Archive | December 18th, 2013

Time to bomb I$raHell – with truth

NOVANEWS

b52

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” … Sir Walter Scott

by  Jim W. Dean, VT Editor

with  Press TV, Tehran

 

Bombing Israel with truth could still take a long time to work

Bombing Israel with truth could still take a long time to work

Israel has six months for their stage two attempt of wrecking the Mideast peace process. They have lost no time launching their counter attack.

Like the pros they are, they had their B-Team preparing for the expected loss at Geneva Two.

They have used their traditional route for seeding the public’s mind with new fears, using our ever ready Congressmen and Senators to front their subversion of the American democracy.

Our Founding Fathers knew we could never keep what they had given us without an informed citizenry to protect itself from government expanding its power through all kinds of contrived machinations.

Militant Zionists have contrived machinations in their DNA, something they justify simply by saying that others would do this if they could, so they are just beating them to the punch. That would be a popular billboard message for every prison on the planet.

There is a consensus among analysts that the Zios’ first move would be to claim Iran was not in compliance with the agreement. We have pros around here who have dealt with the slippery and slimy types, so anticipating their moves becomes second nature after a few decades.

For a country which has milked a couple of decades out of an invisible bomb, a non-compliance scam is just a piece of cake. The Israelis just make the charge and never provide any real support for it.

They have this wonderful echo chamber in the US that hypnotizes Americans into accepting accusations as proof…if they are heard often enough. The Zionist lobby machine to accomplish that has long been constructed and remains well oiled from constant use.

But the readers are encouraged not to play the ‘reacting to Israel’s moves’ game because that puts you on defense, to where they have won half the battle already. The way to deal with the Radical Zios is to attack, and constantly like they do.

Vote No on Israeli Espionage in Congress

Vote No on Israeli Espionage in Congress

You have to put artillery fire not only on their front line troops with never ending phone calls into their Congressional shills, but also use the long range artillery to hit their rear areas where they think they are safe.

And that is the story of their founding myth.

I will share with you now my most effective opening shot at turning brainwashed pro-Israel Americans around.

Remember the first goal is to just get the process started by putting something on them that is irrefutable, and has been withheld from them for that very reason. I field tested this extensively on retired military officers and it was 90% effective.

Declassified Intel, especially top military brass Intel is something no military officer is going to brush off as a load of manure. Stephen Green who wrote his seminal 1984 book, Taking Sides, from Freedom of Information Act material, once told me he found so much he could have written ten books. Here is my number one silver bullet bomb from his work.

In March, 1948, a Joints Chiefs of Staff paper on Force Requirements for Palestine, anticipating the termination of the British Mandate, predicted that the Zionist strategy will seek to involve [the United States] in continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives…

a) initial sovereignty over a portion of Palestine,

b) acceptance by the great powers of the right to unlimited immigration,

c) the extension of Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine,

d) the expansion of Eretz Israel into Transjordan and into portions of Lebanon and Syria,

e) the establishment of Jewish military and economic hegemony over the entire Mid East.

The JCS paper added ominously: All stages of this program are equally sacred to the fanatical concepts of Jewish leaders. The program is opening admitted by same leaders, and has been privately admitted to United States officials by responsible leaders of the presently dominant Jewish group…the Jewish Agency… Taking Sides (1984)

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The Israeli Lobby must be fought head on in public

The Israeli Lobby must be fought head on in public

This folks, has been absolutely devastating. You don’t get any of the programmed responses like “Why do you hate Israel…are you an anti-semite, etc.?”

It is what it is, a top JCS Intel report that saw its way to the president’s desk.

Due to space limitations I will have to skip the middle part and give you a current bookend bomb to the beginning one above. By that I mean going right for the throat on the whole “Iranian nuclear bomb” hoax.

But this time I will use Israeli sources…their own media. Be sure to print this piece out and save it in a file. This stuff works.

The same information, delivered one piece at a time over an extended period would have much less impact. You have to use this multiple rocket launcher approach. If some of it seems contradictory, just remember that they are making it all up. My compliments to blogger Omer Kabir for looking these gems up.

From Yediot Ahronoth:

June 26, 1984 … Iran will be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in another seven years.

Nov. 15, 1991 … Nuclear expert: Iran will have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade or seven to eight years if China, Pakistan and Argentina continue aiding it.

June 15, 1992 … Within 10 years Syria will have a nuclear weapon.

Sept. 20, 1992 … Iran will have an operational nuclear weapon in the next five to eight years.

Jan. 21, 1993 … Rabin: Iran has the manpower and will get a nuclear weapon in the coming decade.

Jan. 24, 1993 … Iran has in its possession a nuclear weapon ready for immediate deployment.

Jan. 9, 1995 … Iran may achieve nuclear capability at any moment.

Dec. 27, 1995 … Iran wants a nuclear weapon by 2001.

June 27, 1997 … US: Iran will have a nuclear weapon around 2000

July 10, 2001 … Iran will threaten Israel with a nuclear weapon within four years.

Aug. 8, 2003 … IDF: Preparing for an Iranian atomic bomb in 2005

Aug. 20, 2004 … Iran announces: we will achieve a nuclear weapon within four years.

July 8, 2005 … Israeli intelligence sources: within two years they will have a bomb on the shelf

Dec. 2005 … Entire Mideast will arm itself with nukes.

March 26, 2006 … Iranian atomic bomb in three years.

June 22, 2006 … Olmert: Within months Iran will be able to assemble a nuclear bomb.

June 22, 2011 … Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a year or two.

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How many times has Israel attacked?

How many times has Israel attacked?

As my regular readers know I don’t often use this much outside material in an article but if I had abridged this to a few examples I think you can see it would have had nowhere near the same impact.

These headlines are mainly from just one newspaper, and one particular issue to lie about. You can extrapolate this out for all the others and you get a pretty good idea whether the claims of these people being pathological liars is valid.

I can assure you that many of the Israeli lobby folks promoting these lies upon their fellow Americans, might have believed some truth in them, maybe in the early days.

But the professionals among them had to be aware of this bomb hoax track record. I know because they can read. So I have not felt it untrue or unkind to say that many don’t care if the Iran nuke threat was bogus as long as it had the desired manipulative effect.

People don’t like to be used, so when I show this to them and let it sink in a bit, I then hit them with the big question…“Why do you let them make fools out of you with base, bogus propaganda to exploit your own people?”

We have a slang saying here in America when you are the underdog for reversing a bad situation, that you have to “up our game”. It means taking a hard cold look in the mirror about the changes that need to be done to stop using failed tactics.

Power senses fear and uncertainty and knows how to exploit it. The news headlines above show how unembarrassed the Israeli media was to exploit their own people’s fear. With the Iranians in the past year they have used Neo-holocaust language, the Nazis, holocaust deniers…there are no depths to which they will not stoop.

It is time to take the gloves off and go after the militant Zionists, and this includes all those who have worked with them. Whether they are participants in the lies or not makes no difference. A victim cares little over whether he was killed by a murderer or a drunk driver because the result is the same.

A lot of work has gone into getting us where we are now, where we have some momentum. We have dodged some head shot bullets, like with the Syria attack. Now it is upon us to honor those victories by doing what needs to be done…denuclearize and demilitarize Zionist Israel. See you on the front lines.

Posted in ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Time to bomb I$raHell – with truth

The media war on Syria

NOVANEWS
LALKARONLINE

How honest anti-war activists can end up serving the wrong side

The correspondence below was written by a CPGB-ML member in response to an article that appeared on MediaLens.org titled ‘Structural inclinations – the leaning tower of propaganda: chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta, Syria‘ on 9 October.

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Dear Media Lens

I was horrified to see the extent to which the imperialist bias that you make it your business to expose in corporate journalism has infected your own view of events in Syria.

In your recent article on the chemical weapons propaganda, you felt constrained to emphasise twice – at the beginning and at the end of your article – that President Assad of Syria is a ‘war criminal’. And, just like the journalists you excoriate, you offered not a shred of evidence for this assertion.

Near the beginning of your article you wrote, by way of an apology for criticising the corporate media’s ‘house lefties’: ” The point is not that Aaronovitch, Hasan and Monbiot are wrong – the Assad dictatorship has committed many horrific war crimes, and may have again in Ghouta .”

And at the end, having yourself referred to just some of the evidence that, when put together, makes it quite clear that the Syrian government did NOT carry out the recent chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, you undermined your whole article with the following statement: “Again, none of this means that the Syrian government, and indeed Assad himself, was not to blame for the August 21 attacks.”

For any right-thinking person not infected with colonial prejudice, it is perfectly clear to see that President Assad is a popular, unifying leader in a country that has faced escalating hostility from imperialism for decades.

He heads a government that has been freely elected and which comprises members of many parties – a national-unity coalition, in fact. Syria’s government is far more democratic and representative than our own. Did you know that 50 percent of the seats in the Syrian parliament are reserved for workers? Since you so casually refer to it as a ‘dictatorship’ – as if that was established fact – I can only assume that you did not.

President Assad’s only ‘crime’ is to be the leader of a nation that has refused to ‘know its place’. He unites people from all backgrounds and presides over a much-valued secular state in a region where sectarian hatred has been deliberately fostered (and armed) by outsiders for generations.

Anti-imperialist, independent Syria has stood up to US and British corporate and military interests and to Zionism. It has given real, physical support to Palestinian and Iraqi resistance and refugees – at great cost to itself. It has spent its resources on providing free education and health care, on keeping food prices low, and on limiting the activities of the very bloodsucking international corporations you also claim to oppose. It has refused to allow its people to become yet more disposable sweatshop-fodder for the world’s financial elite.

For decades, Syria has stood side by side with Iran and the Lebanese resistance to form a counterweight against Israeli (and therefore imperialist) dominance of the Middle East. It has supported countries all over the world – through both trade and diplomacy – that are trying to carve an independent furrow and lift their people out of the superexploited poverty that western imperialists have consigned them to.

So why should it be that you, who claim to want peace and harmony in the world, and an end to the domination of the imperialist corporations, have such a knee-jerk, hostile reaction to a leader and a government who are actually putting your supposed programme into action by standing up to the forces of imperialism? Why are you so quick to come down against David and agree with Goliath?

The only answers I can come up with are laziness and prejudice. You must have relied on vested interests for information in order to so casually refer to ‘dictator Assad’. And you would seem also to have accepted the right of the free-market fundamentalists who control our media to judge and label their opponents.

But any schoolboy critic of the system can tell you that words like ‘dictator’ and ‘undemocratic’ when used by our corporate media are simply code for ‘uppity native getting in the way of our profit-taking’. Can it be that, despite all your years of opposing the propaganda machine, this simple truth has so far eluded you?

Be that as it may, since you have set yourselves up as an independent voice that purports to expose the bias of the corporate media, it behoves you to find out the truth about the people that the West is demonising. And even if you can’t be bothered to do that, it ought to be a very minimum requirement that you not make categoric statements like ‘the Assad dictatorship has committed many horrific war crimes’ without backing them up.

I can assure you, if you think you have evidence, there are plenty of people out there who can help you see through it. Like so much of today’s propaganda, it will turn out to be paper thin.

Over the years, I have subsidised your work (when able), read your books and bought them for friends, followed your alerts and forwarded/shared them around. I have considered the work you do to be extremely useful to progressive humanity. You have written many things I disagreed with, but I considered you to be thoroughly critical in your thinking and aware that the narrative passed down to us by officially-sanctioned history books and the corporate media is written by vested interests and aimed at keeping us quiescent in the face of Britain’s hideous imperial crimes.

Which only makes your refusal to recognise the lies being told about President Assad and the Syrian government more baffling and disappointing.

I very much hope you will publish a full retraction of statements that – whether you mean them to or not – are reinforcing the lies of the corporate war propaganda machine, and therefore supporting what you yourselves have identified as a criminal war effort.

Sincerely yours

JB

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Hi J

Thanks for your email and support in the past.

Assad is certainly not head of the kind of system we would consider democratic. We’re not alone in that view. Noam Chomsky has commented: ” First of all, Israel was not opposed to Assad. He has been more or less the kind of dictator they wanted.”(english.al-akhbar.com/node/16132)

In 2011, Amnesty reported: ” The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. ” (amnesty.org/en/region/syria/report-2011)

You write: ” But any schoolboy critic of the system can tell you that words like ‘dictator’ and ‘undemocratic’ when used by our corporate media are simply code for ‘uppity native getting in the way of our profit-taking’ 

That’s often true but the corporate media doesn’t have a monopoly on the use, or intended meaning behind the use, of particular words. We can use the same words without intending anything of the sort. We have often quoted Ralph Nader on the US political system: ” We have a two-party dictatorship in this country. Let’s face it. And it is a dictatorship in thraldom to these giant corporations who control every department agency in the federal government.” (medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2009/565-protesting-war-an-exchange-with-the-bbcs-diplomatic-editor-mark-urban.html)

In quoting Nader, we didn’t intend to suggest that the US was an uppity native getting in the way of profit-taking.

You write: ” For any right-thinking person not infected with colonial prejudice, it is perfectly clear to see that President Assad is a popular, unifying leader in a country that has faced escalating hostility from imperialism for decades .”

We didn’t say Assad wasn’t popular or unifying. We’ve often pointed out that Syria has faced escalating attacks from external forces of the kind you’re describing.

We wrote that the Assad dictatorship “has committed many horrific war crimes“. That’s really undeniable. For example, Robert Fisk has cited Syrian army officers who made it very clear that they had not been taking prisoners. The Syrian air force has clearly been bombing civilian areas, also a war crime, and so on. As in any war, the government and head of government are responsible for all crimes of this kind.

Best wishes

David Edwards

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Dear David

From your reply it’s clear that you are relying on supporters of the system for your information.

‘Human-rights NGOs’ are usually backed by the same corporations who control the rest of our media. They are the missionaries of our time, clearing the way for imperial crimes by preaching to the oppressed and spreading slanders about them while pretending to be ‘independent’ of the imperial machine.

They present themselves as ‘neutral arbiters’, but a hefty proportion of what they put out is outright lies, while the rest is distorted through the mirror of western corporate interests.

And who appointed these western ‘NGOs’ as arbiters of rights anyway? Isn’t the first right of people everywhere to be allowed to live in peace? To just live??? Amnesty International led the war propaganda effort for the destruction of Libya with total lies. Its leaders loudly and shamelessly laid the groundwork for a genocide against black Libyans and the almost total destruction of 40 years of civilisational advance – then quietly retracted their lies when the war was over. MSF have been doing the same in Syria by spreading unfounded lies about the use of chemical weapons based on nothing but the say-so of Nato’s death squads.

Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky are similar ‘left-wing’ imperialists of the type that you are usually quite good at spotting. They are ‘safe’ critics because they never question the really big lies on which the whole ideological edifice of this rotten system rests. If they weren’t such tame critics, you probably would never have heard of them! I know you have a thing for Chomsky, but I would not rely on him for information for a second. In the case of Syria, he reinforces the western narrative by describing the terror gangs there as a legitimate liberation struggle that has been forced to arm itself. So yes actually, it is perfectly deniable that President Assad is the author of ‘horrific war crimes’ – not only Assad and Syria deny it, but so do most of progressive and oppressed humanity. (See rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/09/chavez-backs-assad-again-blames-u-s-for-war/)

There is no civil war in Syria. The US, British and French imperialists are fighting a PROXY WAR. Civilians caught up in terrorist campaigns universally report on how many foreign accents and even languages there are amongst the fighters – who have mostly been drafted in from abroad. These mercenaries are not patriots. They have been trained by their masters to be utterly brutal (ie, killing and kicking out huge numbers of civilians from their homes, kidnapping young children and using chemical weapons on them in order to take photos and blame the deaths on the Syrian government). They recognise no rules of engagement. No crime is too barbaric for them. They are true servants of the Nato nazis.

Syria is fighting for its life as an independent and proud nation against the most powerful forces this planet has ever seen. Are you really saying that you (or Robert Fisk, come to that) are in a position to judge their tactics? One brutal battle where some bloody nasty terrorists got killed does not make the leader of a government into a war criminal. Especially when that government is trying to defend its people’s fundamental right to life by standing up against a criminal onslaught. They are trying not to become the next Afghanistan, the next Palestine, the next Congo, the next Iraq or the next Libya. They are trying to prevent the next middle-eastern genocide.

Do you think the Syrian government would remain popular if it was seen to be bombing its own civilians? Does that actually make sense if you stop to think about it? Why are the Syrian army greeted everywhere as liberators if that’s how they conduct warfare?

There has been a difficulty with ‘democratic freedoms’ in Syria. Where is there not? In Syria’s case, these limitations were a direct result of imperialist and Zionist warfare, not the random whim of some mythical ‘evil tyrant’. Countries that stand up to imperialism are forced to take defensive measures. They are under constant attack on all fronts all the time – economically, militarily, via the media and through sabotage and infiltration. In order to allow people to keep going to school, to keep living in their subsidised housing, eating their subsidised food and using their free hospitals, the government had to protect the system that provided those from collapse at the hands of outside agents.

Think Britain during WW2. The country was in a state of emergency. People were asked to be vigilant against alien activity. Democracy was curtailed. Were there good reasons for it? Did the people understand it? Would you therefore characterise Churchill’s government as a brutally oppressive regime of war criminals? [In fact, it’s a bad comparison, as Churchill really was a war criminal and a nasty racist piece of work, but you take my point, I hope.]

Syria has been in a state of emergency, a state of war, since Israel occupied the Golan Heights. It has been constantly infiltrated by spies and saboteurs and, of course, some Syrians are in the pay of these forces. Do you honestly believe that a country under such attack should not take any steps to defend itself? Would you like to see imperialism being given free reign to control every corner of the planet? How do you expect countries to defend themselves if not by ‘oppressing’ those who want to hand the country over to the forces of free-market fundamentalism?

But it is not the job of peace-lovers and anti-imperialists to condemn the victim for trying to stop a crime. We should be pointing our fingers at the criminals and exposing their dastardly activities, not helping them to justify their vicious attacks.

The imperialists are angry only because the measures such states take to protect themselves are to a certain extent effective against their attempts to effect regime change from within, by subversion and manipulation. ‘We should be able to control your political and economic life’ is what calls by the imperialists for ‘open government and democracy’ really amount to. They are total doublespeak. Is it really so hard to see that?

Are you aware that the genuine ‘popular protests’ that the West homed in on and infiltrated as an excuse to trigger its proxy war were against market reforms that had been forced through by the IMF? Did you know that a structural adjustment programme had opened up parts of the economy to corporate investors and led to higher prices and unemployment? That the demonstrations were essentially a result of Syria having made concessions to the great economic pressure that has been brought to bear for decades by the imperialists?

Did you know that the real protestors considered President Assad to be on their side in their call for greater democracy (a lightening of the state of emergency) and for a return to a more nationalised economy and better opportunities for young people? Did you know that the mass of people backed a new constitution two years ago and back the government today? If you knew these facts you would not be so quick to believe the stupid lies about Assad ‘clamping down’ on protestors, ‘firing on his own people’, etc etc.

It is documented that terrorist snipers and armed men attacked police at faked ‘protests’ in order to portray the government as ‘brutal’ and justify their impending war – a war that has been in the planning for at least a decade. (See globalresearch.ca/syria-who-is-behind-the-protest-movement-fabricating-a-pretext-for-a-us-nato-humanitarian-intervention/24591)

Governments get demonised by the West precisely when they do manage to stand up for themselves and protect their people. While imperialism exists in the world, people will have to find ways to deal with that reality. They didn’t create the situation. They didn’t ask to be in the firing line. I’m sure they would like nothing better than to be left the hell alone to develop their economy and their culture in peace.

But that’s not what happens is it?

Why are we in the imperialist countries allowed to identify with the nobly vanquished victim and loudly wish that the world was not so unjust, but not to give any real support to those who are trying not to be the next victims of this barbaric system? Should we not be pulling out all the stops to help those on the front line who are actually doing something to change the balance of forces in favour of the oppressed?

And if Assad is popular, unifying and freely elected, where the hell do you get off calling him a ‘dictator’?

It’s time to dig a little deeper and decide which side you are really on. There are no neutral arbiters in this world.

Sincerely yours,

JB

 

Posted in SyriaComments Off on The media war on Syria

Royal Mail sell-off

NOVANEWS

LALKARONLINE

Police have warned against a Royal Mail email scam. Photo: Paul Battison

Postal workers and tax payers shafted

The eventual complete privatisation of Royal Mail (with only the post offices separated and remaining in public hands) passed with barely a whimper let alone anything resembling a bang. This privatisation was one, along with the NHS, that various governments have considered over the years but every one of them, from Thatcher to Major, Blair to Brown have always settled for taking chunks in partial privatisations or ‘opened up’ the work of Royal Mail to let in private competition, but they have shied away from privatising the full thing fearing real resistance from the workforce and the public that actually owned the service. The fact that in the end, after the years of such attacks, it all went through so quietly does not bode well for the last remnants of the NHS.

Of course the sale was brought forward right into the middle of the CWU membership passing a strike ballot that had been proposed by the CWU (Communication Workers’ Union), a ballot concerning pay and conditions following privatisation but not actually mobilising to oppose privatisation. CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward was quoted in the Express as saying: ” What we want is a groundbreaking, long-term, legally binding agreement that not only protects postal workers’ job security, pay and pensions but will also determine the strategy, principles and values of how Royal Mail will operate as a private entity .”

The strike ballot was won with a 78% majority of a 63% turn-out of the 115,000 members balloted. It has to be said that to achieve this vote at a time when the privatisation was a fait accompli, free shares were being given to the postal workers (albeit shares that couldn’t be sold for three years) and a bribe of £300 offered to those willing to cross picket lines was no mean achievement, but one has to wonder, with that amount of anger among the workforce, what could have been achieved with a plan of indefinite strike action to keep the Royal Mail public? As it is a 24 hour strike on November 4 and another ballot, this time on whether workers should boycott the mail from rival private companies, is all that the union have planned.

Of course, the CWU is affiliated to the Labour Party and will, no doubt, be calling on their members to put their faith in the declared intention of that party at its annual conference in Brighton this year to reverse this privatisation if elected to government. While it is extremely unlikely that anything so controversial will even get into Labour’s election manifesto the likelihood of the Labour Party in power actually reversing this, or any other, privatisation is right up there with the moon turning bright blue and the river Thames suddenly becoming malt whisky. The leadership of the CWU know and understand this as they are part of the Labour Party apparatus but they have made the right noises and can continue raking in the subs of their members whilst claiming they ‘had done their best’.

When it comes to criticism of the privatisation the union, the TUC and the Labour Party seem to be concentrating their combined fire not on the fact that the privatisation took place or why it has been done but rather on complaining that it was done too cheaply. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said: “Privatising Royal Mail has become little different from selling five pound notes for four quid.

“No one can be blamed for wanting a share of that, but let’s not forget that this has taken something that belonged to all of us and given a large slice away for free to those who could afford an entry ticket. And everyone knows that in the long run the postal service will get worse, just as other privatised industries have ended up abusing markets and ripping off consumers. 

Actually, it’s worse than selling fivers for four quid as that means a loss of 20 percent, when in fact the difference in this case is nearer 36 percent and rising. But the analogy is flawed in another way as well. The person selling the fivers doesn’t own them but does have a vested interest in line with the biggest buyers. This, rather than any ideological point is the real reason behind privatisation.

The consensus from the CWU, TUC and Labour Party is that the shares were incompetently sold well below their real worth and that this has lost the exchequer a large amount of cash which could have helped alleviate some of the worst effects of the current recession. While there is some truth in this view, it overlooks the whole point of privatisation, ie maximum profit for imperialism! If the union leaderships and the Labour Party were explaining the crying needs of imperialism to find profitable outlets for investment which demand wholesale privatisation of public services, it would do more of a service to the working class – but that is not the function of the Labour Party or the Social-Democratic leadership of British Trade Unions. Any worker can see that Royal Mail has been sold off cheaply, and understand that the ‘Tories are giving a nice fat bonus to their friends in the city’ but this doesn’t reveal the full story. The Labour and Lib-Dem parties are just as likely to do the privatising, the Lib-Dems are part of this present one, of course, so, the problem is not which party is in office but which political system is in use.

We live in a world ruled by the illogic of imperialism. The drive to maximise profits supersedes everything and this drive includes making production as cheap as possible. This is best done within the present system by lowering the cost of labour through lower wages, speeded up working methods and cutting workforces. This inevitably leads to the crisis of overproduction, the curse of capitalism, whereby vast shortages of goods are caused because we have produced too many of these goods. These goods exist. and the low-paid and unemployed may be in desperate need of these goods, but they are unable to buy them because they don’t have the means. The capitalists cannot just give them away or sell them too cheaply as that runs counter to the accumulation of maximum profit. So industries grind to a halt, thus exacerbating the situation since yet more workers find their spending power destroyed. The usual way out of the type of stagnation now affecting the whole capitalist world is war. War uses up surplus production and is wonderful for arms, oil and building companies, giving stagnant capital a useful (ie, one that produces maximum profit) avenue to pursue. At present it is estimated that there are trillions of pounds being retained by corporations around the world who see no viable avenue for profitable investment. US companies are holding on to approximately $1.7 trillion; 2 trillion or so euros are floundering about in Europe, and British firms have about £750bn doing nothing. This is stagnant Capital and the logic of imperialism dictates it must be used to its fullest effect for stagnation is death. By opening up the remains of the public sector in this country to privatisation British imperialism hopes to get a lot of this ‘resting’ capital into circulation.

So how big was the undervaluation of Royal Mail? A cross section of city analysts have calculated that the sell off was undervalued by between £600 million and £2.7 billion (between 22% and 80%) while the Labour Party released a report prior to the sale claiming that the undervaluation was around 30% (£1 billion). The shares that had gone out to some small investors and which were allowed to be traded on Friday 18 October rose immediately in value from 330p to 445p at the close of business. Others got their chance to sell on Tuesday 22 October. The shares were sold in tranches or bundles of £750.00 and only 30% were released for purchase by small investors, while 70% went to the big investors, hedge funds, pension funds, banks etc. Small investors who applied for more than £10,000 worth of shares ended up with none while the massive hedge fund, Landsdowne Partners Ltd, got awarded £50 million worth which brought them a hefty £18 million profit on that first day of trading. The 30% of shares that went to the small investors are making their way into the waiting hands of the big investors with far greater speed than any previous sell off as the small investors sell for the quick profits and the big investors buy these hastily sold shares to make huge profits over longer periods.

An area of the sell off that will be very profitable is the huge amount of property that is held by Royal Mail – in excess of 2000 properties around the country. These were badly undervalued at a mere £787 million. Many of these properties are not only huge but are already considered to be ‘no longer required’ which means that they will be sold to developers. As some of these are in prime London locations such as Nine Elms in Battersea and Mount Pleasant they will make very tidy profits. Mount Pleasant sorting office in Islington at 12 acres is one of the largest of these and should bring in around a billion pounds on its own if sold for housing at present rates.

One company that didn’t bother to wait for privatisation to feed off of the Royal Mail property is Great Portland Estates who acquired Rathbone Place, a 2.3 acre site, from Royal Mail for £120 million in 2011 and rented it back to them until just before the privatisation. The site is just of Oxford Street and will now be redeveloped creating offices, retail housing lots, which analysts at Oriel and JP Morgan estimate should turn a £100 million profit for Great Portland Estates. Not a bad return on investment in these hard times!

Prior to the sell off, a nasty little trick performed by the Government with little or no criticism was to separate the Royal Mail pensions from the new company keeping the liabilities and debt on the public books while moving only assets over to the new private company. This liability of the postal worker’s pensions will be the responsibility of the public purse for decades to come. One MP said: ” I fear the government is going to steal £22bn of pension assets, dump the liability as a mortgage on future generations and dress it up as the salvation of the Royal Mail. Their plan to steal the pension assets to help reduce their borrowing figures while taking out a massive mortgage to cover Post Office pension liabilities for 50 years is nothing more than a massive accounting scam … This dangerous plan must be resisted. ” The MP was in fact Tory MP, Alan Duncan, speaking in 2008 when the Labour Government was trying to do exactly the same thing. No wonder Labour have not made a clamour about it. And why is Alan Duncan now happy with this state of affairs? This illustrates beautifully the inter-changeability of bourgeois parties in government and opposition.

Of course, some people have taken note of the obscene profits being made by the privateers in this latest sell off of a publicly owned service. This being the case bourgeois democracy will instigate investigations and reports by committees to review, discuss and make recommendations until everyone is thoroughly bored by the subject. It is in this light that we see the recall by MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, to answer questions (or for a ‘grilling’ if the press are to be believed) for the second time re this sell-off. They are also calling in representatives of the banks that advised Royal Mail on the price of shares, Goldman Sachs and UBS along with the investment bank that advised the Government, Lazard. Two other banks, who have refused to be named, have already said prior to the sale that the price should have been 500p per share.

Although there is for the moment no great outcry from the public over this privatisation, opinion polls taken before the event found 70 % of those asked were against privatisation with 36% of those saying they were strongly opposed while just 20% declared in favour with only 4% of those strongly in favour. This should then leave the Labour Party in a strong position to make big electoral capital out of this sale of the mail, shouldn’t it? Well, it might have had they not themselves when last in Government already tried to sell just under half of it to a private company in 2008.

Royal Mail can be traced back to 1635 under the rule of Henry VIII but its later history is far more interesting for us. Going back to 1980 we saw British Telecom ripped away from the Royal Mail to become a private telephone company in 1981. 1990 was the year Girobank was taken from Royal Mail and sold to Alliance and Leicester. In 1994 Michael Heseltine, then President of the Board of Trade, published a green paper on postal reform which outlined various options for privatisation but was dropped after a number of Tory MPs said they would not support such legislation.

In 2000 the Labour Government brought in the Postal Services Act making the Post Office a public limited company and changing the name to Consignia a year later. After a public outcry about the name change led by the CWU the name reverted to Royal Mail Group plc in 2002. The 2000 Act set up a postal regulator called ‘the Postal Services Commission’, aka Postcomm. Postcomm was there to offer contracts to private companies to deliver mail in competition with Royal Mail, and 2004 saw the scrapping of the second daily delivery to, we were told, improve efficiency and save money. The mail trains were also axed that year in what could only be seen as measures to destroy confidence in and support for Royal Mail.

In 2006 Royal Mail totally lost its monopoly and the British postal market became fully opened to companies to collect mail and pass it to Royal Mail for delivery in a service known as downstream access. In 2008 the Hooper Review of the postal services recommended selling off a large part of the service to a private company. Despite getting the legislation through the Lords, the Labour Government had to abandon it owing to strong opposition in the Commons. With the change of government in 2010 privatisation was back on the table and prices went through the roof. The aim of this was on the one hand to alienate support for a publicly owned service and on the other to save the new private company from having to put up prices too much straight away.

All of which brings us up to date except to add that the Chief Executive in charge of this privatised service, Moya Greene, is calling for ” protection from industrial action” and, when asked if a price rise was imminent, replied: “Well, we didn’t raise stamps last year.

Ultimately our services will only be run properly under the system of socialism where the service to the people is the only profit anyone is looking for from it and where the real improvement of that service and the improved conditions of the staff are the only reason for any changes in that service.

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Hands off Somalia!

NOVANEWS

LALKARONLINE


A comment on the September attack upon Nairobi’s prestigious Westgate Mall

September witnessed a bloody attack by between ten and fifteen Al-Shabaab militants upon Nairobi’s prestigious Westgate Mall, a partly Israeli-owned complex which offers the country’s elite and well-heeled tourists the “supreme experience of shopping“. The rescue operation stretched over several days and concluded with a death toll estimated at over seventy, with many wounded and unaccounted for.

The attack appeared to have been meticulously planned, with some reports suggesting that machine guns had earlier been smuggled into the shopping centre and stashed in a shop rented for that purpose. By contrast, the response of state security was marked by incompetence and corruption, with different spokesmen unable to agree a consistent narrative as events unfolded. The collapse of three storeys of the Mall, causing many of the casualties, was at first attributed to the militants burning mattresses in order to create a diversion, then later to a suicide bomb. Unofficial reports disagreed, suggesting that in fact the collapse had been caused by the security forces firing rocket-propelled grenades indoors. Further doubt was thrown on the competence and integrity of the security forces when it emerged that, even as the siege dragged on, thousands of dollars worth of jewellery and electronic equipment was being looted by persons unknown.

This act of terror attracted a good deal of lurid media attention and handwringing. What was missing from most coverage however was any serious attempt to explain how such an event came about in the first place. The impression given was that this destruction had come out of a clear blue sky, a completely random and motiveless outrage perpetrated by evil Muslim bombers against an unsuspecting civilian population.

The moral outrage which greeted the slaughter of three or four score unfortunate Nairobi shoppers contrasted starkly with the resounding silence from the same quarters concerning the many thousands of Somali men, women and children who have died, and continue to die, as a result of over thirty years of imperialist meddling in the Horn of Africa, culminating in the current occupation and attempted break-up of Somalia by Kenyan, Ethiopian and other African forces acting shamefully on behalf of the British, US and French imperialist powers.

Kenyan invasion

Yet even in the imperialist media, glimpses of reality could not be completely avoided. Whatever may be thought about Al Shabaab’s tactics and ideology, nobody can claim to be in doubt about their motives after the very clear statements its spokesman offered in an interview with Channel 4 News. These statements had little to say about religious matters, but plenty to say about defending the unity and independence of Somalia and resisting imperialism.

“The reason we attacked is to defend our people, our country, because Kenya attacked us, they are still controlling parts of our land. We have been peaceful neighbours, but they are the ones who attacked us and we are defending ourselves. Whether you are Muslim or Christian, the law says you have to defend yourself from those who attack you… We have told the Kenyans and those who come to Kenya that we will not tolerate what Kenya is doing to us. We told them we would defend ourselves and we warned them about travelling to Kenya. Kenyans have blood on their hands. Anyone who is prepared to come to Kenya must be prepared to face the reality, and we don’t fear Europeans and Americans because we are not weak. And we are saying to the Europeans and the Americans who have been supporting those who have been attacking us, you should tell the Kenyans to stop their aggression if you want to be safe… We are saying to the British, since we believe they are helping the Kenyans, and Kenyans are their slaves, they should tell the Kenyans, they should order back the Kenyan army out of Somalia.”

Contrary to Kenyan government assertions that the illegal invasion by some 4,000 of its troops in October 2011 was triggered by a spate of cross-border abductions allegedly carried out by Al-Shabaab, a cable released by WikiLeaks makes clear that the invasion had been planned for at least the previous two years, and always had as its goal the creation of an artificial Jubaland buffer state. Whilst Kenya presents this as a defensive measure to protect its shipping and tourism from destabilisation, it should be noted that the Jubaland area sits on a large body of untapped oil, and that it is Somalia which has itself been the longstanding victim of destabilisation by imperialism and its cowardly allies. The so-called “Jubaland Initiative” is in fact part of a much wider plan to balkanize the country, just as has already started to happen with the earlier establishment of another pretend statelet in the North East, “Puntland“, under whose auspices the Canadian company Africa Oil has already begun drilling.

Unlike Uganda’s invasion of 2007, which took the precaution of covering its naked aggression with the fig leaf of UN approval and going in under the banner of the African Union Mission (Amisom), Kenya did not even bother with these niceties. Indeed, the government did not trouble to seek approval from its own parliament, as the country’s constitution requires. The government of the then prime minister Raila Odinga, Washington’s faithful friend in Nairobi, was confident that the “international community” would soon enough offer its retrospective blessing. Sure enough the invading Kenyan forces were then allowed to huddle under the Amisom umbrella, alongside forces from Uganda, Djibouti and Sierra Leone, crucially backed up by the French navy and by drones flying out of US bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Kenyan forces, with much help from the West, managed to drive Al Shabaab from the important southern seaport of Kismayu, thereby helping Amisom to consolidate its grip on Mogadishu.

From the outset the puppet Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been racked with internal dissensions, provoking Hillary Clinton to wring her hands over “people inside and outside the TFG who seek to undermine Somalia’s peace and security or to delay or even prevent the political transition”. The TFG (lately rebranded as the Somali Federal Government), whose writ barely runs beyond the confines of Mogadishu itself, with vast swathes of the rural population still looking to Al-Shabaab for leadership in resisting foreign aggression, felt its shaky “national” pretensions further challenged by the sight of Somalia’s Kenyan neighbours throwing their weight around in the south. A leaked diplomatic letter from the SFG accused the Kenyans of deviating from their supposed role as “neutral peacekeepers” by backing one Somali faction against others, arresting a senior Somali army officer and using heavy weaponry against civilians.

Kenya in fact is doing no more and no less than is intended by its paymasters in the West. By playing on clan rivalries in the region in order to annex a ” buffer state“, they are assisting the imperialist strategy of balkanising the country, the better to suck it dry of its oil and keep it weak and divided. Sure enough, in August this year the SFG was pressured into signing an agreement with the warlord Ahmed Madobe, whose Ras Kamboni militia have been acting as Kenya’s hired guns, opening the way to the invention of a clan-based Jubaland statelet.

The ICC: “a farcical pantomime

Such conflicts erupting between competing flunkeys of imperialism, in the process exposing Washington’s crass efforts at recolonising Africa, are compounded by its misfiring plans within Kenya itself. Thinking to have guaranteed the electoral triumph of Odinga’s US-friendly government by prevailing on the International Criminal Court to have his rival Uhuru Kenyatta up on charges relating to electoral violence back in 2007, the Obama administration was truly gobsmacked to see Uhuru Kenyatta sail to victory by a comfortable majority. Whereas the October 2011 invasion of Somalia had been presided over by a regime meeting Washington’s approval, the blowback from the invasion is now being handled by a government led by men whom Washington was only yesterday wanting to see banged up. The African Union, painfully aware of the key role played by Kenya in Amisom’s struggle to suppress Al-Shabaab, has hastily declared that no sitting head of state should be prosecuted by an international tribunal.

Mr Kenyatta’s response to the Westgate Mall massacre was as one would expect from the leader of a nation which has just suffered a major terror offensive, but time alone will tell with what degree of eagerness the new administration in Nairobi will warm to the counter-insurgency role Washington has reserved for the Kenyan military. The fact that, more than ten years into its life, the ICC has indicted only African suspects might make more than one African leader think twice about the wisdom of entrusting the fate of African nations to the tender mercies of the “international community“.

As Mr Kenyatta told the African Union in closed session, the ICC “has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims,” adding that it “stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers.” The United States itself refuses to ratify the ICC and holds a veto in the UNSC, hoping never to be held to account for its war crimes in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, to mention only the most recent in its long criminal history.

Somalia: a history of oppression and resistance

Shortly after gaining its independence, Somalia sought to follow a progressive path, looking to the Soviet Union for protection and embracing a socialist orientation. Sadly, the country fell prey to the blandishments of US imperialism, falling for promises of economic and military support in exchange for its assistance in 1978 in attacking progressive Ethiopia. The just rebuff suffered at the hands of Ethiopian and Cuban forces sparked an extended economic and political crisis, resulting in 1991 in the collapse of the Siad Barre government. Looking to capitalise on the resultant vacuum, Washington in 1992 sent 12,000 marines to invade. The ensuing occupation awoke the spirit of national resistance. The uprising against occupation which erupted in 1993 culminated the following year with the occupation forces being driven out at gunpoint, a massive humiliation for the US and its allies despite their overwhelmingly superior firepower.

Out of this reborn spirit of national resistance, and in the teeth of all the meddling and bullying from the Washington, Paris and London, there emerged a unifying force in the form of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). For a brief spell, from 2000 to 2006, a degree of stability and order was restored to the country. To the great relief of Mogadishu citizens the streets were cleaned again, rubbish was collected, the seaport was reopened, planes could once more fly in and out of Mogadishu International and measures were taken to curb piracy.

Stung by the refusal of Somalia to resign itself to the imposed status of a “failed state“, the West decided to punish the country from a safe distance, backing the 2007 invasion and occupation by Ethiopia, a country which had itself by now fallen back into neo-colonial tutelage, in a bloody campaign that cost countless lives.

Two years of brutal occupation also saw Somalia plunged back into yet another devastating famine. Uncle Sam is a past master at manipulating the supply of food aid to reward its friends and punish its enemies, the very practice of which the media like to accuse Al-Shabaab. A UN report says that between 2010 and 2012 at least a quarter of a million Somalis starved to death. Many of those were people fleeing the invasion and occupation of the south by Ethiopia and Amison. Drought caused the famine, but US policy multiplied the death toll, first by sponsoring the invasion which drove people from their lands and then by cutting off food aid to anywhere Al-Shabaab had influence – i.e. all over the rural areas. According to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the US’s anti-terror laws were used to obstruct assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Speaking in a seminar at Helsinki University, he said humanitarian organisations suspended food aid delivery to drought-struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act.

Under the double impact of military force and engineered famine, the ICU lost ground and was driven back. Resistance did not cease, however. The role of national resistance effectively devolved to those elements of the ICU which refused the path of collaboration. The struggle was taken up in particular by the youth – or, in Arabic, “Al-Shabaab“.

When the Ethiopian occupation ended in 2009, Washington made sure there was in place an “internationally recognised” puppet government to try to keep the lid on the resistance and act in a comprador role. Whilst some elements of the ICU opted to collaborate with these puppets, others continued to take the path of resistance, notably including Al-Shabaab. The youth wing of the ICU now took up the resistance struggle, declaring war against the “transitional” government and demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Somali soil. There are currently estimated to be some 25,000 such foreign troops in Somalia under the banner of Amisom.

British imperialism

Nobody should underestimate the role of Britain in all this, although its current military involvement remains shadowy. As a former colonial power it is no stranger to the practice of oppression, and as a monopoly capitalist power with an overweening need to plunder resources and dominate markets it is right up there with the US, France and Israel.

Whilst many on the left find it more comfortable to characterise British imperialism as “a poodle of America“, the reality is that British imperialism is not simply led astray by the US but actively pursues its own blood-stained agenda. Back in February 2012 David Cameron hosted an international conference in London, ostensibly to talk about “rebuilding” Somalia – code for dividing up the spoils. The conference included all the big imperialist powers, plus the UN’s Ban Ki-moon and a token representative of the puppet Somali “government”. We commented at the time that “The British spearheading of the conference is due in no small part to the aggressive manoeuvring of Britain’s own oil multinational, BP, which clearly hopes to play a major role in tapping in to Somalia’s substantial oil reserves. To aid the corporation in this ambition, the British government has worked hard to create close ties with the ‘Transitional Federal Government’. A representative from the TFG in Puntland told the Observer: ‘We have spoken to a number of UK officials, some have offered to help us with the future management of oil revenues. They will help us build our capacity to maximise future earnings from the oil industry … We need those with the necessary technical knowhow, we plan to talk to BP at the right time.'” (Proletarian, April 2012)

Nor should we fail to note that the very guns which were turned upon the hapless shoppers in Nairobi were in all likelihood an overspill from the flood of lethal weaponry poured into the hands of counterrevolutionaries in Libya and Syria, with the active assistance of the same British government which is supposedly tasked with the protection of its own citizens. How this task is furthered by first violating Somalia’s sovereignty and then furnishing its outraged citizens with the means of launching a revenge attack is a question that should be addressed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The future for Somalia

What form Somalia’s national struggle will take going forward is as yet unclear. Some reports suggest that within Al-Shabaab itself there is tension between those whose primary focus remains the national defence of Somalia against imperialist oppression and others who are seduced by feudalist pipedreams about establishing a universal caliphate under theocratic rule. Whilst it is the case that some of the most spirited resistance to imperialism has clothed itself in mullah’s robes, recent experience in Syria and Egypt serves as a painful reminder of the limitations such feudal ideology imposes upon the struggle, leaving such movements vulnerable to manipulation by imperialism. One has only to consider the counterrevolutionary role played by Al Qaeda in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the jihadists in the northern Sinai to understand the self-defeating perils to which this flawed ideology can expose the struggle against imperialism.

But whatever form it may take, it is certain that Somalia’s national struggle will not cease. It is the incurable crisis of monopoly capitalism which is behind Washington’s feverish efforts to reverse a hundred years of historical development and recolonise the continent of Africa. And it is the oppressed masses of the world who cannot but press forward to confound these colonial aspirations, with the full force of history at their backs.

Hands off Somalia!

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Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh given Nelson Mandela Award

NOVANEWS

From Fight Back! News:

Despite being the target of a major political attack by the U.S. government, Rasmea Odeh continues to work for the Palestinian people.

This is why the 22nd Annual People’s Thanksgiving Dinner, held in Chicago Dec. 8, honored her with the “Nelson Mandela Award: Opposing Israeli Apartheid is not a Crime.”

70 people gathered to recognize her and a number of other important activists. They met at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, despite an early blizzard that made getting to the church hazardous.

In presenting the award, Muhammad Sunkari of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network referred to the late leader of the national liberation movement in South Africa. “When Ted Koppel interviewed him after his release from prison, Mandela defended the ANC’s ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization. He called the Palestinians, ‘comrades in arms.’ I would say that a great example of a comrade of Mandela is Rasmea Odeh.”

In accepting the award, Odeh was in good spirits. She thanked everyone, saying, “I need your support, and we all need each other’s support to stand strong and continue.”

The event is held annually by Fight Back! news and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). The dinner raised over $3000 for Odeh’s defense campaign, as well as $1000 to help continue the work of Fight Back! news.

Another emotional moment in the dinner was an award presented to Pete Camarata. Camarata was a co-founder of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). His award, entitled the “Big Bill Haywood: Class Struggle Award” was presented to him by Richard Berg. Berg, a long time reformer in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), has known Camarata for 25 years.

The framed award, reading, “For his lifelong dedication to the liberation of the working class,” was accepted by Camarata’s stepson, Jackson Potter. Potter is the staff coordinator of the Chicago Teachers Union. He explained that Camarata couldn’t attend the dinner because he is fighting cancer.

A statement from Camarata read in part, “I thank FRSO for the award, and I accept it with the knowledge that my activism belongs to the movement and the brave people who built TDU, the movement in this country and around the world.”

Awards were also presented to Sarah Simmons and Newland Smith, both activists in the Anti-War Committee-Chicago and to Michael Sampson, a Dream Defender from Tallahassee, Florida.

Joe Iosbaker of FRSO spoke to the crowd. He noted that last year’s event celebrated the successful defense of Carlos Montes. “Next year, we plan to be back here to celebrate with Rasmea for a victory over this new attack!”

Iosbaker put the defense of Odeh in a broader context, including the ongoing investigation of 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists by the U.S. attorney. “Our advances can be quickly taken from us by the likes of Mayor Emmanuel or President Obama or Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas.” Citing the many crimes of the U.S. empire at home and abroad Iosbaker continued, “We in FRSO have come to the conclusion that the existing order of things is unacceptable. For that reason we have decided to build a revolutionary organization.”

Summing up, Iosbaker said, “Whenever we celebrate the advances made in the struggles we are part of, FRSO always names the way of life that is better than capitalism – that way of life is called socialism. We know a big change will take a lot of work, but we do think it will happen.”

 

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Considering Extinction: Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?

NOVANEWS

Jamail explores what climate scientists just beyond the mainstream are thinking about how climate change will affect life on this planet. What, in other words, is the worst that we could possibly face in the decades to come? The answer: a nightmare scenario.I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

“We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.” –Prof. Guy McPherson, University of Arizona

The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean.  That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology… Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” –Neil Dawe, biologist

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas.  Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are currently in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying. Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible — even in the course of just the next few decades.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon — an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, “Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems.”

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 3,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

Miller revealed another alarming finding: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

“If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.” –James Hansen, former NASA scientist

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology,” Dawe says. “Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to apaper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have alreadylost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According tothe Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

“People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.” –Prof. Ira Leifer, UC Santa Barbara

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. “There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees,” says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. “The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.”

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

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Snowden: ‘I Would Rather Be without a State than without a Voice’

NOVANEWS

Open letter to Brazilian people is a testimony of continued purpose, not a quid pro quo

– Jon Queally

Brazilian senators have asked for Edward Snowden’s help during hearings about the NSA’s aggressive targeting of the country. (Photograph: Uncredited/AP)A day after a ruling by a federal judge was seen to vindicate the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor published “an open letter” to the people of Brazil offering to help the government there with its investigation into U.S. spying in the country.

“I’ve expressed my willingness to assist where it’s appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the US government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so,” Snowden said in the letter, which was published in the Brazilian daily Folha de S Paulo.

“I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.” –Edward Snowden

“Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out,” he said.

Though many media outlets depicted the letter as an offer by Snowden to “exchange” or “swap” his assistance for political asylum, nothing in the letter suggests a quid pro quo.

For example, the USA Today headline on Tuesday morning read:Snowden to Brazil: Swap you spying help for asylum.‘ And even the Guardian reported: Edward Snowden offers to help Brazil over US spying in return for asylum.’

But as journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted:

And:

More accurately depicted, Snowden’s letter shows the whistleblower offering his assistance but also voicing the reality of his predicament, stripped of his ability to travel, stranded in Russia with only temporary and restricted status, and under threat of arrest by his own government for exposing some of the NSA’s most deeply held secrets regarding behavior that the federal ruling on Monday deemed as an affront to constitutional guarantees.

“American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry,” Snowden’s letter reads, “because this is not ‘surveillance,’ it’s ‘data collection.’ They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever.”

“These programs were never about terrorism,” the letter continues, “they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

Though Snowden welcomes the idea of nations and global citizens banding “together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights”—there is no suggestion that his willingness to assist others would be granted or refused in exchange for specific assistance. In fact, though it’s clear that a long-term asylum would allow him more freedom to “speak out,” as he says, he has resigned himself to the fact that he may never have a nation to call home again.

“The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again,” the letter states. “I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.”

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Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story

NOVANEWS

The president has said the right things about climate change – and has taken some positive steps. But we’re drilling for more oil and digging up more carbon than ever

(Illustration by Victor Juhasz / RollingStone)Two years ago, on a gorgeous November day, 12,000 activists surrounded the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Signs we carried featured quotes from Barack Obama in 2008: “Time to end the tyranny of oil”; “In my administration, the rise of the oceans will begin to slow.”

Our hope was that we could inspire him to keep those promises. Even then, there were plenty of cynics who said Obama and his insiders were too closely tied to the fossil-fuel industry to take climate change seriously. But in the two years since, it’s looked more and more like they were right – that in our hope for action we were willing ourselves to overlook the black-and-white proof of how he really feels.

If you want to understand how people will remember the Obama climate legacy, a few facts tell the tale: By the time Obama leaves office, the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined. In the same years, even as we’ve begun to burn less coal at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. We are, despite slight declines in our domestic emissions, a global-warming machine: At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine.

You could argue that private industry, not the White House, has driven that boom, and in part you’d be right. But that’s not what Obama himself would say. Here’s Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma, last year, in a speech that historians will quote many generations hence. It is to energy what Mitt Romney’s secretly taped talk about the 47 percent was to inequality. Except that Obama was out in public, boasting for all the world to hear:

“Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quad­rupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. . . . In fact, the problem . . . is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas . . . that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go.”

Actually, of course, “the problem” is that climate change is spiraling out of control. Under Obama we’ve had the warmest year in American history – 2012 – featuring a summer so hot that corn couldn’t grow across much of the richest farmland on the planet. We’ve seen the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the largest wind field ever measured, both from Hurricane Sandy. We’ve watched the Arctic melt, losing three quarters of its summer sea ice. We’ve seen some of the largest fires ever recorded in the mountains of California, Colorado and New Mexico. And not just here, of course – his term has seen unprecedented drought and flood around the world. The typhoon that just hit the Philippines, according to some meteorologists, had higher wind speeds at landfall than any we’ve ever seen. When the world looks back at the Obama years half a century from now, one doubts they’ll remember the health care website; one imagines they’ll study how the most powerful government on Earth reacted to the sudden, clear onset of climate change.

And what they’ll see is a president who got some stuff done, emphasis on “some.” In his first term, Obama used the stimulus money to promote green technology, and he won agreement from Detroit for higher automobile mileage standards; in his second term, he’s fighting for EPA regulations on new coal-fired power plants. These steps are important – and they also illustrate the kind of fights the Obama administration has been willing to take on: ones where the other side is weak. The increased mileage standards came at a moment when D.C. owned Detroit – they were essentially a condition of the auto bailouts. And the battle against new coal-fired power plants was really fought and won by environmentalists. Over the past few years, the Sierra Club and a passel of local groups managed to beat back plans for more than 100 new power plants. The new EPA rules – an architecture designed in part by the Natural Resources Defense Council – will ratify the rout and drive a stake through the heart of new coal. But it’s also a mopping-up action.

Obama loyalists argue that these are as much as you could expect from a president saddled with the worst Congress in living memory. But that didn’t mean that the president had to make the problem worse, which he’s done with stunning regularity. Consider:

• Just days before the BP explosion, the White House opened much of the offshore U.S. to new oil drilling. (“Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” he said by way of explanation. “They are technologically very advanced.”)

• In 2012, with the greatest Arctic melt on record under way, his administration gave Shell Oil the green light to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. (“Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents,” the president said.)

• This past August, as the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevadas was burning in Yosemite National Park, where John Muir invented modern environmentalism, the Bureau of Land Management decided to auction 316 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River basin. According to the Center for American Progress, the emissions from that sale will equal the carbon produced from 109 million cars.

Even on questions you’d think would be open-and-shut, the administration has waffled. In November, for instance, the EPA allowed Kentucky to weaken a crucial regulation, making it easier for mountaintop-removal coal mining to continue. As the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles said, “It’s dismaying that the Obama administration approved something even worse than what the Bush administration proposed.”

All these steps are particularly toxic because we’ve learned something else about global warming during the Obama years: Most of the coal and gas and oil that’s underground has to stay there if we’re going to slow climate change.

Though the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 was unquestionably the great foreign-policy failure of Obama’s first term, producing no targets or timetables or deals, the world’s leaders all signed a letter pledging that they would keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius. This is not an ambitious goal (the one degree we’ve raised the temperature already has melted the Arctic, so we’re fools to find out what two will do), but at least it is something solid to which Obama and others are committed. To reach that two-degree goal, say organizations such as the Carbon Tracker Initiative, the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, HSBC and just about everyone else who’s looked at the question, we’d need to leave undisturbed between two-thirds and four-fifths of the planet’s reserves of coal, gas and oil.

The Powder River Basin would have been a great place to start, especially since activists, long before the administration did anything, have driven down domestic demand for coal by preventing new power plants. But as the “Truth Team” on barack obama.com puts it, “building a clean future for coal is an integral part of President Obama’s plan to develop every available source of American energy.”

And where will the coal we don’t need ourselves end up? Overseas, at record levels: the Netherlands, the U.K., China, South Korea. And when it gets there, it slows the move to cleaner forms of energy. All told, in 2012, U.S. coal exports were the equivalent of putting 55 million new cars on the road. If we don’t burn our coal and instead sell it to someone else, the planet doesn’t care; the atmosphere has no borders.

As the administration’s backers consistently point out, America has cut its own carbon emissions by 12 percent in the past five years, and we may meet our announced national goal of a 17 percent reduction by decade’s end. We’ve built lots of new solar panels and wind towers in the past five years (though way below the pace set by nations like Germany). In any event, building more renewable energy is not a useful task if you’re also digging more carbon energy – it’s like eating a pan of Weight Watchers brownies after you’ve already gobbled a quart of Ben and Jerry’s.

Let’s lay aside the fact that climate scientists have long since decided these targets are too timid and that we’d have to cut much more deeply to get ahead of global warming. All this new carbon drilling, digging and burning the White House has approved will add up to enough to negate the administration’s actual achievements: The coal from the Powder River Basin alone, as the commentator Dave Roberts pointed out in Grist, would “undo all of Obama’s other climate work.”

The perfect example of this folly is the Keystone XL pipeline stretching south from the tar sands of Canada – the one we were protesting that November day. The tar sands are absurdly dirty: To even get oil to flow out of the muck you need to heat it up with huge quantities of natural gas, making it a double-dip climate dis­aster. More important, these millions of untouched acres just beneath the Arctic Circle make up one of the biggest pools of carbon on Earth. If those fields get fully developed, as NASA’s recently retired senior climate scientist James Hansen pointed out, it will be “game over” for the climate.

Obama has all the authority he needs to block any pipelines that cross the border to the U.S. And were he to shut down Keystone XL, say analysts, it would dramatically slow tar-sands expansion plans in the region. But soon after taking office, he approved the first, small Keystone pipeline, apparently without any qualms. And no one doubts that if a major campaign hadn’t appeared, he would have approved the much larger Keystone XL without a peep – even though the oil that will flow through that one pipe will produce almost as much carbon as he was theoretically saving with his new auto-mileage law.

But the fight to shut down the pipeline sparked a grassroots movement that has changed the culture of environmentalism – but not, so far, the culture of the White House. For me, the most telling moment came a month or two ago when it emerged that the president’s former communications director, Anita Dunn, had taken a contract to flack for the pipeline.

The reason for fighting Keystone all along was not just to block further expansion of the tar sands – though that’s required, given the amount of carbon contained in that expanse of Alberta. We also hoped that doing the right thing would jump-start Washington in the direction of real climate action. Instead, the effort necessary to hold off this one pipeline has kept environmentalists distracted as Obama has opened the Arctic and sold off the Powder River Basin, as he’s fracked and drilled. It kept us quiet as both he and Mitt Romney spent the whole 2012 campaign studiously ignoring climate change.

We’re supposed to be thrilled when Obama says something, anything, about global warming – he gave a fine speech this past June. “The question,” he told a Georgetown University audience, is “whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.” Inspiring stuff, but then in October, when activists pressed him about Keystone at a Boston gathering, he said, “We had the climate-change rally back in the summer.” Oh.

In fact, that unwillingness to talk regularly about climate change may be the greatest mistake the president has made. An account in Politico last month described his chief of staff dressing down Nobel laureate and then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2009 for daring to tell an audience in Trinidad that island nations were in severe danger from rising seas. Rahm Emanuel called his deputy Jim Messina to say, “If you don’t kill Chu, I’m going to.” On the plane home, Messina told Chu, “How, exactly, was this fucking on message?” It’s rarely been on message for Obama, despite the rising damage. His government spent about as much last year responding to Sandy and to the Midwest drought as it did on education, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions.

Which doesn’t mean anyone’s given up – the president’s inaction has actually helped to spur a real movement. Some of it is aimed at Washington, and involves backing the few good things the administration has done. At the moment, for instance, most green groups are rallying support for the new EPA coal regulations.

Mostly, though, people are working around the administration, and with increasing success. Obama’s plan to auction Powder River Basin coal has so far failed – there aren’t any bidders, in large part because citizens in Washington state and Oregon have fought the proposed ports that would make it cheap to ship all that coal to Asia. Obama has backed fracking to the hilt – but in state after state, voters have begun to limit and restrict the technology. Environmentalists are also taking the fight directly to Big Oil: In October, an Oxford University study said that the year-old fight for divestment from stock in fos­sil-fuel companies is the fastest-growing corporate campaign in history.

None of that cures the sting of Obama’s policies nor takes away the need to push him hard. Should he do the right thing on Keystone XL, a decision expected sometime in the next six months, he’ll at least be able to tell other world leaders, “See, I’ve stopped a big project on climate grounds.” That could, if he used real diplomatic pressure, help restart the international talks he has let lapse. He’s got a few chances left to show some leadership.

But even on this one highly contested pipeline, he’s already given the oil industry half of what it wanted. That day in Oklahoma when he boasted about encircling the Earth with pipelines, he also announced his support for the southern leg of Keystone, from Oklahoma to the Gulf. Not just his support: He was directing his administration to “cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

It has: Despite brave opposition from groups like Tar Sands Blockade, Keystone South is now 95 percent complete, and the administration is in court seeking to beat back the last challenges from landowners along the way. The president went ahead and got it done. If only he’d apply that kind of muscle to stopping climate change.

Posted in USAComments Off on Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story

NSA Surveillance Is about Power, Not “Safety”

NOVANEWS

An open letter to the people of Brazil

The following letter was published today in the Brazilian newspaper A Folha in Portuguese and this original text was provided via the Facebook page of Glenn Greenwald’s husband David Miranda:

Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

“The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless. . . The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.” – Edward Snowden (Portrait by Robert Shetterly / 2013 / Americans Who Tell The Truth Project)

My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.

At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own “safety”—for Dilma’s “safety,” for Petrobras’ “safety”—they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not “surveillance,” it’s “data collection.” They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.

Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so — going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn’t like what it’s hearing. The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing. Only three weeks ago, Brazil led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights.

The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens. Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.

My act of conscience began with a statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.

If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.

Posted in USAComments Off on NSA Surveillance Is about Power, Not “Safety”

The Republican War on Women: The Newly Invisible and Undeserving Poor

NOVANEWS

Republicans are pushing to decimate food-stamp programs. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz/Rolling Ston))While the rest of the world debates America’s role in the Middle East or its use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S. Congress is debating just how drastically it should cut food assistance to the 47 million Americans – one out of seven people –  who suffer from “food insecurity,” the popular euphemism for those who go hungry.

The U.S. Government began giving food stamps to the poor during the Great Depression.  Even when I was a student in the 1960’s, I received food stamps while unemployed during the summers.  That concern for the hungry, however, has evaporated. The Republicans – dominated by Tea Party policies – are transforming the United States into a far less compassionate and more mean-spirited society.

The need is great. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the food stamp programme – now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), has doubled from $38 billion in 2008 to $78 billion in the last year. During 2012, 65 million Americans used SNAP for at least one a month, which means that one out of every five Americans became part of the swelling rolls of “needy families,” most of whom are women and children.

Democrats defend the new debit card program, which can only be used to purchase food, as feeding needy Americans at a time of high unemployment and great poverty. Republicans, for their part, argue that the programme is rife with fraud, that its recipients (who are mostly single mothers) are lazy and shiftless, and that we must make drastic cuts to reduce government spending. Their most Dickensian argument is that if you feed the poor, they won’t want to work.

But as the New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out,welfare entitlements, including the food debit card, are not only good for families; they also good for the economy.  People who receive such help spend the money immediately. Single mother hold down multiple jobs at minimum wages to keep their family together. The debit card allows them to go shopping and to buy needed groceries. Such entitlements boost spending and the economy, rather than depleting it.

Despite these arguments, the cuts have already begun. On November 1, 2013, Congress cutnearly five billion dollars from SNAP and Republicans now want to cut another $40 billion dollars. The stalemate has resulted in the failure of Congress to pass the farm bill, which provides SNAP subsidies to farms, mostly of which are large agricultural corporations.

Meanwhile, poverty grows, the stock market zooms to new heights, the wealth of the 1% increases, and corporate executives continue to get tax exemptions for business entertainment expenses, which allow corporations to deduct 50% of these costs from theirannual taxes.

In all this discussion, the real face of poverty – single mothers – has strangely disappeared. Welfare policy in America has always favored mothers and children. In a country that values self-sufficiency and glorifies individualism, Americans have viewed men – except war veterans – as capable of caring for themselves, or part of the undeserving poor. Women, by contrast, were always viewed as mothers with dependents, people to be cared for and protected precisely because they are vulnerable and raise the next generation.

As I read dozens of think tank and government reports, and newspaper stories however, I am surprised to notice that even strong opponents of the cuts describe SNAP’s recipients as children, teenagers, seniors or the disabled. Why have single mothers disappeared from such accounts about the poor?  There are plenty of “needy families,” “households,” and “poor Americans,” but the real face of poverty and the actual recipients of food assistance are single mothers, whose faces have been absorbed by the more abstract language of “poor Americans” and “needy households.”

Even the strongest opponents of these cuts don’t focus on women or mothers. Instead they publicize pinched-faced children – a better poster image – staring hungrily at food they cannot eat. Or, they discuss the public health impact these cuts may have on children. According to most reports, even from the Agriculture Department, “children and teenagers” make up almost half of the recipients of food assistance. But they don’t mention the mothers who receive this assistance in order to feed those children and teenagers. From the stories about food stamps, you’d think that only children, teenagers, the elderly and the disabled have gone hungry.

The words “women” or even “mothers” rarely appear. In a powerful column against the cuts, the liberal and compassionate  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, for example, argued that “two-thirds of recipients are children, elderly or disabled” and warned his readers about the long-range impact of malnourished children. He, too, never mentioned women, who are the main adult recipients of the SNAP program and who feed those children, elderly or disabled. Nor did he point out that those who apply for such assistance are the mothers and women who seek to nourish these children. It’s as though women are simply vehicles – not persons – in the reproduction process of the human race.

Yet the reality tells a different story. In 2010, for example, 42 percent of single mothers relied on SNAP; and in rural areas, the rate often rose as high as one half of all single mothers. What’s missing from this picture – on both sides – is the real faces of hunger, which is not “needy” families, or “poor Americans”, but single mothers with “food insecurity” for themselves and their families. According to the Center for Budget Priorities, women are twice as likely to use food stamps as anyone else in the population. They are the ones who apply for the SNAP debit card, go shopping, takes buses for hours to find discounted food supplies, and try to stretch their food to last throughout the month for their children, teenagers and, less often, husbands. They are the pregnant women with older children whose infants are born malnourished, and the “Americans” who, at the end of the month, make hasty runs to relatives, food banks and even join other dumpster divers.

When journalists do focus on the women who are recipients of food assistance, they discover a nightmare hiding in plain sight.  These women are either unemployed, under-employed or service workers who don’t earn enough to feed themselves and their families. By the end of the month, they and their children frequently often skip meals or eat one meal a day until the next month’s SNAP assistant arrives

So why have women disappeared from a fierce national debate over who deserves food assistance? I’m not actually sure. Perhaps it is because so many adult women, like men, now work in the labour force and are viewed as individuals who should take care of themselves. Perhaps it is because Republicans find women’s appetite, as opposed to that of children, an embarrassment, hinting of sexual desire. Perhaps it is because this is part of the Republican war on women’s reproductive freedom: a single mother with children is somehow guilty of bringing on her own poverty.

Whatever the reason, the rhetoric does not match the reality. Once in while, the media publishes or broadcasts a “human interest” story that gives poor women a face” “It is late October,” one reporter begins, “so Adrianne Flowers is out of money to buy food for her family. Feeding five kids is expensive, and the roughly $600 in food stamps she gets from the federal government never lasts the whole month. “I’m barely making it,” said the 31-year-old Washington, D.C., resident and single mother.” End of story. On to weather and the sports.

For the most part, however, poor women remain invisible, even as the mothers who feed the children, teenagers, elderly and disable who live with them. They do not elicit compassion. If anything, they are ignored or regarded with contempt.

Whatever the reason, Americans are having a national debate about poor and needy Americans without addressing the very group whose poverty is the greatest. The result is that we are turning poor, single mothers, who are 85% of all single parents, into a newly invisible and undeserving group of recipients.

Republicans may view single mothers as sinful parasites who don’t deserve food assistance. But behind every hungry child, teenager and elderly person is a hungry mother who is exhausted from trying to keep her family together. Women who receive food assistance are neither invisible nor undeserving. They are working-class heroes who work hard -often at several minimal wage jobs – to keep their families nourished and together.

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