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Once lauded as a peacemaker, Obama’s tenure fraught with war

Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he’d made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama’s focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks and proxy battles. He has championed diplomacy on climate change and nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but also has failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.

If there was consensus Obama had not yet earned his Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 2009, there’s little such agreement on whether he deserves it today.

“I don’t think he would have been in the speculation of the Nobel committee now, in 2016, even if he had not already won,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and a close watcher of the Nobel committee. Harpviken said he views Obama’s foreign policy as more conventional and limited than he expected, particularly when it comes to using multilateral cooperation and institutions.

When it comes to finding new instruments for peace, he said, “Obama has been stuck in the old paradigm.”

In many respects, Obama’s tenure has been a seven-year debate over whether the president has used the tools of war to try to make peace too much or little.

Obama has been sharply criticized for his refusal to use force to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, cripple his air force or more aggressively engage in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. Many view Obama’s policies as an unfortunate overcorrection from the George W. Bush-era Iraq war.

“The president correctly wanted to move away from the maximalist approach of the previous administration, but in doing so he went to a minimalist, gradualist and proxy approach that is prolonging the war. Where is the justice in that?” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of the book, “Just War Reconsider.” Obama should have worked harder to rally a coalition around a shared vision of a stable Middle East, he said.

“Part of the requirement of leadership,” Dubik said, “is to operate in that space between where the world is and where the world ought to go.”

The president’s advisers dismiss such critiques as a misguided presumption that more force yields more peace. Cold-eyed assessments of the options in Syria show no certainty of outcomes.

“In Syria, there is no international basis to go to war against the Assad regime. Similarly, there’s no clearly articulable objective as to how it would play out. What is the end that we’re seeking militarily? “ said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “The president doesn’t believe you can impose order through military force alone.”

But Obama has in many other cases been willing to use limited force to achieve limited objectives, even risking unintended consequences.

He has ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria, actions that that have killed civilians and sparked tension in those countries and across the international community. What began as a secret program has become more transparent and Obama has aimed to leave legal limits for his predecessor on the use of unmanned warplanes.

But he has left unanswered the question of how or when those actions will lead to peace, some argued.

Looking back on his Nobel speech, that dilemma was already there, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert and former State Department official.

“What’s strikes me most is how different our concept of war was seven years ago,” he said. “We are engaged in a whole series of infinitely sustainable, low-level actions that have no logical endpoint. When do we stop doing drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan? What level of terrorism is acceptable? … We’re engaged in battles with a whole range of groups that are never going to surrender, so how do you decide to stop it? How do you decide what winning looks like?”

How do companies prey on your weaknesses? | A Q&A with the author of ‘Phishing for Phools’

It’s no secret we do things we know we shouldn’t. We overeat, gamble away our savings and live like tomorrow will never come. One reason, two Nobel laureates argue, is that there are plenty of businesses happy to lead us astray.

Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale University, used his understanding of how human behavior can affect markets to predict the dot-com crash of the early 2000s and the housing collapse of 2007. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2013 for his work showing that stock and bond prices can move out of step with economic fundamentals even over the long run.

In his new book with George Akerlof, another Nobel-prize winning economist, Shiller examines the many ways credit-card companies, financial firms and other businesses lure people into buying things that might harm them. The authors call that phishing, adopting the word for a common email scam to a broad array of cynical business practices. They call the person who takes the bait a phool. Their book is called “Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception.”

Their big point: It’s not that bad actors are gaming the free market, it’s that hucksters and dishonest marketing are part of the free-market game.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Shiller talked about how phishers lure phools, the appeal of one-armed bandits and the media’s misleading fascination with splashy stories. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: I often tend to think that things are not what they seem.

Q: Your focus isn’t on malevolent fraudsters but people just doing their job?

A: We agreed that we shouldn’t portray these people as evil. This is just what you get with free markets, depending on how free you let them be. My previous books were all about the positive aspects to markets. But markets are often presented too positively, with a certain reverence. Life is more complicated than that.

Q: Could you explain why you chose the word, phish?

A: We use it as a metaphor because people are aware of computer phishing. You can so easily be fooled by them because you don’t see all the work that went into luring you in. Things look perfectly plain and simple but in fact it’s all artifice. There are a lot of these phishers, some of them are savvy operators, and they’re experimenting. They find a ploy and, man, it works.

Q: This isn’t a new trend but it’s getting worse?

A: Yes. Take the slot machine. In the 19th Century, it dispensed sweets and toys. It was the first vending machine. Now, it’s optimized for gambling. Companies experiment with different things. There’s the jingling and bright lights, all part of a mesmerizing effect. They like to give you the sense that you’ve almost won, with three cherries, for instance. You can program it so that two cherries come up, and you can see the third cherry stopping just one off. You think, “I almost won!”

I don’t actually play these machines, mind you.

Q: The gist is that businesses keep casting new lures into the water until they get a bite?

A: It’s the same thing with Cinnabon. They don’t publicize the experimentation they do. Manufacturers of food try to get the optimal ratio to tap into your impulsivity. They don’t care about your health. Cinnabon boasts about their genuine Makara cinnamon from Indonesia. They can boast about that sort of thing. They can’t say, “Boy, we really cranked up the fat and sugar.”

They place them carefully indoors, in train stations and airports, where you’ll smell it. You’re frustrated, your flight was delayed, and you’re in a bad mood. They catch you right there. The mind tends to have a conversation, producing an excuse to eat it alongside a memory of your resolve not to eat it. They try to help one side of this conversation with the slogan, “Life needs frosting.” It’s a beautiful slogan, a great justification for giving in. It works, I bet.

Q: You say the news media is guilty of phishing, too. How so?

A: They often focus on things that aren’t important because they know what kind of story sells. In March of last year, this Malaysia Airlines plane went down mysteriously. The logical thing is to think somebody made a mistake. However, the news media latched onto a mystery story for days and days. It’s just a waste of time to think about. In terms of human welfare, it would be much better if the cable stations put up the periodic table of the elements to remind everybody. That would be useful information compared to the Malaysian airlines story.

I was on Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business TV show. He asked me what I thought about the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. I said I don’t think it really matters whether the Fed raises rates this meeting or next meeting. He said, “Look we’re doing a whole show about this.” There’s too much attention to these little stories.

Q: Do you see any speculative bubbles out there now?

A: There was a stock market bubble from 2009 to 2014. It might have ended last year. People have been worried about valuations in the market recently. The problem is there’s no exact science. We don’t know the probabilities of future events. Still, you have to take action and so you do it on gut feeling. That’s the world we live in. There’s so much disagreement about investing, and it’s because nobody really knows.

3 share Nobel medicine prize for new tools to kill parasites

Three scientists from Ireland, Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering drugs against malaria and other parasitic diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people every year.

The Nobel judges in Stockholm awarded the prestigious prize to Irish-born William Campbell, Satoshi Omura of Japan and Tu Youyou — the first-ever Chinese medicine laureate.

Campbell and Omura were cited for discovering avermectin, derivatives of which have helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, two diseases caused by parasitic worms that affect millions of people in Africa and Asia.

Tu discovered artemisinin, a drug that has helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients.

“The two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immensurable.”

River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness. About 90 percent of the disease occurs in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Lymphatic filariasis can lead to swelling of the limbs and genitals, called elephantiasis, and it’s primarily a threat in Africa and Asia. The WHO says 120 million people are infected with the disease, without about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated.

Campbell is a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Omura, 80, is a professor emeritus at Kitasato University in Japan and is from the central prefecture of Yamanashi. Tu, 84, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces bacteria and cultured them so that they could be analyzed for their impact against harmful microorganisms, the Nobel committee said.

Campbell showed that one of those cultures was “remarkably efficient” against parasites in animals. The bioactive agent was purified and modified to a compound that effectively killed parasitic larvae, leading to the discovery of new class of drugs.

Tu turned to herbal medicine to discover a new anti-malarial agent, artemisinin (pronounced ar-tuh-MIHS’-ihn-ihn), that was highly effective against malaria, a disease that was on the rise in the 1960s, the committee said.

The last time a Chinese citizen won a Nobel was in 2012, when Mo Yan got the literature award. But China has been yearning for a Nobel Prize in science. This was the first Nobel Prize given to a Chinese scientist for work carried out within China.

The medicine award was the first Nobel Prize to be announced.  The winners will share the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) prize money with one half going to Campbell and Omura, and the other to Tu. Each winner will also get a diploma and a gold medal at the annual award ceremony on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel.

Last year’s medicine award went to three scientists who discovered the brain’s inner navigation system.

Nobel Peace Prize winners urge U.S. to fully disclose use of torture

Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners this week sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling on the United States to provide full disclosure of the authorization, extent and use of torture and rendition in the years following 9/11.

The letter, signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jose Ramos-Horta, said the president’s recent admission that the United States engaged in torture is a first step at reckoning but that a great deal more needs to be done, including releasing the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s use of torture.

The Nobel laureates also called on the United States to verify that “black sites” for the use of torture and interrogation abroad have been closed, shutter the Guantanamo Bay prison and adhere to the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention against Torture, according to a release from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, “These men and women of courage and conscience rightly emphasize the historic crossroads our nation faces when the Senate’s landmark torture report is released. The eyes of the world are on President Obama to account for and forever ban the shameful use of torture, cruelty, and indefinite detention. Ordering an end to the CIA’s self-serving fight over redactions in the Senate report would be a good place to start. The laureates’ words are a powerful reminder that when we stray from our values and respect for human rights, the whole world feels the negative effects.”

Signatories on the letter include Desmond Tutu, José Ramos-Horta, Mohamed ElBaradei, Muhammad Yunus, Jody Williams, Oscar Arias Sanches, Frederik Willem de Klerk, Betty Williams, Bishop C. X. Belo, John Hume and Adolfo Peres Esquivel.

The letter, in part, reads, “We have reason to feel strongly about torture. Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.

“It is with this experience that we stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from this dark period of its history, never to return.

“In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend. They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.”



UN report: Global warming is here and dangerous

Global warming is here, human-caused and dangerous — and it’s increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasn’t in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what’s causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report says. The final report will be issued after governments and scientists go over the draft line by line in an October conference in Copenhagen.

Depending on circumstances and values, “currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous,” the report says. It mentions extreme weather and rising sea levels, such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. It even raises, as an earlier report did, the idea that climate change will worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems and could hinder efforts to grow more food. And ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by oceans, will harm marine life, it says.

Without changes in greenhouse gas emissions, “climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century,” the report says.

In 2009, countries across the globe set a goal of limiting global warming to about another 2 degrees Fahrenheit above current levels. But the report says that it is looking more likely that the world will shoot past that point. Limiting warming to that much is possible but would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon dioxide pollution.

The report says if the world continues to spew greenhouse gases at its accelerating rate, it’s likely that by mid-century temperatures will increase by about another 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) compared to temperatures from 1986 to 2005. And by the end of the century, that scenario will bring temperatures that are about 6.7 degrees warmer (3.7 degrees Celsius).

“The report tells us once again what we know with a greater degree of certainty: that climate change is real, it is caused by us, and it is already causing substantial damage to us and our environment,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in an email. “If there is one take home point of this report it is this: We have to act now.”

John Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, is in the tiny minority of scientists who are skeptical of mainstream science’s claim that global warming is a major problem. He says people will do OK: “Humans are clever. We shall adapt to whatever happens.”

While projections show that the world will warm and climate will change, there’s still a level of uncertainty about how much, and that makes the problem all about how much risk we accept, said MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel.

If it’s soon and only a little risk, he said, that’s not too bad, but when you look at the risk curve the other end of it is “very frightening.”

The report used the word “risk” 351 times in just 127 pages.

On the Web …

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:http://www.ipcc.ch/