Saturday, July 31, 2010

Incoming BP CEO: Time for 'scaleback' in cleanup

(Here it comes: "Our responsibility is over." Bastards!--jef)


Incoming BP CEO: It's time for 'scaleback' in cleanup, but company will still set things right
AP News | Jul 30, 2010 13:27 EDT

BP's incoming CEO said Friday that it's time for a "scaleback" of the massive effort to clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but stressed the commitment to make things right is the same as ever.

Tens of thousands of people — many of them idled fishermen — have been involved in the cleanup, but more than two weeks after the leak was stopped there is relatively little oil on the surface, leaving less work for oil skimmers to do.

Bob Dudley, who heads BP's oil spill recovery and will take over as CEO in October, said it's "not too soon for a scaleback" in the cleanup, and in areas where there is no oil, "you probably don't need to see people in hazmat suits on the beach."

He added, however, that there is "no pullback" in BP's commitment to clean up the spill. Dudley was in Biloxi to announce that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will be supporting BP's Gulf restoration work.

Meanwhile, efforts to permanently plug the gusher hit a snag when crews found debris in the bottom of the relief well that must be fished out before crews can pump mud into BP's busted well in a procedure known as a static kill.

The sediment settled in the relief well last week when crews popped in a plug to keep it safe ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. They found it as they were preparing for the static kill and now they have to remove it. They had hoped to start the static kill as early as Sunday, but removing the debris will take 24 to 36 hours and like push the kill back to Tuesday.

"It's not a huge problem, but it has to be removed before we can put the pipe casing down," retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the spill, said Friday.

After the static kill comes the bottom kill, where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement from the bottom of the busted well and hopefully cut off the oil permanently.

The well blew out April 20 when the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and setting off the spill. It spewed between 94 million gallons and 184 million gallons into the Gulf before a temporary cap stopped the flow July 15.

With the northern Gulf of Mexico still largely off-limits to fishing, BP's cleanup program has been the only thing keeping many fishermen working. Losing those jobs would make the region all the more dependent on the checks BP has been writing to compensate fishermen and others who have lost income because of the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

Many people have complained about long waits and other problems in processing claims, and Dudley conceded that BP lacks expertise in handling them. He said the company hopes to turn that work over to an independent administrator soon.

"It's because of that lack of competence on our part ... that we want to bring in a professional," Dudley said.

Suggestions that the environmental effects of the spill have been overblown have increased as oil has disappeared from the water's surface, though how much of the oil remains underwater is a mystery. Dudley rejected efforts to downplay the spill's impact, saying, "Anyone who thinks this wasn't a catastrophe must be far away from it."

BP is hiring Witt, FEMA director under President Bill Clinton, and his public safety and crisis management consulting firm. BP did not say how much Witt would be paid.

Witt said he wants to set up teams along the Gulf to work with BP to address long-term restoration and people's needs.

"Our hope is that we can do it as fast as we can," Witt said. "I've seen the anguish and the pain that people have suffered after disaster events. I have seen communities come back better than before."

Florida church’s ‘Burn a Koran Day’

(What would Christians think if Muslims had a "burn a bible" day? Not very "Christian." I forgot who posted about this story first, but thanks!--Jef)


Florida church’s ‘Burn a Koran Day’ brings Islamist threats

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The controversy over the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan has sparked a wave of anti-Muslim activism among some conservative and religious groups, and nowhere is that more in evidence than in a non-denominational church's plan to hold a "Burn a Koran Day" on the next anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Muslim advocacy groups and evangelical Christian organizations alike have condemned the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, for its plans to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a day for burning Islam's holy book. And at least one jihadist organization has promised revenge if the event goes ahead as planned.

"On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm - 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam," says the church's Facebook page. "Islam is of the devil!"

The church has drawn condemnation from the National Association of Evangelicals, which said in a statement that "Burn a Koran Day" shows "disrespect for our Muslim neighbors and would exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims throughout the world."

“It sounds like the proposed Koran burning is rooted in revenge," NAE President Leith Anderson said. "Yet the Bible says that Christians should ‘make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else’."

The church's plans have grabbed the attention of the Islamist movement. Members of the al-Falluja online forum have reportedly promised to "spill rivers of your (American) blood" if the event goes forward.

But the church is holding steadfast in its position.

"We believe that Islam is ... causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times," Pastor Terry Jones told CNN.

The church has also stirred controversy with its plans to protest Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe, who is openly gay. And some former church members have accused the leadership of using the church's tax-exempt status for profit.

The Gainesville Sun reported earlier this month:

Former church members who have worshiped under senior pastors Terry and Sylvia Jones are speaking out about what they describe as financial abuses at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville and its sister church in Cologne, Germany, founded by Terry Jones in 1981 and closed in 2008.

By all accounts - the church's Web site, interviews with current and former members and Terry Jones' own description - the church in Gainesville, as was the one in Germany, is structured with a for-profit business operating out of tax-exempt church property, using the unpaid labor of church members to maintain a steady stream of merchandise for sale online.

That structure has raised questions with the Alachua County Property Appraiser's Office, which has said it will investigate the church's tax-exempt status.

Obama Seeks to Expand US Arms Exports

(Sounds like a bad idea to me...--jef)


by Maggie Bridgeman, Thursday, July 29, 2010 by the McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - The United States is currently the world biggest weapons supplier - holding 30 per cent of the market - but the Obama administration has begun modifying export control regulations in hopes of enlarging the U.S. market share, according to U.S. officials.

We Arm the World 

President Barack Obama already has taken the first steps by tucking new language into the Iran sanctions bill signed in early July. His aides are now compiling the "munitions list," which regulates the sale of military items.

The administration's stated reason for the changes is to simplify the sale of weapons to U.S. allies, but potential spinoffs include generating business for the U.S. defense industry, creating jobs and contributing to Obama's drive to double U.S. exports by 2015.

Critics say the reforms are being rushed and warn that the expedited procedures could allow weapons technology to fall into the wrong hands.

India, which currently is seeking 126 fighter-jets worth over $10 billion, 10 large transport aircraft worth $6 billion, and other multi-billion dollar defense sales, could be among the possible beneficiaries. Allies seeking advanced U.S. weaponry and equipment, who now often buy elsewhere due to the cumbersome U.S. approval process, would draw immediate benefit from the reforms, U.S. officials said.

Obama first called for the reforms in August 2009, then referred to them in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address as an element toward doubling exports by 2015.

In the House of Representatives, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, (D-Calif.), is drafting a bill that parallels the president's plan.

However, it isn't clear that the Senate will go along, as it is still reviewing the president's proposals.

"It is probably going to be some time yet before there is movement in the relevant committees on formal hearings or writing or legislation," said Andy Fisher, spokesperson for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Obama's plan, according to top officials, is to ask Congress to streamline the bureaucratic process for approving arms sales by setting up a single new agency to oversee one list of exportable weapons, "tiered" according to the sensitivity of the technology. Currently the State and Commerce Departments maintain separate lists, and the State Department list contains many restrictions.

"Our aim is to make the system more transparent, efficient, and effective," said Ben Chang, a White House spokesman. "This means we are improving our ability to administer our controls, which improves our ability to enforce them, and equally important, improves the ability of companies to comply."

Critics say decontrolling weapons systems could fuel regional arms races, allow technology to fall into the wrong hands and, because arms purchasers often want to set up their own industries, end up exporting jobs abroad.

"The concern that we have is that the net result of this process would be to open the floodgates for military sales to states that do not meet the standards established in years previous," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

"We're No. 1 in weapons in the world, so I don't understand what the problem is we need to fix," said a Republican staffer for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the most outspoken administration advocate for the new system, said it will "build high walls around a smaller yard" by narrowing in on the nation's "crown jewels."

However, critics point out that what those crown jewels are depends on decisions yet to be made.

"There's nothing in their top tier currently," the Senate GOP staffer said. "They can't figure out what should be in their top tier."

Senior officials have said possible "top tier" items include certain night vision technology and advanced stealth technology, which makes aircraft invisible to radar, infrared, and sonar.

The new system would allow older technology such as Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter to fall to a lower tier as newer, more advanced technology emerges. The staffer said that some versions of the plan currently circulating don't include the F-16 in the top tier of the secured list.

The F-16 may no longer be top technology for the U.S., but as is the case with much of the aging technology that will be decontrolled, the Senate GOP staffer said, "It's often a question of what China, a terrorist, or even a rogue state would do with these things."

Members of the Obama administration say that changes will enhance national security.

"In fact, our system itself poses a potential national security risk based on the fact that its structure is overly complicated, contains too many redundancies, and tries to protect too much," United States National Security Advisor General James Jones said in a speech introducing the plans.

The administration hopes that by streamlining the process, allies will be able to receive more weapons and technology faster, making their equipment more compatible with that of the United States, and making it easier to complete joint operations.

"It spells the difference between U.S. forces going it alone or having allies who are able to operate in the lethal battle space with U.S. military forces," said former Bush administration arms regulator Amb. Lincoln Bloomfield Jr.

Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., represents a district with aerospace and other manufacturers, and said reform is needed for the survival of U.S. manufacturing.

"We can begin to manufacture our way out of this recession by reforming our export controls," Manzullo said in a speech at the American Enterprises Institute, a conservative think tank.

Manzullo has worked for export control reform throughout his career and says that the job creation benefits make the initiative worthwhile, but he retains doubts about the current review.

"I have a problem with giving all that power to one agency," Manzullo said.

Manzullo explained that having one agency to govern export controls could be dangerous if the wrong person were put in charge.

Similarly, Christopher Wall, former assistant secretary of commerce, said he supports reform but thought initially that the changes were being rushed. In recent weeks, he said, the administration appears to have a better understanding of the immensity of the task.

"Whether it has to do with the possible departure of Secretary Gates or the election timetable coming up, neither of these should drive the reform process," Wall said.

The Senate GOP staffer said that if the United States decontrols as the number one seller in the market, then others with less scrupulous records will follow suit.

The Obama administration isn't the first executive to see the benefits of export control reform; both former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush undertook similar reviews, which according to Gregory Suchan, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, "crashed and burned essentially because of opposition from Congress."

"Anybody who thinks that they can come to a conclusion as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing," Suchan said, "such a judgment is premature"

The BP Oil Spill: Time to Get Unreasonable

Shrimper Diane Wilson might be going to jail for her high-profile protests against BP. Why is she so sure it’s worth it?
By Brooke Jarvis, YES! Magazine
July 31, 2010

For decades, Diane Wilson—a fourth-generation shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, a town roughly in the center of Texas’ Gulf coast—has been fighting to clean up the messes of the oil and petrochemical industries. First it was the chemicals pumped into a local bay by a plastics factory, then the Dow Chemical Company’s refusal to compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster, then the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq in what she believes was a war for oil.

Many protests and hunger strikes later, that plastics factory signed a zero discharge agreement. The anti-war group that Wilson helped found, Code Pink, has become a prominent national voice for peace. So it’s no wonder that Wilson is someone who believes in the power of protest—or that, when millions of gallons of oil started gushing into the waters she’d trolled since childhood, her anger turned into action.

That action has made national headlines and gotten Wilson dragged out of more than one Congressional hearing. On August 20, she’ll find out if it will land her in jail for two years. But for Wilson, who’s fond of saying that she’s “nobody particular,” there’s nothing exceptional or complicated about what she’s doing. “There comes a time,” she wrote, “when the home needs protecting and the line needs drawing and anybody that dares cross it acts at their own peril.”
Brooke Jarvis: People around the world have been horrified by this catastrophe. What has it been like for you and your neighbors in Seadrift?
Diane Wilson: It was almost like seeing your own death. You cannot imagine it, but it appears to be happening. I think many people thought they really might see the end of the whole Gulf, just filling up like a river of oil, just wiping out everything. People are very, very upset about it. They don’t know what to do, because what is there to do? They can't leave. Down here you are the 4th, 5th generation fishing or shrimping the same waters. You have a sense of place, and your identity is the place. I've been down here through I can't tell you how many hurricanes, and people don't leave even when they know a storm’s coming.
Brooke: The big news this week is the cap on the BP oil pipe. When the oil spill is finally stopped, are you worried that it will be forgotten—that there will be a feeling that the problem is solved and we can return to business as usual?
Diane: I worry a lot about that. I've been involved in environmental struggles on the Gulf Coast for 20 years, and I’ve seen how quickly we can forget. I was involved in the Bhopal struggle, which is basically about the problem of forgetting—after 25 years and 20,000 deaths, it’s not solved but it’s not in the news, either. And in Alaska, it’s been 20 years since the Exxon Valdez, and they only ever recovered 8 percent of the oil.
I know how fickle media is. I've been trying to get stories out about oil for 20 years. I've talked with agencies, I've talked with politicians, and wouldn’t get any response. I started to feel like maybe there was something the matter with me, maybe what I was horrified about wasn't so awful, so at times I really questioned myself. Then when we had this awful spill, suddenly almost those very same agencies and people were acting like it horrified them and they were immediately going to take action.
I know how the spotlight will change how people react, and I know how easily it goes away. We get bored very easily. I’m afraid that with even the littlest excuse, we will want to move on—people feel relieved to move away from this unpleasantness and from thinking about the big changes we need in this country. A lot of people would rather it just go away.
Brooke: What actions have you taken since the spill began, to keep the spotlight on?
Diane: People have a shield that protects them from bad news. It just kind of slides off, so you have to be very creative to break through. So one of our actions was inspired by women in Nigeria, who protested pollution from oil companies by taking off their clothes. I was amazed how much they accomplished nonviolently by pushing the comfort zone. So we went to BP’s control center in Houston, nude, and demanded “the naked truth” about oil. A lot of people said, "Oh no, you can't do something like that in Houston. It’s the Bible Belt; the media will not come.” But they did, and the protest got a lot of press. We also had people come dressed as fishermen, as mermaids, as BP workers. A fisherman in Sargent, Texas brought probably 100 pounds of dead fish and a pile of shrimp nets. We poured fake oil over everybody.
Later I decided to go to Washington, D.C., because that’s where the hearings were happening. I got some Karo syrup, the syrup they make pecan pies with in Texas, and security let me in with this half a gallon of goo labeled “oil” on the side. I waited for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska, to start talking. She should know the cost of an oil spill, from the Exxon Valdez; she should know the value of fishermen and wilderness. Yet she was the senator who was blocking the vote to lift the liability cap for BP. So I just stood up and started yelling. I said that I was from the Gulf and we are sick and tired of being dumped on. I poured oil all over myself. At one point they were going to charge me for assault for getting syrup on the guard. They said it was the messiest protest they had ever had.
Then I heard that [BP CEO] Tony Hayward was going to testify. By this time I had Capitol cops following me everywhere, asking to see what was in my bag. I got to the Capitol at 10 o’clock the night before, and waited all night. They only let five people in—they were very, very nervous about anything happening. They wouldn’t let in any signs or anything that looked like it might be used in a demonstration, but they didn’t find the tube of paint I had in my pocket. When no one was looking I smeared it on my hands and face, and then I started yelling at Tony—I kept calling him Tony—that he ought to go to jail.
So I was arrested in one week on two different charges of unlawful conduct and resisting arrest. I’ve had to go to court twice already. At this point I'm probably looking at about 2 years.
Brooke: If you end up going to jail, will it be worth it?
Diane: Oh, yes. I've been to jail before. I did an action regarding Bhopal: I scaled a chemical tower and breached security and trespassed—I got 180 days in jail.
With these BP actions I had no idea what I would accomplish, but I felt I had to do something. I felt so much anger and rage about what was going on, especially because they were lying about it. Somehow Tony Hayward represented everything that I felt was being killed out there on the bay. Everybody calls this an accident, but it was inevitable—you take that kind of risk, and it will eventually come down to this.
Brooke: Realistically, what can we change by getting mad?
At some time in our lives, we will come across some information that just hits us, and what we do with that bit of information will determine the rest of our lives.
Diane: We can’t just be mad about this one spill. It’s part of a bigger problem, so we have to demand that there be bigger changes. That push is going to have to come from the people, from the grassroots.
Because I've been doing this for so long, I know that it sometimes takes very drastic and awful situations to change things. These times are critical windows when we can get things done—the only time when agencies and politicians and people are alarmed enough that we can move things.
Take offshore drilling. If all we have is a temporary ban, companies will be just waiting to start again when the six months are up. If that happens, what on Earth will we have learned from this monstrous problem?
We also have to make a decision about the type of energy we are using. It's not whether we are going to move away from oil, because we eventually will, but whether we’ll do it when we can make a smooth transition or when we’re forced to, which will be chaos. We don’t have the luxury of time.
And we have to do something about the power of corporations. They make their money using the resources of the whole planet, but they don’t get punished when they put it at risk. I think that people need to go to jail for this. We have to send a very clear message that you cannot take these kinds of risks without consequences.
We also have to change how we regulate corporations. Right now lots of them only self-report, and agencies don’t have budgets to check their reports or for enforcement.
Brooke: You’ve also been pushing to cap BP’s liability. Why is that so important?
Diane: It's flat out crazy, when you are making $90 million dollars a day, to say that $75 million is the most you should be made to pay in liability. Lisa Murkowski said we need that low limit because otherwise smaller, mom-and-pop oil companies couldn’t drill in the Gulf. What mom-and-pop oil companies? She should be worried about mom-and-pop shrimpers.
If you are not forced to pay big time for your mistakes then you don't value them. It gives the idea that you can take all kinds of chances and all kinds of shortcuts. I guarantee you that this planet cannot afford it. This is a finite planet and we are acting like its infinite.
Brooke: What would you say to people who are upset about the spill but don’t know what to do about it?
Diane: We are going to have to learn to not be so well behaved. We are going to have to move from our hearts. I have always believed that at some time in our lives, we will come across some information that just hits us, and what we do with that bit of information will determine the rest of our lives.
There are no excuses. If you look at the social changes that have been made in this country and all around the world, it is the people who seemed least able to make changes who did. We just forget that we have that kind of potential.

Fracking With Food: How the Natural Gas Industry Poisons Cows and Crops

Natural gas drilling operations have mucked up food from Colorado to Pennsylvania. So why is no one paying attention?
By Byard Duncan, AlterNet
July 31, 2010

On the morning of May 5, 2010, nobody could say for sure how much fluid had leaked from the 650,000-gallon disposal pit near a natural gas drill pad in Shippen Township, Penn. -- not the employees on site; not the farmers who own the property; not the DEP rep who came to investigate.

But there were signs of trouble: Vegetation had died in a 30’ by 40’ patch of pasture nearby. A “wet area” of indeterminate toxicity had crept out about 200 feet, its puddles shimmering with an oily iridescence. And the cattle: 16 cows, four heifers and eight calves were all found near water containing the heavy metal strontium. Strontium is preferentially deposited in cows’ bones at varying levels depending on things like age and growth rates. Since slaughtering 28 cattle on mere suspicion can devastate a farmer financially, nobody knows what, if anything, the cows ingested. They're now sitting in quarantine.

The Shippen Township incident isn’t the first time hydraulic fracturing, a controversial gas extraction technique that involves shooting water, sand and a mix of chemicals into the ground to release gas, has been blamed for livestock damage. But for farmers in the northeast whose land sits atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, it is a wake-up call – an event that raises questions about fracking’s compatibility with food production.

“I’ve already heard from a couple of customers that they’re concerned about the location of a drill site near my farm – in terms of the quality and safety of my food,” said Greg Swartz, a farmer in Pennsylvania’s Upper Delaware River Valley. Swartz, who sells all his products locally, fears that leaked fracking fluid could seep into his soil, bioaccumulate in his plants and cost him his organic certification. “There very well may be a point where I am not comfortable selling vegetables from the farm anymore because I’m concerned about water and air contamination issues,” he said.

Air contamination – specifically the production of ozone – is what worries Ken Jaffe, another farmer in Meredith, NY. When excess methane gas, coupled with volatile compounds like benzene, toluene and xylene, are released into the air in a process the gas industry calls “venting,” it can inhibit lung function and wreak havoc on plant life. In Sublette County, WY, fracking has been blamed for ozone levels that are comparable to those in Los Angeles.

Without healthy pasture, Jaffe said, his cows won’t grow. Which means his beef won’t sell. “The economics of my operation are in part based on how many animals I can graze per acre and get them to grow fat,” he told me. “And if I have less grass and less protein and less clover, then I have a problem.”

Over the past two years, horizontal hydraulic fracturing has garnered a lot of attention. Advocates of the practice believe the staggeringly high amounts of gas it makes accessible could serve as a “cleaner-burning” bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. But critics blame fracking for a whole range of problems -- house explosions, flammable drinking water, chronic sickness, crop failure and air contamination, to name a few. In 2005, the Bush administration introduced the Energy Policy Act, which exempted hydraulic fracturing from several key environmental regulations, including parts of the Clean Water Act and CERCLA (Superfund). Since then, drilling operations (along with corresponding environmental problems) have begun to extend like spiderwebs across states like Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

For all their concerns, farmers like Swartz and Jaffe comprise only one side of a larger debate over drilling. Leasing one’s land, after all, carries the promise of a comfortable retirement -- sometimes even millions of dollars. And with milk prices making small-scale dairy operations harder and harder to maintain, many farmers are looking for the light at the end of the pipeline.

Some have found it. According to one Penn State study, Pennsylvania made a $2.95 billion profit from drilling in 2008 alone; the state also gained 53,000 new jobs. And in the Windsor/Deposit area of New York, 300 property owners have signed a lease with XTO Energy that covers 37,000 acres and is worth $90 million (notably, the lease contains a provision that indemnifies drillers against damage to livestock). Though New York is still waiting on its Department of Environmental Conservation for the go-ahead to start horizontal drilling, much of the state’s topography has already been carved, cordoned and auctioned off to eager gas companies.

“The way things are now financially, it would be hard to turn [leasing] down,” said Richard Dirie, a dairy farmer near Youngsville, NY. “Farming is definitely a physical occupation. You definitely reach an age where -- I don’t care if you want to do it or not -- you just can’t do it anymore.”

Dirie has not yet leased his land. But at 59, he’s not sure he would reject an offer if it came his way. “I keep saying, ‘I hope they don’t come and talk to me.’ That way I don’t have to make a decision, you know?”

Gas drilling raises a lot of questions for farmers short on options. Is it worth the risk to retire comfortably? What are the implications for future use of the land? Perhaps most importantly: How does fracking affect crops, livestock and, by extension, the people who consume them? Answers are scarce.

“There’s a lot going on out there and we don’t know most of it,” Swartz said.

The Knowledge Vacuum

It’s with good reason that Jaffe describes fracking’s relationship to food as “a knowledge vacuum.” Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture can’t say for sure whether or not any cows in the state came into contact with fracking fluid before the Shippen Township incident in May. Nor can it guarantee similar things won’t happen in the future. “We hope that this is the exception rather than the rule,” said spokesman Justin Fleming. “We hope that this is an extraordinarily rare occurrence.”

A representative for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service -- the organization in charge of testing milk and meat for chemicals – neglected to comment on whether or not heavy metals like the strontium found in Shippen Township were considered “adulterated” under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. He also did not immediately comment on whether naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) -- known to surface after a well has been fractured – fall under the act’s clause banning meat from being “intentionally subjected to radiation.”

Scientists, too, are grappling for information. Though there exists an increasingly comprehensive catalog of knowledge about water problems related to fracking, little work has been done to determine how the practice affects animals and crops.

“I see very little research being done on cows,” said Theo Colborn, founder of the non-profit Endocrine Disruption Exchange. Because animal testing with many chemicals known to be involved in fracking has historically failed to deal with instances of a) limited exposure and b) prolonged exposure, no one really knows what the potential health effects are – for cows or humans.

“It’s very difficult to deal with this problem,” Colborn said. “Who has the money? Who can perform the tests?”

Certainly not the federal EPA. Earlier this year, it announced plans to launch a two-year study of hydraulic fracturing’s effects on water. According to an EPA spokesperson, no part of that study will deal with plants or animals.

And yet, there is significant anecdotal evidence that suggests fracking can seriously compromise food. In April 2009, 19 head of cattle dropped dead after ingesting an unknown substance near a gas drilling rig in northern Louisiana. Seven months before that, a tomato farmer in Avella, Penn. reported a series of problems with the water and soil on his property after drilling started: he found arsenic levels 2,600 times what is recommended, as well as dangerously high levels of benzene and naphthalene – all known fracking components. And in May 2009, one farmer in Clearview, Penn. told Reuters he thought that gas drilling operations had killed four of his cows.

Occurrences like these aren’t just limited to the eastern U.S. In Colorado, a veterinarian named Elizabeth Chandler has documented numerous fertility problems in livestock near active drill sites, including false pregnancy, smaller litters and stillbirths in goats; reduced birth rates in hogs; and delayed heat cycles in dogs.

In another case, Rick Roles, a resident of Rifle, Colorado, reported that his horses became sterile after three disposal pits were installed near his home. Like those in Chandler’s study, Roles’ goats began yielding fewer offspring and producing more stillbirths. Roles himself suffered from swelling of the hands, numbness and body pain – symptoms, he said, that subsided when he stopped eating vegetables from his garden and drinking his goats’ milk.

Actual scientific studies are few and far between, but what’s out there paints a pretty damning picture. One, titled “Livestock Poisoning from Oil Field Drilling Fluids, Muds and Additives,” appeared in the journal Veterinary & Human Toxicology in 1991. It examined seven instances where oil and gas wells had poisoned and/or killed livestock. In one such case, green liquid was found leaking from a tank near a gas well site. The study’s authors found 13 dead cows, whose “postmortem blood was chocolate-brown in color.” Poisoning cases involving carbon disulfide, turpentine, toluene, xylene, ethylene, and complex solvent mixtures “are frequently encountered,” the study concluded.

Another study, this one conducted in Alberta, Canada in 2001, investigated the effects of gas flaring on the reproductive systems of cattle near active gas and oil fields. Its conclusions: “One of the most consistent associations in the analysis was between exposure to sour gas flaring facilities [as opposed to “sweet” ones, which contain more aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic hydrocarbons and carbon particles] and an increased risk of stillbirth. In 3 of the 4 years studied, cumulative exposure to sour flares was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth.”

'Rare Cases'

When questioned about fracking and food, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an organization composed of the nation’s leading gas production and exploration companies, neglected to get into any specifics. Instead, it offered this response:

“In rare cases where incidents have occurred, companies have worked with the appropriate regulatory authority to identify, contain and correct the issue, and to implement measures to ensure they don’t recur. ANGA member companies understand and respect people’s concerns about the safety of their water and air, and we are committed to engaging in dialogue with community members, policymakers and stakeholders to talk about the safety of natural gas production and the opportunities natural gas offers communities across our country.”

Environmental groups have a markedly different perspective on the issue. “There’s a lot of violations that happen out there that are never documented,” said Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

When we talked, Gillingham took out an enormous aerial photo of a drill rig. One disposal pit was surrounded by gray blotches of moisture: leaked fracking fluid. “The stuff that’s coming up – this stuff is getting into the environment,” he said, pointing at the blotches. “You’ve got heavy metals and normally occurring radioactive materials, all of which bioaccumulate in a grazer. That stuff is coming up in the grass where the grass is growing.”

So what sorts of concerns should people have about eating animals that have themselves ingested xylene, benzene, heavy metals, radioactive material? Gillingham, like so many farmers, federal officials and industry reps, can’t say for sure.

“It’s a serious issue in terms of potential contamination getting to market and nobody knowing about it,” he said. “It’s an important piece of research that needs to be done.”

That Big Sucking Sound in the Economy Is the Threat of Serious Deflation

Members of the Fed have started warning that full-blown monetary deflation may be coming. That, not the deficit, could really put the US economy in ruin.
By William Greider, The Nation
July 31, 2010

The economic specter stalking Barack Obama is not the nonsense debate that captivates deficit hawks and witless political reporters. It is the threat of a full-blown monetary deflation that would truly put the US economy in ruin. In a general deflation, everything falls--prices, output, wages, profits. Unchecked, this can lead to another Big D--the Depression Obama claims he has avoided.

Depression was the fate that befell Herbert Hoover after 1929 and the outlines of this larger catastrophe are present again. It is easy to dismiss deflation warnings from curbstone critics, including from me. But it is more significant--and truly scary--when senior policy makers of the Federal Reserve begin to express the same fear, as the New York Times reported today [1]. The Fed has done quite a lot in the last two years to prevent this disaster from unfolding, but some officials are now worried the Fed hasn't done enough.

The central bank understands this danger far better than the over-confident technicians of the Obama administration because deflation led to the Federal Reserve's historic disgrace after 1929. Fed officials then did not understand their wrong-headed policy moves were directly driving the economy into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Today's central bankers do not wish to experience the same shame again.

The Times story reveals a rump group of decision makers within the Fed who are focused on the threat and urging their colleagues to consider more dramatic measures to reverse the deflationary pressures.

Most notably, James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, warns that Fed policy is putting the US economy at risk of "a Japanese-style deflation within the next several years." This is striking because the St. Louis Fed is traditionally the home of "hard money" monetarists. Their intellectual mentor, Milton Friedman, famously assailed the central bank for its historic failure to reverse the deflation 80 years ago. Liberals and conservatives who compare notes on this subject can come out at roughly the same place.

At least two other regional bank presidents--William Dudley of New York and Eric Rosengren of Boston--share Bullard's concern. They will soon be joined by three new governors, Obama appointees to the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, who are much more sympathetic to liberal anxieties about jobs and the stuttering economy. Janet Yellen, president of San Francisco Fed, is the new vice chair. Peter Diamond and Sarah Raskin will be new governors.

In short, we may be witnessing the opening of an authentic economic debate--one that truly addresses the nation's historic predicament. Let's hope. The terrible trap of deflation gripped Japan for nearly 15 years after its financial collapse in 1989. Japan's economy struggled to restart, but repeatedly fell back into recession. That is one definition of Depression--an economy that cannot get out of the ditch.

Deflation essentially tells everyone to hunker down and wait. Instead of buying big-ticket items, consumers wait for prices to fall further. Instead of investing in new production, companies wait for cheaper opportunities, cheaper labor. The paralysis feeds on itself, once it gets started.

Actually, our situation is more dangerous than Japan's was. The Japanese culture and its economic system are shaped by a functioning commitment to social solidarity that does not exist in the United States. In its worst years, Japan's unemployment rate never rose much above 5 percent. Protective cultural values, embedded in the economic system, would not tolerate it.

The American system, by contrast, readily throws people over the side in the name of free-market efficiency. The pain is distributed first to the weak and defenseless,as we now witness, but the losses creep upward on the social ladder as the recession continues. Deflation would generate the pain more widely, more ferociously.

There is one small silver lining in this grim news. If the Federal Reserve steps up to the deflationary threat, its warnings and actions can give President Obama and Congress a strong opening to change their economic policy too. Forget the stupid deficit scare-mongering. Government must embrace more aggressive fiscal measures--bigger deficits, not little bitty gestures. New stimulus spending is needed to fight off the downward pressures.

That, of course, will require the president to acknowledge what he now denies. The nation is not out of the danger zone. The government must act because it is the only sector in the economy that can lead the way.

Right now, though people are increasingly skeptical, the president is sticking to his optimistic assurances. Prosperity is right around the corner. That was Herbert Hoover's line and it doomed him.

Colombia-Venezuela Dispute Will be Better Resolved in South America

The US Should Stop Meddling

In March I wrote about the Obama Administration’s contribution (March 18) to the election campaign under way in Venezuela, where voters will choose a new National Assembly in September. I predicted that certain things would happen before September, among them some new “discoveries” that Venezuela supports terrorism. Venezuela has had thirteen elections or referenda since Hugo Chávez was first elected in 1998, and in the run-up to most of them, Washington has usually done something to influence the political and media climate.

The intentions were already clear on March 11, when General Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command was testifying to the U.S. Senate. In response to a question from Senator John McCain about Venezuela’s alleged support for terrorism, Fraser said:
"We have continued to watch very closely ... We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection."
The next day he recanted his testimony after meeting with the U.S. State Department’s top official for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela.

This made it clear that the “terrorist” message was going to be a very important part of Washington’s campaign. Even the Bush Administration had never forced its military officers to retract their statements when they contradicted the State Department’s political agenda in Latin America, which they sometimes did.

Unfortunately, the campaign continues. Last Thursday, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of the American States (OAS) accused Venezuela at an extraordinary meeting of the OAS of harboring 1,500 guerillas and asked for the OAS to take action. The timing was noteworthy to many observers. President Lula da Silva of Brazil noted that it “seemed strange that this occurs a few days before [President] Uribe [of Colombia] leaves office. The new president has given signals that he wants to build peace [with Venezuela]. Everything was going well until Uribe made this denunciation.”

Venezuela responded by breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia. It had previously cut off much of its trade with Colombia over the past two years, in response to Colombia’s agreement with Washington to expand its military presence at seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Since Venezuela had been Colombia’s largest trading partner in the region, it is possible that the new president, Juan Manuel Santos, was looking to improve relations for business reasons if nothing else. He had invited Chávez to his inauguration.

Of course, Uribe does not necessarily take orders from Washington, but it would be naïve to assume that someone who has received more than $6 billion from the United States would not check with his benefactors before doing something like this. The fact that the U.S. State Department immediately took Colombia’s side in the dispute is further indication that they approved. Even Washington’s (right-wing) allies in the region did not take sides, with the government of Chile, for example, issuing a neutral statement; this would have been the normal diplomatic protocol for Washington too, if this were not part of a political and public relations campaign against Venezuela.

Other governments clearly saw Colombia’s action as a political move, and were upset with what looked like the OAS being manipulated for these purposes. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was cited in the Brazilian press saying that the venue of the dispute should be moved to UNASUR, because the United States would tilt the negotiations towards Colombia and against Venezuela. Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, strongly criticized the head of the OAS for not having consultation before granting Colombia’s request for a meeting of the OAS Permanent Council. Patiño said that Insulza had shown his “absolute incapacity” to direct the organization and to “look for peace in the region.” Bolivia’s President Evo Morales had even harsher rhetoric for Uribe, calling him “a loyal representative of the U.S. government, with its military bases in Colombia designed to provoke a war between Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua.”

This dispute highlights the importance of the institutional changes that the left-of-center governments in Latin America are trying to make. The increasing importance of UNASUR, displacing the OAS, has become vital to Latin American progress and stability. For example, because of the influence of the United States (as usual, with a handful of right-wing allies) in the OAS, it failed to take stronger action to restore the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras last year.

When Bolivia was having problems with attempts by the separatist, extra-parliamentary opposition – including violence and de-stabilization efforts - it was UNASUR that met in Santiago in September 2008 and threw its weight behind the democratic government of Evo Morales. When the United States decided last fall to expand its presence at the military bases in Colombia, UNASUR reached an agreement – which included Colombia - that prohibited these bases from being used for any actions outside of the country.

As to the substance of Colombia’s latest claims, guerillas and paramilitaries have been crossing the 2,000 kilometer border with Venezuela – much of it dense jungle, mountains and all kinds of difficult terrain – for decades. There is no evidence that anything has changed recently, and nothing to indicate that the Venezuelan government, which has extradited guerillas to Colombia, supports any armed groups -- as General Fraser testified before he was apparently forced to take it back.

On Tuesday Insulza – perhaps feeling like he had gone too far to please Washington -- told CNN en español that “the guerrillas come and go, and it is quite difficult to ask just one country to control the border. .... Uribe says he doesn’t know why Venezuela doesn’t detain the guerillas, but the truth is that Colombia can’t control them either.” He might have added that the United States, with all its vastly greater resources and superior technology, doesn’t have an easy time controlling the flow of drugs, guns and people across its own much more manageable border with Mexico.

This week there was an emergency meeting of UNASUR, and hopefully a process of diplomacy will begin to resolve the dispute. Certainly there will be a better chance of success to the extent that Washington – and its political campaigns against governments that it doesn’t like – can be kept at a distance.

Comic Strip Politics

Lucy vs. Charlie Brown

American politics has turned into the comic strip Peanuts, with the liberal Charlie Brown attempting to kick a football while the conservative Lucy pulls it away from him for the thousandth time.

Nothing better illustrates a politics that is polarized between an immoral, unscrupulous right and a spineless, incompetent left than the sad story of Shirley Sherrod, an obscure employee in the U. S. Department of Agriculture who became a household name overnight.

After America’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, attacked the conservative Tea Party movement for white racism within its ranks, rightwing activists decided to strike back by exposing black racism within the Obama administration. Rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart posted on his website an edited video of Sherrod, who is black, apparently saying in a speech that she denied help to a farmer in distress because he was white.

In fact, the full context of the speech shows quite the opposite. Sherrod refers to a 24-year-old episode when she worked for a nonprofit organization not the government, to make the point that she confronted and overcame her own prejudices to help a white farmer regardless of race. In a part of the video not played by Breitbart, she said, “Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't ... God helped me see that it's not just about black people. ... I've come to realize that we have to work together ... we have to overcome the divisions that we have.”

Breitbart’s smear of Sherrod became an international sensation when FOX News repeatedly ran his version of the story without checking with Sherrod or the farmer in question. The farmer, Roger Spooner and his wife Eloise later appeared on CNN and confirmed that they never saw a hint of racism in Sherrod and that indeed she helped save their farm. In Roger Spooner’s words, “Me and the wife, we never, we never, we never saw that [racism] at all. Absolutely. It’s unbelievable. If we had not found her, me and my wife — we went checking here and yonder and everywhere — if it hadn’t been for her, we’d of lost.”

In an appearance with FOX New’s Sean Hannity, Breitbart made it clear that he cared nothing about the truth or about Ms. Sherrod. He said, “I'm invested in getting the NAACP and the Democratic Party and the Congressional Black Caucus to stop constantly calling the Tea Party racist. That's my job. I could care less about Shirley Sherrod, to be honest with you.”

Instead, of carefully checking the full context of the video and the facts of the story, both the Obama administration and the NAACP blundered into the rightwing mousetrap. The administration fired Sherrod faster than you can say Martin Luther King (it has since offered her a new job).

The NAACP applauded the firing, saying, “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.” Later, when the truth came out, the group’s president Benjamin Todd Jealous said, “we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart.” No kidding!

The Sherrod story should have been about an unscrupulous rightwing setup of an innocent victim to take revenge on their opponents. Instead, the story came to center on the blunders of the Obama administration and the NAACP.
Like so many liberal groups, the NAACP has fallen on hard times in recent years. Sexually exploitive male leaders ran the organization into the ground in the 1990’s and early twentieth century. It has lost about half its members and has not made an impact on big issues in recent memory. The organization attempted a comeback with its attack on the Tea Party, but instead has just become another example of liberal cowardice and incompetence.

It is hard to believe that the NAACP once successfully challenged much of the American power structure to help bring down the system of Jim Crow in the South. How the mighty have fallen.

How could liberals in the Obama administration and the NAACP have fallen for the trap set by a known rightwing attack dog, who had previously used doctored videos in attacking the leftwing grassroots organization ACORN? How could liberals not have learned by now that the right will butcher the truth to make political points? Weren’t liberals on this planet when conservatives said we must go to war with Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from hurling a-bombs on our cities? When they charged that the Democrats’ health care bill empowered “death squads” to throw grandma into the gas chamber? When they said that Obama was born anywhere but in the good ole U.S. of A.?

With a right that is wrong and a left that is lame, it is no wonder that Americans are so down on their politics.

Iran Under Siege

(Let's not forget, this president got the Nobel Peace Prize for his "anti-war" efforts...--jef)

Lurching Toward War?

The European Union is imposing more severe sanctions on Iran, while U.S. leaders debate whether they should officially support an Israeli military attack. The cavalier nature of “debates” concerning Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons development assume that it is the right of the U.S. and its allies to do whatever they want to Iran, whenever they want, however they want. This is a recipe not only for criminal aggression, but devastation and imperial terror on a massive scale.

European sanctions against Iran seek to target the country’s energy, trade, and banking industries by blocking dozens of individuals and companies from doing any business with the country. The sanctions are described by the BBC as some of “the most far reaching sanctions adopted by the EU against any country.” The export of equipment and technology needed for refining and producing natural gas are prohibited, while money transfers from European countries to Iran (of more than 10,000 Euros) will be subject to the approval of national officials.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a new bill that would grant “support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time.” Those who are unsure about a looming attack will no doubt remind Americans that speculation over U.S. or Israeli attacks on Iran have been commonplace for years. This is no doubt true, although it ignores the fact that a Congressional bill represents a new precedent – it’s a radical, yet formal step, toward making war with Iran a reality. Also, war may be one step closer in light of comments from Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who announced this month that “Israel won’t attack Iran before sanctions [are] allowed to work.”

As Haaretz reports, the former CIA chief, Michael Hayden, is also now warning that "military action against Iran now seems more likely because no matter what the U.S. does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program." In his own words, Hayden explained that during the Bush years, "a strike was way down on the list of options," but now such an attack "seems inexorable....In my personal thinking, I have begun to consider that that [a military strike] may not be the worst of all possible outcomes."

The “soft” approach to dealing with Iran – as represented by the EU sanctions – is likely to further worsen relations with the country, preventing any effective future negotiations. Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution warns that “It’s almost impossible to find anyone here in Washington who believes sanctions will make any difference…the Iranian leadership has demonstrated that under pressure they are most averse to compromise.” Of course, “compromise” through “negotiations” has never been the U.S. goal, either under Bush or Obama.

The Bush administration long maintained that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program would not move forward unless Iran agreed in advance to end its enrichment of uranium (currently being developed to power its first nuclear power plant, which is still in development). Obama also initially made the suspension of enrichment a precondition for negotiations once assuming office. These expectations on the part of Bush and Obama were always unrealistic and appear designed to derail negotiations. As former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix argued, Iran was faced with a “neocolonial attitude” on the part of U.S. officials: “Iranians have resisted all the time saying, no, we are willing to talk about the suspension of enrichment, but we are not for suspension before talks. I would be surprised if a poker player would toss away his trump card before he sits down at the table. Who does that?”

The “halting uranium enrichment in advance of talks” precondition was dropped in April 2009, and by late in the year Obama was pushing a new round of “negotiations” in which U.S. officials demanded that Iran ship its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment prior to returning it for use in Iran’s civilian program. Of course, these “negotiations” were disingenuous in that at no point did the U.S. promise that the shipping of Iran’s uranium would be accompanied by a reduction or end to sanctions. Quite the contrary, the talk in late 2009 was always geared toward promoting stronger sanctions. As the Washington Post reported in October, preliminary talks between Iranian and American officials were seen merely as “reduc[ing] for now the threat of additional sanctions, which has been made repeatedly by the United States and others over the past weeks.”

Further obstacles to negotiations should be obvious enough, although they’ve been ignored by U.S. officials and journalists. The continued U.S. and Israeli threats to bomb Iran were never removed during the “negotiations,” meaning that Iran was essentially being forced into concessions at the point of a gun. Additionally, the U.S. talk of intensifying sanctions shortly before the meeting, and subsequent support for additional sanctions leveled this year by the EU, are hardly signs that it is serious about pushing for reconciliation or a meeting of the minds.

U.S. assumptions that Iran should concede on major points of negotiation prior to an agreement, in order to remove the threat of regime change and escalating sanctions, are nonsensical at a time when Iran’s only bargaining chip is its continued enrichment of uranium. Why would Iranian leaders give up their only leverage point without an explicit promise to end the sanctions? Why end the enrichment of uranium if U.S. officials aren’t willing to concurrently end threats of a military strike? These questions should be addressed by anyone who wants to have a serious discussion about U.S.-Iranian relations. That these questions are ignored in U.S. discourse is a sign of how far our intellectual culture has deteriorated under the umbrella of U.S. nationalism and imperial expansion.

Neocon Nutballs Ramp Up Campaign to Attack Iran

Bomb Iran?

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s screed in the Weekly Standard seeking to justify an Israeli bombing attack on Iran coincides with the opening of the new Israel lobby campaign marked by the introduction of House resolution 1553 expressing full support for such an Israeli attack.

What is important to understand about this campaign is that the aim of Gerecht and of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into direct, full-scale war with Iran.

That has long been the Israeli strategy for Iran, because Israel cannot fight a war with Iran without full U.S. involvement. Israel needs to know that the United States will finish the war that Israel wants to start.

Gerecht openly expresses the hope that any Iranian response to the Israeli attack would trigger full-scale U.S. war against Iran. “If Khamenei has a death-wish, he’ll let the Revolutionary Guards mine the strait, the entrance to the Persian Gulf,” writes Gerecht. “It might be the only thing that would push President Obama to strike Iran militarily….”

Gerecht suggest that the same logic would apply to any Iranian “terrorism against the United States after an Israeli strike,” by which we really means any attack on a U.S. target in the Middle East. Gerecht writes that Obama might be “obliged” to threaten major retaliation “immediately after an Israeli surprise attack.”

That’s the key sentence in this very long Gerecht argument. Obama is not going to be “obliged” to joint an Israeli aggression against Iran unless he feels that domestic political pressures to do so are too strong to resist. That’s why the Israelis are determined to line up a strong majority in Congress and public opinion for war to foreclose Obama’s options.

In the absence of confidence that Obama would be ready to come into the war fully behind Israel, there cannot be an Israeli strike.

Gerecht’s argument for war relies on a fanciful scenario of Iran doling out nuclear weapons to Islamic extremists all over the Middle East. But the real concern of the

Israelis and their lobbyists, as Gerecht’s past writing has explicitly stated, is to destroy Iran’s Islamic regime in a paroxysm of U.S. military violence.

Gerecht first revealed this Israeli-neocon fantasy as early as 2000, before the Iranian nuclear program was even taken seriously, in an essay written for a book published by the Project for a New American Century. Gerecht argued that, if Iran could be caught in a “terrorist act,” the U.S. Navy should “retaliate with fury”. The purpose of such a military response, he wrote, should be to “strike with truly devastating effect against the ruling mullahs and the repressive institutions that maintain them.”

And lest anyone fail to understand what he meant by that, Gerecht was more explicit: “That is, no cruise missiles at midnight to minimize the body count. The clerics will almost certainly strike back unless Washington uses overwhelming, paralyzing force."

In 2006-07, the Israeli war party had reason to believed that it could hijack U.S. policy long enough to get the war it wanted, because it had placed one of its most militant agents, David Wurmser, in a strategic position to influence that policy.

We now know that Wurmser, formerly a close adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and during that period Vice President Dick Cheney’s main adviser on the Middle East, urged a policy of overwhelming U.S. military force against Iran. After leaving the administration in 2007, Wurmser revealed that he had advocated a U.S. war on Iran, not to set back the nuclear program but to achieve regime change.

"Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians,” Wurmser told The Telegraph. The U.S. attack was not to be limited to nuclear targets but was to be quite thorough and massively destructive. “If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don't shoot a bear if you're not going to kill it."

Of course, that kind of war could not be launched out of the blue. It would have required a casus belli to justify a limited initial attack that would then allow a rapid escalation of U.S. military force. In 2007, Cheney acted on Wurmser’s advice and tried to get Bush to provoke a war with Iran over Iraq, but it was foiled by the Pentagon.

As Wurmser was beginning to whisper that advice in Cheney’s ear in 2006, Gerecht was making the same argument in The Weekly Standard:
“Bombing the nuclear facilities once would mean we were declaring war on the clerical regime. We shouldn't have any illusions about that. We could not stand idly by and watch the mullahs build other sites. If the ruling mullahs were to go forward with rebuilding what they'd lost--and it would be surprising to discover the clerical regime knuckling after an initial bombing run--we'd have to strike until they stopped. And if we had any doubt about where their new facilities were (and it's a good bet the clerical regime would try to bury new sites deep under heavily populated areas), and we were reasonably suspicious they were building again, we'd have to consider, at a minimum, using special-operations forces to penetrate suspected sites.”
The idea of waging a U.S. war of destruction against Iran is obvious lunacy, which is why U.S. military leaders have strongly resisted it both during the Bush and Obama administrations. But Gerecht makes it clear that Israel believes it can use its control of Congress to pound Obama into submission. Democrats in Congress, he boasts, “are mentally in a different galaxy than they were under President Bush.” Even though Israel has increasingly been regarded around the world as a rogue state after its Gaza atrocities and the commando killings of unarmed civilians on board the Mavi Marmara, its grip on the U.S. Congress appears as strong as ever.

Moreover, polling data for 2010 show that a majority of Americans have already been manipulated into supporting war against Iran – in large part because more than two-thirds of those polled have gotten the impression that Iran already has nuclear weapons. The Israelis are apparently hoping to exploit that advantage. “If the Israelis bomb now, American public opinion will probably be with them,” writes Gerecht. “Perhaps decisively so.”

Netanyahu must be feeling good about the prospects for pressuring Barack Obama to join an Israeli war of aggression against Iran. It was Netanyahu, after all, who declared in 2001, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”

Do Disclosures of Atrocities Change Anything?


The hope of the brave soldier who sent 92,000 secret U.S. documents to Wikileaks was that their disclosure would prompt public revulsion and increasing political pressure on Obama to seek with all speed a diplomatic conclusion to this war. The documents he sent Wikileaks included overwhelming documentary evidence – accepted by all as genuine, of:

  • the methodical use of a death squad made up of US Special Forces, known as Task Force 373,

  • willful, casual slaughter of civilians by Coalition personnel, with ensuing cover-ups,

  • the utter failure of “counter-insurgency” and “nation building”,

  • the venality and corruption of the Coalition’s Afghan allies,

  • the complicity of Pakistan’s Intelligence Services with the Taliban;
Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, skillfully arranged simultaneous publication of the secret material in the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel.

The story broke on the eve of a war-funding vote in the U.S. Congress. Thirty-six hours after the stories hit the news stands, the U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday evening voted Aye to a bill already passed by the Senate that funds a $33 billion, 30,000-troop escalation in Afghanistan. The vote was 308 to 114. To be sure, more US Reps voted against escalation than a year ago when the Noes totted up to only 35. That’s a crumb of comfort, but the cruel truth is that in 24 hours the White House and Pentagon, with the help of licensed members of the Commentariat and papers like the Washington Post, had finessed the salvoes from Wikileaks.

“WikiLeaks disclosures unlikely to change course of Afghanistan war” was the Washington Post’s Tuesday morning headline. Beneath this headline the news story said the leaks had been discussed for only 90 seconds at a meeting of senior commanders in the Pentagon. The story cited “senior officials” in the White House even brazenly claiming that that it was precisely his reading of these same raw secret intelligence reports a year ago that prompted Obama “to pour more troops and money into a war effort that had not received sufficient attention or resources from the Bush administration.” (As in: “Get that death squad operating more efficiently” – an order consummated by Obama’s appointment of General McChrystal as his Afghan commander, transferred from his previous job as top U.S. Death Squad general in charge of the Pentagon’s world-wide operations in this area.)

There’s some truth in the claim that long before Wikileaks released the 92,000 files the overall rottenness and futility of the Afghan war had been graphically reported in the press. Earlier this year, for example, reporting by Jerome Starkey of The Times of London blew apart the U.S. military’s cover-up story after Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a February, 2010, raid, in which two Afghan government officials were also killed.

It’s oversell to describe the Wikileaks package as a latterday Pentagon Papers. But it’s undersell to dismiss them as “old stories”, as disingenuous detractors have been doing. The Wikileaks files are a damning, vivid series of snapshots of a disastrous and criminal enterprise. In these same files there is a compelling series of secret documents about the death squad operated by the US military known as Task Force 373. an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, which has been hunting down targets for death or detention without trial. From Wikileaks we learn that more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a "kill or capture" list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritized effects list.

There are logs showing that Task Force 373 simply killed their targets without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.

One could watch Assange being interviewed on US news programs where he would raise the fact that the US military has been – is still – running a death squad along the model of the Phoenix Program, His interviewers simply changed the subject. Liberal gate-keepers complained that the Wikileaks documents were raw files, unmediated by responsible imperial journalists such as themselves. This echoed the usual ritual whines from the Pentagon about the untimely disclosures of “sources and methods”.(I recommend to CounterPunchers Doug Valentine's pieces on this site -- try the one from August 11, 2003 -- on the fundamental objective of big assassination programslike Phoenix in instilling general social terror in the target population.)

The bitter truth is that wars are not often ended by disclosures of their horrors and futility in the press, with consequent public uproar.

Disclosures from the mid-1950s that the French were torturing Algerians amid the war of independence were numerous. Henri Alleg’s famous 1958 account of his torture, La Question, sold 60,000 copies in a single day. Torture duly became more pervasive, and the war more savage, under the supervision of a nominally Socialist French government.

After Ron Ridenhour and then Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai massacre in 1968 in Vietnam with over 500 men, women and babies methodically, beaten, sexually abused, tortured and then murdered by American GIs, -- a tactless disclosure of “methods” -- there was public revulsion, then an escalation in slaughter. The war ran for another seven years.

It is true, as Noam Chomsky pointed out to me last week, when I asked him for positive examples, that popular protest in the wake of press disclosures “impelled Congress to call off the direct US role in the grotesque bombing of rural Cambodia. Similarly in the late 70s, under popular pressure Congress barred Carter, later Reagan, from direct participation in virtual genocide in the Guatemalan highlands, so the Pentagon had to evade legislation in devious ways and Reagan had to call in terrorist states, primarily Israel, to carry out the massacres.”

Even though New York Times editors edited out the word “indiscriminate” from Thomas Friedman’s news report of Israel’s bombing of Beirut in 1982, tv news footage from Lebanon prompted President Reagan to order Israeli prime minister Begin to stop, and he did. (On one account, which I tend to believe, the late Michael Deaver, was watching live footage of the bombing in his White House office and went into Reagan, saying "This is disgusting and you should stop it.")

It happened again when Peres's forces bombed the UN compound in Qana in 1996, causing much international outrage, and Clinton ordered it ended. There was a repeat once more in 2006, with another bombing of Qana that aroused a lot of international protest. But as Chomsky concludes in his note to me, “I think one will find very few such examples, and almost none in the case of really major war crimes.”

So one can conclude pessimistically that exposure of war crimes, torture and so forth, often leads to intensification of the atrocities, with government and influential newspapers and commentators supervising a kind of hardening process. "Yes, this - murder, torture, wholesale slaughter of civilians - is indeed what it takes." Even though this pattern is long-standing, it often comes as a great surprise. A friend of mine was at a dinner with the CBS news producers, shortly before they broke the Abu Ghraib tortures. Almost everyone at the table thought that Bush might well be impeached.

The important constituency here is liberals, who duly rise to the challenge of unpleasant disclosures of imperial crimes. In the wake of scandals such as those revealed at Abu Ghraib, or in the Wikileaks files, they are particularly eager to proclaim that they “can take it” – i.e., endure convincing accounts of monstrous tortures, targeted assassinations by US forces, obliteration of wedding parties or entire villages, and emerge with ringing affirmations of the fundamental overall morality of the imperial enterprise. This was very common in the Vietnam war and repeated in subsequent imperial ventures such the sanctions and ensuing attack on Iraq, and now the war in Afghanistan. Of course in the case of Israel it’s an entire way of life for a handsome slice of America’s liberals.

What does end wars? One side is annihilated, the money runs out, the troops mutiny, the government falls, or fears it will. With the U.S. war in Afghanistan none of these conditions has yet been met. The U.S. began the destruction of Afghanistan in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniev Brzezinksi started financing the mullahs and warlords in the largest and most expensive operation in the CIA’s history until that time. Here we are, more than three decades later, half buried under a mountain of horrifying news stories about a destroyed land of desolate savagery and what did one hear on many news commentaries earlier this week? Indignant bleats often by liberals, about Wikileaks’ “irresponsibility” in releasing the documents; twitchy questions such as that asked by The Nation’s Chris Hayes on the Rachel Maddow Show: “I wonder ultimately to whom WikiLeaks ends up being accountable.”

The answer to that last question was given definitively in 1851 by Robert Lowe, editorial writer for the London Times. He had been instructed by his editor to refute the claim of a government minister that if the press hoped to share the influence of statesmen, it “must also share in the responsibilities of statesmen.”

“The first duty of the press,” Lowe wrote, “is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation… The Press lives by disclosures… For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Melt Up

(I might have posted this here previously, but it would have been last Feb or March if I did. Please forgive if you've seen it. Watch it if you haven't.--jef)


Americans Look to Wealthy to Help Save Social Security

(Thanks to FRS--jef)


Favor expanding Social Security taxes, limiting benefits for high-income Americans
by Jeffrey M. Jones | July 29, 2010

PRINCETON, NJ -- Of six possible ways to address concerns with the Social Security system in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, a majority of Americans favor two, both of which would affect only wealthy Americans. Less than a majority favor proposals that would involve increasing taxes, reducing benefits, or increasing the eligibility age for larger segments of the general public.

July 2010: Assuming There Would Be No Change in Social Security Benefits for Those Who Are Now Age 55 or Older, Do You Think Each of the Following Would Be a Good Idea or a Bad Idea to Address Concerns With the Social Security System?

The July 8-11 USA Today/Gallup poll testing these ways to fix Social Security found growing doubts among both retired and nonretired Americans about the future of their own Social Security benefits. The poll also found the highest percentage of Americans in a Gallup survey to date saying the Social Security system is "in a state of crisis" or has "major problems."

The lack of support for most proposals to address problems with the Social Security system underscores the difficulty U.S. lawmakers will have in reforming it. Even the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are themselves divided on some of these, such as whether to raise the age at which people could receive full Social Security retirement benefits. Sixty-three percent of Americans believe this approach is a bad idea, making it (along with increasing Social Security taxes on all workers) the least popular of the six proposals tested in the poll.

Americans' opinions on various ways to ensure the future of Social Security have not changed much since 2005, when President Bush sought unsuccessfully to modify the system. At that time, as now, the proposals aimed at the wealthy were the only ones to garner majority support. Over the past five years, the only idea to receive a significant uptick in support is reducing retirement benefits for people currently under age 55, though still well less than a majority think this is a good idea.

Percentage of Americans Describing Social Security Proposals as Good Ideas, 2005 vs. 2010

There is general consensus on the Social Security proposals by age -- those that would primarily affect high-income Americans are the most popular among both young and old. The only notable difference by age concerns the idea of increasing the age at which people are eligible to receive full retirement benefits, which is endorsed by 50% of senior citizens but only 31% of all those under age 65. 

Political differences exist on some, but not all, of the proposals. Democrats are more likely than independents and Republicans to favor the proposals affecting upper-income Americans, and increasing Social Security taxes on all workers. Still, a majority of Republicans favor the proposals that would target wealthier Americans, and less than a majority of Democrats think raising Social Security taxes on all workers is a good idea.

Percentage of Americans Describing Social Security Proposals as Good Ideas, by Political Party

Bottom Line
The future health of the U.S. Social Security system is likely to be a topic of increasing discussion in the next few weeks as Americans acknowledge the 75th anniversary of its signing into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Obama's deficit commission may consider changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs as ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. Americans recognize the future of the Social Security system is in some peril but find few methods for attempting to fix it to their liking, other than those aimed at wealthy Americans.

Senator: As many as 6,600 graves at Arlington Cemetery could be misidentified

By The Associated Press
Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says that as many as 6,600 graves at Arlington National Cemetery could be misidentified because managers there didn't do their job properly.

McCaskill says she believes that between 4,900 and 6,600 graves may be unmarked or mislabeled on cemetery maps.

The estimate far exceeds one given by Army investigators last month that some 211 remains could be affected by the graves scandal.

Infographic: Where Did the Money to Rebuild Iraq Go?

The Department of Defense is unable to account for the use of $8.7 billion
of the $9.1 billion it spent on reconstruction in Iraq.
Source: Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (PDF).

The Anti-American American Empire

By Tony Pivetta.

The Roman Empire produced few exportable goods. Material innovation, whether through entrepreneurialism or technological advancement, all but ended long before the final dissolution of the Empire. Meanwhile, the costs of military defense and the pomp of Emperors continued. Financial needs continued to increase, but the means of meeting them steadily eroded. [ . . . ] The decrepit social order offered so little to its subjects that many saw the barbarian invasion as liberation from onerous obligations to the ruling class.

~Arnold J. Toynbee and James Burke, as paraphrased by Wikipedia

The myth dies hard. Thomas E. Woods of the Mises Institute appeared last summer on Scott Horton’s radio program to try to kill it, as quite possibly only he can, but even his deft hands are full. He’s up against a fallacy, wrapped in a half-truth, inside a pseudo-patriotic shibboleth. It may well be that nothing’s more powerful than an idea whose time has come, but a carefully cultivated Big Lie will invariably give that timely idea a run for the money. People know what they know. They know war brings prosperity. They know because “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” They know because the government schools told them “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” Beyond that, they know because of what they see. They see the manufacturing might of the military-industrial complex (MIC). They see it employing land, labor and capital. They see its technological sophistication. They see the high-paying jobs.

They don’t know what they don’t see. They don’t see war socialism. They don’t see resources redirected from the civilian economy to the MIC. They don’t see the capital formation foregone, the technological improvements precluded for lack of capital formation, or the jobs lost to more capitalized and efficient firms abroad. They don’t see consumer wants not met. What consumer wants are met by the MIC? Are American consumers’ appetite for automobiles, vacation homes and flatscreen TVs so sated they freely choose to drop their hard-earned dollars on aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles and helicopter gunships? Are those the kinds of goods they value?

“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” wrote George Orwell, “requires a constant struggle.” Prof. Woods does well to bring the Broken Window Fallacy into his discussion: Frederick Bastiat’s classic parable illustrates the seen and unseen consequences of human action. We can only hope Prof. Woods and Monsieur Bastiat help Americans see what they don’t see, even as it dangles before their noses.

Hardcore libertarians may well strike the root in protest: “Never mind the Broken Window! When you enlist a monopolist of violence, i.e., the State, to provide for a ‘public’ good or service, you’re bound to get a monopolist’s shoddy service at a monopolist’s dear price. Indeed, as time goes on, you’re bound to get precisely what the MIC has delivered: shoddier and shoddier service at a dearer and dearer price. The MIC, after all, is a creature of the State. You will bring it to heel only when all defense and security arrangements—local, state and national—are subject to the discipline of the market.”

The debate between the anarcho-capitalists and minarchists will have to wait another day. For now, it will do to focus on the one issue that ought to unite libertarians of every stripe. This is not to say the entire libertarian platform isn’t compelling enough. The Fed does run a counterfeiting racket; putting dangerous substances into your body is no less natural a right than putting dangerous ideas into your mind; and welfare programs—whether intended for the “too big to fail” or the "truly needy”—are immoral (q.v., “Thou Shalt Not Steal”), decivilizing, unconstitutional, incentive-sapping and probably fattening. But not even the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of fiat currency, drug prohibition and forcible wealth transfers can compare with the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of empire.

Alas, you’d never guess it from the edifice of responsible opinion positioned atop the culture. Establishment views rarely stray from that narrow range separating war liberals’ “muscular internationalism” from neocons’ “full spectrum dominance.” Liberals cheer on their peace president’s humanitarian bombing campaign—even as it succeeds not so much in liberating its presumed beneficiaries from their burqas as from their lives and limbs. Conservatives scoff at the notion government can run a daycare center—even as they insist it is fully qualified to run a global empire. The Globocop meme has done nothing to make Americans free or prosperous or secure. On the contrary, it has saddled Americans with the high taxes, surveillance and controls. It has fomented anti-Americanism abroad. It has incited terrorists to attack Americans. It has drained wealth from the American economy.

Of course, none of the risk or expense of empire matters to the foreign policy elites and vested interests of the MIC. Nor, apparently, does it matter to grassroots superpatriots clinging to the Globocop meme. War is a force that gives their lives meaning. The superpatriots tell themselves, and anyone who will listen, that U.S. military intervention represents the greatest act of benevolence ever bestowed on one country by another. And they do so hate it when the wogs object! Where do these foreigners get off demonstrating against U.S. bombing and occupation? What ingrates! Don't they know it's only thanks to previous U.S. military interventions that they live in a free country in the first place? But there they go protesting! Just as if they live in a free country!

All of which betrays the protesters’ "anti-Americanism." Never mind that the protesters would be doing Americans a big favor if they were to prevail. Never mind the money funding that U.S. military intervention might then stay in Americans’ pockets for Americans to spend on higher-valued goods. Never mind “higher-valued goods” in this case means just about anything, e.g., eight-track tapes, tarnished brass doorknobs and fetid heaps of llama droppings. Never mind American employers, employees, investors, inventors, entrepreneurs and consumers would see an increase in their disposable income. Never mind the entire American civilian economy would benefit from that increase in disposable income.

The superpatriots will hasten to remind us the protesters don't know what's good for them, that they’ll eventually be overrun by the Hitler du jour if the U.S. leaves them to their own devices. In the superpatriots’ view, the U.S. defense umbrella means no-cost security for the protesters. But even if we concede this strikingly dubious premise, who cares? Who cares if foreigners are passing up a bang-up security deal at American taxpayer expense? What devil drives the superpatriots to insist we pony up billions of dollars to pay for military protection for presumed ingrates living halfway around the world? What’s so pro-American about that?

According to Congressman Ron Paul, Americans spend one trillion (yes, trillion) dollars a year (yes, per year) funding the U.S. military empire. That’s one trillion dollars that has nothing to do with the actual defense of actual Americans living on actual American soil. That’s $3,300 from every man, woman and child to defend foreigners who don’t want us defending them. You want more money in your pocket? You want more freedom and less government? Throw your lot behind the “anti-Americans” demanding your government mind its own business. Petition your government for a redress of grievances—a trillion dollar military subsidy for foreigners who hate us certainly qualifies! Come to the common sense realization that it's no more patriotic to support your government's warfare-state profligacy than its welfare-state profligacy.

"Yankee, go home"? Yes, Yankee, go home. Go home, stay home, and never stray from home again. Take the Yankee empire. Please take the Yankee empire. Roll it back. Roll it back from Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Roll it back from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil. Roll it back from the Confederate States of America. Roll it back from Alaska, Hawaii and Michigan. Roll it all the way back to that cesspool on the Potomac. Collapse it into the Washington, D.C., municipal Sludge Hauling Department. You can't possibly enact a more pro-American foreign and economic policy than that.