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Here's Why Kobani Probably Isn't Going to Be Saved

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 12:48 AM EDT

Writing about Kobani and ISIS this morning, I casually mentioned that "If you want quick results against ISIS, then speak up and tell us you want to send in 100,000 troops." I got a bit of pushback on this from people suggesting that it wouldn't take anywhere near that number of troops to take out ISIS and save a small town.

Actually, I was lowballing. For starters, here's a map showing Kobani's predicament:

Kobani is the tiny yellow patch of Kurdish territory at the top of the map. It's deep inside Syria, surrounded almost entirely by territory controlled by ISIS. The only country with the capability of getting in ground troops is Turkey, and they're refusing to do anything. Why? Because Kobani is home to Kurdish separatists, and Turkey has no intention of saving their bacon.

In a nutshell, this is America's problem: we have no trustworthy allies in the region who truly care about ISIS. The Turks care about keeping Kurdish separatists under control and securing their border with Syria. The Arabian Gulf countries care about Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian patrons. The Iraqis care about maintaining Shiite dominance over their Sunni minority. They're all willing to play along in the US war against ISIS, but it's not really a high priority for any of them. As Fred Kaplan puts it, "ISIS gains much of its strength from the fact that the countries arrayed against it—which, together, could win in short order—can't get their act together; they have too many conflicting interests tearing them apart." What's more, those conflicting interests are deep and longstanding. These countries will humor us to varying extents since they'd just as soon stay on our good side, but the bottom line is that helping America fight its latest shiny-toy war just isn't something they really care about. They have their own fish to fry.

Given all that, you should ask yourself this: What would it take to rescue a small city that's hundreds of miles behind enemy lines with no allies to help you out? Answer: A hundred thousand troops would be a good start, but there's no guarantee that even that would be enough.

So was it "tone deaf" for John Kerry and others to talk about how Kobani wasn't strategically important to us? Maybe so. The problem is that the real-life adult answer would have acknowledged that (a) we don't have the capability to save Kobani, and (b) our NATO ally Turkey has chosen not to save Kobani. Neither of these is something that the American public is really prepared to digest.

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Report: Katy Perry Is Performing at the Super Bowl

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 11:09 PM EDT

The New York Post is reporting that the NFL has selected Katy Perry to play at halftime of the Super Bowl.

We endorse this decision!

Key members of the Mother Jones staff share the opinion that Katy Perry is great. (Some of these staff members control the social channels and the CMS.) We can quibble over bits of her performance but the point is we're fans.

Safe to say we'll we be live tweeting her halftime show.

Goodnight and good luck.

 

Obama Plans to Close Guantanamo Whether Congress Likes It Or Not

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 8:26 PM EDT

From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House is drafting options that would allow President Barack Obama to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by overriding a congressional ban on bringing detainees to the U.S., senior administration officials said.

Such a move would be the latest and potentially most dramatic use of executive power by the president in his second term. It would likely provoke a sharp reaction from lawmakers, who have repeatedly barred the transfer of detainees to the U.S.

Ya think? I'd say that "sharp" might be an all-time understatement. And where would all the prisoners go?

Officials, who declined to say where detainees might be housed if taken to the mainland, said the U.S. has ample space in its prisons for several dozen high-security prisoners. The administration has reviewed several facilities that could house the remaining detainees, with the military brig at Charleston, S.C., considered the most likely.

Take that, Lindsey Graham!

Sen. Inhofe Blocks Funds for Ebola Intervention

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 8:17 PM EDT

Update: On Friday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement that "after careful consideration," he would be lifting his hold on $750 million in emergency Ebola funds.

House legislators have approved the transfer of $750 million toward the fight to contain Ebola, which continues to rapidly spread across West Africa. The figure is still below the $1 billion request from the Department of Defense—and the budget battle is not over. It is currently holed up in the Senate dependent on Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to give his approval.

After Sen. Inhofe and Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee initially raised concerns, a limit of $50 million was put on the transfer until the DoD provided details on how the money would be spent to address the crisis. Now, with plans to deploy 4,000 troops to the region, $750 million to fund a six-month mission has been approved by both the House Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee. According to The Hill, however, a spokesperson from Inhofe's office confirmed the Senator would not change his mind even in light of approval from other committees because the expense "would add demands on a defense budget already stretched thin." The money would come from an account currently funding the war in Afghanistan.

There has already been one fatality from the virus in the US, heightening concerns that more could follow, and health officials are saying the epidemic in Africa is spiraling out of control. Last week a top US health official said the Ebola epidemic could have been contained and suggested sequester budget cuts disabled early response efforts. This week ranking members of the Congressional Subcommittee that oversees the budgets for the National Institutes of Health and The Centers for Control Disease and Prevention called for a hearing into the matter.

A statement from Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J) confirms that Congress understands the urgency required:

“The world is facing a severe global health crisis emanating from West Africa. The United States is stepping up to lead the international response to the Ebola outbreak and Congress will ensure that the President’s request is fully and quickly funded," Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in a statement.

Committemembers are hoping to convince Inhofe to change his mind:

"We understand that the administration has provided information to answer some questions that Sen. Inhofe had, and that they are hoping he will sign off soon so that they can go forward," said a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee staff.

Did Obama Just Signal That the FCC Will Preserve Net Neutrality?

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 7:54 PM EDT
Obama speaks at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, California.

Did President Obama just signal that the Federal Communication Commission will preserve net neutrality? Speaking this afternoon at Cross Campus, a tech incubator in Santa Monica's Silicon Beach, he had this to say (emphasis mine) about the FCC's proposed changes to net neutrality rules:

I made a commitment very early on that I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality. I think that it is what has unleashed the power of the internet and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes...I know one of the things that people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers though the internet. That's something I am opposed to. I was opposed to it when I ran, I continue to be opposed to it now. Now, the FCC is an independent agency. They came out with some preliminary rules that I think the netroots and a lot of the folks in favor of net neutrality were concerned with. My appointee [to the FCC], Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't...call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine.

Expecting the preservation of net neutrality is not the same as guaranteeing it. But this is the strongest indication yet that Obama won't allow the FCC to push through its deeply unpopular plan to limit open access to the internet.

How Monsanto Crashed SXSW—and Brought the Drama to My Panel [UPDATED]

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 6:36 PM EDT

UPDATE: In an emailed statement, SXSW Eco director Scott Wilcox wrote that Monsanto had openly submitted, via Panel Picker, another panel, "Bees: What the Buzz is All About," which the organizers accepted "because we thought it had merit." Monsanto's sponsorship was not noted in the program, but the session did include a panelist, Jerry Hayes, who is identified as a Monsanto employee. As for the "Farming to Feed 9 Billion" panel, the organizers "were as surprised as our attendees when the moderator/organizer ... announced at the beginning of the session that Monsanto had paid all the participants' travel expenses to speak on the panel." He added: "Ultimately, it is lack of transparency on the part of Monsanto and the panel's moderator that is the biggest issue for our team. It is essential to our conference that the origins of the viewpoints that will be presented are fully disclosed to maintain the trust that is so valued within our SXSW Eco community."

Let's face it: While panels at conferences can be fun, interesting, even provocative, rarely do they provide drama, intrigue, or surprise. On Wednesday at South by Southwest Eco in Austin, my colleague Kiera Butler and I sat on a panel that counts as a genuine exception. And it had nothing to do with our own oratorical skills or those of our excellent co-panelists, author and agriculture researcher Raj Patel and Texas A&M cotton breeder Jane Dever.

So here's what happened: Our session, titled, "GMOs Real Talk: The Hype, the Hope, the Science," proceeded as you might expect. I thought we had a pretty robust discussion of the potential and pitfalls of biotechnology in contributing to global food security going forward. Then, at the very end of the hour, during the Q&A session, a SXSW Eco staffer took the mic and dropped a bombshell: She alleged that the GMO seed/pesticide giant Monsanto had sponsored several earlier panels—paying the travel expenses of  the participants—without disclosing it to the organizers.

Monsanto had sponsored several panels—paying the travel expenses of  the participants—without disclosing it to the organizers, alleged a conference staffer.

The standing-room-only crowd—which had greeted our biotech-skeptical discussion warmly—erupted in guffaws and gasps. Soon after, Monsanto online-engagement specialist Janice Person bravely took the mic. The room took on the electric charge of a public confrontation in the mythical Old West: the accused party straining to calm a pitchfork-bearing mob. She assured the highly skeptical room that the company had no intention to mislead the organizers and just wanted to participate in the discussion. And thus our panel ended, in glorious chaos. "Once again, Monsanto gets the last word," Patel quipped. As far as I know, no Monsanto employees were physically harmed in the process. Later, Person expanded her thoughts into this blog post and told me via email that "we regret if there was a misunderstanding," and "it was certainly not something we tried to hide."

But I, too, was surprised. While we were preparing our SXSW Eco panel, we had a participant drop out late in the process. I wanted to find a replacement who would cogently defend the industry—I like to be on panels with the frisson of controversy, the energy of open debate. If I had known the Eco conference would be chockfull of Monsanto people, I would have tried to snag one to join us on stage. But when I glanced over the program, the "Farming to Feed 9 Billion" certainly didn't catch my eye. Moderated by Tim McDonald, former director of community at Huffington Post, it featured three farmers, none of whom listed any Monsanto affiliation.

In a later email, McDonald described for me how the panel came to be: "A friend of mine...who works for Monsanto asked me if I would be interested" in pitching an SXSW Eco panel, he wrote. "I told her if they would cover my travel and work on getting the panelists, I would be happy to organize and moderate the panel."

As it happens, I attended that panel, which took place Monday. At the start, the moderator, McDonald, announced that Monsanto had paid for his and the other panelists travel expenses, but promised an open dialogue all the same. I somehow missed his saying that, but I did note on Twitter that several Monsanto-affiliated folks were enthusiastically live-tweeting the discussion, which I frankly found rather vague and diffuse. Apparently, McDonald's disclosure from the stage was the first indication of Monsanto's involvement that the conference's organizers got. And judging from the SXSW Eco staffer's announcement at our panel, they were none too pleased with the lack of transparency. (I've reached out to SXSW Eco for comment; I'll update when I hear back.)

In the end, Monsanto's SXSW Eco kerfuffle takes its place in the annals of awkward corporate PR maneuvers, alongside the company's ill-starred attempt to pay experts to participate in an "an exciting video series" on the "topics of food, food chains and sustainability" as part of sponsored content for the publisher Condé Nast.

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Walmart Is the Biggest Corporate Solar User. Why Are Its Owners Funding Groups That Oppose Solar?

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 5:57 PM EDT
Solar panels adorn the roof of a Walmart store in Arizona.

Walmart loves solar power—as long as it's on their roof, and not yours.

That's the takeaway from a report released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which found that between 2010 and 2013 the Walton Family Foundation has donated just under $4.5 million to groups like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which have worked to impede state-level policies that promote clean energy.

The list of groups that have received funding from the Walton Foundation reads like a who's who of "the groups who are leading the charge against rooftop solar," said Stacy Mitchell, who authored the report. Rob Walton, who sits on the Foundation board, is also the chair of Walmart's board; his family are majority shareholders of Walmart and some of the richest people in America.

The funny thing is that Walmart, the world's biggest company, is also the world's biggest commercial solar user. Indeed, solar power is a key aspect of its much-touted green makeover. According to data released last year from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Walmart has 89 megawatts of installed solar capacity on its retail rooftops. That's twice the capacity of second-ranked Costco and more than the total capacity of 37 individual states. Of course, those figures are less impressive when looked at in a light that better reflects the company's mind-boggling size: Less than 3 percent of the company's total power comes from renewables—including solar, wind, and biogas—according to EPA data.

Here's the list of groups receiving funding from the Walton Foundation that have taken positions against state-level clean energy policies, according to the report:

walton chart
Courtesy Institute for Local Self-Reliance

The dollar figures in the chart above come from the Walton Family Foundation's last four annual reports. All the groups listed, Mitchell said, have opposed state-level clean energy policies like renewable portfolio standards or net-metering, both of which are key tools in helping more households go solar.

Clearly the groups listed here are involved in a host of conservative and free-market issues beyond energy, so there's no direct evidence that the Waltons' foundation donated to these groups because of their opposition to policies promoting renewables. Indeed, a foundation spokesperson said that the report is misleading because it ignores the foundation's donations to environmental groups and instead "chooses to focus on a handful of grants none of which were designated for renewable energy-related issues."

But backing groups like this has a direct impact on the growth of clean energy, Mitchell said.

The upshot, she said, is "not that their vision of the future doesn't include some solar power. It's just solar power they own and control."

Walmart declined to comment on the report.

Radio Station Lays Off All 47 of Its Journalists, Will Play Beyoncé All Day Everyday Instead

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 5:35 PM EDT

Houston's one and only 24-hour news station is closing up shop and replacing all its journalists with the perfect homage to the very best thing Houston has ever produced, yes, Beyonce.

We’d like to thank the News92 staff for their outstanding service, our advertisers and each of you our listeners and web visitors for your support. This difficult decision is a result of sustained poor ratings performance and significant financial losses over the past three years despite the substantial financial and human resources we invested. Unfortunately, the market hasn’t shown a sustainable appetite for news radio, but each of you motivated us daily to produce a high-quality news program. Together, we made history.

Yes! History has been made. The world is truly a better place with the addition of an all encompassing destination dedicated to unrelenting Beyonce consumption. To say otherwise would be blasphemous, annoyingly contrarian.

But also considering 47 people just lost their jobs, this is sad news. It's even more pathetic for radio and journalism as a whole! But when the same day also presents to you a Chevron-funded newspaper in the same town where a Chevron refinery sparked a massive fire, we'll take all day, everyday Beyonce any day.

This Is What the Most Powerful Storm of the Year Looks Like From Space

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 5:13 PM EDT

Super Typhoon Vongfang is mercifully expected to weaken before making landfall in Japan Monday, but at its peak it has reached wind speeds up to 180 mph, making it the most powerful storm of 2014 (so far).

Thursday morning, NASA astronaut Reid Weissman showed the world just what that type of storm looks like from, well, above the world.

(via Wired)

Millennials Love Hillary Clinton Now

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 3:56 PM EDT

The young'uns just love Hillary Clinton these days. A new poll from television network Fusion found that, should Clinton run for president, she's already got the support of 58 percent of 18-24 year-old Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren trail far behind, garnering 13 and 9 percent, respectively.

If Hillary makes it to the general election, 50 percent of 18-24 year-olds say they would support her. Just 33 percent would back a hypothetical Republican nominee. White millennials split 41-41 percent on backing Hillary in a 2016 general election, but she crushes that hypothetical Republican among minority voters: 72 percent among black voters and 63 percent from Hispanics prefer the former secretary of state.

Clinton struggled with college-aged and other young voters when she last ran for president in 2008. But as I explained in April, Ready for Hillary, the super PAC paving the way for her eventual run, has been busy this year recruiting volunteers on college campuses across the country to beef up the Clinton machine and avoid the mistakes she made last time:

The group brought in former Obama campaign youth vote coordinator Rachel Schneider to oversee outreach to voters ages 16 to 30, with a particular focus on those still in school. Schneider has spent the last few months traveling around the country to set up satellite organizations on college campuses with the goal of attracting all of the best student organizers to Clinton's side before any other Democrat launches a presidential campaign.

...

"I've been focused on identifying students on campuses who are interested in being part of this movement from the ground floor," Schneider says. For Democratic-leaning students interested in a career in politics it's a no-brainer: leading a Students for Hillary group will position them as prime contenders for low-level jobs in Clinton's actual campaign.

Ready for Hillary has continued to ramp up its college efforts since the spring, sending the Hillary Bus crisscrossing the country. Over the course of three weeks in late August and early September, the group sent the bus of staffers to about a dozen schools in the south and west, including Clemson, South Carolina State, Claflin University, the University of Arkansas, UNLV, and the University of Colorado–Boulder, to setup pro-Clinton campus groups.