By Stephen M. Walt | February 8, 2010
Probably the most controversial claim in my work with John Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby is our argument that it played a key role in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Even some readers who were generally sympathetic to our overall position found that claim hard to accept, and some left-wing critics accused us of letting Bush and Cheney off the hook or of ignoring the importance of other interests, especially oil. Of course, Israel’s defenders in the lobby took issue even more strenuously, usually by mischaracterizing our arguments and ignoring most (if not all) of the evidence we presented.
So I hope readers will forgive me if I indulge today in a bit of self-promotion, or more precisely, self-defense. This week, yet another piece of evidence surfaced that suggests we were right all along (HT to Mehdi Hasan at the New Statesman and J. Glatzer at Mondoweiss). In his testimony to the Iraq war commission in the U.K., former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered the following account of his discussions with Bush in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. Blair reveals that concerns about Israel were part of the equation and that Israel officials were involved in those discussions.
Take it away, Tony:
As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this.”
Notice that Blair is not saying that Israel dreamed up the idea of attacking Iraq or that Bush was bent on war solely to benefit Israel or even to appease the Israel lobby here at home. But Blair is acknowledging that concerns about Israel were part of the equation, and that the Israeli government was being actively consulted in the planning for the war.
Blair’s comments fit neatly with the argument we make about the lobby and Iraq. Specifically, Professor Mearsheimer and I made it clear in our article and especially in our book that the idea of invading Iraq originated in the United States with the neoconservatives, and not with the Israeli government. But as the neoconservative pundit Max Boot once put it, steadfast support for Israel is “a key tenet of neoconservatism.” Prominent neo-conservatives occupied important positions in the Bush administration, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they played a major role in persuading Bush and Cheney to back a war against Iraq, which they had been advocating since the late 1990s. We also pointed out that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials were initially skeptical of this scheme, because they wanted the U.S. to focus on Iran, not Iraq. However, they became enthusiastic supporters of the idea of invading Iraq once the Bush administration made it clear to them that Iraq was just the first step in a broader campaign of “regional transformation” that would eventually include Iran.
At that point top Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum became cheerleaders for the invasion, and they played a prominent role in helping to sell the war here in the United States. Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington, DC in April 2002 and spoke in the U.S. Senate, telling his audience “the urgent need to topple Saddam is paramount,” and that the campaign “deserves the unconditional support of all sane governments.” (It sure sounds like he was well aware of the discussions in Crawford, doesn’t it?) In May, foreign minister Shimon Peres said on CNN that “Saddam Hussein is as dangerous as bin Laden,” and that the United States “cannot sit and wait.” A month later, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post recommending that the Bush administration “should, first of all, focus on Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein.”
This chorus continued through the summer and fall, with Barak and Netanyahu writing additional op-eds in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, each calling for military action to topple Saddam. Netanyahu’s piece was titled “The Case for Toppling Saddam” and said that “nothing less than dismantling his regime will do.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s official spokesman, Ra’anan Gissen, offered similar statements during this period as well, and Sharon himself told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in August 2002 that Iraq was “the greatest danger facing Israel.” According to an Aug. 16 article by Aluf Benn in Ha’aretz, Sharon reportedly told the Bush administration that putting off an attack would “only give [Saddam] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of WMD.” Foreign Minister Peres reiterated his own warnings as well, and told reporters in September 2002 that “the campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must.” (For sources, see pp. 233-38).
If that’s not enough evidence of where Israel’s leaders were in the run-up to the war, consider that former President Bill Clinton told an audience at an Aspen Institute meeting in 2006 that “every Israeli politician I knew” (and he knows a lot of them) believed that Saddam Hussein was so great a threat that he should be removed even if he did not have WMD. Nor is this testimony at all surprising, given that we are talking about the leader who had fired Scud missiles into Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991 and had been giving money to the families of suicide bombers. If the Bush administration was bent on taking him out and then turning its gun-sights on Syria and Iran, one can easily understand why Israelis would welcome it.
Now, what about key groups in the lobby itself? If the neoconservatives deserve the blame for dreaming up the idea of invading Iraq, key groups and individuals in the lobby played an important role in selling it on Capitol Hill and to the public at large. AIPAC head Howard Kohr told the New York Sun in January 2003 that one of the organization’s “success stories” over the previous year was “quietly lobbying Congress” to approve the resolution authorizing the use of force, a fact confirmed by journalists such as Nathan Guttman of the Forward, Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com, John B. Judis of the New Republic, and even Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker (see p. 242). Pundits at pro-Israel think tanks like the Brookings Institutions’s Saban Center were openly backing war by the fall of 2002, with Martin Indyk, the head of the center, and Kenneth Pollack, its director of research, playing especially prominent roles.
Moreover, in this same period both the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to endorse the use of force “as a last resort.” Mortimer Zuckerman, a well-connected businessman and publisher who was then the chairman of the Conference of Presidents, was especially convinced about the futility of U.N. inspections and the need to topple Saddam, and wrote several editorials making that case in his magazine (U.S. News and World Report).
Still skeptical? Consider the following passage from an article by Matthew Berger of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, published just after President Bush’s September 2002 appearance at the United Nations, where he threatened military action if Iraq did not comply with U.N. resolutions:
Despite their caution and without specifying a formal policy, Jewish leaders predominantly expressed support for Bush’s words at the United Nations.
They said he detailed a strong case that Saddam has consistently ignored U.N. resolutions, that he was seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam has shown a propensity towards using them.
“Iraq is the single most important threat right now to world peace and to our safety,” said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, executive vice president of the Orthodox Religious Zionists of America. He described Saddam as a “maniac” who “has proven that he will gas his own people.”
“The fanaticism that exists throughout the Middle East is best addressed by first dealing with Iraq,” agreed Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Many American Jewish leaders expressed the fear that Saddam has not been quiet for the past decade because of a loss of will, but because he has been using the time to garner weapons for an eventual attack on U.S. interests and allies.
“Do we have to wait until a target is hit, and the world says, ‘Ah, yes, he did have weapons of mass destruction,'” asked David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.”
Not to be outdone, the editor of Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, wrote an editorial in mid-December 2002 saying that “Washington’s imminent war on Saddam Hussein is . . . an opportunity to rid the world of a dangerous tyrant who present a particularly horrific threat Israel.” He went on to say “the Torah instructs that when your enemy seeks to kill you kill him first. Self-defense is not permitted; it is commanded.” Even the relatively liberal Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center told journalist Michelle Goldberg that “the Jewish community would want to see a forceful resolution to the threat that Saddam Hussein poses.” “Forceful resolution” means war, and Saperstein also offered comparisons to the Bosnian conflict and the Nazi era to reinforce his call for military action.
Finally, consider the following passage from an editorial in the Jewish newspaper Forward, published in 2004:
As President Bush attempted to sell the war .. in Iraq, America’s most important Jewish organizations rallied as one to his defense. In statement after statement community leaders stressed the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Some groups went even further, arguing that that the removal of the Iraqi leaders would represent a significant step toward bringing peace to the Middle East and winning America’s war on terrorism”
The editorial also noted that “concern for Israel’s safety rightfully factored into the deliberations of the main Jewish groups.”
The Forward, it is worth noting, is well-connected and has a well-deserved reputation for probity in its reporting on the American Jewish community. It is hard to see how its editors could be mistaken about such an important issue or why they would lie about it. And they never issued a retraction. We can therefore assume that the writers of this editorial knew what they were talking about: key groups in the lobby supported the war. Reasonable people can disagree about how important their influence was, of course, but at a minimum these groups reinforced the Bush administration’s resolve and made it less likely that other politicians or commentators would conduct a serious debate about the wisdom of the invasion.
Finally, it bears reiterating that I am talking about key groups and individuals in the Israel lobby, and not about the American Jewish community in toto. Indeed, my co-author and I have repeatedly pointed to surveys showing that American Jews were less supportive of the decision to invade Iraq than the American population as a whole, and we have emphasized that it would be a cardinal error (as well as dangerous) to try to “blame the Jews” for the war. Rather, blame should be reserved for Bush and Cheney (who made the ultimate decision for war), for the neoconservatives who dreamed up this foolish idea, and for the various groups and individuals — including those in the lobby — who helped sell it.
Nor am I suggesting that these individuals advocated this course because they thought it would be good for Israel but bad for the United States. Rather, they unwisely believed it would be good for both countries. And as we all know, they were tragically wrong.
That misconception helps us understand why the Israelis and their American friends who promoted the Iraq war didn’t do a better job of covering their tracks and obscuring their enthusiasm for the endeavor. I suspect it is because they genuinely believed that the war would be easy and would bring great benefits for both Israel and the United States. If the war was a smashing success, then they would reap the credit and no one would spend that much time probing the war’s origins. And even if someone did, its proponents would be hailed as strategic geniuses who had conceived and planned a stunning victory. Once the war went south, however, and numerous people began to probe how this disaster came about, an extensive dust-kicking operation to veil the role of Israel and the lobby was set in motion.
This campaign won’t work, however, because too many people already know that Israel and the lobby were cheerleaders for the war and with the passage of time, more and more evidence of their influence on the decision for war will leak out. The situation is analogous to what happened with the events surrounding the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964. The Johnson administration could dissemble and cover its tracks for a few years, but eventually the real story got out, as will happen with Iraq. Indeed, Blair’s testimony is evidence of that process at work.
For sure, many Israelis and their friends in the United States will continue to maintain that the Sharon government actually tried to stop the march to war and that groups in the lobby – including AIPAC — stayed on the sideline and did not push for war. But these post hoc fairy tales will be increasingly hard to sell to the American people, not only because there is a growing body of evidence which directly contradicts them (see pp. 261-262) , but also because the internet and the blogosphere is allowing the word to spread. Thankfully, we no longer have to rely on the mainstream media to get the story straight.
Finally, let’s not forget that while the Iraq war has been a disaster for the United States, it has also been very bad for Israel, not just because its principal patron has been stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, but also because the biggest winner from the war was Iran, which is the country that Israel fears most. All of this shows that despite the lobby’s openly-stated commitment to promoting policies that it thinks will benefit Israel, it did not work out that way with the Iraq war. Nor is it working out that way with its unyielding support of Israel’s self-destructive drive to colonize the Occupied Territories, a process that is turning Israel into an apartheid state. And the same warning applies to its efforts to keep all options-including the use of force — “on the table” vis-à-vis Iran.
Given all the problems that the lobby’s prescriptions have produced in recent years, you’d think U.S. leaders would have learned to ignore its advice. But there’s little sign of that so far, which means that these past errors are likely to be repeated. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Fear, Fire and Logging
By George Weurthner | February 9, 2010
The effects of fire suppression on fuels is likely exaggerated. Most forests types are well within their historic range of variability. Most of the acreage burned in fires annually is in forest types that historically experienced moderate to significant stand replacement blazes. Therefore, the idea that large fires that occur are the result of fire exclusion is inaccurate.
There is new evidence that suggests that even low elevation dry forests of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir occasionally experienced large stand replacement blazes. The old model that characterized such forests as primarily a consequence of high frequency, low intensity blazes that created open and park-like forests may not be universally applicable.
Thinning won’t significantly affect large blazes because fuels are not the major factor driving large blazes. Climatic/weather conditions are responsible for blazes.
Large blazes are driven by drought, wind, low humidity, and high temperatures. These factors do not occur in one place very frequently. That’s why most fires go out without burning more than a few acres.
The probability that any particular thinned stand will experience a blaze during the period when the thinning may still be effective is extremely low.
The majority of acreage burned is the result of a very small percentage of blazes—less than 0.1% of all fires are responsible for the vast majority of acres charred. Most fires go out without burning more than a few acres.
Even if it were possible to limit large blazes, it would be unwise to do so since the large blazes are the only fires that do a significant amount of ecological work.
Large fires are not “unnatural”. There are many species of plants and animals that are adapted to and/or rely upon dead trees and snags. There would be no evolutionary incentive for such adaptations if large fires were “unnatural.”
Dead trees are important physical and biological components of forest ecosystems. They are not a wasted resource. Beetles and wildfires are the prime agents that create dead trees. Removal of significant amounts of biomass by thinning and/or logging likely poses a long term threat to forest ecosystems. Biomass energy is the latest threat to forest ecosystems.
Logging/thinning is not benign. Logging has many impacts to forest ecosystems including spread of weeds, sedimentation of streams, alteration in water drainage, removal of biomass, and so on. These impacts are almost universally ignored and externalized by thinning/logging proponents.
Alternatives to logging/thinning to reduce fuels that do not remove biomass and avoid most of the negatives associated with logging practices exist, including prescribed burns and wildlands fire.
Reducing home flammability is the most economical and most reliable way to safeguard communities, not landscape scale thinning/logging projects.
The rush to formulate new forest legislation that advocates thinning forests, use of biomass for energy production, and the presumption that our forests are “unhealthy” and/or that large fires and beetle outbreaks are undesirable may soon create a new threat to our forests. There are a host of different bills before Congress including legislation introduced by Mark Udall of Colorado, Jon Tester of Montana, Ron Wyden of Oregon, among others that are all predicated upon a number of flawed or exaggerated assumptions.
Some of this legislation is better than others, and some of it even has some very good things in the language and policies that are an improvement over present policies. Nevertheless, there are many underlying assumptions that are troubling.
THE FIRE SUPPRESSION CONUNDRUM
There is a circular logic going on around the issue of fuel buildup and fire suppression. Currently the major federal agencies including the Forest Service and BLM generally attempt to suppress fires, except in a few special locations like designated wilderness. Despite the fact that most agencies now recognize that wildfires have a very important ecological role to play, we are told by managing agencies that they must continue to suppress fires or face “catastrophic” blazes—which they consider to be “uncharacteristic”.
The problem is that thinning won’t solve the “problem” of large blazes because the problem isn’t fuels. By allowing the timber industry to define the problem and propose a solution we have a circular situation whereby the land management agencies continue to suppress fires, thereby presumably permitting fuels to build up, which they assert thus drives large blazes, creating a need for more logging and fire suppression. This cycle of fire suppression, logging, grazing, and more fire suppression has no end.
In addition, since thinning reduces completion and opens up the forest floor to more light, thus new plant growth, thinning can often lead to the creation of even more of the flashy fine fuels that sustain forest fires. Unless these thinned stands are repeatedly treated, they can actually exacerbate the fire hazard by increasing the overall abundance of the very fuels which are most problematic—the smaller shrubs, grasses, and small trees that sustain fire spread.
In addition, thinning can increase solar penetration leading to more rapid drying and greater penetration of wind—both factors that aid fire spread.
This is not unlike the approach taken with predator control, whereby agencies for years have shot, poisoned, and trapped coyotes in the belief that they were reducing coyote numbers. But since coyotes respond to such persecution with greater fecundity, predator control becomes a self fulfilling activity whereby predator control begets more predator control.
While fire suppression (and logging, grazing, and so forth) may be a contributing factor in fire spread in some forest types (primarily Ponderosa pine), they are not ultimately what is driving most large fires. Large blazes are almost universally associated with climatic features like severe drought, wind, and ultimately by shift in oceanic currents such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Therefore fuel reductions will not substantively change the occurrence of large blazes.
Even if one wanted to buy into the fuels-is-driving- large blazes story, it would behoove us to rethink the range of solutions. The National Park Service, the only agency that does not have a commercial logging mandate, has effectively dealt with fuel reductions through wildlands fire and prescribed burning. At the very least, any fuel reduction that may be needed should be done by prescribed burning.
QUESTIONING FIRE SUPPRESSION
One of the underlying assumptions of all these pieces of legislation is the idea that our forests are unhealthy and possess unnatural fuel loads due to fire suppression or fire exclusion. There is, of course, a bit of truth to the generalization that some forest types may have had some fuel build ups as a consequence of fire exclusion, but whether these fuel build ups are outside of the historic range of variability is increasingly under scrutiny.
It’s also very important to note that the majority of all forests/plant types in the West like Lodgepole pine, sub-alpine fir, aspen, juniper, red fir, silver fir, Engelmann spruce, western red cedar, Douglas fir in west coast ecosystems, and many others have such naturally long fire intervals, that suppression, even if it were as effective as some might suggest, has not affected the historic fire frequency. Indeed, the majority of acreage of forest types burned annually tend to be characterized by moderate to severe fire, and are not the forest types where fuel build up is presumed to be a major problem—namely Ponderosa pine forest type. Yet most people apply the Ponderosa pine model of less intense frequent fires to all other forest types and thus assume that fire suppression has created unnatural fuel levels.
In particular the timber industry has adopted the convenient theme that fire suppression has created a presumed “fuel build-up” responsible for large wildfires. (Never mind that there were always large wildfires long before there was any effective fire suppression—for instance, the 1910 Burn which charred more than 3 million acres of northern Idaho and western Montana)
Thus logging proponents have created a “problem” namely fuel build up, and then by happy coincidence, have a solution that just happens to benefit them– logging the forest.
Fire suppression may have influenced some low elevation dry forests like those dominated by pure Ponderosa pine, but perhaps not nearly to the degree or over the large geographical area that timber interest and logging proponents try to suggest. Those who want to justify logging try to conflate low elevation forests with all forest types—many of which such as Lodgepole pine—are very likely not affected by fire suppression due to the naturally long intervals between fires in these forests.
CLIMATIC DRIVERS OF LARGE BLAZES
The emphasis on fuel reductions has obscured the fact that nearly all large blazes are climate/weather driven events. Evidence is building that wet, cool climatic conditions may be more responsible for dense forest stands and/or lack of fires than anything to do with fire suppression. In other words, fire suppression may not be as effective as some suggest and any fuel build up may be within natural or expected range.
In addition, there is also a growing body of scientific analysis that calls into question the very methods and conclusions used to construct fire histories. These analyses suggest that historic fire intervals, even in lower elevation dry forests like Ponderosa pine, are biased. Fire intervals may be far longer than previously assumed. Because of this longer fire interval, dense forest stands may be natural, and/or no different than what existed in the past. There is also new evidence for mixed “severity” (i.e. moderate change) fires as well as crown fires in these dry forests. The implications of these findings is that many forests, even low elevation forests, may well be within the historic range of variability.
LARGE BLAZES NECESSARY
One of the issues missed by thinning proponents is that the vast majority of all ecological work occurs in a very small number of fires—the big so-called “catastrophic” fires. Even though most agencies and environmental groups now profess to believe that wildfire is important to healthy forest ecosystems, they are not willing to let fires do the work.
For example, in the years between 1980 and 2003, there were more than 56,350 fires in the Rockies. These fires burned 3.6 million hectares (8.64 million acres) Most of these fires were small—despite all the fuels that has supposedly made conditions in forests ready to “explode”. Out of these 56,350 fires, the vast majority of blazes totaling 55,228 fires or 98% of all blazes only charred 4% of the acreage.
On the other hand, a handful of fires—1,222 or less than 2% of the fires accounted for 96% of the acreage burned. Even more astounding is that 0.1% of the fires or about 50 fires charred more than 50% of the acreage burned.
This suggests four things to me. First, fuels are not driving large blazes. There is plenty of fuel throughout the Rockies, but most fires never burn more than a few acres—despite all the fuel that is sitting around. Fire suppression if it was responsible for a fuel build up doesn’t appear to be creating a lot of big fires.
The few very large fires that everyone is concerned about occur during very special conditions of drought, combined with low humidity, high temperatures and wind. And these conditions simply do not occur very often. When they do line up in the same place at the same time you get a large fire—no matter what the fuel loading may be. My conclusion is that large blazes are climate driven events, not fuel driven.
Finally, the take home message for me is that even if we were successful at stopping big blazes through thinning and/or fire suppression, we would be in effect eliminating fire from the landscape. Since almost everyone today at least professes to the goal of restoring fire, then we have to tolerate the few large blazes—not try to stop them. Of course, it appears that despite our best efforts with logging, thinning, and all the rest, we have not had that much influence in eliminating the large blazes.
FRAMING THE ISSUE
One of the other major problems I have with the way many organizations have chosen to work on these issues is the way they “frame” the issues. When words like “working landscapes”, “restoration” , “unhealthy forests” “catastrophic blazes” “beetle outbreaks” are used in any discussion related to forests, they solidify in the public’s mind that there is a major problem with our forests, and more importantly that the “cure” is some kind of major invasive manipulation of forest ecosystems.
One must be careful about how you frame this issue. Even though most environmentalists do not support large scale commercial logging of our national forests, and have a lot of sidebars on how any logging should be done to address ecological concerns, when environmental groups say things like “we need to maintain our timber industry to restore the forests” the public just hears that our forests are a mess and the ONLY solution is more logging. I maintain that is not a message environmentalists want to be conveying. The public does not hear the sidebars, nor the cautionary words, rather they hear that we need to log our forests, and do so in a big way or ecological Armageddon is about to befall the West.
WHAT IS PRUDENT BEHAVIOR?
There is an important lesson in science called the precautionary principle. In the absence of full understanding of a problem, it is usually best to prescribe the least invasive and least manipulative actions. Conservation groups would be wise to apply this principle to forest policy.
That doesn’t mean I don’t support some “restoration” activities. To make an analogy, let’s look at the issue of wolf restoration. Putting wolves back on the land restores predation influences, but this is a very different thing than allowing hunters to kill elk. Especially because it allows the wolves, and natural conditions like drought, etc. t o determine what is the “right” number of elk and deer, not some agency with an agenda to sell licenses. Hunters influence elk differently than wolves and logging is different than say fires. Just as an elk killed by a wolf leaves behind carrion that other animals can use, a forest with fire leaves behind a lot of biomass that helps to sustain many other functions in the forest. Logging short circuits those ecosystems functions. As with hunting whenever you have a commercial enterprise involved in natural resource policy, it distorts the conclusions and it’s convenient to ignore anything that suggests the activity—whether hunting or logging is creating problems.
There is a growing challenge to many of the assumptions about fires and its influence on forests. These challenges to assumptions about constitutes forest “health” and the historic role of large blazes and beetle influences is not unlike the challenges to common assumptions about predators that began with people like Adolph Murie, George Wright, and other scientists back in the 1930s and 1940s who started to question predator policy. These early ecologists were not only challenging politicians and citizens, but many other scientists who were advocates of killing predators to create “healthy” populations of deer and elk.
I need not remind many conservationists that there are still plenty of scientists around that will support killing predators like wolves, despite decades of research about the ecological need for top down predators. So assurances that any logging on public lands will use the “best” science are not reassuring to me. When there is a commercial/economic aspect to any management, that tends to distort and often compromise the science and scientists that are consulted. It would naïve for anyone to believe that this is any different when dealing with fire and forest policy issues, especially when there’s an economic benefit to some industry and/or individuals for the policy.
There is a growing scientific body of work that is challenging the notion that fire suppression is responsible for dense forests and/or that crown fires, even in low elevation forests consisting of Ponderosa pine and/or Douglas fir. The implications of this for forest policy are significant for if this is correct, our current conditions are not outside of the historical normal range of variability, especially when you consider past climatic conditions that are similar to the current dry, warm conditions.
One can find plenty of scientists who think our forests are out of whack, and prescribe logging to reduce fuels and so forth, however, if one is monitoring the scientific literature one will find enough evidence here and there to question the current assumptions about “forest health” and the presumed need for logging.
At the very least, it would seem a prudent approach to avoid endorsing logging when there is at least some evidence to suggest that our forests are not as out of whack as previously assumed, and/or that logging cannot do what advocates suggest—like restore the ecosystem or prevent large blazes.
PROBABILITY OF FIRES
Another unchallenged assumption of those prescribing thinning to protect say old growth Ponderosa pine is the idea that somehow without thinning, we would lose all the old growth to fires. However, that ignores the low probability that any particular acre of land will burn in a fire. For one thing, most fires are small as mentioned earlier. They do not burn more than a few acres and go out. The few fires that do grow into large blazes occur under very special climatic/weather conditions of extreme drought, high wind, low humidity and high temperatures. These conditions do not occur that frequently, and to this you must provide an ignition. So even if you have drought, wind, low humidity, etc. you may not get a blaze.
In addition, even big blazes do not consume all the forest. Most large fires burn in a mosaic pattern for a host of reasons, the likelihood that any particular acre of old growth will burn is extremely small.
Finally, since thinning effectiveness even under the best circumstances rapidly declines over time, in order to protect old growth stands, thinning of that particular location in a forest must be very recent otherwise new growth generated by the opening of the forest, reduced competition, etc. often negates any advantage created by forest manipulation (logging).
LOGGING IS NOT BENIGN
Even if one disagreed with these new insights and interpretation of forest an ecosystem, and the presumed effectiveness of thinning projects, that doesn’t necessarily lead to logging as the “cure”. It wasn’t that long ago we heard many groups outlining the many ways that logging created ecological outcomes that were undesirable—the spread of weeds, changes in the abundance of snags, and down wood, that human activity in the woods disturbs and displaces sensitive wildlife, that disturbance of the land and use of logging roads (even temporarily logging roads) adds sediments to our streams, and so forth. Most of those critiques are still valid today, but we don’t hear that kind of criticism coming from many environmental groups anymore. This silence and unwillingness to continuously remind the public that logging has many, many negative impacts on forest ecosystems has compromised their environmental effectiveness as defenders of our public forests. After all who is going to assume that role if environmental groups do not continuously remind the public that logging has many unexamined and ignored externalities.
LESS MANIPULATIVE ALTERNATIVES EXIST
Even if one did not want to challenge the common perception that we have an “emergency” as Senators Wyden, Udall, Tester and others proclaim, logging isn’t necessarily the only or the best way to address this presumed emergency.
The National Park Service does fuel reductions and ecosystem restoration without logging. They have a long track record demonstrating that one can modify fuels and restore the ecological value of wildfire to the landscape without logging, and without jeopardizing communities. Yosemite NP, for instance, does prescribed burning in the crowded Yosemite Valley as does Muir Woods in adjacent areas, as well as many other national parks. That is not to suggest that prescribed burning will alleviate all concerns, but at the very least, it should be the approach that environmentalists advocate. Prescribed burning combined with natural wildfire can “restore” forest resilience as well as reduce fuels. Such an approach avoids many of the negatives associated with commercial logging, including the need for roads, the disturbance of water drainage by road building, soil compaction, removal of biomass, and so forth.
REDUCE HOME FLAMMABILITY AS FIRST DEFENSE AGAINST FIRE
There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that if community security is a concern, the best way to achieve that is through reduction of flammability of homes and the area immediately around the community, not wholesale logging of the forest ecosystem. Jack Cohen’s research at the Missoula Fire had demonstrated that thinning the forest is not the best way to protect homes.
ADVOCATE FOR NATURAL PROCESSES
Even if the majority of you believe our forests are out of whack and are unwilling to accept the critiques from those who suggest that our understanding of forest ecosystems may be incorrect, that doesn’t mean one has to be a hand maiden for the timber industry. Nature does the best management—that is why we all are advocates for wilderness—we believe that allowing wild places to determine what is right for the landscape is the best way to preserve “healthy ecosystems”. If the forests are overstocked as some may want to conclude, then let natural processes select which trees should survive and do any thinning that is necessary using insects, disease, drought, fire, wind storms, and all the other mechanisms that regulate plant communities—and Nature will do a far better job of determining which trees should survive than any forester.
Our role as humans is to get out of the way as much as possible, not to intrude and advocate for invasive solutions like logging. The only role for logging on public lands that I see is as listed below.
WHEN TO SUPPORT LOGGING/THINNING
If you must support logging, make sure it is very limited, and framed not in terms of forest health, but as a useful way to reduce human anxiety. Logging around houses and communities to reduce public anxiety over fires may be a political necessity. A fire break of significant size around the perimeter of a community may reduce public fears about large fires; however, as has been shown in numerous cases around the West fuel breaks alone will not ensure that homes are safe. Flammability of individual homes must be addressed.
February 9, 2010
Last Friday President Barack Obama visited the CIA’s headquarters to attend a memorial service for seven of its operatives blown up in Afghanistan. Over 1000 CIA officers and family members were present, as well as staff from the White House, the Pentagon and members of Congress. In his address, Obama referred to the dead agents as “seven heroes”- by Richard Neville
This is bunk. Yet, everyone present at this memorial is likely to have endorsed Obama’s verdict. “Everything you instilled in them” the President told the families, “the virtues of service and decency and duty were on display that December day. And our nation will be forever in your debt.” While one can feel sympathy for the families of the bereaved and acknowledge the dedication of the agents, it is absurd to see them as heroes.
They were paid assassins.
Backed by the weaponry of the world’s most belligerent nation and quarantined from legal consequences, the role of the agents was to eliminate “suspected militants”, usually with drone strikes. According to Pakistani estimates, for every terrorist killed by drones, about 140 innocent civilians are slaughtered. This is not fair, it’s not smart, it’s not legal.
The first CIA air strikes of the Obama Administration took place in January last year – the President’s third day in office. According to the New Yorker, one strike targeted the wrong house, hitting the residence of a pro west, pro-government tribal leader. The blast killed the patriarch’s entire family, including three children, one of them five years old. In keeping with US policy, the strike was not acknowledged. Perhaps this is because in 1976 President Gerald R. Ford, signed an executive order banning American intelligence forces from engaging in assassination.
Such edicts are ineffectual, as the CIA is beyond the reach of the law. It operates in countries where US troops are not based, including Australia, where it uses the facilities of Pine Gap to blast away “bad guys”. Since the loss of their agents, the CIA has switched to deep revenge, unleashing squadrons of drones on “suspects” and their families in remote tribal areas. This will recruit new militants, as will the ramped up torture, renditions, secret incarcerations.
Considering its blood-drenched history and the multiplicity of its brutal and indiscriminate operations, it is stupid to pretend the CIA is an engine of freedom. It is a blot on America, a curse on humanity and it is the world’s biggest terrorist cell. Surely its time to freeze its funds and put the assassins out to grass.
By Ahmed Moor on February 8, 2010
I’m finished with Beirut; I’m moving to Israel.
There is a remarkable philanthropic organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh seeking people just like me for “the first ever formal initiative to populate Israel’s northern region with English speaking Olim.”
My options are a little limited; I can only move to the Galilee or the Golan Heights to qualify for the benefits package. But what a package it is! Take a look:
– Regional workshops on technical aspects of Aliyah
– Social programs with other Olim [immigrants] and Israelis in the area throughout the year
– Dedicated regional employment assistance, helping with job search resume writing skills, etc.
– Monthly contact with Nefesh B’Nefesh staff via phone calls and emails
– Guided assistance in dealing with government offices
– Transportation assistance to ulpan [language training]
– Financial incentives
Yes! Financial incentives! Personally, I love money. Really, I do. But I would have been willing to “Go North” for no money at all. I have a strong pioneering spirit – and the allure of so much Golan to settle sets me tingling.
I can picture myself there now: sun shining brightly in my lustrous curls, the top two or three buttons of my shirt undone, sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow, skin bronzing. I’ll cast my keen gaze out over my domain, from my heights… as I water my lawn. Frontier living! What an adventure…
I have lots of decisions to make. I’ll need a car so I’m going to lease a Prius. I don’t really have the money right now, but my friends at Nefesh have that covered. I’m going to get “up to $16,000 over a period of two years” to “purchase or lease” a car. Fuck Yeah!! I get a new car!
But I’ll need furniture, too. And a new wardrobe; I can’t be a frontiersman in just a t-shirt and jeans – I’m after the whole lifestyle aesthetic. Well, no problem. My Nefesh money-tree just spouted another $25,000! That’s right – I get another $25,000 just for moving!!!!
I love your money, Israel… (Ahem) excuse me… I love you, Israel.
Wish me luck. There’s an application process and I haven’t applied yet. I think I’m a shoo-in though. I’m a college graduate who speaks English and loves free stuff (or at least, stuff other people are paying for). I mean, what could go wrong? It’s not like I’m a refugee or anything. Well… OK. I am a refugee, but I don’t have to tell them that. And I’d like it if you didn’t either.
Thank you, Mr. Tony Gelbart. As the philanthropist behind this dazzling scheme, I really can’t thank you enough. Really. I’m hoping that one day you’ll abandon your investment company in Boca Raton and move to Israel with me. We could get houses right next to each other and play badminton on weekends. We’ll be best friends!
XXX (hugs and kisses)
Obama’s Change Drops its Mask
By Shamus Cooke | February 9, 2010
It’s official: the Democrats are coming after Social Security and Medicare. All the backroom scheming and political conspiring is finally out in the open.
In an unusually long, 1,800 word editorial, entitled The Truth about the Deficit, published February 7, The New York Times — cheerleader for neoliberalism — gives its solution to the country’s debt problems. The main idea is summed up thus:
“To truly tame deficits will require serious health care reform [Obama’s plan slashes Medicare], the sooner the better. Other aspects of the long-term fiscal problem — raising taxes and retooling [reducing] Social Security — must take place in earnest as the economy recovers.”
Later the article is clearer: “And then there is Social Security. What is needed is a combination of benefit cuts and tax increases that preserve the program’s essential nature.” Of course those surviving on Social Security already live in poverty and cannot afford “benefit cuts.” Also, to make a dent in the deficit, benefit cuts to social security will have to be quite substantial, to the point where the program’s “essential nature” will be destroyed.
The New York Times acknowledges that such a course of action will be completely undemocratic and unpopular, but that politicians “must gather the political will to do what must be done…”
How can politicians destroy these cherished social programs in the face of such popular resistance? By trickery, of course. And this is exactly what Obama has proposed with his “bi-partisan deficit-reduction commission.” This idea puts Democrats and Republicans together to create a plan to destroy social programs. This way both parties share the blame, so that no one is to blame. The New York Times reveals Obama’s hidden motives:
“The deficit commission that Mr. Obama intends to establish could be helpful in breaking this logjam [resistance to cutting social security], by calling for necessary changes that politicians would be loath to broach without political cover.”
Labor unions and community groups also understand Obama’s treacherous motives. Dozens of them — including the AFL-CIO and Change to Win — signed a statement condemning the goals behind Obama’s “deficit commission.” The statement included some politically savvy points, including the following:
“…the proposed budget commission — which will be viewed as a way to actually cut Medicare benefits, while insulating lawmakers from political fallout — could confuse people and undermine the reform effort. And an American public that only recently rejected privatization of Social Security will undoubtedly be suspicious of a process that shuts them out of all decisions regarding the future of a retirement system that’s served them well in the current financial crisis.”
The statement concludes:
“We urge you to act decisively to prevent the creation of such an extraordinary and undemocratic budget commission.”
However, it is not enough for only the leaders of unions and community groups to pressure the Democrats over this issue, especially when Obama has made it clear that he prefers the advice of Wall Street CEO’s. Unions and progressive groups must educate and mobilize their base to confront both the Democrats and Republicans over the protection of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
None of the major unions which signed the anti-commission statement have information about this plot on their websites; none are organizing their members to confront this plan — a plan that the entire political establishment is in agreement with. Nor are unions seriously proposing other ideas to fix the deficit, and the fixes are obvious.
The military budget must be slashed. Obama plans to spend over $700 billion in 2011 for the military. Both Democrats and Republicans are fine with this. Most Americans are not.
More importantly, taxes on the rich need to be increased. The nation’s tax structure changed drastically under Reagan and the two Bushes, with taxes on the wealthiest Americans dropping from 70 percent to the present day 35 percent. Under Eisenhower the richest Americans paid 90 percent of their income towards taxes. The loss in revenue that resulted from these giant tax reductions is one of the major contributors to the current deficit. It must be reversed in order to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
This is the solution that working-class Americans would prefer, rather than have their Medicare, Social Security, and public education destroyed. It is up to the union movement and community groups to unite and mobilize their members and all working people to demand this as a solution to the deficit and Great Recession.
Without a massive mobilization with rank and file participation, the corporate elite will continue to have their way unchallenged, with more bank bailouts and more war. A coalition of progressive groups with clear demands to address the recession will have the backing of the majority of Americans, while being resisted adamantly by both Democrats and Republicans.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at email@example.com
Assaf Gefen wonders whether Israel does hide something in respect to Gaza War
Assaf Gefen | YNET | February 8, 2010
A year after it ended, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza looks like the Jim Morrison of wars – a short operation whose effect and myth keep growing after its death.
Months after it was published, the Goldstone Report still holds the top spot in the best seller list of Israel’s headaches. It’s clear to everyone that it won’t be going anywhere without the help of a commission of inquiry, but today we have no energy left for it. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.
The establishment of commissions of inquiry is a traditional Israeli hobby, yet not when it has to do with festivals that involve the killing of many Arabs. The Israeli objection to establishing a commission of inquiry into Operation Cast Lead – as if we have a shortage of former judges and elderly generals who have nothing to do with their lives – comes with several explanations, all of which start with “we have nothing to hide, but…”
The options are varied: Why the hell should they meddle in our affairs? Why the hell should they be telling us how to conduct ourselves in the next war? Why should you be interrogating our soldiers? Why haven’t you interrogated American soldiers in Iraq?
Then there are other options, such as: Why are you anti-Semitic? Why do you want this inquiry today, when I just got tickets to see Avatar? How dare you take away our incredible victory via a committee?
All of the above are weighty justifications, which can certainly serve to explain the Israeli aversion for a commission of inquiry. However, in light of the defense establishment’s oh-so-vigorous resistance to an external examination – even though we have nothing to hide – we must not reject out of hand the seemingly radical and baseless possibility that we may have something to hide after all.
Perhaps, in addition to the United Nations’ anti-Semitic tendencies, Judge Goldstone’s self-hatred, and the Palestinian attraction to white phosphorous, a small part of what the Goldstone Report says may be related to things we really did do during the Gaza war.
Only last week, for example, after months of denials and concealment efforts, the IDF admitted that it made use of white prosperous bombs in the war, and even revealed the fact that two officers were punished for it (by being deprived of their weekend vacation or something like that). Yet besides that, we’ve done nothing wrong; until further notice at least.
Copyright © Yedioth Internet. All rights reserved.
09/02/2010 Al-Manar – California Police reportedly made 12 arrests on Monday after a speech by Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren descended into chaos.
Hecklers interrupted Oren’s lecture at Irvine University in Los Angeles over 10 times, shouting “killers” and “how many Palestinians did you kill?”
Oren took a 20 minute break after the fourth protest, only to be interrupted again by young men yelling at him every few minutes, local press reported.
The arrested students were apparently members of the university’s Muslim Student Union, which had publicly condemned Oren’s visit earlier in the day.
In a statement printed by the Orange County Register, a newspaper, the union said: “We condemn and oppose the presence of Michael Oren, the ambassador of Israel to the United States, on our campus today. We resent that the Law School and the Political Science Department on our campus have agreed to cosponsor a public figure who represents a state that continues to break international and humanitarian law and is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined?”
Oren eventually completed his speech, some time later than scheduled, but did not take questions from the audience as planned.
University Chancellor Michael Drake was booed by some and applauded by others when told the audience that he was embarrassed by the outburst.
By Jonathan Cook – Jerusalem – February 9, 2010
Jerusalem’s mayor threatened last week to demolish 200 homes in Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city in an act even he conceded would probably bring long-simmering tensions over housing in East Jerusalem to a boil.
His uncompromising stance is the latest stage in a protracted legal battle over a single building towering above the jumble of modest homes of Silwan, a deprived and overcrowded Palestinian community lying just outside the Old City walls, in the shadow of the silver-topped al Aqsa mosque.
Beit Yehonatan, or Jonathan’s House, is distinctive not only for its height – at seven storeys, it is at least three floors taller than its neighbours – but also for the Israeli flag draped from the roof to the street.
The settlement outpost, named for Jonathan Pollard, serving a life sentence in the US for spying on Israel’s behalf in the 1980s, has been home to eight Jewish families since 2004, when it was built without a licence by an extremist settler organisation known as Ateret Cohanim.
Beit Yehonatan is one of dozens of settler-occupied homes springing up in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, most of them takeovers of Palestinian homes.
Critics say the intent of these “outposts”, together with the large settlements of East Jerusalem built by the state and home to nearly 200,000 Jews, is to foil any peace agreement that might one day offer the Palestinians a meaningful state with Jerusalem as its capital.
But exceptionally for the settlers, who are used to a mix of overt and covert assistance from officials, the inhabitants of Beit Yehonatan are at risk of being evicted from their home, two years after an “urgent” enforcement order was issued by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Last week Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, finally agreed “under protest” to seal Beit Yehonatan amid mounting pressure from an array of legal officials. Mr Barkat had been fighting strenuously against implementing the court order, aided by senior members of the parliament, the police, and even Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who opposed his own attorney general’s advice by declaring Beit Yehonatan’s future “a purely municipal matter”.
But the mayor has not simply capitulated. He warned that Beit Yehonatan would be evacuated only on condition that more than 200 demolition orders on Palestinian homes, most of them in Silwan, were carried out at the same time. He argued that he had to avoid any impression that the law was being enforced in a “discriminatory” manner against Jews.
Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said Mr Barkat’s idea of fairness was “ridiculous”.
“In the past 15 years there have been more than a thousand Palestinian homes demolished in East Jerusalem versus absolutely no settler homes,” he said. “In fact, no settlers have ever lost their home in East Jerusalem.”
In making his announcement, Mr Barkat admitted that the 200 demolitions would trigger “a strong possibility for conflict”. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are already seething over decades of planning restrictions that have forced many of them to build or extend homes illegally because it is all but impossible to get permits from the Israeli authorities.
Mr Halper said the municipality had classified 22,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as illegal, even as it also assessed a shortage of 25,000 homes for the city’s 250,000-strong Palestinian population.
The homes targeted for demolition include Palestinian houses around Beit Yehonatan that violate planning restrictions that allow families to build only two floors; despite the restriction, many houses have four storeys and owners pay fines.
In addition, the city council wants to demolish 88 homes in a small area called Bustan that the municipality claims is in danger of flooding.
Zeinab Jaber lives next to Beit Yehonatan in the home she was born in 61 years ago. The building was declared illegal 20 years ago, after it was extended to four storeys to accommodate her growing family. Today she and her six grown-up sons pay monthly fines of more than $1,000 (Dh 3,672) in the hope of warding off destruction.
Her son Amjad, 32, married with two young sons, said he did not dare miss a payment. “It’s simple: if you don’t pay, you’ll end up in prison.”
“What is there for the settlers here?” Mrs Jaber asked. “They are only here because they want to take this place from us. They won’t be happy till we leave.”
On the opposite slope across the valley from Beit Yehonatan, Mohammed Jalajil, 48, said he did not doubt that the municipality would demolish the 200 homes. He, his wife and five children have been crammed into a room in a relative’s apartment since their own house was demolished seven years ago.
Mr Jalajil, 48, said: “It was only months after they took our house from us that I saw the settlers building theirs nearby. My lawyer tells me that, even though my house is gone, I won’t have paid off my fines for another 10 years.”
If Mr Barkat follows through with his threat, the demolitions will prompt a rebuke from the international community. Last month, France and the United States joined the UN in denouncing more than 100 demolitions in East Jerusalem over the past three months.
The mayor’s decision, warned Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city councillor, was comparable to the “price tag” policy of the settlers in the West Bank, who have attacked Palestinian villages in retaliation against official attempts to dismantle a few of the settlement outposts dotting Palestinian territory.
“But the difference here is that the price tag is being levied not by the settlers themselves but by the municipality and the government on their behalf,” he said.
Yesterday the municipality was due to issue a seven-day evacuation notice to the inhabitants of Beit Yehonatan, but the operation was cancelled at the last minute when police refused to co-operate.
Frictions have been growing in Silwan for several years over the activities of another settler organisation, Elad, which, with official backing, has been building an archaeological park known as the City of David in the midst of the Palestinian neighbourhood. As Palestinians have been pushed out, at least 80 Jewish families have moved into homes nearby.
As Elad entrenches itself in Silwan, Beit Yehonatan has proved more difficult to secure. “Usually the settlers present a façade of legality to what they do,” Mr Halper said. “The problem here is that they built in an overtly illegal manner, without a permit and way over the building height restrictions.”
Mr Barkat’s resistance to evicting Beit Yehonatan’s inhabitants was highlighted last month when he tried to stave off legal pressure by proposing a new planning policy to legalise unlicensed buildings in Silwan. The mayor proposed that the rules limiting homes to two storeys be revised to four.
The reform would have applied to Beit Yehonatan first, sealing its top three storeys but allowing the Jewish families to inhabit the rest of the building.
Although Mr Barkat promised that illegal Palestinian buildings would also be saved, Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights groups, dismissed the mayor’s claim.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian homes would fail to qualify because land registry documents are missing for the area and a range of requirements on car parking, access roads and sewerage connections are “impossible” to meet, Orly Noy, a spokeswoman, wrote in the Haaretz newspaper last month.
She added that Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem lacked 70km of sewage pipes and that not a single new road had been paved in their neighbourhoods since Israel’s occupation in 1967.
A planning map of East Jerusalem drawn up recently by the Jerusalem municipality came to light last month, as Mr Barkat was promising to legalise buildings, showing that more than 300 homes – most of them in Silwan – were facing imminent demolition.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
Jerusalem – Ma’an – Confrontations erupted between school children and border guards at the Shu’fat military checkpoint on Tuesday, leading to the detention of a 15-year-old and the injury of a soldier, witnesses said.
The clash followed a series of overnight raids where border guards handed out dozens of notices for residents to turn themselves in for questioning at Israeli intelligence compounds in Jerusalem. The raids came directly on the heels of an arrest campaign targeting dozens of Palestinian residents of the camp.
The teen detained in the most recent clashes was identified as Ahmad Jamil Abu Hamda, who was on his way to school when the clashes erupted.
Locals said soldiers used tear gas to disburse the crowds.
The secretary of Fatah in the camp, Khader Ad-Dibs, said that raids continued until 5am, and that more than a hundred soldiers guarded the entrances of the camp.
Ad-Dibs noted that some of the men and women detained Monday had already been transfered to the military court where their sentences were extended, and others who were released said they had been severely beaten.