Tag Archive for Huffington Post

Hickenlooper’s oil and gas fling; Coloradans watching

Near Evans, Colorado. Courtesy of David Schemel

Governor Hickenlooper had a few particularly cozy days with the oil and gas industry the other week. First, he appeared in industry-funded ads in newspapers and on radio stations across the state, proclaiming that no water in Colorado had been contaminated by fracking. After being forced to issue a weak mea culpa amid cries of ethics violations over his unabashed hawking of the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper then claimed that fracking fluids are edible: “You can eat this — the CEO of Halliburton took a big swig of this thing. And not to be outdone, I took a swig of it myself.”

Then, the governor issued an Executive Order to create an industry-dominated task force that will examine how to take local control away from communities across the state that don’t want drill rigs near homes or their children’s schools.

And now, satisfied with a job well done, Governor Hickenlooper jetted to Houston, Texas, to be the keynote speaker of an industry conference touting fracking.

If these antics have you thinking that Governor Hickenlooper no longer represents the people of Colorado and works full-time for the oil and gas industry, you’re not off base: Governor Hickenlooper took over $75,000 from the oil and gas industry for his gubernatorial campaign.

Even so, the grassroots movement that opposes fracking in Colorado is starting to win. Up and down the Front Range — from Colorado Springs to El Paso County, from Erie to Longmont to Boulder County — communities are standing up to pass moratoria on fracking. Why? Because their air quality is 10 times worse than Houston, Texas, as a result of oil and gas drilling. Or because there is a fracking well being planned 350 feet from their children’s elementary school. Or because their home values have plummeted due to proposed fracking in their neighborhood.

Grassroots, community rights organizations across the state are emerging. LongmontROAR, Erie Rising, What the Frack?! Arapahoe County and several others are talking to their neighbors, asking questions and pressing their city council members and county commissioners to say “no” to fracking. These aren’t dyed-in-the-wool activists, they are everyday Coloradans who love their families, their mountain air and their clean water. The mothers, insurance agents, pharmacists and retired people who don’t want a drill rig in their backyard or next to their child’s school are leading a fracking rebellion that is sweeping the state. And with some brass-nosed organizing, we are winning.

So when El Paso County and Boulder County — arguably the most conservative and progressive parts of the state, respectively — both pass moratoria to stop fracking in their communities, Governor Hickenlooper has a problem on his hands. A big problem that won’t make his oil and gas pals very happy.

And I make this prediction: industry-sponsored ads, slick oil and gas talking points, threatening letters from Attorney General John Suthers and the huff and puff of the oil and gas industry will not stop concerned citizens from demanding their rights to protect their children, homes and water from the harmful impacts of fracking and from organizing in a smart, strategic way to win. They will actually tick us off more and encourage us to fight harder.

The recent defeat of Senate Bill 88, which would have stripped communities of their local control to protect their water and citizens from fracking, is Exhibit A of this burgeoning grassroots movement. After generating thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls, dozens of regular citizens crammed into an obscure committee meeting on a Thursday afternoon to defeat this industry-sponsored bill.

Governor John Hickenlooper

So I encourage all Coloradans to get involved with this movement to ban fracking. For a first step, email Governor Hickenloopertoday and ask him to pull his misleading industry ads. He’s done enough for the industry. It’s time he sticks up for Coloradans for a change.

This article was first published in Huffington Post and is republished with the permission of the author.

Israel vs. Iran: Deciphering the codes

The following article by Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at Colorado University-Boulder appeared in Huffington Post and Common Dreams. We are honored to have his work appear on Free Range Longmont.

Just days after the New York Times Magazine’s lurid cover story, “Israel vs. Iran,” the Washington Post struck back with a two-fisted effort to win the “most dire prediction” contest. The Post’s foreign policy pundit David Ignatius wrote a widely-circulated column claiming inside information: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June.” The next day the Post’s front page headline warned ominously, “Israel: Iran Must Be Stopped Soon.”

Both stories reported that the Obama administration opposes any Israeli action, just like the Bush administration before it. The risks to U.S. interests are incalculable, as the Pentagon and State Department have been telling us for years.

Yet both stories added a new note: Israel might strike without U.S. support or permission. “The administration appears to favor staying out of the conflict unless Iran hits U.S. assets,” Ignatius wrote.

Of course the U.S. is already in the conflict, as the Iranians know perfectly well. Israel’s ability to strike depends largely on its high-tech weaponry, paid for by the $3 billion a year coming from Washington. With that kind of money flowing — plus U.S. diplomatic support, which many in Israel see as their last barrier against international isolation — the Obama administration has powerful leverage to stop any Israeli action that threatens U.S. interests.

When the administration tells the Washington Post that the U.S. is unhappy but helpless, it’s obviously looking for deniability if the attack occurs. But it’s also a clear signal to the Israelis: Though we could stop you, so far we have not decided that we will. This is a major shift in the message coming from Washington.

Why now? Ignatius put it delicately: “Complicating matters is the 2012 presidential campaign, which has Republicans candidates clamoring for stronger U.S. support of Israel.” Obama, the Republicans, and the mass media all assume that a red light from the White House to the Israelis would hurt the president on Election Day.

Why should the voters punish a president for insisting that U.S. interests must come first and for preventing an attack that would probably cause a spike in gas prices?

The two WaPo articles offered an important clue. One mentioned Israeli warnings about “an existential threat to Israel.” The other called this “a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.”

For decades, American voters have been inundated with news stories reporting supposed threats to Israel’s security as if they were objective fact. Rarely do our mass media allow any questions about, much less objections to, the myth of Israel’s insecurity. At least two questions are urgent now:

Even if the Iranians did manage to make a handful of nuclear weapons, why should we believe they would ever use them against Israel? They know that Israel already has 100 to 200 nukes of its own, enough to destroy every major city in Iran, and is perfectly prepared to use them. Iranian leaders have not given any evidence that they’re interested in committing national suicide.

And why should we believe Israel was better off before the Arab Spring, when its neighbors were all dictatorships, breeding grounds for popular anger that could easily turn (or be manipulated) against outside enemies? Governments that better reflect public sentiment are more stable and reliable for their neighbors to deal with. In fact, the Arab Spring movement is having a moderating effect on Islamist politics, as both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are now demonstrating.

Read the references to Israel’s insecurity in the two WaPo articles more closely, and a third question arises: Do Israelis leaders seriously believe that their national existence is threatened?

The front-pager says:

Israeli officials warn that beyond posing an existential threat to Israel, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon could trigger a regional nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East and alter Israel’s strategic position in the region.

Since Israel brought nukes into the Middle East decades ago, its concern about a “regional nuclear arms race” is code for other Mideast nations getting nuclear capability. “Strategic position” is code for Israel’s current absolute military domination of the greater Middle East, symbolized by its sole possession of nukes. It’s that symbolic as well as very real domination, not its national existence, that Israel is at risk of losing.

“Symbolic” is the right word when it comes to nuclear weapons because Israel’s nukes don’t have any practical value. Israel doesn’t need to use its nukes; it has shown itself more than capable of winning any conventional war against its neighbors. And the U.S. has guaranteed that Israel will stay far ahead in the high-tech conventional arms race.

If Israel did use even one nuke against a conventional attack it would probably lose the last shred of its dwindling support around the world, including most of its support in the U.S., and end up isolated, a pariah in the international community. That’s the greatest nightmare for most Israelis.

The Israelis are considering an attack on Iran, fraught with immense dangers, so the Jewish state can keep its symbolic status as the region’s only superpower.

David Ignatius confirms this view in his reference to Israel’s supposed insecurity: “Israeli leaders are said to accept, and even welcome, the prospect of going it alone and demonstrating their resolve at a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.”

Resolve to do what? To do whatever it takes to maintain military superiority. But superiority is useful only if it’s publicly demonstrated from time to time. Symbolism is the key to a sense of national power.

If these WaPo journalists are right — and my forty years of studying the issue tells me they are — what really makes Israeli leaders feel insecure is their fear of not having their power respected. To gain that respect, they’ll talk endlessly about their planning to attack Iran. Perhaps one day they’ll do it, as long as Obama doesn’t raise the red light.

The main thing holding him back is election-year anxiety of his own, fueled by the millions of voters who honestly believe that Israel’s existence is constantly in peril. Why shouldn’t they believe it, when the journalists they depend on for their information repeat that myth endlessly, while they hint at the full truth only in rare sentences that get lost amid the flood of words that evoke fear.

But how tragic that a president has to worry about voters punishing him if he puts U.S. interests above Israel’s desire to symbolize its military strength and resolve.

Read more of Ira Chernus’ writing on Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. on his blog.

New York Times Hypes Israeli Attack on Iran

The following article by Professor Chernus has been published on Huffington Post and on CommonDreams.com.

It’s an impressive piece of art: the cover of this week’s New York Times Magazine. “ISRAEL VS. IRAN,” spelled out in charred black lettering, with flame and smoke still rising from “IRAN,” as if the great war were already over. Below those large lurid letters is the little subtitle: “When Will It Erupt?” — not “if,” but “when,” as if it were inevitable. Though the article itself is titled “Will Israel Attack Iran?”, author Ronen Bergman, military analyst for Israel’s largest newspaper, leaves no doubt of his answer: “Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”

Bergman does cite some compelling arguments against an Israeli strike from former heads of Mossad (Israel’s CIA). And he makes it clear that no attack can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if it wants them. Everyone agrees on that. The argument is only about whether an attack would delay the Iranian program by a few years or just a few months.

Nevertheless, his article stacks the deck in favor of supposedly persuasive reasons for Israel to act. It’s almost a hymn of praise to what one Jewish Israeli scholar has called Iranophobia, an irrational fear promoted by the Jewish state because “Israel needs an existential threat.” Why? To sustain the myth that shapes its national identity: the myth of Israel’s insecurity.

That myth comes out clearly in Bergman’s conclusion: Israel will attack Iran because of a “peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”

Fear of what? Defend against whom? It doesn’t really matter. Israeli political life has always been built on the premise that Israel’s very existence is threatened by some new Hitler bent on destroying the Jewish people. How can Israel prove that Jews can defend themselves if there’s no anti-semitic “evildoer” to fight against?

So here is Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, talking to Bergman about Iran’s “desire to destroy Israel.” Proof? Who needs it? It’s taken for granted.

In fact, in accurate translations of anti-Israel diatribes from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there’s no mention of destroying or even harming Jews, nor any threat of war. There’s only a clear call for a one-state solution: replacing a distinctly Jewish state, which privileges its Jewish citizens and imposes military occupation on Palestinians, with a single political entity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Guess who else called for exactly the same resolution to the conflict: the most renowned Jewish thinker of the 20th century, Martin Buber. Plenty of Israeli Jews keep Buber’s vision alive today, offering cogent (though debatable) arguments that a one-state solution would be in the best interests of Jews as well as Palestinians.

Yet Ronen Bergman and the editors of the New York Times Magazine see no need for their readers to encounter these facts.

Nor do they see any need to mention the most important fact of all, the one most flagrantly missing from Bergman’s long article: No matter what Iran’s leaders might desire, it’s beyond belief that they would ever launch a single nuke against Israel. They know full well that it would be national suicide. Israel has at least 100 nukes, and 200 or more by many estimates, all ready to be used in a counterattack.

Which makes it hard not to laugh when Bergman reports Ehud Barak’s other arguments for attacking Iran. Even if Iran doesn’t intend to kill all the Jews, “the moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same.” That’s the foolish “stop a Middle East nuclear arms race” argument we hear so often coming out of Washington, too — as if Israel had not already started the Middle East nuclear arms race decades ago.

And how can a supposedly serious journalist like Bergman solemnly repeat the latest popular argument of the Iranophobes: A nuclear-armed Iran (in Barak’s words) “offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies,” Hezbollah and Hamas. That “would definitely restrict our range of operations” in any war against those so-called “proxies.”

As if Iran would even consider committing national suicide to serve the interests of any Lebanese or Palestinian factions.

Yet the myth of “poor little Israel, surrounded by fanatic enemies bent on destroying it” is so pervasive here in the U.S., most readers might easily take this Iranophobic article at face value, forgetting the absurd premises underlying all arguments that Israel “must” attack Iran.

What American readers think is key here. Most Israelis do believe that (as Bergman puts it) Israel needs “the support of other nations to survive.” It’s a crucial piece of their myth of insecurity. And the only nation that really supports them any more is the U.S. So Israel won’t attack Iran without a green light from Washington.

Bergman glibly asserts that there’s some “unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions.” For years, though, a torrent of reports from Washington have all agreed that both the White House and the Pentagon, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, would refuse to support an Israeli attack on Iran. The consequences for the U.S. are too drastic to even consider it. Why should that change now?

Bergman’s article ignores the obvious answer, the most crucial missing piece in his picture: Barack Obama wants to get re-elected nine months from now. Despite what the headlines tell us, he doesn’t really have to worry about pleasing hawkish Jewish opinion. Most American Jews want him to work harder for peaceful settlements in the Middle East.

What Obama does have to worry about is Republicans using words like these (which Bergman tucks into his article as if he were paid by the GOP): “The Obama administration has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear Iran and is merely playing a game of words to appease them.” Only a dyed-in-the-wool Iranophobe would believe the charge that Obama is an “appeaser,” but we are already hearing it from his would-be opponents.

Obama also has to worry about fantasies like the one Bergman offers (apparently in all seriousness) of Iranian operatives smuggling nukes into Texas. Republicans will happily spread that story, too.

All of this could be laughed off as absurdity if the American conversation about Israel were based on reality. Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear power now and for the foreseeable future, is perfectly safe from Iranian attack. Indeed, Israel is safe from any attack, as the strength of its (largely U.S.-funded) military and the history of its war success proves.

But as long as the myth of Israel’s insecurity pervades American political life, an incumbent desperate to get re-elected just might feel forced to let the Israelis attack Iran. The only thing that would stand in the way is a better informed American electorate. Apparently that’s not what the New York Times Magazine sees as its mission.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Read more of his writing on his blog. Contact him at chernus@colorado.edu