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‘A cat in hell’s chance’ – why we’re losing the battle to keep global warming below 2C

By Andew Simms.This article was first published on The Guardian.

A global rise in temperature of just 2C would be enough to threaten life as we know it. But leading climate scientists think even this universally agreed target will be missed. Could dramatic action help?

Under threat: a polar bear tries its weight on thin sea ice in the Arctic. Photograph: Mario Hoppmann/AFP/Getty Images

It all seemed so simple in 2008. All we had was financial collapse, a cripplingly high oil price and global crop failures due to extreme weather events. In addition, my climate scientist colleague Dr Viki Johnson and I worked out that we had about 100 months before it would no longer be “likely” that global average surface temperatures could be held below a 2C rise, compared with pre-industrial times.

What’s so special about 2C? The simple answer is that it is a target that could be politically agreed on the international stage. It was first suggested in 1975 by the environmental economist William Nordhaus as an upper threshold beyond which we would arrive at a climate unrecognisable to humans. In 1990, the Stockholm Environment Institute recommended 2C as the maximum that should be tolerated, but noted: “Temperature increases beyond 1C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.”

To date, temperatures have risen by almost 1C since 1880. The effects of this warming are already being observed in melting ice, ocean levels rising, worse heat waves and other extreme weather events. There are negative impacts on farming, the disruption of plant and animal species on land and in the sea, extinctions, the disturbance of water supplies and food production and increased vulnerability, especially among people in poverty in low-income countries. But effects are global. So 2C was never seen as necessarily safe, just a guardrail between dangerous and very dangerous change.

To get a sense of what a 2C shift can do, just look in Earth’s rear-view mirror. When the planet was 2C colder than during the industrial revolution, we were in the grip of an ice age and a mile-thick North American ice sheet reached as far south as New York. The same warming again will intensify and accelerate human-driven changes already under way and has been described by James Hansen, one of the first scientists to call global attention to climate change, as a “prescription for long-term disaster”, including an ice-free Arctic.

Nevertheless, in 1996, a European Council of environment ministers, that included a young Angela Merkel, adopted 2C as a target for the EU. International negotiators agreed the same in 2010 in Cancun. It was a commitment repeated in the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 where, pushed by a new group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum, ambitions went one step further, agreeing to hold temperature rises to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

François Hollande and Ban Ki-moon at Paris climate accord in 2015

French president François Hollande (right) and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (second left) celebrate the Paris climate accord in 2015. Photograph: Francois Mori/AP

Is it still likely that we will stay below even 2C? In the 100 months since August 2008, I have been writing a climate-change diary for the Guardian to raise questions and monitor progress, or the lack of it, on climate action. To see how well we have fared, I asked a number of leading climate scientists and analysts for their views. The responses were as bracing as a bath in a pool of glacial meltwater.

Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has an important place in the history of climate-change research. Hansen was its director from 1981 until 2013. Donald Trump is set to strip the institute of funding for climate research. Its current director, Dr Gavin Schmidt, is categoric that we are no longer likely to stay below 2C. “The inertia in the system (oceans, economies, technologies, people) is substantial and … so far the efforts are not commensurate with the goal,” he says.

Sabine Fuss, of Germany’s Mercator Research Institute, on Global Commons and Climate Change says emissions are currently “not aligned” with the 2C target and will need to “come down more quickly”. Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment, thinks there is “no chance whatsoever at current levels of carbon emissions”, and her Grantham Institute colleague, Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, is not “confident” that temperature rises can be held below 2C.

Prof Andrew Watkinson of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia thinks it “unlikely” and Prof John Shepherd, a physicist at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, calls it “not very likely at all”. Stuart Haszeldine of the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh says we have “very little chance”, and Prof Piers Forster, director of the Priestly International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds calls it, “on the fanciful edge of plausible”. Glen Peters, senior researcher at Norway’s leading climate change centre, Cicero, is unambiguous, saying: “We have emitted too much already.” And these sentiments are echoed by Prof Alice Larkin, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, and Dr Chris Vernon, a glaciologist and former scientist at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Science. Only one influential scientist preferred their comments to remain anonymous, but they too said we were off-target, because the “international negotiating process is disconnected from national policymaking”.

In short, not a single one of the scientists polled thought the 2C target likely to be met. Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, is most emphatic. “My personal view,” he says, “is that there is not a cat in hell’s chance.”

The most positive response came in the guarded words of Chris Jones, head of the Earth system and mitigation science team at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, who says that current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere “don’t preclude” successfully achieving the target. Prof Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, would “only confirm that it is still possible to keep global warming below 2C”. The last point, however, is contentious, for precisely the reason the target exists. Namely, to prevent global warming from feeding off itself by triggering long-term, potentially irreversible environmental domino effects, such as ice loss and forest die-back, and the weakening ability of things such as our oceans to absorb carbon. “The open question for me is not whether we will breach the 2C target,” says Prof Barry McMullin of Dublin City University, “but how soon.”

In addition, the temperature target is a global average, and local variations matter. In November 2016, the Arctic was already experiencing extraordinary anomalies. Temperatures were 20C above normal. A global average rise of 2C implies higher temperatures still for the Arctic, sufficient to push long-term ice loss and trigger other potentially uncontrollable climate changes. At the other end of the world, a development more bizarre than extraordinary is touching the Antarctic. Gambling with our future used to be largely a metaphor, but it is now possible to place bets on when the next giant iceberg will detach itself from the Larsen C ice shelf. At the time of writing, betting company PaddyPower is offering odds of 7/2 in February 2017 or 12/1 in August.

Hoskins says: “We have no evidence that a 1.9C rise is something we can easily cope with, and 2.1 is a disaster.” But Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, one of the countries most vulnerable to warming, warns in stark terms of the failure to stick to a much lower target: “The consequences of failing to keep the temperature below 1.5C will be to wilfully condemn hundreds of millions of the poorest citizens of Earth to certain deaths from the severe impacts of climate change.”

A rift in the Antarctic peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf

A Nasa photograph of a massive rift in the Antarctic peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf, observed in November 2016. Photograph: Nasa/EPA

“I think we actively chose to forgo the carbon budgets for a likely chance of 2C many years ago,” says Kevin Anderson, currently professor of climate change at Uppsala University in Sweden. “Judging that rate at which our emissions would need to be reduced was too politically challenging to contemplate.”

The one thing agreed by all the climate scientists was the need for immediate and dramatic transition to a low-carbon economy, at a scale and speed we have not yet remotely approached. And the truly striking thing is that a huge number of the actions we need to take are things that bring enormous economic, social and environmental benefits. Rationally, we would be choosing to do them anyway. Where there are challenging shifts in behaviour required, they mostly affect only a small, wealthy proportion of society. Take flying, for example: 70% of all flights by UK residents are accounted for by just 15% of the population.

So, what scale of change are we looking at to stay below 2C? Being optimistic about what might be achieved in terms of saving forests from being cut down and cleaning up industry, especially the production of steel and cement, Anderson estimates globally we can afford to emit around 650bn tonnes of carbon dioxide in total from energy systems. Currently, the world pumps out about 36bn tonnes every year alone. Starting from today, and assuming that poorer and industrialising nations see a peak in the emissions from energy use by 2025 and go zero carbon by 2050, Anderson calculates that this leaves a rich country such as the UK with the challenge of cutting its emissions by around 13% per year.

Chris Goodall charts the remarkable rise of renewable energy and its equally dramatic falling costs. But renewables have to substitute for fossil fuels, not merely add to overall energy supply. In the meantime, it matters as much that we reduce our total energy use. You will hear a lot of talk about technologies to capture carbon from the burning of fuel and prevent it entering the atmosphere. Most of the climate models used to project what will happen to our atmosphere rely heavily on the assumption that they will be used at large scale. While most climate scientists see these so-called “negative emissions technologies” for carbon capture and storage (CCS) as essential parts of the toolkit to tackle climate change, many are sceptical of hope being placed in them. It is easier not to burn the carbon in the first place.

“There is no guarantee that CCS will work at a sufficiently global scale,” says Dr Hugh Hunt, a Cambridge specialist on climate engineering. “These technologies will take decades to reach any meaningful scale.” Tellingly, as an engineer, he argues that our top priorities are to stop burning fossil fuels and for the biggest consumers to live less extravagantly. And, it seems, moderate shifts by the most profligate could yield huge climate dividends. Currently about half of all global emissions are the responsibility of just of just one in 10 of the global population.

Traffic on a Los Angeles freeway

Climate threat: traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

If just this group reduced their carbon footprints to that of the average, barely impoverished European, argues Anderson, global emissions would be cut by around one-third.

There are many ways to reach a 2C world, according to Prof Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, of the Central European University. “Their common characteristic is that they all require rapid and transformational action,” she says. Small, incremental changes won’t do it.

Retrofitting existing buildings in rich countries can save 70-90% of the energy used to heat and cool them, she adds. And such a move also tackles fuel poverty, creates local jobs and reduces deaths from cold. Switching transport from fossil fuels to electricity power by renewables cuts emissions but also removes the air pollution that is responsible for an epidemic of lethal respiratory disease. In Europe alone, about half a million people suffer premature deaths each year due to air pollution.

In November 2016, many, mostly low-income countries, from Bangladesh to Tanzania and Guatemala, committed to switching entirely to renewable energy by 2030-50 at the latest. Costa Rica, aided by favourable geography, has already managed to power itself for extended periods, relying just on renewables. Portugal has managed the same for shorter periods. But great leaps forward are happening elsewhere, too. China is installing more new wind energy capacity in a single year than the UK has in total.

So, adding to the prevailing global strangeness, the edifice of international climate policy rests on a target that no one believes it is likely can be met. And some think even that insufficiently ambitious. Yet, among climate scientists, there is a consensus that swift action is vital, and with it the target remains, at least, possible.

With the amount of carbon burned by humans, we have now created a climate not experienced on Earth since the Pliocene era, 2m-5m years ago. We are daily rolling the climate dice with the odds stacked against us. But we are also clever, quick and innovative when we want to be. Now that we understand the game better, the question we face is whether we will choose to change it, fast and enough, so that we can all have better lives.

Andrew Simms is co-director of the New Weather Institute, author of Cancel the Apocalypse and a research fellow on rapid transition at the University of Sussex.

 

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Chelsea Manning, cabinet picks and poverty

By Informed Rant. This article was first published on Soundcloud.

This week on Informed Rant, we look at the long list of terrible Trump picks for cabinet positions and their confirmation hearings in a conversation with journalist Kevin Gosztola, from Shadowproof.  We then explore Chelsea Manning's commutation and the fate of other incarcerated people under Trump, with lawyer and author of The Passion of Chelsea Manning, Chase Madar.  We end the show with a personal discussion of poverty and how people are at risk of sliding into this trap in an interview with screenwriter, author and journalist Ruth Fowler

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The Syrian Cause and Anti Imperialism

By Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Translated by: Yaaser ElZayyar

While my blog is mostly for my own articles, I do very occasionally put up something else I think is exceptional. This is definitely an example. Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a well-known Syrian leftist dissident who spent 16 years in Assad’s torture chambers for having an opinion. When you read his opinions, you can see why. This is a masterful essay, and should be read from start to end by anyway concerned with these issues.

Posted on May 5, 2017

In memory of Michel Seurat, our martyr.

http://aljumhuriya.net/en/critical-thought/the-syrian-cause-and-anti-imperialism

I was in Istanbul for about ten days when I met a Turkish communist who explained to me that what was going on in Syria was nothing but an imperialist conspiracy against a progressive, anti-imperialist regime. The Turkish comrade’s talk contained no novel information or analytical spark that could suggest something useful about my country, and everything I tried to say seemed utterly useless. I was the Syrian who left his country for the first time at the age of fifty-two, only to be lectured about what was really happening there from someone who has probably only visited Syria a few times, if at all.

Incidents like this are repeated over and over in both the real and virtual worlds: a German, a Brit, or an American activist would argue with a Syrian over what is really happening in Syria. It looks like they know more about the cause than Syrians themselves. We are denied “epistemological agency,” that is, our competence in providing the most informed facts and nuanced analysis about our country. Either there is no value to what we say, or we are confined to lesser domains of knowledge, turned into mere sources for quotations that a Western journalist or scholar can add to the knowledge he produces. They may accept us as sources of some basic information, and may refer to something we, natives, said in order to sound authentic, but rarely do they draw on our analysis. This hierarchy of knowledge is very widespread and remains under-criticized in the West.

There are articles, research papers, and books written by Westerner academics and journalists about Syria that do not refer to a single Syrian source–especially one that is opposed to the Assad regime. Syria seems to be an open book of a country; anyone with a passing interest knows the truth about it. They particularly know more than dissidents, whom they often call into question, practically continuing the negation of their existence which is already their fate in their homeland. Consequently, we are denied political agency in such a way that builds on the work of the Assad regime, which has, for two entire generations, stripped usof any political or intellectual merit in our own country. We are no longer relevant for our own cause. This standpoint applies to the global anti-imperialist left, to mainstream western-centrists, and of course to the right-wing.

The Western mainstream approaches Syria (and the Middle East) through one of three discourses: a geopolitical discourse, which focuses on Israeli security and prioritizes stability; a culturalist or civilizationalist discourse, which basically revolves around Islam, Islamists, Islamic terrorism and minority rights; and a human-rights discourse, which addresses Syrians as mere victims (detainees, torture victims, refugees, food needs, health services, etc.), entirely overlooking the political and social dimensions of our struggles. These three discourses have one thing in common: they are depopulated (Kelly Grotke), devoid of people, individuals, or groups. They are devoid of a sense of social life, of what people live and dream.

The first two discourses, the geopolitical and the culturalist, are shared by the Western right as well.

But what about the left? The central element in the definition of the anti-imperial left is imperialism and, of course, combatting it. Imperialist power is thought of as something that exists in large amounts in America and Europe. Elsewhere it is either nonexistent or present only in small amounts. In internationalist struggles, the most important cause is fighting against western imperialism. Secondary conflicts, negligible cause and vague local struggles should not be a source of distraction. This depopulated discourse, which has nothing to do with people’s lived experiences, and which demonstrates no need for knowledge about Syrians, has considered it unimportant to know more about the history of their local struggles.

The Palestinian cause, which was only discovered by most anti-imperialists during the 1990s, has paradoxically played a role in their hostility towards the Syrian cause. From their far-off, transcendent position in the imperialist metropoles, they have the general impression that Syria is against Israel, which occupies Syrian territory. Thus, if Syria is with Palestine and against Israel, it is against imperialism. At the end of the day, these comrades are with the Assadists, because Syria has been under the Assad family rule for nearly half a century. Roughly speaking, this is the core of the political line of thinking which can be called ivory-tower anti-imperialism. That Syrians have been subject to extreme Palestinization by a brutal, internal Israel, and that they are susceptible to political and physical annihilation, just like Palestinians, in fact lies outside the clueless, tasteless geopolitical approach of those detached anti-imperialists, who ignorantly bracket off politics, economics, culture, the social reality of the masses and the actual history of Syria.

This way of linking our conflict to one major global struggle, which is supposedly the only real one in the world, denies the autonomy of any other social and political struggle taking place in the world. Anti-imperialists, especially those living in the allegedly imperialist metropoles, are most qualified to tell the truth about all struggles. Those who are directly involved in this or that struggle hardly know what’s really going on – their knowledge is partial, “non-scientific”, if not outright reactionary.

During the Cold War, orthodox communists knew the real interests of the masses, as well as the ultimate course of history. This was sufficient reason for a communist worldview to be always in the right, without fail. But this position, which looks down on history, has placed itself in an overly exalted position with relation to the masses and their actual lives, and in relation to social and political battles on the ground. In fact, this position can be accurately described as imperialist: it expands at the expense of other conflicts, appropriates them for itself and shows little interest in listening to those involved or in learning anything about them. The distinguishing feature of most Western anti-imperialists is that they have nothing but vague impressions about the history of our country; they cannot possibly know anything about its potential adherence to –or noncompliance with– “the course of history.” This makes their meddling in our affairs an imperialist intervention in every sense of the word: interference from above; depriving us of the agency and capacity to represent our own cause; enacting a power relation in which we occupy the position of the weak who do not matter; and finally the complete absence of a sense of comradeship, solidarity, and partnership.

This remains true even when the anti-imperialist left stands with the Egyptian or Tunisian revolutions. It stands by their side on the basis of stereotyped and simplistic discourses that are inherited from the Cold War era. The anti-imperialist comrade is with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt for the same reason that led him to “resist” alongside the Syrian regime: to stand in opposition to the great amounts of imperialist power that are concentrated at the White House and 10 Downing Street. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, people are invisible, and their lives do not matter. We remain marginal to some other issue, the only one that matters: the struggle against imperialism (a struggle that, ironically, is also not being fought by these anti-imperialists, as I will argue below).

The anti-imperialist left remembers from the Cold War era that Syria was close to the Soviet Union, so it sides with this supposedly anti-imperialist regime. Consequently, those who resist this regime are “objectively” pro-imperialists. Framing imperial power as something that only exists in the West ascribes to the anti-imperialists a Western-centric tendency, which is no less severe than that of imperialist hardliners themselves.

The response to this discourse need not be to point out the truth, that the Assadist state is not against imperialism in any way whatsoever. First and foremost, the autonomy of our social and political struggles for democracy and social justice must be highlighted and separated out from this grand, abstract scheme. It should be said that this particular mode of analysis, which belongs to the transcendental anti-imperialism, is a belittling imperialist tendency that should to be resisted. There is no just way, for instance, to deny the right of the North Koreans to resist their fascist regime on the basis of such an abstract scheme. Instead, such a scheme can only serve to silence them, just as their regime does.

It is absolutely necessary to rebuild an intellectual and political foundation for criticism and seeking change in the world, but metropolitan anti-imperialism is totally unfit for this job. It has absorbed subordinating imperialistic tendencies, and it is fraught with eurocentrism and void of any true democratic content. A better starting point for criticism and change would be to look at actual conflicts and actual relationships between conflicting parties. This could involve, for example, thinking about how the structure of a globally dominating Western first world has been re-enacted in our own countries, including Syria. We have an “internal first world” that is the Assadist political and economic elites, and a vulnerable internal third world, which the state is free to discipline, humiliate, and exterminate. The relationship between the first world of Assad and the third world of “black Syrians” perfectly explains Syria’s Palestinization. Imperialism as such has shifted from an essence that exists in the West to a major aspect of local, domesticated power structures. Ironically, the power elites protecting this neo-imperialism may well draw on classical anti-imperialist rhetoric in order to discredit local dissidence and suppress potential political schisms. This is especially true in the Middle East, the world’s most heavily internationalized region. It is characterized by an extensive and aggressive imperialist presence that is directed mainly at suppressing democracy and political change.

From this perspective, working to overthrow the Assadist state is a grassroots struggle against imperialism. Conversely, the victory of the Assadist state over the revolution is a victory for imperialism and a consolidation of imperialist relations in Syria, the Middle East, and the world. Meanwhile, thetranscendental anti-imperialists continue to be mere parasites who barely know anything, practically contributing to the victory of imperialism by opposing the Syrian revolution.

In short, it must be stressed that individual struggles are autonomous, and that their internal structures and histories should be understood, rather than dismissed and subordinated to an abstract struggle that looks down on whole societies and people’s lives. Only then would it be meaningful to state that there is nothing within the Assadist state that is truly anti-imperialist, even if we define imperialism as an essence nestled in the West. Nor is there anything popular, liberatory, nationalist, or third-worldly in the Syrian regime. There is only a fascist dynastic rule, whose history, which goes back to the 1970s, can be summed up as the formation of an obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has proved itself ready to destroy the country in order to remain in power forever. As I have just mentioned, in its relationship with its subjects, this regime reproduces the structure of imperial domination; this is a thousand times more telling than any anti-imperialist rhetoric. Significantly, there exists a strong racist predisposition that is inherent to the structure of this neo-bourgeoisie and its ideology, which celebrates materialist modernity (the modernity of outward appearance and not of relationships, rights, values, etc.). This privileged class regards poor Syrians –Sunni Muslims in particular– just like Ashkenazi Jews regard Arab Muslim Palestinians (and even Sephardic Jews, at an earlier time), and just like whites of South Africa regarded the blacks in the last century. The colonized groups are backward, irrational, and savage, and their extermination is not that big of a deal; it may even be desirable. This attitude does not exclusively characterize the Assadist elite. In fact, the regime and its supporters are emboldened by identification with an international symbolic and political system in which Islamophobia is a rising global trend.

It is well known that the Assadist state has succumbs throughout its history to what can be assumed as imperialist preferences: guarding the borders with Israel since 1974, ensuring stability in the Middle East, weakening the Palestinian resistence independency, treating Syrians as slaves, and destroying all independent political, social, and trade organizations. Indeed, the Assadist state is an integral part of what I call the “Middle Eastern system,” which was founded upon Israeli security, regional stability, and the political disenfranchisement and dispossession of our countries’ subjects. Herein lies the secret of Arab/Islamic exceptionalism with regards to democracy – in contrast to the popular interpretations of cultural critics in the West. Imperialist self-fashioning in such a regime, or the reproduction of imperialism therein, invalidates the conventional notion that imperialist power only exists in America, or in both Europe and America. This suggests that the anti-imperialist left has deep anti-democratic and patriarchal tendencies and suffers from intellectual primitiveness.

We have our own local anti-imperialist communists who adhere to the Assadist state, the Bakdashists. They are named after Khalid Bakdash, who was the Secretary-General of the official, Moscow-aligned Syrian Communist Party since early 1940s up to his death in early 1990s (his wife WissalFarha inherited his post after him, and their son Ammar subsequently inherited it after she passed away). These communists are exactly those who were faithful followers of the Soviet Union within Syrian communism during the Cold War. Today, Bakdashists are middle-class apparatchiks, enjoying a globalized lifestyle and living in city centers, completely separate from the social suffering of the masses and utterly lacking in any creativity. While a diverse array of Syrians had been subject to arrest, humiliation, torture and murder throughout two generations between the 1970s and the 2010s, Bakdashists have persisted in recycling the same vapid anti-imperialist rhetoric, and have paid nothing in return for their blindness to the prolonged plight of their country. This plight has included a sultanic, patriarchal transformation of the regime, the outcome of which was turning Syria into what I am calling the Assadist state, a country privately owned by the Assad dynasty and its intimates. This demonstrates a clear example of the collusion of transcendental anti-imperialism with domesticated imperialism.

In the third place, i.e. after stressing the autonomy and specificity of each conflict, and then emphasizing that nothing about the Assadist state is anti-imperialist, the anti-imperialists should be questioned about their own struggle against imperialism. I do not know of a single example of someone from Western anti-imperialist circles who has been subjected to arrest, torture, legal and political discrimination, travel ban, dismissal from work, or deprivation from writing in his “imperialist” country. I believe that these deprivations do not belong to their world at all, and that perhaps they do not know what a travel ban, deprivation from writing, or torture could possibly mean. They are just like the African who does not know what milk is, the Arab who does not know what an opinion is, the European who does not know what shortage is, and the American who does not know the meaning of “the rest of the world,” as in/goes the famous joke in which four people were asked their opinion about food shortage in the rest of the world. I have never heard of an anti-imperialist comrade who is resented, persecuted, personally targeted or subjected to smear campaigns by imperialism. Actual and moral assassination had actually been common imperialist practices until 1970s. This was especially true in the third world, but also true to a certain extent in the West. Names like Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Mehdi Ben Barka, and Angela Davis, among others, come to mind.

Neither does it seem that these comrades are aware of how privileged they are compared to us Syrians. I do not wish to evoke the guilt of traditional Western leftists. I am merely asking them for humility, to direct their eyes downwards to the laymen in Syria and elsewhere, not towards murderers like Bashar al-Assad and his ilk, and not to a bunch of hypocritical Western journalists who grew bored with London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and New York and now find amusement and a change of scenery in Damascus, Cairo and Beirut– knowing that their monthly multi-thousand dollar salary allows them to live wherever they wish.

As democratic Syrians, we do not wish upon them that they lose the rights to travel and freedom of speech that they enjoy. But how can they not be required to stand in solidarity with us, we who are deprived of such rights, and to denounce the junta that persists in subjugating us?

What I am arguing based on the three points discussed above is that, our comrades are making three major mistakes, all of which are unforgivable: they appropriate our struggle against a regime with which imperial sovereignty in the Middle East is perfectly in peace, for an alleged struggle against imperialism to which they are not even remotely close, supporting an extremely brutal and reactionary bloc about which they are utterly clueless. I will conclude that their anti-imperialist tendencies signify a desirable identity-form for these groups, not an actual mode-of-action in which they are engaged. The transcendental anti-imperialist left today is but a small, bigoted sect, which is not only incapable of taking power, but is also arrogant, reactionary, and ignorant. Gramsci deserves better heirs.

The root of these three mistakes lies, in my view, in the worn-out nature of the essentialist theory of imperialism, which reduces imperialism to Western hegemony. This theory fails to recognize imperialism as a system of international relations that manifests in different ways throughout the various spheres of political and social conflict that span all countries and regions. Syrians live in one of the cruelest forms of this relational system, deprived of political liberties and exposed to a corrupt and criminal junta, which has turned Syria into a hereditary monarchy owned by a dynasty of murderers.

*****

I mentioned above that there is something imperialistic inherent in leftist anti-imperialism. The Syrian struggle is a good example of this.

The US administration, along with Russia’s autocratic regime, denies the Syrian struggle an independence from the war on terror. The Obama administration has done everything to avoid doing anything that the Syrians could benefit from in their struggle, even after Bashar al-Assad broke Obama’s red line. Why? Because this administration preferred the survival of Bashar al-Assad –Israel’s favorite candidate for the rule of Syria– to a transfer of power that would not be fully controlled by them. It was not in favor of Syrian citizens steering political change in their country. The United States has been involved militarily in Syria since September 2014, targeting Daesh and al-Qaeda. The anti-imperialists do not seem to object to this war, however, as much as they did when the Obama administration considered punishing Bashar al-Assad for violating the red line (not for killing Syrians, by the way) in August, 2013. This is despite the fact that US officials rushed to say that the strike would be limited; John Kerry stated in London in the beginning of September, 2013 that the potential strike would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort!”

The root of all of this is that the US administration has annexed the Syrian conflict to its own war on terror. It has tried to impose its battle on Syrians so that they will abandon their own battle against the tyrannical discriminatory Assadist junta: This is what imperialism has done.

In this regard, the anti-imperialist promulgators of the concept of terrorism fail to realize that the war on terror is centered around the state; it is a statist conception of the world order which strengthens states and weakens communities, political organizations, social movements, and individuals. It is furthermore a war in which Bashar al-Assad, who has been in direct conflict with his people for two years, is made partner in a cause that favors the continued domination of the world’s powerful. But perhaps it is not just a matter of realizing or not realizing. There is an inherent statist component in the structure of the anti-imperialist left, which has originated since the Cold War era. This statist quality confirms the observation that the typical anti-imperialist leftist has a geopolitical mindset. Perhaps this is why Trotskyists and anarchists, who are less state-centered and more society-oriented, have stood by Syrians in their struggle.

In the record of this endless fight against terrorism there has not been a single success, and thus far three countries have been devastated over its course (Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria). Yet this record is not surprising, considering that these imperialist forces are characterized by arrogance, racism, and immunity vis-a-vis the crimes they commit and the destruction they leave behind in foreign societies.

The anti-imperialist left, just like imperialism itself, has supplemented the Syrian-struggle to something else, “regime change.” From the point of view of anti-imperialist comrades, regime change in Syria appears to be an imperialist plot. This is a hundred times worse than any mistake. This is an insult to Syrians, to our struggle over two generations, and to hundreds of thousands of victims. This is an insult to a struggle that most of these comrades know nothing about.

I repeat: imperialism, and the Americans in particular, have not wanted to change the regime at any time. Following the chemical massacre in August 2013, they strived to invent reasons not to hurt it, despite the fact that, at the time, they had a very strong justification had they wanted to change –or simply hurt– the Assad regime. The change in Syria is our initiative, and it is our project. Anti-imperialists must consider us agents of imperialism, then. Some are not far from saying so outright – a few months ago, a number of Italian “comrades” attacked an exhibition displaying photographs of the victims of Assad’s killing industry. Otherwise, any change to any regime is a bad thing and serves imperialism. But isn’t that a rather wonderful definition for reactionism?

Annexation is a fundamental aspect of imperialism, and the anti-imperialist activists who deny the autonomy of our struggle and supplement it to their pseudo-struggle are no different from imperialist powers. The two parties find common cause in the denial of our struggle, our political agency, and our right to self-representation. Practically, they are telling us that they are the ones who can define which struggles are in the right; and that we are not worthy of either revolutions or the production of knowledge. But isn’t that a wonderful definition of imperialism?

It is worth mentioning that subordinating our struggle for another one is the defining characteristic of the Assadist rule. For almost half a century, and in the name of yet another pseudo-struggle against Israel, the Assad regime has not ceased to suppress the rights and freedoms of its subjects and to crack down on their attempts to assume political agency in their country. Meanwhile, it has showed a great willingness to wage two hot wars inside Syria, the first of which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and the second in hundreds of thousands of deaths, up to now. Additionally, subordinating our struggle to something else is also a feature of Islamisms that have worked to appropriate the Syrian struggle for political agency (freedom) in the name of something external to this cause (sharia law, Islamic statehood, and a really imperial caliphate).

Here we have four specific cases of our cause’s subordination; the American government and its followers, Russia and its followers, and Iran and its followers all making our revolution secondary to endless war against terrorism; the Western anti-imperialist left making our opposition secondary to its struggle against imperialism, understood as something practiced only by Western powers; the Assadist rule making our emancipatory aspirations secondary to a struggle with Israel that it has never been engaged in; and Islamists making our common struggle secondary to their own sectarian leanings. The four cases have one thing in common; a patriarchal view. Each of these powers acts like a archetypal father who knows everything, and decides alone what is proper for us, the little boys. Those who reject being infantilized in this manner are considered ignorant, agents of the enemy, or infidels, deprived of speech and of political action. They may even be deprived of life itself, annihilated by chemical weapons, barrel bombs, starvation, or an organized death industry in prisons and hospitals.

The basis of these reactionary patriarchal attitudes by our fellow anti-imperialists contains two important issues. The first is the transformation of the communist left and its heirs into the educated middle classes, which is separate from human suffering and incapable of creativity, just like our local Bakdashists. This is in part due to economic transformations in the central capitalist countries, deindustrialization, the decay of the industrial working class, and the emergence of the “campus left,” which does nothing and knows very little despite its position within academia. There is no longer anything revolutionary or emancipatory in the formation of the contemporary left, and it is not engaged in any real conflicts. The second important issue that underpins these patriarchal attitudes is the intellectual maps that have been inherited from the Cold War (knowledge by recollection, following the Platonic method), added to intellectual sterility and a severe lack of creativity.

Among the main sources of knowledge about Syria for this left are the likes of Robert Fisk, the embedded journalist who accompanied the regime tanks as they stormed Darayya and killed hundreds of its inhabitants. His work later evolved into interviewing notorious murderers such as General Jamil Hassan, of Air Force Intelligence. He publishes his pieces in what are supposedly pro-democratic independent platforms such as The Independent. Another main source of information is Patrick Cockburn, who is Fisk’s partner in friendship with the Assadist junta, and who I doubt knows a single Syrian leftist dissident, just like Fisk. Also in their ranks is Seymour Hersh, who was spoiled by the Pulitzer Prize he had received, becoming fixated on thinking exclusively about “high politics” and seeing nothing down below. In fact, Bashar al-Assad himself is a source of knowledge for this left, as he is frequently interviewed by Western media and visited by delegations from the Western left (and fascists and Western Christian rightists as well), enjoying a status that he had not dreamed of before killing hundreds of thousands of his subjects.

This left no longer has a living cause of any kind. It merely intrudes upon causes like our own, about which it hardly knows and to which it ultimately does a great deal of harm. This left feels guilty because it lacks nothing, so it directs its disordered anxiety at Merkel, Teresa May, Obama, and Trump. It stands with Bashar al-Assad after it has convinced itself that this vile person is against those Western politicians. It is far less knowledgeable or curious about the fate of Bashar al-Assad’s subjects, about whom it knows nothing other than confused impressions it draws from watching TV or reading newspapers.

*****

None of the above is to suggest that Western leftists should not interfere in our affairs or should not comment on what we say about our conflicts. We want them to interfere. In turn, we do and we will interfere in their affairs. We live in one world, and universality must always be defended in both analysis and action. What we expect is that they become a bit more humble and willing to listen, less eager to give lessons, and that they develop knowledge that is not based on recollection. We expect them to be democratic, not to make our conflict secondary to others, to take our opinion into account on the subject of our affairs, and to accept that we are their equals and peers.

Neither am I suggesting that we, the Syrian democrats opposed to the Assadist state, are correct in everything that we say simply because our cause is just, or that we do not accept criticism from others. We want to be criticized and advised, but our critics do not seem to know anything about us or to even be offering criticism or advice. They do not see us at all. Their lofty perspectives render us invisible. Had they been more open over the years to the realities of the Syrian conflict, its dynamics and transformations, they would have been in a better position to synthesize more informed perceptions and to offer more nuanced criticism. Our leftist partners in the West, a multitude of radical democrats, socialists, anarchists, and Trotskyists, have come closer to the grassroots Syrian world and have listened to Syrian narratives. None of them has shaken the blood-stained and pillaging hands of the likes of Bashar al-Assad and the murderers and thieves that constitute his circle.

We are not simplistic, and we do not reduce our struggle to the single dimension of bringing down the Assadist junta. There is another dimension, the struggle against nihilist Islamic organizations. But only among us, the people who are involved in the Syrian struggle on a democratic and emancipatory basis, can radical democratic politics be formed regarding Islamists. We do not approve of essentialist hatred of Islamists, which may be driven by class or sect, and which is definitely reactionary and most probably racist. The most optimal position for a struggle against Islamism is undoubtedly the revolutionary democratic position that also resists Assadist fascism.

Having said that, we are not unaware of a third dimension to our struggle, which pertains to various interventions by conventional or emerging imperialist centers; interventions which are carried out either directly or through regional proxies, in the form of states or sub-state organizations. Here, too, we find that the most coherent and radical position against imperialism is that which takes internal, Assadist colonization into account, and takes sides with the weak and disadvantaged, in Syria and the region at-large. Those who think that Bashar al-Assad and his junta are supportive of the struggle against imperialism are insensible fools at best, and anti-democratic racists at worst.

This three-dimensional struggle defines universality for us, and perhaps for the world as a whole.

Moreover, I am not suggesting that we have no short-comings, or that what we say about these causes and others should be the final word. We work and we learn. Our greatest shortcoming is that we are dispersed and our forces are unorganized. This has been exacerbated by the conditions of detention and killing under torture, which have mainly targeted the social base of the revolution; by the condition of displacement and the extensive destruction of Syrian society by the tyrannical andsectarianAssadist junta and its imperialist partners; and finally by nihilist Islamist organizations. Our efforts are constantly at odds with the shocking and unprecedented extremes that the Syrian tragedy has reached. But we continue to work.

In short, for us, Syrian democrats and leftists, the struggle is a fight for independence. First, we seek the independence of our country from colonial powers, which have donned false masks that boast about sovereignty, territorial unity, pluralism, or the war on terror, much like all colonial powers have throughout history. Second, we seek the independence of our struggle from other colonists, who don equally false masks, such as anti-imperialism and also the war on terror, demanding that we stay silent or act as local copies of them.

This criticism of Western and non-Western anti-imperialist left is both a contribution to the struggle for independence, that is, for freedom, and an effort to own authority over our own discourse. It remains open to partnerships that are based on comradeship and equality.

*****

This article is part of a book about Syria, edited by FouadRoueiha and due to be published soon in Italian

Democrat Disunity: Hypocritical Media Attacks on Sanders

By Yves Smith. This article was first published on Naked Capitalism.

On every conceivable front, the Democrats double downing down on the strategy that led them to hemorrhage losses in representation, meaning power, at every level of government. In keeping, more and more voters are leaving the party.

The latest repeat of a failed strategy is to try to smear Sanders in a cack-handed effort to win over his base. This is as likely to succeed as calling Trump voters “deplorables” did.

The reality is that the Democratic party leders have no strategy. Instead, they are taking the playbook of a mad scientist in a kitschy horror movie, frantically spinning dials and flipping switches as his invention has gone out of control. His control, needless to say.

The Democrats’ actions made clear they were fixated on the Federal government patronage and revolving door goodies that control of the Executive branch conferred. Beyond the state-that-is-almost-a-country of California, the lucre isn’t large enough for them to deviate from their stance of being party of the 10% and trying to hold onto their traditional base by being marginally less God-awful than Republicans. Reader johnnygl flagged this section of a Washington Post story on how the post-election strategy of Russiaphobia plus Trump bashing plus yet more identity politics isn’t working with voters:

Democrats have lost considerable ground on this front. The 28 percent who say the party is in touch with concerns of most Americans is down from 48 percent in 2014 and the biggest drop is among self-identified Democrats, from 83 percent saying they are in touch to just 52 percent today. That is a reminder that whatever challenges Trump is having, Democrats, for all the energy apparent at the grass roots, have their own problems.

Let’s put this more bluntly: even with Trump turning out, whether by virtue of capture, inclination or not caring, backing solidly Republican positions, with his impulsive foreign policy shows of manhood as an added huge negative, Democrats are becoming more and more immune to lesser-evilism. The party has tried to fool voters too many times with hope and change and other pro-worker cant while delivering the goods only to their wealthy patrons. The defectors aren’t coming back until the party starts to deliver for them.

The Unity campaign is revealing how desperately the Democrats are clinging to their self-delusion. They seem to believe that they can kick Sanders and his voters and yet still get them to turn out at the polls for them. By contrast, Sanders, who knows what moves his base isn’t him personally but his policies, has only upside from participating in this charade. He gets a platform to keep selling his message, while the Democrats kid themselves that they can peel away his supporters without making concessions.

One proof that the operatives recognize the Unity campaign is backfiring is the upsurge in attacks on Sanders via the most loyal Democratic party mouthpieces, the Washington Post and the New York Times. With the election proving that the establishment media doesn’t have much sway with great swathes of the public, these hit pieces are tantamount to throwing water balloons at Sanders from the Acela: they may make gratifying splashes but they don’t do real damage. But they demonstrate yet again how committed the party remains to losing if winning requires giving more to ordinary citizens.

The first smear masquerading as reporting, Bernie Sanders’s strange behavior, ran last week in the Washington Post. It was so obtuse, presumably by design, that I remarked then: “This is either a candidate for ‘Most clueless political piece every written,’ as in ‘What about ‘power struggle’ don’t you understand?’ or Democratic party authoritarianism in action. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.”

The article, by Aaron Blake, is intellectually dishonest from the get-go. This is its first paragraph:

Bernie Sanders has embarked on a “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. But he’s not really helping on that first part.

Really? Sanders launched a Unity Tour and Perez and the Democratic Party establishment decided to come along? This sort of “unity” charade is a Democratic party fixture.

Let us not forget why this exercise is even seen as necessary. The Democrats are trying to win over Sanders voters who correctly saw the selection of Perez as DNC head over Sanders’ pick Keith Ellison as a big fat middle finger to them. This “Unity Tour” is the 2017 analogy of the many efforts to “reintroduce” Hillary Clinton to voters, as if after decades of overexposure, they were somehow in the dark as to what she was about. They presume that if Perez hits the road with Sanders, they’ll come to like the new DNC, even though it is just the same as the old DNC.

The benefit to Sanders is that this is so patently foolish is that all he has to do is play along. He gets to go around the US and keep pitching his preferred policies.

But as Perez is getting boos at virtually ever whistlestop, someone must be at fault! And it can’t possibly be that the Democrats are trying to get the dogs to eat dog food that they’ve already rejected. No, it must be Sanders’ doing. The article proceeds from the straw man that it is Sanders’ job to create Democratic party unity, when the onus is on the party to find a way to reach his voters.

Put it another way: the Post, presumably reflecting the views of the Democratic elite, sees voters as chattel. They actually seem to believe that Sanders is like an old Tammany hall boss, or a union leader, who can deliver a block on his say so. So look at the things the Post views as offenses:

He said that he still isn’t actually a Democrat

He repeated his line that President Trump “did not win the election; the Democrats lost the election” — drawing some angry responses from Hillary Clinton supporters who see this as either a shot at her or as something that Sanders’s primary campaign contributed to (or both)

Sanders’s message has differed from Perez’s in a couple key ways

The big hissy fit, however, that Sanders hadn’t endorsed Ossoff yet, stating yet another obvious fact that Democrats don’t want the children to hear: “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not,” and saying he didn’t know enough either way to decide.

Sanders did relent and endorse Ossoff. While purists are unhappy over that move, the reality is that his support will make perilous little difference either way in an affluent district in the South. And as reader Marina Bart pointed out in comments, the tisk-tiskers are missing the real play:

If the entire corporate media is aimed against you, it is very hard to fight back. Six corporations control something like 90% of media distribution in this country, and they deliver the messaging their plutocratic owners desire. Now add Silicon Valley’s corporate-controlled social media platforms, which have the same masters, same agenda, and same willingness to manipulation what information their users can access. Activists alone cannot win national elections. We need some sizable chunk of the millions who don’t really like or want to think about any of this, whether because they’re comfortable or despairing. They want the same policies we want. They just don’t want to work hard to get it, or grapple psychologically with the real situation we’re facing, because it’s upsetting. To reach those voters, we need some media coverage that isn’t aggressively hostile or deceitful. That’s why the Unity Tour was a brilliant thing for Bernie to do, even if it means getting prodded into sort of endorsing a hack like Ossoff.

Bernie is trying a strategy to take over the party from within. To do that means things like “Okay, sure, I’ll “endorse” Ossoff. He’d be better than a Republican. But he’s no progressive, and we need a progressive movement.” And then the Dems scream at him again, and try to squeeze better compliance out of him, but the damage TO THEM is done — lots of discussions of Ossoff’s positions, which means more people find out that he’s opposed to universal health care. I saw people all over the place in the last few days saying they had given Ossoff money and now they were sorry. Next time, maybe they’ll do a better job of vetting the candidates the neoliberal Dems are pushing.

And Bernie trundles on, saying things the corporate media has been hiding: how the Democratic Party lost seats all over the country during Obama’s term, just how bad that is. He’s shown the DNC Chair to be a boor and a boob.

He’s making it much harder for the Democrats to run the play they’re trying to run. He’s slowing down their ability to promulgate numerous false stories about who they are, how popular they are, what policies are popular, where their money goes — all of this is really helpful to any real change, no matter what comes next.

The effort to beat Sanders into line became more obviously two-faced with another hack job, this one in the New York Times, At a ‘Unity’ Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything But.

The cause celebre is that Sanders has backed a young progressive, Heath Mello, who is running for mayor of Omaha. Per the fixation of the Democrats with the top of the ticket, since when have they cared about a mayoral campaign, particularly in flyover?

Mello’s offense is that he is being depicted as anti-abortion. But that is a trumped up charge. Mello is Catholic. He’s adopted the formula that many Catholic campaigners have so as not to offend fellow Catholics who might be inclined to vote for him: to say he’s personally pro-life but politically supports abortion rights.

So what is his sin that has gotten the attack dogs after him, when anyone with an operating brain cell knows the real issue is his economic positions? This is apparently the only real dirt:

Mr. Mello, a practicing Catholic, supported a Nebraska State Senate bill requiring that women be informed of their right to request a fetal ultrasound before an abortion.

Let us contrast that with the actions of Democratic party vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, who also took the position that he is personally pro-life but politically supports the right to abortionsper Politico:

He pledged in his 2005 gubernatorial campaign to reduce the number of terminated pregnancies in the state by promoting adoption and abstinence-focused education. That cycle, the state NARAL chapter ripped Kaine’s GOP opponent, Jerry Kilgore, as “an extremely anti-choice candidate” but still withheld its endorsement of Kaine because he “embraces many of the restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.”

In a 2007 NARAL scorecard, Kaine was described as a “mixed-choice” governor and his state got an F grade thanks in part to a number of laws and other policies restricting access to abortions. Two years later, Kaine upset both local and national reproductive rights groups by signing a law that authorized the sale of customized “Choose Life” license plates. Kaine argued he was supporting free speech, but his critics complained that the law would fund pro-life organizations and didn’t square with another very important hat that he was wearing at the time: Obama’s personally picked head of the Democratic National Committee.

And proving how captured groups will go to bat for Team Dem, the validators for the attack on Mello and Sanders are the heads of the American Federation of Teachers and the pro-abortion group NARAL. But did either of them object to Tim Kaine’s clearly dodgy record? From the same Politico story quoted above:

Tarina Keene, president of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, declined to comment specifically on Kaine’s stance on abortion. Instead, she issued a statement focused on her group’s reasons for endorsing Clinton.

Oh, and what about the sainted Obama, who doesn’t have the vexing problem of having been raised Catholic? Or the Clintons?

In fact. both are official backers of the policy devised by Richard Nixon: of having abortions be legal but keeping them scarce by not having the government pay for them. That of course is not problem to the affluent 10% that is the Democratic party’s true base. The Hyde Amendment, the legislative embodiment of the “no Federal funding of abortions except to save the mother’s life or in cases of incest or rape, became law in 1976. The law was made more restrictive in the 1980s. The only change under the Clinton Administration was to allow for Medicaid to cover abortions for rape and incest.

Recall that Hillary Clinton said that in 2008 abortions should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare, I mean rare.” categories that are not mutually compatible. And that is consistent with an earlier statement, reflecting her Methodist roots, that she saw abortion as “morally wrong”.

From an Atlantic story in 2016:

For the most part, Clinton’s stance matches the official stance of the United Methodist Church, or UMC—the tradition in which she was raised and remains a faithful member….To understand Clinton, according to her husband, “you should look first at her Methodist faith.” Her youth pastor and lifelong mentor, the Reverend Donald Jones, said she views “the world through a Methodist lens.”….

Clinton has made efforts to reach out to pro-life advocates and, The New York Times reports, she shows sincere respect for those whose stance is motivated by religious belief. It is not clear, however, that the public understands Clinton’s piety or the depth of her attachment to the Methodist tradition.

Needless to say, that resulted in Clinton in having a “nuanced” position on abortion that might look a tad too equivocal. Again from the Atlantic:

One of Clinton’s greatest challenges in the run-up to November will be to persuade the Millennials—people aged 18 to 35—who supported Bernie Sanders to go to the polls. Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum argued recently that young voters appreciated Sanders’ simple and clear rejection of limits on abortion: “He’s for X, full stop. He’s against Y, end of story. Millennials want a decisive answer, Drum said; otherwise it doesn’t “sound like the truth.” Because Clinton is open to regulations on abortion, progressive Millennials may see her as “another tired establishment pol who never gives a straight answer about anything.”

And Obama, the 11th dimensional chess player whose religion has never seemed to impinge on his politics? Obama issued Executive Order 13535, which extended the Hyde Amendment to Obamacare.

But you’d never know that reading the howls of the loyal camp followers, like Lauren Rankin in Allure, who followed close on the heels of the New York Times hit piece with Bernie Sanders’ Actions Show He Values Votes More Than Women. It apparently does not occur to her that a $15 hour minimum wage and other worker protections will give women a much greater ability to get abortions because more women who are now middle or lower income would be able to pay for them themselves.

And this is yet another demonstration of the Democrats embracing failure. Women’s fashion magazines were virtually ordering their readers to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Similarly, a female friend described Alternet’s pre-election editorial stance as “How to have better orgasms while voting for Clinton.”

Yet recent polls show that female tribalism didn’t work very well. Sanders has more support among women than men. It appears that women are more acutely aware of the precariousness of their financial position that fashion magazine writers and editors are.

In other words, the attacks on Mello and Sanders are rank hypocrisy. If you are card-carrying neoliberal, you are permitted to have “nuanced” positions on abortion. Bona fide progressives need not apply.

But as much as the mainstream media and orthodox Democrats try to have it both ways, savage Sanders yet win over his base, the more they will prove that he should proceed apace with his bottoms-up takeover campaign.

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Trump EPA pick: still 'some debate' over human role in climate change

By Oliver Milman. This article was first published on The Guardian.

At Senate confirmation hearing to lead Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt defends his relationship with fossil fuel industry

Scott Pruitt testifies on Capitol Hill. The Oklahoma attorney general has sued the EPA 14 times over regulations. Photograph: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency, has claimed there is still “some debate” over the role of human activity in climate change and has defended his relationship with the fossil fuel industry during a combative Senate confirmation hearing.

Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has sued the agency he is now set to lead 14 times over the EPA’s smog, mercury and other pollution regulations. Several of these cases are still ongoing and Pruitt said he would recuse himself in dealing with these cases if instructed to do so by the EPA’s ethics board.

In testy exchanges with senators including Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey, Pruitt said there was “some debate” over how much influence human activity has upon the climate but rejected the president-elect’s claim that climate change is a “hoax”. Pruitt also said the EPA had a “very important role” in regulating carbon dioxide.

“Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change,” he said. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue ... so it should be.”

Last year was the warmest on record, scientists announced on Wednesday, with Nasa and Noaa both stressing the primary driver of the warming trend is the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity. Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have occurred this century.

Pruitt also seemed uncertain over how much lead can be safely ingested by children, in the wake of the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan. “I don’t know,” Pruitt said. “I’ve not looked at the scientific research on that. That’s not something I’ve reviewed nor know about.” The EPA itself states that any amount of lead consumption can be harmful.

Democrats on the Senate committee on environment and public works questioned Pruitt over his repeated challenges to the agency he now seeks to head, as well as his ties to the fossil fuel industry. The oil giant Exxon and coal firm Murray Energy have both given the maximum allowable amount of money to Pruitt, with the Oklahoma attorney general siding with donors 13 times in court cases against the EPA.

One Oklahoma firm, Devon Energy, even drafted a letter for Pruitt that he sent on to the EPA in 2011 under his letterhead with minimal alterations. The letter criticized federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas producers. A boom in gas fracking activity in Oklahoma has contributed to a surge in earthquakes in the state.

Questioned over this letter by Democrat Jeff Merkley, Pruitt said: “I was representing the interests of the state. It was protecting the interests of the state, it wasn’t sent on behalf of any one company. It was particular to an industry – there’s an oil and gas industry that is vibrant and vital to the state.”

In his opening statement, Pruitt said: “We must reject as a nation the false paradigm that if you’re pro-energy you’re anti-environment and that if you’re pro-environment you’re anti-energy. In this nation we can grow our economy, harvest the resources God has blessed us with as well as being good stewards of the land, air of water by which we’ve been favored.”

Pruitt said he wanted a better partnership with the states, which he said had been subject to “duress and punishment” from the EPA. He said the states had the “resources and expertise” to safeguard America’s environment but accepted that pollution does cross state lines.

Republicans on the committee backed Pruitt, with Senator James Inhofe, who once brought a snowball to the senate floor in an attempt to disprove global warming, citing Pruitt’s fighting of “federal overreach” as praiseworthy. Fellow Republican attorney generals from other states have also supported Pruitt’s nomination.

However, Christine Todd Whitman, who was EPA administrator under George W Bush, warned there may be “war” within the agency unless Pruitt adopted a more conciliatory posture.

“I wish he hadn’t been nominated,” Whitman, a Republican, told Guardian US. “Mother Nature doesn’t care about states’ rights. You need some area of federal oversight to protect human health and the environment. You can’t just turn it back to the states; most of them don’t have the budget to do the scientific research.

“I think this new administration will try to back down some of the regulations and slow down enforcement of the regulations they don’t like. They will starve the agency for money.

“I would hope that Scott Pruitt will understand how important and complicated the EPA is once he gets in there but EPA people are assuming it will be a war. That won’t be pretty for anyone. Unless he makes real strides to outreach and respect the mission, it will be war.”

Thirteen former state EPA chiefs have urged the Senate to reject Pruitt, citing his “deeply troubling” position on climate change and his repeated courtroom challenges to EPA clean air and water standards.

“Rather than EPA acting as our partner in state-led efforts to ensure clean air and water for our residents, we fear that an EPA under Mr Pruitt would undermine the rules that help to make sure that our state regulations are successful,” the group wrote in a letter to the environment and public works committee.

More than 170 environment groups, including the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Task Force, have written a separate missive to senators decrying Pruitt’s views that “run counter to the EPA’s critical mission to protect our health and the environment”. The letter also calls for the Senate to reject the Oklahoma attorney general.

Pruitt is the “worst nominee ever tapped to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency”, according to Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“He doesn’t have a single environmental achievement to his name, doesn’t believe in the agency’s mission, and has made a career out of suing the EPA to try to block it from doing its job as the guardian of our environment and health,” she added.

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