Archive for December, 2011

No Right to Kill!

December 28, 2011

Capital Punishment In America: ‘Vengeance Is Mine, I Will Repay Says The Lord.’ Romans 12:19

December 28, 2011

In 1997, in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana, a murder takes place inside a local grocery store. A black male wearing a ski mask was seen walking into the store at which time an argument ensued between the man and the owner. The man then shoots the owner and flees into the parking lot where he jumps into the open passenger window of a waiting car and speeds off. While speeding off, he discards the ski mask which is subsequently picked up by a witness and turned over to responding police officers. A short time later, Ryan Matthews who matches what little description was given of the suspect, is apprehended while operating a car that seems identical to the getaway car described witnesses had described. Mr. Matthews is charged with the murder and is sentenced to death. It is not until after a death sentence is handed down and precious years are spent as a condemned man that the facts come to light. The DNA collected from inside the ski mask belongs to another man who has been imprisoned for another murder near the grocery store. Further, the man whose DNA was matched, when asked about the crime, confesses. Finally, it is determined that the passenger door window of Mr. Matthews car would not roll down meaning that neither he nor anyone else could have jumped through an open passenger window.Thankfully, Mr. Matthews’ life has been spared but how many have not? Since 1971, one hundred thirty-nine death row inmates have been released; their charges either dropped or they were acquitted for various reasons. 


Throughout history we have seen the standards used to determine what offenses are punishable by death vary widely from theft and treason to rape and murder. In the military we’ve even seen people put to death for offenses such as cowardice and desertion. Desertion during time of war is still punishable by death under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The problems with the death penalty are many. Aside from the fact that the possibility exists for innocent men and women to be put to death, the financial costs are far too high for our nation to bear. Financial costs are especially too high at a time when our economy is in peril and our crime rates and the percentage of those incarcerated seems to climb ever higher in spite of the death penalty that some believe actually deters crime. There is little doubt that if the death penalty is in fact a deterrent, it is not a great enough deterrent to justify its cost.

Regardless of what you believe, whether you are pro- or anti-death penalty, all must agree that $2.3 million is a lot of money that can fund many different crime prevention measures such as putting more cops on the street or treating drug abuse and addiction. $2,300,000 is what the State of Texas spends on average to prosecute and carry out a death penalty case over a non-death penalty case. That is approximately three times the cost of incarcerating a person in a single person cell with the highest level of security available for forty years. In 2010, there were inmates on death row in Texas. At an average cost of $2.3 million, the total cost of executing each of these offenders over other forms of sentencing would be over $729 million.With 35 states plus the U.S. Government and U.S. Military having the death penalty, one can only imagine the money that is wasted carrying out a punishment that does so little to deter crime.

Aside from the economic costs and the inevitable fallibility of the death penalty, we have to look at the existence of racial bias in this country. We live in a time where for the first time in American history, we believe that the laws guarantee racial equality. Statistics prove that despite laws guaranteeing racial equality, equal protection under the law is something that is still denied to a sizeable demographic in America.

Currently in the United States, African-Americans make up nearly fifty percent of those murdered. Despite the fact that half of all murder victims are African-American, from 1976 to 1991, eighty-six percent of all persons on death row in America were there for killing white people. These statistics suggest that in the eyes of our justice system, the value of a white life is somehow worth more than an African-American life. Racial bias is so blatantly obvious based on these statistics that we as a society are irresponsible at best, if we don’t have a moratorium on the death penalty to work out racial inequalities and make an effort to value all lives equally.

The death penalty is clearly not a perfect method for exacting justice. So long as it is a human institution it will never be perfect and innocent men and women will inevitably become victims of it. The monetary costs versus reward aspect of this archaic punishment are far too high for capital punishment to even be a logical consideration. Even if you believe it is a deterrent you must agree that the obscene amounts of money spent on capital punishment could be put to more effective use elsewhere. It should be brought to the forefront of the national conversation and ended once and for all.

For more from The Progressive Cop visit


Japan’s response to disaster confused, full of errors, report says

December 27, 2011

Japan’s response to disaster confused, full of errors, report says

NATIONAL DEC. 27, 2011 – 06:50AM JST ( 61 )

Japan's response to disaster confused, full of errors, report says
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, right, receives an investigation report from Yotaro Hatamura, chairperson of the committee investigating the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, on Monday.AP


Japan’s response to the nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 tsunami was confused and riddled with problems, including an erroneous assumption an emergency cooling system was working and a delay in disclosing dangerous radiation leaks, a report revealed Monday.

The disturbing picture of harried and bumbling workers and government officials scrambling to respond to the problems at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was depicted in the report detailing a government investigation.

The 507-page interim report was compiled by an independent panel headed by Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo. The panel interviewed more than 400 people, including utility workers and government officials, found authorities had grossly underestimated tsunami risks, assuming the highest wave would be 6 meters. The tsunami hit at more than double those levels.

The report criticized the use of the term “soteigai,” meaning “outside our imagination,” which it said implied authorities were shirking responsibility for what had happened. It said by labeling the events as beyond what could have been expected, officials had invited public distrust.

“This accident has taught us an important lesson on how we must be ready for ‘soteigai,’” it said.

The report, set to be finished by mid-2012, found workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co, the utility that ran Fukushima Daiichi, were untrained to handle emergencies like the power shutdown that struck when the tsunami destroyed backup generators—setting off the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

There was no clear manual to follow, and the workers failed to communicate, not only with the government but also among themselves, it said.

Finding alternative ways to bring sorely needed water to the reactors was delayed for hours because of the mishandling of an emergency cooling system, the report said. Workers assumed the system was working, despite several warning signs it had failed and was sending the nuclear core into meltdown.

The report acknowledged that even if the system had kicked in properly, the tsunami damage may have been so great that meltdowns would have happened anyway.

But a better response might have reduced the core damage, radiation leaks and the hydrogen explosions that followed at two reactors and sent plumes of radiation into the air, according to the report.

Sadder still was how the government dallied in relaying information to the public, such as using evasive language to avoid admitting serious meltdowns at the reactors, the report said.

The government also delayed disclosure of radiation data in the area, unnecessarily exposing entire towns to radiation when they could have evacuated, the report found.

The government recommended changes so utilities will respond properly to serious accidents.

It recommended separating the nuclear regulators from the unit that promotes atomic energy, echoing frequent criticism since the disaster.

Japan’s nuclear regulators were in the same ministry that promotes the industry, but they are being moved to the environment ministry next year to ensure more independence.

The report did not advocate a move away from nuclear power but recommended adding more knowledgeable experts, including those who would have been able to assess tsunami risks, and laying out an adequate response plan to what it called “a severe accident.”

The report acknowledged people were still living in fear of radiation spewed into the air and water, as well as radiation in the food they eat. Thousands have been forced to evacuate and have suffered monetary damage from radiation contamination, it said.

“The nuclear disaster is far from over,” the report said.

The earthquake and tsunami left 20,000 people dead or missing.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Comment on the Comments by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Representative Tomoyuki Taira

December 26, 2011

Comment on the Comments by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Representative Tomoyuki Taira 

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress and Arjun Makhijani

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Representative Taira Tomoyuki wrote a bold, courageous and very public comment in the December 15 issue of Nature magazine calling for the immediate nationalization of the Fukushima Daiichi (FD) nuclear power plant. Their biggest frustration is the problem that TEPCO has inflicted on the public since day 1 of this tragedy: a lack of transparency, a lack of being forthcoming about the depth and breadth of the problem. We are dismayed to learn that TEPCO refused to give the reactor manual even to the former Prime Minister of Japan at first, and when it did, it redacted portions.

The article throws some light on what TEPCO might be trying to hide. TEPCO has declared a successful “cold shut down” while the authors quite rightly point out that this claim may be irrelevant given that some of the fuel has reached the concrete floor and may breach it, posing a threat of unremediable contamination of ground water. Now that TEPCO has announced a “cold shutdown”, surely they should be able to access the concrete base and verify its integrity!

The article also indicates that TEPCO and the Japanese nuclear regulator may have misled the public when they stated in April 2011 that a measurement that provided evidence for ‘re-criticality’, that is a restart of a chain reaction for at least a brief spurt, was incorrect. After the former Prime Minister and his team finally got the raw data, they concluded that a re-criticality could not be ruled out – the evidence was inconclusive.

We raised this issue in a paper (available in English and Japanese) by one of us (Dalnoki-Veress), released March 28. There we analyzed the implications of TEPCO’s Chlorine-38 measurement from sea water in the turbine of FD reactor #1. At the time, sea water was used to cool the reactor in the absence of access to regular water. We estimated the neutron flux in the reactor core needed to explain the measured concentration of Chlorine-38 (which is an activation product of non-radioactive Chlorine-37 naturally present in the salt in sea-water). This led to the uncomfortable conclusion that natural spontaneous fission could not explain the measured Chlorine-38 concentration; the possibility of a re-criticality was clear and could not be ignored. It could happen again. Our fear at the time was that a re-criticality could cause workers to be “in considerably greater danger than they already are when trying to contain the situation”. We hoped that TEPCO would take our concerns into consideration and respond to our conclusion by further analysis, especially as many analysts have mentioned the need to measure the concentration of sodium isotopes. After the paper was published, TEPCO claimed the measurement was in error.

The authors of the comment in Nature have taken an independent look at the TEPCO data and found the data to be consistent with the initial March 25th measurement of Chlorine-38. This implies that as we suggested in late March the possibility of re-criticality cannot be ignored. Efforts must also be made to determine why so many official simulations don’t predict a re-criticality. An independent investigation is clearly called for not only to determine if TEPCO covered up the results, but to understand what actually happened for the sake of future safety.

The immense problem of cleanup at the site, which will take decades and cost untold sums of money, the problem of people who have no homes to go back to, the problem of contaminated businesses and schools and farms – none of these problems can be addressed with confidence with TEPCO in charge of FD. In any case, the company does not have the assets to deal with the damage and compensation claims.

We agree and echo the authors call for an independent scientific committee to look at all the data in an objective way devoid of the “dangerous optimism” of those who work within the nuclear industry. Nuclear safety demands that the damage from the earthquake prior to the tsunami and possible damage from the aftershocks be understood. Secrecy is inimical to safety and it is also hostile to democracy. But nationalization must be carried out on condition of complete transparency — including publication of all prior documents and measurements, including raw data. Governments are no strangers to secrecy; nationalization will not help if we go from corporate secrecy to a governmental one.

The stakes are high for Japan and indeed for the world, since despite the disaster at FD nuclear power is expected to expand in Asia and the Middle East. In addition, immediate risks for workers attempting to mitigate the situation need to be quantified and fundamental questions need to be asked about the risks the industry poses for society. Certainly they need to be posed before TEPCO and other Japanese corporations are allowed to sell their nuclear power wares to third countries.

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress is a Research Scientist at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is a specialist on nuclear disarmament and on aspects of global proliferation of fissile materials. He holds a PhD in high energy physics from Carleton University, Canada, specializing in ultra-low radioactivity background detectors. He can be contacted here: and 831- 647-4638.

Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research ( He holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley and has produced many studies on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years. He is the author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy the first analysis of a transition to a U.S. economy based completely on renewable energy, without any use of fossil fuels or nuclear power. He is the principal editor of Nuclear Wastelands and the principal author of Mending the Ozone Hole. He can be contacted here:

Public health fallout from Japanese quake (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

December 25, 2011
Public health fallout from Japanese quake
Lauren Vogel CMAJ
December 21, 2011
CMAJ ローレン・ヴォーゲル
A “culture of coverup” and inadequate cleanup efforts have combined to leave Japanese people exposed to “unconscionable” health risks nine months after last year’s meltdown of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, health experts say.
Although the Japanese government has declared the plant virtually stable, some experts are calling for evacuation of people from a wider area, which they say is contaminated with radioactive fallout.
They’re also calling for the Japanese government to reinstate internationally-approved radiation exposure limits for members of the public and are slagging government officials for “extreme lack of transparent, timely and comprehensive communication.”
But temperatures inside the Fukushima power station’s three melted cores have achieved a “cold shutdown condition,” while the release of radioactive materials is “under control,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency ( That means government may soon allow some of the more than 100 000 evacuees from the area around the plant to return to their homes. They were evacuated from the region after it was struck with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami last March 11.
Although the potential for further explosions with substantial releases of radioactivity into the atmosphere is certainly reduced, the plant is still badly damaged and leaking radiation, says Tilman Ruff, chair of the Medical Association for Prevention of Nuclear War, who visited the Fukushima prefecture in August. “There are major issues of contamination on the site. Aftershocks have been continuing and are expected to continue for many months, and some of those are quite large, potentially causing further damage to structures that are already unstable and weakened. And we know that there’s about 120 000 tons of highly contaminated water in the base of the plant, and there’s been significant and ongoing leakage into the ocean.”
これ以上の爆発で放射能の大気中への大量拡散が起こる可能性は確かに減少している。しかし、原発が激しく損傷しており放射能が漏出していることには変わりはない、とティルマン・ラフは言う。ラフは『核戦争防止医学協会(Medical Association for Prevention of Nuclear War)』の会長で、福島県を8月に訪れている。「現場の放射能汚染は大きな問題です。余震は続いており、今後何ヶ月も続くことが予想されていて、そのうちのいくつかは非常に大きく、既に不安定で弱った構造物に更にダメージを与える可能性もあります。原発の地階には約12万トンの高度汚染水が溜まっており、相当量の海への漏出が起きている。」
The full extent of contamination across the country is even less clear, says Ira Hefland, a member of the board of directors for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We still don’t know exactly what radiation doses people were exposed to [in the immediate aftermath of the disaster] or what ongoing doses people are being exposed to. Most of the information we’re getting at this point is a series of contradictory statements where the government assures the people that everything’s okay and private citizens doing their own radiation monitoring come up with higher readings than the government says they should be finding.”
Japanese officials in Tokyo have documented elevated levels of cesium — a radioactive material with a half-life of 30 years that can cause leukemia and other cancers — more than 200 kilometres away from the plant, equal to the levels in the 20 kilometre exclusion zone, says Robert Gould, another member of the board of directors for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
International authorities have urged Japan to expand the exclusion zone around the plant to 80 kilometres but the government has instead opted to “define the problem out of existence” by raising the permissible level of radiation exposure for members of the public to 20 millisieverts per year, considerably higher than the international standard of one millisievert per year, Gould adds.
This “arbitrary increase” in the maximum permissible dose of radiation is an “unconscionable” failure of government, contends Ruff. “Subject a class of 30 children to 20 millisieverts of radiation for five years and you’re talking an increased risk of cancer to the order of about 1 in 30, which is completely unacceptable. I’m not aware of any other government in recent decades that’s been willing to accept such a high level of radiation-related risk for its population.”
Following the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, “clear targets were set so that anybody anticipated to receive more than five millisieverts in a year were evacuated, no question,” Ruff explains. In areas with levels between one and five millisieverts, measures were taken to mitigate the risk of ingesting radioactive materials, including bans on local food consumption, and residents were offered the option of relocating. Exposures below one millisievert were still considered worth monitoring.
In comparison, the Japanese government has implemented a campaign to encourage the public to buy produce from the Fukushima area, Ruff added. “That response [in Chernobyl] 25 years ago in that much less technically sophisticated, much less open or democratic context, was, from a public health point of view, much more responsible than what’s being done in modern Japan this year.”
Were Japan to impose similar strictures, officials would have to evacuate some 1800 square kilometres and impose restrictions on food produced in another 11 100 square kilometres, according to estimates of the contamination presented by Dr. Kozo Tatara for the Japan Public Health Association at the American Public Health Association’s 139th annual meeting and exposition in November in Washington, District of Columbia.
“It’s very difficult to persuade people that the level [of exposure set by the government] is okay,” Tatara told delegates to the meeting. He declined requests for an interview.
The Japanese government is essentially contending that the higher dose is “not dangerous,” explains Hefland. “However, since the accident, it’s become clear the Japanese government was lying through its teeth, doing everything it possible could to minimize public concern, even when that meant denying the public information needed to make informed decisions, and probably still is.”
“It’s now clear they knew within a day or so there had been a meltdown at the plant, yet they didn’t disclose that for weeks, and only with great prodding from the outside,” Hefland adds. “And at the same moment he was assuring people there was no public health disaster, the Prime Minister now concedes that he thought Tokyo would have to be evacuated but was doing nothing to bring that about.”
Ruff similarly charges that the government has mismanaged the file and provided the public with misinformation. As an example, he cites early reports that stable iodine had been distributed to children and had worked effectively, when, “in fact, iodine wasn’t given to anyone.”
ラフも同様に、日本政府はファイルの管理を誤り、人々に誤った情報を出した、と批判する。その例としてラフが挙げるのは、安定ヨウ素剤が子供たちに配られ、効果的に作用した、という初期の報告。しかし、「実際にはヨウ素は誰にも与えられていなかったのです。」 [福島の三春町は唯一の例外です。]
Public distrust is at a level that communities have taken cleanup and monitoring efforts into their own hands as the government response to the crisis has been “woefully inadequate” and officials have been slow to respond to public reports of radioactive hotspots, Gould says. “That’s led to the cleanup of some affected areas, but there are also reports of people scattering contaminated soil willy-nilly in forests and areas surrounding those towns.”
“In some places, you can see mounds of contaminated soil that have just been aggregated under blue tarps,” he adds.
Even with government assistance, there are limits to the decontamination that can be achieved, explains Hefland. “What do you do with the stuff? Do you scrape entire topsoil? How far down you have to go? And if you wash down the buildings, what do you do with the waste water?”
As well, Ruff argues the government must examine the provision of compensation for voluntary evacuation from areas outside of the exclusion zone where there are high levels of radioactive contamination. Without such compensation, many families have no option but to stay, he says. “At this point, the single most important public health measure to minimize the health harm over the longterm is much wider evacuation.”
The Japanese government did not respond to inquiries.
kintaman said…
Anonymous said…

NASA: 2 degrees temp rise will cause 25m sea level rise

December 24, 2011

Secrets from the past point to rapid climate change in the future

At the Earth’s current rate of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the planet is likely to experience several degrees increase in average temperatures and large-scale changes such as ice sheet loss that could lead to several meters of sea level rise this century, NASA’s James Hansen said in a recent paper. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.



By Patrick Lynch,
NASA’s Earth Science News TeamNew research into the Earth’s paleoclimate history by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies director James Hansen suggests the potential for rapid climate changes this century, including multiple meters of sea level rise, if global warming is not abated.By looking at how the Earth’s climate responded to past natural changes, Hansen sought insight into a fundamental question raised by ongoing human-caused climate change: “What is the dangerous level of global warming?” Some international leaders have suggested a goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times in order to avert catastrophic change. But Hansen said at a press briefing at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco recently that a warming of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would lead to drastic changes, such as significant ice sheet loss in Greenland and Antarctica.

Based on Hansen’s temperature analysis work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Earth’s average global surface temperature has already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880, and is now warming at a rate of more than 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade. This warming is largely driven by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels at power plants, by cars and by industry. At the current rate of fossil fuel burning, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have doubled from pre-industrial times by the middle of this century. A doubling of carbon dioxide would cause an eventual warming of several degrees, Hansen said.

In recent research, Hansen and co-author Makiko Sato, also of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, compared the climate of today, the “Holocene”, with previous similar “interglacial” epochs — periods when polar ice caps existed but the world was not dominated by glaciers. In studying cores drilled from both ice sheets and deep ocean sediments, Hansen found that global mean temperatures during the “Eemian” period, which began about 130,000 years ago and lasted about 15,000 years, were less than 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than today. If temperatures were to rise two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, global mean temperature would far exceed that of the Eemian, when sea level was four to six meters higher than today, Hansen said.

The average global surface temperature of Earth has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880, and is now increasing at a rate of about 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. This image shows how 2010 temperatures compare to average temperatures from a baseline period of 1951-1980, as analyzed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Credit: NASA GISS.

The average global surface temperature of Earth has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880, and is now increasing at a rate of about 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. This image shows how 2010 temperatures compare to average temperatures from a baseline period of 1951-1980, as analyzed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Credit: NASA GISS.

“The paleoclimate record reveals a more sensitive climate than thought, even as of a few years ago. Limiting human-caused warming to two degrees [Celsius] is not sufficient,” Hansen said. “It would be a prescription for disaster.”

Hansen focused much of his new work on how the polar regions and in particular the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland will react to a warming world.

Two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming would make Earth much warmer than during the Eemian, and would move Earth closer to “Pliocene”-like conditions, when sea level was in the range of 25 meters (82 feet) higher than today, Hansen said. In using Earth’s climate history to learn more about the level of sensitivity that governs our planet’s response to warming today, Hansen said the paleoclimate record suggests that every degree Celsius of global temperature rise will ultimately equate to 20 meters (66 feet) of sea level rise. However, that sea level increase due to ice sheet loss would be expected to occur over centuries, and large uncertainties remain in predicting how that ice loss would unfold.

Hansen notes that ice sheet disintegration will not be a linear process. This non-linear deterioration has already been seen in vulnerable places such as Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica, where the rate of ice mass loss has continued accelerating over the past decade. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite is already consistent with a rate of ice sheet mass loss in Greenland and West Antarctica that doubles every ten years. The GRACE record is too short to confirm this with great certainty; however, the trend in the past few years does not rule it out, Hansen said. This continued rate of ice loss could cause multiple meters of sea level rise by 2100, Hansen said.

Ice and ocean sediment cores from the polar regions indicate that temperatures at the poles during previous epochs — when sea level was tens of meters higher — is not too far removed from the temperatures Earth could reach this century on a “business as usual” trajectory.

“We don’t have a substantial cushion between today’s climate and dangerous warming,” Hansen said. “Earth is poised to experience strong amplifying feedbacks in response to moderate additional global warming.”

Detailed considerations of a new warming target and how to get there are beyond the scope of this research, Hansen said. But this research is consistent with Hansen’s earlier findings that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would need to be rolled back from about 390 parts per million in the atmosphere today to 350 parts per million in order to stabilize the climate in the long term. While leaders continue to discuss a framework for reducing emissions, global carbon dioxide emissions have remained stable or increased in recent years.

Hansen and others noted that while the paleoclimate evidence paints a clear picture of what Earth’s earlier climate looked like, but that using it to predict precisely how the climate might change on much smaller timescales in response to human-induced rather than natural climate change remains difficult. But, Hansen noted, the Earth system is already showing signs of responding, even in the cases of “slow feedbacks” such as ice sheet changes.

The human-caused release of increased carbon dioxide into the atmosphere also presents climate scientists with something they’ve never seen in the 65 million year record of carbon dioxide levels — a drastic rate of increase that makes it difficult to predict how rapidly the Earth will respond. In periods when carbon dioxide has increased due to natural causes, the rate of increase averaged about 0.0001 parts per million per year — in other words, one hundred parts per million every million years. Fossil fuel burning is now causing carbon dioxide concentrations to increase at two parts per million per year.

“Humans have overwhelmed the natural, slow changes that occur on geologic timescales,” Hansen said.

Compassion Is Our New Century

December 23, 2011
Published: Friday 23 December 2011
“Nothing has been more moving to me than this desire, realized imperfectly but repeatedly, to connect across differences, to be a community, to make a better world, to embrace each other.”

Usu­ally at year’s end, we’re sup­posed to look back at events just passed — and for­ward, in pre­dic­tion mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This mo­ment is so ex­tra­or­di­nary that it has hardly reg­is­tered. Peo­ple in thou­sands of com­mu­ni­ties across the United States and else­where are liv­ing in pub­lic, ex­per­i­ment­ing with di­rect democ­racy, call­ing things by their true names, and oblig­ing the media and politi­cians to do the same.

The breadth of this move­ment is one thing, its depth an­other. It has re­jected not just the par­tic­u­lars of our eco­nomic sys­tem, but the whole set of moral and emo­tional as­sump­tions on which it’s based. Take the pair shown in a pho­to­graph from Oc­cupy Austin in Texas.  The ami­able-look­ing el­derly woman is hold­ing a sign whose com­puter-printed words say, “Money has stolen our vote.” The older man next to her with the base­ball cap is hold­ing a sign hand­writ­ten on card­board that states, “We are our broth­ers’ keeper.”

The photo of the two of them of­fers just a peek into a sin­gle mo­ment in the re­mark­able pe­riod we’re liv­ing through and the as­ton­ish­ing move­ment that’s drawn in… well, if not 99% of us, then a strik­ing enough per­cent­age: every­one from teen pop su­per­star Miley Cyrus with her Oc­cupy-homage video to Alaska Yup’ik elder Es­ther Green ice-fish­ing and hold­ing a sign that says “Yirqa Kuik” in big let­ters, with the trans­la­tion — “oc­cupy the river” — in lit­tle ones below.

The woman with the stolen-votes sign is re­fer­ring to them. Her com­pan­ion is talk­ing about us, all of us, and our fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples. His sign comes straight out of Gen­e­sis, a de­nial of what that com­pet­i­tive en­tre­pre­neur Cain said to God after fore­clos­ing on his brother Abel’s life. He was not, he claimed, his brother’s keeper; we are not, he in­sisted, be­holden to each other, but sep­a­rate, iso­lated, each of us for our­selves.

Think of Cain as the first So­cial Dar­win­ist and this Oc­cu­pier in Austin as his op­po­site, claim­ing, no, our op­er­at­ing sys­tem should be love; we are all con­nected; we must take care of each other. And this move­ment, he’s say­ing, is about what the Ar­gen­tin­ian up­ris­ing that began a decade ago, on De­cem­ber 19, 2001, calledpo­lit­ica afec­tiva, the pol­i­tics of af­fec­tion.

If it’s a move­ment about love, it’s also about the money they so un­justly took, and con­tinue to take, from us — and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other. After all, in the Amer­i­can heart­land, peo­ple are be­gin­ning to be im­pris­oned for debt, while the Oc­cupy move­ment is ar­gu­ing for debt for­give­ness, rene­go­ti­a­tion, and debt ju­bilees.

Some­times love, or at least de­cency, wins.  One morn­ing late last month, 75-year-old Josephine Tol­bert, who ran a day­care cen­ter from her mod­est San Fran­cisco home, re­turned after drop­ping a child off at school only to find that she and the other chil­dren were locked out be­cause she was be­hind in her mort­gage pay­ments. True Com­pass LLC, who bought her place in a short sale while she thought she was still ne­go­ti­at­ing with Bank of Amer­ica, would not allow her back into her home of al­most four decades, even to get her med­i­cines or di­a­pers for the chil­dren.

We demon­strated at her home and at True Com­pass’s shabby of­fices while they hid within, and stu­dents from Oc­cupy San Fran­cisco State Uni­ver­sity demon­strated out­side a True Com­pass-owned restau­rant on be­half of this African-Amer­i­can grand­mother. Thanks to this sol­i­dar­ity and the media at­ten­tion it gar­nered, Tol­bert has col­lected her keys, moved back in, and is rene­go­ti­at­ing the terms of her mort­gage.

Hun­dreds of other fore­clo­sure vic­tims are now being de­fended by local branches of the Oc­cupy move­ment, from West Oak­land to North Min­neapo­lis. As New York writer, film­maker, and Oc­cu­pier Astra Tay­lor puts it,

Not only does the oc­cu­pa­tion of aban­doned fore­closed homes con­nect the dots be­tween Wall Street and Main Street, it can also lead to swift and tan­gi­ble vic­to­ries, some­thing move­ments des­per­ately need for mo­men­tum to be main­tained. The banks, it seems, are softer tar­gets than one might ex­pect be­cause so many cases are rife with legal ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and out­right crim­i­nal­ity. With one in five homes fac­ing fore­clo­sure and fil­ings show­ing no sign of slow­ing down in the next few years, the num­ber of peo­ple touched by the mort­gage cri­sis — whether be­cause they have lost their homes or be­cause their homes are now un­der­wa­ter — truly bog­gles the mind.”

If what’s been hap­pen­ing lo­cally and glob­ally has some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of an up­ris­ing, then there has never been one quite so per­va­sive — from the sci­en­tists hold­ing an Oc­cupy sign in Antarc­tica to Oc­cupy pres­ences in places as far-flung as New Zealand and Aus­tralia, São Paulo, Frank­furt, Lon­don, Toronto, Los An­ge­les, and Reyk­javik. And don’t for­get the tini­est places, ei­ther. The other morn­ing at the Oak­land docks for the West Coast port shut­down demon­stra­tions, I met three mem­bers of Oc­cupy Amador County, a small rural area in Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Nevada.  Its largest town, Jack­son, has a lit­tle over 4,000 in­hab­i­tants, which hasn’t stopped it from hav­ing reg­u­lar out­door Fri­day evening Oc­cupy meet­ings.

A lit­tle girl in a red parka at the Oak­land docks was car­ry­ing a sign with a quote from blind-deaf-and-ar­tic­u­late early twen­ti­eth-cen­tury role model Helen Keller that said, “The best and most beau­ti­ful things in the world can­not be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” Why quote Keller at a demon­stra­tion fo­cused on labor and eco­nom­ics? The an­swer is clear enough: be­cause Oc­cupy has some of the emo­tional res­o­nance of a spir­i­tual, as well as a po­lit­i­cal, move­ment.  Like those other up­heavals it’s aligned with in Spain, Greece, Ice­land (where they’re ac­tu­ally jail­ing bankers), Britain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Chile, and most re­cently Rus­sia, it wants to ask basic ques­tions: What mat­ters? Who mat­ters? Who de­cides? On what prin­ci­ples?

Stop for a mo­ment and con­sider just how un­fore­seen and un­fore­see­able all of this was when, on De­cem­ber 17, 2010, Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi, a Tunisian veg­etable ven­dor in Sidi Bouzid, an out-of-the-way, im­pov­er­ished city, im­mo­lated him­self. He was protest­ing the dead-end life that the 1% econ­omy run by Tunisia’s au­to­cratic ruler Zine Ben Ali and his cor­rupt fam­ily al­lot­ted him, and the po­lice bru­tal­ity that went with it, two things that have re­mained front and cen­ter ever since. Above all, as his mother has since tes­ti­fied, he was for human dig­nity, for a world, that is, where the pri­mary sys­tem of value is not money.

“Com­pas­sion is our new cur­rency,” was the mes­sage  scrawled on a pizza-box lid at Oc­cupy Wall Street in Zuc­cotti Park in lower Man­hat­tan — held by a pen­sive-look­ing young man in Je­remy Ayers’s great photo por­trait.  But what can you buy with com­pas­sion?


Quite a lot, it turns out, in­clud­ing a global move­ment, and even pizza, which can ar­rive at that move­ment’s camp­ground as a gift of sol­i­dar­ity.  A few days into Oc­cupy Wall Street’s sur­prise suc­cess, a call for pizza went out and $2,600 in piz­zas came in within an hour, just as ear­lier this year the oc­cu­piers of Wis­con­sin’s state house had been co­pi­ously sup­plied with pizza — in­clud­ing pies paid for and dis­patched by Egypt­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. 

The Re­turn of the Dis­ap­peared

Dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s dic­ta­tor­ship and death-squad era in Chile, Ar­gentina, Brazil, and Cen­tral Amer­ica, the term “the dis­ap­peared” came to cover those who were kid­napped, held in se­cret, tor­tured, and then often ex­e­cuted in se­cret. So many decades later, their fates are often still being de­ci­phered.

In the United States, the dis­ap­peared also exist, not thanks to a bru­tal army or para­mil­i­taries, but to a bru­tal econ­omy.  When you lose your job, you van­ish from the work­place and sooner or later ar­rive at empti­ness in your day, your iden­tity, your wal­let, your abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in a com­mer­cial so­ci­ety. When you lose your home, you dis­ap­pear from fa­mil­iar spaces: the block, the neigh­bor­hood, the rolls of home­own­ers.   Often, you van­ish in shame, leav­ing be­hind friends and ac­quain­tances.

At the ac­tions to sup­port some of the 1,500 mostly African-Amer­i­can home­own­ers being fore­closed upon in south­east­ern San Fran­cisco, sev­eral of them de­scribed how they had to over­come a pow­er­ful sense of shame sim­ply to speak up, no less de­fend them­selves or join this move­ment. In the U.S., fail­ure is al­ways sup­posed to be in­di­vid­ual, not sys­temic, and so it tends to pro­duce a sense of per­sonal dev­as­ta­tion that leaves its vic­tims feel­ing alone and lying low, even though they are among le­gions of oth­ers.

The peo­ple who de­stroyed our econ­omy through their bot­tom­less greed are, on the other hand, shame­less — as shame­less as the CEOs whose com­pen­sa­tion shot up36% in 2010, dur­ing this deep and grind­ing re­ces­sion. Com­pas­sion is def­i­nitely not their cur­rency.


Article image

The word “oc­cupy” it­self speaks pow­er­fully to the Amer­i­can dis­ap­peared and the very idea of dis­ap­pear­ance.  It speaks to those who have lost their oc­cu­pa­tion or the home they oc­cu­pied. In its many mean­ings, it’s a big tent. It means to fill a space, take pos­ses­sion of it, em­ploy one­self, busy one­self, fill time.  (In the sev­en­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies, the verb had a mean­ing so sex­ual it fell out of com­mon use.)  It de­scribes the state of being pre­sent that the Oc­cupy move­ment’s Gen­eral As­sem­blies and tent camps have lived out, a space in which — as Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi might have dreamed it — the dis­ap­peared can reap­pear with dig­nity. 

Oc­cupy has also cre­ated a space in which peo­ple of all kinds can co­ex­ist, from the home­less to the tenured, from the inner city to the agrar­ian. Co­ex­ist­ing in pub­lic with like­minded strangers and ac­quain­tances is one of the great foun­da­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences of democ­racy, which is why dic­ta­tor­ships ban gath­er­ings and groups — and why our First Amend­ment guar­an­tee of the right of the peo­ple peace­ably to as­sem­ble is being tested more strongly today than in any re­cent mo­ment in Amer­i­can his­tory. Nearly every Oc­cupy has at its cen­ter reg­u­lar meet­ings of aGen­eral As­sem­bly. These are ex­per­i­ments in di­rect democ­racy that have been messy, ex­as­per­at­ing and mirac­u­lous: are­nas in which every­one is in­vited to be heard, to have a voice, to be a mem­ber, to shape the fu­ture. Oc­cupy is first of all a con­ver­sa­tion among our­selves.

To oc­cupy also means to show up, to be pre­sent — a rad­i­cally un­plugged ex­pe­ri­ence for a dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion. Today, the term is being ap­plied to any place where one plans to be pre­sent, ge­o­graph­i­cally or metaphor­i­cally: Oc­cupy Wall Street, oc­cupy the food sys­tem, oc­cupy your heart. The ad hoc in­ven­tion of the peo­ple’s mic by the oc­cu­piers of Zuc­cotti Park, which re­quires every­one to lis­ten, re­peat, and am­plify what’s being said, has only strength­ened this sense of pres­ence. You can’t text or half-lis­ten if your task is to re­peat every­thing, so that every­one hears and un­der­stands. You be­come the keeper of your brother’s or sis­ter’s voice as you re­peat their words.

It’s a tri­umph of the here and now — and it’s every­where: the Re­gents of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia are mic-checked, politi­cians are mic-checked, the Dur­ban Cli­mate Con­fer­ence in South Africa had oc­cu­piers and mic-check mo­ments. Ac­tivism had long been in dire need of new modes of doing things, and this year it got them.

A Mouth­ful of Truth

Be­fore the Oc­cupy move­ment ar­rived on the scene, po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue and media chat­ter in this coun­try seemed to be ar­riv­ing from a warped par­al­lel uni­verse. Tiny gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures were de­nounced, while the vor­tex suck­ing our econ­omy dry was rarely ad­dressed; hard-work­ing im­mi­grants were por­trayed as dead­beats; peo­ple who did noth­ing were anointed as “job cre­ators”; the trashed econ­omy and mas­sive suf­fer­ing were over­looked, while politi­cians jousted over (and pun­dits pon­tif­i­cated about) the deficit; class war was only called class war when some­one other than the rul­ing class waged it. It’s as though we were try­ing to nav­i­gate Las Vegas with a tat­tered map of me­dieval Byzan­tium — via, that is, a bro­ken lan­guage in which every­thing and every­one got lost.

Then Oc­cupy ar­rived and, as if swept by some strange pan­demic, a con­ta­gious virus of truth-telling, every­one was sud­denly obliged to call things by their real names and talk about ac­tual prob­lems. The blather about the deficit was re­placed by ac­knowl­edg­ments of grotesque eco­nomic in­equal­ity. Greed was called greed, and once it had its true name, it be­came in­tol­er­a­ble, as had racism when the Civil Rights Move­ment named it and made it ev­i­dent to those who weren’t suf­fer­ing from it di­rectly. The vast scale of suf­fer­ing around stu­dent debt and tu­ition hikes, fore­clo­sures, un­em­ploy­ment, wage stag­na­tion, med­ical costs, and the other af­flic­tions of the nor­mal Amer­i­can sud­denly moved to the top of the news, and once ex­posed to the light, these, too, be­came in­tol­er­a­ble.

If the so­lu­tions to the night­mares being named are nei­ther near nor easy, nam­ing things, de­scrib­ing re­al­ity with some ac­cu­racy, is at least a cru­cial first step.  In­form­ing our­selves as cit­i­zens is an­other.  As­pects of our not-quite-democ­racy  that were once al­most in­vis­i­ble are now on the table for dis­cus­sion — and for op­po­si­tion, no­tably cor­po­rate per­son­hood, the legal sta­tus that gives cor­po­ra­tions the rights, but not the oblig­a­tions and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, of cit­i­zens. (One oft-re­peated Oc­cu­pier sign says, “I’ll be­lieve cor­po­ra­tions are peo­ple when Texas puts one to death.”)

The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil passed a mea­sure call­ing for an end to cor­po­rate per­son­hood, the first big city to join the Move to Amend cam­paign against cor­po­rate per­son­hood and against the 2009 Supreme Court Cit­i­zens United rul­ing that gave cor­po­ra­tions un­lim­ited abil­ity to in­sert their cash in our po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. Oc­cupy ac­tions across the coun­try are planned for Jan­u­ary 20th, the sec­ond an­niver­sary of Cit­i­zens United. Ver­mont’s in­de­pen­dent Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, who’s been speak­ing the truth alone for a long time, in­tro­duced a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to re­peal Cit­i­zens United and limit cor­po­rate power in the Sen­ate, while Con­gress­man Ted Deutch (D-FL) in­tro­duced a sim­i­lar mea­sure in the House.

Only a few years ago, hardly any­one knew what cor­po­rate per­son­hood was.  Now, signs de­nounc­ing it are com­mon.  Sim­i­larly, at Oc­cupy events, peo­ple make it clear that they know about the New Deal-era fi­nan­cial re­form mea­sure known as the Glass-Stea­gall Act, which was par­tially re­pealed in 1999, re­mov­ing the wall be­tween com­mer­cial and in­vest­ment banks; that they know about the pro­posed fi­nan­cial trans­fer tax, nick­named the Robin Hood Tax, that would raise bil­lions with a tiny levy on every fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tion; that they un­der­stand many of the means by which the 1% were en­riched and the rest of us robbed.

This rep­re­sents a strik­ing learn­ing curve. A new lan­guage of truth, de­bate about what ac­tu­ally mat­ters, an in­formed cit­i­zenry: that’s no small thing. But we need more.

We Are the 99.999%

I was my­self so caught up in the Oc­cupy move­ment that I stopped pay­ing my usual at­ten­tion to the war over the cli­mate — until I was brought up short by the cat­a­strophic fail­ure of the cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions in Dur­ban, South Africa. There, ear­lier this month, the most pow­er­ful and car­bon-pol­lut­ing coun­tries man­aged to avoid tak­ing any timely and sub­stan­tial mea­sures to keep the cli­mate from heat­ing up and the Earth from slip­ping into un­stop­pable chaotic change.

It’s our na­ture to be more com­pelled by im­me­di­ate human suf­fer­ing than by re­mote sys­temic prob­lems. Only this prob­lem isn’t any­where near as re­mote as many Amer­i­cans imag­ine.  It’s al­ready cre­at­ing human suf­fer­ing on a large scale and will cre­ate far more. Many of the food crises of the past decade are tied to cli­mate change, and in Africa thou­sands are dying of cli­mate-re­lated chaos. The floods, fires, storms, and heat waves of the past few years are cli­mate change com­ing to call ear­lier than ex­pected in the U.S.

In the most im­me­di­ate sense, Oc­cupy may have weak­ened the cli­mate move­ment by fo­cus­ing many of us on the ur­gent suf­fer­ing of our broth­ers, our neigh­bors, our democ­racy. In the end, how­ever, it could strengthen that move­ment with its new tac­tics, al­liances, spirit, and lan­guage of truth. After all, why have we been un­able to make the major changes re­quired to limit green­house gases in the at­mos­phere? The an­swer is a word sud­denly in wide cir­cu­la­tion: greed. Re­spond­ing ad­e­quately to this cri­sis would ben­e­fit every liv­ing thing. When it comes to cli­mate change, after all, we are the 99.999%.

But the in­ter­na­tional .001% who profit im­mea­sur­ably from the car­bon econ­omy — the oil and coal ty­coons, in­dus­tri­al­ists, and politi­cians whose strings they pull — are against this change. For decades, they’ve man­aged to pro­pa­gan­dize many Amer­i­cans, in and out of gov­ern­ment, into cli­mate de­nial, spread­ing lies about the sci­ence and eco­nom­ics of cli­mate change, and un­der­min­ing any pos­si­ble leg­is­la­tion and in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions to ame­lio­rate it. And if you think the evic­tion of el­derly home­own­ers is bru­tal, think of it as a tiny fore­shad­ow­ing of the dis­place­ment and dis­ap­pear­ance of peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties, na­tions, species, habi­tats. Cli­mate change threat­ens to fore­close on all of us.

The groups work­ing on cli­mate change now, no­tably 350.​org and Tar Sands Ac­tion, have done as­ton­ish­ing things al­ready. Most re­cently, with the help of na­tive Cana­di­ans, local ac­tivists, and al­ter­na­tive media, they very nearly man­aged to kill the sin­gle scari­est and biggest North Amer­i­can threat to the cli­mate: the tar sands pipeline that would go from Canada to Texas. It’s been a re­mark­able show of or­ga­niz­ing power and pop­u­lar will. Oc­cupy the Cli­mate may need to come next.

Maybe Oc­cupy Wall Street and its thou­sands of spin-offs have built the foun­da­tion for it. But per­haps the great­est gift that it and the other move­ments of 2011 have given us is a sharp­en­ing of our per­cep­tions — and our con­flicts. So much more is out in the open now, in­clud­ing the greed, the bru­tal­ity with which en­ti­ties from the Egypt­ian army to the Oak­land po­lice im­pose the will of rulers, and most of all the deep gen­eros­ity of spirit that is be­hind, within, and around these in­sur­gen­cies and their ac­tivists. None of these move­ments is per­fect, and in­di­vid­u­als within them are not al­ways the great­est keep­ers of their broth­ers and sis­ters.  But one thing couldn’t be clearer: com­pas­sion is our new cur­rency.

Noth­ing has been more mov­ing to me than this de­sire, re­al­ized im­per­fectly but re­peat­edly, to con­nect across dif­fer­ences, to be a com­mu­nity, to make a bet­ter world, to em­brace each other. This de­sire is what lies be­hind those messy camps, those rau­cous demon­stra­tions, those card­board signs and long con­ver­sa­tions. Young ac­tivists have spo­ken to me about the ex­tra­or­di­nary rich­ness of their ex­pe­ri­ences at Oc­cupy, and they call it love.

In the spirit of call­ing things by their true names, let me sum­mon up the de­scrip­tion that Ella Baker and Mar­tin Luther King used for the great com­mu­ni­ties of ac­tivists who stood up for civil rights half a cen­tury ago: the beloved com­mu­nity. Many who were ac­tive then never for­got the deep bonds and deep mean­ing they found in that strug­gle. We — and the word “we” en­com­passes more of us than ever be­fore — have found those things, too, and this year we have come close to some­thing un­prece­dented, a beloved com­mu­nity that cir­cles the globe.

Read Tom En­gel­hardt’s re­sponse here.

Author pic

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit is the author of thirteen books about art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope, meandering, reverie, and memory. She has worked with climate change, Native American land rights, antinuclear, human rights, antiwar and other issues as an activist and journalist. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a contributing editor to Harper’s and frequent contributor to the political site and has made her living as an independent writer since 1988.

Obama Raises the Military Stakes: Confrontation on the Borders with China and Russia

December 22, 2011

by Prof. James Petras
Global Research, December 10, 2011


After suffering major military and political defeats in bloody ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, failing to buttress long-standing clients in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia and witnessing the disintegration of puppet regimes in Somalia and South Sudan, the Obama regime has learned nothing: Instead he has turned toward greater military confrontation with global powers, namely Russia and China. Obama has adopted a provocative offensive military strategy right on the frontiers of both China and Russia .

After going from defeat to defeat on the periphery of world power and not satisfied with running treasury-busting deficits in pursuit of empire building against economically weak countries, Obama has embraced a policy of encirclement and provocations against China, the world’s second largest economy and the US’s most important creditor, and Russia, the European Union’s principle oil and gas provider and the world’s second most powerful nuclear weapons power.

This paper addresses the Obama regime’s highly irrational and world-threatening escalation of imperial militarism. We examine the global military, economic and domestic political context that gives rise to these policies. We then examine the multiple points of conflict and intervention in which Washington is engaged, from Pakistan , Iran , Libya , Venezuela , Cuba and beyond. We will then analyze the rationale for military escalation against Russia and China as part of a new offensive moving beyond the Arab world ( Syria , Libya ) and in the face of the declining economic position of the EU and the US in the global economy. We will then outline the strategies of a declining empire, nurtured on perpetual wars, facing global economic decline, domestic discredit and a working population reeling from the long-term, large-scale dismantling of its basic social programs.

The Turn from Militarism in the Periphery to Global Military Confrontation

November 2011 is a moment of great historical import: Obama declared two major policy positions, both having tremendous strategic consequences affecting competing world powers.

Obama pronounced a policy of military encirclement of China based on stationing a maritime and aerial armada facing the Chinese coast – an overt policy designed to weaken and disrupt China ’s access to raw materials and commercial and financial ties in Asia . Obama’s declaration that Asia is the priority region for US military expansion, base-building and economic alliances was directed against China , challenging Beijing in its own backyard. Obama’s iron fist policy statement, addressed to the Australian Parliament, was crystal clear in defining US imperial goals.

“Our enduring interests in the region [Asia Pacific] demands our enduring presence in this region … The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay … As we end today’s wars [i.e. the defeats and retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan]… I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority … As a result, reduction in US defense spending will not … come at the expense of the Asia Pacific” (, Nov. 16, 2011).

The precise nature of what Obama called our “presence and mission” was underlined by the new military agreement with Australia to dispatch warships, warplanes and 2500 marines to the northern most city of Australia ( Darwin ) directed at China . Secretary of State Clinton has spent the better part of 2011 making highly provocative overtures to Asian countries that have maritime border conflicts with China . Clinton has forcibly injected the US into these disputes, encouraging and exacerbating the demands of Vietnam , Philippines , and Brunei in the South China Sea . Even more seriously, Washington is bolstering its military ties and sales with Japan , Taiwan , Singapore and South Korea , as well as increasing the presence of battleships, nuclear submarines and over flights of war planes along China ’s coastal waters. In line with the policy of military encirclement and provocation, the Obama-Clinton regime is promoting Asian multi-lateral trade agreements that exclude China and privilege US multi-national corporations, bankers and exporters, dubbed the “Trans-Pacific Partnership”. It currently includes mostly smaller countries, but Obama has hopes of enticing Japan and Canada to join …

Obama’s presence at the APEC meeting of East Asian leader and his visit to Indonesia in November 2011 all revolve around efforts to secure US hegemony. Obama-Clinton hope to counter the relative decline of US economic links in the face of the geometrical growth of trade and investment ties between East Asia and China .

A most recent example of Obama-Clinton’s delusional, but destructive, efforts to deliberately disrupt China ’s economic ties in Asia, is taking place in Myanmar ( Burma ). Clinton ’s December 2011 visit to Myanmar was preceded by a decision by the Thein Sein regime to suspend a China Power Investment-funded dam project in the north of the country. According to official confidential documents released by WilkiLeaks the “Burmese NGO’s, which organized and led the campaign against the dam, were heavily funded by the US government”(Financial Times, Dec. 2, 2011, p. 2). This and other provocative activity and Clinton ’s speeches condemning Chinese “tied aid” pale in comparison with the long-term, large-scale interests which link Myanmar with China . China is Myanmar ’s biggest trading partner and investor, including six other dam projects. Chinese companies are building new highways and rail lines across the country, opening southwestern China up for Burmese products and China is constructing oil pipelines and ports. There is a powerful dynamic of mutual economic interests that will not be disturbed by one dispute (FT, December 2, 2011, p.2). Clinton’s critique of China’s billion-dollar investments in Myanmar’s infrastructure is one of the most bizarre in world history, coming in the aftermath of Washington’s brutal eight-year military presence in Iraq which destroyed $500 billion dollars of Iraqi infrastructure, according to Baghdad official estimates. Only a delusional administration could imagine that rhetorical flourishes, a three day visit and the bankrolling of an NGO is an adequate counter-weight to deep economic ties linking Myanmar to China . The same delusional posture underlies the entire repertoire of policies informing the Obama regime’s efforts to displace China ’s predominant role in Asia .

While any one policy adopted by the Obama regime does not, in itself, present an immediate threat to peace, the cumulative impact of all these policy pronouncements and the projections of military power add up to an all out comprehensive effort to isolate, intimidate and degrade China’s rise as a regional and global power. Military encirclement and alliances, exclusion of China in proposed regional economic associations, partisan intervention in regional maritime disputes and positioning technologically advanced warplanes, are all aimed to undermine China ’s competitiveness and to compensate for US economic inferiority via closed political and economic networks.

Clearly White House military and economic moves and US Congressional anti-China demagogy are aimed at weakening China ’s trading position and forcing its business-minded leaders into privileging US banking and business interests over and above their own enterprises. Pushed to its limits, Obama’s prioritizing a big military push could lead to a catastrophic rupture in US-Chinese economic relations. This would result in dire consequences, especially but not exclusively, on the US economy and particularly its financial system. China holds over $1.5 trillion dollars in US debt, mainly Treasury Notes, and each year purchases from $200 to $300 billion in new issues, a vital source in financing the US deficit. If Obama provokes a serious threat to China ’s security interests and Beijing is forced to respond, it will not be military but economic retaliation: the sell-off of a few hundred billion dollars in T-notes and the curtailment of new purchases of US debt. The US deficit will skyrocket, its credit ratings will descend to ‘junk’, and the financial system will ‘tremble onto collapse’. Interest rates to attract new buyers of US debt will approach double digits. Chinese exports to the US will suffer and losses will incur due to the devaluation of the T-notes in Chinese hands. China has been diversifying its markets around the world and its huge domestic market could probably absorb most of what China loses abroad in the course of a pull-back from the US market.

While Obama strays across the Pacific to announce his military threats to China and strives to economically isolate China from the rest of Asia, the US economic presence is fast fading in what used to be its “backyard”: Quoting one Financial Times journalist, “China is the only show [in town] for Latin America” (Financial Times, Nov. 23, 2011, p.6). China has displaced the US and the EU as Latin America’s principle trading partner; Beijing has poured billions in new investments and provides low interest loans.

China’s trade with India , Indonesia , Japan , Pakistan and Vietnam is increasing at a far faster rate than that of the US . The US effort to build an imperial-centered security alliance in Asia is based on fragile economic foundations. Even Australia , the anchor and linchpin of the US military thrust in Asia, is heavily dependent on mineral exports to China . Any military interruption would send the Australian economy into a tailspin.

The US economy is in no condition to replace China as a market for Asian or Australian commodity and manufacturing exports. The Asian countries must be acutely aware that there is no future advantage in tying themselves to a declining, highly militarized, empire. Obama and Clinton deceive themselves if they think they can entice Asia into a long-term alliance. The Asian’s are simply using the Obama regime’s friendly overtures as a ‘tactical device’, a negotiating ploy, to leverage better terms in securing maritime and territorial boundaries with China .

Washington is delusional if it believes that it can convince Asia to break long-term large-scale lucrative economic ties to China in order to join an exclusive economic association with such dubious prospects. Any ‘reorientation’ of Asia, from China to the US , would require more than the presence of an American naval and airborne armada pointed at China . It would require the total restructuring of the Asian countries’ economies, class structure and political and military elite. The most powerful economic entrepreneurial groups in Asia have deep and growing ties with China/Hong Kong, especially among the dynamic transnational Chinese business elites in the region. A turn toward Washington entails a massive counter-revolution, which substitutes colonial ‘traders’ (compradors) for established entrepreneurs. A turn to the US would require a dictatorial elite willing to cut strategic trading and investment linkages, displacing millions of workers and professionals. As much as some US-trained Asian military officers , economists and former Wall Street financiers and billionaires might seek to ‘balance’ a US military presence with Chinese economic power, they must realize that ultimately advantage resides in working out an Asian solution.

The age of Asian “comprador capitalists”, willing to sell out national industry and sovereignty in exchange for privileged access to US markets, is ancient history. Whatever the boundless enthusiasm for conspicuous consumerism and Western lifestyles, which Asia and China’s new rich mindlessly celebrate, whatever the embrace of inequalities and savage capitalist exploitation of labor, there is recognition that the past history of US and European dominance precluded the growth and enrichment of an indigenous bourgeoisie and middle class. The speeches and pronouncements of Obama and Clinton reek of nostalgia for a past of neo-colonial overseers and comprador collaborators – a mindless delusion. Their attempts at political realism, in finally recognizing Asia as the economic pivot of the present world order, takes a bizarre turn in imagining that military posturing and projections of armed force will reduce China to a marginal player in the region.

Obama’s Escalation of Confrontation with Russia

The Obama regime has launched a major frontal military thrust on Russia ’s borders. The US has moved forward missile sites and Air Force bases in Poland, Rumania, Turkey, Spain, Czech Republic and Bulgaria: Patriot PAC-3 anti-aircraft missile complexes in Poland; advanced radar AN/TPY-2 in Turkey; and several missile (SM-3 IA) loaded warships in Spain are among the prominent weapons encircling Russia, most only minutes away from it strategic heartland. Secondly, the Obama regime has mounted an all-out effort to secure and expand US military bases in Central Asia among former Soviet republics. Thirdly, Washington , via NATO, has launched major economic and military operations against Russia ’s major trading partners in North Africa and the Middle East . The NATO war against Libya , which ousted the Gadhafi regime, has paralyzed or nullified multi-billion dollar Russian oil and gas investments, arms sales and substituted a NATO puppet for the former Russia-friendly regime.

The UN-NATO economic sanctions and US-Israeli clandestine terrorist activity aimed at Iran has undermined Russia ’s lucrative billion-dollar nuclear trade and joint oil ventures. NATO, including Turkey , backed by the Gulf monarchical dictatorships, has implemented harsh sanctions and funded terrorist assaults on Syria , Russia ’s last remaining ally in the region and where it has a sole naval facility (Tartus) on the Mediterranean Sea . Russia ’s previous collaboration with NATO in weakening its own economic and security position is a product of the monumental misreading of NATO and especially Obama’s imperial policies. Russian President Medvedev and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mistakenly assumed (like Gorbachev and Yeltsin before them) that backing US-NATO policies against Russia ’s trading partners would result in some sort of “reciprocity”: US dismantling its offensive “missile shield” on its frontiers and support for Russia ’s admission into the World Trade Organization. Medvedev, following his liberal pro-western illusions, fell into line and backed US-Israeli sanctions against Iran , believing the tales of a “nuclear weapons programs”. Then Lavrov fell for the NATO line of “no fly zones to protect Libyan civilian lives” and voted in favor, only to feebly “protest”, much too late, that NATO was “exceeding its mandate” by bombing Libya into the Middle Ages and installing a pro-NATO puppet regime of rogues and fundamentalists. Finally when the US aimed a cleaver at Russia’s heartland by pushing ahead with an all-out effort to install missile launch sites 5 minutes by air from Moscow while organizing mass and armed assaults on Syria, did the Medvedev-Lavrov duet awake from its stupor and oppose UN sanctions. Medvedev threatened to abandon the nuclear missile reduction treaty (START) and to place medium-range missiles with 5 minute launch-time from Berlin , Paris and London .

Medvedev-Lavrov’s policy of consolidation and co-operation based on Obama’s rhetoric of “resetting relations” invited aggressive empire building: Each capitulation led to a further aggression. As a result, Russia is surrounded by missiles on its western frontier; it has suffered losses among its major trading partners in the Middle East and faces US bases in southwest and Central Asia .

Belatedly Russian officials have moved to replace the delusional Medvedev for the realist Putin, as next President. This shift to a political realist has predictably evoked a wave of hostility toward Putin in all the Western media. Obama’s aggressive policy to isolate Russia by undermining independent regimes has, however, not affected Russia ’s status as a nuclear weapons power. It has only heightened tensions in Europe and perhaps ended any future chance of peaceful nuclear weapons reduction or efforts to secure a UN Security Council consensus on issues of peaceful conflict resolution. Washington , under Obama-Clinton, has turned Russia from a pliant client to a major adversary.

Putin looks to deepening and expanding ties with the East, namely China , in the face of threats from the West. The combination of Russian advanced weapons technology and energy resources and Chinese dynamic manufacturing and industrial growth are more than a match for crisis-ridden EU-USA economies wallowing in stagnation.

Obama’s military confrontation toward Russia will greatly prejudice access to Russian raw materials and definitively foreclose any long-term strategic security agreement, which would be useful in lowering the deficit and reviving the US economy.

Between Realism and Delusion: Obama’s Strategic Realignment

Obama’s recognition that the present and future center of political and economic power is moving inexorably to Asia , was a flash of political realism. After a lost decade of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars in military adventures on the margins and periphery of world politics, Washington has finally discovered that is not where the fate of nations, especially Great Powers, will be decided, except in a negative sense – of bleeding resources over lost causes. Obama’s new realism and priorities apparently are now focused on Southeast and Northeast Asia, where dynamic economies flourish, markets are growing at a double digit rate, investors are ploughing tens of billions in productive activity and trade is expanding at three times the rate of the US and the EU.

But Obama’s ‘New Realism’ is blighted by entirely delusional assumptions, which undermine any serious effort to realign US policy.

In the first place Obama’s effort to ‘enter’ into Asia is via a military build-up and not through a sharpening and upgrading of US economic competitiveness. What does the US produce for the Asian countries that will enhance its market share? Apart from arms, airplanes and agriculture, the US has few competitive industries. The US would have to comprehensively re-orient its economy, upgrade skilled labor, and transfer billions from “security” and militarism to applied innovations. But Obama works within the current military-Zionist-financial complex: He knows no other and is incapable of breaking with it.

Secondly, Obama-Clinton operate under the delusion that the US can exclude China or minimize its role in Asia, a policy that is undercut by the huge and growing investment and presence of all the major US multi-national corporations in China , who use it as an export platform to Asia and the rest of the world.

The US military build-up and policy of intimidation will only force China to downgrade its role as creditor financing the US debt, a policy China can pursue because the US market, while still important, is declining, as China expands its presence in its domestic, Asian, Latin American and European markets.

What once appeared to be New Realism is now revealed to be the recycling of Old Delusions: The notion that the US can return to being the supreme Pacific Power it was after World War Two. The US attempts to return to Pacific dominance under Obama-Clinton with a crippled economy, with the overhang of an over-militarized economy, and with major strategic handicaps: Over the past decade the United States foreign policy has been at the beck and call of Israel ’s fifth column (the Israel “lobby”). The entire US political class is devoid of common, practical sense and national purpose. They are immersed in troglodyte debates over “indefinite detentions” and “mass immigrant expulsions”. Worse, all are on the payrolls of private corporations who sell in the US and invest in China .

Why would Obama abjure costly wars in the unprofitable periphery and then promote the same military metaphysics at the dynamic center of the world economic universe? Does Barack Obama and his advisers believe he is the Second Coming of Admiral Commodore Perry, whose 19th century warships and blockades forced Asia open to Western trade? Does he believe that military alliances will be the first stage to a subsequent period of privileged economic entry?

Does Obama believe that his regime can blockade China , as Washington did to Japan in the lead up to World War Two? It’s too late. China is much more central to the world economy, too vital even to the financing of the US debt, too bonded up with the Forbes Five Hundred multi-national corporations. To provoke China , to even fantasize about economic “exclusion” to bring down China , is to pursue policies that will totally disrupt the world economy, first and foremost the US economy!


Obama’s ‘crackpot realism’, his shift from wars in the Muslim world to military confrontation in Asia , has no intrinsic worth and poses extraordinary extrinsic costs. The military methods and economic goals are totally incompatible and beyond the capacity of the US , as it is currently constituted. Washington ’s policies will not ‘weaken’ Russia or China , even less intimidate them. Instead it will encourage both to adopt more adversarial positions, making it less likely that they lend a hand to Obama’s sequential wars on behalf of Israel . Already Russia has sent warships to its Syrian port, refused to support an arms embargo against Syria and Iran and (in retrospect) criticized the NATO war against Libya . China and Russia have far too many strategic ties with the world economy to suffer any great losses from a series of US military outposts and “exclusive” alliances. Russia can aim just as many deadly nuclear missiles at the West as the US can mount from its bases in Eastern Europe .

In other words, Obama’s military escalation will not change the nuclear balance of power, but will bring Russia and China into a closer and deeper alliance. Gone are the days of Kissinger-Nixon’s “divide and conquer” strategy pitting US-Chinese trade agreements against Russian arms. Washington has a totally exaggerated significance of the current maritime spats between China and its neighbors. What unites them in economic terms is far more important in the medium and long-run. China ’s Asian economic ties will erode any tenuous military links to the US .

Obama’s “crackpot realism”, views the world market through military lenses. Military arrogance toward Asia has led to a rupture with Pakistan , its most compliant client regime in South Asia . NATO deliberately slaughtered 24 Pakistani soldiers and thumbed their nose at the Pakistani generals, while China and Russia condemned the attack and gained influence.

In the end, the military and exclusionary posture to China will fail. Washington will overplay its hand and frighten its business-oriented erstwhile Asian partners, who only want to play-off a US military presence to gain tactical economic advantage. They certainly do not want a new US instigated ‘Cold War’ dividing and weakening the dynamic intra-Asian trade and investment. Obama and his minions will quickly learn that Asia ’s current leaders do not have permanent allies – only permanent interests. In the final analysis, China figures prominently in configuring a new Asia-centric world economy. Washington may claim to have a ‘permanent Pacific presence’ but until it demonstrates it can take care of its “basic business at home”, like arranging its own finances and balancing its current account deficits, the US Naval command may end up renting its naval facilities to Asian exporters and shippers, transporting goods for them, and protecting them by pursuing pirates, contrabandists and narco-traffickers.

Come to think about it, Obama might reduce the US trade deficit with Asia by renting out the Seventh Fleet to patrol the Straits, instead of wasting US taxpayer money bullying successful Asian economic powers.

James Petras is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by James Petras

Gov’t releases 40-year Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup plan

December 22, 2011

Gov’t releases 40-year Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup plan

NATIONAL DEC. 22, 2011 – 11:45AM JST ( 25 )


The Japanese government said Wednesday that it could take 40 years to clean up and fully decommission a nuclear plant that went into meltdown after it was struck by a huge tsunami.

Nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono suggested that the timetable was ambitious, acknowledging that decommissioning three reactors with severely melted fuel plus spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was an “unprecedented project,” and that the process was not “totally foreseeable.”

“But we must do it even though we may face difficulties along the way,” Hosono told a news conference.

Under a detailed roadmap approved earlier Wednesday following consultation with experts and nuclear regulators, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co will start removing spent fuel rods within two to three years from their pools located on the top floor of each of their reactor buildings.

After that is completed, TEPCO will start removing the melted fuel, most of which is believed to have fallen to the bottom of the core or even down to the bottom of the larger, beaker-shaped containment vessel, a process that is expected to begin in 10 years and completed 25 years from now. The location and conditions of the melted fuel is not exactly known.

That’s more than twice as long as it took to remove the fuel from the No. 2 reactor at Three Mile Island that suffered a partial meltdown in 1979.

Economy and Trade Minister Yukio Edano promised that authorities would ensure safety at the plant. He also vowed to pay attention to the concerns of tens of thousands of residents displaced when the plant was knocked out by Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

“We must not allow the work toward decommissioning to cause any new risks or delay the return of the residents to their homes,” he said.

Completely decommissioning the plant would require five to 10 more years after the fuel debris removal, making the entire process up to 40 years, according to the roadmap.

The roadmap for Fukushima is twice as long the time set aside to decommission the Tokai Power Station, the country’s first commercial reactor that stopped operation in 1998.

The process still requires the development of robots and technology that can do much of the work remotely because of extremely high radiation levels inside the reactor buildings. Officials say they are aiming to have such robots by 2013 and start decontaminating the reactor buildings in 2014.

The operator and the government would also have to ensure a stable supply of workers and save them from exceeding exposure limits while keeping the long process going.

They also have to figure out ways to access each containment vessel and assess the extent of damage, as well as locate holes and cracks through which cooling water is leaking and flooding the area.

The decades-long process also would place an enormous financial burden on TEPCO. The ministers said that the total cost estimate cannot be provided immediately, but promised that there will be no delay because of financial reasons.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced last Friday that the plant has achieved “cold shutdown conditions,” meaning the plant had been brought to stability in the nine months since the accident.

The announcement officially paves the way for a new phase that will eventually allow some evacuees back to less-contaminated areas currently off limits.

Experts say the plant 230 kilometers northeast of Tokyo is running with makeshift equipment and remains vulnerable to cold weather and earthquakes.

Another problem is huge volume of radioactive waste and debris that will come out of the plant during its dismantling process. Officials said they have not decided what to do with them and that part is not covered by the 40-year roadmap.

“We still need to discuss what to do with the waste, including development of such technology,” said Koichi Noda, a trade ministry official in charge of nuclear accident cleanup.

The two ministers acknowledged that they may not be even around to see the decommissioning process through the end.

“I will take responsibility as a person and get involved in this as long as I live,” Edano said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Lone Holdout’s First Nuclear Winter Looms in Tohoku

December 22, 2011

Published on Wednesday, December 21, 2011 by The Japan Times

Lone Holdout’s First Nuclear Winter Looms in Tohoku

by Christopher Johnson

MIHARU VILLAGE, Fukushima Prefecture — As bitter winds blow around cesium and other radioactive particles spewed from the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s reactors, Naoto Matsumura lights a cigarette, which he considers relatively good for his health.

In the zone: Naoto Matsumura, who believes he is the only person still living in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. (Christopher Johnson Photo)”I would get sick if I stopped smoking; I have a lot to worry about,” says Matsumura, 52, who reckons he is the only person still living within a 20-km radius of the world’s worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

According to reports from Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency published in August, following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, and subsequent explosions at three reactors about 13 km from Matsumura’s door, the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) has released 168 times more radiation than the atomic bombs that razed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Living without electricity or enough money to fill his generators with gas, even as the mercury is already dipping below zero, Matsumura wonders if his neighbor’s supply of charcoal will be enough to keep him warm through the frigid winter in his corner of the once-thriving town of Tomioka that used to be home to 16,000 people.

He’s worried, too, that the hundreds of animals he’s been feeding since the area’s other residents were evacuated in haste on March 12 — some 400 cows, 60 pigs, 30 fowl, 10 dogs, more than 100 cats, and an ostrich — won’t survive to see another spring.

“They need help from humans,” he says while lighting another of the 20-odd cigarettes he admits to smoking a day. “My supplies to feed them will be gone by the end of December. They need food, and buildings for shelter from the winter. I’m the only one taking care of everything. The government should do it, but I’m doing it.”

As we stand in a rice field outside the exclusion zone about 40 km due west of the ongoing meltdowns, Matsumura tells me that he comes from an ancestral line of samurai, and he was raised by a “spartan” father to work hard and think for himself.

A lifelong farmer, he’s lived alone since separating from his wife 10 years ago. When his worried children, aged 23 and 21, called from their homes in distant Saitama Prefecture after the explosions in March, Matsumura says he told them: “Don’t worry. If the whole world dies from this nuclear disaster, I’m still not going to die. I’m not going to leave here.”

Indeed, this silver-haired, soft-spoken man of the land who has enjoyed playing golf in Saipan and the Philippines, says he now views himself as a lone maverick in a toxic desert — one hunted by an invisible enemy called “radioactivity” eating away at living things now and into the future. As the other animals perish around him, he wonders when it will be his turn.

All Matsumura’s friends have left, and they no longer ask him to bring their stuff to them in the temporary shelters they must now inhabit. The automatic vending machines, which used to light up the country roads, no longer work.

After sunset, he is surrounded by miles of total darkness devoid of human movement. He has no television or Internet, only a cellphone that loses charge all too quickly. He stokes up a charcoal fire in his house, tucks himself into a futon, and goes to sleep by 7 p.m. — haunted by nightmares of what could be happening inside his body.

Waking with the rising sun, he eats another can of food, and takes his dogs for a 20-minute walk among barren fields. He spends daylight hours cleaning grave sites and tending to animals withering around him in their stalls, sheds and barns. Meanwhile, cows and pigs and other animals set free by their fleeing owners in March now fend for themselves in wild, radiation-contaminated nature.

Even nine months after everybody else fled on March 12, Matsumura says he is still shocked by the scenes of cruel death he encounters daily: the bones of cows that starved tied up or in confined spaces after they’d eaten all their fodder; a locked cage full of 20 shrivelled canaries denied by their keeper’s panic even a chance to fly away free.

“People don’t want to see dead animals. They would be shocked if they saw it for themselves. I see it every day,” this animal-lover says quietly with real feeling.

His efforts to publicize the plight of the animals haven’t worked, he says. He tells how he once showed a low-level government official around nearby Tomioka town — formerly famous for having one of the longest cherry-blossom tunnels in Japan — and told him they should at least take away carcasses. But even though Tepco brings in thousands of workers to stabilize the reactors, he says the official told him: “Sorry, Mr. Matsumura, we can’t do anything inside the 20-km evacuation zone.”

On April 21, more than a month after the ongoing disaster began, Matsumura joined a protest outside Tepco’s headquarters in Tokyo. “I told them, ‘Take care of the pets and farm animals, it’s your responsibility.’ But they only said, ‘We are studying it.’ They still haven’t taken action,” he reported.

In September, he showed two lower-level Tepco officials around Tomioka. During their conversation together, he says, “I told them to tell the top people about what they saw. Maybe they told them, but the top guys pretend they don’t know anything,” he said, pausing to light a cigarette. “They don’t have human hearts. They only think about money.”

Though he’s not alone in lambasting Tepco, Matsumura’s rage is more intense than most. He blames Tepco for “killing” his 100-year-old aunt, who he says died from exhaustion after being moved from several hospitals between Tomioka and finally Aizu-Wakamatsu in western Fukushima Prefecture.

“Many people died like that because of Tepco,” he declares. “It’s a terrible company. They have more power than the national parliament, because they control the supply of electricity, and they have power over the media through advertising.”

He says Tepco, which will need massive taxpayer funding to stay afloat, has only paid nuclear refugees ¥1 million each in compensation (about $12,000).

Yet the company, which claims to be on schedule with its plan to achieve a cold shutdown of the damaged reactors by the new year, saw fit to present itself in a positive light when, on Nov. 12, it invited 35 journalists (including four from overseas) for a first media view of its wrecked nuclear plant.

“I think it’s remarkable that we’ve come this far,” Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told those on the tour. “The situation at the beginning was extremely severe. At least we can say we have overcome the worst.”

Such hints of hubris, however, sit uneasily with the established facts.

In November, the esteemed journal Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences carried the results of an international research study led by Teppei Yasunari of the Universities Space Research Association in Maryland. This found that radioactive cesium had “strongly contaminated” the soils in “large areas” of eastern and northeastern Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture, while western Japan had been relatively sheltered by mountain ranges. (To view this report, visit

Since the release of those findings, the Tokyo government has recently banned the sale of rice from large swaths of Fukushima Prefecture after high levels of cesium were found in crops from Onami, about 65 km northwest of the nuclear power plants.

Though Matsumura, who doesn’t have a geiger counter, says he somehow thinks radiation levels are decreasing, he believes it’s not safe for former residents to return to Tomioka. And he’s adamant that children shouldn’t eat rice from eastern Fukushima Prefecture, though he does himself.

Parking his white Suzuki truck near Koriyama City train station outside the evacuation zone, he says that his plight and that of the animals in his locality is not widely known in Japan — largely, he riles, because TV companies have ignored him or repeatedly canceled segments about him.

“It’s now impossible for me to meet with Japan’s mainstream media,” he explains. “If I say bad things about Tepco, and the government, they won’t run it because Tepco is their sponsor.”

One tabloid magazine, Friday, did run a two-page feature on Matsumura, with bizarre photos of him feeding an ostrich — which it quipped in bad taste was “the official mascot of Tepco.”

So, as he believes himself to have been ostracized in his native Japan, Matsumura has made a few trips to Tokyo to beg foreign journalists to tell the truth about Fukushima. To reach him inside the no-entry evacuation zone, one such from Italy walked along railway tracks for 20 km under cover of darkness to evade police patrols. Searching for him, as their meeting was prearranged, Matsumura says he could hear the man’s footsteps in a pitch-black railway tunnel. “When he was about 10 meters away, I called out ghost noises — and he was dumbstruck with fear. He later told me he’d thought his heart was about to explode.”

Another visit Matsumura received recently was on a Sunday afternoon in November. The farmer tells how an ambulance suddenly showed up at his door. “I was a bit unnerved that they’d come into my house, and I didn’t know who’d sent them,” he said, adding that “they checked my body and my health, but they didn’t find anything bad in particular.”

He gets most passionate talking about the abandoned animals and about nuclear energy. “The whole world should stop using this bad form of energy. Anything we build with our hands can break someday,” he says. “Governments should stop lying to us. Everybody in Fukushima — everybody — doesn’t believe the news about the nuclear situation.”

As he prepares to leave me at the station and return to his home in the no-go zone before night falls, he says that Tomioka, like other towns in the evacuation zone, will disappear unless drastic action is taken immediately.

As he put it: “Only senior citizens are saying they want to move back, not the younger people. Eventually, in 20 years, all these elders will pass away, and there won’t be any younger generation to maintain the circle of life. Nobody will be left.”

But for now, he says, he’s going to stay. “I am not bored or depressed, because I’m used to being alone. I know I am doing the right thing. My own doctor says I’m a ‘champion of radiation.’ ”

© 2011 The Japan Times

Climate Change May Bring Big Ecosystem Shifts, NASA Says

December 21, 2011

Climate Change May Bring Big Ecosystem Shifts, NASA Says

Predicted percentage of ecological landscape being driven toward changes in plant species as a result of projected human-induced climate change by 2100. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 18, 2011) — By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type — such as forest, grassland or tundra — toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth’s plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth’s climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases. Study results are published in the journal Climatic Change.

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth’s biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth’s land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover — changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.

“For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change,” said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. “Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it’s the ecological consequences that matter most.”

When faced with climate change, plant species often must “migrate” over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

To study the sensitivity of Earth’s ecological systems to climate change, the scientists used a computer model that predicts the type of plant community that is uniquely adapted to any climate on Earth. This model was used to simulate the future state of Earth’s natural vegetation in harmony with climate projections from 10 different global climate simulations. These simulations are based on the intermediate greenhouse gas scenario in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. That scenario assumes greenhouse gas levels will double by 2100 and then level off. The U.N. report’s climate simulations predict a warmer and wetter Earth, with global temperature increases of 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, about the same warming that occurred following the Last Glacial Maximum almost 20,000 years ago, except about 100 times faster. Under the scenario, some regions become wetter because of enhanced evaporation, while others become drier due to changes in atmospheric circulation.

The researchers found a shift of biomes, or major ecological community types, toward Earth’s poles — most dramatically in temperate grasslands and boreal forests — and toward higher elevations. Ecologically sensitive “hotspots” — areas projected to undergo the greatest degree of species turnover — that were identified by the study include regions in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, eastern equatorial Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean region, southern South America, and North America’s Great Lakes and Great Plains areas. The largest areas of ecological sensitivity and biome changes predicted for this century are, not surprisingly, found in areas with the most dramatic climate change: in the Northern Hemisphere high latitudes, particularly along the northern and southern boundaries of boreal forests.

“Our study developed a simple, consistent and quantitative way to characterize the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, while assessing and comparing the implications of climate model projections,” said JPL co-author Duane Waliser. “This new tool enables scientists to explore and understand interrelationships between Earth’s ecosystems and climate and to identify regions projected to have the greatest degree of ecological sensitivity.”

“In this study, we have developed and applied two new ecological sensitivity metrics — analogs of climate sensitivity — to investigate the potential degree of plant community changes over the next three centuries,” said Bergengren. “The surprising degree of ecological sensitivity of Earth’s ecosystems predicted by our research highlights the global imperative to accelerate progress toward preserving biodiversity by stabilizing Earth’s climate.”

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.