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  • Science Says: Hotter Weather Turbocharges U.S. West Wildfires

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SETH BORENSTEIN / The Associated Press.

    As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames.

    The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed by flames has more than doubled.

    Experts say the way global warming worsens wildfires comes down to the basic dynamics of fire. Fires need ignition, oxygen and fuel. And what’s really changed is fuel — the trees, brush and other plants that go up in flames.

    “Hotter, drier weather means our fuels are drier, so it’s easier for fires to start and spread and burn more intensely,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan.

    It’s simple, he said: “The warmer it is, the more fire we see.”

    Federal fire and weather data show higher air temperatures are turbocharging fire season.

    The five hottest Aprils to Septembers out West produced years that on average burned more than 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers), according to data at the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .

    That’s triple the average for the five coldest Aprils to Septembers.

    The Western summer so far is more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. California in July logged its hottest month in 124 years of record-keeping.

    The five years with the most acres burned since 1983 averaged 63.4 degrees from April to September. That’s 1.2 degrees warmer than average and 2.4 degrees hotter than the years with the least acres burned, AP’s data analysis shows.

    In California, the five years with the most acres burned (not including this year) average 2.1 degrees warmer than the five years with the least acres burned.

    A degree or two may seem like not much, but it is crucial for fuel. The hotter it is, the more water evaporates from plants. When fuel dries faster, fires spread more and burn more intensely, experts said.

    For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the air warms, it needs 15 percent more rain to make up for the drying of the fuel, Flannigan said.

    Fuel moisture levels in California and Oregon are flirting with record dry levels, NOAA western regional climate center director Tim Brown said.

    And low humidity is “the key driver of wildfire spread,” according to University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch who says the Western U.S. soon will start to see wildfires of 1 million acres (1,562 square miles).

    Veteran Colorado hotshot firefighter Mike Sugaski used to consider 10,000-acre (16-square-mile) fires big, now he fights ones 10 times that or more.

    “You kind of keep saying, ‘How can they get much worse?’ But they do,” Sugaski said.

    The number of U.S. wildfires hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but the area consumed has soared.

    “The year 2000 seemed to be some kind of turning point,” said Randy Eardley, the fire center’s chief spokesman.

    From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn’t reach 10,000 square miles burned annually. Since then, 10 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including 2017, 2015 and 2006 when more than 15,000 square miles burned.

    Some people who reject mainstream climate science point to statistics that seem to show far more acres burned in the 1930s and 1940s. But Eardley said statistics before 1983 are not reliable because fires “may be double-counted, tripled-counted or more.”

    Nationally, more than 8,900 square miles (23,050 kilometers) have burned this year, about 28 percent more than the 10-year average as of mid-August. California is having one of its worst years.

    Scientists generally avoid blaming global warming for specific extreme events without extensive analysis, but scientists have done those extensive examinations on wildfire.

    John Abatzgolou of the University of Idaho looked at forest fires and dry conditions in the Western United States from 1979 to 2015 and compared that to computer simulations of what would be expected with no human-caused climate change. He concluded that global warming had a role in an extra 16,200 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) of forests burning since 1984.

    A study of the 2015 Alaska fire season — the second biggest on record — did a similar simulation analysis, concluding that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas increased the risk of the fire season being that severe by 34 to 60 percent.

    One 2015 study said globally fire seasons are about 18.7 percent longer since 1979. Another study that year says climate change is increasing extreme wildfire risk in California where wildfires already are year-round.

    Also, drought and bark beetles have killed 129 million trees in California since 2016, creating more fuel.

    Contrary to fire scientists, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week told Breitbart radio that “what’s driving” increased wildfires is an increase in fuel. He said the government has “been held hostage by environmental terrorist groups” that oppose clearing dead trees that they say provide wildlife habitat. Zinke, however, has acknowledged that climate change was a factor in worsening wildfires.

  • Judge Says ACLU, Government Must Reach Agreement On Reunifications

    Read more of this story here from Newsy Headlines by Newsy Headlines.


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    A federal judge wants the Trump administration and the ACLU to reach an agreement on how to address the situation of immigrants who have been deported while their children are still the U.S.

    NBC News reports hundreds of migrant parents are still separated from their children after being deported under the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy. 

    Government lawyers say the federal order to reunite families who were separated at the border did not include parents who had already been deported.

    An ACLU attorney agreed but says some parents were misled into believing they would only be reunited with their children, or that they'd be reunited more quickly, if they agreed to give up their asylum cases.

    He says those parents should be able to come back to the U.S. to seek asylum with their children.

    The judge's request that the two sides reach an agreement comes shortly after a freeze on family deportations was extended last week. 

  • Qatar Accuses Saudi Arabia Of Barring Its Citizens From The Hajj

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    There are more than 2 million Muslims in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, but Qatar is accusing the country of blocking some of its citizens from participating. 

    Every year, some 1,200 Qatari citizens are allowed to register to participate in the religious pilgrimage, but this year residents are saying that registration is impossible. 

    Saudi Arabia, along with other surrounding countries, have placed Qatar under land, sea and air blockade, meaning Qataris can't enter those countries without proof of registration. 

    Last year, Saudi Arabia reportedly opened its border with Qatar to let the pilgrims in, but didn't do it this year. 

    Saudi Arabia denies anyone is being barred from registering.

    Muslims must complete the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, as long as they're physically and financially able.

    Al Jazeera reports around 54 million pilgrims have participated in the Hajj in the last 25 years. It lasts five days and culminates with the holiday Eid al-Adha.

  • Brennan Weighs Legal Action to End Revoking of Security Clearances

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JILL COLVIN and LOLITA C. BALDOR / The Associated Press.

    WASHINGTON—Former CIA Director John Brennan said Sunday that he is considering taking legal action to try to prevent President Donald Trump from stripping other current and former officials’ security clearances.

    Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Brennan said he’s been contacted by a number of lawyers about the possibility of an injunction in the wake of Trump’s move to revoke his clearance and threaten nine others who have been critical of the president or are connected to the Russia probe.

    “If my clearances and my reputation as I’m being pulled through the mud now, if that’s the price we’re going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it’s a small price to pay,” Brennan said. “So I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will do that.”

    Brennan, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration, said that while he’ll fight on behalf of his former CIA colleagues, it’s also up to Congress to put aside politics and step in. “This is the time that your country is going to rely on you, not to do what is best for your party but what is best for the country,” he said.

    Trump yanked Brennan’s security clearance last week, saying he felt he had to do “something” about the “rigged” probe of Russian election interference. And he has said he may do the same for nine others, including a Justice Department official whose wife worked for the firm involved in producing a dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia.

    An executive order signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton lays out the process for approving security clearances and describes a detailed revocation and appeal procedure.

    Former Obama-era CIA Director Leon Panetta, who also served as defense secretary, said Sunday that Trump must abide by the executive order unless he decides to change or cancel it. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he said Trump’s decision to revoke Brennan’s clearance raises questions about whether he followed due process.

    Brennan’s legal warning came as other officials joined the growing chorus of critics — now more than 75 intelligence officials — denouncing Trump’s security clearance threats, saying they have a right to express their views on national security issues without fear of punishment.

    Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Obama, likened it to President Richard Nixon’s use of a political enemies list.

    Mullen told “Fox News Sunday” that while he doesn’t agree with Brennan’s decision to criticize the president, the former CIA director has the right to freedom of speech unless he’s revealing classified information.

    “It immediately brings back the whole concept of the enemies list,” Mullen said, “and even before that, in the early ’50s, the McCarthy era, where the administration starts putting together lists of individuals that don’t agree with them and that historically, obviously, has proven incredibly problematic for the country.”

    Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin agreed with Trump that Brennan’s comments “really did cross a line.”

    But, he said, rather than pulling officials’ security clearances, Trump should avoid politicizing the issue and simply deny them access to classified material.

    “I don’t want to see an enemies list,” he said.

    ___

    Colvin reported from Bridgewater, N.J.

  • Conserving Oil Is No Longer an Economic Imperative, U.S. Says

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ELLEN KNICKMEYER / The Associated Press.

    WASHINGTON—Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.

    The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.

    Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”

    With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.

    President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.

    Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement.

    Reaction was quick.

    “It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,'” said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.

    “If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere … you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”

    Climate change is a “clear and present and increasing danger,” said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund.

    In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world’s vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.

    Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel and pummeling the global economy. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.

    Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

    How much the U.S. economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

    “Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we are the strongest producer of oil and gas,” Graham said. “But there are still reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume.”

    Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make them tougher.

    The proposal eventually would increase U.S. oil consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration’s move would actually increase highway deaths.

    “American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under his plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. “The only clear winner is the oil industry. It’s not hard to see whose side President Trump is on.”

    Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.

    Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars — a young industry supported financially by the federal government and many states — this month in a call with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.

    “People just don’t want to buy them,” the EPA official said.

    Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.

    In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion engine and questioning their states’ incentives to consumers for electric cars.

    Surging U.S. and gas production has brought on “energy security and abundance,” Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one U.S. program for biofuels.

    Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of U.S. energy policy, Macchiarola said.

    Thanks partly to increased production, “that pillar has really been rendered essentially moot,” he said.

  • Afghanistan’s President Calls For Cease-fire With Taliban

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    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for a cease-fire with the Taliban.

    It would take effect on Monday and last at least through the Eid al-Adha holiday this week.

    In a series of tweets on Sunday, Ghani said, "We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long lasting and real peace, and we urge them to get ready for peace-talks based on Islamic values and principles." 

    He said he hoped the cease-fire could be extended until Nov. 20, the holiday associated with the Prophet Muhammad's birth.

    The Associated Press reports the cease-fire comes a day after the leader of the Afghan Taliban said there wouldn't be peace in the country "as long as 'foreign occupation' continues." 

    The Taliban didn't immediately respond to the request. 

  • Palestinians Sort Through 8 Years of Mail Held by Israel

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

    JERICHO, West Bank—Palestinian postal workers in the West Bank are sifting through eight years’ worth of undelivered mail held by Israel.

    In recent days the Palestinian postal staff in Jericho has been sorting through tons of undelivered mail in a room packed with letters, boxes and even a wheelchair.

    The Palestinians say Israel has withheld delivery of post shipments to the Palestinian territories through its national postal service since 2010. According to Palestinian postage official Ramadan Ghazawi, Israel did not honor a 2008 agreement with the Palestinians to send and receive mail directly through Jordan. Mail was indeed delivered through Jordan but was denied entry by Israel, causing a years-long backlog.

    “It was blocked because each time they (Israel) used to give us a reason and an excuse. Once they said the terminal, the building that the post was supposed to arrive to is not ready and once (they said) to wait, they’re expecting a larger checking machine (security scanner),” he said.

    Israel says the sides came to an understanding about a year ago on postage delivery but that it has not yet resulted in a “direct transfer,” according to Cogat, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank.

    Cogat said in a statement that the one-time release of the ten and a half tons of mail was a “gesture.”

    Jericho resident Rami Baker said ordering goods by mail has been a challenge.

    “The problem that I suffer from is that the mail is very delayed. For example you order something and the website will tell you it will arrive within 20 to 30 days and after 30 days you get a note that it reached Jerusalem or Israel. After that, a day or two later, we come and check with the Palestinian post office here in Jericho and they say we did not receive it yet from the Israeli side and this thing takes months,” he said.

    The development highlights the tight controls Israel maintains over many aspects — even the mundane like postal delivery — of Palestinian life.

  • Argentines Urged to Limit Church’s Influence on Politics

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by PAUL BYRNE and LEO LA VALLE / The Associated Press.

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Hundreds of people gathered in Buenos Aires on Saturday to oppose the influence of religion on Argentine politics and encourage people to quit the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of a Senate vote not to legalize some abortions.

    The event, called “Collective Apostasy,” centered on a signature drive for Argentines wanting to renounce their affiliation to the church through a form that will later be given to the Episcopal Conference in the homeland of Pope Francis.

    People formed long lines in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities, and organizers hoped thousands would officially register their desire that the church not interfere in Argentine politics and that their names be eliminated from its registries.

    “We are receiving the apostasies of all the people who want to renounce their ties to the Catholic Church,” said one of the organizers, Maria Jose Albaya.

    The movement is led by the Argentine Coalition for a Secular State and its backers often wear orange scarves.

    “Obtaining the vote for women, the divorce law, marriage equality, the gender identity law, the assisted human fertilization law, the law of integral sexual education, the dignified death law were all done fighting clerical power, which seeks to have total dominion over our minds and bodies,” the event’s manifesto published on social media said.

    Saturday’s event follows the rejection by the Senate in early August of a bill that would have legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks, a vote that was seen as being swayed by the Catholic church.

    “The discourse by the church to convince the people to not accept the (abortion) law was so outrageous that I reached the height of my enmity toward the Catholic Church,” said Nora Cortinas, a founding member of the Mother of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group.

    About two-thirds of Argentina’s 43 million residents define themselves as Catholic, but there is rising discontent with the church amid sex abuse scandals and the historic defeat of the vote to legalize abortion.

    The Argentine Episcopal Conference and the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    While some wanted to renounce all ties to the church, others thought it still had support.

    Ignacio Amui, a company director and a Catholic, said he believes the church “has many things to work on and modernize.”

    “But the Catholic religion is, was and will be the most important religion in our country,” the 56-year-old said.

Science Says: Hotter Weather Turbocharges U.S. West Wildfires

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SETH BORENSTEIN / The Associated Press.

As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames.

The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed by flames has more than doubled.

Experts say the way global warming worsens wildfires comes down to the basic dynamics of fire. Fires need ignition, oxygen and fuel. And what’s really changed is fuel — the trees, brush and other plants that go up in flames.

“Hotter, drier weather means our fuels are drier, so it’s easier for fires to start and spread and burn more intensely,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan.

It’s simple, he said: “The warmer it is, the more fire we see.”

Federal fire and weather data show higher air temperatures are turbocharging fire season.

The five hottest Aprils to Septembers out West produced years that on average burned more than 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers), according to data at the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .

That’s triple the average for the five coldest Aprils to Septembers.

The Western summer so far is more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. California in July logged its hottest month in 124 years of record-keeping.

The five years with the most acres burned since 1983 averaged 63.4 degrees from April to September. That’s 1.2 degrees warmer than average and 2.4 degrees hotter than the years with the least acres burned, AP’s data analysis shows.

In California, the five years with the most acres burned (not including this year) average 2.1 degrees warmer than the five years with the least acres burned.

A degree or two may seem like not much, but it is crucial for fuel. The hotter it is, the more water evaporates from plants. When fuel dries faster, fires spread more and burn more intensely, experts said.

For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the air warms, it needs 15 percent more rain to make up for the drying of the fuel, Flannigan said.

Fuel moisture levels in California and Oregon are flirting with record dry levels, NOAA western regional climate center director Tim Brown said.

And low humidity is “the key driver of wildfire spread,” according to University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch who says the Western U.S. soon will start to see wildfires of 1 million acres (1,562 square miles).

Veteran Colorado hotshot firefighter Mike Sugaski used to consider 10,000-acre (16-square-mile) fires big, now he fights ones 10 times that or more.

“You kind of keep saying, ‘How can they get much worse?’ But they do,” Sugaski said.

The number of U.S. wildfires hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but the area consumed has soared.

“The year 2000 seemed to be some kind of turning point,” said Randy Eardley, the fire center’s chief spokesman.

From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn’t reach 10,000 square miles burned annually. Since then, 10 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including 2017, 2015 and 2006 when more than 15,000 square miles burned.

Some people who reject mainstream climate science point to statistics that seem to show far more acres burned in the 1930s and 1940s. But Eardley said statistics before 1983 are not reliable because fires “may be double-counted, tripled-counted or more.”

Nationally, more than 8,900 square miles (23,050 kilometers) have burned this year, about 28 percent more than the 10-year average as of mid-August. California is having one of its worst years.

Scientists generally avoid blaming global warming for specific extreme events without extensive analysis, but scientists have done those extensive examinations on wildfire.

John Abatzgolou of the University of Idaho looked at forest fires and dry conditions in the Western United States from 1979 to 2015 and compared that to computer simulations of what would be expected with no human-caused climate change. He concluded that global warming had a role in an extra 16,200 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) of forests burning since 1984.

A study of the 2015 Alaska fire season — the second biggest on record — did a similar simulation analysis, concluding that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas increased the risk of the fire season being that severe by 34 to 60 percent.

One 2015 study said globally fire seasons are about 18.7 percent longer since 1979. Another study that year says climate change is increasing extreme wildfire risk in California where wildfires already are year-round.

Also, drought and bark beetles have killed 129 million trees in California since 2016, creating more fuel.

Contrary to fire scientists, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week told Breitbart radio that “what’s driving” increased wildfires is an increase in fuel. He said the government has “been held hostage by environmental terrorist groups” that oppose clearing dead trees that they say provide wildlife habitat. Zinke, however, has acknowledged that climate change was a factor in worsening wildfires.

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American History for Truthdiggers: The Fraudulent Mexican-American War (1846-48)

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 15th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 15 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11Part 12; Part 13; Part 14;.

* * *

The United States of America conquered half of Mexico. There isn’t any way around that fact. The regions of the U.S. most affected by “illegal” immigration—California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas—were once part of the Republic of Mexico. They would have remained so if not for the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Those are the facts, but they hardly tell the story. Few Americans know much about this war, rarely question U.S. motives in the conflict and certainly never consider that much of America’s land—from sea to shining sea—was conquered.

Many readers will dispute this interpretation. Conquest is the natural order of the world, the inevitable outgrowth of clashing civilizations, they will insist. Perhaps. But if true, where does the conquest end, and how can the U.S. proudly celebrate its defense of Europe against the invasions by Germany and/or the Soviet Union? This line of militaristic reasoning—one held by many senior conservative policymakers even today—rests on the slipperiest of slopes. Certainly nations, like individuals, must adhere to a certain moral code, a social contract of behavior.

In this installment I will argue that American politicians and soldiers manufactured a war with Mexico, sold it to the public and then proceeded to conquer their southern neighbor. They were motivated by dreams of cheap farmland, California ports and the expansion of the cotton economy along with its peculiar partner, the institution of slavery. Our forebears succeeded, and they won an empire. Only in the process they may have lost something far more valuable in the moral realm.

(Mis)Remember the Alamo!: Texas and the Road to War

“The Fall of the Alamo” or “Crockett’s Last Stand,” by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. This 1903 painting, on display in the Texas governor’s mansion, shows the famed frontiersman, at center wielding a rifle, battling to the death. Mexican accounts hold that Davy Crockett surrendered and later was executed. (Wikimedia Commons)

We all know the comforting tale. It has been depicted in countless Hollywood films starring the likes of John Wayne, Alec Baldwin and Billy Bob Thornton. “Remember the Alamo!” It remains a potent battle cry, especially in Texas, but also across the American continent. In the comforting tale, a myth really, a couple of hundred Texans, fighting for their freedom against a dictator’s numerically superior force, lost a battle but won war—inflicting such losses that Mexico’s defeat became inevitable. Never, in this telling, is the word “slavery” or the term “illegal immigration” mentioned. There is no room in the legend for critical thinking or fresh analysis. But since the independence and acquisition of Texas caused the Mexican-American War, we must dig deeper and reveal the messy truth.

Until 1836, Texas was a distant northern province of the new Mexican Republic, a republic that had only recently won its independence from the Spanish Empire, in 1821. The territory was full of hostile Indian tribes and a few thousand mestizos and Spaniards. It was difficult to rule, and harder to settle—but it was indisputably Mexican land. Only, Americans had long had their eyes on Texas. Some argued that it was included (it wasn’t) in the Louisiana Purchase, and “Old Hickory” himself, Andrew Jackson, wanted it badly. Indeed, his dear friend and protégé Sam Houston would later fight the Mexicans and preside as a president of the nascent Texan Republic. Thirty-two years before the Texan Revolution of Anglo settlers against the Mexican government, in 1803, Thomas Jefferson had even declared that [the Spanish borderlands] “are ours the first moment war is forced upon us.” Jefferson was prescient but only partly correct: War would come, in Texas in fact, but it would not be forced upon the American settlers.

Others besides politicians coveted Texas. In 1819, a filibusterer (one who leads unsanctioned adventures to conquer foreign lands), an American named James Long, led an illegal invasion and tried but failed to establish an Anglo republic in Texas. Then, in 1821, Mexico’s brand new government made what proved to be a fatal mistake: It opened the borders to legal American immigration. It did so to help develop the land and create a buffer against the powerful Comanche tribe of West Texas but stipulated that the Anglos must declare loyalty to Mexico and convert to Catholicism. The Mexicans should have known better.

The Mexican Republic abolished slavery in 1829, more than three decades before its “enlightened” northern neighbor. Unfortunately nearly all the Anglo settlers, who were by now flooding into the province, hailed from the slaveholding American South and had brought along many chattel slaves. By 1830, there were 20,000 American settlers and 2,000 slaves compared with just 5,000 Mexican inhabitants. The settlers never intended to follow Mexican law or free their slaves, and so they didn’t. Not really anyway. Most officially “freed” their black slaves and immediately forced them to sign a lifelong indentured servitude contract. It was simply American slavery by another name.

After Santa Anna—Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, an authoritarian but populist president—seized power, his centralizing instincts and attempts to enforce Mexican policies (such as conversion to Catholicism and the ban on slavery) led the pro-autonomy federalists in Texas (most of whom were Americans) to rebel. It was 1835, and by then there were even more Americans in Texas: 35,000, in fact, outnumbering the Hispanics nearly 10 to 1. Many of the new settlers had broken the law, entering Texas after Santa Anna had ordered the border closed, as was his sovereign right to do.

What followed was a political, racial and religious war pitting white supremacist, Protestant Anglos against a centralizing Mexican republic led by a would-be despot. The Texan War of Independence (1835-36) was largely fought with American money, American volunteers and American arms (even then a prolific resource in the United States). The war was never truly limited to Texas, Tejanos or Mexican provincial politics. It was what we now call a proxy war for land waged between the U.S. and the Mexican Republic.

Furthermore, though Santa Anna was authoritarian, certain Texans saw him as their best hope for freedom. As Santa Anna’s army marched north, many slaves along the Brazos River saw an opportunity and rebelled. Most were killed, some captured and later hanged. And, while slavery was not, by itself, the proximate cause of the Texan Rebellion, it certainly played a significant role. As the Mexican leader marched north with his 6,000 conscripts, one Texas newspaper declared that “[Santa Anna’s] merciless soldiery” was coming “to give liberty to our slaves, and to make slaves of ourselves.” So, once again—as in America’s earlier revolution against Britain—white Americans clamored about their own liberty and feared to death that the same might be granted to their slaves. When (spoiler alert) Santa Anna’s army was eventually defeated, the Mexican retreat gathered numbers as many slave escapees and fearful Hispanics sought their own version of “freedom” south of the Anglo settlements.

Surely, the most evocative image of the Texas War of Independence was the heroic stand of 180 Texans at the Alamo. “Alamo” has entered the American lexicon as a term for any hopeless, yet gallant, stand. And, no doubt, the outnumbered defenders demonstrated courage in their doomed stand. The slightly less than 200 defenders were led by a 26-year-old failed lawyer named William Barret Travis and included the famed frontiersman Davy Crockett, a former Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives. All would be killed. Still, the battle wasn’t as one-sided or important as the mythos would have it. The defenders actually held one of the strongest fortifications in the Southwest, had more and superior cannons than the attackers and were armed mainly with rifles that far outranged the outdated Mexican muskets. Additionally, the Mexicans were mostly underfed, undersupplied conscripts who often had been forced to enlist and had marched north some 1,000 miles into a difficult fight. Despite inflicting disproportionate casualties on the Mexicans, the stand at the Alamo delayed Santa Anna by only four days. Furthermore, despite the prevalent “last stand” imagery, at least seven defenders (according to credible Mexican accounts long ignored)—probably including Crockett himself—surrendered and were executed.

None of this detracts from the courage of any man defending a position when outnumbered at least 10 to 1, but the diligent historian must reframe the battle. The men inside the Alamo walls were pro-slavery insurgents. As applied to them, “Texan,” in any real sense, is a misnomer. Two-thirds were recent arrivals from the United States and never intended to submit to sovereign Mexican authority. What the Battle of the Alamo did do was whip up a fury of nationalism in the U.S. and cause thousands more recruits to illegally “jump the border”—oh, the irony—and join the rebellion in Texas.

Eventually, Santa Anna, always a better politician than a military strategist, was surprised and defeated by Sam Houston along the banks of the San Jacinto River. The charging Americans yelled “Remember the Alamo!” and sought their revenge. Few prisoners were taken in the melee; perhaps hundreds were executed on the spot. The numbers speak for themselves: 630 dead Mexicans at the cost of two Americans. It is instructive that the Mexican policy of no quarter at the Alamo is regularly derided, yet few north of the Rio Grande remember this later massacre (and probable war crime).

Still, Santa Anna was defeated and forced, under duress (and probably pain of death), to sign away all rights to Texas. The Mexican Congress, as was its constitutional prerogative, summarily dismissed this treaty and would continue its reasonable legal claim on Texas indefinitely. Nonetheless, the divided Mexican government and its exhausted army were in no position (though attempts were made) to recapture the wayward northern province. Texas was “free,” and a thrilled—and no doubt proud—President Jackson recognized Houston’s Republic of Texas on “Old Hickory’s” very last day in office.

Thousands more Americans flowed into the republic over the next decade. By 1845, there were 125,000 (mostly Anglo) inhabitants and 27,000 slaves—that’s more enslaved blacks than Hispanic natives! One result of the war was the expansion and empowerment of the American institution of slavery. Because of confidence in the inevitable spread of slavery, the average sale price of a slave in the bustling New Orleans human-trafficking market rose 21 percent within one year of President John Tyler’s decision to annex Texas (during his final days in office) in 1845. According to international law, Texas remained Mexican. Tyler’s decision alone was tantamount to a declaration of war. Still, for at least a year, the Mexicans showed restraint and unhappily accepted the de facto facts on the ground.

<b>American Blood Upon American Soil?: The Specious Case for War</B>

It took an even greater provocation to kick off a major interstate war between America and Mexico. And that provocation indeed came. In 1844, in one of the more consequential elections in U.S. history, a Jackson loyalist (nicknamed “Young Hickory”) and slaveholder, James K. Polk, defeated the indefatigable Whig candidate Henry Clay. Clay preferred restraint with respect to Texas and Mexico; he wished instead to improve the already vast interior of the existing United States as part of his famed “American System.” Unfortunately for the Mexicans, Clay was defeated, and the fervently expansionist Polk took office in 1845. His election demonstrates the contingency of history; for if Clay had won, war might have been avoided, slavery kept from spreading in the Southwest, and America spared a civil war. It was not to be. Just before Polk took office, a dying Andrew Jackson provided him the sage advice that would spark a bloody war: “Obtain it [Texas] the United States must, peaceably if we can, but forcibly if we must.”

“American Progress,” an 1872 painting by John Gast, shows Manifest Destiny—the belief that the United States should expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean—moving westward across the American continent, bringing light as it faces the darkness of unconquered lands.

In the end, it was Polk who would order U.S. troops south of the disputed Texas border and spark a war. Still, the explanation for war was bigger than any one incident. A newspaperman of the time summarized the millenarian scene of fate pulling Americans westward into the lands of Mexicans and Indians. John L. O’Sullivan wrote, “It has become the United States’ manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” There was an American sense of mission, clear from the very founding of Puritan Massachusetts, to multiply and inhabit North America from ocean to ocean. Mexico and the few remaining native territories were all that stood in the way of American destiny by 1846. As the historian Daniel Walker Howe has written, “&nbsp;‘Manifest Destiny’ served as both label and a justification for policies that might otherwise simply been called … imperialism.”

Polk was, at least in terms of accomplishing what he set out to do, one of the most successful presidents in U.S. history. He declared that his administration had “four great measures.” Two involved expansion: “the settlement of the Oregon territory with Britain, and the acquisition of California and a large district on the coast.” Within three years he would have both and more. Interestingly, though, Polk wielded different tactics for each acquisition. First, Oregon: Britain and the U.S. had agreed to jointly rule this territory, which at that time reached north to the border with Alaska. Expansionist Democrats who coveted the whole of Oregon ran on the party slogan “54°40′ or Fight!” (a reference to the latitude at the top of the Oregon of that day, a line that marks today’s southern border of the state of Alaska). In the end, however, Polk would not fight Great Britain for Canada. Instead, he compromised, setting the modern boundary between Washington state and British Columbia.

In his dealings with the much less powerful Mexicans, however, Polk took an entirely different, more openly bellicose approach. Here, it seems, he expected if not preferred a war. Was his compromise in Oregon reflective of great-power politics (Britain remained a formidable opponent, especially at sea) or tainted by race and white supremacist notions about the weakness of Hispanic civilization? Historians still argue the point. What we can say is that many Democratic supporters of Polk delighted over the Oregon Compromise, for, as one newspaper declared: “We can now thrash Mexico into decency at our leisure.”

War it would be. In the spring of 1846, President Polk sent Gen. Zachary Taylor and 4,000 troops along the border between Texas and Mexico. Polk claimed all territory north of the Rio Grande River despite the fact that the Mexican province had always established Texas’ border further north at the Nueces River. Polk wanted Taylor to secure the southerly of the two disputed boundaries—probably in contravention of established international law. No one should have been surprised, then, when in April a reconnaissance party of U.S. dragoons was attacked by Mexican soldiers south of the Nueces River. Polk, of course, wily politician that he was, acted absolutely shocked upon hearing the news and immediately began drafting a war message—even though, in fact, his administration had been on the verge of asking Congress for a war declaration anyway! In the exact inverse of his negotiations with Britain over Oregon, Polk had made demands (that Mexico sell California and recognize Texan independence) he knew would probably be rejected by Mexico City, and then sent soldiers where he knew they would probably provoke war. And, oh, how well it worked.

Indeed, Polk’s administration had already set plans in motion for naval and land forces to immediately converge on California and New Mexico when the outbreak of war occurred. Both the U.S. Army and Navy complied and within a year occupied both Mexican provinces. Lest the reader believe the local Hispanics were indifferent to the invasion, homegrown rebellions broke out (and were swiftly suppressed) in both locales. Polk got his war declaration soon after the fight in south Texas. In a blatant obfuscation, Polk announced to the American people that “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil. War exists, and notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico herself.” He knew this to be false.

So did many Whigs in the opposition party, by the way. Still, most obediently voted for war, fearing the hypernationalism of their constituents and remembering the drubbing Federalists had taken for opposing the War of 1812. In cowardly votes of 174-14 in the House (John Quincy Adams, the former president, was one notable dissenting vote) and 40-2 in the Senate, the Congress succumbed to war fever. The small skirmish near the Nueces River was just a casus belli for Polk; America truly went to war to seize, at the very least, all of northern Mexico.

<B>Gen. Winfield Scott and the Defeat of Mexico</B>

On the surface, the two sides in the Mexican-American War were unevenly matched. The U.S. population of 17 million citizens and 3 million slaves dwarfed the 7 million Mexicans (4 million of whom were Indians). Their respective economies were even more lopsided, for America had emerged strong from its market and communications revolutions. Mexico had only recently (1821) gained its independence, and its political situation was fragile and fluctuating. The U.S. had existed independently for some 60 years and already had fought two wars with Britain and countless battles with Indian tribes. America was ready to flex its muscles.

Many observers assumed the war would be easy and short. It was not to be. Most Americans underestimated the courage, resolve and nationalism of Mexican soldiers and civilians alike. That the U.S. won this war—and most of the battles—was due primarily to superiority in artillery, leadership and logistics. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York had trained, and numerous Indian wars had seasoned, a generation of junior and mid-grade officers. Many of the lieutenants and captains who directly led U.S. Army formations in Mexico (one thinks of Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and James Longstreet, to name only a handful) would serve, either for the North or the South, as general officers in the U.S. Civil War (1861-65). Some of these officers involved in the Mexican-American War relished the glory of exotic conquest; others were horrified by a war they deemed immoral.

It must be remembered that the U.S. Army that entered and conquered Mexico represented a slaveholding republic fighting against an abolitionist nation-state. Many Southern officers brought along slaves and servants on the quest to spread “liberty” to the Mexicans. Some of the enslaved took the opportunity to escape into the interior of a non-slaveholding country. The irony was astounding.

President Polk’s Army was also highly politicized during the conflict. While the existing regular Army officers tended to be Whigs (in favor, as they were, of internal improvements and centralized finance to the benefit of the military), all 13 generals that Polk appointed were avowed partisan Democrats. Polk’s biggest fear—which would indeed come to fruition in the election of Gen. Zachary Taylor as president in 1848—was that a Whiggish hero from the war he began would best his party for the presidency.

When it became clear in 1846 that Gen. Taylor’s initial thrust south into the vast Mexican hinterland could win battles but not the war, Gen. Winfield Scott (a hero of the War of 1812) was ordered to lead an amphibious thrust at the Mexican capital. Indeed, Scott’s militarily brilliant operational campaign constituted the largest American seaborne invasion until D-Day in World War II. It took months of hard fighting and several more months of tenuous occupation, but Scott’s attack effectively ended the war by late 1847.

Still, conducting this war was extremely hard, indeed more difficult than it should have been, on both Taylor and Scott. This was due to President Polk’s decision (reminiscent of George W. Bush’s decision during the Iraq War) to cut taxes and wage war simultaneously. Indeed, Gen. Scott became so short on troops and supplies that he decided to cut off his line of logistics and “live off the land.” This was a clever but risky maneuver that his subordinates—U.S. Grant and William T. Sherman—would remember and mimic in the U.S. Civil War.

There was plenty of room for courage and glory on both sides of the Mexican-American War. It is no accident that the contemporary U.S. Marine Corps Hymn speaks of the “Halls of Montezuma,” or that several grandiose rock carvings of key battle names in Mexico unapologetically adorn my own alma mater at West Point. On the other side, the Mexican people still celebrate the gallant defense, and deaths, of six cadets—known as Los Niños Héroes—who manned the barricades of their own national military academy.

Nevertheless there was (and always is) an uglier, less romantic side of the conflagration. Nine thousand two hundred seven men deserted the U.S. Army in Mexico, or some 8.3 percent of all troops—the highest ever rate in an American conflict and double that of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of Catholic Irish immigrant soldiers responded to Mexican invitations and not only deserted the U.S. Army but joined the Mexican army, as the San Patricio (Saint Patrick’s) Battalion. Dozens were later captured and hanged by their former comrades.

America’s military also waged a violent, brutal war that often failed to spare the innocent. In northern Mexico, Gen. Taylor’s artillery pounded the city of Matamoros, killing hundreds of civilians. Indeed, Taylor’s army of mostly volunteers regularly pillaged villages, murdering Mexican citizens for either retaliation or sport. Many regular Army officers decried the behavior of these volunteers, and one officer wrote, “The majority of the volunteers sent here are a disgrace to the nation; think of one of them shooting a woman while washing on the banks of the river—merely to test his rifle; another tore forcibly from a Mexican woman the rings from her ears.” In the later bombardment of Veracruz, American mortar fire inflicted on the elderly, women or children two-thirds of the 1,000 Mexican casualties. Capt. Robert E. Lee (who would later lead the Confederate Army in the U.S. Civil War) was horrified, commenting that “my heart bled for the inhabitants, it was terrible to think of the women and children.”

It should come as little surprise, then, that when the U.S. Army seized cities, groups of Mexican guerrilla fighters—usually called rancheros—often rose in rebellion. Part of the U.S. effort in Mexico became a counterinsurgency. Take my word for it, people (Iraqis, for example) rarely take kindly to occupation, and the mere presence of foreigners often generates insurgents. All told, the American victory cost the U.S. Army 12,518 lives (seven-eighths of the deaths because of disease, due largely to poor sanitation). Many thousands more Mexican troops and civilians died. This aspect of the war, events that tarnish glorious imagery and language, is rarely remembered, but it would be well if it were.

Courageous Dissent: Whigs, Artists, Soldiers and the Opposition to the Mexican-American War

War, as it does, initially united the country in a spirit of nationalism, but ultimately the war and its spoils would divide the U.S., nearly to its breaking point. Few mainstream Whigs—those of the opposition party—initially demonstrated the courage to dissent. They knew, deep down, that this war was wrong, but also remembered the fate of the Federalist Party, which had been labeled treasonous and soon disappeared due to its opposition to the War of 1812. Other Whigs were simply dedicated nationalists: The U.S. was their country, right or wrong. But there were courageous voices, a few dissenters in the wilderness. Some you know; others are anonymous, lost to history. All were patriots.

Many were politicians: those entrusted with the duty to dissent in times of national error. Though only a dozen or so Whigs had the fortitude to vote against the war declaration in 1846, a few were vocal. One was Rep. Luther Severance, who responded to President Polk’s “American blood on American soil” fallacy by exclaiming that “[i]t is on Mexican soil that blood has been shed” and Mexicans “should be honored and applauded” for their “manly resistance.”

Another was former President John Quincy Adams, who at the time was a member of the U.S. House from Massachusetts (he was the only person to serve in Congress after being president). It was Adams, we must remember, who as secretary of state in 1821, had presciently warned Americans against foreign military adventures. “But she [America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” he wrote, for “[Were she to do so] the fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force … she might become the dictatress of the world.” Adams had seen the Mexican War coming back in 1836, when his avowed opponent President Andrew Jackson considered annexation of the Texan Republic. Then, Adams had said, “Are you not large and unwieldy enough already? Have you not Indians enough to expel from the land of their fathers’ sepulchre?”

Another staunch opponent of the war was a little known freshman Whig congressman from Illinois, a lanky fellow named Abraham Lincoln. As soon as he took his seat in the House, Lincoln immediately rebuked President Polk’s initial explanation for declaring war. “The President, in his first war message of May 1846,” Lincoln told his audience, “declares that the soil was ours on which hostilities were commenced by Mexico; Now I propose to try to show, that the whole of this–issue and evidence–is, from beginning to end, the sheerest deception.” The future president would later summarize the conflict as “a war of conquest fought to catch votes.” And, indeed it was.

Prominent artists and writers also opposed the war; such people often do, and we should take notice of them. The Transcendentalist writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson each took up the pen to attack the still quite popular conquest of Mexico. Thoreau, who served prison time, turned a lecture into an essay now known as “Civil Disobedience.” Emerson was even more succinct, declaring, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as a man who swallowed the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” He couldn’t have known how right he was; arguments over the expansion of slavery in the lands seized from Mexico would indeed take the nation to the brink of civil war in just a dozen years.

One expects dissent from artists. These men and women tend to be unflinching and to demonstrate a willingness to stand against the grain, against even the populist passions of an inflamed citizenry. But … soldiers? Surely they must remain loyal and steadfast to the end, and so, too often, they are. Not so in Mexico. A surprising number of young officers—like Lee at the bombardment of Veracruz—despised the war. More than a few likely suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One lieutenant colonel, Ethan Hitchcock, even attacked the justification for war. He wrote, “We have not one particle of right to be here. It looks as if the [U.S.] government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so as to have the pretext for taking California and as much of this country as it chooses.” Perhaps the most honest and self-effacing critique of the war came from a young subaltern named U.S. Grant (who along with his then-comrade R.E. Lee would later lead one of the two opposing armies in the Civil War). Grant, a future president and West Point graduate, wrote that he “had a horror of the Mexican War … only I had not the moral courage enough to resign.”

Finally, let us return to the powerful and unwavering dissent of John Quincy Adams, for the Mexican War, not his presidency, may constitute his finest hour. On Feb. 21, 1848, the speaker of the House called for a routine vote to bestow medals and adulation on the victorious generals of the late Mexican War. The measure passed, of course, but when the “nays” were up for roll call a voice from the back bellowed “No!” It was the 80-year-old former president. Adams then rose in an apparent effort to speak, but his face reddened and he collapsed. Carried to a couch, he slipped into unconsciousness and died two days later. John Quincy Adams was mortally stricken in the act of officially opposing an unjust war. That we remember the victories of the Mexican-American War but not Adams’ dying gesture surely must reflect poorly on us and our collective remembrances.

A Long Shadow Cast: The ‘Peace’ of 1848

From the war’s start, there was never any real question of leaving Mexico without extracting territory. Indeed, by late 1847 there was considerable Democratic support for taking the whole country. That the U.S. did not is due mainly to Polk’s peace commissioner ignoring orders and his own firing to negotiate a compromise. But there was something else. Many Democrats from the South—who had applauded the war from the start—now flinched before the prospect of taking on the entirety of Mexico and its decidedly brown and Catholic population. There was inherent fear of racial mixing, racial impurity and heterogeneity. John Calhoun, the political stalwart from South Carolina, even declared, “Ours is the government of the white man!” And, in 1848, Calhoun was right, indeed.

Even the Wilmot Proviso, an attempt by a Northern congressman to forestall any conquest in Mexico, was tinged with racism. Rep. David Wilmot called his amendment a “White Man’s Proviso,” to “preserve for free white labor a fair country, a rich inheritance, where the sons of toil, of my own race and own color, can live without the disgrace which association with Negro slavery brings upon free labor.” Wilmot’s proposal, unsurprisingly, never passed muster. But it nearly tore the Congress asunder, with Northern and Southern politicians at each other’s throats. Northerners generally feared the expansion of slave states and of what they called “slave power.” The Whig Party itself nearly divided—and eventually would—into its Northern and Southern factions. As we will see, arguments about what land to seize from Mexico and what to do with it (should it be slave or free?) would shatter the Second Party System—of Whigs and Democrats—and take the nation one step closer to the civil war many (like John Quincy Adams) had long feared. The “peace” of 1848, known to history as the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, would certainly cast a long shadow.

* * *

In the end, the U.S. expended over 12,000 lives and millions of dollars to make a new colony of nearly half of Mexico—an area two and a half times the size of France and including parts or all of the current states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Much of the land remained heavily Hispanic for decades and effectively under military government for many years (New Mexico until 1912!). The real losers were the Indian and Hispanic people of the new American Southwest. The U.S. gained 100,000 Spanish-speaking inhabitants after the treaty and even more native Americans. Under Mexican law, both groups were considered full citizens! Under American stewardship, race was a far more detrimental factor. The results were (despite supposed protections in the treaty) the seizure of millions of acres of Hispanic-owned land and, in California, Indian slavery and decimation as 150,000 natives dwindled to less than 50,000 in just 10 years of U.S. control. During the postwar period, California’s governor literally called for the “extermination” of the state’s Indians. This aspect of the war’s end is almost never mentioned at all.

Words matter, and we must watch our use of terms and language. Mexico hadn’t invaded Texas; Texas was Mexico. Polk manufactured a war to expand slavery westward and increase pro-slavery political power in the Senate. Was, then, America an empire in 1848? Is it today? And why does the very term “empire” make us so uncomfortable?

So what, then, are readers to make of this mostly forgotten war? Perhaps this much: It was as unnecessary as it was unjust. Nearly all Democrats supported it, and most Whigs simply acquiesced. Others, however, knew the war to be wrong and said so at the time. Through an ethical lens, the real heroes of the Mexican-American War weren’t Gens. Taylor and Scott, but rather artists such as Henry David Thoreau; a former president, John Quincy Adams; and Abraham Lincoln, then an obscure young Illinois politician. There are many kinds of courage, and the physical sort shouldn’t necessarily predominate. In this view, the moral view, protest is patriotic.

So, let me challenge you to think on this: Our democracy was undoubtedly achieved through undemocratic means—through conquest and colonization. Mexicans were just some of the victims, and, today, in the American Southwest, tens of millions of U.S. citizens reside, in point of fact, upon occupied territory.

* * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:

• Rodolfo Acuna, “Occupied Mexico: A History of Chicanos” (1988).
• James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle and Michael B. Stoff, “Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past,” Chapter 14. “Western Expansion and the Rise of the Slavery Issue, 1820-1850” (2011).
• Daniel Walker Howe, “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-48” (2007).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

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Small Modular Reactors Have Little Appeal

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Brown / Climate News Network.

On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the USthe UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets.

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‘Last Child Camp’ Judge Dismissed Riot Cases for Two Water Protectors

Read more of this story here from CENSORED NEWS by Brenda Norrell.

Last Child Camp, Standing Rock Water Protectors Photo by Ryan Vizzions Photo: Sacred Stone Camp founder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, WPLC Staff Attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen, defendants Andrew Weber and Christina Rogers, and Volunteer Attorney Patricia Handlin after the dismissal of charges at a bench trial in Mandan, ND.Court Update: After North Dakota Rests Case Against Two “Last Child Read more

TUSD teachers get first paychecks today without contracts

This is a message sent to TUSD board members today about the latest debacle in Tucson’s largest school district.

Teachers got their 1st paychecks today, but they still haven’t gotten their contracts. They have no word from TUSD on when they’ll see their contracts. No word on what they will be paid this year!

This isn’t right!

Both Rachel Sedgwick and Michael Hicks have objected strenuously.

Does anybody know when teachers will get their contracts or be told a date when they’ll have them? read more

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Science Says: Hotter Weather Turbocharges U.S. West Wildfires

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SETH BORENSTEIN / The Associated Press.

As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames.

The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed by flames has more than doubled.

Experts say the way global warming worsens wildfires comes down to the basic dynamics of fire. Fires need ignition, oxygen and fuel. And what’s really changed is fuel — the trees, brush and other plants that go up in flames.

“Hotter, drier weather means our fuels are drier, so it’s easier for fires to start and spread and burn more intensely,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan.

It’s simple, he said: “The warmer it is, the more fire we see.”

Federal fire and weather data show higher air temperatures are turbocharging fire season.

The five hottest Aprils to Septembers out West produced years that on average burned more than 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers), according to data at the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .

That’s triple the average for the five coldest Aprils to Septembers.

The Western summer so far is more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. California in July logged its hottest month in 124 years of record-keeping.

The five years with the most acres burned since 1983 averaged 63.4 degrees from April to September. That’s 1.2 degrees warmer than average and 2.4 degrees hotter than the years with the least acres burned, AP’s data analysis shows.

In California, the five years with the most acres burned (not including this year) average 2.1 degrees warmer than the five years with the least acres burned.

A degree or two may seem like not much, but it is crucial for fuel. The hotter it is, the more water evaporates from plants. When fuel dries faster, fires spread more and burn more intensely, experts said.

For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the air warms, it needs 15 percent more rain to make up for the drying of the fuel, Flannigan said.

Fuel moisture levels in California and Oregon are flirting with record dry levels, NOAA western regional climate center director Tim Brown said.

And low humidity is “the key driver of wildfire spread,” according to University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch who says the Western U.S. soon will start to see wildfires of 1 million acres (1,562 square miles).

Veteran Colorado hotshot firefighter Mike Sugaski used to consider 10,000-acre (16-square-mile) fires big, now he fights ones 10 times that or more.

“You kind of keep saying, ‘How can they get much worse?’ But they do,” Sugaski said.

The number of U.S. wildfires hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but the area consumed has soared.

“The year 2000 seemed to be some kind of turning point,” said Randy Eardley, the fire center’s chief spokesman.

From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn’t reach 10,000 square miles burned annually. Since then, 10 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including 2017, 2015 and 2006 when more than 15,000 square miles burned.

Some people who reject mainstream climate science point to statistics that seem to show far more acres burned in the 1930s and 1940s. But Eardley said statistics before 1983 are not reliable because fires “may be double-counted, tripled-counted or more.”

Nationally, more than 8,900 square miles (23,050 kilometers) have burned this year, about 28 percent more than the 10-year average as of mid-August. California is having one of its worst years.

Scientists generally avoid blaming global warming for specific extreme events without extensive analysis, but scientists have done those extensive examinations on wildfire.

John Abatzgolou of the University of Idaho looked at forest fires and dry conditions in the Western United States from 1979 to 2015 and compared that to computer simulations of what would be expected with no human-caused climate change. He concluded that global warming had a role in an extra 16,200 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) of forests burning since 1984.

A study of the 2015 Alaska fire season — the second biggest on record — did a similar simulation analysis, concluding that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas increased the risk of the fire season being that severe by 34 to 60 percent.

One 2015 study said globally fire seasons are about 18.7 percent longer since 1979. Another study that year says climate change is increasing extreme wildfire risk in California where wildfires already are year-round.

Also, drought and bark beetles have killed 129 million trees in California since 2016, creating more fuel.

Contrary to fire scientists, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week told Breitbart radio that “what’s driving” increased wildfires is an increase in fuel. He said the government has “been held hostage by environmental terrorist groups” that oppose clearing dead trees that they say provide wildlife habitat. Zinke, however, has acknowledged that climate change was a factor in worsening wildfires.

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Judge Says ACLU, Government Must Reach Agreement On Reunifications

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A federal judge wants the Trump administration and the ACLU to reach an agreement on how to address the situation of immigrants who have been deported while their children are still the U.S.

NBC News reports hundreds of migrant parents are still separated from their children after being deported under the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy. 

Government lawyers say the federal order to reunite families who were separated at the border did not include parents who had already been deported.

An ACLU attorney agreed but says some parents were misled into believing they would only be reunited with their children, or that they'd be reunited more quickly, if they agreed to give up their asylum cases.

He says those parents should be able to come back to the U.S. to seek asylum with their children.

The judge's request that the two sides reach an agreement comes shortly after a freeze on family deportations was extended last week. 

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Qatar Accuses Saudi Arabia Of Barring Its Citizens From The Hajj

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There are more than 2 million Muslims in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, but Qatar is accusing the country of blocking some of its citizens from participating. 

Every year, some 1,200 Qatari citizens are allowed to register to participate in the religious pilgrimage, but this year residents are saying that registration is impossible. 

Saudi Arabia, along with other surrounding countries, have placed Qatar under land, sea and air blockade, meaning Qataris can't enter those countries without proof of registration. 

Last year, Saudi Arabia reportedly opened its border with Qatar to let the pilgrims in, but didn't do it this year. 

Saudi Arabia denies anyone is being barred from registering.

Muslims must complete the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, as long as they're physically and financially able.

Al Jazeera reports around 54 million pilgrims have participated in the Hajj in the last 25 years. It lasts five days and culminates with the holiday Eid al-Adha.

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Brennan Weighs Legal Action to End Revoking of Security Clearances

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JILL COLVIN and LOLITA C. BALDOR / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—Former CIA Director John Brennan said Sunday that he is considering taking legal action to try to prevent President Donald Trump from stripping other current and former officials’ security clearances.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Brennan said he’s been contacted by a number of lawyers about the possibility of an injunction in the wake of Trump’s move to revoke his clearance and threaten nine others who have been critical of the president or are connected to the Russia probe.

“If my clearances and my reputation as I’m being pulled through the mud now, if that’s the price we’re going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it’s a small price to pay,” Brennan said. “So I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will do that.”

Brennan, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration, said that while he’ll fight on behalf of his former CIA colleagues, it’s also up to Congress to put aside politics and step in. “This is the time that your country is going to rely on you, not to do what is best for your party but what is best for the country,” he said.

Trump yanked Brennan’s security clearance last week, saying he felt he had to do “something” about the “rigged” probe of Russian election interference. And he has said he may do the same for nine others, including a Justice Department official whose wife worked for the firm involved in producing a dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia.

An executive order signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton lays out the process for approving security clearances and describes a detailed revocation and appeal procedure.

Former Obama-era CIA Director Leon Panetta, who also served as defense secretary, said Sunday that Trump must abide by the executive order unless he decides to change or cancel it. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he said Trump’s decision to revoke Brennan’s clearance raises questions about whether he followed due process.

Brennan’s legal warning came as other officials joined the growing chorus of critics — now more than 75 intelligence officials — denouncing Trump’s security clearance threats, saying they have a right to express their views on national security issues without fear of punishment.

Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Obama, likened it to President Richard Nixon’s use of a political enemies list.

Mullen told “Fox News Sunday” that while he doesn’t agree with Brennan’s decision to criticize the president, the former CIA director has the right to freedom of speech unless he’s revealing classified information.

“It immediately brings back the whole concept of the enemies list,” Mullen said, “and even before that, in the early ’50s, the McCarthy era, where the administration starts putting together lists of individuals that don’t agree with them and that historically, obviously, has proven incredibly problematic for the country.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin agreed with Trump that Brennan’s comments “really did cross a line.”

But, he said, rather than pulling officials’ security clearances, Trump should avoid politicizing the issue and simply deny them access to classified material.

“I don’t want to see an enemies list,” he said.

___

Colvin reported from Bridgewater, N.J.

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Conserving Oil Is No Longer an Economic Imperative, U.S. Says

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ELLEN KNICKMEYER / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.

The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.

Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”

With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.

President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.

Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement.

Reaction was quick.

“It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,'” said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.

“If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere … you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”

Climate change is a “clear and present and increasing danger,” said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund.

In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world’s vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.

Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel and pummeling the global economy. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.

Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

How much the U.S. economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

“Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we are the strongest producer of oil and gas,” Graham said. “But there are still reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume.”

Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make them tougher.

The proposal eventually would increase U.S. oil consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration’s move would actually increase highway deaths.

“American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under his plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. “The only clear winner is the oil industry. It’s not hard to see whose side President Trump is on.”

Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.

Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars — a young industry supported financially by the federal government and many states — this month in a call with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.

“People just don’t want to buy them,” the EPA official said.

Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.

In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion engine and questioning their states’ incentives to consumers for electric cars.

Surging U.S. and gas production has brought on “energy security and abundance,” Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one U.S. program for biofuels.

Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of U.S. energy policy, Macchiarola said.

Thanks partly to increased production, “that pillar has really been rendered essentially moot,” he said.

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Afghanistan’s President Calls For Cease-fire With Taliban

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for a cease-fire with the Taliban.

It would take effect on Monday and last at least through the Eid al-Adha holiday this week.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Ghani said, "We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long lasting and real peace, and we urge them to get ready for peace-talks based on Islamic values and principles." 

He said he hoped the cease-fire could be extended until Nov. 20, the holiday associated with the Prophet Muhammad's birth.

The Associated Press reports the cease-fire comes a day after the leader of the Afghan Taliban said there wouldn't be peace in the country "as long as 'foreign occupation' continues." 

The Taliban didn't immediately respond to the request. 

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Palestinians Sort Through 8 Years of Mail Held by Israel

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JERICHO, West Bank—Palestinian postal workers in the West Bank are sifting through eight years’ worth of undelivered mail held by Israel.

In recent days the Palestinian postal staff in Jericho has been sorting through tons of undelivered mail in a room packed with letters, boxes and even a wheelchair.

The Palestinians say Israel has withheld delivery of post shipments to the Palestinian territories through its national postal service since 2010. According to Palestinian postage official Ramadan Ghazawi, Israel did not honor a 2008 agreement with the Palestinians to send and receive mail directly through Jordan. Mail was indeed delivered through Jordan but was denied entry by Israel, causing a years-long backlog.

“It was blocked because each time they (Israel) used to give us a reason and an excuse. Once they said the terminal, the building that the post was supposed to arrive to is not ready and once (they said) to wait, they’re expecting a larger checking machine (security scanner),” he said.

Israel says the sides came to an understanding about a year ago on postage delivery but that it has not yet resulted in a “direct transfer,” according to Cogat, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank.

Cogat said in a statement that the one-time release of the ten and a half tons of mail was a “gesture.”

Jericho resident Rami Baker said ordering goods by mail has been a challenge.

“The problem that I suffer from is that the mail is very delayed. For example you order something and the website will tell you it will arrive within 20 to 30 days and after 30 days you get a note that it reached Jerusalem or Israel. After that, a day or two later, we come and check with the Palestinian post office here in Jericho and they say we did not receive it yet from the Israeli side and this thing takes months,” he said.

The development highlights the tight controls Israel maintains over many aspects — even the mundane like postal delivery — of Palestinian life.

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Argentines Urged to Limit Church’s Influence on Politics

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by PAUL BYRNE and LEO LA VALLE / The Associated Press.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Hundreds of people gathered in Buenos Aires on Saturday to oppose the influence of religion on Argentine politics and encourage people to quit the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of a Senate vote not to legalize some abortions.

The event, called “Collective Apostasy,” centered on a signature drive for Argentines wanting to renounce their affiliation to the church through a form that will later be given to the Episcopal Conference in the homeland of Pope Francis.

People formed long lines in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities, and organizers hoped thousands would officially register their desire that the church not interfere in Argentine politics and that their names be eliminated from its registries.

“We are receiving the apostasies of all the people who want to renounce their ties to the Catholic Church,” said one of the organizers, Maria Jose Albaya.

The movement is led by the Argentine Coalition for a Secular State and its backers often wear orange scarves.

“Obtaining the vote for women, the divorce law, marriage equality, the gender identity law, the assisted human fertilization law, the law of integral sexual education, the dignified death law were all done fighting clerical power, which seeks to have total dominion over our minds and bodies,” the event’s manifesto published on social media said.

Saturday’s event follows the rejection by the Senate in early August of a bill that would have legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks, a vote that was seen as being swayed by the Catholic church.

“The discourse by the church to convince the people to not accept the (abortion) law was so outrageous that I reached the height of my enmity toward the Catholic Church,” said Nora Cortinas, a founding member of the Mother of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group.

About two-thirds of Argentina’s 43 million residents define themselves as Catholic, but there is rising discontent with the church amid sex abuse scandals and the historic defeat of the vote to legalize abortion.

The Argentine Episcopal Conference and the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While some wanted to renounce all ties to the church, others thought it still had support.

Ignacio Amui, a company director and a Catholic, said he believes the church “has many things to work on and modernize.”

“But the Catholic religion is, was and will be the most important religion in our country,” the 56-year-old said.

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The Endlessly Repeating War in Afghanistan

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch.

Fair warning. Stop reading right now if you want, because I’m going to repeat myself. What choice do I have, since my subject is the Afghan War (America’s second Afghan War, no less)? I began writing about that war in October 2001, almost 17 years ago, just after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. That was how I inadvertently launched the unnamed listserv that would, a year later, become TomDispatch. Given the website’s continuing focus on America’s forever wars (a phrase I first used in 2010), what choice have I had but to write about Afghanistan ever since?

So think of this as the war piece to end all war pieces. And let the repetition begin!

Here, for instance, is what I wrote about our Afghan War in 2008, almost seven years after it began, when the U.S. Air Force took out a bridal party, including the bride herself and at least 26 other women and children en route to an Afghan wedding. And that would be just one of eight U.S. wedding strikes I toted up by the end of 2013 in three countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, that killed almost 300 potential revelers. “We have become a nation of wedding crashers,” I wrote, “the uninvited guests who arrived under false pretenses, tore up the place, offered nary an apology, and refused to go home.”

Here’s what I wrote about Afghanistan in 2009, while considering the metrics of “a war gone to hell”: “While Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2010, thinking about how “forever war” had entered the bloodstream of the twenty-first-century U.S. military (in a passage in which you’ll notice a name that became more familiar in the Trump era): “And let’s not leave out the Army’s incessant planning for the distant future embodied in a recently published report, ‘Operating Concept, 2016-2028,’ overseen by Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, a senior adviser to Gen. David Petraeus. It opts to ditch ‘Buck Rogers’ visions of futuristic war, and instead to imagine counterinsurgency operations, grimly referred to as ‘wars of exhaustion,’ in one, two, many Afghanistans to the distant horizon.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2012, when Afghanistan had superseded Vietnam as the longest war in American history: “Washington has gotten itself into a situation on the Eurasian mainland so vexing and perplexing that Vietnam has finally been left in the dust. In fact, if you hadn’t noticed — and weirdly enough no one has — that former war finally seems to have all but vanished.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2015, thinking about the American taxpayer dollars that had, in the preceding years, gone into Afghan “roads to nowhere, ghost soldiers, and a $43 million gas station” built in the middle of nowhere, rather than into this country: “Clearly, Washington had gone to war like a drunk on a bender, while the domestic infrastructure began to fray. At $109 billion by 2014, the American reconstruction program in Afghanistan was already, in today’s dollars, larger than the Marshall Plan (which helped put all of devastated Western Europe back on its feet after World War II) and still the country was a shambles.”

And here’s what I wrote last year thinking about the nature of our never-ending war there: “Right now, Washington is whistling past the graveyard. In Afghanistan and Pakistan the question is no longer whether the U.S. is in command, but whether it can get out in time. If not, the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Indians, who exactly will ride to our rescue? Perhaps it would be more prudent to stop hanging out in graveyards. They are, after all, meant for burials, not resurrections.”

And that’s just to dip a toe into my writings on America’s all-time most never-ending war.

What Happened After History Ended

If, at this point, you’re still reading, I consider it a miracle. After all, most Americans hardly seem to notice that the war in Afghanistan is still going on. To the extent that they’re paying attention at all, the public would, it seems, like U.S. troops to come home and the war to end.

That conflict, however, simply stumbles on amid continuing bad news with nary a soul in the streets to protest it. The longer it goes on, the less — here in this country at least — it seems to be happening (if, that is, you aren’t one of the 15,000 American troops stationed there or among their families and friends or the vets, their families and friends, who have been gravely damaged by their tours of duty in Kabul and beyond).

And if you’re being honest, can you really blame the public for losing interest in a war that they largely no longer fight, a war that they’re in no way called on to support (other than to idolize the troops who do fight it), a war that they’re in no way mobilized for or against? In the age of the Internet, who has an attention span of 17 years, especially when the president just tweeted out his 47th outrageous comment of the week?

If you stop to think about it between those tweets, don’t you find it just a tad grim that, close enough to two decades later, this country is still fighting fruitlessly in a land once known by the ominous sobriquet “the graveyard of empires”? You know, the one whose tribal fighters outlasted Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British, and the Russians.

Back in October 2001, you might have thought that the history lurking in that phrase would have given George W. Bush’s top officials pause before they decided to go after not just Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan but the Taliban, too. No such luck, of course — then or since.

They were, of course, leading the planet’s last superpower, the only one left when the Soviet Union imploded after its Afghan war disaster, the one its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, grimly dubbed “the bleeding wound.” They hadn’t the slightest doubt that the United States was exempt from history, that everyone else had already filled that proverbial graveyard and that there would never be a gravestone for them. After all, the U.S. was still standing, seemingly triumphant, when history officially “ended” (according to one of the neocon prophets of that moment).

In reality, when it comes to America’s spreading wars, especially the one in Afghanistan, history didn’t end at all. It just stumbled onto some graveyard version of a Möbius strip. In contrast to the past empires that found they ultimately couldn’t defeat Afghanistan’s insurgent tribal warriors, the U.S. has — as Bush administration officials suspected at the time — proven unique. Just not in the way they imagined.

Their dreams couldn’t have been more ambitious. As they launched the invasion of Afghanistan, they were already looking past the triumph to come to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the glories that would follow once his regime had been “decapitated,” once U.S. forces, the most technologically advanced ever, were stationed for an eternity in the heart of the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East. Not that anyone remembers anymore, but Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the rest of that crew of geopolitical dreamers wanted it all.

What they got was no less unique in history: a great power at the seeming height of its strength and glory, with destructive capabilities beyond imagining and a military unmatched on the planet, unable to score a single decisive victory across an increasingly large swath of the planet or impose its will, however brutally, on seemingly far weaker, less well-armed opponents. They could not conquer, subdue, control, pacify, or win the hearts and minds or anything else of enemies who often fought their trillion-dollar foe using weaponry valued at the price of a pizza. Talk about bleeding wounds!

A War of Abysmal Repetition

Thought of another way, the U.S. military is now heading into record territory in Afghanistan. In the mid-1970s, the rare American who had heard of that country knew it only as a stop on the hippie trail. If you had then told anyone here that, by 2018, the U.S. would have been at war there for 27 years (1979-1989 and 2001-2018), he or she would have laughed in your face. And yet here we are, approaching the mark for one of Europe’s longest, most brutal struggles, the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century. Imagine that.

And just in case you’re paying no attention at all to the news from Afghanistan these days, rest assured that you don’t have to. You already know it!

To offer just a few examples, the New York Times recently revealed a new Trump administration plan to get U.S.-backed Afghan troops to withdraw from parts of the countryside, ceding yet more territory to the Taliban, to better guard the nation’s cities. Here was the headline used: “Newest U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Mirrors Past Plans for Retreat.” (“The withdrawal resembles strategies embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have started and stuttered over the nearly 17-year war.”) And that generally is about as new as it gets when it comes to Afghan news in 2018.

Consider, for instance, a report from early July that began, “An American service member was killed and two others were wounded in southern Afghanistan on Saturday in what officials described as an ‘apparent insider attack’”; that is, he was killed by an armed Afghan government soldier, an ally, not an enemy. As it happened, I was writing about just such “insider” or “green-on-blue” violence back in July 2012 (when it was rampant) under the headline “Death by Ally” (“a message written in blood that no one wants to hear”). And despite many steps taken to protect U.S. advisers and other personnel from such attacks since, they’re still happening six years later.

Or consider the report, “Counternarcotics: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan,” issued this June by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR). Its focus: 15 years of American efforts to suppress opium growing and the heroin trade in that country (at historic lows, by the way, when the U.S. invaded in 2001). More than eight and a half billion American dollars later, SIGAR found, opium remains the country’s largest cash crop, supporting “590,000 full-time jobs — which is more people than are employed by Afghanistan’s military and security forces.” Oh, wait, historian Alfred McCoy was writing about just that at TomDispatch back in 2010 under the headline “Can Anyone Pacify the World’s Number One Narco-State?” (“In ways that have escaped most observers, the Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit.”)

Recently, SIGAR issued another report, this one on the rampant corruption inside just about every part of the Afghan government and its security forces, which are famously filled with scads of “ghost soldiers.” How timely, given that Ann Jones was focused on that very subject, endemic corruption in Afghanistan, at TomDispatch back in… hmmm, 2006, when she wrote, “During the last five years, the U.S. and many other donor nations pledged billions of dollars to Afghanistan, yet Afghans keep asking: ‘Where did the money go?’ American taxpayers should be asking the same question. The official answer is that donor funds are lost to Afghan corruption. But shady Afghans, accustomed to two-bit bribes, are learning how big-bucks corruption really works from the masters of the world.”

I could, of course, go on to discuss “surges” — the latest being the Trump administration’s mini-one to bring U.S. troop levels there to 15,000 — such surges having been a dime-a-dozen phenomena in these many years. Or the recent ramping up of the air war there (essentially reported with the same headlines you could have found over articles in… well… 2010) or the amount of territory the Taliban now controls (at record levels 17 years after that crew was pushed out of the last Afghan city they controlled), but why go on? You get the point.

Almost 17 years and, coincidentally enough, 17 U.S. commanders later, think of it as a war of abysmal repetition. Just about everything in the U.S. manual of military tactics has evidently been tried (including dropping “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear munition in that military’s arsenal), often time and again, and nothing has even faintly done the trick — to which the Pentagon’s response is invariably a version of the classic misquoted movie line, “Play it again, Sam.”

And yet, amid all that repetition, people are still dying; Afghans and others are being uprooted and displaced across Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and deep into Africa; wars and terror outfits are spreading. And here’s a simple enough fact that’s worth repeating: the endless, painfully ignored failure of the U.S. military (and civilian) effort in Afghanistan is where it all began and where it seems never to end.

A Victory for Whom?

Every now and then, there’s the odd bit of news that reminds you we don’t have to be in a world of repetition. Every now and then, you see something and wonder whether it might not represent a new development, one that possibly could lead out of (or far deeper into) the graveyard of empires.

As a start, though it’s been easy to forget in these years, other countries are affected by the ongoing disaster of a war in Afghanistan. Think, for instance, of Pakistan (with a newly elected, somewhat Trumpian president who has been a critic of America’s Afghan War and of U.S. drone strikes in his country), Iran, China, and Russia. So here’s something I can’t remember seeing in the news before: the military intelligence chiefs of those four countries all met recently in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, officially to discuss the growth of Islamic State-branded insurgents in Afghanistan. But who knows what was really being discussed? And the same applies to the visit of Iran’s armed forces chief of staff to Pakistan in July and the return visit of that country’s chief of staff to Iran in early August. I can’t tell you what’s going on, only that these are not the typically repetitive stories of the last 17 years.

And hard as it might be to believe, even when it comes to U.S. policy, there’s been the odd headline that might pass for new. Take the recent private, direct talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital, Doha, initiated by the Trump administration and seemingly ongoing. They might — or might not — represent something new, as might President Trump himself, who, as far as anyone can tell, doesn’t think that Afghanistan is “the right war.” He has, from time to time, even indicated that he might be in favor of ending the American role, of “getting the hell out of there,” as he reportedly told Senator Rand Paul, and that’s unique in itself (though he and his advisers seem to be raring to go when it comes to what could be the next Afghanistan: Iran).

But should the man who would never want to be known as the president who lost the longest war in American history try to follow through on a withdrawal plan, he’s likely to have a few problems on his hands. Above all, the Pentagon and the country’s field commanders seem to be hooked on America’s “infinite” wars. They exhibit not the slightest urge to stop them. The Afghan War and the others that have flowed from it represent both their raison d’être and their meal ticket. They represent the only thing the U.S. military knows how to do in this century. And one thing is guaranteed: if they don’t agree with the president on a withdrawal strategy, they have the power and ability to make a man who would do anything to avoid marring his own image as a winnner look worse than you could possibly imagine. Despite that military’s supposedly apolitical role in this country’s affairs, its leaders are uniquely capable of blocking any attempt to end the Afghan War.

And with that in mind, almost 17 years later, don’t think that victory is out of the question either. Every day that the U.S. military stays in Afghanistan is indeed a victory for… well, not George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, and certainly not Donald Trump, but the now long-dead Osama bin Laden. The calculation couldn’t be simpler. Thanks to his “precision” weaponry — those 19 suicidal hijackers in commercial jets — the nearly 17 years of wars he’s sparked across much of the Muslim world cost a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families a mere $400,000 to $500,000. They’ve cost American taxpayers, minimally, $5.6 trillion dollars with no end in sight. And every day the Afghan War and the others that have followed from it continue is but another triumphant day for him and his followers.

A sad footnote to this history of extreme repetition: I wish this essay, as its title suggests, were indeed the war piece to end all war pieces. Unfortunately, it’s a reasonable bet that, in August 2019, or August 2020, not to speak of August 2021, I’ll be repeating all of this yet again.

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EPA Proposal Would Roll Back Standards Meant To Curb CO2 Emissions

Read more of this story here from Newsy Headlines by Newsy Headlines.


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The Trump administration is proposing a plan that would allow the release of at least 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next decade than would be allowed under current regulations. 

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to let states create their own emissions standards for coal-fired power plants. The agency estimates that would still lead to a decline in emissions over a decade, but it would be comparatively small.

The plan would roll back Obama-era climate change policies. The Washington Post reports emissions drops under the proposed rules would be equivalent to taking up to 5.3 million cars off the road. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would have been equivalent to taking 75 million cars off the road. 

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to announce the proposal as soon as Tuesday.

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