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Destroying What Remains: As The Arctic Dies & Melts Away, The US Navy Plans For War Games In The Arctic

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2015 at 8:53 pm
The USS Cowpens launches a Harpoon Missile from the aft missile deck as part of a live fire excercise, September 12, 2012.

The USS Cowpens launches a Harpoon Missile from the aft missile deck as part of a live-fire exercise, September 12, 2012. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly/US Navy; Edited: JR/TO)

Oldspeak: “Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).” -Dahr Jamail

“Another absurd example of the U.S. Climate/Environmental Policy. Bomb Baby Bomb. The U.S. Military is not content to be the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Fossil Fuels. The very thing that is hastening our march toward extinction. Nooooo, it must actually physically bomb, irradiate and destroy one of the most vitally important and ecologically sensitive regions on earth, 360% MORE than it has in the past at a critical time for wildlife upon which many people in the region depend on for survival. All in the name of being prepared for war over the toxic climate destroying resources to be yet to be plundered there. 2 Key cogs in the Military-Industrial Complex (“Defense” and Energy industries) are destroying whatever they deem necessary to meet their terminally short-sighted objectives. The madness continues unabated as Industrial Civilization grinds on.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks.  It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

That summer in 2003 when my life in Alaska ended was an unnerving one for me.  It followed a winter and spring in which I found myself protesting the coming invasion of Iraq in the streets of Anchorage, then impotently watching the televised spectacle of the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” assault on that country as Baghdad burned and Iraqis were slaughtered. While on Denali that summer I listened to news of the beginnings of what would be an occupation from hell and, in my tent on a glacier at 17 thousand feet, wondered what in the world I could do.

In this way, in a cloud of angst, I traveled to Iraq as an independent news team of one and found myself reporting on atrocities that were evident to anyone not embedded with the US military, which was then laying waste to the country. My early reporting, some of it for TomDispatch, warned of body counts on a trajectory toward one million, rampant torture in the military’s detention facilities, and the toxic legacy it had left in the city of Fallujah thanks to the use of depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous.

As I learned, the US military is an industrial-scale killing machine and also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet, which makes it a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As it happens, distant lands like Iraq sitting atop vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas are by no means its only playing fields.

Take the place where I now live, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The US Navy already has plans to conduct electromagnetic warfare training in an area close to where I moved to once again seek solace in the mountains: Olympic National Forest and nearby Olympic National Park. And this June, it’s scheduling massive war games in the Gulf of Alaska, including live bombing runs that will mean the detonation of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic munitions, as well as the use of active sonar in the most pristine, economically valuable, and sustainable salmon fishery in the country (arguably in the world).  And all of this is to happen right in the middle of fishing season.

This time, in other words, the bombs will be falling far closer to home. Whether it’s war-torn Iraq or “peaceful” Alaska, Sunnis and Shi’ites or salmon and whales, to me the omnipresent “footprint” of the US military feels inescapable.

All of Southeast Alaska's pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy's upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

All of Southeast Alaska’s pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy’s upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The War Comes Home

In 2013, US Navy researchers predicted ice-free summer Arctic waters by 2016 and it looks as if that prediction might come true. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that there was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter of the satellite era. Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).

Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk in Cordova, Alaska, with the Navy's environmental impact statement for their planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk in Cordova, Alaska, with the Navy’s environmental impact statement for their planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The waters in the Gulf of Alaska are some of the most pristine in the world, rivaled only by those in the Antarctic, and among the purest and most nutrient-rich waters anywhere. Northern Edge will take place in an Alaskan “marine protected area,” as well as in a NOAA-designated “fisheries protected area.” These war games will also coincide with the key breeding and migratory periods of the marine life in the region as they make their way toward Prince William Sound, as well as further north into the Arctic.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions. No fewer than a dozen native tribes including the Eskimo, Eyak, Athabascan, Tlingit, Sun’aq, and Aleut rely on the area for subsistence living, not to speak of their cultural and spiritual identities.

The Navy is already permitted to use live ordnance including bombs, missiles, and torpedoes, along with active and passive sonar in “realistic” war gaming that is expected to involve the release of as much as 352,000 pounds of “expended materials” every year. (The Navy’s EIS lists numerous things as “expended materials,” including missiles, bombs, torpedoes.) At present, the Navy is well into the process of securing the necessary permits for the next five years and has even mentioned making plans for the next 20. Large numbers of warships and submarines are slated to move into the area and the potential pollution from this has worried Alaskans who live nearby.

“We are concerned about expended materials in addition to the bombs, jet noise, and sonar,” the Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk tells me as we sit in her office in Cordova, Alaska.  EPC is an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat. “Chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, cyanide, ammonium perchlorate, the Navy’s own environmental impact statement says there is a high risk of chemical exposure to fish.”

Tiny Cordova, population 2,300, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state and consistently ranks among the top 10 busiest US fishing ports. Since September, when Stolarcyk first became aware of the Navy’s plans, she has been working tirelessly, calling local, state and federal officials and alerting virtually every fisherman she runs into about what she calls “the storm” looming on the horizon. “The propellants from the Navy’s missiles and some of their other weapons will release benzene, toluene, xylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthalene into the waters of twenty percent of the training area, according to their own EIS [environmental impact statement],” she explains as we look down on Cordova’s harbor with salmon fishing season rapidly approaching. As it happens, most of the chemicals she mentioned were part of BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which I covered for years, so as I listened to her I had an eerie sense of futuristic déjà vu.

Cordova, Alaska consistently ranks in the top-10 busiest US commercial fishing ports. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Cordova, Alaska consistently ranks in the top-10 busiest US commercial fishing ports. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

The Navy’s EIS estimates that, in the five-year period in which these war games are to be conducted, there will be more than 182,000 “takes” — direct deaths of a marine mammal, or the disruption of essential behaviors like breeding, nursing, or surfacing.  On the deaths of fish, it offers no estimates at all.  Nevertheless, the Navy will be permitted to use at least 352,000 pounds of expended materials in these games annually. The potential negative effects could be far-reaching, given species migration and the global current system in northern waters.

In the meantime, the Navy is giving Stolarcyk’s efforts the cold shoulder, showing what she calls “total disregard toward the people making their living from these waters.” She adds, “They say this is for national security. They are theoretically defending us, but if they destroy our food source and how we make our living, while polluting our air and water, what’s left to defend?”

Stolarcyk has been labeled an “activist” and “environmentalist,” perhaps because the main organizations she’s managed to sign on to her efforts are indeed environmental groups like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the Alaskans First Coalition.

“Why does wanting to protect wild salmon habitat make me an activist?” she asks. “How has that caused me to be branded as an environmentalist?” Given that the Alaska commercial fishing industry could be decimated if its iconic “wild-caught” salmon turn up with traces of cyanide or any of the myriad chemicals the Navy will be using, Stolarcyk could as easily be seen as fighting for the well-being, if not the survival, of the fishing industry in her state.

All of the Native Tribes and Villages of Kodiak, Alaska are opposed to the Navy’s planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

All of the Native Tribes and Villages of Kodiak, Alaska are opposed to the Navy’s planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

War Gaming the Community

The clock is ticking in Cordova and others in Stolarcyk’s community are beginning to share her concerns. A few like Alexis Cooper, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), a non-profit organization that represents the commercial fishermen in the area, have begun to speak out. “We’re already seeing reduced numbers of halibut without the Navy having expanded their operations in the GOA [Gulf of Alaska],” she says, “and we’re already seeing other decreases in harvestable species.”

CDFU represents more than 800 commercial salmon fishermen, an industry that accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Cordova’s economy. Without salmon, like many other towns along coastal southeastern Alaska, it would effectively cease to exist.

Teal Webber, a lifelong commercial fisherwoman and member of the Native Village of Eyak, gets visibly upset when the Navy’s plans come up. “You wouldn’t bomb a bunch of farmland,” she says, “and the salmon run comes right through this area, so why are they doing this now?” She adds, “When all of the fishing community in Cordova gets the news about how much impact the Navy’s war games could have, you’ll see them oppose it en masse.”

Over 100 fishing vessels participated in a flotilla in Cordova, Alaska on May 16, in opposition to the Navy’s war games. (Photo: Chelsea Tracy Photography)

Over 100 fishing vessels participated in a flotilla in Cordova, Alaska on May 16, in opposition to the Navy’s war games. (Photo: Chelsea Tracy Photography)

(Photo: Bob Martinson)

(Photo: Bob Martinson)

While I’m in town, Stolarcyk offers a public presentation of the case against Northern Edge in the elementary school auditorium.  As she shows a slide from the Navy’s environmental impact statement indicating that the areas affected will take decades to recover, several fishermen quietly shake their heads.

One of them, James Weiss, who also works for Alaska’s Fish and Game Department, pulls me aside and quietly says, “My son is growing up here, eating everything that comes out of the sea. I know fish travel through that area they plan to bomb and pollute, so of course I’m concerned. This is too important of a fishing area to put at risk.”

In the question-and-answer session that follows, Jim Kasch, the town’s mayor, assures Stolarcyk that he’ll ask the city council to become involved. “What’s disturbing is that there is no thought about the fish and marine life,” he tells me later. “It’s a sensitive area and we live off the ocean. This is just scary.” A Marine veteran, Kasch acknowledges the Navy’s need to train, then pauses and adds, “But dropping live ordnance in a sensitive fishery just isn’t a good idea. The entire coast of Alaska lives and breathes from our resources from the ocean.”

That evening, with the sun still high in the spring sky, I walk along the boat docks in the harbor and can’t help but wonder whether this small, scruffy town has a hope in hell of stopping or altering Northern Edge.  There have been examples of such unlikely victories in the past. A dozen years ago, the Navy was, for example, finally forced to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as its own private bombing and test range, but only after having done so since the 1940s. In the wake of those six decades of target practice, the island’s population has the highest cancer and asthma rates in the Caribbean, a phenomenon locals attribute to the Navy’s activities.

Similarly, earlier this year a federal court ruled that Navy war games off the coast of California violated the law. It deemed an estimated 9.6 million “harms” to whales and dolphins via high-intensity sonar and underwater detonations improperly assessed as “negligible” in that service’s EIS.

As a result of Stolarcyk’s work, on May 6th Cordova’s city council passed a resolution formally opposing the upcoming war games. Unfortunately, the largest seafood processor in Cordova (and Alaska), Trident Seafoods, has yet to offer a comment on Northern Edge.  Its representatives wouldn’t even return my phone call on the subject.  Nor, for instance, has Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, whose president, Katrina Hoffman, wrote me that “as an organization, we have no position statement on the matter at this time.”  This, despite their stated aim of supporting “the ability of communities in this region to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems.” (Of course, it should be noted that at least some of their funds come from the Navy.)

Government-to-Government Consultation

At Kodiak Island, my next stop, I find a stronger sense of the threat on the horizon in both the fishing and tribal communities and palpable anger about the Navy’s plans. Take J.J. Marsh, the CEO of the Sun’aq Tribe, the largest on the island.  “I think it’s horrible,” she says the minute I sit down in her office. “I grew up here. I was raised on subsistence living. I grew up caring about the environment and the animals and fishing in a native household living off the land and seeing my grandpa being a fisherman. So obviously, the need to protect this is clear.”

What, I ask, is her tribe going to do?

She responds instantly. “We are going to file for a government-to-government consultation and so are other Kodiak tribes so that hopefully we can get this stopped.”

The US government has a unique relationship with Alaska’s Native tribes, like all other American Indian tribes.  It treats each as if it were an autonomous government.  If a tribe requests a “consultation,” Washington must respond and Marsh hopes that such an intervention might help block Northern Edge. “It’s about the generations to come. We have an opportunity as a sovereign tribe to go to battle on this with the feds. If we aren’t going to do it, who is?”

Melissa Borton, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, feels similarly. Like Marsh’s tribe, hers was, until recently, remarkably unaware of the Navy’s plans.  That’s hardly surprising since that service has essentially made no effort to publicize what it is going to do. “We are absolutely going to be part of this [attempt to stop the Navy],” she tells me. “I’m appalled.”

One reason she’s appalled: she lived through Alaska’s monster Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.  “We are still feeling its effects,” she says. “Every time they make these environmental decisions they affect us… We are already plagued with cancer and it comes from the military waste already in our ground or that our fish and deer eat and we eat those… I’ve lost family to cancer, as most around here have and at some point in time this has to stop.”

When I meet with Natasha Hayden, an Afognak tribal council member whose husband is a commercial fisherman, she puts the matter simply and bluntly. “This is a frontal attack by the Navy on our cultural identity.”

Gary Knagin, lifelong fisherman and member of the Sun’aq tribe, is busily preparing his boat and crew for the salmon season when we talk. “We aren’t going to be able to eat if they do this. It’s bullshit. It’ll be detrimental to us and it’s obvious why. In June, when we are out there, salmon are jumping [in the waters] where they want to bomb as far as you can see in any direction. That’s the salmon run. So why do they have to do it in June? If our fish are contaminated, the whole state’s economy is hit. The fishing industry here supports everyone and every other business here is reliant upon the fishing industry. So if you take out the fishing, you take out the town.”

The Navy’s Free Ride

I requested comment from the US military’s Alaskan Command office, and Captain Anastasia Wasem responded after I returned home from my trip north. In our email exchange, I asked her why the Navy had chosen the Gulf of Alaska, given that it was a critical habitat for all five of the state’s wild salmon.  She replied that the waters where the war games will occur, which the Navy refers to as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, are “strategically significant” and claimed that a recent “Pacific command study” found that naval training opportunities are declining everywhere in the Pacific “except Alaska,” which she referred to as “a true national asset.”

“The Navy’s training activities,” she added, “are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life.”

In its assessment of the Navy’s plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. “Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat],” its report said, “include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality.” According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge “may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover.”

Captain Wasem assured me that the Navy made its plans in consultation with the NMFS, but she failed to add that those consultations were found to be inadequate by the agency or to acknowledge that it expressed serious concerns about the coming war games.  In fact, in 2011 it made four conservation recommendations to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise offset possible adverse effects to essential fish habitat. Although such recommendations were non-binding, the Navy was supposed to consider the public interest in its planning.

One of the recommendations, for instance, was that it develop a plan to report on fish mortality during the exercises. The Navy rejected this, claiming that such reporting would “not provide much, if any, valuable data.”  As Stolarcyk told me, “The Navy declined to do three of their four recommendations, and NMFS just rolled over.”

I asked Captain Wasem why the Navy choose to hold the exercise in the middle of salmon fishing season.

“The Northern Edge exercise is scheduled when weather is most conducive for training,” she explained vaguely, pointing out that “the Northern Edge exercise is a big investment for DoD [the Department of Defense] in terms of funding, use of equipment/fuels, strategic transportation, and personnel.”

Arctic Nightmares

The bottom line on all this is simple, if brutal. The Navy is increasingly focused on possible future climate-change conflicts in the melting waters of the north and, in that context, has little or no intention of caretaking the environment when it comes to military exercises. In addition, the federal agencies tasked with overseeing any war-gaming plans have neither the legal ability nor the will to enforce environmental regulations when what’s at stake, at least according to the Pentagon, is “national security.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the safety of locals in the Navy’s expanding area of operation, there is no obvious recourse. Alaskans can’t turn to NMFS or the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA.  If you want to stop the US military from dropping live munitions, or blasting electromagnetic radiation into national forests and marine sanctuaries, or poisoning your environment, you’d better figure out how to file a major lawsuit or, if you belong to a Native tribe, demand a government-to-government consultation and hope it works. And both of those are long shots, at best.

Meanwhile, as the race heats up for reserves of oil and gas in the melting Arctic that shouldn’t be extracted and burned in the first place, so do the Navy’s war games.  From southern California to Alaska, if you live in a coastal town or city, odds are that the Navy is coming your way, if it’s not already there.

Nevertheless, Emily Stolarcyk shows no signs of throwing in the towel, despite the way the deck is stacked against her efforts. “It’s supposedly our constitutional right that control of the military is in the hands of the citizens,” she told me in our last session together.  At one point, she paused and asked, “Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes around not protecting salmon? Look at California, Oregon, and Washington’s salmon. They’ve been decimated. We have the best and most pristine salmon left on the planet, and the Navy wants to do these exercises. You can’t have both.”

Stolarcyk and I share a bond common among people who have lived in our northernmost state, a place whose wilderness is so vast and beautiful as to make your head spin. Those of us who have experienced its rivers and mountains, have been awed by the northern lights, and are regularly reminded of our own insignificance (even as we gained a new appreciation for how precious life really is) tend to want to protect the place as well as share it with others.

“Everyone has been telling me from the start that I’m fighting a lost cause and I will not win,” Stolarcyk said as our time together wound down. “No other non-profit in Alaska will touch this. But I actually believe we can fight this and we can stop them. I believe in the power of one. If I can convince someone to join me, it spreads from there. It takes a spark to start a fire, and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done.”

Three decades ago, in his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez suggested that, when it came to exploiting the Arctic versus living sustainably in it, the ecosystems of the region were too vulnerable to absorb attempts to “accommodate both sides.” In the years since, whether it’s been the Navy, Big Energy, or the increasingly catastrophic impacts of human-caused climate disruption, only one side has been accommodated and the results have been dismal.

In Iraq in wartime, I saw what the US military was capable of in a distant ravaged land. In June, I’ll see what that military is capable of in what still passes for peacetime and close to home indeed. As I sit at my desk writing this story on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the roar of Navy jets periodically rumbles in from across Puget Sound, where a massive naval air station is located. I can’t help but wonder whether, years from now, I’ll still be writing pieces with titles like “Destroying What Remains,” as the Navy continues its war-gaming in an ice-free summer Arctic amid a sea of offshore oil drilling platforms.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in Washington State.

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Increasing Global Overpumping Of Groudwater Is Contributing To Sea Level Rise

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 at 9:29 pm
irrigation

Irrigation in California’s San Joaquin Valley GomezDavid/iStock

Oldspeak: “Perfect example of Humans as the mother of all feedback loops. Human activities created the conditions for mega-droughts, glacial melting and sea level rise. As a result of mega-droughts and glacial melting, humans have to pump more and more unsustainable levels of groundwater out of ancient aquifers that are rapidly running dry. The ever increasing over pumping is in turn contributing to the sea level rise that is already submerging some coastal cities. Seems like we’re on a hamster wheel of doom.” -OSJ

By Tom Knudson @ Reveal:

Pump too much groundwater and wells go dry—that’s obvious.

But there is another consequence that gets little attention as a hotter, drier planet turns increasingly to groundwater for life support.

So much water is being pumped out of the ground worldwide that it is contributing to global sea level rise, a phenomenon tied largely to warming temperatures and climate change.

It happens when water is hoisted out of the earth to irrigate crops and supply towns and cities, then finds its way via rivers and other pathways into the world’s oceans. Since 1900, some 4,500 cubic kilometers of groundwater around the world—enough to fill Lake Tahoe 30 times—have done just that.

“Long-term groundwater depletion represents a large transfer of water from the continents to the oceans,” retired hydrogeologist Leonard Konikow wrote earlier this year in one article. “Thus, groundwater depletion represents a small but nontrivial contributor to SLR [sea-level rise].”

Sea levels have risen 7 to 8 inches since the late 19th century and are expected to rise more rapidly by 2100. The biggest factors are associated with climate change: melting glaciers and other ice and the thermal expansion of warming ocean waters.

Groundwater flowing out to sea added another half-inch—6 to 7 percent of overall sea level rise from 1900 to 2008, Konikow reported in a 2011 article in Geophysical Research Letters. “That really surprised a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview with Reveal.

Konikow also has reported that 1,000 cubic kilometers—twice the volume of Lake Erie—were depleted from aquifers in the US from 1900 to 2008, and the pace of the pumping is increasing.

In California, so much groundwater has been pumped from aquifers in parts of the San Joaquin Valley that the land itself is starting to sink like a giant pie crust, wreaking havoc with roads, bridges and water delivery canals.

Not only is groundwater growing scarce, but we’re pumping out older and older water. In parts of California, cities and farms are tapping reserves that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age, a phenomenon that Reveal covered earlier this month and which raises questions about future supplies as the climate turns drier.

Last week, NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that “the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing.”

According to Konikow, groundwater overdraft in the US accounted for about 22 percent of global groundwater depletion from 1900 to 2008, contributing about an eighth of an inch to global sea level rise.

“Your Regular Dose Of Fear”: The Enemy-Industrial Complex & How To Turn A World Lacking In Enemies Into The Most Threatening Place In The Universe

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm
Bomb at Boston Marathon

Oldspeak:”The U.S… is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century. All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a “global war on terror.”  We’ve poured money into national security as if there were no tomorrow.  From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere.  We constantly hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.”… Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than shark attacks, but not much else…  Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world.  Increasingly as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security” depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection of regular doses of fear into the body politic… To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major dangers in U.S. life: suicide by gun and death by car.  In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns.  (In the same year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.)  In 2011, 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012).  In other words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six 9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.  Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more than 110 planes for vehicular deaths. And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them).  No one has built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal with them.  In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown debate over gun control has made all too clear.  On both scores, Americans have decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.” –Tom Engelhardt. This piece was written 2 days ago. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Boston, I thought this piece was apropos. We see today, the corporate media doing its job, magnifying fear and threats, we see the attack being framed as a “massacre”,”a national tragedy”, “like 9/11”, “calming the public”, while constantly running video of the explosions and pictures of the aftermath on 24/7 loops. Flags have been lowered nationwide. Moments of silence are being observed.  “Security” is being beefed up. The illusion of safety is being bolstered. Meanwhile, the same day, 37 people died in 20 separate attacks  in Iraq. Coordinated bomb strikes killed 20 in Somalia. Unknown numbers of innocents are killed via randomly executed U.S. drone strikes on a regular basis in Yemem, Somalia, Pakistan, and who knows what other poverty-stricken areas of the world. No wall to wall coverage and analysis of those horrific attacks though.  It’s a sad fact that some lives matter more than others, and if those lives aren’t led in the U.S. of A., they matter that much less. Terrorist attacks in the U.S. matter much more than exponentially more acute threats from guns Americans turn on themselves, and the cars every other commercial is imploring them to buy. This attack perfectly articulates the sad reality, that Americans and most people around the world care about what they’re told to care about. There’s no real discussion of the root causes of terrorism and how addressing them could eliminate it completely. One obvious root cause is poverty. The poverty that find 80% of humanity living on less than 10 dollars a day. If you’ll notice, 99.9% of the areas the U.S. is prosecuting the “War On Terror” are poverty-stricken. It seems logical enough to deduce eliminating poverty would go along way toward eliminating terrorism. As usual though, this event is viewed, wholly de-contextualized. No connection is drawn between, poverty, inequality, structural violence, and the human meat grinding system of capitalism that begets terrorism.  We’re just supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety & obedience while we’re told that we’re tough, fearless, and resilient in the face of terror. And that life will go on. Until the next attack provides us with our next dose of fear, and the cycle starts all over again. Terrorism is big business, trillions of  dollars in “security”, “defense”, and surveillance spending depend on it.  Terrorism is the Emmanuel Goldstein of our age, a shape-shifting, nebulous and ever-present enemy we’re vigilantly to focus our attention in the stead of multiple global existential threats. This fear is manufactured and wholly preventable. “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” –Noam Chomsky. We need to understand and internalize this basic truth if we really want to end the “War On Terror”. We need to stop acting like the terrorism we experience occurs in a vacuum. We need to stop acting like the terrorism we experience is not a response to the terrorism done in our names. We need to close the gap between illusion and reality. “Ignorance is Strength.”

By Tom Engelhardt @ Tomdispatch:

The communist enemy, with the “world’s fourth largest military,” has been trundling missiles around and threatening the United States with nuclear obliteration.  Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable.  The coverage in the media has been hair-raising.  The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam, deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.

Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of 4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn’t count on Guam either.

It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbors thanks to decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre three-generational family cult.  If that other communist, Karl Marx, hadn’t once famously written that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce,” we would have had to invent the phrase for this very moment.

In the previous century, there were two devastating global wars, which left significant parts of the planet in ruins.  There was also a “cold war” between two superpowers locked in a system of mutual assured destruction (aptly acronymed as MAD) whose nuclear arsenals were capable of destroying the planet many times over.  Had you woken up any morning in the years between December 7, 1941, and December 26, 1991, and been told that the leading international candidate for America’s Public Enemy Number One was Kim Jong-un’s ramshackle, comic-opera regime in North Korea, you might have gotten down on your hands and knees and sent thanks to pagan gods.

The same would be true for the other candidates for that number one position since September 11, 2001: the original al-Qaeda (largely decimated), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula located in poverty-stricken areas of poverty-stricken Yemen, the Taliban in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, unnamed jihadis scattered across poverty-stricken areas of North Africa, or Iran, another rickety regional power run by not particularly adept theocrats.

All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a “global war on terror.”  We’ve poured money into national security as if there were no tomorrow.  From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere.  We constantly hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.”  And yet, when you knock on the door marked “Enemy,” there’s seldom anyone home.

Few in this country have found this striking.  Few seem to notice any disjuncture between the enemy-ridden, threatening, and deeply dangerous world we have been preparing ourselves for (and fighting in) this last decade-plus and the world as it actually is, even those who lived through significant parts of the last anxiety-producing, bloody century.

You know that feeling when you wake up and realize you’ve had the same recurrent nightmare yet again? Sometimes, there’s an equivalent in waking life, and here’s mine: every now and then, as I read about the next move in the spreading war on terror, the next drone assassination, the next ratcheting up of the surveillance game, the next expansion of the secrecy that envelops our government, the next set of expensive actions taken to guard us — all of this justified by the enormous threats and dangers that we face — I think to myself: Where’s the enemy?  And then I wonder: Just what kind of a dream is this that we’re dreaming?

A Door Marked “Enemy” and No One Home

Let’s admit it: enemies can have their uses.  And let’s admit as well that it’s in the interest of some in our country that we be seen as surrounded by constant and imminent dangers on an enemy-filled planet.  Let’s also admit that the world is and always will be a dangerous place in all sorts of ways.

Still, in American terms, the bloodlettings, the devastations of this new century and the last years of the previous one have been remarkably minimal or distant; some of the worst, as in the multicountry war over the Congo with its more than five million dead have passed us by entirely; some, even when we launched them, have essentially been imperial frontier conflicts, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or interventions of little cost (to us) as in Libya, or frontier patrolling operations as in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Northern Africa.  (It was no mistake that, when Washington launched its special operations raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan, to get Osama bin Laden, it was given the code name “Geronimo” and the message from the SEAL team recording his death was “Geronimo-E KIA” or “enemy killed in action.”)

And let’s admit as well that, in the wake of those wars and operations, Americans now have more enemies, more angry, embittered people who would like to do us harm than on September 10, 2001.  Let’s accept that somewhere out there are people who, as George W. Bush once liked to say, “hate us” and what we stand for.  (I leave just what we actually stand for to you, for the moment.)

So let’s consider those enemies briefly.  Is there a major state, for instance, that falls into this category, like any of the great warring imperial European powers from the sixteenth century on, or Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, or the Soviet Union of the Cold War era?  Of course not.

There was admittedly a period when, in order to pump up what we faced in the world, analogies to World War II and the Cold War were rife.  There was, for instance, George W. Bush’s famed rhetorical construct, the Axis of Evil (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), patterned by his speechwriter on the German-Italian-Japanese “axis” of World War II.  It was, of course, a joke construct, if reality was your yardstick.  Iraq and Iran were then enemies.  (Only in the wake of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have they become friends and allies.)  And North Korea had nothing whatsoever to do with either of them.  Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq was once regularly compared to the U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan, just as Saddam Hussein had long been presented as a modern Hitler.

In addition, al-Qaeda-style Islamists were regularly referred to as Islamofascists, while certain military and neocon types with a desire to turn the war on terror into a successor to the Cold War took to calling it “the long war,” or even “World War IV.”  But all of this was so wildly out of whack that it simply faded away.

As for who’s behind that door marked “Enemy,” if you opened it, what would you find?  As a start, scattered hundreds or, as the years have gone by, thousands of jihadis, mostly in the poorest backlands of the planet and with little ability to do anything to the United States.  Next, there were a few minority insurgencies, including the Taliban and allied forces in Afghanistan and separate Sunni and Shia ones in Iraq.  There also have been tiny numbers of wannabe Islamic terrorists in the U.S. (once you take away the string of FBI sting operations that have regularly turned hopeless slackers and lost teenagers into the most dangerous of fantasy Muslim plotters).  And then, of course, there are those two relatively hapless regional powers, Iran and North Korea, whose bark far exceeds their potential bite.

The Wizard of Oz on 9/11

The U.S., in other words, is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century.  There is no other imperial power on the planet capable of, or desirous of, taking on American power directly, including China.  It’s true that, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a remarkable, apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people died.  When those giant towers in downtown New York collapsed, it certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days, the media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn’t actually an apocalyptic event.

The enemy was still nearly nonexistent.  The act cost bin Laden only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series of trillion-dollar wars.  It was a nightmarish event that had a malign Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant effects.  It in no way endangered the state.  In fact, it would actually strengthen many of its powers.  It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.  It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a small, murderous organization then capable of mounting a major operation somewhere on Earth only once every couple of years.  It was meant to spread fear, but nothing more.

When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to the horizon, it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less.  And yet 9/11 was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor moment — a sneak attack by a terrifying enemy meant to disable the country.  The next day, newspaper headlines were filled with variations on “A Pearl Harbor of the Twenty-First Century.”  If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however, it lacked an imperial Japan or any other state to declare war on, although one of the weakest partial states on the planet, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill adequately enough for Americans.

To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major dangers in U.S. life: suicide by gun and death by car.  In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns.  (In the same year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.)  In 2011, 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012).  In other words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six 9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.  Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more than 110 planes for vehicular deaths.

And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them).  No one has built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal with them.  In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown debate over gun control has made all too clear.  On both scores, Americans have decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.

Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than shark attacks, but not much else.  Like a wizard, however, what Osama bin Laden and his suicide bombers did that day was create an instant sense of an enemy so big, so powerful, that Americans found “war” a reasonable response; big enough for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially declare war on the world.  It took next to no time for top administration officials to begin talking about targeting 60 countries, and as journalist Ron Suskind has reported, within six days of the attack, the CIA had topped that figure, presenting President Bush with a “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” a plan that targeted terrorists in 80 countries.

What’s remarkable is how little the disjuncture between the scope and scale of the global war that was almost instantly launched and the actual enemy at hand was ever noted here.  You could certainly make a reasonable argument that, in these years, Washington has largely fought no one — and lost.  Everywhere it went, it created enemies who had, previously, hardly existed and the process is ongoing.  Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have thought you mad (or lucky indeed).

Creating an Enemy-Industrial Complex

Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done in Washington in these years might have been unattainable.  The vast national security building and spending spree — stretching from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world’s intercepted communications — would have been unlikely.

Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our weaponized safety.  The exponential growth of the national security complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to national security matters, would have far been less likely.

Without 9/11 and the perpetual “wartime” that followed, along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the “drone lobby” that goes with them might never have developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command, gestating inside it — effectively the president’s private army, air force, and navy — and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the planet.

For all of this to happen, there had to be an enemy-industrial complex as well, a network of crucial figures and institutions ready to pump up the threat we faced and convince Americans that we were in a world so dangerous that rights, liberty, and privacy were small things to sacrifice for American safety.  In short, any number of interests from Bush administration figures eager to “sweep it all up” and do whatever they wanted in the world to weapons makers, lobbyists, surveillance outfits, think tanks, military intellectuals, assorted pundits… well, the whole national and homeland security racket and its various hangers-on had an interest in beefing up the enemy.  For them, it was important in the post-9/11 era that threats would never again lack a capital “T” or a hefty dollar sign.

And don’t forget a media that was ready to pound the drums of war and emphasize what dangerous enemies lurked in our world with remarkably few second thoughts.  Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world.  Increasingly as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security” depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection of regular doses of fear into the body politic.

That was the “favor” Osama bin Laden did for Washington’s national security apparatus and the Bush administration on that fateful September morning.  He engraved an argument in the American brain that would live on indelibly for years, possibly decades, calling for eternal vigilance at any cost and on a previously unknown scale.  As the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), that neocon think-tank-cum-shadow-government, so fatefully put it in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” a year before the 9/11 attacks: “Further, the process of transformation [of the military], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”

So when the new Pearl Harbor arrived out of the blue, with many PNAC members (from Vice President Dick Cheney on down) already in office, they naturally saw their chance.  They created an al-Qaeda on steroids and launched their “global war” to establish a Pax Americana, in the Middle East and then perhaps globally.  They were aware that they lacked opponents of the stature of those of the previous century and, in their documents, they made it clear that they were planning to ensure no future great-power-style enemy or bloc of enemy-like nations would arise. Ever.

For this, they needed an American public anxious, frightened, and ready to pay.  It was, in other words, in their interest to manipulate us.  And if that were all there were to it, our world would be a grim, but simple enough place.  As it happens, it’s not.  Ruling elites, no matter what power they have, don’t work that way.  Before they manipulate us, they almost invariably manipulate themselves.

I was convinced of this years ago by a friend who had spent a lot of time reading early Cold War documents from the National Security Council — from, that is, a small group of powerful governmental figures writing to and for each other in the utmost secrecy.  As he told me then and wrote in Washington’s China, the smart book he did on the early U.S. response to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, what struck him in the documents was the crudely anti-communist language those men used in private with each other.  It was the sort of anti-communism you might otherwise have assumed Washington’s ruling elite would only have wielded to manipulate ordinary Americans with fears of Communist subversion, the “enemy within,” and Soviet plans to take over the world.  (In fact, they and others like them would use just such language to inject fear into the body politic in those early Cold War years, that era of McCarthyism.)

They were indeed manipulative men, but before they influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers they needed the American people to believe in.  There is evidence that a similar process took place in the aftermath of 9/11.  From the flustered look on George W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of Dick Cheney, in those early months, being chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit” in the backseat, you could sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them.  They were, that is, genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for their own ends.

Or consider the issue of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, that excuse for the invasion of Iraq.  Critics of the invasion are generally quick to point out how that bogus issue was used by the top officials of the Bush administration to gain public support for a course that they had already chosen.  After all, Cheney and his men cherry-picked the evidence to make their case, even formed their own secret intel outfit to give them what they needed, and ignored facts at hand that brought their version of events into question.  They publicly claimed in an orchestrated way that Saddam had active nuclear and WMD programs.  They spoke in the most open ways of potential mushroom clouds from (nonexistent) Iraqi nuclear weapons rising over American cities, or of those same cities being sprayed with (nonexistent) chemical or biological weapons from (nonexistent) Iraqi drones.  They certainly had to know that some of this information was useful but bogus.  Still, they had clearly also convinced themselves that, on taking Iraq, they would indeed find some Iraqi WMD to justify their claims.

In his soon-to-be-published book, Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill cites the conservative journalist Rowan Scarborough on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s growing post-invasion irritation over the search for Iraqi WMD sites.  “Each morning,” wrote Scarborough, “the crisis action team had to report that another location was a bust.  Rumsfeld grew angrier and angrier.  One officer quoted him as saying, ‘They must be there!’  At one briefing, he picked up the briefing slides and tossed them back at the briefers.”

In other words, those top officials hustling us into their global war and their long-desired invasion of Iraq had also hustled themselves into the same world with a similar set of fears.  This may seem odd, but given the workings of the human mind, its ability to comfortably hold potentially contradictory thoughts most of the time without disturbing itself greatly, it’s not.

A similar phenomenon undoubtedly took place in the larger national security establishment where self-interest combined easily enough with fear.  After all, in the post-9/11 era, they were promising us one thing: something close to 100% “safety” when it came to one small danger in our world — terrorism.  The fear that the next underwear bomber might get through surely had the American public — but also the American security state — in its grips.  After all, who loses the most if another shoe bomber strikes, another ambassador goes down, another 9/11 actually happens?  Whose job, whose world, will be at stake then?

They may indeed be a crew of Machiavellis, but they are also acolytes in the cult of terror and global war.  They live in the Cathedral of the Enemy.  They were the first believers and they will undoubtedly be the last ones as well.  They are invested in the importance of the enemy.  It’s their religion.  They are, after all, the enemy-industrial complex and if we are in their grip, so are they.

The comic strip character Pogo once famously declared: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” How true. We just don’t know it yet.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

The 1% Doctrine: Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Dollar burn through EarthOldspeak:” The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival. ” –Noam Chomsky
When this man speaks, we should all listen. While the real economy, crumbles and disintegrates, 1 in 6 people go hungry. 1 in 2 people live at or near the poverty line. High unemployment persists and the number homeless people is at the last depression era levels. The Dow Jones is as it was before the last global economic crash – at a record high. Corporate profits are through the roof, while most people’s wages have been cut. Most profits are being funneled to the controllers of our political systems who’ve demonstrated contempt for the planet and every living thing on it who wont rest until every resource is exploited and maximum profit is derived from them. This powerful vampire capitalist system is, unsustainable; accelerating our progression toward environmental catastrophe. It constitutes an existential threat to the planet and by extension, all life on it. On can only wonder what madness will be wrought after the next global economic crash, but our civilizations first global ecological crash will render economics, politics and power as we know it irrelevant. Our corporate controllers do not want us to recognize this essential reality, even though most of us do. It is the reason “the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy”. None of the manufactured crises we’re encouraged to focus on matter when there’s no clean water, air or soil. Greed has infected our controllers so thoroughly that this horrifying fact is lost on them. “Profit Is Paramount”

By Noam Chomsky @ Truthout:

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let’s keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government’s policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus – and one that’s not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.

The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.

One current illustration of their concern is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.

The ALEC Act mandates “balanced teaching” of climate science in K-12 classrooms. “Balanced teaching” is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to “balance” mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the “balanced teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking – a fine idea, no doubt, but it’s easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.

Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.

One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world’s major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.

The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown – which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.

Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC’s regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.

The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public’s dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.

At the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.

These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.

The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.

The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.

Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.

Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.

This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.

This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict – unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.

© 2012 Noam Chomsky
(Noam Chomsky’s new book is “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. Conversations with David Barsamian.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

Billionaires For Austerity: With Cuts Looming, Wall Street Roots of “Fix the Debt” Campaign Exposed

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.sourcewatch.org/images/5/5f/FixTheDebtFlat.pngOldspeak:The tried and true Problem Reaction Solution method is being used to attempt to manufacture consent for austerity measures favored only by the fabulously wealthy. The problem is the across the board government spending cuts soon to take effect and the major political parties inability to compromise to avoid them. The reaction courtesy of corporate controlled media broadcasting certain doom is a panicked populace, fearful of job losses, insecurity and instability in their daily lives. The solution is cutting spending on social programs, public services  and the military while preserving tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations that pay negative tax rates.  We are told that entitlements are the biggest drivers of our deficits (when in fact social security is solvent, and medicaid/aid has been shown to be less costly that privatized heath care) The reality is deficits are being driven by massive waste, fraud in government and the private sector, particularly banking  & the many trillions of  taxpayer dollars dollars being printed by Federal Reserve and shipped to banksters, foreign and domestic to keep up the illusion of a functioning financial system. The oligarchy that pay our government are controlling the range of “the sequester” debate.  It’s just as The Oracle Dr. Chomsky said : “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow a very lively debate within that spectrum“.

Related Stories:

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AARON MATÉ: We begin with the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday. The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester. Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he’d sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

AMY GOODMAN: Today President Obama plans to travel to a major military community in Newport News, Virginia, to highlight the impact of Pentagon cuts on a shipbuilding facility. On Monday, Obama urged a gathering of governors to push Congress into action to avert the looming sequester showdown.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, these impacts will not all be felt on day one, but rest assured, the uncertainty is already having an effect. Companies are preparing layoff notices. Families are preparing to cut back on expenses. And the longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become. So, while you are in town, I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them, in no uncertain terms, exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk, because here’s the thing: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, joining us now are two guests who have uncovered how billionaire investors such as Pete Peterson have helped reshape the national debate on economy, the debt and social spending. Between 2007 and 2011, Peterson personally contributed nearly $500 million to his Peter G. Peterson Foundation to push for Congress to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while providing tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Peterson served as secretary of commerce under Richard Nixon and went on to serve as chair and CEO of Lehman Brothers. He co-founded the private equity firm The Blackstone Group.

Joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, is John Nichols, The Nation magazine’s political correspondent. His latest piece is “The Austerity Agenda: An Electoral Loser.” It’s part of a major exposé based on a new website called “Pete Peterson Pyramid.” Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy is editor of the site, which links billionaires like Peterson to the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! John Nichols, why don’t you lay out who Pete Peterson is and how he fits into this picture of sequester that we look like we’re about to see by the end of the week?

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. Pete Peterson is an old-school moderate Republican. He’s not some sort of hard-line conservative. He’s a very expensive suit, private jet, mineral water kind of guy. And he has been obsessed, for a number of years, with restructuring the U.S. economy, and particularly restructuring U.S. fiscal policy. This is an important thing to understand. Pete Peterson and the people around him do not want—or aren’t, I would suggest, particularly interested in fixing the debt or dealing with deficits. What they’re really interested in is taking advantage of a moment when the United States is looking at these issues to establish a very different approach to a host of issues. And at the core of this is changing the way that we look at retirement in this country, definitely undermining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, changing those earned benefit programs into something very different than what they’ve been and something far less reliable, but also making an awfully lot of other cuts in programs that serve the great mass of Americans, while at the same time continuing and even advancing the tax breaks for billionaires and corporations that have helped to make Pete Peterson a very, very wealthy man.

He sold this idea to around 125 other CEOs and very wealthy people. They’ve all chipped in a whole bunch of money, millions and millions, perhaps as much as $60 million for the current campaign, to this “Fix the Debt” group. And this Fix the Debt group is the primary proponent in the United States today of austerity. They want to, quote-unquote, “cut our way to progress,” as President Obama suggested, but in reality, it’s cutting the way toward progress for them and cutting the way toward a real hard hit for the average working American and potentially a slowing of the economy that begins with the sequester but does not end there.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let’s turn to Pete Peterson in his own words. This is from a video posted on the YouTube page of his foundation.

PETE PETERSON: We live in a society of special interests of various kinds. The organizations that are lobbying for expanding benefits and making the problems worse are unbelievably powerful. But who’s representing you? And why don’t you then get organized in young organizations? And I’ve had a dream. And my little dream is that one day there’d be 100,000 young people and their parents parading in Washington, saying, “I’m madder than hell, and I don’t intend to take it anymore.”

AARON MATÉ: That’s billionaire Pete Peterson talking about his dream of a revolt in favor of austerity. Lisa Graves, you’ve come up with the Peterson Pyramid.

LISA GRAVES: That’s right. We—our team at the Center for Media and Democracy has worked hard to expose the conflicts of interest by a number of the people who are leaders of the Fix the Debt operation. When Pete Peterson talks about the bevy of special interests in Washington, he’s one of them, and he has helped—he’s helped seed an organization that’s filled with special interests. And so, what we’ve done at PetersonPyramid.org is document that. So we talk about how Erskine Bowles, who’s famous for the Bowles-Simpson plan, which is the—another version of the austerity plan, how he’s on the board of Morgan Stanley and gets paid over $300,000 a year for a couple hours of work on that board, how he’s been paid over $600,000 on the board of Facebook, which recently had a huge tax giveaway. And so, that’s just one example that’s the tip of the iceberg, and we document it on our site because the people of the United States need to know that this is sort of a Pied Piper operation by Pete Peterson and his buddies to try to claim that the real crisis is the debt, when in fact the real crisis is our economy and the lack of focus on jobs. And as Dean Baker, the great economist, said, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. And, in fact, it’s like saying, when a house is on fire, stop putting so much water on the fire to put it out.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about who Pete Peterson is, Lisa Graves. And also, have they responded? Has he or his organization responded to Peterson’s Pyramid, what you have just laid out?

LISA GRAVES: Well, I think Pete Peterson has an unhealthy obsession with Social Security—and, you know, as a man who’s never actually going to really need it. But most Americans in fact do need Social Security. One of the things you see with the Pete Peterson organizations that he has seeded or created over time is this obsession with Social Security. In fact, Social Security is solvent. It’s solvent for at least the next 20 years. It’s more solvent than you or I or probably anyone who’s watching this show. And yet they want to make sure that cuts to Social Security, changes to Social Security, the retirement age and the benefits, having those decrease over time as people age, is part of a so-called balanced deal or a package. That’s a terrible idea. And that’s part of the Pete Peterson legacy.

He’s also seeding these groups to have this sort of youth group element to it, which is really—it would be funny if it weren’t so worrisome, where they have put a lot of money into this notion that the youth of America are having this uprising, the dream that he said in that video, when in fact most American students are deeply concerned about the jobs in this country. And cutting our—cutting our government budget in the ways that Peterson and his buddies propose will make that job climate even worse for those students. Those students are far more concerned about their own personal debt and student loans than the debt that is supposedly being levied on them by Social Security, which does not actually contribute to the debt.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Peterson responded, Lisa, to Peterson’s Pyramid?

LISA GRAVES: Fix the Debt’s communications director has responded. He called our office to claim that their organization never claimed that they were trying to raise $60 million, he said. Their vice president of communications said that they were trying to raise any amount, not just $60 million. I pointed out we had it on their letterhead, in fact, that they were marking out a campaign worth $60 million to push these issues this year. He basically said that wasn’t true. We’ve got it on paper. You know, I said, you know, that’s why we don’t really quote the press secretaries, because they’re not obligated to tell the truth. We’ve got the documentary evidence.

And so, they pushed back a little, but, quite frankly, we have them—we have the goods on them. And that’s why this material is just streaming through the Internet, to show these conflicts of interest; to show the Democrats who are former members of Congress who have left and cashed out and work as lobbyists for some of these big firms; to show the Republicans that continue to do the bidding of some of the big firms that they’ve joined since leaving office; to show the conflicts of some of these huge firms that are part of Fix the Debt who have a negative tax rate—who have a negative tax rate—not 35 percent like you or me, not 20 percent, not 10 percent, not 5 percent, but a negative tax rate. And on top of that—

AMY GOODMAN: Like which ones?

LISA GRAVES: —we show how many of these firms are underfunding their pension programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Like which ones?

LISA GRAVES: Oh, sure. So we have documented how General Electric is one of those firms that has had a negative—a negative tax rate. A number of the firms that are part of the Fix the Debt operation have negative tax rates. We’ve got about a dozen of them that we document on the site, including, you know, major defense contractor General Electric. We have other firms that, we have documented, are underfunding their pension programs. And we also show how much they’re—how well they’re funding their CEO pensions, while underfunding their worker pensions, and pushing this operation of Fix the Debt, which is trying to underfund every other Americans retirement, basically, pension programs through Social Security.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t the head of GE President Obama’s job czar?

LISA GRAVES: Yes, that is in fact the case. And so, you know, we do think that this is a huge, important part of this exposé, is to show how this bipartisan—this bipartisan pitch from these guys, from these CEOs, and from Democrats and Republicans, is unfortunately not a grand bargain, but really a grand swindle.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Lisa, speaking of bipartisan, of course, we had the Simpson-Bowles Commission. In December, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss his budget proposal.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Our corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. And so—

JON STEWART: But not actually.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Well, 36 percent is where we’re at. What we did, we took away all of these tax expenditures, all of these deductions, all of this stuff. This is just earmarks by any other name, and it’s spending by any name, and it’s at one trillion one hundred billion bucks a year. And only 20 percent of the American people use 80 percent of the stuff in that tax code. Does that give you the wake-up call of who’s gimme-ing the system?

JON STEWART: Right.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: OK.

JON STEWART: But see, that brings up an interesting point.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: And so we got rid of all of that—

JON STEWART: Yeah, mm-hmm.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: —and we say now give the American people from zero to 70 grand, they pay 8 percent; from 70 grand to $210,000, they pay 14; anything over that, 23. Take the corporate rate to 26 from 36 and not tax them twice when they bring it back. And when they bring it back, the Democrats, as Erskine says, a Democrat, the Democrats will say, “Well, they’ll just use it for dividends and to buy stock.” And he said, “Well, hell, at least they’ll be using it in the United States of America instead of sticking it over there and leaving it.”

AARON MATÉ: That was former Senator Alan Simpson of the Simpson-Bowles Commission speaking on The Daily Show in December. John Nichols, if you could talk about Alan Simpson and the Simpson-Bowles Commission and how they fit into this Campaign to Fix the Debt.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I think the best way for folks to understand the Simpson-Bowles Commission is that it is a classic example of how, if you have wealthy people behind you, you can fail miserably and still continue to be at the center of the debate. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was established by President Obama with the purpose of coming up with some debt and deficit solution ideas. I think it was a bad idea from the start, and I think it was an example of President Obama bowing to arguments of the austerity caucus, if you will, in Washington, which includes both Democrats and Republicans.

But they were put in charge of this. They came up with a plan. It was such an unpopular and unappealing plan that the commission itself did not recommend its report. Only Simpson and Bowles came out with their proposal. Then they tried to peddle it in Congress. They could only find 38 members of the House who would actually vote for their ideas. Then they went out into the November elections. They actually started endorsing candidates. The candidates that Simpson and Bowles endorsed, not only did they lose, but often you could tie the defeats of the candidates they endorsed to the fact that they were linked to Simpson and Bowles. So, if you want to see an example of two figures in American politics, career political types, who have been absolutely rejected by the American people, it’s Simpson and Bowles. And yet, interestingly enough, they’re back at the center of the debate, getting huge amounts of media coverage now. And one of the reasons for it is they’re tied to Fix the Debt.

When Fix the Debt was launched last summer, it wasn’t launched at a kitchen table of some working family or in an abandoned factory; it was launched in Sun Valley, Idaho, at a retreat for CEOs and billionaires. And Simpson and Bowles said, “We’re going to go out and launch a grassroots campaign to get the American people to force Congress to act on the ideas that we’ve put forward,” which are an American austerity agenda. And they said they were going to get 10 million signatures on petitions to do this. Amazingly enough, for this big grassroots campaign, all this millions and millions in spending, they still only got about 300,000 signatures. And most of those signatures appear to be tied to either bought lists or people who work for companies allied with the Fix the Debt operation. So the bottom line is, Simpson and Bowles are arguing for austerity and being held up by much of the media as legitimate players, when in fact they are advocating for zombie ideas, ideas that have been slain by the voters and, frankly, even by Congress, and yet they walk among us.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip, this one uploaded to YouTube by a new group called “The Can Kicks Back.” It features Alan Simpson addressing, quote, “the youth.”

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Stop Instagraming your breakfast and tweeting your first-world problems and getting on YouTube so you can see “Gangnam Style.” And start using those precious social media skills and go out and sign people up on this, baby. Three people a week. Let it grow. And don’t forget: Take part or get taken apart. Boy, these old coots will clean out the Treasury before you get there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alan Simpson of the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Lisa Graves, what is this Can Kicks Back group?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s interesting. Simpson has talked about the Can Kicks Back as if it was some sort of grassroots operation that emerged on college campuses nationwide. In fact, it operates out of the Fix the Debt offices in Washington, and it is another arm of their operation. Internally, in essence, they call it the “millennial” part of their operation. This is a well-funded, very slick, glossy campaign with T-shirts and videos, featuring people like Simpson and others, claiming that your grandparents are ruining your future. It’s quite an audacious set of claims by these guys, especially when Social Security actually isn’t contributing to the debt currently and could easily be fixed 20 years from now by cutting out the loophole for all—for Social Security taxes on income above $110,000. And so, it’s quite a scam. It’s a gimmick. It’s part of the gimmick of their campaign. And it’s something that I think people ought to be very wary of.

AARON MATÉ: And quickly, John Nichols, the cuts are supposed to take effect on Friday. Their potential effect on working people?

JOHN NICHOLS: Their potential effect on working people is severe. First off, there are the direct effects. You have an across-the-board austerity cut in federal programs, and that will have service impacts right away, things like flying, just traveling in this country. Also, there are very credible estimates that this will lead to at a base line of 700,000 job losses. And so we’re talking, over the coming months, if this sequester goes forward, of a significant slowing of the U.S. economy.

This is classic austerity: cuts at a time when the economy is weak, followed by job losses. And the tragedy of it, the really significant thing to be conscious of, is that Simpson and Bowles and Fix the Debt are waiting on the sidelines here to jump in and say, “Well, this is so disorderly. You know, we don’t want to have across-the-board cuts.” And what they are really arguing for is a systematized austerity, one where you have very, very wealthy people deciding what sort of fixes we will have for our economy. And at the end of the day, invariably, the fix will be to lower their tax rates while at the same time taking deep cuts out of the earned benefit programs that Americans desperately need.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue to follow this, of course. John Nichols, political writer for The Nation; his latest piece for The Nation is “The Austerity Agenda: An Electoral Loser.” And thanks to Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and editor of “Pete Peterson Pyramid,” a new website that connects the dots between billionaire Pete Peterson and the Campaign to Fix the Debt campaign. The website is PetersonPyramid.org.

 

 

 

 

 

The “Looming Fiscal Cliff” Is a Hoax: Tax Reform As Wealth Privatization Scam & The Phony Crisis Industry

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Oldspeak:”Nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that. And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen. It’s a part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused) –Richard Eskow. While the President meets with senior banking corprocrats to discuss how to avoid the latest manufactured crisis, corprocrat controlled media outlets avoid discussing the obvious and easy means to avoid austerity cuts. Probably because both parties have agreed that austerity is necessary.  Especially on public programs that are not contributing to deficit like Social Security. How long will Demopublicans engage in their latest  farcical dance masquerading as “negotiations” before they decide to sell their country to the highest bidders?  “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Richard Eskow @ The Campaign For America’s Future:

They’re dashing through the corridors of power in Washington with appropriately grim expressions this week. Congressional leaders are talking about the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff,’ which journalists are dutifully describing as a “looming crisis.”

In fact, if you do a Google News search for articles containing the words “fiscal cliff” and “looming” you’ll get 72,000 hits (as of Wednesday evening). We know because we tried it.

72,000 hits.

But nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that.

And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen.

Nobody Move

This phony crisis is a lot like this scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, where Cleavon Little as The Sheriff pretends to take himself hostage to escape an angry crowd. You may remember the gag line, which included a word we won’t use: “Nobody move or the $^((*&^(* gets it.”

Brooks crafts his throwaway lines pretty carefully, too. Look for the earnest man who says “I think he means it,” or the woman in the crowd who says “Won’t somebody help that poor man?”

Here’s how the “fiscal cliff” scam’s being played: Congressional Republicans are holding the guns to their own heads. Democrats are the town leaders, dutifully laying their weapons down.

And the American media are the gullible townfolk, carefully writing in their notebooks about the “looming” threat to their sheriff.

Johnny Law

Viewers of MSNBC know that progressives like Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell are dutifully trying to remove the word “cliff” from the nomenclature, since the effects of this law would be gradual — more like a “slope,” as they said the other night. They’re right about the “slope” part.

But it’s a tactical mistake to even engage in this kind of discussion, because there’s really no “slope” either. There’s just a law.

John Boehner’s law.

Sure, the President agreed to that law as part of a deal to settle deficit talks last year. At the time the Republicans were about to shut down the entire government. The GOP forced this law into existence.

That means the “fiscal cliff” is theirs. They own it.

Anyone who opposes disastrous, European-style austerity measures needs to stop talking about this in urgent terms. And nobody should characterize it as anything but what it really is: A deed performed by Republicans in Congress, which the same Congress can easily reverse.

That’s not just more accurate. It also places the responsibility for this pseudo-crisis exactly where it belongs.

A Gun to the Head

The motives for the hoax are easy to understand. As a Campaign for America’s Future/Democracy Corps poll reaffirmed after the election, the public overwhelmingly opposes any of the fiscal measures being negotiated as the result of this fictitious “crisis.”  A majority of voters, cutting across party lines, opposes virtually all of the ideas being discussed – including cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, and reductions in anti-poverty programs.

Voters strongly support some steps that aren’t being debated because of this phony “crisis,” like increased investment in jobs and economic growth. These negotiations are likely have the opposite effect instead, leading to more cuts in these programs. In fact, of the many “debt deal” provisions being debated today, only tax increases for the wealthiest Americans have the majority’s approval.

No wonder Congressional Republicans are holding a gun to their own heads.

Unfortunately it’s pointed at our heads too. If Republicans get their way the entire country will be hit with austerity cuts that increase the poverty rates, hurt most people’s standard of living, and create even more unemployment.

This phony crisis is the GOP’s way of saying “Nobody move or the country gets it.” And if the public doesn’t make its voice heard, it will.

Manhattan Transfer

Here’s more proof that both the “fiscal cliff” and the “emergency” deficit talks surrounding it are a fraud: They include two issues that don’t belong in a deficit discussion at all.  One’s Social Security, which is forbidden by law from contributing to the national deficit.

The other is the scam known as tax “reform” and “tax code simplification” – which, in plain English, means a lowering of top tax rates for millionaires and billionaires – supposedly in return for reduced “tax expenditures” and increased “tax revenues” to be named at a later date.

Why would deficit talks include two ideas that won’t reduce the national debt, especially when “tax simplification” will undoubtedly increase that debt substantially? That’s an easy one: Because this phony “crisis” has nothing to do with deficits.

It’s a;; part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused by their tax breaks.)

These “deficit” moves would transfer even more of our national treasure to the extremely rich – including those on Wall Street who created our economic crisis in the first place. That, and not a “fiscal cliff,” is what’s “looming.”

The Phony-Crisis Industry

In the past the President has sometimes seemed willing, even eager, to press for a larger “Grand Bargain.” He’s taking a tougher line today, especially about taxes on the wealthy, and should be applauded for that. He should also be urged to take an equally strong position on Medicare and Social Security, which he hasn’t done yet.

Everyone involved needs to understand that, thanks to some new fiscal and electoral math, the anti-austerity team is holding the winning hand now.

It’s true that a tougher Presidential stand would disappoint some people, especially the highly-paid professional “deficit hawks” from both parties. That includes people like former Clinton White House functionary Erskine Bowles, who ghoulishly described this artificial crisis as a “magic moment” to impose austerity measures on the American people.

Bowles is a Director of bailed-out investment bank Morgan Stanley. That means that, unlike most Americans, he would do very well under the lower tax rates proposed in these “deficit” discussions.

A repudiation of this pseudo-crisis would also embarrass professional scaremongers like Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who warned of “big financial market repercussions” if the nation goes over the “cliff.” But we haven’t seen any repercussions before.

The word for talk like that is “nonsense.” (Well, that’s one word for it.) Nobody’s going over any “cliff,” least of all the Republicans.

Dare Ya

Let’s be clear: It would be a bad thing if the provisions in this bill took effect for any length of time. But it’s time to call Boehner’s bluff. Good Democrats can’t let themselves be railroaded into austerity by this phony crisis, while the other kind – the Erskine Bowles Democrats – shouldn’t be allowed to use it as cover.

Boehner knows he’s in a weak position, which is why Republicans have quietly been looking for ways to delay the “cliff.”  Democrats should take note of that and recognize the motives behind it.

The President should go on television and say to Congress: If you won’t accept the will of the people, undo your reckless law. Democrats on the Hill should insist on up-or-down votes for provisions that the public wants. This charade won’t stop until the GOP’s bluff is called.

Boehner insists that Congressional Republicans, along with everybody else, are standing on a “cliff.” It’s time somebody dared them to jump.

While 40% Of Food Is Uneaten, Millions Go Hungry In The U.S., Congress Considers Food Stamp Cuts As Drought Threatens Food Supply

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm

DroughtOldspeak: “Austerity Measures are still coming home to roost, with much more to come.  “With millions of Americans struggling to stave off hunger, anti-poverty groups are asking that Congress abandon proposals to cut off support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supplies assistance commonly called food stamps. “The numbers underscore the point that people still continue to struggle, and that cuts some in Congress are proposing to our nation’s nutrition safety net will only worsen a bad situation,” –Jim Weill  coincidentally, conditions are perfect, for Monsanto and the rest of the Biotech Bigs to introduce their genetically modified drought-resistant corn and wheat to ‘help fuel the worlds fight against poverty and hunger” 

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout:

Nearly one in five Americans could not afford the food they or their families needed at some point in the past year, and now anti-poverty advocates are pressing Congress to abandon proposed food stamp cuts as a historic drought threatens to drive up food prices across the country.

A Gallup poll released this week shows that 18.2 percent of Americans did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed at least once during the past year. In 15 states, at least 1 in 5 Americans polled in the first half of 2012 reported struggling to pay for food during the past 12 months.

Little has changed since 2011, when 18.6 percent of Americans reported struggling to afford food, but proposed food stamp cuts in Congress and the worst drought in half a century could soon make matters worse.

The drought has impacted 80 percent of the country’s agricultural lands, and the US Department of Agriculture predicts that consumers will see meat and dairy prices increase within two months. Increases in the cost of packaged products, such as cereal, containing corn and flour are expected in about 10 to 12 months.

The rate of Americans facing food hardship peaked in late 2008 as the economy fell into a deep recession. The rate spiked from 16.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 19.5 percent in the last quarter.

Congress Considers Cutting Food Stamps

With millions of Americans struggling to stave off hunger, anti-poverty groups are asking that Congress abandon proposals to cut off support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supplies assistance commonly called food stamps.

“The numbers underscore the point that people still continue to struggle, and that cuts some in Congress are proposing to our nation’s nutrition safety net will only worsen a bad situation,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

 

SNAP funding is included in the 2013 omnibus agriculture appropriations bill. The Senate version would cut $4.4 billion over ten years and would cause about 500,000 households to lose an average of $90 in nutritional assistance each month.

SNAP cuts in the House version, which seeks about $16 billion in SNAP reductions, would make the same cuts and change eligibility requirements to push at least 1.8 million people out of the food stamp program.

“These cuts to SNAP will particularly harm seniors, children and working families, taking food away from the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” Weill said, echoing concerns shared by the White House and Democrats in Congress.

The White House opposes the deep SNAP cuts proposed in the House, which are largely supported by Republicans eager to cut domestic spending.

The number of participants in SNAP programs has been at a historic high since the recession began, and SNAP spending increased from $30 billion in 2007 to $73 billion in 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Regional Food Disparity

In general, more people living in Southern states report struggling to pay for food. Mississippi tops the national Gallup list, with 24.9 percent of those polled in the state reporting struggling to pay for groceries during the past year. Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and Nevada join Mississippi as the top five states where people face food hardships.

People living in Southern states will also be hardest hit by increases in food prices due to drought, according to Gallup. People living in the Mountain Plains and Midwest states that make up America’s breadbasket are least likely to face food hardship. North and South Dakota top the list of states where residents are least likely to go hungry.

Despite the troubling data on food hardship, vast amounts of America’s food supply goes to waste. The National Resources Defense Council reported this week that 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That’s about 20 pounds of food per person every month.

 

World’s Faith in “Free Market” Capitalism, Hard Work, Eroding. As Global Financial Crisis Continues, Pervasive Gloom About World Economy: Survey

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Oldspeak:”The world is getting wise to the hustle that is Free Market, casino capitalism. Money is being pumped into military spending, “Too Big To Fail” Banks and other multinational corporations.  Everyone else gets “Austerity Measures” Billions of  ordinary people work soul crushing jobs for slave wages their whole lives to barely survive.  Something has to change. This monetary system is unsustainable and breeds corruption, greed, and economic violence.”

By Common Dreams:

The financial crisis that has bred unemployment, austerity, and economic pain across the global for nearly fives years is also battering the reputation of the system many believe to be its main cause: “free market” capitalism.

According to a new global poll by Pew Research, only half or fewer — in 11 of 21 nations surveyed — now agree with the statement that people are better off in a “free market” economy than in some other kind.

In nine of the 16 countries for which there is trend data since 2007, before the financial crisis began, support for capitalism is down, with the greatest declines in Italy (down 23 percentage points) and Spain (down 20 points).

Support for capitalism is greatest in Brazil, China, Germany and the U.S, says the report. The biggest skeptics of the free market are in Mexico and Japan.

The survey found only four countries in which a majority of people were happy with and optimistic about the economic situation: China (83 percent), Germany (73 percent), Brazil (65 percent) and Turkey (57 percent). The Chinese are a particular exception to most of the questioning on economic optimism with Pew observing that, overall, the people of China — which runs a single party, state-controlled economy — “have been positive about their economy for the past decade.”

The survey also showed that the prolonged global economic slump has depressed the public mood about their national economies. In only four of 21 countries surveyed does a majority say their economy is doing well.

Anger at government was shared in most countries, but banks and financial institutions were frequently – in Spain (78%), France (74%) and Germany (74%) – seen as the culprit behind the poor performance of national economies. And in two instances – France and Spain – significantly more of the public blamed the banks than blamed the government.

Read the full poll results here.

“The Super Bowl Of Disasters”: Disaster Capitalists Profiting From Crisis In Post-Earthquake Haiti

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

US taxpayers are underwriting sweatshop expansion in Haiti. Here, textile workers protest for better rights and working conditions. Photo: Ansel Herz.

Oldspeak:”Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places.” Disaster capitalism is being practiced all around the world. Review the 4 steps of the Disaster Capitalism and Cycle and consider the implications.  Haiti is at step 2.  The United States is at step 3.

The Disaster Capitalism Cycle

1. The shock of war, torture, disaster, or political upheaval distracts or deconstructs the popular identity, precluding or minimizing protest against free market reform and privatisation, which are usually unwanted by the masses.

2. First World interests, multinational capitalist firms, and a cooperative and corrupt elite benefit the most from these changes, while for the general population wages drop, the cost of living increases, and social services like welfare and healthcare decrease.

3. The privatisation of important sectors, from mining to healthcare to homeland security, takes away citizen power and control over policy making in these areas, as the government limits its own power through the free market legislation and de-regulation. It becomes difficult to undo these reforms.

4. A feedback loop of international scale emerges, the wealthy and powerful becoming more so. Certain sectors and private hands have an interest in maintaining instability, as they learn to profit more and more from war and disaster – as the cycle returns to step 1.

By Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell and Tory Field, Other Worlds Are Possible:

As Americans were gearing up for last week’s Super Bowl championship, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was on a plane to the World Economic Forum to recruit players interested in what one businessman dubbed “the Super Bowl of Disasters” – Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.[1] The Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel footed his trip there, and hosted a regional business tour complete with a gala ball before his return to a country still reeling from crisis conditions in housing, jobs, and basic rights.[2]

Haiti’s status as prime-time jostling space for prospective investors is not new. Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places. The same deals have been cut over Haiti in the past, too, particularly during periods of political instability.

The earthquake has provided a fresh wave of opportunity. In the first year after the earthquake, the US government awarded more than 1,500 contracts worth $267 million. All went to US firms except 20, worth $4.3 million, which went to Haitian businesses.[3] Among the American corporations that received contracts, we’ve seen everything: many millions going to companies that had had previous contracts cancelled for bad practices, that had paid out as much as eight-figure settlements for violence happening under their watch, that had been investigated by Congress for gaming the system, or that had been the subject of federal reports accusing wastage of funds.[4] We’ve seen corporate executives and members of Congress going through a revolving door and leveraging both sides for contracts. We’ve seen public funds given without any competition or transparency, quite a few to friends of the Clintons and other well-placed insiders.

Local labor and production, which are critical elements in economic recovery, have been trumped for American business profits. According to federal procurement data, among contracts which provide products (as opposed to services), 77% were for products manufactured in the US. They don’t list which, if any, of the remaining 23% involve any Haitian materials or labor.[5]

Two months after the earthquake, companies gathered in a luxury hotel in Miami for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), but these were no peaceniks. Their members are predominantly private mercenary companies that enforce ‘security’ in war and disaster zones for the US government because, unlike elected entities, they can completely avoid public scrutiny and accountability. They included such companies as Triple Canopy, which took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq.[6] One of the corporate representatives at the Summit described the outlook: “Their infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, communications are destroyed, there’s a lot of opportunities there for companies, particularly US countries [sic] because of the close proximity.”[7] The Summit was apparently worthwhile, as US government paid out more than $10 million to the industry for “guard services,” and almost $20,000 for riot shields and suits.[8]

Below are a few examples of post-earthquake contracts and grants, selected to show just some of the problems at play. They offer a small glimpse into a much larger, secretive world of disaster deals. We’re grateful to our investigative journalist colleagues who, alongside us, have kept heavy on the scent of these corporations and brought buried information to light.

^^^^^^

“American corporations and their stakeholders must understand how helping Haiti over the long term also helps them,” said the non-profit CHF International in its March 2010 board report. “By contributing to Haiti’s reconstruction in a lasting, meaningful way, companies will be helping to build a new, more vibrant Caribbean market for their own goods and services.”[9]

CHF’s involvement demonstrates how even non-profits can drive development that props up American business interests on the backs of poor Haitians. What CHF refers to as “helping Haiti” has meant using US tax dollars to underwrite textile sweatshops, making it easier and more profitable to score the cheapest source of labor in the hemisphere. In 2006, USAID gave CHF a $104 million, 4-year contract to help “existing industries to increase their capacity, efficiency and reach new markets,” primarily through the export textile industry. The money subsidized CHF’s creation of infrastructure such as roads around industrial areas and training of factory workers on skills such as “how to work in a formal work environment.”[10] Bolstered by additional USAID funding, this project continued after the earthquake.

CHF’s post-earthquake USAID contract, for $20.9 million, went to clean-up projects, including cash-for-work.[11] Cash-for-work meant camp residents engaging in hired-hand projects such as digging drainage ditches and clearing debris, for a period of a few weeks. The scheme has come under fire by camp residents and human rights groups, with even a USAID evaluation raising some serious critiques.[12] The jobs are unpredictable, workers have said, and while the short duration can palliate personal crisis for the moment, the program quickly returns the worker’s family to its desperate state. Those hired are paid officially at the unlivable minimum daily wage of 200 gourdes, or US$5, though unofficially they often earn less. A Haiti Grassroots Watch exposé found, furthermore, that cash-for-work hiring is often based on corruption, with many workers having to pay a ‘kickback,’ negotiate sex (in the case of women) for a job, or affiliate with political parties or candidates.[13] USAID also noted that cash-for-work programs it funded increased risks of “serious and avoidable” accidents on the job “by failing to develop and enforce consistent workplace safety rules and accident procedures.”[14]

CHF’s projects, based on factory jobs and cash-for-work, have given neither livable incomes to employees nor offered development opportunities to the nation. Meanwhile, CHF has gained humanitarian clout and an influx of funding, and its garment industry partners sit happily with the perks.

^^^^^^

Using tried-and-true strategies of political manipulation, some corporations have been able to edge their way into post-earthquake contracts despite histories of fraud and corruption.

AshBritt Environmental, for instance, has a record of disaster response elsewhere that spells trouble for Haiti. The company had received $900 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina clean-up, after hiring lobbyists formerly involved in state government.[15] An MSNBC investigation later brought to light complaints by local contractors, a mayor, and local legislators that the company’s work was too slow, that it overcharged, and that it was not hiring local contractors.[16] The extent of “layer cake” contracting was so extreme that in one case, AshBritt was paid $23 per cubic yard of debris removed but subcontracted through three middleman companies so that the company that actually removed the rubble received $3 per cubic yard.[17]) Even a 2006 federal report accused the company of wasting money in this subcontractor layering after Katrina.[18]

Given its experience, AshBritt wasted no time unleashing its skills in lobbying and political pressure to get in on the Haiti game. Early in 2010, the company paid $90,000 to a lobbying firm to pressure the government for Haiti contracts, according to disclosure records described in the press.[19] In a prime instance of revolving door between public and private sectors, one of the lobbyists working on the case was the former chief of staff for Senator John Kerry.[20] Kerry, in turn, was the senator who co-sponsored the legislation for Haiti relief funding.

With influential people circulating between the givers and receivers of funds, AshBritt was confident enough about future contracts that it spent an initial $25 million setting up for anticipated operations in Haiti with a soccer field-sized base camp and services to house future project managers.[21] In July 2010, AshBritt won a $500,000 US government contract for debris removal, the first of what the company anticipated would be many contracts to come their way.[22] Continuing the revolving door trend, another lobbyist for the firm was the former USAID Mission Director in Iraq, Lewis Lucke, who was paid $30,000 per month to help win contracts via a partnership venture AshBritt set up.[23] Lucke claimed he “played an integral role” in obtaining three contracts for the company, including $10 million from the World Bank and about $10 million more from the Haitian government (one of the first major government contracts for debris removal).[24] As of this writing, not even the company’s website contains an update on what work it has or has not completed in Haiti.

^^^^^^

Like AshBritt, CH2M Hill, a large engineering and construction firm, should have raised warning signals as a company to be hired on the taxpayer dollar. A government database that monitors federal contracts reveals a track record of corruption, listing nine instances of misconduct for the company since 1995.[25] In one case, the company was paid $4.1 million for a contract in Iraq though no work was actually completed. [26] On the Gulf Coast, a US government investigation of $45 million paid to CH2M and the three other companies in no-bid contracts for Katrina response was declared wasteful spending. [27] CH2M was also accused in a congressional investigation in 1992 of misusing money during its cleanup of toxic waste sites in the U.S. More than two million dollars of this contract were allegedly used for “unallowable and questionable costs,” such as $11,379 for a Christmas party and $2750 for specialty chocolates.[28] The company is listed in the top 50 of U.S.-based contractors and has been a major player in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.[29]

The track record was nothing that some strategic lobbying efforts couldn’t mitigate, however. The lobbyist who headed up CH2M Hill’s efforts to win contracts in Haiti was Larry LaRocco, a former congressman from Idaho who now runs his own lobbying firm.[30] And unsurprisingly, the company spent half a million dollars in political contributions in 2010. [31] Thus equipped with politicians in its pocket, CH2M was well-positioned to compete in the latest contract game. It received its first post-earthquake contract just days after the disaster, and was given a joint contract with KBR Global Service (itself notorious due to its Iraq and Afghanistan activities) for facilities operations support at the end of 2010.[32]

^^^^^^

In the case of a few other contracts that we know to be operating in Haiti, we’ve spent hour after hour on the scent. We’ve scoured internet resources, news articles, and company websites to track companies we know received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti. Nothing. Not even a mention, sometimes, in the 100-plus-page 2010 annual reports.

What we have been unable to uncover is at least as alarming as what we have learned about some of the firms receiving millions from the US government, and what they have done with those millions. We wonder whether the US government has had any more knowledge or oversight of the corporate actions than have the corporation’s investors. As for the American people, they have no way to know how their money has been spent or what has been done in their names. The lack of transparency has also given a green light to profiteers to neglect standards, quality, and honesty.

There is one group for whom the secrecy, foul play, taking of power that should never be taken, giving away of what should never be given away, matters most of all: Haitians, the ones whose country is being treated like a Monopoly game. They alone will have to live with the long-term outcome of what foreign companies build, demolish, restructure, or steal in their country.

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part.  Please credit any text or original research you use to Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell, and Tory Field, Other Worlds.


[1] Mike Clary, “Broward Rivals Battle for Work in Post-Quake Haiti,” Sun-Sentinel.com, July 14, 2010.
[2] Paul Cullen, “Attracting trade now focus for Haiti’s president,” The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0130/1224310943929.html
[3] Alex Dupuy, “One Year after the Earthquake, Foreign Help is Actually Hurting Haiti,” Washington Post, January 7, 2011.
[4] Emma Perez-Trevino, “Beating Death Lawsuit Ends in Settlement,” The Brownsville Herald online, January 7, 2010, http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/rosa-107144-settlement-beating…. Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[5] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[6] See, for example, Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007); Jeremy Scahill, “US Mercenaries Set Sights on Haiti,” TheNation.com, February 1, 2010; and Anthony Fenton, “Private Contractors ‘Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot,” IPSNews.net, February 19, 2010.
[7] “Al Jazeera Reports on the Haiti ‘Summit’ for Private Contractors,” YouTube video, 3:32, Al Jazeera reporting, posted by “WebofDem,” May 6, 2010, http://youtu.be/kkNCdy0GXyc.
[8] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[9] Jane Madden, “Corporations Must Consider Haiti’s Long Term Needs,” Philanthropy News Digest online, March 10, 2010, http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/commentary/co_item.jhtml?id=287300002.
[10] “New USAID-Funded Haiti Apparel Center to Provide Training to Thousands of Haitians in the Garment Industry,” press release by USAID, August 11, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2010/pr100811_1.html.
[11] USAID, Haiti Earthquake: Fact Sheet #48, April 2, 2010,
http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/countries/haiti/template/fs_sr/fy2010/haiti_eq_fs48_04-02-2010.pdf.
[12]Center for Economic and Policy Research, “USAID/OTI’s Politicized, Problematic, Cash-for-Work Programs,” December 21, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/usaidotis-politicized-problematic-cash-for-work-programs; Antèn Ouvriye, Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review: Labor Rights (Transnational Legal Clinic, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 2011), http://ijdh.org/archives/17948; and Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti (San Salvador: September 24, 2010), http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[13] Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Is Cash-for-work Working?”, http://www.ayitikaleje.org/Dossier2Story2. Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Cash for Work – At What Cost,” http://www.ayitikaleje.org/haiti-grassroots-watch-engli/2011/7/18/cash-for-work-at-what-cost.html.
[14] Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti, September 24, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[15] Jordon Flaherty, “One year after Haiti earthquake, corporations profit while people suffer,” Monthly Review Magazine, January 12, 2010. “It’s who you know,” CorpWatch, August 16th, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14008
[16] Mike Brunker, “Dust flies over Katrina’s debris,” MSNBC, January 29, 20006, http://risingfromruin.msnbc.com/2006/01/fighting_over_t.html
[17] Rita King, “Layers and Layers,” CorpWatch, August 16, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14011.
[18] Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[19] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ben Fox, “Masters of disaster: Foreign firms set up shop in Haiti and wait for construction boom,” Associated Press, June 7, 2010.
[22] Mike Clary, “Broward rivals battle for work in post-quake Haiti,” Sun Sentinel, July 14, 2010, http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-07-14/news/fl-haiti-recovery-rivals-20100714_1_ashbritt-post-earthquake-haiti-debris.
[23] Ben Fox, “Ex-US official sues contractor in Haiti for fees,” Associated Press, December 31, 2010.
[24] Mark Weisbrot, “Haiti and the international aid scam,” The Guardian, April 22, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/22/haiti-aid.
[25] Project on Government Oversight, http://www.contractormisconduct.org/
[26] Matt Kelley, “Canceled Iraq contracts cost U.S. $600 million,” USA Today, November, 17, 2008.
[27] Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Impatient to Profit from Disaster,” October 14, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/impatient-to-profit-from-disaster
[28] Keith Schneider, “Company Accused of Bilking U.S. on Waste Sites,” New York Times, March 20,1992.
[29] Top 400 Contractors Sourcebook cited on http://newsroom.ch2mhill.com/pr/ch2m/industry-rankings.aspx. Statement of Mr. Fred M. Brune, President, Government Facilities and Infrastructure Business Group, CH2M Hill Constructors, Inc. before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, July 26, 2010, http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/…/hearing2010-07-26_testimony_Brune_(CH2M%20Hill).pdf.
[30] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010. http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/123565-haitis-recovery-aided-by-lobbyists
[31] CH2M Hill Expenditures, Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/expenditures.php?cycle=2010&cmte=C00143305
[32] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.

The “Shock Doctrine” Comes To Your Neighborhood Classroom

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Oldspeak:“”Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.” – Tom Watkins, consultant, summarizes the corporate education reform movement’s current strategy. For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake. Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.” –David Sirota

By David Sirota @ Common Dreams:

The Shock Doctrine, as articulated by journalist Naomi Klein, describes the process by which corporate interests use catastrophes as instruments to maximize their profit. Sometimes the events they use are natural (earthquakes), sometimes they are human-created (the 9/11 attacks) and sometimes they are a bit of both (hurricanes made stronger by human-intensified global climate change). Regardless of the particular cataclysm, though, the Shock Doctrine suggests that in the aftermath of a calamity, there is always corporate method in the smoldering madness – a method based in Disaster Capitalism.

Though Klein’s book provides much evidence of the Shock Doctrine, the Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform.”

Some background: The Times piece follows a recent Education Week report showing that as U.S. school systems are laying off teachers, letting schoolhouses crumble, and increasing class sizes, high-tech firms are hitting the public-subsidy jackpot thanks to corporate “reformers'” successful push for more “data-driven” standardized tests (more on that in a second) and more technology in the classrooms. Essentially, as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies — who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers — is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

The Times on Sunday added some key — and somehow, largely overlooked — context to this reportage: namely, that the spending shift isn’t producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of. “In a nutshell,” reports the Times, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

The paper adds that the successful “pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots” going back more than a decade, which raises the fundamental question: Why? Why would this push be so successful in changing education policy if there is little hard evidence that it is the right move to improve student achievement?

The answer goes back — as it so often does — to corporate power and the Shock Doctrine.

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend is no accidental convergence of economic disaster and high-minded  policy. On the contrary, it is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results. As the Times  sums it up, the recession’s “resource squeeze presents an opportunity” for corporate interests.

Or as Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.”

For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake.”

However, the real news here is that a Disaster Capitalist has spoken the unspoken and clearly articulated the Shock Doctrine in all its hideous glory. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.

The Times article does a good job of raising questions, forcing the corporate “reform” movement to resort to a revealing kind of hypocrisy. Check out the response from the Obama administration — which has been one of the leaders of the corporate “reform” movement — when confronted with data showing that its push for technology isn’t raising student achievement:

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.” (emphasis added)

Cator, of course, is making the argument that supporters of traditional public education have been making against corporate “reformers” for years — namely, that standardized tests cannot be the primary tool to measure overall educational achievement, because they do not measure other equally important skills. And the fact that she is selectively making it in defense of her former technology industry tells us a lot about how public policy is really made in America.

Recall that this statement against standardized testing comes from the same Obama administration that has been pushing for more standardized testing — the same Obama administration that wants to use standardized testing as a key metric for withholding federal aid from “failing” schools and for firing teachers. That’s right, somehow, according to the Obama administration, standardized tests are the perfect tool to judge and punish struggling schools and the teachers who work with low-income kids, but they can’t be used to similarly judge technology products that are making Obama’s high-tech donors lots of cash.

In this oxymoron, we see who the corporate “reformers” in government really believe they work for, and whom they shape public policy on behalf of. It’s not the average parent or student or voter. It’s the Disaster Capitalists, who now have their sights set on your local schoolhouse.

Note: Steven Brill, the author of the new book “Class Warfare,” and Dana Goldstein, the Nation magazine’s education reporter, will be debating these and other education issues on my KKZN-AM760 radio show at 9 a.m. ET on Sept. 7. Stream it live or podcast it at sirota.am760.net.

© 2011 David Sirota