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Remember Flint? Bruno Mars surprised concertgoers with $1 million toward its recovery.

During a Thursday interview on a Texas radio show the EPA administrator said his agency wants objective science to buttress its mission. Sounds like something Pruitt and scientists can agree on, right?

Not exactly. Right after endorsing peer-reviewed science Pruitt dropped this: “Science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

Experts at NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and Pruitt’s own agency have said they think science is exactly what policy should be based on.

On air, Pruitt touched on his usual topics: Superfund, how the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the U.S., and, of course, CO2. The radio station’s meteorologist asked Pruitt why the country has such a preoccupation with the greenhouse gas. “It serves political ends,” Pruitt said. “The past administration used it as a wedge issue.”

Besides the conflicting statements on science, it was a pretty classic Pruitt interview. But we can finally put one burning question to rest about our newish EPA administrator: Does he separate his trash into the proper bins? “I have,” Pruitt said coyly. “I have recycled.”

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Remember Flint? Bruno Mars surprised concertgoers with $1 million toward its recovery.

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Of Wolves and Men – Barry Lopez

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Of Wolves and Men
Barry Lopez

Genre: Nature

Price: $9.99

Publish Date: May 31, 2016

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC


National Book Award Finalist: A “brilliant” study of the science and mythology of the wolf by the New York Times –bestselling author of Arctic Dreams ( The Washington Post ).  When John Fowles reviewed Of Wolves and Men , he called it “A remarkable book, both biologically absorbing and humanly rich, and one that should be read by every concerned American.” In this National Book Award–shortlisted work, literary master Barry Lopez guides us through the world of the wolf and our often-mistaken perceptions of another species’ place on our shared planet. Throughout the centuries, the wolf has been a figure of fascination and mystery, and a major motif in literature and myth. Inspiring fear and respect, the creature has long exerted a powerful influence on the human imagination. Of Wolves and Men takes the reader into the world of the Canis lupus and its relationship to humankind through the ages. Lopez draws on science, history, mythology, and his own field research to present a compelling portrait of wolves both real and imagined, dispelling our fear of them while celebrating their place in our history, legends, and hearts.  This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barry Lopez including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection. “A splendid, beautiful book.” — The Wall Street Journal “Fascinating. . . . A wealth of observation, mythology, and mysticism.” — The New York Times Book Review “Brilliant. . . . A work of intelligence, dedication, and beauty deserving the widest possible attention not only for the sake of wolves but also for the sake of men.” — The Washington Post Barry Lopez (b. 1945) is the author of thirteen books of essays, short stories, and nonfiction. He is a recipient of the National Book Award, the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and numerous other literary and cultural honors and awards. His highly acclaimed books include Arctic Dreams , Winter Count , and Of Wolves and Men, for which he received the John Burroughs and Christopher medals. He lives in western Oregon.     

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Of Wolves and Men – Barry Lopez

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The Hunt for Vulcan – Thomas Levenson

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The Hunt for Vulcan

. . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

Thomas Levenson

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: November 3, 2015

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed For more than fifty years, the world’s top scientists searched for the “missing” planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era’s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it. There was just one problem: It was never there. In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton’s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan. It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton’s theory of gravity itself. Einstein’s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the “discovery” of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein’s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century. A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science. Praise for The Hunt for Vulcan “Delightful . . . a charming tale about an all-but-forgotten episode in science history.” — The Wall Street Journal “Engaging . . . At heart, this is a story about how science advances, one insight at a time. But the immediacy, almost romance, of Levenson’s writing makes it almost novelistic.” — The Washington Post “Captures the drama of the tireless search for this celestial object.” — Science   “A well-structured, fast-paced example of exemplary science writing.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “A short, beautifully produced book that tells a cautionary tale . . . Levenson is a breezy writer who renders complex ideas in down-to-earth language.” — The Boston Globe “An inspiring tale about the quest for discovery.” —Walter Isaacson “Equal to the best science writing I’ve read anywhere, by any author. Beautifully composed, rich in historical context, deeply researched, it is, above all, great storytelling.” —Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe “Levenson tells us where Vulcan came from, how it vanished, and why its spirit lurks today. Along the way, we learn more than a bit of just how science works—when it succeeds as well as when it fails.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson “Science writing at its best. This book is not just learned, passionate, and witty—it is profoundly wise.” —Junot Díaz From the Hardcover edition.

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The Hunt for Vulcan – Thomas Levenson

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Thirteen – Henry S. F. Cooper

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Thirteen
The Apollo Flight That Failed
Henry S. F. Cooper

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: December 31, 2013

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC


An “exciting” minute-by-minute account of the Apollo 13 flight based on mission control transcripts from Houston ( The New York Times ).  On the evening of April 13, 1970, the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were just hours from the third lunar landing in history. But as they soared through space, two hundred thousand miles from earth, an explosion badly damaged their spacecraft. With compromised engines and failing life-support systems, the crew was in incomparably grave danger. Faced with below-freezing temperatures, a seriously ill crew member, and a dwindling water supply, a safe return seemed unlikely. Thirteen is the shocking, miraculous, and entirely true story of how the astronauts and ground crew guided Apollo 13 to a safe landing on earth. Expanding on dispatches written for the New Yorker , Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. brings readers unparalleled detail on the moment-by-moment developments of one of NASA’s most dramatic missions. “Cooper’s Thirteen is exciting. . . . Close to what may be an authentic poetry of our period.” — The New York Times “Make no mistake about it. Thirteen tells a marvelous story. A lot of readers will take the book at a single gulp, unable to stop reading.” — The Washington Post “[An] impressive piece of reportorial research . . . Compelling reading.” — Chicago Tribune Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. (1933–2016) was the author of eight books about NASA and space exploration, including Thirteen: The Apollo Flight That Failed. After graduating from Yale, he spent thirty-five years covering the space program as a staff writer for the New Yorker . A descendant of writer and environmentalist James Fenimore Cooper, he fought to preserve Otsego Lake, also known as Glimmerglass, a prominent feature in his ancestor’s writing. Cooper retired in Cooperstown, New York, bordering the lake he and his ancestor had both protected.  

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Thirteen – Henry S. F. Cooper

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Pale Blue Dot – Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

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Pale Blue Dot

A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

Genre: Physics

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: November 8, 1994

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


"FASCINATING . . . MEMORABLE . . . REVEALING . . . PERHAPS THE BEST OF CARL SAGAN'S BOOKS." –The Washington Post Book World (front page review) In Cosmos, the late astronomer Carl Sagan cast his gaze over the magnificent mystery of the Universe and made it accessible to millions of people around the world. Now in this stunning sequel, Carl Sagan completes his revolutionary journey through space and time. Future generations will look back on our epoch as the time when the human race finally broke into a radically new frontier–space. In Pale Blue Dot Sagan traces the spellbinding history of our launch into the cosmos and assesses the future that looms before us as we move out into our own solar system and on to distant galaxies beyond. The exploration and eventual settlement of other worlds is neither a fantasy nor luxury, insists Sagan, but rather a necessary condition for the survival of the human race. "TAKES READERS FAR BEYOND Cosmos . . . Sagan sees humanity's future in the stars." –Chicago Tribune

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Pale Blue Dot – Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

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Trump’s Tweets Threaten His Travel Ban’s Chances in Court

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump began the week with a barrage of early-morning tweets blasting the courts for blocking his travel ban executive order. But in doing so, he may have just made it more likely that the courts will keep blocking the ban.

These tweets followed upon several from over the weekend about the ban and the terrorist attack in London, including this one from Saturday evening:

In January, Trump signed an executive order banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, as well as halting the refugee resettlement program for 120 days (and indefinitely for Syrian refugees). When the courts blocked it, rather than appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump signed a modified version of the order. The new ban repealed the old one, reduced the number of banned countries from seven to six, and added exceptions and waivers. Still, federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii blocked it, and now the Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to have this second version of the ban reinstated.

The biggest question in the litigation over the ban is whether the courts should focus solely on the text of the order or also consider Trump’s comments from the campaign trail, and even during his presidency, to determine whether the order uses national security as a pretext for banning Muslims from the country. The president’s lawyers argue that the courts should focus on the text of the order and defer to the president’s authority over national security. Trump’s tweets Monday morning and over the weekend make it harder for the courts to justify doing that.

The travel ban is supposed to be a temporary remedy until the government can review its vetting procedures. But Trump’s tweets make it appear that the ban itself is his goal. Trump repeatedly and defiantly uses the word “ban” when his administration has instead sought to call it a pause.

The tweets “undermine the government’s best argument—that courts ought not look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order itself,” Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security and constitutional law at the University of Texas School of Law, says via email. “Whether or not then-Candidate Trump’s statements should matter (a point on which reasonable folks will likely continue to disagree), the more President Trump says while the litigation is ongoing tending to suggest that the Order is pretextual, the harder it is to convince even sympathetic judges and justices that only the text of the Order matters.” And once the courts start looking at the president’s statements, it’s not hard to find ones that raise questions about anti-Muslim motivations.

Even the president’s allies acknowledge his tweets are a problem. George Conway, the husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, responded to Trump on Twitter by pointing out that the work of the Office of the Solicitor General—which is defending the travel ban in court—just got harder.

Conway, who recently withdrew his name from consideration for a post at the Justice Department, then followed up to clarify his position.

Trump may soon see his tweets used against him in court. Omar Jadwat, the ACLU attorney who argued the case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Washington Post this morning that the ACLU’s legal team is considering adding Trump’s tweets to its arguments before the Supreme Court. “The tweets really undermine the factual narrative that the president’s lawyers have been trying to put forth, which is that regardless of what the president has actually said in the past, the second ban is kosher if you look at it entirely on its own terms,” Jadwat told the Post.

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Trump’s Tweets Threaten His Travel Ban’s Chances in Court

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It’s No Mystery That Donald Trump Isn’t Paying Much Attention to Immigration

Mother Jones

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From the Washington Post:

Lawmakers baffled that immigration getting short shrift in Washington

Meh. Trump never cared much about immigration. It was just a campaign tool, and he practically admitted as much at one point. That’s not to say he won’t try to get something done about it, but it’s never likely to be a huge issue for him. And without him putting a lot of energy behind it, it won’t go anywhere. There are too many Republican members of Congress who are opposed to highly punitive immigration rules.

Eventually the immigration hawks will learn the same thing as everyone else: it’s all just one long con. Trump doesn’t care about policy. Not immigration, not taxes, not abortion, not health care, not ISIS. He has vague inclinations on all these things, but that’s all. He’s mainly driven by whatever can keep him in the spotlight for the next week or two.

That’s probably the real reason he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. If he stays in, he gets nothing. If he pulls out, he gets a week or two of attention. It was an easy choice.

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It’s No Mystery That Donald Trump Isn’t Paying Much Attention to Immigration

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She’s a Climate Scientist. Here’s Why She Quit Working for Trump.

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The day after President Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, Jane Zelikova was “crying her eyes out” in her office at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. As a scientist researching how big fossil-fuel industries can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she feared that her work would be stymied because of the new president’s skepticism about climate change. As a Jewish refugee who came to the United States as a teen, she felt threatened by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric during the campaign. The election also created a rift in her family: Her father voted for Trump; her mother sat out the election. “Every part of me that I identify with felt fear and anger combined into outrage,” Zelikova said.

She texted furiously with three close friends—other women scientists she had known since they went to graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. At first, they simply shared their alarm. But by the second day, they wondered what they could do about it. “We moved into an email thread and added women scientists we knew,” Zelikova recalled. “It grew very quickly—from five people to 20 to 50 to 100—within a matter of a couple of days.”

They drafted an open letter from women scientists. “We fear that the scientific progress and momentum in tackling our biggest challenges, including staving off the worst impacts of climate change, will be severely hindered under this next U.S. administration,” they wrote. The letter rejects the “hateful rhetoric” of the campaign and commits to overcoming discrimination against women and minorities in science. Then they built a website and gathered signatures. Thousands signed on, and a new activist group was born: 500 Women Scientists.

Zelikova’s experience mirrors a broader phenomenon. Many scientists felt threatened enough by Trump’s victory to abandon their usual detached objectivity. They wrote members of Congress to defend science funding and scientific advisory panels and used their knowledge of government research to protect data they feared could be erased from websites. They set up alternative Twitter sites for government agencies and planned and participated in protests. “The election mobilized scientists in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Gretchen Goldman, who leads research on science in public policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an activist group. “I’ve personally been blown away by the scientists who want to be engaged in a new way.”

Previously, Zelikova, a 39-year-old Ph.D. soil ecologist, had envisioned a future as a research scientist, working in academia or in government. But Trump’s election, she said, is changing her in ways she never could have imagined. Her whirlwind metamorphosis provides a glimpse into just how disruptive the last six months have been for some in federal government. Zelikova—who is intense, articulate and has an engaging smile—doesn’t have a permanent federal job. She took a leave from the University of Wyoming, where she’s a research scientist, for a two-year fellowship at the Energy Department. She had less to lose than career civil servants with mortgages and government pensions, so she felt freer to speak out.

The Trump administration has proposed deep staff and budget cuts for the Energy Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies whose mission involves safeguarding the environment. Many federal workers committed to protecting the environment share Zelikova’s angst but won’t say so publicly for fear of retribution.

For weeks after the election, Zelikova barely slept, working late into the night on her new group. “I am a Jewish, refugee, immigrant, woman scientist. At some level, this felt really personally offensive to me, and like an attack on all the parts of me that make me a complete human,” Zelikova recalled. She had always been skeptical of political protests. She grew up in Eastern Ukraine, where Communist leaders used to orchestrate demonstrations in the 1980s. But Trump’s election moved her to join protests. Her first was the Women’s March the day after the Inauguration in Washington, D.C. After that, she frequently joined demonstrations, protesting Trump’s travel ban and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Meanwhile, things were changing in Zelikova’s day job at the Department of Energy. In early December, Trump’s transition team sent out a questionnaire that attempted to identify employees who worked on climate change. Staffers feared the new administration would target people who had worked on former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda. The day after the inauguration, with the Obama team gone, Zelikova attended a staff meeting at which, she said, only white men talked. “The backslide was immediate,” she said. Trump’s budget proposal, which came out in March, slashed funding for science and research. The morale at the agency was low and dropping.

Still, Zelikova kept working on her research. She was part of a team responding to Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s request that the Energy Department analyze options for keeping the state’s largest coal-fired power plant, Colstrip, in business. Zelikova’s team came up with scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent or more by installing equipment to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Capturing carbon takes a lot of energy, however. So Zelikova went to Colstrip last fall to talk about using renewable energy—wind or solar—to power the carbon-capture process and thereby cut emissions even further. “Wouldn’t it be cool if instead of sucking that parasitic load off the plant, you powered it with renewable energy?” she said. She thinks the idea holds great promise for other fossil-fuel plants. “We went to national labs and universities, and we talked to people about how do we make this happen,” Zelikova said. “And then the election happened, and it felt like this isn’t going to happen.” Trump is determined to eliminate Obama’s Clean Power Plan, removing a major incentive for plants like Colstrip to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. His budget proposal recommends slashing funding for the Energy Department’s renewable energy and fossil fuel research programs. “I’m seeing all that work become really threatened,” Zelikova said. “It feels like betrayal, because I got so personally invested.”

Her boss at the time, David Mohler, recalls her reaction: “She was distraught clearly and for understandable reasons; the Trump team is really not appreciative of science, and certainly they don’t believe in climate science.” Before becoming deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Clean Coal and Carbon Management, Mohler was chief technology officer for the country’s biggest electric utility, Duke Energy. Trump will probably slow reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Mohler says. But even Trump can’t stop progress on climate change: Utilities won’t reopen closed coal-fired power plants, and low-priced natural gas will keep replacing coal. And Mohler believes that wind and solar will continue to expand because of declining costs, state mandates and tax incentives, which have bipartisan support in Congress.

Mohler, an Obama appointee, left government on Jan. 20, and moved back to South Carolina. Zelikova started thinking about leaving Washington, too. “Resistance as daily existence was starting to diminish my ability to function,” Zelikova recalled. She talked her supervisor into letting her move to Colorado in February for the rest of her fellowship. She continued to work for the Energy Department at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden. In her spare time, she kept building 500 Women Scientists. The group grew quickly, spawning nearly 150 local branches around the globe in just a few months.

One branch was founded in Seattle by Sarah Myhre, a 34-year-old climate change scientist at the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences. The group gave Myhre the courage to stand up to a prominent professor, Cliff Mass, from her own department.

In January, at a state legislative committee hearing, Myhre criticized Mass for stressing uncertainties about how much human-caused climate change is affecting wildfires and ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest. Myhre described Mass as an “outlier” in the department whose views did not represent the broad scientific consensus. In online comments to a Seattle Times opinion piece Myhre wrote in February with Zelikova and another woman scientist, Mass called them “three idealistic young scientists (none of them really are climate scientists, by the way).” When Myhre traveled to Washington, D.C., at the end of April for the People’s Climate March, one of the women she marched with carried a sign that read: “Idealistic Young Real Scientists.”

A week earlier, on Earth Day, Zelikova joined other members of 500 Women Scientists for the March for Science in Washington, D.C., waiting for hours in a chilly rain to get through security screening for the rally at the Washington National Monument. Shivering in her watermelon-red ski shell, Zelikova reflected on the ways her life would be different if Trump had not been elected. “I would have never founded a big group—ever,” she said. “I would have never been a loud advocate for things. I would have never protested. These are now the hugest part of my life.”

At the end of May, Zelikova quit her fellowship at the Energy Department. In July, she will start a new job for a tiny nonprofit called the Center for Carbon Removal, based in Berkeley, California. She hopes to help states move forward on capturing carbon from fossil fuel plants. “Western states are perfectly poised to lead on climate action,” she said. “In terms of federal action, there’s going to be very little, so we need to work with states, so that when the political climate changes and there can be federal action, we can be ready to go.”

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She’s a Climate Scientist. Here’s Why She Quit Working for Trump.

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Why Would a President Schmooze With Vicious Autocrats and Repressive Monarchs?

Mother Jones

A version of this story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump’s White House invitation to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose “war on drugs” has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings. Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his warm public support for other authoritarian rulers, including Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office amid presidential praise weeks earlier), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from Trump on the recent referendum victory that cemented his powers), and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).

But here’s the strange thing: The critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing support US presidents, Democrat and Republican, have offered to dozens of repressive regimes over the decades. These regimes have one striking thing in common: They are all on an autocratic honor role of at least 45 nations and territories hosting scores of US military bases—from tiny outposts to installations the size of a small city. All told, these bases are home to tens of thousands of US troops.

To ensure basing access, American officials regularly collaborate with regimes and militaries that have been implicated in torture, murder, suppression of democratic rights, systematic oppression of women and minorities, and countless other human rights abuses. Never mind Trump. These collaborations have been the status quo for nearly three-quarters of a century. In fact, since World War II, US administrations have often shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and/or despotic states—Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just a few.

Many of our 45 undemocratic base hosts qualify as fully “authoritarian regimes,” according to a democracy index compiled by the Economist. Which means American installations and the troops stationed there are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This support for dictatorship and repression should trouble any American who believes in the principles of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. After all, one of the long-articulated justifications for maintaining US military bases abroad has been that our military presence protects and spreads democracy. Far from it, such bases tend to help legitimize and prop up repressive regimes, while often interfering with genuine efforts toward political and democratic reform. The silencing of the critics of human rights abuses in base nations such as Bahrain, which has violently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators since 2011, has left the United States complicit.

During the Cold War, such bases were often justified as the unfortunate but necessary consequence of confronting the “communist menace.” Yet in the quarter-century since the Cold War ended, few of those bases have closed. So today, while White House visits from autocrats generates indignation, the presence of American military installations in the same countries receives little notice.

The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half the roughly 80 countries now hosting US bases—countries that often lack the power to ask their “guests” to leave. They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II.

While there are no foreign bases in the United States, we have around 800 bases in foreign countries—almost certainly a record for any nation or empire in history. More than 70 years after World War II and 64 years after the Korean War, there remain, according to the Pentagon, 181 US “base sites” in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. Hundreds more dot the planet from Aruba to Australia, Belgium to Bulgaria, Colombia to Qatar. Hundreds of thousands of troops, civilians, and family members occupy these installations. By my conservative estimate, manning and maintaining these installations costs US taxpayers at least $150 billion annually—which is more than the budget of any government agency other than the Pentagon.

For decades, our leaders in Washington have insisted these foreign bases spread American values and democracy—and that may have been true to some extent in occupied Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II. But as base expert Catherine Lutz suggests, the subsequent historical record shows that “gaining and maintaining access” for our outposts “has often involved close collaboration with despotic governments.”

Consider the Philippines: The United States has maintained military facilities in the archipelago almost continuously since seizing it from Spain in 1898. America only granted the colony independence in 1946, conditioned on the local government’s agreement that the United States would retain access to more than a dozen military installations there.

After independence, a succession of US administrations supported two decades of Ferdinand Marcos’ autocratic rule in the Philippines, ensuring the continued use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of our largest overseas bases. The Filipinos finally ousted Marcos in 1986 and ordered the US military to leave in 1991, but five years later, the Pentagon quietly returned. With the help of a “visiting forces agreement” and a growing stream of military exercises and training programs, it began to set up surreptitious, small-scale bases once more. A desire to solidify this renewed base presence, while also checking Chinese influence in the region, may have driven Trump’s White House invitation to Duterte. It came despite the Filipino president’s record of joking about rape, swearing he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts just as “Hitler massacred six million Jews,” and bragging, “I don’t care about human rights.”

In Turkey, President Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule is only the latest episode in a pattern of military coups and undemocratic regimes interrupting periods of democracy in Turkey. Since 1943, however, US bases have been a constant presence in the country, where they have repeatedly sparked protest—throughout the 1960s and 1970s, prior to the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently, when US forces began using them to launch attacks in Syria.

Although Egypt has a relatively small US base presence, its military has enjoyed deep and lucrative Pentagon ties since the signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979. After a 2013 military coup ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama administration waited months to withhold some forms of military and economic aid, despite more than 1,300 killings by security forces and the arrest of more than 3,500 members of the Brotherhood. According to Human Rights Watch, “Little was said about ongoing abuses,” which have continued to this day.

The United States also has maintained deep connections with the Thai military, which has carried out 12 coups since 1932. Both countries have been able to deny they have a basing relationship of any sort, thanks to a rental agreement between a private contractor and US forces at Thailand’s Utapao Naval Air Base. “Because of contractor Delta Golf Global,” writes journalist Robert Kaplan, “the US military was here, but it was not here. After all, the Thais did no business with the US Air Force. They dealt only with a private contractor.”

In monarchical Bahrain, which has had a US military presence since 1949 and now hosts the Navy’s 5th Fleet, the Obama administration offered only the most tepid criticism of the Bahraini government despite an ongoing, often violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. According to Human Rights Watch and others (including an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa), the government has been responsible for widespread abuses, including the arbitrary arrest of protesters, ill treatment during detention, torture-related deaths, and growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly. The Trump administration has already signaled its desire to protect the military ties of the two countries by approving a sale of F-16 fighters to Bahrain without demanding any improvements in its human rights record.

This is typical of what the late base expert Chalmers Johnson once called the American “baseworld.” Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what’s come to be known as the “dictatorship hypothesis”: that “the United States tends to support dictators in nations where it enjoys basing facilities.” Another large study concluded that autocratic states have been “consistently attractive” as base sites. “Due to the unpredictability of elections,” it added bluntly, democratic states prove “less attractive in terms of sustainability and duration.”

Even within what are technically US borders, democratic rule has regularly proved “less attractive” than preserving colonialism into the 21st century. The presence of scores of bases in Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam has been a major motivation for keeping these and other territories—American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands—in varying degrees of colonial subordination. Conveniently for military leaders, they have neither full independence nor the full democratic rights—voting, representation in Congress—that come with US statehood. Installations in at least five of Europe’s remaining colonies have proved equally attractive, as has the base US troops have forcibly occupied in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since shortly after the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Authoritarian rulers are well aware of the desire of US officials to maintain the status quo when it comes to bases. As a result, they often capitalize on a base presence to extract benefits or help ensure their own political survival.

The Philippines’ Marcos, former South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, and more recently Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh have been typical in the way they used bases to extract economic assistance from Washington, which they then lavished on political allies to shore up their power. Other autocrats have relied on US bases to bolster their international prestige and legitimacy, or to justify violence against political opponents.

After the 1980 Kwangju massacre—in which the South Korean government killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators, strongman General Chun Doo-hwan explicitly cited the presence of US bases and troops to suggest that he enjoyed Washington’s support. Whether that was true remains a matter of historical debate. What’s clear, though, is that American leaders have regularly muted their criticism of repressive regimes lest they imperil US basing rights. And the US presence tends to strengthen military, rather than civilian, institutions because of military-to-military ties, arms sales, and training missions that generally accompany the basing agreements.

Opponents of repressive regimes often use the bases to rally nationalist sentiment, anger, and protest against their ruling elites and the United States. In some such cases, fears in Washington that a transition to democracy might lead to base eviction leads to a doubling down on support for the undemocratic ruler. The result can be an escalating cycle of opposition and US-backed repression.

While some analysts defend the presence of US bases in undemocratic countries as necessary to deter bad actors and support American interests (primarily corporate ones), backing dictators and autocrats frequently leads to harm—not just for the citizens of the host nations, but for US citizens as well. The base buildup in the Middle East is the most prominent example. In the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution the same year, the Pentagon has built up scores of bases across the Middle East at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. These bases and the troops stationed in them have been a “major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization,” according to former West Point professor Bradley Bowman, who cites research noting a correlation between the bases and Al Qaeda recruitment.

Outposts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have helped generate and fuel the radical militancy that has spread throughout the Greater Middle East and led to terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. The presence of US bases and troops in Muslim holy lands was a major recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, and part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks.

With the Trump administration seeking to entrench the renewed base presence in the Philippines, and the president commending Duterte and similarly authoritarian leaders in Bahrain and Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, human rights violations worldwide are likely to escalate, fueling unknown brutality and baseworld blowback for years to come.

Continued here:

Why Would a President Schmooze With Vicious Autocrats and Repressive Monarchs?

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Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

Mother Jones

Here’s an interesting new tidbit on the Jared Kushner front. The New York Times account of Kushnergate says that the reason Kushner wanted to set up backchannel comms to Russia was so that Michael Flynn could hold private conversations about Syria. The Times didn’t characterize their sources for this information, but it turns out it was people providing Kushner’s side of the story. So why didn’t this detail make it into the Washington Post story?

So these sources said Kushner was setting up a channel to talk about Syria, which sounds fairly benign. But they refused to allow themselves to be quoted even as “sources close Kushner” or somesuch. So the Post passed.

Obviously this makes a difference. If the Syria story is Kushner’s alibi, it means a lot less than it would if it came from some relatively neutral source who happened to know what was going on. Discount it accordingly.

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Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

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