Archive for October, 2013

Japan Greenlights ‘Perilous’ Cleanup at Fukushima’s Reactor 4

October 31, 2013

Published on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 by Common Dreams

Removal of 1,300 spent fuel rods deemed ‘humankind’s most dangerous moment since Cuban Missile Crisis’

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A worker in a protective suit and mask stands atop the badly damaged Unit Four reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Photo: ISSEI KATO/AFP/Getty Images)Regulators with Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority gave the final OK Wednesday for the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to begin to remove the 1300 spent fuel rods from the badly damaged Unit 4 pool, thus initiating a decommissioning process which anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman describes as “humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

According to Associated Press, the NRA announced that the proposal to manually remove the radioactive rods put forth by the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO, was “appropriate” and that the removal “can start in November as planned, following an on-site inspection by regulators.”

TEPCO estimates that the complete decommissioning process will last decades. Detailing the process, AP reports:

TEPCO has prepared a massive steel structure that comes with a remote-controlled crane to remove the fuel rods, which will be placed into a protective cask and transferred to a joint cooling pool inside a nearby building. To make room for the Unit 4 fuel rods, the company has been moving those already in the joint pool to safer storage in dry casks at a separate plant location.

The utility plans to empty the Unit 4 pool by end of 2014, and remove fuel rods from other pools at three other wrecked reactors over several years before digging into their melted cores around 2020.

However, according to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, the spent fuel rods in the Unit 4 core are “bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling.” And NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka warned that removing the rods would be difficult because of the risk posed by debris that fell into the pool during the explosions triggered by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent three reactor meltdowns at the plant.

“It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Tanaka said during the news conference Wednesday. “They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break.”

Wasserman warns that there are “some 400 tons of fuel in that pool [that] could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.”

Wasserman, Gundersen and other nuclear watchdogs have warned that neither TEPCO nor the Japanese government has the “scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle” the job and that the situation instead demands a “coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.”

Over 100,000 people have thus far signed a petition echoing that call.  “[T]he impending removal of hugely radioactive spent fuel rods from a pool 100 feet in the air presents unparalleled scientific and engineering challenges,” caution the signees, who are calling on President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to intercept the Japanese authority’s process. “We ask the world community […] to take control of this uniquely perilous task.”


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Crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant needs international help

October 31, 2013

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2013, 12:00am


  • fukushima.jpg
The destroyed roof of the No.3 reactor building of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Photo: Reuters

Japan has a history of struggling to face up to the past. So, whether it has the crisis at the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima under control, as it claims, has to be of concern. A disaster like none before could occur if clean-up, stabilisation and decommissioning operations are not handled properly. The series of failures, mistakes and untruths since the earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown on March 11, 2011, prove the government and operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges. The threat is global and a global response is urgently needed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent mixed signals, alternatively contending that safety is not a problem and suggesting help is needed to deal with radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean. But this is no matter to be vague about. Hiding the true nature of the problem could prove catastrophic for the region and world. The leaks, dangerous to sea life and fisheries if unchecked, are only one of three challenges. The meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors has left the precise location of the melted cores unknown, while 1,533 of the 11,000 spent fuel rods that have to be removed are in a cooling pool in a building that risks collapse should another large quake hit. Highlighting the danger, workers were evacuated last Saturday after a small offshore quake prompted a tsunami alert.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was ordered shut down by Abe only last month. The operator acknowledged year-old claims by scientists of leaks of radioactive water from storage tanks. Official inquiries found negligence and a series of errors, while there had also been deficiencies in the response to the disaster by the company, regulators and the government.

These are not matters to be taken lightly – the world has not seen a nuclear disaster as severe since the worst-ever, at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, in 1986. The government has pledged US$470 million to tackle the leaks with unconventional and untried methods. The decommissioning process could take at least 40 years. Removing the spent rods will be difficult given the uncertainties. If any come into contact with each other or are exposed to air, gases with high levels of radiation will be released or, worse, there could be a catastrophic explosion.

There is a lack of trust in Japanese efforts to deal with the crisis. A call to the UN by 16 nuclear experts in an open letter should be heeded. Responsibility for the Fukushima site should be transferred to a worldwide engineering group overseen by independent nuclear scientists and a civil society panel.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Fukushima needs international help

How Science Is Telling Us All to Revolt

October 30, 2013

Author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein says her choice to risk arrest at the XL Pipeline protest 'was a last-minute decision,' 09/02/11. (photo: Shadia Fayne Wood/Tar Sands Action)
Author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein says her choice to risk arrest at the XL Pipeline protest ‘was a last-minute decision,’ 09/02/11. (photo: Shadia Fayne Wood/Tar Sands Action)

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By Naomi Klein, NewStatesman

29 October 13


Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions.

n December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012, Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreedupon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbonpricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

. . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.


Live: Congressional Briefing on Drones

October 30, 2013


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Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 by Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars

© 2013 Brave New Films

Why Did America Kill My Mother? Pakistani Drone Victim Comes To Congress For Answer

October 30, 2013

Posted: 10/29/2013 7:33 am EDT  |  Updated: 10/29/2013 12:33 pm EDT

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WASHINGTON — He thought little of the U.S. drone buzzing over his family’s house one day last year, its incessant sound just one more addition to the rhythm of daily life in northwest Pakistan.

As he walked home from school, his grandmother told him to eat a snack before coming to the field to help her pick okra. It was the eve of one of the holiest holidays in Islam, when they would gather for a favorite family dish. He went outside.

Dum, dum — the sounds of missiles pierced the air.

“All of a sudden things became very dark,” Zubair Rehman, 13, remembered. The next thing he knew, his grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was gone. “It was like she was exploded to pieces.”

Zubair traveled from his home in mountainous North Waziristan with his father, Rafiq ur-Rehman, and sister Nabeela, 9, to Washington for a grim first on Tuesday. The drone victims will appear before Congress to explain for the first time the human fallout of the U.S. program. The briefing was organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.).

The Rehmans’ story, documented extensively in a report released last week by Amnesty International and in a new documentary from filmmaker Robert Greenwald, serves as a wrenching, first-hand rebuke to the Obama administration’s frequent claims that drone strikes have caused few if anycivilian casualties. Bibi was the only person killed in the strike. Nine people, including the two children, were hurt.

From 2004 to 2013, the non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalismestimated, drone strikes killed 2,525 to 3,613 people, with 407 to 926 of those being civilians. Although the Obama administration disputes those numbers, and the number of drone attacks have dropped this year, Pakistani officials and America’s allies are increasingly calling for more transparency around civilian drone deaths.

Rafiq ur-Rehman said he is determined to add his voice to that chorus, no matter how far he must travel.

Rehman is a commanding presence, a schoolteacher from a family of schoolteachers. Along with son Zubair and daughter Nabeela — wrapped in a beautiful blue shawl and gazing with piercing brown eyes when she isn’t napping from the long journey here — they defy the stereotypes of militants from their home region.

Rehman and his children spoke to The Huffington Post for an hour in Pashto through a translator, in a room with Greenwald and Jennifer Gibson, an attorney at the U.K. human rights group Reprieve, who accompanied them from Pakistan.

Amnesty International’s Pakistan country researcher Mustafa Qadri said the Rehman family’s story takes “a lot of courage” to tell. Not just drones, but also the Taliban and Pakistan’s own military, threaten civilians in their North Waziristan region.

“The fact that someone from this very remote and dangerous place has come here, it’s very significant,” Qadri said. “So I would urge President Obama, I would urge Senator Feinstein, I would urge senior officials to meet with this family to explain why their grandmother is dead.”

Not knowing is what drives Zubair’s father mad. It caused him to link up with the pugnacious anti-drone lawyer Shahzad Akbar to press for answers, and it has driven him all the way to Washington, where the drone program that killed his mother is overseen.

In researching the strike, a Pakistani government source suggested to Amnesty International that the Rehman family was hit because of mistaken identity, caused by the bad luck of a Taliban member using a phone on a nearby road just before the strike.

Rehman said he still has little understanding of what happened, beyond the fallout.

That day, Rehman had gone to the market in a nearby town to pick up sweets for the religious feast. The minibus that he rode back to his village dropped him near the cemetery, where he saw a disturbing sight in his family’s plot: A freshly dug grave.

Children running around the village told him what he already feared, that his mother had been killed “by a drone the Americans threw.” He remembered the tortured hours that followed. He begged to see his mother’s face one last time, and was told there was nothing left to see. He watched as his father cried out, “I wish God would just take my life, I can’t live without her.”

He remembered, too, desperately trying to find out what had happened to Zubair and Nabeela. He was told that they were at a hospital. He feared they were dead.

“What wrong did they do?” he asked. “That’s again why I decided to come here, because I want to bring awareness to this, what is happening here and how this has affected our lives.”

Getting answers from the administration of President Barack Obama may be difficult, even with the help of elected officials like Grayson. The Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program in Pakistan has never been openly acknowledged, and the government of Pakistan has denied reports of its widely reported complicity.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden defended U.S. counterterrorism operations in general in an email to HuffPost as “precise, lawful, and effective.” She added: “We will not be commenting on the details or locations of specific counterterrorism operations.”

Hayden pointed to a speech Obama gave in May, in which he said that “by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”

In its report, Amnesty International charged that the strike on the Rehmans — and a second drone attack that day that may have completed a so-called double-tap — may have violated international law and the laws of war. The organization has demanded an investigation.

The continued U.S. refusal to acknowledge its strikes have prevented the family from seeking compensation for losses, or assistance in paying for Zubair’s extensive medical bills caused by shrapnel from the missile that lodged behind his knee. One Pakistani official gave them $100, and blamed the strike on the Americans.

Rehman said he’s not a politician and wouldn’t directly answer questions about militants in his region, the Pakistani government’s role in the U.S. drone war, and drones’ potential to drive terrorist recruitment.

“I am a human being,” he said. “I am a citizen. I just came here to speak the truth and I want people to know that I have children who have been injured.”

All he wants, he said, is answers about his mother’s death. When asked whether he was scared about his trip to the U.S. or whether he fears what will happen to him when he returns to Pakistan, he responded intently.

“The people who lie are the ones who should be scared, but I’m telling the truth,” he said. “I have nothing to fear.”

The Fantasy of a Clean War

October 30, 2013

Tomgram: Jeremy Scahill,

Posted by Jeremy Scahill at 6:27am, October 29, 2013.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: There will be no Thursday post.  I’m taking off today for Santa Fe where I’ll be interviewing Jeremy Scahill on stage at a sold-outLannan Foundation event.  I’ve already written about his remarkable new bestseller,Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, and termed him (in a bow to Chalmers Johnson) our first “blowback reporter.” I should only add that he has also made a film of Dirty Wars, now out on DVD, far more personal in focus, and a must-watch (even if, like me, you’ve already read the book).  Glenn Greenwald calls it “one of the most important political films of the last 20 years” and John le Carré describes it as “gripping, compelling, and totally convincing” — and I would be hard-pressed to think up two better recommenders. Tom]

The foreign leaders are dropping like flies — to American surveillance. I’m talking about serial revelations that the National Security Agency has been spying on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, two Mexican presidents, Felipe Calderón (whose office the NSA called “a lucrative source”) and his successor Enrique Peña Nieto, at least while still a candidate, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s now evidently part of the weekly news cycle to discover that the NSA has hacked into the emails or listened into the phone conversations of yet another allied leader.  Reportedly, that agency has been listening in on the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders.  Within 48 hours last week, President Obama was obliged to call an irritated President François Hollande, after Le Monde reported that the NSA was massively collecting French phone calls and emails, including those of politicians and business people, and received a call from an outragedMerkel, whose cell phone conversations were reportedly monitored by the NSA.  Of course, when you build a global surveillance state and your activities, thanks to amassive leak of documents, become common knowledge, you have to expect global anger to rise and spread.  With 196 countries on the planet, there are a lot of calls assumedly still to come in, even as the president and top Washington officials hem and haw about the necessity of maintaining the security of Americans while respecting the privacy of citizens and allies, refuse to directly apologize, claim that an “exhaustive” review of surveillance practices is underway, and hope that this, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, on a second front, the news is again bad for Washington, as upset and dismay once largely restricted to the tribal backlands of the planet seem to be spreading.  I’m talking here about the global assassination campaigns being conductedfrom the White House, based in part on a “kill list” of terrorist suspects and using the president’s private air force, the growing drone fleets of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command.  In the last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come out with reports on the U.S. drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemendebunking White House claims that few civilians are dying in those strikes and raising serious questions about their legality.  In two of the six drone strikes it investigated in Yemen, Human Rights Watch reported the killing of “civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.”  In a surprising development, Amnesty brought a powerful, historically resonant term to bear, claiming that some of the cases of civilian drone deaths it investigated in Pakistan might constitute “war crimes” for which those responsible should stand trial.  (“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions.”)

And just arriving, reports from the U.N. special rapporteur on drones, Ben Emmerson, and its special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns.  It’s already clear that these will not please the White House, where the usual denials and self-justifications — however lame they may increasingly sound outside the United States — still rule the day.  (“U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”)  After a recent visit to Pakistan, Emmerson said, “The consequence of drone strikes has been to radicalize an entirely new generation.”  A former high-level U.S. State Department official in Yemen claims that each U.S. drone strike in that country creates “40 to 60 new enemies of America.”  Emmerson and Heyns are nowdemanding far greater “transparency” from a secretive Washington on the subject of its drone killings.

Call both the blanketing surveillance and the drone revelations symptoms of a larger disease.  In the years before 9/11, the U.S. focused its global attentions on what it then called “rogue states.”  Devoted since that date to perpetual war across significant parts of the planet and to a surveillance apparatus geared to leave no one anywhere in privacy, the U.S. now resembles a rogue superpower to an increasingly resistant and restless world.  No single reporter has done more than Jeremy Scahill to bring us back news of how, in the post-9/11 years, Washington took its wars into the darkness, how it helped create a landscape of blowback abroad, and just how such roguery works when it comes to a superpower — from missile strikes in Yemen to a secret CIA prison in Somalia to kick-down-the-door killings of innocents by Special Operations types in Afghanistan.  His bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is a revelation, a secret history of twenty-first-century war, American-style.

Today, as the drone story continues to unfold, as ever more countries once considered the sorts of allies that would never say no to a request from Washington, balk at, resist, or ignore Obama administration desires, it’s an honor to have the epilogue to Dirty Wars posted exclusively at TomDispatch for the first time, thanks to the kindness of Scahill’s publisher, Nation Books.  Consider it the gripping backstory for what, in time, could become the equivalent of a global uprising against the last superpower of planet Earth. Tom

Perpetual War 
How Does the Global War on Terror Ever End? 
By Jeremy Scahill

[This epilogue to Scahill’s bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is posted with the kind permission of its publisher, Nation Books.]

On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Just as he had promised when he began his first campaign for president six years earlier, he pledged again to turn the page on history and take U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. “A decade of war is now ending,” Obama declared. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

Much of the media focus that day was on the new hairstyle of First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared on the dais sporting freshly trimmed bangs, and on the celebrities in attendance, including hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, who performed the national anthem. But the day Obama was sworn in, a U.S. drone strike hit Yemen. It was the third such attack in that country in as many days. Despite the rhetoric from the president on the Capitol steps, there was abundant evidence that he would continue to preside over a country that is in a state of perpetual war.

In the year leading up to the inauguration, more people had been killed in U.S. drone strikes across the globe than were imprisoned at Guantánamo. As Obama was sworn in for his second term, his counterterrorism team was finishing up the task of systematizing the kill list, including developing rules for when U.S. citizens could be targeted. Admiral William McRaven had been promoted to the commander of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and his Special Ops forces were operating in more than 100 countries across the globe.

After General David Petraeus’s career was brought to a halt as a result of an extramarital affair, President Obama tapped John Brennan to replace him as director of the CIA, thus ensuring that the Agency would be headed by a seminal figure in the expansion and running of the kill program. After four years as Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, Brennan had become known in some circles as the “assassination czar” for his role in U.S. drone strikes and other targeted killing operations.

When Obama had tried to put Brennan at the helm of the Agency at the beginning of his first term, the nomination was scuttled by controversy over Brennan’s role in the Bush-era detainee program. By the time President Obama began his second term in office, Brennan had created a “playbook” for crossing names off the kill list. “Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it,” noted theWashington Post.

Brennan played a key role in the evolution of targeted killing by “seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced,” the paper added. “The system functions like a funnel, starting with input from half a dozen agencies and narrowing through layers of review until proposed revisions are laid on Brennan’s desk, and subsequently presented to the president.”

Obama’s counterterrorism team had developed what was referred to as the “Disposition Matrix,” a database full of information on suspected terrorists and militants that would provide options for killing or capturing targets. Senior administration officials predicted that the targeted killing program would persist for “at least another decade.” During his first term in office, the Washington Post concluded, “Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

Redefining “Imminent Threat”

In early 2013, a Department of Justice “white paper” surfaced that laid out the “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen.” The government lawyers who wrote the 16-page document asserted that the government need not possess specific intelligence indicating that an American citizen is actively engaged in a particular or active terror plot in order to be cleared for targeted killing. Instead, the paper argued that a determination from a “well-informed high level administration official” that a target represents an “imminent threat” to the United States is a sufficient basis to order the killing of an American citizen. But the Justice Department’s lawyers sought to alter the definition of “imminent,” advocating what they called a “broader concept of imminence.”

They wrote, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.” The government lawyers argued that waiting for a targeted killing of a suspect “until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.” They asserted that such an operation constitutes “a lawful killing in self-defense” and is “not an assassination.”

Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU called the white paper a “chilling document,” saying that “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.” Jaffer added, “This power is going to be available to the next administration and the one after that, and it’s going to be available in every future conflict, not just the conflict against al-Qaeda. And according to the [Obama] administration, the power is available all over the world, not just on geographically cabined battlefields. So it really is a sweeping proposition.”

In October 2002, as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq, Barack Obama gave the first major speech of his national political career. The then-state senator came out forcefully against going to war in Iraq, but he began his speech with a clarification. “Although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances… I don’t oppose all wars.” Obama declared, “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.” During his first campaign for president, Obama had blasted the Bush administration for fighting the wrong war — Iraq — and repeatedly criticized his opponent, Senator John McCain, for not articulating how he would take the fight to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

As his first term in office wound down, the overwhelming majority of U.S. military forces had been withdrawn from Iraq and plans for a similar drawdown in Afghanistan in 2014 were being openly discussed. The administration had succeeded in convincing the American public that Obama was waging a smarter war than his predecessor. As he ran for reelection, Obama was asked about charges from his Republican opponents that his foreign policy was based on appeasement. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” Obama replied. “Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.”

As the war on terror entered a second decade, the fantasy of a clean war took hold. It was a myth fostered by the Obama administration, and it found a ready audience. All polls indicated that Americans were tired of large military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mounting U.S. troop casualties that came with them. A 2012 poll found that 83% of Americans supported Obama’s drone program, with 77% of self-identified liberal Democrats supporting such strikes. The Washington Post–ABC News poll determined that support for drone strikes declined “only somewhat” in cases where a U.S. citizen was the target.

President Obama and his advisers seldom mentioned the drone program publicly. In fact, the first known confirmation of the use of armed drones by the president came several years into Obama’s first term. It was not in the form of a legal brief or a press conference, but rather on a Google+ “Hangout” as the president took questions from the public. Obama was asked about his use of drones. “I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama said. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”

He rejected what he called the “perception” that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly” and asserted that “this is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on.” Obama added: “It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash. It’s not a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions. And it is also part and parcel of our overall authority when it comes to battling al-Qaeda. It is not something that’s being used beyond that.”

Michael Boyle, a former adviser in the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism experts group and a professor at LaSalle University, said that one of the reasons the administration was “so successful in spinning the number of civilian casualties” was the use of signature strikes and other systems for categorizing military-aged males as legitimate targets, even if their specific identities were unknown. “The result of the ‘guilt by association’ approach has been a gradual loosening of the standards by which the U.S. selects targets for drone strikes,” Boyle charged. “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur.” No one, he added, “really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”

Using drones, cruise missiles, and Special Ops raids, the United States has embarked on a mission to kill its way to victory. The war on terror, launched under a Republican administration, was ultimately legitimized and expanded by a popular Democratic president. Although Barack Obama’s ascent to the most powerful office on Earth was the result of myriad factors, it was largely due to the desire of millions of Americans to shift course from the excesses of the Bush era.

Had John McCain won the election, it is difficult to imagine such widespread support, particularly among liberal Democrats, for some of the very counterterrorism policies that Obama implemented. As individuals, we must all ask whether we would support the same policies — the expansion of drone strikes, the empowerment of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the use of the State Secrets Privilege, the use of indefinite detention, the denial of habeas corpus rights, the targeting of U.S. citizens without charge or trial — if the commander in chief was not our candidate of choice.

But beyond the partisan lens, the policies implemented by the Obama administration will have far-reaching consequences. Future U.S. presidents — Republican or Democratic — will inherit a streamlined process for assassinating enemies of America, perceived or real. They will inherit an executive branch with sweeping powers, rationalized under the banner of national security.

Assassinating Enemies

In 2012, a former constitutional law professor was asked about the U.S. drone and targeted killing program. “It’s very important for the president and the entire culture of our national security team to continually ask tough questions about ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?’” he responded, warning that it was important for the United States to “avoid any kind of slippery slope into a place where we’re not being true to who we are.”

That former law professor was Barack Obama.

The creation of the kill list and the expansion of drone strikes “represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the U.S. constitution,” charged Boyle. Obama, he added, “has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the ‘kill list’ being resolved in secret.” Boyle warned:

“Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the ‘kill list’ will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is.”

In late 2012, the ACLU and the New York Times sought information on the legal rationale for the kill program, specifically the strikes that had killed three U.S. citizens — among them 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki. In January 2013, a federal judge ruled on the request. In her decision, Judge Colleen McMahon appeared frustrated with the White House’s lack of transparency, writing that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests raised “serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and about whether we are indeed a nation of laws, not of men.”

She charged that the Obama administration “has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing to any statute or court decision that justifies its conclusions.” She added, “More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including United States citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated. It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise.”

Ultimately, Judge McMahon blocked the release of the documents. Citing her legal concerns about the state of transparency with regard to the kill program, she wrote:

“This Court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

How to Make Enemies and Not Influence People

It is not just the precedents set during the Obama era that will reverberate into the future, but also the lethal operations themselves. No one can scientifically predict the future consequences of drone strikes, cruise missile attacks, and night raids. But from my experience in several undeclared war zones across the globe, it seems clear that the United States is helping to breed a new generation of enemies in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and throughout the Muslim world.

Those whose loved ones were killed in drone strikes or cruise missile attacks or night raids will have a legitimate score to settle. In an October 2003 memo, written less than a year into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld framed the issue of whether the United States was “winning or losing the global war on terror” through one question: “Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?”

More than a decade after 9/11, that question should be updated. At the end of the day, U.S. policymakers and the general public must all confront a more uncomfortable question: Are our own actions, carried out in the name of national security, making us less safe or more safe? Are they eliminating more enemies than they are inspiring? Boyle put it mildly when he observed that the kill program’s “adverse strategic effects… have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists.”

In November 2012, President Obama remarked that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” He made the statement in defense of Israel’s attack on Gaza, which was launched in the name of protecting itself from Hamas missile attacks. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians,” Obama continued. “And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.” How would people living in areas of Yemen, Somalia, or Pakistan that have been regularly targeted by U.S. drones or missile strikes view that statement?

Toward the end of President Obama’s first term in office, the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, gave a major lecture at the Oxford Union in England. “If I had to summarize my job in one sentence: it is to ensure that everything our military and our Defense Department do is consistent with U.S. and international law,” Johnson said. “This includes the prior legal review of every military operation that the Secretary of Defense and the President must approve.”

As Johnson spoke, the British government was facing serious questions about its involvement in U.S. drone strikes. A legal case brought in the United Kingdom by the British son of a tribal leader killed in Pakistan alleged that British officials had served as “secondary parties to murder” by providing intelligence to the United States that allegedly led to the 2011 strike. A U.N. commission was preparing to launch an investigation into the expanding kill program, and new legal challenges were making their way through the U.S. court system. In his speech, Johnson presented the U.S. defense of its controversial counterterror policies:

“Some legal scholars and commentators in our country brand the detention by the military of members of al-Qaeda as ‘indefinite detention without charges.’ Some refer to targeted lethal force against known, identified individual members of al-Qaeda as ‘extrajudicial killing.’

“Viewed within the context of law enforcement or criminal justice, where no person is sentenced to death or prison without an indictment, an arraignment, and a trial before an impartial judge or jury, these characterizations might be understandable.

“Viewed within the context of conventional armed conflict — as they should be — capture, detention, and lethal force are traditional practices as old as armies.”

The Era of the Dirty War on Terror

In the end, the Obama administration’s defense of its expanding global wars boiled down to the assertion that it was in fact at war; that the authorities granted by the Congress to the Bush administration after 9/11 to pursue those responsible for the attacks justified the Obama administration’s ongoing strikes against “suspected militants” across the globe — some of whom were toddlers when the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground — more than a decade later.

The end result of the policies initiated under President Bush and continued and expanded under his Democratic successor was to bring the world to the dawn of a new age, the era of the Dirty War on Terror. As Boyle, the former Obama campaign counterterrorism adviser, asserted in early 2013, the U.S. drone program was “encouraging a new arms race for drones that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.”

Today, decisions on who should live or die in the name of protecting America’s national security are made in secret, laws are interpreted by the president and his advisers behind closed doors, and no target is off-limits, including U.S. citizens. But the decisions made in Washington have implications far beyond their impact on the democratic system of checks and balances in the United States.

In January 2013, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, announced his investigation into drone strikes and targeted killing by the United States. In a statement launching the probe, he characterized the U.S. defense of its use of drones and targeted killings in other countries as “Western democracies… engaged in a global [war] against a stateless enemy, without geographical boundaries to the theatre of conflict, and without limit of time.” This position, he concluded, “is heavily disputed by most States, and by the majority of international lawyers outside the United States of America.”

At his inauguration in January 2013, Obama employed the rhetoric of internationalism. “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” the president declared. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Yet, as Obama embarked on his second term in office, the United States was once again at odds with the rest of the world on one of the central components of its foreign policy. The drone strike in Yemen the day Obama was sworn in served as a potent symbol of a reality that had been clearly established during his first four years in office: U.S. unilateralism and exceptionalism were not only bipartisan principles in Washington, but a permanent American institution. As large-scale military deployments wound down, the United States had simultaneously escalated its use of drones, cruise missiles, and Special Ops raids in an unprecedented number of countries. The war on terror had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The question all Americans must ask themselves lingers painfully: How does a war like this ever end?

Jeremy Scahill is national security correspondent for the Nation magazine and author of the New York Times bestsellers Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and most recently Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (both published by Nation Books). He is also the subject, producer, and writer of the filmDirty Wars, an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the US documentary cinematography prize, nowavailable on DVD. This essay is the epilogue to his book Dirty Wars.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

(c) 2013 Jeremy Scahill. Excerpted from Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield (Nation Books). Used by permission of the author and publisher.

Bank Regulation, Drone Warfare, Cracks in the Alliance

October 30, 2013
Triadic Failure


The Obama administration isn’t inexperienced, it is criminal.  This accounts for its failures, all glaringly visible in just the past week, which POTUS himself will not admit as failures but weasel out of through posturing or otherwise invoke specious arguments.  Much goes on regularly in USG (no branch is exempt, Congress and the Court vying with the Executive for temporary honors—this may change week-to-week—in elevating capital at the people’s expense), so that the recent past is illustrative rather than exceptional in still further weakening the foundations of the Republic.  Reaction is on a role in America, wearing the ingratiating smile of liberalism.  I refer first to the Eavesdropping Scandal, second, further revelations on targeted assassination, and third, the pending Morgan Chase settlement.  I’ve written on each here, but extensive NYT Comments, not previously published in CP, prompt additional discussion, because of an overriding point: the fascistic-inclined symmetry of the Obama policy framework.

Symmetry implies “beauty of form arising from balanced proportions” (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate), yet, as in so much else, Obama transmogrifies what he touches or rather puts his mind to, so that “beauty” takes the form of women and children vaporized now blood spats on the pavement thanks to his own authorization and executed from the distance of 8,000 miles off; and “balanced proportions” become so completely out of balance and assuming such grotesque proportions, as to say, what is good for the United States must therefore be good for the rest of the world, and somehow if not, that must not be permitted to change the superior-inferior comprehensive relationship.

Symmetry also, beyond Webster, implies an organic core from which the sum-total of parts radiate out.  In America, that core is shared between capitalism and militarism, or analytically speaking, these form a power-oriented syncretism, the resulting fusion structurally realized as the militarization of capitalism, and such offshoots or radiating arcs from the center as deregulation (the better for consolidated private wealth as the economic base for military prowess and commercial expansion to be established), armed drone assassination (the better for making terror a central goal in executing policy), and spying on world leaders (the better to underscore cynicism, nihilism, and openly declaring hegemony, to elicit the response of authoritarian submissiveness) complement and complete the organic systemic design.

There are no mistakes.  Banks are deliberately let off the hook, women and children deliberately slain (the signature strikes on first responders and funerals), personal cell phone and state communications deliberately intercepted, because each of these is testimony to the unrestrained power of the offending nation, us (to paraphrase Pogo), and each, deemed essential to keeping the US in a position of global economic-ideological preeminence, the better to serve its capitalistic ambitions and requirements.  The converse practice, in each of these areas, would reveal (as Americans see it) unsuspected weaknesses endangering the Homeland, undermining confidence in the efficacy of American might, even call into question the doctrine of Exceptionalism, and the presumed leadership and moral standing domestic and foreign conferred by its tenets of divine blessing.  Destroying civilians, their body parts littering the landscape, before the eyes of their families (see Comment 2), is the practical work of pacification, i.e., normalization of the hegemonic assertion.  Who would believe US claims to moral leadership in the world, otherwise?  Facilitating banking promiscuity, likewise, given the need to strengthen the only morally-ideologically just system, capitalism, particularly its American imprimatur, and keep it safe from terrorists and—the deep-lying anxiety seen in the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and permanently ingrained in the American imagination—the fear of a socialist modernizing alternative.  (Whether from cultural lag or opportunism, Russia and China remain on the US most-wanted list, their own socialist credentials now long gone.)  And invading the private as well as public space of Merkel, Hollande, Rousseff, and the list is climbing to thirty-five world leaders, is simply frosting on the cake—impunity in capital letters.

The Ship of State is on course.  The EU has been put on notice that friendship is spelled in letters of realpolitik, and even then encrypted to hide US multilayered advantages (including the support of NATO in interventionist adventures); Russia, as in Putin’s sage advice about not bombing Syria, has stiffened Obama’s upper lip; the Pacific-first strategy is fully operable, the deployment of military assets and joint-exercises on schedule; drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan continuing; embassies reinforced and more greatly fortified (Halliburton, thank you), ditto; in sum, under Obama, I would argue, more than in the case of Bush II and earlier, we see a firm hand on the tiller, speeding from one confrontation to the next, while juicing up the resources—the extreme and still intensifying concentration of wealth—as reward and guiding purpose for all the military effort, as testimony to the virtues of capitalism, and, through wedding upper groups to American militarism, building a domestic society to which all in that strata can be proud: massive surveillance, the increasing abrogation of civil liberties, and the growing disparities of wealth and power.

MY three New York Times Comments follow, the first on eavesdropping (Oct. 23), the second, drones (Oct. 24), the third, bank regulation (Oct. 26):


POTUS is remarkable, a multitasker, equally gifted in eavesdropping and assassination, NSA and CIA–what a country and administration to be proud of, amoral to the core. Oh, but Exceptionalism excuses all sins; indeed, transforms sins into virtues. What we see is symptomatic of America’s decline in political-economic-ideological terms, which therefore necessitates a drastic increase in military power. And we, the American people, take it, loving every minute of intervention, armed drone attacks, the famous PIVOT to the Pacific, with naval power lined up to isolate, contain, confront China.

Merkel isn’t Hollande, himself prepping to become Obama’s lap-dog after Blair. The “natives” are rising up! They’ve seen enough of US global hegemony, and bank practices which brought the world’s financial system into crisis. Stupendous military budgets, directly related to a shrinking safety net, is a formula for the predisposition to aggression.

Bipartisan unity on everything fundamental to the degradation of a democratic people and society, with SURVEILLANCE an inexcusable practice of, and sure-fire indication of, the rise of totalitarianism in America, is being carried forward, not by Tea Partiers, but under a liberal/progressive banner, Obama leading the procession followed by Dimon and the Wall Street battalion. Europe is restive, the Far East ditto, because of US violations of international law. And no sensible leadership, say, an Adlai Stevenson, anywhere in sight.


“Transparency and accountability” are the worst enemies of the Obama administration, not only on armed drones for targeted assassination, but also every consequential area of public policy. I urge NYT to see the integrated picture: drones = political murder; massive surveillance = totalitarianism. Together, with deregulation, one finds an alarming configuration of power antithetical to democratic government. My current hero in the world is Angela Merkel, for she alone stands up to this imposter, posing as a statesman.

I have the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports mentioned in the editorial before me, and I deeply thank NYT for bringing them and their contents to the attention of its readers. Let me quote Nabeela, the eight-year-old granddaughter of Mamana Bibi, who was struck down in her garden by a drone missile: “I wasn’t scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, WILL I BE NEXT?” (caps, mine) My granddaughter is about the same age and looks very much like her. I cried when I read that and looked at Nabeela’s photo in the Amnesty report, the face of a child, the eyes of one who has known tragedy.

I’m sorry. Delete this if you must, but we are dealing with a moral monster, with his hit list and advisers on Terror Tuesdays planning assassinations. Not the stuff of Thomas Jefferson or FDR. The editorial mentions collateral damage: there is widespread evidence of specifically hitting first responders and attacking funerals


Thoughtful editorial, yet insufficiently punitive and not prepared to address the entire regulatory apparatus, whether banking, market, climate change, etc. How expect justice to be done, when regulators historically SHIELD (NYT thankfully uses the term) the interests to be affected? $13B with respect to Morgan–large as it may seem–leaves the bank, the industry, and regulatory framework perfectly intact, therefore plainly violating NYT’s justified call for “adequate redress for the wrongdoing and clear accountability up the chain of command.”

Even you admit, “this hardly seems punitive,” particularly in light of write-off tax advantages and profitability of units acquired. What’s to be done? First, expose the fraudulence of the charge, substantive regulation of Morgan would “endanger the economy,” which makes us all HOSTAGE to Morgan, B. of A., and other megabanks. Second, sharpen the attack, largely ignored, of Obama’s record of and passion for deregulation, which makes a farce of govt.-in-the-public-interest, and sharpen the analysis of the harm done by the financialization of capitalism in America, introducing systemic imbalances (viz., weakness of manufacturing, etc.). Third, lower both barrels: there must be criminal prosecutions at the highest levels. Dimon and others should NOT be placed above the law.

The trouble is, they are: Obama, shill for Wall Street; Obama, bleeding the bottom-half of American society, to enrich the upper-tenth. Speak truth to power.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail:

Coporate America’s Hidden Hand in Government Programs

October 30, 2013

By Oct. 29, 20131 Comment

A glitch earlier this month that kept food stamp recipients in 17 states from accessing their benefits drew attention to the role office giant Xerox plays in electronic benefits transfers. Last week, USA Today reported that Verizon is being tapped by the White House to help iron out wrinkles in the new healthcare-exchange web platform.

Whether ordinary consumers realize it or not, companies most of us are familiar with do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping government benefits programs running smoothly. “Over the past 15 years or so, you’ve seen an increasing use of for-profit companies in determining eligibility, placement into work, distribution and verification,” says Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The distribution of benefits like Social Security and food stamps via cards instead of paper checks or vouchers opened the door for big businesses to play a role. Besides Xerox, financial services giants JP Morgan Chase and FIS work on the EBT distribution of safety net programs like food stamps. Comerica Bank was tapped by the Treasury Department five years ago to issue a prepaid debit card for people on Social Security or receiving SSI benefits who didn’t have a bank account where their money could be deposited.

This can save the government — and, by extension, American taxpayers — a lot of money. In 2008, when Comerica’s debit card for Social Security recipients was first rolled out, the Treasury estimated that taxpayers would save $44 million a year if everyone without a bank account and receiving paper checks switched over to the prepaid card. The U.S. government saves nearly a dollar every time it sends benefits via an electronic transfer instead of a paper check, according to testimony in a 2012 Congressional hearing.

But consumer advocates also say this private sector involvement in social safety net programs raises red flags.

For one thing, companies can make money — a lot of money — providing these services. “Prepaid issuers money off interchange fees when people use the cards,” points out Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for the group Consumer Action. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In June, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity said that Comerica had received $22 million from the Treasury Department for offering the Direct Express cards, and this amount doesn’t include merchant interchange fees or fees by users, which the group said could be significant. “Users pay Comerica for most ATM withdrawals, online bill payments and money transfers — services that many banks provide for free,” the report said.

(MORE: CFPB Focuses on Debt Collection, Credit Reporting Companies)

Last year, an article by Peter Schweizer in The Daily Beast broke down some of the money JP Morgan Chase makes for its role in the food stamp program. “18 of the 24 states JP Morgan handles have been contracted to pay the bank up to $560,492,596.02 since 2004. Since 2007, Florida has been contracted to pay JPMorgan $90,351,202.22. Pennsylvania’s seven-year contract totaled $112,541,823.27. New York’s seven-year contract totaled $126,394,917.”

None of this contract data is made public, but Schweizer crunched some numbers and determined that, since 2004, 18 states (out of two dozen the megabank has contracts with) were contracted to pay JPMorgan Chase more than half a billion dollars.

It’s the unavailability of information about those contract details that worries other advocates. “When we move these out of the public realm, there’s a question about what information is available to us,” Bartholow says. “When a public dollar goes to prevent hunger, homelessness — there should not be a place on any budget sheet that’s proprietary.”

For-profit companies are less transparent in general, and that’s another issue consumer advocates say can cause problems when big companies take on the role of gatekeeper for government programs.

Bartholow says credit bureau Equifax, via an offering called The Work Number, has amassed an enormous database of information about people’s work histories. “The work number is this kind of secret database,” she says.

Consumer advocate Bob Sullivan describes The Work Number as “week-by-week paystub information for tens of millions of Americans.” It’s used in some states to verify eligibility for things like food stamps, and it’s going to be verifying eligibility for health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act — for which the company will earn more than $329 million over five years, according to the New York Times.

(MORE: Why Are Credit Report Errors So Hard to Fix?)

But even these big-ticket contracts aren’t a guarantee of accuracy. Sometimes the information in these big databases can be wrong, and it can be a huge headache for people trying to qualify for benefits to get those mistakes fixed. Even getting credit report errors corrected can be a hassle, and that’s a relatively more user-friendly process. Credit bureau Experian is responsible for verifying people’s identity when they sign up at the new (error-prone) healthcare website. The company has a troubleshooting page on its website, but complaints persisted. “Among the technical problems thwarting consumers, according to some of those people, is the system to confirm the identities of enrollees,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“It’s commoditizing your private information [and] it’s almost impossible to find out if you’re in the system,” Bartholow says.

Read more:

The Terrifying Nature of the New Cyber Warfare and Monsanto’s Strong Ties to the U.S. Secret Services, the U.S. Military, Private Security Companies and U.S. Government

October 30, 2013

According to a detailed report published by a German magazine, the giant biotech company Monsanto has aggressively been targeting GMO opponents, environmentalists, independent researchers, scientists and activists who openly oppose genetically modified foods.

With the population of the planet growing really fast, the giant toxic producing Frankenfood Company, Monsanto does not hesitate to do whatever it takes to push for their global agenda of market domination and control.

Monsanto has also strong ties with US Federal government and US military industrial complex. In fact, using chemical and biological weapons has been always part of the politics of the so called “invincible empires” and Monsanto’s involvement in creating ‘Agent Orange’ or first ‘Atomic Bomb’ is an indication of Monsanto’s close ties to the central power in Washington.


Monsanto’s opponents all over the world, especially in Europe have reported regular attacks by professional hackers on their personal PCs and websites.

Recently, the European environmental organisation ‘Friends of the Earth’ and the German Environmental and Nature Protection Association (BUND) wanted to present a study about the harms of Monsanto’s best selling herbicide “Roundup” and it’s toxic active ingredient “glyphosate”. Two days before the study was set to be published in 18 different countries, a virus disables the computer of the main organizer. “Nothing is worse for a study than a cancelled press conference and we did ask ourselves at the time if we were seeing ghosts” said Heike Moldenhauer from German BUND association.

However, the toxic producing company, Monsanto denies its involvement in spreading various viruses and says it take pride in operating ‘responsibly’. “Today, it is very easy to make and spread all kinds of allegations; they say that over and over there are also dubious and popular allegations spread, which disparage our work and products and are in no way based on science.” says the company’s website.

However, the critics of GMOs and Monsanto wonder why a large number of Monsanto’s opponents experience demonization and regular attacks on their PCs by professional hackers. However, cyber war and using internet as a weapon against your opponents is a great way to shut down and silence your critics, especially if you are a resourceful company like Monsanto with strong ties to U.S. secret services, the U.S. military, private security companies and of course, the U.S. government.

Monsanto’s strong tie to notorious former secret service agent, Joseph Cofer Black is no secret. According to, “Joseph Cofer is a specialist on dirty work and a total hardliner. He worked for CIA for almost three decades, among other things he was the head of anti-terrorism. He later became vice president of the private security company Blackwater”.

Monsanto’s opponents

However, thanks to whistle blowers like Wikileak and Jeremy Scahill (the author of bestselling book called Blackwater, The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army) the dark history of Blackwater and its genocide against innocent civilians have been exposed to many around the world.

Amazingly, after every genocide (including the one video that went viral about the deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians), the US State Department promises Blackwater immunity and amnesty from prosecution.

Monsanto’s former lobbyists and employees have also high ranking posts in US government. However, more and more counties are rejecting Monsanto’s toxic producing foods. Most countries in EU have rejected GMOs or have imposed restricted laws for GMO labeling.

In 2009, Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection in Germany, Ilse Aigner banned a type of GMO corn in Germany fields and when she travelled to US she was approached by Tom Vilsack (the secretary of agriculture and former governor of Iowa who was awarded as the governor of the year by biotech industry) about Monsanto. Although there is no record on the discussion between Vilsack and Aigner, there are speculations that there were huge efforts to change the direction of German government policies in favor of GMOs.

As no act of rebellion against the pesticide Empire remains unrewarded, in 2007, Craig Stapleton, the US former ambassador in Paris suggested that the US should create a penalty list for EU countries that prohibit planting GMOs in their countries.

Also, the recent report we wrote about Free Trade Agreement between EU and US is meant to abolish the consumer protection laws, especially regarding genetically modified foods. In fact, Islam Siddiqui (Former DuPont and Monsanto VP who is now the representative of agriculture negotiator for US trade) has been appointed by Obama as the chief negotiator of the agreement.

cyber-warfareMonsanto and their thugs have been attacking independent scientific community members among them Dr Huber, Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Judy Carman. 10 Reasons why @OrganicLiveFood is being attacked and demonized by pro-GMO crowd

Dr Arpad Pusztai was one of the first scientists that found disturbing results on how GMOs were unsafe and can cause pre-cancer cell growth, damage to digestive tracts and liver and auto-immune disorder. But right after his findings, Dr Arpad Pusztai gets fired from his job and he is threatened with law suit.

Also, the publications of the Australian scientist, Dr Judy Carman about the health risks of GMOs are questioned by the same researchers who criticize other studies that appose GMOs. In fact, hackers regularly target Dr Carman’s web pages where she publishes her findings and studies. One of the recent findings of Dr Judy Carman was severe stomachinflammation in pigs that were fed with Monsanto’s GM corn.

Among many other activists and researchers, the informational website about GMOs known as GM Watch has experienced strange attacks. The editor of GM Watch, Claire Robinson reports continued hacker attacks on the homepage since 2007. “Every time we increase the page security just a bit, the opposite side increases their tenacity and come up with newer viruses”, she says.

According to, “When the French scientist Gilles Eric Seralini published a controversial study on the health risks of genetically modified maize and glyphosate in 2012, the web site of GM Watch was hacked and blocked. The same repeats when the opinion of the European food inspectorate (EFSA) is added to the site. The timing was skillfully selected in both cases. The attacks took place exactly when the editors wanted to publish their opinion”.

In fact, America uses cyber war fare against other so called “enemies of the state”. The former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden who ran for his life after leaking information about NSA recently said that Stuxnet (an unprecedented cyber weapon that targeted Iran’s nuclear program) was the product of American-Israeli joint secret operation.


The Arctic hasn’t been this hot for 120,000 years

October 29, 2013


Baffin Island
Christophe Roudet

The last time the Canadian Arctic was as warm as it is today, our ancestors were only just beginning to migrate out of Africa.

study published in Geophysical Research Paperssuggests that recent temperatures in the region were unmatched during the last 120,000 years.

“Our results indicate that anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases have led to unprecedented regional warmth,” said University of Colorado at Boulder professor Gifford Miller, the lead author of the new paper.

Over three years, Miller and his colleagues collected dead clumps of moss that were left exposed by receding ice caps on Baffin Island, the largest island inCanada’s Arctic Archipelago. They concluded that the oldest were last exposed to the elements at least 44,000 years ago — but that they were probably far older than that. From the paper:

The ancient rooted plants emerging beneath the four ice caps must have been continuously ice-covered for at least 44 [thousand years]. However, because the oldest dates are near the limit of the radiocarbon age scale, substantially older ages are possible.

Based on temperature reconstructions for ice cores retrieved from the nearby Greenland Ice Sheet, the youngest time interval during which summer temperatures were plausibly as warm as present prior to 44 [thousand years ago] is ~120 [thousand years ago], at, or near the end of the Last Interglaciation. We suggest this is the most likely age of these samples.

The scientists found that the Arctic has been warming in recent decades, following thousands of years of cooling. From a CU-Boulder press release:

The new study also showed summer temperatures cooled in the Canadian Arctic by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit from roughly 5,000 years ago to about 100 years ago — a period that included the Little Ice Age from 1275 to about 1900.

“Although the Arctic has been warming since about 1900, the most significant warming in the Baffin Island region didn’t really start until the 1970s,” said Miller. “And it is really in the past 20 years that the warming signal from that region has been just stunning. All of Baffin Island is melting, and we expect all of the ice caps to eventually disappear, even if there is no additional warming.”

Baffin Island’s peaks have been covered with ice caps throughout modern history. As the ice caps melt away, the water is flowing into the ocean, where it is, of course, helping to raise sea levels. “This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”


John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin whotweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent

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