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This is the blog for Sean Brennan and London After Midnight. For more information please see the LAM website at londonaftermidnight.com.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

See this film: Gasland


About the film

"The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown."
GASLAND will be broadcast on HBO through 2012. To host a public screening in your community please click here. The DVD will be on sale in December 2010.



Sean

Environmental Minefield in Gulf; BP/Republicans Still Lying; Corporations Decide What's Safe in USA; Racism, Alive and Well in USA; more

- The Big Lie: BP, Governments Downplay Public Health Risk From Oil and Dispersants BP is still in the dark ages on oil toxicity. BP officials stress that, by the time oil gets to shore, it is "weathered" and missing the highly volatile compounds like the carcinogenic benzene, among others. BP fails to mention the threat from dispersed oil, ultrafine particles (PAHs), and chemical dispersants, which include industrial solvents and proprietary compounds, many hazardous to humans.

- Republican Mississippi Gov. Barbour Fronts for BP Louie Miller, state director of the Sierra Club in Mississippi, is burning up. And its not the sweltering heat typical of Mississippi summers that's getting to him: It's Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and his kid-glove treatment of BP over its oil blow-out disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Afghan Corruption Doubled Since 2006: Survey Corruption in Afghanistan has doubled in three years since 2006, despite pledges by the government to clean up graft in one of the world's poorest countries, according to a survey released Thursday.

- "We tired of u n-----s movin in are neighborhood!" Nearly 20 black families in a Detroit neighborhood got racist - not to mention seriously badly spelled - letters Tuesday telling them to move out or get killed, the latest in a string of racially ugly events that included a cross burning and Aryan Nation flyers found in Easter eggs. Welcome to Obama's post-racial America.

- Wal-Mart: Life, Liberty, The Pursuit of Freedom to Allow Mobs to Trample Your Employees to Death Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a 2,000-strong post-Thanksgiving, bargain-hunting mob in 2008. Wal-Mart says it shouldn't be held accountable for safety standards - like not having workers stampeded to death - that would cut into sales promotions of the latest plastic gimcracks made in sweatshops in China. These guys are truly princes of industry.

- Oh Dear, It Seems Mission WAS Accomplished So what if hundreds of scholars and every vaguely sentient biped on the planet have judged George Bush the worst president, ever. The stalwart founders of Honor Freedom  want to set the historical record straight - that W was "the right leader at the right time." Under headings like Compassion, Liberation and Truth, it seeks to correct nefarious myths like, "The war in Iraq was an invasion, not a liberation by the U.S." Are these people dangerous, or just sad?

- Weighing Safety of Weed Killer in Drinking Water, EPA Relies Heavily on Industry-Backed Studies Companies with a financial interest in a weed-killer sometimes found in drinking water paid for thousands of studies federal regulators are using to assess the herbicide’s health risks, records of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show. Many of these industry-funded studies, which largely support atrazine’s safety, have never been published or subjected to an independent scientific peer review.


Abandoned Oil Wells Make Gulf of Mexico 'Environmental Minefield'
AP investigation finds BP was responsible for 600 of more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico
by Richard Wray
Published on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

The Gulf of Mexico is packed with abandoned oil wells from a host of companies including BP, according to an investigation by Associated Press which describes the area as "an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades".
While the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has thrown the spotlight sharply on BP's activities in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental safety in the area has been neglected for decades.

[While the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has thrown the spotlight sharply on BP's activities in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental safety in the area has been neglected for decades. (Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP)]While the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has thrown the spotlight sharply on BP's activities in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental safety in the area has been neglected for decades. (Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP)
There are more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico, according to AP, of which 600 belonged to BP. The oldest of the abandoned wells dates back to the late 1940s and the AP investigation highlights concerns about the way in which some of the wells have been plugged, especially the 3,500 neglected wells which are catalogued by the government as "temporarily abandoned". The rules for shutting off temporarily closed wells is not as strict as for completely abandoned wells.

Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but the AP found that the rule is routinely circumvented, and that more than 1,000 wells have lingered in that unfinished condition for more than a decade. About three-quarters of temporarily abandoned wells have been left in that status for more than a year, and many since the 1950s and 1960s.
AP quoted state officials as estimating that tens of thousands are badly sealed, either because they predate strict regulation or because the operating companies violated rules. Texas alone has plugged more than 21,000 abandoned wells to control pollution, according to the state comptroller's office. In state-controlled waters off the coast of California, many abandoned wells have had to be resealed. But in deeper federal waters, AP points out, there is very little investigation into the state of abandoned wells.

The US Minerals Management Service, now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and charged with keeping an eye on offshore drilling, has little power to deal with abandoned wells. It merely requests paperwork to prove that a well has been capped and unlike regulators in states such as California, it does not typically inspect the job.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster has so far cost BP more than $3bn (£1.98bn) in actual clean-up expenses, but many times more in terms of the company's financial value. Its share price has more than halved since the explosion on 20 April and the clean-up is likely to take months if not years. The AP investigation raises the question of whether there are more such environmental disasters waiting to happen.

White knight wanted

BP boss Tony Hayward, meanwhile, continues to try to deal with the fall out from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The BP chief executive is understood to have met with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) as he continues his world tour in search of a so-called white knight investor to ward off a takeover by a foreign rival.

Having already held talks with current investor, the Kuwait Investment Office, Hayward has switched his interest to other cash-rich oil states as he tries to bolster support for BP, which has become increasingly vulnerable as a result of the share price collapse caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. ADIA is one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds.

The news comes after it emerged on Tuesday that the US government has demanded that the oil group give it advanced notice of any potential disposals. Earlier this month BP said it would raise $10bn by selling some of its non-core assets in order to help shore up its balance sheet in the face of the mounting cost of dealing with the spill.

On 23 June, the US attorney general Tony West wrote to BP to request that the department of justice be alerted to any sales or even joint ventures entered into by the company. BP has yet to respond.

Speculation has centred on the disposal of some of BP's assets in South America, while 'mature' assets in the North Sea have been seen by other oil watchers as obvious candidates for sale. Hayward was in Azerbaijan on Tuesday to reassure local politicians that it is not about to jettison its assets on the Caspian and met with Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev.
BP has ruled out issuing any new shares, instead hoping that it will be able to persuade investors to pick up their stakes in the market. But many in the City believe it will need to raise more cash to bolster its balance sheet, with a bond issue seen as the most likely route.

Sean

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nonviolent Activist Faces Prison while BP Rakes in US Government Profits; US Afghan War Creating Opium Addict Children; The Next Extinction and Global Warming-It's a lot worse than the public thinks

- Change? Advocate for Green Jobs Faces Prison for Dropping Banner While BP and Massey Go Free? Let's put this bizarre situation in its proper context. Consider these recent environmental news events: The US Attorney General's office is still looking into "possible" criminal activity at Massey's Energy Upper Big Branch coal mine, despite hundreds of serious regulatory violations and 29 deaths. And despite a preliminary Congressional investigation that concluded BP oil intentionally sought to subvert industry guidelines and regulations, the Justice Department is still in the early stages of maybe pursuing a criminal investigation of the oil giant's criminal activity.
And then there's Glick, who simply wants Congress to move along in a time of crisis.
He's facing prison [for holding a banner]?

- BP Still Does Big Federal Business Despite U.S. Scrutiny The Defense Department has kept up its immense purchases of aviation fuel and other petroleum products from BP even as the oil company comes under scrutiny for potential violations of federal and state laws related to Gulf of Mexico well explosion, according to U.S. and company officials.

- So Much for Holder's "Forceful Response" Despite Obama berating BP for its criminal "recklessness," it turns out the Defense Department is still buying a whole lot of oil from them  - to wit, at least $980 million worth. BP's still-valid contracts make it the Pentagon's largest single supplier of fuel, leading us to wonder what part of "talking out of both sides of your mouth" they don't understand.

- Opium-Addicted Children: Paying a Heavy Price for the Afghan War A group of researchers hired by the U.S. Department of State found staggering levels of opium in Afghan children, some as young as 14 months old, who had been passively exposed by adult drug users in their homes.... Both American and Afghan counter narcotic officials have said that such widespread domestic drug addiction is a relatively new problem. Among the factors leading to increased levels of drug use is the high unemployment rate throughout the country, the social upheaval provoked by this war and those that preceded it, as well as the return of refugees from Iran and Pakistan who became addicts while abroad.

- Oil Spills Boost Arsenic Levels in Ocean: Study Oil spills can boost levels of arsenic in seawater by suppressing a natural filter mechanism on the sea bed, according to a study published on Friday in a specialist journal.

- Environmental Justice, Science Leaders Urge Action Linking Climate and Public Health In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: "1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves."


It's Not Just BP's Oil in the Gulf That Threatens World's Oceans
by Les Blumenthal
Published on Sunday, July 4, 2010 by the McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON - A sobering new report warns that the oceans face a "fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation" not seen in millions of years as greenhouse gases and climate change already have affected temperature, acidity, sea and oxygen levels, the food chain and possibly major currents that could alter global weather.

[It's not just oil that threatens the planet's oceans.]It's not just oil that threatens the planet's oceans.
The report, in Science magazine, brings together dozens of studies that collectively paint a dismal picture of deteriorating ocean health.

"This is further evidence we are well on our way to the next great extinction event," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia and a co-author of the report.

John Bruno, an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the report's other co-author, isn't quite as alarmist, but he's equally concerned.

"We are becoming increasingly certain that the world's marine ecosystems are reaching tipping points," Bruno said, adding, "We really have no power or model to foresee" the impact.

The oceans, which cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface, have played a dominant role in regulating the planet's climate. However, even as the understanding of what's happening to terrestrial ecosystems as a result of climate change has grown, studies of marine ecosystems have lagged, the report says. The oceans are acting as a heat sink for rising temperatures and have absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.

Among other things, the report notes:
  • The average temperature of the upper level of the oceans has increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, and global ocean surface temperatures in January were the second warmest ever recorded for that month.
  • Though the increase in acidity is slight, it represents a "major departure" from the geochemical conditions that have existed in the oceans for hundred of thousands if not millions of years.
  • Nutrient-poor "ocean deserts" in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans grew by 15 percent, or roughly 2.5 million square miles, from 1998 to 2006.
  • Oxygen concentrations have been dropping off the Northwest U.S. coast and the coast of southern Africa, where dead zones are appearing regularly. There is paleontological evidence that declining oxygen levels in the oceans played a major role in at least four or five mass extinctions.
  • Since the early 1980s, the production of phytoplankton, a crucial creature at the lower end of the food chain, has declined 6 percent, with 70 percent of the decline found in the northern parts of the oceans. Scientists also have found that phytoplankton are becoming smaller.
Volcanic activity and large meteorite strikes in the past have "resulted in hostile conditions that have increased extinction rates and driven ecosystem collapse," the report says. "There is now overwhelming evidence human activities are driving rapid changes on a scale similar to these past events.

"Many of these changes are already occurring within the world's oceans with serious consequences likely over the coming years."

One of the consequences could be a disruption of major ocean currents, particularly those flowing north and south, circulating warm water from the equator to polar regions and cold water from the poles back to the equator. Higher temperatures in polar regions and a decrease in the salinity of surface water due to melting ice sheets could interrupt such circulation, the report says.

The change in currents could further affect such climate phenomena as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Scientists just now are starting to understand how these phenomena affect global weather patterns.

"Although our comprehension of how this variability will change over the coming decades remains uncertain, the steady increase in heat content in the ocean and atmosphere are likely to have profound influences on the strength, direction and behavior of the world's major current systems," the report says.

Kelp forests such as those off the Northwest U.S. coast, along with corals, sea grasses, mangroves and salt marsh grasses, are threatened by the changes the oceans are undergoing, the report says. All of them provide habitat for thousands of species.

The polar bear isn't the only polar mammal that faces an escalating risk of extinction, the report says; penguin and seal populations also are declining.

"It's a lot worse than the public thinks," said Nate Mantua, an associate research professor at the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.

Mantua, who's read the report, said it was clear what was causing the oceans' problems: greenhouse gases. "It is not a mystery," he said.

There's growing concern about low-oxygen or no-oxygen zones appearing more and more regularly off the Northwest coast, Mantua said. Scientists are studying the California Current along the West Coast to determine whether it could be affected, he added.

Richard Feely, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said the report in Science seemed so direct because one of the authors was Australian.

"Australians come at you full-bore and lay it on the line," Feely said.

Even so, he said, the condition of the oceans is indeed deteriorating.

"The combination of these impacts are tending to show they are additive," he said. "They combine to make things worse."

Asked what the oceans will be like in 50 years if trends aren't reversed, Bruno, the UNC professor, said that all the problems would have accelerated and there'd be new ones. For instance, he said tens of thousands of species found only in the Pacific might migrate across the top of North America as the sea ice melts and enter the Atlantic, where they've never been.

Bruno said a 50-year time frame to consider changes in the ocean was way too short, however.

"I am a lot more worried about 200 to 300 years out," he said.

Sean

Climate Near Tipping Point; Tween Hookers; Oil and Republicans; Where Our Stuff Comes From; Can't Afford War; more (posted 06/30/10)

- Ancient Fossils Show Arctic Now Near Climate Tipping Point Current levels of Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide may be high enough to bring about "irreversible" shifts in Arctic ecosystems, according to new research published today by scientists from the United States, Canada and The Netherlands.

- We Can’t Afford War In order to make the cuts promised, Obama would have to raise taxes and cut social programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Or he could cut the war budget. I say “war budget” because it is not to be confused with a defense budget. Cities and states across the country are facing devastating budget crises. Pensions are being wiped out. Foreclosures are continuing at record levels. A true defense budget would shore up our schools, our roads, our towns, our social safety net. The U.S. House of Representatives is under pressure to pass a $33 billion Afghan War supplemental this week.

- The GOP's Genetic Link to Big Oil  How else can you explain the remarkable gusher of compassion that Republican lawmakers are presently directing toward Big Oil in general and BP in particular? For example, only hours after winning his party's nomination for a Kentucky Senate seat, GOP teabag darling Rand Paul was on national TV decrying Barack Obama as "un-American" for daring to demand that BP be held accountable for its human and ecological destruction in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Gulf Spill Galvanizes Activist Community With the U.S .government and oil giant British Petroleum under fire for their handling of the more than two-month-old Gulf Coast oil spill disaster, environmental and community activists across the country are taking matters into their own hands.

- 'Worse than Gaza': Conditions in West Bank Areas Reach Crisis Point Children living in the poorest parts of the West Bank face significantly worse conditions than their counterparts in Gaza, a study conducted by an international youth charity has found.

- Hooker Tweens, or Whither the Women's Movement? Making the rounds in these Taylor-Momsen-esque times is a dance contest video featuring 8-9 year-old girls in sizzling red and black bras and hot pants bumping  to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." A Times magazine piece, "Playing At Sexy," calls watching it akin to "rubbernecking a 12-car pileup of early sexualization." I call it a sorry slutty distortion of the lofty notion of empowerment.

- Billions Missing, Lies Mounting In Congress on Monday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich told it straight on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: billions of dollars "gone missing," as in stolen, by warlords, drug lords, corrupt government officials "underwritten by the lives of our troops." While people at home lose jobs, homes, savings, schooling, pensions, hope.   


Lest We Forget, Where Our Stuff Comes From
by Abby Zimet
Published June 30 2010 on CommonDreams.org



Protests by workers at Bangladesh's many garment factories are spreading, even as riot police fire tear gas and water cannons at crowds of up to 20,000 people, including children. The workers are protesting conditions and wages, which now average $25 a month for sewing clothes for the western likes of Wal-Mart. One more reason among so many not to shop there. More photos here.


Sean

BP Spill May Continue 'til Christmas; Global Warming Deniers; Red Cross Says Blockade of Gaza Illegal; World Cup (posted 06/14/10)

- Global Warming Deniers and Their Lies For years, free-market fundamentalists opposed to government regulation have sought to create doubt in the public’s mind about the dangers of smoking, acid rain, and ozone depletion. Now they have turned those same tactics on the issue of global warming and on climate scientists, with significant success.

- Days After BP Denies Blocking The Media From Covering The Spill, Reporter Is Harrassed On A Public Beach (video too) In response to numerous media reports that BP has been blocking journalists from covering the oil spill and speaking with clean-up workers, BP CEO Doug Suttles issued a letter on Wednesday saying that such reports were “untrue” and reporters should have full access... However, this message isn’t being strictly enforced. Yesterday, WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans, tried to speak with clean-up crews on an oil-stained portion of Grand Isle, Louisiana. Private security officials
confronted reporter Scott Walker and said he couldn’t even have access to the public beach.


- The BP oil Spill's Cruel Toll of Wildlife We can react positively to what is the largest case of cruelty to animals in US history – if it changes our behaviour as consumers...

- Red Cross: Gaza Blockade Illegal The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and called on the Israeli government to lift it....

- Glenn Beck's Blues: Why the Far Right Hates Soccer Every World Cup, it arrives like clockwork. As sure as the ultimate soccer spectacle brings guaranteed adrenaline and agony to fans across the United States, it also drives the right-wing noise machine utterly insane.

- Human Trafficking And The World Cup (video) - As many as 20,000 women have been trafficked into forced prostitution for the 2010 games in preparation for the influx of visitors. Some of these women entered South Africa on the promise of regular jobs, and upon arrival were drugged and held in private homes in preparation for "customers." It's the tragic reality of a world in which millions of women are still treated as commodities to be bought, sold, and exploited at will.... as we celebrate goals, we should also take the chance to celebrate our common humanity by dedicating ourselves to fight for freedom as hard as we fight for victory.



BP Oil Spill May Not Be Capped Until Christmas, Expert Warns
'Everyone should be prepared for worst-case scenario', says the head of oil consultancy group
by Terry Macalister and Richard Wachman
Published on Monday, June 14, 2010 by The Guardian/UK
 
One of the world's leading authorities on oil well management has warned it could take until Christmas to cap the Gulf of Mexico spill that is devastating the southern coast of America – and BP's reputation.

[Workers clean up the oil washed ashore in Alabama from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. (Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)]Workers clean up the oil washed ashore in Alabama from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. (Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)
Nansen Saleri, a Gulf drilling expert, said he hoped BP would meet its August timetable for capping the blown-out well, but made it clear success was not certain.

"I know it is a frightening assessment but everyone should be prepared for a worst-case scenario, and that could mean a Christmas timeframe," said Saleri, chief executive of the consultancy group Quantum Reservoir Impact.
"The probable outcome is much better but the technological challenges … are enormous."

The futures of BP and of wildlife around the Gulf of Mexico are largely dependent on the rapid success of two "relief" wells that are being drilled in an attempt to halt anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil a day that is flowing out of the stricken Macondo subsea hole.

Saleri, who dealt personally with four blowouts during a career with Saudi Aramco and Chevron, said the BP fire and spill was the worst he had seen. He believes it may cause more damage than the Ixtoc I blowout 30 years ago, which is regarded as the most damaging of its kind.

BP faced renewed pressure to do more to contain the Gulf of Mexico spill as the US and Britain played down diplomatic tensions over the crisis.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said relations between the US and UK were "outstanding at every level". He said it was up to BP – under pressure in the US to suspend its dividend to help pay for damage – to decide on its payout to shareholders. David Cameron and Barack Obama talked at the weekend, when Cameron expressed his sadness at the "human and environmental catastrophe".

Tony Hayward, the BP chief executive, will be grilled about the disaster in the US on Thursday when he appears before a special Senate hearing. On Wednesday, Hayward and the BP chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, will meet the president at the White House to explain BP's response.

According to reports, Obama will tell the pair he wants BP to establish a special account to meet damage claims by individuals and businesses hurt by the spill.

The prospect of a lengthy timescale to cap the well reinforces the views of Carlos Morales, the head of exploration at Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The company was the operator of the Ixtoc I well in 1979, when 3.3m gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. It took nearly 10 months to bring the blowout under control.

Morales is now sharing technical information with BP in an attempt to help it block the Macondo leak. He has warned it could take "four to five months" for a relief well to cap the spill.

Hurricanes also pose a problem. The hurricane season in the Gulf began this month, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted it will be "active to very active", with up to 23 named storms and up to 14 hurricanes on the way.

Saleri said a bad storm could "really complicate" the environmental impact of spilled oil and delay relief drilling by two weeks every time a hurricane strikes.

BP is also aware that the relief wells could be as unstable as the original one. Experts admit no one can rule out another blowout such as the one that sent the original rig, Horizon Explorer, to the bottom of the ocean.

The British company has warned in a regulatory filing that a blowout on one of the relief wells could release a further 240,000 barrels of oil a day, although Hayward has since discounted the chances of this. "The relief wells ultimately will be successful," he said.

Sean

Study Shows Vegans More Empathetic than Meat Eaters; Young Adults Today have Less Empathy; The BP Oil Disaster; Next Disaster Nuke Power? (posted 06/09/10)

- Empathy: College Students Don't Have as Much as They Used To, Study Finds Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

- BP Well May Be Spewing 100,000 Barrels a Day, Scientist Says BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well may be spewing what the company once-called its worst case scenario — 100,000 barrels a day, a member of the government panel told McClatchy Monday. ... Leifer said that based on satellite data he's examined, the rate of flow from the well has been increasing over time, especially since BP's "top kill" effort failed last month to stanch the flow.

- Apocalypse in the Gulf Now (Oil) & Next (Nukes) As BP's ghastly gusher assaults the Gulf of Mexico and so much more, a tornado has forced shut the Fermi2 atomic reactor at the site of a 1966 melt-down that nearly irradiated the entire Great Lakes region.... If the White House has a reliable plan for deploying and funding a credible response to a disaster at a reactor that's superior to the one we've seen at the Deepwater Horizon, we'd sure like to see it.... Like Deepwater Horizon and Fermi, these new nukes could ignite disasters beyond our technological control--and our worst nightmares..... Like BP, their builders would enjoy financial liability limits dwarfed by damage they could do.

- Rig Survivors: BP Ordered Shortcut on Day of Blast  The BP official wanted workers to replace heavy mud, used to keep the well's pressure down, with lighter seawater to help speed a process that was costing an estimated $750,000 a day and was already running five weeks late, rig survivors told CNN.
BP won the argument, said Doug Brown, the rig's chief mechanic. "He basically said, 'Well, this is how it's gonna be.'

- Exxon Valdez Lawyer: Louisianans, 'To Use A Legal Term,' Are 'Just F--ked' The irony, as O'Neill tells it, is that the law Congress passed in the wake of that spill -- the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 -- may end up hindering the type of relief that Gulf residents can expect currently. Under that legislation, a $75 million cap was placed on economic damages that an oil company can pay as a penalty for a spill...

- Can You Look Her in the iPad? Even the most unenlightened consumers have a vague ethical awareness when it comes to clothes and food. You don't have to be Naomi Klein to realize that somewhere along a production line that can manufacture supermarket jeans for £2, someone is getting at best short-changed, and at worst exploited. Likewise, thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, most consumers realise that a £1.99 chicken probably lived in a cramped, filthy cage with hundreds of other miserable birds and excrement for company.
Cheap usually comes with human and environmental costs.



Does Not Eating Animals Make You More Empathetic Toward People?
Published June 2 2010 on change.org


While no one likes to think of themselves as some sort of moral snob, let's be honest: Compared to meat-eaters, many ethical vegetarians and vegans do see themselves as having a more compassionate outlook. Where some may see a juicy steak, we see a dead cow. While some think of how good the meat will taste, we contemplate the way the animal suffered on its path to the dinner plate. 

Why the difference in perception? It turns out it vegetarians and vegans might just be wired differently than other people. According to Daniel R. Rowes of Psychology Today, a recent Italian study shows that empathy is what really separates vegetarians and omnivores. The study was "based on the observation that vegetarians and vegans tend to base their decision to avoid animal products on ethical grounds." This is an accurate observation, as Vegetarian Times reported in 2008 that 54 percent of American vegetarians cited animal welfare as the main reason they gave up meat. The Italian researchers wanted to determine if the empathy vegetarians and vegans extend towards animals applied to other humans as well.
 
To test this, Rowes writes, subjects (20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans) were placed "into a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine" while researchers looked "at the 'activation' of different brain areas as subjects view a randomized series of pictures." As explained in the study's abstract, some of the pictures were of natural landscapes, while others showed scenes of torture, mutilation, death, and so on. These so-called negative affective pictures involved both animals and humans. Researchers monitored the different neurological reactions to the pictures.

What did the study find? According to Rowes:
The first main finding of this study is that, compared to omnivores, vegans and vegetarians show higher activation of empathy related brain areas (e.g. Anterior Cingular Cortex and left Inferior Frontal Gyrus) when observing scenes of suffering; whether it be animal or human suffering.
It's important to highlight that this study shows vegetarians and vegans to be more empathic to both animals and humans. After all, how many of us in the animal welfare community have been accused of "caring more about animals than people?" 

Other studies have come to similar conclusions. According to the journal Anthrozoos, "Past research found that positive attitudes toward animals are positively correlated with human-directed empathy."

The link between empathy for animals and empathy for humans should come as no surprise. As psychologist Mary Lou Randour wrote in her book Animal Grace, "animals play an important role in teaching children empathy." She also notes that there is a "cultural pressure to abandon our fascination with animals" as we get older and mature. Essentially, learning to be less empathic towards animals is a step towards maturity in our society.
Fortunately, vegetarians and vegans don't seem to have learned that lesson.

The Italian study on vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and empathy comes at an interesting time. Scientific American recently reported on a separate study of college students showing that "today’s young people are 40 percent less empathetic than college kids from 30 years ago." The sharpest drop in empathy occurred in the last nine years. According to the study, today’s students are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

A whole generation with diminished empathy is a scary thought. I guess it will be up to the country's young vegetarians and vegans to balance out the compassion scales.
They've got quite a tough task ahead of them.

Sean

Israel Attacks Humanitarian Aid Ship!; Gulf Oil Leak Here for Months; ACORN innocent but Opponents GUILTY! (posted 05/31/10)

- BP: 'Top Kill' Has Failed to Stop Gulf Oil Leak BP has abandoned its most recent "top kill" effort to contain its well, a company official announced Saturday evening.
"After three full days, we have been unable to overcome the flow," said the company's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles.

In its next effort to halt what its officials have called an "environmental catastrophe," BP will cut off the leaking riser at the top of the five-story blowout preventer atop the wellhead to get an even surface on the broken pipe.

- Oil to Spill Into Gulf 'for at Least Two More Months' Millions of gallons of oil could be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for at least the next two months, as Barack Obama's top energy adviser said the spill was the biggest environmental disaster in US history.

- Fake ACORN Pimp Pleads Guilty; the New Yorker Adds its Voice to the Anti-ACORN Story What's the difference between James O'Keefe, who made national headlines with his ACORN undercover video, and ACORN? O'Keefe is a criminal and ACORN is not. Yesterday O'Keefe pleaded guilty to charges of entering federal property under false pretenses when he attempted to embarrass Senator Mary Landrieu because of her support for the health care legislation.

- Live coverage: Israel's flotilla raid


Israel Attacks Gaza Aid Fleet
Published on Monday, May 31, 2010 by Al Jazeera English
Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country's siege on Gaza.

[People protest against Israel in front of the Israeli ambassador's residence in the Turkish capital Ankara on May 31. At least 10 activists were killed before dawn on Monday when Israeli navy commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, sparking international outrage and plunging the Jewish state into a diplomatic crisis.(AFP/Adem Altan) ]People protest against Israel in front of the Israeli ambassador's residence in the Turkish capital Ankara on May 31. At least 10 activists were killed before dawn on Monday when Israeli navy commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, sparking international outrage and plunging the Jewish state into a diplomatic crisis.(AFP/Adem Altan)
At least 19 people were killed and dozens injured when troops intercepted the convoy of ships dubbed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday, Israeli radio reported.

The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.

Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, confirmed that the attack took place in international waters, saying: "This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves."
Footage from the flotilla's lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.

Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, on board the Mavi Marmara, said Israeli troops had used live ammunition during the operation.

The Israeli military said four soldiers had been wounded and claimed troops opened fire after "demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs".

Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the convoy.

Our correspondent said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.

Before losing communication with our correspondent, a voice in Hebrew was clearly heard saying: "Everyone shut up".

Israeli intervention
Earlier, the Israeli navy had contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara, asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.

Shortly after, two Israeli naval vessels had flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.

Organisers of the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.

They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.

"All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have been put on a heightened state of alert across the country to prevent any civil disturbances.

Sheikh Raed Salah,a leading member of the Islamic Movement who was on board the ship, was reported to have been seriously injured. He was being treated in Israel's Tal Hasharon hospital.

In Um Al Faham, the stronghold of the Islamic movement in Israel and the birth place of Salah, preparations for mass demonstrations were under way.

Protests
Condemnation has been quick to pour in after the Israeli action.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, officially declared a three-day state of mourning over Monday's deaths.

Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassador's in their respective countries to protest against the deadly assault.

Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. The protesters shouted "Damn Israel" as police blocked them.

"(The interception on the convoy) is unacceptable ... Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behaviour," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.  

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has also dubbed the Israeli action as "barbaric".
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, including a Nobel laureate and several European legislators, were with the flotilla, aiming to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli embargo.
The convoy came from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and was comprised of about 700 people from 50 nationalities.

But Israel had said it would not allow the flotilla to reach the Gaza Strip and vowed to stop the six ships from reaching the coastal Palestinian territory.

The flotilla had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach Gaza by Monday morning.

Israel said the boats were embarking on "an act of provocation" against the Israeli military, rather than providing aid, and that it had issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.

It asserted that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing in Gaza, a claim the organisers rejected.

Sean

Racist Lying Republicans Rewrite US History School Books; Libertarians Are Nuts; Oil Spill Disaster Due To Republican/Libertarian Deregulation (posted 05/24/10)

- Obama Fail: Month After Oil Gusher, Why is BP Still In Charge? Days after the Gulf Coast oil spill, the Obama administration pledged to keep its "boot on the throat" of BP to make sure the company did all it could to cap the gushing leak and clean up the spill. But a month after the April 20 explosion, anger is growing about why BP PLC is still in charge of the response.

- Gulf Oil Spill: Vast Majority of Pollution Could Lurk Below Surface for Months or Years  As little as 1/60th of the oil belching from a blown-out deep-sea BP well could be making it all the way up to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico right away, judging from the results of a field test of a similar scenario conducted in 2000 by a consortium including the Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service and BP. The test results provide yet another indication that the government and BP were insufficiently prepared for the wide-ranging repercussions associated with a deep-water leak [due to corporate control over government made possible by years of deregulation from Republican and Libertarian-minded politicians].

- BP Withholds Oil Spill Facts - and Government Lets It BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn't publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers' exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn't monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.
BP's role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

- BP Admits Deepwater Rescue Is Capturing Less Oil BP today admitted that is capturing less oil from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico than previously estimated, raising fresh questions over the success of its rescue operation.

- BP Refuses EPA Order to Switch to Less-Toxic Oil Dispersant BP has rebuffed demands from government officials and environmentalists to use a less-toxic dispersant to break up the oil from its massive offshore spill...

- US Funds Apartheid Roads on West Bank The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping Israel to construct an apartheid road infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian West Bank by financing nearly a quarter of the segregated road system primarily for the benefit of Israeli settlers.

- Liberated from Libertarianism: Rand Paul Runs and Hides from ... Rand Paul All of these are diversionary lies, meant to avoid the unpleasant realities of what libertarianism would actually look like in action. But the last lie is the most egregious. The entire reason for Rand Paul's existence right now - which is also almost literally true, given that he has the unfortunate burden of being named for Ayn Rand, a twisted soul if ever there was - is his premise of reclaiming American government in the name of liberty for the American people. That's who he is. That's what he represents himself to be. That's his political shtick, his raison d'être. What the Maddow interview reveals, however, is that he's really just another politician trying to win office, not a crusader at all. And what it also reveals is just how bankrupt are those libertarian notions if you look at them at all closely.

- Texas State Board of Education Approves New Curriculum Standards In a landmark vote that will shape the future education of millions of Texas schoolchildren, the State Board of Education on Friday approved new curriculum standards for U.S. history and other social studies courses that reflect a more conservative tone than in the past.


Texas Schools Board Rewrites US History With Lessons Promoting God and Guns
US Christian conservatives drop references to slave trade and sideline Thomas Jefferson who backed church-state separation
by Chris McGreal in Houston
Published on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state's schools to "throwing them in to the enemy's flames". Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

Now Dunbar is on the brink of fulfilling a promise to change all that, or at least point Texas schools toward salvation. She is one of a clutch of Christian evangelists and social conservatives who have grasped control of the state's education board. This week they are expected to force through a new curriculum that is likely to shift what millions of American schoolchildren far beyond Texas learn about their history.

The board is to vote on a sweeping purge of alleged liberal bias in Texas school textbooks in favour of what Dunbar says really matters: a belief in America as a nation chosen by God as a beacon to the world, and free enterprise as the cornerstone of liberty and democracy.

"We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future," Dunbar said. "In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."

Those corrections have prompted a blizzard of accusations of rewriting history and indoctrinating children by promoting rightwing views on religion, economics and guns while diminishing the science of evolution, the civil rights movement and the horrors of slavery.

Several changes include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war.

The new curriculum asserts that "the right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society. Study of Sir Isaac Newton is dropped in favour of examining scientific advances through military technology.

There is also a suggestion that the anti-communist witch-hunt by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s may have been justified.

The education board has dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the more innocuous "Atlantic triangular trade", and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.

"There is a battle for the soul of education," said Mavis Knight, a liberal member of the Texas education board. "They're trying to indoctrinate with American exceptionalism, the Christian founding of this country, the free enterprise system. There are strands where the free enterprise system fits appropriately but they have stretched the concept of the free enterprise system back to medieval times. The president of the Texas historical association could not find any documentation to support the stretching of the free enterprise system to ancient times but it made no difference."

The curriculum has alarmed liberals across the country in part because Texas buys millions of text books every year, giving it considerable sway over what publishers print. By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on text books written to meet the Texas curriculum. The California legislature is considering a bill that would bar them from being used in the state's schools.

In the past four years, Christian conservatives have won almost half the seats on the Texas education board and can rely on other Republicans for support on most issues. They previously tried to require science teachers to address the "strengths and weaknesses" in the theory of evolution – a move critics regard as a back door to teaching creationism – but failed. They have had more success in tackling history and social studies.

Dunbar backed amendments to the curriculum that portray the free enterprise system (there is no mention of capitalism, deemed to be a tainted word) as a cornerstone of liberty and argue that the government should have a minimal role in the economy.

One amendment requires that students be taught that economic prosperity requires "minimal government intrusion and taxation".

Underpinning the changes is a particular view of religion.

Dunbar was elected to the state education board on the back of a campaign in which she argued for the teaching of creationism – euphemistically known as intelligent design – in science classes.

Two years ago, she published a book, One Nation Under God, in which she argued that the United States was ultimately governed by the scriptures.

"The only accurate method of ascertaining the intent of the founding fathers at the time of our government's inception comes from a biblical worldview," she wrote. "We as a nation were intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world."

On the education board, Dunbar backed changes that include teaching the role the "Jewish Ten Commandments" played in "political and legal ideas", and the study of the influence of Moses on the US constitution. Dunbar says these are important steps to overturning what she believes is the myth of a separation between church and state in the US.

"There's been this amorphous changing of how we look at religion and how we define religion within American history. One concern I have is that the viewpoint of the founding fathers is very clear. They were not against the promotion of religion. I think it is important to present a historically accurate viewpoint to students," she said.

On the face of it some of the changes are innocuous but critics say that closer scrutiny reveals a not-so-hidden agenda. History students are now to be required to study documents, such as the Mayflower Compact, which instil the idea of America being founded as a Christian fundamentalist nation.

Knight and others do not question that religion was an important force in American history but they fear that it is being used as a Trojan horse by evangelists to insert religious indoctrination into the school curriculum. They point to the wording of amendments such as that requiring students to "describe how religion and virtue contributed to the growth of representative government in the American colonies".

Among the advisers the board brought in to help rewrite the curriculum is David Barton, the leader of WallBuilders which seeks to promote religion in history. Barton has campaigned against the separation of church and state. He argues that income tax should be abolished because it contradicts the bible. Among his recommendations was that pupils should be taught that the declaration of independence establishes that the creator is at the heart of law, government and individual rights.

Conservatives have been accused of an assault on the history of civil rights. One curriculum amendment describes the civil rights movement as creating "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes" among minorities. Another seeks to place Martin Luther King and the violent Black Panther movement as opposite sides of the same coin.

"We had a big discussion around that," said Knight, a former teacher. "It was an attempt to taint the civil rights movement. They did the same by almost equating George Wallace [the segregationist governor of Alabama in the mid-1960s] with the civil rights movement and the things Martin Luther King Jr was trying to accomplish, as if Wallace was standing up for white civil rights. That's how slick they are.

"They're very smooth at excluding the contributions of minorities into the curriculum. It is as if they want to render minority groups totally invisible. I think it's racist. I really do."

The blizzard of amendments has produced the occasional farce. Some figures have been sidelined because they are deemed to be socialist or un-American. One of them is a children's author, Bill Martin, who wrote a popular tale, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Martin was purged from the curriculum when he was confused with an author with a similar name but a different book, Ethical Marxism.

Sean

Arizona Immigration Law came from Nazis; The MASSIVE Oil Spill; Honey Bees Vanishing Faster; Afghan Civilians Murdered by USA (posted 05/03/10)

- Arizona Racism: It Gets Worse Arizona's purging of brown-skinned residents continues apace with two new moves: It has decided to remove any teachers whose spoken English is heavily accented or ungrammatical - almost half the teachers in some school districts are native Spanish speakers - and to curb a popular ethnic studies program in Tucson by banning  any courses advocating ethnic solidarity.

- Fear and Loathing in Prime Time Media Matters Action Network undertook this study in order to document the rhetoric surrounding immigration that is heard on cable news. When it comes to this issue, cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers' resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.

- Afghan Civilian Deaths Are Rising, Government Says Civilian casualties are rising in Afghanistan as U.S. and NATO reinforcements stream into the country as part of a military buildup to combat the resurgent Taliban, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.
There have been 173 civilian deaths in violence in Afghanistan from March 21 to April 21, marking a 33 percent increase over the same time period last year, the ministry said. A recent quarterly report by the U.S. office overseeing Afghanistan's rebuilding confirmed an increase in civilian deaths.

- Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Conservationists Warn of 'True Catastrophe' for Wildlife The Exxon Valdez oil spill provided a mass of scientific data on how oil affects marine life, ecosystems, coastal communities, fisheries and subsistence economies – the effects extend far beyond the inevitable photographs of seabirds, marine mammals and fish covered in oil.

- Mother of all gushers could kill Earth's oceans ? Imagine a pipe 5 feet wide spewing crude oil like a fire hose from what could be the planets' largest, high-pressure oil and gas reserve.  With the best technology available to man, the Deepwater Horizon rig popped a hole into that reserve and was overwhelmed.  If this isn't contained, it could poison all the oceans of the world.

- Oil Spill May Be Five Times Bigger Than Previously Thought Oil from the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig is feared to be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at five times the latest estimate of the US Coastguard, according to satellite imagery studied by industry experts.
- In Ironic Twist, BP Finalist for Pollution Prevention Award BP, now under federal scrutiny because of its role in the deadly Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill, is one of three finalists for a federal award honoring offshore oil companies for "outstanding safety and pollution prevention."

- Pay Baby Pay Former republican half-term governor and outspoken oil drilling advocate Sarah Palin is relying on prayers and industry good will to fix the disastrous Gulf Coast oil spill, but money seems more relevant. Go here to tell her to help relief efforts by donating a dollar - of her obscene $12 million made this year - for every gallon of oil spilled, or here to urge her to go help clean it up herself.

- Fears for Crops as Shock Figures From America Show Scale of Bee Catastrophe The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter... It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination...


AZ’s New Anti-Immigration Law is Steeped in White Supremacy Connections
From the Randi Rhodes' show blog from April 28th:



Kris Kobach is claiming victory in Arizona – he helped write the law. Kobach is currently running for Secretary of State in Kansas and he is a lawyer for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). As chair of the Kansas GOP, Kobach was quite proud of illegally caging voters,

FAIR founder and current board member John Tanton has a long history of hate.

And then there’s Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, the freak that introduced the bill.  Before last week, Pearce was known primarily for circulating a neo-Nazi article from the National Alliance (the people that brought you the Turner Diaries) and hanging out with another well-known neo-Nazi, J.T. Ready.

Meanwhile, an ICE audit showed that more than half of Arizona’s businesses had undocumented workers on their payrolls, the state is now asking the feds to help train its law enforcement to enforce the new racial profiling law – good luck with that, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove and Meghan McCain join the join the ranks of Republicans speaking out against the AZ law, Mexico just happens to be Arizona’s #1 trade partner – whoops, and from cutting healthcare to poor children to moving a pro-birther bill through its House, has Arizona’s government simply gone nuts?

Sean

Obama Acts Like a Republican; Oil Companies Fund Climate Change Deniers; Bush's Spy Program Ruled Criminal (posted 04/01/10)

- US Oil Company Donated Millions to Climate Change Denial Groups A Greenpeace investigation has identified a little-known, privately owned US oil company as the paymaster of global warming sceptics in the US and Europe. The environmental campaign group accuses Kansas-based Koch Industries, which owns refineries and operates oil pipelines, of funding 35 conservative and libertarian groups, as well as more than 20 congressmen and senators. Between them, Greenpeace says, these groups and individuals have spread misinformation about climate science and led a sustained assault on climate scientists and green alternatives to fossil fuels.

- Big Energy Firms Blocking Solar Power in South As citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations seek to transition to cleaner power sources like solar and wind, some big energy firms whose business models rely on polluting sources are standing in the way.

- Kill the Drill: Environmentalists Outraged Over Obama's Offshore Plan Barack Obama earned the instant anger of environmentalists and many of his core liberal supporters yesterday by declaring his intention to open vast areas of off-shore waters for future drilling for oil and gas, reversing decades-old policies of leaving the waves to fish, gulls and holidaymakers....The retort from environmentalists was swift. "Is this President Obama's clean energy plan or Palin's 'Drill, baby, drill' campaign?" asked Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford. "While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America's addiction to oil. Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."

- Bush-Ordered Wiretaps Illegal, Judge Says The Bush administration wiretapped a U.S.-based Islamic charity under an illegal surveillance program that was not authorized by Congress or the courts, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled today.

- Socialism? Not Quite, Say the Socialists ...now, a bemused Myrtle Kastner [ of the Milwaukee Socialist Party] notes that her party appears to have taken complete charge of the U.S. government - or so House Minority Leader John Boehner, various and sundry sulking Republican politicians, and their amen corner in the media (led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity) would have us believe.

- Obama's No Socialist. I Should Know. The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not [a Socialist]. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat -- one of a generation of [conservative] politicians firmly committed to [the conservative concept of] free-market policies.


Out-Republicaning the Republicans
Obama Revives Clinton's Disastrous Triangulation Strategy
Published on Thursday, April 1, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
by Ted Rall

"It was Bill Clinton who recognized that the categories of conservative and liberal played to Republican advantage and were inadequate to address our problems," President Obama wrote in his book The Audacity of Hope. "Clinton's third way...tapped into the pragmatic, non-ideological attitude of Americans."  

Clinton's "third way" was "triangulation," a term and strategy invented by his pollster Dick Morris. Triangulation is a candidate's attempt to position himself above and between the left and the right. A Democrat, Clinton insulated himself from Republican attacks by appropriating many of their ideas.  

Obama is even more of a triangulator than Clinton. 

Triangulation can work for candidates in the short term. Clinton got reelected by a landslide in 1996. (It failed, though, for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.) But triangulation hurts parties, which sell an ideological point of view. Clinton worked so hard to out-Republican the Republicans that he forgot he was a Democrat­. He also forgot that Democratic voters expected to see liberal policies.

Clinton's greatest achievements ended up being Republican platform planks: free trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, welfare reform, balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor and working class.

By the way, Dick Morris is now a Republican. Maybe he always was.

Because of Clintonian triangulation, the liberal base of the Democratic Party saw the 1990s as a squandered opportunity: eight years of unprecedented economic expansion with not one new social program, not even national healthcare, to show for it. They got the message: voting Democratic doesn't guarantee Democratic policies. Unenthused, liberals stayed home or voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Liberal disgust for triangulation (they called it "selling out") sufficiently reduced Al Gore's margin of victory to allow George W. Bush to steal Florida and the national election. It took the Democrats six years to begin to recover.

Obama ran as a centrist. It would come as little surprise if he were governing as one.

But he's not a moderate president.

Obama is a Republican.

A right-wing Republican. Thanks to triangulation gone wild.

In his first year Obama chose to continue  numerous Bush Administration policies, many of which originated in the far extreme wing of the GOP. Each of the following asterisks represents a broken campaign promise:

    * Keeping the Guantánamo torture camp open*
    * Continuing the war against Iraq*
    * Expanding the war against Afghanistan
    * Renewing the USA Patriot Act*
    * No-string bank bailouts
    * Continuing "military commission" kangaroo trials*
    * Reserving the right to torture*
    * Continuing the NSA's "domestic surveillance" program of spying on innocent Americans' emails and phone calls*

It took over a year, but Obama can finally point to two legislative achievements: healthcare reform and reducing private banks' role in the issuance of student loans. The student loan bill, though a step in the right direction, is liberal but too modest. Student loans ought to be replaced by grants. Ultimately, universities and colleges will have to be nationalized.   

Obama's revamp of healthcare, on the other hand, goes too far, perverting the liberal desire to provide healthcare for all Americans into a transfer of wealth from poor to rich that the hard right never dreamed of.

Buying into the classic, flawed, American assumption that a bad system can't get worse (ask the Iraqis and Afghans), ObamaCare entrusts 30 million new customers, to the tune of roughly ten grand a year each, to the tender mercies of private insurance companies.

ObamaCare pours hundreds of billions of dollars, some from taxpayers, the rest from poor people, into the gaping coffers of giant corporations.  Once people find themselves paying even more for visits to the same crappy doctors and hospitals they can't afford now, they'll hold the Dems responsible at the polls. If Republicans stopped to think, they'd love it.

And if Democrats stopped to think, they'd hate it.

Most Americans, and almost all liberal Democrats, want socialized medicine. Like they have in the rest of the world. Failing that, they were willing to settle for single-payer. When Obama let it be known that Mr. Audacity was going to lead as anything but, they prayed for a "public option."

What they got: zero.

Actually, less than zero: We were better off before. Taxes will go up for the already insured. For those about to be forcibly insured, they'll have to pay more. And here's the kicker: not only will the insurance companies be making higher profits at our expense, so will the federal government.

The Congressional Budget Office, invariably described in pieces like this as "the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office," projects that the U.S. Treasury will come out ahead by $130 billion over 10 years.

Deficit negativity helped score votes among Democratic deficit hawks in Congress. But again, think about it: If the healthcare bill is making a profit for the U.S. government, where is that $130 billion coming from?

Correct: you and me. Our taxes will be higher than they should be, our health benefits will be less.

Obama, the media and many of us have forgotten what the problem was in the first place. Healthcare costs were too high. Thanks to this monster of a bill, they'll go even higher.

The government should not make a profit off sick people.

Even the Republicans wouldn't propose a tax this regressive.

Now Obama is echoing Sarah Palin, right-winger-turned-Tea-Partier. "Drill, baby, drill!" says the president, guaranteeing oil-soaked beaches decades after he has retired. It's a terrible policy for the environment, won't lower gas prices by one red penny, and will further turn off liberal Democrats.

Democrats will lose seats in Congress this fall. It may already be too late for Democrats to keep the White House in 2012. But if they continue to follow the Clinton-Obama triangulation strategy, they could destroy themselves for years to come. They might even expose the overall bankruptcy of our two-party pseudo-democracy. 

Sean

An Oscar for America's Hubris; Jesus and Dinosaurs; Obama Needs to Listen to Kucinich on War and Health Care; US Torture; Climate Change Ignored (03/10/10)

- British Ex-Spy Chief Accuses US of Hiding Torture A former head of Britain's domestic spy agency has accused the US of concealing its abuse of terror suspects, stepping up an MI5 fightback over accusations that it colluded in torture... "The Americans were very keen that people like us did not discover what they were doing," she said in a specially arranged lecture at Britain's upper house of parliament in London.

- Kucinich's Health Reform Dissents Merit Consideration Long before Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi began talking up health care reform as a top priority for the Democratic Party, Congress and America, Dennis Kucinich was doing so. Indeed, the former Cleveland mayor, Ohio legislator, two-time presidential candidate and now senior U.S. House members has across the past 35 years been one of the country's steadiest proponents of real reform of our broken health-care system.

So Kucinich's questioning of the reform legislation being advanced by President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi is neither casual nor uninformed.

The congressman from Ohio knows the intricacies of the health-care debate as well as any key player in Washington. And he objects to the compromises contained in the measure the president and the speaker are whipping House Democrats to support. "This bill doesn't change the fact that the insurance companies are going to keep [ripping off] consumers"

- US Creationists Unswayed by Evolution Exhibition Each year, a group of biology students at the Christian university based in Lynchburg, Virginia, travels to the Natural History Museum in Washington to learn about a theory they dismiss as incorrect -  evolution. 

- House Liberals Force Vote on Pullout From Afghanistan  Democratic leaders support bringing the measure to a vote to give antiwar lawmakers an opportunity to register their frustration with Obama's decision to increase troop levels by 30,000 before Congress approves the funding for the surge.

- EU Warns Climate Loopholes Could Lead to CO2 Rise Loopholes in the United Nations climate treaties could actually amount to an increase in global climate-warming emissions over the next decade, and must be closed, a draft European Union report shows.



An Oscar for America's Hubris
By Robert Scheer
Published March 10, 2010 in The Nation

What a shame that the one movie about the Iraq war that has a chance of being viewed by a large worldwide audience should be so disappointing. According to press reports, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found a movie about the Iraq war they liked because it is "apolitical." Actually, The Hurt Locker is just the opposite; it's an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons, no matter the consequence for others.

It is imperial hubris turned into an art form in which the Iraqi people appear as numbed bystanders when they are not deranged extras. It is a perverse tribute to the film's accuracy in portraying the insanity of the US invasion--while ignoring its root causes--that the Iraqis are at no point treated as though they are important.

They never have been, at least in the American view. No Iraqi had anything to do with attacking us on 9/11, and while we are happy to have an excuse to grab their oil and deploy our bloated military arsenal, the people of Iraq are never more than an afterthought.
Whatever motivates Iraqi characters in the movie to throw stones or blow themselves up is unimportant, for they are nothing more than props for a uniquely American-centered show. It is we who matter and they who are graced by our presence, no matter how screwed up we may be.

Indeed, the only recognition of the humanity of the people being conquered comes in a brief glimpse of a young boy, a porn video seller, the one Iraqi whose existence touches the concern of the film's reckless soldier hero. The American cares deeply about the quality of the sex videos he purchases, but, as it transpires, he is indifferent to the quality of his own family's life back home. Even that depressingly sad commentary on life in America is mitigated by the fact that it produces even more dedicated warriors. Maybe a deeply unsatisfying home life is a necessary prerequisite for being all you can be in the Army.

Yes, it is true, as Chris Hedges is quoted in the beginning of The Hurt Locker: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." That's from his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and the most positive thing to come out of this film might be that some people will be encouraged to read his brilliant book. But the film itself is otherwise an enlightened Rambo story: war is hellish but entertaining, and real men are those who will rise to the task, no matter if its larger aim is absurd.

But the real addiction to war is not that of hapless soldiers, those troops that the filmmakers insisted on applauding as they clutched their Oscar statuettes. Rather, that addiction lies in the lust for power and profit among those who sent the soldiers to Iraq to kill and be killed in a war known to our leaders to have been undertaken for false purposes. Invading Iraq became the obsession of the Bush administration after 9/11, as opposed to dealing with Afghanistan, where, as then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it, there were no good targets. The Taliban hardly provided as worthy an adversary as Saddam Hussein in our quest to replace the Soviet empire as a reason for our massive military expenditures.
And there was the wan hope that the oil in Iraq would pay for it all. That oil hasn't paid for any of it, but while US taxpayers get stuck with the bill, the multinational corporations swarming over the place will do very well.

Bringing up such crass motives presents an inconvenient truth for those who believe that American foreign policy is driven by higher goals. For them I would point to the example of Clinton-era Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who became a cheerleader for George W. Bush's war. His hawkishness was supposedly based on concern for Iraq's Kurdish population, even though that group was living outside of Saddam Hussein's area of control.
After the US invasion Galbraith was an active adviser on the writing of Iraq's constitution and lobbied to include language that gave the Kurds control over the oil in their region. Galbraith was at the time advising a Norwegian company that secured oil rights from those same Kurds, and he, in turn, received 5 percent of one of the most promising oil fields, worth an estimated $100 million.

Don't you think at least one of the soldiers in The Hurt Locker would have known that kind of stuff was going on? If so, it's disrespectful to our troops to have censored such innate GI wisdom.

Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve) and Playing President (Akashic Books). He is author, with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Akashic Books and Seven Stories Press.) His weekly column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle. more...

Sean

US Military Lies about War; Racism Alive and Well in the USA; Humans Driving Extinction; Renewable Energy Possible Despite Oil Industry Lies; more (posted 03/08/10)

- Humans Driving Extinction Faster Than Species Can Evolve For the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared, humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve... Conservation experts have already signalled that the world is in the grip of the "sixth great extinction" of species, driven by the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, the spread of alien predators and disease, and climate change.

- Study Proves Renewable Electricity a Reality, Despite Lies from Coal/Oil Industries ...a groundbreaking study out of North Carolina challenges that conventional "wisdom" [peddled by Republicans and their sponsors in the fossil fuel industries]: "Even though the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, careful management, readily available storage and other renewable sources can produce nearly all the electricity North Carolinians consume..."

- In the Shadow of Power by Ralph Nader Our just published In the Shadow of Power is a penetrating collection of 92 black and white photographs about life in Washington, DC, by Venezuelan photographer Kike Arnal  ... There are truly many tales of two cities in Washington, DC. There are the two cities of wealth and poverty ... While the city is experiencing widespread gentrification, it maintains its dubious status as having the highest rate of low-income children in the United States, the highest child poverty rate, and the highest AIDS mortality rate in the country. The capital's hospitals, medical schools and clinics have co-existed with the lowest life expectancy of any of the fifty states. Scores of countries have higher life expectancy levels than what prevails in the District of Columbia.

- President Obama: Replace Rahm Emanuel (Obama's Cheif of Staff) With Me ...an open letter from Michael Moore I don't know what your team has been up to, but they haven't served you well. And Rahm, poor Rahm, has turned into a fighter -- not of Republicans, but of the left. He called those of us who want universal health care "f***ing retarded." Look, I don't know if Rahm is the problem or if it's Gibbs or Axelrod or any of the other great people we owe a debt of thanks to for getting you elected. All I know is that whatever is fueling your White House it's now running on fumes.


- Oscar News from Michael Moore's Twitter page: "What Mo'nique meant by the "Academy recognizing the performance and not politics" is that she refused to do all the silly oscar campaigning they want u to do & won!" So she was NOT commenting on real politics, just show biz politics.

- Why Is Barack Obama Writing Republican Talking Points? If you want to know where conservatives in Congress get all their ridiculous talking points about how dysfunctional the federal government is, how incapable the public sector is when it comes to doing anything right and, above all, how worthless federal employees are, we've tracked down the source. It's not Rush Limbaugh. It's not Michael Steele. It's Barack Obama. The president, who was once an ardent advocate for repairing are broken health care system by developing a single-payer "Medicare for All" program, now rejects the wisdom he expressed before moving to Washington.

- The New Jim CrowHow the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste  President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising.  From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics.  The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action.  In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff: "[T]he whole problem is really the blacks.  The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."



Fiction of Marja as City Was US Information War
Published on Monday, March 8, 2010 by Inter Press Service
by Gareth Porter
 
WASHINGTON - For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centers in Helmand.

[During a medevac mission, a Black Hawk medical helicopter with the 82nd Airborne's Task Force Pegasus flies low and fast over Marjah to pick up a wounded U.S. Marine, as seen through the cockpit window of the security helicopter, or 'chase bird,' trailing behind, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Saturday March 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) ]During a medevac mission, a Black Hawk medical helicopter with the 82nd Airborne's Task Force Pegasus flies low and fast over Marjah to pick up a wounded U.S. Marine, as seen through the cockpit window of the security helicopter, or 'chase bird,' trailing behind, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Saturday March 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.

Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.
"It's not urban at all," an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to IPS Sunday. He called Marja a "rural community".

"It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.

Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marja as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marja has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an "agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets," Scott told IPS in a telephone interview.

The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands associated with Marja is spread across many villages and almost 200 square kilometers, or about 125 square miles.

Marja has never even been incorporated, according to the official, but there are now plans to formalize its status as an actual "district" of Helmand Province.

The official admitted that the confusion about Marja's population was facilitated by the fact that the name has been used both for the relatively large agricultural area and for a specific location where farmers have gathered for markets.

However, the name Marja "was most closely associated" with the more specific location, where there are also a mosque and a few shops.

That very limited area was the apparent objective of "Operation Moshtarak", to which 7,500 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops were committed amid the most intense publicity given any battle since the beginning of the war.

So how did the fiction that Marja is a city of 80,000 people get started?

The idea was passed on to the news media by the U.S. Marines in southern Helmand. The earliest references in news stories to Marja as a city with a large population have a common origin in a briefing given Feb. 2 by officials at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine base there.

The Associated Press published an article the same day quoting "Marine commanders" as saying that they expected 400 to 1,000 insurgents to be "holed up" in the "southern Afghan town of 80,000 people." That language evoked an image of house to house urban street fighting.

The same story said Marja was "the biggest town under Taliban control" and called it the "linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network". It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in "the town and surrounding villages". ABC news followed with a story the next day referring to the "city of Marja" and claiming that the city and the surrounding area "are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other places the Marines have so far been able to clear and hold."

The rest of the news media fell into line with that image of the bustling, urbanized Marja in subsequent stories, often using "town" and "city" interchangeably. Time magazine wrote about the "town of 80,000" Feb. 9, and the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11.

As "Operation Moshtarak" began, U.S. military spokesmen were portraying Marja as an urbanized population center. On Feb. 14, on the second day of the offensive, Marine spokesman Lt. Josh Diddams said the Marines were "in the majority of the city at this point."

He also used language that conjured images of urban fighting, referring to the insurgents holding some "neighborhoods".

A few days into the offensive, some reporters began to refer to a "region", but only created confusion rather than clearing the matter up. CNN managed to refer to Marja twice as a "region" and once as "the city" in the same Feb. 15 article, without any explanation for the apparent contradiction.

The Associated Press further confused the issue in a Feb. 21 story, referring to "three markets in town - which covers 80 square miles...."

A "town" with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S. cities as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But AP failed to notice that something was seriously wrong with that reference.

Long after other media had stopped characterizing Marja as a city, the New York Times was still referring to Marja as "a city of 80,000", in a Feb. 26 dispatch with a Marja dateline.

The decision to hype up Marja as the objective of "Operation Moshtarak" by planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck.

A central task of "information operations" in counterinsurgency wars is "establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative", according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.

That task is usually done by "higher headquarters" rather than in the field, as the manual notes.

The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions...conducted continuously using the news media."

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marja operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counterinsurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."
The false impression that Marja was a significant city was an essential part of that message.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

Sean