Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes? Harvey Wasserman / EcoWatch
(July 25, 2015) — The latest politician to leap toward the GOP nomination is widely known as Americaâ€™s most anti-green governor. But he has a critical decision coming up that could help change that.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has established a national reputation as a leading enemy of renewable energy and enhanced energy efficiency.
When he took office in 2011, he opened fire by killing a $400 million federal grant to restore passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.
Columbus is the largest capital city in the western world that people cannot get to by train. It also has no internal commuter rail, making it what some have called “the mid-sized town technology forgot.”
The rail grant had been painstakingly crafted over the better part of a decade by a broad bi-partisan coalition. It was poised to create hundreds of jobs and provide new opportunity for a number of small towns languishing along the restoration route.
The son of a postal worker, Kasich has long touted “jobs, jobs, jobs” as his trademark commitment. The polls were very tight just prior to Ohio’s 2010 election when a check for $1 million came into his campaign chest from Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox TV, where Kasich had anchored a commentary show. Between his time as a US Congressman and the governorâ€™s race, Kasich amassed a personal fortune by selling junk bonds to government pension funds.
Upon entering the statehouse in 2011 he sent the $400 million rail grant back to the feds with stunning contempt. There were no public hearings, no legislative debates, no discussion with Ohioans who had labored for years to bring the money into the state.
Kasich then attacked renewable energy. Under previous Gov. Ted Strickland, a bi-partisan coalition had constructed one of Americaâ€™s most successful green power packages. Major wind farms involving some $2 billion in invested capital were poised to pour into northern Ohio.
Wind turbines can be especially profitable in the corridor just south of Lake Erie. The fertile farmland is flat, the breezes are steady, there are plenty of transmission lines and the power can be generated relatively close to urban areas like Toledo, Canton, Cleveland and Akron. Thousands of jobs and radically reduced electric rates were set to revive Ohio’s gutted industrial economy.
A $50 million solar farm was also slated for the southern part of the state. Businesses specializing in rooftop installations were thriving.
Kasich killed all that. Last year he signed a bill gutting the green power plan pending two years of “further study.”
He then drove a stake through the heart of Ohio’s wind-powered future. Again with no public hearings or debate, Kasich slipped into law draconian restrictions on the spacing of wind turbines.
For no apparent reason other than to kill the wind industry, the bill mandates extreme siting distances from property lines and buildings, which makes commercial turbine development a virtual impossibility in the Buckeye State. And, Kasich has made Ohio the dumping grounds for fracking wastewater.
Yet even that doesn’t quite end the tragedy of Kasich’s epic energy fail.
The infamous Davis-Besse nuke at Oak Harbor, near Toledo, has been uneconomical for years. Itâ€™s recognized worldwide as one of Earthâ€™s most dangerously decrepit reactors. Boric acid once ate through all but one-eighthâ€™s inch of its pressure vessel, nearly causing a Chernobyl on Lake Erie. Its shield wall is crumbling, as is its overall infrastructure.
Old age, mismanagement and corporate greed have left it, among other things, with a number of actual holes poked through its containment dome. Similar shenanigans recently forced the final shut-down of the Crystal River reactor in Florida.
Fifteen years ago the owners of Davis-Besse and the Perry reactor, east of Cleveland, took some $9 billion from Ohio ratepayers to refurbish the two failing nukes in preparation for a “free market” in energy. Cincinnati-based economist Ned Ford has shown that siphoning off that money has helped cripple the industrial economy of northern Ohio.
Today neither nuke can compete with gas and renewables. So FirstEnergy, Davis-Besse’s Akron-based owner, wants the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to gouge $3 billion more from ratepayers to keep Davis-Besse and its 50-year-old Sammis coal burner in operation, even though neither can compete on the open market.
The proposed bailout has sparked anger throughout the state. Most of Ohioâ€™s large commercial and industrial energy users oppose the plan, along with the core of the state’s consumer and environmental communities. Demonstrations at the PUCO have been well-attended and Ohioâ€™s biggest home newspaper — the Cleveland Plain-Dealer — has editorialized against the bail-out.
As a result of public pressure, the PUCO has repeatedly postponed its decision.
Nor has the governor yet weighed in.
But Kasich will ultimately have to be heard on an issue that could decide the state’s financial and industrial future. For Ohio’s teetering economy, sinking yet another $3 billion into obsolete fossil/nuke burners would be suicidal.
Germany, California and other advanced powers are now transition into a future defined by green power. If Kasich continues to steer Ohio away, the state is doomed to obsolescence and decline.
Technically the issue is the Public Utilities Commissionâ€™s to decide. But Kasich is well positioned to become at least the GOPâ€™s Vice-Presidential nominee. Ohio is always a key swing state, making the governor a valuable geographic asset.
As a candidate, where he stands on the future of energy will be heavily scrutinized. Thus far he seems firmly in the Kochcamp, supporting the billionaire brothers’ attacks on any energy source that threatens their gargantuan investments in obsolete fossil fuels/nukes.
Should that carry over into support for the extremely unpopular Davis-Besse bailout, Gov. Kasich’s already extensive anti-green resume could cause him serious problems as the 2016 presidential campaign progresses.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is going to spend a lot of time talking about his work to improve Ohio’s economy, but one thing he won’t be touting is his achievement last year of halting a highly successful and popular renewable energy program. Samantha Page has the details:
Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) had created 25,000 jobs and spurred at least $1 billion in private sector investment.
Kasich disagreed that the RPS had economic benefits. “The well-intentioned strategy developed in 2008 to encourage alternative energy generation mandated levels which are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery. They are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers,” Kasich said in a statement at the time.
In fact, the program didn’t increase energy costs and the only jobs created by cessation of the program went out of state, according to a report by the American Council on Renewable Energy.
The renewable energy and energy efficiency standards in Ohio cut electricity rates by 1.4% from 2008-2012, resulting in cumulative savings of over $230 million. The energy efficiency program alone has saved Ohio residents more than $1 billion since it was implemented. Yet at the same time, Ohio annually sends over $1 billion out-of-state to import coal.
To recap — legislators in Ohio’s state Senate voted to send jobs out-of-state, raise electricity prices, and do something that nearly 3/4ths of registered voters disagree with.
Kasich took over as governor in 2011. But it’s unclear how much praise he deserves for helping to boost Ohio’s economy, which still lags behind much of the US.
In 2012, Ohio’s job growth started to taper off. In the past year, the state’s overall employment has grown less than 1 percent, ranking it 45th in the country, according to an analysis maintained by Arizona State University.
Seems like ending an energy program that added 25,000 jobs when you have nearly stagnant job growth isn’t the type of sound decision we would hope for in a “jobs” president.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(July 29, 2015) — Like a stopped clock, even rabid neoconservatives can be right once in a while. A good case in point is a recent open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, signed by such neocon luminaries as Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, Reuel Gerecht and Ellen Bork, calling on the Obama administration to “press the Government of Egypt to end its campaign of indiscriminate repression in order to advance a more effective strategy for countering violent extremism.”
The Obama administration, which helped blow up Libya and Syria in the name of human rights, has resumed arms shipments to the military regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which seized power from a democratically elected government in 2013. Washington’s double standard not only undercuts US credibility internationally, it also jeopardizes important security interests in the region.
As the letter from the “Bipartisan Working Group on Egypt” rightly warns, “State violence — several thousand killed during street demonstrations, tens of thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of documented cases of torture or forced disappearance, sexual assault of detainees or family members, reported collective punishment of Sinai communities possibly with weapons provided through US military aid — is creating more incentives for Egyptians to join militant groups.”
The letter adds, “By carrying out a campaign of repression and human rights abuses that is unprecedented in the country’s modern history, and by closing off all avenues of peaceful expression of dissent through politics, civil society, or media, Al-Sisi is stoking the very fires he says he wants to extinguish.”
Just three days before the group sent its letter to Kerry, Human Rights Watch reported that Egyptian security forces, operating with “nearly absolute impunity,” have killed hundreds of dissidents in recent months, detained more than 40,000 suspects, and “forcibly disappeared” dozens of people. University students in particular have been targeted for mystery disappearances and killings.
The government has also jailed some 18 journalists for publishing reports that conflict with government-approved messages. Its massacre of roughly 1,000 protesters in Cairo in August 2013 ranks as one of the worst single-day atrocities in the region.
Government repression is growing more, not less, severe with time. President al-Sisi recently issued an executive decree giving himself the power to fire officials at independent state institutions. The government is also fast-tracking legislation to further crack down on press freedoms, including, for example, heavy fines for contradicting official statements on terrorist attacks.
Human rights organizations have termed it “a blatant violation of the constitution.” The executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said the proposed law “turns journalists into mere conveyors of the state’s official data.”
Yet the tepid response of Kerry’s State Department is to endorse Egypt’s “fight against terrorism,” while expressing the “hope” that the final version of Egypt’s new counterterrorism law will respect “individual rights.” The New York Times rightly called the statement “laughable.”
It is, however, fully in keeping with the Obama administration’s “see-no-evil” policy toward Egypt of late. During a visit to Cairo last year, Kerry praised al-Sisi for expressing “‘a very strong sense of his commitment to human rights.”
Then, in December, the United States delivered 10 Apache helicopters to support Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts. Finally, this March, the Obama administration lifted its partial freeze on military aid to Egypt, enacted in October 2013 to encourage movement toward free and fair elections in the country.
When Egypt started buying arms from France and negotiating with Russia, the administration suddenly decided that resuming its full $1.3 billion in annual military aid was “in US national security interests.”
That finding came despite the administration’s admission this June that “the overall trajectory for rights and democracy has been negative,” including “arbitrary and unlawful killings” and repressive new laws and executive initiatives that “undermine prospects for democratic governance.”
One factor in the administration’s calculus is its concern over rising numbers of Islamist terrorist attacks within Egypt. They include numerous guerrilla operations by the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State (Wilayat Sinai) and, more worrisome, the devastating car bombing of the Italian consulate in downtown Cairo this month.
A campaign of urban terrorism could devastate the country’s economy and turn Egypt into a much greater crisis than Syria.
But as numerous human rights activists warn, Egyptian repression has become the most effective recruiting tool for anti-government extremists. The Muslim Brotherhood’s longstanding doctrine of peaceful political change has lost credibility with young activists, who refuse to submit passively to arrest and torture at the hands of state security forces.
Reflecting pressure from within its ranks, the powerful Islamic movement declared in late January, “We are at the beginning of a new phase where we summon our strength and evoke the meaning of jihad. . . [We] prepare ourselves, our wives, our sons and daughters, and whoever follows our path for relentless jihad where we ask for martyrdom.”
As one student of Egypt’s Islamists notes, “the matter has yet to be settled. Given the Brotherhood’s long history of non-violence, many members don’t find it easy to accept it now even in response to the Sisi regime’s clampdown.
But the fear of losing ground is occupying the minds of Brotherhood leaders. The way many Brotherhood leaders are framing this is that if there is a war between society and the state, and if the society has taken a stance, the Muslim Brotherhood should not hinder society’s fight for freedom.”
Last year, Robert Kagan became one of the first neoconservatives to break with conservatives in Congress, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Netanyahu regime to warn about prospects for “a new Egyptian jihadist movement brought into existence by the military’s crackdown.”
“To Israel, which has never supported democracy anywhere in the Middle East except Israel, the presence of a brutal military dictatorship bent on the extermination of Islamism is not only tolerable but desirable,” Kagan wrote.
But “In Egypt, US interests and Israel’s perceptions of its own interests sharply diverge. If one believes that any hope for moderation in the Arab world requires finding moderate voices not only among secularists but also among Islamists, America’s current strategy in Egypt is producing the opposite result.”
Kagan’s pithy observations remain as true today as they were then. The advice that he and others in the Working Group on Egypt sent to Kerry last week — urging him to stop whitewashing Egypt’s regime and instead to pressure it to meet international human rights commitments and promote national reconciliation — is not simply humane but the wisest possible strategic counsel.
Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Senator Lindsey Graham’s Pro-War
Super PAC Bankrolled by Defense Contractors Lee Fang / The Intercept
(July 30, 2015) — The Super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised $2.9 million through the end of June, a significant portion of which came from defense contractors that stand to gain from Graham’s advocacy for greater military intervention around the world and increased defense spending.
As Graham tours the early primary states, he tells voters that he is running to boost US defense spending. “My goal is to make sure the next president of the United States, the next generation of war fighters have the capability and capacity to do the job required to keep us free,” Graham said in South Carolina earlier this year.
Graham’s Super PAC, called “Security is Strength,” received $500,000 from billionaire Ron Perelman, whose company MacAndrews & Forbes owns AM General, the manufacturer of Humvees and other products for the military. In December of last year, AM General won a $245.6 million contract with the Army.
The Super PAC also received $25,000 from Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, another major defense contractor. Notably, Graham has been a stalwart proponent of the Export-Import Bank, a federally charted lending institution that has approved $1 billion in loans to GE in fiscal year 2014.
“If I were a defense contractor, I’d be big time for Lindsey Graham, because I’ve been forward-leaning on rebuilding our military,” Graham told USA TODAY when asked about why defense contractors have been tapped to help lead his fundraising team. “People come to you because of your positions,” Graham added.
WASHINGTON (June 11, 2015) — — Sen. Lindsey Graham may be a long shot for the White House in 2016, but his list of top presidential fundraisers underscores the South Carolina Republican’s clout in Washington no matter the outcome of the presidential race.
Three of the eight national finance co-chairs who recently signed on to raise money for Graham’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination oversee firms that have contracts with the US Defense Department. Graham, who sits on the Senate’s Armed Services and Appropriations committees, is a big player in guiding US foreign and military policy. Many of his top-tier fundraisers also are aligned with Graham’s muscular defense of Israel.
A fourth top fundraiser, Arkansas businessman Scott Ford, recently appeared alongside actor Ben Affleck and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at an appropriations subcommittee hearing chaired by Graham. At the hearing, which drew heavy media attention because of Affleck’s star power, Ford touted his coffee business in Rwanda.
Graham, who won re-election to a third term last November, is one of the best-known defense hawks in Congress. He has advocated an aggressive defense posture, including deploying combat troops in the Middle East to fight Islamic State terrorists.
Graham said he welcomes the support of executives with defense interests.
“If I were a defense contractor, I’d be big time for Lindsey Graham, because I’ve been forward-leaning on rebuilding our military,” he told USA TODAY on Thursday. “People come to you because of your positions.”
In a crowded GOP field, Graham also stands as the candidate forcefully backing the Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans for foreign buyers of US products. Some conservative groups, including organizations aligned with the powerhouse Republican donors Charles and David Koch, are urging Congress to kill off the 81-year-old agency by letting its charter expire at the end of this month.
One of the top beneficiaries of the bank’s activities is General Electric, whose CEO Jeffrey Immelt signed on last week to raise money for Graham. GE makes everything from nuclear reactors and ultrasound machines to refrigerators and engines that power military and commercial jets. In fiscal year 2014, the bank approved $1 billion in loans and loan guarantees for companies around the globe to buy GE products, government data show.
GE also was awarded nearly $2.2 billion in defense contracts that year, though company officials note that the military work accounts for only a small fraction of the conglomerate’s revenues.
In a statement released by Graham’s campaign, Immelt said he was helping Graham because he “understands that America has an indispensable role to play in creating the stability and building the institutional capacity that are essential for growing markets and abiding security.”
GE operates a power turbine plant in Greenville, S.C., and Graham told The Greenville News this week that he lobbied the Iraqi government to buy billions in turbines produced by GE plants in South Carolina and France. “GE has a pretty big military portfolio,” Graham added. “Well, name one person who has been more aggressive about rebuilding a declining military.”
GE spokeswoman Deidre Latour described Immelt’s support this way in an interview with USA TODAY: “This was a personal decision for our chairman and CEO. Lindsey Graham is broadly supportive of policies that support business, including trade and Ex-Im.”
The list of fundraisers also underscores Graham’s robust defense of Israel as a key ally in the Middle East. They include Ronald Perelman, a noted philanthropist and investor, who has donated millions to Jewish causes.
Perelman has close ties to Democrat Hillary Clinton, but in a statement issued by Graham’s campaign, Perelman said he was backing the South Carolinian because the country needs “leaders with strategic purpose and moral clarity to confront” the conflicts “raging in the Middle East and around the world.”
Perelman’s management firm, MacAndrews & Forbes Inc., also has a significant financial stake in US military policy. It owns AM General, an Indiana-based contractor that has built more than 300,000 Humvees for the US military and wants to build many more. It is one of three companies competing for a massive Pentagon contract to build the “joint light tactical vehicle,” which will replace the Humvees previously built by AM General.
In December, AM General added another contract with the US Army worth $245.6 million for 2,200 more Humvees and parts.
Last year, MacAndrews & Forbes’ political action committee contributed $5,000 to Graham’s re-election campaign — part of more than $161,000 the company’s PAC gave lawmakers, many of them on committees that oversee the military and government spending, data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show.
Perelman’s interest in Graham is about Middle East policy, not business, according to a spokeswoman.
Perelman’s “support is driven by a desire to ensure a robust discussion on critical foreign policy issues, especially the pending accord with Iran and US support for Israel,” his spokeswoman Christine Taylor said.
Not all of Perelman’s financial interests stand to benefit from a Graham presidency. Another part of his portfolio is Scientific Games Corp., an online lottery and gaming company. Graham is a leading proponent of legislation to ban online wagering, which would hurt Internet gambling interests if it became law.
(Graham’s bill is supported by another prominent billionaire and political donor, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson has not yet publicly backed a 2016 presidential candidate, but his brother, Massachusetts-based businessman Lenny Adelson, has signed on as one of Graham’s “Northeast” bundlers.)
Safra Catz, the Israeli-born CEO of Oracle, also is among Graham’s eight national finance co-chairs. The software giant has been awarded more than $146 million in prime federal contracts during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to USASpending.gov, a clearinghouse for federal contracts and grants. The lion’s share involved Defense Department contracts.
Catz declined to comment through a company spokeswoman.
Attempts to reach Ford, the Arkansas executive who testified recently before Graham’s appropriations panel on foreign aid, were unsuccessful. An aide said he was out of the country.
Ford, the former CEO of wireless provider Alltel, now oversees Westrock Coffee. The company has operations in several East African countries, including Rwanda, which was split apart by civil war and mass genocide in the early 1990s.
The company and its Rwandan arm received $19.4 million in insurance coverage in 2013 through the Overseas Private Insurance Corporation, a little-known federal agency that sells insurance to US businesses operating in politically risky countries.
Ford cited the agency’s insurance in his testimony. His company, he said, employed nearly 1,300 people in Rwanda and Tanzania last year and buys coffee from more than 60,000 farmers.
The OPIC’s administrative functions are funded by an international aid account that Graham oversees as an appropriator. Thursday, Graham told USA TODAY he’d like to do even more to help entrepreneurs such as Ford start businesses and improve struggling economies.
“When he jump-starts a business through the private sector and increases the wealth of the Rwandan people, it takes pressure off the foreign ops budget,” Graham said of Ford. “I want to do more of that. I want to create accounts and reward people like Scott and find capital for them.”
Contributing: Rudolph Bell, The Greenville News
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(July 30, 2015) — We’re in the summer doldrums of the news cycle, a perfect time for our government and the media — or do I repeat myself? — to drop certain inconvenient stories down the Memory Hole. My job, of course, is to retrieve themâ€¦.
Remember Ukraine? I seem to recall blaring headlines about a supposedly “imminent” and “massive” Russian invasion of that country: the Anglo-Saxon media was ablaze with a veritable countdown to D-Day and we were treated to ominous sightings of Russian troops and tanks gathering at the border, allegedly just awaiting the order from Putin to take Kiev.
And it turns out there has been an invasion, of sorts — although it isn’t a Russian one. It’s the Kiev regime’s own foot-soldiers returning from the front and turning on their masters.
The war is going badly for the government of oligarch Petro Poroshenko. The east Ukrainians, who rose in revolt after the US-sponsored coup threw out democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, show no signs of giving up: they’ve repulsed the “anti-terrorist” campaign launched by Kiev, withstanding relentless bombardment of their cities and enduring many thousands of casualties, not to mention widespread destruction.
Indeed, the brutal protracted war waged by Kiev against its own “citizens” has arguably steeled the rebels’ resolve and made any thought of reconciliation unthinkable.
As is usual with violent fanatics, the war aims of the Kiev coup leaders — to bring the eastern provinces back into the fold — have been rendered impossible by their methods and conduct. The de facto blockade imposed on the east has bound the separatists all the more tightly to Russia, and so economics as well as searing hatred of a government the easterners regard as “fascist” has sealed the country’s fate.
Unable to crack the rebels’ resolve, the “revolutionaries” who once gathered in the Maiden have begun to turn on each other. Poroshenko, fearful of the rising power of the far-right militias who make up the backbone of his makeshift army, has ordered their dissolution — and the rightists are resisting.
A standoff between the Right Sector militia and Ukrainian police the other day culminated in a pitched battle as the rightists attacked police positions in Mukachevo, in western Ukraine, and took a six-year-old boy hostage.
A dispute over control of the local cigarette smuggling operation had ended with two Right Sector thugs killed and seven others — it’s not clear which side they belonged to — injured. The rightists used grenade launchers to pulverize two police cars. Oh well, no worries, Washington will send replacementsâ€¦. for both the cars and the launchers.
The big problem for the Kiev regime is that Right Sector and allied far-rightist militias are the core of their military operation against the east. Right Sector provided the muscle of the Maiden revolution, standing in the front lines against the widely feared Berkut special forces loyal to Yanukovych.
If these thugs must be reined in, then the success of the “anti-terrorist” campaign is doubtful: yet Kiev is increasingly unwilling to pay the high price of appeasing their increasingly troublesome Praetorians.
The aftermath of the Mukachevo stand off was a clear victory for the rightists, who saw their leader, Dmytro Yarosh, a member of parliament, negotiating with the Interior Ministry — and Right Sector militia blocking the road from Kiev to the scene of the fighting.
The result was an announcement from the Interior Ministry that the police chief of Mukachevo has been suspended, pending an “investigation” of the charges of aiding and abetting smuggling.
In short, Right Sector emerged victorious. Following up their victory, the group declared that a national referendum will be held — without gathering the required signatures, and under their sponsorship — on multiple questions, essentially demanding that their entire program for the nation be adopted.
They call for a formal declaration of war against Russia, a complete blockade of the eastern provinces, martial law, and the legalization of their militias. Oh yes, and they also want the present government, up to and including Poroshenko, to be impeached.
Mired in debt, and rapidly sinking into an economic abyss, Ukraine is literally coming apart at the seams — and the ugly underside of the Maiden “revolution” is being exposed to the light of day. The most recent atrocity is the uncovering of a torture chamber used by members of the “Tornado” Battalion, another far-right grouping, in which militia members kidnapped, tortured, raped, and robbed citizens in the eastern Luhansk region, where the government is fighting to retain some modicum of control.
Eight members of the Tornado militia were recently arrested and are being held by military prosecutors in Kiev: the Tornado “volunteers,” who mostly consist of ex-convicts, defend their actions by claiming that this is just retaliation because they uncovered a smuggling operation run by local officials — who, they say, are collaborating with the rebels. They initially refused to lay down their arms and barricaded themselves into their camp.
The Aidar Battalion, also operating in eastern Ukraine, has been accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes: that was in 2014, but the charges were largely ignored until the local governor began to complain. Aidar’s leader, member of parliament Serhiy Melnychuk, of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party, has been stripped of immunity from prosecution and charged with kidnapping, issuing threats, and operating a criminal gang.
Melnychuk, while admitting there was “some looting,” attributed the dissolution of the Aidar Battalion by authorities to “Russian propaganda” and revealed that some members are still operating independently in Luhansk.
Then there’s the openly neo-Nazi Azov Brigade, whose members sport fascist symbols from the World War II era, and whose leader, Andriy Biletsky, declares that the goal of his group is to “lead the White Races of the world in a struggle for their survival.”
There was so much bad publicity surrounding the Azov Battalion that the US Congress unanimously passed legislation forbidding any aid to the group — a provision, as this piece by Joseph Epstein in the Daily Beast points out, that is essentially unenforceable:
“In an interview with The Daily Beast, Sgt. Ivan Kharkiv of the Azov battalion talks about his battalion’s experience with US trainers and US volunteers quite fondly, even mentioning US volunteers engineers and medics that are still currently assisting them. He also talks about the significant and active support from the Ukrainian diaspora in the US As for the training they have and continue to receive from numerous foreign armed forces. Kharkiv says ‘We must take knowledge from all armiesâ€¦ We pay for our mistakes with our lives.’
“Those US officials involved in the vetting process obviously have instructions to say that US forces are not training the Azov Battalion as such. They also say that Azov members are screened out, yet no one seems to know precisely how that’s done. In fact, given the way the Ukrainian government operates, it’s almost impossible.”
Yes, your tax dollars are going to arm, train, and feed neo-Nazis in Ukraine. That’s what we bought into when Washington decided to launch a regime change operation in that bedraggled corner of southeastern Europe. Your money is also going to prop up the country’s war-stricken economy — albeit not before corrupt government officials rake their cut off the top.
Dmytro Korchynsky, who heads a group of several far-right “volunteers” gathered together in “St. Mary’s Battalion,” declares his goal of organizing a “Christian Taliban” that will put Ukraine in the forefront of an effort to “lead the crusades,” adding: ” Our mission is not only to kick out the occupiers, but also revenge. Moscow must burn.”
That’s a goal American neocons and their liberal enablers can get behind, but Korchynsky’s invocation of the Taliban ought to make the rest of us step back from that precipice. For it was the US, in the throes of the last cold war, that coalesced, funded, trained, and armed what later became the Afghan Taliban — and we all know where that road led.
Once again, in our endless search for foreign monsters to destroy, we’re creating yet more foreign monsters who will provide the next excuse for future crusades. It’s a perpetual motion machine of foreign policy madness — and the War Party likes it that way.
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Dylann Roof Is Not a “Terrorist” —
But Animal Rights Activists Who Free Minks From Slaughter Are Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
(July 28 2015) — The FBI on Friday announced the arrests in Oakland of two animal rights activists, Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, and accused the pair of engaging in “domestic terrorism.”
This comes less than a month after the FBI director said he does not consider Charleston Church murderer Dylann Roof a “terrorist.” The activistsâ€™ alleged crimes: “They released thousands of minks from farms around the country and vandalized various properties.” Thatâ€™s it. Now theyâ€™re being prosecuted and explicitly vilified as “terrorists,” facing 10-year prison terms.
Buddenberg and Kissane are scheduled to appear this morning in a federal court in San Francisco for a hearing on bail conditions, while arraignment is set for early September. The indictment comes just days before the scheduled start of the Animal Rights National Conference, the largest and most important annual gathering of activists.
The DOJ did exactly the same thing in July of last year: Shortly before the start of the 2014 conference, they arrested two activists on federal “terrorism” charges for freeing minks and foxes from a fur farm. The multiple activists and lawyers who spoke to The Intercept since Fridayâ€™s arrests are adamant that these well-timed indictments are designed to intimidate activists at the conference and more broadly to chill campaigns to defend animal rights.
This latest federal prosecution, and the public branding of these two activists as “domestic terrorists,” highlights the strikingly severe targeting over many years by the US government of nonviolent animal and environmental rights activists. The more one delves into what is being done here — the extreme abuse of the criminal law to stifle nonviolent political protest or even just pure political speech, undertaken with tragically little attention — the more appalling it becomes. There are numerous cases of animal rights activists, several of whom spoke to The Intercept, who werenâ€™t even accused of harming people or property, but who were nonetheless sent to federal prison for years.
One obvious and significant reason for the US governmentâ€™s fixation is that the industries most threatened by this activism are uncontrollably powerful in Washington, virtually owning the Congress without opposition, stacking the relevant agencies with their revolving-door cronies.
Another is that this movement is driven by hard-core believers impressively willing to sacrifice their own liberty in defense of their political values — namely, trying to stop the mass torture and gratuitous slaughter of animals — and that frightens both industry and its government servants; that animal rights as a cause is gaining traction worldwide makes the threat even more alarming.
Yet another reason is that the specific forms of activism this movement has cultivated are shrewd and compelling: As is true for so many types of violence, the savagery, torture and sadism that makes these industries so profitable will be collectively tolerated only if we are not forced to confront their reality.
That, for instance, is why the Obama DOJ is so desperately fighting the release of torture and Guantanamo photos, and why it has so severely punished whistleblowers: because few things are more menacing to status quo interests than truth revealed in its most visceral form.
While some E.U. countries have severely regulated or even banned many of the animal abuses targeted by activists, the US factory farms that produce furs are among the cruelest and most sadistic anywhere, imposing extreme amounts of suffering and torture on the animals they slaughter — both in terms of how they confine them and then kill them. The very graphic photo here shows the carcasses of minks after they have been skinned; this deeply disturbing undercover video from PETA details their treatment at American fur factories:
Independent of the moral questions raised by this savage treatment of animals, these industrial practices spawn serious environmental degradation, exploit small farmers, and produce health risks for workers: practices that can remain undisturbed only as long as we remain blissfully unaware of the harms they cause.
But thereâ€™s something deeper driving this persecution. American elites are typically willing to tolerate political protest as long as it remains constrained, controlled, and fundamentally respectful of the rules imposed by institutions of authority — i.e., as long as it remains neutered and impotent.
When protest movements adhere to those constraints, they are not only often ineffective, but more so, they can unwittingly serve as a false testament to the freedom of the political process and the generosity of its rulers (they let us speak out: see, weâ€™re free!). That kind of marginal, modest “protest” often ends up strengthening the process it believes it is subverting.
When, by contrast, a movement transgresses those limitations and starts to become effective in impeding the injustices it targets — particularly when preserving those injustices is valuable to the most powerful — thatâ€™s when it has to be stopped at all costs, including criminalizing it with the harshest possible legal weapons.
This is the dynamic that explains the emerging campaign in the West to literally criminalize the previously marginalized BDS movement designed to stop Israeli occupation: Itâ€™s gaining too much ground, becoming too effective, and thus must be banned, its proponents and leaders threatened with prosecution.
The fear that the animal rights movement is growing stronger and will succeed in exposing the horrifying realities of these industriesâ€™ practices is driving the persecution to the point of declaring it to be — and formally punishing it as — terrorism.
Even beyond that, the animal rights movement strikes at the heart of what is most cherished by American elites: the pillars of unrestrained capitalistic entitlement. That so much industrial profit depends upon extreme, constant torture and slaughter of animals is something regarded as, in essence, a sacred right.
Lauren Gazolla, who was imprisoned for 40 months in 2004 for her nonviolent animal rights activism and now works at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that this movement “strikes at something fundamental. It challenges a way of life: So much of how much we live our lives is based on massive violence against animals, and the more brutal these industries are, the more profit they make.”
Anything that targets or threatens this entitlement is regarded as the highest and most severe threat. Thatâ€™s why the government, at the behest of the industry interests it serves, is calling it “terrorism”: to them, few things are genuinely more menacing or threatening than an effective political movement aimed at these practices.
A systematic effort to convert animal rights activism into terrorism
The activists arrested on Friday are being charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a draconian 2006 federal law heavily lobbied for by the agriculture, pharmaceutical and farming industries. Its drafting and enactment was led by the notorious and powerful American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with the lobbying industries also hiding behind groups such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC) and the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF).
As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush. This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise . . . for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.
Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”
At the same time as this draconian statute was signed into law, numerous states enacted so-called “ag-gag” laws that — amazingly — “prohibit workers from taking undercover videos at the facilities and impose fines or jail time for those who do.” Moreover, “roughly half a dozen states have passed laws in recent years to prevent workers from taking images or videos of agricultural facilities.”
Theyâ€™re so desperate to conceal their savage conduct from the public that theyâ€™re literally criminalizing reporting and whistleblowing, so that those who enable vital (and horrific and hard-to-watch) videos like this one — showing incomprehensible cruelty to highly intelligent and emotionally advanced pigs — are subject to prosecution:
For a barbaric industry, nothing is more threatening than the truth. As the Wall Street Journal explained in May: “In 2008, a California meat company recalled 143 million pounds of beef — the largest beef recall in US history — after the Humane Society of the United States distributed an undercover video showing workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts to get them on their feet. The condition of the cows suggested their meat could have posed a risk to consumers.”
That case was the result of an undercover investigation at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, which, in the words of the Humane Society, showed “slaughter plant workers displaying complete disregard for the pain and misery they inflicted as they repeatedly attempted to force â€˜downedâ€™ animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.”
Because the cows were too sick to walk, they were dragged or pushed with hot prods into the slaughterhouse. Some of that food made its way into the National Lunch Program served to public school students.
In other words, cows that were too sick even to walk, because of their savage mistreatment, were being put into the human food chain. This was discovered only because an undercover video revealed it:
Is it any wonder that these industries are demanding that such reporting and exposure be outlawed? And is it hard to see why the brave activists bringing these truths to light and trying to stop them are regarded as criminals and even “terrorists” for doing so?
Targeting Core Political Speech
This latest case shows how extreme and oppressive this law is by design. No human beings were physically injured by the alleged activism of Buddenberg and Kissane, nor did they attempt to harm any. Whatever one thinks of their tactics, it was — even by the FBIâ€™s telling — confined to property damage: essentially vandalism.
In its Press Releases announcing indictments, the FBI tries to depict the alleged acts in the worst, most inflammatory light possible; for this case, this is all it could muster: They “used paint, paint stripper, a super glue-type substance, butyric acid, muriatic acid and glass etchant to vandalize Furs by Graf, a retail furrier located in San Diego.” There is absolutely no commonly understood meaning of “terrorism” (to the extent such a thing exists) that can include anything they did.
Ben Rosenfeld, a lawyer who has extensively represented animal and environmental activists, told The Intercept that “calling this terrorism is utterly irresponsible and offensive to victims of real terror.” Referring to both the DOJ and Congress, he said, “They should be ashamed of themselves.”
He added that in the post-9/11 era, “Calling this terrorism makes it almost impossible to get a fair trial for these activists. Itâ€™s very manipulative. Though the public is more jaded about the manipulative use of this term, it makes a huge impression on judges, most of whom have previously been prosecutors.” Because itâ€™s in the title of the law, the term “terrorism” even appears on verdict forms, “so jurors see it very clearly.”
To label this nonviolent political protest “terrorism” yet again illustrates the utterly malleable and propagandistic nature of that term. This is particularly true given that the same DOJ that is charging the activists as “terrorists” just announced that Dylann Roof — who murdered nine people in a Charleston church to advance clear ideological and political objectives — will not be.
Even more abusive prosecutions — based exclusively on pure political speech and protest rights — have been common. Will Potter is likely the most knowledgeable journalist in the country on these issues; heâ€™s author of a 2011 book entitled Green is the New Red, and editor of a great website by the same name that exhaustively covers these issues.
Potter has a new story, published yesterday, on the arrest of four animal-rights activists in Oregon for . . . “allegedly writing political slogans on the public street using sidewalk chalk.” Potter reports that “the chalking was done as part of the growing â€˜No New Animal Labâ€™ campaign, which aims to stop the construction of a new underground animal experimentation facility at the University of Washington.”
In 2004, Gazolla was prosecuted — and imprisoned in a federal penitentiary — for 40 months (three-and-a-half years) on charges that she and other activists maintained a website that endorsed illegal protests, and that her chants at a protest outside an executiveâ€™s house included advocacy of violence.
Her co-defendant was Andy Stepanian of Fitzgibbon Media, the communications firm that represents The Intercept and, on a pro bono basis, Chelsea Manning. Stepanian was imprisoned for three years, and during his incarceration, was even placed in a highly oppressive “Communications Management Unit,” called “GITMO North,” typically reserved for Muslims accused of terrorism. The FOIA-obtained prison document ordering his transfer tells the story (redactions in original):
As Gazolla detailed in a 2014 Salon article, the only conceivable purpose of calling activists like her “terrorists” under the new 2006 law is to stifle legitimate speech:
The AETA was pushed through Congress by the immensely powerful animal agriculture, animal testing and fur industries. The law is not limited to punishing illegal activity; numerous existing laws already punish vandalism, threats and other illegal forms of protest. Rather, the AETA provides special protection to a specific class of businesses by targeting and stigmatizing a particular group of protesters, hanging the specter of prosecution as “animal enterprise terrorists” over their heads, and ultimately scaring them into silence.
Indeed, the very first case prosecuted under the AETA was in 2009, and it included the same Joseph Buddenberg who was arrested on Friday, along with three other defendants. Industry officials and their lobbyists were furious that no prosecutions had been brought in the two years since its enactment, and were aggressively pressuring the DOJ to find a case.
As Potter reported at the time, the DOJâ€™s entire case, calling these activists “terrorists,” rested on their pure First Amendment activity such as chalking sidewalks, marching and chanting outside researchersâ€™ homes, and distributing fliers. The following year, the indictments were dismissed by a federal judge on the ground that the DOJ failed even to allege with any specificity what they did that constituted a crime.
But the history since that dismissal makes clear that pure political speech and protest are the real targets of these “terrorism” prosecutions. Gazzola told The Intercept that the AETA succeeded for a time in its goal of weakening and chilling activism: “My prosecution scared people,” she said.
But both Gazzola and Potter echoed what numerous activists and lawyers said: that despite the governmentâ€™s efforts, animal rights activism is stronger, and the cause more widely accepted, than ever before. Others noted that thereâ€™s also a growing right-wing faction to the movement and that itâ€™s starting to cut across ideological lines in interesting ways. Gazzola said that “more and more people are speaking up more strongly now, and there is more support from the broader left and social justice attorneys. All of that has really helped the movement come back.”
Supporting Activism, Preventing Abusive Prosecutions
For years, animal rights activists worked without much support, even from the left, which generally regarded them as fringe and their cause as marginal (this post does a good job of laying that out). But all of the movement supporters interviewed by The Intercept are optimistic that, for a variety of revealing reasons, they have far more support than ever before.
Potter explained that the leftâ€™s aversion to animal rights activism was in part fueled by caricatures created by federal authorities. “They told the left, â€˜donâ€™t worry: weâ€™re just going after these hard-core extremists, the ones who think you shouldnâ€™t be able to go to circuses or wear leather shoes.'” That demonization made the left wary of being associated with a movement that had been successfully marginalized.
Beyond that, he said, thereâ€™s a strong human incentive to avoid thinking about what is done to animals. Potter explained: “People donâ€™t want to engage with these issues because it challenges the most fundamental assumptions about how weâ€™ve structured our society. It makes people confront the assumption weâ€™ve adopted that we, as humans, have the right to do anything we want to the planet and other species for any reason: clothes, food, entertainment, transportation.
Once you engage with those issues, it can be a shocking confrontation with how youâ€™ve been living your life for awhile. These activists are threatening not only corporate profit, but also the fundamental precept that humans are the center of the universe and have the right to do whatever they want.”
But activists point to a number of positive developments as evidence that animal rights is now becoming far more mainstream. There have been a few successful ballot initiatives to limit the worst abuses in agriculture. A single documentary on animal abuses at Sea World all but destroyed that company. Mainstream, influential figures advocate vegetarianism.
The widespread availability of cheaper technology and access to the Internet makes it far easier than ever to produce undercover videos and ensure widespread dissemination. Legal changes are, for the first time, recognizing pets and other animals as having emotional worth, beyond their value as “chattel.”
In sum, said Potter, we are collectively “expanding our circles of compassion, or at least consideration, in terms of the law and our moral framework.” For the first time in the US, it is now being recognized that “animals are worthy of moral consideration.”
But these changes, while positive, are limited, and far from what is needed to shield animal rights activism from vindictive prosecution and additional industry-fueled retribution. Potter used the term “greenwashing” to explain that “the Federal Government loves to tell you that itâ€™s great for you to love the environment, but only if you do it in benign ways that donâ€™t threaten industry.” You can and should recycle, but donâ€™t impede lumber companies from cutting down trees or get in the way of whaling ships. Only “eco-terrorists” do that.
The same dynamic is at play in animal rights activism. Weâ€™re told that itâ€™s great to love your pets. Itâ€™s fine to get outraged when some revolting, piggish Minnesota dentist — or the hideous spawn of Donald Trump — slaughter majestic animals in Africa for their own twisted pleasure or to compensate for their glaring sense of inadequacy.
“But whatever you do,” said Potter, “donâ€™t turn your gaze to the everyday behavior of Americaâ€™s largest food companies and farming industries in order to shine a light on their wholesale torture and slaughter of animals.” No matter how much people have learned to love animals and regard them as possessing moral worth, that type of activism — effective and subversive of industry — is still radioactive.
Thatâ€™s what most needs to change. The countless hours of interviews and reading Iâ€™ve now done has made me, for the first time, fully cognizant of the shocking amount of legal abuses being undertaken here. At the very least, the activists who are sacrificing their own liberty in order to protect animals from being tortured and slaughtered — activists who are often poor and thus vulnerable to most abusive prosecutions — deserve a vibrant legal defense.
A legal defense fund has now been created to ensure that both Buddenberg and Kissane have the funds needed to defend themselves. You can, and I hope will, donate to that here. Beyond that, both CCR and the Civil Liberties Defense Center have done stalwart work in fighting the pernicious efforts to equate this activism with “terrorism.”
The propagandistic exploitation of the term “terrorism” has produced a wide range of harms all over the globe. Few harms are as severe as its ongoing use not only to stifle, but outright criminalize, political speech and noble activism.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Navy Probes Complaint of
‘Cancer Clusters’ among Guantanamo Workers Al Jazeera America
(July 28, 2015) — The US Navy is investigating a complaint that seeks the evacuation of civilian and military lawyers from parts of the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following reports of cancer cases among personnel working on the trials of detainees there.
At least seven civilians and military members who worked on detainee trials at Guantanamo Bay have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the complaint, which was filed with the US Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The complaint calls on American military officials to remove personnel from court facilities on the base and test them and the base itself for carcinogens.
Civilian lawyers who have worked at the base said they supported the call for an investigation.
“There appears to be a cancer cluster surrounding the military commissions at Guantanamo,” said J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented dozens of Guantanamo detainees. “And the Centers for Disease Control should be brought in to investigate the matter thoroughly.”
The complaint claims that an unusually large number of relatively healthy and young people who worked at the base have been diagnosed with cancer. Over the past decade, roughly 200 prosecutors, defense lawyers and other court personnel have worked on the base.
The military commission has been a controversial fixture at the base, as civil rights advocates argue trials of people accused of terrorism charges should be tried in federal court, where defendants’ rights are protected by the constitution.
The complaint says that the patients may have been exposed to carcinogens when they lived and worked in a location at Guantanamo that was formerly used to dispose of jet fuel, adjacent to an abandoned runway. The patients may also have been exposed to toxins such as asbestos in an older building that initially hosted military trials, according to the complaint.
“The Department of Defense is aware of concerns about possible carcinogens around the DOD military commission site located at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay,” said Kelly Wirfel, spokesperson for Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
“Working together with the Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center and other environmental and health officials, Navy Region Southeast is looking into this to identify whatever steps may be necessary to address these concerns.”
A spokesperson for the Defense Department Inspector General’s office said the office could not confirm or deny any investigations or complaints.
“We have been telling our chain of command for years that we don’t feel safe living and working in the temporary facilities the government has erected for military commissions,” said US Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, a military defense lawyer who has worked at Guantanamo Bay for years. “But, along with the Constitution, the government seems to want to sweep this under the rug.”
The complaint doesn’t allege an increase in cancer levels among detainees, who are imprisoned on a separate part of the 45-square-mile base. There are currently about 115 detainees at the base, which President Barack Obama has been trying for years to shut.
If evidence of health risks does emerge at Guantanamo, it would add to a litany of problems that has slowed the trials. But the existence of a cancer cluster, which is what the complaint is essentially alleging, can be extremely hard to establish.
Two doctors consulted by Reuters said it would be difficult to determine whether the cancer rate at the base was abnormal without much more detailed information. They said seven cases would be unusual among a group of 200 younger people, particularly if all of them developed the same type of cancer. But seven people in a group of 200 developing different forms of cancer could be normal, particularly if the group’s members were older.
The author of the complaint worked on military trials at Guantanamo Bay for several years and is still employed by the US military, according to another US military official.
On Monday, Canadian media reported that US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, a longtime defense lawyer for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, died of cancer on July 17th. Kuebler was 44.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
We’re Blocking Shell’s Ship! *Take Action*
Ask President Obama to deny Shell from drilling in the Arctic.
(July 29, 2015) — As I write this, I’m preparing to suspend myself from a bridge, blocking Shell’s icebreaker from leaving Portland, OR for the Arctic. And if you got this email, that means I made it.
Shell is almost ready to drill in the Arctic but its icebreaker containing a vital piece of drilling equipment hit something, causing a gaping hole. So it had to come down here to Portland to get patched up. We are now what stands in between Shell and an Arctic oil catastrophe.
While I’m holding up the ship, you can take action by asking President Obama to cancel Shell’s drilling plans and protect the Arctic!
Shell isn’t just threatening polar bears and walruses with its drilling plans. By tapping into a new source of oil ironically only accessible because of melting ice it’s threatening the entire world with worsening climate change.
I’m prepared to stay up here as long as possible, and so are my friends. We have enough supplies to last several days, and we’re not letting Shell’s ship through.
I’m inspired by the courage of everyone who has acted so far: from the Alaska Native communities who have been resisting driling for years, to the thousands of kayaktivists who met the rig in Seattle, to the millions who have spoken out against this terrible plan.
Every minute Shell is delayed is more time for us to convince the Obama administration to cancel the company’s drilling plans. Take action now!
The fight to save the Arctic is heating up, and we can win. There’s only a very short window of time that Shell can drill, and this once leaky icebreaker already threatened the whole operation.
Shell has been here before. In 2012, the company conducted Arctic drilling tests, spectacularly crushing a containment dome (the same piece of vital equipment aboard this leaky icebreaker) and crashing a drilling rig into the Alaskan coast.
But Shell still thinks it can safely drill and, for some reason, the Obama Administration agrees. The government just allowed Shell to clear a major legal hurdle. So that leaves it up to us to stand up against the oil giant.
Shell is almost ready to drill. Tell President Obama it’s not too late to change his mind and stop Shell before the last ship reaches the Arctic.
And that’s why we’re out here. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to stay, but we’re going to delay Shell for as long as we’re able. And we’re going to make sure the world is watching so everyone knows about Shell’s dirty plans to spoil the Arctic and heat up our world.
Join me today and tell President Obama to stop Shell and leave a clean climate legacy.
For the Arctic,
Georgia Hirsty, Greenpeace climber P.S. We’ll be here blocking Shell as long as we can. Follow along live and join the call to President Obama to protect the Arctic and our climate.
Follow breaking updates from the scene of this incredible display of people power, and don’t forget to say #ShellNo by telling President Obama to reject Arctic drilling.
Activists Stop Shell Vessel as It
Attempts to Leave Portland Harbor Ryan Schleeter
(July 29, 2015) — Greenpeace activists have suspended themselves from St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon to block a Shell Oil vessel from leaving port for Alaskan waters. The climbers have enough supplies to last several days, and are prepared to stay in Shell’s way as long as possible. Follow here for LIVE updates.
26 Greenpeace climbers have put themselves between Shell and the Arctic, blocking the Fennica — a Shell vessel carrying a crucial piece of drilling equipment — as it attempts to leave Portland, Oregon.
Right now, Kristina and 25 other Greenpeace US activists are blocking Shell’s icebreaker ship from heading to the Arctic by occupying a bridge on its route out of Portland.
The icebreaker Fennica is carrying crucial drilling equipment for Shell’s Arctic operation. Without it, Shell is not allowed to drill for oil in the Arctic as per their plans. The ship was scheduled to leave the dock this morning to join the rest of Shell’s oil drilling fleet but 26 courageous activists stepped in.
Shell isn’t just threatening polar bears and walruses with its drilling plans. Arctic ice is already melting fast as global temperatures rise, but Shell wants to exploit the melting ice to drill for more oil.
That’s why Kristina Flores and their colleagues have taken action today. â€œWe have an opportunity here to prevent Shell from exploiting the Arctic. I am just one of the millions of voices who believe that we will succeedâ€ they said from the bridge.
Over the last three years, Shell’s attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic have yielded nothing but a terrible safety record. The company has managed to crush its safety equipment and run its drilling rig aground, showing how wildly unprepared it is to drill in unpredictable Arctic conditions.
Shell only has a short window to drill in the Arctic this summer, so every second this protest continues is another second without Arctic drilling. That’s why the activists plan to stay on this bridge for as long as possible.
Rich American Tourists Kill Hundreds of Lions each Year, and It’s All Legal Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post
(July 29, 2015) — The Internet is in an uproar this week over the recent killing of a well-known lion in Zimbabwe. Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, allegedly baited Cecile the lion out of a national park by dragging a dead animal behind a car at night. Palmer shot it with a crossbow. The wounded lion escaped and wasn’t found by Palmer and his fellow hunters until 40 hours later, when they killed it with a rifle.
This would all be perfectly legal had the lion not been a resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a protected area. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that trophy-hunting tourists legally kill some 600 lions each year. Jane Smart, the global director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, said in an interview that the 600 figure is several years old and the actual number is probably a little bit higher than that.
Given that there are only about 30,000 lions left in Africa, this represents an annual loss of roughly 2 percent of the total lion population to legal hunting, and a considerably larger share of the population of healthy adult male lions, which hunters typically prize.
American tourists — wealthy ones, given the high costs involved — account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion “trophies” — heads, pelts and whatnot — representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period.
And that number is rising: “Of these trophies, the number imported into the US in 2008 was larger than any other year in the decade studied and more than twice the number in 1999,” the report found.
The dwindling lion population cannot sustain hunting losses like this indefinitely, the IUCN found in its report. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list African lions as “endangered,” which would have banned the importation of recreational lion trophies to the United States. Instead they listed lions as “threatened,” which allows the domestic trade in lion trophies to continue.
Safari Club International, the hunting group Palmer belongs to, hailed the ruling as a victory for hunters. The club maintains an online record book where hunters can track their kills of lions and other big game animals and compare their rankings with other hunters.
“You can submit your score and method of kill for any species, and it will interactively show you where you would rank in the book if your entry was submitted today,” the Web site says. An image of an example ranking page shows scores and rankings for kills of African lions.
(July 27, 2015) — KBR, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, has decided to sue 12 National Guard veterans for $850,000 in lost legal fees.
After developing health problems consistent with hexavalent chromium exposure, the veterans sued KBR for negligence in Federal Court in Portland. After a month long trial, the jury awarded the veterans $85 Million in 2012. KBR appealed, and sought $30 Million in legal fees and damages from the veterans for initiating the lawsuit.
The soldiers, residents of Oregon and under orders from the Department of Defense, placed on loan to a private entity contracted by the DoD, sued in their home state in federal court, not state court. They argued that a chemical used at the Qarmat Ali treatment facility had, to the knowledge of KBR, contaminated the site. Remaining at the site without being informed of the presence of the cancer agent by DoD or KBR constituted negligence. The Oregon jury agreed.
The case was the result of events from 2003 when KBR was officially a subsidiary of Halliburton. However, it wasn’t until earlier this year when the Supreme Court said it was okay for veterans to sue the Houston-based company. So how come KBR can sue these veterans for legal fees, you might ask?
Oregon veterans and victims of toxic burn pit exposure linked to contractor Halliburton were devastated when the 9th Circuit overturned a landmark $85 million verdict. Soldiers contend they were knowingly exposed, but the allegations have obviously been denied.
[. . .]
Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) allegedly exposed soldiers to toxic burn pit smoke at Qarmat Ali. The 9th Circuit held that Oregon veterans were unable to hold KBR accountable in their home state. Instead, counsel for the veterans now plans to sue KBR in Houston.
So, it was overturned but not because KBR isn’t still entirely responsible for making these soldiers ill because of their greed and/or incompetence. If you read the site you aren’t surprised that anything with even the lightest hint of Halliburton stench on it is rotten to the core. Unfortunately, this tactic of trying to crush people financially with mountains of litigation can frequently work.
Oregon’s representative delegation sans the one Republican have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter urging him to take over the litigation and settle with the 12 Oregon veterans. The letter outlines the biggest problem in all of this: the KBR contract with the Department of Defense immunizes the private contractor from any litigation.
An excerpt from the Oregon delegation:
in November 2012 Portland jury sided with these veterans, finding KBR negligent and warding and $85 million verdict to 12 of the soldiers. Earlier this year, However, an appeals court threw out that decision on jurisdictional grounds. The case will begin anew in Texas but, in the meantime, KBR is seeking nearly $850,000 in legal fees from the sick Oregonians.
If the company wins, these veterans will face a crushing penalty that could force them into bankruptcy and KBR could use the judgment as leverage to intimidate these veterans and other soldiers into dropping claims against the company.
As part of the original contract between the government and KBR, DOD agreed to assume all financial liability for KBR misconduct including unlimited reimbursement of KBR’s legal expenses. That contract also included a provision allowing DOD to take control of the litigation process, if necessary. DOD has declined to exercise that authority in the past.
These veterans deserve better and we have to also try to be clear that we are neither picking sides nor trying to influence a legal dispute. Rather, we are concerned about the possibility of the DOD — and ultimately the American taxpayer — footing the bill for the seemingly endless and expensive litigation. In the light of recent developments, and the potential for taxpayer dollars to enable the bankrupting of war veterans, we urge you to take control of this litigation and reach an equitable settlement.
Money is going to be spent on the part of this contractor who has already made several dozens of billions of dollars on the war in Iraq. They already have enough money to tie up sick veterans in litigation for years but they won’t have to worry about using any of their money to do it. Just all of our money.
Say what you will about the Obama administration, they have tried over the past few years to promote fixed contracts and companies like KBR have been bristling at the thought of having to actually run a private contracting business without having the deck stacked in their favor.
Fixed-price contracts and task orders are generally viewed as less risky and less expensive than cost-reimbursable work when the work to be done is well understood and limited in scope. The Obama administration made it a reform priority in 2009 to use more firm, fixed-price contracts and fewer cost-reimbursable contracts.
Army contracting officer Robert Egan gave contractor KBR Inc. a rare ultimatum: Provide a firm, fixed price on remaining work to close out the largest government services contract in U.S. history. Or else, he added, he was finished talking.
“Until I see that FFP deliverable, I cannot enter further communication exchanges with your contracts team,” Egan told the company in a February 26 email.
[. . .]
KBR reacted swiftly to Egan’s email demanding a fixed-price closeout: “KBR is unwilling to accept such a proposal,” KBR senior contracts manager Mary Wade said in a letter.
“LOGCAP III close-out activity does not lend itself to a firm fixed-price arrangement,” Wade wrote.
“Currently, there is no way to accurately define the scope or duration of work. There is no detailed statement of work because no one knows what is going to be done, when it will be done and how long it will take to complete.
“We see no need to change it,” she concluded.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(July 3, 2015) — As talks about an Iranian nuclear deal stretch into a second week, this article is an attempt to provide context to the dispute, how it arose in the first place, why it wasnâ€™t settled a long time ago, and why a settlement is possible today.
The primary international treaty regulating nuclear activity by states is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran is a “non-nuclear weapon” state party to the treaty and has been since its inception in 1970.
Like other non-nuclear weapon state parties, it has an “inalienable right” to engage in nuclear activity for peaceful purposes under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA).
This includes the right to enrich uranium on its own soil. We have that on the authority of John Kerry, the present US Secretary of State, who, in an interview in the Financial Times in 2009, said: “They [Iran] have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.”
Despite this, the US has been trying for the past decade and more to coerce Iran into ceasing uranium enrichment. In recent years the US and the EU have applied ferocious sanctions on Iran in an attempt to force it to do so, damaging the well-being of millions of Iranians in the process.
That is the origin of the present dispute about Iranâ€™s nuclear activities. The dispute was manufactured in Washington: had the US accepted from the outset that Iran had a right to enrichment, as Kerry stated, there would have been no dispute at all, let alone one that has lasted for a decade, and no need for the present negotiations to resolve it.
The dispute could also have been settled on amicable terms in 2005 before the US-orchestrated sanctions, when negotiations were going on with the EU3 (UK, France and Germany). Iranâ€™s enrichment programme was then in its infancy and no centrifuges were enriching uranium in Iran. Today, more than 19,000 centrifuges are installed, around 10,000 of which are operational.
At that time, in exchange for the EU3 agreeing to its right to enrichment, Iran offered to agree limits on the volume of production and to put in place unprecedented measures — over and above the safeguards required under the NPT — to reassure the outside world that its nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes.
A settlement wasnâ€™t reached because the US insisted that Iran must not enrich uranium on its own soil, and the EU3 shamefully acquiesced.
The present negotiations have the potential to resolve the dispute precisely because the US has given up its attempt to coerce Iran into ceasing enrichment. That was made clear in the initial Joint Plan of Action agreed in Geneva on 24 November 2013.
Retaining enrichment facilities on its own soil has always been Iranâ€™s bottom line and it has been prepared to endure years of wholly unjustified sanctions in order to defend that principle.
Now, although the US has conceded the principle, it is insisting that for the next 10 or 15 years Iran must agree to severe restrictions on its enrichment capabilities and on other aspects of its nuclear programme, under threat that the present sanctions would be maintained or even intensified.
There is no justification for imposing such restrictions on a sovereign state. As a non-nuclear weapon party to the NPT, Iran is forbidden from acquiring nuclear weapons, but the treaty places no limits on civil nuclear activity under IAEA supervision.
Iran may agree to accept restrictions on its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, but they are doing so under duress and the restrictions are an infringement of Iranâ€™s rights under the NPT.
The stated reason for the US imposing these restrictions is to eliminate, or at least severely reduce, Iranâ€™s ability to develop nuclear weapons. To this end, the US asserts that Iranâ€™s enrichment facilities must be limited so that the “the breakout time”, that is, the time needed to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade for one bomb, is increased to around a year from what is said to be two or three months at present.
This in turn assumes that Iran has the ambition to develop nuclear weapons, as Israel did many years ago, or will acquire such an ambition if the opportunity to do so arises in the future.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and his allies in the US Congress purport to believe that Iran has had that ambition and has been actively trying to realise it for many years. In 1992, he predicted that Iran was three to five years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon and said that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the US”.
In his book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare published last year, the American investigative journalist Gareth Porter demonstrated meticulously that the intelligence on which assertions that Iran has or had a nuclear weapons programme was either misinterpreted or simply false. As for the IAEA, it has never found any evidence at Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities of the diversion of nuclear material for possible military purposes.
Iran has repeatedly denied that it has any ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. What is more, in 2005 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader, issued a fatwa saying that “the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons”. He has repeated that message many times since then.
In the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, produced in November 2007, the 16 US intelligence services expressed the consensus view that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons programme at that time, having in their view halted a programme in 2003.
The reaction of President George W. Bush to this good news is instructive: it made him “angry”. We know this because he says so in his memoir, Decision Points.
One might have thought that the president would have welcomed intelligence that Iran wasnâ€™t developing nuclear weapons. After all, preventing the country acquiring nuclear weapons was supposed to be a major objective of his foreign policy.
But instead he was angry — because it cut the ground from under his efforts to gain international support for what he termed “dealing with Iran”, which clearly went beyond ensuring that it did not possess a nuclear weapons programme. Specifically, it made it impossible for him to take military action against Iran.
“The NIE didnâ€™t just undermine diplomacy. It also tied my hands on the military side,” Bush wrote. “There were many reasons I was concerned about undertaking a military strike on Iran, including its uncertain effectiveness and the serious problems it would create for Iraqâ€™s fragile young democracy. But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons programme?”
Could there be a more telling demonstration that the Bush administration was not concerned that Iran actually had a nuclear weapons programme? Rather its concern was that it would become obvious that Iran did not have one, and that as a result the US would no longer be able to maintain international support for “dealing with Iran”.
Let us suppose that the present negotiations conclude successfully (despite opposition in Washington, Riyadh and Jerusalem) with Iran establishing its right to enrich uranium, albeit with unjust limitations, and with the lifting of sanctions against the country.
Let us suppose also that Iran takes a decision to put this substantial achievement at risk by attempting to develop nuclear weapons, which according to its Supreme Leader are “forbidden under Islam”.
To that end, it would have to attempt to enrich uranium to weapons grade. Since it has been agreed that IAEA inspectors will have continuous access to the Natanz enrichment plant, an operational change to enrich above the agreed maximum of 3.67 percent would soon become known to the IAEA and to the world.
It is absurd to believe that it would take a year for the US and/or Israel to mount a response to clear evidence that Iran had breached the agreement and was hell-bent on producing weapons-grade uranium.
The likeliest response would be the complete destruction by military means of the nuclear infrastructure that Iran has devoted so much effort to building up over many years. Iran is not going to take that risk.
Despite engaging with Iran on the nuclear issue, the Obama administration hasnâ€™t changed the basic US narrative about Iran, namely, that it is an aggressive power and a destabilising force in the Middle East which acts contrary to the interests of the US and its allies and threatens Israelâ€™s very existence; that it is a malign influence in various parts of the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and latterly Yemen) which, if given the opportunity, would develop nuclear weapons and then be in a position to further destabilise the region.
Because of this, it is a power that the US and its allies must seek to contain and keep down rather than dealing with as a legitimate player who could help to sort out the regionâ€™s problems.
This narrative hasnâ€™t changed despite Iran fighting alongside the US in Iraq against the Islamic State group. This is not an unprecedented development given that Iran was of great help to the US against al-Qaeda in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in Afghanistan. It is fighting against IS, despite not being part of the grand US-led anti-IS coalition, the vast majority of whose 60-plus members are doing no fighting at all.
Obama has therefore argued for a nuclear agreement with Iran as a means of containing it and preventing it developing nuclear weapons — and not as a first step on the road to a comprehensive rapprochement.
His narrative doesnâ€™t differ fundamentally from that of Netanyahu and his allies in the US Congress, who question the sense of lifting sanctions against a state which you wish to keep down and wonder whether the removal of restrictions will only reduce Iranâ€™s “breakout time” to develop a bomb to a month or two.
Obamaâ€™s reply has been that maybe Iran will have “changed” in some way by then. But that is not a line with which he deserves to win the argument against his detractors in Congress.
David Morrison and Peter Oborne are the authors of “A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran” (published by Elliott & Thompson, 2013). Morrison has written many articles on the US-led invasion of Iraq. Oborne was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013, and he recently resigned as Chief Political Columnist of the Daily Telegraph. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
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