Sunday, June 23, 2024
Home Search

NASA - search results

If you're not happy with the results, please do another search

Independence From Terror

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/independence_from_terror_20130704/ Posted on Jul 4, 2013 By Subhankar Banerjee, Climate...

Is Mr Teague correct, in his statement on the Infowars Nightly News, that the...

Awe130Planet InfowarsJuly 4, 2013 To answer this question we need to look at the NASA images...

CIA whistleblower to Snowden: ‘Do not cooperate with the FBI’

NSA leaker Edward Snowden is the subject of an open letter of support just published from behind bars by John Kiriakou, a former CIA...

Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

Truthout doesn’t take corporate funding - that’s why we’re able to confront the forces of greed and regression. Support us in this mission: make...

Investigating TWA Flight 800: Interviews with Thomas Stalcup and William Donaldson

Government investigators say that TWA 800 was brought down by a fuel tank explosion, but independent experts point to compelling evidence of a missile...

What Happened to TWA 800?

Did a malfunction cause the tragedy? A terrorist missile? “Friendly fire”? More than two months after the downing of TWA Flight 800, federal investigators still...

What Happened to TWA 800?

Did a malfunction cause the tragedy? A terrorist missile? “Friendly fire”? More than two months after the downing of TWA Flight 800, federal investigators still...

Investigating TWA Flight 800: Interviews with Thomas Stalcup and William S. Donaldson III

Government investigators say that TWA 800 was brought down by a fuel tank explosion, but independent experts point to compelling evidence of a missile...

Voyager 1 on edge interstellar space

NASAâ„¢s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached the edge of the solar system and will enter interstellar space in the near future.The Voyager 1 spacecraft...

Obama's environmental speech indicates Keystone XL pipeline to be approved

President Barack Obama’s environmental speech will outline his second term plans to reduce carbon emissions and boost renewable fuels, but talk about the controversial...

Ed Snowden beware: U.S. State Dept. has confirmed history of running covert abductions of...

As reported by the Associated Press, Edward Snowden managed to evade U.S. authorities and fly to Ecuador where he is apparently being granted political asylum.

Icelandic WikiLeaks collaborators targeted by Obama administration

Published time: June 21, 2013 20:30 The Obama administration has admitted to spying on two Icelandic citizens with ties to WikiLeaks in the...

New Quantum Computer System to Improve “Machine Learning”

Two announcements in May about the collaboration of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Google, and a private, non-profit group, the Universities Space...

New Quantum Computer System to Improve “Machine Learning”

Two announcements in May about the collaboration of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Google, and a private, non-profit group, the Universities Space...

Skynet rising: Google acquires 512-qubit quantum computer; NSA surveillance to be turned over to...

Mike Adams Natural News June 20, 2013 Most people don’t know about the existence of quantum computers. Almost no one understands how they...

Back-Door Tar Sands Scheme Blocked by Local Community

Victory for environmentalists may be near in one of the more overlooked battles in the war against Canadian tar sands oil. (Photo via...

The National Security Industrial Complex and NSA Spying: The Revolving Doors Between State Agencies...

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...

"I Voted For Change": Over 20 Arrested as KXL Protests Target Obama

Over 20 anti-Keystone protesters were arrested Monday morning for blockading the doors to a Chicago federal building as part of newly launched call to...

"I Voted For Change": Over 20 Arrested as KXL Protests Target Obama

Over 20 anti-Keystone protesters were arrested Monday morning for blockading the doors to a Chicago federal building as part of newly launched call to...

Force-feeding, brutal: Ex-Gitmo inmate

A former Saudi prisoner at the USâ„¢s notorious Guantanamo prison has exposed the brutality of force-feeding, which is being exercised at the site, arguing...

FBI client data requests under Patriot Act quietly skyrocket after tech firm resistance

The FBI greatly expanded data sharing requests under the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act when tech firms tried to resist the bureau’s...

“The Gaia Plan: A Worldwide Guaranteed Income”

“The Gaia Plan: A Worldwide Guaranteed Income” By Richard C. Cook Speech Prepared for “Public Banking 2013: Funding the New Economy” Sponsored by Dominican University and the Public Banking Institute San Rafael, California June 2, 2013 My name is Richard C. Cook, and I am grateful to Dominican University and the Public Banking Institute for [...]

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

The spring air in the small, sand-dusted town has a soft haze to it, and clumps of green-gray sagebrush rustle in the breeze. Bluffdale...

Mars rover Opportunity finds traces of 'drinkable' water

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has made what may be its greatest discovery: Proof freshwater once existed on the Red Planet. The rover's previous discoveries...

Top-secret court order reveals NSA's daily data collection on millions of Americans

The US National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of unwitting individuals via a secret court order issued in April...

Scientists Slam Keystone XL Review Process as Conflicts-of-Interest Probe Deepens

"Without merit." That's what dozens of prominent scientists are saying about key parts of the US State Department's supplemental environmental impact study...

Scientists Slam Keystone XL Review Process as Conflicts-of-Interest Probe Deepens

"Without merit." That's what dozens of prominent scientists are saying about key parts of the US State Department's supplemental environmental impact study...

Manufacturing Discourse

The following article is the second and final installment of an investigative report that demonstrates why billions of dollars are pumped by corporate interests...

Old Data Reveals Warming Oceans

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/old_data_reveals_warming_oceans_20130601/ Posted on Jun 1, 2013 By Kieran...

Old Data Reveals Warming Oceans

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/old_data_reveals_warming_oceans_20130601/ Posted on Jun 1, 2013 By Kieran...

'Potential city killer' asteroid with an orbiting moon flies near Earth

The 1998 QE2 asteroid, 2.7 km in diameter and dubbed a "potential city killer," with its own moon rotating around it, will pass Earth...

'Potential city killer' asteroid with an orbiting moon flies near Earth

The 1998 QE2 asteroid, 2.7 km in diameter and dubbed a "potential city killer," with its own moon rotating around it, will pass Earth...

'Potential city killer' asteroid with an orbiting moon flies near Earth

The 1998 QE2 asteroid, 2.7 km in diameter and dubbed a "potential city killer," with its own moon rotating around it, will pass Earth...

Radiation makes Mars travel impossible today…let’s fly faster!

NASA’s Curiosity program has confirmed that interplanetary manned missions at speeds attainable today is not possible due to lethal space radiation. However, Russians are...

Radiation makes Mars travel impossible today…let’s fly faster!

NASA’s Curiosity program has confirmed that interplanetary manned missions at speeds attainable today is not possible due to lethal space radiation. However, Russians are...

Criminalizing Childhood

Beware of punishing wrongfully. — The Teaching for Merikare, c. 2135 B.C. “We have to be darn careful not to put any children into the juvenile-justice...

Navy considers 3D-printing future fleets of drones

Three-dimensional (3D) printers are quickly proving to be capable of creating just about anything out of little more than thin air, and that could...

Navy considers 3D-printing future fleets of drones

Three-dimensional (3D) printers are quickly proving to be capable of creating just about anything out of little more than thin air, and that could...

Spilt coffee and sleepless nights: Cosmonaut details ISS life ahead of new mission

With last-minute preparations at the Baikonur cosmodrome in full swing, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Russian commander of the Soyuz TMA-09M, shared with RT his experiences of...

Hubble reveals the Ring Nebula’s true shape

NASA.govMay 27, 2013 In this composite image, visible-light observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are combined...

Guantanamo an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists – UN human rights chief

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has scolded the US for failing to close Guantanamo prison, warning it “has become an ideal recruitment tool...

Guantanamo an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists – UN human rights chief

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has scolded the US for failing to close Guantanamo prison, warning it “has become an ideal recruitment tool...

MI5 ‘tried to recruit’ Woolwich murder suspect

UK intelligence service MI5 approached Woolwich killing suspect Michael Adebolajo to offer him a job, a friend of the alleged murderer claimed in a...

A Cooler Century? Wait And See

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_cooler_century_wait_and_see_20130525/ Posted on May 25, 2013 By...

MI5 ‘tried to recruit’ Woolwich murder suspect

UK intelligence service MI5 approached Woolwich killing suspect Michael Adebolajo to offer him a job, a friend of the alleged murderer claimed in a...

A Second Cold War, This Time in Space

Perhaps there should be a statue to the anticommunist US senator Joseph McCarthy in Beijing, since he’s the inadvertent father of China’s nuclear programme....

A Mission on Climate Change

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_mission_on_climate_change_20130523/ Posted on May 23, 2013 ...

NBC News: “Stock Up On Canned Goods”

On May 31, 2013 asteroid 1998-QE2 will be passing earth at a distance of approximately 3.6 million miles. The...

Terracide and the Terrarists: Destroying the Planet for Record Profits

We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic...

Obama mulls resuming Guantanamo prison transfers – reports

Ahead of a major speech by President Obama involving US counterterrorism operations, the White House has indicated that it will include a plan to...

Obama mulls resuming Guantanamo prison transfers – reports

Ahead of a major speech by President Obama involving US counterterrorism operations, the White House has indicated that it will include a plan to...

Pentagon wants more than $450 mn for Gitmo amidst swelling hunger strike

The Pentagon is requesting more than $450 from lawmakers for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo Bay camp. The request comes as an intensifying hunger...

Asteroid 9 times size of ocean liner approaches Earth

The 1998 QE2 asteroid has the physical mass to potentially deliver life on Earth a knockout punch, being 2.7km in length. It is to...

Tehran sculpture symposium wraps up

Fifth intl. sculpture symposium wraps up in TehranThe fifth edition of Tehran International Wood Sculpture Symposium has hailed this yearâ„¢s winners during a closing...

Asteroid 1998 QE2 to Sail Past Earth Nine Times Larger Than Cruise Ship

NASA.govMay 17, 2013 Asteroid 1998 QE2 will get no closer than about 3.6 million miles at...

Big Bang: Biggest meteorite explosion rocks the Moon

NASA scientists have recorded the biggest ever meteorite impact on the Moon, with an explosion equal to 5 tons of TNT. The event is...

‘Worse than death row’: Gitmo hunger strike reaches Day 100 amidst mounting intl pressure

As the Guantanamo hunger strike enters its 100th day, the number of voices, both in the US and around the world, to close the...

‘Worse than death row’: Gitmo hunger strike reaches Day 100 amidst mounting intl pressure

As the Guantanamo hunger strike enters its 100th day, the number of voices, both in the US and around the world, to close the...

Historic Kepler Telescope crippled by malfunction

The spacecraft that has located more planets than any other in history has endured technical failure serious enough to put its current mission of...

Historic Kepler Telescope crippled by malfunction

The spacecraft that's located more planets than any other in history has endured technical failure serious enough to put its current mission of finding...

Guantanamo denying detainees lawyer contact without invasive body search

In a letter sent to British foreign secretary William Hague, a prominent human rights lawyer is alleging that Guantanamo Bay's hunger striking detainees are...

Force-fed Gitmo inmates climb to 29

Force-feeding chair and internal nourishment preparation inside a Ëœmedical unitâ„¢ at Guantanamo military prison where hunger striking inmates are shackled and force-fed through the...

Russia’s Soyuz space module returns home with ISS crew

Two astronauts and a cosmonaut aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft have successfully re-entered our atmosphere and landed safely back on Earth in the...

Mars 1-way trip receives warm response

Some 78,000 people from 120 countries have applied for a one-way trip project of settlement in the Red Planet run by the Dutch nonprofit...

Good-bye Dubai? Bombing Iran’s Nuclear Facilities would leave the Entire Gulf States Region virtually...

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”― Friedrich Nietzsche Every Spring and Summer, during a period of...

US, Russia eying spacewalk to fix coolant leak on ISS

The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) may soon take an unscheduled spacewalk to fix a coolant leak in its power system. The ammonia...

Bush Intentionally Imprisoned Innocent People

Officials of the Bush administration knew they were imprisoning innocent people, it has emerged. Col Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, has revealed that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew that the majority of Guantanamo Bay prisoners were innocent.

US Senate Budget Proposes $975 Billion in Spending Cuts

capitol2

The US Senate passed its first budget in four years early Saturday morning. The Democratic-controlled chamber passed a $3.7 billion budget plan for fiscal year 2014, which includes close to a trillion dollars in spending cuts, as well a modest proposal to raise revenue, mostly by closing tax “loopholes.”

Senate Budget chairwoman Patty Murray commented, “I am proud of the work we did in the budget committee and on the Senate floor to write, debate, and pass a responsible budget plan that puts economic growth and the middle class first.” In reality, the proposal contains $975 billion in spending cuts, including $275 billion in new cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that spell hardship for millions of working people.

Murray and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) had to work to convince a number of Senate Democrats to support the budget, which passed by only a one-vote margin. Four Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2014 voted against the bill, fearing they would appear too pro-tax and soft on deficit reduction in their home constituencies.

The White House commented in a statement, “Like the president’s plan, the Senate budget cuts wasteful spending, makes tough choices to strengthen entitlements, and eliminates special tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit.” Following a well-worn script, deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are described as a prescription to save them, and spending on social programs targeted for cuts is characterized as “wasteful.”

The Senate budget stands virtually no chance of being reconciled with the budget proposal passed last week by the Republican-controlled House. Majority Leader Reid said he saw little reason to bother with a conference committee, in which the House and Senate are supposed to iron out their differences and come up with a compromise proposal.

Democrats say the $975 billion in new tax revenue in their proposal generated by overhauling the tax code would go largely to turning off $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts triggered by the sequester over nine years. But the rescinding of these cuts appears to be nearly cancelled out by the $975 billion in new spending reductions contained in the budget.

The budget also reportedly includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending. The proposal is estimated to leave the government with a $566 billion annual deficit over a decade and add $5.2 trillion to the national debt over this period.

Predictably, Republicans were quick to denounce the Democrats’ plan and demand even more right-wing measures. Senator Jeff Session of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, commented, “Honest people can disagree on policy, but there can be no honest disagreement in the need to change our nation’s debt course.”

Only the financial elite and its political front men (and women) are consumed by the drive to slash social spending to reduce the budget deficit. The great majority of the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. The budget debate in Washington leaves their concerns and interests completely out of the equation.

The House budget resolution passed in a 221-207 vote last Thursday. Authored by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin), it calls for changing the tax code to dramatically reduce taxes, repealing President Obama’s health care law, and deeper spending cuts than those recently triggered by the so-called sequester. It also revives Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher program.

The differences between the Senate budget for 2014—which aims to cut the deficit by $1.8 trillion—and the House budget—which proposes to reduce it by $4.8 trillion—are described by the players involved and the media as illustrating a sharp ideological divide. In fact, both the Democrats and Republicans are committed to making deep cuts to social spending, particularly to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Armed with their respective budget proposals, lawmakers of both big business parties will hammer out the details of funding appropriations on Senate and House committees, with cuts to social spending—including to so-called entitlement programs—falling somewhere between those proposed in the two budgets.

Last week, both houses of Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) funding the government that makes permanent the vast majority of the $85 billion in sequester cuts for fiscal year 2013, through September 30. Passage cleared the way for the implementation of furloughs for about 1 million federal government employees as well as a pay freeze.

The Senate’s version of the CR went further than an earlier House version, finalizing cuts to the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as to the Food and Drug Administration, National Science Foundation and NASA. The House passed the legislation on Thursday, avoiding a potential government shutdown on March 28.

Mega Nuclear Power Plant Raises Fear of Fukushima Type Disaster in India

Bhagwat Singh Gohil frets for the future of his bountiful orchards in Mithi Virdi village in western Gujarat state’s coastal district Bhavnagar. “After contending with droughts, rough seas and earthquakes we are staring at the possibility of a man-made disaster in the shape of a nuclear power park.”

Women protesting against a proposed nuclear plant at Mithi Virdi in the Indian state Gujarat. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS. Speaking with IPS over telephone from Mithi Virdi, Gohil said he and other villagers are unconvinced by official declarations guaranteeing the safety of the Gujarat Nuclear Power Park (GNPP) which, when complete, is due to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity.

“They could not have chosen a worse site for a mega nuclear power plant – we have a history of earthquakes and fear a Fukushima type disaster in the Gulf of Khambat where the GNPP is coming up,” said Gohil. “Also, Gujarat borders Pakistan, a hostile neighbour. What if this nuclear facility is bombed in a future war?”

On Mar. 5  Gohil and some 5,000 villagers silently walked out of a public hearing  held by the local administration seeking approval for construction for the GNPP which is due to be equipped with six Westinghouse-Toshiba nuclear reactors, each with a 1,000 megawatt capacity.

“We did not want to be party to an illegal public hearing that was seeking endorsement for an environment impact assessment (EIA) report that was flawed and ignored many safety aspects which we are soon going to publish in a parallel document,” Rohit Prajpati, leader of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Environment Protection Group), a voluntary agency active in Gujarat told IPS.

“To begin with, the EIA was drawn up by Engineers India Limited (EIL), a public sector consultancy that does not have the required accreditation – a fact which is apparent on the government’s own website,” Prajapti said. “An attempt was made to hoodwink the villagers, but they did not buy it.”

According to the terms of reference, EIL was supposed to carry out a detailed risk assessment and provide a disaster management plan, but the final document avoids that responsibility. “We have made written protests about this flawed EIA to the environment ministry,” Prajapati said.

According to V. T. Padmanabhan, independent researcher and member of the Brussels-based European Commission on Radiation Risk, basic safety aspects are being glossed over in the EIAs in the rush to set up a string of nuclear parks along India’s vast coastline.

“The EIA drawn up for the Mithi Virdi project, for instance, ignores the fact that there has been no study conducted on maximum flood levels – and that in an area that is seriously prone to tidal floods,” Padmanabhan told IPS.

On Mar. 6, answering questions in parliament concerning the new nuclear parks, V. Narayanswamy, minister in the prime minister’s office, said coastal nuclear power parks are designed with consideration given to possible earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges and tidal flooding.

“Safety is a moving target in nuclear power plants and is continuously evolving based on the reviews by utilities and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)  besides internationally evolving standards,” Narayanaswamy informed parliament.

But, it is not just the villagers and activists who are worried at the haste with which the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is going about setting up coastal nuclear power projects – the courts have been lending a sympathetic ear to the protestors.

On Mar. 12, the high court of the southern Andhra Pradesh state halted plans for a 9,000 megawatt nuclear park at Kovvada in coastal Srikakulam district following a petition filed on behalf of local residents and fishermen by J. Rama Rao, a retired naval engineer.

The high court took notice of the petitoners’ plea that the government was going about attempting to acquire land for the 6,000 megawatt nuclear facility even though the project is yet to gain clearance from the AERB.

Kovvada villagers have been on a relay hunger strike since December 2012 against the proposed nuclear power plant. Their petition cited the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear meltdowns to say that in the event of an accident, future generations would be affected by radiation contamination.

But, in spite of the protests and intervention by the court the government appears determined to push ahead with plans to generate 40 gigawatts of nuclear energy by 2020, most of it from nuclear parks in various stages of completion along India’s peninsular coastline.

Narayanasamy stated in parliament that electricity will begin to flow from the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in southern Tamil Nadu by April. The KNPP, which is designed to generate 9,200 megawatts, has been in the making since 1988 when a deal was signed for its construction between India and Russia.

KNPP is yet to have valid Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances. Last November, NPCIL also admitted in the Supreme Court that it had constructed a desalination plant without mandatory environmental clearance, showing how existing rules are being bypassed.

“CRZ clearance is not a technical formality, but an important procedure designed to protect India’s sensitive coastal region,” said Padmanabhan, adding that the haste in setting up coastal nuclear plants contrasts with the bureaucratic red tape that India is known for.

“What we are seeing is a repeat of the Fukushima experience where investigations by a parliamentary committee have shown that although triggered by a tsunami, the meltdown of the rectors was man-made and a result of collusion between the government, the regulators and the utility Tokyo Electric Power Company,” Padmanabhan said.

Poor governance and lack of independent regulatory oversight in the construction of nuclear plants have already been pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General, India’s powerful government watchdog.

© 2013 Inter Press Service

Back from space: ISS trio returns to Earth after 24hr delay

Published time: March 16, 2013 09:30
Download video (105.76 MB)

A Soyuz capsule has safely landed in northeast Kazakhstan, returning two Russian and one American astronauts back to Earth, after a missions on the International Space Station (ISS) that lasted nearly five months.

It took the capsule carrying expedition commander Kevin Ford and a pair of flight engineers, Oleg Novitsky and Evgeny Tarelkin, less than three-and-a-half hours to descend. It was the first trip to space for the Russian cosmonauts, and the second for their American colleague.

The trio came home after 142 days in space. Their return was initially scheduled for March 14, but was postponed due to bad weather conditions on the ground.

The crewmembers orbited the Earth 2,304 times during their stay aboard the station, traveling 98,169,984 kilometers, according to space.com.

Three other crewmembers remain aboard the space station: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. Hadfield is now the commander, meaning a Canadian astronaut is in charge of the ISS for the first time in its history. In less than two weeks, cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Aleksandr Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy are expected to arrive at the station.

The challenge for the next space mission crew, the 35th, is to reach the ISS in record time – six hours – way outstripping the current time of two days, thanks to a launch trajectory currently undergoing tests.

The launch is scheduled for March 28 at 2043 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, another adventurer packing up for her long-awaited space trip is Phantom of the Opera star Sarah Brightman. In December, the Space Adventures agency finally confirmed that the British soprano signed an agreement with the Russian Space Agency securing her a space trip in 2015.

Brightman is set to become the next space tourist to the ISS, following Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who traveled into space in 2009.

Space watch: Joint asteroid guard to be set up in Russia

Published time: March 13, 2013 23:57

This artist's concept illustrates an asteroid belt. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The days of asteroids blasting Russia are numbered. In less than a decade, the country is expected to have a functioning space threats defense that would be able track incoming menaces – and even prevent a large-scale disaster.

The megatons-strong explosion of a space bolide that hit the Russian Urals in mid-February also served as a bit of shake-up for the country's authorities. Russia’s science, military and space industries are now uniting to create a first-of-its-kind national space threats defense program.

The project is expected to take shape by late 2013, but it will take at least five more years until practical results are achieved and an operable system is deployed.

According to Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roskosmos, the national space agency, “an inter-agency task force consisting of experts from the Defense Ministry, Academy of Sciences and national space agency has been formed to create a unified system of space threats prevention.”

All three bodies have space threats management programs of their own, but now it’s been decided to combine their experience, efforts and budgets, Popovkin reported on Tuesday at a round-table conference on asteroid and comet threats in Russia’s Federation Council.

The near space optical surveillance program of the Academy of Sciences, the counter space threats plan being elaborated by Roskosmos and the technical capabilities of the Defense Ministry will soon become one for the common good.

“We need to unite them,” Popovkin explained, noting that “our country has enough financial means but they’re being spent on departmental special-purpose programs.”

A united control center to coordinate the activities and the management of resources for the program is to be created.

In addition, the Russian Academy of Science is devising a telescope network that will expand throughout the whole country.

High precision astronomical unit. (RIA Novosti / Anton Denisov)

Counter-asteroid space vehicles may soon become a reality, with Lavochkin Unmanned Space Vehicles Company and Makeev State Rocket Center having proposed projects. A group of such vehicles could be deployed in geostationary earth orbit.

However, Popovkin stressed that the first visible results of the program should be expected no earlier than 2018-2020.

Despite all the cutting-edge technologies currently in development, a nuclear warhead still seems to be the only real way to protect against threats from space, the conference revealed.

Once a dangerous space object is detected there will be a very limited time – about one year – to take measures to intercept it, said Oleg Shubin, the Deputy Director of the Department of Nuclear Munitions and Military Power Installations of Russia’s nuclear monopoly Rosatom.

“Interception of an asteroid with size bigger than one kilometer in diameter would imply engagement of a nuclear warhead considerably more powerful than the existing megaton class of nuclear devices. This is a scientific challenge that could be solved,” Shubin said.

“In the foreseeable future there is no other danger [except asteroids] that can potentially lead to, at least, the degradation of our civilization,” believes Shubin.

A 10-year federal program worth 58 billion rubles (over $1.9 billion) designed to track down and counteract space threats was presented by Lidia Rykhlova of the Institute of Astronomy (RAS) in February this year.

The head of Russia’s defense industry, Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin, pointed out at the time that developing the program on a national level would be excessively expensive and would require international efforts.

Russian authorities became genuinely concerned about possible space threats after February 15, when a space bolide estimated to weigh around 7,000 tons and traveling at 40,000 km per hour blew up over Chelyabinsk, a provincial capital in the Urals Mountains. The shockwave of the 500-kiloton explosion scattered debris for dozens of kilometers and injured an estimated 1,500 people, including 299 children.

The trace of a flying object in the sky over Chelyabinsk (still from a dashboard camera). (RIA Novosti / nakanune.ru)

Window into Big Bang: World’s largest ground-based telescope can see the birth of stars...

Published time: March 13, 2013 19:18

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)The antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shine under the southern sky. Image released Dec. 31, 2012

Detailed visions of star and planet formation, hidden from the eyes of modern optics, will be soon shown by the ground breaking ALMA radio telescope unveiled on Wednesday. Scientists say it will be a game changer in studying the origins of our universe.

ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and it is the largest ground-based astronomy project. It’s the most expensive one too, with construction costs going up to $1.3 billion. ALMA’s been devised and built by the joint efforts of scientists from European, East Asian and North American countries for more than a decade.

It consists of 66 huge antennas and a supercomputer installed in a 10-mile (16 km) diameter area on a high-altitude plateau in Chile. A lower-ground operating support facility is connected to the complex by some 15 km of cables.

View of a Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA ( Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project, in the Chajnantor plateau, Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, on March 12,2013 (AFP Photo / Martin Bernetti)

Upon completion, the cutting edge telescope will become the most powerful in the world, with  resolution ten times higher than the Very Large Array (VLA) and five times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists compared the array’s working principle to how we perceive sound by two ears. Each of ALMA’s antennas, ranging from 7 to 12 meters in diameter, gathers radio waves from space, and their combined result is processed through the supercomputer.

Height is one of the key factors of ALMA’s incredible power, as water vapor absorbs radio waves nearer to sea level and obscures observations. This is the reason the $1.3 billion complex had to be mounted at an altitude of 5,000 meters amidst the arid Chilean desert, with construction workers having to use supplemental oxygen, and the science team having to operate in the 2,900 meters high support facility.

But for astronomers these are negligible costs when compared to the perspectives, which the ALMA project is said to be opening.

An image taken by ALMA during the early testing stage shows the Antennae Galaxies Collision. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

“The scientific community wants to use ALMA in its research on star formation, the birth of planets and not just what is happening in our solar system, but also on how the system was created after the Big Bang,” ALMA director Thijs de Graaw said.

According to Big Bang theory, the origin of our universe occurred about 13.77 billion years ago.

“It is a revolution in the history of the universe in the realm of millimetric and sub-millimetric waves, which can look through clouds of dust and focus on the formation of stars themselves. Telescopes cannot see what is happening inside these clouds. With ALMA, we can. And that is like opening a new window,” he added.

“It will have a view of the universe that we can’t even imagine even now,” Wolfgang Wild, ESO’s European ALMA project manager also told SPACE.com.

This view shows a new picture of the dust ring around the bright star Fomalhaut obtained by ALMA. The underlying blue picture is an earlier view obtained by the Hubble. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Not only will ALMA bring about a new picture of the universe’s formation, it could also make a breakthrough in the study of alien worlds.

Astronomers would be able to detect the effects of young planets the size of Earth, SPACE.com quoted James Ulvestad, director of the US National Science Foundation’s astronomical sciences division.

“ALMA already has seen dust rings around stars that are very narrow, and by modeling... you can infer the dust ring has planets inside and outside the ring. Even though you can’t see the planet, you can see the effects of the planet. That would be the predominant way that ALMA will study extra-solar planets,” Ulvestad explained.

The majestic Milky Way descends over ALMA. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), C. Padilla

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), R. Durán (ALMA)

Correlator technician Juan Carlos Gatica with one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, installed at an altitude of 5,000 meters in Chile's Andes Mountains. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), C. Padilla

The first European antenna for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) transported to the observatory’s Array Operations Site. Credit: ESO

Asteroid ‘size of city block’ to skim past Earth on Saturday

Published time: March 09, 2013 11:35

AFP Photo / NASA

The 460-foot-long Asteroid 2013 ET is set to whizz past Earth on Saturday - the latest in our planet’s galactic ‘pinball contest’. Earlier in the day, the 2013 EC20 passed even closer, and both within a month of the Chelyabinsk meteor’s Earth strike.

The enormous piece of space debris is expected to pass just 2.5 lunar distances from planet Earth – the moon is approximately 384,400 km (238,000 miles) from us, meaning the asteroid’s flyby will be at a distance of about 950,000km (600,000 miles).

Some astronomers have compared its size to that of a city block, others a football pitch. Its dimensions were widely given as 460 feet (140m) long and 210 feet (64m) wide. A professional American football field is 360 feet by 160 feet, which would make this asteroid 100 feet longer than a football field, and 50 feet wider, should it live up to calculations.

Asteroid 2013 ET was first detected on March 3 by the Catalina Sky Survey based at the University of Arizona, and now approaches the planet less than a week after it first hit astronomers’ radars.

It will not be quite bright enough to view through standard personal binoculars or small ‘backyard’ telescopes, but will be visible using larger, professional devices in observatories, one of which will broadcast its passage online.

Although it was due to be shown via live webcast by the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy, at 19:00 GMT, strong rain and clouds have prevented it from broadcasting the event.  Now the online Slooh Space Telescope, based in the Canary Islands, has taken the reins, and will give a live webcast from their observatory at 20:15 GMT.

“We only have a short viewing window of an hour or so…but we wanted to give the general public a front row seat to witness this new asteroid in real time as it passes by Earth,” said Slooh president Patrick Paolucci, as cited by Space.com.

It will be the second in one day, and the third this week. Earlier on Saturday, at 5:57am Moscow time (09:57 GMT), a smaller asteroid passed even closer to Earth. The 2013 EC20, between 9 and 40 feet (3 and 10m), came within 169,000 km (some 106,000 miles) – even closer than the moon.

The second last asteroid on Monday’s, named 2013 EC, flew within 230,000 miles of the planet. Its range fell just inside the moon’s orbit. It was also smaller, at 33 feet (10m) wide.  Earthlings have been especially excited about space bodies lately, after the planet was hit by a huge meteorite last month.The meteorite that smashed into the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on February 15 was the largest object to enter the Earth’s atmosphere in nearly a century. On the same day it struck, another 164 feet (50m) wide space rock, named 2012 DA14, brushed the planet, closer than any other in known history.


Previous footage from the Virtual Telescope Project (TVTP) in Ceccano, Italy, of Monday's smaller asteroid. TVTP was due to broadcast the flyby on Saturday, but was forced to cancel on account of bad weather conditions. The Canary-Islands based Slooh Space Telescope will now broadcast the event at 20:15 GMT

“The recent flurry of asteroidal close calls and near misses, including the double-whammy of DA14 and the Siberian meteor on February 15, is starting to make our region of space seem like a video game or pinball contest,” said American astronomer and writer Bob Berman.

Flying high: Next ISS crew set to reach station in record time

Published time: March 07, 2013 19:27

Download video (143.16 MB)

The next crew to set off for the International Space Station may reach it in a record six hours, far outstripping the current time of two days. The quicker trip is now possible thanks to a launch trajectory, which is currently undergoing tests.

The 35th space mission to the ISS consists of a Russian-US crew and includes cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin together with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. The launch is scheduled on March 28 at 2043 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The new fast-track trajectory has the rocket launching shortly after the ISS passes overhead.

Normally it takes Soyuz capsules two days to reach the orbiting laboratory after launch. Vinogradov, Misurkin and Chris Cassidy are set to make the trip faster than any other astronauts before them - in just six hours. Docking is set for 0231 GMT on March 29. The planned duration of the expedition is 168 days. The crew will undertake a scientific program involving dozens of experiments, unload four Russian “Progress" cargo spaceships and also conduct a series of spacewalks.

One of the reasons given in the past for having the two-day or even three-day flight in the Soyuz was to allow the crew members time to acclimatize to being in zero-gravity.

L-R: cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin, Pavel Vinogradov and Chris Cassidy at a training session of the ISS 35/35 prime crew in a Soyuz TMA_M simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (RIA Novosti / Grigory Syisoev)

The actions of the cosmonauts will be the same as what they do on a two-day profile, according to the participant of 35th space expedition to ISS, Chris Cassidy. Normally they go to bed and have a period of time on the next day when cosmonauts just monitor the vehicle.

“On our mission it all will happen in a tight sequence of six hours. We have periods of about 45 minutes or so in between these maneuvers – it’s a bit of downtime, but technically that’s how it’s possible. There’s tighter constraints on where the space station can be on launch time than on a typical profile the space station has a little more leeway on where can it be at the time of launch,” added Cassidy.

The fast-track trajectory is not a completely new practice, with the method already being tested on cargo vehicles. But now they will ‘try to do it on the manned vehicles,’ head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Sergey Krikalev told NASA TV.

“Now we have onboard new machinery and new software, so the vehicle is more autonomous, so it’s possible to do a lot onboard the vehicle and to calculate the burns so they don’t consume a lot of fuel,” added the former cosmonaut.

Additional firings of the vehicle’s thrusters early after launch are said to help shorten the time it takes to reach the station.

The new fast-track trajectory could become a permanent feature of ISS missions, either by the end of this year or starting from 2014.


Supermassive breakthrough: Scientists now know how fast a black hole spins

Published time: March 01, 2013 02:13

NASA/JPL-Caltech

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to measure the precise spin rate of a 'supermassive black hole'. The findings will provide some clue as to how some of the most mysterious objects in our universe began to form.

The black hole is located in the NGC 1365 galaxy, located 56 billion light years away from us, and  two million times the mass of the Sun.

By its very nature, a black hole is an object so dense that its gravity is strong enough to absorb the space around it. But in the process, as the incoming objects create friction and heat up, it emits x-rays.

It is these x-rays that astronomers measured, using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), launched by NASA last year, and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton.

"We can trace matter as it swirls into a black hole using X-rays emitted from regions very close to the black hole," said the co-author of the new study just published in Nature magazine, Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"The radiation we see is warped and distorted by the motions of particles and the black hole's incredibly strong gravity."

It turns out the supermassive black hole is rotating at approximately 84 percent of the speed allowed by the Theory of Relativity – close to the speed of light.

But the data has thrown up even more interesting discoveries.

"The black hole's spin is a memory, a record, of the past history of the galaxy as a whole," said the study's lead author, Guido Risaliti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics.

Confirming that black holes move at such speed allows us to discover just how they were formed, from their original small size to giant status over billions of years.

If they had been produced by randomly pulling objects around them, it would not be able to develop such a fast, smooth rate of spin. So scientists are now sure that black holes expand evenly, through a process known as "ordered accretion", as gas and stars are gradually sucked into the hole.

The data will now be applied to other black holes, whose spin had tentatively been measured, but which was previously explained by alternative theories.

And since mass and spin are the only information an outsider can make about a black hole (since objects only travel one way into it) astronomers are coming close to understanding the phenomena, and can use them to study the Theory of Relativity (of which they are a perfect example) more closely.

"This is hugely important to the field of black hole science," summed up Lou Kaluzienski, a NuSTAR program scientist at NASA Headquarters.

Rush to Mars: Comet impact could make Red Planet inhabitable

Published time: February 28, 2013 16:32

Comet Siding Spring. (Image from nasa.org / Spitzer Space Telescope)

A comet near Mars may strike it in a powerful impact, potentially making the planet much warmer. The Red Planet is luring many entrepreneurs, including billionaire Dennis Tito, who aims to beat other nations by sending a man and a woman to Mars.

The make-or-break window for this possible game-changer is October 2014. At that time, an Oort cloud comet called C/2013 A1, first discovered last month, will approach Mars, missing it by about 35,000 km, which is quite close.

However the comet’s trajectory is still uncertain, which leaves a small chance it could impact the planet, said Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin, who worked on calculating the course of the celestial body. The comet will be travelling at a speed of 56 kilometers per second relative to Mars when it passes; if they do collide, the resulting explosion would be equal to a 20,000-gigaton bomb blast – powerful enough to leave a 50-kilometer crater on the planetary surface 

The event would trigger a major change of the Martian climate, Australian space scientist Robert Matson explained. The impact would evaporate large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ice from the comet, spread across a planetary scale, making the climate on Mars much warmer due to the greenhouse effect. 

On the other hand, the blast would also raise huge clouds of dust and could trigger volcanic activity in the mostly-inert planet. Both would make more sunlight bounce off the Martian atmosphere, which would make the planet colder. A heating effect is likely to prevail, however.

But such dramatic change is far from certain, with more observation needed to narrow down the comet’s trajectory. Even if it is a simple close flyby, it will still be a rare chance to take high-resolution pictures of the object with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.

Private space companies are now challenging nations not only for Low Earth Orbit deliveries but also for reaching outer space. Last week, billionaire and private space explorer Dennis Tito launched the non-commercial Inspiration Mars Foundation, which hopes to send a manned mission to flyby Mars in 2018.

The crew of the capsule could be a married couple yet to be selected, Tito announced on Wednesday, who would have to not only cope with the difficulties of a Spartan and low-gravity ship environment, but also with spending just over 500 days confined together in an enclosed space.

The mission plans to use a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule with an inflatable living module attached. It will be mostly carried by gravity on its way to Mars and back home, with little help from the rocket engines, a maneuver known as a ‘free return’ trajectory. The same approach was used for NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon.

The Tito-funded spacecraft would pass Mars at the distance of around 160 kilometers at its closest point. The return landing on Earth would be at a record-high speed of 14.2 kilometers per second, which would require a special and highly resilient heat shield.

More traditional players in the space arena are also eyeing Mars as the next frontier. NASA and ESA have a well-established presence around and on Mars. And this week, India confirmed that it is within the timeframe to launch its Mangalyaan mission to Mars in November 2013.

Russia plans to land a rover on Mars in 2018, hopefully rehabilitating its space program after the embarrassing failure of its Phobos-Grunt survey mission. There is also collaboration between Finnish, Russian and Spanish participants on a plan to deliver several dozen landers to Mars to form a meteorological observation network on its surface.

Threats to the Environment and the XL Keystone Project: “It’s Not About Oil Pipelines,...

 The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast.

TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report:

“Canada’s second-largest pipeline company proposes to ship oil 3,000 miles (4,825 kilometers) to the Atlantic Coast, allowing producers to send it by tanker to the Gulf, Girling said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

“While he expects U.S. passage of Keystone ‘very soon,’ the East Coast route makes sense in any event because of rising production from Alberta, Girling said.” 

TransCanada presently has about $22 billion worth of pipeline projects underway, of which Keystone XL represents about a third of the total.  Asked if an east coast pipeline was a fallback plan in case Keystone is blocked, Girling said:  “It’s not a Plan B, it’s a Plan A, and it will go if the market supports it, along with Keystone….  Once you get on tidewater, you can get anywhere, and you don’t need a presidential permit to bring oil into the Gulf Coast.”

That the head of a pipeline company is more interested in getting tar sands oil to market than he is in what it may cause after that is perhaps not surprising.  Girling isn’t a climate change denier, he just sees change taking decades during which TransCanada will try to make the transition to non-fossil fuels, which is why the company built three large wind farms in 2011.

Keystone Needs Presidential Permission to Proceed

But there may not be decades, there may be no time at all, according to a long National Journal story on February 7, with the headline:  “The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change Is Costing You” – costing you now, the sub-head emphasizes:  “While policymakers fiddle, the threat of economic harm posed by rising sea levels, devastating storms, and drought is growing every day.”

On January 22, Greenpeace released a 60-page report called “Point of No Return,” dealing with “massive climate threats we must avoid,” while giving little reason to think we will avoid them:

“The world is quickly reaching a Point of No Return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

“With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire US, and delay action on climate change for more than a decade.

“Continuing on the current course will make it difficult – if not impossible – to prevent the widespread and catastrophic impacts of climate change….”           

In the United States, pressure is building for the President (or the Secretary of State) to deny a permit to Keystone.  That demand is at the heart of plans for “the largest climate rally in history” on the Mall in Washington February 17.  Sponsored by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip-Hop Caucus, the promoters of the event assert that 

“The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.”

Making much the same argument with much greater detail on February 10 on TomDispatch.com, Hampshire College professor Michael Klare analyzes three possible pipeline routes that would enable Alberta tar sands oil to reach world markets.  The first is Keystone, first proposed in 2008, which is still at least two years from being operational.  The other two go in opposite directions — west, where resistance is already high, and east, where a substantial amount of pipeline is already in place.  Klare analyzes each alternative in detail, arguing that:    

“… the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL. It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term – or possibly even long-term – option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta.

“Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount – at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.” 

But Klare does not consider the different route to the Atlantic proposed by Girling, a route that could be entirely within Canada, ending at St. John, New Brunswick.             

The shadow play aspects of the public posturing around the Keystone pipeline make it difficult to focus on the underlying reality that matters most: whether exploiting tar sands, not only in Canada, but in the U.S. and other countries, really will mean “game over for the climate,” as NASA scientist James Hansen has said.  The heart of his argument, as it appeared in the New York Times, was simple:


“GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent 
interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves ‘regardless of what we do.’

“ If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

The game, in other words, is not about pipelines, it’s about tar sands oil.  And even though cancellation of the Keystone pipeline would not be a game-changer, such cancellation would be a powerful symbol that leaves open the possibility of changing the game.  And it would be a signal that there is at least some political will to change the game.

The Canadian government under Stephen Harper has been pushing hard for the Keystone pipeline, lobbying the Obama administration and responding to unsympathetic media reports in the U.S.   At the same time, Canadian resistance to pipelines in both the east and west has grown increasingly intense, especially among the more than 630 First Nations governments of Canada’s native people whose land would be directly affected.

Media Coverage Omits More Than It Says 

When Sec. Kerry promises a “fair and transparent” review of Keystone and media from ABC News to the Washington Post to Huffington Post report the story with the same wire service account from AP, there’s not a lot of reporting going on.  Sec. Kerry’s comments are value free and allow for a possible approval, especially in the context of Kerry’s “great respect” for the needs of Canada’s energy industry.

What AP and those who carried the report left out included Sec. Kerry’s significant oil industry holdings which create an obvious conflict of interest, although as someone who was the richest U.S. Senator till recently (net worth about $240 million, compared to Jay Rockefeller’s $98 million), his oil holdings may not represent that great a conflict.  And Sec. Kerry was “a steadfast proponent of taking action on climate during his tenure as a senator,” according to Reuters.

The widely distributed AP report all but dismisses “climate change,” using the phrase only in the context of suggesting that the pipeline would be “a source of much-needed jobs,” which it’s not, and “a step toward North American energy independence,” which it’s not.

Sec. Kerry’s remarks fit a context in which the State Dept. carries out its evaluation and approves the pipeline, giving cover for Pres. Obama to approve it, too, since the evaluation was “fair and transparent,” or will be reliably reported that way.  But Sec. Kerry also mentioned “accountability” in passing, without saying (or being asked) just what that could possibly mean.  If James Hansen is right, and the climate is destroyed by tar sands oil, how will anyone in the future be able to hold a long-dead multi-millionaire accountable for his lost seriousness?

Alternatively, with the boom of “light sweet oil” coming out of Texas and North Dakota, oil that is much preferable to the “heavy sour crude” from Alberta, the president may have a practical way of sidestepping Keystone approval as no longer very useful to the United States (if it ever really was).

Disruptions Continue Along Keystone Southern Leg 

The active protest and political theatre front in recent months has been along the TransCanada Keystone Gulf Coat section in Texas and Oklahoma, where early in the morning of February 11 in Schoolton, OK, an Oklahoman youth pastor, Stefan Warner, who chained himself to construction machinery high above a local waterway, the North Canadian River.

“I grew up in a town where the North Canadian River runs right through, and we can’t let the North Canadian become another Kalamazoo,” Warner said, referring to the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.  Another giant pipeline company, Enbridge Energy, had one of its pipelines rupture there in July 2010, dumping about 900,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into the river, where the clean-up is now in its third year.

Warner acted with other members of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, a new group that recently organized to resist the Keystone pipeline.  The Great Plains website reported the end of the action this way:

8:00AM: Direct Support for Stefan has been arrested without warning and placed in police car.  Six other people on site being detained currently.

9:00AM: All Six people detained now arrested. Seven police vehicles on scene. Workers have lowered side-boom in disregard of Stefan’s safety and OSHA regulations, Stefan still locked to machinery but lying painfully face-down on the lowered arm. Police obscuring Stefan from view and not allowing anyone within photographing distance.

9:15AM: Another individual arrested. This person was not initially detained but was prevented from accessing her vehicle since 8am. Stefan still holding strong….

1:00PM Earlier today, Stefan was extracted. To our knowledge, Stefan sustained no serious injuries and seems to be alright. 

This action is similar to protests mounted over the past five months by the Tar Sands Blockade, who started their resistance in September 2012 when they set up a tree house blockade across the right of way along which TransCanada was constructing its pipeline.  TranCanada skipped a section of construction to avoid the tree houses and also took members of the group to court.  That action that was settled January 25, when 19 people, also acting on behalf of 6 Jan and John Does and three organizations, agreed to a permanent injunction against interfering with Keystone people, property, or progress.           

Defeating Keystone – A Victory With No Winners? 

It would certainly look like a victory for environmentalists if the President denied Keystone a permit, and a low political cost would allow the political class to bask in undeserved credit – a symbolic triumph.  And, at worst, an opportunity to enjoy the illusion that something meaningful was accomplished.

But the problem of tar sands oil would be fundamentally unchanged.  It would remain an underexploited asset that Canadians are eager to tap.  The demand from Asian markets would continue to grow.  Canada would continue to face the irrationality of importing half the oil it uses while exporting two thirds of the oil it produces.  The pipeline struggle would become an all-Canada affair.

A lively and slightly hysterical imagination might envision an American war with Canada, not so much to keep tar sands oil in the ground to save the climate, but to keep the Canadians from selling it to the Chinese.  More likely, the United States reverts to its traditionally torpid contemplation of planetary threat, the climate continues to warm, and soon Alberta can have a pipeline to the north, since the Arctic Ocean is open year-round.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. 

Nurses Oppose the KXL Pipeline — and All of Labor Should Too

Noticeably absent from President Obama’s “fix-it-first” program for rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, highlighted in his State of the Union speech, is, so far, the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project. Let’s keep it that way.

There’s heavy pressure from the fossil fuel industry, the politicians they influence, conservative Canadian interests, and some construction unions in the U.S. for the pipeline. But it’s not just the President’s decision. It’s up to all of us to put the pipeline in mothballs and leave the heavy tar sands crude oil in the ground.

National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, has joined with a growing climate movement, many ranchers and farmers, First Nations leaders, most Canadian unions, several other U.S. unions such as transport and domestic workers unions, and young people rightfully alarmed over the ecological impact to oppose Keystone XL.

Nurses already see patients sickened by the adverse effects of pollution and infectious diseases with a worrisome rise in asthma, respiratory and heart ailments, and premature death linked to air pollutants and the spread of water and food borne pathogens associated with environmental contaminants.

Stumping for the Pipeline puts labor in league with the most anti-union, socially and politically regressive corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, and other energy corporations generally, abetted by the rightwing politicians who carry their agenda.

Now add in Keystone XL. First, extracting tar sands is more complex than conventional oil drilling, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals. The discharge accumulates in highly toxic waste ponds and risks entering water sources that may end up in drinking water, problems already occurring.

Second, the corrosive liquefied bitumen form of crude the pipeline would carry is especially susceptible to leaks that can spill into farmland, water aquifers and rivers on route. Following the rupture of a pipeline near Marshall, Mi in 2010 state officials found more than half the residents in communities along the Kalamazoo River reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms.

Then there’s the broader consequences of a project NASA scientist James Hansen calls “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” and climate change activist Bill McKibben says would nearly double the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide if all the oil in those tar sands is burned.

Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change. Higher air temperatures, for example, can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

And that’s just the proverbial tip of the melting iceberg considering the devastation that will come with rising sea levels, intensified “weather events” like droughts, fires, floods and storms, mass dislocation of coastal populations and mass starvation that may well be the legacy of our failure to address climate change.

Public health costs from fossil fuel production in the U.S. through contaminants in our air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply today are pegged at more than $120 billion every year by the National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that exposure to particulate matter emitted from fossil fuel plants is a cause of heart attacks, breathing difficulty, and long term respiratory illness including asthma, and reproductive, developmental, and cancer outcomes.

Some unions, desperate for needed jobs in a persistent recession that continues to plague American families, are lobbying for Keystone XL. But it’s like harvesting for fools gold.

The actual number of jobs that will be created is far less than has been claimed by the industry and its allies, and the U.S. State Department has now conceded that once the project is built, the number of people needed to operate and maintain the pipeline may be as few as 20.

As fossil fuel production has become more capital intensive, employment in the sector has fallen, according to a 2012 report by the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. In the U.S., for example, coal production has increased by one-third since the 1980s, but employment has fallen by 50 percent.

Far more jobs would be created by converting to a green economy, notes economist Robert Pollin in his book “Back to Full Employment.” Every $1 million spent on renewable clean energy sources, he calculates, creates 16.8 jobs, compared to just 5.2 jobs created by the same spending on fossil fuel production.

And union members families too are exposed to the health risks of the tar sands production and transport, as well as the devastating effects of climate change.

Finally, stumping for the Pipeline puts labor in league with the most anti-union, socially and politically regressive corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, and other energy corporations generally, abetted by the rightwing politicians who carry their agenda.

The future for labor should not be scrambling for elusive crumbs thrown down by corporate partners, but advocating for the larger public interest, the reputation labor deservedly earned in the 1930s and 1940s, the period of labor’s greatest growth and the resulting emergence of a more egalitarian society. Today labor should be on that path again, uniting with the very coalition of those opposing the Pipeline and working to rein in the frightening consequences of climate change the Pipeline would hasten.

© 2013 National Nurses United

Deborah Burger

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and a co-president of National Nurses United

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.

Climate Change Is Drowning Out “Jobs vs. Environment” Debate

The old argument that unions must choose between jobs and the environment is losing its grip, as climate change becomes more evident and more urgent. More unions than ever have signed up to join environmentalists for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Sunday.

It’s evidence of a sea change, at least among some unions, when it comes to global warming. Indeed, many are arguing that investment to prevent global warming is the real job-creator.

Nurses are demanding a “Robin Hood” tax on Wall Street, devoted to developing safe, green energy; auto workers are backing fuel efficiency standards; taxi drivers are embracing hybrids; and transport workers are lobbying for more mass transit while opposing dirty fuels.

The Utility Workers, who run power plants, are calling for “a serious commitment to climate change legislation,” which they say will create two million good jobs.

And as the debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline heats up again, the 120,000-member Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers union in Canada is opposing it more strongly than ever—even though the CEP represents 35,000 workers in oil, gas extraction, and refining, including oil patch workers in Alberta, the very workers who mine the tar sands.

Meanwhile, in the Oil Patch

How does a union in the fossil fuel industry handle climate change?

In the largest Canadian energy union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers, convention delegates unanimously supported the 1997 Kyoto climate accord, an international agreement to limit carbon emissions. And the CEP has voted in every convention to oppose the Keystone XL.

“For many years our union stood almost by itself” in opposition to tar sands export pipelines, said CEP President David Coles at a recent conference on unions and global warming in New York.

Canada’s economy has shifted, the CEP and other Canadian unions like the Auto Workers argue, from adding value through manufacturing to exporting raw resources at great profit to owners, like an old-fashioned colony.

The resulting strength of the Canadian dollar has made manufactured exports more expensive to the rest of the world and caused Canada to lose 11 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2008. Coles called the move to export even more tar sands bitumen a job-killer.

They Get It

The jobs argument isn’t all, though. Even the 35,000 members who work directly with fossil fuels, Coles said, agree that “we cannot sustain the expansion of the carbon economy.”

His union has engaged members on energy and economic issues all along, he said. It sent a delegation to Fukushima, Japan, to learn about the nuclear reactor disaster there. Although CEP includes uranium miners, the union opposes nuclear power.

“You don’t have to tell an oil worker how rotten the employers are. They don’t trust them,” said Coles. In his union, there’s an understanding: “If the boss supports it, you’d better be nervous. We’re not all in this together; we have opposing interests.”

But, he said, when a society decides to make a change, it needs to set aside money for a “just transition” for workers, including training and relocation. Energy employers should pay a higher tax set aside for that purpose, he said.

Green = More Jobs

In the U.S., investment in renewable energy creates more jobs than investment in capital-intensive fossil fuels. A University of California study showed that 5.65 jobs are created for every million dollars invested in solar energy, 5.70 in wind, and only 3.96 in coal.

A study of the 2009 stimulus package noted that investments in public transportation had created 31 percent more jobs, dollar for dollar, than those in new road construction.

Even the regulations long denounced by industry as job-destroying can turn out to be the opposite. The Environmental Protection Agency projected that new emissions standards it proposed in 2009 for coal power plants would create up to 31,000 construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility jobs. But so far, the EPA has only applied new regulations to future plants.

Preparations for climate change could also generate jobs, say utility workers. New York’s Consolidated Edison “has cut the workforce to the bone, and they don’t invest,” said John Duffy, national vice-president of the Utility Workers.

The New York City workforce of 8,500 that the company locked out last summer in a dispute over pensions has been winnowed to 7,700, Duffy said.

He said the union has found power poles dating back to the 1930s, though the company is supposed to replace them every 50 years and charges rates that are supposed to pay for upgrading.

When a storm like Sandy wreaks havoc on an already weakened system, managers just say, “Whoops, look what the storm did,” Duffy said. Publicly owned power companies are better, he said, because private ones lobby against regulations requiring them to maintain equipment with appropriate staffing levels.

New Tune

After many years of singing in harmony with their Big 3 employers against fuel efficiency, the Auto Workers union has changed tune, arguing that the recent 2012 regulations would create jobs.

Pollution-cutting technology requires “additional content on each vehicle,” said UAW President Bob King at hearings considering the new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. “That additional content must be engineered and produced by additional employees.”

In 2007 UAW’s previous president Ron Gettelfinger had complained about changes to CAFE, calling them “the least desirable option for addressing the problems of climate change and energy security.”

Shortly after King was elected in 2010, the UAW joined the BlueGreen Alliance, an effort to unite environmentalists and unions started by the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club in 2006. The Alliance now counts the Service Employees, Communications, Utility, Food and Commercial, Teachers (AFT), Plumbers, Amalgamated Transit, and Sheet Metal unions as members.

The BlueGreen Alliance calculated that the new CAFE standards would cut carbon emissions nearly in half for cars and light-duty trucks. The Alliance predicted that by 2030, when the standards have been fully implemented, they would create 50,000 jobs.

Bumpy Road

The promise of jobs in the fossil fuel industry has caused splits among unions. The BlueGreen Alliance lost the Laborers union in the first fight over the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011.

Hamstrung by disagreement among member unions, the coalition declined to take a stand. But the Laborers pulled out anyway, angry that other coalition members had opposed a project they hoped would employ their members.

After the housing crash, some construction locals experienced 25 percent unemployment. The promise of “jobs now” was counterposed to possible climate impacts later—and “jobs now” won.

The Keystone XL would run 2,000 miles, from Alberta to Texas, carrying a corrosive slurry of raw bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Tar sands mining produces a dirty fuel with a large carbon footprint that must be heated to mine it and diluted with other fuel to pipe it. Pipeline spills are not uncommon.

In Texas, the refined fuel would likely be put on ships for export. Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it needs U.S. government approval.

TransCanada has projected 20,000 construction jobs on the pipeline, while the State Department has estimated 6,000. The company promised construction unions it would hire their members, leading the Laborers—with support from the Teamsters, Operating Engineers, and Plumbers (UA)—to lash out at two transit unions who spoke out against Keystone XL and for green jobs.

Observers said other unions were deterred from speaking out on the pipeline after the construction unions’ fierce criticism.

At one point the Laborers threatened to picket a U.S. talk by CEP President Coles.

Many climate activists rate the Keystone XL a hinge-point in the battle to lower carbon emissions. NASA climate scientist James Hansen says that exploitation of the tar sands “would make it implausible to stabilize the climate”; if tar sands are in the mix, “it’s essentially game over.”

With this in mind, making tar sands bitumen more difficult to mine and ship has become a top priority for U.S. climate activists, leading to 1,200 civil disobedience arrests at the White House in fall 2011. President (and then-candidate) Obama was convinced to delay the pipeline decision until after the election.

The Steelworkers, who helped found the BlueGreen Alliance and have argued actively for green jobs, didn’t take a position during the 2011 protests. The steel for the pipeline could be fabricated by members in the U.S. and Canada, although some of it had already been ordered from India.

After Obama delayed the decision, USW issued a statement supporting the delay, but didn’t mention climate change.

XL Re-Do

Now the pipeline has returned to the front pages as the administration considers the issue again. The Communications Workers are urging members to attend the February 17 demonstration, which they call “the largest U.S. climate rally ever,” with the tagline, “Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate change is a real threat.”

And the 185,000-member National Nurses Union came out against the pipeline in early February, joining the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union.

“It’s easy for us to take this position,” said Jill Furillo of the 37,000-member New York State Nurses Association. “Our members are on the front lines of seeing the effects of the environmental crisis.”

After Hurricane Sandy, New York nurses not only took care of those injured in the storm, they also evacuated patients from hospitals crippled by loss of electricity, carrying critically ill patients down dark stairwells when rising floodwaters wrecked elevators and backup generators.

Missed Chance

Sometimes environmental initiatives ignore obvious allies in the working class. Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance drive the largest cab fleet in the country, with 100,000 vehicles. The workers generally lease the vehicles and pay for gas.

So it was good news for them when, under pressure from environmentalists, New York City announced that taxi garages would have to purchase hybrids, with far higher mileage and lower emissions.

The members supported the move and understand the stakes, said Bhairavi Desai, director of the Alliance. Many New York cabbies are from Bangladesh, a low-lying country susceptible to the flooding caused by higher oceans.

But the workers weren't included in the debate, Desai said. "Workers could have been the face of the environmental agenda."

As a result, when the garages sued the city, claiming the hybrids would be too expensive, the parties cut a deal that meant cab drivers themselves would have to pay more for the hybrid vehicles. The drivers, who were least able to afford it, ended up subsidizing a much larger social responsibility.

To make a sustainable alliance with organized cab drivers, environmentalists should have talked to the workers, not just their bosses, said Desai.

"Don't make us choose between a middle-class existence and the air we breathe," she said.

New from Labor Notes: "The Steward's Toolbox" is a how-to resource guide that gives labor activists the skills and orientation they need. Pick up a copy today!

Meteor: Rescue Teams Rally To Recovery Effort

Divers are scouring the bottom of a Russian lake for the remains of meteor that plunged to Earth in a fireball and caused a booming shockwave.

Part of the space rock, which was the size of a bus and blazed across western Siberia, is believed to have landed in the frozen Lake Chebarkul.

Curious onlookers gathered nearby were stopped from venturing out on to the lake by police as the search continued.

Some 20,000 rescuers and recovery workers have already been dispatched to the region around Chelyabinsk to help stricken residents.

Experts are also examining major buildings in case they have been structurally damaged by the blast.

Around 1,100 people were injured and thousands of homes were damaged in the fallout from the strike in the Urals on Friday morning.

Residents who had poured into the streets to watch the light show after spotting the initial flash were wounded by glass shattered by the subsequent sonic boom.

Windows in more than 4,000 buildings across the region were blown out, sending glass flying, after what experts said was the largest recorded meteor strike in more than a century.

The authorities have promised to have them all fixed within a week but this is a long wait when even midday temperatures are -12C (10F).

Crews from glass companies in other regions are being flown in to help as volunteers and residents cover windows with plastic sheeting and gather warm clothes and food.

Some 15 people are still in hospital following the blast. The regional health ministry said one was in a coma.

Regional governor Mikhail Yurevich said the cost of the damage from the explosion is an estimated 1bn rubles (£21m).

As the recovery mission begins in earnest, the emergencies ministry said six divers would be inspecting the lake for any pieces of meteorite.

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov added: "We have a special team working ... that is now assessing the seismic stability of buildings. We will be especially careful about switching the gas back on."

Scientists will be desperate to examine the rock for any clues about the cosmos but Mr Puchkov said no fragments had yet been discovered.

The explosion appears to have been one of the most stunning cosmic events over Russia since 1908 when an asteroid was blamed for a massive blast in Siberia.

Nasa estimated that the amount of energy released when the meteor crashed into the Earth's atmosphere was about 20 times more than the force of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.                 

"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," said Paul Chodas of Nasa's Near-Earth Object Programme Office.

The drama happened just hours before an asteroid whizzed safely past the Earth at an unprecedented distance of 17,200 miles.

This is closer than some distant satellites and set alarm bells ringing in some Russian circles about the need for joint global action to protect Earth from space.

Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee chief Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter: "Instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defence."

Can America Go ‘Forward’ on Climate?

The Sierra Club, Bill Mckibben's 350.org fight-climate-change crew, 130 other organizations, plus thousands of Americans from all walks are meeting at Noon on Sunday, February 17 in Washington, D.C. to make "Forward on Climate" the largest climate rally in history. 

Their first goal is to convince Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all, for it could unlock vast amounts of additional carbon the planet simply cannot afford to burn. But his final decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will only be a test of whether he's truly serious about walking his talk. The Forward on Climate Rally will put unparalleled pressure on Obama to act on his word, and in an unprecedented way. It is their hope that he will do all in his power to face, and combat, global warming.

But before America can move "Forward" on climate issues – they must "face" the facts. Ignorance and denial abound in individuals and institutions across the country (there are, alas, institutions like Heartland dedicated to perpetuating skepticism and denial about climate change). A 2007 Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believe that continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 this figure dropped to 51%, and fell again in 2011 to just 44%. According to Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, this is "among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history."

Obama shows no recognition of America's five-planet lifestyle . . . no recognition that a small slice of the Earth's population consumes a lions share, and wrecks the rest.

Meanwhile, record droughts, food scarcity, floods, severe super-storms, billions in damage, lives lost, and the hottest year on record in the United States have all come to pass in 2012. The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has increased by 40 percent in a century, due to our perpetual burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. NASA's James Hansen explains that business as usual – such as burning the tar sands bitumen – will guarantee "game over for the climate."

But America could be a major leader in a worldwide clean energy revolution, that is, if Obama chooses the people, the land, and the future of the planet, over corporate interest. This clean energy revolution could transform the nation, cut carbon pollution drastically, and resist or even reverse the inertia of impending climate disaster. Forward On Climate states, "we need President Obama to commit to that fight with all the ambition and determination he can bring." But why do they put so must faith in Obama's character and power? How are they so easily assuaged by his soaring rhetoric?

The president spoke somberly about climate change for half an hour this Tuesday during his State of the Union speech, earning him brownie points with some, but the eloquence of his promises have never been something to be contested. Despite his rhetoric, and avowal to address global warming and not betray future generations, he fails to face the elephant in the room. With less than five percent of the world's population, it is the USA that consumes a quarter of the world's fossil fuels. Where is his "mea culpa"moment? Instead, Obama shows no recognition of America's five-planet lifestyle . . . no recognition that a small slice of the Earth's population consumes a lions share, and wrecks the rest.

And yet on an even deeper level, Obama's invocation of the need for "sustainable energy sources" suggests that he believes fossil fuels themselves are to blame. And perhaps he's not at fault. This is what most people believe. But what about the root of our climatic, environmental problem: the exploitative economic paradigm we operate, the political stagnation that goes with that, the social inequalities we are forced to endure, the cult of hyper-consumption that defines American culture – it is this systemic destructiveness that endorses ravenous fossil fuel use in the first place.

Until Obama, and the activists putting pressure on him, stop confounding the symptoms with the disease, there will be a stark limit to how effective, enduring and powerful a revolutionary movement can be.

© 2013 Adbusters

Adbusters

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Adbusters is a not-for-profit, reader-supported, 120,000-circulation magazine concerned about the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces.

Scientists Confirm: Arctic Sea Ice ‘Collapse’ at Our Door

Arctic sea ice volume in 1000s of cubic kilometers (via Robinson) The Arctic Sea is experiencing rapid ice loss at a pace so fast that the area will soon be ice-free in warmer months, scientists confirmed in a report this week—showing a collapse in total sea ice volume to one fifth of its level in 1980.

The alarming rate of melting was measured by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, which uses new technology to measure the thickness of the sea ice in addition to how much of the region is covered.

While ice thickness is more difficult to see with the naked eye, its decline in volume is a harbinger of faster and more alarming ice loss, the scientists urged.

"Not only is the area getting smaller, but also its thickness is decreasing and making the ice more vulnerable to more rapid declines in the future," Christian Haas, a geophysicist at York University in Canada, told NBC News.

The Arctic sea already hit record lows in 2012 with the lowest amount of ice on record, covering only half the average area covered between 1979 and 2012.

The newly released data confirms earlier reports—which included data from NASA's ICESat satellite between 2003 to 2008—that the Arctic, which normally maintains vast amounts of ice throughout the year, may soon be ice-free during warmer months. Another team of scientist came to the same conclusion in September using the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center.

"As the satellite measurements show that not only the area decreases but also its thickness, it is actually becoming more likely that the ice will disappear sooner rather than later," Haas told NBC News.

Researchers published the study online in Geophysical Research Letters. "Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive," said co-author Axel Schweiger in a press release. "What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid."

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), commented on the new findings in a press release:

Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered….

The findings confirm the continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice volume simulated by the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling & Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which estimates the volume of Arctic sea ice and had been checked using earlier submarine, mooring, and satellite observations until 2008.

BBC News adds more details:

The data gathered so far by Cryosat were compared with information compiled by the US space agency's (Nasa) Icesat spacecraft in the mid-2000s.

For autumn (October/November), the analysis found the Icesat years from 2003 to 2008 to have recorded an average volume of 11,900 cubic km.

But from 2010 to 2012, this average had dropped to 7,600 cu km - a decline of 4,300 cu km - as observed by Cryosat.

For winter (February/March), the 2003 to 2008 period saw an average of 16,300 cu km, dropping to 14,800 cu km between 2010 and 2012 - a difference of 1,500 cu km.

The smaller relative decline in winter volume highlights an interesting "negative feedback".

New record low Arctic sea ice extent, reached in September 2012, compared to the average summer minimum extent for the last 30 years in yellow. Source: NASA Monthly sea ice volume anomalies from 1979 to the present (Axel Schweiger / UW)

48 Arrested at Keystone Pipeline Protest as Sierra Club Lifts 120-Year Ban on Civil...

Forty-eight people, including civil rights leader Julian Bond and NASA climate scientist James Hansen, were arrested Wednesday in front of the White House as part of an ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The action came before a rally planned for Sunday on Washington’s National Mall, which organizers have dubbed "the largest climate rally in history." We speak to Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, who was arrested in the first act of civil disobedience in the organization’s 120-year history.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Forty-eight environmental activists were arrested Wednesday in front of the White House as part of an ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. The action came before a rally planned for Sunday on Washington’s National Mall, which organizers have dubbed "the largest climate rally in history."

Among those arrested on Wednesday were two top leaders from the Sierra Club: the group’s executive director, Michael Brune, and President Allison Chin.The protest marked the first time the Sierra Club has engaged in civil disobedience in its 120-year history.

Others arrested included civil rights leader Julian Bond, Bill McKibben of 350.org, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah. They were charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders, and released on $100 bond each. This is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Julian Bond.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: I think President Obama is going to kill the pipeline.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you say that?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: Because I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think he knows that. And I think he—you know, I think he has a strong moral core, and I think John Kerry does, too. And I think, ultimately, he would not do something that is—that is this catastrophic and irresponsible and reckless.

JULIAN BOND: This is a decision that affects all Americans, and we want to make sure he does the right thing, which is to say no to the pipeline. It’s a great deal for Canada, great deal for Mexico; doesn’t do much for the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former chair of the NAACP, Julian Bond; before that, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The protest outside the White House came one day after President Obama addressed climate change during his State of the Union.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct—I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by two of the protesters, now out of jail, who were arrested yesterday outside the White House. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, his most recent book is called Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. And we’re joined by Daryl Hannah, the actress and activist, who was previously arrested in Texas in October for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Michael Brune. This is historic for your organization, Michael. In its 120-year history, you are the first leader of the organization to get arrested in a civil disobedience. Why?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Well, first, thanks for having me on the show.

And it might sound a little surprising that an organization like the Sierra Club, that’s been around for so long and has been a part of so many important fights, that it’s the first time we do civil disobedience. But we look at this project, the tar sands pipeline, and it’s a boondoggle. It’s such a—it would contribute to such a climate disaster that we realize we have to use every single tool of democracy in order to fight this thing. We’ll fight it in the courts. We’ll fight it in statehouses and here in the Beltway, in the streets. But we realize that we have to do every single thing that we can to make sure that instead of putting $7 billion into a dirty oil pipeline, that we’re investing in clean energy instead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the importance of this particular decision that the government must make on the XL pipeline in terms of the continuing crisis of climate change in the country and around the world?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Well, that’s the challenge here, is that last year we had record droughts and record wildfires and temperatures a full degree’s above the previous record in the lower 48, a thousand-mile storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard. And the first big test for the president of his commitment to fight climate change is whether or not we’re going to build a pipeline that would take almost a million barrels of oil every day, the dirtiest oil on the planet, ship it through the U.S. and have most of it be exported. So what we’re doing to—what we’re trying to do is to convince President Obama that he needs to put his full muscle and his full ambition to match the scale of this challenge.

It’s not just about the pipeline; it’s making sure that we’re turning away from fossil fuels, the most extreme sources of dirty energy everywhere—drilling in the Arctic, blowing the tops off of our mountains in Appalachia, building this tar sands pipeline. All of those would just deepen and extend our dependence on fossil fuels, when clean energy is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s coming online in record proportions. And so, we want to push Obama as aggressively as we can to embrace a clean energy future.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, have you gotten a chance to speak with President Obama? He made a very strong statement at the State of the Union address.

MICHAEL BRUNE: I have not—I have not talked with him since the—since his inauguration address, but we are talking to White House officials. And the clear message we want to deliver is that the president has an enormous amount of executive authority, and we want his ambition to match the scale of this challenge. I agree with what Bobby Kennedy said yesterday, that we believe that the president has a solid moral core, we believe that he is committed sincerely to fighting climate change. And in that context, you can’t build a pipeline from the tar sands. You shouldn’t drill for oil in the Arctic. You should not build liquefied natural gas export terminals that will make fracking happen everywhere across the country with even more intensity. So the challenge right now is to show the president that we’ve got his back. Every time he stands up to big polluters, we will mobilize to defend his strong policies. And at the same time, we’ll push the president to go as far as he needs to go.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, he did allude, obviously, in his State of the Union address to his ability to use his executive powers to be able to implement policies to help the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What is your—is this the first big test, as far as you’re concerned, of how serious he is about his threatened use of executive power?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Yeah. And so, look at the last two speeches that the president gave on this. In his inaugural address and then a couple nights ago in the State of the Union, he made the best argument for why we have to tackle climate change. He said we need to do it because we have a moral, ethical responsibility to future generations, to our own generation, but he also talked about the economic opportunity that’s inherent in a clean energy transition.

And so, what we need to do now is to say, "When you stand up to these large oil companies, massive coal and gas companies, we’ve got your back." There are millions of people in the U.S. already that are being powered by clean energy, and there are hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world that will fight for a clean energy future. We have a big grassroots movement in this country. Many of them will show up on the National Mall on Sunday, February 17th, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. But the challenge now is to show that this movement is bigger than Big Oil, it’s bigger than Big Coal, it’s bigger than the gas industry. And we are just as creative, just as relentless, as any opposition that the president might face.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, in 2011, I asked Cindy Schild of the American Petroleum Institute why her organization and TransCanada are pushing so hard for this pipeline. She denied having any financial interest in having the project approved, saying API is looking out for the country’s energy security. This is an excerpt of what she said.

CINDY SCHILD: API doesn’t have a financial interest in the pipeline. I mean, we’re looking out for, again, energy security, national security. We also see supply flexibility and reliability benefits to being able to bring the third-largest resource base from Canada, and our number one trading partner, down to our largest refining center in the Gulf.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Cindy Schild in the American Petroleum Institute. And, of course, President Obama stresses, above all else, jobs. Your response, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Look, this is a decision between what’s right and what’s easy, right? We’ve been building pipelines for more than a century. We’ve been building coal-fired power plants and refineries, oil refineries, for more than a century. We know how to do that. We know how to build out fossil fuel infrastructure. The whole point of fighting climate change is that we can’t do that anymore and expect to have a stable climate.

Last year, the International Energy Agency said that if we want to keep warming below two degrees Celsius, an increase in temperatures below two degrees Celsius, three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, if we want to keep our temperature increases below three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, at least two-thirds of the oil and coal and gas that we know about all around the world has to stay in the ground. Two-thirds of our fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground if we want to have a shot at keeping warming at three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, which is a reckless goal considering that we’ve only had about an increase—a degree increase so far. So, in that context, why would we exploit new sources of oil that’s even dirtier than conventional oil? Why would we drill in the Arctic? Why would we blow off the tops of our mountains just to get a little bit of coal? If we’re going to win on climate change, we have to start taking bolder action. We have to start doing it now.

The good news here is that solar is cheaper than ever before. Wind is cheaper than ever before. Nine states get at least 10 percent of their power from wind. California will soon get 30 percent solar plus wind. Iowa is at 25 percent, just wind only. So, all around the country, millions of people are getting their power from clean energy. Millions more are working in the industry, the clean energy industry all around the world. The clean energy future isn’t decades away; it’s actually happening right now. So, we have a shot at arresting climate change, but we can’t kid ourselves and keep investing in fossil fuels at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Sierra Club. It’s the first time in the organization’s 120-year history, an organization founded by the environmentalist John Muir, that a head of the organization has been arrested. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by actress and activist Daryl Hannah. She was arrested in Texas protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, and yesterday she went to jail in Washington, D.C., for protesting the same pipeline, this time in front of the White House. Stay with us.

Shades of Tunguska: Chelyabinsk crash recalls most powerful meteorite explosion in history

The trace of a flying object in the sky over Chelyabinsk (still from a dashboard camera). Photo courtesy of Nakanune.RU.(RIA Novosti / Oleg Vinogradov)

The trace of a flying object in the sky over Chelyabinsk (still from a dashboard camera). Photo courtesy of Nakanune.RU.(RIA Novosti / Oleg Vinogradov)

Scientists have compared the recent Chelyabinsk meteorite incident to the century-old Tunguska event, a huge explosion allegedly caused by a fragment of a comet or meteor.

­“It looks like it was something like Tunguska – a 60-meter diameter cosmic body, which fell into the Tunguska taiga in 1908,” said Professor Oleg Malkov, Head of the Star Clusters Physics Department at the Russian Science Academy Institute of Astronomy, as cited by Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. 

According to estimates, the energy of the Tunguska blast may have been as high as 50 megatons of TNT, equal to a nuclear explosion. Some 80 million trees were leveled over a 2,000-square-kilometer area. The Tunguska blast remains one of the most mysterious events in history, prompting a wide array of hypotheses on its cause, including a black hole passing through Earth and the wreck of an alien spacecraft.

It is believed that if the Tunguska event had happened four hours later, due to the rotation of the Earth it would have completely destroyed the city of Vyborg and significantly damaged St. Petersburg.  

The Tunguska event also prompted debate and research into preventing or mitigating asteroid impacts.

A huge celestial body known as the Tungus meteorite fell on this spot in Siberia in 1908. Its enigma defies researchers from all branches of science to this day. The comprenensive Tungus Meteorite Expedition has its laboratory on this taiga lake near the Podkamennaya Tunguska river.(RIA Novosti)
A huge celestial body known as the Tungus meteorite fell on this spot in Siberia in 1908. Its enigma defies researchers from all branches of science to this day. The comprenensive Tungus Meteorite Expedition has its laboratory on this taiga lake near the Podkamennaya Tunguska river.(RIA Novosti)

Between Tunguska and Chelyabinsk, Russia has witnessed at least three such events.  In 1922, a meteor shower rained down on the village of Tsaryov near Volgograd in Southern Russia. Some 1.6 tons of meteor fragments were found there, with the biggest weighing almost 300 kilograms. 

Siberia appears to be a real meteor magnet: In 1947, the Sikhote-Alin Mountains were hit by an iron meteor. An estimated 23 tons of extraterrestrial material were eventually found in the area. And just over a decade ago, another asteroid fell near the Siberian village of Vitim. The explosion of the Vitimsky meteorite was relatively weak, reaching only approximately 200 tons of TNT.

As for smaller meteorites, hundreds of them strike the Earth’s surface every year, though only 10 to 20 are detected.

It’s impossible to trace them. We only know of big asteroids approaching. I mean space is swarming with little stones – it’s no revelation, it’s a fact we have to come to terms with. The earth is hit by relatively little space objects every hour,” said Kosmopoisk (‘Cosmosearch’) NGO head Vadim Chernobrov, Kommersant daily reported. 

Such meteorites usually reach the surface Earth burned down by the atmosphere and too small to cause damage. According to statistics, only 1 in 100,000 asteroids is potentially destructive. 

The oldest discovered meteor was 4.6 billion years old. The largest, the Hoba meteorite in Namibia, weighs over 60 tons. The largest-ever accumulation of meteors was found in the Antarctic in 1979. 

Finding a fragment of freshly-fallen meteorite takes a great deal of luck – considering that 97 percent of space rocks found on Earth have fallen long ago. At the same time, being injured by a falling meteorite is an even rarer event: According to NASA, there is a "1 in 3,200 chance of anyone being hit."

Asteroid ‘Close Shave’ with Earth

A 150 foot wide asteroid is due to fly past the Earth today and is the largest one that's been ever detected this close to the planet. Asteroid 2012 DA14 is travelling at 5 miles per second and will be visible from parts of Europe and Africa, at around 19:24 GMT.

At Least 20 CIA ‘Black Site’ Prisoners Still Missing

In one of President Barack Obama first acts in the White House, he ordered the closure of the CIA’s so-called “black-site” prisons, where terror suspects had been held and, sometimes, tortured.  The CIA says it is “out of the detention business,” as John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the agency, recently put it.

(PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images) But the CIA’s prisons left some unfinished business.  In 2009, ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer listed more than thirty people who had been held in CIA prisons and were still missing.

Some of those prisoners have since resurfaced, but at least twenty are still unaccounted for.

Last week the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative released a report pulling together the most current information available on the fates of the prisoners. A few emerged from foreign prisons after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. One has died. (The report relied exclusively on media accounts and information previously gathered by human rights groups. The Open Society Foundations also donate to ProPublica.)

The report counts 136 prisoners who were either held in a CIA black site or subject to so-called extraordinary rendition, in which detainees were secretly shipped to other countries for interrogation.

Many of the prisoners were tortured, either under the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” program or by other countries after their transfer. The report also lists 54 countries that assisted in some way with detention and rendition. The U.S. has not disclosed the countries it worked with, and few have acknowledged their participation.

The CIA declined our request to comment.

Here are the fates of a few of the prisoners we listed as missing back in 2009:

  1. Ayoub al-Libi, also known as Mustafa Jawda al-Mahdi, is a Libyan who was allegedly interrogated and detained by US personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2004. The next year he was returned to Libya, where he was sentenced to death as member of LIFG, an Islamist anti-Gaddafi group (designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.) He was released when uprisings began against Gaddafi in February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him in 2012.
  2. Hassan Rabai, also known as Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Al Shoroieya, is a Libyan who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and later transferred to Afghanistan – where he alleges that he was waterboarded by U.S. personnel. Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that only three terror suspects were ever subjected to waterboarding; Rabai would be the fourth.  He was eventually transferred to prison in Libya, where he remained until February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him last year.
  3. Khaled al-Sharif, also known as Abu Hazam, was picked up with fellow Libyan and LIFG member Hassan Rabai and also held in Afghanistan. He remained in Libyan prison until March 2010, according to interviews he gave to Human Rights Watch.
  4. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is an Egyptian who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and  considered a “senior Al-Qaeda operative.” He was transferred to prison in Egypt and was released in late 2010. He gave an interview in 2011 in which he admitted to running training camps in Afghanistan prior to 2001 but saying he had renounced violence.
  5. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, was tied to the bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Picked up by the CIA in 2005, he was transferred to prison in his native Syria. According to Syrian media, he was released by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in February 2012.
  6. Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was a Libyan detained shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He was reportedly held in CIA as well as Egyptian custody over the next several years. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, he provided information about links between Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda – information he later said he had fabricated. He was transferred to Libyan prison in 2005 or 2006, and was found dead in his cell in May 2009.

The whereabouts (and in some cases identities) of many more remain unknown or uncertain.

In 2007, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said that “fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA’s facilities.” But only 16 have been officially identified by the U.S. government. President George W. Bush acknowledged the CIA’s detention program in September 2006 and announced the transfer of 14 “high-value” detainees to Guantanamo Bay prison. Two other high-value detainees were subsequently acknowledged.

Much else about the CIA program is still unknown. President Barack Obama closed the black-site prisons on entering office, but preserved the ability to render and to hold people for the “short-term.”

Obama banned torture, but announced that no one would be prosecuted for previously sanctioned harsh interrogations. A Justice Department investigation into deaths of detainees in CIA custody ended without charges.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention program. At Brenan’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), said the report shows the interrogation program was run by people “ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to detail, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.” Rockefeller is one of the few to have read the report, which remains classified.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Historic Tar-Sands Action at Obama’s Door

Historic Tar-Sands Action at Obama’s Door

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share
Posted on Feb 13, 2013

By Amy Goodman

For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience, the day after President Barack Obama gave his 2013 State of the Union address. The group joined scores of others protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which awaits a permitting decision from the Obama administration. The president made significant pledges to address the growing threat of climate change in his speech. But it will take more than words to save the planet from human-induced climate disruption, and a growing, diverse movement is directing its focus on the White House to demand meaningful action.

The Keystone XL pipeline is especially controversial because it will allow the exploitation of Canadian tar sands, considered the dirtiest oil source on the planet. One of the leading voices raising alarm about climate change, James Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote of the tar sands in The New York Times last year, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” New research by nonprofit Oil Change International indicates that the potential tar-sands impact will be even worse than earlier believed. Because the proposed pipeline crosses the border between the U.S. and Canada, its owner, TransCanada Corp., must receive permission from the U.S. State Department.

Among those arrested outside the White House was Julian Bond, former chair of the NAACP. Bond said, “The threat to our planet’s climate is both grave and urgent. ... I am proud today to stand before my fellow citizens and declare, ‘I am willing to go to jail to stop this wrong.’ The environmental crisis we face today demands nothing less.”

Two weeks of protests at the White House in the summer of 2011 led to the arrest of 1,252 people. Later, in November, thousands more joined to encircle 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., calling for denial of the Keystone XL permit. Days later, President Obama announced he would delay the decision until 2013, after the election. He later granted permission to build the southern leg of the pipeline, from Oklahoma through Texas. That decision sparked protests from landowners and environmentalists, including a nonviolent direct-action blockade campaign in Texas, with people chained to pipeline equipment and occupying land with tree-sits to halt construction.

Early in the permit process, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was inclined to approve the pipeline, even though the State Department’s mandatory review was incomplete. Controversy erupted when The Washington Post reported that TransCanada’s lobbyist for the pipeline in D.C., Paul Elliott, was a senior staffer on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, headed by Obama-appointee Lisa Jackson, had been critical of the pipeline. When Jackson resigned unexpectedly late last December, the New York Post reported, based on an unnamed “Jackson insider,” “She will not be the EPA head when Obama supports it [Keystone] getting built.” Jackson’s spokesperson denied the allegation.

Obama’s new secretary of state, John Kerry, weighed in on Keystone XL after his first official meeting with a foreign dignitary, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. Kerry said: “Secretary Clinton has put in place a very open and transparent process, which I am committed to seeing through. I can guarantee you that it will be fair and transparent, accountable, and we hope that we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term.”

In his State of the Union address, Obama gave hope to those concerned with global warming, saying, “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. ... We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late.”

This Presidents Day weekend will see what is expected to be the largest climate-change protest in history, called Forward on Climate. One hundred thirty-five organizations are participating, including the Sierra Club, the Indigenous Environmental Network and 350.org. The Sierra Club is one of the world’s largest and most powerful environmental organizations. Its decision to participate in civil disobedience signals a major escalation in the movement to stem climate change, reviving the words of the Sierra Club’s first president, John Muir, who wrote in 1892, “Hoping that we will be able to do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

© 2013 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Get truth delivered to
your inbox every week.

Previous item: Obama: The Audacity of Freedom



New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Why Organized Labor Must Stand Against the Keystone XL Pipeline

Spurred by real urgency over the corporate driven ruin of the environment, a growing social movement is taking shape that will be on display this Sunday, February 17, when tens of thousands descend on the streets of Washington, D.C. in a show of power titled "Forward On Climate."

What is the target galvanizing these forces? The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, to be built by TransCanada, which would carry crude oil extracted from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, some 2,000 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

What is the outcome hoped for by those who will attend? That President Obama reject the project, finally and definitively, when it comes up for his approval this winter.

Protests, blockades, arrests and disruptions of the pipeline's construction have been ongoing by activists and landowners in East Texas since last summer. Now, the "Forward On Climate" rally marks a huge step forward to enlarge the movement. This is not your typical environmental protest in defense of a limited ecosystem.

Rather, the potential consequences of the XL Pipeline's operations are global and catastrophic because of climate change. And that's why organized labor needs to stand up now in an alliance that has the power to defeat it.

Getting Perspective

To get some perspective on what is happening to the climate let's looks at some data:

  • According to scientists, the average temperature of the planet has already risen just under 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880.
  • The last two decades of the 20th century were the hottest in 400 years and, according to a number of climate studies, possibly in several millennia.
  • The 10 warmest years on record have happened in the last 15 years.
  • According to the Global and Environment Institute at Tufts University, extreme heat waves have been steadily rising over the last 50 to 100 years. They are now happening at a rate two to four times stronger, and are projected to escalate to vast extremes over the next 40 years.
  • The annual number of hurricanes has been escalating. There was an average of 3.5 hurricanes a year between 1905 and 1930. Between 1995 and 2005 this number increased to an average of 8.4.
  • Globally the atmosphere over the oceans is 5 percent wetter, setting the stage for massive floods. Rapidly melting Arctic ice and glaciers will lead to the submerging of coastal cities and islands due to rising sea levels.
  • According to Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency, after examining the rise of carbon emissions: "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees (11 degrees Fahrenheit)" by 2100.

Considering the consequences we are already experiencing with a 1.4 degree rise in average temperature, an increase of 11 degrees could transform the planet to such a degree that it would put the survival of most species, including humanity, in peril.

How will the operations of the Keystone XL Pipeline affect this trend?

  • The Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to raise carbon emissions in the atmosphere by more than half of their current level.
  • In the words of NASA leading climatologist, James Hansen: "If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over for the climate. There is no practical way to capture co2 while burning oil."

To call the course we are on suicidal vastly understates the matter. There is a wide consensus among scientists that our climate is teetering on the edge of extreme and irreversible change. This danger is being propelled by our addiction to carbon-based fossil fuels -- and more specifically, to the mechanisms of corporate greed.

The world's top five oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the turn of the century. This money buys influence, steering national policies and international relations towards the goal of their further enrichment.

This influence runs into sharp conflict with what is needed to prevent a global catastrophe. With all the oil, coal and gas that is available, 80 percent would have to be left in the ground to keep the temperature from rising above an extra two degrees Celsius, the limit recognized by the Copenhagen Accord. That translates into $20 trillion in big energy’s assets.

Collecting and increasing these assets is the entire purpose of the energy companies’ existence. Corporate profit rather than human need is the impersonal motor force of this system. All the scientific data in the world along with appeals to the big energy owners' consciousness will not stop the machine from seeking to maximize profit regardless of the devastation.

If this force is to be stopped, it will take a social movement of those who are the primary victims, that is, the majority of humanity. And it will take a movement led by working people who can issue the challenge: that if those in charge of the economy don't find a way to reverse course, it will be us who take control and get the job done.

Where Does Labor Stand?

In the U.S., unions are the primary organizations to defend and promote the interests of workers. Consequently, the role of Labor in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline is an issue of paramount importance towards developing the popular strength to make a decisive impact.

Where do the unions stand now? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated at the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, "The AFL-CIO has not taken a position on the Keystone pipeline — unions don't agree among ourselves."

It is extremely rare for someone in Trumka's position to comment on such a division. As disappointing as this situation might be for many, it is evidence of a needed dialogue taking place within Labor's leading bodies, and of equal importance, among the working members and labor’s allies.

Significantly, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and National Nurses United have come out in support of the February 17 demonstration against the XL pipeline. The Communication Workers of America (CWA), the United Auto Workers (UAW) and others also favor stopping the pipeline.

On the other hand, the Laborers Union and the Building Trades Council have come out in strong support of the pipeline's construction. These union bodies have been especially hard hit by unemployment. As a result, they have been quick to take the bait of several thousand jobs that the XL Pipeline's proponents are dangling.

Laborer's President Terry O'Sullivan defiantly stated, "I am repulsed by our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women."

In a letter to Hillary Clinton, union leaders supporting the XL Pipeline stated it will "spur the creation of 118,000 jobs." However, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in an article, "The Questionable Economics of the Keystone XL Pipeline":

"Clearly, the construction of the pipe, most of it below ground, will be a huge undertaking. The estimated numbers of people it will employ in the process, however, fluctuate wildly, with TransCanada raising the number from 3,500, to 4,200, to 20,000 temporary positions and suggesting the line will employ several hundred in an on-going basis. The U.S. State Department, which made its own assessment because the pipeline crosses the U.S. - Canada border, estimates the line will create just 20 permanent jobs. One advantage of a pipeline, after all, is that it's automated."

None of these sources would have any reason to underestimate the number of jobs the pipeline would create, regardless of how widely they diverge from the 118,000 figure cited in the letter to Clinton. It would appear that the leaders of the unions supporting the XL Pipeline are being sold a questionable bill of goods in order to get them behind the project.

Isolating Themselves

The problem with the approach of these unions, however, is not simply that they have the facts wrong in regards to how many jobs the XL Pipeline will create. Clearly the effects of climate change and the XL Pipeline's contribution to it should be of tremendous concern to all workers, including the members of these unions.

By prioritizing their memberships' short-term interests above the interests of all others, the XL Pipeline union supporters are putting themselves at odds with the health of working class communities in general, popular consciousness, and scientific consensus. They are isolating themselves.

If they continue to hold this line, it will likely result in diminishing public support for their contract fights and, therefore, less leverage to use against their employers. They are not only acting against their membership's long term interests in countering climate change, they are weakening their union's ability to fight against their employers' greed and win.

A False Choice

These union leaders are caught in a false choice between supporting job creation or promoting environmental health. However, this is just not the case. A report by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labor, environmental and civil rights group, found that "if the $1.3 billion in government subsidies now given to the oil and gas sector were instead invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency, Canada would create more jobs: 18,000 more."

The same is true in the U.S. Energy efficiency retrofitting of buildings and the development of renewable energy are "shovel ready jobs" that, if pursued on the necessary scale, could provide full employment.

The main obstacle standing in the way of such a program is the argument that it cannot be done by the private sector because there's not enough profit in it. A publicly funded program would be required, like a modern day Work Projects Administration (WPA) of the 1930s New Deal era, only on a grander scale with the aim of reversing climate change as well as providing jobs.

Yet no politician would touch this plan out of fear of big business's opposition to being taxed to pay for it. And therefore it will take the power of an independent social movement which unites Labor, environmentalists and working people in general to make them do it.

One way of funding such an ambitious but necessary program would be with a carbon tax. This could act as a fee on the production, distribution and industrial use of fossil fuels based on how much carbon their combustion emits. It should be aimed exclusively at big business. If this is combined with scientifically based regulation and community oversight, as well as the subsidizing of green energy alternatives, it could go a long way towards transforming our current energy systems into a more sustainable model.

If the social muscle can be built up to compel the passage of such legislation, it will still not be enough to guarantee compliance because you cannot control what you don't own. Attempts to circumvent and sabotage such restrictions to their profit-making can be expected by Big Energy and their owners' partners in the 1%.

As their efforts continue to result in the endangerment of the climate, it will then become necessary for the social movement to further organize itself and force these corporations to be operated as publicly owned utilities. Only in this way could they be transformed to run according to social and environmental need rather than the 1%'s profit.

February 17 may be remembered as a significant point in the evolution of such a powerful force. If President Obama rejects the XL Pipeline, that would be a significant victory for those who have hit the streets in the interests of humanity. Regardless of the potential outcome, those organizing around the issue of climate change can only rely on their own collective efforts in building the largest movement possible independent of corporate-funded politicians.

At best, the two main political parties in the U.S. can only deliver too little too late because of their dependence on financial contributions from big business. Consequently, the "Forward on Climate" movement needs to build its power broadly by connecting and highlighting the dual issues: stopping climate change and providing full employment with a Green New Deal.

President Obama — Get Tough on Corporate Welfare

Ask anti-government ideologues about "welfare" and they are likely to tell you all about an increasingly large group of Americans who are dependent on government handouts. They might refer to the portion of the population who Mitt Romney famously call...

Art Cashin Previews The February 15 Close Encounter Of A Meteor Kind

While UBS' Art Cashin sees the 'uptrend' in stocks as largely in tact, though warns of the start of what appears to be a stalling formation, there is another 'bigger' potential crash on his mind. Having survived the Mayan apocalypse, and a Papal resignation, our home planet is due for a record setting space encounter on Friday (Feb. 15) of this week... which means it is now too late to even send Bruce Willis (or better yet, Bob Pisani) into space for an Armageddon sequel. We are told to keep calm and carry on - Bernanke-like "there is nothing to worry about", but no known asteroid has traveled this close to earth in recorded history. Let's hope the slide rule guys have it nailed - or the grand central planner.

Nothing To Worry About They Assure Us – Here's a bit on the incoming asteroid by Ken Kremer in "Universe Today":

Our home planet is due for a record setting space encounter on Friday (Feb. 15) of this week, when a space rock roughly half a football field wide skirts very close by Earth at break neck speed and well inside the plethora of hugely expensive communications and weather satellites that ring around us in geosynchronous orbit.

“There is no possibility of an Earth impact” by the Near Earth Asteroid (NEO) known as 2012 DA 14, said Don Yeomans, NASA’s foremost asteroid expert at a media briefing. Well that’s good news for us – but a little late for the dinosaurs.

At its closest approach in less than 4 days, the 45 meter (150 feet) wide Asteroid 2012 DA14 will zoom by within an altitude of 27,700 kilometers (17,200 miles). That is some 8000 km (5000 miles) inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites, but far above most Earth orbiting satellites, including the 6 person crew currently working aboard the International Space Station.

Although the likelihood of a satellite collision is extremely remote, NASA is actively working with satellite providers to inform them of the space rocks path.

The razor thin close shave takes place at about 2:24 p.m. EST (11:24 a.m. PST and 1924 UTC) as the asteroid passes swiftly by at a speed of about 7.8 kilometers per second (17,400 MPH)- or about 8 times the speed of a rifle bullet. For some perspective, it will be only about 1/13th of the distance to the moon at its closest.

“Asteroid 2012 DA14 will make a very close Earth approach, traveling rapidly from South to North and be moving at about two full moons per minute,” said Yeomans, who manages NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “That’s very fast for a celestial object.

No known asteroid has traveled this close to earth in recorded history. Let's hope the slide rule guys have it nailed.

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

Earth is safe as the 46-meter asteroid is set for flyby by next week

2012 DA14 (Image from nasa.gov)

2012 DA14 (Image from nasa.gov)

Earth will definitely avoid a potential catastrophe as a 46-meter asteroid is to pass the planet from a safe, though remarkably close distance, said scientists from NASA.

The asteroid was discovered last year by Spanish amateur astronomers and since then sparked fears of a possible cosmic collision that would have released the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and would have had the potential to wipe out 750 square miles if it did impact the Earth.

But scientists reassured the world on Thursday that there is no real threat.

“No Earth impact is possible,” said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “No one has raised a red flag, nor will they,” Yeomans told reporters. “I certainly don’t anticipate any problems whatsoever.”

The celestial body, referred to as 2012 DA14, is projected to come as close as 27,520 km on February 15 – which is closer to our planet than the TV satellites that fly some 800 km higher. It will pass at a speed of 13 km per second.

It is the closest encounter with an object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring asteroids about 15 years ago.

The last time the Earth was struck by a major cosmic body was in 1908, when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over 2,150 square km.

"Although they wouldn't (cause) a global catastrophe if they impact the Earth, they still do a lot of regional destruction," said Lindley Johnson, who oversees the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.

The asteroid will be invisible to the naked eye, appearing only as a small point of light even to those observing it by telescope. The prime viewing locations will be in Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe.

NASA adds that the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.

About 66 million years ago, a 10 km diameter asteroid smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs as well as most plant and animal life on the planet.

Asteroid to pass Earth near miss

A graphic illustrating asteroid 2012-DA14 passing within 17,200 miles (27,520 kilometers) of Earth

NASA says a 150-feet asteroid will pass within 17,200 miles (27,520 kilometers) of Earth on February 15 without any chance of collision.

The US space agency announced on Thursday the megarock will find itself in the closest encounter known ever for an object of this size, the Associated Press reported.

The best viewing location for the asteroid, which would be visible through binoculars or telescopes, will be in Indonesia.

Australia, Asia and Eastern Europe will also offer viewing spots for the rock that was discovered in February 2012.

“This asteroid's orbit is so well known that we can say with confidence that even considering its orbital uncertainties, it can pass no closer than 17,100 miles from the Earth's surface. So no Earth impact is possible,” said Donald Yeomans, the head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He said any damaging impact would be avoided as the rock’s path would put it in the “sweet spot”.

“The object that ... took out the dinosaurs was about 10 kilometers,” Yeomans added.

If the asteroid were to strike the planet, the impact would be equivalent to a 2.4-megaton bomb which could flatten a vast area.

“With an estimated size of the order of 50 meters, (2012 DA 14) is comparable in dimensions to the object that destroyed over 2,000 square kilometers of forest in Tunguska, Siberia, on 30th June 1908,” said Mark Bailey, the director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland.

Based on NASA estimates, an asteroid like 2012 DA 14 moves close to the Earth every 40 years.

KA/MHB

More than 4 billion potentially habitable planets may orbit red dwarfs in Milky Way

An image of the Milky Way's Galactic Center in the night sky above Paranal Observatory (Image from wiki.org)

An image of the Milky Way's Galactic Center in the night sky above Paranal Observatory (Image from wiki.org)

Stars called red dwarfs may support planets on which life is possible. With three quarters of stars in the Milky Way being red dwarfs, there may be 4.5 billion habitable planets in our galaxy, a new study reveals.

Six percent of red dwarf stars in the galaxy have Earth-sized planets, which could be habitable, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have estimated.

Red dwarf are the most common stars in the Milky Way, which means that the closest earth like planet could be just 13 light years away, not far in space terms.

Red dwarfs are smaller, cooler and fainter than our Sun and are not visible from Earth to the naked eye.

But despite their relative dimness, they make up three out of every four stars in our galaxy, a total of 75 billion.

“We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted,” said Courtney Dressing, an astronomer who presented the finding at a press conference Wednesday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center in Massachusetts.

Dressing identified 95 planetary candidates orbiting red dwarf stars. According to the scientists’ estimates, 60 percent of red dwarfs could have planets orbiting them that could be smaller than Neptune.

Most were not quite the right temperature or size to be truly Earth-like, although three of the planets were warm and were approximately Earth-sized. Statistically therefore six percent of red dwarfs could have an Earth-like planet, scientists add.

“We don’t know for sure if life could exist on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, but the findings pique my curiosity and leave me wondering if the cosmic cradles of life are more diverse than we humans have imagined,” said Natalie Batalha, Kelper mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Locating these Earth-like planets would require a large network of ground based telescopes or a small space telescope, while follow up studies by the Giant Magellan Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope could tell us whether any of the planets had an atmosphere, the researchers said.

Red dwarf stars have a much longer life than Sun-like stars, meaning that life on a red dwarf orbiting planet might be much older than life on Earth.

“We might find an earth that’s 10 billion years old,” said David Charbonneau, co-author of the research.

Such a world would be different from our own. Because the planets orbit much closer to their stars, they may not have tides. But this wouldn’t necessarily prohibit life since they may also have a dense atmosphere or a deep ocean which could transport heat around the planet, the scientists said.

While young red dwarf stars emit flares of ultraviolet light, an atmosphere would protect life on the planet and help it evolve, the researchers claimed. “You don’t need an Earth clone to have life,” said Dressing.

The habitability of a planet is worked out by its distance from the star that it is orbiting and therefore whether it would have liquid water and a surface temperature which could sustain life. Liquid water is considered a major precondition to life.

The distance from a star where life is theoretically possible is known to astronomers as the ‘habitable zone’.

The astronomers used publically available data from NASA’s Kelper space telescope. Kelper is the first NASA mission capable of finding planets in or near the habitable zone.

This is not the first time that astronomers have found evidence that life may exist on planets orbiting red dwarfs. In March last year a French led team, from the European Southern Observatory in Chile, found out that 40% of red dwarf stars are orbited by planets 10 times bigger than Earth which are the correct distance away to support liquid water.

However, the French team gave a slightly contradictory conclusion that stellar eruptions and the emission of flares, which are common on red dwarfs and produce X- rays and ultraviolet radiation, would make life less likely on the orbiting planets.

But even if we do find alien life on these planets we won’t be able to pay a visit. The closest suitable red dwarfs are 13 light years away, way beyond our space travelling means, although they’re virtually next-door neighbors by space standards.

UK ‘must do more’ to prepare for solar superstorm

Britain must do more to prepare for a once-in-a-century "solar superstorm", according to experts. The Government is being urged by the Royal Academy of Engineering to set up a UK Space Weather Board to help cope with a massive radiation blast from the...

On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Obama Administration Is on Track to Deport...

In today's On the News segment: The Obama administration is on track to deport more than 2 million undocumented immigrants by 2014;New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to screw over working people in his state; 234 college campuses around the US have taken up the fossil fuel divestment campaign; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Jim Javinsky here - in for Thom Hartmann – on the news...

You need to know this. New jobs numbers show the economy added 157,000 jobs in January, but the unemployment rate still ticked up to 7.9% as more people entered the workforce. Today's jobs report came in slightly below expectations – and follows a GDP report this week showing that our economy contracted .1% in the fourth quarter of 2012, thanks in large part to government austerity. However, revised jobs numbers from last year show the economy did better than previously thought, with an average of 181,000 jobs created each month. But, with trillions of dollars in spending cuts looming, and the same sort of austerity that's plaguing Europe set to soon take hold here in the United States, 2013 may not be nearly as rosy of a year for jobs. Buckle up for a bumpy ride.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to screw over working people in his state. Earlier this week – he vetoed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. But, that's not the only way Christie has denied help to the middle class. He also vetoed two key housing assistance bills, which would have brought much needed relief to struggling homeowners. One bill would give the state authority to purchase foreclosed homes, and transform them into affordable housing for people who lost their homes in the Bush Great Recession. The other bill would have provided assistance to unemployed, and underemployed, homeowners to make mortgage payments. In 2012, New Jersey outpaced every other state in the nation, when it came to homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments – meaning while the housing situation may be slowly improving around the nation – it's getting worse in New Jersey. And in just one week, Governor Christie has slammed the door on millions of residents in his state, who could have used higher wages, and a little help staying in their homes.

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

One way to stop Big Oil from running roughshod over our economy, is to just stop investing in them. That's the goal of a national divestment campaign, launched by organizations like 350.org, that is trying to fight off global warming by encouraging schools and cities to shift their investments away from fossil fuels. Already, over 234 college campuses around the nation have taken up this divestment campaign – and the city of Seattle is poised to become the first city in the nation to divest of fossil fuels, too. Right now, the city's public worker retirement system holds huge investments in oil giants, like ExxonMobil and Chevron, but the city's mayor, Mike McGinn, wants to change that. In a letter, McGinn wrote, "Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face, as a city and as a society...I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension funds from these companies is one way we can do that."

Congress kicked the can down the road again on Thursday – passing a three-month extension to the debt ceiling. That means this fight will resume again in the three months. Meanwhile, Congress now turns its attention to another can that was kicked down the road last month – the "sequester" of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, that Congress pushed backward a few months at the beginning of the year. It's difficult to run a government effectively when you're constantly up against 3-month deadlines – and it might be one reason why Congress has seen its lowest approval rating ever, since Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

Congress will soon take up immigration reform – but President Obama is on track to hit an ominous milestone when it comes to deportations. A new report out of the University of California-Merced, shows that the Obama administration is on track to deport more than 2 million undocumented immigrants by 2014. That would be more deportations under President Obama than occurred under all the Presidents, from 1892 to 1997 combined! This strict deportation policy is breaking up families, and condemning thousands of American children to life in foster care. This is why comprehensive immigration reform is desperately needed.

And finally...today is the 10th anniversary of the break-up of the space shuttle Columbia, as it re-entered the atmosphere. And a former NASA flight director has come forward, stating that personnel on the ground knew the shuttle, and crew, would not survive re-entry, yet decided to not inform them. According to Wayne Hale, personnel knew the shuttles heat shield sustained significant damage on takeoff, that would likely lead to a disaster upon re-entry. But rather than informing the crew, Hale claims NASA personnel made the decision to allow the shuttle to come back to Earth, instead of orbiting in space indefinitely until the crew ran out of oxygen. Hale's revelations were published in his blog on Thursday. Children of the deceased astronauts will be commemorated in a ceremony today, to recognize the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

And that's the way it is today – Friday, February 1st, 2013. I'm Jim Javinsky - in for Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Joe Biden To Meet David Cameron At Downing Street On Tuesday

Mr. President U.S. President Barack Obama waves as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) Mr. Vice President U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his...

Super-zeppelin: Revolutionary airship may become cargo-carrying champion (VIDEO)

A functioning prototype of revolutionary airship is undergoing tests south of Los Angeles. A US company is developing a series of gigantic heavy-payload dirigibles with an innovative ballast system that mimics that of a submarine.

­The ‘Aeroscraft’ – developed by Worldwide Aeros – more resembles a spaceship from the 1986 sci-fi movie ‘Flight of the Navigator,’ instead of a classic 20th-century zeppelin. Though the Aeroscraft uses the same basic principles as blimps did 100 years ago, it’s as different from its ancestor as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner if from the Wright brothers’ plane.

According to the engineers who developed Aeroscraft, the airship is a considerable advance in aviation technology. The new airship has potential to carry cargo more efficiently than any other aircraft, and could revolutionize long-range hauling in near-future.

Aeroscraft features a rigid 70-meter skeleton made of aluminum and carbon fiber, with 365-horsepower piston engines, automatic buoyancy control systems and high-tech electronics and fuel systems. The US Department of Defense and NASA have invested $35 million in the prototype.

The internal ballast management controls the Aeroscraft’s buoyancy. The airship functions like a submarine, releasing air to rise and taking in air to descend. The craft is brought to the ground by compressing the helium inside its containment tanks and replacing it with external air. The airship can rise by re-releasing the compressed helium into its tanks, and then using its turbo-prop engines to control its direction.

Image from aeroscraft.com
Image from aeroscraft.com

­This internal system for managing ballast challenges the previous cargo-airships, which were held back by the need to weigh them down or tie them up while cargo is unloaded, and were unable to withstand high winds and other extreme weather conditions.

Developer Worldwide Aeros finished construction of the airship in December of last year. In January 2013, the company launched a series of system check tests of the airship in a 17-story-tall World War II-era military hangar at the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

The airship’s maiden flight is set to take place in March.

If the Aeroscraft’s test flights prove to be a success, Worldwide Aeros is hopeful that the US Department of Defense will again step in as an investor for the next round of testing.

In just three years’ time, Worldwide Aeros is set to construct a 137-meter-long airship – nearly twice as long as the Aeroscraft – which could fly at 220 kph, with a hefty payload of 66 tons and a range of 3,100 nautical miles (5,700 kilometers).

But these specifications still fall short of the capabilities of modern cargo plans. Lockheed’s C-5 Galaxy can carry 118 tons, while latest modification of the Antonov An-124-100М-150 has a 150-ton payload.

But over the long term, Worldwide Aeros says it could eventually build an airship capable of carrying 500 tons, with a range of 5,300 nautical miles (9,800 kilometers) – double the 250-ton payload of the world’s biggest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mria.

The travel speed of the Aeroscraft might be much slower than that of a cargo plane, but it is anticipated to have unprecedented payload efficiency.

Image from aeroscraft.com
Image from aeroscraft.com

Within years, everything now transported across the planet's surface by boat, train or truck could be shipped through the skies, Worldwide Aeros claimed.

But the real advantages of an airship are not just in payload. In theory, it would not require expensive ground infrastructure like an airstrip – a valuable feature, whether for the delivery of heavy equipment to a remote oil rig, bringing team of rescuers with supplies to a natural disaster zone, or deploying several hundred marines somewhere high in the mountains.

"You could take this vehicle and go to destinations that have been destroyed, where there's no ports, no runways, stuff like that. This vehicle could go in there, offload the cargo even if there's no infrastructure, no landing site for it to land on, this vehicle can unload its whole payload," Aeros mechanical engineer Tim Kenny said.

Though the golden age of airships ended in mid-20th Century after a series of catastrophes like the explosion of the Hindenburg zeppelin in 1937, the legend never died. No modern airships have approached the sheer grandeur and extensive use of the zeppelins in the past, when zeppelins plied the skies of Europe and the Americas, even making trans-Atlantic passenger flights.

Picture of German giant zeppelin "Hindenburg", in Lakehurst, USA, in May 1936 (AFP Photo)
Picture of German giant zeppelin "Hindenburg", in Lakehurst, USA, in May 1936 (AFP Photo)

Heavy-payload airships are currently being developed by engineering teams in several countries. The biggest stumbling block in such projects is that such projects need considerable investment capital –  for small companies, it is hard to find a wealthy investor ready to pay millions, if not billions, of dollars to finance an operable airship. 

But the US Military does have a huge budget, even in the midst of a global financial crisis, and is still ready to invest in somewhat risky, but potentially highly promising, technology.

Image from aeroscraft.com
Image from aeroscraft.com

Will the FDA Crack Down on E-Cigarettes?

An important debate over the safety of the e-cigarette is raging.

January 31, 2013  |  

Like this article?

Join our email list:

Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.

Cigarette smokers in the United States have been under steady attack. To smoke is no longer considered glamorous, cool or socially acceptable. Smokers are confronted and shamed by non-smokers and have been banished to huddle and inhale in remote locations far from public view. A series of state laws prohibit smoking in almost all workplaces, restaurants and bars. The most common exceptions to smoking bans are casinos, strip clubs and brothels. Signs outside of buildings order smokers to stand a specific distance away from the entrance. 

Last May, New York City banned smoking in parks, beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas. Mayor Bloomberg said, "When you ask people in our parks and beaches they say they just don't want smokers there." 

Smoking cigarettes, which are still legal, has become as stigmatized as smoking crack. An addiction that was once ubiquitous and promoted is now routinely demonized. 

As a result of public health campaigns waged over decades against the lies of the tobacco industry, the number of smokers in the United States has declined. Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 443,000 Americans die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses and secondhand smoke. The World Health Organization reports that tobacco kills nearly 6 million people worldwide every year.

Currently, about 45 million Americans smoke tobacco. Seventy percent say they would like to quit and every year 40 percent do for at least one day. The 80 percent who quit relapse within one month and each year only 3 percent of those who quit are successful.  

To help people quit, a number of nicotine replacement products are available: gums, lozenges, inhalers, nasal sprays and transdermal patches. 

The electronic cigarette (e-cig) is the newest nicotine delivery device and has been available since 2008. Electronic cigarettes look and feel like cigarettes but with one crucial difference: They don’t contain tobacco. Smoking-caused disease is a consequence of repeated exposure to carcinogens in tobacco smoke, not to the ingestion of nicotine.

About 2.5 million people use e-cigarettes in the U.S., according to an estimate by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. The number of e-cig smokers is sure to grow as they become more widely available and the cost drops. The price of a starter kit ranges from between $60 to $100. Cartridges of liquid nicotine, one equals one pack of cigarettes, costs about $2. 

Big Tobacco views e-cigarette companies as a threat to its profits and is moving to buy them up. Forbes reports that Lorillard, the third largest tobacco company, just bought Blu Ecigs for $135 million. The company earned $30 million in revenue in 2011 and the electronic cigarette market as a whole, generates between $250 million to $500 million. With a long track record of addicting people to tobacco through aggressive marketing campaigns, deception and disinformation, the danger is that these corporations will do the same with e-cigarettes.  

The battery operated e-cigarette is easy to use. An atomizer heats and vaporizes a cartridge filled with nicotine, which is inhaled by the user. The water vapor that is exhaled has no odor because there is no combustion. The e-cig contains five ingredients: nicotine, water, glycerol, propylene glycol and flavorings like cherry and vanilla. Both glycerol and propylene glycol are used in other nicotine replacement products. 

An important debate has been ignited over the safety of the e-cigarette. 

Several years ago, the Federal Drug Administration found trace amounts of toxic ingredients in several samples and attempted to regulate e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices. A federal judge ruled in 2010 that the FDA lacked the authority. Now the FDA is moving to regulate them as tobacco products. This is nonsensical. The e-cigarette is a drug delivery device and not a tobacco product. And in a confusing move, the FDA has seized shipments of electronic cigarettes on the grounds that they are illegal drug-delivery devices.  

The Question No One Is Asking About Keystone XL

Combat the epidemic of misinformation that plagues the corporate media! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong.

Right now in Texas, a foreign corporation, TransCanada, is using our government's 5th Amendment right of eminent domain to confiscate private land belonging to Americans, to build a massive oil pipeline so TransCanada can ship oil from the Gulf of Mexico to non-Americans around the world. Oil, by the way, that will accelerate our planet’s plunge into global warming-induced catastrophe.

So the question is, “Why?”

Last year, President Obama approved the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport deadly Canadian tar-sands oil from Oklahoma down to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas where it will be refined and then promptly placed on oil rigs to be sold in South America, Europe, and Asia. They get the oil; we get the poison coming out of the refinery smokestacks.

Odds are little of oil from the Keystone XL pipeline will make it into American markets. According to TransCanada itself, this project will NOT reduce the price of gas in the United States (it will actually increase gas prices in the Midwest). It will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It will create only a few thousand temporary jobs. And it will put our land and underground aquifers at risk of oil contamination, while presenting to terrorists a sweet little thousand-mile-long target they can take out with a bit of dynamite.

And rather than slowing climate change, this pipeline will take us over the tipping point. Environmentalists like Bill McKibbin call it a “ticking time bomb” for the environment. And NASA scientist James Hansen calls completion of the pipeline “game over for the planet.”  

So, again, why is construction of this pipeline allowed to continue?

Why would a foreign corporation push so hard that people like 78-year-old great grandmother Eleanor Fairchild was arrested last October for trespassing on her own property as she tried to stop TransCanada’s bulldozers from ripping a hole through her 300-acre ranch?

Why is the state of Texas allowing a foreign corporation to seize land through eminent domain to build an oil pipeline, when in 2002 the state transportation department forbid the use of eminent domain to build new roads across Texas?  

And why is it that we’ve allowed this foreign corporation, TransCanada, to launch numerous SLAPP lawsuits against peaceful activists and property owners, threatening them with “losing their homes and life’s savings” if they continue protesting further construction of the pipeline?

And, most importantly, why, residing on a rapidly warming planet, are we doubling-down on 19th Century dirty energy sources like fossil fuels, when we should be focusing on 21st century clean energy sources like solar and wind?

Consider this: 

Last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee a massive solar power facility comprising of over 33,600 individual solar modules capable of producing 13.1 gigawatt hours of electricity every year was turned on. It’s big enough to power 1,200 homes, but will be used to power a Volkswagen manufacturing plant. And it’s the biggest solar installation ever built in the state of Tennessee.  

This solar farm was built by an American company, Silicon Ranch. No Canadian tar oil necessary. 

So, instead of letting foreign companies build terrorist-target oil pipelines across our entire country, shouldn’t we be supporting homegrown companies that could make America the worldwide leader in renewable energy?

Another "for-example": Did you know that the United States just passed Germany as the number-two country in the world when it comes to producing wind power? Did you know that the largest wind farm in the world, the Alta Wind Energy Center, is located right here in the United States in Kern County, California?

The Department of Energy estimates that 20 percent of our national energy could be produced by wind come 2030. But that’s only if our government embraces wind power with the same enthusiasm that we embrace Canada’s tar sands oil.

It’s a no-brainer. And it’s what the rest of the world is doing, too.

The world is rushing toward clean energy, from the 1.3 million solar power systems currently online in Germany producing 28 billion kilowatts of energy annually, to the London Array off-shore wind farm (the largest of its kind),  producing 630 enough electricity to power more than 470,000 homes.

So given all of this, tell me again why we're building the Keystone XL pipeline? Why, with all this potential for clean and renewable energy, are we arresting Americans for trespassing on their own property?  It sure looks like it's just so a foreign corporation can get rid of their toxic oil, and a handful of billionaires in Texas can make big profits refining and exporting it.

Our clean energy success stories are hidden from the news media, and our lawmakers are doing the bidding of Big Oil, turning our nation into the place where foreign corporations can do the dirty work of fossil fuel refining far, far away from their own populations. The President spoke about climate change in his Second Inaugural. But he’ll have a chance to do something more than give a good speech come March when the rest of the Keystone XL pipeline is set to be approved.

So, let’s keep the pressure on our lawmakers and our news media. All around the world, and right here at home, we see the potential for clean energy use on a massive scale. We have 21st Century energy solutions that work now, today; we don’t need another 19th Century oil pipeline.

Yes, He Can: 20 Ways Obama Can Use Executive Power to Push a Progressive...

We need your help to sustain grassroots, groundbreaking journalism. Make a tax-deductible contribution to Truthout now by clicking here.

When President Obama announced his sweeping new plan for preventing gun violence on January 16, it included no fewer than twenty-three “executive actions,” in addition to a series of legislative proposals. The message was clear: in the face of congressional intransigence—on gun control and beyond—Obama will push changes through the executive branch that he believes to be for the good of the country. “Congress too must act, and Congress must act soon,” Obama said, while making it clear that the White House will not wait for the GOP-controlled House.

It was not the first time the president has flexed his executive muscle. Obama deployed such power during his first term on a number of notable occasions. The “Mini–Dream Act” executive action, for example, was hugely successful, both in terms of public policy and progressive politics. It helped people in an immediate and tangible way, was enormously popular with Latinos and Asian-Americans, and may well have won him re-election.

Others, like raising the CAFE standards to demand better fuel efficiency from carmakers and capping student loan payments, were part of the Obama administration’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative, launched in the fall of 2011, following the debt ceiling fiasco and the House Republicans’ refusal to seriously consider the American Jobs Act. “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” Obama said at the time. “Where they won’t act, I will.”

The president has also acted through the appointment process. He made a recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, despite intense congressional opposition, and another three recess appointments to the five-member National Labor Relations Board, putting it back in action after the Republicans refused for months to confirm any new members. Obama also handed down the Health and Human Services Department contraception mandate—a critical fulcrum point in the GOP’s politically costly “war on women.”

Less high-profile measures have included utilizing the 1906 Antiquities Act, first used by Theodore Roosevelt to protect historic or beautiful public land, to preserve a few areas, including Fort Monroe in Virginia and Fort Ord in California. Last fall, Obama also named Colorado’s Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as a national monument, and dedicated the César E. Chávez National Monument in California.

The president can do much more. So can the cabinet departments and federal regulatory agencies. As Barack Obama begins his second term, and weighs his overall legacy, it will be crucial for progressives to push him to act on a broad range of issues for which there is an absence of congressional will (or a concerted effort to block progress). Pressing for reforms through executive action—using both “street heat” and “suite heat”—should be a serious focus of our work in the coming months.

An executive order, briefly defined, is a presidential directive that carries the force of law. Such actions have a long and checkered history in American politics: Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was enacted via executive order, as was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II (one of a flurry of orders handed down by FDR). Executive orders were used sparingly, for the most part, until the presidency of Bill Clinton, who vastly expanded their use, handing down more than even George W. Bush. Obama has continued this broader trend, issuing 144 executive orders in his first four years. Less binding are executive actions, presidential recommendations that cannot be carried out by the executive branch unilaterally.

In the era after 9/11, the consolidation of executive authority has led to a number of dangerous policies [see David Shipler, in this issue], and we strongly oppose the extreme manifestations of this power, such as the “kill lists” that have already defined Obama’s presidency. Yet executive power, when properly deployed, can and has played a legitimate role in helping to realign the country with its values and the needs of Americans—as Obama attempted to do when he ordered the closing of Guantánamo and an end to torture just days into his first term.

With this goal in mind, The Nation has compiled a list of executive actions that the president should take across a broad range of issues—and asked our readers to submit their own. Many pointed to the excessive military, intelligence and police powers they would like to see rolled back, at home and abroad. Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs” and created the Drug Enforcement Administration via executive order; Obama, some readers suggested, could finally end the “war on drugs”—or at least direct the DEA to stop enforcing disproportionate crackdowns on drug crimes—using the same power.

Indeed, in addition to ratcheting back the “war on drugs,” the executive branch could also—at least in theory—end the war in Afghanistan; help close some of our hundreds of overseas bases; follow through on its pledge to close Guantánamo; cut back on the use of drones; stop jailing whistleblowers; end the official harassment and surveillance of Muslims and activists; and even pardon Leonard Peltier.

Obviously, the president is unlikely to act on a number of these suggestions. But it is also obvious that our nation is facing multiple crises, many of which will not wait until an obstinate GOP House has evolved enough to act. Wherever possible, the president should act on his own to implement good public policies that can break the gridlock and ease at least some of our most serious crises, such as the heating of the earth’s atmosphere and the dangerous storms like Hurricane Sandy that result; our overextended and bloated military empire; and the corporate corruption of our political system, among many others. 

We believe that aggressive and progressive executive action will bring political benefits as well, because the public is tired of waiting for results from Washington. And even if it doesn’t, taking action is still the right thing to do—for the planet, for the jobless and the homeless, for the loyal voters who stood in long lines to make history with Barack Obama twice. Besides, what’s a second term for if you can’t use your presidential power for the good of the many?

What follows is a list of ways that Obama can act to achieve progressive goals in his second term. Some, like taking nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger alert” status, are long overdue—a relic of another age that nonetheless bears correcting. Others, like a plan to modernize voting protocols, are tied to our current political landscape. By no means is this an exhaustive list—it was designed to inspire and encourage further brainstorming along these lines, as well as action-building strategies on how to explicitly pressure the White House over the next four years.

* * *

Environment

Assemble a Commission on Climate Change
In his first press conference since winning a second term, President Obama said, “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.” He should start by assembling a blue-ribbon Climate Change National Security Commission to take stock of the most pressing dangers posed by climate change. The commission would be composed of experts like Dr. James Hansen and Bill McKibben, and its members would outline a schedule for analyzing and making recommendations on how best to tackle this enormous and wide-reaching national security issue.

Direct the EPA to Regulate All Greenhouse Gases

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate all greenhouse gases, yet it has not done so. It is long past time for Obama to order the EPA to exert this authority—not just when it comes to carbon dioxide, but methane gas and black carbon as well. Specifically, the president should direct the EPA to apply the approach advocated by NASA scientist James Hansen and the Center for Biological Diversity, which would set a national pollution cap of no more than 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If that standard sounds overly ambitious, the president should bear in mind that regulations issued under the Clean Air Act are supposed to be “technology forcing”—inducing the private sector to develop and deploy superior technologies that will safeguard the health of the public and the planet.

Reject the Keystone Pipeline and ‘All of the Above’

With climate change already battering the nation’s great cities and ravaging our Farm Belt, it is unconscionable for federal policy to make things worse by encouraging major expansions in coal, oil and natural gas consumption. The president should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada and replace his “All of the Above” energy strategy with a “Green Growth” one that rapidly phases out fossil fuels while scaling up energy efficiency and wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Foreign Policy And National Security

Take Nuclear Weapons Off ‘Hair-Trigger’ Status
To this day, the United States and Russia have several hundred missiles ready to launch at a moment’s notice. In 2000, George W. Bush called this “another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation,” and eight years later, Barack Obama vowed to undo it. Yet nothing has changed since then. As Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, points out, handing down an order to do so would not be unprecedented. “George H.W. Bush ended the practice of having our nuclear-armed bombers on strip alert as part of his unilateral 1991 nuclear initiatives,” he says. “He also took hundreds of missiles off alert.” Obama should make good on his promise and lay whatever diplomatic groundwork is necessary to issue this long-overdue executive order, which could make our planet a lot less dangerous.

Take Cuba Off the ‘State Sponsors of Terror’ List
In another relic of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan placed Cuba on the State Department’s list of terror-supporting countries to demonize its support for revolution in Central America. “This was, and continues to be, a grave injustice,” says Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project. “Rather than a terrorist advocate, Cuba has been, historically, a victim of terrorism, much of it shamefully emanating from US territory. The written justifications for keeping Cuba on the list over the last several years actually read like arguments to take Cuba off the list.” Kornbluh cites Cuba’s efforts to mediate a cease-fire and peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels as proof that Cuba, in fact, is “playing a fundamental and constructive role in seeking to end conflicts that breed terrorism in the region.”

Audit the Pentagon
Almost every federal agency routinely passes the yearly financial audit required by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. The major exception is the Pentagon, which is “unauditable,” according to the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO). The Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when the audit would be done, even as Congress doubled Pentagon spending. It’s time to get serious, but no new laws are needed. “President Obama should request significant reductions in the Pentagon budget until the Pentagon can pass the audit,” said Rafael DeGennaro, a former taxpayer group leader who is starting the nonprofit Audit the Pentagon.

Economy

Create a National Development Bank
The president often invokes the need to invest in “nation building at home.” As he told a crowd in Virginia on the campaign trail last summer: “Let’s rebuild our roads and our bridges…. Let’s build broadband lines and high-speed rail. Let’s expand our ports and improve our airports. That’s what’s going to keep us at the cutting edge of a twenty-first-century economy. And we’ve got tens of thousands of construction workers ready to be put back to work.” To this end, a National Development Bank could provide the funding for such ambitious projects—and serve as a source of funding for reconstruction projects following Sandy-scale natural disasters.

Labor

Implement ‘High Road’ Contracting 
In fiscal year 2009, according to the GAO, the government awarded more than $6 billion in contracts to companies that had violated federal labor laws. Obama should instruct the Labor Department to implement a policy of rewarding and punishing potential contractors based on their labor, environmental and other records. In the absence of a congressional minimum-wage increase, Obama could mandate living-wage standards for federal contractors as well.

Grant Wage and Overtime Protections to Homecare Workers
In December 2011, as part of his “We Can’t Wait” initiative, Obama promised to extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to homecare workers. “One year later, we are still waiting,” a number of homecare workers wrote to the president in December. According to the National Employment Law Project, “the long-delayed rules change would close a loophole—known as the companionship exemption—that allows most of the nation’s 2.5 million homecare workers to be shut out from basic minimum wage and overtime protections. The rules change would provide a rapidly growing workforce with the same basic wage guarantees that other workers have relied on for decades.”

Criminal Justice

Challenge the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Of the president’s twenty-three executive actions addressing gun violence—several of which were quite important—one was particularly troubling: his promise to “help schools hire more resource officers,” a euphemism for putting more police in schools. This will only accelerate what advocates call the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a phenomenon so catastrophic that the Senate held its first hearing on how to address it just two days before the Newtown massacre. Before following through on this action, the president should direct the Justice Department to draw up a racial impact statement to analyze how such a policy might disproportionately affect children of color, and take steps to ensure that it does not.

Pardon Prisoners and Commute Unjust Sentences
As Sasha Abramsky recently wrote in our pages, President Obama has been stingy in exercising his considerable pardon power, even for prisoners serving clearly unjust sentences. The New York Times has reported that he has granted a pardon for one out of every fifty applicants, “compared with 1 out of 33 for George W. Bush, 1 of 8 for Bill Clinton and 1 of 3 for Ronald Reagan”—and this despite the scores of federal nonviolent drug offenders ensnared by the drug war. Obama should not only hand down pardons to men and women serving time disproportionate to their crimes; he should also order the Federal Bureau of Prisons to regularly send the White House names of potential candidates for commutations and early release.

Tell the Justice Department to Focus on High-Level Offenses
To prevent such miscarriages of justice, Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project suggests that “the president and/or attorney general could issue a policy recommendation asking United States attorneys to prosecute only high-level cases or those in which there is a clear federal interest.” This could include ordering the DEA to cease its raids on medical marijuana growers, which result in outrageous miscarriages of justice—as in the case of Chris Williams, arrested in Montana for growing then-legal medical marijuana, who at one point was facing more than eighty years in prison.

Immigration

Stop Deporting Undocumented Parents
On January 2, the Department of Homeland Security released a rule aimed at reducing the amount of time “US citizens are separated” from family members seeking legal residency status. This is a positive development, but it does not change the fact that Obama’s staggering number of deportations—1.5 million people in his first term—has left thousands of children in foster care after their parents were deported. A study by the Applied Research Center estimates that at least 5,100 kids are in foster care in twenty-two states—a number that could rise to 15,000 by the end of Obama’s second term if deportation levels continue apace. Given the hints that Congress will take up comprehensive immigration reform, Obama should take steps to halt the deportation of parents until this comes to pass.

Reproductive Rights

Tell HHS to Approve Over-the-Counter Plan B for All Women 
In December 2011, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made the unprecedented decision to overrule a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to make the “morning-after pill” available over the counter to women of all ages. The president, much to the dismay of many American women, supported the move and went so far as to invoke his two daughters in doing so. Obama should reverse this decision, which was clearly born of political calculation: studies have shown that the emergency contraception pill known as Plan B has no adverse effects on young women and girls under 17.

Reinterpret the Helms Amendment
In 2009, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge and repealed the global gag rule, “one of the most ludicrous and paternalistic U.S. foreign policies in history,” in the words of RH Reality Check. Yet the “last stronghold of America’s oppressive overseas reproductive health policies, the Helms Amendment, is still alive and well.” This forty-year-old law prohibits any foreign aid that might be used for abortion, regardless of the law in those countries and in spite of supposed exceptions to accommodate cases of rape, incest and risk to the woman’s life. “Even our colleagues who oppose abortion rights regularly carve out these minimal exceptions to the harsh anti-abortion bills and amendments they introduce,” twelve members of Congress wrote to Obama in December 2011. “Conforming implementation of the Helms Amendment to the actual meaning of the law should not be controversial and, in any case, would be eminently defensible.”

Civil Liberties

Rewrite FBI Guidelines for Spying on Americans 
In 2009, The New York Times revealed new post-9/11 powers bestowed on the FBI that lowered the bar for targeting certain communities as possible terrorists. “One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat,” the paper reported. “Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor—as long as it is not the only one—when selecting subjects for scrutiny.” The result, as Center for Constitutional Rights president emeritus Michael Ratner points out, has been to criminalize communities and entrap individuals simply because of their religion, ethnicity or political activities. “Obama could protect our right to dissent and protest by ordering the FBI to curb surveillance and entrapment of activists and others not engaging in criminal activity.”

Release the Legal Memos on Targeted Killings
In this era of the so-called “disposition matrix,” Obama is not likely to reverse the dangerous course he has taken on targeted killings. But at the very least, he must stop ignoring the transparency pledge he made upon taking office in 2009, to “hold myself as president to a new standard of openness.” As Vicki Divoll, former deputy legal adviser to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, wrote in an impassioned op-ed for The New York Times, Obama “has refused to tell Congress or the American people why he believes the Constitution gives, or fails to deny, him the authority to secretly target and kill American citizens who he suspects are involved in terrorist activities overseas. So far he has killed three that we know of.” The president should release the secret memos that outline his administration’s rationale for targeted killings.

Voting Rights

Modernize Voting
When a newly re-elected President Obama thanked Americans for voting him back into office, he acknowledged that some had “waited in line for a very long time” to do so. “By the way,” he added, in an unscripted aside, “we have to fix that.” Although the states are in charge of administering their own voting practices, the Brennan Center for Justice has identified one way the president can unilaterally move to modernize voting methods across the country. “Several states have requested agreements to designate certain federal agencies as voter registration agencies, meaning that registration materials should be offered to all citizens when they directly interact with those agencies,” explains Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at the Brennan Center’s Washington office. “Where it is within his authority, we would like to see the president direct agencies to accept these designations. This will encourage other states to make additional designation requests and should significantly increase registration rates among those directly served by the agencies.”

Money in Politics

Appoint New Federal Election Commissioners
“The FEC is the most dysfunctional agency in government, thanks to partisan deadlock,” says Robert Weissman of Public Citizen. “Five of the six members are serving past their terms—including the former chair, who has announced she will step down February 1—because the president has not made new appointments.” It’s past time for Obama to appoint new commissioners to better equip this critical agency to do its job.

Make Government Contractors Reveal Political Donations

Congress has repeatedly failed to pass the DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) Act. But the president could address this by requiring federal contractors to open the books on their campaign spending. As Public Citizen has pointed out, “among the 50 largest contractors, nearly all contractor political spending was disclosed to the public until 2010, when [an FEC] loophole and a Supreme Court decision combined to permit unlimited secret spending in elections.” In the post–Citizens United era, the president should take all actions necessary to rein in such secretive, uncontrolled spending.

Huge New Slick at Site of BP’s 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Wings of Care provided new photos of an oil slick in the area of the Gulf oil spill, noting:

Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud.

Wings of Care provided an update yesterday:

The most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself. The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish “mousse”), although overall it remained a light surface sheen.

***

There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months.

Stuart Smith provides context:

In Louisiana, we are blessed to have a one-woman environmental protection agency by the name of Bonny Schumaker. A retired NASA physicist and pilot, Schumaker has found a way to merge her love of all creatures and her passion for flying to create an amazing operation called On Wings Of Care. She flies animal rescue missions but since 2010 has also devoted a lot of her energy toward helping her fellow citizens learn the truth about the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

When the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s access to the site of the massive spill, Schumaker and her flights have documented both the scope of the spill and the extent of damage to marine life — and she hasn’t let up. In August 2011 and again in October 2012, her photographic evidence has forced BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies to acknowledge and to investigate new sightings of fresh oil sheens near where BP’s rig blew up and sank. We’re still not satisfied with BP’s response to the problem, and we’re concerned that the oil may actually be coming from fissures under the sea.

One thing is undeniably clear from the photographic evidence: The oil is still there, 33 months after the explosion.

***

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (who may win election to the U.S. Senate later this year) said of the ongoing problems at the site: “Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both. This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental .”

Pentagon’s New Massive Expansion of ‘Cyber-Security’ Unit is About Everything Except Defense

As the US government depicts the Defense Department as shrinking due to budgetary constraints, the Washington Post this morning announces "a major expansion of [the Pentagon's] cybersecurity force over the next several years, increasing its size more than fivefold."

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Among other forms of intelligence-gathering, the NSA secretly collects the phone records of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecom firms AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. (Photo: NSA/Getty Images)

Specifically, says the New York Times this morning, "the expansion would increase the Defense Department's Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900." The Post describes this expansion as "part of an effort to turn an organization that has focused largely on defensive measures into the equivalent of an Internet-era fighting force." This Cyber Command Unit operates under the command of Gen. Keith Alexander, who also happens to be the head of the National Security Agency, the highly secretive government network that spies on the communications of foreign nationals - and American citizens.

The Pentagon's rhetorical justification for this expansion is deeply misleading. Beyond that, these activities pose a wide array of serious threats to internet freedom, privacy, and international law that, as usual, will be conducted with full-scale secrecy and with little to no oversight and accountability. And, as usual, there is a small army of private-sector corporations who will benefit most from this expansion.

Disguising aggression as "defense"

Let's begin with the way this so-called "cyber-security" expansion has been marketed. It is part of a sustained campaign which, as usual, relies on blatant fear-mongering.

In March, 2010, the Washington Post published an amazing Op-Ed by Adm. Michael McConnell, Bush's former Director of National Intelligence and a past and current executive with Booz Allen, a firm representing numerous corporate contractors which profit enormously each time the government expands its "cyber-security" activities. McConnell's career over the last two decades - both at Booz, Allen and inside the government - has been devoted to accelerating the merger between the government and private sector in all intelligence, surveillance and national security matters (it was he who led the successful campaign to retroactively immunize the telecom giants for their participation in the illegal NSA domestic spying program). Privatizing government cyber-spying and cyber-warfare is his primary focus now.

McConnell's Op-Ed was as alarmist and hysterical as possible. Claiming that "the United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing", it warned that "chaos would result" from an enemy cyber-attack on US financial systems and that "our power grids, air and ground transportation, telecommunications, and water-filtration systems are in jeopardy as well." Based on these threats, McConnell advocated that "we" - meaning "the government and the private sector" - "need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace" and that "we need to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment - who did it, from where, why and what was the result - more manageable." As Wired's Ryan Singel wrote: "He's talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation."

The same week the Post published McConnell's extraordinary Op-Ed, the Obama White House issued its own fear-mongering decree on cyber-threats, depicting the US as a vulnerable victim to cyber-aggression. It began with this sentence: "President Obama has identified cybersecurity as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation, but one that we as a government or as a country are not adequately prepared to counter." It announced that "the Executive Branch was directed to work closely with all key players in US cybersecurity, including state and local governments and the private sector" and to "strengthen public/private partnerships", and specifically announced Obama's intent to "to implement the recommendations of the Cyberspace Policy Review built on the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) launched by President George W. Bush."

Since then, the fear-mongering rhetoric from government officials has relentlessly intensified, all devoted to scaring citizens into believing that the US is at serious risk of cataclysmic cyber-attacks from "aggressors". This all culminated when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, last October, warned of what he called a "cyber-Pearl Harbor. This "would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability." Identifying China, Iran, and terrorist groups, he outlined a parade of horribles scarier than anything since Condoleezza Rice's 2002 Iraqi "mushroom cloud":

"An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country."

As usual, though, reality is exactly the opposite. This new massive new expenditure of money is not primarily devoted to defending against cyber-aggressors. The US itself is the world's leading cyber-aggressor. A major purpose of this expansion is to strengthen the US's ability to destroy other nations with cyber-attacks. Indeed, even the Post report notes that a major component of this new expansion is to "conduct offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries".

It is the US - not Iran, Russia or "terror" groups - which already is the first nation (in partnership with Israel) to aggressively deploy a highly sophisticated and extremely dangerous cyber-attack. Last June, the New York Times' David Sanger reported what most of the world had already suspected: "From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America's first sustained use of cyberweapons." In fact, Obama "decided to accelerate the attacks . . . even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran's Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet." According to the Sanger's report, Obama himself understood the significance of the US decision to be the first to use serious and aggressive cyber-warfare:

"Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons - even under the most careful and limited circumstances - could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks."

The US isn't the vulnerable victim of cyber-attacks. It's the leading perpetrator of those attacks. As Columbia Professor and cyber expert Misha Glenny wrote in the NYT last June: Obama's cyber-attack on Iran "marked a significant and dangerous turning point in the gradual militarization of the Internet."

Indeed, exactly as Obama knew would happen, revelations that it was the US which became the first country to use cyber-warfare against a sovereign country - just as it was the first to use the atomic bomb and then drones - would make it impossible for it to claim with any credibility (except among its own media and foreign policy community) that it was in a defensive posture when it came to cyber-warfare. As Professor Glenny wrote: "by introducing such pernicious viruses as Stuxnet and Flame, America has severely undermined its moral and political credibility." That's why, as the Post reported yesterday, the DOJ is engaged in such a frantic and invasive effort to root out Sanger's source: because it reveals the obvious truth that the US is the leading aggressor in the world when it comes to cyber-weapons.

This significant expansion under the Orwellian rubric of "cyber-security" is thus a perfect microcosm of US military spending generally. It's all justified under by the claim that the US must defend itself from threats from Bad, Aggressive Actors, when the reality is the exact opposite: the new program is devoted to ensuring that the US remains the primary offensive threat to the rest of the world. It's the same way the US develops offensive biological weapons under the guise of developing defenses against such weapons (such as the 2001 anthrax that the US government itself says came from a US Army lab). It's how the US government generally convinces its citizens that it is a peaceful victim of aggression by others when the reality is that the US builds more weapons, sells more arms and bombs more countries than virtually the rest of the world combined.

Threats to privacy and internet freedom

Beyond the aggressive threat to other nations posed by the Pentagon's cyber-threat programs, there is the profound threat to privacy, internet freedom, and the ability to communicate freely for US citizens and foreign nationals alike. The US government has long viewed these "cyber-security" programs as a means of monitoring and controlling the internet and disseminating propaganda. The fact that this is all being done under the auspices of the NSA and the Pentagon means, by definition, that there will be no transparency and no meaningful oversight.

Back in 2003, the Rumsfeld Pentagon prepared a secret report entitled "Information Operations (IO) Roadmap", which laid the foundation for this new cyber-warfare expansion. The Pentagon's self-described objective was "transforming IO into a core military competency on par with air, ground, maritime and special operations". In other words, its key objective was to ensure military control over internet-based communications:

dod cyber

It further identified superiority in cyber-attack capabilities as a vital military goal in PSYOPs (Psychological Operations) and "information-centric fights":

dod cyber

And it set forth the urgency of dominating the "IO battlespace" not only during wartime but also in peacetime:

dod cyber

As a 2006 BBC report on this Pentagon document noted: "Perhaps the most startling aspect of the roadmap is its acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military's psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans." And while the report paid lip service to the need to create "boundaries" for these new IO military activities, "they don't seem to explain how." Regarding the report's plan to "provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum", the BBC noted: "Consider that for a moment. The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet."

Since then, there have been countless reports of the exploitation by the US national security state to destroy privacy and undermine internet freedom. In November, the LA Times described programs that "teach students how to spy in cyberspace, the latest frontier in espionage." They "also are taught to write computer viruses, hack digital networks, crack passwords, plant listening devices and mine data from broken cellphones and flash drives." The program, needless to say, "has funneled most of its graduates to the CIA and the Pentagon's National Security Agency, which conducts America's digital spying. Other graduates have taken positions with the FBI, NASA and the Department of Homeland Security."

In 2010, Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, gave a speech explicitly announcing that the US intends to abandon its policy of "leaving the Internet alone". Noting that this "has been the nation's Internet policy since the Internet was first commercialized in the mid-1990s", he decreed: "This was the right policy for the United States in the early stages of the Internet, and the right message to send to the rest of the world. But that was then and this is now."

The documented power of the US government to monitor and surveil internet communications is already unfathomably massive. Recall that the Washington Post's 2010 "Top Secret America" series noted that: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." And the Obama administration has formally demanded that it have access to any and all forms of internet communication.

It is hard to overstate the danger to privacy and internet freedom from a massive expansion of the National Security State's efforts to exploit and control the internet. As Wired's Singel wrote back in 2010:

"Make no mistake, the military industrial complex now has its eye on the internet. Generals want to train crack squads of hackers and have wet dreams of cyberwarfare. Never shy of extending its power, the military industrial complex wants to turn the internet into yet another venue for an arms race.

Wildly exaggerated cyber-threats are the pretext for this control, the "mushroom cloud" and the Tonkin Gulf fiction of cyber-warfare. As Singel aptly put it: "the only war going on is one for the soul of the internet." That's the vital context for understanding this massive expansion of Pentagon and NSA consolidated control over cyber programs.

Bonanza for private contractors

As always, it is not just political power but also private-sector profit driving this expansion. As military contracts for conventional war-fighting are modestly reduced, something needs to replace it, and these large-scale "cyber-security" contracts are more than adequate. Virtually every cyber-security program from the government is carried out in conjunction with its "private-sector partners", who receive large transfers of public funds for this work.

Two weeks ago, Business Week reported that "Lockheed Martin Corp., AT&T Inc., and CenturyLink Inc. are the first companies to sign up for a US program giving them classified information on cyber threats that they can package as security services for sale to other companies." This is part of a government effort "to create a market based on classified US information about cyber threats." In May, it was announced that "the Pentagon is expanding and making permanent a trial program that teams the government with Internet service providers to protect defense firms' computer networks against data theft by foreign adversaries" - all as "part of a larger effort to broaden the sharing of classified and unclassified cyberthreat data between the government and industry."

Indeed, there is a large organization of defense and intelligence contractors devoted to one goal: expanding the private-public merger for national security and intelligence functions. This organization - the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) - was formerly headed by Adm. McConnell, and describes itself as a "collaboration by leaders from throughout the US Intelligence Community" and " combines the experience of senior leaders from government, the private sector, and academia."

As I detailed back in 2010, one of its primary goals is to scare the nation about supposed cyber-threats in order to justify massive new expenditures for the private-sector intelligence industry on cyber-security measures and vastly expanded control over the internet. Indeed, in his 2010 Op-Ed, Adm. McConnell expressly acknowledged that the growing privatization of internet cyber-security programs "will muddy the waters between the traditional roles of the government and the private sector." Indeed, at the very same time McConnell published this Op-Ed, the INSA website featured a report entitled "Addressing Cyber Security Through Public-Private Partnership." It featured a genuinely creepy graphic showing the inter-connectedness between government institutions (such as Congress and regulatory agencies), the Surveillance State, private intelligence corporations, and the Internet:

Private-sector profit is now inextricably linked with the fear-mongering campaign over cyber-threats. At one INSA conference in 2009 - entitled "Cyber Deterrence Conference" - government officials and intelligence industry executives gathered together to stress that "government and private sector actors should emphasize collaboration and partnership through the creation of a model that assigns specific roles and responsibilities."

As intelligence contractor expert Tim Shorrock told Democracy Now when McConnell - then at Booz Allen - was first nominated to be DNI:

Well, the NSA, the National Security Agency, is really sort of the lead agency in terms of outsourcing . . . . Booz Allen is one of about, you know, ten large corporations that play a very major role in American intelligence. Every time you hear about intelligence watching North Korea or tapping al-Qaeda phones, something like that, you can bet that corporations like these are very heavily involved. And Booz Allen is one of the largest of these contractors. I estimate that about 50% of our $45 billion intelligence budget goes to private sector contractors like Booz Allen.

This public-private merger for intelligence and surveillance functions not only vests these industries with large-scale profits at public expense, but also the accompanying power that was traditionally reserved for government. And unlike government agencies, which are at least subjected in theory to some minimal regulatory oversight, these private-sector actors have virtually none, even as their surveillance and intelligence functions rapidly increase.

What Dwight Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex has been feeding itself on fear campaigns since it was born. A never-ending carousel of Menacing Enemies - Communists, Terrorists, Saddam's chemical weapons, Iranian mullahs - has sustained it, and Cyber-Threats are but the latest.

Like all of these wildly exaggerated cartoon menaces, there is some degree of threat posed by cyber-attacks. But, as Single described, all of this can be managed with greater security systems for public and private computer networks - just as some modest security measures are sufficient to deal with the terrorist threat.

This new massive expansion has little to do with any actual cyber-threat - just as the invasion of Iraq and global assassination program have little to do with actual terrorist threats. It is instead all about strengthening the US's offensive cyber-war capabilities, consolidating control over the internet, and ensuring further transfers of massive public wealth to private industry continue unabated. In other words, it perfectly follows the template used by the public-private US National Security State over the last six decades to entrench and enrich itself based on pure pretext.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Pentagon’s New Massive Expansion of ‘Cyber-Security’ Unit is About Everything Except Defense

As the US government depicts the Defense Department as shrinking due to budgetary constraints, the Washington Post this morning announces "a major expansion of [the Pentagon's] cybersecurity force over the next several years, increasing its size more than fivefold."

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Among other forms of intelligence-gathering, the NSA secretly collects the phone records of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecom firms AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. (Photo: NSA/Getty Images)

Specifically, says the New York Times this morning, "the expansion would increase the Defense Department's Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900." The Post describes this expansion as "part of an effort to turn an organization that has focused largely on defensive measures into the equivalent of an Internet-era fighting force." This Cyber Command Unit operates under the command of Gen. Keith Alexander, who also happens to be the head of the National Security Agency, the highly secretive government network that spies on the communications of foreign nationals - and American citizens.

The Pentagon's rhetorical justification for this expansion is deeply misleading. Beyond that, these activities pose a wide array of serious threats to internet freedom, privacy, and international law that, as usual, will be conducted with full-scale secrecy and with little to no oversight and accountability. And, as usual, there is a small army of private-sector corporations who will benefit most from this expansion.

Disguising aggression as "defense"

Let's begin with the way this so-called "cyber-security" expansion has been marketed. It is part of a sustained campaign which, as usual, relies on blatant fear-mongering.

In March, 2010, the Washington Post published an amazing Op-Ed by Adm. Michael McConnell, Bush's former Director of National Intelligence and a past and current executive with Booz Allen, a firm representing numerous corporate contractors which profit enormously each time the government expands its "cyber-security" activities. McConnell's career over the last two decades - both at Booz, Allen and inside the government - has been devoted to accelerating the merger between the government and private sector in all intelligence, surveillance and national security matters (it was he who led the successful campaign to retroactively immunize the telecom giants for their participation in the illegal NSA domestic spying program). Privatizing government cyber-spying and cyber-warfare is his primary focus now.

McConnell's Op-Ed was as alarmist and hysterical as possible. Claiming that "the United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing", it warned that "chaos would result" from an enemy cyber-attack on US financial systems and that "our power grids, air and ground transportation, telecommunications, and water-filtration systems are in jeopardy as well." Based on these threats, McConnell advocated that "we" - meaning "the government and the private sector" - "need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace" and that "we need to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment - who did it, from where, why and what was the result - more manageable." As Wired's Ryan Singel wrote: "He's talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation."

The same week the Post published McConnell's extraordinary Op-Ed, the Obama White House issued its own fear-mongering decree on cyber-threats, depicting the US as a vulnerable victim to cyber-aggression. It began with this sentence: "President Obama has identified cybersecurity as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation, but one that we as a government or as a country are not adequately prepared to counter." It announced that "the Executive Branch was directed to work closely with all key players in US cybersecurity, including state and local governments and the private sector" and to "strengthen public/private partnerships", and specifically announced Obama's intent to "to implement the recommendations of the Cyberspace Policy Review built on the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) launched by President George W. Bush."

Since then, the fear-mongering rhetoric from government officials has relentlessly intensified, all devoted to scaring citizens into believing that the US is at serious risk of cataclysmic cyber-attacks from "aggressors". This all culminated when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, last October, warned of what he called a "cyber-Pearl Harbor. This "would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability." Identifying China, Iran, and terrorist groups, he outlined a parade of horribles scarier than anything since Condoleezza Rice's 2002 Iraqi "mushroom cloud":

"An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country."

As usual, though, reality is exactly the opposite. This new massive new expenditure of money is not primarily devoted to defending against cyber-aggressors. The US itself is the world's leading cyber-aggressor. A major purpose of this expansion is to strengthen the US's ability to destroy other nations with cyber-attacks. Indeed, even the Post report notes that a major component of this new expansion is to "conduct offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries".

It is the US - not Iran, Russia or "terror" groups - which already is the first nation (in partnership with Israel) to aggressively deploy a highly sophisticated and extremely dangerous cyber-attack. Last June, the New York Times' David Sanger reported what most of the world had already suspected: "From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America's first sustained use of cyberweapons." In fact, Obama "decided to accelerate the attacks . . . even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran's Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet." According to the Sanger's report, Obama himself understood the significance of the US decision to be the first to use serious and aggressive cyber-warfare:

"Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons - even under the most careful and limited circumstances - could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks."

The US isn't the vulnerable victim of cyber-attacks. It's the leading perpetrator of those attacks. As Columbia Professor and cyber expert Misha Glenny wrote in the NYT last June: Obama's cyber-attack on Iran "marked a significant and dangerous turning point in the gradual militarization of the Internet."

Indeed, exactly as Obama knew would happen, revelations that it was the US which became the first country to use cyber-warfare against a sovereign country - just as it was the first to use the atomic bomb and then drones - would make it impossible for it to claim with any credibility (except among its own media and foreign policy community) that it was in a defensive posture when it came to cyber-warfare. As Professor Glenny wrote: "by introducing such pernicious viruses as Stuxnet and Flame, America has severely undermined its moral and political credibility." That's why, as the Post reported yesterday, the DOJ is engaged in such a frantic and invasive effort to root out Sanger's source: because it reveals the obvious truth that the US is the leading aggressor in the world when it comes to cyber-weapons.

This significant expansion under the Orwellian rubric of "cyber-security" is thus a perfect microcosm of US military spending generally. It's all justified under by the claim that the US must defend itself from threats from Bad, Aggressive Actors, when the reality is the exact opposite: the new program is devoted to ensuring that the US remains the primary offensive threat to the rest of the world. It's the same way the US develops offensive biological weapons under the guise of developing defenses against such weapons (such as the 2001 anthrax that the US government itself says came from a US Army lab). It's how the US government generally convinces its citizens that it is a peaceful victim of aggression by others when the reality is that the US builds more weapons, sells more arms and bombs more countries than virtually the rest of the world combined.

Threats to privacy and internet freedom

Beyond the aggressive threat to other nations posed by the Pentagon's cyber-threat programs, there is the profound threat to privacy, internet freedom, and the ability to communicate freely for US citizens and foreign nationals alike. The US government has long viewed these "cyber-security" programs as a means of monitoring and controlling the internet and disseminating propaganda. The fact that this is all being done under the auspices of the NSA and the Pentagon means, by definition, that there will be no transparency and no meaningful oversight.

Back in 2003, the Rumsfeld Pentagon prepared a secret report entitled "Information Operations (IO) Roadmap", which laid the foundation for this new cyber-warfare expansion. The Pentagon's self-described objective was "transforming IO into a core military competency on par with air, ground, maritime and special operations". In other words, its key objective was to ensure military control over internet-based communications:

dod cyber

It further identified superiority in cyber-attack capabilities as a vital military goal in PSYOPs (Psychological Operations) and "information-centric fights":

dod cyber

And it set forth the urgency of dominating the "IO battlespace" not only during wartime but also in peacetime:

dod cyber

As a 2006 BBC report on this Pentagon document noted: "Perhaps the most startling aspect of the roadmap is its acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military's psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans." And while the report paid lip service to the need to create "boundaries" for these new IO military activities, "they don't seem to explain how." Regarding the report's plan to "provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum", the BBC noted: "Consider that for a moment. The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet."

Since then, there have been countless reports of the exploitation by the US national security state to destroy privacy and undermine internet freedom. In November, the LA Times described programs that "teach students how to spy in cyberspace, the latest frontier in espionage." They "also are taught to write computer viruses, hack digital networks, crack passwords, plant listening devices and mine data from broken cellphones and flash drives." The program, needless to say, "has funneled most of its graduates to the CIA and the Pentagon's National Security Agency, which conducts America's digital spying. Other graduates have taken positions with the FBI, NASA and the Department of Homeland Security."

In 2010, Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, gave a speech explicitly announcing that the US intends to abandon its policy of "leaving the Internet alone". Noting that this "has been the nation's Internet policy since the Internet was first commercialized in the mid-1990s", he decreed: "This was the right policy for the United States in the early stages of the Internet, and the right message to send to the rest of the world. But that was then and this is now."

The documented power of the US government to monitor and surveil internet communications is already unfathomably massive. Recall that the Washington Post's 2010 "Top Secret America" series noted that: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." And the Obama administration has formally demanded that it have access to any and all forms of internet communication.

It is hard to overstate the danger to privacy and internet freedom from a massive expansion of the National Security State's efforts to exploit and control the internet. As Wired's Singel wrote back in 2010:

"Make no mistake, the military industrial complex now has its eye on the internet. Generals want to train crack squads of hackers and have wet dreams of cyberwarfare. Never shy of extending its power, the military industrial complex wants to turn the internet into yet another venue for an arms race.

Wildly exaggerated cyber-threats are the pretext for this control, the "mushroom cloud" and the Tonkin Gulf fiction of cyber-warfare. As Singel aptly put it: "the only war going on is one for the soul of the internet." That's the vital context for understanding this massive expansion of Pentagon and NSA consolidated control over cyber programs.

Bonanza for private contractors

As always, it is not just political power but also private-sector profit driving this expansion. As military contracts for conventional war-fighting are modestly reduced, something needs to replace it, and these large-scale "cyber-security" contracts are more than adequate. Virtually every cyber-security program from the government is carried out in conjunction with its "private-sector partners", who receive large transfers of public funds for this work.

Two weeks ago, Business Week reported that "Lockheed Martin Corp., AT&T Inc., and CenturyLink Inc. are the first companies to sign up for a US program giving them classified information on cyber threats that they can package as security services for sale to other companies." This is part of a government effort "to create a market based on classified US information about cyber threats." In May, it was announced that "the Pentagon is expanding and making permanent a trial program that teams the government with Internet service providers to protect defense firms' computer networks against data theft by foreign adversaries" - all as "part of a larger effort to broaden the sharing of classified and unclassified cyberthreat data between the government and industry."

Indeed, there is a large organization of defense and intelligence contractors devoted to one goal: expanding the private-public merger for national security and intelligence functions. This organization - the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) - was formerly headed by Adm. McConnell, and describes itself as a "collaboration by leaders from throughout the US Intelligence Community" and " combines the experience of senior leaders from government, the private sector, and academia."

As I detailed back in 2010, one of its primary goals is to scare the nation about supposed cyber-threats in order to justify massive new expenditures for the private-sector intelligence industry on cyber-security measures and vastly expanded control over the internet. Indeed, in his 2010 Op-Ed, Adm. McConnell expressly acknowledged that the growing privatization of internet cyber-security programs "will muddy the waters between the traditional roles of the government and the private sector." Indeed, at the very same time McConnell published this Op-Ed, the INSA website featured a report entitled "Addressing Cyber Security Through Public-Private Partnership." It featured a genuinely creepy graphic showing the inter-connectedness between government institutions (such as Congress and regulatory agencies), the Surveillance State, private intelligence corporations, and the Internet:

Private-sector profit is now inextricably linked with the fear-mongering campaign over cyber-threats. At one INSA conference in 2009 - entitled "Cyber Deterrence Conference" - government officials and intelligence industry executives gathered together to stress that "government and private sector actors should emphasize collaboration and partnership through the creation of a model that assigns specific roles and responsibilities."

As intelligence contractor expert Tim Shorrock told Democracy Now when McConnell - then at Booz Allen - was first nominated to be DNI:

Well, the NSA, the National Security Agency, is really sort of the lead agency in terms of outsourcing . . . . Booz Allen is one of about, you know, ten large corporations that play a very major role in American intelligence. Every time you hear about intelligence watching North Korea or tapping al-Qaeda phones, something like that, you can bet that corporations like these are very heavily involved. And Booz Allen is one of the largest of these contractors. I estimate that about 50% of our $45 billion intelligence budget goes to private sector contractors like Booz Allen.

This public-private merger for intelligence and surveillance functions not only vests these industries with large-scale profits at public expense, but also the accompanying power that was traditionally reserved for government. And unlike government agencies, which are at least subjected in theory to some minimal regulatory oversight, these private-sector actors have virtually none, even as their surveillance and intelligence functions rapidly increase.

What Dwight Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex has been feeding itself on fear campaigns since it was born. A never-ending carousel of Menacing Enemies - Communists, Terrorists, Saddam's chemical weapons, Iranian mullahs - has sustained it, and Cyber-Threats are but the latest.

Like all of these wildly exaggerated cartoon menaces, there is some degree of threat posed by cyber-attacks. But, as Single described, all of this can be managed with greater security systems for public and private computer networks - just as some modest security measures are sufficient to deal with the terrorist threat.

This new massive expansion has little to do with any actual cyber-threat - just as the invasion of Iraq and global assassination program have little to do with actual terrorist threats. It is instead all about strengthening the US's offensive cyber-war capabilities, consolidating control over the internet, and ensuring further transfers of massive public wealth to private industry continue unabated. In other words, it perfectly follows the template used by the public-private US National Security State over the last six decades to entrench and enrich itself based on pure pretext.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

The Poison We Never Talk About in School

The most dangerous substance in the world is barely mentioned in the school curriculum. Coal.

According to the International Energy Agency, burning coal creates more greenhouse gases than any other source—including oil. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and arguably the world’s foremost climatologist, has called coal “the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.”

banksy_globalwarming_romanyWGAnd, as 350.org founder Bill McKibben pointed out recently in a remarkable article in Rolling Stone magazine, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” from a mathematical standpoint, it is demonstrably impossible to prevent the climate from spinning out of control with unimaginably horrible consequences, if we burn the fossil fuels that energy corporations are in the process of exploiting and selling. And the worst fossil fuel from a climate standpoint is coal—responsible for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a third more polluting in terms of carbon dioxide than oil, and twice as polluting as natural gas.

So when you think about Superstorm Sandy, melting ice caps, wildfires in Australia, drought in the Southwest, floods in Pakistan, climate refugees from Bangladesh, dying polar bears and species you’ve never heard of, increased rates of asthma, and farmland that can no longer be farmed—think coal.

Given coal’s enormous role in the most significant challenge facing humanity—the climate crisis—you’d imagine that coal would occupy a similarly central place in our textbooks. You’d be wrong.

No, what textbooks do instead is to leave students with the impression that coal is something we should regard as a 19th-century phenomenon. Take the widely used Modern World History, published by McDougal Littell, owned by giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The text devotes three sentences to coal mining in the 1840s, telling students: “The most dangerous conditions of all were to be found in coal mines.” And: “Many women and children were employed in the mining industry because they were the cheapest source of labor.” Three hundred pages later, a single brief mention of coal in one sentence on nonrenewable sources of energy underscores the book’s subtext: Coal was a problem in the 19th century, but today it’s no big deal.

In environmentally conscious Portland, where I live, the sole adopted high school U.S. history textbook, History Alive!, similarly dumps coal in a distant and polluted past. History Alive! manages simultaneously to ignore the contemporary role of coal as well as to adhere to the Great Man Makes History script: “[President Theodore] Roosevelt helped improve working conditions for coal miners. In 1902, he pressured coal mine owners and the striking United Mine Workers to submit to arbitration, a legal process in which a neutral outside party helps to resolve a dispute.” One would think that the union and activists like Mother Jones might earn some credit for organizing workers to challenge the rich and ruthless mine owners, but instead Teddy Roosevelt appears in this passage as the angel of progress. According to History Alive!, the union was as big an obstacle to improved working conditions as were the mine owners.

The silence about coal does not just enforce kids’ ignorance about the world, it fails to equip them to think critically about crucial issues in their lives.

The more significant point is that yet another textbook fails to alert students to “the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.” And in too many schools these days, the textbooks shape curriculum.

The silence about coal does not just enforce kids’ ignorance about the world, it fails to equip them to think critically about crucial issues in their lives. Here in the Northwest, for example, coal and rail corporations hope to transport tens of millions of tons of coal through the Columbia River Gorge every year. Single-commodity trains lugged by poison-spewing diesel engines and barges would turn the Gorge into a virtual coal chute, shipping 150 million tons of coal to Asia every year. Indeed, in only three years, between 2009 and 2011, coal exports from the United States to Asia, via British Columbia, tripled—to more than 21 million tons in 2011. NASA’s James Hansen calls coal trains “death trains.”

And electricity throughout much of the eastern United States still comes from burning coal mined through mountaintop removal in Appalachia—a process that scrapes away entire mountains to access the thin coal seams below. The coal companies’ exploitative worldview is reflected in the language they use to describe this attack on nature and communities; anything that is not coal is lumped into the this-is-garbage term: “overburden.” The trees, the boulders, the streams, the bushes and herbs, the critters that depend on the land: an annoyance, a burden, to be blasted away and dumped into the valleys. To say nothing of the land’s beauty and the memories that once adhered to those mountains.

What’s needed is a curriculum not chained to tests and textbooks—a curriculum that fires students to life by addressing the most pressing issues facing humanity—like our sources of energy and climate change—all the while teaching students to question, to imagine, to read critically, to explore the interconnections between math and science and music and social studies, to speak their minds, to make a difference.

The good news is that the challenge to the curriculum’s pro-coal bias is gaining momentum. Last year, a coalition of education and environmental groups, spearheaded by Rethinking Schools and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, exposed the cozy relationship between the coal industry and Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of materials for children. After publication of an exposé of Scholastic’s propagandistic “The United States of Energy” in Rethinking Schools magazine, a campaign to pressure Scholastic to break its ties with the coal industry led to a New York Times editorial, “Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake,” and then quickly to Scholastic pulling the curriculum off its website and promising not to shill for the coal industry any longer.

No thanks to the giant curriculum corporations, teachers around the country are beginning to piece together school events and lessons that deal honestly with the climate crisis, and the role of coal in filling the atmosphere with unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide. As I write, teachers at the public Sunnyside Environmental School, in Portland, Ore., serving students from kindergarten to 8th grade, are holding a weeklong energy teach-in and bringing in experts and educators from around the region to help students think through the consequences of the world’s energy choices. Every student in the upper grades is participating in a role play on the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, watching the poignant mountaintop removal film The Last Mountain, and engaging in a “mixer” activity in which they take on the personas of individuals—from Northern Cheyenne activists in Montana to longshore workers in Columbia River ports to riverkeepers in China to ranchers in parched southeast Australia—affected by the current proposals to export coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia. This is not a woe-is-me curriculum of despair. The teach-in concludes with groups of students working on making-a-difference action plans; students are invited to celebrate hope and to imagine themselves as changemakers.

Slowly but surely it seems that teachers are finding the confidence they will need to defy a corporate-dominated curriculum that is bulked up with facts and dates and accomplishments of famous people—but is silent about almost everything that matters.

Those corporate textbooks have made coal seem so old-fashioned, so last-century. Coal is an antique, a relic, and besides, it’s dirty, it’s ugly, it’s far away. But as more and more teachers begin to challenge the corporate curriculum, they will also come to recognize coal’s starring role as the worst planetary poison. The sooner the better.

© 2013 Zinn Education Project

Bill Bigelow

Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.

The Poison We Never Talk About in School

The most dangerous substance in the world is barely mentioned in the school curriculum. Coal.

According to the International Energy Agency, burning coal creates more greenhouse gases than any other source—including oil. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and arguably the world’s foremost climatologist, has called coal “the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.”

banksy_globalwarming_romanyWGAnd, as 350.org founder Bill McKibben pointed out recently in a remarkable article in Rolling Stone magazine, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” from a mathematical standpoint, it is demonstrably impossible to prevent the climate from spinning out of control with unimaginably horrible consequences, if we burn the fossil fuels that energy corporations are in the process of exploiting and selling. And the worst fossil fuel from a climate standpoint is coal—responsible for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a third more polluting in terms of carbon dioxide than oil, and twice as polluting as natural gas.

So when you think about Superstorm Sandy, melting ice caps, wildfires in Australia, drought in the Southwest, floods in Pakistan, climate refugees from Bangladesh, dying polar bears and species you’ve never heard of, increased rates of asthma, and farmland that can no longer be farmed—think coal.

Given coal’s enormous role in the most significant challenge facing humanity—the climate crisis—you’d imagine that coal would occupy a similarly central place in our textbooks. You’d be wrong.

No, what textbooks do instead is to leave students with the impression that coal is something we should regard as a 19th-century phenomenon. Take the widely used Modern World History, published by McDougal Littell, owned by giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The text devotes three sentences to coal mining in the 1840s, telling students: “The most dangerous conditions of all were to be found in coal mines.” And: “Many women and children were employed in the mining industry because they were the cheapest source of labor.” Three hundred pages later, a single brief mention of coal in one sentence on nonrenewable sources of energy underscores the book’s subtext: Coal was a problem in the 19th century, but today it’s no big deal.

In environmentally conscious Portland, where I live, the sole adopted high school U.S. history textbook, History Alive!, similarly dumps coal in a distant and polluted past. History Alive! manages simultaneously to ignore the contemporary role of coal as well as to adhere to the Great Man Makes History script: “[President Theodore] Roosevelt helped improve working conditions for coal miners. In 1902, he pressured coal mine owners and the striking United Mine Workers to submit to arbitration, a legal process in which a neutral outside party helps to resolve a dispute.” One would think that the union and activists like Mother Jones might earn some credit for organizing workers to challenge the rich and ruthless mine owners, but instead Teddy Roosevelt appears in this passage as the angel of progress. According to History Alive!, the union was as big an obstacle to improved working conditions as were the mine owners.

The silence about coal does not just enforce kids’ ignorance about the world, it fails to equip them to think critically about crucial issues in their lives.

The more significant point is that yet another textbook fails to alert students to “the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.” And in too many schools these days, the textbooks shape curriculum.

The silence about coal does not just enforce kids’ ignorance about the world, it fails to equip them to think critically about crucial issues in their lives. Here in the Northwest, for example, coal and rail corporations hope to transport tens of millions of tons of coal through the Columbia River Gorge every year. Single-commodity trains lugged by poison-spewing diesel engines and barges would turn the Gorge into a virtual coal chute, shipping 150 million tons of coal to Asia every year. Indeed, in only three years, between 2009 and 2011, coal exports from the United States to Asia, via British Columbia, tripled—to more than 21 million tons in 2011. NASA’s James Hansen calls coal trains “death trains.”

And electricity throughout much of the eastern United States still comes from burning coal mined through mountaintop removal in Appalachia—a process that scrapes away entire mountains to access the thin coal seams below. The coal companies’ exploitative worldview is reflected in the language they use to describe this attack on nature and communities; anything that is not coal is lumped into the this-is-garbage term: “overburden.” The trees, the boulders, the streams, the bushes and herbs, the critters that depend on the land: an annoyance, a burden, to be blasted away and dumped into the valleys. To say nothing of the land’s beauty and the memories that once adhered to those mountains.

What’s needed is a curriculum not chained to tests and textbooks—a curriculum that fires students to life by addressing the most pressing issues facing humanity—like our sources of energy and climate change—all the while teaching students to question, to imagine, to read critically, to explore the interconnections between math and science and music and social studies, to speak their minds, to make a difference.

The good news is that the challenge to the curriculum’s pro-coal bias is gaining momentum. Last year, a coalition of education and environmental groups, spearheaded by Rethinking Schools and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, exposed the cozy relationship between the coal industry and Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of materials for children. After publication of an exposé of Scholastic’s propagandistic “The United States of Energy” in Rethinking Schools magazine, a campaign to pressure Scholastic to break its ties with the coal industry led to a New York Times editorial, “Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake,” and then quickly to Scholastic pulling the curriculum off its website and promising not to shill for the coal industry any longer.

No thanks to the giant curriculum corporations, teachers around the country are beginning to piece together school events and lessons that deal honestly with the climate crisis, and the role of coal in filling the atmosphere with unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide. As I write, teachers at the public Sunnyside Environmental School, in Portland, Ore., serving students from kindergarten to 8th grade, are holding a weeklong energy teach-in and bringing in experts and educators from around the region to help students think through the consequences of the world’s energy choices. Every student in the upper grades is participating in a role play on the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, watching the poignant mountaintop removal film The Last Mountain, and engaging in a “mixer” activity in which they take on the personas of individuals—from Northern Cheyenne activists in Montana to longshore workers in Columbia River ports to riverkeepers in China to ranchers in parched southeast Australia—affected by the current proposals to export coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia. This is not a woe-is-me curriculum of despair. The teach-in concludes with groups of students working on making-a-difference action plans; students are invited to celebrate hope and to imagine themselves as changemakers.

Slowly but surely it seems that teachers are finding the confidence they will need to defy a corporate-dominated curriculum that is bulked up with facts and dates and accomplishments of famous people—but is silent about almost everything that matters.

Those corporate textbooks have made coal seem so old-fashioned, so last-century. Coal is an antique, a relic, and besides, it’s dirty, it’s ugly, it’s far away. But as more and more teachers begin to challenge the corporate curriculum, they will also come to recognize coal’s starring role as the worst planetary poison. The sooner the better.

© 2013 Zinn Education Project

Bill Bigelow

Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.

Obama’s Record Belies Inaugural Words

A friend asked me what I was thinking while listening to President Obama’s inaugural address. Here were my reactions:

Obama: “They [the Patriots of 1776] gave to us a republic, a government of and by and for the people.”
The flood of money-shaping elections and politics has given us a corporate government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, for the DuPonts.

Obama: “Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
In his first term Obama was indifferent to the more than 300,000 preventable fatalities a year in this country from hospital infections and malpractice, adverse drug effects, and occupational disease/trauma, in addition to coming perils of viral epidemics from abroad.

Obama: “…our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
He reneged and kept silent on his repeated 2008 campaign promise to push for a $9.50 minimum wage by 2011 and for a card-check system to facilitate the growth of unions. In his first term he discouraged Democrats from championing these measures in Congress even though thirty million workers are making wages less than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation (see timeforaraise.org). He also opposed a Wall Street financial transaction tax and declined to reduce gigantic corporate welfare programs (that conservatives call “crony capitalism”) that beg for repeal.

Obama: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Obama and the emissaries he sends to international climate change conferences have brought up the rear among nations, infuriating our allies who looked to the U.S.A. for leadership. He never pressed for a carbon tax that even Exxon and leading conservatives, such as Gregory Mankiw, support (Mankiw was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush). I also believe that Obama will approve the Keystone XL Pipeline that will carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil through the U.S. every day. A decision that Jim Hansen of NASA said would be catastrophic.

Obama: “[E]nduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war….We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and the rule of law.”
Hello! This coming from the ex-Constitutional law teacher who has turned his imperial presidency into an institutionalized violator of the Constitution, federal statutes and international treaties. He has personally ordered many unlawful military incursions and slayings in countries that are not at war with the U.S. against people who do not constitute “imminent threats.” (See the new documentary Dirty Wars.)

The week of his inauguration President Obama sent drones to destroy “suspects” and whoever may be with or near them, including children, without the rule of law being observed. He is the law – the secret prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner for such attacks that have taken many civilian lives and produced increased hatred toward the U.S. from Pakistan to Yemen. The alleged “secret law” in Justice Department memos that he relies on is designed to strip the Congress and the courts of their Constitutional roles, as well as to keep the American people in the dark about drone attack decisions he makes on what his aides called “Terror Tuesdays.”

Obama: “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East….”
What about attending to our deteriorating democratic protections and civil liberties in our country? Washington, D.C. is corporate occupied territory in all three branches of government. Never in the past half century have the people and concern for their necessities been more shut out of their government. It continues to be “pay to play” time in the nation’s capital.

Obama: “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time…”
Well, then how about working to shift more power away from the few and toward the many? How about campaign finance reform and federal ballot access reform so voters can have more choices from third parties whose candidates, by the way, he should have been gracious enough to invite to his January 21, 2013 gala.

Granted, inaugural addresses are meant to be general and inspirational, not programmatic and revelatory. In a few days, Mr. Obama will have a chance to present his program in his more lengthy State of the Union address before the Congress. But inaugurations set tones as did the dominant militaristic displays and the managed adulation of the “imperial presidency.”

Tom Sherwood, a local commentator, watching the Inaugural parades up Pennsylvania Avenue from the sixth-floor balcony of the Newseum decried “the extraordinary expense – financial and psychological – of turning America’s Main Street into an armed camp where democracy is suspended for several days…. Protest groups are ‘assigned’ demonstration areas, and required to pay fees and adhere to strict assembly instructions…. This being the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it makes you wonder what success would have been achieved if civil rights workers had acceded to police demands not to march here or there, or to pay to get detailed permits first.”

Sherwood adds: “but why not a parade that showcases the social services, arts and industries, and sciences along with our military services.” He then gives examples for his refreshing proposal. (You can follow him on Twitter @tomsherwood.)

Writing in The New York Times, David Brooks had qualms in an otherwise laudatory column on Obama’s speech, concluding that “we have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.”

Good point, Mr. Brooks, but not true for some third parties and their candidates who were the Obama parade’s uninvited ones.

Ralph Nader

Obama’s Record Belies Inaugural Words

A friend asked me what I was thinking while listening to President Obama’s inaugural address. Here were my reactions:

Obama: “They [the Patriots of 1776] gave to us a republic, a government of and by and for the people.”
The flood of money-shaping elections and politics has given us a corporate government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, for the DuPonts.

Obama: “Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
In his first term Obama was indifferent to the more than 300,000 preventable fatalities a year in this country from hospital infections and malpractice, adverse drug effects, and occupational disease/trauma, in addition to coming perils of viral epidemics from abroad.

Obama: “…our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
He reneged and kept silent on his repeated 2008 campaign promise to push for a $9.50 minimum wage by 2011 and for a card-check system to facilitate the growth of unions. In his first term he discouraged Democrats from championing these measures in Congress even though thirty million workers are making wages less than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation (see timeforaraise.org). He also opposed a Wall Street financial transaction tax and declined to reduce gigantic corporate welfare programs (that conservatives call “crony capitalism”) that beg for repeal.

Obama: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Obama and the emissaries he sends to international climate change conferences have brought up the rear among nations, infuriating our allies who looked to the U.S.A. for leadership. He never pressed for a carbon tax that even Exxon and leading conservatives, such as Gregory Mankiw, support (Mankiw was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush). I also believe that Obama will approve the Keystone XL Pipeline that will carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil through the U.S. every day. A decision that Jim Hansen of NASA said would be catastrophic.

Obama: “[E]nduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war….We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and the rule of law.”
Hello! This coming from the ex-Constitutional law teacher who has turned his imperial presidency into an institutionalized violator of the Constitution, federal statutes and international treaties. He has personally ordered many unlawful military incursions and slayings in countries that are not at war with the U.S. against people who do not constitute “imminent threats.” (See the new documentary Dirty Wars.)

The week of his inauguration President Obama sent drones to destroy “suspects” and whoever may be with or near them, including children, without the rule of law being observed. He is the law – the secret prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner for such attacks that have taken many civilian lives and produced increased hatred toward the U.S. from Pakistan to Yemen. The alleged “secret law” in Justice Department memos that he relies on is designed to strip the Congress and the courts of their Constitutional roles, as well as to keep the American people in the dark about drone attack decisions he makes on what his aides called “Terror Tuesdays.”

Obama: “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East….”
What about attending to our deteriorating democratic protections and civil liberties in our country? Washington, D.C. is corporate occupied territory in all three branches of government. Never in the past half century have the people and concern for their necessities been more shut out of their government. It continues to be “pay to play” time in the nation’s capital.

Obama: “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time…”
Well, then how about working to shift more power away from the few and toward the many? How about campaign finance reform and federal ballot access reform so voters can have more choices from third parties whose candidates, by the way, he should have been gracious enough to invite to his January 21, 2013 gala.

Granted, inaugural addresses are meant to be general and inspirational, not programmatic and revelatory. In a few days, Mr. Obama will have a chance to present his program in his more lengthy State of the Union address before the Congress. But inaugurations set tones as did the dominant militaristic displays and the managed adulation of the “imperial presidency.”

Tom Sherwood, a local commentator, watching the Inaugural parades up Pennsylvania Avenue from the sixth-floor balcony of the Newseum decried “the extraordinary expense – financial and psychological – of turning America’s Main Street into an armed camp where democracy is suspended for several days…. Protest groups are ‘assigned’ demonstration areas, and required to pay fees and adhere to strict assembly instructions…. This being the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it makes you wonder what success would have been achieved if civil rights workers had acceded to police demands not to march here or there, or to pay to get detailed permits first.”

Sherwood adds: “but why not a parade that showcases the social services, arts and industries, and sciences along with our military services.” He then gives examples for his refreshing proposal. (You can follow him on Twitter @tomsherwood.)

Writing in The New York Times, David Brooks had qualms in an otherwise laudatory column on Obama’s speech, concluding that “we have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.”

Good point, Mr. Brooks, but not true for some third parties and their candidates who were the Obama parade’s uninvited ones.

Ralph Nader

Astounding Reason North Dakota Is Lit Up So Brightly You Can See it From...

Photo Credit: James William Gibson

This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

I’ve been told by people living near fracking operations that the lights coming from the rigs are so bright they have trouble sleeping at night. They aren’t exaggerating. A photo from the NASA Earth Observatory shows a view of the U.S at night — the brightest spots that glow on the map come from big cities. The Plains states and the West are the darkest, with small spots of light scatter between darkness. 

Except, oddly enough, there’s a big glow out in North Dakota — a state with no cities sizable enough to create that much light. Robert Krulwich writes for NPR:

It turns out, yes, that's not a city. And those lights weren't there six years ago.

What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire ... to a disturbing degree. Literally. 

You can read the rest Krulwich’s blog post and see the photos here.

A story by James William Gibson in Earth Island Journal details how some Native American communities aren’t pleased with the no new boom. He writes, that: 

... little oil money reaches most of the reservation. According to activists Walter and Lisa Deville and Theodora Bird Bear, lifelong residents of the reservation town of Mandaree, none of the oil money collected by either the tribe or the state of North Dakota comes back to their town. Mandaree is mostly poor: two-thirds of the population lives three families to a house. Earlier this year, the Devilles and Bird Bear did a survey of Mandaree residents to gauge their views on the oil boom. Of those they questioned, 84 percent said they do not receive adequate information on environmental impacts to air, water quality and land; 92 percent said they fear drilling-related spills.

Oil production is starting to displace the tribal culture based around agriculture and grazing livestock. 

In another story Gibson writes about another impact of fracking in North Dakota — crime: 

Most of the roughnecks and roustabouts who have to the prairies of North Dakota are, no doubt, honest fellows who are just looking to make an honest dollar. But there are also some tougher characters in the lot. Crime statistics from Williston, ND — a town of about 16,000 that is at the center of the fracking boom — illustrate the problem. Between 2008 and 2009, the town experienced a sharp increase in reported crimes. The Williston Police Department says that calls to 911 skyrocketed in 2011. Also last year, a pharmacy in town was robbed of $16,000 in narcotics. And in early 2012 people in the region where horrified by two oilworkers’ kidnapping and murder of a woman in nearby Montana, about 45 miles from Williston.

Between 2010 and 2011, there was a 16.1 percent increase in violent crime and a 10.3 percent increase in property crime statewide. The increase in crime has been driven, in part, by higher crime rates in the state’s western counties where the shale oil fracking is occurring. 

Obama Inaugurates Renewed Energy on Climate Change

Hurricane Sandy as seen from space. (Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.)President Barack Obama included a call to action on climate change in his inaugural speech on 21 January, surprising those who believed gun violence and immigration reform would take top billing. It's not the first time he's talked about the issue, by any means, but few thought he would return to it with such emphasis now.

President Obama should call on us to be the next “greatest generation.”

During his 2008 campaign, he spoke of working for the moment when the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and our planet would begin to heal. During the 2012 election campaign, he was mocked for that statement.

But no one was laughing this fall when waves swept over lower Manhattan and towns up and down the eastern seaboard; nor this summer when much of the US midwest suffered from drought and brave firefighters battled unprecedented fires across the west. Obama spoke in Monday's inaugural address of our responsibility to "preserve our planet", recognizing that "the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations".

So can we expect the president to take the sort of leadership on the climate that many have hoped for since his 2008 campaign? In particular, will he stand up to the pressure of the fossil fuel lobby?

Here are the top things he can do to turn those intentions into the actions that would be up to the scale of the problem. Many of them can happen without the consent of congressional Republicans.

First, President Obama proposed a national conversation on climate during his first post-2012 election press conference. He should launch that conversation with clear statements about the urgency of the climate science, an explanation of what is at stake, and a call to all Americans to be part of the change.

It's important that he not dumb this down. We need to know what it means to have experienced record-breaking temperatures, floods, droughts, wild fires, melting ice caps, and extreme storms. When given a full account of a threat, the American people have risen to big challenges in the past. We did it during the second world war when millions enlisted in the military, grew "victory gardens", recycled, and went to work in factories to aid the war effort. He should call on us to be the next "greatest generation."

The billions of dollars raised by such a tax could help pay down the deficit, pay for investments in the clean energy economy, or be rebated directly to every American.

Second, he should drop the "all of the above" approach to energy development. As Bill McKibben of 350.org shows, 80 percent of the fossil fuel now in the ground must stay there if we are to stabilize an increasingly chaotic climate. That means instead of giving subsidies, tax breaks, and a regulatory pass to fossil fuel companies, these advantages should instead be given to businesses developing renewables and energy efficiency.

Third, he should propose a straightforward tax on carbon. This approach actually has the support of such Republicans as George Shultz, as well as former top aides to Mitt Romney and John McCain. Even ExxonMobile says it could support such a tax. A carbon tax would send the right market signal, nudging our economy toward one that is safe for the planet. The billions of dollars raised by such a tax could help pay down the deficit, pay for investments in the clean energy economy, or be rebated directly to every American.

Finally, Obama should use the regulatory authority he already has. He should put a permanent stop to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport some of the most carbon-intensive, polluting oil on the planet across the American heartland. He should instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to move ahead aggressively with regulation of existing power plants, which account for 40 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Stepping up to the climate challenge need not compete with the other goals he outlined in his inauguration speech. Building a clean energy economy will produce good jobs that lift more people into the middle class and build a sustainable and widely shared prosperity. Reducing fossil fuel pollutants will improve our health and reduce healthcare costs.

Less reliance on fossil fuels will bolster our security. And we could avoid spending untold sums cleaning up after massive storms and adapting to droughts and rising sea levels.

Obama's speech shows he has the potential to be not just an historic president but a transformational one. Hopes have been raised and dashed before, though. If there was ever a moment for Barack Obama to take a stand and establish a legacy, this is it.

Eighty percent of Americans agree that inaction on climate change would have serious consequences. The fact that he need not run for re-election frees him from the need to placate the oil and coal lobby. And scientists agree we have only a few years to change directions if we are to avert a climate catastrophe that would dash the hopes of generations to come.

This project is far too big for any one person, even the president of the United States. Our best hope is an inside-outside strategy – one in which the Obama administration reaches out to those who are already on the front lines battling the climate crisis, as well as those who are just now coming to recognize the threat we face. And those on the outside must reciprocate.

Obama says we can lead the way together. People across the country and the globe have been doing so. Now is the time for the president to join them and take the bold actions that will serve generations to come.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. She is also editor of the new book: "This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement."

Obama Inaugurates Renewed Energy on Climate Change

Hurricane Sandy as seen from space. (Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.)President Barack Obama included a call to action on climate change in his inaugural speech on 21 January, surprising those who believed gun violence and immigration reform would take top billing. It's not the first time he's talked about the issue, by any means, but few thought he would return to it with such emphasis now.

President Obama should call on us to be the next “greatest generation.”

During his 2008 campaign, he spoke of working for the moment when the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and our planet would begin to heal. During the 2012 election campaign, he was mocked for that statement.

But no one was laughing this fall when waves swept over lower Manhattan and towns up and down the eastern seaboard; nor this summer when much of the US midwest suffered from drought and brave firefighters battled unprecedented fires across the west. Obama spoke in Monday's inaugural address of our responsibility to "preserve our planet", recognizing that "the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations".

So can we expect the president to take the sort of leadership on the climate that many have hoped for since his 2008 campaign? In particular, will he stand up to the pressure of the fossil fuel lobby?

Here are the top things he can do to turn those intentions into the actions that would be up to the scale of the problem. Many of them can happen without the consent of congressional Republicans.

First, President Obama proposed a national conversation on climate during his first post-2012 election press conference. He should launch that conversation with clear statements about the urgency of the climate science, an explanation of what is at stake, and a call to all Americans to be part of the change.

It's important that he not dumb this down. We need to know what it means to have experienced record-breaking temperatures, floods, droughts, wild fires, melting ice caps, and extreme storms. When given a full account of a threat, the American people have risen to big challenges in the past. We did it during the second world war when millions enlisted in the military, grew "victory gardens", recycled, and went to work in factories to aid the war effort. He should call on us to be the next "greatest generation."

The billions of dollars raised by such a tax could help pay down the deficit, pay for investments in the clean energy economy, or be rebated directly to every American.

Second, he should drop the "all of the above" approach to energy development. As Bill McKibben of 350.org shows, 80 percent of the fossil fuel now in the ground must stay there if we are to stabilize an increasingly chaotic climate. That means instead of giving subsidies, tax breaks, and a regulatory pass to fossil fuel companies, these advantages should instead be given to businesses developing renewables and energy efficiency.

Third, he should propose a straightforward tax on carbon. This approach actually has the support of such Republicans as George Shultz, as well as former top aides to Mitt Romney and John McCain. Even ExxonMobile says it could support such a tax. A carbon tax would send the right market signal, nudging our economy toward one that is safe for the planet. The billions of dollars raised by such a tax could help pay down the deficit, pay for investments in the clean energy economy, or be rebated directly to every American.

Finally, Obama should use the regulatory authority he already has. He should put a permanent stop to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport some of the most carbon-intensive, polluting oil on the planet across the American heartland. He should instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to move ahead aggressively with regulation of existing power plants, which account for 40 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Stepping up to the climate challenge need not compete with the other goals he outlined in his inauguration speech. Building a clean energy economy will produce good jobs that lift more people into the middle class and build a sustainable and widely shared prosperity. Reducing fossil fuel pollutants will improve our health and reduce healthcare costs.

Less reliance on fossil fuels will bolster our security. And we could avoid spending untold sums cleaning up after massive storms and adapting to droughts and rising sea levels.

Obama's speech shows he has the potential to be not just an historic president but a transformational one. Hopes have been raised and dashed before, though. If there was ever a moment for Barack Obama to take a stand and establish a legacy, this is it.

Eighty percent of Americans agree that inaction on climate change would have serious consequences. The fact that he need not run for re-election frees him from the need to placate the oil and coal lobby. And scientists agree we have only a few years to change directions if we are to avert a climate catastrophe that would dash the hopes of generations to come.

This project is far too big for any one person, even the president of the United States. Our best hope is an inside-outside strategy – one in which the Obama administration reaches out to those who are already on the front lines battling the climate crisis, as well as those who are just now coming to recognize the threat we face. And those on the outside must reciprocate.

Obama says we can lead the way together. People across the country and the globe have been doing so. Now is the time for the president to join them and take the bold actions that will serve generations to come.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. She is also editor of the new book: "This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement."

Energy Corporations Must Change, Die, or (at the Very Least) Get Out of the...

“The truth is that we have a planetary emergency.” – NASA climatologist James Hansen (October 2012)

North Carolina has a unique opportunity and duty to help avert runaway climate change and repair our wounded democracy.

Most Americans realize global warming is serious but aren’t clear about the urgency. Hansen and others say if global emissions continue rising for even a few more years, carbon and warming already “in the pipeline” will push this crisis past a point of no return, toward a hellish reality for us all.

We don’t have to entirely solve the emergency by 2015, but we must begin to dramatically reduce emissions. Because the world’s second-largest electricity generator, Duke Energy, is headquartered here, North Carolina can make a huge difference – one that also makes economic sense.

For several years, NC WARN and allies have been urging Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers to use his clout to become a climate game-changer. We want Duke to join the clean energy revolution by phasing out fossil-fueled electricity while ramping up energy-saving programs, solar and wind – proven technologies that are abundant and cheaper than nuclear power.

Because of Duke’s size, the mere announcement of such a shift could impact energy markets, attitudes and regulations worldwide and become a positive tipping point toward climate stabilization.

This isn’t pie in the sky.

Duke has invested $2.5 billion in solar and wind out West. In the monopoly-captive Southeast, however, Duke is actually suppressing renewables while holding out hopes of building $20 billion nuclear plants – by forcing customers to pay for them years in advance.

But potholes are filling that road. The corporations building two new U.S. nuclear plants are already countersuing each other over massive cost overruns and delays; both projects could collapse before foundations are poured.

Also, Duke has South Carolina pump-hydro facilities that store energy equal to two nuclear plants, energy that’s readily dispatched to smooth the variability of widespread solar and wind generation.

Duke claims natural gas-fired plants emit less carbon. But Cornell researchers found that methane leakage during the fracking process makes global warming worse – plus, it pollutes our water.

Duke’s plans to build giant, unneeded plants would double our power bills through a long series of rate hikes. This would further reduce demand and increase criticism as ratepayers watch other states develop clean-energy solutions that are cheaper, cleaner and better job-creators.

Rogers is clearly torn between Duke employees and customers wanting to advance clean energy and an old guard whose careers were built on coal and nuclear power.

Duke is hampering the transition by using ratepayer money to buy pervasive financial influence over our governmental and civic leaders. Such undemocratic influence is a factor in NC WARN’s lawsuit against the N.C. Utilities Commission over the Duke-Progress merger.

During the merger proceedings, Duke withheld information regarding five different billion-dollar boondoggles that will drive rates even higher.

Not only did regulators not require Duke to explain those problems once we exposed them, they cut a closed-door settlement that resumed Duke’s march toward serial rate hikes for families and businesses.

We’re urging the N.C. Court of Appeals to revoke or modify the merger because Duke’s management and stockholders – not its customers – should bear the costs of its corporate mistakes and secret deal-making.

Another obstacle is the sweeping societal denial about climate change. I’m not talking about the “climate deniers,” but the public majority who realize chaotic weather is already devastating millions of people – and wildlife – and hammering our economy, but can’t bear to talk about it.

Climate change is terrifying. Ferocious storms, repeated droughts and bizarre temperature patterns are rapidly changing North Carolina. Arctic sea ice – Earth’s air conditioner – has lost 75 percent of its summer volume since 1980, driving up sea levels and storm surges that are swallowing our beautiful beaches.

Yes, it’s hard to know how to help, beyond reducing energy usage and hoping our dysfunctional government will somehow solve this crisis. We’re eager to work with Duke to help avert cascading collapses of climate and social systems.

Meanwhile, we’ll vigorously work to weaken Duke’s monopoly control over society’s most vital decisions and to change its business plan that is so disastrous for our climate, our economy and our democracy.

Whether Duke leads or impedes, the climate challenge requires much greater civic engagement – promoting solutions, cleaning up politics and demanding that leaders serve the public.

North Carolina can be a climate game-changer. Now’s the time.

© 2012 News & Observer

Jim Warren

Jim Warren is executive director of NC WARN, a Durham-based nonprofit working for a clean-energy revolution.


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/12/2600096/how-duke-energy-can-change-the.html#storylink=cpy

US Military suicides continue to climb, reaching record in 2012

The US Military’s suicide rate grew a startling 15 percent in 2012. The Pentagon, which has put great effort into lowering military suicide rates, has acknowledged that battle casualties are no longer the primary reason for soldiers’ deaths.

­Modern US warfare is Internet-centric and relies heavily on drones and robots, which has helped bring combat losses to historic lows; suicide now accounts for more deaths of US soldiers than battlefield conflict.

The official website of the US Department of Defense has published preliminary reports of at least 177 potential active-duty suicides and 126 potential non-active-duty suicides in 2012. The report reveals a marked surge in suicides since 2011, when 165 confirmed active-duty and 118 non-active-duty suicides were registered.

In all, 349 servicemembers in all branches of the US Military committed suicide in 2012, up 15 percent from 301 suicides in the military in 2011, AP reported, citing a Pentagon source. The number of US Military suicides in 2012 exceeded the total combat fatalities in Afghanistan in 2012, which the AP calculated at 295 deaths.

Reports on US military suicides have revealed that the US Army, the largest body within the US military (around 562,000 personnel), has the highest number and rate of military suicides: Over 32 per 100,000 troops.

The US Marines Corps (over 202,000 personnel) was second with nearly 24 suicides per 100,000 troops. The US Navy (around 323,000 personnel) and US Air Force (around 330,000 personnel) have practically identical suicide rates of 18 per 100,000 troops.

­US military suicide rate 2012

US Army – 182 suicides
US Marines Corps – 48 suicides
US Navy – 60 suicides
US Air Force – 59 suicides

The average suicide rate in the US military – 24 suicides per 100,000 soldiers – is lower than the civilian suicide rate for men aged 17 to 60 – 25 suicides per 100,000 in 2010.

The latest US military suicide statistics for 2011 suggest that a suicidal soldier is usually an unmarried white man under the age of 25, recently enlisted and with less than a college education. Around 60 percent of military suicides are committed with firearms, though in most cases the guns are personally owned, not military-issued.

The Pentagon has instated several measures in a bid to curb the rising number of suicides. For example, soldiers and their family members can receive professional psychological help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where “trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

The US Army sponsors research into medications to prevent suicides, such as a nasal spray that eliminates suicidal thoughts. But despite these breakthroughs, the problem has continued to grow.

David Rudd, a military suicide researcher and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, told AP that he is not optimistic about further anti-suicide developments. “Actually, we may continue to see increases,” Rudd explained, adding that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans commit suicides because of PTSD, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, while those not deployed take their lives because of problems with relationships, finances or the law.

The suicide rate among veterans vastly exceeds that of active-duty troops. According to estimates last year by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a US military veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes – totaling 18 veterans a day.

In 2010, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America nonprofit reported that veterans account for 20 percent of the 30,000 annual US suicides, though only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military.

“Despite the increased efforts, the increased attention, the trends continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged at a joint suicide prevention conference between the Pentagon and Department of Veterans’ Affairs in June 2012.

Impact of Growth Undeniable in Face of Toxic Beijing Smog

(Photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty)Dense, grey smog shrouded Beijing on Saturday prompting criticism and a rare government alert, as state media raises questions over the country's lack of information transparency and the rapid growth of industrialization.

As the Chinese capital recorded its worst pollution reading since the air quality monitor on was installed in the US embassy in 2008, the government advised citizens to stay indoors and ordered government fleets to hault driving. The acrid smog cut visibility to 100 meters forcing flight cancellations while ceasing work at many factories and building sites.

Public anger in response to the dangerous levels of pollution spread Monday as state media joined internet users in questioning government transparency, as urbanization and economic development have taken precedent over environmental concerns.

"In the middle of a rapid urbanization process, it is urgent for China to think about how such a process can press forward without compromising the quality of urban life with an increasingly worse living environment," wrote one editorial in China Daily.

According to Al Jazeera, officials in China have a history of "covering up environmental and other problems by not releasing information."

However, the undeniable extent of the growing problem of air pollution—which can be attributed to the country's rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power and explosive growth in vehicle ownership—was made plain this weekend, inciting public outrage and forcing a government response.

Al Jazeera continues:

In an editorial on Monday the state-run Global Times newspaper called for more transparent figures on pollution, urging Beijing to change its "previous method of covering up the problems and instead publish the facts".

Earlier this month a chemical spill into a river was only publicly disclosed five days after it happened, and the authorities were widely criticized for initially denying the existence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

"The choice between development and environmental protection should be made by genuinely democratic methods," the Global Times said. "Environmental problems shouldn't be mixed together with political problems."

Beijing authorities said readings for PM2.5—particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs—hit 993 micrograms per cubic meter at the height of the pollution on Saturday, almost 40 times the World Health Organization's safe limit, Al Jazeera reports.

Small particulate matter can cause cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infection, according to the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.

According to the Associated Press, the growing Chinese middle class has been more vocal about the quality of the environment, and credits a Twitter feed from the U.S. Embassy that gives hourly PM2.5 readings with increasing demands for improved air quality. They report:

The Chinese government now issues hourly air quality updates online for more than 70 cities.

"I think there's been a very big change," prominent Beijing environmental campaigner Ma Jun said, adding that the government knows it no longer has a monopoly on information about the environment. "Given the public's ability to spread this information, especially on social media, the government itself has to make adjustments."

The wave of pollution peaked on Saturday and remained hazardous on Monday with a PM2.5 reading of 321. The high levels are expected to last until Tuesday.

A woman helps adjust her friend's face mask. (Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

A composite view of north and central China as most of the country endures a third day of heavy air pollution on 13 January. (Photo: MODIS/Aqua/NASA)

Official White House Response To Death Star Petition

Oh, darn. Despite a successful petition drive, the White House says there will be no Death Star! OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE TO Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. The Administration shares your desire for jo...

Deaths From All Causes: The Short (But Not Necessarily Happy) Life Of Americans

Wolf Richter   www.testosteronepit.com   www.amazon.com/author/wolfrichter

Americans under fifty are paying the price. We don’t know exactly why. Even the panel of experts that authored the massive report, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, admits that it can’t entirely pinpoint the reasons. But we do know how Americans under fifty, particularly males, are paying the price: with their lives.

The US health disadvantage, as the report calls it, is more prevalent among “socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.” But even if you’re “white, insured, college-educated, or in upper-income groups” and live a healthy lifestyle, you’re less likely to make it to 50 than your counterparts in the other 16 wealthy “peer” countries of the study—Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. And if you do make it to 50, you’re going to get there in worse shape.

The report, based on mortality studies for the years through 2008, carves out three categories, “Deaths from Noncommunicable Diseases,” “Deaths from Communicable, Maternal, Perinatal, Nutritional Conditions,” and “Deaths from Injuries.” The latter, which I discussed in yesterday’s post, distinguished between deaths from “intentional injuries” and “unintentional injuries.” Grisly statistics. [Read.... How Americans Stack Up In Dying From Violence, War, Suicide, And Accidents].

“Deaths from Communicable, Maternal, Perinatal, Nutritional Conditions” is divided into dozens of categories and subcategories, and every country has its own nightmare. In Portugal for example, 7.4 people per 100,000 die of HIV/AIDS, more than double the rate of the country next in line, the US (3.4), and 246 times the rate of Japan (0.03).

Do the Japanese cover up their deaths from that scourge by declaring a different cause of death, such as pneumonia? Or is their reliance on condoms for birth control responsible for that immense success, at least in the hetero community? For example, in love hotels, and they’re everywhere, there is always a condom near the bed. One. If you need more, bring your own. One of thousands of tidbits I discovered in Japan—that all became the backdrop to an awesome story. And then a book. It started in France with a Japanese girl. Check it out on Amazon.... BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

Yet in Japan, 29.7 people per 100,000 die of respiratory infections, three times the rate in the US (9.7) and almost eight times the rate of Finland (3.9). On the other hand, in Japan, with its socialized healthcare system, the infant mortality rate is only 1.3 per 100,000. In the US, it’s 7.1. Over five times the Japanese rate. By far the worst in the group. But is it an endorsement of socialized healthcare? The second and third worst countries in infant mortality, Canada (5.9) and the UK (5.2), also have socialized healthcare. No easy answers.

Another conundrum: in deaths due to nutritional deficiencies, France is in the hot seat with 2.0 deaths per 100,000, twice the US rate (1.0), and way ahead of third place, Finland (0.14).

Overall, Finland has the lowest rate of “Deaths from Communicable, Maternal, Perinatal, Nutritional Conditions,” with 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people. On the other end of the spectrum: the US (33.7), the UK (36.1), Japan (40), and Portugal (45.5). So the chance of dying from these diseases in the US is three times higher than in Finland; but in Portugal, it’s four times higher.

Non-communicable diseases are the biggest killers. And easy answers remain elusive. For example, melanoma and other skin cancers kill 5.8 Australian per 100,000, the worst in the group. So we speculate about the ozone hole, the brutal sun, and people spending time on the beach. In Japan, the death rate is 0.47, by far the lowest in the group. So we speculate about people wearing gloves, hats, and protective garments every time they step outside. But then Norway has the second highest rate of deaths (4.7), followed by other northern countries, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The US (2.8) is in the middle of the pack. And sunny Italy (2.0) and Spain (1.8) are outdone only by Japan.

Wedged between “Deaths from Neuropsychiatric Conditions,” such as unipolar depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and epilepsy are deaths from “Alcohol Use Disorders.” Danes succumb to it at a rate of 9.9 per 100,000—not including accidents. Next the French (4.0), the Germans (3.9), and the Austrians (3.9). For the latter two, the culprit may be per-capita beer consumption [Beer, A Reflection Of The World Economy?]. The US (1.6) is in the middle of the pack. At the bottom: Spain (0.38), Italy (0.25), and Japan (0.16).

In another conundrum, Alzheimer and other dementias kill Finns at the highest rate (34.9) followed by Americans (24.8)—both countries with relatively low life expectancies. At the bottom, Germans (5.9), Austrians (4.4), and the people who live longer than just about anyone else, the Japanese (2.5).

Cardiovascular diseases are a scourge in all wealthy countries, led by Germany (174.9), Finland (163.6), and the US (155.7). Least affected: Mediterranean countries Spain (115.7) and France (99.2), and finally Japan (97.3).

But there are some areas where Americans are lucky. Stomach cancer, for example, kills 2.76 Americans per 100,000, but six times more Japanese (16.8); and liver cancer kills 3.9 Americans per 100,000, as compared to 11.1 Japanese, almost three times more. Overall, non-communicable diseases kill Danes at a rate of 440 per 100,000, Americans at a rate of 418, and Japanese, the healthiest in that respect, at a rate of 272.

So, life expectancy for Americans is ugly:

“Something fundamental is going wrong,” lamented Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel. “This is not the product of a particular administration or political party. Something at the core is causing the U.S. to slip behind these other high-income countries. And it’s getting worse.”

The panel tried to nail down the culprits: a health-care system that leaves millions of people uninsured, the highest rate of poverty, education, eating habits, socioeconomic and behavioral differences, cities built for cars not pedestrians.... But it determined that these reasons cannot adequately explain the differences—because even wealthy, educated, insured whites with healthy lifestyles are getting the short end of the stick.

And worse: high infant mortality, traffic accidents, violence, HIV and AIDS, and alcohol-related mortality hit younger age groups the hardest—leaving them with a lower probability of surviving to age 50 than their peers in wealthy countries. And the lucky ones who do reach 50 get there “in poorer health than their counterparts.”

All this despite the costliest of all healthcare systems that eats up 18% of GDP. But now anecdotal evidence is coagulating into numbers that weigh down corporate earnings calls. It appears the wily consumer is having second thoughts about prescription drugs. And is fighting back. A paradigm shift that is causing “unprecedented concerns” in the industry. Read.... The Consumer Revolts Against Prescription Drugs.

Your rating: None

Millennials Occupy TransCanada Offices Across the US

More than 100 young people stormed a TransCanada office in Houston, Texas on Monday as part of a Tar Sands Blockade mass action targeting company offices across the United States. Blockaders streamed into the Houston office, occupying the space with their own hand-crafted “KXL pipe monster.”

Activist Alec Johnson was arrested Monday while refusing to leave the lobby of the Houston office after police ushered protesters outside. A videographer with the Chicago Indymedia Center was also arrested. Four others were arrested in a separate action in Liberty County, Texas for interrupting construction on the Keystone XL at work sites there.

Solidarity actions took place in Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and New York, including actions at banks known to have investments in the Alberta tar sands. In Massachusetts eight student organizers locked themselves inside a TransCanada office, super-gluing their hands together to symbolize how fossil fuel corporations have us all locked into to irreversible climate change. The sit-in was organized by Students for a Just and Stable Future, a student coalition also campaigning to divest university endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.

One of those students arrested in Massachusetts Monday was Lisa Purdy, a student organizer with the Brandeis Divestment Campaign Coalition at Brandeis University. Purdy told Campus Progress about her work on divestment back in November, and after she was released from jail we caught up with her again.

“If we want to be building this new economy that’s not based on fossil fuels than we need to be fighting at every level,” Purdy said. “So we have people fighting down in Texas against the actual infrastructure, we have people fighting in the courts, we have people getting arrested at related offices of TransCanada, and we have people working at their universities to divest.”

Purdy said she felt ecstatic after she was released and hopes that her action will inspire similar actions in across New England.

Assistant District Attorney Julie Richard said the state of Massachusetts will seek “considerable restitution for the costs of removing the protesters," but she did not mention what the amount would be, according to the Westborough Daily Voice.

“Right now we’re unaware of the costs we have to pay for the exact decision or actions led to those costs,” Alli Welton—another student working on divestment at Harvard University who was also among those arrested during the Massachusetts action—told Campus Progress. “It would be unfair for the Westborough taxpayers to pay for the attention that TransCanada has drawn because of its ethically dubious actions.”

“We’re dreaming of a day when the law asks TransCanada to pay restitution for the families they’ve uprooted and the resources they’ve damaged and the other impacts of the climate crisis they’ve caused by pushing forward projects like Keystone XL,” Welton continued.

Protesters also gathered in Brownsville, Wisconsin Monday, at the offices of Michel’s Corporation—the construction company contracted to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL across Texas.

What's next for the Keystone XL?

Despite the years of mass protest against the tar sands project, former Bush and Clinton cabinets have said they expect President Obama to rubber stamp the pipeline soon.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Head Lisa Jackson is expected to resign this month. A reportedly close source suggests the departure is due to the Obama administration's plans to approve the Keystone XL.

“She was going to stay on until November or December,” a Jackson insider told the New York Post. “But this changed it. She will not be the EPA head when Obama supports it [Keystone] getting built.”

President Obama denied the original construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in January of 2012 when TransCanada proposed the 1,700-mile pipeline as a single project. Since then, the corporation has split the pipeline into two halves and reapplied for a permit for the northern section.

Jackson’s spokeswoman, Victoria Rivas-Vazquez, pointed back to the original announcement regarding the resignation, claiming Jaskson wanted to “pursue new challenges, time with her family and new opportunities. She said “the idea that her decision was made based on anything else is entirely false.”

The White House refused to comment on Jackson perceived reasons for leaving. Spokesman Clark Stevens told The Post that the “State Department’s assessment (of Keystone) is ongoing and any speculation would be premature.”

While the EPA is not responsible for the pipeline review process, it is one of many federal agencies that have advised the Obama administration on the pipeline project. The State Department, the agency that is responsible for the pipeline review, has clashed in the past with the EPA over earlier drafts of the pipeline’s Environmental Impact Statement, which the EPA said didn’t address the impacts on air and water quality among many other issues. The EPA, while under Jackson’s helm, has continued to raise serious concerns about the pipeline.

Though questions concerning the reason for Jackson’s resignation still loom, environmentalists are elated over the nomination of John Kerry for Secretary of State to replace Hillary Clinton. While Clinton has been criticized for having close ties to Paul Elliot, a top TransCanada lobbyist and former deputy director her presidential campaign, John Kerry has been known as a vocal climate hawk.

In October 2011, Kerry, the head of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee, vowed to use his influence to thoroughly examine the environmental impact of Keystone XL.

But no matter who is charged with helm-holding at the State Department or the EPA—or whether or not the president approves the project—the Tar Sands Blockade movement has proved that something grand and game-changing needs to happen.

Despite mass public outcry, mass symbolic protest actions, legislative battles and now even some high-ranking resignations, it's direct action that's ultimately need to stop a toxic project that has been deemed “game over” for the planet by NASA’s top climate scientist.

And that’s the idea that’s really catching on with young people across the nation who are utilizing nonviolent tactics, like locking themselves to dirty energy infrastructure in an effort to spread the message that we can’t afford to continue down an unsustainable path for our climate.

The Tar Sands Blockade movement vows to continue obstructing construction on the pipeline in the event that President Obama indeed gives the project a green light.

Sky’s the limit: Largest known spiral galaxy identified by accident

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / ESO / JPL-Caltech / DSS

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / ESO / JPL-Caltech / DSS

The largest known spiral galaxy in the universe has been accidently discovered by a team of astronomers from the US. Measuring a whopping 522,000 light-years across, it’s over five times bigger than our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The new find, called NGC 6872, is located about 212 million light years away from Earth.

Researchers say they made the discovery after spotting the galaxy through a satellite signal. The astronomers were looking for star-forming regions near to the galaxy. But instead they found a huge amount of ultra-violet light from young stars, which revealed the true scale of the galaxy itself.

"I was not looking for the largest spiral – it just came as a gift," lead scientist for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Rafael Eufrasio, told reporters.

Exploring archival data taken from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) satellite, which is used to monitor star-forming regions, a galaxy named NGC 6872 was earmarked.

"Without GALEX's ability to detect the ultraviolet light of the youngest, hottest stars, we would never have recognized the full extent of this intriguing system," added Eufrasio.

The finding was presented at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical society in California, which took place in early January.

Found in the constellation of Pavo, it also contains the remnants of another galaxy, IC 4970, which contains just one-fifth the mass of NGC 6872, according to researchers.

The smaller IC 4970 is believed by astronomers to have crashed through its spiral. This titanic collision happened about 130 million years ago and set off a wave of star formation, which made NGC 6872 the giant that it is today.

"The northeastern arm of NGC 6872 is the most disturbed and is rippling with star formation, but at its far end, visible only in the ultraviolet, is an object that appears to be a tidal dwarf galaxy similar to those seen in other interacting systems," NASA has quoted astronomy professor Duilia de Mello as saying.

The existence of the giant spiral galaxy had been suspected by scientists for decades, but only now, after detailed and careful study of data from different telescopes, including GALEX, the galaxy was able to be crowned champion among all the known spiral galaxies.

Eufrasio also stressed spiral galaxies even bigger than NGC 6872 may be out there, but they are still waiting to be spotted and studied in depth.

NASA′s Goddard Space Flight Center / ESO / JPL-Caltech / DSS
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / ESO / JPL-Caltech / DSS

Space alert: Hazardous asteroid nears Earth

Space alert: Hazardous asteroid nears Earth

Space alert: Hazardous asteroid nears Earth

All eyes are set at the skies as a big hazardous asteroid is nearing Earth. According to scientists there is an actual possibility that the 300-meter-wide Apophis will eventually strike our planet, but the catastrophe is not imminent.

On Wednesday the dangerous space traveler is passing Earth at 14 million km – the distance which raises no concerns. Apophis near approach, which may have been observed around 00:00 GMT, was traced by Slooh Space Camera.

The asteroid is planning a series of come backs of which the one in 2036 is said to be most threatening.

Named after the Ancient Egyptian evil demon, Apophis was discovered in 2004. The initial estimations indicated the probability that in 2029 the asteroid would strike Earth. However, additional calculations lessened this possibility and postponed it till 2036.

According to NASA scientists in 2029 Apophis may pass through a gravitational keyhole which would change his orbit causing imminent collision with Earth in 2036.

Russian scientists are planning to plant the asteroid with a radio beacon to trace its orbit and the risks Apophis pose to our planet. But the mission will only take place after 2020.

According to NASA calculations if the hazardous asteroid collides with Earth the effect will be equivalent to an explosion of 510 megatons of TNT, which is roughly 10 times more than the effect of the biggest hydrogen bomb ever exploded.

The effect would vary depending on the angle. The collision would cause massive destruction across thousands of square miles, however would not bring any long-term global consequences.

In May 2012 NASA released report revealed that there are about 4,700 asteroids of 100 meters diameter and larger representing significant threat to Earth with only one third of them located and the rest under the radar.

This NASA image shows asteroid Apophis. The asteroid Apophis, which should barely touch the Earth in 2029 and could possibly hit in 2036, approaches earth on January 9, 2013 at a distance of 14.4 million kilometers, astronomers said January 8, 2012. (AFP Photo/NASA/JPL UH/IA)
This NASA image shows asteroid Apophis. The asteroid Apophis, which should barely touch the Earth in 2029 and could possibly hit in 2036, approaches earth on January 9, 2013 at a distance of 14.4 million kilometers, astronomers said January 8, 2012. (AFP Photo/NASA/JPL UH/IA)

Billionaire space entrepreneur wants vegetarian-only colony on Mars

An artist's concept of a Mars mission. (NASA/Pat Rawlings, SAIC )

An artist's concept of a Mars mission. (NASA/Pat Rawlings, SAIC )

A US billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, Elon Musk, has made plans to build a settlement for 80,000 people on Mars when technology makes it possible for man to live there – as long as the inhabitants are vegetarians.

Musk is a considered one of America’s most respected private space entrepreneurs and was in charge of creating SpaceX, a space transport company that produced the Falcon 9 rocket that delivers NASA cargo to the International Space Station.

Musk, who is worth about $2 billion, revealed his tactics in a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was in attendance in order to be presented with a gold medal for his contribution to space exploration in November.

While the idea of a city on Mars may seem far-fetched, scientists predict human settlements on the red planet and elsewhere in space could occur in the near future, possibly within ten years. Eric Anderson, a leading entrepreneur in the industry and chairman of Space Adventures, told RT that technology has almost reached the level where tourists can be sent to space.

“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there will be a space hotel within the next ten years, in orbit around the Earth,” he said in October.

Musk plans to take it a few steps further by building a city for 80,000 space explorers. The new city would use sustainable technology and send people to space on a rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane. The billionaire’s estate and prominence in the space industry could make his plans feasible, but the California-based engineer has not left behind his personal ideologies: Musk will only allow vegetarians to live in his settlement.

At a cost of $500,000, vegetarians could choose to travel to the faraway settlement, although Musk did not clarify whether payments could be made using PayPal.

“The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” Musk said.

While 800,000 residents may seem like a large number of people to send to Mars, Musk explained that reducing the size would cause the gene and culture pool to be too small, while the risk for civil war would be too high.

“On Mars you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big,” Musk said.

But an undertaking of that magnitude would not eliminate the dangers: space exploration comes with the threat of deep-space radiation, bone-rot and toxic dusk, which space visitors and those constructing the settlement would have to risk acquiring. Still, Musk believes his goal is within a near reach.

And Anderson concurs: the space entrepreneur believes the commercial enterprise will far surpass the works of government-funded agencies like NASA and rapidly bring settlements to other planets.

“With my work, and many others working in the private section, the mission is coming closer to reality,” Musk said.

Tar Sands Blockade: Growing Opposition to Keystone XL Pipeline

So far, the Canadian pipeline corporation has faced and overcome opposition all along the way – from protestors, blockaders, and court challenges – and as of January 4, TransCanada reported that the 485 mile construction project was roughly a third complete and pretty much on schedule for completion before the end of 2013.

Despite setbacks as recently as January 3, when a police-supervised cherry picker collected a tree-sitter from the pipeline right-of-way, the Tar Sands Blockade and other opposition groups kept their actions going with a non-violence training camp over the weekend.

This led to the Tar Sands Blockade’s largest demonstration so far, on January 7, when about 100 protestors occupied the lobby in the TransCanada office building. After about an hour, police cleared the building almost peacefully, with little more than some pushing and shoving. There were few arrests. Most of the evicted demonstrators gathered in a green space across the street, where they performed street theater featuring a “pipeline dragon,” as some 40 police looked on, some on horseback quietly drinking their Starbucks.

A potentially much more important struggle goes on mostly out of sight in Washington, DC, where the Secretary of State is officially responsible for accurately assessing the environmental impact of the whole Keystone XL, all 1,100-plus miles of it. This assessment was ordered almost a year ago, when President Obama resisted Congressional pressure, and denied the pipeline a permit to cross from Canada into the U.S. until the evaluation was done – making the final decision a clear indicator of the president’s seriousness about climate change.

Redford Speaks Politely to Power

This was the subtext of environmentalist and movie makes Robert Redford in a recent piece that doesn’t mention President Obama by name, but calls in quietly measured tones for his government to deny the pipeline a permit:

“This is a time for climate leadership. So, instead of a shoddy Keystone XL environmental review, the first major climate action for this Administration’s second term should be to set limits on climate change pollution from power plants. That is the kind of action that makes sense.

“And then it will make sense to reject this dirty energy project. With extreme weather taking its toll on communities all over America, we can’t afford another major dirty energy project such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

The Alberta tar sands in Canada, like tar sands everywhere, do not contain oil. The near-solid bitumen in tar sands can be turned into a high-sulfur content oil by treatment with toxic chemicals, heat, and pressure. The Keystone XL pipeline is designed to transport over 700,000 barrels of hot tar sands oil under pressure every day, from Canada across the heartland of the United States to Gulf Coast refineries, from whence it will mostly go to overseas markets, especially China.

In contrast to Redford’s polite demurrer, NASA scientist James Hansen has looked at the very same set of facts and concluded that Canadian tar sands “contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history” – and that exploitation of this “resource” would mean, effectively, “game over for the climate.”

Hansen was critical of President Obama for taking the attitude that the Canadians would exploit their tar sands no matter what the U.S. does. Redford suggests this may not be true, that:

 “Canadians know better – they haven’t let new tar sands pipeline be built yet to either of their own coasts. In fact, the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline to the west coast is considered dead by many.”

 Resistance Continues to Grow and Spread

With completion of Keystone XL, this would become irrelevant. With Keystone blocked, it could be wishful thinking. There is already serious resistance in British Columbia and Nebraska and Vermont as well as Texas and other points along likely pipeline routes. And resistance appears to continue to grow, as noted in CounterPunch in discussing the rise of Idle No More, a coalition of indigenous people in Canada in recent months, who are now joining the tar sands protest in Texas:

“In the coming days a new blockade will be set up in Texas as the resistance to Tar Sands grows. Plans are a foot across the country and the world for solidarity actions with Idle No More movement and direct actions targeting these industries and governments that continue to push our health, the environment and the existence of future generations aside for the profits of the transnational corporations defining the global political regime.

 “Let’s hope that 2013 brings a needed awakening in the United States and that the Obama liberals and progressives shake off their shackles to a system that is plodding along in the wrong direction and decide to be Idle No More!!!”

 The Lufkin Daily News posted a video of a non-violent but nevertheless odd arrest on January 3 of a man asking for an explanation of why he had to move out of a public right of way. Tar Sands Blockade described the sheriff’s behavior this way:

 “Escalated police harassment of supporters along public highway continues:

“Angelina County sheriffs continue to push the limits of their legal authority with their harassment of supporters trying to observe the blockade from the side of a public highway. Supporters have been detained under the pretense that they were ‘witnesses to a felony investigation’ and ordered to produce ID.”

Later the group reported that 6 blockaders were being held in jail, with bail set at $10,000 each. To deal with one person of color who was arrested without ID, the sheriff’s department called immigration authorities.

Star sleuths: Amateur astronomers’ find doubles number of possible Earth-like planets

Birth of an Earth-like Planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Birth of an Earth-like Planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Volunteers from the Planet hunters.org website, part of the Oxford University-led Zooniverse project, have discovered 15 new plants – missed by professional astronomers – orbiting in the zones of other stars where it is considered life may be possible.

Added to the 19 similar planets already discovered in so-called habitable zones, where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water, this new find points to a possible ‘traffic jam’ of strange worlds that could support life, it was reported in the online journal Science Daily.

The new possible planets were found by Planethunters.org volunteers, who did not see the planets directly but looked for a telltale dip in brightness as planets pass their parent stars.

After follow up work was done by the Keck telescope in Hawaii, one of the 15 planet candidates – Jupiter sized and orbiting a sun like star – has been confirmed with 99.9% certainty as a planet. It’s been named as PH2 b and is the second planet to be found by planethunters.org.

“There is an obsession with finding earth-like planets but what we are discovering with planets such as PHs b is far stranger. Jupiter has several large-rich water moons. If such a planet had earth size moons, we’d see worlds with rivers, lakes and all sorts of habitats – a surprising scenario that might just be common,” Said Dr. Chris Lintott of Oxford University and the leader of Zooniverse.

Professor Debra Fisher of Yale University emphasized the importance of the work of the volunteers: “We are seeing the emergence of a new era in the planet Hunters project where our volunteers seem to be at least as efficient as the computer algorithms at finding planets orbiting at habitable zone distances from the host stars.”

A report on the findings has been submitted to the Astrophysics Journal, with more than 40 volunteers acknowledged for their role.

Among the volunteers is Mark Hadley an electronics engineer from Faversham in South east England, “Now, when people ask me what I achieved last year I can say I achieved a possible new planet around a distant star! How cool is that?”

While Roy Jackson, a retired Police Officer from Gateshead in North East England was a little more circumspect.

“It is difficult to put into words, the pleasure, wonderment and perhaps even pride that I have in some small way been able to assist in the discovery of a planet”.

Dr Lintott said that some of the planets found by the volunteers on their web browsers had actually been missed by professional astronomers.

“It remarkable to think that absolutely anyone can discover a planet,” he said.

Drones, phones and other 2012 privacy threats

Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld US | Verizon's attempt -- unsuccessful so far -- to secure a patent for a so-called 'snooping technology,' which in this case would let...

The secret plan to blow up the moon

It may sound like a plot straight out of a science fiction novel, but a U.S. mission to blow up the moon with a...

Profile of a Police State

Stephen Lendman, rinf.com | For years, America has been on a fast track to tyranny. Duopoly power runs things repressively. Government of, by, and...

Greece Suppresses Free Expression

Stephen Lendman, rinf.com | Ordinary Greeks face deepening Depression conditions. At a time vital help is needed, force-fed austerity is policy. Corrupt governance mandates it....

Gary McKinnon’s US extradition blocked

TechCrunch | It’s been a very long fight but British hacker Gary McKinnon has finally won his battle to avoid extradition to the US under the controversial Extradition...

Study: Heat Waves Result of Global Warming

A group of climate researchers that includes NASA researcher James Hansen claim that high-profile heat waves in 2010 and 2011 are likely the direct...

Amnesty International condemns executions in Iran of five political activists

Amnesty International today condemned the executions in Iran of four Kurdish political activists and another Iranian man, all convicted of "moharebeh" (enmity against God!),...

Excess Debt and Deflation Equals Depression

By Stephen Lendman | Irving Fisher (1867 - 1947) was perhaps the most noted economist of his day. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics calls him...

The Asian Brown Cloud: Global Climate Chaos and Tropical Glaciers

Colonos | The United Nations have released a report on the phenomenon dubbed as the Asian Brown Cloud, which is a thick soup of human waste...

Bush Missing Iraq WMD has Been Found in Iraq and One Million U.S. Soldiers...

No Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that Bush told us were in Iraq were found. Today, to the tragedy of over one million U.S....

U.S. Food and Water Supply Poisoned by Perchlorate

By Joanne Waldron | According to a report by the Organic Consumers Association, a toxic chemical that is a byproduct of rocket fuel is...

Diego Garcia: the UK’s shame

By Andy Worthington | The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote: "In war, truth is the first casualty." These words are particularly apt in relation to...

Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed

Andy Worthington  Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar The existence of a secret, CIA-run prison on the island of Diego Garcia...

Trading away the Planet for Profits

By Joseph Zacune | During the climate talks in Bali last December, NASA scientist James Hansen presented new data showing that serious climate change...

Distortions, Falsehoods, Fabrications

monbiot.com | So here we go again. For the second time, Channel 4 has been fiercely criticised by the broadcasting regulator for a programme attacking...

Ending Poverty in a Carbon Constrained World

By Andrew Simms -The New Economics Foundation | Several years ago the International Red Cross sent me on behalf the World Disasters Report to assess...

Richard Dowden: If the people want power, they must fight for it

While it was always a possibility that the Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, would pull out of Friday's second round of the presidential election,...

Hacker Appeals To House Of Lords

By Christopher Nickson | A British hacker accused to accessing US military and Nasa computers has taken his case against extradition to the House of...

Exposing Bush Administration Corruption

By Stephen Lendman - RINF | Information for this article comes from long-time business, finance and political writer and analyst Bob Chapman who publishes...

Planets by the Dozen

By Dr. Tony Phillips | You know the planets of our solar system, each a unique world with its own distinctive appearance, size, and...

Enhanced Tracking Technology May Help RFID

By DON CLARK A Los Angeles start-up says it has developed a way to dramatically expand the range of a popular wireless tracking technology, opening...

A Deeper Look At Drugs In Our Tap Water

Cathy Sherman Picture this: Three guys go into a bar. The batender asks, "What'll you have?" "A beer", says the first guy. Second one says,...

Iraq War Dataset: $506 Billion Spent, 4,002 Dead

Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides On March 26, 2008 the United States military casualty count in Iraq hit 4,000. When I heard that I decided to research...

Clinton missed key policy decisions

On the day that dozens of US cruise missiles rained down on Serbia in an attempt to punish Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for the...

US warns out-of-control spy satellite is falling

Paul Harris A large American spy satellite is expected to fall to Earth some time in the next month, officials said yesterday. It is unclear where...

Institutionalized Spying On Americans

By Stephen Lendman RINF Alternative News This article reviews two police state tools (among many in use) in America. One is new, undiscussed and largely unknown...

List of Bush Administration Scandals

List of Scandalized Administration Officials By Paul Kiel Boy, was it time for an update. Late last year we decided to take stock of all the Bush...

Criminals In The Bush Administration

Criminals In The Bush Administration By- Suzie-Q TPM´s Great List of Scandalized Administration Officials Boy, was it time for an update. Late last year we decided to take...

Bogus Neocon Terror War Costs $6,000 Per Second

Phil Plait Whenever the Bush administration balks at spending money on some needed issue, I always mention on my blog that the...

Energy Source of Northern Lights Found

Anne Minard in San Francisco, California NASA spacecraft have revealed new insights into the forces that cause the northern lights, including giant magnetic "ropes" between...

House Democrats Pull War Funding From Budget Offer

The GOP is negotiating in bad faith, Obey says. By Jonathan Weisman     A Democratic deal to give President Bush some war funding in exchange for additional...

Confessions of a Covert Agent

Psychological Operations are my specialty Global Research artofmentalwarfare.com The author of the text below claims to be highly experienced in covert intelligence programmes and psychological operations -...

Canada’s role in depleted uranium weapons

By Alfred Lambremont Webre, JD, Med The Government of Canada is in non-compliance with the statutes and regulations of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC),...

Depleted Uranium — Far Worse Than 9/11

Depleted Uranium Dust — Public Health Disaster For The People Of Iraq and Afghanistan Doug Westerman In 1979, depleted uranium (DU) particles escaped from the National...

George Bush’s Personal Spy Drone

By Sharon Weinberger DARPA, the Pentagon's far-side research agency, has a plan to send a robotic surveillance drone anywhere in the world within an hour....

‘Ghost prisoners’ not accounted for after held by CIA

Rights groups wonder where the roughly 30 are being kept By CRAIG WHITLOCK On Sept. 6, 2006, President Bush announced that the CIA's overseas secret prisons...

Removing Mercury From the Body – Are You Being Poisoned?

By Lauana Lei Mercury is probably the most toxic non-radioactive metal in the environment. It is a poison! It is highly toxic to humans and...

Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008

#1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person” Sources: Consortium, October 19, 2006 Title: “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?” Author: Robert Parry http://consortiumnews.com/2006/101906.html Consortium, February 3, 2007 Title: “Still No...

America’s PSI Spies Penetrate the Kremlin: The Secret History of Remote Viewing

By Jim Marrs RINF Alternative News Behind the doors of the CIA and U.S. Army Intelligence, science and ESP come together like a movie in the...

The Coincidence Theorist’s Guide to 9/11

There are no coincidences The Coincidence Theorist’s Guide to 9/11 -That governments have permitted terrorist acts against their own people, and have even themselves been perpetrators...

Science is being distorted to promote political and corporate agendas

By Mike Adams In the United States today, science is no longer a pure study. The science primarily publicized today is science that supports the...

How Far Will the Crash Go and What Do we Do Now?

The “Crash of 2007-8” is underway By Richard C. Cook The immediate triggers are being described quite well: the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market;...

US moves to use spy satellites for domestic surveillance

 AFP The United States is moving to expand the use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance, turning its "eyes in sky" inward to counter terrorism...