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Netanyahu and Obama Agree: Global Warming Is a Huge Threat

| Tue Mar. 3, 2015 12:15 PM EST

Today Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress on Iran's nuclear ambitions, at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The speech has caused a considerable flap, with Democrats criticizing it as an unprecedented affront to President Barack Obama.

But while the president and Netanyahu might have vastly different visions for how to deal with the threat posed by Iran, they do seem to agree on one thing: the threat posed by climate change. Over the past few months Obama has repeatedly emphasized the dangers associated with global warming. In his State of the Union address in January, he said that "no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations" than climate change. And in a recent national security document, Obama called climate change an "urgent and growing threat." Despite GOP protestations to the contrary, Obama's concerns are legitimate: New research released yesterday, for example, found that man-made climate change was a key factor in the Syrian civil war.

It seems Bibi had the same thought as early as 2010, when his cabinet approved a wide-reaching plan to reduce Israel's carbon footprint. At the time, the prime minister said that "the threat of climate change is no less menacing than the security threats that we face." From the Jerusalem Post:

At the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009, Israel pledged to reduce emissions by 20 percent from a "business as usual" scenario by 2020.

"The recent dry months, including the driest November in the history of the state, are a warning light to us all that the threat of climate change is no less menacing than the security threats that we face. I intend to act determinedly in this field. In a country that suffers from a severe water shortage, this is an existential struggle," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting.

Israel doesn't face the kind of political resistance from climate change deniers that is all too common in the United States, said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East. But the country is struggling to meet its carbon emission and renewable energy targets because government spending is so heavily concentrated on defense, he said.

"They've given the issue a great deal of lip service," he said, "but in practice none of these [targets] have been met."

Still, Israel has been at the forefront of developing seawater desalination technology to confront drought. The country has the biggest desal plant in the world, and last year Netanyahu signed a deal with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to share research and technology for dealing with water scarcity.

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There's Really No Plan B on Iran, Is There?

| Tue Mar. 3, 2015 11:08 AM EST

Yesterday was one of my bad days, but one consequence of that was that I zoned out in front of the TV for long stretches. That allowed me to hear an endless procession of talking heads spend time talking about what we should do about Iran.

The striking thing was not that there was lots of criticism from conservatives about President Obama's negotiating strategy. The striking thing was the complete lack of any real alternative from these folks. I listened to interviewer after interviewer ask various people what they'd do instead, and the answers were all the weakest of weak tea. A few mentioned tighter sanctions, but without much conviction since (a) sanctions are already pretty tight and (b) even the hawks seem to understand that mere sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear program anyway. Beyond that there was nothing.

That is, with the refreshing (?) exception of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sounded a bit like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men after being badgered a bit by Wolf Blitzer. Military action? You're damn right I want to see military action. Or words to that effect, anyway. But of course, this sentiment was behind the scenes everywhere, even if most of the hawkish talking heads didn't quite say it so forthrightly. I noticed that even President Obama, in his interview with Reuters, specifically mentioned "military action," rather than the usual euphemism of "all cards are on the table."

In my vague, laymanish way, this sure makes me wonder just how seriously military action really is on the table. I mean, I realize there are no really great options here, but a major war against Iran sure seems like a helluva bad idea—so bad that even the hawks ought to be thinking twice about this. That's especially true since I've heard no one who thinks it would permanently disable Iran's nuclear program anyway. It would just cause them to redouble their efforts and to do a better job of hiding it.

I'm not saying anything new here. It only struck me a little harder than usual after watching so many interviews about Iran in the space of just a few hours (and I wasn't even watching Fox at all). There's really no Plan B here, and even the hawks are mostly reluctant to explicitly say that we should just up and launch a massive air assault on Iran. It's a weird, almost ghostly controversy we're having.

Why the Duke Basketball Sexual-Assault Story Won't Go Away Quickly

| Mon Mar. 2, 2015 4:32 PM EST

The Duke University student newspaper reported today that a player recently dismissed from the school's powerhouse men's basketball team had been twice accused of sexual assault. Moreover, it found that athletic department officials, including Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, knew about the allegations as early as last March but failed to act for months.*

According to the Chronicle, two different women claimed that junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon had sexually assaulted them during the 2013-14 school year. In October 2013, a woman told classmates at a retreat that Sulaimon had assaulted her; at the same retreat in February 2014, another woman made a similar claim. The Chronicle reported that the team psychologist was made aware of the allegations in March 2014, and that several key members of the athletic department—including Krzyzewski, several assistant coaches, and athletic director Kevin White—found out shortly thereafter.

At a press conference, Krzyzewski declined to comment on the Chronicle article. But here are three reasons why this particular story won't be going away anytime soon:

  • Slow response: Neither woman filed a complaint with the university or went to the local police in part due to "the fear of backlash from the Duke fan base," according to the Chronicle. Nonetheless, the allegations reportedly were brought to the coaching staff shortly after the second incident was disclosed. According to the Chronicle, most Duke employees are required to report sexual assault; under Title IX, the university must investigate any such allegations. "Nothing happened after months and months of talking about [the sexual assault allegations]," an anonymous source told the newspaper. "The University administration knew."
  • It's Duke, and Coach K: It has been nearly nine years since the Duke lacrosse rape case, which fell apart after months of intense scrutiny and media attention. Given the prominence of Krzyzewski and his program—he has the most wins of any Division I men's coach in history, and the Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the country—this story could gain a lot more traction as March Madness nears. Sulaimon was the first player Krzyzewski has dismissed in his 35 years at Duke; here's how the coach described the decision in a January 29 press release: "Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program. It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program."
  • It's yet another sexual-assault accusation against a college athlete: The Sulaimon story comes just days after a former Louisville University basketball player was charged with rape and sodomy. On January 27, two former Vanderbilt University football players were convicted on multiple counts of sexual battery and aggravated rape, a case dissected in a Sports Illustrated feature last month. And in another highly publicized recent case, Jameis Winston, Florida State University's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, was accused but never charged of raping a fellow student. (The school recently cleared Winston of violating its code of conduct.)

UPDATE, March 4, 2014: In a statement released yesterday to the Sporting News, Duke athletic director Kevin White had this to say about how Krzyzewski and the athletic department handled the Sulaimon situation:

Any allegation of student misconduct that is brought to the attention of our staff and coaches is immediately referred to the Office of Student Conduct in Student Affairs, which has responsibility for upholding the Duke code of conduct.  The athletics department does not investigate or adjudicate matters of student conduct, and cooperates completely in the process…

These investigations are conducted thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with great care to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all students involved. Those procedures have been, and continue to be, followed by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and all members of the men's basketball program. Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand and have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community.

For more on Duke's legal footing with regard to how much information it needs to share with the media, read Michael McCann's latest at Sports Illustrated.

Watch John Oliver Turn America's Doomed Infrastructure Into a Summer Blockbuster

| Mon Mar. 2, 2015 11:24 AM EST

America's infrastructure system—from its dams, bridges, roads, airports, etc.—is deteriorating and in need of a serious renovation. It's an issue most people agree on, and as John Oliver noted last night, even has the attention of a "total idiot" like Donald Trump. Despite all this, the country remains pretty uninterested in doing anything about it.

"The lack of political urgency in tackling this problem is insane," Oliver explained. "And you cannot tell me that you are not interested in this, because every summer, people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists and aliens."

In hopes to cure America's blissful apathy to our crumbling infrastructure, Last Week Tonight took a cue from our movie-going habits by producing a gripping, Armageddon-like summer blockbuster to get people freaked out enough and finally start working on this major problem. Watch below:

 

 

 

 

Tikrit is an Early Test of Iraq vs. ISIS

| Mon Mar. 2, 2015 11:09 AM EST

Well, here we go:

The Iraqi military, alongside thousands of Shiite militia fighters, began a large-scale offensive on Monday to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State....Monday’s attack, which officials said involved more than 30,000 fighters supported by Iraqi helicopters and jets, was the boldest effort yet to recapture Tikrit and, Iraqi officials said, the largest Iraqi offensive anywhere in the country since the Islamic State took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June. It was unclear if airstrikes from the American-led coalition, which has been bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq since August, were involved in the early stages of the offensive on Monday.

From a military perspective, capturing Tikrit is seen as an important precursor to an operation to retake Mosul, which lies farther north. Success in Tikrit could push up the timetable for a Mosul campaign, while failure would most likely mean more delays.

This is a test of whether the American training of Iraqi troops has made much difference. If it has, this latest attempt to take Tikrit might succeed. If not, it will probably fail like all the other attempts.

It's worth noting that 30,000 troops to take Tikrit is about the equivalent of 200,000 troops to take a city the size of Mosul. So even if the Iraqi offensive is successful, it's still not clear what it means going forward. Stay tuned.

O Glory! Pops Staples Was Magnificent—and Rockin'

| Mon Mar. 2, 2015 6:00 AM EST

The Staple Singers
Freedom Highway Complete – Recorded Live at Chicago's New Nazareth Church
Legacy

Pops Staples
Don't Lose This
dBpm/Anti-

What a monumental legacy Roebuck "Pops" Staples left behind! From the mid-1950s on, his family group, the Staple Singers, was a premier gospel act. In the '70s, they scored a number of uplifting R&B hits, including "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." Up until his death in 2000, Pops Staples continued making compelling, moving music.

Freedom Highway Complete, recorded in April 1965, captures Pops and his kids, Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis, at the height of their testifying powers, electrifying a churchgoing audience the month after Dr. King's history-changing marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. From the exuberant title track to the foot-stomping "Samson and Delilah," it's a thrilling concert, thanks to the interplay of the Staples' robust voices, Pops' shimmering, pithy guitar licks, and spirit-lifting rhythms. It's magnificent—and rockin'!

Don't Lose This collects 10 songs that Pops recorded in 1999 but never finished. Last year, daughter Mavis took the incomplete recordings to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who worked on her more recent solo albums, and together they turned the tracks into a proper album, adding voices and instrumentation. (If Tweedy took the liberty of mimicking Pops' distinctive guitar in places, he did a great job.) Mavis' rousing voice is prominent, but it's still her dad's show. His tender yet forceful singing on "Somebody Was Watching Me" and on Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" is sure to inspire. The album is a fitting memorial to this endearing genius.

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Quote of the Day: Secret Scheming Places of Tea Party Congressmen Revealed!

| Sun Mar. 1, 2015 1:43 PM EST

From Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, on the tactics of tea partiers who are holding up the DHS funding bill over their increasingly pointless insistence that it include a provision repealing President Obama's immigration program:

While conservative leaders are trying to move the ball up the field, these other members sit in exotic places like basements of Mexican restaurants and upper levels of House office buildings, seemingly unaware that they can't advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.

Um, OK. Not exactly House of Cards, but OK.

Scott Walker Is Making Shit Up, Just Like His Hero Ronald Reagan

| Sat Feb. 28, 2015 11:06 AM EST

This morning, once again trying to show that fighting against Wisconsin labor unions is pretty much the same as fighting ISIS or communism, Scott Walker repeated his contention that Ronald Reagan's early move to fire striking air traffic controllers was more than just an attack on organized labor. It was also a critical foreign policy decision. Here's what he originally said last month on Morning Joe:

One of the most powerful foreign policy decisions that I think was made in our lifetime was one that Ronald Reagan made early in his presidency when he fired the air traffic controllers....What it did, it showed our allies around the world that we were serious and more importantly that this man to our adversaries was serious.

Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case. The Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think [President Barack Obama] has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them.

PolitiFact decided to check up on this:

Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.

[Joseph] McCartin...."I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them."....Svetlana Savranskaya...."There is absolutely no evidence of this."....James Graham Wilson....Not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow’s internal response to the controller firings....Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, told us: "It's utter nonsense. There is no evidence of that whatever."

PolitiFact's conclusion: "For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire." But Walker shouldn't feel too bad. After all, Reagan was also famous for making up facts and evidence that didn't exist, so Walker is just taking after his hero. What's more, Reagan's fantasies never hurt him much. Maybe they won't hurt Walker either.

Kagan: Netanyahu Speech Is a Blunder

| Sat Feb. 28, 2015 10:09 AM EST

Even the ever-hawkish Robert Kagan thinks Republicans blew it by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress:

Looking back on it from years hence, will the spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president wear well or poorly?

....Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress — a common enough occurrence — it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush’s impending war in Iraq.

Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible — until now.

But President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.

What's French for Chicken Nugget? The Truth About School Lunches Around the World

| Sat Feb. 28, 2015 6:00 AM EST
This depiction of a school lunch in Greece looks delicious, but it's not based in reality.

By now you've probably seen the viral slideshow called "School Lunches Around the World," in which a heavily processed American school lunch is contrasted against an array of fresh, healthy-looking victuals from Italy, France, Greece, etc. It's a compelling argument against the puny resources spent on school lunch in the United States, where, once labor and overhead are accounted for, schools get less than a dollar per daily lunch to spend on ingredients.

But as the great school-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel points out, those sumptuous photos don't depict actual meals being served in actual schools—but, rather, staged shots that oversimplify a complex topic. As it turns out, Sweetgreen, a chain of health-food eateries located mainly on the East Coast, produced the photos, but didn't make that clear on its Tumblr.

In case you haven't seen them, here's a sampling:

Photo: Sweetgreen
 
Photo: Sweetgreen
 
Photo: Sweetgreen
 

So we see images of appetizing lunch from countries around the world contrasted against a relatively grim platter of pale chicken nuggets, potatoes, and peas from here in the good ol' USA. Siegel writes that many of her readers sent her a link to the gallery, "understandably but mistakenly" under the impression that the images depicted real-deal lunches, not a corporate photo shoot. The UK's Daily Mail even took them at face value, blaring in a headline that "Photos reveal just how meager US students' meals are compared to even the most cash-strapped of nations."

Siegel, though, had questions:

Sweetgreen says it based is photos on "some typical school meals around the world," but it doesn't tell us how it obtained the information underlying the photos. Were the meals modeled on public school menus? Private school menus? Are the meals depicted typical of what's served in a given country, or did Sweetgreen cherry-pick the most appealing items? And on what basis were the elements chosen for America's school meal?

Most egregiously, the Greece photo portrays a robust lunch featuring chicken over whole grains with yogurt, pomegranate seeds, a salad, and fresh citrus. Siegel provides a reality check: Debt-plagued Greece doesn't have the resources to provide much of anything to eat for its school kids. She points to a 2013 New York Times piece reporting that Greek schools "do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income." Meanwhile, Siegel points out, even with dire funding for US lunches, more than 20 million economically distressed US kids had access to free or cut-rate lunches in 2013.

She adds that some US school districts do magical things with their minuscule budgets. Besides, even in France, where schools typically have twice as much to spend on ingredients per meal, lunches in some cases can look pretty, well, American.

Here's Sweetgreen's version of the French lunch:

Photo: Sweetgreen

And here's one of an French lunch Siegel found on the What's for School Lunch? blog, where "real people around the world submit their actual photos of school meals." There's no reason to assume all French lunches consist of chicken nuggets and well, French fries—but there's no reason to believe that Sweetgreen's idealized version is representative, either.

Photo: What’s for School Lunch?

After Siegel's posting, Sweetgreen added an appendage to its Tumblr page:

Note: These images are not intended to be exact representations of school lunches, but instead, are meant to portray different types of foods found in cafeterias around the world. To create this series, we evaluated government standards for school lunch programs, and compared this data to photos that real students had taken of their meals and shared online.

Sweetgreen's photo essay was designed to support an effort to raise funds for Food Corps, a "nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy" through cooking and gardening classes. It's an impressive bit of corporate marketing on behalf of a good cause—but not an accurate depiction of school lunch.