Vice-Presidential residence.
Among the billionaires who gathered in the room at the Hilton, Deason recalled, were the financier Wilbur Ross, whom Trump later appointed his Secretary of Commerce; the corporate investor Carl Icahn, who became a top adviser to Trump but resigned eight months later, when allegations of financial impropriety were published by The New Yorker; Harold Hamm, the founder and chairman of Continental Resources, an Oklahoma-based oil-and-gas company that has made billions of dollars through fracking; and David Koch, the richest resident of New York City.
Koch’s presence was especially unexpected. He and his brother Charles are libertarians who object to most government spending, including investments in infrastructure. They co-own virtually all of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States, and have long tapped their combined fortune — currently ninety billion dollars — to finance candidates, think tanks, pressure groups, and political operatives who support an anti-tax and anti-regulatory agenda, which dovetails with their financial interests.
During the campaign, Trump said that Republican rivals who attended secretive donor summits sponsored by the Kochs were “puppets.” The Kochs, along with several hundred allied donors, had amassed nearly nine hundred million dollars to spend on the Presidential election, but declined to support Trump’s candidacy. At one point, Charles Koch described the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton as one between “cancer or heart attack.”
Marc Short, the head of legislative affairs in the Trump White House, credits Pence for the Kochs’ rapprochement with Trump. “The Kochs were very excited about the Vice-Presidential pick,” Short told me. “There are areas where they differ from the Administration, but now there are many areas they’re partnering with us on.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who has accused the Kochs of buying undue influence, particularly on environmental policy — Koch Industries has a long history of pollution — is less enthusiastic about their alliance with Pence.
“If Pence were to become President for any reason, the government would be run by the Koch brothers — period. He’s been their tool for years,” he said. Bannon is equally alarmed at the prospect of a Pence Presidency. He told me, “I’m concerned he’d be a President that the Kochs would own.”
This summer, I visited Pence’s home town of Columbus, Indiana. Harry McCawley, a retired editor at the Republic, the local newspaper, told me, “Mike Pence wanted to be President practically since he popped out of the womb.” Pence exudes a low-key humility, but, McCawley told me, “he’s very ambitious, even calculating, about the steps he’ll take toward that goal.”
McCawley, who died, of cancer, in September, knew the Pence family well, in part because the Vice-President’s mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, wrote a chatty column for the newspaper for several years (“memories blossom with arrival of spring”). Eighty-four and energetic, Fritsch met me for coffee this summer, along with her eldest son, Gregory, who is in the antiques business in the Columbus area. Like the Vice-President, they are good-looking, with chiselled features, and have an unpretentious, amiable manner.
They ribbed each other as they reminisced about the years when the Pences’ six children lived with their parents in a series of modest houses. There was so little to do in the way of entertainment, Gregory Pence recalled, that “we sometimes got in the car with our parents on Friday nights and followed after the fire truck.” All the boys had nicknames. “My name was General Harassment,” Gregory said. “Michael’s was Bubbles, because he was chubby and funny.”
“Michael’s hilarious,” his mother agreed. “I attribute it to the Irish. We’re faith-filled, and have a good sense of humor.” The family identifies as Catholic, and Mike was an altar boy. “Religion is the most important thing in our lives,” she said. “But we don’t take it seriously. I don’t proselytize.”
Pence’s maternal grandfather was from Ireland, but his paternal grandfather, Edward Joseph Pence, Sr., came from a German family. Brief mentions of Edward in the press have described him as having worked in the Chicago stockyards, leaving the impression that he was poor. But Gregory told me that Edward was well off, with a seat on the Chicago Stock Exchange.
“Grandfather Pence was a very hard man,” Gregory said. Edward refused to provide financial support when Gregory and Mike’s father, Edward, Jr., went to college; an aunt loaned him the tuition, but he had to leave law school when he ran out of money. “Grampa Pence was a gambler!” Fritsch chimed in. “He played cards and went to Las Vegas.”
Fritsch went to secretarial school. With a laugh, she recalled that she met her first husband “in a club — in other words, a tavern.” A Korean War veteran, Edward Pence, Jr., was in uniform that night. (He had won a Bronze Star, which the Vice-President keeps in his office.) In 1959, after leaving law school, he moved with Fritsch from Chicago to Columbus, where he sold fuel to gas stations, farms, and convenience stores. Shortly after their arrival, Michael Pence, the couple’s third child, was born.
Fritsch said of life in Indiana, “I hated it. I always looked forward to going back to Chicago.” But the family stayed, gradually moving into the upper middle class — Edward became part owner of an oil distributorship — and switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Fritsch had worshipped the Kennedys, but, she said, “I guess I became a Republican because my husband was one. I was a Stepford wife.”
“She was like the Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Gregory said at one point.
“You see what I have to put up with?” she shot back. Growing more serious, she explained that, until she went back to school, at sixty-five, to get a college degree in psychology, she “didn’t have much self-esteem.”
“That’s when she got her brain,” Gregory said.
Edward, Jr., like his father, was a tough disciplinarian. Gregory recalled, “If you lied to him, you’d be taken upstairs, have a conversation, and then he’d whack you with a belt.” He expected his children to stand up whenever an adult entered the room. “He’d grab you if you didn’t,” Gregory said. At dinner, the kids were forbidden to speak.
While Gregory was in college, he was sleeping late on a visit home when his father pulled the covers off him and told him to get up for church. “I said he couldn’t tell me what to do anymore, because he was only paying half my college tuition,” Gregory said. His father stopped paying his tuition altogether. “He was black and white,” Gregory said. “You were never confused where you stood. My brother’s a lot like him.”
Columbus, which has a population of forty-five thousand, was dominated by a major engine manufacturer, Cummins, and escaped the economic woes that afflicted many other parts of the region. But McCawley, the newspaper editor, told me that, while Pence was growing up, Columbus, “like many Indiana communities, still had vestiges of the Ku Klux Klan.” The group had ruled the state’s government in the twenties, and then gone underground.
In Columbus, landlords refused to rent or sell homes to African-Americans until Cummins’s owners demanded that they do so. Gregory Pence insisted that the town “was not racist,” but contended that there had been anti-Catholic prejudice. Protestant kids had thrown stones at him, he recalled. “We were discriminated against,” Pence’s mother added.
The Pence children attended St. Columba Catholic School through eighth grade. Mike discovered a talent for public speaking that made him a favorite with the nuns. In fifth grade, he won a local oratory contest, defeating kids several years older. “When it came his turn, his voice just boomed out over the audience,” his mother told the newspaper. “He just blew everybody away.”
In high school, Pence won third place in a national contest. When his mother recalled Mike as “a good student,” Gregory said, “Not a fabulous one. I don’t think he stood out. He was class president, but that wasn’t cool.” Nonetheless, by senior year, Mike was talking to classmates about becoming President of the United States.
Mike Pence attended Hanover College, a liberal-arts school in southeast Indiana. On a visit home, he told his father that he was thinking of either joining the priesthood or attending law school. His father suggested he start with law; he could always join the priesthood later. Shortly thereafter, to his family’s surprise, Pence became an evangelical Christian. His mother said that “college gave him a different viewpoint.”
The story Pence tells is that he was in a fraternity, and when he admired another member’s gold cross he was told, “You have to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.” Soon afterward, Pence has said, he attended a Christian music festival in Kentucky and “gave my life to Jesus.”
His conversion was part of a larger movement. In 1979, during Pence’s junior year in college, Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, to mobilize Christian voters as a political force. Pence voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, but he soon joined the march of many Christians toward the Republican Party.
The Moral Majority’s co-founder, Paul Weyrich, a Midwestern Catholic, established numerous institutions of the conservative movement, including the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of far-right congressional members, which Pence eventually led.
Weyrich condemned homosexuality, feminism, abortion, and government-imposed racial integration, and he partnered with some controversial figures, including Laszlo Pasztor, a former member of a pro-Nazi party in Hungary. When Weyrich died, in 2008, Pence praised him as a “friend and mentor” and a “founding father of the modern conservative movement,” from whom he had “benefitted immeasurably.”
While in law school, at Indiana University, Pence met and married Karen Batten, a schoolteacher whom he had noticed playing guitar in a church service. A friend at the time, Dan LeClerc, told me, “He was head over heels.” Pence took her ice-skating; she made him taco salad for dinner. Soon, anticipating a proposal, she began carrying in her purse a gold cross with the inscription “Yes.”
Eight months after they began dating, he asked her to marry him, having buried a ring box in a loaf of bread that he’d brought on a walk, ostensibly to feed ducks. They shellacked the loaf. Pence’s friends have called Karen his “prayer warrior.”
The couple became almost inseparable. One Christmas, she gave him an antique red phone, connected to a “hotline” whose number only she knew. As the Washington Post reported, he kept it on his office desk long after the advent of cell phones. At home, they worked out on twin treadmills. And, as Rolling Stone reported in January, he referred to her in front of guests as “Mother.” Pence’s office has disputed the account, but a former Indiana Democratic Party official told me, “I’ve heard him call her Mother myself.”
Pence also began observing what’s known as the Billy Graham rule, meaning that he never dined alone with another woman, or attended an event in mixed company where alcohol was served unless his wife was present. Critics have argued that this approach reduces women to sexual temptresses and precludes men from working with women on an equal basis.
A Trump campaign official said that he found the Pences’ dynamic “a little creepy.” But Kellyanne Conway defended him vigorously, telling me, “I’ve been a female top adviser of his for years, and never felt excluded or dismissed.” She went on, “Most wives would appreciate a loyal husband who puts them first. People are trying to bloody and muddy him, but talk about narrow-minded — to judge his marriage!”
In 1987, a year after Pence graduated from law school, LeClerc, his old friend, was asked by a mutual acquaintance, “Guess who’s running for Congress?” He drew a blank. Pence’s decision, at the age of twenty-nine, to challenge a popular incumbent Democratic congressman surprised many people, including his father, Edward, who thought that it was silly, given that Mike was a young newlywed with no steady job.
But after Mike entered the race, Edward became his biggest booster, helping him raise money and put up lawn signs. Then, just a few weeks before the Republican primary, Edward, who was fifty-eight, had a heart attack and died. Mike won the primary, but the Democratic incumbent, Phil Sharp, was re-elected.
In 1990, Pence tried and failed again to unseat Sharp, waging a campaign that is remembered as especially nasty. One ad featured an actor dressed in Middle Eastern garb and sunglasses, who accused Sharp, falsely, of being a tool of Arab oil interests. But Pence’s campaign foundered after the press revealed that he had used donations toward personal expenses, such as his mortgage and groceries. It wasn’t technically illegal, but it violated the trust of his supporters and sullied his pious image.
“Mike burned a lot of bridges,” Gregory recalled. “He upset a lot of his backers. It was partly because of immaturity, but he really was kind of full of shit.”
The following year, Mike Pence wrote an essay, carried by local newspapers, titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he said, “A campaign ought to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate.” He admitted to reporters that he had violated this standard, and said that he had no “interest in running for elected office in the foreseeable future,” but added that if he ever did he would not wage a negative campaign.
“I think he realized he’d besmirched himself,” Sharp told me. “He comes across as Midwestern nice, but it was mean and shallow.” Sharp, who after two more terms joined the faculty at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and is now semi-retired, remains unimpressed by Pence. “This is not a person, in my limited exposure, about whom I’d ever say, ‘Wow, he should be President!’ ”
Pence took a job at a law firm in Indianapolis, where he handled mainly small-claims and family cases, and started each day by praying with colleagues. An Indiana attorney recalled, “He was a big, jocular, friendly guy who would put his arm around you at the local pub. He probably weighed a hundred pounds more than today.”
There was a clear hierarchy in the Indianapolis legal world, and Pence was far from its top rungs, relying on referrals for work. “There were dozens of guys like that,” the lawyer said. “But the great American story is that a guy like Mike Pence is now Vice-President.”
Gregory said of his brother, “Law wasn’t really his thing,” adding, “He’s completely unmotivated by money. I don’t think he would think for one second about it, if it weren’t for Karen.”
“Service is his motivation,” Pence’s mother said.
“And, of course, popularity,” his brother added. “He had ambitions.”
Pence was thrown a lifeline in 1991, when he was offered a job as president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a tiny new think tank that promoted free-market policies. Pence joked that some people called the foundation “an old-folks home for unsuccessful candidates,” but it gave him a steady paycheck and valuable exposure to the burgeoning universe of business-funded conservative nonprofit groups.
The foundation was part of the State Policy Network, a national web of organizations that had been launched at Ronald Reagan’s suggestion. It was designed to replicate at a more local level the Heritage Foundation’s successful promotion of conservative policies.
One of the State Policy Network’s founders, Thomas Roe, a construction magnate with strong anti-union views, was said to have told a Heritage board member, “You capture the Soviet Union — I’m going to capture the states.”
In a 2008 speech, Pence described himself as “part of what we called the seed corn Heritage Foundation was spreading around the country in the state think-tank movement.” It isn’t fully clear whose money was behind the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, because think tanks, as nonprofits, don’t have to disclose their donors. But the early funders of the Heritage Foundation included some Fortune 500 companies, in fields such as oil, chemicals, and tobacco, that opposed health, safety, and environmental regulations.
Cecil Bohanon, one of two adjunct scholars at Pence’s think tank, had a history of financial ties to tobacco-company front groups, and in 2000 Pence echoed industry talking points in an essay that argued, “Smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers doesn’t die from a smoking-related illness.” A greater “scourge” than cigarettes, he argued, was “big government disguised as do-gooder, healthcare rhetoric.”
Bohanon, who still writes for the think tank’s publication, also has ties to the Kochs. Last year, John Hardin, the head of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation, told an Indiana newspaper that the Kochs had been funding Bohanon’s work as a professor of free-market economics at Ball State University “for years.”
Even as Pence argued for less government interference in business, he pushed for policies that intruded on people’s private lives. In the early nineties, he joined the board of the Indiana Family Institute, a far-right group that supported the criminalization of abortion and campaigned against equal rights for homosexuals. And, while Pence ran the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, it published an essay arguing that unmarried women should be denied access to birth control.
“What these people are really after is contraceptives,” Vi Simpson, the former Democratic minority leader of the Indiana State Senate, told me. In 2012, after serving twenty-eight years in the legislature, she ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with the gubernatorial candidate John R. Gregg, who lost the election to Pence. Simpson believes that Pence wants to reverse women’s economic and political advances. “He’s on a mission,” she said.
Pence’s true gift was not as a thinker but as a talker. In 1992, he became a host on conservative talk radio, which had been booming since the FCC, in 1987, repealed the Fairness Doctrine and stopped requiring broadcasters to provide all sides of controversial issues.
At a time when bombastic, angry voices proliferated, Pence was different. Like Reagan, who had become his political hero, he could present even extreme positions in genial, nonthreatening terms. “I’m a conservative, but I’m not mad about it,” he liked to say. He welcomed guests of all political stripes, and called himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”
“His radio career gave him great statewide name recognition,” Jeff Smulyan, the C.E.O. of Emmis Communications, on whose radio stations Pence’s program aired, said. “He’s likable, and a great self-promoter.” Smulyan, a Democrat, added, “I’m not sure how he’d fare in a detailed policy debate, but Mike knows what Mike believes.”
In 1994, Pence was on eighteen Emmis stations, five days a week. By then, he’d lost weight and had three children; he’d also amassed a Rolodex full of conservative connections and established a national network of wealthy funders.
In 2000, when a Republican congressman in northern Indiana vacated his seat, Pence ran as the Party favorite, on a platform that included a promise to oppose “any effort to recognize homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws.” He won, by a twelve-point margin.
Once Pence got to Washington, Conway said, his background “in the think-tank-slash-media axis really equipped him to defend and explain an argument in a full-throated way.” Pence was in demand on the conservative speaking circuit, and frequently appeared on Sunday talk shows.
“He was invited to Heritage, gun owners’ groups, property-rights groups, pro-life groups, and pro-Israel groups,” Conway recalled. “People started to see an authentic, affable conservative who was not in a bad mood about it.” Michael Leppert, a Democratic lobbyist in Indiana, saw Pence differently. “His politics were always way outside the mainstream,” Leppert said. “He just does it with a smile on his face instead of a snarl.”
Pence served twelve years in Congress, but never authored a single successful bill. His sights, according to Leppert, were always “on the national ticket.” He gained attention by challenging his own party’s leaders, both in Congress and in the George W. Bush Administration, from the right. He broke with the vast majority of his Republican peers by opposing Bush’s expansion of Medicaid coverage for prescription drugs, along with the No Child Left Behind initiative and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the government’s emergency bailout of banks. Conway calls him “a rebel with a cause.”
In 2004, the House’s most conservative members elected him to head their caucus, the Republican Study Committee. Pence joked that the group was so alien to the Party’s mainstream that running it was like leading a “Star Trek” convention.
“He was as far right as you could go without falling off the earth,” Mike Lofgren, a former Republican congressional staff member, who has become a Trump critic, told me. “But he never really put a foot wrong politically. Beneath the Bible-thumping earnestness was a calculating and ambitious pol.”
In 2006, Pence boldly challenged the House Minority Leader at the time, John Boehner, a more centrist Republican from Ohio, for his post. Pence got wiped out, but in 2008 Boehner — perhaps trying to contain Pence’s ambition — asked him to serve as the Republican Conference chair, the Party’s third-highest-ranking post in the House. The chair presides over weekly meetings in which Republican House members discuss policy and legislative goals. Pence used the platform to set the Party’s message on a rightward course, raise money, and raise his profile.
After Barack Obama was elected President, Pence became an early voice of the Tea Party movement, which opposed taxes and government spending with an angry edge. Pence’s tone grew more militant, too. In 2011, he made the evening news by threatening to shut down the federal government unless it defunded Planned Parenthood.
Some Hoosiers were unnerved to see footage of Pence standing amid rowdy protesters at a Tea Party rally and yelling, “Shut it down!” His radicalism, however, only boosted his national profile. Pence became best known for fiercely opposing abortion. He backed “personhood” legislation that would ban it under all circumstances, including rape and incest, unless a woman’s life was at stake.
He sponsored an unsuccessful amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would have made it legal for government-funded hospitals to turn away a dying woman who needed an abortion. (Later, as governor of Indiana, he signed a bill barring women from aborting a physically abnormal fetus; the bill also required fetal burial or cremation, including after a miscarriage. A federal judge recently found the law unconstitutional.)
Pence’s close relationship with dozens of conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ top political organization, was crucial to his rise. A key link to these groups was provided by Marc Short, the current White House official, who in 2008 became Pence’s chief of staff at the Republican Conference.
Short had grown up in moneyed conservative circles in Virginia, where his father had helped finance the growth of the Republican Party, and he had run a group for conservative students, Young America’s Foundation, and spent several years as a Republican Senate aide before joining Pence’s staff.
His wife, as it happened, worked for the Charles Koch Foundation, and he admired the brothers’ anti-government ideology. A former White House colleague described Short to me as “a pod person” who “really delivered Pence to the Kochs.”
In June, 2009, Short brokered Pence’s first invitation to address a Koch “seminar,” as the brothers call their secretive semi-annual fund-raising sessions for top conservative donors. The theme of the gathering, in Aspen, Colorado, was “Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity.” Pence’s speech was a hit.
Short told me, “I’ve never seen someone who can take a complex subject and distill it in a heartbeat like he can.” He’d also never seen “anyone who is as dedicated a public servant, and lives their faith as Mike does.” Short, who is a devout Christian, said, “People often profess faith that’s not lived out, but with him it’s lived out each and every day. It guides him. It’s his core.”
The Kochs, who are not religious, may have been focussed more on pocketbook issues than on Pence’s faith. According to Scott Peterson, the executive director of the Checks & Balances Project, a watchdog group that monitors attempts to influence environmental policy, Pence was invited to the Koch seminar only after he did the brothers a major political favor.
By the spring of 2009, Koch Industries, like other fossil-fuel companies, felt threatened by growing support in Congress for curbing carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. Americans for Prosperity devised a “No Climate Tax” pledge for candidates to sign, promising not to spend any government funds on limiting carbon pollution. At first, the campaign languished, attracting only fourteen signatures.
The House, meanwhile, was moving toward passage of a “cap and trade” bill, which would charge companies for carbon pollution. If the bill were enacted, the costs could be catastrophic to Koch Industries, which releases some twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year, and owns millions of acres of untapped oil reserves in Canada, plus coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.
Pence, who had called global warming “a myth” created by environmentalists in their “latest Chicken Little attempt to raise taxes,” took up the Kochs’ cause. He not only signed their pledge but urged others to do so as well. He gave speeches denouncing the cap-and-trade bill — which passed the House but got held up in the Senate — as a “declaration of war on the Midwest.”
His language echoed that of the Koch groups. Americans for Prosperity called the bill “the largest excise tax in history,” and Pence called it “the largest tax increase in American history.” (Neither statement was true.)
He used a map created by the Heritage Foundation, which the Kochs supported, to make his case, and he urged House Republicans to hold “energy summits” opposing the legislation in their districts, sending them home over the summer recess with kits to bolster their presentations.
According to the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, after Pence began promoting the Kochs’ pledge the number of signatories in the House soared, reaching a hundred and fifty-six. James Valvo, the policy director for Americans for Prosperity, who spearheaded the pledge, told the Reporting Workshop that support from Pence and other Republicans helped “a scrappy outlier” become “the established position.” The cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate.
Short said that he “didn’t recall the Kochs ever asking for help on the issue,” adding, “The Republican Conference believed it was a winning issue because of the impact that the bill would have had on jobs.” In any event, the pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis.
Peterson said that the Checks & Balances Project hadn’t detected “much money going from the Kochs to Pence before he promoted the ‘No Climate Tax’ pledge.” Afterward, “he was the Kochs’ guy, and they’ve been showering him with money ever since.” Peterson went on, “He could see a pathway to the Presidency with them behind him.”
Indeed, by 2011 Pence had reportedly become Charles Koch’s favorite potential candidate for President in 2012. Andrew Downs, a political scientist who directs the nonpartisan Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, in Fort Wayne, said, “People thought Pence was gearing up for a Presidential run.” Downs pointed out that when Pence was in Congress “he probably had a shot at becoming Speaker of the House.”
Downs continued, “Instead, he spoke at a lot of engagements with a national focus, and visited places like Iowa and New Hampshire. Running for President isn’t an idea that just occurred to Mike Pence when he joined the ticket in 2016. It goes back a long way.”
But the House of Representatives is a tough platform from which to get elected President. And so, in 2012, after mulling over his national prospects, Pence ran instead for governor of Indiana. “The conventional wisdom is that he ran for governor so he could check that box, get some executive experience, and then run for President,” Downs said. Pence won the governor’s race, but with only forty-nine per cent of the vote.
“He was scary to the center,” Bill Oesterle, a co-founder of Angie’s List, an Indiana company that collates user reviews of local contractors, said. Oesterle, a Republican, contributed a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to Pence’s campaign. David Koch contributed two hundred thousand dollars.
Pence’s commitment to the Kochs was now ironclad. Short, his former chief of staff, had become a top operative for the Kochs, earning upward of a million dollars a year as president of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the brothers’ Virginia-based membership group for big conservative donors.
It served as a dark-money bank, enabling donors to stay anonymous while distributing funds to favored campaigns and political organizations. (During the past decade, the group has pooled an estimated billion and a half dollars in contributions.)
The Kochs’ national political network, which had offices in nearly every state, became the most powerful and best-financed private political machine in the country. At least four other former Pence staffers followed Short’s lead and joined the Koch network, including Emily Seidel, who joined Freedom Partners, and Matt Lloyd, who became a Koch Industries spokesman. In 2014, a Republican strategist told Politico that “the whole Koch operation” had become “the shadow headquarters of Pence for President.”
Pence’s tenure as governor nearly destroyed his political career. He had promised Oesterle and other members of the state’s Republican business establishment that he would continue in the path of his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, a well-liked fiscal conservative who had called for a “truce” on divisive social issues. “Pence was very accommodating,” Oesterle said. But after he was elected he began taking controversial far-right stands that, critics believed, were geared more toward building his national profile than toward serving Indiana voters.
At first, Pence highlighted fiscal conservatism. In 2013, he proposed cutting the state income tax. An internal report by Americans for Prosperity described the proposal as an example of the Kochs’ “model states” program “in action.”
Indiana Republicans, who had majorities in both legislative chambers, initially balked at the tax cut, deeming it irresponsible. But Americans for Prosperity acted as a force multiplier for Pence, much as it is now promising to do for Trump’s proposed federal tax cuts.
The group mounted an expensive campaign that included fifty rallies, two six-figure television-ad blitzes, and phone-bank calls and door-to-door advocacy in fifty-three of Indiana’s ninety-two counties. Eventually, the legislature went along with what Pence often describes as “the largest income-tax cut in the state’s history,” even though Indiana already had one of the lowest income taxes in the country, and had cut it only once before.
Trump has recently described Pence’s record as a template for the White House’s tax plan, saying, “Indiana is a tremendous example of the prosperity that is unleashed when we cut taxes.” But, in the view of Andrew Downs, the Indiana political scientist, “the tax cuts were fairly meaningless.” Residents earning fifty thousand dollars a year received a tax cut of about $3.50 per month.
Pence claimed that the cut stimulated the economy, but John Zody, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, told me, “Our per-capita income is thirty-eighth in the nation, and not climbing.” The state recently had to increase its gas tax by ten cents per gallon, to repair its crumbling infrastructure.
In a few surprising instances, Pence veered from conservative orthodoxy. In 2014, he broke with many other Republican governors and agreed to expand Medicaid in Indiana. He declared that his proposal was “the kind of health-care reform that puts working Hoosiers in the driver’s seat.” He was no fan of Obamacare: when it passed, he likened the blow to 9/11.
Nevertheless, Pence negotiated with the Obama Administration and established waivers that made the expansion acceptable to him. Among other things, all Indiana residents were required to demonstrate “personal responsibility” by paying something toward the cost of their medical services.
Critics argued that such measures were needlessly punitive toward poor residents. Americans for Prosperity, which objects to any form of government health care, gently reproached Pence for “meeting Washington’s demands.” But the Medicaid-expansion plan was, and remains, popular in the state.
After this apostasy, Pence tilted back toward the right. At the last minute, he killed an application for an eighty-million-dollar federal grant to start a statewide preschool program. Education officials in Pence’s own administration favored the grant, but conservative opponents of secular public education had complained. When reporters asked Pence about his decision, he said only that the federal government had attached “too many strings.”
But, as Matthew Tully, a columnist at the Indianapolis Star, wrote, “he could not name one.” Eventually, after widespread criticism, Pence reapplied for the grant. Tully concluded that Pence had a “fatal flaw” — he was “too political and ideological” to be a good governor. “His focus was on the next step up, not the job at hand,” Tully wrote.
Political handicappers noticed that Pence was spending a lot of time taking trips to states with important Presidential primaries and mingling with big out-of-state donors. In the summer of 2014, Pence spoke at an Americans for Prosperity summit in Dallas.
At the event, he stood by Short’s side and declared himself “grateful to have enjoyed” David Koch’s support. That fall, Pence reached out to Nick Ayers, a young, sharp-elbowed political consultant, to see if he would help him in a 2016 Presidential run. Nothing came of it, but Pence clearly had White House ambitions.
In the spring of 2015, Pence signed a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he presented as innocuous. “He said it protected religious freedom, and who’s against that?” Oesterle recalled. But then a photograph of the closed signing session surfaced. It showed Pence surrounded by monks and nuns, along with three of the most virulently anti-gay activists in the state. The image went viral. Indiana residents began examining the law more closely, and discovered that it essentially legalized discrimination against homosexuals by businesses in the state.
“The No. 1 challenge we face in Indiana is the ability to attract and retain talented people,” Oesterle said. “If the state is seen as bigoted to certain members of the community, it makes the job monumentally harder.” The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Oesterle said, “was not an issue of Pence’s creation” — it had “gurgled out” of the far-right fringe of the Indiana legislature. But, he added, “there was a lack of leadership.”
In his view, Pence should have prevented it and other extreme bills from moving forward. “You can see it happening in Washington now,” Oesterle said. “He’s not that effective a leader, or administrator. Extremists grabbed the initiative.”
The outcry over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was enormous. Gay-rights groups condemned the bill and urged boycotts of the state. Pete Buttigieg, the young gay mayor of South Bend, who is a rising figure in the Democratic Party, told me that he tried to talk to Pence about the legislation, which he felt would cause major economic damage to Indiana. “But he got this look in his eye,” Buttigieg recalled. “He just inhabits a different reality. It’s very difficult for him to lay aside the social agenda. He’s a zealot.”
In an effort to quell criticism, Pence consented, against the advice of his staff, to be interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on his Sunday-morning show on ABC. Stephanopoulos asked him five times if it was now legal in Indiana for businesses to discriminate against homosexuals, and each time Pence was evasive.
Pence also sidestepped when Stephanopoulos asked him if he personally supported discrimination against gays. “What killed him was his unwillingness to take a clear position,” Oesterle said. “You saw the conflict between his ideology and his ambition. If he’d just said, ‘Look, I think people should have the right to fire gay people,’ he would have been labeled a rigid ideologue, but he wouldn’t have been mocked.”
Smulyan, the broadcasting executive, began getting calls from acquaintances all over the country, asking what was wrong with Indiana. The hashtag #BoycottIndiana appeared on Twitter’s list of trending topics, and remained there for days. Alarmed business executives from many of the state’s most prominent companies, including Cummins, Eli Lilly, Salesforce, and Anthem, joined civic leaders in expressing disapproval.
Companies began cancelling conventions, and threatening to reverse plans to expand in the state. The Indiana business community foresaw millions of dollars in losses. When the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, declared its opposition to the legislation, the pressure became intolerable. Even the Republican establishment turned on Pence. A headline in the Star, published the Tuesday after the Stephanopoulos interview, demanded, “fix this now.”
Within days, the legislature had pushed through a less discriminatory version of the bill, and Pence signed it, before hastily leaving town for the weekend. But he clearly had not anticipated the outrage he’d triggered, and then he had tried to save his career at the expense of his professed principles.
Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host, told me that Pence’s reversal was “almost the worst conservative betrayal I’ve witnessed in my career.” He added, “He had no chance at national office after that, other than getting on the Trump ticket.”
Similarly, Michael Maurer, the owner of the Indianapolis Business Journal, who is a Republican but not a hard-line social conservative, said, “It just exploded in his face. His polls were terrible. I bet he’d never get elected again in Indiana. But he went from being a likely loser as an incumbent governor to Vice-President of the United States. We’re still reeling!”
Pence loyalists rushed in to help. Matt Lloyd, Pence’s former congressional staffer, left his communications job with Koch Industries to work with him in Indiana. Ayers, the political operative whom Pence had consulted in 2011 about a Presidential run, became an outside adviser.
The state also signed a seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar contract with a public-relations firm, Porter Novelli, which proposed running ads featuring gay and lesbian couples posing in front of Indiana landmarks. But Pence’s mistake could not be airbrushed away. Lawn signs saying “Fire Pence!” began appearing across the state.
“His tenure in Indiana was characterized by a lot of missteps,” Buttigieg said. “He was always decent to me, but over all there was a sense that every few months something got bungled. He’s definitely not the mastermind behind the curtain that some people suspect.”
In 2015, Ed Clere, a Republican state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Health, became aware of a spike in the number of H.I.V. cases in southern Indiana. The problem appeared to be caused by the sharing of needles among opioid abusers in Scott County, which sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.
In a place like Scott County, Clere said, “typically you’d have no cases, or maybe one a year.” Now they were getting up to twenty a week. The area was poor, and woefully unprepared for a health crisis. (Pence’s campaign against Planned Parenthood had contributed to the closure of five clinics in the region; none had performed abortions, but all had offered H.I.V. testing.) That same year, the state health commissioner called Indiana’s H.I.V. outbreak a public-health emergency.
Clere came of age during the aids crisis, and had read Randy Shilts’s best-selling account, “And the Band Played On.” He tried to get the legislature to study the possibility of legalizing a syringe exchange, which he felt “was a matter of life and death,” and could “save lives quickly and inexpensively.”
But conservatives blocked the idea, and Pence threatened to veto any such legislation. “With Pence, you need to look at the framework, which is abstinence,” Clere said. “It’s the same as with giving teen-agers condoms. Conservatives think it promotes the behavior, even though it’s a scientifically proven harm-reduction strategy.”
In March, 2015, Clere staged a huge public hearing, in which dozens of experts and sufferers testified about the crisis. Caught flat-footed, Pence scheduled his own event, where he announced that he would pray about the syringe-exchange issue. The next day, he said that he supported allowing an exchange program as an emergency measure, but only on a temporary basis and only in Scott County, with no state funding. Clere told me that he spent “every last dime of my political capital” to get the bill through.
After Scott County implemented the syringe exchange, the number of new H.I.V. cases fell. But Republican leaders later stripped Clere of his committee chairmanship, a highly unusual event. “I commend Representative Clere for the efforts to help the state deal with this,” Kevin Burke, the health officer in neighboring Clark County, told me. “But he paid a price for it.”
Clere remains bitter about Pence. “It was all part of his pattern of political expediency,” he said. “He was stridently against it until it became politically expedient to support it.” Clere, a Christian who opposes abortion, told me that he now finds Pence’s piety hypocritical.
“He says he’s ‘pro-life,’ ” Clere said. “But people were dying.” When Clere was asked whom he would rather have as President — Trump or Pence — he replied, “I’d take Trump every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.”
Pence likes to say of himself, “I am a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” But Clere is not alone in questioning Pence’s political purity. After the November, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, Pence, like several other US governors, issued a controversial executive order barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state.
The Archdiocese of Indiana had long been deeply involved in resettling refugees, including Syrians, and was about to welcome a new Syrian family. In the hope of reversing Pence’s ban, Joseph Tobin, the bishop of Indianapolis, requested a meeting.
Tobin, who has since been elevated to cardinal and become the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, told me that he emphasized to Pence that the Syrian family was fleeing violence and terror, and had been vetted for nearly two years while living in a Jordanian refugee camp. He also explained that the family had relatives in the area.
Tobin brought along a former refugee who now had a good job at an Indiana hotel, as an example of how successful the resettlement process was. Tobin is revered in the Catholic community of Indiana in which Pence grew up. “I really think he thought it over,” Tobin said. “There was some anguish.” But in the end Pence told him, “I need to protect the people of the state.”
“I respect that,” Tobin replied. “But this isn’t a threat.” Pence didn’t change his mind. Later that week, the Syrian family was sent to Connecticut. Eventually, federal courts struck down Pence’s executive order as discriminatory. I asked Cardinal Tobin if there was a Christian argument in support of turning the refugees away. After a pause, he quietly said, “No.”
Pence has also been criticized for his treatment of Keith Cooper, a former resident of Elkhart, Indiana, who spent nine years in prison for an armed robbery that he didn’t commit. He was released in 2006, but on the condition that he admit guilt, which made it impossible for him to get a decent job.
The prosecutor and the Indiana Parole Board, citing DNA evidence and victim recantations, urged Governor Pence to pardon him immediately. But Pence dragged out the process for years. “He didn’t do a thing to help me,” Cooper told me.
Pence finally left the decision to his successor, Governor Eric Holcomb, who is also a Republican. Holcomb granted Cooper a pardon within weeks of taking office. It was the first time in Indiana that a pardon was granted on the basis of innocence, rather than clemency.
“It was all about Pence’s political career,” Cooper said. “As a Christian, he’s a hypocrite. He wouldn’t see me or speak with me. God doesn’t turn his back on the truth, but Pence just walked away from the truth. I couldn’t move forward in life. I was stuck in a dead-end job.”
Cooper, who was operating a forklift at the time, now cares for his grandchildren. He has become friendly with the robbery victims who mistakenly identified him in a police lineup; they supported his bid for a pardon.
“I forgive them,” he said. “They stood up for me.” He went on, “I forgive the prosecutor. He wrote a letter. And the parole board? They saw that justice happened. But I don’t forgive Mike Pence, and never will. He talks all this God stuff, but he’s biased. He hates Muslims, he hates gay people, and he hates minorities. He didn’t want to be the first white man in Indiana to pardon an innocent black man.”
A spokesman for Pence, who declined to be quoted, said Pence believed that Cooper needed to go back to court and face a retrial, instead of seeking a pardon.
Pence, seeing his poll numbers plummet, gave up on running for President, and decided to seek a second term as governor. Victory was far from assured. Once again, he faced John Gregg, a folksy Democratic lawyer. In the spring of 2016, polls showed the two in a dead heat.
The national election, meanwhile, was confounding expectations. As Trump picked up momentum in the Republican primaries, the Koch network became unexpectedly paralyzed. Marc Short pressed the brothers to dedicate their resources to stopping Trump and promoting his rivals. But executives at Koch Industries considered the strategy risky, and the brothers stayed out of the Presidential race. Frustrated, Short quit his job at Freedom Partners and signed on to Marco Rubio’s campaign.
The Indiana primary was on May 3rd. The previous month, Ted Cruz had trounced Trump in Wisconsin, but if Trump could win decisively in Indiana he was virtually certain to secure the nomination.
The brain trust behind Trump’s Indiana campaign included people whose public images were very different from Pence’s. Among them were Roderick Ratcliff, the C.E.O. of Centaur Gaming, the state’s largest gaming-and-racetrack business, and Steve Hilbert, a flamboyant entrepreneur who had been a business partner of Trump’s.
Hilbert had built an insurance empire, Conseco, which had been valued at fifty-two billion dollars before collapsing into bankruptcy. He is currently married to his sixth wife, and has denied reports that they met when she popped out of a cake, topless, at his stepson’s bachelor party.
In 1998, Hilbert loaned Trump money to buy the General Motors Building, and they had remained friends. In 2013, when Hilbert needed cash, Trump bought Hilbert’s Caribbean estate, and Hilbert and Melania Trump made a deal to sell skin-care products.
Despite Pence’s straitlaced reputation, he had closer ties with these figures than most people knew. As governor, he proclaimed his opposition to any expansion of the gaming industry, but, though the state had banned political contributions from casino operators, cash had flowed generously to him from such sources, through indirect paths.
The state’s gaming companies, including Centaur, routed donations to “soft money” groups like the Republican Governors Association, which then transferred the money to Pence and other candidates. Pence, meanwhile, used executive orders to quietly grant several of the gambling industry’s wishes, such as allowing riverboat casinos to expand onshore.
In 2016, the largest donor to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign was the Republican Governors Association, and some of its major donors were casino companies. An L.L.C. connected to Centaur contributed two hundred thousand dollars to the RGA that year. The casino operator Sheldon Adelson contributed a million dollars. But the single largest donor to the RGA in 2016 was Koch Industries, which contributed more than two million dollars.
Nearly all this cash, and much more, was divided between just two gubernatorial races that year, one of which was Indiana’s. That spring, David Koch also invited Pence to be a featured guest at a fund-raiser at his Palm Beach mansion, attended by about seventy of the Republican Party’s biggest donors.
Trump handily won the Indiana primary. Pence, who had tepidly endorsed Ted Cruz, switched to Trump. Pence’s history with Trump, however, was strained. In 2011, Pence had gone to Trump Tower in Manhattan, seeking a campaign donation. Trump brought up some gossip — the wife of Mitch Daniels, the outgoing governor of Indiana, had reportedly left him for another man, then reunited with her husband.
According to the Times, Trump announced that he’d never take back a wife who had been unfaithful. Pence reacted stiffly, and their conversation grew awkward. Trump gave Pence a small contribution, but the coarse New York billionaire and the prim Indiana evangelical appeared to be on different wavelengths.
Nevertheless, in 2016, political insiders in Indiana began hearing that Pence would welcome a spot on the Trump ticket. “There was no doubt he’d say yes,” Tony Samuel, the vice-chair of the Trump campaign in the state, who was a lobbyist for Centaur and other companies, told me. Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman at that point, arranged for Trump to meet Pence, and urged Trump to pick him.
Pence was seen as a bridge to Christian conservatives, an asset in the Midwest, and a connection to the powerful Koch network. Kellyanne Conway, who had done polling work for the Kochs, pushed for Pence, too, as did Stephen Bannon, although private e-mails recently obtained by BuzzFeed indicate that he considered the choice a Faustian bargain — “an unfortunate necessity.”
Still, Trump remained wary. According to a former campaign aide, he was disapproving when he learned how little money Pence had. In 2004, the oil firm that Pence’s father had partly owned had filed for bankruptcy. Mike Pence’s shares of the company’s stock, which he had valued at up to a quarter of a million dollars, became worthless. In 2016, according to a campaign-finance disclosure form, Pence had one bank account, which held less than fifteen thousand dollars.
But in July Pence found a way to please Trump when he played golf with him at Trump’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Recognizing that Trump was susceptible to flattery, he told the media that Trump “beat me like a drum.”
Yet, in a phone conversation that I had with Trump during this period, he told me that he was torn about the choice. He noted repeatedly that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, had been “loyal” to him. When I asked Trump if he shared Pence’s deeply conservative social views, he became uncharacteristically silent.
Trump came closer to picking Christie than is generally known. On July 11th, Christie appeared at a campaign event with Trump. Afterward, the Trump campaign informed him that the choice was down to him or Pence, so he needed to “get ready.” The next day, Trump flew to Indiana to do a campaign event with Pence.
A tire on Trump’s plane developed a flat, so he and his son Eric, who had accompanied him, decided to stay the night. They joined the Pences for dinner at an Indianapolis restaurant. The foursome emerged looking happy. (Samuel, who was at the restaurant, told me that Trump tipped the chef a couple hundred dollars.)
At dawn on July 13th, Ivanka and Don, Jr., flew to Indianapolis to join their father for breakfast with the Pences at the governor’s mansion. The Times soon reported that Trump had asked Pence if he would accept the job, and that Pence had responded, “In a heartbeat.”
But the next night, according to someone familiar with the details, Trump called Christie and said, “I’ve got a question for you. Are you ready?”
“Ready for what?” Christie responded.
“Ready to do this with me,” Trump said.
“Are you offering?” Christie said.
“I’m asking you — but you’ve got to make sure you’re ready,” Trump said.
“I’m as tough as they come,” Christie said.
“OK,” Trump said. “I’m making the decision tomorrow. Stay by your phone.”
But Christie was left hanging for the next three days. He suspected that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had intervened and turned Trump against him, because years earlier, as a US Attorney, he had prosecuted Kushner’s father for tax fraud and other crimes. Conway told me that this theory was wrong, but acknowledged, “It truly was a tie — almost a jump ball.”
Hoping to break the tie, Christie’s detractors made the case that he was politically toxic because of the Bridgegate scandal, in which officials had caused traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge in an act of reprisal against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Trump began leaning toward Pence. “I wouldn’t say Trump was pushed into it,” a top Trump campaign aide told me. “He was led into it. Pence was made the most palatable choice by those around him.”
Before Pence’s trip to Bedminster, he had asked his brother Gregory to meet him at a Burger King. “He said, ‘Donald Trump wants to talk to me,’ ” Gregory recalled. They both knew what it was about. “I told him, ‘You have to go, you have no choice,’ ” Gregory said. As he saw it, his brother also had no choice about saying yes, if picked: “When your party’s nominee asks you to be the running mate, you have to do it.”
But it was a gamble. As Gregory put it to me, “If he lost, he had no money, and he had three kids in college. He took out student loans for the kids. He’s got a retirement account, but I was afraid he’d run out of money in just a couple of weeks. He’d have to get a job. He was rolling the dice.” Some politicians in Indiana were surprised that Trump wanted to pick Pence, who was flailing as governor, and that Pence wanted to run with Trump.
“The one thing you could count on with Pence was interpersonal decency, which made it strange that he joined the Trump ticket, the most indecent ticket any party’s ever put together,” Pete Buttigieg said. “But, really, he had nowhere else to go. His chances of getting reÃ«lected were fifty-fifty at best.”
By July 14th, Trump’s aides had leaked that he was about to pick Pence, who had flown to New York for the announcement. But that night, as CNN reported, Trump called his aides to see if he could back out of his decision. The next morning, Trump called Christie and said, “They’re telling me I have to pick him. It’s central casting. He looks like a Vice-President.” A few hours later, Trump announced Pence as his running mate.
Several days later, at the Republican National Convention, Newt Gingrich, who had also been passed over for the Vice-Presidency, found himself backstage next to Trump while Pence was giving his acceptance speech. “Isn’t he just perfect?” Trump asked Gingrich. “Straight from central casting.”
The awkwardness between Pence and Trump didn’t entirely dissipate. When the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, revealing Trump’s boast about grabbing women “by the pussy,” Karen Pence was horrified. According to a former campaign aide, Pence refused to take Trump’s calls and sent him a letter saying that he and Karen, as Christians, were deeply offended by his actions and needed to make an “assessment” about whether to remain with the campaign. They urged Trump to pray.
When Trump and Pence finally did talk, Pence told him that his wife still had “huge problems” with his behavior. But in public Pence was forgiving, saying, “I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people.” (A Pence spokesman has denied that there was any friction over the incident.)
Pence exceeded expectations in the Vice-Presidential debate, and traversed the Midwest tirelessly. “He did an amazing job,” Bannon said. “Lots of conservative groups had questions about Trump. He answered those questions.”
The Kochs were delighted that one of their favorite politicians had joined the ticket, although, because of Trump’s stance against wealthy donors, Pence and the Kochs agreed to cancel a speech that he had been scheduled to give at their donor summit that August.
The Kochs continued to withhold financial support from Trump, but Short, the former Koch operative, became a top adviser to Pence on the campaign. Some billionaires in the Kochs’ donor network — such as the hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who has also financed Bannon’s ventures — began backing T
ACTION ALERT: Stop Trump’s War on Solar Energy:
Defend Rooftop Solar Food and Water Watch
WASHINGTON (October 25, 2017) — The Trump administration is attacking solar energy. One of the most successful solar policies we’ve ever seen — net metering — is on the chopping block. It’s outrageous.
Now the Department of Energy (DOE) is attacking solar energy through a study aimed at undermining net metering.
Net metering is a commonsense way to make renewable energy more affordable for people to install on or near their homes. It’s what allows rooftop solar owners to send energy they don’t use back to the grid — and it’s crucial to the growth of solar power in the United States.
As we work to stop disastrous climate change, our government should be doing everything in its power to move this country to 100% renewable energy instead of undercutting the very policies we need to help make that transition possible.
Net metering is a simple, proven way to move the United States in the right direction on energy — we need to strengthen policies that support solar energy installation, not weaken them.
The fossil fuel industry won’t give up without a fight.
Across the country, the Koch Brothers and their allies have worked hard to weaken state net metering laws and continue our ruinous reliance on fossil fuels. We’ve fought them at the state level, and now we’ll take them on nationally. We need real policies like net metering to keep us moving toward 100% renewable energy.
ACTION: Let’s bombard Trump’s Department of Energy with support for solar. They can’t get away with this attack without us putting up fight.
Tell the Department of Energy to stop its attack on solar energy and demand that Trump stops playing politics with solar energy. Make it clear to the Department of Energy that the era of rampant fossil fuels is over.
(October 20, 2017) — The Department of Energy is starting what will be a very biased study of net metering that could be used to justify the elimination of net metering around the country. They are asking for comments on the study by the end of the month. You can look at the proposed study here.
Net metering is an effective policy that is helping to fuel the growth of renewable energy in the United States by allowing people with solar panels to sell energy they generate, but don’t use, into the grid. That is why net metering is under attack by big utilities and fossil fuel interests.
ACTION: Please sign-on to this letter to the DOE, asking them to expand the scope of their study so we can do a real analysis of policies that will help us transition to 100% renewable energy. We hope you’ll join us by signing on to the letter here.
Katy Kiefer is the Distributed Organizing Director for Food & Water Watch/Food & Water Action. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LETTER TO ENERGY SECRETARY PERRY
I am writing in response to the DOE Request for Information on the Costs and Benefits of Net Energy Metering, Docket # EERE-2017-OT-0056.
Net metering is an innovative policy that has helped to fuel the recent growth in solar energy by making it more affordable to install.
As the Department of Energy develops policy recommendations on net metering, it is important you use taxpayer money wisely by ensuring robust policy analysis, not biased studies that serve fossil fuel interests.
Any study must take into account net metering’s benefits, including the financial, social, public health and environmental benefits of encouraging a rapid transition to renewable energy. The Department should also include an analysis of the ways that net metering policies can help increase access to affordable clean energy in low-income communities.
Excluding these factors in a study of net metering, as the Department of Energy is attempting to do, will not provide an accurate picture of our energy system and will not be helpful in charting the best path forward for our energy future.
Given the anti-renewable energy bias repeatedly shown by the current administration, it is hard not to view this study as an attempt to justify policies to roll back net metering in the United States, and to undermine the growth and benefits of renewable energy. I sincerely hope this is not the case. Thanks for taking action.
Jim Walsh is the Renewable Energy Policy Analyst for Food & Water Watch
The Honorable Rick Perry
US Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20585
October ##, 2017
Re: EERE-2017-OT-0056 Costs and Benefits of Net Energy Metering:
Request for Information; Notice of request for information (RFI)
Dear Secretary Perry:
As the Department of Energy continues to develop policy recommendations, it is important it use taxpayer money wisely by ensuring robust policy analysis, not biased studies that serve the interest of fossil fuel interests, ALEC, and the Koch Brothers.
Given the anti-renewable energy bias shown by the current administration, we view this proposed study as an attempt to undermine the growth and benefits of clean, renewable energy by rolling back net metering in the United States. We hope this is not the case.
Net metering has made it economically possible for homeowners and communities to invest in a more robust distributed solar energy system, while saving money on energy needs. This innovative public policy has helped fuel the acceleration of rooftop solar; if structured properly, it can also foster equitable and rapid development of clean renewable energy. Public policies that support net metering at the retail rate are essential to continuing progress towards a clean energy future.
As the Department makes policy recommendations for net metering, or any matter of our energy future, it must consider avoided costs of climate change and related public health impacts. The Department should also include an analysis of the ways that net metering policies can help increase access to affordable clean energy in low-income communities.
Excluding these factors in a study of net metering, as the Department of Energy is attempting to do, will fail to provide an accurate picture of our energy system.
The Department must include costs and benefits of distributed solar generation beyond distributed solar’s impact on net metering, as well as indirect cost/benefits (e.g., societal impacts, network effects) that go beyond what is included in existing analyses.
Limiting the scope of the study in this way, as the Department proposes, will assure that the results are skewed towards policy decisions that will undermine progress toward a renewable energy future and will harm US citizens in years to come.
Distributed generation can reduce cost of energy grids by reducing the need to make costly upgrades to expensive and damaging energy distribution systems. The rise of distributed solar can also “significantly increase the resiliency of the electricity system” according to the Department’s own analysis.
Rooftop solar provides reliable power during the peak, late afternoon demand periods when utilities need it most, reducing the need for costly capacity upgrades and reliance on dirtier fossil fuel “peaker” power plants.
Limitations on Net Metering
Hinder Solar Development
Limitations on net metering have throttled the development of renewable energy. In Massachusetts, $78 million in potential solar energy is not being developed because of caps on net metering. In Hawaii, imposition of fixed costs, as well as decreasing rates energy producers receive, resulted in steep declines in solar energy development.
The Nevada Public Utility Commission (PUC) allowed utilities to triple rooftop solar fees, but also cut the price paid to homeowners for surplus electricity by two-thirds. This led to a massive reduction in solar installations, creating significant job loss, before the policy was reversed.
Reduce Energy Generation Costs
The cost of solar panels and accompanying batteries are dropping rapidly, due to economies of scale and technological breakthroughs. Despite the downward trend in cost, the upfront cost of solar panels and batteries can put them out of reach for many people. Net metering has helped offset the cost of financing solar panels and batteries, reducing the payback period and incentivizing conservation.
More than half the costs of rooftop solar are not the panels themselves but installation, permitting, financing and other business costs. Today, a typical rooftop solar array can cost about $20,000 to install — still $14,000 after federal tax rebates. Purchasing rooftop solar may make the most financial sense, but these upfront costs force most people to take out loans, while solar companies also offer to finance rooftop panels that homeowners either lease or pay a monthly fee for lower-cost solar power.
Net metering is not a subsidy, but rather a way for distributed solar energy producers to get a fair price for the energy they generate. If distributed solar energy producers are reimbursed at less than the retail electricity rate, then the electricity they generate can serve as a subsidy for the utilities that will sell this power for more than they pay the party who generated the energy.
Not only will utilities unduly profit from underpaying solar electricity suppliers, but any fair study of net metering must also consider the ongoing, direct subsidies to the fossil fuel companies. When evaluating costs of renewable energy, it is important to consider the cost of subsidies of energy and not just the cost at the customer’s meter.
The United States subsidizes the use of fossil fuels at an estimated $20 billion per year. This does not include avoided costs of health, or costs associated with the military’s role in securing fossil fuel delivery networks. Taking avoided cost into account, the International Monetary Fund estimates that global subsidies for fossil fuels are at around $1.6 trillion.
Making Panels More Affordable for All
Despite dropping prices for solar panels and battery storage, upfront cost can make solar economically inaccessible for many lower-income households. Nationally, families earning under $40,000 annually (about two-fifths of all households) account for less than 5 percent of rooftop solar panels.
Arizona, New Jersey and Missouri have had more families buying rooftop solar, with the majority installed in modest, median-income neighborhoods. But more innovative and targeted policies are needed to ensure that all homeowners can access rooftop solar.
The California Multi-Family Affordable Solar Housing program provides fixed, up front, capacity-based incentives for qualifying solar energy systems. In Minnesota, the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance helps make solar affordable through programs targeted at low-income communities.
The Roanoke Rural Electric Cooperative in North Carolina is utilizing Pay As You Save and Inclusive Financing to help expand net metering benefits to low-income households, including low-income families who are not homeowners.
Net metering, alongside programs like these, can help ensure low-income communities are able to access the benefit of clean, renewable energy.
Net metering can help support community solar projects, which expand access to clean renewable energy to people who otherwise would not have access to clean energy. Renters, people with low-incomes and people with property limitations for solar panels can join these projects, which allow community members to build solar farms to share the benefits of net metering.
As the Department proceeds with this study, it must take into account the full picture of net metering’s benefits, including the financial, social, public health and environmental benefits of promoting and encouraging a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy sources. Any study that fails to do so would be an abdication of the Department’s legal obligation.
Furthermore, limiting the scope of the study will only lead to poor policy choices that benefit outmoded sources of electric power generation, and threaten the transition to the clean, renewable energy which our nation needs, and our citizens deserve.
Who Profits from War?
The World’s Top 10 Largest Weapons Companies The Peace Report (October 11, 2017)
The SIPRI Top 100 Arms-Producing and Military Services Companies: 2016 Report Aude Fleurant, Sam Perlo-Freeman, Pieter D. Wezeman, Siemon T. Wezeman and Noel Kelly / Swedish International Peace Research Institute
(October 11, 2017) — Sales of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled $370.7 billion in 2015 (see table 1). Compared with 2014, this is a slight decline of 0.6 per cent (figures exclude China, see box 1).
While this continues the downward trend in arms sales that began in 2011, it signals a significant slowdown in the pace of decline. However, despite the decrease, Top 100 arms sales for 2015 are 37 per cent higher than those for 2002, when SIPRI began reporting corporate arms sales (see figure 1).
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE TOP 100
Companies headquartered in the United States and Western Europe have dominated the list of Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies since 2002. And, true to form, this was the case for 2015: with sales reaching $305.4 billion, companies based in the USA and Western Europe accounted for 82.4 per cent of the Top 100 arms sales.
The modest 0.6 per cent decrease in Top 100 sales compared with 2014 is primarily due to a decrease of 2.9 per cent in the revenues of US-based companies, which show a decline for the fifth consecutive year, with $209.7 billion in arms sales for 2015 compared with $215.6 billion in 2014 (see figure 2).
While sales in the USA decreased, there was a noteworthy rise in arms sales of West European producers, which grew by 6.6 per cent in 2015 to reach $95.7 billion compared with $89.7 billion in 2014.
The top 10 companies in the SIPRI Top 100 are exclusively headquartered in the USA and Western Europe. With combined arms sales of $191.4 billion, the 10 largest companies represent 51.6 per cent of the total sales of the Top 100 in 2015, compared with 49.5 per cent in 2014.
The increase in share of the top 10 companies can be attributed to a modest growth in arms sales for several companies, and for US companies, the strength of the US dollar. Despite this slight rise, the share of the top 10 arms companies’ sales in the Top 100 has been generally decreasing from approximately 60 per cent of the Top 100 total arms sales in 2002 to approximately 50 per cent in more recent years. This is due to the increasing role of Russian and emerging producers.
With combined sales of $30.1 billion for 2015, the Russian companies ranked in the Top 100 represent an 8.1 per cent share of the total. Sales in 2015 increased by 6.2 per cent over 2014, which is significantly slower than the 48.4 per cent growth rate between 2013 and 2014. The continued growth underlines the Russian Ministry of Defence’s commitment to fund military procurement despite the economic difficulties experienced by the country since 2014.
Companies in the ‘other established’ and ’emerging’ producers categories account for 9.5 per cent of the Top 100 arms sales with a combined total of $34.5 billion.2 This represents an increase of 3.0 per cent for other established producers and a rise of 15.9 per cent for emerging producers.
The significant expansion in the arms sales of emerging producers is mostly attributable to South Korean companies, which increased their sales by 31.7 per cent in 2015.
The United States
The USA accounted for the largest share of the arms industry Top 100 in 2015: it ranked 39 companies (7 of which are in the top 10) and accounted for 56.6 per cent of the total (see figure 3). This reflects the fact that the US Department of Defense is the largest single military spender, and it awards a very large proportion of its contracts to companies based in the country.
Decreases in turnovers of US-based arms companies and the companies’ mixed results for 2015 reflect persistent constraints on military spending caused by legally required spending caps enacted in 2010, as well as delays in deliveries of major platforms (such as the F-35) and the strength of the US dollar (which has negatively affected export sales).
In 2015, three new US companies entered the Top 100: CSRA (41), Engility (64) and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE) (99). All three are ‘pure’ ser- vices companies that were divested from larger arms companies — Computer Science Corporation, L-3 Communications and Lockheed Martin, respectively — following the drop in demand for services after the drawdown of large US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
After the companies began operating as independent entities in the first half of the 2010s, they acquired other small- and medium-sized services companies. Through these consolidations, CSRA and PAE have built up sufficient revenues to enter the Top 100 in 2015. Engility’s inclusion in the Top 100 is based on recently discovered data. Engility has, in fact, had sufficient revenue to rank in the Top 100 since 2012, and the SIPRI data series has been updated to reflect this.
France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom
The combined arms sales of the six French companies listed in the Top 100 totalled $21.4 billion in 2015 — a rise of 13.1 per cent compared with 2014. This increase has acted as an important driver for the recent growth in arms sales in Western Europe.
The upturn is mostly due to a 67.5 per cent surge in arms sales for Dassault Aviation Group, which produces the Rafale combat aircraft, following deliveries to Egypt and payment for future deliveries by Qatar. The regional figure is also lifted by sales increases for Thales (up 12.6 per cent) and Safran (up 17 per cent), which produces several subsystems and parts of the Rafale, such as aircraft engines.
The three German companies ranked in the Top 100 in 2015 boosted their combined arms sales ($5.6 billion) by 7.4 per cent over the previous year. The increase is slightly smaller than the one observed in 2014 and is largely the result of a 15.3 per cent growth of Rheinmetall’s sales. Sweden’s sole Top 100 company, Saab, showed a 19.8 per cent increase in its arms sales, partly due to the acquisition of submarine shipyard Kockums in 2014.
British companies reversed the downward trend recorded in 2014 with a 2.8 per cent rise in their arms sales. Out of the nine British companies ranked, four showed an increase, the most significant one being BAE Systems with 6.7 per cent growth in 2015, following deliveries of Typhoon combat aircraft to Saudi Arabia and improved results for the company’s naval activities.
The combined sales of the 11 Russian companies ranked in the Top 100 reached $30.1 billion in 2015, an increase of 6.2 per cent compared to 2014. This growth was led by rising sales for Russian Helicopters (up 16.9 per cent) and Tactical Missiles (also up 16.9 per cent) due to large investments in weapon acquisitions by the Russian Ministry of Defence and some important export sales during the year.
The upturn in sales is partly explained by Russia’s e orts to modernize its armed forces’ equipment and capabilities through domestic military procurement. However, all of the Russian companies in the SIPRI Top 100 for 2015 are ranked lower than they were in 2014 — even when 10 out of 11 saw an increase in sales. The lower rankings are mostly attributable to the fall of the Russian rouble during 2015.
The 2015 sales of the seven South Korean companies ranked in the Top 100 totalled $7.7 billion and amounted to a combined increase of 31.7 per cent compared with 2014. This large upsurge is mostly due to LIG Nex1’s increase of 34.7 per cent compared with 2014, and Korea Aerospace Industry’s 51.7 per cent increase in turnover.
Three companies that were not listed in the 2014 Top 100 are ranked in 2015: Poongsan, DSME and Hanwha Thales. All South Korean companies showed higher arms sales in 2015, reflecting the South Korean Ministry of Defense’s increasing commitment to domestic procurement as well as ongoing success in the international market.
Indian (up 9.3 per cent) and Turkish companies (up 10.2 per cent) also saw robust growth in 2015, based on strong domestic demand for both countries and some exports for Turkey. Embraer, the sole Brazilian company ranked, showed a 28.1 per cent decline in its arms sales in 2015 — possibly due to large public spending cuts in the context of an economic crisis, reducing state orders for defence equipment.
Other Established Producers
Four of the six countries identified as other established producers (Australia, Japan, Poland, Singapore) displayed decreases in their arms sales in 2015.
Of the 10 companies in the category, Singapore’s ST Engineering showed the most significant decline with a 9.9 per cent drop due to a reduction in domestic demand for the company’s products.
In contrast, Ukraine’s UkrOboronProm showed the largest rise in arms sales with 19.6 per cent. The increase reflected three developments: the impact of the acquisition of Antonov (the last independent major arms producer in Ukraine); large sales of military vehicles, ammunition, and communications and electronic equipment, primarily for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence; and large increases in Ukraine’s military expenditure resulting from the conflict in its eastern region.