Obama administration to press case on Syria but support for strikes wavers

Congressional leaders to be briefed on chemical weapons evidence as White House resists comparisons with Iraq war

The briefings with congressional leaders would be given by the secretary of state John Kerry, and secretary of defence Chuck Hagel, officials said. Photo: Reuters
The briefings with congressional leaders would be given by the secretary of state John Kerry, and secretary of defence Chuck Hagel, officials said. Photo: Reuters

Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Senior US intelligence officials were seeking to persuade Congress on Thursday that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks, as the White House resisted comparisons with intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Leaders of key congressional committees were due to participate in “unclassified briefing” by telephone on Thursday, amid signs that some of the support for military strikes against Syria is fading.

A separate, unclassified report on the US intelligence assessment is being prepared for release to the public before the end of the week.

The UK released an intelligence assessment on Thursday that said it was “highly likely” that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for a chemical attack that killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb last week.

However, the document contained few specifics, and failure by the US and UK to say with absolute certainty that the attacks were conducted by the Syrian government have prompted challenging questions in Congress and led to signs of growing anxiety among traditional US allies.

It has also prompted comparisons with Iraq in 2003, when the US launched an invasion on the pretext of weapons of mass destructions that were never found. “As it relates to the situation in Iraq, I don’t agree these are similar situations,” deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

“What we saw in that circumstance that an administration was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” he said. “That was the articulated policy of the previous administration.”

Earnest said any strikes carried out by the US and its allies would be “discreet and limited”.

In a sign of the importance the White House is attaching to support from Capitol Hill, the briefings with “congressional leaders and the chairs and ranking members of national security committees” would be given by the secretary of state John Kerry, and secretary of defence Chuck Hagel.

Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice and director of national intelligence James Clapper will also participate in the briefing.

Separately, Obama personally briefed the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boenher. A spokesman for Boenher said in a statement he had raised the question of the legality for any military strike and pressed him to consult further with Congress.

Republican senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of armed services committee, said he was opposed to using force in Syria when military resources are depleted and there was insufficient evidence of regional backing. “It is vital we avoid short-sighted military action that would have little impact on the long-term trajectory of the conflict,” he said. “We can’t simply launch a few missiles and hope for the best.”

Obama was criticised for failing to consult Congress sufficiently before air strikes in Libya in 2011. However, there is no sign the White House would seek a Congressional before launching strikes.

In London, prime minister David Cameron laid out Britain’s case for possible military intervention in a parliamentary debate, but doubts remain over whether the House of Commons would approve a joint action with the US. In an attempt to prevent a parliamentary defeat, Cameron committed to a second vote after UN inspectors have completed their report on the chemical attacks in Damascus.

France has also called for a delay to any military action until the UN inspectors complete their work.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, instructed the 20-strong inspection team in Damascus to leave on Saturday, a day before they had expected to leave. Ban also announced the team would report to him immediately on departure.

Military and foreign policy experts were split over whether the US would forge ahead with cruise missile strikes against Syria. Obama, who has long been reluctant to be engaged militarily in the Middle East, is now considering the prospect of taking military action with less international support than George Bush’s 2003 invasion of in Iraq.

However, Earnest, the White House deputy spokesman, seemed to confirm that was a possibility when he was asked whether the US would “go it alone”.

Earnest repeatedly said it was in US “core national security interests” to enforce international chemical weapons norms. “The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests of America,” he said. “The decisions he makes about our foreign policy is with our national security interests front and centre.”

Analysts said that with the Arab League condemning Syria but not backing military action, and no prospect of a UN security council mandate, reluctance on the part of Britain and France could prove a problem for the US.

Michael O’Hanlon, the director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, said fading international support was “regrettable”, the Obama administration was unlikely to pull back from the brink at this stage.

Sean Kay, a Nato expert at Ohio Wesleyan University, said it looked likely that the US would attack Syria with or without the UK. “I think they’re trying to make it clear they’re determined to move forward,” he said.

Many in Washington believe military action is a fait accompli. UN weapons inspections were ordered to leave Syria ahead of schedule on Thursday ahead of schedule amid mounting anticipation of US-led military strikes. But others argue that doubts over intelligence and lack of support from key allies could delay or even lead to the abandonment of military action.

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, detected that “caution has grown” in the White House over the last 24 hours.

“I think they’ve found over the last couple of days both a lack of support at home, both among the American people and Congress, and then they look internationally and suddenly they don’t feel quite so surrounded by friends,” he said.

Bandow said that an “embarrassing backdown” by the US remained a possibility, and predicted that doubt in Britain, and lack of support elsewhere, would delay any strikes.

Britain’s joint intelligence committee (JIC) concluded it is “highly likely” that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapon attacks in Syria. But the assessment was mainly based on “open source” evidence such as video footage of the victims, and a judgment that the opposition does not have the capability to launch such an attack. It described the evidence base of a deliberate attack to clear opposition from suburbs in Damascus as only “limited but growing”.

Chairs and ranking members of key congressional committees, who have been briefed on the intelligence, have endorsed the view that Assad’s forces were responsible for the attack.

But all have stopped short of saying the evidence is unequivocal.

Citing “multiple US officials”, the Associated Press reported on Monday that there were gaps in the US intelligence picture, which was “thick with caveats”.

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst, said the Syria crisis reminded him of the one preceding the Iraq war. “There are enough similarities that it makes one very nervous,” he said. “This rhymes with what happened over Iraq WMD.”

One of the few voices of caution inside the US intelligence agencies when compiling the infamously erroneous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, Thielmann said that post-Iraq intelligence reforms give him confidence that the spy agencies are not overstating their case.

But he raised questions about the seeming vagueness in the intelligence. “I would have thought there would be incentives inside the intelligence community to find out what’s going on that the US would have gotten some samples and established a chain of custody,” he said.

Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst now at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, said that with continuing uncertainty over the intelligence picture, and no obvious legal mandate for military action, the US will be desperate to secure more international backing to argue intervention is “legitimate”.

“If the administration can’t even count of the full-throated support of our closest ally, the country that stuck by us even during the worst days of Iraq, that legitimacy is going to be called into question,” he said.

Obama Includes Natives When Discussing Legacy of Discrimination in US

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

During a town hall-style event in Binghamton, New York on August 23, President Barack Obama addressed the legacy of discrimination in the United States according to the Associated Press.

Obama said that poor people, run-down neighborhoods and underfunded schools would continue to exist even if a magic wand could remove discrimination.

Obama addressed the bias legacy of America, “from slavery to laws that required the separation of blacks and whites,” and how it “has meant that institutional barriers to success exist for many groups, particularly blacks, Latinos and Native Americans,” according to AP.

Smart policies to help those communities that will help America’s youth have a chance for success are what is needed.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/08/24/obama-addresses-legacy-discrimination-us-151021

EPA chief: Stop saying environmental regs kill jobs

U.S. EPAGina McCarthy takes the oath of office, with Carol Browner and Bob Perciasepe.
U.S. EPAGina McCarthy takes the oath of office, with Carol Browner and Bob Perciasepe.

Claire Thompson, Grist

Tuesday, in her first speech as EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy got real with a crowd at Harvard Law School, the AP reports:

“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please, at least for today,” said McCarthy, referring to one of the favorite talking points of Republicans and industry groups.

“Let’s talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake,” she said of efforts to address global warming.

The GOP has resorted to calling pretty much every Obama plan, especially those related to the climate, “job-killing.” McCarthy hammered home the emptiness of that claim. The Hill relays what she said:

The truth is cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, resulting in cleaner forms of American-made energy …

Right now, state and local communities — as well as industry, universities, and other non-profits — have been piloting projects, advancing policies, and developing best practices that follow the same basic blueprint: combining environmental and economic interests for combined maximum benefit. These on-the-ground efforts are the future. It’s a chance to harness the American entrepreneur spirit, developing new technologies and creating new jobs, while at the same time reducing carbon pollution to help our children and their children.

By appointing McCarthy, who pushed through tougher air-pollution regulations while at the head of EPA’s office of air quality, Obama signaled that he’s serious about using his executive power to cut carbon emissions. She warned him that she wouldn’t have an easy time getting Senate confirmation, The New York Times reports:

“Why would you want me?” Ms. McCarthy said she asked the president when he offered her the top job. “Do you realize the rules I’ve done over the past three or four years?” …

The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change.

She was right: Winning confirmation was an arduous process. But now that she’s in, she is “pumped” about the new job. More from the Times:

[S]he said the agency would play a crucial role in dealing with climate change, both in writing the rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and in helping communities adapt to the inevitable changes wrought by a warming planet.

She also said the agency had to do a better job of explaining its mission to hostile constituencies, including Congress and the agriculture, mining and utility industries. …

“I spend a lot of time protecting what we are doing rather than thinking about what we should be doing.”

McCarthy’s trip to Cambridge for her Harvard speech is the first of many public appearances she’ll be making over the coming weeks, part of a big push by the Obama administration and other Democrats to promote Obama’s climate plan. Politico reports:

Starting [this] week, McCarthy will begin traveling around the country to discuss the importance of acting on climate change. The White House official said her schedule includes speeches, media events and meetings with outside groups — all of which will be promoted heavily on social media. And the official added that McCarthy will begin meeting with states soon to discuss the agency’s pending climate regulations.

It’s nice to see Democrats going on the offensive for climate. If you happen to belong to the 80 percent of voters under 35 who support the president’s climate plan, you can launch your own promotion effort, too — maybe start by convincing your cranky uncle that emissions regulations don’t kill jobs.

Flailing Grade: Indian Education Goes From Bold Plans to ‘Just Hang On’

Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

At the beginning of the Obama administration, there was major hope from Indian education advocates that Native-friendly policies could be enacted that would shift the federal focus from rigid criteria-based testing to making sure Indian students were actually succeeding in culturally relevant ways. After five years, hopes have waned, and protecting the status quo has become the next best option.

In 2009, the first year of President Barack Obama’s two terms, Natives had just experienced a tough 8-year stretch under the George W. Bush administration’s famous No Child Left Behind regime, where federal dollars were spent beefing up testing standards, and states—not tribes—were charged with leading the efforts.

Native culture, learning methods, and tribal language development were largely not on the minds of federal policy makers when the law was passed, nor on the minds of many state officials who had to implement the plan. Major opportunities to address the needs of Indian children were missed, lamented a plethora of tribal advocates. Test scores, some which showed Indian students scoring very low on the new standardized testing, soon proved that something was amiss.

With Bush gone and the No Child Left Behind Act, otherwise known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), coming up for reauthorization, Indian educators worked feverishly in the early Obama years to ensure their goals were met. Congressional briefings were held, White House connections were established, and Indian advocacy organizations got their messages out to the major education players.

There were early successes. Arne Duncan, the sole education secretary under the Obama administration to date, made contact, and he continues to do some major outreach to tribes to better understand their concerns. William Mendoza was appointed director of White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education in late-2011, and he has since admitted that federal bureaucracy has been too siloed in addressing Indian education needs—that there needs to be greater coordination between tribes and the Departments of the Interior and Education and Health and Human Services (a point Indian educators have long been making).

But the successes have been small, funding cuts have occurred under federal sequestration, and the ESEA has still not been reauthorized. Gridlock in Congress is one reason. Another, education experts from both political parties agree, is because Obama issued waivers to some of the parts of the Bush program that state educators disliked most, so a push for major reform ended up being sidelined.

“It’s been a recipe for protecting the status quo—that hasn’t been a great thing for Native students,” said Quinton Roman Nose, director of the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly.

“The reauthorization of the ESEA is way past due because the Obama administration has had problems building a consensus to get it done,” he assessed.

“Frustrated” is the best word to describe Native educators who have concurrently been forced to fend off further cuts proposed by Congress, Roman Nose said.

For instance, last week Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) received credit for amending H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, to prevent major reduction in funds and initiatives for American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students. RELATED: Critical, Last-Minute Save For Indian Education

It was a success that leaders with the National Indian Education Association were forced to grit their teeth through. While celebrating the fact that more money wasn’t taken away, NIEA President Heather Shotton noted in a statement that the organization “does have strong concerns about H.R. 5 overall because it does not include our education priorities.” Those education priorities include strengthening tribal participation in education, preserving and revitalizing Native languages, providing tribes with access to the student records of tribal citizens, encouraging tribal-state partnerships, and equitably funding the Bureau of Indian Education. In other words, the same priorities that haven’t been acted on for years.

NIEA also wanted to make clear that it was not Young alone who protected Indian education. “[T]he story behind the passage of the amendment is one that really includes the work of Native organizations such as NIEA and tribes, who worked tirelessly for its passage,” said spokesman RiShawn Biddle, noting also that the amendment was offered by Young, as well as Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), and Betty McCollum (D-MN).

No matter who received the credit, a cut was avoided, but how to move forward to get the real priorities addressed?

The message, for now, seems to be the same as it was at the beginning of Obama’s tenure: “We look forward to working with all congressional leaders, as well as with the Obama administration, on crafting a new version of the No Child Left Behind Act/Elementary and Secondary Education Act that advances equity for our American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children,” Shotton said in a statement. RELATED: No Child Left Behind Act: A Bust in Indian Country


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/25/indian-education-bold-plans-protecting-status-quo-150586

Pipeline approval will spark big battle

By Albert Bender, lohud.com

At a recent Native American conference held in Nashville, celebrated American Indian leader Onondaga wisdomkeeper Oren Lyons said, “If Obama approves the pipeline, this is the deal breaker.” He was referring, of course, to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Just in the past few days, President Obama in a speech on climate change stated that the pipeline would not be approved if it resulted in more “carbon pollution.” This statement is being interpreted in different ways. For those who oppose the pipeline, Obama is setting the stage for rejection of Keystone; for those who favor the pipeline, he is hinting at approval. But one thing is certain: If Obama follows the logic of his statements, the pipeline is “dead in the water.”

The pipeline, by scientific analysis, would result in massively more “carbon pollution”; in fact, 600 parts per million CO2. The maximum safe limit for the atmosphere is 350 parts per million.

Another thing is certain, Native Americans are preparing in case Obama approves the heinous project: Native communities are set for massive civil disobedience to stop the pipeline from crossing the Northern Plains. Indian people are in special training called the “Moccasins on the Ground Tour of Resistance” from South Dakota to Oklahoma.

For Native people, the pipeline means death. The Keystone oil is extracted from tar sands in Canada. Because of the pipeline, Native people there have been exposed to contaminated water, and arsenic has been found in moose meat, a staple of their diet. In Alberta, extraction of tar sands oil already has been linked to a 30 percent elevated rate in rare cancers and rare autoimmune disorders. This pipeline means genocide!

In Rapid City, S.D., representatives of 11 Native American nations angrily stormed out of a May meeting with federal government officials in protest of the pipeline. Tribal officials refused to meet with low-level government representatives. Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer said, “We will only talk with President Obama.”

Also, the pipeline would run through sacred sites and traditional burial grounds, and pollute the Oglala Aquifer, which provides water to millions of citizens in the Midwest, including non-Indians.

Indian people are prepared to risk their lives by standing in front of the bulldozers, but this is not just a fight for Native people; it’s a fight for all Americans. Environmentalists, land owners and ranchers are joining with Indian nations in opposition to this abominable project.

At a recent press conference, the tribes said “Tar sands pipelines will not pass through our collective territories under any conditions or circumstances.” This is a life-and-death struggle for Native Americans.

Native Presence Added to Commission on White House Fellowships

 Rion Joaquin Ramirez, left, was named by President Barack Obama to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships on July 12.
Rion Joaquin Ramirez, left, was named by President Barack Obama to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships on July 12.

By Richard Walker, Indian Country Today Media Network

Rion Joaquin Ramirez is general counsel for the Suquamish Tribe’s Port Madison Enterprises, which has expanded the tribe’s economic diversity and made it one of the largest employers in Kitsap County, west of Seattle.

Ramirez is soon to take on another significant responsibility: Helping select men and women who work for a year as full-time, paid assistant to senior White House staff, the vice president, Cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials.

Ramirez, Pascua Yaqui/Turtle Mountain Chippewa, was named by President Obama to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships July 12. He was not available for comment; technically, the president has only announced his intent to appoint Ramirez to the commission, so Ramirez can’t speak to the media until the appointment is official, which should be within two weeks, according to the White House Communications Office.

There are 27 commission members. Other current members include Keith Harper, Cherokee, who represented the plaintiff class of 500,000 individual Indians in Cobell v. Salazar and is Obama’s nominee for representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council; retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark; Peabody and Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist John Hockenberry; eBay founder Pierre Omidyar; former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland; and Brown University president Ruth J. Simmons.

Ramirez is the second presidential appointee associated with the Suquamish Tribe this year. In May, Obama appointed Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The president appoints members of hundreds of federal agencies and commissions, but each has considerable influence over its area of focus. For example, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation manages the federal historic preservation review process and promotes historic preservation as a means of promoting job creation, economic recovery, energy independence, sustainability, and resource stewardship. In March, it endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, saying it was “an opportunity to promote better stewardship and protection of Native American historic properties and sacred sites and in doing so … ensure the survival of indigenous cultures.”

Speaking as chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, Forsman said Ramirez has helped formulate Indian policy on the federal level and helped develop the legal infrastructure needed for tribes to expand their economies. “He’s been a part of our growth for quite a long time,” Forsman said. “He’s interested in the community, in the social aspects of the tribe, and he’s very familiar with families here and from other tribes.”

Ramirez is the son of Larry Ramirez, an American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame inductee who pitched for Cal State Northridge’s 1970 NCAA Division II national championship team and was the first Native American to pitch a winning complete game in the College World Series.

The younger Ramirez earned a B.A. from the University of Washington and a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law. He was an associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., and served as counsel for the University of Washington’s Child Advocacy Clinic. He joined Port Madison Enterprises in 2004.

He is a past president of the Northwest Indian Bar Association and a former appellate court justice for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, where he is enrolled.

In 2012, Ramirez was a member of the Obama for America National Finance Committee and co-chairman of the Obama Native Outreach Group. He raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign.

President Lyndon B. Johnson established the White House Fellows Program in October 1964, declaring that “a genuinely free society cannot be a spectator society.” His intent was to draw individuals of exceptionally high promise to Washington for one year of personal involvement in the process of government “and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs.” Fellows are expected to employ post-fellowship what they learned by “continuing to work as private citizens on their public agendas.”

Johnson hoped Fellows would contribute to the nation as future leaders. Indeed, most if not all have: Past Fellows include Tom Johnson, who later became publisher of the Los Angeles Times and chairman of CNN; Robert C. McFarlane, who served as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan; Colin Powell, who became an Army general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Secretary of State; Timothy E. Wirth, who became U.S. senator from Colorado and an Under Secretary of State; and numerous authors, elected officials, journalists, military leaders, and assistant Cabinet secretaries.

The current class includes civic leaders, doctors, lawyers, military officers, public policy specialists, and a journalist.

According to the commission website, commissioners met in Washington, D.C. the first week of June and interviewed 30 White House Fellowship finalists. Commissioners will recommend 11-19 for appointment; fellows are paid at GS level 14, step 3 – currently $90,343 – and benefits, and cannot receive any other compensation during their Fellowship.


Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/17/native-presence-added-commission-white-house-fellowships-150445

The Everlasting Fantasy of Native Americans

Lisa Balk KingLisa Balk King, Huffington Post Blog

While everyone is focused on Johnny Depp’s Tonto, debating the merits of donning “red face” in order to “… give some hope to kids on the reservations,” the President of the United States has quietly continued his reparative work on the broken U.S. Federal Indian Policy to nary an audience.

The timing couldn’t be more ironic, or telling, about how we choose as a nation to frame Native America. It is so much easier to add our $12 to the coffers of Disney and Depp in order to enter the debate about our fantastical American history.

What we really could, and should, be doing is paying attention to the real life and work being done to address our own historic holocaust. “This land is our land, this land is your land”? This land was their land, and how we choose to continue this sentimentalist view, and therefore keep our moral distance from responsibility, is right out of a Hollywood escapist fantasy.

Enter Depp to play Tonto, a “Native American” (quotes in deference to Native filmmaker Chris Eyre’s observation on HuffPostLive, “I don’t see anything Indian about him… what is it, the buckskin pants?”) dreamed up by a white guy, and voila, everybody is talking about “Indians.”

To wit, last week Obama signed an Executive Order establishing The White House Council on Native American Affairs. The establishment of this Council is to institutionalize the work done thus far by Obama and his top aides, including Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux), Special Advisor to the President on Native American Affairs and Charlie Galbraith (Navajo), deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Since taking office, Obama has appointed the first-ever Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs within the Domestic Policy Council (Gillette), supported the previously rejected United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), signed the Native American Apology Resolution, H.R. 3326 and thereby “… apologized on behalf of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect of Native Peoples by citizens of the United States,” made a number of Native American appointments to key posts (including the first-ever Native American to be tapped for United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Keith Harper), successfully encouraged the resolution of historic resource settlements, and most notably hosted an annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. This gathering includes a representative from each of the 566 federally recognized tribes and key Cabinet members. The new Executive Order builds upon this annual gathering, aspiring to ensure that future administrations can’t undo the advances made by Obama and company.

Obama’s newly appointed Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, made an emotional address to tribal leadership on June 27 at the National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference in Reno, NV. Jewell publicly announced the Executive Order and will serve as Chair of the Council. “The President is firmly committed to building the nation-to-nation relationship with tribes… This is about forwarding and promoting self-determination and self governance.” The Council is meant to organize the federal government’s interactions with Indian tribes in a comprehensive and permanent fashion, breaking down agency “silos” and building capacity.

When asked if this effort was the president’s way of making good on the (somewhat hushed) apology, Jodi Gillette replied, “We are trying to weave that through all of our work. Like the president says, ‘It’s not just about words, its about action.’ We can’t undo what was done in the last 150 years. It’s about doing right by Indian country for the next 150 years.”

So, what does this mean to you, Depp-loving American? It means that you don’t have to count on the occasional return of Hollywood favor for a celebrity-loaned spotlight on Native American children. Real work is being done here, and the strides are measurable.

Everybody loves a good escapist fantasy now and then, and this isn’t such a bad thing. What is not acceptable, however, is the collective amnesia about the responsibility of the United States. As the Apology Resolution clearly and correctly states, we must “… acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.” While it is a grand thought that Tonto can provide a foil to Manifest Destiny, this is truly a job for the superhero (aka American voter) in each of us.

U.S. not waging ‘war on coal’: Energy Secretary Moniz

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz gestures during an interview with Reuters in Vienna June 30, 2013.Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz gestures during an interview with Reuters in Vienna June 30, 2013.
Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

Fredrik Dahl, Reuters

The U.S. government is not waging a “war on coal” but rather expects it to still play a significant role, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said on Sunday, rejecting criticism of President Barack Obama’s climate change plan.

Obama tried last week to revive his stalled climate change agenda, promising new rules to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants and other domestic actions including support for renewable energy.

The long-awaited plan drew criticism from the coal industry, which would be hit hard by carbon limits, and Republicans, who accused the Democratic president of advancing policies that harm the economy and kill jobs. Environmentalists largely cheered the proposals, though some said the moves did not go far enough.

Obama “expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time,” Moniz told Reuters in Vienna, where he was to attend a nuclear security conference.

The way the U.S. administration is “looking at it is: what does it take for us to do to make coal part of a low carbon future,” he said, adding this would include higher efficiency plants and new ways of utilizing coal.

It is “all about having, in fact, coal as part of that future,” Moniz said. “I don’t believe it is a ‘war on coal’.”

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, the No. 2 U.S. coal mining state after Wyoming, said last week that Obama had “declared a war on coal,” and the industry said the rules threatened its viability.

Moniz acknowledged there could be winners and losers but that economic models belie “the statement that there are huge economic impacts” from controlling greenhouse gases.

“Quite the contrary. We expect that this is going to be positive for the economy,” he said.

Obama said he had directed the Environmental Protection Agency to craft new emissions rules for thousands of power plants, the bulk of which burn coal and which account for roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

With Congress unlikely to pass climate legislation, Obama said his administration would set rules using executive powers.

Moniz said he was optimistic that the United States would meet its goal to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. “We’re pretty close to the track right now. We’re halfway there,” he said.

An $8 billion loan guarantee program for projects to develop new technologies that help cut emissions of fossil fuels would include carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) as “one of a number of options,” he said.

“It will also include some advanced technologies for using coal very different from today’s technologies that will enable much less expensive carbon capture in future,” Moniz said.

CCS is a relatively new, expensive and unproven technology that captures carbon dioxide and buries it.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz relies on dubious coal tech for Obama climate strategy

Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog

The key takeaway from President Obama’s major climate change announcement this week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz’s Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama’s strategy is administered.

The day after Obama’s speech, Moniz told Congress  “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this.”

What’s wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn twenty percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world’s coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

In May, carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere reached 400 parts per million – the highest level of carbon dioxide ever recorded in human history. Last year, the continental U.S. experienced its hottest year on record, and the NRDC estimates that climate-related disasters like crop loss, wildfires and floods cost the nation roughly $140 billion last year alone, with much of the tab picked up by taxpayers.

Power plants are the single largest source of American carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gasses. So focusing on power plants is key if emissions are to be reduced.

Coal currently supplies about 40 percent of American electricity, according to EIA statistics, down from fifty percent in 2005. Coal’s decline comes as natural gas from fracking (which has its own worrisome climate impacts, measured in methane rather than carbon dioxide), wind and solar, have risen in their share of the U.S. electric portfolio. Since the beginning of 2010, 145 coal-fired power plantsannounced plans to retire.

But the Department of Energy is focused not on retiring more of these plants, pinning its hopes instead on developing new technologies to make coal cleaner. The plan in rough form, involves collecting carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and burying it, forever, underground.

If that sounds like a heck of a challenge, that’s because it is.

There’s not a single large commercially-operating carbon sequestration plantanywhere in the world.

That’s despite over $25 billion in government subsidies worldwide from 2008 to 2012.

Nevertheless, Mr. Moniz told Congress that “the Administration has already committed about $6 billion to [carbon capture and sequestration] demonstrations, and success of the forthcoming projects will be a critical step toward meeting the President’s climate goals.”

The $8 billion in total subsidies adds up to more than the wind and solar industries combined receive – and those are industries that have proven themselves to be commercially viable.

Undaunted, Moniz told The New York Times on Thursday that carbon capture and sequestration was a vital part of the country’s climate change strategy. He called for CCS to be commercialized first for coal-fired power plants. He added that natural gas’ carbon emissions, though half those of coal, are still too high to meet Obama’s long-term goal of slashing emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 — so he called for the same speculative technology to resolve that problem as well.

The transition to an electric industry that captures its greenhouse gasses instead of releasing them into the atmosphere makes the challenges associated with developing renewables like wind and solar look easy in comparison.

Professor Vaclav Smil, author of the “Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate” – See more at: http://www.ecopedia.com/environment/will-carbon-sequestration-solve-clim…

Professor Vaclav Smil, author of “Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate” has calculated that to sequester just a fifth of current carbon dioxide emissions:

“… we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build.”

Carbon capture is also grossly inefficient. “By some estimates, 40 percent of the energy generated has to go to the carbon capture and sequestration process,” Josh Galperin, associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy,said after the climate strategy was released. DeSmog’s Kevin Grandia describessome further technical hurdles that carbon sequestration has yet to overcome.

In a key indication of how shaky the science is behind carbon sequestration, not even the World Bank will fund it. Concerns about climate change led the Bank to restrict its financial support for coal projects except in “rare circumstances,” a draft strategy leaked to the press earlier this week indicates. In a glaring omission, the strategy says nothing about carbon capture and sequestration as an alternative.

None of this seems to matter to Mr. Moniz, whose support of the coal industry and faith in sequestration has been longstanding.

A 2009 report he helped produce focused on how to reduce CO2 from coal plants, touting the potential for so-called “clean coal.”

“It’s cheap,” he told Scientific American when the report was released, “there’s lots of it and there’s lots of it in places with high demand, namely the U.S., China and India.”

In 2007, Moniz co-authored an MIT report titled “The Future of Coal” that aimed to examine “how the world can continue to use coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel, in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis.”

Moniz’s faith in carbon sequestration has remained unshaken up to the present day.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but I believe in this decade we will have demonstrated the viability of large-scale storage” of carbon-dioxide from industrial operations, he told the Associated Press on Thursday. “The president made clear that we anticipate that coal and other fossil fuels are going to play a significant role for quite some time on the way to a very low carbon economy,” he added.

Meanwhile, broader concerns about the President’s climate plans remain.

“We’re happy to see the president finally addressing climate change” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, “but the plain truth is that what he’s proposing isn’t big enough, and doesn’t move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis.”

And if the clean coal technology Mr. Moniz is counting on doesn’t pan out, prospects may be even dimmer.

Overdue White House Native Council Lacking Budget Control and Natives

Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

President Barack Obama, following the lead of at least three presidents before him, established a White House Council on Native American Affairs on June 26.

The council is expected to oversee and coordinate the progress of federal agencies on tribal programs and consultation with tribes across the federal government.

“This policy is established as a means of promoting and sustaining prosperous and resilient tribal communities,” Obama said in his executive order announcing the Council. “Greater engagement and meaningful consultation with tribes is of paramount importance in developing any policies affecting tribal nations.” (Related story: Obama Establishes White House Council on Native American Affairs)

Jodi Gillette, Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs with the White House Domestic Policy Council, was direct in describing the need for the Council during a press conference call on June 27. “We need to do more, and we need to do it better,” she said. “Tribal leaders have told us we aren’t talking to each other enough.”

The Council will have no financial powers—those still belong to the Office of Management and Budget, which will continue to control how much money is spent on Native programs throughout the federal government.

Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell, who is designated chair of the Council by the president, told attendees of a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Nevada on June 27 that she would like to have the ability to curb cuts to Indian programs. During a speech there, she called sequestration “stupid,” and she noted that it has targeted tribal programs that are supposed to be protected under the federal-tribal trust relationship. She also wiped tears from her eyes when she said she realized the depth of her commitment to Indian issues over Memorial Day Weekend.

Despite this budgetary limitation, the president’s move is being applauded by tribal officials, including some involved with NCAI, who say that such a development is overdue under the Obama administration to better organize its response to Indian issues.

At the same time, some are concerned that this new Council is not currently scheduled to have tribal seats, although the administration has promised to consult with tribal leaders on issues the Council addresses.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has been pressing for the creation of a Native American White House council based on the model established under President Lyndon B. Johnson that would make tribes actual members of the council and give the council stronger powers (including OMB and budget powers).

Hall would especially like to see that model in place because OMB, earlier this year, decided to sequester Native programs, despite the federal trust responsibility to tribes. If the White House Native council had more budgetary power, this problem could have been averted.

Officials involved in past presidential Native American councils have also questioned why it took so long into Obama’s tenure to establish the Council since similar to ones that have proven to be useful under past administrations, including those of Presidents Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

Mike Anderson, an Indian affairs lawyers and past leader with the Clinton Native-focused council, said that he suggested to White House officials and to Indian affairs officials with the Department of the Interior during Obama’s first term that a similar council be created as the one he successfully worked on during the Clinton administration.

“[I’m] glad they are finally doing it,” Anderson said, adding that this group could have pushed for the federal agencies complete tribal consultation policies in compliance with the president’s request from 2009 that went unheeded by some for years after his request.

Anderson said it would have also been helpful for the Treasury Department, in particular, to hear perspectives on Indians during the president’s first term, since that Department has had some recent tax dealings with tribes that continue to perplex tribal leaders and citizens.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chair of the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs in the House, is expressing concern that the creation of the council is symbolic, and he fears it does not focus enough on helping poverty-stricken tribes.

“This announced council is symbolic and a gesture rather than concrete action,” said Young spokesman Michael Anderson (no relation to Indian affairs lawyer Mike Anderson). “This is the phenomenon of government people creating a ‘blue ribbon panel’ to buy time so they can figure out how…to improve Indian reservation economies.

“Indian country’s unemployment situation, from all appearances, has not improved since Obama took office,” Anderson added. “If it has, we wouldn’t know it because the Secretary of the Interior has failed to produce annually required tribal labor reports. There are precious few job-producing non-government projects the Obama administration has approved in Indian country.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is much less critical of the Council and the president’s efforts. “This council recognizes the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between tribal governments and the federal government, and can help federal agencies work more effectively with tribes all across the nation,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I look forward to working with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on innovative ways to strengthen tribal self-governance and self-determination.”

Some Obama administration officials say the creation of the Council is the next step in the evolution of the president’s strong commitment to Indian country.

“This announcement today is the next evolution of what is already a wonderful approach toward Indian tribes,” Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn said in a press conference call on June 27. “I am confident that this will make the administration even more effective at working with tribes in the future.”

Administration officials have not addressed why tribal officials were not invited to hold positions on the Council, as has happened with past presidential councils, nor why one wasn’t created sooner.


Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/27/overdue-white-house-native-council-lacking-budget-control-and-natives-150162