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11 Big Myths About the Economy That Are Destroying America

July 10, 2013  | ...

The NSA given a free hand to operate in Germany

  By ...

Merkel defends cooperation with NSA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended Germanyâ„¢s cooperation with the US National Security Agency (NSA) amid growing concerns over Washingtonâ„¢s secret surveillance on Europe. The...

Jay Z’s App and Obama’s Criminal Enterprise

To gauge the real impact of a historic development like “the Snowden revelations”, it’s sometimes useful to examine how wide it’s being felt. An...

Jay Z’s App and Obama’s Criminal Enterprise

To gauge the real impact of a historic development like “the Snowden revelations”, it’s sometimes useful to examine how wide it’s being felt. An...

The infrastructure of a police state emerges in Europe

  10 July 2013 ...

CBO Estimates Late-Term Abortions Save Medicaid Dollars

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “cost estimate” of a proposed bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy found that preborn babies...

Stasi's New Incarnation

Stasi's New Incarnation by Stephen Lendman Stasi was East Germany's secret police. It suppressed opposition to Stalinist power. It was one of the most repressive state...

NSA, European intelligence agencies work closely together

By Peter Schwarz 9 July 2013 The claim by European governments that they were unaware of the extensive wiretapping undertaken by the US intelligence agency NSA is...

The Snags, Snares and Snafus of Covering the US Military

<img src="http://www.truth-out.org/images/2013_June_Images/2013.7.8.TomDispatch.main.jpg" alt="(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Tech. Sgt. Molly Dzitko / U.S. Army, Master...

Is Greece's Child Labor Crisis Getting Out of Hand?

About 100,000 children may be working illegally in Greece, according to an estimate from child protection groups and the Greek ombudsman, reports the Greek daily...

Government Spying Has Always Focused On Crushing Dissent … Not On Keeping Us Safe

Governments Spy On Their Citizens for Control and Power Top terrorism experts say that mass spying on Americans doesn’t keep us safe. High-level American government officials...

EPA’s Abandoned Fracking Study One Retreat of Many

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/epas_abandoned_fracking_study_one_retreat_of_many_20130707/ Posted on Jul 7, 2013 ...

None Dare Call it FASCISM: How the NSA has (already) privatized tyranny

dangerousminds.net July 7, 2013 Though most people seem to be dimly aware of the fact that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was...

America’s New Cold War: European Allies Outraged at Snowden Revelations

There is a depressing statistical comparison that should shame all of us who voted twice for Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. Our...

This Is What Border Enforcement Actually Looks Like

(Photo: CBP Photography / Flickr)Right-wing media have repeatedly distorted the Obama administration's record on border enforcement to claim that the border is not secure and that,...

Catastrophic Events, Mass Traumatization and the Body Politic

A long-held desire of the technocratic worldview involves manipulation and control of a national and even international body politic. “This planetary consciousness,” Zbigniew Brzezinski...

Hints That NSA Is Building Massive, Pervasive Surveillance Capability

From left: Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency; Rand Beers, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Patrick Gallagher,...

London's Guardian: Out in Front Exposing Lawless NSA Spying

London's Guardian: Out in Front Exposing Lawless NSA Spying by Stephen Lendman Give credit when deserved. It happens all too seldom. The Guardian's an establishment publication....

Slaying the Deadly Superbugs

by Joseph Mercola ...

Want To Defend Your Privacy?

Documents Expose Predator Drones Spying Extensively in U.S.

Predator drones used by multiple agencies in domestic airspace could be armed. Kit Daniels Infowars.com July 4, 2013 U.S. Customs and Border Protection is...

American police now “Israeli-DHS trained,” precursor to dictatorship

presstv.irJuly 4, 2013 As part of this training, there is an increased move to use of...

Economic Espionage as an Instrument of “Financial Warfare”

Introduction Folker Hellmeyer, chief analyst of the Landesbank of Bremen, has some essential questions and suggestions vis-à-vis the current NSA & Co. revelations. He says:...

Hints Surface That NSA Building Massive, Pervasive Surveillance Capability

Washington - Despite U.S. intelligence officials' repeated denials that the National Security Agency is collecting the content of domestic emails and phone calls, evidence...

The Intelligence Lies Just Keep Coming…

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Photo: Medill DC/cc/flickr)As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's explains why he outried lied to a Senate committee...

Popular Anger, EU Condemnation Follow NSA Spying Revelations

French President Francois Hollande speaks to the media during a press conference at an EU Summit in Brussels, Friday, June 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Michel...

Despite President's Pledge, 10-Year-Old Victim of Drone Strike Identified

As The New American reported on June 9, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least six people in a rural area of...

Flying bullets: TSA notes uptick in Americans coming to airports armed

Over 1500 Americans attempted to board a plane with handguns in 2012. Facing total anti-terror surveillance in the US and en masse TSA scanning...

Wall Street Banks Extract Enormous Fees From The Paychecks Of Millions Of American Workers

Would you be angry if you had to pay a big Wall Street bank a fee before you could get the money that you...

Hands Off Snowden Campaign

Hands Off Snowden Campaign by Stephen Lendman Snowden acted heroically. He did so at great risk. He exposed lawless US spying. He represents a noble tradition....

Have We Forgotten the Declaration of Independence?

July 2, 1776. Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies represented in the Second Continental Congress voted to formally “dissolve the political bands” that...

Oklahoma and ObamaCare: Nullifying Nullification

ObamaCare opponents are using one of the Obama administration’s own apparatchiks to expose the dangers of the healthcare behemoth that will soon swallow nearly...

Former Surveillance Court Judge Disputes Charge of Coordination With NSA

Judges who sit on the secret court charged with approving surveillance of American citizens are mad. One former occupant of the FISA court bench...

US drone strikes more deadly to Afghan civilians than manned aircraft — adviser

Spencer Ackerman The Guardian July 2, 2013 A study conducted by a US military adviser has found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted...

Oklahoma and ObamaCare: Nullifying Nullification

ObamaCare opponents are using one of the Obama administration’s own apparatchiks to expose the dangers of the healthcare behemoth that will soon swallow nearly...

The National Security State Exposed

President Obama’s well-publicized May 23 speech to the nation was aimed at moderating the present U.S. dictum that the country is and should remain in...

Former Surveillance Court Judge Disputes Charge of Coordination With NSA

Judges who sit on the secret court charged with approving surveillance of American citizens are mad. One former occupant of the FISA court bench...

America’s New Cold War: Why the Allies Side With Snowden

There is a depressing statistical comparison that should shame all of us who voted twice for Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House.

Hurting the Little Guy

Oh-Mama!-Care by ...

Trouble at the Top

by Gary NorthGaryNorth.com ...

New Documents Shed Light on NSA’s Dragnet Surveillance

With the Obama administration in full damage control mode over revelations of blanket surveillance of global electronic communications, new documents published by The...

Whistleblower Russell Tice Tells More

Whistleblower Russell Tice Tells More by Stephen Lendman Edward Snowden hopes his revelations embolden others to come forward. Tice did years earlier. He's a former Office of...

Bush: Snowden ‘damaged the security of the country’

The security of the United States has been compromised due to the recent disclosure of documents pertaining to secretive government-run surveillance programs, former president...

If You Like The Surveillance State, You’ll Love E-Verify

Ron Paul Infowars.com July 1, 2013 From massive NSA spying, to IRS targeting of the administration’s political opponents, to collection and sharing of our...

Like the Police State?

Governments-Bank-Corporate sector fraudulently create deficits and then impose austerity measures-Part 2 (Final)

Governments-Bank-Corporate sector fraudulently create deficits and then impose austerity measures-Part 2 (Final) Fraud from an Australian perspective These senior politicians and all State Premiers were/are aware of massive fraud and corruption that is ongoing within Australia as are all the authorities that are supposed to investigate and stop such fraud i.e. Federal Police and ASIC […]

Texas: America's State-Sponsored Execution Capital

Texas: America's State-Sponsored Execution Capital by Stephen Lendman In 1972, the Supreme Court's Furman v. Georgia ruling banned capital punishment, saying: "(T)he imposition and carrying out of...

Governments-Bank-Corporate sector fraudulently create deficits and then impose austerity measures

Governments fraudulently create deficits and then impose austerity measures This article will use Australia as an example but be assured the same story exists all over the world It may appear to be rather complex and more of a jig-saw puzzle to most but to those that understand the workings of the share market, financial, […]

Insurers Given Severe Weather Warning

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/insurers_given_severe_weather_warning_20130629/ Posted on Jun 29, 2013 By Kieran...

Multiple Government Agencies Are Keeping Records Of Your Credit Card Transactions

Michael SnyderThe Economic CollapseJune 29, 2013 Were you under the impression that your credit card transactions...

More Evidence of Lawless US Spying

More Evidence of Lawless US Spying by Stephen Lendman Post-9/11, unprecedented domestic spying began. It did so extrajudicially. It continues under Obama. It's institutionalized. It's warrantless....

More Evidence of Lawless US Spying

More Evidence of Lawless US Spying by Stephen Lendman Post-9/11, unprecedented domestic spying began. It did so extrajudicially. It continues under Obama. It's institutionalized. It's warrantless....

St. Louis Police Chief Wants Drones, Highlighting Drone Debate

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has called for drones to patrol within a year in an effort to better patrol the city’s highest...

St. Louis Police Chief Wants Drones, Highlighting Drone Debate

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has called for drones to patrol within a year in an effort to better patrol the city’s highest...

Let's Be Clear, say Legal Experts, What NSA Is Doing Is 'Criminal'

Despite a vast selection of elected US officials from both parties and an outsized portion of the US media who have accepted the assurances...

Total Surveillance

Although Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the breadth and scope of the surveillance-industrial complex didn’t add many facts to the public record of the...

Tells the Facts, Names the Names

In the mid-70s, when de-Nixonification was a national priority, a not yet spineless Congress made it possible for Americans to access the files that...

The Carpet-Bombing of the American Mind

USG (we have become a nation of acronyms, my sentimental favorites being NSA, CIA, JSOC, POTUS, the more acronymic the more sinister, dangerous, anonymous,...

Federal Regulations Cut Standard of Living by 75 Percent Over 56 Years

The 20th annual snapshot of the federal regulatory state published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) last month announced the arrival of an unhappy...

Fluoridation Revisited

Yes, I confess: I'm a veteran anti-fluoridationist, thereby – not for the first time – risking placing myself in the camp of "rightwing kooks and fanatics."...

Venezuela renews asylum offer to Snowden

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has renewed his offer to grant asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden, who he hails as a Å“brave youth.” Maduro also...

Loss of vaccine-induced immunity to varicella over time.

BACKGROUND: The introduction of universal varicella vaccination in 1995 has substantially reduced varicella-related morbidity and mortality in the United States. However, it remains unclear...

Obama’s Grave Threat to Democratic Governance

In the mid-70s, when de-Nixonification was a national priority, a not yet spineless Congress made it possible for Americans to access the files that...

Small Lies to Conceal Greater Lies

“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner, by saying no.” — James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence in...

Snowden: Shooting the Messenger

Snowden: Shooting the Messenger by Stephen Lendman A previous article said challenging US lawlessness more than ever matters. Big Brother spying reflects it. Unprecedented global surveillance...

Top Secret Material Won't Stay That Way

by Tim Hartnett ...

Fluoridation Revisited

Yes, I confess: I'm a veteran anti-fluoridationist, thereby – not for the first time – risking placing myself in the camp of "rightwing kooks and fanatics."...

Sorry, but Science Says Running is Good for You, Not Bad

Why Women Should Not Run. Run and You'll Only Die Tired. One Running Shoe in the Grave. Just a sampling of the anti-cardio articles...

Federal Regulations Cut Standard of Living by 75 Percent Over 56 Years

The 20th annual snapshot of the federal regulatory state published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) last month announced the arrival of an unhappy...

Why Didn’t Snowden Go through “Proper Channels” to Blow the Whistle?

Washington’s BlogJune 27, 2013 Polls show that Americans know the government is spying on all of us...

Why hasn’t the US government snatched Ed Snowden yet?

Jon RappoportInfowars.comJune 27, 2013 Is the NSA a leaking sieve? Well, Ed Snowden proved it, didn’t he? He...

NSA "Disappears" Its Own Fact Sheet on Spying Program

NSA Head General Keith Alexander (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)The NSA moved quickly to cover its tracks Tuesday after being publicly exposed for posting a...

Rand Paul Immigration Amendment Would Prevent National ID Card

With the Senate apparently within days or hours of passing the so-called Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, one opponent of that bill has...

Rand Paul Immigration Amendment Would Prevent National ID Card

With the Senate apparently within days or hours of passing the so-called Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, one opponent of that bill has...

N.J. Senate Approves Bill Requiring DNA Sample For Disorderly Persons Convictions

Donna AndersonInfowars,.comJune 24, 2013 In a move lawmakers say takes a “sensible approach to...

NSA Ensnared In Another Lie

NSA Head General Keith Alexander (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)The NSA moved quickly to cover its tracks Tuesday after being publicly exposed for posting a...

Global Bond Fire

The stock market rout continued on Monday as shares dropped sharply in markets around the world. China’s Hang Seng was particularly hard hit (down...

Rand Paul Immigration Amendment Prevents Creation of National ID Card

With the Senate apparently within days or hours of passing the so-called Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, one opponent of that bill has...

EU: UK spying scandal raises concerns

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding speaks during a press conference in Brussels.The UK governmentâ„¢s spying scandal is causing concerns among Europeans with the EU...

Why the Ruling Class is So Upset About Edward Snowden

I don’t have a weak stomach, but I confess that watching TV news does get me nauseated. So I do so sparingly. I have...

Freedom in the Garbage Can

by Dom Armentano ...

Top Ten American Steps Toward a Police State

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/top_ten_american_steps_toward_a_police_state_20130625/ Posted on Jun 25, 2013 ...

'It is an Assault': Bipartisan Support for Surge of Militarization at U.S.-Mexico Border

A border patrol vehicle is parked near a U.S.-Mexico border fence (Photo: Don Bartletti/Los Angelos Times)The Senate signaled bipartisan support for the heightened militarization...

Duke Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination as EPA Drops Study on Fracking Water...

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kicked the can down the road on a key study designated to examine the connection between hydraulic...

Senate Rubber Stamps Drones, Helicopters at US-Mexico Border

The Senate signaled bipartisan support for the heightened militarization of the United States-Mexico border Monday, passing an immigration overhaul bill that, if implemented, will...

Supreme Court Puts Knife in Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court Tuesday has "sounded the death knell" for a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, laying...

Obama Admin. Charges NSA Whistleblower Snowden With Espionage

The Obama administration Friday charged National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden with espionage. Snowden, 29, leaked to the Washington Post and to The Guardian...

The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade

Author’s Note In the course of the last three years, there has been a surge in Afghan opium production. The Vienna based UN Office on...

The Seeds Of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming

Monsanto’s talk of ‘technology’ tries to hide its real objectives of control over seed where genetic engineering is a means to control seed, “Monsanto is...

Snowden’s Escape

Now that Edward Snowden is safely away out of the clutches of the US police state, at least for now, let’s take a moment...

Big Brother Writ Large in America

Big Brother Writ Large in America by Stephen Lendman Spying on its citizenry reflects one of the most defining police state characteristics. Post-9/11, America crossed the...

Follow the Money: The Secret Heart of the Secret State. The Deeper Implications of...

No one, anywhere, has been writing about the deeper and wider implications of the Snowden revelations than Arthur Silber. (I hope you’re not surprised...

Snowden To China Paper: US Hacking Millions of Text Messages

A banner supporting Edward Snowden is displayed at Central, Hong Kong's business district on June 19, 2013. Photo: APThe US is hacking Chinese mobile...

US-EU Free Trade Agreement: A Corporate Stitch Up By Any Other Name

The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the US and EU is currently being negotiated. The deal plans to create the world’s largest free...

Obama Admin. Charges NSA Whistleblower Snowden with Espionage

The Obama administration Friday charged National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden with espionage. Snowden, 29, leaked to the Washington Post and to the Guardian...

Snowden To China Paper: US Hacking Millions of Text Messages

A banner supporting Edward Snowden is displayed at Central, Hong Kong's business district on June 19, 2013. Photo: APThe US is hacking Chinese mobile...

Congress Moves to Create New Surveillance Agency Under NDAA 2014

Kurt NimmoInfowars.comJune 21, 2013 Earlier this year, the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats...

Leaked “Top Secret Documents”: NSA Monitoring US Communications without a Warrant

Classified top secret documents submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by US Attorney General Eric Holder, published by The Guardian on Thursday,...

NSA monitoring US communications without a warrant, documents show

In their defense of the NSA surveillance programs, Obama administration officials—including Obama himself—have frequently and insistently declared that no communications of people in the US are monitored without a warrant. The documents released by The Guardian reveal these claims to be outright lies.

NSA Capable of False Flag Attacks

Surveillance agency could expand to fueling mass hysteria. Kit DanielsInfowars.comJune 20, 2013 Inside a grocery...

The Lies of Empire: Don’t Believe a Word They Say — Washington is the...

The U.S. reprises Iraq, inventing a WMD threat from Syria. The FBI concocts home-grown terror through stings, while the NSA claims it has secretly...

FBI's Mueller Admits Use of Drones in Domestic Surveillance

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller (shown) testified that his agency has used drones to monitor...

FBI's Mueller Admits Use of Drones in Domestic Surveillance

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller (shown) testified that his agency has used drones to monitor...

US-EU Free Trade Agreement: A Corporate Stitch Up By Any Other Name

Countercurrents 20/6/2013, Global Research 22/6/2013, The 4th Media 24/6/2013 and the Weekly Mirror (Nepal) 28/6/2013

The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the US and EU is currently being negotiated. The deal plans to create the world's largest free trade area, 'protect' investment and remove ‘unnecessary regulatory barriers’. All well and good for big business, but the treaty poses a serious threat for ordinary people as it could weaken labour, social, environmental and consumer protection standards. Given the issues at stake, just how much transparency and democratic accountability is there regarding these negotiations and who is driving the agenda?

The deal has been masterminded by the 'High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth' (HLWG), which was set up in 2011 and chaired by European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the then US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. In its final report, the Group not only recommended entering into the negotiations, but went into some detail as to what should be put on the table, with the far-reaching aim of moving towards a “transatlantic marketplace.”


With so much at stake, the public should know just who sat on the HLWG which set the whole process in motion. According to the European Commission (EC), the group has no identifiable members. The EC has also stated that “several departments” contributed to the discussion and the reports of the (memberless) group, but added that “there is no document containing the list of authors of the reports.”  


A request by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) to disclose membership/report authors was met with the response: “Unfortunately we (the EC) are not in a position to provide you with the information requested.”


CEO argues that the group should be subject to the transparency requirements set up in EC’s rules on ‘expert groups, including transparency about who participated. But it is patently not.


When asked about the ‘outside expertise’ (as the EC calls it) that had influenced the reports produced by the HLWG, CEO was told that the impact assessment of the proposed EU-US trade deal contained a summary of the expert evidence gathered since its inception. CEO was also directed to the Commission’s overview page for public consultations, where it is stated that more than 65 percent of the input to the first two consultations on the proposed EU-US deal came from companies and industry associations.


CEO has also requested information about the EC’s contacts with industry lobby groups wanting to influence the trade pact. It asked for a list of meetings with such lobby groups, minutes and related correspondence. The Commission responded that this "concerns a very large number of documents" and asked CEO to "narrow down the scope of your request, so as to reduce it to a more manageable amount of documents." Six weeks after CEO’s request and after several email exchanges, CEO was told that the Commission was “currently in the early stages of assessing your request and [...] not yet in a position to give a detailed estimate of the number of documents potentially covered.” The Commission official added: “Our best guess for the moment is that we will only have a first overview of the situation during the middle of June and will update you at that point.”


While still waiting for more information on what seems to be hundreds of documents related to big business lobbying around the EU-US trade deal, CEO fared better with an access to information request to the United States Trade Representative.


Based on the information provided, CEO discovered that the authoritative-sounding ‘high level working groups on growth and jobs’ was nothing but a bunch of unelected and unaccountable, notorious pro-free-trade bureaucrats from both sides of the Atlantic.


Of course, even without access to various sources of information, we already know who supports the negotiations. CEO notes that in addition to the biotech sector, groups lobbying for the deal have included Toyota, General Motors,the pharmaceutical industryIBM and the Chamber of Commerce of the US, one of the most powerful corporate lobby groups in the US. Business Europe, the main organization representing employers in Europe, launched its own strategy on an EU-US economic and trade partnershipin early 2012. Its suggestions were widely included in the draft EU mandate.


An increasing number of politicians and citizens groups are demanding that the looming EU-US negotiations be conducted in an open way, not least because there are concerns that the deal will open the floodgate for GMOs and shale gas (fracking) in Europe, threatens digital and labour rights and will empower corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regulations which they dislike.One of the key aspects of the negotiations is that both the EU and US should recognize their respective rules and regulations, which in practice could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The official language talks of "mutual recognition" of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers. For the EU, that could mean accepting US standards in many areas, including food and agriculture, which are lower than the EU's.


The US wants all so-called barriers to trade, including highly controversial regulations such as those protecting agriculture, food or data privacy, to be removed. Even the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.


Demands include an “ambitious liberalisation of agricultural trade barriers with as few exceptions as possible”. Similarly, food lobby group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies (Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, etc.), has welcomed the negotiations, with one of their key demands being the facilitation of the low level presence of unapproved genetically modified crops. This is a long-standing industry agenda also supported by feed and grain trading giants, including Cargill, Bunge, ADM, and the big farmers' lobby COPA-COGECA.. Meanwhile, the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic is offering its “support and assistance as the EU and the US government look to enhance their trade relationship.”


As with the EU-India Free Trade Agreement*, it is easy to conclude that there is a deliberate ploy to bar the public from any kind of meaningful information about or input into the world’s biggest trade deal ever to be negotiated. Europeans could well end up becoming the victims of one of the biggest corporate stitch ups ever. The trade deal appears to be a unique opportunity to achieve through closed and non-transparent negotiations what hasn't been possible so far in a transparent and democratic way.


Little wonder that many millions throughout Europe now regard the EU as an unaccountable proxy allowing huge private interests free reign to dig their profiteering snouts into the trough of corporate greed at the expense of ordinary people.    


Notes



Main information source for this article: http://corporateeurope.org/blog/who-scripting-eu-us-trade-deal (Trade and Agribusiness website sections)


To prevent GM crops in Europe, visit ‘stop the crop’ campaign at:http://www.stopthecrop.org/about-stop-crop-campaign



The Surveillance State: Big Brother Writ Large in America

Spying on its citizenry reflects one of the most defining police state characteristics. Post-9/11, America crossed the line. Unconstitutional mass surveillance became official US policy....

Do You Have ANY IDEA How Widespread the Spying Really Is?

Washington’s Blog June 20, 2013 Preface: Americans now know that the government is spying. But they still have no idea how many of...

Lessons of the Snowden Revelations

If Edward Snowden’s goal in blowing his whistle was to spark a public debate about privacy and surveillance, he has marvelously succeeded. Everybody’s talking about...

The Terror Con, Booz Allen Hamilton and the NSA

(Image: UGO Entertainment) For defense contractors, the government officials who write them mega checks, and the hawks in the media who cheer them on, the name...

Fear-Mongering NSA Attempts to Justify Spying Before Congress

NSA Director General Keith Alexander gave the impression at a Tuesday congressional hearing that the only thing standing between the U.S. people and 'terrorist'...

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When Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton — a military contractor based in McLean, Virginia - blew the whistle on the extent of U.S. global electronic...

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Canada’s prime minister recently addressed the CFR, a globalist think tank who have been a driving force behind the push towards deeper North American...

The Terror Con

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Happening Now: Live Q&A With NSA Leaker, Edward Snowden

The NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, pictured in a Hong Kong hotel. (Photo: The Guardian)At 11 AM EST today, The Guardian hosted a live question...

Sesame Street Says ‘P’ is for ‘Prison’ And That’s OK

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Facebook Gives Gov't Access to Nearly 20,000 User Accounts

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Fox News Focuses on Snowden, Ignores Gov't Assault on Bill of Rights

Lindsey Graham wants him “follow to the ends of the earth”; Ron Paul worries that he might be targeted for an Obama drone strike;...

Feinstein Wants to Limit Contractors' Access to Classified Info

Following news accounts of how the government has been collecting and storing millions of phone call records, e-mail messages, and other forms of electronic...

Facebook Gives Gov't Access to Nearly 20,000 User Accounts

Have you updated your Facebook account lately? If so, the government may know all about it. According to a statement posted on the company’s website...

Fox News Focuses on Snowden, Ignores Gov't Assault on Bill of Rights

Lindsey Graham wants him “follow to the ends of the earth”; Ron Paul worries that he might be targeted for an Obama drone strike;...

Feinstein Wants to Limit Contractors' Access to Classified Info

Following news accounts of how the government has been collecting and storing millions of phone call records, e-mail messages, and other forms of electronic...

Despite Big Bloomberg Money, Veto Protects Gun Rights in Nevada

Despite a massive influx of funds from billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an anti-gun extremist using his fortune to bankroll nationwide attacks...

Janet Napolitano Denies Existence of ‘Orwellian State’

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US Supreme Court: Genes Cannot Be Patented Unless They Are Synthetic

The US Supreme Court ruled over Association for Molecular Pathology et al. v. Myriad Genetics unanimously deciding that naturally occurring DNA cannot...

Despite Big Bloomberg Money, Veto Protects Gun Rights in Nevada

Despite a massive influx of funds from billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an anti-gun extremist using his fortune to bankroll nationwide attacks...

Unprecedented Coalition Pushes Back on Government’s Domestic Spying

The national security establishment’s latest domestic spying scandal has galvanized a lightning-fast response where nearly 100 civil liberties-minded advocacy groups and technology companies are...

The NSA Apologists

When you cut through the fog, the NSA controversy is about whether we should trust people with institutional power. Edward Snowden’s courageous exposure of...

The NSA Apologists

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The History of America’s Secret Wars: Corporate Espionage and the Outsourcing of National Security

This text is excerpted from Big Lies: How Our Corporate Overlords, Politicians and Media Establishment Warp Reality and Undermine Democracy Pre-9/11 Flashback When NATO’s US and...

The Snoop Solution

Were Barack Obama as clever at being President as he is at running for President, he would now declare a national emergency, take a...

On DNA, Scalia was right

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As the debate in Congress intensifies over so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” amid fierce opposition from conservatives, critics are hammering the S. 744 legislation from...

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Rand Paul Offers Amendments to Immigration Bill

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US actively spying on India: Report

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In light of recent revelations of wholesale spying on American citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA), significant media attention has focused on not...

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Obama Orders US to Draw up Overseas Target List for Cyber-Attacks

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The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center, “Watch What You Say”

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Whistleblower hunt: NSA launches criminal inquiry into PRISM leak

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“Occupy Your Home”: Confronting “Electro Pollution” and Smart Meter Toxification

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Is the Government Also Monitoring the CONTENT of Our Phone Calls?

Yes, Government Spooks May Be Listening The Obama administration has been caught spying on the Verizon phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. But the government has...

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Spying on Americans and the Fourth Amendment. An Open Letter to Dianne Feinstein, Chair...

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Studies in Intelligence: New Articles from The CIA’s In-House Journal

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We’re Being Watched: How Corporations and Law Enforcement Are Spying on Environmentalists

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Texas votes on its own CISPA-like cyber bill

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Monsanto and the Seeds of Suicide

Vijaya, 22, and her husband Avalu, 28, cultivated cotton Bt on their 5 acres of land. Due to unbearable debts and recent bad harvests, Avalu committed suicide by swallowing pesticide in 2005. Vijaya remains alone with her two daughters, Venalla, 5, and Navyer, 2. In order to provide for her family, she works in the fields where she earns 100 rupees a day in paddy fields (rice) or 25 rupees in cotton fields. She owes the bank 1 lackh rupees. She wants to keep her land for her daughters’ dowries. In the countryside, a widow with two children cannot remarry because the men refuse to support the children from a previous marriage. (Photo: Viviane Dalles*)

“Monsanto is an agricultural company. We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.”

“Producing more, Conserving more, Improving farmers lives.”

These are the promises Monsanto India’s website makes, alongside pictures of smiling, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. This is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and its PR machinery to delink the epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India from the company’s growing control over cotton seed supply — 95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.

Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.

Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India as well as across the world is very worrying. This is what connects farmers’ suicides in India to Monsanto vs Percy Schmeiser in Canada, to Monsanto vs Bowman in the US, and to farmers in Brazil suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for unfair collection of royalty.

Through patents on seed, Monsanto has become the “Life Lord” of our planet, collecting rents for life’s renewal from farmers, the original breeders.

Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India.

Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds.

The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector. Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry: First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).

In 1995, Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its GMO Bt cotton illegally and announced that it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year. India has rules for regulating GMOs since 1989, under the Environment Protection Act. It is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the ministry of environment for GMO trials. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto could not start the commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002.

And, after the damning report of India’s parliamentary committee on Bt crops in August 2012, the panel of technical experts appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.

But it had changed Indian agriculture already.

Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.

An internal advisory by the agricultural ministry of India in January 2012 had this to say to the cotton-growing states in India — “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”

The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra and this is also where the highest farmer suicides are. Suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced — Monsanto’s royalty extraction, and the high costs of seed and chemicals have created a debt trap. According to Government of India data, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchase inputs. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are seeds of suicide. The ultimate seeds of suicide is Monsanto’s patented technology to create sterile seeds. (Called “Terminator technology” by the media, sterile seed technology is a type of Gene Use Restriction Technology, GRUT, in which seed produced by a crop will not grow — crops will not produce viable offspring seeds or will produce viable seeds with specific genes switched off.) The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.

Monsanto’s talk of “technology” tries to hide its real objectives of ownership and control over seed where genetic engineering is just a means to control seed and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.

A Monsanto representative admitted that they were “the patient’s diagnostician, and physician all in one” in writing the patents on life-forms, from micro-organisms to plants, in the TRIPS’ agreement of WTO. Stopping farmers from saving seeds and exercising their seed sovereignty was the main objective. Monsanto is now extending its patents to conventionally bred seed, as in the case of broccoli and capsicum, or the low gluten wheat it had pirated from India which we challenged as a biopiracy case in the European Patent office.

That is why we have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides.

*In 2006, photographer Vivian Dalles created this photo essay of Indian cotton farmers who had begun planting Monsanta's genetically modified hybrid seeds.

© 2013 Asian Age

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

Five Great Online Tools for Mining Public Records

This post first appeared on the Project On Government Oversight blog.

Thanks to our open records laws, you can find a treasure trove of information on the Web — everything from details about publically traded companies to where stimulus funds are going. You can even submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests online.

Take some time this week to educate yourself about the information and data available from government websites. Below are five great online tools that you can use to help hold government accountable.

FOIA Online

FOIA Online allows anyone to submit a Freedom of Information Act request online, track their request, and search past FOIA requests. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Commerce, Federal Labor Regulations Authority, Merit System Protections Board, and the National Archives and Records Administration use FOIA Online.

One of the great things about FOIA Online is that you do not have to be registered to submit or search FOIA requests. This makes it incredibly easy for anyone to begin research into what is going on in different agencies and departments of the U.S. government.

Recovery.gov

Recovery.gov was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the “Stimulus,” and is managed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. It shows the distribution of all Recovery funds and how each agency is spending the money. Agencies involved must submit weekly financial reports that describe how the funds allotted to them are being distributed, and those who received contracts, grants, and loan awards of Recovery funds must submit similar reports four times per year.

Recovery.gov not only allows the public to view, research, and review the information, but it offers the ability to report suspected fraud, waste or abuse that relates to the Stimulus.

The Consumer Complaint Database

The Consumer Complaint Database displays information from consumer credit card complaints that are reported to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The data allows people to gain insight on other users’ experiences with different credit card companies. The website has also been designed so web developers can pull data and other information to create other online tools.

SEC’s Electronic Data-Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System (EDGAR)

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that all publically traded domestic companies file necessary forms on EDGAR. Its purpose is to increase efficiency and fairness of the securities market by speeding up the analysis of the required forms.

EDGAR also allows the public to view statements of income, cash flow, shareholder equity, and operations. This leads to safer, more reliable investments, as well as giving the public the ability to research earnings of specific companies.

Ethics.gov

Ethics.gov put records and data from throughout the federal government into one place. It contains Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) records, Lobbying Disclosure Reports, Federal Election Commission (FEC) candidates and contributions, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) travel reports, and White House visitors.

It allows people to review information on candidates and campaign financing. You can see who has been visiting the White House and review payments to lobbyists and see what issues they’ve worked on.

The True Costs of Industrialized Food

“We are the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. And reclaiming the democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom.” [i]

- Vandana Shiva, physicist and activist

The objective of much of our industrial food system is to provide a profit to shareholders and CEOs. Coca-Cola’s advertising budget was over $2.9 billion dollars in 2010, money well spent from a stockholder’s point of view: profits that year were $11.8 billion.

The current system, however, was not built only to amass wealth. Many policymakers and supporters, historically as today, have been driven by the conviction that industrial agriculture is the best way to produce massive amounts of affordable food. And in some ways it has accomplished this. People in the U.S. spend relatively little on food – about 7 percent of their total spending, as compared to 13 percent in France, 23 percent in Mexico, and 38 percent in Vietnam. Most individuals in the U.S. devote less time, energy, and money to feeding ourselves than they ever have historically.

On the buying end, it seems an irresistibly good deal, our 99¢ soda or $1.50 loaf of bread. But these prices represent just a fraction of the true costs of getting that soda and bread into our shopping bags. We pay for the hidden costs of the corporate food supply chain in multiple ways, not all of them financially.

We subsidize food corporations through our taxes, which pay for public works like transportation infrastructure for long-distance shipping (highways, airports, and railroads), communication infrastructure (satellites, television, radio and internet), energy infrastructure (coal plants and nuclear power stations), and research and development (like government-funded crop research). Tax dollars also fund the government subsidies that keep certain crop prices low, allowing corporations to create their processed foods so cheaply.

Small- and medium-sized farmers pay extremely high hidden costs. Their farms have been steadily disappearing as land is further consolidated into the hands of fewer people. The U.S. has lost 800,000 farmers and ranchers in the last 40 years. Between 1900 and 2002, the number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 63 percent, while the average farm size increased by 67 percent.[ii] The dairy industry has undergone an even starker decline: in just over 35 years, between 1970 and 2006, the country lost 88 percent of its dairy farms, while the average herd size per farm increased from 19 to 120 cows.

Some populations, depending on class, race, nationality, and livelihood, pay more dearly than others. As mentioned in our previous piece, black farmers and land owners suffer. Farmworkers and other laborers all along the food supply chain also pay by receiving inadequate wages; they are twice as likely to live below the poverty line.

As consumers, we all pay with our health and well-being. Our country’s most popular cuisine is affectionately called ‘junk,’ after all. Eating the highly processed food made readily available to us has led to epidemic levels of diabetes and heart disease. Individuals get chastised for their own diet-related problems while ‘junk’ food is much easier and cheaper to access than healthy food.

Recent outbreaks of Listeria and stomach acid-resistant E. coli are other manifestations of the costs to our health. Food-safety experts blame the industrialized production of grain-fed cattle and poultry for the emergence of these dangerous bacteria strains.[iii]

Our planet pays profound hidden costs: polluted water, air, and soil; deforestation; acid rain; species extinction; and climate change. The corporate food system wreaks countless ecological harms.

Spraying toxic pesticides on our food has become the norm, so much so that we have come to view it as part of ‘conventional’ agriculture, though there’s nothing conventional about it. Introduced in large scale only after World War II, using surplus warfare chemicals, pesticides are now applied at a rate of 1.1 billion pounds per year in the U.S. That’s 22 percent of the world’s total use.[iv] These chemicals move throughout our ecosystem, making their way into groundwater and our drinking supply, traveling down streams and rivers, and eventually reaching the ocean. In just one example, fertilizer running off fields and down the Mississippi River has created such an imbalance that there is a ‘dead zone’, where nothing can survive, in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.[v] Pesticides also wind up on our plates and in our bloodstreams. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group tested the umbilical cords of 10 babies from different U.S. hospitals and found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their blood, including a number of pesticides.[vi]

Monocropping, a farming system where the same crop is grown on a piece of land year after year, is foundational to industrial-scale agriculture. Yet it depletes the soil, upends the ecological balance, and creates conditions highly susceptible to pests and disease, requiring more pesticides and fertilizers.

If all of these costs showed up in the prices we pay at the store, things would be very different. If prices reflected the oil that powers the jet to bring a banana thousands of miles, together with the air pollution that results, the workers’ healthcare costs after handling pesticides, and the future loss of soil health due to monocropping, this fruit would certainly be a luxury item in the North rather than part of an average American breakfast.

Has agribusiness won such control that a turnaround is impossible? No. Small farmers, grassroots groups, and advocacy organizations are demanding food sovereignty, meaning the right of every people to produce adequate, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food for all. They are everywhere creating and supporting community-controlled, scaled-down, local food networks. Dismantling the governmental policies and global trade rules that have taken agriculture out of the hands of small farmers the world over is the prerequisite for claiming a just and healthy food system.

i. Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (Massachusetts: South End Press, 2005), 5

ii. Carolyn Dimitri, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin, “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy,” USDA Economic Research Service, Electronic Information Bulletin, No. 3, June 2005, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib3/eib3.htm. An additional statistic from the EPA reports that the number of farms in the U.S. fell from 6.8 million in 1935 to about 2 million in 1997. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Demographics,” modified September 10, 2009, accessed February 29, 2012, www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/demographics.html.

iii. Nina Planck, “Leafy Green Sewage,” The New York Times online, September 9, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/opinion/21planck.html?ex=1159675200&;en... 4f2&ei=5070. Made to digest grasses, the stomachs of these animals become unnaturally acidic on grain diets, creating perfect laboratories for bacteria that are harmful to humans. Farms try to counteract these bacteria by using vast amounts of antibiotics. In 2009, nearly 29 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for animal production. 2009 FDA report referenced by Helena Bottemiller, “FDA Releases First Estimate on Antibiotics in Ag,” December 13, 2010, Food Safety News, www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/12/fda-releases-first-estimate-on-antibiotic....

iv. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006). Arthur Grube, et al., “Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage 2006 and 2007 Market Estimates,” US Environmental Protection Agency, February 2011, http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/ pestsales/07pestsales/usage2007.htm#3_1.

v. Elizabeth Weise, “Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Predicted to be the Size of New Jersey This Year,” USA Today online, June 29, 2010, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/ post/2010/06/gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-predicted-to-be-the- size-of-new-jersey-this-year/1.

vi. Environmental Working Group, “Body Burden - The Pollution in Newborns: A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in umbilical cord blood,” July 14, 2005, http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php.

Check back on this series over the next weeks to learn about policy victories which are transforming the industrialized food supply chain, and about how you can get involved.

Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website. Harvesting Justice was created for the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, check out their work here.

Greece: The Crisis Behind the Crisis and the Challenges Facing the Left

Neoliberal policies created a disaster in the country now shredded by austerity measures. The Syriza party and the Greek left have much work ahead if they are to build a just and sustainable economic and social order.

When the global financial crisis of 2008 reached Europe's shores sometime in late 2009, the eurozone, with its faulty design and distinct neoliberal policymaking framework, experienced its first major crisis since the introduction of the euro as a single currency; the danger of an imminent collapse was suddenly all too real. From the beginning, there were warnings about the dire consequences of introducing a single currency into a region with sharp economic and cultural differences, but the European political elite turned a deaf ear on the skeptics.(1) European business interests were too big to be compromised over concerns about future financial busts or speculations about the risk of adopting a foreign currency without the backing of a federal treasury and a central bank acting as lender of last resort. Indeed, like the owner of the Titanic who told the captain to go full speed although several warnings had been received about icebergs ahead, European policymakers at the time could not resist the temptation to launch euro as a cash currency in spite of the fact that the Eurosystem was built on a weak institutional foundation. And they compounded the error by allowing highly problematic candidates to join the union, thereby violating the principles of optimal currency areas.(2)

Unfit to Join the Euro

The first crack in the EU wall occurred in Greece, the weakest link of the currency union. Economically, socially and culturally, Greece was ill prepared to join the euro when it did back in 2001, but the country managed nevertheless to do so mainly because of its legacy of contribution to the development of Western culture.(3) The nation's domestic political and economic elite were eager to join Euroland not just because of the perceived benefits, but also because they were very much in need of a psychological boost: if you are weak and marginal, and incapable of change and improvement, joining a group of strong and rich nations gives you the illusion that you are on a par with them.(4) Hence the hilarious statement of then Greek Finance Minister, Yannos Papantoniou, who described the joining of the euro as "'an historic day that would place Greece firmly at the heart of Europe,"' or the equally laughable statement of then prime minister Costas Simitis, who propounded that "we all know that our inclusion in EMU (European Monetary Union) ensures for us greater stability and opens up new horizons."

Apparently, both of these political midgets felt that what shapes a nation's economy is its currency, not its productive base, technological know-how, human skills, etcetera. Be that as it may, the euro produced, for the most part, a rocky ride for Greece (GDP increased, but both public and private debt levels reached new heights while competitiveness declined significantly) that ten years later crashed against the brick wall erected by international credit markets when they refused to extend further lending on account of the country's massive fiscal deficit and humongous public debt burden. And perhaps not without coincidence, both of the aforementioned euro cheerleaders ended up having reigned over the longest unbroken period of political corruption in the modern period of Greece, courtesy of neoliberal "socialist" governance.(5)

When the global financial crisis erupted, the Greek economy had already entered a downturn phase, with GDP expansion having slowed down in 2008. The industrial sector, in fact, had entered a phase of recession as far back as 2005. In 2008, the industrial production indicator had fallen by 4.2 percent and reached a 10 percent decline in 2009.(6) Yet, when the crisis initially reached Greece, everyone was in an apparent and inexplicable state of denial, including leading EU officials. Thus, in October 2008, Kostas Karamanlis, then Greece's prime minister and leader of the conservative New Democracy party, declared in a speech to his cadres that the Greek economy was largely "shielded" from the effects of the economic crisis thanks to the structural adjustments his government had initiated. And his main political opponent, PASOK leader George Papandreou and current prime minister, assured the citizenry that "there was plenty of money around" and that, if elected, his government would exhibit "'the political will"' to find money for the toiling population, just as it had been found for the bailouts of the banks. But the most problematic example of unwillingness on the part of leading public officials to recognize the trouble that lay ahead for Greece came from the EU chiefs themselves: thus, EU Commissioner Joaquín Almunia announced as late as February 2009 that "the Greek economy is in better condition compared with the average condition in the Eurozone, which is currently in recession."(7)

Why were the Greek and EU political elites unable and unwilling to face up to the gravity of the Greek situation before things got out of hand? This question remains vital as the Greek economic crisis is now turning into a humanitarian crisis and EU leaders continue to ignore the pressing reality of the situation, intent on pushing forward with the destructive policies of austerity and fiscal adjustment.

But Greece's sovereign debt crisis did not come out of the blue. It may have been precipitated by the financial global crisis of September-October 2008 (the deficit had climbed to 15.4 percent of GDP, although there are accusations made from a former employee of the Greek Statistical Authority, Zoe Georganta, a professor of economics at the University of Macedonia, that the official figures for the 2009 budget deficit had been inflated by the Papandreou government in 2010 in an apparent attempt to legitimize the harsh austerity measures that came along with the bailout plan orchestrated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); an inquiry is now underway by Greek prosecutors). But it had long been in the making. It was, in effect, a time bomb waiting to explode. The Greek economic model of growth was highly flawed: growth was not based on economic fundamentals; income tax rates were always very low, tax evasion massive, and Greek governments ran a continual deficit - building up an immense stock of national debt consistently well over 100 percent of GDP.

The Triple Nature of the Greek Crisis

Still, the Greek crisis must be seen as something much more than the simple outcome of corrupt government practices, although corruption, including tax evasion, is a major component of the economic ills facing the country today. It is the story of a kleptocratic state and a parasitic capitalist elite who got caught in the web of the eurozone's flawed design when the US financial crisis of 2007–2008 hit Europe's shores.(8) It is also the story of an economy that did not meet the prerequisites for entering an alleged optimum-currency area, nor did it make much attempt to fit in properly. But it is also the story of the general failure of the global neoliberal project, the financialization of the economy and free-market orthodoxy.(9) Indeed, how else could eurozone countries with such dissimilar economies - Greece, a statist and highly corrupt economy; Ireland, a poster-child for neoliberal capitalism; Spain, a faithful follower of EU dictates about deficits and debt - end up suffering the same fate?

The reason is rather simple: because they all orbited the same central entity, the black hole of European neoliberal capitalism. As such, political and ideological differences between social democratic and conservative political parties have long ago vanished. Thus, in Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere, "'social democratic"' governments long ago discarded even the pretext of being agents of progressive reform.(10) Hence the ease with which such governments went along with the EU/IMF dictates in imposing unprecedented cuts and austerity measures that have drastically reduced the standard of living for the working people in their respective countries. In sum, the Greek crisis:

  • stands as a severe fiscal and public debt crisis (during the 1980s and 1990s, annual government expenditures exceeded revenue by an average of more than 8 percent of GDP, while the national debt exceeded 100 percent of GDP) stemming from the deep and long-term structural problems of the Greek economy and the deformities of the domestic political and cultural system
  • represents a European crisis due to the intricate trade and financial ties between Greece and the other eurozone member-states, and
  • reflects the deadly failure of the neoliberal project, which has become institutionalized throughout the EU's operational framework, all while the IMF remains the world's single most powerful enforcer of market fundamentalism. 

At the heart of the neoliberal vision is a societal and world order based on the prioritization of corporate power, "free" markets, and the abandonment of public services. The neoliberal claim is that economies would perform more effectively, producing greater wealth and economic prosperity for all, if markets were allowed to function without government intervention. This claim is predicated on the idea that "free" markets are inherently just and can create effective, low-cost ways to produce consumer goods and services. Subsequently, an interventionist or state-managed economy is wasteful and inefficient, choking off growth and expansion by constraining innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.

This is the version of neoliberalism developed by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School and usually associated with the Pinochet regime in Chile, and, later, with the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - an ideological revolution that was long in the making but that gained ascendancy over Keynesianism with the appearance of stagflation.(11) And it is by far the most dangerous ideology of our time (12), spreading havoc with its "economics of social disaster."(13)

In April 2010, with the bond vigilantes having woken up as a result of Dubai's debt crisis in late 2009, Greece was shut out of the international bond markets and - facing the prospect of a default - sought refuge under an EU/IMF financial rescue scheme. Months prior, the Papandreou government (14) had approached the IMF to extend its "'technical know-how and experience"' to the EU by administering a dose of shock therapy. Greece needed to be "rescued," and the Europeans needed not only the Fund's expertise but also to add an element of legitimacy to the austerity experiment that was about to be performed on a peripheral member-state. In this context, the invitation to the IMF to join in the operation on an ailing European patient served multiple purposes.

The neoliberal quacks were quick to rush to judgment about the roots of the Greek crisis - allegedly, a bloated public sector that wasted too many resources on lazy, unproductive citizens and hindered the potential of the private sector - and lost no time in recommending brutal austerity measures. What if the facts did not fit this narrative? Indeed, all the available data showed that the Greek public sector, while inefficient and corrupt, was actually smaller than the public sector of many other European nations; that Greeks worked on average more than most other Europeans; and that even Greek productivity in the years leading up to the crisis compared favorably with that of Germany.(15) And what if there were huge imbalances in the eurozone, with the core states running huge surpluses and the peripherals running huge deficits?(16) Greece was judged to be solely responsible for the sad state of its fiscal condition in the age of the euro and had to be punished, both as penance for its sins and as a warning to its southern cousins that the same fate awaited them if they didn't put their own fiscal houses in order.

It is this cynical, brutal perspective that led to Greece becoming an unwilling test subject for the EU's neoliberal vision and kept Germany's game going when things got rough in Euroland. Most of the German banks were overexposed to Greek debt and nearly insolvent. The May 2010 bailout of 110 billion euros (with a usurious interest rate of 5 percent) was orchestrated by the EU and the IMF - the twin monsters of neoliberal capitalism - in an apparent attempt to have Greece keep up with its debt payments to foreign banks: hence the rejection of even the slightest consideration of a debt restructuring, even though this would have been the quickest and safest way to allow Greece some breathing room. Helping its economy recover through the coordinated implementation of a large-scale development plan would also have been appropriate in a proper economic and monetary union. Indeed, such moves could have secured the confidence of international bond investors in the euro's sustainability and might even have prevented contagion in the rest of the periphery. They would certainly have prevented the spread of an otherwise avoidable contagion from the periphery to the center, which is clearly underway as of last year. But with the adoption of punishment as policy, contagion in the periphery became inevitable, and with the deficit economies in the periphery wrapped in an austerity straightjacket, the surplus economies of the center were bound to feel the effects of their insane and brutal policies. The economies of both Germany and France contracted in the last quarter of 2012. GDP in the eurozone as a whole fell by 0.5 percent last year, and, more significant, 2012 will go down in history as the first year since 1995 in which no quarter produced growth.(17)

The Catastrophic Effects of Austerity

Indeed, as a policy, the bailout scheme proved to be a dismal failure on every possible front, save for ensuring that debt payments kept flowing to foreign banks. The crude macro-stabilization program and the harsh austerity measures that accompanied the loan to Greece (amounting to 11 percent of the country's GDP) had the opposite of the intended effect on the markets and choked off all prospects of recovery for the Greek economy: demand plummeted due to the deadly combination of massive budget spending cuts, reductions in wages and pensions, and sharp tax increases, causing thousands of small businesses to go bankrupt and forcing several multinationals to move their production facilities to nearby Balkan countries, thereby producing explosive unemployment rates, sharply diminishing state revenues and substantially increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio.(18) The policy pursued by the EU/IMF duo is so fundamentally flawed that Keynes must be rolling over in his grave. Still, economic dogmas ought, apparently, to be respected, no matter what results they produce, so in the mind of the neoliberal zealots, they should be pursued to the bitter end. Thus, less than two years later, a second "bailout" of 130 billion euros was extended to beleaguered Greece, with terms and conditions for allegedly turning the economy around that are much harsher than the first "rescue" attempt. The "pay while you bleed" and "suffer for your sins" policy of the twin monsters should by now be clear to everyone.

In drafting the document for the so-called Second Economic Adjustment Program for Greece, the EU's neoliberal lackeys contended that "Greece made mixed progress towards the ambitious objectives of the first adjustment program."(19) On the positive side, it is noted, the general government deficit was reduced "from 15.75 percent of GDP in 2009 to 9.25 percent in 2011." On the negative side, the recession "was much deeper than previously projected" because, it is claimed, factors such as "social unrest" and "administrative incapacity" (including a lack of effectiveness in combating tax evasion) "hampered implementation." The antigrowth "fiscal and structural adjustment" program was perfectly designed and would have produced all the anticipated results if the government were better able to carry out the policies (perhaps it should have ordered the police and the army to arrest all public administrators and have them shot for disobeying the troika's commands), and if the citizenry did not on occasion make some fuss about the austerity program by staging demonstrations here and there, or by occupying the square outside the Greek parliament building. In essence, this is what the neoliberals' above comments are saying.

The feeble excuses of the EU bureaucrats for the fiscal consolidation program's causing a much sharper economic decline than "previously projected" fly in the face of the recent partial concessions made by the IMF: that the policies carried out in Greece ended up having much more adverse effects on the economy because the IMF miscalculated the impact of the fiscal multiplier. Indeed, the executive summary of the Second Economic Adjustment Program for Greece goes on to state unequivocally that, insofar as the prospects of the success of the second adjustment program are concerned, "the implementation risks ... remain very high" but the success of the program "depends chiefly on Greece."(20)

The neoliberal economics applied to Greece by Germany, the EU and the IMF did not simply cause a greater decline in Greek GDP than "originally projected" or make the debt grow substantially bigger in the course of the last two years (from 126.8 percent in 2010 to 180 percent in 2012). It also produced an economic and social catastrophe of proportions unparalleled in peacetime Europe. In May 2010, when the first bailout was approved and the austerity measures kicked into high gear, the unemployment rate in Greece stood at 12 percent. It has since climbed to 27 percent, and the youth unemployment rate has reached 62 percent. According to the Greek Statistical Authority, the actual number of unemployed reached 1.35 million in November 2012, with the number of employed standing at 3.642 million.(21)

Poverty is also spreading rapidly, affecting all groups in society, including children. In a recent report released by Eurostat, 31 percent of Greeks had a standard of living in 2011 that was close to the poverty line,(22) while the Labor Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labor (INE-GSEE) states in its monthly publication Enimerosi that by the end of last year, 3.9 million people had fallen below the poverty line.(23) Income levels for workers have also taken a big hit over the last two to three years, and there is more wage suppression to come. According to research data released by the INE-GSEE, incomes dropped by 22.8 percent, or 19 billion euros, during 2010-2011, with a projected decline of 33 billion euros in available income in 2012.(24)

Perhaps most indicative of the catastrophic impact of the EU/IMF austerity measures imposed on Greece is that many schools throughout the country have gone on for a second year without heating oil (the nation was shocked recently by the death of two college students who died in their sleep due to inhalation of carbon monoxide from a makeshift stove as they could not afford heating oil, whose cost has gone through the roof because of the government's ingenious scheme to find extra revenues by raising the taxes on heating oil by 450 percent), the public health care system has collapsed to the point that even medication for cancer patients is not available, and suicides, for a nation that used to have the lowest recorded suicide rates in Europe, are taking place at a record pace.

The aim of the EU/IMF structural adjustment program with regard to the Greek labor market (employment and wages) is crystal clear: total liberalization, minimum wages comparable to those in Bulgaria and Romania (two relatively backward-looking Balkan nations, and with levels of corruption equal to those in Greece), and a potential ban on strikes. The first two elements of the subversive neoliberal labor market policy are well advanced, while the third one is in the works. Again, these measures have an official stamp of approval from the Greek government, including the current administration, a tripartite coalition consisting of the leader of the conservative party as prime minister and the leaders of the Socialist party and the Democratic Left as vice presidents. Moreover, as with every Greek administration since the outbreak of the crisis, the Ministry of Finance serves as a Trojan horse for inflicting the scorched-earth policy of the EU and IMF on Greece's economy and its people.

"The Left's Moment": Problems and Challenges

The scorched-earth policies pursued in Greece over the last three years by Germany and the twin monsters of neoliberalism, i.e., the EU and the IMF, have produced an economic and social catastrophe of unprecedented proportions for a nation in peacetime conditions. For the past three years, Greece has been a guinea pig for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal EU under the command of Germany and its northern allies. A public debt crisis has been used as an opportunity to dismantle the social state, to sell off profitable public enterprises and state assets at bargain prices, to deprive labor of even its most basic rights after decades of hard-fought struggles against management, and to substantially reduce wages and pensions, creating a de facto banana republic - all with the support of a significant segment of the Greek industrial/financial class and with the assistance of the domestic political elite.

Greece is a nation experiencing a catastrophic crisis of immense proportions inside one of the world's richest regions, yet its government celebrates the fact that the deficit has been reduced as a result of the fiscal adjustment efforts (when virtually all other economic and social variables have gone from bad to worse every year) and expects the citizens to offer more "blood, tears, toil and sweat." At the same time, it is launching a brutal frontal attack on the left, using lies and propaganda and, increasingly, the iron fist of the state, as public opinion polls show consistently for the last few months that the conservative party of New Democracy (which is at the helm of the tripartite government currently ruling the nation) and Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, are in a neck-and-neck race.

The political landscape of Greece has changed radically as a result of the economic crisis. First, the socialists, the true masters of calculated political and ideological duplicity, the real maestros of corruption in Greece, are all but finished as a political force. In the 2012 national elections, the Socialist Party received 12.3 percent of the popular vote, and the latest polls show that its popularity has dropped to about 7 percent. This is the price paid for surrendering Greece to the EU/IMF rescue mechanism in May 2010 and for collaborating since the 2012 elections with the conservatives in finalizing the conversion of Greece into a neoliberal zombie society.

Second, the conservatives, under the leadership of the current prime minister, Antonis Samaras, have shifted from being opponents of the memorandum of agreement with the EU and the IMF when they were the opposition to become its obsequious servants. Their credibility and base support has weakened considerably in the course of the last couple of years, but the conservative constituency in Greece feels trapped and has few options other than perhaps to throw its support behind Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party of Greece. To be sure, a good percentage of conservative voters have already done so: the neo-Nazis received 7 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 elections, and their numbers seem to be growing in spite of (in fact, maybe because of) being nothing more than preachers for hate and thugs who carry out organized attacks against immigrants throughout Greece. Ideologically, they embrace Hitler's National Socialism doctrine, strive for racial purity and openly envision the reestablishment of concentration camps for leftists and communists.

Greece's neo-Nazi political party represents a real threat to the social fabric of Greece; however, it remains to be seen how the appeal of the extreme right will be countered when society itself is facing a meltdown because of the harsh austerity measures and the traditional political establishment is morally bankrupt and has lost much of its legitimacy.(25)

The emergence of Syriza as the second-largest party (pulling 26.89 percent of the vote against 29.66 percent for the conservatives) represents the biggest change in the Greek political landscape. In many ways, this is indeed the "left's moment in Greece,"(26) but the reality of the support rate that the left enjoys is more complicated than what the numbers report. Most of its votes in the 2012 elections came from former Pasok voters. This is not to imply that Syriza may eventually rise to power on a protest vote, but it does mean that the left finds itself in the uncomfortable situation of having the backing of a huge percentage of "political orphans." Even more troubling is the fact that many former Socialist Party hacks look to relaunch their political careers by seeking to attach themselves to Syriza's political cause. These are, of course, political opportunists of the highest caliber, and Syriza must turn its back on them if it wishes to keep intact the left's overall mission, vision and core principles.

The general impression among analysts and an increasing number of average citizens is that Syriza is about to become a "new Pasok." This is not far from the truth, especially as some elements close to the leadership of the party appear to be willing to make whatever compromises may be necessary in order to have Syriza rise to power. The party also lacks a clear and coherent agenda for change, and its position on the current crisis has shifted remarkably in the course of the last several months from calling for the abolition of the EU/IMF fiscal adjustment program (but without having an overall strategy for managing the crisis, or even solid support at the grassroots level) to renegotiations of the agreement (when the "troika" - the European Commission, the IMF, and the European Central Bank, or ECB - supervising the fiscal consolidation effort has opposed outright any attempt aiming towards renegotiations of its terms of agreement for the bailout schemes). Conscious, perhaps, of the immaturity of Greek citizenry, but also reflecting its own political and ideological ambiguities, Syriza has also opted not to confront direct exit from the euro as a possible policy option, even though this may, in the final analysis, be the only effective strategy (but with a potentially huge short-term cost) for stopping the permanent decline of the nation's economy. Indeed, as things stand, the current eurozone is doomed to fail, and the peripheral nations will go on experiencing worsening economic and social conditions as the core remains adamantly opposed to any policy options that would mutualize the debt in the eurozone, provide relief for the beleaguered south, or end austerity.

To be sure, Syriza faces daunting challenges ahead, while finding the resolve to deal with them is undermined by the cacophony of views that prevail inside the party and by its lack of apparent influence among working-class organizations and trade unions. The extent to which the organization might be able to find qualified members among its ranks for the tormenting task of turning around a highly inefficient public administrative system and managing an economy which, by the end of the current year, will have seen its GDP shrink by an incredible 25 percent since the onset of the global financial crisis of 2008, is also highly debatable. For a party of the left, Syriza has also shown reluctance, or unwillingness, or inability to embark on an open discussion about the country's future political culture, having chosen, instead, to consume itself scoring political points over the way political corruption was sustained in the past by the conservative and socialist parties.

Yet, if there is anything that the economic crisis in Greece reveals, other than the fact that neoliberal policies wreak havoc on the standard of living and produce massive unemployment and widespread poverty, and that a way must be found to restart the engine of the economy and get the unemployed back to work, it is the need to come to terms with the norms and patterns of the nation's political culture, including revisiting questions of civic virtue, fairness and social provision, expectations and obligations, and articulating visions of a good and decent society.

Having said all that, Syriza remains in Greece today the only political force that can offer hope for the future, put an end to the ongoing catastrophe, and, under certain conditions, work its way toward the realization of a sustainable economic and social order based on those core principles that have long defined progressives worldwide: employment opportunities for all, decent wages, a vigorous and efficient welfare system, free health care services, free education, quality social services, a progressive tax system, democratic accountability, environmental protection, respect for the "other," democratic participation at the workplace, sound business practices, and incentives for new business undertakings.

In politics, there is a huge gap between theory and practice, so Syriza should be neither idealized nor undermined for what it is trying to do, which is to answer history's call and try to rescue the country that gave birth to democracy from becoming ultimately a wretched society and a failed state inside one of the world's richest regions.

C. J. Polychroniou is a policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. Certain parts of the above article are included in a recent Policy Note (2013/1) published by the Levy Institute and titled "The Tragedy of Greece: A Case Against Neoliberal Economics, the Domestic Political Elite, and the EU/IMF Duo." The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Institute's board nor its advisers.

Endnotes

1.
Some of the most dire warnings against the launching of the euro came from inside Germany itself. Wilhelm Hankel, Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider, Joachim Starbatty, and Wilhelm Nφlling were four renegade professors who opposed the euro from the start and tried to stop it with a legal challenge to Germany's highest court. Obviously, they lost the case. They tried again 12 years later against a German bailout of Greece. They lost again. Their basic claim all along has been was that the euro was an architectural flaw which would lead to the downfall of European economies. Moreover, and in sharp contrast to the original arguments in support of the creation of a single currency zone in Europe, the euro has led to greater economic and social inequality among the various national economies, has exacerbated the problem of unemployment in the peripheral economies, and has produced huge transfers from the periphery to the core.

2.
The original optimal currency area approach was laid out by Robert Mundell in his article "A Theory of Optimum Currency Areas," American Economic Review Vol. 51, No 4 (1961), pp. 657–665. See also R. I. McKinnon, "Optimum Currency Areas," American Economic Review Vol. 53, No. 4 (1963), pp. 717–725.

3.
Greece gained entry into the eurozone by fabricating - with significant help from Goldman Sachs - the true state of the country's fiscal condition. The EU political elite was clearly aware of Greece's actual fiscal condition, but opted to look the other way.

4.
This is the reason that, in spite of the irreparable damage that three years of catastrophic austerity measures - part of the bailout agreements orchestrated by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - have caused, both to the national interests and to Greece's social fabric, the discussion of exiting the euro remains a taboo virtually across the political spectrum.

5.
The conservative government of Kostas Karamanlis, which came to power in 2004 and governed until 2009, proved to be equally, if not even more, corrupt and immensely incompetent. In fact, from the 1980s onwards, the socialists and the conservatives had ruled the nation in a similar fashion, both of them using the state and its coffers as a means to enrich themselves and their parasitic capitalist partners and to cater to the needs and demands of their political clientele in order to maintain an army of faithful party voters, making it thus virtually impossible to tell which of the two political parties has caused greatest damage to the common good. Both have been implicated in various large-scale scandals that involved exploiting state resources in order to transfer wealth from the public to the private sector and to redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top. Both of them, as well as the private sector, squandered European Union structural funds with reckless abandon, in the process allowing the destruction of vital sectors of the economy to take place (e.g., agriculture). Insofar as the culture of corruption - which the elite saw fit to let spread throughout society, thus creating a system of "corrupt legality" - is concerned, foreign actors also had a major role in it. The German industrial giant Siemens was in the habit of handing out bribes to political figures in order to gain preferential treatment over business deals (i.e., gain state contracts). This was a global practice of Siemens', and it is estimated that the bribes to Greek officials in both main political parties may have been as much as 100 million euros over a ten-year period. Charges were filed in 2008 for money laundering and bribery, but a parliamentary investigative committee that had been formed to examine the Siemens scandal conveniently swept the case under the rug.

6.
Greek Statistical Authority (March 18, 2010). See www.statistics.gr.

7.
Cited on the web site of the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC. See http://www.greekembassy.org/embassy/Content/en/Article.aspx?office=3&folder=1013&article=24631

8.
See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and L. Randall Wray, "Euroland's Original Sin," Policy Note 2012/8. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (July 2012). Online: http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/?docid=1559

9.
C. J. Polychroniou, "The Greek and the European Crisis in Context," New Politics Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter 2012), pp. 49–56.

10.
See C. J. Polychroniou, "The Mediterranean Conundrum: Crisis in the European Periphery," Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVII, No. 21 (May 26, 2012), pp. 35-41.

11.
A fine new source discussing the history and the policies of neoliberalism is that of Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012).

12.
Among the many profound pieces by Henry A. Giroux on the ideology of neoliberalism, see in particular his latest one "The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power," Truthout (February 27, 2013). Online: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/14814-the-politics-of-disimagination-and-the-pathologies-of-power

13.
See C. J. Polychroniou, "Greece's Bailouts and the Economics of Social Disaster," Policy Note 2012/11. Annandale-on-Hudson, New York: The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (September 2012). Online: http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/?docid=1569

14.
George Papandreou, son of Andreas Papandreou, founder of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) and prime minister of Greece for almost ten years, after having won three national elections, became prime minister in October 2009. With no charisma whatsoever and lacking in intellectual prowess and administrative and leadership skills, his failure as a top political dog was all but ensured. He resigned in November 2011, after having ruled the most excruciatingly amateurish and agonizingly incompetent government in modern Greek history, but will always be remembered as the prime minister who "masterminded" the unconditional surrender of Greece to Germany and the IMF and imposed brutal austerity - the prime minister whose ultimate vision was "one working person per family." He is still the leader of The Socialist International, one of the most shameful contemporary political organizations, allegedly at the service of democratic socialism but whose members included, among other "devotees to the cause of socialism and democracy," Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali; and, the irony of all ironies, he gets paid hefty fees to lecture for a few weeks at prestigious institutions like Harvard and Columbia, probably on how to ruin an economy and destroy a nation's sovereignty.

15.
See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, Gennaro Zezza, and Vincent Duwicquet, "Current Prospects for the Greek Economy: Interim Report," Annandale-on-Hudson, New York: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (October 2012). Online: http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/?docid=1589

16.
See Jörg Bibow, "The Euro Debt Crisis and Germany's Euro Trilemma." Working Paper No. 721. Annandale-on-Hudson, New York: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (May 2012). Online: http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/?docid=1535

17.
Philip Blenkinsop and Annika Breidthardt, "Euro Zone Economy Falls Deeper than Expected into Recession," Reuters (February 14, 2013). Online: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/02/14/uk-europe-economy-idUKBRE91D0CS20130214

18.
C. J. Polychroniou, "Greece's Bailouts and the Economics of Social Disaster," Policy Note 2012/11. Annandale-on-Hudson, New York: The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (September 2012). Online: http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/?docid=1569

19.
European Commission, "European Economy: The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece," Occasional Papers 94 (March 2012), p. 1.

20.
European Commission, "European Economy: The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece," Occasional Papers 94 (March 2012), p. 4.

21.
Greek Statistical Authority, "Labour Force Survey: November 2012," Press Release (February 14, 2013).

22.
Cited in ekathimerini.com. "3.4 Million Greeks near Poverty Line in 2011, Eurostat Reports," (December 3, 2012). Online: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_03/12/2012_472690.

23.
INE-GSEE (Labour Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour), Enimerosi, No. 200 (December 2012), p. 1.

24.
INE-GSEE (Labour Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour), The Greek Economy and Employment: Yearly Report (2012), p.21.

25.
Greece's two main political parties, the conservatives (New Democracy, or ND) and the socialists (Pasok), used to draw, until recently, over 75 percent of the combined vote. In the 2012 elections, both parties together managed to attract less than 35 percent of the popular vote - and if elections were held today, it is unlikely that they would get more than 28 percent of the combined vote.

26.
The phrase is borrowed from the title of an article by Costas Lapavitsas, which appeared in The Progressive, Vol. 76, Issue 7 (July 2012).

Fukushima Rescue Mission Lasting Legacy: Radioactive Contamination of Nearly 70,000 Americans

Who are the victims of Japan’s great 3.11 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown? Japan Focus has documented the heavy price paid by the more than 20,000 who died in the tsunami, the hundreds of thousands driven from their homes by the combination of tsunami and meltdown, and the nuclear workers who have fought to bring the radiation at the Tepco plants under control at risk of their lives. Roger Witherspoon extends this analysis to the US servicemen and women of Operation Tomodachi who were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation with little preparation or protection. This is the first of two major articles on their plight and their fight.

The Department of Defense has decided to walk away from an unprecedented medical registry of nearly 70,000 American service members, civilian workers, and their families caught in the radioactive clouds blowing from the destroyed nuclear power plants at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

The decision to cease updating the registry means there will be no way to determine if patterns of health problems emerge among the members of the Marines, Army, Air Force, Corps of Engineers, and Navy stationed at 63 installations in Japan with their families. In addition, it leaves thousands of sailors and Marines in the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 7 on their own when it comes to determining if any of them are developing problems caused by radiation exposure.

The strike group was detoured from its South Pacific duties and brought to Fukushima for Operation Tomodachi, using the Japanese word for “friend.” It was an 80-day humanitarian aid and rescue mission in the wake of the earthquake and massive tsunami that decimated the northern coastline and killed more than 20,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The rescue operation was requested by the Japanese Government and coordinated by the US State Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Departments of Defense and Energy. In addition to the USS Ronald Reagan with its crew of 5,500, the Strike Group included four destroyers – The Preble, McCampbell, Curtis Wilbur, and McCain – the cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and several support ships.

It was the participants in Operation Tomodachi – land based truck drivers and helicopter crews, and carrier based aircraft and landing craft – who were repeatedly trying to guess where the radioactive clouds were blowing and steer paths out of the way. It was unsuccessful on more than one occasion, according to Defense Department records and participants, resulting in efforts to decontaminate ships travelling through contaminated waters and cleansing helicopters only to send them right back into radioactive clouds.

So far, however, more than 150 service men and women who participated in the rescue mission have since developed a variety of medical issues – including tumors, tremors, internal bleeding, and hair loss – which they feel were triggered by their exposure to radiation. They do not blame the Navy for their predicament, but are joined in an expanding law suit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, for providing false information to the US officials about the extent of spreading radiation from its stricken reactors at Fukushima. And the decision by the Defense Department to abandon the registry leaves them on their own.

Jobs are compartmentalized at sea explained Navy Quartermasters Maurice Enis and Jaime Plym, two of the navigators on the carrier Reagan. Few of those on board knew there were dangerous radioactive plumes blowing in the wind and none knew what ocean currents might be contaminated. They did know there were problems when alarms went off.

“We make our own water through desalinization plants on board,” said Plym, a 28-year-old from St. Augustine, Florida. “But it comes from the ocean and the ocean was contaminated. So we had to get rid of all the water on the ship and keep scouring it and testing it till it was clean.

“You have a nuclear power plant inside the ship that uses water for cooling, and they didn’t want to contaminate our reactor with their reactors’ radiation.”

But avoiding it was not easy. It meant going far enough out to sea where there were no contaminated currents, washing down the ship and its pipes, and then going back towards shore.

“We could actually see the certain parts of the navigation chart where radiation was at, and to navigate through that was nerve wracking,” said Enis. “The general public, like the ship, didn’t really know where it was or what it was and relied on word-of-mouth and rumors. We have more information, but there was no absolute way for us to know how much radiation was out there because we were still being told by the (Japanese) power company that we shouldn’t worry.

“We stayed about 80 days, and we would stay as close as two miles offshore and then sail away. It was a cat and mouse game depending on which way the wind was blowing. We kept coming back because it was a matter of helping the people of Japan who needed help. But it would put us in a different dangerous area. After the first scare and we found there was radiation when they (the power company) told us there was none, we went on lockdown and had to carry around the gas masks.”

When it came to getting timely information on radiation, the Americans on land were just as much at sea. Gregory Jaczko, then Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, urged the evacuation of all Americans within 50 miles of the stricken reactors. And the Defense Department evacuated women and children from the Yokosuka Naval Base, located 300 miles south of Fukushima, after sensors picked up increases in background radiation.

Information was hard to come by, exacerbated by the rigidity of the Japanese bureaucracy. Two nuclear experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists, David Lochbaum, who has worked as a consultant for the NRC and industry, and Ed Lyman, a nuclear physicist, have examined thousands of government emails and cable traffic during a confusing period when the data base shifted by the hour and concrete information was hard to come by.

“After the explosion in Fukushima Daiichi Unit #4 the Japanese were not able to get enough water into the building to keep the spent fuel pool cool,” Lochbaum said. “So the US airlifted a concrete pumper truck all the way from Australia to an American naval base in the northern part of the island. And the Japanese would not let it leave the base because it wasn’t licensed to travel on Japanese roads. Given the magnitude of their problems, that seemed to be the wrong priority.

“But the Japanese culture is more like a symphony, where everyone follows the conductor’s lead. Whereas American society is more like a jazz ensemble where everyone is playing together, but improvisation is prized.”

The inability to get cohesive, trustworthy information from the Japanese hampered the American rescue effort.

Michael Sebourn, senior chief mechanic for the helicopter squadron based at Atsugi,about 60 miles from Fukushima, recalled that “after the earthquake and tsunami we were given one day notice to pack up the command and go to Misawa, Japan Air Base to provide relief efforts to the Sendai and Fukushima areas. All of the other squadrons were evacuating to Guam. There was a big possibility that the base at Atsugi would be shut down and we would never be returning. We were told to put our names and phone numbers on the dashboards of the cars because we would probably not get them back.

“We were in Misawa 3 ½ weeks, working every day, flying mission after mission after mission to pick people up, rescue people, ferry supplies and things like that. There were a few nuclear technicians scanning individuals coming back from missions. Many times they would cut off their uniforms.” The decontamination team cut off their uniforms to avoid touching them and further contaminating them.

Sebourn was sent to Guam for three days of intensive training and became the designated radiation officer. It wasn’t easy.

“This was a completely unprecedented event,” he said. “We had never dealt with radiation before. We were completely brand new to everything and everyone was clueless. We had had drills dealing with chemical and biological warfare. But we never had any drills dealing with radiation. That was nuclear stuff and we didn’t do nuclear stuff. The aviation guys had never dealt with radiation before. We had never had aircraft that was radiated. So we were completely flying blind.”

There were rules for Sebourn’s group of mechanics. They scanned the returning helicopters for radiation, and then removed any contaminated parts and put them in special containers filled with water and stored on an isolated tarmac. It began snowing in Misawa so the group moved back to their base at Atsugi, closer to Fukushima. Sebourn tracked varying radiation levels in units called Corrected Counts Per Minute on their electronic detectors.

“Normal outside radiation exposure is between five and 10 CCPM,” he said. “And that’s from the sun. At Atsugi, the background readings were between 200 and 300 CCPM in the air. It was all over. The water was radiated. The ground was radiated. The air was radiated.

“The rule was if there was anything over a count of 500 you needed special gloves. Over 1,000 CCPM and you needed a Tyvek radiation suit. And if it was over 5,000 you needed an entire outfit – suit, respirator, goggles, and two sets of gloves. You couldn’t put a contaminated radiator back into the helicopters – they had to be replaced. I remember pulling out a radiator and it read 60,000 CCPM.”

But in the end, the safety equipment may not have been enough.

The Tomodachi Medical Registry, developed over a two year-period and completed at the end of 2012, was a collective effort of the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Veterans Affairs launched at the insistence of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

It was an exhaustive registry essential to develop a medical baseline from which to determine if there were any long lasting repercussions from exposure to radioactivity – particularly iodine and cesium – spewing for months from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 1 through 4 into both the air and the sea.

The Registry was unparalleled in its depth. The Defense Department’s 252-page assessment of radiation doses the 70,000 Americans may have been exposed to is broken down by a host of factors, including proximity to Fukushima, the type of workbeing done and its impact on breathing rates, changing weather patterns, sex, size, and age. In the latter category children were divided into six different age groups, reflecting their varying susceptibility to radiation. (link)

In addition, the report states, “over 8,000 individuals were monitored for internal radioactive materials and the results of those tests were compared with the calculated doses.”

In the end, however, the Department concluded that their estimates of the maximum possible whole body and thyroid doses of contaminants were not severe enough to warrant further examination.

Navy spokesman Lt. Matthew Allen, in a written statement, said “The DoD has very high confidence in the accuracy of the dose estimates, which were arrived at using highly conservative exposure assumptions (i.e., assuming individuals were outside 24 hours a day for the 60 days in which environmental radiation levels were elevated and while breathing at higher than normal rates).

“The estimated doses were closely reviewed by the Veterans' Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction and by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements who both agreed that the methods used to calculate the estimates were appropriate and the results accurate. In addition the dose estimates were consistent with the estimates made by the Japanese government and by the World Health Organization.”

Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith added that as a result of the agency’s decision that there was no serious contamination, “There are no health surveillance measures required for any member of the DoD-affiliated population who was on or near the mainland of Japan following the accident and subsequent radiological release from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station beginning on or about March 11, 2011.”

But there are skeptics of the Defense Department’s blanket conclusion that there was not enough radiation poured into the environment to warrant continuous monitoring of the men, women, and children living and working there.

“Radiation does not spread in a homogenous mix,” said Lochbaum. “There are hot spots and low spots and nobody knows who is in a high zone or in a low zone. Who knows what the actual radiation dose to an individual is? There are no measurements of what they consumed in water and food.

“This is the Navy’s best attempt to take a few data points they have and extrapolate over the entire group. They took a lot of measurements, but those represent just a point in time. It’s like taking a strobe light outside to take a picture of a nighttime scene. Every time the strobe flashes you will get shots in spots of the area. But do you really capture all of the darkness?”

The Navy Life – Into the Abyss

To the US Government, Operation Tomodachi was just another big humanitarian aid and rescue mission in which the nearest Navy fleet and many land-based personnel rushed to the aid of an ally in need. In this case, the northeast coast of Japan had been flattened by a massive earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed infrastructure, killed some 20,000 citizens and left 315,000 refugees, many of whom may never return to their homes in contaminated areas.

Operation Tomodachi – named after the Japanese word for Friend – began as a large logistical exercise. It seemed that way to the American sailors, both land based and in the USS Ronald Reagan Aircraft Carrier Strike Group. The view from Washington was that Operation Tomodachi would enhance the long ties between allies.

Then everything changed.

The nuclear fuel in reactors 1, 2, and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi overheated and melted down, creating a hydrogen cloud in the process, which exploded, spiking radiation readings on detection monitors across Japan. Hydrogen from Unit 3 migrated through a shared venting system into Unit 4 and blew off its roof as well, exposing the spent fuel pool and its 1,500 bundles of fuel rods containing a lethal mix of cesium, iodine and plutonium.

Transcripts of meetings and conference calls hosted by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko showed steadily increasing concern as newer data contradicted previous data and measurements of radiation from the Navy differed markedly from the information coming from the Japanese government and TEPCO, the giant utility which owned the stricken reactors. (NRC’s Operation Center Fukushima Transcript. Note large censored passages, including the identity of the speaker)

The NRC itself was flying blind. The agency had believed it was virtually impossible to have multiple meltdowns at the same site. As a result, their emergency models all involved the healthy plant using its working systems to control critical systems in the stricken plant until the problems were solved. Jaczko had publicly urged calm and for Americans in Japan to follow the guidelines of the Japanese government. NRC press releases in the United States all stated prominently that there was no danger from radioactive fallout.

But the transcripts tell another story.

On March 14 Jaczko’s conference call was interrupted by Jack Grobe, Deputy Director for Engineeringin the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, with bad news:

“JACK GROBE: Okay, guys, I apologize for bothering you, but things are degenerating quickly. This reminds me of the drill. [...]

what’s really troubling is that we, we have had that wind shift — the Chairman’s here, by the way — we’ve had that wind shift and the wind is out of the northeast blowing towards the southwest. That’s inland and towards Tokyo. And there’s an aircraft carrier in the port just south of Tokyo. It’s about 180 miles from the site, about 10 miles southwest of Tokyo, and they’re measuring on the order of 10 to 20 millirem over a 12-hour period total effective dose and roughly five to 10 times that, thyroid. [...]

JACK GROBE: The, the answer is the dose rates don’t seem to be consistent either with what would be released or with the timing that it would take for a plume to get 180 miles away from the site to the southwest.

MIKE WEBER: Yeah, well, that’s what struck me when you told us what’s going on.

JACK GROBE: Yes, but the, the feedback through Trapp from the admiral is that they used multi* instruments and confirmed this in multiple ways [BLACKED OUT]

MIKE WEBER: Wow.

JACK GROBE: They do operate nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, so they must have a level of competence that’s fairly decent. [...]”

This was new territory, and they could not trust data from the Japanese.

For the Americans in Operation Tomodachi, this meant they would be improvising throughout the crisis. They faced the dual needs to conduct search and rescue missions in a devastated landscape with little functioning infrastructure while guarding against unseen and unforeseen contamination from the stricken reactors.

To officials at the Defense and State Departments, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Operation Tomodachi was a successful, limited duration event in which the military worked in a civilian humanitarian mission. It was requested, logged, and finished.

But military operations are carried out in real time by people implementing orders from half a world away who have to live with the consequences of making the mission succeed.

And for some of the Americans sent into action, Operation Tomodachi would mean the end of a career and dream of service in the US Navy, and the start of a new life laced with anxiety.

The Junkie’s Kid

Michael Sebourn was just another kid nobody wanted, from a neighborhood nobody cared about, with a future leading towards jail or death and a life nobody would have missed. Then he met the US Navy.

“My mother was a drug addict and my father was killed when I was 18 months old trying to rob a drug dealer,” he said. “We lived in the housing projects in Charleston, South Carolina. My stepfather was abusive and spent all the money my mother made on drugs and alcohol. I was malnourished and underweight.”

At age five he was sent to live with his grandparents, who died two years later. He moved in with an aunt in Gary, Indiana, a poor white kid in a predominantly poor, black part of a decaying city.

“I never thought I would ever be able to accomplish anything,” Sebourn said. “I knew college was out of the question because I was poor. I worked in a factory for a while after high school, but that didn’t work out and I was homeless for three months, living out of a truck and driving to Wal-Mart parking lots to sleep.”

He moved back in with his aunt. He had a bad attitude, made bad choices, and “had a couple of run-ins with the law. I needed something new. I had nothing going for myself at all and I wanted a fresh start. I asked my aunt if I should join the military and she ran into the kitchen and got her car keys and said ‘let’s go’. Two days later I was gone.”

He did well in the Navy’s Great Lakes training station and when he was offered a choice of assignments, it turned out to be administrative. “Something clicked,” he said of his entry into the Navy in 1993. “I got my pride back. I got a sense of worth and I started succeeding. I decided serving in the Navy was something I needed to do.

“It was the first time I felt I had a home. It was the first time I felt I had a family.”

It would not be his only family.

He landed in Japan 17 years ago, loved it and stayed at the Navy’s Misawa naval air base, working his way up to head mechanic for the helicopter squadrons based there. He married a Japanese woman and, eventually they had a son. He was half a world and a full life away from the drug dens of South Carolina. He was a Navy man.

The Athlete and the Musician

Maurice Enis was a tall, strapping kid from the frost belt of Rochester, Minnesota whose world revolved around sports and physical fitness. “I was running track at Century High School in Rochester,” he recalled, “doing the 400 and 200 meters and wanted to continue.

“My coach was an ex-Marine who had traveled the world, competing for the military. It sounded like a great life and I wanted to compete for the Navy, too. When I was 19, we went down to the recruiting station and talked about the opportunities they had, and I enlisted. It was 2007, but there was a lot of crying at home because my Mom was afraid I would get hurt because of the war and 9/11. But I told her that this is what I want to do with my life.

“And it was good. It saved me, in a way. I was aimless and it taught me a lot more about my time and what you can do and accomplish. Being deployed, you have no time to do anything extra. Every minute of the day is accounted for. When you get out and have 24 hours to play with, I can accomplish so much more now because I can manage my time and I learned how to prioritize.

“I really did grow up in the Navy. They didn’t have track and field in the Navy anymore, so I chose navigation and general quartermaster. There is the old school way, navigation using different celestial bodies, and the new way, which is all math and computers. You learn to use all the different navigation systems that we have. You apply it to the paper nautical charts and use the satellites and you can actually figure out exactly where we are in the water.”

He also fell in love.

Jaime Plym came from as far away from the snow as one can get without swimming in the Caribbean, which she also enjoyed. She grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, one of the nation’s oldest cities and went on to attend Jacksonville University for two years as a music major, playing bass clarinet.

I decided I wanted music in my life,” Plym said, “but I didn’t want it as my job. I quit school and just worked as a pre-school teacher in Gainesville. I wanted to go back to school, but I had been on a music scholarship and I didn’t have the money for any other major.”

She felt aimless, and went home and loafed on the beach as 2007 drew to a close. She had a brother who was in the Marines and decided she, too, could join the service. “But I wanted to be out to sea,” she said. “I wanted to be on a big ship.”

Plym and Enis were in the same class at the Great Lakes training center and came together at the end. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “They told me about quartermaster, which meant we worked at the command center and were responsible for navigation. I signed up for it.”

Navigation is critical, especially on an aircraft carrier. Other naval craft can move and shift to be in the most favorable position regarding the wind and the currents, with their navigators finding the best and quickest routes to take. That is especially important if there is danger approaching, like a slow moving radioactive cloud.

Navigators on an aircraft carrier do not have that luxury. Their quarter-mile deck slowly rolls side to side, and up and down in accordance with the sea. They must find the smoothest spot and hold it for the duration of the mission, regardless of what comes. After the aircraft leave the deck, the ship must remain at that spot so they can find their way back.

That makes dodging dangerous winds and radioactive currents problematic.

But they didn’t know that when they graduated from the training camp and began life as quartermasters and navigators on the USS Ronald Reagan, head of a carrier battle group plying the South Pacific.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Plym. “We were friends at first, and then we started dating.”

On March 11, 2011, the USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group 7 were headed for port in South Korea as a tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Japan.

“We knew right away they were going to redirect us to go to Japan and provide aid,” Plym said. “We were there by 5 AM the next morning.

“We didn’t know about the reactors,” said Enis. “Wedidn’thave outside contact like the internet or cable to know what was going on on land. We just knew there was a major crisis. We had no idea about the nuclear plants till they notified the captain of a possible radiation scare. That’s when we found out that there might be a possible radiation leak.

Something New: Radiation

Operation Tomodachi began with the request for help from the Japanese Embassy to Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs who quickly turned to Gregory Jaczko, then chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who would regularly brief President Barak Obama on the escalating difficulties on land.

What had begun as a rescue mission was being increasingly complicated by spreading radiation from Unit 1 at the six-reactor, Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear complex. At least three other reactors were in danger of failing, including the spent fuel pool of reactor Unit 4, holding 1,535 bundles of irradiated fuel.

On March 12, as the USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group 7 arrive two miles off the coast, Fukushima Unit 1 blows up. Unit 3 would explode March 14, and the hydrogen gases migrating through a shared vent would also destroy the containment building at Unit 4, exposing the spent fuel pool to the air. Unit 2 would explode March 15. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) would announce that most of the fuel in Units 1,2, and 3 are intact. They were not. They had fused into a molten mass and were oozing through the bottom of their destroyed reactors.

The Japanese government, not wanting to acknowledge that the situation was getting out of control, did not activate its military, the Self Defense Forces, to airlift water to the stricken Unit 4 and continuously drop it on the spent fuel to keep it from exploding in a nuclear fuel fire. According to Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, which obtained the communications between Tokyo and Japan’s embassy in Washington, Mullen sent a cable to Fujisaki Ichiro, Japan’s ambassador to the US, stating that the SDF should be used to cool the reactors:

“The U.S. military believes the No. 4 reactor is in danger. It feels every step should be taken to cool the reactor, including using the SDF,” the cable said. “The United States has made various preparations to deal with the nuclear accident. The president is also very concerned…” (link)

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Jack Grobe is leading a crisis team in the 24-hour Operations Center in nearly constant conference calls with Jaczko and a team in Japan. Their previous scenarios – including the long held belief that it was impossible to have multiple meltdowns in a single nuclear complex, and that the containment structure would stop radiation from spreading from a reactor to the environment – have proved disastrously wrong and their scenarios for keeping people safe from spreading radiation are being called into question.

The NRC’s redacted transcript of those conversations shows that after the explosion at Unit 4 Grobe says in exasperation, “The projections on releases with the containment intact are completely insignificant now.

“I mean, this is beginning to feel like an emergency drill where everything goes wrong and you can’t, you know, you can’t imagine how these things, all of them, can go wrong.”

But the NRC released several daily press releases, all reassuring the public that there was no danger to the public.

And on the high seas and at the American naval installations, the sailors of Operation Tomodachi were on their own.

This is part one of a two part series by Roger Witherspoon.

Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick

When President Obama nominated Ernest Moniz to be energy secretary earlier this month, he hailed the nuclear physicist as a "brilliant scientist" who, among his many talents, had effectively brought together "prominent thinkers and energy companies" in the continuing effort to figure out a safe and economically sound energy future for the country.

Ernest Moniz (Getty Images) Indeed, Moniz's collaborative work 2013 best captured in the industry-backed research program he oversaw at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2013 is well known. So, too, is his support for Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy 2013 one that embraces, fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.

But beyond his job in academia, Moniz has also spent the last decade serving on a range of boards and advisory councils for energy industry heavyweights, including some that do business with the Department of Energy. That includes a six-year paid stint on BP's Technology Advisory Council as well as similar positions at a uranium enrichment company and a pair of energy investment firms.

Such industry ties aren't uncommon for cabinet nominees, and Obama specifically praised Moniz for understanding both environmental and economic issues.

Still, Moniz's work for energy companies since he served in President Clinton's Energy Department has irked some environmentalists.

"His connections to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries threaten to undermine the focus we need to see on renewables and energy efficiency," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Slocum pointed out that Moniz, if confirmed, will set research and investment priorities, including at the department's network of national laboratories.

The Energy Department hands out billions of dollars in contracts and loan guarantees as it pushes energy research and development and administers the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile and cleanup efforts. (On fracking, probably the highest-profile energy issue of the moment, the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction.)

Reaction to Moniz's nomination has been mixed among environmental groups, ranging from support (Natural Resources Defense Council) to concerned acceptance (Sierra Club) to outright opposition (Food and Water Watch).

What criticism there has been has focused on his support for nuclear power and for natural gas extracted through fracking as a "bridge fuel" to transition away from coal.

Here's what we know about Moniz's recent involvement with the energy industry:

  • He was on BP's Technology Advisory Council between 2005 and 2011, a position for which he received a stipend, according to BP. Spokesman Matt Hartwig said the company does not disclose details of such payments. (A 2012 BP financial report disclosed that one council member received about $6,200.) The council "provides feedback and advice to BP's executive management as to the company's approach to research and technology," according to the company. BP has also provided $50 million in funding to Moniz's MIT Energy Initiative. Moniz talked about that relationship while delivering a warm introduction before a 2009 speech at MIT by BP's then-CEO Tony Hayward.
  • From 2002 to 2004, Moniz sat on the strategic advisory council of USEC, a public company that provides enriched uranium to nuclear power plants. A company spokesman said Moniz was paid for his role on the nine-member council, but declined to say how much. USEC, which has been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department for a centrifuge plant in Ohio, has applauded Moniz's nomination.
  • He's on the board of ICF International, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company which does energy and environmental consulting. It has received Energy Department contracts as part of what one executive called a "longstanding relationship with the Department of Energy." As a board member, Moniz got $158,000 in cash and stock in 2011, according to the company's most recent annual report.
  • He is on the strategic advisory council of NGP Energy Technology Partners, a private equity firm that invests in both alternative energy and fossil fuel companies. The Washington, D.C.-based firm declined to comment.
  • He is on the board of advisers of another private equity firm, the Angeleno Group,which says it provides "growth capital for next generation clean energy and natural resources companies." The Los Angeles-based firm didn't respond to requests for comment.    
  • He is a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.
  • He was on the board of directors of the Electric Power Research Institute from 2007 to 2011, following a stint on the group's advisory council that began in 2002. A nonprofit utility consortium, the organization does research for the industry with an annual budget of over $300 million. The group paid Moniz $8,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to its most recent tax returns.
  • Since 2006, Moniz has been on the board of General Electric's "

A spokesperson for the MIT Energy Initiative said Moniz is not giving interviews, and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment.

Moniz's nomination has not encountered resistance from the Senate, where the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Moniz April 9.

As part of the nomination process, Moniz has to fill out a financial disclosure that will become public, along with an ethics agreement on how he will avoid any conflicts of interest.

If confirmed Moniz won't be the first energy secretary who has been close to industry.

Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, received scrutiny over his ties to BP. The company had chosen the lab Chu headed at the University of California, Berkeley, to lead a $500 million energy research project. BP's chief scientist at the time of the grant, Steven Koonin, became Chu's undersecretary for science.

When the Energy Department became involved in the government's response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Koonin recused himself.  Critics who thought the administration was too soft on the company pointed to Chu's ties to BP. But no evidence emerged that Chu had played any role going to bat for BP within the administration.

© Copyright 2013 Pro Publica Inc.

‘Unbreakable Alliance’: Obama Israel trip mere PR stunt?

Published time: March 20, 2013 11:41

US President Barack Obama (C), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and President Shimon Peres listen to the national anthem at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2013 upon Obama's arrival (AFP Photo / Jack Guez)

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It's the first time that Barack Obama has set foot on Israeli soil as US president, despite being his second term. The need may be great, but critics say it's nothing but a PR move, and expectations from this visit are the lowest in history.

Israel is on high security alert as the US president and his 600-strong delegation arrive for a three-day stay. Key roads are closed, whole Jerusalem neighborhoods fenced off, while police and security forces are fully mobilized to provide the highest level of safety: Obama is 'in town' on a friendly visit to re-set America's 'special relationship' with the Jewish state.

It doesn't seem his arrival is raising much excitement on the ground. US policies in and towards the region have made puzzled Israelis over whether they will be left alone to face what they perceive a grave Iranian threat, while the Arabs fail to see any action on the US side to make Israel backtrack on the West Bank settlement construction.

Relatives of prisoners of Palestinians held in Israeli jails burn pictures of US President Barack Obama during a protest against his visit to the region at the Jabalyia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, on March 20, 2013 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Israeli authorities have branded the visit the 'Unbreakable Alliance', hoping Obama's physical presence will send a clear message to the international community about the closeness the two allies enjoy. Among other things, Obama is scheduled to pay respects at the grave of Theodor Herzl in Jerusalem, the 'Father' of Zionism, acknowledging support to the Israeli case in the Middle East. 

In reality, US-Israeli relationship is far from at its best. The fact that it's the very first Obama visit as president speaks for itself.

"There are policy differences, on Iran, on the Palestinian issue, on the attitude toward the rise of Islamist forces in countries like Egypt. What you see from Jerusalem nearby is not what you see from Washington at a distance" Iramar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to the US, told RT.

According to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute at Tel Aviv University, a majority of the Jewish public - 51 per cent - believes Obama's attitude toward Israel is merely neutral, while 10.5 per cent regard him as hostile.

The general mood in the Israeli society is that the US is not keeping its promises to stay close and ensure political and military protection. Gas masks distributed among the people and 'strike' warnings through the media made the attack on Iran a looming reality for the Israelis, whether or not they enter 'the war' alone or with the US.

America is strongly against a strike, hoping diplomacy and sanctions will ensure Iran stays without a nuclear bomb.

"If we can resolve this diplomatically, that is a more lasting solution," Obama said in his interview to Israeli Channel Two last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not believe in diplomacy, though, when it comes to Iran. He's gearing his country towards a preemptive strike.

"Striking Iran in spite of American explicit objection would certainly hamper Israel's relations with the United States, might even break them altogether," Yiftah Shapir from the Middle East Military Balance Project told RT.

With that in mind, the Obama-Netanyahu dynamics look unsettling. Obama, however, insists there is nothing to worry about.

I’ve met with Bibi more than any other world leader one-on-one,” he told Channel Two. “He is very blunt with me about his views on issues, and I am very blunt with him about my views on issues. And we get stuff done. We could not coordinate militarily or on the intelligence side had it not been for our capacity to work together.”

Palestinians demonstrate against the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama on March 19, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)

Another pointy issue between the two is the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the consequently stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has been known for his aggressive promotion of the settlements policy for years.

The new parliament, elected in January, has been supportive of his stance. Most members of the new government, formed only a few days ago, are known to be pro-settlement. The settlers feel confident to follow the lead.

"We don't see ourselves leaving our communities. We live here with the encouragement and support of the Israeli government," Miri Maoz-Ovadia, Israeli settler community representative told RT.

The US has explicitly condemned the settlement policy, but has done nearly nothing that would change the reality on the ground, raising Palestinian anger.

"In his statements, President Obama has repeatedly voiced his opposition to illegal land expropriation, and we think he’s right, now all that remains is to translate words into action," the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told RT.

Obama is meeting him on Thursday.

A Palestinian woman holds a sign during a protest against the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama, in Gaza City March 20, 2013 (Reuters / Mohammed Salem)

The scheduled Hertzl tomb tribute didn't go unnoticed either, with speculations Obama should also go to the resting place of the late Palestinian leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Yasser Arafat.

On the eve of the arrival hundreds of Palestinians rallied in Ramallah with placards saying ‘No Hope for Obama’. Angered by the American leniency towards the Israeli settlements, they expect little of his visit.

"Obama came just to beautify the ugly face that Bush left. The American governments work the same whether the president is Obama or Bush. The only difference is that one president smiles, while the other doesn't," Afu Agbaria, Arab Knesset member, told RT. 

The third most pressing issue on the table for Obama's time in the Middle East is the deteriorating situation in Syria, with little progress expected on that side either.

Palestinian demonstrators hold shoes and flags as they take part in a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 19, 2013 (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

Progressives’ Budget Merits a Closer Look

Last week in Washington was a tale of two budgets. One of them used popular, common-sense plans to create millions of jobs. The other had a battery of discredited ideas that would kill jobs and derail the recovery. Guess which one much of the mainstream media were chattering about?

On Tuesday, failed vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled this year’s version of his much-heralded “Ryan budget.” Like its past incarnations, this budget offers the kind of economic medicine that would kill the patient. While excluding some of Ryan’s politically toxic past schemes, such as Social Security privatization, it veers even farther to the right in crucial ways, caving to pressure from tea partyers who thought Ryan’s past efforts weren’t extreme enough. The congressman’s new effort includes a mad dash to completely eliminate the deficit within a decade, at a catastrophic cost: savage cuts to essential services and protections and the destruction of millions of jobs. As Europe reminds us again and again, austerity will only dig us deeper into recession.

Ryan’s budget is cruel, deceptive and incomplete. Even as the Affordable Care Act and Medicare expansion are being embraced by reality-based Republican governors (or those, such as Florida’s Rick Scott, who are experiencing a momentary bout of poll-induced realism), Ryan stubbornly ignores Congressional Budget Office evidence that the ACA decreases the deficit. Even at a moment when we need the safety net more than ever, Ryan wants to shred and slash programsincluding Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and domestic violence prevention. And even as Ryan coasts on his unearned reputation as a serious wonk, his budget math is full of holes. As The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brienput it, this time “his magic asterisk needs to be even more magic.” Paul Krugman was less generous, calling Ryan’s successive plans “all smoke (I couldn’t even find any mirrors).”

Still, Paul Ryan remains a media darling, no matter how dangerous or unpopular his proposals are. But where’s the media love for the just and popular alternative?

On Wednesday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) unveiled its own offering in the budget debate: The Back to Work Budget. It’s a detailed plan to create nearly 7 million jobs while bringing down the deficit by $4.4 trillion over a decade. It does this the right way: higher taxes on the wealthiest (including a 49 percent rate on incomes over a billion — yes, billion — dollars); a financial transaction tax that would discourage reckless speculation; a long-awaited end to tax advantages for outsourcers and corporate jets; a forward-looking carbon tax; a public option for health insurance; sensible military cuts; and investment in infrastructure, school construction, child care, and putting teachers and firefighters back to work.

“Americans face a choice,” says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus. “We can either cut Medicare benefits to pay for more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or we can close these tax loopholes to invest in jobs.”

As blogger Bill Scher argues, “the Progressive Caucus holds an unfair advantage: It includes policies the public actually supports.” In a sane world, that would be enough to earn the Back to Work Budget equal time with Ryan’s latest slash-fest. Instead, if past is prologue, the Progressive Caucus alternative will be covered as an afterthought at best.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When all-too-savvy reporters dismiss reasonable ideas as doomed fantasies, they do the public a disservice. When they shower right-wing pseudo-wonkery with the air of seriousness, they make it that much worse. (There are praiseworthy exceptions to the trend,including the New York Times’ Paul Krugman and The Post’s Ezra Klein, who called the Progressive Caucus budget the “correct counterpart to the unbridled ambition of the Ryan budget.”)

This week, both budgets will likely get a vote in the House. The truth is, neither Ryan’s budget nor that of the Progressive Caucus stands a chance of being passed into law as is. But each is an attempt to shift U.S. policy — and national discussion — in a different direction. Since too much of the Inside the Beltway media keep treating Ryan’s budget as a serious blueprint, it falls to the rest of us to break open Washington’s all-too narrowly-framed debate.

“The Ryan budget chooses to slash every job-creating investment in jobs,” says Rep. Ellison, “not just Medicare, but student loans, medical research, and funding for roads and bridges. We choose jobs.”

© 2013 The Washington Post

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

China’s “Hogwash” Getting Worse As Floating Dead Pigs Rise To 3300, Pig Virus Found

When we first reported on China's "hogwash" yesterday, the number of floating pigs in Shanghai's water supplying Huangpu River was a "modest" 1200. It has since tripled to 3300. From SCMP: "The agriculture and environmental protection departments in S...

On the News With Thom Hartmann: 200,000 Taiwanese Publicly Protested Nuclear Power on Saturday,...

In today's On the News segment: Legislation that would penalize employers for lockouts in labor disputes introduced in Minnesota, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Republicans hate tax increases... unless they're part of Paul Ryan's budget plan. Six hundred billion dollars in new revenue, fought for by President Obama and opposed by Congressional Republicans, is just one of the many surprises in Paul Ryan's new GOP budget. According to Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, new revenue generated from ending the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy is included in the GOP plan because Republicans lost on the tax issue. Despite their doomsday predictions that Obama's tax plan would crush so-called job-creators and harm the economy, Republicans are now happy to make them part of the Paul Ryan budget. In prior years, when Democrats projected $600 billion in savings from decreased war spending, Paul Ryan dismissed the idea as "phantom savings" - yet now he has those very same projections as part of his own budget proposal. Despite incorporating multiple Obama policies in their budget, don't think Republicans are giving up on their austerity measures just yet. In typical GOP fashion, Ryan's budget calls for huge cuts to vital social service programs, like food stamps, job training, Medicare, and Medicaid. And just in case those cuts wouldn't be painful enough, Ryan's entire budget hinges on the repeal of Obamacare. Without defunding healthcare for millions of Americans, his numbers don't add up. Considering the fact that Obama has repeatedly said he would veto any attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats in the Senate would block any such legislation, we can only conclude that Paul Ryan knows his budget is doomed to fail. It's clear that Republicans have no intention of working with the President to negotiate an honest, realistic budget plan. Ryan's budget is a farce, aimed at scoring political points with the tea party base, rather than helping the American people .

In screwed news... The U.S. Government has notified 60,000 border security workers that they will soon face furloughs because of Republican austerity measures. Customs and Border Protection must cut $754 million from it's budget by September 30th, meaning international travelers can expect longer lines at airports, huge delays at ports, and fewer border patrol officers at international checkpoints. The agency aims to reduce spending through furloughs, a hiring freeze, reductions in overtime hours, and reduced levels of training. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expects customs wait times to increase by 150-200%, and she said, "I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform. If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would. There's only so much we can do with personnel." Despite GOP claims that they favor strong boarder security, tax break security for millionaires and billionaires appears to mean even more to them. Republican obstinacy on the sequester is putting our national security in jeopardy, just to be sure their rich buddies never have to pay their fair share.

In the best of the rest of the news...

In Minnesota, employers may have to think twice about using worker lockouts during labor disputes. Lockouts have long been a common employer tactic in Minnesota, but state Representative Joe Atkins has introduced legislation to protect workers, and charge employers a penalty for keeping employees from their jobs. The Employer Lockout Accountability Act has bipartisan support in the Minnesota state legislature, and grew out of the American Crystal Sugar lockout, which has been ongoing since August of 2011. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has expressed support for the legislation, saying that the impact of lockouts stretches well beyond those who are kept from work. The AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Steve Hunter, said, "there's a community effect beyond just the workers themselves, and we thank that, by ensuring some economic security for those workers, we can help mitigate those community effects as well." With our right to organize being attacked in so many states throughout our nation, it's nice to see Rep. Atkins working to protect unionized workers in Minnesota.

On Saturday, 200,000 people took to the streets of Taiwan to protest nuclear power. Just two days before the two year anniversary of the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, protesters demanded their government stop allocating funding for a fourth nuclear power plant in New Taipei City. More than 6.5 million people live in close proximity to the plant, which is scheduled to be completed later this year – after 14 years of construction and about $10 billion of taxpayer money. One organizer in the protest said, "we have to take to the streets for the good of the next generation." After disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, it's easy to understand how dangerous nuclear energy is. Let's join with the 200,000 protesters in Taiwan, and take a stand for the good of the next generation of Americans too. No nukes!

Despite the flurry of people rushing out to buy assault weapons, and reports of empty shelves at gun stores, fewer Americans are purchasing guns. According to new data from the General Social Survey, people who already own guns are simply buying more. While 50% of households owned guns in the 1970's, only 34% reported guns in the home by 2012. Addressing the record sales levels at gun stores, Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said, "I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners." If the NRA and it's fellow gun-nuts hadn't blocked commonsense regulations like a national gun registry, we could verify this data. Let's keep pushing Congress to enact some real gun reforms, before the gun-nuts have a chance to hoard any more fire power.

And finally... On Saturday, bikers in San Francisco bared it all for the environment. Protestors of all shapes and sizes came out in the buff to take part in the World Naked Bike Ride, which is an international demonstration against our dependence on fossil fuels. Riders were warned that a new law prohibited public nudity, but risked citations to bring attention to this important cause. Although this type of protest may not be for everyone, we applaud those brave enough to bare all for green energy. And we hope they remembered the sun block.

And that's the way it is today – Monday, March 11, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Port Said violence escalates ahead of contentious Saturday verdict

Published time: March 08, 2013 05:24

An Egyptian protester throws a tear gas bomb back at riot police during clashes in the Suez Canal city of Port Said on March 7, 2013 (AFP Photo / Jonathan Rashad)

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Another life has been claimed in a fifth day of clashes between police and protesters in the Egyptian city of Post Said, amid ongoing political turmoil. The crowd is demanding the release of prisoners charged over last year’s soccer stadium massacre.

Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal, has been a hotspot since January, plagued by violent protests over detentions and death sentences following a soccer stadium riot that took the lives of 74 people last year.

The match itself was plagued by security irregularities and many commented on police inaction, while the list of accused only involved members of the Port Said team’s supporters and not the opposition. Add to that a delay in the trial of police officers involved.

Egyptian-American journalist from 'Democracy Now', Sharif Kouddous, told RT how difficult it would be to avoid confrontation with both sides in the event of either verdict.

“If the security officials are seen as innocent or getting off with a light sentence, then both sides will be very angry and this lingering sense of injustice that has been hanging over Egypt for the past two years will really ignite on the streets of Port Said or Cairo.,” he said.

The imprisoned youths were being moved on Thursday from one prison to another unknown location. Their families have been experiencing a sense of injustice from the government and worried that their loved ones would not be guaranteed adequate protection. That is how the clashes began.

The precursor to Thursday’s violence began Wednesday, when masked youths had gathered at various government buildings in the coastal city, throwing stones and chanting “dirty government!” as the police responded with smoke bombs. When on Thursday they started using teargas to disperse the demonstrators, the crowd erupted.

Since the start of this latest spate of violence on March 3, at least seven people have been killed and hundreds wounded. The Thursday victim is Karim Atout, 33, who, according to a Health Ministry official’s statement to Reuters, “died from a gunshot to the head after doctors’ efforts failed to revive him.” RT’s Bel Trew, who was present during the Thursday clashes, said there were reports of live ammunition used by the security forces.

It is widely believed that the 21 of 39 prisoners will probably get their death sentences approved by the Mufti at a court hearing in Port Said on Saturday. When they were charged in January, the ensuing violence between law enforcement and civilians had claimed at least 40 lives. The government says they will increase security around the prison and courthouse on the day of the ruling.

Speaking to RT, political blogger Iskander Wael stressed that disproportionate justice was being delivered: “[This is] certainly not a fair trial. A lot of the judiciary here is highly politicized. You can’t expect any justice to come out of [it]…but one of the more important things to look into is that the sentences on the policemen were postponed till March 9. It seems that the whole verdict is just a way to manage the country’s political crisis, rather than to bring about justice.”

Ever since President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in the Egyptian popular uprising of two years ago, security in Port Said has been steadily deteriorating. There is a widespread feeling that the city has become neglected by the central government in Cairo, that its demonstrators are treated differently, and that the security forces are a part of the government’s brutal hand. There is also talk of current President Mohamed Morsi substituting the police force in Port Said for the military.

However, the police have been carrying out their own strikes across Egypt. Officers have made it clear that their actions are intended to show the force’s neutrality in the unrest, and that they refuse to have their actions politicized on any level. That is what they told Egypt’s news agency MENA. When dozens protested peacefully in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, they chanted the words, “the police are not against the people.”

Egypt has been in a state of chaos since the start of Morsi’s presidency. The country believes he is not carrying out the goals set during the revolution of 2011, and many want him to relinquish power.

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

Private military and security companies (PMSC) are the modern reincarnation of a long lineage of private providers of physical force: corsairs, privateers and mercenaries. Mercenaries, which had practically disappeared during the XIXth and XXth centuries, reappeared in the 1960’s during the decolonization period operating mainly in Africa and Asia. Under the United Nations a convention was adopted which outlaws and criminalizes their activities. Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions also contains a definition of mercenary.

These non-state entities of the XXIst century operate in extremely blurred situations where the frontiers are difficult to separate. The new security industry of private companies moves large quantities of weapons and military equipment. It provides services for military operations recruiting former militaries as civilians to carry out passive or defensive security.

However, these individuals cannot be considered as civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, drive military trucks and fulfill other essential military functions. Those who are armed can easily switch from a passive/defensive to an active/offensive role and can commit human rights violations and even destabilize governments. They cannot be considered soldiers or supporting militias under international humanitarian law either, since they are not part of the army or in the chain of command, and often belong to a large number of different nationalities.

PMSC personnel cannot usually be considered to be mercenaries for the definition of mercenaries as stipulated in the international conventions dealing with this issue does not generally apply to the personnel of PMSCs which are legally operating in foreign countries under contracts of legally registered companies.

Private military and security companies operate in a legal vacuum: they pose a threat to civilians and to international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Council has entrusted the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, principally, with the mandate: “To monitor and study the effects of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human Rights (…) and to prepare draft international basic principles that encourage respect for human rights on the part of those companies in their activities”.

During the past five years, the Working Group has been studying emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding private military and security companies.  In our reports we have informed the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly about these issues. Of particular importance are the reports of the Working Group to the last session of the Human Rights Council, held in September 2010, on the Mission to the United States of America  (20 July to 3 August 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.3; on the Mission to Afghanistan (4-9 April 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.2, and the general report of the Working Group containing the Draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) for consideration and action by the Human Rights Council, Document A/HRC/15/25.

In the course of our research, since 2006, we have collected ample information which indicate the negative impact of the activities of “private contractors”, “private soldiers” or “guns for hire”, whatever denomination we may choose to name the individuals employed by private military and security companies as civilians but in general heavily armed. In the cluster of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by employees of these companies, which the Working Group has examined one can find: summary executions, acts of torture, cases of arbitrary detention; of trafficking of persons; serious health damages caused by their activities; as well as attempts against the right of self-determination. It also appears that PMSCs, in their search for profit, neglect security and do not provide their employees with their basic rights, and often put their staff in situations of danger and vulnerability.

Summary executions

On 16 September 2007 in Baghdad, employees of the US-based firm Blackwater[1] were involved in a shooting incident in Nisoor Square in which 17 civilians were killed and more than 20 other persons were wounded including women and children. Local eyewitness accounts indicate the use of arms from vehicles and rocket fire from a helicopter belonging to this company.

There are also concerns over the activities and approach of PMSC personnel, their convoys of armored vehicles and their conduct in traffic, in particular their use of lethal force. This particular incident was not the first of its kind, neither the first involving Blackwater.

According to a congressional report on the behaviour of Xe/Blackwater in Iraq, Xe/Blackwater guards were found to have been involved in nearly 200 escalation-of-force incidents that involved the firing of shots since 2005. Despite the terms of the contracts which provided that the company could engage only in defensive use of force, the company reported that in over 80 per cent of the shooting incidents, its forces fired the first shots.

In Najaf in April 2004 and on several other occasions, employees of this company took part in direct hostilities, as well as in May 2007, where another incident involving the same company reportedly occurred involving guards belonging to the company and forces belonging to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior allegedly exchanged gunfire in a sector of Baghdad.

Also in central Baghdad the shooting of employees of the PMSC, Unity Resources Group (URG)[2], protecting a convoy, left two Armenian women, Genevia Antranick and Mary Awanis dead on 9 October 2007 when their car came too close to a protected convoy. The family of Genevia Antranick was offered no compensation and has begun court proceedings against URG in the United States.

This company was also involved in the shooting of 72-year-old Australian Kays Juma. Professor Juma was shot in March 2006 as he approached an intersection being blockaded for a convoy URG was protecting. Professor Juma, a 25-year resident of Baghdad who drove through the city every day, allegedly sped up his vehicle as he approached the guards and did not heed warnings to stop, including hand signals, flares, warning shots into the body of his car and floodlights. The incident occurred at 10am[3].

Torture

Two United States-based corporations, CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation), were involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. CACI and L-3 Services, contracted by the Government of the United States, were responsible for interrogation and translation services, respectively, at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq.

Seventy two Iraqi citizens who were formerly detained at military prisons in Iraq, have sued L-3 Services, Inc. (“L-3”), a military private contractor which provided civilian translators for United States military forces in Iraq and Adel Nakhla, a former employee of L-3 who served as one of its translators there under the Alien Tort Statute. They allege having been tortured and physically and mentally abused during their detention and that they should be held liable in damages for their actions. The plaintiffs assert 20 causes of action, among which: torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress[4].

Arbitrary detention 

A number of reports indicate that private security guards have played central roles in some of the most sensitive activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) such as the arbitrary detention and clandestine raids against alleged insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan[5] and the involvement in CIA rendition flights[6] as well as joint covert operations[7]. Employees of PMSC would have been involved in the taking of detainees, from “pick up points” (such as Tuzla, Islamabad or Skopje) transporting them in rendition flights and delivering them to drop off points (such as Cairo, Rabat, Bucharest, Amman or Guantanamo) as well as in the construction, equipping and staffing of CIA’s “black sites”.

Within this context, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in May 2007 against Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. (a subsidiary company of Boeing) on behalf of five persons who were kidnapped by the CIA disappearing in overseas prisons kept by USA secret services. Jeppesen would have participated in the rendition by providing flight planning and logistical support. The five persons were tortured during their arbitrary detention[8].

Health

The 2009 annual report of DynCorp International refers to four lawsuits concerning the spraying of narcotic plant crops along the Colombian border adjacent to Ecuador on behalf of 3 Ecuadorian Providences and 3266 plaintiffs[9].

From 1991, the United States Department of State contracted the private company DynCorp to supply services for this air-spraying program against narcotics in the Andean region. In accordance with the subscribed contract of 30 January 1998, DynCorp provides the essential logistics to the anti-drug Office of activities of Colombia, in conformity with three main objectives: eradication of cultivations of illicit drugs, training of the army and of personnel of the country, and dismantling of illicit drug laboratories and illicit drug-trafficking networks.

An NGO report indicated the consequences of the spraying carried out within the Plan Colombia had on persons living in the frontier region[10].  One third of the 47 women in the study exposed to the spraying showed cells with some genetic damage. The study established the relationship of the air fumigations of the Plan Colombia with damages in the genetic material. The study demonstrates that when the population is subjected to fumigations “the risk of cellular damage can increase and that, once permanent, the cases of cancerous mutations and important embryonic alterations are increased that prompt among other possibilities the rise in abortions in the area.

This example is particularly important given that Plan Colombia has served as the model for the arrangements that the United States would apply later to Iraq and Afghanistan. Plan Colombia provides immunity to the employees of the PMSC contracted (DynCorp) the same as Order 14 of the Coalition Provisional Authority did in Iraq.

Self-determination

The 2004 attempted coup d’état, which was perpetrated in Equatorial Guinea is a clear example of the link between the phenomenon of mercenaries and PMSCs as a means of violating the sovereignty of States. In this particular case, the mercenaries involved were mostly former directors and personnel of Executive Outcomes, a PMSC that had become famous for its operations in Angola and Sierra Leone. The team of mercenaries also included security guards who were still employed by PMSCs as was the case of two employees of the company Meteoric Tactical Systems providing security to diplomats of Western Embassies in Baghdad-among which to the Ambassador of Switzerland. It also included a security guard who had previously worked for the PMSC “Steele Foundation” and had given protection to President Aristide of Haiti and conducted him to the plane who took him to exile[11].

Trafficking in persons

In 2005, 105 Chileans were providing/or undergoing military training in the former army base of Lepaterique in Honduras. The instruction consisted in anti‐guerrilla tactics such as possible ambushes and deactivation of explosives and mortars how to avoid them. The Chileans had entered Honduras as tourists and were illegally in Honduras. They used high‐caliber weapons such as M‐16 rifles or light machine guns. They had been contracted by a subsidiary of Triple Canopy.

They were part of a group, which included also 189 Hondurans recruited and trained in Honduras. Triple Canopy had been awarded a contract by the United States Department of State. The strong contingent left the country by air from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in several groups with a stopover in Iceland. Then reached the Middle East and were smuggled into Iraq[12].

The majority of the Chileans and Hondurans were engaged as security guards at fixed facilities in Iraq. They had been contracted by Your Solutions Honduras SRL, a local agent of Your Solutions Incorporated, registered in Illinois, United States of America, which in turn had been subcontracted by Triple Canopy, based in Chicago, United States of America. Some of the Chileans are presently working in Baghdad providing security to the Embassy of Australia under a contract by Unity Resources Group (URG).

Human rights violations committed by PMSC to their employees

PMSC often put the contracted private guards in situations of danger and vulnerability, such as the ‘private contractors’ of Blackwater, killed in Fallujah in 2004 allegedly due to the lack of the necessary safety means that Blackwater was supposed to provide in order to carry out the mission.

It should not be forgotten that this incident changed dramatically the course of the war and the occupation by the United States in Iraq. It may be considered as the turning point in the occupation of Iraq. This led to an abortive US operation to recapture control of the city and a successful recapture operation in the city in November 2004, called Operation Phantom Fury, which resulted in the death of over 1,350 insurgent fighters. Approximately 95 America troops were killed, and 560 wounded.

The U.S. military first denied that it has use white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah, but later retracted that denial, and admitted to using the incendiary in the city as an offensive weapon. Reports following the events of November 2004 have alleged war crimes, and a massacre by U.S. personnel, including indiscriminate violence against civilians and children.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallujah – cite_note-17 This point of view is presented in the 2005 documentary film, “Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre”. In 2010, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a leading medical journal, published a study, which shows that the rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia exceed those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki[13].

The over 300 000 classified military documents made public by Wikileaks show that the “Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq”, as has been widely reported by the international media recently.

The United States has relied and continues to rely heavily on private military and security contractors in conducting its military operations. The United States used private security contractors to conduct narcotics intervention operations in Colombia in the 1990s and recently signed a supplemental agreement that authorizes it to deploy troops and contractors in seven Colombian military bases. During the conflict in the Balkans, the United States used a private security contractor to train Croat troops to conduct operations against Serbian troops. Nowadays, it is in the context of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular that the State is massively contracting out security functions to private firms.

In 2009, the Department of Defense employed 218,000 private contractors (all types) while there were 195,000 uniformed personnel. According to the figures, about 8 per cent of these contractors are armed security contractors, i.e. about 20,000 armed guards. If one includes other theatres of operations, the figure rises to 242,657, with 54,387 United States citizens, 94,260 third country nationals and 94,010 host-country nationals.

The State Department relies on about 2,000 private security contractors to provide United States personnel and facilities with personal protective and guard services in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Pakistan, and aviation services in Iraq. The contracts for protective services were awarded in 2005 to three PMSCs, namely, Triple Canopy, DynCorp International and the U.S. Training Center, part of the Xe (then Blackwater) group of companies. These three companies still hold the State Department protective services contracts today.

Lack of transparency

The information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts between the Government of the United States and PMSCs is scarce and opaque. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. Often, the contracts with PMSCs are not disclosed to the public despite extensive freedom of information rules in the United States, either because they contain confidential commercial information or on the argument that non-disclosure is in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. The situation is particularly opaque when United States intelligence agencies contract PMSCs.

Lack of accountability

Despite the fact of their involvement in grave human rights violations, not a single PMSC or employee of these companies has been sanctioned.

In the course of litigation, several recurring legal arguments have been used in the defense of PMSCs and their personnel, including the Government contractor defense, the political question doctrine and derivative immunity arguments. PMSCs are using the Government contractor defense to argue that they were operating under the exclusive control of the Government of the United States when the alleged acts were committed and therefore cannot be held liable for their actions.

It looks as if when the acts are committed by agents of the government they are considered human rights violations but when these same acts are perpetrated by PMSC it is “business as usual”.

The human rights violation perpetrated by private military and security companies are indications of the threat posed to the foundations of democracy itself by the privatization of inherently public functions such as the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. In this connection I cannot help but to refer to the final speech of President Eisenhower.

In 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American public opinion against the growing danger of a military industrial complex stating: “(…) we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

Fifty years later, on 8 September 2001, Donald Rumsfeld in his speech in the Department of Defence warned the militaries of the Pentagon against “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America (…) Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is (…) a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s. (…) The adversary. (…) It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. (…)That’s why we’re here today challenging us all to wage an all-out campaign to shift Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the battlefield, from tail to the tooth. We know the adversary. We know the threat. And with the same firmness of purpose that any effort against a determined adversary demands, we must get at it and stay at it. Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

Rumsfeld should have said the shift from the Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the private sector. Indeed, that shift had been accelerated by the Bush Administration: the number of persons employed by contract which had been outsourced (privatized) by the Pentagon was already four times more than at the Department of Defense.

It is not anymore a military industrial complex but as Noam Chomsky has indicated “it’s just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext”.

The articles of the Washington Post “Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control”, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (19 July 2010) show the extent that “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.

The investigation’s findings include that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States; and that an estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. A number of private military and security companies are among the security and intelligence agencies mentioned in the report of the Washington Post.

The Working Group received information from several sources that up to 70 per cent of the budget of United States intelligence is spent on contractors. These contracts are classified and very little information is available to the public on the nature of the activities carried out by these contractors.

The privatization of war has created a structural dynamic, which responds to a commercial logic of the industry.

A short look at the careers of the current managers of BAE Systems, as well as on their address-books, confirms we are not any longer dealing with a normal corporation, but with a cartel uniting high tech weaponry (BAE Systems, United Defence Industries, Lockheed Martin), with speculative financiers (Lazard Frères, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank), together with raw material cartels (British Petroleum, Shell Oil) with on the ground, private military and security companies[14].

The majority of the private military and security companies has been created or are managed by former militaries or ex-policemen for whom it is big business. Just to give an example MPRI (Military Professional Resources Incorporation) was created by four former generals of the United States Army when they were due for retirement[15]. The same is true for Blackwater and its affiliate companies or subsidiaries, which employ former directors of the C.I.A.[16]. Social Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the Rotating Door Syndrome.

The use of security contractors is expected to grow as American forces shrink. A July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel established by Congress, estimated that the State Department alone would need more than double the number of contractors it had protecting the American Embassy and consulates in Iraq.

“Without contractors: (1) the military engagement would have had to be smaller–a strategically problematic alternative; (2) the United States would have had to deploy its finite number of active personnel for even longer tours of duty -a politically dicey and short-sighted option; (3) the United States would have had to consider a civilian draft or boost retention and recruitment by raising military pay significantly–two politically untenable options; or (4) the need for greater commitments from other nations would have arisen and with it, the United States would have had to make more concessions to build and sustain a truly multinational effort. Thus, the tangible differences in the type of war waged, the effect on military personnel, and the need for coalition partners are greatly magnified when the government has the option to supplement its troops with contractors”[17].

The military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE impact of Private Security Contracting on U.S. Goals in Afghanistan[18]

Conclusion I: The proliferation of private security personnel in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the counterinsurgency strategy. In May 2010 the U.S. Central Command’s Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate reported that there were more than 26,000 private security contractor personnel operating in Afghanistan. Many of those private security personnel are associated with armed groups that operate outside government control.

Conclusion 2: Afghan warlords and strongmen operating as force providers to private security contractors have acted against U.S. and Afghan government interests. Warlords and strongmen associated with U.S.-funded security contractors have been linked to anti Coalition activities, murder, bribery, and kidnapping. The Committee’s examination of the U.S. funded security contract with ArmorGroup at Shindand Airbase in Afghanistan revealed that ArmorGroup relied on a series of warlords to provide armed men to act as security, guards at the Airbase.

Open-ended intergovernmental working group established by the HR Council

Because of their impact in the enjoyment of human rights the Working Group on mercenaries in its 2010 reports to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly has recommended a legally binding instrument regulating and monitoring their activities at the national and international level.

The motion to create an open ended intergovernmental working group has been the object of lengthy negotiations, in the Human Rights Council, led by South Africa in order to accommodate the concerns of the Western Group, but primarily those of the United States and the United Kingdom and of a lot a pressure exerted in the capitals of African countries supporting the draft resolution. The text of the resolution was weakened in order to pass the resolution by consensus. But even so the position of the Western States has been a “fin de non recevoir”.

The resolution was adopted by a majority of 32 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions. Among the supporters of this initiative are four out of the five members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) in addition to the African Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab Group.

The adoption of this resolution opens an interesting process in the UN Human Rights Council where civil society can participate in the elaboration of an international framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies.  The new open ended intergovernmental working group will be the forum for all stakeholders to receive inputs, not only the draft text of a possible convention and the elements elaborated by the UN Working Group on mercenaries but also of other initiatives such as the proposal submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Montreux Document and the international code of conduct being elaborated under the Swiss Initiative.

However, the negative vote of the delegations of the Western Group indicates that the interests of the new staggering security industry – its annual market revenue is estimated to be over USD one hundred billion – have been quite well defended as was the case in a number of other occasions. It also shows that Western governments will be absent from the start in a full in-depth discussion of the issues raised by the activities of PMSC.

We urge all States to support the process initiated by the Council by designating their representatives to the new open-ended intergovernmental working group, which will hold its first session in 2011, and to continue a process of discussions regarding a legally binding instrument.

The participation of the UK and USA main exporters of these activities (it is estimated at 70% the industry of security in these two countries) as well as other Western countries where the new industry is expanding is of particular importance.

The Working Group also urges the United States Government to implement the recommendations we made, in particular, to:

support the Congress Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, which clearly defines the functions which are inherently governmental and that cannot be outsourced to the private sector;

rescind immunity to contractors carrying out activities in other countries under bilateral agreements;

carry out prompt and effective investigation of human rights violations committed by PMSCs and prosecute alleged perpetrators;

ensure that the oversight of private military and security contractors is not outsourced to PMSCs;
establish a specific system of federal licensing of PMSCs for their activities abroad;

set up a vetting procedure for awarding contracts to PMSCs;

ensure that United States criminal jurisdiction applies to private military and security companies contracted by the Government to carry out activities abroad; and

respond to pending communications from the Working Group.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, under the Universal Periodic Review, initiated a review in November 2010 in Geneva, focussing on the human rights record of the United States. The above article is an edited version of the presentation given by Jose L. Gomez del Prado in Geneva on 3 November 2010 at a parallel meeting at the UN Palais des Nations on that occasion.

Notes

[1] Blackwater Worldwide abandoned its tarnished brand name in order to shake its reputation battered by its criticized work in Iraq, renaming its family of two-dozen businesses under the name Xe’, see Mike Baker, ‘Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name’, AP News Break, 13 February 2009.

[2] URG, an Australian private military and security company, uses a number of ex military Chileans to provide security to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Recently one of those “private guards” shot himself, ABC News, reported by La Tercera, Chile, 16 September 2010.

[3]J.Mendes & S Mitchell, “Who is Unity Resources Group?”, ABC News Australia, 16 September 2010.

[4] Case 8:08-cv-01696-PJM, Document 103, Filed 07/29/10. Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss on a number of grounds. They argue, among others, that the suit must be dismissed in its entirety because they are immune under the laws of war, because the suit raises non-justiciable political questions, and because they possess derivative sovereign immunity. They seek dismissal of the state law claims on the basis of government contractor immunity, premised on the notion that Plaintiffs cannot proceed on state law claims, which arise out of combatant activities of the military. The United States District Court for the district of Maryland Greenbelt Division has decided to proceed with the case against L-3 Services, Inc. It has not accepted the motions to dismiss allowing the case to go forward.

[5] Mission to the United States of America, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/15/25/Add.3, paragraphs 22.

[6] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater guards tied to secret C.I.A. raids ”, New York Times, 10

December 2009.

[7] Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy”, Vanity Fair, January 2010. See also Claim No. HQ08X02800 in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Binyam Mohamed v. Jeppesen UK Ltd, report of James Gavin Simpson, 26 May 2009.

[8]ACLU Press Release, UN Report Underscores Lack of Accountability and Oversight for Military and Security Contractors, New York, 14 September 2010.

[9] The reports also indicates that the Revenues of DynCorp for 2006 were of USD 1 966 993 and for 2009 USD 3 101 093

[10] Mission to Ecuador, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/4/42/Add.2

[11] A number of the persons involved in the attempted coup were arrested in Zimbabwe, other in Equatorial Guinea itself the place where the coup was intended to take place to overthrow the government and put another in its place in order to get the rich resources in oil. In 2004 and 2008 the trials took place in Equatorial Guinea of those arrested in connection with this coup attempt, including of the British citizen Simon Mann and the South African Nick du Toit. The President of Equatorial Guinea pardoned all foreigners linked to this coup attempt in November 2009 by. A number of reports indicated that trials failed to comply with international human rights standards and that some of the accused had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The government of Equatorial Guinea has three ongoing trials in the United Kingdom, Spain and Lebanon against the persons who were behind the attempted coup.
[12] Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Mission to Honduras, United Nations document A/HRC/4/42/Add.1.
[13] Wikipedia
[14] Mercenaries without borders by Karel Vereycken,  Friday Sep 21st, 2007
[15] Among which General Carl E. Vuono, Chief of the Army during the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama; General Crosbie E. Saint, former Commander in Chief of the  USA Army in Europe and General Ron Griffith. The President of MPRI is General Bantant J. Craddock.

[16] Such as Cofer Black, former Chief of the Counter Terrorism Center; Enrique Prado, former Chief of Operations and Rof Richter, second in command of the Clandestine Services of the Company
[17] Article published in the Spring 2010 issue of the University of Chicago Law Review, titled “Privatization’s Pretensions” by Jon D. Michaels, Acting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law
[18] INQUIRY INTO THE ROLE AND OVERSIGHT OF PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS IN AFGHANISTAN, R E P O R T TOGETHER WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES UNITED STATES SENATE, 28 September 2010

Fukushima: A Nuclear War without a War: The Unspoken Crisis of Worldwide Nuclear Radiation

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GLOBAL RESEARCH ONLINE INTERACTIVE READER SERIES

The Unspoken Crisis of Worldwide Nuclear Radiation

Michel Chossudovsky (Editor)

I-Book No. 3, January 25  2012

Global Research’s Online Interactive I-Book Reader brings together, in the form of chapters, a collection of Global Research feature articles and videos, including debate and analysis, on a broad theme or subject matter. 

In this Interactive Online I-Book we bring to the attention of our readers an important collection of articles, reports and video material on the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe and its impacts (scroll down for the Table of Contents).

To consult our Online Interactive I-Book Reader Series, click here.

INTRODUCTION

The World is at a critical crossroads. The Fukushima disaster in Japan has brought to the forefront the dangers of Worldwide nuclear radiation.

The crisis in Japan has been described as “a nuclear war without a war”. In the words of renowned novelist Haruki Murakami:

“This time no one dropped a bomb on us … We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.”

Nuclear radiation –which threatens life on planet earth– is not front page news in comparison to the most insignificant issues of public concern, including the local level crime scene or the tabloid gossip reports on Hollywood celebrities.

While the long-term repercussions of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are yet to be fully assessed, they are far more serious than those pertaining to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, which resulted in almost one million deaths (New Book Concludes – Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer Global Research, September 10, 2010, See also Matthew Penney and Mark Selden  The Severity of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster: Comparing Chernobyl and Fukushima, Global Research, May 25, 2011)

Moreover, while all eyes were riveted on the Fukushima Daiichi plant, news coverage both in Japan and internationally failed to fully acknowledge the impacts of a second catastrophe at TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Co  Inc) Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant.

The shaky political consensus both in Japan, the U.S. and Western Europe is that the crisis at Fukushima has been contained.

The realties, however, are otherwise. Fukushima 3 was leaking unconfirmed amounts of plutonium. According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, “one millionth of a gram of plutonium, if inhaled can cause cancer”.  

An opinion poll in May 2011 confirmed that more than 80 per cent of the Japanese population do not believe the government’s information regarding the nuclear crisis. (quoted in Sherwood Ross, Fukushima: Japan’s Second Nuclear Disaster, Global Research, November 10, 2011)

The Impacts in Japan

The Japanese government has been obliged to acknowledge that “the severity rating of its nuclear crisis … matches that of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster”. In a bitter irony, however, this tacit admission by the Japanese authorities has proven to been part of  the cover-up of a significantly larger catastrophe, resulting in a process of global nuclear radiation and contamination:

“While Chernobyl was an enormous unprecedented disaster, it only occurred at one reactor and rapidly melted down. Once cooled, it was able to be covered with a concrete sarcophagus that was constructed with 100,000 workers. There are a staggering 4400 tons of nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima, which greatly dwarfs the total size of radiation sources at Chernobyl.” ( Extremely High Radiation Levels in Japan: University Researchers Challenge Official Data, Global Research, April 11, 2011)

Fukushima in the wake of the Tsunami, March 2011

Worldwide Contamination

The dumping of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean constitutes a potential trigger to a process of global radioactive contamination. Radioactive elements have not only been detected in the food chain in Japan, radioactive rain water has been recorded in California:

“Hazardous radioactive elements being released in the sea and air around Fukushima accumulate at each step of various food chains (for example, into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat and milk, then humans). Entering the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, continuously irradiating small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years often induce cancer”. (Helen Caldicott, Fukushima: Nuclear Apologists Play Shoot the Messenger on Radiation, The Age,  April 26, 2011)

While the spread of radiation to the West Coast of North America was casually acknowledged, the early press reports (AP and Reuters) “quoting diplomatic sources” stated that only “tiny amounts of radioactive particles have arrived in California but do not pose a threat to human health.”

“According to the news agencies, the unnamed sources have access to data from a network of measuring stations run by the United Nations’ Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. …

… Greg Jaczko, chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told White House reporters on Thursday (March 17) that his experts “don’t see any concern from radiation levels that could be harmful here in the United States or any of the U.S. territories”.

The spread of radiation. March 2011

Public Health Disaster. Economic Impacts

What prevails is a well organized camouflage. The public health disaster in Japan, the contamination of water, agricultural land and the food chain, not to mention the broader economic and social implications, have neither been fully acknowledged nor addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful fashion by the Japanese authorities.

Japan as a nation state has been destroyed. Its landmass and territorial waters are contaminated. Part of the country is uninhabitable. High levels of radiation have been recorded in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which has a population of  39 million (2010) (more than the population of Canada, circa 34 million (2010)) There are indications that the food chain is contaminated throughout Japan:

Radioactive cesium exceeding the legal limit was detected in tea made in a factory in Shizuoka City, more than 300 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Shizuoka Prefecture is one of the most famous tea producing areas in Japan.

A tea distributor in Tokyo reported to the prefecture that it detected high levels of radioactivity in the tea shipped from the city. The prefecture ordered the factory to refrain from shipping out the product. After the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, radioactive contamination of tea leaves and processed tea has been found over a wide area around Tokyo. (See 5 More Companies Detect Radiation In Their Tea Above Legal Limits Over 300 KM From Fukushima, June 15, 2011)

Japan’s industrial and manufacturing base is prostrate. Japan is no longer a leading industrial power. The country’s exports have plummeted. The Tokyo government has announced its first trade deficit since 1980.

While the business media has narrowly centered on the impacts of power outages and energy shortages on the pace of productive activity, the broader issue pertaining to the outright radioactive contamination of the country’s infrastructure and industrial base is a “scientific taboo” (i.e the radiation of industrial plants, machinery and equipment, buildings, roads, etc). A report released in January 2012 points to the nuclear contamination of building materials used in the construction industry, in cluding roads and residential buildings throughout Japan.(See  FUKUSHIMA: Radioactive Houses and Roads in Japan. Radioactive Building Materials Sold to over 200 Construction Companies, January 2012)

A “coverup report” by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (May 2011), entitled Economic Impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Current Status of Recovery  presents “Economic Recovery” as a fait accompli. It also brushes aside the issue of radiation. The impacts of nuclear radiation on the work force and the country’s industrial base are not mentioned. The report states that the distance between Tokyo -Fukushima Dai-ichi  is of the order of 230 km (about 144 miles) and that the levels of radiation in Tokyo are lower than in Hong Kong and New York City.(Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Current Status of Recovery, p.15). This statement is made without corroborating evidence and in overt contradiction with independent radiation readings in Tokyo (se map below). In recent developments, Sohgo Security Services Co. is launching a lucrative “radiation measurement service targeting households in Tokyo and four surrounding prefectures”.

A map of citizens’ measured radiation levels shows radioactivity is distributed in a complex pattern reflecting the mountainous terrain and the shifting winds across a broad area of Japan north of Tokyo which is in the center of the of bottom of the map.”

“Radiation limits begin to be exceeded at just above 0.1 microsieverts/ hour blue. Red is about fifty times the civilian radiation limit at 5.0 microsieverts/hour. Because children are much more sensitive than adults, these results are a great concern for parents of young children in potentially affected areas.

SOURCE: Science Magazine

The fundamental question is whether the vast array of industrial goods and components “Made in Japan” — including hi tech components, machinery, electronics, motor vehicles, etc — and exported Worldwide are contaminated? Were this to be the case, the entire East and Southeast Asian industrial base –which depends heavily on Japanese components and industrial technology– would be affected. The potential impacts on international trade would be farreaching. In this regard, in January, Russian officials confiscated irradiated Japanese automobiles and autoparts in the port of Vladivostok for sale in the Russian Federation. Needless to say, incidents of this nature in a global competitive environment, could lead to the demise of the Japanese automobile industry which is already in crisis.

While most of the automotive industry is in central Japan, Nissan’s engine factory in Iwaki city is 42 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Is the Nissan work force affected? Is the engine plant contaminated? The plant is within about 10 to 20 km of the government’s “evacuation zone” from which some 200,000 people were evacuated (see map below).


Nuclear Energy and Nuclear War

The crisis in Japan has also brought into the open the unspoken relationship between nuclear energy and nuclear war.

Nuclear energy is not a civilian economic activity. It is an appendage of the nuclear weapons industry which is controlled by the so-called defense contractors. The powerful corporate interests behind nuclear energy and nuclear weapons overlap.

In Japan at the height of the disaster, “the nuclear industry and government agencies [were] scrambling to prevent the discovery of atomic-bomb research facilities hidden inside Japan’s civilian nuclear power plants”.1  (See Yoichi Shimatsu, Secret Weapons Program Inside Fukushima Nuclear Plant? Global Research,  April 12, 2011)

It should be noted that the complacency of both the media and the governments to the hazards of nuclear radiation pertains to the nuclear energy industry as well as to to use of nuclear weapons. In both cases, the devastating health impacts of nuclear radiation are casually denied. Tactical nuclear weapons with an explosive capacity of up to six times a Hiroshima bomb are labelled by the Pentagon as “safe for the surrounding civilian population”.

No concern has been expressed at the political level as to the likely consequences of a US-NATO-Israel attack on Iran, using “safe for civilians” tactical nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

Such an action would result in “the unthinkable”: a nuclear holocaust over a large part of the Middle East and Central Asia. A nuclear nightmare, however, would occur even if nuclear weapons were not used. The bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities using conventional weapons would contribute to unleashing another Fukushima type disaster with extensive radioactive fallout. (For further details See Michel Chossudovsky, Towards a World War III Scenario, The Dangers of Nuclear War, Global Research, Montreal, 2011)

The Online Interactive I-Book Reader on Fukushima: A Nuclear War without a War

In view of the official cover-up and media disinformation campaign, the contents of the articles and video reports in this Online Interactive Reader have not trickled down to to the broader public. (See Table of contents below)

This Online Interactive Reader on Fukushima contains a combination of analytical and scientific articles, video reports as well as shorter news reports and corroborating data.

Part I focusses on The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: How it Happened? Part II  pertains to The Devastating Health and Social Impacts in Japan. Part III  centers on the “Hidden Nuclear Catastrophe”, namely the cover-up by the Japanese government and the corporate media. Part IV focusses on the issue of  Worlwide Nuclear Radiation and Part V reviews the Implications of the Fukushima disaster for the Global Nuclear Energy Industry.

In the face of ceaseless media disinformation, this Global Research Online I-Book on the dangers of global nuclear radiation is intended to break the media vacuum and raise public awareness, while also pointing to the complicity of  the governments, the media and the nuclear industry.

We call upon our readers to spread the word.

We invite university, college and high school teachers to make this Interactive Reader on Fukushima available to their students.

Michel Chossudovsky, January 25, 2012

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART I

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: How it Happened

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: What Happened on “Day One”?
– by Yoichi Shimatsu – 2011-04-16
Fukushima is the greatest nuclear and environmental disaster in human history
- by Steven C. Jones – 2011-06-20

Nuclear Apocalypse in Japan
Lifting the Veil of Nuclear Catastrophe and cover-up
- by Keith Harmon Snow – 2011-03-18

Humanity now faces a deadly serious challenge coming out of Japan — the epicenter of radiation.

VIDEO: Full Meltdown? Japan Maximum Nuclear Alert
Watch now on GRTV
-by Christopher Busby- 2011-03-30

Fukushima: Japan’s Second Nuclear Disaster

- by Sherwood Ross – 2011-11-10

Secret Weapons Program Inside Fukushima Nuclear Plant?
U.S.-Japan security treaty fatally delayed nuclear workers’ fight against meltdown
- by Yoichi Shimatsu – 2011-04-12

The specter of self-destruction can be ended only with the abrogation of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, the root cause of the secrecy that fatally delayed the nuclear workers’ fight against meltdown.

Fukushima: “China Syndrome Is Inevitable” … “Huge Steam Explosions”
“Massive Hydrovolcanic Explosion” or a “Nuclear Bomb-Type Explosion” May Occur
- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-11-22

Accident at Second Japanese Nuclear Complex: The Nuclear Accident You Never Heard About

- by Washington’s Blog – 2012-01-12

VIDEO: New TEPCO Photographs Substantiate Significant Damage to Fukushima Unit 3
Latest report now on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-10-20

PART II

The Devastating Health and Social Impacts in Japan

VIDEO: Surviving Japan: A Critical Look at the Nuclear Crisis
Learn more about this important new documentary on GRTV
- by Chris Noland – 2012-01-23

Fukushima and the Battle for Truth
Large sectors of the Japanese population are accumulating significant levels of internal contamination
- by Paul Zimmerman – 2011-09-27

FUKUSHIMA: Public health Fallout from Japanese Quake
“Culture of cover-up” and inadequate cleanup. Japanese people exposed to “unconscionable” health risks
- by Canadian Medical Association Journal – 2011-12-30

FUKUSHIMA: Radioactive Houses and Roads in Japan. Radioactive Building Materials Sold to over 200 Construction Companies

- 2012-01-16

VIDEO: Cancer Risk To Young Children Near Fukushima Daiichi Underestimated
Watch this important new report on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2012-01-19

VIDEO: The Results Are In: Japan Received Enormous Exposures of Radiation from Fukushima
Important new video now on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen, Marco Kaltofen – 2011-11-07

The Tears of Sanriku (三陸の涙). The Death Toll for the Great East Japan Earthquake Nuclear Disaster

- by Jim Bartel – 2011-10-31

The Severity of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster: Comparing Chernobyl and Fukushima

- by Prof. Matthew Penney, Prof. Mark Selden – 2011-05-24

Uncertainty about the long-term health effects of radiation

Radioactivity in Food: “There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” – by Physicians For Social Responsibility – 2011-03-23

71,000 people in the city next to the Fukushima nuclear plant “We’ve Been Left to Die” - 2011-03-19

Tokyo Water Unsafe For Babies, Food Bans Imposed – by Karyn Poupee – 2011-03-23

 

PART III

Hidden Nuclear Catastrophe: Cover-up by the Japanese Government and the Corporate Media

VIDEO: Japanese Government Insiders Reveal Fukushima Secrets
GRTV Behind the Headlines now online
- by James Corbett – 2011-10-06

Fukushima and the Mass Media Meltdown
The Repercussions of a Pro-Nuclear Corporate Press
- by Keith Harmon Snow – 2011-06-20

Scandal: Japan Forces Top Official To Retract Prime Minister’s Revelation Fukushima Permanently Uninhabitable

- by Alexander Higgins – 2011-04-18

Emergency Special Report: Japan’s Earthquake, Hidden Nuclear Catastrophe
- by Yoichi Shimatsu – 2011-03-13

The tendency to deny systemic errors – “in order to avoid public panic” – is rooted in the determination of an entrenched Japanese bureaucracy to protect itself…

VIDEO: Fukushima: TEPCO Believes Mission Accomplished & Regulators Allow Radioactive Dumping in Tokyo Bay
Learn more on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2012-01-11

The Dangers of Radiation: Deconstructing Nuclear Experts
- by Chris Busby – 2011-03-31

“The nuclear industry is waging a war against humanity.” This war has now entered an endgame which will decide the survival of the human race.

Engineers Knew Fukushima Might Be Unsafe, But Covered It Up …
And Now the Extreme Vulnerabilty of NEW U.S. Plants Is Being Covered Up
- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-11-12

COVERUP: Are Fukushima Reactors 5 and 6 In Trouble Also?
- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-11-14

Fukushima’s Owner Adds Insult to Injury – Claims Radioactive Fallout Isn’t Theirs

- by John LaForge – 2012-01-17

PART IV

The Process of Worldwide Nuclear Radiation

VIDEO: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: The Dangers of Worldwide Radiation

- by Dr. Helen Caldicott – 2012-01-25

An Unexpected Mortality Increase in the US Follows Arrival of Radioactive Plume from Fukushima, Is there a Correlation?
- by Dr. Joseph J. Mangano, Dr. Janette Sherman – 2011-12-20

In the US, Following the Fukushima fallout, samples of radioactivity in precipitation, air, water, and milk, taken by the U.S. government, showed levels hundreds of times above normal…

Radioactive Dust From Japan Hit North America 3 Days After Meltdown
But Governments “Lied” About Meltdowns and Radiation
- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-06-24

VIDEO: Fukushima Will Be Radiating Everyone for Centuries
New report now on GRTV
- by Michio Kaku, Liz Hayes – 2011-08-23

Fukushima: Diseased Seals in Alaska tested for Radiation

- 2011-12-29

Radiation Spreads to France

- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-11-15

Radioactive rain causes 130 schools in Korea to close — Yet rain in California had 10 TIMES more radioactivity

PART V

Implications for the Global Nuclear Energy Industry

Science with a Skew: The Nuclear Power Industry After Chernobyl and Fukushima
- by Gayle Greene – 2012-01-26

After Fukushima: Enough Is Enough

- by Helen Caldicott – 2011-12-05

VIDEO: Radiation Coverups Confirmed: Los Alamos, Fort Calhoun, Fukushima, TSA
New Sunday Report now on GRTV
- by James Corbett – 2011-07-04

VIDEO: Why Fukushima Can Happen Here: What the NRC and Nuclear Industry Don’t Want You to Know
Watch now on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen, David Lochbaum – 2011-07-12

VIDEO: Safety Problems in all Reactors Designed Like Fukushima
Learn more on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-09-26

VIDEO: Proper Regulation of Nuclear Power has been Coopted Worldwide
Explore the issues on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-10-05

VIDEO: New Nuclear Reactors Do Not Consider Fukushima Design Flaws
Find out more on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-11-24

Nuclear Energy: Profit Driven Industry
“Nuclear Can Be Safe Or It Can Be Cheap … But It Can’t Be Both”
- by Washington’s Blog – 2011-12-23

VIDEO: Fukushima and the Fall of the Nuclear Priesthood
Watch the new GRTV Feature Interview
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-10-22

Why is there a Media Blackout on Nuclear Incident at Fort Calhoun in Nebraska?

- by Patrick Henningsen – 2011-06-23

Startling Revelations about Three Mile Island Disaster Raise Doubts Over Nuke Safety

- by Sue Sturgis – 2011-07-24

Radioactive Leak at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station

- by Rady Ananda – 2011-07-01

VIDEO: US vs Japan: The Threat of Radiation Speculation
Dangerous double standards examined on GRTV
- by Arnie Gundersen – 2011-06-25

Additional articles and videos on Fukushima and Nuclear Radiation are available at Global Research’s Dossier on The Environment


TEXT BOX

 Nuclear Radiation: Categorization

At Fukushima, reports confirm that alpha, beta, gamma particles and neutrons have been released:

“While non-ionizing radiation and x-rays are a result of electron transitions in atoms or molecules, there are three forms of ionizing radiation that are a result of activity within the nucleus of an atom.  These forms of nuclear radiation are alpha particles (α-particles), beta particles (β-particles) and gamma rays (γ-rays).

Alpha particles are heavy positively charged particles made up of two protons and two neutrons.  They are essentially a helium nucleus and are thus represented in a nuclear equation by either α or .  See the Alpha Decay page for more information on alpha particles.

Beta particles come in two forms:  and  particles are just electrons that have been ejected from the nucleus.  This is a result of sub-nuclear reactions that result in a neutron decaying to a proton.  The electron is needed to conserve charge and comes from the nucleus.  It is not an orbital electron.  particles are positrons ejected from the nucleus when a proton decays to a neutron.  A positron is an anti-particle that is similar in nearly all respects to an electron, but has a positive charge.  See the Beta Decay page for more information on beta particles.

Gamma rays are photons of high energy electromagnetic radiation (light).  Gamma rays generally have the highest frequency and shortest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum.  There is some overlap in the frequencies of gamma rays and x-rays; however, x-rays are formed from electron transitions while gamma rays are formed from nuclear transitions. See the Gamma Rays  for more” (SOURCE: Canadian Nuclear Association)

A neutron is a particle that is found in the nucleus, or center, of atoms. It has a mass very close to protons, which also reside in the nucleus of atoms. Together, they make up almost all of the mass of individual atoms. Each has a mass of about 1 amu, which is roughly 1.6×10-27kg. Protons have a positive charge and neutrons have no charge, which is why they were more difficult to discover.” (SOURCE: Neutron Radiation)

“Many different radioactive isotopes are used in or are produced by nuclear reactors. The most important of these are described below:

1. Uranium 235 (U-235) is the active component of most nuclear reactor fuel.

2. Plutonium (Pu-239) is a key nuclear material used in modern nuclear weapons and is also present as a by-product in certain reprocessed fuels used in some nuclear reactors. Pu-239 is also produced in uranium reactors as a byproduct of fission of U-235.

3. Cesium (Cs-137 ) is a fission product of U-235. It emits beta and gamma radiation and can cause radiation sickness and death if exposures are high enough. …

4. Iodine 131 (I-131), also a fission product of U-235, emits beta and gamma radiation. After inhalation or ingestion, it is absorbed by and concentrated in the thyroid gland, where its beta radiation damages nearby thyroid tissue  (SOURCE: Amesh A. Adalja, MD, Eric S. Toner, MD, Anita Cicero, JD, Joseph Fitzgerald, MS, MPH, and Thomas V. Inglesby MD, Radiation at Fukushima: Basic Issues and Concepts, March 31, 2011)


Michel Chossudovsky is an award-winning author, Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at the University of Ottawa. He is the Founder and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal and Editor of the globalresearch.ca website. He is the author of The Globalization of Poverty and The New World Order (2003) and America’s “War on Terrorism”(2005). His most recent book is entitled Towards a World War III Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War (2011). He has taught as Visiting Professor at universities in Western Europe, South East Asia, Latin America and The Pacific, acted as adviser to governments of developing countries and as a consultant to several international organizations. Prof. Chossudovsky is a signatory of the Kuala Lumpur declaration to criminalize war and recipient of the Human Rights Prize of the Society for the Protection of Civil Rights and Human Dignity (GBM), Berlin, Germany. He is also a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His writings have been published in more than twenty languages.

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Thousands rally in Moscow to support US adoption ban

Published time: March 02, 2013 18:38

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Alexei Filippov)

Download video(145.93 MB)

Thousands have protested in Moscow to demand a ban on foreign adoptions following the death of Maksim Kuzmin, 3, who died shortly after being adopted by a US family in Texas. Pro-Kremlin activists demanded his brother Kirill be returned to Russia.

According to several estimates by the Russian Mothers public movement, the 'Protect the Children' protest gathered 12,000 to 20,000 people. Moscow authorities had only authorized the demonstration to be bigger than 5,000 people.

Protesters marched from Gogolevsky Boulevard to Novopushkinsky Garden in central Moscow, chanting “Children are not goods,” and “Bring Kirill back to his motherland,” referring to the brother of Maksim Kuzmin, who remains in the US with his adoptive father.  

Many participants were holding flags and balloons that read “Children’s protection,” and displayed icons and pictures of children. Over 80 public organizations and associations have supported the rally.

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

The rally came hours after a US coroner revealed the results of the autopsy into Kuzmin's death. The medical examiner of Ector County, Texas, concluded that Kuzmin's January 21 death was not intentional. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the US findings “inconclusive.” Moscow requested documents verifying the investigation amid a separate ongoing Russian inquiry.

An organizer behind the Saturday event said that she did not trust the results of the US autopsy, calling it "American propaganda."

"I am in favor of a more serious investigation,” Russian Mothers coordinator Irina Bergset told AFP. "It just shows they treat Russian children like cats and dogs.”

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Alexei Filippov)

The mass demonstration in central Moscow came two months after the 'Dima Yakovlev law' was enacted, banning US citizens from adopting Russian children. In January, at least 20,000 Russians marched in Moscow to protest the Kremlin’s ban, which activists dubbed the “law of scoundrels."

Hundreds of people also marched from Strastnoy Bulvar towards Prospekt Akademika Sakharova in a protest organized by Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov, who also initiated the 'March against scoundrels' rally in January.

Saturday’s 'March for Muscovites' Rights' called for "putting Moscow back under the control of its citizen." Udaltsov, who is currently under house arrest, was not able to attend the protest, so fellow opposition head Ilya Ponomarev lead the march.

The protesters' main demands included lowering the cost of utilities and renovating apartment buildings.

Ponomarev said that the Russian opposition should not only demand the government’s resignation, but also take part in protests with “social slogans.”

However, though organizers tried to leave politics out of the rally, protesters paid a tribute to Udaltsov; some in the crowd chanted “Freedom for political prisoners.”

Police said that almost 1,000 people attended the rally, while the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station put the number at around 2,000. No crimes were committed, and no arrests were made, police said.

Opposition supporters march in central Moscow, March 2, 2013. Left-wing opposition groups held an anti-government rally to defend the rights of Moscow citizens. (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich)

The boards display portraits of jailed members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. (RIA Novosti / Alexei Kudenko)

Opposition supporters march in central Moscow, March 2, 2013. Left-wing opposition groups held an anti-government rally to defend the rights of Moscow citizens. (RIA Novosti / Alexei Kudenko)

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

People march during a rally in defence of Russian children in Moscow, March 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)


ALEC Sham Chemical Disclosure Model Tucked Into Illinois Fracking Bill

Illinois is the next state on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s target list for putting the oil industry's interests ahead of the public interest.

(Photo: silverfuture via Flickr) 98 percent funded by multinational corporations, ALEC is described by its critics as a "corporate bill mill" and a lobbyist-legislator dating service. It brings together corporate lobbyists and right wing politicians to vote up or down on "model bills" written by lobbyists in service to their corporate clientele behind closed doors at its annual meetings.

These "models" snake their way into statehouses nationwide as proposed legislation and quite often become the law of the land. 

Illinois, nicknamed the "Land of Lincoln," has transformed into the "Land of ALEC" when it comes to a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") regulation bill - HB 2615, the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act - currently under consideration by its House of Representatives. "Fracking" is the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional gas and oil is obtained from shale rock basins across the country and the world.

HB 2615 - proposed on Feb. 21 with 26 co-sponsors - has an ALEC model bill roped within this lengthy piece of legislation: the loophole-ridden Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act.

As covered here on DeSmogBlog, this model bill has been proposed and passed in numerous statehouses to date. If the bill passes, Illinois' portion of the New Albany Shale basin will be opened up for unfettered fracking, costumed by its industry proponents as the "most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation." 

"If At First You Don't Succeed, Dust Yourself Off and Try Again"

This isn't ALEC's first fracking-related crack at getting a model bill passed in Illinois. In 2012, the Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act - introduced as SB 3280 - passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate but never passed the House. 

SB 3280 isn't merely an ALEC model, but is a Council of State Government's (CSG) model, too, as covered here on DeSmog.

The "disclosure" standards' origins lay in the Obama Department of Energy's (DOE) industry-stacked fracking subcomittee, formed in May 2011 "to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health." 

As exposed by The New York Times in April 2012, these "disclosure" standards were originally written by ExxonMobil, first passed in Texas in June 2011, and now serve as both an ALEC and CSG model bill for the states. I say "disclosure" - as opposed to disclosure - because the bill includes loopholes for "trade secrets," ala the "Halliburton Loophole" written into the industry-friendly federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. 

Section 77 of HB 2615, titled "Chemical disclosure; trade secret protection," also includes the same trade secrets exemption from the ALEC/CSG ExxonMobil-written model bill. 

Ever persistent, ALEC has taken the late pop diva Aaliyah's words to heart with regards to chemical fluids "disclosure," at first not succeeding and dusting itself off and trying again

The FracFocus Façade

The oil and gas industry has chosen FracFocus as the entity to oversee the chemical disclosure process. An August investigation by Bloomberg News revealed that FracFocus offers the façade of disclosure while the industry tramples roughshod over communities nationwide.  

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

In reality, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry, as we reported here in Dec. 2012, explaining

FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy.

Another Nov. 2012 Bloomberg investigation revealed that oil and gas corporations "claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to its analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Cosponsors Tied to ALEC, CSG

Five of the 26 Illinois House cosponsors are ALEC members: Reps. David Reis (R-119), Mike Fortner (R-95), Jil Tracy (R-93), Dennis Reboletti (R-97), and Patricia Bellock (R-94). 

Further, three more cosponsors have ties to CSG. Rep. Ann Williams (D-11) and Rep. Pam Roth (R-75) both attended CSG Midwest's 2012 Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development (BILLD). Two of the sponsors of BILLD in 2012 included BP America and Enbridge Energy. Another, Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-97), is a 2005 CSG Midwest BILLD alumni.

The bipartisan "group of 26" took a total of $53,060 before the Nov. 2012 election, data collected from the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows.      

How Will IL Regulate Fracking with 12 Inspectors?

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's 2012 budget included Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cuts to the tune of 13.5-percent for fiscal year 2013. The DNR is the regulatory body tasked to referee the fracking process under HB 2615, an agency which in the past decade has lost over half of its budget

"Our agency has essentially been cut in half over the last decade. There are a lot of ramifications...You're going to see a noticeable difference in the maintenance. It won't be the fault of the people that work for us," DNR Director Marc Miller said at a Feb. 2012 public forum in a foreshadowing manner. "It will be because we don't have the resources."

There are 12 inspectors in IL to oversee fracking regulation enforcement, among myriad other regulatory duties, down from 28 in 2005, as revealed in a recent Freedom of Information Act conducted by ProPublica.

"What we are looking for is a sustainable solution," Miller said at the public forum. "We want to get to the point of having revenue we can count on to plan and to be able to do the programs we're supposed to do for the public."

Yet Miller believes more DNR cuts from Quinn are in the works in forthcoming budgets.

Earthworks pointed out in a Sept. 2011 report titled, "Breaking All the Rules: the Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement" that numerous states - akin to Illinois - are vastly understaffed, underfunded and unable to do their jobs to protect the public. Predictably, this has led to under-enforcement, lending the oil and gas industry a free pass to contaminate without accountability.

And even with enforcement, Earthworks pointed out that because the penalties for breaking the law are so minimal, the industry simply passes this off as a tiny "cost of doing business."

Bill Endorsed by Sierra Club/NRDC 

Despite this reality, two major green NGOs - the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - have come out in cautious support of the bill. 

"NRDC is working to transition as quickly as possible to a clean energy future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but as long as we have to have dirty fossil fuels, our communities need the strongest rules in place," NRDC's Henry Henderson wrote in blog post, offering the important caveat that "Those rules are only as good as their enforcement, which needs to be robust and strict. And that is another issue that we will be following if this bill moves forward."

No concerns are raised about Section 25 of the bill dealing with setbacks and prohibitions.

This section lends the industry the ability to conduct fracking operations within 1,500 feet of groundwater sources and 500 feet of schools, houses, hospitals, nursing homes, and places of worship. It also enables the industry to frack within 300 feet of rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs.   

These regulations do not take into account the fact that the horizontal drilling portion of the fracking process extends between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. The sobering reality: none of these things would be protected under this bill's current language

Sierra Club, which came under fire last year for taking $26 million from gas giant Chesapeake Energy to fight against coal, sang a similar tune.

"We may not be able to decide whether fracking comes to Illinois, but we absolutely must decide to make sure we are as protected as we can be," Sierra Club's Jack Darin concluded on The Huffington Post, despite the fact that fracking has yet to begin in the state. 

Other Groups Call for a Moratorium, Support Alternative Bill 

Other groups are fighting for a different recently-introduced moratorium bill, SB 1418, which has one sponsor so far, Sen. Mattie Hunte (D-94).

That effort is being led by the Illinois Coalition For A Moratorium on Fracking, whose members include Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), MoveOn.org Illinois, Progressive Demcrats of America (PDA) Chicago and Illinois, Stop the Frack Attack on IL, Rising Tide, and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Chicago. 

"The moratorium will allow two years for a science-based investigative task force to look at current and ongoing studies on fracking," the Coaliton's press release in support of SB 1418 reads. "As new research continues to uncover more harmful effects of high-volume fracturing, both in the surrounding area and to the climate, ICMF, SAFE, and many other environmental organizations are committed to supporting studies on the procedure."

SAFE, one of the Coalition members, will play host to a one-day summit called "The Fracking Truth" on Mar. 1 to rally people in support of the moratorium bill.

What the Government Can Get From Your iPhone

What the Government Can Get From Your iPhone

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Posted on Feb 27, 2013
Johann Larsson (CC BY 2.0)

A court document obtained by the ACLU reveals the kind of data federal agents are able to pull off of a seized iPhone using “advanced forensic analysis tools.”

“The list,” writes electronic privacy expert Chris Soghoian, “starkly demonstrates just how invasive cell phone searches are—and why law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant before conducting them.”

The iPhone was seized from a suspect’s bedroom during a drug bust. In a single sweep, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were able to extract call activity, contact lists, voice mails and text messages, photos and videos, apps, eight different passwords and 659 “geolocation points,” including connections to 227 cellphone towers and 403 Wi-Fi networks.

Before smartphones arrived, Soghoian writes, police had to gain a warrant to access such information, which would be stored in a suspect’s home or office. “Our pockets and bags simply aren’t big enough to carry paper records revealing that much data. We would have never carried around several years’ worth of correspondence, for example—but today, five-year-old emails are just a few clicks away using the smartphone in your pocket. The fact that we now carry this much private, sensitive information around with us means that the government is able to get this information, too.”

Although the ICE obtained a warrant to search the phone in this case, courts are divided about whether one is necessary in these circumstances, and no law requires it. Police officers have claimed they don’t need a warrant during moments of lawful arrest and at U.S. border crossings.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Chris Soghoian at ACLU:

The police should not be free to copy the contents of your phone without a warrant absent extraordinary circumstances. However, that is exactly what is happening. Last year in California, for example, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a common-sense bill that would have required the police to obtain a warrant before searching seized phones, despite the bill’s broad bipartisan support in the state legislature.

Intrusive cell phone searches are becoming ever easier for law enforcement officers to conduct. Companies such as Cellebrite produce portable forensics machines that can download copies of an iPhone’s “existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags” in minutes. This type of equipment, which allows the government to conduct quick, easy phone searches, is widely available to law enforcement agencies—and not just to federal agents.

While the law does not sufficiently protect the private data on smartphones, technology can at least provide some protection. All modern smartphones can be locked with a PIN or password, which can slow down, or in some cases, completely thwart forensic analysis by the police (as well as a phone thief or a prying partner). Make sure to pick a sufficiently long password: a 4 character numeric PIN can be cracked in a few minutes, and the pattern-based unlock screen offered by Android can be bypassed by Google if forced to by the government. Finally, if your mobile operating system offers a disk encryption option (such as with Android 4.0 and above), it is important to turn it on.

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Efforts to Provide HIV-AIDS and Other Health Services to Migrants Face Major Obstacles

Hands hold an AIDS red ribbon pinPhoto: Trygve.u)Click here to support courageous reporting and commentary by making a tax-deductible contribution to Truthout!

Juan stopped in Tapachula, Chiapas to rest for a few days and to receive a routine medical check-up before heading out on the treacherous 1,700-mile long journey to Mexico’s northern border. Since he was already sitting in the Doctor’s office, he figured he might as well get one of the free quick tests offered by the Belenmigrant shelter on Monday and Thursday afternoons. In under a minute, the test confirmed his worst fears: he was HIV-positive.

It wasn’t the first time he’d received the diagnosis. Before being deported back to Honduras the previous year, he had been tested while in U.S. custody at a detention center in Texas. Convinced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was using a scare tactic to justify his deportation, he didn’t believe the results. He also hadn’t told his wife, who sat outside the doctor’s office with their two kids waiting to receive medical care. Ten minutes later, she knew his status as well as her own.

Health at the Margins

Since 2007, HIV and AIDS rates have gone up throughout rural Mexican states, partly as a result of returning migrants who have engaged in high-risk behaviors in the United States and not been able to receive diagnosis or treatment.  Medical experts are shifting their attention to the particular dangers faced by Central American migrants—human trafficking, sexual abuse, prostitution, isolation, depression, and drug use—as vectors driving these numbers, especially in the southernmost state of Chiapas, where 40,000 to 60,000 migrants cross through in the hope of finding a better life in Mexico or the United States.

According to the most recent report by the National Center for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS (CENSIDA), Chiapas is the sixth state for highest accumulated AIDS cases with a registered 6,717 individuals living with the. Within the state, Tuxtla Guttierrez, Tonalá, Cintalapa and Tapachula were labeled “red flags” (Focos Rojos’)— municipalities where rates of infection and the presence of at-risk groups, like sex workers and increasingly migrants, are statistically higher than the rest of the state. Tapachula, where an estimated 95% of transiting migrants pass through, registered a total of 2,045 HIV-cases and has drawn the attention of local organizations, health groups, and migrant shelters.

Led by the charismatic Rev. Florencio Maria Rigoni of the Scalabrini Order of Missionaries, the Belen migrant shelter sits a few meters away from the brackish banks of the Cahoacan River and only 20 miles away from the Mexico-Guatemala border. The shelter’s orange and electric blue walls houses one of the starting gates for a multi-actor health response seeking to stem HIV-transmission rates.

These efforts begin from a modest 200 square foot office, where Dr. Ramos, his wife Leni Pundt and brother Victor Ramos offer free, voluntary medical services every Monday through Saturday afternoon to the shelter’s transient inhabitants. On Monday and Thursday, Dr. Ramos, a semi-retired general practitioner with a dead-pan sense of humor and a thick head of pewter hair, gives his HIV-prevention talks in the shelter’s mess hall with the help of graphic flip-boards and Pinocchio, a varnished wooden penis sporting plastic Mickey Mouse-style gloves, baby blue clown shoes, googly eyes and a condom as a hat.

“[Girls] would see a dildo and get embarrassed and leave,” the doctor explains. “Even the boys sometimes.”

Tact and humor, he believes, are the best medicines. But combined with the story of Juan—which always draws strong reactions from the crowd— he drives home an effective point: if you want to make your American Dream a reality, protect yourself and get tested.

Mechanics of Prevention

Funded in part by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and the Mexican Institute for Public Health (INSP), these HIV-prevention activities are part of the Reproductive and Sexual Health Project (SSR). The program initiated in migrant shelters like the Belen Shelter at high-density ‘transit stations’—towns like Tapachula that experience a high presence of migrants—in 2005. The SSR’s goal is to increase access to healthcare, HIV-prevention, testing, and treatment, and human rights protections for mobile groups, including non-citizen migrants, foreign sex workers, drug users, trafficked women and children, truck drivers, and merchant sailors, as a means to stem border town infection rates. Coordinated with the consulates of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the project is a local incarnation of the broader 2005 Mesoamerican Project on Mobile Populations and HIV/AIDS.

Under the aegis of these programs, the Belen Shelter’s medical team has worked tirelessly since Dr. Ramos took over three years ago: Between 2009 and 2012, 14,117 migrants participated in HIV-prevention talks and received testing. Only .9% received a positive diagnosis. For the three weeks I was there in June 2012, approximately 200 people got tested. No one turned up positive.

If anyone had received a positive status and elected to stay in Tapachula, medical staff would refer them to the local Ambulatory Center for the Prevention and Attention to HIV-AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections (CAPASITS, by its Spanish initials), where previous cases have been given a free Western Blot test to determine their viral load. If a viral load falls below 400, they’re logged into the System of Administration, Logistics and Vigilance of Anti-Retrovirals (SALVAR), a national database that keeps track of patients, citizen and non-citizen alike, who receive antiretroviral drugs.

“Sometimes it’s harder for a Mexican citizen to get in the system than a foreigner,” said Judith Salazar, a social worker at the Tapachula CAPASITS, one of two modules operating in the state of Chiapas. “A Mexican would need—basically it ends up being seven documents. Foreigners usually require one form of identification, like a license, and are uploaded into the system as foreigners. If they don’t have ID we have agreements with several consulates to obtain documents for this purpose. They can then be annexed to the state insurance system to receive free antiretroviral drugs.”

However, Salazar recognized that this process takes time—nearly one to two months if things move at the normal pace. The Western Blot tests are sent to labs in the capital city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Most don’t linger for the necessary time period to fulfill their prescribed treatment regime, let alone receive their antiretroviral drugs.

“Many leave before they can ask for routes to connect with other CAPASITS so we can streamline them and track their movements. There are fears of discrimination, deportation in both men and women, so they keep moving,” said Salazar.

In Dr. Ramos’ opinion, HIV prevalence among migrants is getting worse. His plan is to one day set up a more streamlined, digital manner of identifying and treating HIV-positive migrants as they go from shelter to shelter. “We don’t know how many are not in shelters, how many get stuck in the jungle. There’s hundreds of thousands of people coming from Central and South America, Africa, even South Asia. Not all of them come through here.”

But for migrants transiting Mexico, acknowledged the doctor, streamlining healthcare services and antiretroviral drug dispensation programs is not enough. The temporary position of undocumented migrants among the shadowy intersections of government policy, corruption, and cartel violence combined with the overarching question of who should be responsible for providing them healthcare and protection obstructs his work on a daily basis.

Sexual assault, a health hazard for women migrants

Eileen, 19, and her friend Silvia, 22, had traveled from Honduras to the Guatemala-Mexico border by bus without incident. But once crossing on foot, a gang of thugs held them up at gunpoint and demanded all their money. When they refused, the men brutally raped and assaulted them. Both were about four-months pregnant when the attack happened.

“I don’t think we’ll try again. I worked as a secretary in Tegucigalpa and wanted to do better for us in the United States because it’s no good for women there,” said Silvia as she rubbed her stomach, “Now, I also have to worry if I caught [a disease].”

The young women were suffering from severe vaginal and throat infections and had been turned away from the local hospital four times due to scheduling conflicts with the resident gynecologist. Unfortunately, Dr. Ramos could not legally treat the girls to expedite their return because they were quite literally the bodies of evidence.

“I can write up a statement on how their condition might advance after I give a preliminary check-up, but they need a forensic gynecologist or legal doctor. Whatever treatment they receive needs certification from a legal authority or else their statement against the criminals won’t be valid,” said Dr. Ramos.

Reports estimate that 30% of migrant women are sexually assaulted on their way to the United States and account for 27%t of newly diagnosed cases of HIV in Chiapas. Prevention is prominently featured in Dr. Ramos’s lectures. His discussions on the subject are always punctuated with the generous distribution of condoms to male and female audience members. But what good would a condom do in cases of rape?

“My wife and I were talking about that the other day. In these cases like [the Honduran girls’], what do you do? Tell your rapist to give you a little second so he can put a condom on and not give you AIDS or whatever else?”

Stumbling Towards Universal Healthcare and Access Guarantees

Because of the efforts of medical staff like Dr. Ramos and social workers like Judith Salazar, the number of new infection rates per year has decreased—only 108 new cases of HIV were registered since 2008. Moreover, the program has drawn attention to other health problems faced by migrants and prompted greater response from general practitioners. In 2011, over 8,000 migrants were able to access free healthcare services for conditions like dehydration, gastrointestinal and upper respiratory tract infections brought on by prolonged exposure to the elements; and broken bones, infected wounds, and severed limbs caused by train hopping. Psychic wounds are also receiving increased attention as more medical experts on the ground are calling for subsidized counseling services to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental illnesses.

Yet even with the best of intentions, this public health achievement continuously stumbles over the disjuncture between migration politics, government corruption, and resource scarcity. The ordeal thetwo Honduran girls went through is often the norm for migrant women. The inability to stem sexual violence against migrant women is part of the reason why AIDS rates are on the rise and are increasingly feminized. Prevention and sanitation should not override a woman’s right to not be raped. While groups and patrols exist to guarantee the safety of migrants, law enforcement frequently engages in sex trafficking, a lucrative business raking in $1.6bn a year across Latin America and the Caribbean, only adding fuel to the epidemic fire.

Access to healthcare and medication for HIV is also problematic. Due to international standards, Mexico ranks as a middle-income country. This means that the price tag on brand-name antiretroviral drugs—currently between $7,000 and $8,000 per person—is difficult to negotiate. Since Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is also subject to strict patent laws that make the production of generic drugs virtually impossible.

While antiretroviral drugs are free for all who are HIV-positive, the Mexican government has to pay way more, making their distribution to historically marginalized areas, like Chiapas, a question of cost-benefit analysis. Who gets treatment first is often based on who is sickest and who will adhere to their prescribed treatment regime. Individuals living in areas with limited access to public transportation or clinics, and migrants who will most likely leave, are sometimes seen as a liability and waste of government money.

Moreover, shortages of antiretroviral drugs are not uncommon in states like Chiapas. A recent news article stated that HIV-positive patients living in Chiapas had not received antiretroviral drugs since July 2012. The article revealed that shortages were a persistent problem, reflective of the ‘lack of coordination between the Sanitary Offices and the state council had led to dozens of people going without medication.’ Moreover, Una Mano Amiga en la Lucha Contra el Sida, a community organization based in Tapachula, declared that up to 10,000 detained migrants, non-citizen sex workers and temporary farm workers, had not received any treatment whatsoever despite having the required viral load to enroll for free antiretroviral drugs therapy.

Despite an increasingly prevalent human rights discourse on the condition of transiting migrants, discrimination is very real. Often, it is two-fold in the case of Central American’s who are undocumented and perceived as pathogenic. Amended from its harsher 1974 version in 2000, the General Law for the Population stresses that illegal immigration into Mexico is punishable with up to 2 years in prison, and up to 10 years for repeat offenders. The law reserves the Mexican government the right to deport foreigners who are considered a detriment to “economic or national interests” and lack the “mental or physical health” or “the necessary funds to support themselves.” Added to this, the state of Chiapas approved a law in 2009 on the criminalization of HIV-transmission involving carriers of the disease who knowingly engage in sexual relations with another person or infect them through some other direct means.

Bi-polar at best, the media both exemplifies and shapes this ambivalence of the state towards migrants, doing more damage than laws that may or may not be effectively enforced. In 2007, Milenio ran an article that proclaimed “Migration Spreads HIV/AIDS in Mexico”, citing a “failure of adherence to treatment” and the high rates of incidence among transiting Central Americans and returning migrants as the main cause of concentrations of the disease such as in Tapachula. So while charity is doled out, dangerous stereotypes are inadvertently created that are unfortunately trumpeted by the media.

“By paying attention to the health of migrants, we become aware of the social problems through which they traverse, so often in solitude,” writes Dr. Jorge Arellano Estrada, for Migrante magazine, “We try to heal the body, to listen to it, to heal the soul, and the evils that many migrants we attend are victim to, sometimes so far from the limits of my comprehension. Yet, these are the things that motivate me to keep helping these people which society is abandoning.”

For those who don’t pay with their lives, physical, mental, and chronic illness is how many migrants traversing Mexico and living in the United States come to bear witness to a market system that sees their bodies as disposable commodities. But unlike the United States, healthcare in Mexico is not viewed as a coveted item that requires regulation.  Along the Mexico-Guatemala border, AIDS-prevention initiatives are part of broader health and human rights activism that stresses a sense of national and international responsibility. However they may stumble, these organizations, advocates, and healthcare professionals are interweaving a unified response to guarantee individual safety and universal healthcare as a human right for all people regardless of their migratory status. Their attempts pose alternatives to the way that access to healthcare has come to epitomize citizenship and privilege across the globe.

Alexandra McAnarney is a communications consultant and recent graduate from the University of Chicago’s Latin American Studies M.A. Program. As part of her field research, she lived at a migrant shelter along the Mexico-Guatemala border. Before studying at the University of Chicago, she worked as a Communications Coordinator at the Florida Immigrant Coalition and as an HIV/AIDS Journalist in South Florida. She writes for the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org. A native of El Salvador and former resident of Mexico City, her work focuses on migration, youth, gangs, and health and can be found at perishmotherland.tumblr.com

All names of interviewed participants except Dr. Jorge Ramos and Judith Salazar have been shortened or changed.

America – Polluted with Corruption

In the United States everything is polluted.Democracy is polluted with special interests and corrupt politicians. Accountability is polluted with executive branch exemptions from law and the Constitution.

Russia to spend billions on asteroid defense

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Moscow believes an operable national defense against threats from outer space can be built within 10 years’ time. The 500-kiloton explosion of a space bolide above the Urals region has sped-up allocation of some $2 billion to prevent future threats.

Russian scientists have presented a federal program designed to counteract space threats. Elaborated by the Institute of Astronomy at Russia’s Academy of Sciences and the Central Engineering Research Institute, Russia’s leading space industry enterprise, the program has already been approved by Roskosmos, the national space agency.

The program has nothing to do with Hollywood sci-fi movie scenarios; no lasers, annihilators or Bruce Willis drilling a huge peace of rock rushing towards Earth.

The system will consist of a network of robotic telescopes monitoring space around our planet, some of them delivered to orbit, others operating from the surface.

Destruction of an asteroid in emergency cases may be performed by a rocket with a powerful megaton-class thermonuclear warhead. If the threat is detected early, more advanced means of changing an asteroid’s orbit may be considered.

The program costing 58 billion rubles (over $1.9 billion) has already been handed over to the head of Russia’s defense industry, Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin who is expected to present it to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Lidia Rykhlova from the Institute of Astronomy (RAS) who presented the project, reported that Russia will need to modernize and fully computerize the 60 cm lens telescopes it already has. Several larger telescopes with 2 meter lens will have to be additionally installed.

Rykhlova announced that an analytical center will be created to collect the data from various sources and analyze it in real time mode.

Professor of the Moscow State University, head of the laboratory for space monitoring Vladimir Lipunov told Interfax news agency that it will take about two years to modernize all Russia’s existing nine telescopes with the diameter of the lens of 40 centimeters and unite them into one network. A network of larger telescopes across the globe could be ready in five years.

“It will cost a mere trifle. What [Russian billionaire] Roman Abramovich paid for Chelsea [football club] would cover all the costs of the project,” Lipunov said.

According to Forbes during the eight years of owning Chelsea Abramovich spent $1.3 billion on the football club.

Lipunov stressed that tracking and forecasting space threats is more real and efficient than engaging air defense systems to deal with meteorites in the atmosphere, as people could be evacuated from an impact zone in advance.

Asteroid threat is growing by the year

“There are a lot of asteroids orbitingclose to Earth and every year up to 1,000 more are being discovered,” Lidia Rykhlova said, specifying that three years ago the number of known asteroids passing close to our planet was about 7,000 and now their number has grown up to around 9,400.

Most of the relatively large asteroids, with a diameter of one kilometer and larger are already known.

“We know about 90 per cent of kilometer-class asteroids, their orbits are well known and predictable. As for the smaller 40-50 meter ones – we still have insufficient observation apparatus. The more we observe – the more of them we find,” Rykhlova acknowledged.

If the space object is discovered beforehand, at least a month prior to possible collision with Earth, there is time to find out its size and consider various measures of its elimination.

The execution of a really complicated operation will require at least a year, Rykhlova pointed out.

“Therefore our emergency aid is a rocket with a nuclear warhead,” she concluded.

Ecuador Chooses Stimulus over Austerity

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Bio

William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. Black developed the concept of "control fraud" frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a "weapon." Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae's former senior management.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Black Financial and Fraud Report with Bill Black, who now joins us from Kansas City.

Bill is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He's a white-collar criminologist, former financial regulator, and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Thanks for joining us, Bill.BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.JAY: So you've been writing recently about how Ecuador's been dealing with the recession, and you think there are some things to learn. What is that?BLACK: Yeah. I was writing—I was prompted by a article in The Economist which was exceptionally hostile to President Correa and what was being done in Ecuador. So I have actually been there several times recently, so I decided to research. And there wasn't—hardly any data in The Economist's study. What I discovered is that Ecuador should have been in, you would think, terrible trouble with the Great Recession. First, the United States is its leading trading partner. Its leading export is oil, and, of course, our oil consumption was down quite a bit. And the other major source of foreign funds in particular is what is called remittances, which is what Ecuadorians living in other countries send home to Ecuador. And the two leading places that Ecuadorians have emigrated, one is historically the United States, which, again, was in a great recession, but of late it's far more Spain. And Spain isn't simply in a great recession; the austerity programs have thrown it into Great Depression levels of unemployment, where unemployment's over 25 percent, and young people, the unemployment rate is 55 percent—just extraordinary. So remittances were down, oil sales were down, oil prices were down, and you would have thought Ecuador would have been really trashed. But President Correa, who is an economist by training—has a PhD from the United States, a master's from a Belgian university, and an Ecuadorian degree, all in economics—responded in what turned out to be the classic win-win-win that is offered by a severe recession, and that is he increased spending in three major categories—education, health, and public infrastructure. And public infrastructure in Ecuador is not only grossly inadequate; it's really quite dangerous in terms of the roads. And, of course, it's a nation that is incredibly mountainous and is prone to terrible flooding, which destroys dirt roads. So this has been a major effort. And, by the way, he worked on bridge safety as well, something the United States desperately needs to do, and built vital airports.The result of all of this was that within one quarter of going into recession officially, Ecuador was coming out. And indeed, for the entire year it actually had positive growth instead of negative growth, which of course is the absolute norm in a recession. And since then, it's rebounded to have a growth rate that's varied between double and three times the United States' growth rate. Spending on these three areas—education, health, and infrastructures—has more than doubled under President Correa. Poverty is down dramatically. Unemployment is down dramatically. Inequality, which was severe but—in Ecuador is down very substantially as well. And as a result, President Correa was actually, in the kind of polls that they run, the most popular elected leader in all of the Americas—that's North America, Central America, and South America combined. He was the single most popular leader and is widely expected to win an outright majority and avoid a runoff.JAY: Bill, has this made it any more difficult for Ecuador, one, to borrow money internationally? And two, Ecuador does use the U.S. dollar. Does that help or hurt? Maybe it helps in some ways, 'cause one of the reasons countries in theory don't do this kind of spending is they're afraid of, you know, a selloff of their dollars or currency.BLACK: That is an interesting question. Again I think Correa has that one right as an economist. It's actually very bad not to have a sovereign currency. I've explained this several times to the viewers in the context of the euro and giving up the sovereign currency. So this is an extra degree of difficulty that Correa has had to deal with that dramatically reduced the scope of what he could do, and he still succeeded. So his joke, or the joke in Ecuador, is that the only thing more popular than Correa is the dollar. So this is one of those odd things. The dollar is actually a problem for Ecuador, being dollarized, but the Ecuadorian people love it. And so, you know, there—it makes no sense, if you're an elected official, to try to get rid of something that the people absolutely love. So Correa has criticized the dollar but said, you know, look, I'm a pragmatist, and the people love it and such, so, you know, we go forward with the dollar.JAY: But does this play a role in somewhat protecting Ecuador from a run on their currency as a result of all this spending?BLACK: No, because that—it doesn't provide any protection in that regard. What protects Ecuador from those kind of attacks is that because they lack a sovereign currency, they simply can't run large deficits. And they don't. They have a very tiny deficit. So Correa has not done this by goosing the deficit. And as one of your questions implied, they repudiated some debt. Now, actually, they didn't repudiate most of their debt; they had a commission to look into certain debts that had already been negotiated that they declared that had been done in violation of Ecuadorian law and that those bonds were actually unlawful. They repudiated those debts, and then they repurchased those debts, or at least 94 percent of those, at about somewhere around 30 cents on the dollar.JAY: So how's he paying for the new spending?BLACK: Ecuador is an important exporter of oil, and the price of oil has gone up. So that's part of it. But he has also done a whole series of reforms to the deals that Ecuador had with the oil companies, which were, as you would guess, incredibly one-sided, and Ecuador got only a really tiny percentage of the proceeds. Well, now it gets a much higher percentage of proceeds.Correa also made it a priority to improve their equivalent of the IRS. And so it now collects—especially from corporations—far more taxes that used to be evaded and such. These are all, again, good things that the United States could learn. And as I said, the consequences for the lives of everyday Ecuadorians are dramatically improved. The chances that your kid is going to school is way up. The chances that when you're sick you get health care are way up. The chances if you're one of the indigenous people that used to be forgotten that you get services is way up. The vice president of Ecuador is paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair and has led a movement to bring the disabled in Ecuador far more into the mainstream, and this too has been tremendously successful.JAY: Okay. If you want to ask Bill a question or make a comment, Tweet it to me, or you can email it to me at contact (at) therealnews (dot) com, or you can Tweet me @PaulJay_TRNN, and we will ask Bill your question and we'll get him to comment on it next time we talk. Thanks for joining us, Bill.BLACK: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Platinum & Palladium’s Breakout Year

Via Sprott Physical Bullion Trusts,

Hard assets are gaining momentum once again as market participants digest the potential impact of central bank printing initiatives. After last year's record level of central bank intervention, 2013 is gearing up to be an even more prolific year on the money-printing front. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently unveiled Japan's tenth Quantitative Easing program to follow the country's current $224 billion stimulus announced on January 11th. The US Federal Reserve is steadily printing US$85 billion a month under its QE3 & QE4 programs, and reports indicate that the European Central Bank is close to launching its much-awaited Open Market Transaction (OMT) program to purchase European sovereign debt. It's a money-printing party and everyone's invited. Even the new Bank of England head, Mark Carney, has hinted of plans to launch more monetary stimulus.

Professional investors have noticed and are expressing concern over the consequences of concerted currency devaluation and the continuation of zero-percent interest rates. PIMCO's Bill Gross, aka "The Bond King", is now regularly touting gold and hard assets as a prudent investment in 2013. While his advice appears to have fallen on deaf ears, interest in inflation protection is once again on the rise. We continue to believe that precious metals remain the place to be invested in this environment and are always interested in different avenues with which to participate in the sector's inevitable rise.

Despite being long-time precious metals enthusiasts and active investors in gold and silver, we did not focus on "the other precious metals", platinum or palladium, until very recently. Our interest in the space was ignited by a client's request to assess investment opportunities in the debt and equity of Platinum Group Metal (PGM) mining companies - an exercise that came up almost completely dry. As long-time resource equity investors, we are familiar with the mining industry's supply/demand cyclicality and the impact it has on commodity prices. Looking more closely at the PGM miners, the platinum and palladium industry reminds us of the uranium industry back in 2003. Like uranium, platinum and palladium are crucial to a number of important industrial applications where demand for them is relatively inelastic to price. And like uranium in 2003, palladium is also marked by an opaque, but rapidly diminishing foreign supply stockpile, which had previously balanced out the market and effectively capped the price. Investors will remember that uranium proceeded to perform extremely well from 2003 onwards based on the fundamental supply/demand imbalances that ensued. Our assessment of the PGM industry has led us to believe that platinum and palladium have the potential to do the same. The one difference being, however, that whereas in uranium, where we chose to build our exposure primarily through uranium mining equities, platinum and palladium exposure appears to be best gained through the metals themselves… hence the launch of the Sprott Physical Platinum & Palladium Trust this past December (NYSE Arca: SPPP, TSX: PPT.U).

PLATINUM

On January 15th, the world's largest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (Amplats), announced plans to shut down several of its mines, resulting in the layoff of 14,000 mine workers and the reduction of approximately 400,000 ounces of annual platinum production. Given that global platinum mine production has averaged approximately 6.2 million ounces per year, the Amplats announcement is equivalent to almost 6% of global annual mine production in 2012, representing a substantial shortfall to the metal's supply/demand balance. The platinum spot price appreciated by over $30/oz following this announcement out of South Africa.

Our desire to launch the Sprott Physical Platinum & Palladium Trust was partly based on an expectation of further supply disruptions out of South Africa, which produces close to 75% of the world's annual platinum supply and 37% of the world's palladium. Union-led labour strife has become a growing concern in the country, where some 46 people were killed this past summer in violent strikes at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana. The labour unrest has come at a time when the industry is already suffering from persistent operating challenges and declining profit margins (see Figure A). The geological nature and depth of many of the country's platinum mines requires large amounts of manual labour, and South African mine workers have become increasingly politicized in their struggle for higher wages. At today's platinum price, however, most platinum miners are unprofitable after netting out the costs of labour, electricity and equipment required to produce the metal. Many are cash flow negative and cannot meet the workers' request for higher wages without sustaining further losses. Roger Baxter, senior executive at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, recently stated that at least 50% of the country's platinum industry is marginal or in a loss-making position today. In addition, many of the mining operations are suffering from declining ore grades, further lowering mine output. The result has been a 25% decline in annual South African platinum production since 2006. As the Amplats decision plainly underscored, at today's prices, platinum mining in South Africa is simply no longer a profitable affair.

FIGURE A: PRODUCTION MARGIN AND BASKET PRICE
breakout-year-chart 1  

Source: CIBC World Markets Equity Research 2012, PGM Basket consists of Platinum (~60%), Palladium (~30%) and Rhodium (~10%)

FIGURE B
breakout-year fig b
Source: Johnson Matthey Platinum 2012 Interim Review

The impact of South Africa's mining woes has completely shifted the platinum market's supply fundamentals over the past year, moving it from a state of oversupply in 2011 to a net supply deficit in 2012 (see Figure B). The recent developments in South Africa strongly suggest platinum's supply deficit will continue into 2013, supporting the platinum spot price and potentially moving it to much higher levels. In fact, some industry estimates have suggested the platinum market will experience a deficit as high as 760,000 ounces in 2013. Platinum miners will not be able to increase production unless the platinum price rises to a level capable of incentivizing further development.

 On the demand side, platinum has benefitted from a steady demand for auto catalysts, which constitutes the metal's primary industrial usage. Platinum and palladium both possess chemical properties that help reduce pollutants produced by gasoline and diesel engines, significantly lowering the air pollution produced by automobiles. Just as we believe the platinum price must go up to incentivize new mine production out of South Africa, the platinum price is further supported by the fact that it CAN go up, because of the relative inelasticity of the demand for its catalytic utility. The average automobile (worldwide) carries a mere $212 worth of platinum group metals per vehicle, making the impact of any platinum price increase on the total wholesale cost of an automobile relatively marginal. In China, for example, where pollution is a critical problem, air pollution levels of 300 or above regularly prompt the US embassy to issue warnings to minimize outdoor or strenuous activity. Air particulate levels in Beijing have often been above 500 recently, sometimes crossing over 700. In response, Beijing has recently tightened emissions standards for new cars to meet European Union Standards, or Euro V, starting February 1st. Increasing the platinum/palladium loadings per catalytic converter is one feasible way of directly addressing this growing problem, as the demand for automobiles in China is expected to grow steadily over the next five years. Platinum has also benefitted from increasing demand for its usage in jewelry, particularly in China, where it is considered to be superior to gold. According to refiner Johnson Matthey, China is expected to have consumed 1.92 million ounces of platinum in 2012, representing 70% of the overall global platinum jewellery consumption of 2.73 million ounces. That total is likely to increase as demand rises in other countries as well. In India, for example, platinum demand is estimated to have increased by 25% this past year, representing a new high of 100,000 ounces. As emerging markets growth continues, we expect platinum jewellery demand to increase along with it.

PALLADIUM

The palladium story is similar to that for platinum from a demand perspective, but has a different supply picture that makes it more compelling in our view. Palladium generally occurs with platinum and other PGM metals and is usually associated with nickel and copper. Like platinum, palladium's main industrial usage is in catalytic converters, most notably in gasoline engines. It is also used in jewellery, watchmaking, dentistry, surgical instruments and electrical contacts.

Almost 40% of the world's annual palladium mine supply comes from Russia, primarily through operations at Norilsk. Russia, naturally, does not provide much information on its palladium stockpiles, but various reporting agencies are able to piece together reliable estimates for annual supply and demand.

The palladium market is tight, and appears to be getting tighter. It has gone from a 1.26 million ounce surplus in 2011 to a 915,000 ounce deficit in 2012. This represents a swing of over 2 million ounces this year due to contracting supply, increasing gross demand and diminished recycling, resulting in a supply decrease of 790,000 ounces (see Figure E). If you factor in the ~200,000 ounces we purchased in our Trust, the deficit for 2012 increases to 1.15 million oz.

As bullish as we are on the supply dynamics of platinum, it is palladium that appears to be poised to move higher in the short-term. The palladium market is now in supply deficit globally and will experience a residual deficit in 2013 even after existing stockpile sales are taken into account. Russia has historically maintained a sizeable palladium stockpile which has represented a key source of supply over the past two decades. 2012 reports suggested that that stockpile was nearing depletion, with sales expected to fall below 100,000 ounces in 2013, versus the 250,000 ounces that are believed to have been sold last year. Those numbers were also supported by Swiss PGM data, where the most recent 2012 numbers show Russian palladium shipments running 72% lower than the same period in 2011. All of this was recently confirmed by Norilsk itself, when an executive conceded in an interview on November 29th (and later confirmed by industry watchers like GFMS this past January) that the supply overhang from Russian stockpiles is officially close to being depleted. If this proves to be true, it will represent a significant shift in supply, since those stockpiles were a main contributor in balancing the palladium market for the last ten years.

FIGURE E
breakout-year fig e
Source: Johnson Matthey Platinum 2012 Interim Review

One other bullish palladium supply factor relates to the Norilsk mines themselves, which produce more palladium than the next four largest palladium producers combined. Norilsk's 2012 palladium production is expected to account for 42% of global supply. Despite higher prices, Norilsk is not expected to expand its annual palladium production for at least 10 years, because that's how long it will take to develop the new mines it requires to increase production. In addition, the existing operations are reported to be having difficulty maintaining their average 2.7 million ounces of annual production due to diminishing ore grades at depth within the ore bodies Norilsk is mining. With Russian state supplies dwindling, and Norilsk's palladium production flat at best, the supply picture in 2013 has a very high probability of tightening further. This is especially likely if South Africa's 1.5 million ounces of palladium production is also impacted by further strikes and mine shutdowns.

Palladium demand has been robust, having risen by 15% year-over-year in 2012 to 9.73 million ounces. The growth has been primarily driven by increased use in autocatalysts, the demand for which alone is forecasted to increase by 7% in 2013. Given the probability of tightening supply in the years ahead, we could potentially see a hoarding reaction by industry users as supply constraints become more pronounced. In year 2000, a similar reaction by industry users led palladium to trade over $1,000/ ounce. It is also interesting to note that palladium has the second highest amount of short positions in the futures market in relation to total annual production - second only to that for silver. The reversal of those short contracts may represent a significant source of investment demand as prices continue to rise.

SUMMARY

The timing of the launch of the Sprott Physical Platinum & Palladium Trust has been favourable thus far. Supply problems out of South Africa will be the driving force behind platinum's price appreciation, while palladium will benefit from the depletion of Russian stockpiles and flat production from Norilsk. Both metals have the potential to see significant demand increases as the autocatalyst market benefits from growing global auto sales, which reached a record 80 million units sold in 2012.

As at February 2013, the Sprott Physical Platinum & Palladium Trust now holds 81,486 ounces of platinum and 186,098 ounces of palladium in bullion form. The Trust is structured similar to our existing Sprott Physical Gold Trust (NYSE Arca: PHYS, TSX: PHY.U) and Sprott Physical Silver Trust (NYCE Arca: PSLV, TSX PHS.U), but differs in that it initially holds approximately equal dollar amounts of platinum and palladium.

We aim to publish more updates in the coming months to analyze developments in the markets for both metals. Although platinum and palladium share gold and silver's "precious metal" categorization, they represent significantly smaller markets in terms of physical production, making them much more responsive to the supply constraints and demand increases that we foresee for both. It is also worth noting that relatively little of the total annual platinum and palladium supply actually makes it to "market" - with the vast majority sold directly to fabricators. Our Trust's December purchases represent 1.3% of 2012's platinum mine supply and almost 3% of palladium supply. If investment demand for platinum/palladium were to grow in an environment where supply is further constrained, it could indeed have a large impact on the spot price for both metals going forward.

Precious metal investors are encouraged to review platinum and palladium's unique supply/demand dynamics. We believe 2013 will be an exciting year for both metals, and that's without even considering what could happen to the precious metals sector as a whole.

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Dire Warnings About New Regulations Don’t Come to Pass

WASHINGTON - February 14 - The results of regulations to protect consumers not only tend to discredit industry’s dire predictions but often show that the safeguards benefit businesses, a Public Citizen report released today shows.

The report, “Regulation Issue: Industry’s Complaints about New Rules,” compares the business lobby’s predictions to the results of five significant regulatory policies. The safeguards ranged from San Francisco’s paid sick leave law to smokefree workplace policies. To say that industry’s warnings look foolish in retrospect is an understatement.

“Business groups always predict that proposed regulations will cause the sky to fall, but they’re never right,” said Adam Crowther, researcher with Public Citizen. “Given industry’s track record as forecasters, policy-makers would be wise to greet their new claims with extreme skepticism.”

The research is particularly timely this week, which marks two years since the passage of the Office of Management and Budget’s deadline to finish its work on a proposed rule to protect workers from deadly exposure to silica. Many suspect industry pressure is to blame.

The cases Public Citizen examined include:

• San Francisco’s paid sick leave policy. Under this ordinance, businesses were required to give sick leave to their employees. The San Francisco Republican Party said the law amounted to “a job-killing attack” on the city’s economic engine. But employment in San Francisco subsequently increased and the number of businesses grew.

• The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This law gave workers the right to take unpaid leave to recover from an illness, or care for a sick or newborn child. U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted that if the measure passed, “the light of freedom will grow dimmer.” In fact, the act had virtually no impact on the vast majority of businesses covered by the bill, government data show.

• Unleaded gasoline. Leaded gasoline once was a serious public health menace. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1973 issued rules reducing the amount of lead in gasoline, then banned it entirely in 1986. Industry groups said this move would jeopardize 43 million jobs in the petrochemical industry. In reality, the industry has flourished for decades, and reduction in atmospheric lead has been credited with enormous public health benefits. Further, the reduction of lead in the environment has been linked to improved public health.

• Smokefree workplace laws. Since the early 1990s, jurisdications encompassing more than 200 million people have banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause lung cancer and heart disease. The tobacco industry warned that smoking bans would reduce bar and restaurant profits by as much as 30 percent. Instead, profits increased after the laws were enacted. A document unearthed during litigation against the tobacco industry revealed that a Philip Morris executive admitted that “our dire predictions in the past rarely came true.”

• The CARD Act. Passed in 2009, this law protects consumers from unfair credit card company policies by regulating interest rates and fees, and mandating better disclosure. The American Bankers Association predicted that it would hurt consumers and small businesses. But survey data indicates that now even businesses praise the legislation.

Read the report here.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

CISPA, the Privacy-Invading Cybersecurity Spying Bill, is Back in Congress

It's official: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives yesterday. CISPA is the contentious bill civil liberties advocates fought last year, which would provide a poorly-defined "cybersecurity" exception to existing privacy law. CISPA offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies (including the private communications of users) in the name of cybersecurity. It also creates avenues for companies to share data with any (Photo: Kai-Huei Yau/ Tri-City Herald)federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA).

EFF is adamantly opposed to CISPA. Will you join us in calling on Congress to stop this and any other privacy-invasive cybersecurity legislation?

As others have noted, “CISPA is deeply flawed. Under a broad cybersecurity umbrella, it permits companies to share user communications directly with the super secret NSA and permits the NSA to use that information for non-cybersecurity reasons. This risks turning the cybersecurity program into a back door intelligence surveillance program run by a military entity with little transparency or public accountability.”  

Last year, CISPA passed the House with a few handful of amendments that tried to fix some of its vague language. But the amendments didn't address many of the significant civil liberties concerns. Those remaining problems were reintroduced in today's version of CISPA. Here's a brief overview of the issues:

Companies have new rights to monitor user actions and share data—including potentially sensitive user data—with the government without a warrant.

First, CISPA would still give businesses the power to use "cybersecurity systems" to obtain any "cybersecurity threat information" (CTI)—which could include personal communications—about a perceived threat to their networks or systems.  The only limitation is that the company must act for a "cybersecurity purpose," which is vaguely defined to include such things as "safeguarding" networks.

CISPA overrides existing privacy law, and grants broad immunities to participating companies.

At the same time, CISPA would also create a broad immunity from legal liability for monitoring, acquiring, or sharing CTI, so long as the entity acted “in good faith.”  Our concern from day one has been that these combined power and immunity provisions would override existing privacy laws like the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. 

Worse, the law provides immunity “for decisions made based on” CTI. A rogue or misguided company could easily make bad "decisions" that would do a lot more harm than good, and should not be immunized.  

CISPA also raises major transparency and accountability issues.

Information provided to the federal government under CISPA would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could otherwise require disclosure (unless some law other than CISPA already requires its provision to the government).  

Users probably won't know if their private data is compromised under CISPA, and will have little recourse. 

CISPA's authors argue that the bill contains limitations on how the federal government can use and disclose information by permitting lawsuits against the government. But if a company sends information about a user that is not cyberthreat information, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company. 

CISPA is a dangerous bill

These are just a couple of reasons of why CISPA is a dangerous bill and why President Obama threatened to veto the bill last year. CISPA essentially equates greater cybersecurity with greater surveillance and  information sharing. But many of our cybersecurity problems arise from software vulnerabilities and human failings, issues CISPA fails to address. For instance, the recent series of hackssuffered by New York Timeswere suspected to be from spearphishing and victims downloading malicious software masked as email attachments—the types of issues that CISPA doesn't deal with.

We were heartened to hear that President Obama's new Executive Order on cybersecurity will encourage government agencies to more readily share cybersecurity information with companies, and may even reduce unnecessary secrecy around cybersecurity information. Let's use the momentum from the Executive Order to turn a new leaf in the cybersecurity debate, beginning a broader public dialogue about cybersecurity that doesn’t assume that surveillance is the right solution.

Please join EFF in opposing CISPA by contacting Congress today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Mark M. Jaycox

Mark M. Jaycox is a Policy Analyst and Legislative Assistant for EFF.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Senate Finally Reauthorized the Violence Against Women...

In today's On the News segment: Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); the Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity; a new poll appears to indicate that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Last night, President Obama laid out his agenda for his second term. The State of the Union speech set some ambitious goals to get our nation back on a progressive course. The list included executive action on climate change, a "Fix-it-First" program to invest in infrastructure and job creation, and a legal pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. The President also called for making high-quality early education available to all children, called on Congress to bring gun legislation to a vote, and announced we're finally getting our troops our of a seemingly endless war. But, perhaps the biggest news of the evening was Obama's call for an increase in the federal minimum wage. He surprised everyone during the speech by saying, "Tonight, lets declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour." However, despite Obama's calls to get our nation back on track, the Republicans were apparently not impressed with the speech. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said, "I think what most Americans wanted to hear tonight was the President's plan to get government spending under control, rein in the debt, and put the private economy back on a path to real growth and serious job creation." It's not surprising that Republicans also refused to stand and show support for equal pay for women, protecting our democratic process, or streamlining the legal immigration system. In 2012, Americans spoke loudly and clearly about what vision they want for our country. Perhaps it'll take a few more elections for the Republicans to finally hear the nation's calls for progress.

In screwed news ... The Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called for imposing more spending cuts, saying, "The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced budget amendment." However, the growth of government spending is at it's lowest rate since Dwight Eisenhower. The federal budget deficit is down as a percentage of GDP. And non-defense government spending is lower than it's been in a half-century. Now it's time to stop the Republican austerity measures from killing jobs, and reversing economic growth. We shouldn't even be focusing on deficits at a time when our economy is struggling. Obama said it himself last night, "Deficit reduction alone is not an economic policy." Now it's time to reinvest in our nation, rebuild our infrastructure, and strengthen our middle-class. We know that the Republicans won't stand with the President on these issues, so it's up to us to support him, and get this country back on a course to progress.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse. Originally passed in 1994, The Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized by Congress back in 2012. The bill finally cleared the Senate yesterday, with a vote of 78 to 22. All 22 Senators who opposed the vote were Republican men. Among them were Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio. The legislation was delayed in the Senate because of Republican opposition to protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. After finally passing yesterday, the bill's co-sponsor, democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said, "A victim is a victim is a victim, and violence is violence is violence." Well said Senator. This is another victory against the Republican war on women, but with the on-going attack on reproductive rights, it looks like we have a long fight ahead.

Perhaps the best way for Obama to get Republicans to support an issue, is for him to oppose it. That's what a new poll from the Washington Post seems to indicate. On issues like immigration and climate change, it appears that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it. According to the poll, 60% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship if Obama's name is not included in the question. When the same issue is presented with Obama's name in the proposed law, the number drops to 39%. That's a 21% drop in support, on the exact same issue, simply because Obama is associated with it. This study may explain why a previous Reuters' poll showed that many Republicans support key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, yet claim to hate Obamacare as a whole. As the Think Progress Blog reminds us, a pathway to citizenship was not simply Obama's idea. Neither was instituting a healthcare mandate, closing tax loopholes, or increasing gun regulations. All of these ideas were supported, or even introduced, by Republicans. So, if Obama really wants to get some work done this term, maybe he should just oppose himself – perhaps then Republicans would suddenly become Obama supporters.

And finally... Does Sarah Palin have a new gig? Well, that depends on who you ask. Today, the Washington Post is "refutiating" its own report, that the former vice-presidential candidate and Fox News contributor signed on with Al Jazeera America. The paper fell hook-line-and-sinker for a fake "interview" posted by The Daily Currant – an outlet that describes itself as "the global satirical newspaper of record." The Post's Suzi Parker cited the story, saying, "Fox News and their once-upon-a-time darling Palin recently parted ways after three years. But it appears that Palin is still trying to find ways to stay relevant, while her 15 minutes fades into the political history books." It looks like The Washington Post now needs to issue another correction... for falsely implying Sarah Palin was ever actually relevant in the first place.

And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, February 13, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

 

You need to know this. Last night, President Obama laid out his agenda for his second term. The State of the Union speech set some ambitious goals to get our nation back on a progressive course. The list included executive action on climate change, a “Fix-it-First” program to invest in infrastructure and job creation, and a legal pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. The President also called for making high-quality early education available to all children, called on Congress to bring gun legislation to a vote, and announced we're finally getting our troops our of a seemingly endless war. But, perhaps the biggest news of the evening was Obama's call for an increase in the federal minimum wage. He surprised everyone during the speech by saying, “Tonight, lets declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.” However, despite Obama's calls to get our nation back on track, the Republicans were apparently not impressed with the speech. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said, “I think what most Americans wanted to hear tonight was the President's plan to get government spending under control, rein in the debt, and put the private economy back on a path to real growth and serious job creation.” It's not surprising that Republicans also refused to stand and show support for equal pay for women, protecting our democratic process, or streamlining the legal immigration system. In 2012, Americans spoke loudly and clearly about what vision they want for our country. Perhaps it'll take a few more elections for the Republicans to finally hear the nation's calls for progress.

 

 

In screwed news... The Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called for imposing more spending cuts, saying, “The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced budget amendment.” However, the growth of government spending is at it's lowest rate since Dwight Eisenhower. The federal budget deficit is down as a percentage of GDP. And non-defense government spending is lower than it's been in a half-century. Now it's time to stop the Republican austerity measures from killing jobs, and reversing economic growth. We shouldn't even be focusing on deficits at a time when our economy is struggling. Obama said it himself last night, “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic policy.” Now it's time to reinvest in our nation, rebuild our infrastructure, and strengthen our middle-class. We know that the Republicans won't stand with the President on these issues, so it's up to us to support him, and get this country back on a course to progress.

 

In the best of the rest of the news...

 

Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse. Originally passed in 1994, The Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized by Congress back in 2012. The bill finally cleared the Senate yesterday, with a vote of 78 to 22. All 22 Senators who opposed the vote were Republican men. Among them were Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio. The legislation was delayed in the Senate because of Republican opposition to protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. After finally passing yesterday, the bill's co-sponsor, democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said, “A victim is a victim is a victim, and violence is violence is violence.” Well said Senator. This is another victory against the Republican war on women, but with the on-going attack on reproductive rights, it looks like we have a long fight ahead.

 

Perhaps the best way for Obama to get Republicans to support an issue, is for him to oppose it. That's what a new poll from the Washington Post seems to indicate. On issues like immigration and climate change, it appears that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it. According to the poll, 60% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship if Obama's name is not included in the question. When the same issue is presented with Obama's name in the proposed law, the number drops to 39%. That's a 21% drop in support, on the exact same issue, simply because Obama is associated with it. This study may explain why a previous Reuters' poll showed that many Republicans support key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, yet claim to hate Obamacare as a whole. As the Think Progress Blog reminds us, a pathway to citizenship was not simply Obama's idea. Neither was instituting a healthcare mandate, closing tax loopholes, or increasing gun regulations. All of these ideas were supported, or even introduced, by Republicans. So, if Obama really wants to get some work done this term, maybe he should just oppose himself – perhaps then Republicans would suddenly become Obama supporters.

 

And finally… Does Sarah Palin have a new gig? Well, that depends on who you ask. Today, the Washington Post is “refutiating” its own report, that the former vice-presidential candidate and Fox News contributor signed on with Al Jazeera America. The paper fell hook-line-and-sinker for a fake “interview” posted by The Daily Currant – an outlet that describes itself as “the global satirical newspaper of record.” The Post's Suzi Parker cited the story, saying, “Fox News and their once-upon-a-time darling Palin recently parted ways after three years. But it appears that Palin is still trying to find ways to stay relevant, while her 15 minutes fades into the political history books.” It looks like The Washington Post now needs to issue another correction... for falsely implying Sarah Palin was ever actually relevant in the first place.

 

And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, February 13, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news. 

Natural Gas Holds No Key to Our Clean Energy Future

WASHINGTON - February 13 - ”President Obama was right to proclaim the importance of speeding our transition to a clean energy future last night in his State of the Union Address, but natural gas has no place in that plan. The so-called natural gas boom he described is only locking us into further dependence on dirty, polluting fossil fuels, while destroying our communities and the resources on which they thrive.

“While it is encouraging to hear President Obama declare his commitment to combatting climate change, natural gas will only perpetuate this vexing issue. Extracting, transporting and burning natural gas all contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and worsen global climate change. In addition to the carbon dioxide emitted from burning natural gas, significant amounts of methane leak as new wells are fracked and as natural gas is transported. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, about 33 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over 100 years, and about 70 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years according to a 2009 study published in Science. New evidence, including data from researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicates that the oil and gas industry and the Environmental Protection Agency have drastically underestimated the extent of methane emissions from drilling and fracking operations.

“President Obama needs to stand up for American communities, not the special interests of the oil and gas industry. He must reject natural gas, as well as plans to export additional supplies overseas. It is true that we need to reinvest in American communities and bolster our green energy infrastructure, but natural gas is not the bridge to a future lit by clean energy. It is, as many have said, a bridge to nowhere.

“Controlling our own energy future means investing in energies that sustain our communities, not the financial needs of the oil and gas industry.”

Americans Against Fracking is composed of the following groups: www.americansagainstfracking.org/members. For more information about Americans Against Fracking, visit www.AmericansAgainstFracking.org.

Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

What’s Next for the Voting Rights Movement?

Desmond Meade stood with his wife on the National Mall on that sunny Inauguration Day, listening to a speech delivered by a president he did not vote for. But he followed attentively, hoping to hear just a few words that might address a man like himself: African-American, one-time homeless, recovered from substance abuse, and formerly incarcerated. His felony status kept him from voting for Obama, because as a Florida citizen he is not eligible to vote at all. He would leave D.C. disappointed, not only because he heard nothing about felony disenfranchisement, but he also heard nothing from Obama about the unique problems impacting black men.

“If you’re going to go out there on a limb and talk about gay rights and gun control issues, then why can’t you make mention of the plight of African-American men who are not graduating, who are dying at very young ages and being disenfranchised?” asks Meade. “As an African-American president who doesn’t have to worry about being elected again, he should have at least said something.”

Since Obama didn’t, Meade is saying something, organizing in Florida on behalf of the 1.5 million people in the state who can’t vote due to felony convictions. He’s the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, comprising more than seventy organizations, most grassroots and community-based. Florida's disenfranchised voters total more than the combined population of both North and South Dakota. Their problems long preceded Obama and are far from resolved now that he has been re-elected. At the root is Florida’s state constitution, which prevents those with felony convictions from voting, holding office and in certain instances, even obtaining housing.

In addition, Gov. Rick Scott, the Tea Party’s golden neck charm, has rolled back reforms implemented by his predecessor Charlie Crist—reforms that restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of former felons.

Felony disenfranchisement was far from the only voter problem suffered in Florida. The state’s electoral maladies in the last year read like a primer on how to best frustrate voters. They began with the passing of House Bill 1355, which among other things made voter registration drives prohibitively toilsome and which performed unnecessary surgery on the early voting period, including excising the “Souls to the Polls Sunday” that attracted legions of black voters in 2008. Come election day, long lines left elderly and disabled voters waiting up to five hours to vote in oven-like temperatures while overzealous poll watchers tried to block volunteers from giving them water.

But just as voter suppression schemes backfired on conservatives by provoking voters of color to turn out en masse, the totally avoidable problems caused by bad voter laws gifted voting rights activists with more momentum, more political capital and even a mandate to continue organizing in 2013. Today, Florida advocates are drawing up legislation that would establish a new bill of rights around voting for the state, mostly in response to the suppression.

“There have been so many shenanigans in Florida forever,” says Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority. “But now there is a real appetite for getting rid of the bad election policies and making permanent structural changes, looking at how the structure of voter suppression was racial, and then shifting the paradigm from conversations around voter fraud to establishing the right to vote as a fundamental right.”

Challenging Florida for the title of “Most Failed Elections State” is Virginia, which also suffered chaotically long lines, except there it was the freezer to Florida's oven. To make matters worse, there is no regular early voting process. It’s also one of only four states, among them Florida, that permanently disenfranchises those with felony convictions.

Organizers have had a tough time getting state legislators to focus on election improvements, says Tram Nguyen, associate director for Virginia New Majority, though a glance at the state’s legislation activist might suggest otherwise. After the 2008 election, Virginia legislators introduced bills aimed at election reform, including a voter ID bill that became law last year. This year, lawmakers have introduced over one hundred election reform bills. But while some are to make voting easier—by allowing early voting, for example, or providing more polling site resources—they also include “a slew of voter suppression bills,” says Nguyen.

“The bills we find most egregious ask for proof of citizenship for registration, call for stricter voter ID and gives the state access to the SAVE database.” The latter is a Department of Homeland Security database that conservative election officials want to use to purge people thought to be undocumented.

Virginia voting rights advocates at least have an ally in Congress. House Represe Gerry Connolly is reintroducing the FAST Voting Act, which among other things would allocate federal resources to states that can produce best practices and results for reducing long lines. The optics alone of voter lines winding for blocks—a reality for far too many—has led people to claim it is a form of voter suppression. At a voting rights forum in January hosted by Connolly, an attorney with the Advancement Project told the story of a working mother who came to her polling location four times, because the lines during each visit were too long for her to wait through during work breaks.

A major cause of long lines is Virginia’s sketchy voter registration system, which too often prevents people from signing in to vote because their names aren’t in the poll books. The ensuing hassles with poll workers holds up lines. To solve this problem, voting rights advocates are pushing for modernized voter registration, including portable or “universal” voter registration and Election Day registration. This would alleviate jams by allowing people to register once, perhaps online, and then ensuring that their information is updated automatically if they move, get married, or make other life changes. It also allows voters to register or correct mistakes in their file on Election Day rather than being blindsided with a provisional ballot.

But universal voter registration is almost universally panned by Republicans. In late January, Republican attorney Hans von Spakovsky and the Heritage Foundation rounded up a few conservative state secretaries—among them Kris Kobach of Kansas and Scott Gessler of Colorado, both notorious for trampling on voting rights—for a panel titled “The Threat to Election Integrity of ‘Universal’ Registration.” There, Gessler railed off a myth claiming that Oregon got rid of same-day registration after a cult used it to “take over a town.”

He could only have been referring to a 1984 case in which followers of the charismatic spiritual speaker Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh brought homeless people to Oregon in a plot to rig an election by abusing the state’s Election Day registration provision. The attempt was unsuccessful, but it did spook Oregon legislators into rescinding same-day registration. Of course, that was almost 30 years ago, and many improvements have been made to the system since.

Coincidentally, on the same day of Heritage’s panel, the Brennan Center for Justice held a panel on voter registration modernization, featuring none other than Oregon’s state secretary Kate Brown. There, Brown boasted that Oregon is currently the only state that is completely vote by mail—what they call “universal ballot delivery”—and one of a few states that offers online voter registration. “I don’t believe that registration should be a barrier to participation,” she said. This was a sharp contrast to Gessler at the Heritage Foundation, who cast universal voter registration as a threat to states’ rights. “This is not a homogenous nation,” he said, insisting that those “who celebrate diversity” (apparently not him) “should respect it in other areas, including geographical diversity.”

There’s not much diversity among those who bear the brunt of registration mishaps and long-line waits. Back in Florida, a study recently found that at least 201,000 people failed to vote last November due to long lines, and that the worst areas were found in Latino communities.

This is why a Florida coalition that includes Advancement Project, Mi Familia Vota, Florida New Majority, the Florida Consumer Action Network and the Florida Immigrant Coalition is working to amend the Florida state constitution so that it guarantees voting accessibility for all citizens—a state-level voting rights act.

“We’re focusing on legislation that grants an explicit right to vote in Florida,” says Katherine Culliton-González, the director of the Advancement Project’s voter protection program. “It would aim at big picture issues and make voting a fundamental right so no election law changes could happen that would take us back in time.”

Could Florida learn from Virginia activists fighting felon disenfranchisement? Edgardo Cortés, director of the Advancement Project's Voting Rights Restoration Campaign in Virginia, has been working on this issue with dozens of organizations around the state, including the NAACP and the ACLU. The groups have successfully pushed Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to streamline the tedious application process for ex-offenders to have their rights restored. As of January 10, Governor McDonnell has restored the voting rights of more people than any governor preceding him, 4,423.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 350,000 Virginians disenfranchised due to felony convictions. Governor McDonnell made a surprising move this year when he announced his support for the automatic restoration of voting rights for non-violent felony offenders, but fellow Republicans in the general assembly have not honored his request. Even the state’s far-right attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has come out in favor of automatic restoration for ex-offenders, saying the state has engaged in a foul practice of “felony creep,” where low-level, nonviolent crimes are inflated from misdemeanors to felonies, leading to more disenfranchisement. Right now you can be charged with a felony for bouncing a check.

“I think really the only thing that will cause change there is the governor and the higher-ups and state leadership within the parties saying, ‘Yes, we want to push this and we want to get this law passed,” says Cortés. That, and an executive order from Governor McDonnell which would give blanket restoration to the 350,000 without the right to vote.

The same could be done in Florida, except neither the governor nor the state legislators are poised to move on felony disenfranchisement. Which is why Desmond Meade and his coalition are pushing for a ballot initiative to restore voting rights for ex-offenders. Their mobilizing strategy includes trying to locate most or all of the 1.5 million disenfranchised ex-offenders in the state and ask them to find ten friends or family members who will vote for the ballot referendum on their behalf.

“Part of the reason there has been low turnout in black communities is that the issues and candidates that [political parties] try to turn African-Americans out for have been abstract,” says Meade. “These are not individuals or issues the black community can wrap their arms around or sink their teeth into. We’re not talking about issues that would directly impact them and they can see the results. Even when they elected Obama the first time we ran into a lot of African-Americans who said, ‘We got a black president but it looks like our situation got worse. Our conclusion is that with this ballot initiative, this is something that is up close and personal to the black community.”

In other words, rather than asking people to come out and vote for Candidate X, they’re asking people to vote for their brother, sister, father, cousin or friend. There’s nothing that sounds more fundamentally right than that.

ACLU Responds to Executive Order on Cybersecurity; Opposes CISPA

WASHINGTON - February 13 - President Obama tonight signed an executive order to protect U.S. critical infrastructure from cyberattacks by improving cybersecurity information sharing between the government and owners and operators of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Unlike legislation that will be introduced into the House tomorrow, the president’s executive order seeks to protect Americans’ digital privacy when information-sharing occurs, according to the ACLU.

"The president’s executive order rightly focuses on cybersecurity solutions that don’t negatively impact civil liberties. For example, greasing the wheels of information sharing from the government to the private sector is a privacy-neutral way to distribute critical cyber information," ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson said. "More encouragingly, the adoption of Fair Information Practice Principles for internal information sharing demonstrates a commitment to tried-and-true privacy practices – like consent, transparency, minimization and use limitations. If new information sharing authorities are granted—especially the overbroad ones being pondered by the House—these principles will be more important than ever. We look forward to working with the administration to make sure that the devil isn’t in the details when privacy regulations are drafted."

In Congress, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) will reportedly reintroduce the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) tomorrow, which passed the House last Congress but failed to gain traction in the Senate.

"The ACLU still opposes CISPA, which once again allows companies to share sensitive and personal American internet data with the government, including the National Security Agency and other military agencies," Richardson said. "CISPA does not require companies to make reasonable efforts to protect their customers’ privacy and then allows the government to use that data for undefined ‘national-security’ purposes and without any minimization procedures, which have been in effect in other security statutes for decades."

The ACLU continues to support the strong privacy protections in the Senate’s cybersecurity bill from the last Congress, which is expected to be reintroduced sometime soon.

"The Senate bill and the executive order make significant progress in the privacy arena and it is discouraging that the House persists in taking the low road," Richardson added.

Anonymous promises to disrupt Obama’s State of the Union

Eyes and ears will be on US President Barack Obama Tuesday evening as he presents the State of the Union address from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Hacktivists aligned with the Anonymous movement have other plans, however.

A call to arms has been issued by Anonymous, the shadowy underground collective of hackers and activists, and the group says they hope to disrupt select online broadcasts of the annual address in protest of President Obama and his administration’s assaults on the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Americans, as well as the world’s Internet.

“Operation SOTU,” or “OpSOTU,” is latest mission from Anonymous, and members involved in the initiative say it will serve as a decisive factor in the “battle royale for the future of the Internet.”

In a statement drafted by members of Anonymous and circulated on the Web early Tuesday, the group recalls a series of recent victories for Internet activists who waged battles and won against proposed legislation that would have drastically changed the modern landscape of computer and technology law.

“Last year we faced our greatest threat from lawmakers. We faced down SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA,” the message begins. “But that victory did not come easily. Nor did it come without a price.”

While the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act were killed in Congress before they could come to fruition, opponents of those bills argue that Washington’s assault on computer users has only escalated in the year since. In January, 26-year-old anti-SOPA advocate Aaron Swartz was found dead of an apparent suicide in the midst of a heated legal battle with the US Justice Department over his allegedly unauthorized downloading of academic and journal files from the website JSTOR. Other young technologists, including those accused of hacking the Stratfor intelligence firm as members of Anonymous, are facing life in prison for nonviolent computer crimes.

But despite calls for the White House and Washington to relinquish their mission to censor the Internet and strip online freedoms away from Americans, a war against overzealous cybersecurity legislation remains rampant. In lieu of reform — reform even advocated by some members of Congress — both the Executive and Legislative branches alike are preparing to push for new rules that some say will only ruin the Internet.

Pres. Obama is believed to have already signed a cybersecurity executive order this week that, when unveiled, is expected to include privacy-damning provisions that will put in place a direct plan of action for the private sector to share consumer information with the government. According to some reports, the order could be made public as soon as during Tuesday evening’s address. On Wednesday, however, the architects of last year’s Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, plan to reintroduce their bill during a seminar in Washington, rekindling a mission Anonymous says would turn “private companies into government informants.” Regardless of if either is discussed during Tuesday night’s address, however, hacktivists are preemptively asking for a world-wide attack on the State of the Union to be led by a legion of Anons.

“We reject the State of the Union. We reject the authority of the President to sign arbitrary orders and bring irresponsible and damaging controls to the Internet,” Anonymous writes. “The President of the United States of America, and the Joint Session of Congress will face an Army tonight.”

“There will be no State of the Union Address on the web tonight.”

Anonymous is asking for people around the globe to prepare for an online battle Tuesday evening that will take a multi-prong approach in hopes of rendering some Internet streams of the president’s address unavailable and educating the world’s about his administration’s ruthless interpretation of both computer law and the US Constitution alike. In addition to waging a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) against websites carrying the SOTU stream, Anons also plan to spam Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites with information about the president’s cybersecurity order, CISPA and other items likely to be left out of Tuesday’s speech.

“He will not be covering the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], an act of outright tyrannical legislation allowing for indefinite detention of citizens completely outside due process and the rule of law,” reads the press release in part. “He will not be covering the extra-judicial and unregulated justifications for targeted killings of citizens by military drones within the borders of America, or the fact that Orwellian newspeak had to be used to make words like ‘imminent’ mean their opposite.”

Elsewhere, Anonymous attacks the president’s hesitance to publically discuss Private first class Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old accused whistleblower who has been imprisoned without trial for nearly 1,000 days for allegedly leaking information about the United States’ own war crimes. Nor will he discuss, claims Anonymous, “the secret interpretations of law that allow for warrant-less wiretapping and surveillance of any US citizen without probably cause of criminal acts.”

Indeed, the matters of Pfc Manning and the recent renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and other Fourth Amendment-eroding legislation have been by-and-large removed from talking points touched on by the president during his first term in office. Next, Anonymous fears, a tightening grip on the Internet could mean even more infringement, authorized by an administration that aims to gain control of the world’s main method of communication.

“We will form a virtual blockade between Capitol Hill and the Internet,” warns Anonymous. In a separate statement issued by the AnonRelations sect, one member writes, “President Obama and the State of the Union Address will be BANISHED from the Internet for the duration of live delivery.”

“This action is being taken to underline a fact that appears to be sorely unrecognized by the Obama Administration — that the Internet is a sovereign territory, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of any nation state.”

In a public discussion held for planning purposes online, one Anon writes, “Anyone and everyone on the Internet who opposes the current efforts by the US government to control the Internet and their actions against liberty at home and abroad will be DIRECTLY ENGAGED in LULZ WARFARE.” The group has since collected a number of news links relating to relevant White House policies and the URLs for websites that might be momentarily brought down by a coordinated DDoS attack, including the official White House stream for the president’s address. FBI.gov, House.gov and the website for C-SPAN have all been listed as potential targets as well.

“Armed with nothing more than Lulz, Nyancat and PEW-PEW-PEW! Lazers, we will face down the largest superpower on Earth,” the AnonRelations bulletin reads.

OpLastResort, the Anonymous-led mission launched in retribution for the death of Aaron Swartz that is largely attributed to alleged prosecutorial overreach by the Obama administration, has endorsed the planned assault on the State of the Union. On the website OpLastResort.com, the administrator insists there will be no State of the Union broadcast on the Web “for freedom, for Aaron Swartz, for the Internet, and of course, for the lulz.” A member of AnonRelations calls the latest action a continuation of OpLastResort, but also “a direct response to intelligence gathered about upcoming executive order.”

Since Mr. Swartz’ passing in December, Anonymous has hacked into a database of Federal Reserve emergency numbers, defaced the website of the US Sentencing Commission and posted the log-in credentials for over 4,000 US banking executives on a hacked frontpage for the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. When asked whether he thought these maneuvers were making a difference, former Anonymous member Gregg Housh tells RT that the operations are not going unrecognized.

“I think the ops are having an interesting effect,” Housh says in an online chat hours before Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. “It has their attention . . . in a way I haven’t seen before.”

“I think something is happening,” adds Housh, “it is just happening at the pace at which Washington is used to going, and the Internet is used to ‘Internet time,’ which is much faster.”

Has Obama Kept His Open-Government Pledge?

Has Obama Kept His Open-Government Pledge?

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Posted on Feb 11, 2013
The White House/Pete Souza

By Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica

This article first appeared on ProPublica.

After eight years of tightened access to government records under the Bush administration, open-government advocates were hopeful when Barack Obama promised greater transparency.

Four years later, did the president keep his promise?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a consortium of right-to-know groups. “I think they’ve made progress, but a whole lot more remains to be done.”

The Obama administration set the bar high. In his first inaugural address, Obama said that “those of us who manage the public’s dollars” will “do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

The next day, the president issued two memos. In one on the Freedom of Information Act, he wrote that FOIA “should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

A second memo addressed transparency: “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.” And that “openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”

But transparency was not defined in detail, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). “People were left to imagine whatever they wanted to be the content of those statements. Inevitably, disappointment soon followed.”

Next came more memos and directives, including a memo from Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging federal agencies to release discretionary information and a White House directive outlining an open-government to-do list for agencies.

Among the assigned tasks:

  • Make data available online
  • Create an open-government website
  • Create a FOIA point person within the agency
  • Devise a plan on how the agency will become transparent

In early 2010, ProPublica tracked how well agencies followed up. Some agencies missed key deadlines. Others did not complete all tasks.

Two months ago, the National Security Archive found that “66 of 99 federal agencies” never updated their FOIA regulations even though Holder ordered them to make changes in a March 19, 2009, memorandum.

“It takes somebody beating up on the chief FOIA officer and the head of the agency to make sure the message is being heeded all through the agency, ” McDermott said. “And they haven’t done that.”

But all has not been dark and cloudy. The secrecy veil is beginning to lift in some areas.

Last year, the White House released its visitor logs, and Obama signed legislation that provided greater protection for government whistleblowers.

Citizens can get more information about government spending than they could have previously through websites such as Recovery.gov and USASpending.gov.

The administration also created Data.gov as a repository of federal data. A December 2009 White House memo directed agencies to make “high-value” data sets available on the site. Although Data.gov was criticized for its lack of usability and the selection of data, it now has more than 350,000 data sets from agencies.

Another website, FOIA.gov, tracks data about how agencies respond to FOIA requests for records and provides tools to help citizens make requests and track for information.

“We know more today than ever before about intelligence spending,” Aftergood said, citing bright spots. “And we know more today than before about the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.” (Estimates put the U.S. stockpile at just more than 5,000 in 2012, according to an FAS report.)

Some basics also have changed. Many agencies employ simple, yet helpful practices such as communicating with FOIA requesters and giving them ways to check the status of their requests. Some agencies have posted contact information for their FOIA offices and other personnel on their websites.

Still, many requesters say they continue to face delays and costly processing fees. Although government data show that agency FOIA backlogs are significantly lower than in 2008, the figures for 2011 show an increase from the two prior years. An analysis by Bloomberg News last fall found that 19 out of 20 cabinet-level agencies failed to properly fulfill FOIA requests.

“Other areas are like duck feet paddling beneath the surface,” McDermott said. “You may not see them, but they are moving.”

In fiscal year 2011, agencies processed 8 percent more FOIA requests even though the number of incoming requests went up. And now, more than 40 years since the passage of FOIA, government employees who process requests have an actual job category — “government information specialist.”

Obama’s second inaugural address contained no mention of transparency, however, and no memos or directives have called for a more open government. That leaves some to wonder if the commitment to transparency continues.

According to White House spokesman Eric Schultz, it does. “While creating a more open government requires sustained effort,” he said, “our continued efforts seek to promote accountability, provide people with useful information and harness the dispersed knowledge of the American people.”

“Reducing secrecy and improving transparency are still compelling ideas that are good for reducing costs, improving efficiency and engaging the public in a constructive way,” Aftergood said. “Those of us who do advocacy in that area shouldn’t be disappointed. We should get to work.”

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Groups Urge Investigation of EPA Actions in Texas Water Contamination Case

WASHINGTON - February 11 - More than 80 organizations from 12 states and a New York state senator today called on the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate a decision to drop legal action against a drilling company despite evidence that it had polluted residents’ well water near Fort Worth, Texas.

Go here for the letter and full list of signatories:
http://static.ewg.org/pdf/2013-EWG-IG-Letter.pdf

The organizations sent a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., asking him to broaden an ongoing investigation of a case that made national news last year when the EPA dropped an enforcement action against Range Resources Ltd. after earlier invoking rare emergency authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act. New York State Senator Tony Avella is sending a similar letter later today. Elkins began investigating the case after six U.S. senators asked him last June to determine whether EPA had followed proper procedures.

Associated Press and other news outlets have recently brought new information to light that raises additional questions about EPA’s commitment to protecting the public.

The case began in 2010 when EPA found that Range’s natural gas drilling near Forth Worth had “caused or contributed” to pollution of residents’ well water with benzene and dangerous levels of methane. The agency issued an emergency order requiring Range to provide drinking water to two families and to install meters in their homes to monitor explosion risks, among other actions.

The drilling industry and other critics charged that EPA’s decision to drop the case was proof that it had “rushed to judgment” and that Range had not polluted the families’ water. EPA did not explain its decision, issuing only a two-sentence statement describing its withdrawal as an opportunity to work with Range to make drilling safer. The EPA also withdrew the requirement that Range provide the families with drinking water.

Last month (January 2013), the Associated Press reported that the EPA made its decision even though a 2011 report it commissioned from an independent scientist had strongly suggested that one of Range’s natural gas wells was the source of the water contamination. EPA did not mention that report when it announced its reversal.

The organizations' letter calls on the inspector general to investigate why the EPA did not mention the scientist’s analysis, whether the EPA had a scientific basis for dropping the case against Range and whether the EPA had responded to political pressure, including recently-disclosed communications from Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“We fear that the EPA has failed in its duty to protect people’s health,” said Paul Gallay, President of New York-based Riverkeeper. “As a critical decision about fracking looms in New York state, we are left wondering what science and data have been kept secret from our experts and decision makers. All eyes are on Governor Cuomo to protect New Yorkers, and we urge him to take a step back and see what other information is hidden that could prevent an informed decision.”

“Range Resources went behind-closed-doors and solicited special favors rather than be a good neighbor to homeowners whose drinking water was polluted by Range’s drilling,” said Earthworks Energy Program Director Bruce Baizel. He continued, “The fact they were successful calls into question all public oversight of oil and gas development.”

“EPA’s inexplicable decision to drop the case adds to a growing concern that drilling regulation is woefully inadequate even as drillers push into more populated areas from New York to California,” said EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt. “The public must have confidence that the EPA is acting to protect our health and drinking water, not corporate profits.”

Associated Press reported that Steven Lipsky, whose family EPA identified as having been affected by the contamination, can light his well water on fire and now pays $1,000 a month to have water delivered.

Groups Urge Investigation of EPA Actions in Texas Water Contamination Case

WASHINGTON - February 11 - More than 80 organizations from 12 states and a New York state senator today called on the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate a decision to drop legal action against a drilling company despite evidence that it had polluted residents’ well water near Fort Worth, Texas.

Go here for the letter and full list of signatories:
http://static.ewg.org/pdf/2013-EWG-IG-Letter.pdf

The organizations sent a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., asking him to broaden an ongoing investigation of a case that made national news last year when the EPA dropped an enforcement action against Range Resources Ltd. after earlier invoking rare emergency authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act. New York State Senator Tony Avella is sending a similar letter later today. Elkins began investigating the case after six U.S. senators asked him last June to determine whether EPA had followed proper procedures.

Associated Press and other news outlets have recently brought new information to light that raises additional questions about EPA’s commitment to protecting the public.

The case began in 2010 when EPA found that Range’s natural gas drilling near Forth Worth had “caused or contributed” to pollution of residents’ well water with benzene and dangerous levels of methane. The agency issued an emergency order requiring Range to provide drinking water to two families and to install meters in their homes to monitor explosion risks, among other actions.

The drilling industry and other critics charged that EPA’s decision to drop the case was proof that it had “rushed to judgment” and that Range had not polluted the families’ water. EPA did not explain its decision, issuing only a two-sentence statement describing its withdrawal as an opportunity to work with Range to make drilling safer. The EPA also withdrew the requirement that Range provide the families with drinking water.

Last month (January 2013), the Associated Press reported that the EPA made its decision even though a 2011 report it commissioned from an independent scientist had strongly suggested that one of Range’s natural gas wells was the source of the water contamination. EPA did not mention that report when it announced its reversal.

The organizations' letter calls on the inspector general to investigate why the EPA did not mention the scientist’s analysis, whether the EPA had a scientific basis for dropping the case against Range and whether the EPA had responded to political pressure, including recently-disclosed communications from Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“We fear that the EPA has failed in its duty to protect people’s health,” said Paul Gallay, President of New York-based Riverkeeper. “As a critical decision about fracking looms in New York state, we are left wondering what science and data have been kept secret from our experts and decision makers. All eyes are on Governor Cuomo to protect New Yorkers, and we urge him to take a step back and see what other information is hidden that could prevent an informed decision.”

“Range Resources went behind-closed-doors and solicited special favors rather than be a good neighbor to homeowners whose drinking water was polluted by Range’s drilling,” said Earthworks Energy Program Director Bruce Baizel. He continued, “The fact they were successful calls into question all public oversight of oil and gas development.”

“EPA’s inexplicable decision to drop the case adds to a growing concern that drilling regulation is woefully inadequate even as drillers push into more populated areas from New York to California,” said EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt. “The public must have confidence that the EPA is acting to protect our health and drinking water, not corporate profits.”

Associated Press reported that Steven Lipsky, whose family EPA identified as having been affected by the contamination, can light his well water on fire and now pays $1,000 a month to have water delivered.

Constitutional Amendment Introduced in Congress Ensuring Rights for People, Not Corporations

WASHINGTON - February 11 - The movement for constitutional reforms that would end what organizers call “corporate rule” has arrived in the chambers of Congress. This morning, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives joined Move to Amend by announcing their sponsorship of the “We the People Amendment,” which clearly and unequivocally states that:

  1. Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and
  2. Political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

In making the announcement, lead sponsor Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-Minnesota), said: “It’s time to take the shaping and molding of public policy out of corporate boardrooms, away from the corporate lobbyists, and put it back in city halls – back with county boards and state legislatures – and back in the Congress where it belongs.”

Ben Manski, a spokesperson for Move to Amend, agreed, saying: “Today, members of Congress join a movement that insists on the fundamental equality of all Americans, and that rejects the idea that the corporate class should have special protections against We the People.”

The Move to Amend coalition was formed in 2009 in preparation for the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Today, the coalition of nearly 260,000 people and hundreds of organizations has helped to pass nearly 500 resolutions in municipalities and local governments across the country calling on the state and federal governments to adopt this amendment.

The Move to Amend coalition makes a point of differentiating themselves from the other proposals that have come forward in response to Citizens United. "In every single community where Americans have had the opportunity to call for a Constitutional amendment to outlaw corporate personhood, they have seized it and voted yes overwhelmingly, stated George Friday, Move to Amend spokesperson. “The Citizens Uniteddecision is not the cause, it is a symptom. We must remove big money and special interests from the legal and political process entirely."

Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

If you’re one of the 91 percent of Americans who opposes genetically engineered (GE) meat, you may have limited time to act: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approval of the first-ever GE animal, called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” If this first approval proceeds, the process is likely to become top secret in the future: we won’t find out about new GE animals until after they’re approved for human consumption, and they won’t be labeled. Welcome to the new world of genetically engineered meat — unless we act now.

The Process

The problems begin with FDA’s bizarre decision to consider GE meat using its “New Animal Drug Approval” (NADA) process, a process designed for evaluation of new animal drugs (hence the name), not genetically engineered animals. The GE salmon themselves are, according to this analysis, the animal drug. As food blogger Ari LeVaux explains on Civil Eats, “the drug per se is AquaBounty’s patented genetic construct... Inserted at the animal’s one-cell stage, the gene sequence exists in every cell of the adult fish’s body.”

Of course, NADA was not designed to analyze the human health or environmental consequences of new animal drugs, and because the animals are the drugs in this process, their welfare is also ignored. In all three areas, there is ample reason for concern.

Human Health

Since they aren’t consumed by humans, new animal drugs are not evaluated for their human health impact, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that FDA’s analysis in this area has been almost nonexistent. Health and consumer rights advocates have raised alarms, noting among other concerns, that: 1) these animals will require massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in dirty, crowded aquaculture conditions, and we don’t know these antibiotics’ effect on human health; 2) the limited testing that has been conducted was carried out by or for AquaBounty and included shockingly small sample sizes; and 3) what studies have been done indicated increased allergic potential and increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to various cancers — an outcome ignored in FDA’s approval according to the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety.

Our Environment

The process of examining new drugs’ environmental impact is also lax, so it’s also not surprising that FDA bungled this analysis as well. As just one glaring example, the agency looked only at how one small pilot project in Canada and Panama will affect U.S. waters, ignoring its legal obligations to consider the likelihood of salmon escaping as the pilot program expands—an expansion the company has already announced. Similarly, FDA suggests that the GE salmon’s lack of fear and rapacious appetite means that they could not survive escape. Another possibility, ignored by FDA and feared by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, is that escapees would “wreak havoc on the ecosystem.” The Center for Food Safety (CFS) points out that every year “millions of farmed salmon escape, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems.” Regarding GE salmon, CFS continues: “Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.” FDA totally ignores this scenario and its vast implications for our aquatic ecosystems.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is the one area where we might expect NADA to do a passable job because the process is supposed to guarantee drug safety in the target animal. Sadly, FDA ignored animal welfare in its decision to recommend approval of GE meat, perhaps because it considers the GE animals to be drugs, not animals. In 2010, the American Anti-Vivisection Society and Farm Sanctuary detailed more than a dozen concerns with the AquAdvantage salmon, any one of which should have precluded approval. Yet, in its proposal, FDA ignored animal welfare concerns entirely.

Here are just a few of our concerns, none of which were addressed in FDA’s proposal:

  1. Although AquaBounty supplied limited animal welfare data, its own application indicates that it engaged in “extensive culling” of deformed, diseased, dying, and dead fish from its analysis. This would be like studying smoking’s impact only on long-distance runners who had shown no signs of cancer or heart disease.
  2. All aquaculture causes physical deformities and makes fish sick; nevertheless (and even after culling the sickest animals), the limited data supplied by AquaBounty indicates that AquAdvantage fish are even sicker and more prone to abnormalities and death losses than other farmed fish
  3. Even within these parameters, there were problems with the studies. For example, sample sizes provided were tiny and included limited data, and all analysis was done by the company (do you recall how this worked out with the tobacco companies?).
  4. Salmon in the wild are remarkable animals, swimming thousands of miles, including up streams and waterfalls; and of course, they feel pain and have similar cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complexity to other animals. AquAdvantage salmon will be crammed into tanks in grossly unnatural conditions, and slaughter will be completely unregulated (see video below). Imagine living your entire life, day and night, in an elevator with 20 other people — you can’t even stand up; you live in a pile of everyone else’s limbs and excrement. That’s aquaculture.

Brave New World

The scariest thing about approving GE animals through NADA is that once a type of technological drug advance is approved (here, genetic animal engineering), future approvals become much easier and much less transparent: the process that protects corporate drug development secrets will protect the GE process, resulting in reduced scrutiny and no transparency at all for future approvals. The American public will probably not even find out about future GE animals until after they’re approved for sale. As Friends of the Earth notes, FDA’s approval “will open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals, including pigs and cows, to enter the food supply.” 

Conclusion

FDA’s process for approving genetically engineered meat is rotten to the core, and the effects of such a bad process on human health, our environment, and animals cannot be overstated. In the 2010 process, FDA received more than 400,000 comments and letters from more than 300 health, consumer advocacy, environmental, animal protection, and other organizations. All were ignored. We have one more chance before litigation becomes necessary. Click here to take action.

Bruce Friedrich

Bruce Friedrich is Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

Bogus Child Abuse Charges for Pregnant, Drug-Using Women (Hard Times USA)

A woman who uses drugs can be punished just for the assumption that using drugs has harmed her fetus.

February 11, 2013  |  

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Editor's note: America has a long history of treating the poor like criminals, from legislation banning the transportation of poor people across state lines to anti-vagrancy laws that could land you in jail if you didn't have a job or a home. We've come to rely on the criminal justice system to deal with the poor, even as more and more Americans fall into poverty. The following article is part of a series that looks at the diverse ways our countrycriminalizes poverty, including laws targeting the homeless, the surveillance of welfare recipients, the re-emergence of debtor prisons, and extreme policing tactics like stop-and-frisk.

After suffering a stillbirth in South Carolina, 21-year-old Regina McKnight was arrested and charged with murdering her fetus because she used cocaine while pregnant. McKnight served eight years in prison for a loss that, as it turned out, she did not even cause. In 2008, with four years of her sentence left to serve, the South Carolina Supreme Court said the state used “outdated” research to make its case and overturned McNight’s conviction.

While prosecutors had claimed McKnight’s cocaine use caused her stillbirth, the Court said McKnight’s attorneys failed to secure testimony from experts who would have explained how “recent studies show[ed] that cocaine is no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor.”

McKnight’s case is not unusual. A recent study examining the outcome of pro-life policies since Roe v. Wade through 2005 identified more than 400 pregnant women who were arrested, incarcerated or forced into health “treatment” they did not want or need. As the data make clear, drug war stigma and racism were central to such prosecutions: 84 percent of these cases alleged that the woman, “in addition to continuing her pregnancy, had used an illegal drug,” particularly cocaine. Fifty-two percent of the women targeted are black.

Legal Rights for Fetuses 

The cases do not necessarily include the death of a fetus, as in McKnight’s case. A woman who uses drugs can be punished for the assumption that she has harmed her fetus, even if her drug use is the only evidence against her. In states where feticide or “personhood” measures define an egg, embryo or fetus as a child, "child abuse" can occur in the womb.

In South Dakota, a 12-weeks pregnant, homeless, 28-year-old Native American woman, Martina Greywind, was charged with “reckless endangerment” for using inhalants during her pregnancy. After two weeks in jail, she was able to obtain a release for a medical appointment where she received an abortion. Her case was dismissed, with the state noting that her pregnancy’s termination made her charges “no longer ripe for litigation,” while the prosecutor told media it was “no longer worth the time or expense to prosecute her.”

Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Woman, lead author of the pro-life policies study, says that cases targeting women who become pregnant, go to term, and use an illicit drug or alcohol are part of the larger effort to create separate legal rights for fertilized eggs and embryos.

One such precedent was established last month in the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled that “the crime of chemical endangerment” -- exposing a child to a controlled substance or the environment in which it was produced -- applies to a fetus in a womb. The concurring opinion defined a fetus as a child, noting that the state has the responsibility to “protect life.” In these cases, the pro-life rhetoric works with equally flawed drug war stigma to criminalize women for crimes against an “unborn child.”

While the Alabama ruling rests firmly on the belief that a fetus is a child, it also stems from the notion that exposing infants to methamphetamine is so damaging it should be labeled a crime. Studies have repeatedly found that the developmental effects of prenatal exposure to methamphetamine are not clear. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s special information sheet about meth exposure in-utero, "the effects of maternal methamphetamine use cannot be separated from other factors," and there "is no syndrome or disorder that can specifically be identified for babies who were exposed in utero to methamphetamine."

Child Services 

On February 7, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a positive drug test does not prove parental neglect and that the state’s child protection services do not have jurisdiction over pregnant women. “The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health,” Lynn Paltrow said. 

While the Alabama ruling interpreted a criminal statute, the New Jersey law interpreted a civil statute. The former provides for a criminal case and prosecution, while the latter turns the matter over to child protective services, which is not always as benign as it sounds.

“Facing jail or the loss of custody of child are both devastating consequences, both likely to deter a mother from getting care,” Paltrow said. “But one does send you to jail, potentially for life, and the other puts you in the civil child welfare system.”

Lawrence S. Lustberg, an attorney who worked on the case, told AlterNet, “Nobody is endorsing the use of drugs while one is pregnant, but the problem with regulating it and allowing for state interference or state scrutiny of women who are pregnant leads to two problems.” The first is that threatening a woman with the removal of her children due to behavior while pregnant  “is going to disincentivize women from doing the right thing, from getting care," Lustberg said. “Women who are drug-addicted, alcoholics, or have other problems while pregnant  should be encouraged to seek help, and if you threaten to take their children away they will be discouraged from seeking help, and that’s damaging to women and children.”

Another issue, Lustberg said, is that punishing pregnant women for crimes against a fetus encourages much broader oversight of children and mothers' lives. “The research shows that drug use...while potentially harmful, is no more harmful than a number of other things that are legal. Not just alcohol, but working too hard, not getting enough exercise, getting too much exercise, not eating the right things, sleep — all kinds of things that correlate with problems upon childbirth," he said. “Once you start allowing the state to intrude into that whole decision-making process, there is no end to it, and you would be subjecting pregnant women to a level of oversight by the government that you would not be subjecting any other people in our entire society to, and that is very troubling indeed.”

History of Racism

“The prosecutors typically charge the least popular most politically vulnerable women in town -- usually drug-using, African-American women," said Lynn Paltrow. She adds that prosecutors “try to get a court to decide that the word 'child' in the child-abuse statute applies to eggs, embryos, and fetuses” by suggesting that the law would only be used “against drug-using women,” and then setting the precedent for “unequal system of law for all pregnant women.”

The majority of these kinds of cases involve black women, and cocaine is the mostly commonly cited drug used to justify an arrest for fetal harm. The crack era of the ‘90s portrayed black women as enemies in the war on drugs. Media coverage of the crack cocaine “epidemic” churned out images of the “crack whore” whose reckless pleasure-seeking unknowingly or even intentionally harmed her unborn child. The media sensationalized the “crack baby,” providing an emotionally charged icon of victimization, while pregnant, black drug users were scapegoated for a policy failure to prevent crack cocaine use.

Researchers following children who were exposed to cocaine before they were born have found that the long-term effects are relatively minor. The infants exposed to crack cocaine in the ‘90s are now growing up, and most of them are leading normal, healthy lives.  

One study found that cocaine exposure slows fetal growth, but the difference went away as cocaine-exposed children grew up.

Research measuring brain function has found that cocaine-exposed children may have a harder time with tasks requiring attention management, as well as deviant behavior. Still, as Harolyn M. Belcher, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician who is director of research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Family Center in Baltimore, told the New York Times in 2009, these conclusions are “subtle and hard to generalize.”

“Just because it is statistically significant doesn’t mean that it is a huge public health impact,” Belcher told the Times. In 1997 for example, a study found that clinicians could not distinguish “crack-addicted babies” from babies born to comparable mothers who did not use cocaine.

Most women using crack cocaine while pregnant were also using other substances, and most of the children in these studies are poor, and are subject to a variety of other risk factors that affect cognitive development and behavior, like inadequate healthcare and schools, unstable family situations, and exposure to lead. In 2001, a comprehensive study concluded: “[T]here is no convincing evidence that prenatal cocaine exposure is associated with any developmental toxicity difference in severity, scope, or kind from the [consequences] of many other risk factors.”

“Society’s expectations of the children,” Deborah A. Frank, a Boston pediatrician, told the Times, “and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity, but by the social meaning” of the drug.

Barriers to Treatment

Even seeking treatment for substance addiction does not safeguard a pregnant woman from persecution. Wisconsinite Rachael Lowe, 20, learned this the hard way, when her attempt to seek treatment for her Oxycontin addiction landed her in a psychiatric ward more than an hour away from her husband and 2-year-old son. While she was held against her will in the psychiatric ward, she did not receive prenatal care, but was prescribed several medications, including Xanax. Lowe’s fetus received legal representation, but Lowe did not receive legal counsel until 12 days after she was taken into custody.

At a later hearing, a doctor testified that Lowe’s addiction posed no significant risk to the health of the fetus, and the court said Lowe would be released from what the study called her “hospital-based incarceration.” But the state was still allowed access to her womb, as Lowe was under surveillance and supervision for the remainder of the pregnancy, required to provide urine samples and cooperate with law enforcement and health professionals. As a result of the intervention, Lowe lost her jobs, and her husband had to take a leave of absence from his job.

For pregnant addicts, withdrawing from drugs like narcotic painkillers and heroin can be a greater danger to both the woman and the fetus. Nonetheless, prosecutors and judges who demand full abstinence have criminalized pregnant women who are taking methadone to curb their drug cravings. The legal system’s failure to recognize the complexity of a pregnant woman’s health decisions can have the effect of scaring women out of treatment -- causing danger to both them and their fetus.

Prenatal exposure to opiates like heroin and oxycodone is not associated with birth defects or impeded growth and development, but it is associated with withdrawal symptoms in newborns that trained professionals can manage and eliminate. 

In pregnant women, withdrawal symptoms can cause uterine contractions, miscarriage or early labor that may be more damaging to the child.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises:

If you’re pregnant and using drugs such as heroin or abusing opioid prescription painkillers, it’s important that you get help for yourself and your unborn baby. Methadone maintenance treatment can help you stop using those drugs. It is safe for the baby, keeps you free of withdrawal, and gives you a chance to take care of yourself.

Time to Take Notice: How Renewable Energy Is Becoming Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

This is why we need to throw everything we have at making renewable energies our primary way of powering America into the 21st century.

Wind turbines between Poitiers and Angouleme in France. Nearly 200 nations launched a fresh round of United Nations climate talks in Doha on Monday.
Photo Credit: AFP

February 10, 2013  |  

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Something interesting is happening in Australia.

new study by the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that unsubsidized renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels like coal and gas.

In fact, it’s a lot cheaper.

Data shows that wind farms in Australia can produce energy at AU$80/MWh. Meanwhile, coal plants are producing energy at AU$143/MWh and gas at AU$116/MWh.

Unlike the United States, where energy companies can pollute and have the costs (from illness to environmental degradation) picked up by the taxpayers, Australia has a carbon tax, which partially explains why renewables have a price advantage. But the data shows that even without the cost of carbon tax factored in; wind energy is still 14-cents cheaper than coal and 18-cents cheaper than gas.

And this is in a nation that relies more heavily on coal than any other industrialized nation in the world. But that coal reliance will soon change, as companies in Australia are quickly adopting new, cheaper renewable energies. As the study found, banks and lending institutions in Australia are now less and less likely to finance new coal plants, because they've simply become a bad investment.

And, while Australian wind is cheapest now, by 2020 - and maybe sooner - solar power will also be cheaper than coal and gas in Australia. The energy game is rapidly changing in that country.

Michael Liebrich, the chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted, “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date.”

Well, here’s a news flash: That perception has been out of date for a while now – even right here in the United States.

According to the  Energy Information Administration, looking ahead to 2016, natural gas is the cheapest energy in the United States at roughly $66/MWh. Coal comes in second at $94/MWh. But right behind coal is renewable wind at $97/MWh, which in large part accounts for why U.S. wind energy production has tripled since 2000.

And, unlike in Australia, none of those US prices account for the externalities associated with fossil fuels like pollution, cancers, military protection, or global warming. In America, the fossil fuel industry has made sure those externalities are paid for not by the coal and gas energy producers, but instead by you and me.

The fossil fuel industry doesn't pay a penny of the cost of rapidly accelerating climate change. Or the healthcare costs from exhaust- and refinery-driven diseases and deaths from air, water, and other pollution. Not to mention the community costs of decreasing property values when a coal plant is put in your backyard. Nor do they put a cent toward the cost of our Navy keeping the oil shipping lanes open or our soldiers “protecting” the countries that “produce” all that oil.

All of these externalities come with fossil fuel production, but pretty much don't exist with renewable energy production. And those externality costs are not only not paid for by the fossil fuel industry – they're never even mentioned in the corporate-run “news” media in America.

Research from the  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences concludes that the total cost of these externalities, if paid by the polluters themselves, would raise US fossil fuel prices by as much as nearly $3/MWh. And that’s an extremely conservative estimate. Which puts wind power on parity with coal in America.

The trend lines here are pretty clear: Buggywhip, meet automobile!  

Renewables are getting cheaper, and fossil fuels are getting more expensive.

Hearing Loss Is Reaching Epidemic Proportions — How You Can Protect Your Ears

In this era of ubiquitous Bluetooths and iPods, hearing loss is starting younger than ever before.

February 9, 2013  |  

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Hearing loss is reaching epidemic proportions -- and not just among people who  play their music too loud.

We all expect to go a little bit deaf when we get older. But in this era of ubiquitous Bluetooths and iPods, hearing loss is starting younger than ever before. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, one in five people between 48 and 59 is already experiencing a deficit. And a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a record one in five teens is suffering from hearing loss, as well. Here's how to turn down the volume in your environment before it's too late.

Swallow Some Protection
Inside our ears lie thousands of hairlike cells that turn sound waves into electrical signals so the brain can interpret what we hear. But very loud noise generates free radicals that damage those cells -- sometimes permanently. The U.S. military has been pouring money into research on prevention, and it's paying off. A clinical trial revealed that an over-the-counter supplement called N-acetylcysteine worked much better than earplugs alone at minimizing damage in Marines exposed to gunfire. Researcher Richard D. Kopke, MD, recommends taking 1,200 milligrams 12 hours before you're bombarded by loud noise (say, at a sporting event). If the noise is unexpected, pop 1,200 milligrams as soon as possible and take 900 to 1,200 milligrams three times a day, with meals, for the next 14 days.

A daily 167-milligram dose of magnesium also seems to offer preventive protection, according to a study by the Israeli military. This could be because magnesium helps promote blood flow (poor blood flow puts stress on the cells of the inner ear).

Take A Break
After a Gaga-blasting Spinning class, seek out silence for as long as possible. And if you're forced to endure a continuous noise (like a jackhammer or a colicky baby), go someplace quiet for a few minutes every couple of hours. Breaks allow the inflammation caused by free radicals to dissipate.

Pick The Right Earphones
In a noisy setting, the sound-isolating kind are best, says Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children's Hospital Boston: "They block the right proportion of high and low frequencies so you can hear your music at a lower volume." Noise-canceling headphones are less effective; they block mostly low frequencies.

SLIDESHOW: How loud is too loud?

Draft Arctic Oil Spill Agreement “Inadequate”

Washington - Environmentalists are warning that a meeting of environment ministers that took place Monday in Sweden has agreed on a weak and inadequate response plan in case of an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.

According to Greenpeace, an environment watchdog, a leaked copy of the document suggests that the eight member states that make up a group dubbed the Arctic Council have failed to agree on the technical details necessary for dealing with a large-scale disaster, even while it opens the way for increased drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic.

“We are unimpressed by what we’ve seen from this totally inadequate document,” Ben Ayliffe, a Greenpeace campaigner based in Washington, told IPS. “It does nothing to prepare governments for dealing with disasters or for protecting the Arctic from disasters.”

According to the United Nations’ global climate office, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest level on record in 2012. That process, which overwhelming scientific data attributes to human-induced climate change, has created a virtual gold rush to the Arctic.

Rising temperatures mean the vast Arctic Ocean, which used to be frozen over for much of the year, is now an open shipping lane for more than half the year, on average. This has resulted in a scramble to lay claim to Arctic territory, which is estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to contain 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered energy resources.

However, environmentalists are concerned that no mechanisms are in place to prevent or respond to an environmental disaster.

According to Richard Steiner, a biologist and expert on oil spills based in Alaska, this past summer, a record 46 merchant ships transited through what is known as the Northern Sea Route, a 10-fold increase from just two years ago. “There has been an extraordinary increase in shipping across the Arctic Ocean, mainly with very hazardous petroleum products on board,” Steiner told IPS.

He also warns that an increase in offshore oil and gas drilling potential in the Arctic demands robust laws. Yet, he says, the Arctic Council agreement has no technical performance standards, enforcement mechanisms or operational guidelines.

“They are charging forward with this Arctic offshore oil drilling development and shipping without the proper safeguards in place, and it’s really tragic,” Steiner said. “I’m afraid they are going to wait for a big spill disaster before putting the right systems in place.”

He added that this is what happened with the Exxon Valdez case, when an oil tanker ran aground in Alaska in 1989.

“I’m afraid this is what’s going to happen in the Arctic, too,” he continues. “Despite the lessons learned … very little has changed as far as prevention policy is concerned.”

No proven capacity

The Arctic Council, established in 1996, is made up of states with territory in the Arctic, and comprises Canada, Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The new oil spill treaty will be formally voted upon by members in May, and would become the second binding agreement reached by the Arctic Council since a search-and-rescue agreement was signed in 2011.

Yet Ayliffe says the document doesn’t adequately deal with the complex issues involved with a potential spill.

“It’s a nightmare scenario,” Ayliffe says. “The technical difficulties of responding to a disaster a mile beneath the ice make the kind of operation that BP had to do in the Gulf impossible in the Arctic.”

Despite earlier assurances by the Arctic Council that any agreement would include specific environmental protections, including oil spill recovery and prevention strategies, Ayliffe says the agreement “fails to outline any essential response equipment, methods for capping wells, or cleaning up oil-affected habitat and wildlife, relying instead on vague statements of steps Arctic nations should take within available resources.”

The document contains ambiguous language regarding oil spills, only asking countries to take “appropriate steps” to deal with a spill, without specifying clear demands or requirements. It also lacks guidelines relating to the liability of oil companies in case of a disaster or guidelines on how to adequately deal with a spill.

“No oil company has ever proven it can respond to an oil spill in ice, and the agreement offers nothing in regard to how a company would stop or clean up a Deepwater Horizon-style disaster,” Ayliffe said, referring to the massive 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when nearly five million barrels of oil spewed from a blown oil well in the sea floor for nearly three months.

“We are hoping that, because of the outrage that has been caused by this document, before the May vote there will be time to fill some of the holes.”

A New Manhattan Project

The Cedar Creek wind farm east of Grover, Colorado.The Cedar Creek wind farm east of Grover, Colorado. (Photo: AtmosNews - NCAR & UCAR)

Something interesting is happening in Australia.

A new study by the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that unsubsidized renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels like coal and gas.

In fact, it’s a lot cheaper.

Data shows that wind farms in Australia can produce energy at AU$80/MWh. Meanwhile, coal plants are producing energy at AU$143/MWh and gas at AU$116/MWh.

Unlike the United States, where energy companies can pollute and have the costs (from illness to environmental degradation) picked up by the taxpayers, Australia has a carbon tax, which partially explains why renewables have a price advantage. But the data shows that even without the cost of carbon tax factored in; wind energy is still 14-cents cheaper than coal and 18-cents cheaper than gas.  

And this is in a nation that relies more heavily on coal than any other industrialized nation in the world. But that coal reliance will soon change, as companies in Australia are quickly adopting new, cheaper renewable energies. As the study found, banks and lending institutions in Australia are now less and less likely to finance new coal plants, because they've simply become a bad investment.

And, while Australian wind is cheapest now, by 2020 - and maybe sooner - solar power will also be cheaper than coal and gas in Australia. The energy game is rapidly changing in that country.

Michael Liebrich, the chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted, “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date.”

Well, here’s a news flash: That perception has been out of date for a while now – even right here in the United States.

According to the Energy Information Administration, looking ahead to 2016, natural gas is the cheapest energy in the United States at roughly $66/MWh. Coal comes in second at $94/MWh. But right behind coal is renewable wind at $97/MWh, which in large part accounts for why U.S. wind energy production has tripled since 2000.

And, unlike in Australia, none of those US prices account for the externalities associated with fossil fuels like pollution, cancers, military protection, or global warming. In America, the fossil fuel industry has made sure those externalities are paid for not by the coal and gas energy producers, but instead by you and me.

The fossil fuel industry doesn't pay a penny of the cost of rapidly accelerating climate change. Or the healthcare costs from exhaust- and refinery-driven diseases and deaths from air, water, and other pollution. Not to mention the community costs of decreasing property values when a coal plant is put in your backyard. Nor do they put a cent toward the cost of our Navy keeping the oil shipping lanes open or our soldiers “protecting” the countries that “produce” all that oil.

All of these externalities come with fossil fuel production, but pretty much don't exist with renewable energy production. And those externality costs are not only not paid for by the fossil fuel industry – they're never even mentioned in the corporate-run “news” media in America.

Research from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences concludes that the total cost of these externalities, if paid by the polluters themselves, would raise US fossil fuel prices by as much as nearly $3/MWh. And that’s an extremely conservative estimate. Which puts wind power on parity with coal in America.

The trend lines here are pretty clear: Buggywhip, meet automobile!  

Renewables are getting cheaper, and fossil fuels are getting more expensive.

Which is why we as a nation need to throw everything we have at making renewable energies our primary way of powering America into the 21st century.

Think of it as a new Manhattan Project. We need green energy, local energy, and a 21st century smart grid to handle it all.  

Over time, the marketplace will do this for us. But with just about every developed country in the world ahead of us, and our dependence on oil making us more and more tightly bound to Middle Eastern dictators and radicals, to wait and hope big transnational corporations will help birth a new America is both naïve and stupid. Instead of depending on them, we should be recovering from them the cost of those externalities – a carbon tax – that can be used to build a new energy infrastructure in America.

Let’s take a lesson from Australia and the Eurozone, which have both set up carbon taxes to make 19th century energy barons pay for at least some of the damage they've done. And then use that revenue for a green energy revolution here in America.

Considering the threats of climate change, war, and disease, only an idiot – or a fossil-fuel billionaire like Charles or David Koch – would want us to bring in more oil with a pipeline or take any other steps to continue America's dependence on dirty and costly last-century fuels.

Anti-snow chemicals used in Moscow take 1.3bn years to dissolve — report

RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid

RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid

Toxic and even radioactive elements have been found in de-icing substances used for clearing Moscow streets from snow, according to data gathered by a group of activists. City authorities deny the allegations.

­De-icing chemicals have never enjoyed public affection in Russia. They are mostly associated with damaged footwear and burned pet paws. However, annoyance turned to anger after community group ‘For Safety on Russian Roads’ announced the results of its recent investigation.

"I can, of course, emotionally say that yes, we are being poisoned by radiation and scattered with something horrible. But if we put emotions aside, we have now gathered samples of chemicals from sidewalks and found out that substances prohibited years ago are being used once again. These include Radionuclides,” says Roman Kornilov of For Safety on Russian Roads, as cited by Kommersant daily.

The group specifies that Moscow roads are being de-iced with yellow halite and a substance known by the abbreviation SBG.  Yellow halite is described as “exceptionally harmful for people and nature.” SBG is an electrolyte slime of Solikamsk Magnesium Works, i.e. industrial waste which contains toxic elements. These include K-40 (kalium-40), which takes 1.3 billion years to disintegrate and belongs to materials of third-class radioactive danger. It was prohibited for use in Moscow in 2006.

RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid
RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid

The Russian internet has exploded with indignant comments: “The scariest thing is that little children inhale evaporations from those chemicals!!!”;“I’m not an expert in chemistry, but as the man in the street I can say that this year they scattered something unreal in Moscow… My leather shoes became completely ramshackle… P.S. I pity pets.”

Not everyone joined in the chorus of the panic-stricken, though.

“I became interested in what halite was and started searching Wikipedia… Halite, commonly known as rock salt, is the mineral form of sodium chloride (NaCl).” famous Russian blogger, Maksim Kononenko wrote.

It may be mere salt, however online shops selling de-icing substances specify that halite is not recommended for use in Moscow.

City authorities deny all allegations of harmful substances being used to remove snow from the streets.

“All chemicals used in Moscow went through state and environmental examination and were approved, so the accusations sound strange. Moreover, Moscow is not a city for experiments,” said a Moscow government official cited by RIA Novosti.

RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid
RIA Novosti / Maksim Bogodvid

Moscow Duma MP Kirill Shchitov, however, decided to double-check and sent out inquiries to four institutions: the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office, Consumer Protection Agency and the city government’s Departments of Environmental Protection and of Housing and Public Utilities.

Scientists meanwhile say the point is not only the quality, but also the quantity of substances.

“Today we are allowed to use three times more salt than in previous years… The effect of salts on city utilities has grown and it’s going to instigate risks to industries and nature,” says Professor Dmitry Khomyakov, deputy head of the Agroinformatics Department at Moscow State University.

One recent example of how de-icing substances harm utilities is the February 1 blackouts in St. Petersburg, when 20,000 people were left without electricity. Lenenergo, the power company, laid the blame on the chemicals: “The reason for power grids breakdown was diffusion of chemicals over the city roads,” says the company’s press release. 

Moscow officials say they simply can’t do without chemical agents, taking into account that this week saw record-breaking snowfalls – the heaviest in the Russian capital since the beginning of the century.

Ed Rendell Intervened For Oil Company to Stop EPA Contamination Case Against Range Resources

A breaking investigation by EnergyWire appears to connect the dots between shadowy lobbying efforts by shale gas fracking company Range Resources, and the Obama EPA's decision to shut down its high-profile lawsuit against Range for allegedly contaminating groundwater in Weatherford, TX.

Ed Rendell At the center of the scandal sits former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the National Governors' Association.

Just weeks ago, the Associated Press (AP) broke news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shut down the high-profile Texas lawsuit and buried an accompanying scientific report obtained during the lawsuit's discovery phase in March 2012.

That confidential report, contracted out to hydrogeologist Geoffrey Thyne by the Obama EPA, concluded that methane found in the drinking water of a nearby resident could have originated from Range Resources' nearby shale gas fracking operation

Range Resources - which admitted at an industry conference that it utilizes psychological warfare (PSYOPs) tactics on U.S. citizens - launched an aggressive defense against the EPA's allegations that the company might be responsible for contaminating resident Steve Lipsky's groundwater.

AP explained in its investigation that resident Steve Lipsky, who has a wife and three young children, had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

In response, the Obama EPA ordered Range to halt fracking. Range was non-cooperative every step of the way, refusing to comply with the legal dictates of the discovery phase and not complying with the censored water sample study implicating the company with groundwater contamination.

The new twist exposed by EnergyWire's Mike Soraghan is that Ed Rendell, acting "as a spokesman for Range" Resources, "proposed certain terms" to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Exactly what was said remains unclear, but the EPA ultimately dropped its case against Range.  

Over a thousand pages of emails obtained by EnergyWire "offer behind-the-scenes insights in a case that has come to be seen as a major retreat by the agency amid aggressive industry push-back and support for natural gas drilling by President Obama."

Rendell: Range's Chosen One or Rogue Lobbyist?

The emails obtained by EnergyWire reveal that Rendell intervened directly with Administrator Jackson at some point in 2011, presumably after his term as Pennsylvania's governor came to a close on Jan 18, 2011. An EPA attorney's email indicated that Rendell said he was there "as a spokesman for Range." 

According to the National Institute on Money in State PoliticsRendell took almost $200,000 from the oil and gas industry in the run-up to his 2006 electoral victory and while governor, he described himself as the industry's "best ally."

Upon completion of his gubernatorial stint, Rendell immediately fled to the private sector. He currently works both as an Operating Partner at Element Partners and as a Senior Advisor at Greenhill & Co., Inc.

Element Partners describes itself as a firm that, among other things, provides "services to the energy, industrial, and environmental markets" and "capital for growth, acquisitions, shareholder liquidity, recapitalizations, and buyouts." It provides investment capital for numerous oil and gas industry clients

Greenhill is a similar firm, describing itself as a "leading independent investment bank focused on providing financial advice on significant mergers, acquisitions, restructurings, financings and capital raisings to corporations, partnerships, institutions and governments." Like Element, Greenhall also provides investment capital for numerous oil and gas corporations.

Prior to the completion of Rendell's final term as governor, three of his former aides abruptly left their jobs to work as shale gas industry lobbyists. Their names: Kenneth Scott Roy, Barbara Sexton, and Sarah Battisti. 

Sexton, Rendell's former Executive Deputy Secretary of the PA Department Environmental Protection (DEP), transitioned into a gig working as a lobbyist for industry giant Chesapeake Energy. Battisti, another of Rendell's cadre of Deputy Chiefs-of-Staff, became a lobbyist for BG (British Gas) Group

The third, K. Scott Roy, wound up as a lobbyist for Range Resources as Vice President for Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs.

Is Scott Roy the Bridge Between Ridge, Rendell, Range and MSC?

In his Range Resources bio, K. Scott Roy describes his former position as Ed Rendell's "top advisor." His official title was Executive Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Governor. Roy also serves on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the gas industry's aggressive lobbying arm in statehouses located within the Marcellus Shale basin. Prior to serving in the Rendell administration, Roy worked in the office of former PA Governor Tom Ridge, who went on to serve as  in 2012.  

It is as yet unclear what role Scott Roy played as one of Range's hired guns to fend off the EPA lawsuit. Might he have contacted his old boss Ed Rendell for help pressuring the Obama administration to lay off Range? It seems a reasonable question to ask. 

Range Denies Rendell Worked on its Behalf

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella (of PSYOPs revelation notoriety) denied any connection between the company and Rendell.

"I don't know the extent of the governor's involvement in energy-related matters, but he never functioned as a spokesperson of Range," Pitzarella told EnergyWire.

Given the ties that bind Rendell to Range, though, the words "plausible deniability" come to mind.

Coming full circle, it's important to remember the human side of this story. Lipsky's family now pays $1,000 per month for water deliveries, with life for them changed forever. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life." 

Determining the truth of what happened with the EPA's failed investigation and lawsuit against Range Resources won't change the Lipskys' predicament, but it would go a long way towards identifying the grasp of the oil industry's tentacles on Washington.

Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye

Sana, Yemen - Late last August, a 40-year-old cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up to deliver a speech denouncing Al Qaeda in a village mosque in far eastern Yemen.

It was a brave gesture by a father of seven who commanded great respect in the community, and it did not go unnoticed. Two days later, three members of Al Qaeda came to the mosque in the tiny village of Khashamir after 9 p.m., saying they merely wanted to talk. Mr. Jaber agreed to meet them, bringing his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection.

As the five men stood arguing by a cluster of palm trees, a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky and incinerated them all, along with a camel that was tied up nearby.

The killing of Mr. Jaber, just the kind of leader most crucial to American efforts to eradicate Al Qaeda, was a reminder of the inherent hazards of the quasi-secret campaign of targeted killings that the United States is waging against suspected militants not just in Yemen but also in Pakistan and Somalia. Individual strikes by the Predator and Reaper drones are almost never discussed publicly by Obama administration officials. But the clandestine war will receive a rare moment of public scrutiny on Thursday, when its chief architect, John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing as President Obama’s nominee for C.I.A. director.

From his basement office in the White House, Mr. Brennan has served as the principal coordinator of a “kill list” of Qaeda operatives marked for death, overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A., and advising Mr. Obama on which strikes he should approve.

“He’s probably had more power and influence than anyone in a comparable position in the last 20 years,” said Daniel Benjamin, who recently stepped down as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official and now teaches at Dartmouth. “He’s had enormous sway over the intelligence community. He’s had a profound impact on how the military does counterterrorism.”

Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has taken a particular interest in Yemen, sounding early alarms within the administration about the threat developing there, working closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret C.I.A. drone base there that is used for American strikes, and making the impoverished desert nation a test case for American counterterrorism strategy.

In recent years, both C.I.A. and Pentagon counterterrorism officials have pressed for greater freedom to attack suspected militants, and colleagues say Mr. Brennan has often been a restraining voice. The strikes have killed a number of operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a deputy leader of the group, and the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

But they have also claimed civilians like Mr. Jaber and have raised troubling questions that apply to Pakistan and Somalia as well: Could the targeted killing campaign be creating more militants in Yemen than it is killing? And is it in America’s long-term interest to be waging war against a self-renewing insurgency inside a country about which Washington has at best a hazy understanding?

Several former top military and intelligence officials — including Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who led the Joint Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for the military’s drone strikes, and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director — have raised concerns that the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.

In an interview with Reuters, General McChrystal said that drones could be a useful tool but were “hated on a visceral level” in some of the places where they were used and contributed to a “perception of American arrogance.”

Mr. Brennan has aggressively defended the accuracy of the drone strikes, and the rate of civilian casualties has gone down considerably since the attacks began in Yemen in 2009. He has also largely dismissed criticism that the drone campaign has tarnished America’s image in Yemen and has been an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

“In fact, we see the opposite,” Mr. Brennan said during a speech last year. “Our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us. Yemeni citizens who have been freed from the hellish grip of A.Q.A.P. are more eager, not less, to work with the Yemeni government.”

Christopher Swift, a researcher at Georgetown University who spent last summer in Yemen studying the reaction to the strikes, said he thought Mr. Brennan’s comments missed the broader impact.

“What Brennan said accurately reflected people in the security apparatus who he speaks to when he goes to Yemen,” Mr. Swift said. “It doesn’t reflect the views of the man in the street, of young human rights activists, of the political opposition.”

Though Mr. Swift said he thought that critics had exaggerated the role of the strikes in generating recruits for Al Qaeda, “in the political sphere, the perception is that the U.S. is colluding with the Yemeni government in a covert war against the Yemeni people.”

“Even if we’re winning in the military domain,” Mr. Swift said, “drones may be undermining our long-term interest in the goal of a stable Yemen with a functional political system and economy.”

A Parallel Campaign

American officials have never explained in public why the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command are carrying out parallel drone campaigns in Yemen. Privately, however, they describe an arrangement that has evolved since the frantic, ad hoc early days of America’s war there.

The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.

Not long afterward, the C.I.A. began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the C.I.A. used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.

Since then, officials said, the C.I.A. has been given the mission of hunting and killing “high-value targets” in Yemen — the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who Obama administration lawyers have determined pose a direct threat to the United States. When the C.I.A. obtains specific intelligence on the whereabouts of someone on its kill list, an American drone can carry out a strike without the permission of Yemen’s government.

There is, however, a tighter leash on the Pentagon’s drones. According to American officials, the Joint Special Operations Command must get the Yemeni government’s approval before launching a drone strike. This restriction is in place, officials said, because the military’s drone campaign is closely tied to counterterrorism operations conducted by Yemeni special operations troops.

Yemen’s military is fighting its own counterinsurgency battle against Islamic militants, who gained and then lost control over large swaths of the country last year. Often, American military strikes in Yemen are masked as Yemeni government operations.

Moreover, Mr. Obama demanded early on that each American military strike in Yemen be approved by a committee in Washington representing the national security agencies. The C.I.A. strikes, by contrast, resulted from a far more closed process inside the agency. Mr. Brennan plays a role in overseeing all the strikes.

There have been at least five drone strikes in Yemen since the start of the year, killing at least 24 people. That continues a remarkable acceleration over the past two years in a program that has carried out at least 63 airstrikes since 2009, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that collects public data on the strikes, with an estimated death toll in the hundreds. Many of the militants reported killed recently were very young and do not appear to have had any important role with Al Qaeda.

“Even with Al Qaeda, there are degrees — some of these young guys getting killed have just been recruited and barely known what terrorism means,” said Naji al Zaydi, a former governor of Marib Province, who has been a vocal opponent of Al Qaeda and a supporter of Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Mr. Zaydi, a prominent tribal figure from an area that has long been associated with members of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, pointed out that the identity and background of these men were no mystery in Yemen’s interlinked tribal culture.

A Deadly Ride

In one recent case, on Jan. 23, a drone strike in a village east of Sana killed a 21-year-old university student named Saleem Hussein Jamal and his cousin, a 33-year-old teacher named Ali Ali Nasser Jamal, who happened to have been traveling with him. According to relatives and neighbors of the two men, they were driving home from a nearby town called Jahana when five strangers offered to pay them for a ride. The drone-fired missile hit the vehicle, a twin-cab Toyota Hilux, just outside the village of Masnaa at about 9 p.m. The strangers were later identified in Yemeni news reports as members of Al Qaeda, though apparently not high-ranking ones.

After the strike, villagers were left to identify their two dead relatives from identity cards, scraps of clothing and the license plate of Mr. Jamal’s Toyota; the seven bodies were shredded beyond recognition, as cellphone photos taken at the scene attest. “We found eyes, but there were no faces left,” said Abdullah Faqih, a student who knew both of the dead cousins.

Although most Yemenis are reluctant to admit it publicly, there does appear to be widespread support for the American drone strikes that hit substantial Qaeda figures like Mr. Shihri, a Saudi and the affiliate’s deputy leader, who died in January of wounds received in a drone strike late last year.

Al Qaeda has done far more damage in Yemen than it has in the United States, and one episode reinforced public disgust last May, when a suicide bomber struck a military parade rehearsal in the Yemeni capital, killing more than 100 people.

Moreover, many Yemenis reluctantly admit that there is a need for foreign help: Yemen’s own efforts to strike at the terrorist group have often been compromised by weak, divided military forces; widespread corruption; and even support for Al Qaeda within pockets of the intelligence and security agencies.

Yet even as both Mr. Brennan and Mr. Hadi, the Yemeni president, praise the drone technology for its accuracy, other Yemenis often point out that it can be very difficult to isolate members of Al Qaeda, thanks to the group’s complex ties and long history in Yemen.

This may account for a pattern in many of the drone strikes: a drone hovers over an area for weeks on end before a strike takes place, presumably waiting until identities are confirmed and the targets can be struck without anyone else present.

In the strike that killed Mr. Jaber, the cleric, that was not enough. At least one drone had been overhead every day for about a month, provoking high anxiety among local people, said Aref bin Ali Jaber, a tradesman who is related to the cleric. “After the drone hit, everyone was so frightened it would come back,” Mr. Jaber said. “Children especially were affected; my 15-year-old daughter refuses to be alone and has had to sleep with me and my wife after that.”  

Anger at America

In the days afterward, the people of the village vented their fury at the Americans with protests and briefly blocked a road. It is difficult to know what the long-term effects of the deaths will be, though some in the town — as in other areas where drones have killed civilians — say there was an upwelling of support for Al Qaeda, because such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.

Innocents aside, even members of Al Qaeda invariably belong to a tribe, and when they are killed in drone strikes, their relatives — whatever their feelings about Al Qaeda — often swear to exact revenge on America.

“Al Qaeda always gives money to the family,” said Hussein Ahmed Othman al Arwali, a tribal sheik from an area south of the capital called Mudhia, where Qaeda militants fought pitched battles with Yemeni soldiers last year. “Al Qaeda’s leaders may be killed by drones, but the group still has its money, and people are still joining. For young men who are poor, the incentives are very strong: they offer you marriage, or money, and the ideological part works for some people.”

In some cases, drones have killed members of Al Qaeda when it seemed that they might easily have been arrested or captured, according to a number of Yemeni officials and tribal figures. One figure in particular has stood out: Adnan al Qadhi, who was killed, apparently in a drone strike, in early November in a town near the capital.

Mr. Qadhi was an avowed supporter of Al Qaeda, but he also had recently served as a mediator for the Yemeni government with other jihadists, and was drawing a government salary at the time of his death. He was not in hiding, and his house is within sight of large houses owned by a former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and other leading figures.  

Whatever the success of the drone strikes, some Yemenis wonder why there is not more reliance on their country’s elite counterterrorism unit, which was trained in the United States as part of the close cooperation between the two countries that Mr. Brennan has engineered. One member of the unit, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed great frustration that his unit had not been deployed on such missions, and had in fact been posted to traffic duty in the capital in recent weeks, even as the drone strikes intensified.

“For sure, we could be going after some of these guys,” the officer said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn’t make sense.”

Robert F. Worth reported from Sana, and Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane from Washington.

EFF to Supreme Court: Blanket DNA Collection Violates Fourth Amendment

SAN FRANCISCO - February 4 - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Supreme Court Friday to block DNA collection from everyone arrested for a crime, arguing that law enforcement must get a warrant before forcing people to give samples of their genetic material.

EFF's amicus brief was filed Friday in Maryland v. King – a case challenging a law in the state of Maryland that requires DNA collection from all arrestees, whether they are ultimately convicted of a crime or not. Maryland officials claim that DNA is necessary for definitive identification, but they do not use the sample to "identify" the arrestee. Instead, they use the sample for other investigatory purposes – retaining and repeatedly accessing the wealth of personal information disclosed by an individual's genetic material despite lacking individualized suspicion connecting the arrestee to another crime. This violates the Fourth Amendment.

"Your DNA is the roadmap to an extraordinary amount of private information about you and your family," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "It contains data on your current health, your potential for disease, and your family background. For government access to personal information this sensitive, the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant."

In addition to Maryland, 27 states and the federal government have laws that mandate DNA collection from anyone arrested, even if they are not yet convicted of a crime. EFF has filed amicus briefs in a number of cases challenging these unconstitutional laws. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has shown increasing sensitivity to the power of sophisticated technology to undermine traditional privacy protections.

"Let's say you were picked up by police at a political protest and arrested, but then released and never convicted of a crime. Under these laws, your genetic material is held in a law enforcement database, often indefinitely," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "This is an unconstitutional search and seizure."

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Maryland v. King later this month.

For the full brief in Maryland v. King:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-16

Contacts:

Jennifer Lynch
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   jlynch@eff.org

Lee Tien
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   tien@eff.org

EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.

EFF to Supreme Court: Blanket DNA Collection Violates Fourth Amendment

SAN FRANCISCO - February 4 - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Supreme Court Friday to block DNA collection from everyone arrested for a crime, arguing that law enforcement must get a warrant before forcing people to give samples of their genetic material.

EFF's amicus brief was filed Friday in Maryland v. King – a case challenging a law in the state of Maryland that requires DNA collection from all arrestees, whether they are ultimately convicted of a crime or not. Maryland officials claim that DNA is necessary for definitive identification, but they do not use the sample to "identify" the arrestee. Instead, they use the sample for other investigatory purposes – retaining and repeatedly accessing the wealth of personal information disclosed by an individual's genetic material despite lacking individualized suspicion connecting the arrestee to another crime. This violates the Fourth Amendment.

"Your DNA is the roadmap to an extraordinary amount of private information about you and your family," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "It contains data on your current health, your potential for disease, and your family background. For government access to personal information this sensitive, the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant."

In addition to Maryland, 27 states and the federal government have laws that mandate DNA collection from anyone arrested, even if they are not yet convicted of a crime. EFF has filed amicus briefs in a number of cases challenging these unconstitutional laws. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has shown increasing sensitivity to the power of sophisticated technology to undermine traditional privacy protections.

"Let's say you were picked up by police at a political protest and arrested, but then released and never convicted of a crime. Under these laws, your genetic material is held in a law enforcement database, often indefinitely," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "This is an unconstitutional search and seizure."

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Maryland v. King later this month.

For the full brief in Maryland v. King:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-16

Contacts:

Jennifer Lynch
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   jlynch@eff.org

Lee Tien
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   tien@eff.org

EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.

Russia’s Pirate Party bans govt officials from new hosting site

Screenshot piratehost.net

Screenshot piratehost.net

Activists from Russia's unregistered Pirate Party said their new hosting site will block visitors from IP addresses belonging to government agencies and other state bodies, and vowed to create a “blacklist” of persons known for pro-copyright stances.

The Pirate Party announced the initiative in a press release; in it, they claimed that there is no such thing as illegal information, but there is information that some state officials or corporate executives want to hide or restrict.

The activists also argued that the deteriorating state of freedom of information in Russia demanded immediate action, and announced a plan to “clean the web of parasites.” This includes the blocking of all IP addresses associated with state agencies and pro-copyright organizations, especially Russia's Safe Internet League.

The main idea behind the project is that if potential opponents of the freedom of information cannot access sites that are hosted by pirates, they will not have the legal justification to demand their closure.

The new hosting will offer services to anyone except those that the Pirate Party considers cyber-criminals – those who use it for spamming, phishing, carding and child pornography. The party vowed to ban such accounts without warning.

The party also asked those who share their views – or simply want to get even with their bosses at work – to report the IP addresses of the abovementioned users, and to identify IPs that are used by civil servants.

The idea is a controversial one, primarily due to the fact that according to new Russian laws, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor can block websites containing banned information at any level, including the provider’s, allowing site owners to contest the ban in court.

Authorities could therefore completely block the pirate hosting and its owners would be culpable, and required to disclose information on their website in court.

The Pirate Party openly declared that their project was a response to an initiative launched by the Safe Internet League, which requires providers in Central Russia's Kostroma region to allow access only to websites handpicked by the league’s experts. Users who want to browse beyond these limits would have to apply for permission.

The pirate hosting allows its users to get an anonymous server, virtual or dedicated. The service also reportedly includes legal support against copyright claims and if the need arises, protection against DDOS attacks or other hacker activities.

The hosting is a paid service with an as-yet-unannounced price structure. All revenues will be used for Pirate Party fundraising, the statement said.

This is not the first anti-copyright project by Russia's Pirate Party. In November, the group launched the RosKomSvoboda ('Russian Freedom Committee') service, which collects data on various sites blocked by the recently launched state register and suggests ways to bypass the restrictions and access the banned sites.

The Pirate Party has attempted to officially register with the Russian Justice Ministry after party registration rules were eased in 2012, but their application was turned down. Authorities said the name of the organization was the reason for the rejection, explaining that sea piracy is a criminal offense in Russia and therefore cannot be promoted.

Obamacare: A Deception

Obamacare was formulated on the concept of health care as a commercial commodity and was cloaked in ideological slogans such as “shared responsibility,” “no free riders” and “ownership society.”

Ten Myths Conservative Media Will Use Against Immigration Reform

Protesters along President Barack Obama's motorcade route as he heads to speak about immigration reform in Las Vegas, Jan. 29, 2013. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) Protesters along President Barack Obama's motorcade route as he heads to speak about immigration reform in Las Vegas, Jan. 29, 2013. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) As congressional leaders debate a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that will likely grant undocumented immigrants legal status, conservative media are engaged in promoting myths and falsehoods about what reform means for the country.

Is It True That 20 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Gain Legal Status Under This Reform?

Why Can't We Just Deport Them All?

Wouldn't Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants Have A Negative Impact On The Economy?

So Immigrants Don't Take Jobs From Hard-Working Americans?

Won't Legalizing Immigrants Increase The "Welfare State"?

Do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes?

Why Are There So Many Undocumented Immigrants? Are Immigration Laws Not Being Enforced?

If Illegal Border Crossings Are Such A Concern, Why Don't We Just Complete The Border Fence?

Wasn't Obama Responsible For Killing Immigration Reform In 2007?

In 1986, President Reagan Granted Amnesty To Millions Of Undocumented Immigrants. How Is This Proposal Different?

Is It True That 20 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Gain Legal Status Under This Reform?

Fox News host Eric Bolling has claimed that as many as 20 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States would be legalized under the proposal. Is that true? [Fox News, Your World, 1/29/13]

About 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Likely Be Affected

Pew Hispanic Center: Number Of Unauthorized Immigrants Stands At 11.1 Million. According to the Pew Research Center, there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007.

 [Pew Hispanic Center, 1/29/13]

Census Bureau Estimates The Number To Be 11.1 Million. Latest numbers from the Census Bureau put the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at "an estimated 11.1 million," which represented "a clear and sustained drop in illegal immigration, ending more than a decade of increases." [CBS News, 12/6/12]

Undocumented Immigrants Make Up Significantly Less Than 10 Percent Of U.S. Population, Workforce

Pew Hispanic Center: Unauthorized Immigrants Make Up 3.7 Percent Of U.S. Population. According to data from the Pew Research Center, undocumented immigrants represent 28 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population but 3.7 percent of the overall U.S. population. [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Pew Hispanic Center: Unauthorized Immigrants Are 5.2 Percent Share Of U.S. Labor Force. Pew has estimated that there were about 8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. workforce in March 2010, which includes those who are employed and unemployed. They represented 5.2 percent of the U.S. labor force at the time -- which Pew noted is similar to their proportion for the past half-decade. [Pew Hispanic Center, 2/1/11]

Why Can't We Just Deport Them All?

Bolling, who holds one of Fox News' most hardline attitudes toward immigrants, has repeatedly argued that it would be "worth every penny" to deport all undocumented immigrants. He has claimed that if the United States removes them all, 11 million jobs would become available. [Media Matters, 8/23/12; 12/5/11]

Most Adult Undocumented Immigrants Have Lived Here For At Least 10 Years

Pew: Nearly Two-Thirds Of Unauthorized Adult Immigrants Have Lived In The United States For At Least 10 Years. An analysis by the Pew Research Center that examined 2010 population data found that "[n]early two-thirds" of the 10.2 million unauthorized adult immigrants living in the United States have been in the country for at least 10 years and that nearly half are parents of minor children. More than 1 in 3 have lived in the country for 15 years or more:

[Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Department Of Homeland Security: 86 Percent Of Undocumented Immigrants Came Before 2005. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has further noted that 55 percent of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011 entered between 1995 and 2004. DHS added: "Entrants since 2005 accounted for only 14 percent of the total." [Department of Homeland Security, January 2011]

Reuters: Up To 2 Million Undocumented Immigrants Were Brought To The U.S. As Children. Reuters reported that there are "up to 2 million illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and who remain in the country, according to immigration group estimates." [Reuters, 6/16/12]

Deportations Would Break Up Families, Impact Children's Long-Term Development

Pew Research Center: Nearly Half Of Undocumented Immigrants Live In Families With Children Under 18. According to data from the Pew Research Center, "About 5 million unauthorized adult immigrants -- 49% -- are in families with minor children. Along with the approximately 1 million unauthorized immigrants who are children, an additional 4.5 million people younger than 18 were born in the U.S. to at least one unauthorized immigrant parent." [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Pew Research Center: At Least 9 Million People In The U.S. Live in "Mixed-Status" Families. "Mixed-status" families are those that include at least one undocumented adult and at least one child who was born in the United States. According to Pew, at least 9 million people overall live in such families. [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Applied Research Center: "At Least 5,100 Children Whose Parents Are Detained Or Deported Are Currently In Foster Care." An investigation by the Applied Research Center "found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States":

In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total, based on extensive surveys of child welfare case workers and attorneys and analysis of national immigration and child welfare trends. Many of the kids may never see their parents again.

These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.

While anecdotal reports have circulated about children lingering in foster care because of a parent's detention or deportation, our investigation provides the first evidence that the problem occurs on a large scale. If these cases continue mounting at the same pace over the next five years, 15,000 children of detained and deported mothers and fathers will likely be separated from their parents and languish in U.S. foster homes. [Colorlines.com, 11/2/11]

Urban Institute Study: "Separations Pose Serious Risks To Children's Immediate Safety, Economic Security, Well-Being, And Longer-Term Development." In a February 2010 study examining "the consequences of parental arrest, detention, and deportation on 190 children in 85 families," the Urban Institute found that parent-child separations pose "serious risks to children's immediate safety, economic security, well-being, and longer-term development." The study documented other negative effects, including housing instability