Dahr Jamail: The Navy’s great Alaskan ‘war’

It isn’t the best of times for the American Arctic and let me explain why.

The world is in the midst of an oil glut.  In the last year, oil prices bottomed out before rising modestly.  A NASA study just offered the news that a massive ice shelf in Antarctica, half the size of Rhode Island, will disintegrate by 2020, and not so long ago Science magazine reported that the melting of that region’s ice sheets is proceeding far faster than expected.  SayonaraMiami Beach!  All of this, of course, is happening thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.  In March, the Obama administration responded to such a world by preparing the way for a rather familiar future.  It lifted a ban on drilling for oil and gas off the U.S. southern Atlantic coast, opening those waters and their untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas to future drilling.  Then, less than two weeks ago, the Interior Department green-lighted Shell Oil, a company with a memorably bleak record of exploration and disaster in the Arctic, to launch this country into a drill-baby-drill future in northern waters. 

If Shell gets all its other permits in place, it will begin drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.  This will happen under what might be some of the worst weather conditions on the planet in an area “prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, [and] frigid temperatures.”  We’re talking, of course, about another four billion barrels of potentially exploitable oil just in that region, which is also a sanctuary for whales, polar bears, and other species that have no vote in this matter.  Subhankar Banerjee put the environmental problem in a nutshell (or perhaps an ice cube) at this site back in March in a piece aptly titled “Arctic Nightmares.” Of the dangers of letting Shell loose in those waters, he wrote, “Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.”  Keep in mind that this sort of far north drilling can only go on because the past drilling and burning of fossil fuels has helped melt Arctic sea ice and open up its potentially vast energy reserves to exploitation.  It’s a little like watching the proverbial snake eat its tail.

So, thanks to our environmental president, things look bad off Alaska. And as TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail reports, in June they’re about to get significantly worse.  The U.S. Navy is arriving in the Gulf of Alaska big time — and we’re not talking about the cavalry riding to the rescue here.  In waters that are starting to seem like Grand Central Station, that service is planning to launch massive war games with a new set of potentially deleterious effects on those seas and what lives in them.  But let Jamail explain.  Note that this is a joint project of TomDispatch and Truthout, the invaluable website where he now works.  Tom Engelhardt    

Destroying what remains
How the U.S. Navy plans to war game the Arctic
By Dahr Jamail

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.] 

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 U.S. military.

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Nick Turse: One boy, one rifle, and one morning in Malakal

President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent.  Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”  Denouncing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and offering aid to Uganda and its neighbors in tracking Kony down, he said, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, and no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”  In support of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has lauded as “not only a great champion of democracy but a fierce advocate against the use of forced labor and child soldiers,” he’skept her country on a list of nations the U.S. sanctions for using child soldiers in its military.  And his ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has spoken movingly in condemnation of the use of child soldiers, which she’s termed a “scourge,” from Syria and the Central African Republic to South Sudan. 

Only one small problem, as Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, points out in his latest reportage: the young, desperately divided nation of South Sudan is something of an American-sponsored creation, its military heavily supported by Washington, and so its child soldiers — and it has plenty of them — turn out not to be quite the same sort of scourge they are in Burma, Syria, or elsewhere.  Somehow, they’ve proved to be in the American “national interest” and so, shockingly enough, as Turse reveals today, were the subjects of a presidential “waiver” that sets aside Congress’s 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.  The willingness of a president to sideline a subject he’s otherwise denounced in no uncertain terms is worthy of a riddle that might go something like: when is slavery not slavery?  And the answer would be, when it gets in the way of U.S. policy.  With that in mind, let Turse take you deep into South Sudan, where children tote AK-47s and the sky is not cloudy all day.  Tom Engelhardt

The kids aren’t all right
Presidential waivers, child soldiers, and an American-made army in Africa
By Nick Turse

MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me.  There was no anger in his eyes.  His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger.  He didn’t draw a bead on me.  Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction. 

It was unnerving.

I don’t know how old he was.  I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19.  But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.

When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie.  It was mandatory for me to be in school.  The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators.  No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands.  But someone thought it was acceptable for them.  A lot of someones actually.  Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so.  And so did mine, the government of the United States. 

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Ann Jones: Citizen’s revolt in Afghanistan

Soon after 9/11, Ann Jones went to Afghanistan to help in whatever way she could, “embedding” with civilians who had been battered by the rigors of that war-torn land.  Out of that experience, especially dealing with the crises of women, she wrote a powerful and moving book, Kabul in Winter. In 2010, she borrowed a flak jacket, put on her combat boots, and settled into a U.S. military outpost in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border to see what life was like for American soldiers.  (“Being outside the wire had filled me with sorrow as I watched earnest, heavily armed and armored boys try to win over white-bearded Afghans — men of extraordinary dignity — who have seen all this before and know the outcome.”) 

The following year, she returned again to Afghanistan, this time focused not on the “collateral damage” to Afghans from our endless war there, but on the true costs of such a war to Americans.  In a country that has never stopped talking about its “wounded warriors,” she alone, and not some young, hot-shot reporter from a major media outlet, followed American war wounded off the grim battlefields of that never-ending war all the way home.  She started at the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, then travelled with often desperately wounded Americans via C-17 to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and afterward on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Finally, she visited traumatized and wounded veterans back in their homes.  The book she wrote from this, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, is a one-of-a-kind odyssey on the up-close-and-personal costs of our global war on terror.  (“As I followed the sad trail of damaged veterans to write my new book, I came to see how much they and their families have suffered, like Afghans, from the delusions of this nation’s leaders — many running counter to international law — and of other influential Americans, in and out of the military, more powerful and less accountable than themselves.”)

On her latest trip to Afghanistan, she re-embedded with those who have born the brunt of and bear the deepest scars from the American war there: civilians, especially women, in a society that, after 35 years of Cold War combat, brutal civil war, and Washington’s war on terror, all involving religious and political extremism that should chill the soul, couldn’t be under more pressure.  The U.S. has, of course, sunk many billions of dollars into the promised “reconstruction” of the country, a process of failed nation-building that turned out to also be deeply corrupt.  Many more billions went into the kind of military-building that, across the Greater Middle East, has proven just as unsuccessful. 

With U.S. (and NATO) forces being reduced there, the American-built Afghan security forces are already suffering unsustainable casualties and may one day go the way of the American-built Iraqi Army in 2014.  With the war in Afghanistan going badly, the much-vaunted American “withdrawal” from the country has recently turned into a kind of dance in place, while a constitutionally challenged government in Kabul struggles seven months after coming into office to take control. More than 13 years after the U.S. “liberated” Afghanistan, that country’s main claim to fame may be that it’s become the narco capital of the globe.

Back in the streets of the Afghan capital, Jones now reports that its civilians, facing the nightmarish murder of a young woman, may be taking things heroically into their own hands.  She describes the stirrings of what might someday be thought of as an “Afghan Spring.” Of course, given the disastrous pushback against the various Arab Springs, that in itself is a daunting thought.  Still, hope has been in short supply in twenty-first-century Afghanistan, so consider this a potentially remarkable development. Tom Engelhardt

“Farkhunda is our sister”
A “martyr,” a murder, and the making of a new Afghanistan?
By Ann Jones

I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March to see old friends.  By chance, I arrived the day after a woman had been beaten to death and burned by a mob of young men.  The world would soon come to know her name: Farkhunda.  The name means “auspicious” or “jubilant.”  She was killed in the very heart of the Afghan capital, at a popular shrine, the burial place of an unnamed ghazi, a warrior martyred for Islam. Years ago, I worked only a few doors away.  I knew the neighborhood well as a crossroads for travelers and traders, a market street beside the Kabul River, busy with peddlers, beggars, drug addicts, thieves, and pigeons.  It was always a dodgy neighborhood. Now, it had become a crime scene.

In April, at the end of the traditional 40-day period of mourning for the dead woman, that crime scene became the stage for a reenactment of the murder by a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee for Justice for Farkhunda, which was pressing the government to arrest and punish the killers.  Shortly after the performance, the office of the attorney general announced formal chargesagainst 49 men: 30 suspected participants in the woman’s murder and 19 police officers accused of failing to try to stop it.  On May 2nd, a trial began at the Primary Court, carried live on Afghan television. Farkhunda is now dead and buried, but her story has had staying power.  It seems to mark the rise of something not seen in Afghanistan for a very long time: the power of people to renounce violence and peacefully reclaim themselves.  This makes it worth recalling just how events unfolded and what messages they might hold for Americans, in particular, who have been fighting so fruitlessly in Afghanistan for 13-plus years.

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Nomi Prins: Hillary, Bill, and the big six banks

She eats at Chipotle. (Order: chicken burrito bowl.) She travels by van. (Model: A Chevy Express Explorer Limited SE nicknamed the “Scooby” van.) She barely figures in her own presidential campaign announcement video. (Entrance timing: A minute and a half into the two-minute clip.) Her campaign staff is so cheap they don’t have business cards, they commute by Bolt Bus, and they aren’t even equipped with real phones.

This is the “new” Hillary Clinton in the early days of her 2016 presidential bid. Absent — for now — are the swagger, the grand pronouncements, the packed gymnasiums and auditoriums, and the claques of well-paid consultants falling over each other to advise and guide her that we saw in Clinton’s last presidential bid. This time around, Clinton is casting herself in a new role: as the humble and understated people’s candidate. She cares about “everyday Iowans” and “everyday Granite Staters.” She really does! Her carefully staged events with those “everyday” Americans at small-town coffee shops and local businesses give her the chance to “share ideas to tackle today’s problems and demonstrate her commitment to earning their votes.”

This effort to recast Clinton as a folksy, down-to-earth, woman of we-the-people is, however, about to collide with the reality of American politics in the money-crazed, post-Citizens United era. Winning the White House in 2016 will cost somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion — money raised by the candidate’s own campaign and outside groups like super PACs and dark-money nonprofits. And this in an election where it’s already estimated that the overall money may hit $10 billion. Jeb Bush, arguably the most formidable candidate in the GOP field, is on his way to raising $100 million in just the first few months of 2015, a year and a half before the actual election. The prospect of being drastically outgunned by Bush has prodded Clinton to speed up her fundraising schedule and hit the donor circles in New York City and Washington in settings that couldn’t be more removed from the local Chipotle. “I need to get out there earlier,” Politico quoted her telling one of her aides.

In the coming months, whatever hours Clinton spends introducing herself to voters in small-town America, she will spend hundreds more raising money in four-star hotels and multimillion-dollar homes in Hollywood and San Francisco, New York and Boston, Washington and Miami. She will court wealthy liberals across the land and urge them to collectively give tens of millions of dollars to her campaign. The question underlying this inevitable mad dash for cash isn’t “Can Hillary Clinton raise the funds?” The Clintons are practiced buckrakers.

The question is: “Can Clinton claim to stand for ‘everyday Americans,’ while hauling in huge sums of cash from the very wealthiest of us?”

This much cannot be disputed: Clinton’s connections to the financiers and bankers of this country — and this country’s campaigns — run deep, as Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power (just out in paperback), writes in today’s dispatch. As she documents in her book, the Clintons have longstanding ties to the mightiest banks on Wall Street. Those alliances will prove vital as Hillary tries to keep up in the “money primary” of the 2016 campaign. But as she tries to appeal to working and middle class people, you can expect her opponents to use Clinton’s Wall Street connections against her. And it’s reasonable to ask: Who counts more to such a candidate, the person you met over that chicken burrito bowl or the Citigroup partner you met over crudités and caviar? Andy Kroll

The Clintons and their banker friends
The Wall Street connection (1992 to 2016)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Powerjust out in paperback (Nation Books).]

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton.  Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

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Michael Gould-Wartofsky: The new age of counterinsurgency policing

In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are vacant (thanks to an ongoing foreclosure crisis), and water service is being shut off for people who can’t afford to pay rising water rates.  Residents, mainly black, live in what is really an unofficially segregated, hollowed-out Rust Belt city that just happens to be located on the East Coast.

As Max Blumenthal pointed out when the city’s mayor started denouncing “outside agitators,” more than 70% of Baltimore’s police force lives beyond the city limits, at least 10% of them out-of-state.  The Baltimore PD is also notorious for its brutality, for the numbers of (black) residents it seems to gun down, and for its give-not-an-inch “broken windows” policing policies.  In a city that is 62% black and 28% white, police officers are still 46% white and 80% outsiders heading into neighborhoods that are almost totally black.  Unlike the residents of such neighborhoods, Baltimore’s police lack for little.  Thanks in part to Pentagon and other government programs, the force is armed to the teeth in the increasingly military fashion that has become the post-9/11 state of things (and that TomDispatch has been covering since 2004.)  It acts as if it were, that is, an occupying army, not a neighborhood protector.  In this sense, “community policing” is now a joke in the U.S.

When the CVS stores go up in flames and local stores are looted, politicians denounce what’s happened and demand an instant return to law and order, while calling on police departments to wear body cameras and rethink their attitudes.  But there’s another reality that has to be faced.  Give some credit to Hillary Clinton.  In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.”  Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for.  In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry.”

Among the illusions of our age, there’s this: the idea that the U.S. can fight wars in whatever fashion it pleases, year after year, in distant lands without changing our society as well.  In fact, those wars have been coming home for a long time in myriad ways, and never more obviously than with American police forces and their practices.  It’s not just that the police (and SWAT units) are now filled with vets from the war on terror, or that they are armed with weaponry directly off its battlefields, but that the mentality that has made those wars such disasters has come home with the troops and weaponry.

As Michael Gould-Wartofsky, author of the new book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, suggests, thoroughly militarized, surveillance-heavy forces are bringing counterinsurgency thinking from Iraq and Afghanistan back to this country.  The record of such thinking abroad brings to mind a question first raised by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren about Washington’s new war in Iraq: What could possibly go wrong? Tom Engelhardt

The wars come home
A five-step guide to the police repression of protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky

Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.

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Sandy Tolan: The one-state conundrum

Here’s a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies?

If you happen to be in that administration, that region must seem like an increasingly phantasmagorical place. America’s closest allies, Israel and the Saudis, have been expressing something close to loathing for President Obama and his policies. In fact, you could think of the Saudi rulers as the John McCains of the Arabian Peninsula. Appalled to find Washington in something approaching a tacit alliance with their Iranian enemies in Iraq and actively negotiating a no-sanctions-for-nuclear-restrictions deal with that country, the Saudis launched a war of their own in Yemen and essentially forced the Obama administration into supporting it. Then they visibly ignored Washington’s pressure to end their bombing campaign — or rather claimed they were cutting back on it without evidently doing so — which has been devastating to Yemeni civilians and ineffective in stopping the advances of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Though there’s been relatively little in-depth media coverage of this curious moment in Riyadh-Washington relations, when the inside story does come out, it will undoubtedly prove to be a spectacle.

On the other hand, coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hijinks vis-à-vis Washington and the president’s Iran policy has been unending, involving open hostility played out on a global stage as well as in front of the American Congress. No wonder that, at the recent White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner, the president joked, “I look so old, John Boehner has already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”

While Secretary of State John Kerry publicly expresses a kind of fealty to the Saudi war effort in Yemen that a worried administration clearly doesn’t feel, its officials are now holding their noses, gagging a bit, and — to smooth the way for a possible future Iran nuclear deal — trying to tamp down the ongoing controversy with Netanyahu and the much-publicized rift with Israel.

Watching the Obama administration handle these strange new animosities and alliances is like seeing a contortionist tie himself in knots, while across the Middle East the chaos only increases on the principle of: every state a failed state. In such chaos, with its closest allies playing fast and loose with Washington, with terror groups rising and animosities swirling, it’s easy to lose sight of what might be considered the ur-struggle of our era in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So today, TomDispatch turns back to that never-ending struggle, offering a report from Sandy Tolan on the aspect we in the U.S. hear least about: the increasing hemming in of Palestinians in what no longer looks like a future state, but a sliced and diced occupied land. Tolan’s new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music In a Hard Land, is a moving account of one Palestinian’s efforts to create a little breathing space in a landscape that otherwise couldn’t be more claustrophobic by founding a music school amid all the dissonance. Tom Engelhardt

The flute at the checkpoint
The everyday politics of confinement in Palestine
By Sandy Tolan

The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians are gathering there that afternoon to perform in the ruins of an amphitheater built during Roman times. In the back seat, his wife, Celine, tends their one-year-old son, Hussein, his blond locks curling over the collar of his soccer jersey.

Ramzi is in a hurry to set up for the concert, but it doesn’t matter. The soldier promptly informs him that he cannot pass. “Those are the orders,” he adds without further explanation, directing him to another entrance 45 minutes away. Turning the car around, Ramzi then drives beneath Shavei Shomron, a red-roofed Israeli settlement perched high on a hill, and then an “outpost” of hilltop trailers planted by a new wave of settlers. Finally, he passes through a series of barriers and looping barbed wire, reaching the designated entrance, where another soldier waves him through. He arrives in time for the concert.

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Nick Turse: AFRICOM behaving badly

There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by — no kidding! — local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.

That’s what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there’s so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you’ll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune.  No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse — whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published — pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.

If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom Engelhardt

Sex, drugs, and dead soldiers
What U.S. Africa command doesn’t want you to know
By Nick Turse

Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.

It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali.  For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.

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Laura Gottesdiener: Another round of Detroit refugees?

I noticed recently that the catastrophe area that was once the great city of Detroit — bankruptcy, busted neighborhoods, acres of deserted houses, water shutdowns, and now, as TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener reports, an almost biblical foreclosure crisis that could result in tens of thousands of people being thrown out of their homes — regularly gets compared to “Katrina”; that is, to the destruction Hurricane Katrina visited on New Orleans back in 2005. Here are some typical headlines: “Is the Motor City ‘a five-decade Katrina?,’” “Unprecedented ‘Katrina’ of Tax Foreclosures to Hit Detroit, Wayne County March 31,” “Water Shutoffs: Detroit’s Katrina?,” “Comparing Detroit to Nola After Katrina Not So Far Off,” “A Hurricane Without Water: Foreclosure Crisis Looms in Detroit as State Takes Action.”

But in a country in which Congress has trouble raising money for essential highway upkeep, not a single mile of real high-speed rail exists (the Acela Express in the Northeast being a high-speed joke), the national infrastructure gets a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and one of its formerly great cities makes the phrase “hollowed out” sound like a euphemism, perhaps we should change our metaphors.  Maybe when something devastates part of this country, it’s not a “Katrina” any longer, but a “Detroit.”  Maybe the next time a city is hit by a hurricane, the headlines should refer to it as “a five-hour Detroit.”  Maybe when the next set of aging natural gas pipelines blows up, we should speak of “an underground Detroit.”

It’s a small wonder of American life that something close to a trillion dollars a year goes into what is called “national security,” while the actual security of Americans has generally been starved of funding and insecurity is on the rise.  Meanwhile, the biblical continues to happen to the former Motor City, a sign of what neglect means in the insecure heartland of twenty-first-century America.  Gottesdiener, TomDispatch’s roving correspondent in forgotten America, offers a devastating account of the latest chapter in the saga of a city on the road to hell. Tom Engelhardt

A foreclosure conveyor belt
The continuing depopulation of detroit
By Laura Gottesdiener

Unlike so many industrial innovations, the revolving door was not developed in Detroit. It took its first spin in Philadelphia in 1888, the brainchild of Theophilus Van Kannel, the soon-to-be founder of the Van Kannel Revolving Door Company. Its purpose was twofold: to better insulate buildings from the cold and to allow greater numbers of people easier entry at any given time.

On March 31st at the Wayne Country Treasurer’s Office, that Victorian-era invention was accomplishing neither objective. Then again, no door in the history of architecture — rotating or otherwise — could have accommodated the latest perversity Detroit officials were inflicting on city residents: the potential eviction of tens of thousands, possibly as many as 100,000 people, all at precisely the same time.

Little wonder that it seemed as if everyone was getting stuck in the rotating doors of that Wayne County office building on the last day residents could pay their past-due property taxes or enter a payment plan to do so. Those who didn’t, the city warned, would lose their homes to tax foreclosure, the process by which a local government repossesses a house because of unpaid property taxes.

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Michael Klare: Is the age of renewable energy already upon us?

Consider the extremes of our present climate moment by the numbers. Recently, Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the former chief economist of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, did a little calculating. He was curious to find out just how much the planet’s temperature might rise if we managed to burn all the fossil fuel reserves that “can be extracted with today’s technology.” Without beating around the (burning) bush, the answer he came up with was a staggering 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, climate science suggests that unless we keep the temperature rise from the burning of fossil fuels under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) catastrophic changes are likely to occur, including, as Greenstone points out, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will reshape human life on this planet in grim ways. And even that 3.6-degree mark might be too high. Add in another nearly 13 degrees of warming and you could have the definition of an uninhabitable planet (at least by humans). It should give us all the chills — or more appropriately, leave us with fever dreams of a future in which humanity was incapable of getting itself together, dealing with entrenched fossil fuel interests, and saving a planet that had for so many tens of thousands of years been the rather habitable home of our species.

On the other hand, look at Spain: as Juan Cole reported recently at his Informed Comment website, that country is now getting almost 70% of its electricity in ways that do not generate carbon dioxide. That’s little short of extraordinary. It’s possible that somewhere down the line that country could even become “the first net-carbon-zero G-20 state”! As of this March, it received 22.5% of its electricity from wind power (with solar trailing badly behind), 17.5% from hydro power, and 23.8% from nuclear power (which will make some environmentalists uneasy). And the country hopes to almost double its wind power contribution to 40% in the next five years.

In other words, depending on what you care to look at, this planet offers a grim vision of humanity preparing to scourge and flood its own home or — and this is a new development — a more hopeful one. In that, humanity, under pressure and moving too slowly by half, is nonetheless beginning to reshape our world yet again in unexpected ways, using new technology that is quickly becoming ever cheaper and easier to employ. TomDispatch energy expert Michael Klare suggests today that while nothing may be settled, damage is clearly being done, and the fossil fuel machine remains deeply entrenched and determined, there are nonetheless unexpected signs that we, like the cavalry of movie fame, may finally be saddling up to ride to our own rescue. This is the sort of news that should stir the blood and soul in all of us. It should leave us thankful for the years of toil in the wilderness by climate activists like those at 350.org who have worked so hard to bring us to awareness of the dangers ahead, and of activists like those in the fossil fuel divestment movement who want to shake what may be the most profitable industry in history to its core. Tom Engelhardt

The renewable revolution
Four reasons why the transition from fossil fuels to a green energy era is gaining traction
By Michael T. Klare

Don’t hold your breath, but future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Those fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — will, of course, continue to dominate the energy landscape for years to come, adding billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere.  For the first time, however, it appears that a shift to renewable energy sources is gaining momentum.  If sustained, it will have momentous implications for the world economy — as profound as the shift from wood to coal or coal to oil in previous centuries.

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Nick Turse: The U.S. military’s battlefield of tomorrow

Years ago, Chalmers Johnson took a term of CIA tradecraft, “blowback,” and put it into our language.  Originally, it was meant to describe CIA operations so secret that, when they blew back on this country, Americans would be incapable of tracing the connection or grasping that the U.S. had anything to do with what hit us.  The word now stands in more broadly for any American act or policy that rebounds on us.  There is, however, another phenomenon with, as yet, no name that deserves some attention.  I’ve come to think of it as “blowforward.”

In a way, this is what Nick Turse has been documenting for the last two years at TomDispatch as he’s covered the way the U.S. military and its Africa Command (AFRICOM) “pivoted” onto that continent big time.  As in his latest piece, he — and he alone — has continued to report in graphic detail on a level of operational hubris and pure blockheadedness that might be considered unparalleled in our era — if, that is, we didn’t have the disastrous story of post-9/11 U.S. military operations throughout the Greater Middle East eternally before us.  In Africa, as he reminds us today, when the U.S. military first started moving onto the continent in a significant way, there were almost no Islamic terror organizations outside of Somalia.  Now, with AFRICOM fully invested and operational across the continent, count ‘em.

This is no less true of the relationship between American invasions, occupations, wars, raids, interventions, and drone assassination campaigns, and the growth of terror outfits (and the fragmentation of states) in the Middle East.  That someone should draw a lesson or two from all this and not do essentially the same things over and over again may seem reasonable enough on the face of it, but evidently not in Washington.  The question is: Why?  Perhaps part of the explanation lies in the phenomenon I’ve started calling blowforward.

Before the disaster of 9/11, America’s intelligence agencies managed to gather much information on and yet see little of what was coming.  The result of their blindness was, of course, the unparalleled growth of those same agencies and the national security state. Moreover, those in key positions who might have been held responsible for missing 9/11 paid no price at all.  Instead, they were generally promoted and honored in the years that followed.  Ever since, every new terror group or hideous video or newly proclaimed caliphate that surfed in on a wave of American wars and interventions has blown forward on that security state, spurring phenomenal growth, enhancing its prestige, making countless careers, and offering new kinds of power. In short, what might otherwise be seen as failed policies actually strengthened the hand of a shadow government in Washington that had an endless set of get-out-of-jail-free cards at its disposal.

In other words, each disastrous American move that bred yet more of the insecurity the national security state is supposed to prevent has proved anything but a disaster for the movers.  Each has translated into more funds, more power, more independence, more prestige, and greater reach.  As Turse writes today of AFRICOM’s growth, bad news from the African front after the U.S. military moved onto the continent in a big way only led to a further “swelling of bases, personnel, and funding” — and, of course, no blowback at all when it comes to the officials directing all of this. For them, as Turse’s reporting makes clear, it’s a blowforward world all the way. Tom Engelhardt

2044 or bust
Military missions reach record levels after U.S. inks deal to remain in Africa for decades
By Nick Turse

For three days, wearing a kaleidoscope of camouflage patterns, they huddled together on a military base in Florida. They came from U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and U.S. Army Special Operations Command, from France and Norway, from Denmark, Germany, and Canada: 13 nations in all. They came to plan a years-long “Special Operations-centric” military campaign supported by conventional forces, a multinational undertaking that — if carried out — might cost hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of dollars and who knows how many lives.

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Gregoire Chamayou: Hunting humans by remote control

Drones seemed to come out of nowhere, sexy as the latest iPhones and armed to kill. They were all-seeing eyes in the sky (“a constant stare,” as drone promoters liked to say) and surgically precise in their ability to deliver death to evildoers. Above all, without pilots in their cockpits, they were, in terms of the human price of war (at least when it came to the lives that mattered to us), cost free. They transformed battle into a video-game experience, leaving the “warriors” — from pilots to generals — staring at screens. What could possibly go wrong?

As it happened, so much went wrong. It often proved hard for the drone operators to tell what exactly they were seeing on those video feeds of theirs and mistakes were regularly made. In addition, drones turned out to kill with a remarkable lack of discrimination, while putting whole rural populations that fell under Washington’s robotic gaze into a state of what, if they had been American soldiers, we would have called PTSD. Worse yet, as recent events in Yemen indicate, drones proved remarkably effective weapons not in staunching terror outfits but in spreading terror, and so became powerful recruitment tools for extremist groups.  In rural societies repeatedly attacked by the grimly named Predators and Reapers, the urge for revenge was apparent.

Drones were, that is, terror instigators.  Everywhere they were sent by the last two administrations to pursue campaigns of “targeted killing” (i.e. assassination) and “signature strikes” (on suspicious patterns of “behavior” on the ground below, as judged by video from thousands of miles away), extremist groups have grown, societies have fragmented, and things have, from Washington’s point of view, gotten worse. In the process, they turned the White House with its secret “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings into a den of assassins, the CIA into assassination central, and the president into an assassin-in-chief. The drones even took an unexpected toll on their pilots waging a theoretically cost-free war.

From the point of view of drone proponents, one curious thing did go right, however — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Somalia, but here at home. Even though Americans in multiplexes had for years sided with human rebels against the inhuman gaze of robots on the prowl, they now backed the robots, as opinion polls showed, in part because their reputation here remained remarkably untarnished by their dismal and destructive track record in the distant backlands of the planet.

Now, another kind of “gaze,” another form of “constant stare,” has fallen on the drone and it comes from the least robotic of places.  In his new book, A Theory of the Drone, French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou has taken a fresh look at the radically new form of warfare wreaking havoc on fundamental human categories, whether of war, legality, or sovereignty. It’s a fascinating effort to deal with a weapons and surveillance system that turns out not to have arrived out of the blue at all. Today, TomDispatch offers a taste of Chamayou’s original approach, presenting two early chapters from his book on how the drone entered our world and transformed the classic “duel” between warriors into a “hunt” in which an all-seeing, lidless eye-in-the-sky searches out distant humans below as its “prey.” In the meantime, the warriors of the past are, as Chamayou writes, morphing into the executioners of the twenty-first century. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale of post-modernity. Tom Engelhardt

Manhunters, Inc.
How the Predator and extra-judicial execution became Washington’s calling cards
By Grégoire Chamayou

[The following is slightly adapted from chapters two and three of Grégoire Chamayou’s new book, A Theory of the Drone, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]

Initially, the English word “drone” meant both an insect and a sound. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that it began to take on another meaning. At that time, American artillery apprentices used the expression “target drones” to designate the small remotely controlled planes at which they aimed in training. The metaphor did not refer solely to the size of those machines or the brm-brm of their motors. Drones are male bees, without stingers, and eventually the other bees kill them. Classical tradition regarded them as emblems of all that is nongenuine and dispensable. That was precisely what a target drone was: just a dummy, made to be shot down.

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Anand Gopal: How to create an Afghan Blackwater

The other day, as I was reading through the New York Times, I came upon this headline: “Powerful Afghan Police Chief Killed in Kabul.” His name was Matiullah Khan.  He had once been “an illiterate highway patrol commander” in an obscure southern province of Afghanistan and was taken out in a “targeted suicide bombing” on the streets of the capital — and I realized that I knew him!  Since I’ve never been within a few thousand miles of Kabul, I certainly didn’t know him in the normal sense. I had, you might say, edited Matiullah Khan. He was one of a crop of new warlords who rose to wealth and power by hitching their ambitions to the American war and the U.S. military personnel sent to their country to fight it.  Khan, in particular, made staggering sums by essentially setting up an “Afghan Blackwater,” a hire-a-gun — in fact, so many guns — protection agency for American convoys delivering supplies to far-flung U.S. bases and outposts in southern Afghanistan.

He became the protector and benefactor of a remarkable Afghan woman who is a key character in Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, which I edited and published in the American Empire Project series I co-run for Metropolitan Books. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Gopal covered the Afghan War for years in a way no other Western journalist did. He spent time with crucial allies of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and with a Taliban commander, with warlords and American Special Ops guys, politicians and housewives. He traveled rural Afghanistan as few American reporters were capable of doing.  In the process, he made a discovery that was startling indeed and has yet to really sink in here.

In a nutshell, in 2001, the invading Americans put al-Qaeda to flight and crushed the Taliban.  From most of its top leadership to its foot soldiers, the Talibs were almost uniformly prepared, even eager, to put down their weapons, go back to their villages, and be left in peace. In other words, it was all over. There was just one problem. The Americans, on Washington’s mission to win the Global War on Terror, just couldn’t stop fighting. In their inability to grasp the situation, they essentially forced the Taliban back onto the battlefield and so created an insurgency and a war that they couldn’t win.

Reaction to Gopal’s book, published last April, was at first muted. That’s not so surprising, given that the news it brought to the table wasn’t exactly going to be a popular message here. In recent months, however, it’s gained real traction: the positive reviews began coming in; Rory Stewart made it his book of the year pick at the New Statesman (“Anand Gopal has produced the best piece of investigative journalism to come out of Afghanistan in the past 12 years”); it was a National Book Award finalist and is a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence in Journalism. Most strikingly, it just received the prestigious Ridenhour Book Prize for 2015. (“Through a blend of intrepid reporting and clear-eyed — even beautiful prose — we see and can begin to truly understand the violence and tragedy of our longest war.”)

So today, with thanks to Metropolitan Books, I thought I would give you a taste of a work of reportage that turns the American narrative about the Afghan War on its head. Here, from No Good Men Among the Living, is what it felt like when the war that rural Afghans thought was over just wouldn’t end, when the Americans couldn’t stop shooting and that new crop of Afghan warlords began using Washington’s war on terror for their own ends. The toll in wrecked lives, including most recently that of Matiullah Khan, is now 13 years old and unending. Tom Engelhardt

The real Afghan war
How an American fantasy conflict created disaster in Afghanistan
By Anand Gopal

[This essay is taken from chapter five of Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes and appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of Metropolitan Books.]

The sky clotted gray and the winds gusted cold as the men crowded into an old roadside gas station. It was daybreak in Band-i-Timor, early December 2001, and hundreds of turbaned farmers sat pensively, weighing the choice before them. They had once been the backbone of the Taliban’s support; the movement had arisen not far from here, and many had sent their sons to fight on the front lines. But in 2000, Mullah Omar had decreed opium cultivation to be un-Islamic, and whip-wielding police saw to it that production was halted almost overnight. Band-i-Timor had been poppy country for as long as anyone could remember, but now the fields lay fallow and children were going hungry. With the Taliban’s days numbered after the U.S. invasion, the mood was ripe for a change. But could they trust the Americans? Or Hamid Karzai?

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Steve Fraser: Mongrel firebugs and men of property

“The past is a foreign country.  They do things differently there.” So wrote British playwright Harold Pinter.  How apt that seems when one compares life in our own “second Gilded Age” to the way things were done in the original Gilded Age of a century ago.  True, there are some striking similarities between the two moments, including the rise to power of crony capitalism, the staggering growth of inequality, the exiling of democracy, and the spread of Darwinian rationales to justify and camouflage the embedding of plutocracy at the heights of our world.

What is strikingly different, however, is the way Americans of the nineteenth century reacted to all of this.  They managed to mount a kind of sustained economic, political, and cultural resistance to plutocratic rule that is simply unimaginable today.  Masses of our ancestors refused to accept that tooth-and-claw capitalism was their fate and that they should submit to it without a whimper of protest.  Instead, they imagined new, more civilized ways of living together and then took to the streets in staggering numbers and with remarkable persistence, even in the face of the armed power of corporations and the state, to make their points felt.  We can hardly say the same about our more recent past.

How did they manage that? Novelist William Faulkner viewed the past differently than Pinter. As he famously observed, “The past is not dead; it is not even past.” Those confronted by the iniquities and inequities that ran rampant in the first Gilded Age stood up to exploitation and oppression by reaching into their varied pasts. There they were able to find the moral, intellectual, and even organizational wherewithal to defy the prevailing capitalist order of things. At the same time, with a creativity that would amaze us, they looked far into alternative futures to imagine ways of escaping a fate their overlords insisted was both right and inevitable, envisioning worlds that seemed far more inviting to everyone but the plutocrats.

Today, we are faced with a double dilemma: How do we once again make Pinter’s “foreign country,” that rich world of resistance to capitalism that now seems lost in the mists of time, a familiar part of our lives? And how, in doing so, do we make what now seems, in Faulkner’s terms, so undead — all the brutishness, mayhem, inequality, and injustice that so disfigures the present — finally die? While you’re considering that, here’s a glimpse (from my new book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power) of the two worlds of the first Gilded Age and the chasm that lay between them. Steve Fraser

Plutocracy the first time around
Revisiting the great upheaval and the first Gilded Age
By Steve Fraser

[The following passages are excerpted and slightly adapted from The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (Little, Brown and Company).]

Part 1: The Great Upheaval

What came to be known as the Great Upheaval, the movement for the eight-hour day, elicited what one historian has called “a strange enthusiasm.” The normal trade union strike is a finite event joining two parties contesting over limited, if sometimes intractable, issues. The mass strike in 1886 or before that in 1877 — all the many localized mass strikes that erupted in towns and small industrial cities after the Civil War and into the new century — was open-ended and ecumenical in reach.

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Dilip Hiro: Afghanistan’s China card

In June 2014, as he was preparing to send 300 U.S. military advisers back to Iraq, President Obama hailed the American counterterror campaign in Yemen — Special Operations advisers (and CIA operatives) on the ground, drones in the air — as a “model” for what he hoped to do against the Islamic State. In September, as Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post wrote, President Obama “cited his Yemen strategy as a template for confronting jihadist threats in other places, including Iraq and Syria.” He was still making reference to its “success” this January when discussing what had become Iraq War 3.0.

Last week, however, with al-Qaeda militants taking a nearby town, Washington withdrew its final 100 Special Operations advisers in Yemen from a southern air base where U.S. drones had been stationed and halted all military operations in the country. By then, the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, the capital, had been shuttered for a month. Meanwhile $500 million in U.S. weaponry had reportedly gone missing in that country and might be in the hands of almost anyone, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the local branch of the terror franchise. That group had only grown stronger under years of American drone strikes.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels now control the north of the country, including Sana’a, and recently seized its third largest city and headed south toward the port of Aden. Yemen seems at the edge of civil war and backers of the Islamic State may even have a foothold there. Strikes from U.S. drones based in Saudi Arabia, among other places, will undoubtedly continue, though assumedly with even less on-the-ground intelligence from Yemeni sources. In sum, as with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya, hopes in Washington that once were so high have been dashed. This is, by now, a commonplace experience:  the early moments of any U.S. military campaign seem so successful — and then, with the passage of time, the verdict comes in: another failure for the twenty-first-century American way of war.

Today, TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro considers one of those failed efforts — in Afghanistan, where the planet’s former “sole superpower” now seems to be losing out not only to local Taliban militants, whose strength has been on the upswing, but to the power it may fear most: an economically rising China. In these years, from the Middle East to Africa, that country has had an uncanny ability to sweep up the imperial spoils, especially local energy resources, without sending a soldier into battle. Now, it seems, China may be in the process of doing just that in Afghanistan.

On this subject and the associated contest between Pakistan and India for influence in Afghanistan, Hiro, whom Jeremy Scahill has called “the quintessential non-aligned journalist… the master chronicler of some of history’s most epic battles,” knows a thing or two. His monumental new book, The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan, is the first definitive history of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. With a desperate Obama administration struggling over just how many U.S. military personnel to leave in Afghanistan for how endlessly and fruitlessly long, it makes sense to put Washington’s perspective aside for a moment and try to get a bead on what’s really happening in South Asia and Afghanistan through a different lens. Tom Engelhardt

The Great Game in Afghanistan (twenty-first-century update)
And the U.S. is losing out
By Dilip Hiro

Call it an irony, if you will, but as the Obama administration struggles to slow down or halt its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is performing a withdrawal operation of his own. He seems to be in the process of trying to sideline the country’s major patron of the last 13 years — and as happened in Iraq after the American invasion and occupation there, Chinese resource companies are again picking up the pieces.

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William Hartung: Your money at war everywhere

Fifteen to 20 years ago, a canny friend of mine assured me that I would know I was in a different world when the Europeans said no to Washington. I’ve been waiting all this time and last week it seemed as if the moment had finally arrived. Germany, France, and Italy all agreed to become “founding members” of a new Chinese-created development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Great Britain, in “a rare breach of the special relationship,” had already opted for membership the week before (and another key American ally deeply involved in the China trade, Australia, clearly will do so in the near future). As Andrew Higgins and David Sanger of the New York Times reported, the Obama administration views the new bank as a possible “rival to the World Bank and other institutions set up at the height of American power after World War II.”

“The announcement by Germany, Europe’s largest economy,” continued the Times, “came only six days after Secretary of State John Kerry asked his German counterpart, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, to resist the Chinese overtures until the Chinese agreed to a number of conditions about transparency and governing of the new entity. But Germany came to the same conclusion that Britain did: China is such a large export and investment market for it that it cannot afford to stay on the sidelines.”

All of this happened, in other words, despite strong opposition and powerful pressure from a Washington eager to contain China and regularly asserting its desire to “pivot” militarily to Asia to do so. 

Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.

Only one small problem, highlighted today by Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung: the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue. As he makes clear, it’s still planning for a sole superpower world in a big way. And in the present atmosphere in Washington, it’s got real support for such planning. Take, for instance, Senator Tom Cotton — he of the “Senate 47″ — who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”

It may be a new world in some places, but in others, as Hartung makes clear, it couldn’t be older. Tom Engelhardt

Military strategy? Who needs it?
The madness of funding the Pentagon to “cover the globe”
By William D. Hartung

President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow.  McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan?  More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.  Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

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William deBuys: A global war on nature

In her bestselling book The Sixth Extinction, the New Yorker‘s superb environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert, reports on an event, already unfolding in the present moment, the likes of which may only have been experienced five other times in the distant history of life on this planet. As she writes, “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys. If you know how to look, you can probably find signs of the current extinction event in your own backyard.”

Scientists believe that this round of mass extinction is accelerating, and one way or another, it all traces back to us, whether thanks to the way we are changing the planet’s atmosphere or to what Kolbert terms a human-induced, often disastrous “intercontinental reshuffling of species.” But of all the ways in which that mass extinction is being pushed forward, none is more straightforwardly obvious than the quite literal slaughter that constitutes the illegal animal trade.  In recent years, environmentalist and TomDispatch regular William deBuys set out to see the results of that aspect of mass extinction for himself, and what a grisly spectacle it proved to be.  In the process, he penetrated deep into the jungles of Laos in search of a deer-like creature you’ve undoubtedly never heard of that may — or may not — still exist.

It was an adventure of the first order, which deBuys depicts in his remarkable new book, The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He captures both the grimness of what’s happening to animals of every sort in the distant forests of a land we’ve paid no attention to since the Vietnam War ended and the glorious beauty of the species we humans are indeed destroying. The result is both a personal adventure story and a missive from a planet undergoing a rare form of destruction. Today at this site, he offers us all a look at one of what could be the final “achievements” of humankind: the ability to devastate this planet in a way no other creature would be capable of.

Kolbert ends her book on a question that any mass extinction on planet Earth would naturally have to bring up sooner or later: What about us?  In extinction terms, could we potentially be just another form of rhinoceros? Are we, in fact, capable not just of creating civilizations but engaging in a kind of species suicide? This is, of course, a question that can’t be answered, but she adds, “The anthropologist Richard Leakey has warned that ‘Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.’ A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity [at the American Museum of Natural History in New York] offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: ‘In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.’” Take a moment, then, with deBuys to experience what that sawing-off process is like, up close and personal. Tom Engelhardt

The politics of extinction
An introduction to the most beautiful animal you’ll never see
By William deBuys

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than either the United States or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannahs of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.

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Michael Klare: Is Big Oil finally entering a climate change world?

Welcome to the asylum! I’m talking, of course, about this country, or rather the world Big Oil spent big bucks creating.You know, the one in which the obvious — climate change — is doubted and denied, and in which the new Republican Congress is actively opposed to doing anything about it. Just the other day, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a column in his home state paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, adopting the old Nancy Reagan slogan “just say no” to climate change. The senator from Coalville, smarting over the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, is urging state governors to simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits” on those plants — to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change. But it’s probably no news to you that the inmates are now running the asylum.

Just weeks ago, an example of Big Energy’s largess when it comes to sowing doubt about climate change surfaced.  A rare scientific researcher, Wei-Hock Soon, who has published work denying the reality of climate change — the warming of the planet, he claims, is a result of “variations in the sun’s energy” — turned out to have received $1.2 million from various fossil fuel outfits, according to recently released documents; nor did he bother to disclose such support to any of the publications using his work.  “The documents,” reported the New York Times, “show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as ‘deliverables’ that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”

There’s nothing new in this.  Big Energy (like Big Tobacco before it) has for years been using a tiny cadre of scientists to sow uncertainty about the reality of climate change.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote a now-classic investigative book, Merchants of Doubt, about just how the fossil fuel companies pulled this off, creating a public sense of doubt where a scientific one didn’t exist.  Now, the book has been made into a striking documentary film, which has just opened nationally.  Someday, perhaps, all of this will enter a court of law where those who knowingly perpetrated fraud on the American and global publics and in the process threatened humanity with a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions will get their just desserts.  On that distant day when those who ran the planet into the ground for corporate profits have to pay for their criminal acts, Merchants of Doubt will undoubtedly be exhibit one for the prosecution.

In the meantime, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare continues his invaluable chronicling at this site of the depredations of Big Oil on this fragile planet of ours. Tom Engelhardt

Big Oil’s broken business model
The real story behind the oil price collapse
By Michael T. Klare

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

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Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic nightmares

If Sarah Palin were president, we’d know just what it was: a drill-baby-drill administration.  Of course, there’s no mama grizzly in the White House, yet these last years have been a grizzly tale of the expansion of American oil and natural gas exploration and drilling from the fracking fields of Texas and North Dakota to the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.  Most recently, the southern Atlantic seaboard, where there are an estimated untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas, was provisionally opened for future exploration and drilling.  So keep in mind that it wasn’t under Palin’s tutelage but Barack Obama’s that the United States experienced its staggering resurgence in the oil and gas sweepstakes, turning itself into “Saudi America.”

The math, which this president undoubtedly knows well, isn’t that complicated.  According to climate change scientists, of all the fossil fuel reserves believed to be left on the planet — and the ability of oil companies to successfully tap ever more extreme deposits has been a regular surprise in these years — scientists estimate that 80% must remain underground to prevent a planetary disaster.  And yet, it seems that ever fewer waters off ever fewer American coasts are now sacrosanct.  Back in the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama criticized his opponent, John McCain, for pushing the expansion of offshore drilling.  “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines… When I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium.”  And he was right that to expand significantly into coastal waters is indeed dangerous.  Sooner or later, it ensures more BP-style Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophes, as well as the everyday cumulative disasters that, as marine biologist Carl Safina has written, simply come with oil company exploration and extraction efforts.

It’s true that a 2011 moratorium on new drilling and lease sales off the West Coast remains in place until 2018, but in addition to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic, the most forbidding and dangerous waters off any American coast — those in the Arctic — are again in play.  You would think that this would be an open-and-shut no-go case for reasons that Subhankar Banerjee, leading Arctic photographer, environmentalist, and author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, lays out vividly today. (Back in 2003, a show of his photos on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History was scandalously all but cancelled at a moment when the Bush administration was eager to open that pristine wilderness area to exploitation.)

If you’re talking about extracting extreme fossil fuels from an incredibly rich environment that is utterly treacherous and would be the single most obvious reserve on the planet to simply keep in the ground, this has to be the place.  And yet the president has long shown a special interest in those Arctic waters and Royal Dutch Shell’s urge to drill in them.  Now, at a time that would seem inauspicious as well as unappealing, given the glut of new American oil on the market (and falling oil prices), the Obama administration, despite a recent bow to Arctic preservation, stands at the edge of once again green-lighting a Shell foray into Arctic waters. You explain it. Tom Engelhardt

To drill or not to drill, that is the question
The Obama administration, Shell, and the fate of the Arctic Ocean
by Subhankar Banerjee

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet. Let me explain why Shell’s drilling ambitions are so dangerous. Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.

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