Saturday, April 9, 2011

04-09-11 Activist newsletter continued

5. CHINA, RUSSIA AND THE LIBYA VOTE
By the Activist Newsletter

Why didn't China or Russia simply reject the March 17 UN Security Council measure paving the way for the USNATO attacks on Libya? As permanent members of the council, a no vote would have automatically defeated the proposal. Instead they abstained along with three nonpermanent members, and it passed 10-0 with 5 abstentions. And what is the meaning of the public spat between Russia's two top leaders over the vote?

About abstaining: For one thing, China and Russia were asked by the 22-member Arab League to abstain rather than defeating the resolution. This carried considerable weight with both of them since they are diplomatically sensitive to the desires of global south nations and organizations, though they were hardly unaware that the Arab League represented a constituency that was largely under America's thumb.

Beijing usually opposes western military intervention when it violates the national sovereignty of weaker nations, such as in Libya's case. But China's leaders evidently decided that national interests would be seriously undermined vetoing a measure of such great importance to the White House. (See part 3, The U.S.-NATO War Against Libya.). There may be a quid pro quo of in the offing.

We wonder how China's late Premier Zhou Enlai would have responded to the U.S. attack on Libya. We suspect he'd say: "It is unwise for the world's most powerful empire to wage a war a against a country of six million people inhabiting an African desert in order to display its  dubious democratic intentions. This act will weaken America's stature and ultimately  hasten  the demise of U.S. global imperialism. Let them do it."  Old Zhou is gone, but there still may be some tending his grave.

A political  brouhaha surfaced in Moscow soon after USNATO began blowing Libya apart. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Russia's once and presumably future president) told workers at a missile factory in the Urals March 21 that Resolution 1973 "is deficient and flawed; it allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade. It effectively allows intervention in a sovereign state."

After referring to the Clinton Administration's illegal and unjust bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999, Putin declared: "Now it's Libya's turn — under the pretext of protecting civilians. Where is the logic and conscience? There is neither. The ongoing events in Libya confirm that Russia is right to strengthen her defense capabilities."

President Dmitry Medvedev — Putin's one-time chief of staff who owes his presidency to the former president's backing — could have elected to publicly ignore these remarks, but he responded quickly, without mentioning Putin's name:

''At the moment various words are being used to describe the events taking place. I think we need to be very careful in our choice of wordings. It is inadmissible to say anything that could lead to a clash of civilizations, talk of 'crusades' and so on. This is unacceptable. Otherwise we could see a situation far worse even than what is happening today. We must all keep this in mind.''

An open disagreement of this volatile nature indicates sharp differences in the top leadership about Russia's role in foreign affairs in general and with the U.S. in particular, including the so-called reset in Moscow-Washington relations. Russia finds itself today — two decades after the traumatic political implosion that destroyed the Soviet Union — an influential and commanding regional power, but not nearly the global power of the Cold War period.

It seems to us that the Medvedev portion of the ruling foreign policy elite is content to exercise that regional power and safeguard its "privileged interests" — such as keeping NATO away from its borders and strategic buffer states — but to play a lesser role in international affairs, particularly avoiding more clashes with the U.S., especially when it is in imperial battle mode.

It further seems that the Putin sector of the ruling elite, while accepting Russia's status as a powerful but principally regional player, believes it must take a firmer critical stance when western imperialism begins to run riot as outrageously as the Obama Administration has been doing with America's first modern war against an African country.

Putin may think it is worthwhile in the long run to publicly oppose the U.S. and its NATO allies over this and similar issues, while Medvedev may think that Russian interests as a regional power will be far better served by speaking softly, privately, or not at all since the western military juggernaut does not take kindly to regional powers that thwart its global ambitions.

It's almost refreshing to see the two Russian leaders post their differences in public. It certainly challenges the notion that Medvedev is simply Putin's yes man.

J.A.S.

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6. CLIMATE CHANGE OR SYSTEM CHANGE?
By the Activist Newsletter

It is time for the United States government to launch a crash program to swiftly replace the use of climate-changing fossil fuels for energy with solar, wind and other renewable clean energy sources.

The U.S. insists it be recognized and followed as the "world leader"  — but its energy policies are leading the world toward an ecological catastrophe. America has dumped more toxic substances into the atmosphere in the last 150 years than any other country by far — and it must act now.

The Republicans and big business are major roadblocks to any progress. But President Obama is going in the wrong direction, and while a  section of the Democratic Party appears committed to a genuine reduction in fossil fuel consumption, the party as a whole is passive and isn't fighting. True leadership from the White House and Congress must find ways to circumnavigate or break through these obstructions. We do not have such leadership today.

The Obama Administration has offered little more than vague hints about a future free of fossil fuels, which are mainly responsible for the greenhouse gases that promote devastating climate changes that have already begun.

As climate change continues, President Obama has put forward plans to drill for more oil, for extracting much more natural gas, digging more "clean" coal, and constructing far more nuclear power plants. Wind, solar and other nontoxic renewable energy sources are mentioned virtually in passing.

On March 30, President Obama announced a new energy policy calling for a one-third reduction in the importation of oil, but that doesn't mean a cut in U.S. oil consumption. The Washington Post reported March 31 that he "urged oil companies to make greater use of the federal leases both onshore and offshore to prop up domestic oil output." A year ago Obama reversed the ban on drilling for oil in the waters along the southern Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and part of Alaska — in contradiction to his expressed opposition to more fossil fuels during his election campaign. Soon after the announcement the BP oil spill took place close to the Gulf Coast. Within the last week the U.S. has allowed drilling to resume in several locations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Not long after the White House announced that natural gas was a designated safe "bridge" energy source — while theoretically weaning the U.S. away from the use of even dirtier fossil fuels such as oil — hydraulic fracturing (fracking), an important means of increasing the extraction of such gas, was shown to be extremely dangerous.

Despite arguments from many scientists and virtually the entire environmental movement in the U.S. that "clean" coal technology isn't "clean" at all,  the Obama Administration still insists that "clean" coal is also a safe "bridge" fuel for eliminating regular coal until all fossil fuels can be replaced. Meanwhile regular coal extraction continues to increase despite disasters such as the recent West Virginia mine explosion and environmental devastation caused by mountain top removal extraction.

Last year, Obama declared his administration supported the construction of a "new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants as a gradual replacement for fossil fuels, but now the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have underscored the folly of such a move. At the same time — since the government has been unable to provide safe storage facilities for 72,000 tons of radioactive spent nuclear fuel — most of the deadly wastes are stored in the nuclear plants themselves, thus creating a great hazard in addition to the already existing hazards in the power plants."

Commenting a few days ago on the latest White House support for oil and nuclear energy, Greenpeace USA declared: "For the millions of Americans put at risk by the inherent dangers of nuclear power, or those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the Gulf oil disaster, more of the same is hardly the path toward energy security."

At this point the U.S. is doing virtually nothing to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and because it has the world's largest economy, largest military and exercises hegemony over most of the world, the international effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuel has been slowed to a crawl. On the positive side, China announced March 8 it will take measures to cut carbon intensity 40%-45% by 2020. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed.

One of Washington's major arguments for inaction is that the U.S. does not have the money for a serious crash program to replace fossil with renewable, which would cost trillions. America, however, is the richest country in the world and it is spending trillions on unnecessary wars while reducing the taxes of the richest top 5% of the population.

The top 2% of the American people alone benefited by a trillion dollars over the last 10 years from the Bush millionaire tax cuts. The perhaps $4 trillion it may cost to pay for converting every household and business in the U.S. to wind and solar energy is probably the same amount the Iraq war will cost after decades of interest payments and prolonged postwar medical expenses for tens of thousands of physically and psychologically maimed  veterans.

We need a government that will end the wars, sharply reduce the "defense" budget, increase taxes on the rich and the corporations and stock dividends, create green and infrastructure jobs to put the jobless back to work, and use the White House as a bully pulpit to break through the political roadblock — on climate change and many other things that our people need.

The only way this can be done is if the American people fight for it in a big way, not just trifling around the edges of change. We do not need empty slogans about "change we can believe in." We do need a concrete change of political direction, a systemic  change away from governments dedicated to the interests of wealth, power, militarism, and hegemony, and toward the interests of the working people of America, and of peace and equality. What we need is system change, not climate change!

J.A.S.

Editor's Note: The New York Times has published a series of important articles exposing the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in pursuit of natural gas in shale. For those living in the vicinity where such techniques are used — or about to be used, as in upstate New York — these articles are essential reading, particularly for those involved in the anti-fracking campaign.  The series is called "Drilling Down," and is available at:

#1: Feb. 27, 2011
Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?ref=us
#2: March 1, 2011
Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/us/02gas.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=ian%20urbina&s
t=cse
#3: March 3, 2011
Pressure Limits Efforts to Police Drilling for Gas
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/04gas.html?ref=drillingdown
#4: March 8, 2011
E.P.A. Steps Up Scrutiny of Pollution in Pennsylvania Rivers
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/science/earth/08water.html?ref=drillingdown

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7. AMERICA'S MOST DANGEROUS NUCLEAR PLANT?
By the Activist Newsletter

Where in the United States is the nuclear power plant most likely to experience an earthquake disaster similar to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station? Hint: Over 20 million people live within its 50-mile radius.

New estimates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identify Indian Point nuclear reactor number 3 in the Lower Hudson Valley, 24 miles north of the New York City line — and 35 miles from midtown Manhattan — as having the highest risk in the U.S. of core damage from an earthquake. The reactor is part of the Indian Point Energy Center in the Westchester county village of Buchanan, N.Y., along the Hudson River. Supporters of the nuclear power facility called the report inaccurate.

This information, along with the misfortune in Japan, is reinvigorating the New York struggle to close down Indian Point and the national movement against nuclear power. Simultaneously, the latest opinion polls show the American people seem to be turning against nuclear power and demanding greater safeguards.

According to journalist Bill Dedman writing for MSNBC March 17: "The chance of an earthquake causing core damage at Indian Point 3 is estimated at 1 in 10,000. Under NRC guidelines, that's on the verge of requiring 'immediate concern regarding adequate protection' of the public. The two reactors at Indian Point generate up to one-third of the electricity for New York City. The second reactor, Indian Point 2, doesn't rate as risky, with 1 chance in 30,303." (Reactor 1 was permanently closed years ago.)

Entergy Nuclear, which owns Indian Point, argues that the facility is able to survive a magnitude 6 earthquake, and that the largest known quake in New York State took place 127 years ago registering 5.25.

But Indian Point is situated virtually at the intersection of two fault lines. One is the Ramapo Fault System that runs through portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey into Southeastern New York State. The other — newly revealed in a 2008 report by scientists at  Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Observatory — is called the Stamford-Peekskill Fault and extends from the southwest tip of Connecticut to connect with the Ramapo fault. The intersection is about one mile from Indian Point.

The Lamont-Doherty report argued that a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake was destined to originate from the Ramapo Fault Zone, and that it was in fact overdue.

Seismologist Leonardo Seeber, co-author of the Lamont-Doherty study, told the Associated Press that "Instead of having a single major fault or a few major faults, we tend to have a lot of very minor and sort of subtle faults. It's a family of faults, and that can contribute to the severity of an earthquake." Professor Lynn Sykes, lead author of the study, told the news agency "the new finding means the danger of a big quake near the nuclear plants is greater that had been thought."

The New York environmental organization Riverkeeper has been demanding the closure of Indian Point for almost 10 years. It is one of many groups that have been agitating against the Buchanan facility. Riverkeeper  says the plant must be shut down "until it can be proved that it could withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake." The group reiterated its call after the Japanese catastrophe and on March 21 submitted several questions to the NRC, including:

• Given Indian Point’s age and numerous serious operational problems, including an unusual number of unplanned shut-downs; two major transformer fires; leaks from corroded pipes and refueling areas; and overloaded and leaking spent fuel pools, isn’t the plant’s ability to withstand an earthquake or other disaster further compromised? Will the NRC consider both the plant’s design and its present condition in assessing the risk of a catastrophic accident due to earthquake?

• What are the specifics behind NRC’s promise to investigate Indian Point’s safety and emergency preparedness in the event of a natural disaster, accident, or attack?

• In the wake of NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko’s directive for all Americans within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant to evacuate the area, will NRC evaluate the feasibility of evacuating the 20 million Americans who live within 50 miles of Indian Point? If it cannot be proved that such an evacuation can be done under a range of reasonable scenarios for possible prevailing conditions at the time of emergency, shouldn’t Indian Point be closed immediately to protect public health and safety?

[See article directly below for report on the Union of Concerned Scientists' criticism of the NRC and nuclear plants including Indian Point.]

The NRC report states that all existing "nuclear power plants are safe" and can withstand the strongest earthquake anticipated at that site. The report, however, notes that safety odds have now been reduced for some plants, including Indian Point. And of course, what is "anticipated" is not always what happens.

Dedman reports that "In the 35 years since Indian Point 3 got its license to operate in 1976, the same era when most of today's U.S. nuclear reactors were built, geologists have learned a lot about the dangers of earthquakes in the eastern and central U.S."

Last August, based on the most recent U.S. Geological Survey maps and updated information about earthquakes, power plant design specifications and the ground conditions upon which they are situated, the NRC revised its estimates of the earthquake risk at nuclear power reactors in the eastern and central states. Indian Point's previous estimate of a 1 in 17,241 chance of serious risk was changed to 1 in 10,000, the most precarious of all odds in the U.S.

Throughout the years, popular campaigns to close down the Westchester nuclear facilities have met an iron curtain of resistance from the federal government, NRC, the nuclear industry, big business in general and some key state politicians. More recently, the Obama Administration has emphasized the importance of building more nuclear power plans in the U.S., even though there is still no safe method of disposing of nuclear waste.

Commenting on the Japanese disaster in a TV address March 17,  President Obama said "I’ve asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan." At the same time he stressed — as he has repeatedly done since the Japanese calamity — the need for nuclear energy in the U.S., claiming that "our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study, and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies."

Compare Obama's assurances with this information from the New York Times March 13: "Most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances."

However, the tide of support for nuclear power seems to be weakening. New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the shutdown of Indian Point during his campaign last year. He said it should not be relicensed when it's up for renewal in 2013 and 2015. Last week he ordered a complete safety review of the Buchanan complex. At the same time state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing the NRC for allowing Indian Point and other plants to be used as storage sites for radioactive waste.

And now, with its new rating as Number One Risk, combined with the tragedy in Japan, the chances of taking Indian Point permanently off line have improved and the campaign against nuclear energy is speeding up. The task requires continuing and increasing public pressure to close dangerous nuclear facilities for good — including from the broad environmental movement, some sectors of which look favorably upon nuclear energy as a substitute for fossil fuels.

A new poll released March 22 by the Civil Society Institute shows that a majority of Americans "would freeze new nuclear power construction, stop additional federal loan guarantees for reactors, shift away from nuclear power to wind and solar power, and eliminate the indemnification of the nuclear power industry from most post-disaster clean up costs."

According to the Hudson River Clearwater organisation, which calls for Indian Point to be decommissioned: "We sincerely hope the world will learn from this unthinkable disaster [in Japan]. As the aftermath of the massive quake continues to unfold, the debate about nuclear power has been reignited in America and around the world. We must never again allow nuclear power plants to be built on or near seismic fault lines, in earthquake zones, or in tsunami or hurricane-prone areas, anywhere on the globe."

It's hazardous enough that Tokyo is just 170 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. But it is utter madness that New York City is just 25 miles from the Buchanan Indian Point Energy Center.

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8. NUCLEAR PLANT SAFETY
By the Activist Newsletter

The failure of a Japanese nuclear energy facility due to the one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami this month raises questions about the safety of America's 104 nuclear plants, especially since the Obama Administration is touting nuclear energy as a substitute for fossil fuels that cause global warming.

Many of the serious safety or security lapses at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2010 happened because plant owners — and often the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is charged with safeguarding the public — failed to address known safety problems, according to a report released March 17 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Following is an excerpt from the USC report, entitled "The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010: A Brighter Spotlight Needed."

....In 2010, the NRC reported on 14 special inspections it launched in response to troubling events, safety equipment problems, and security shortcomings at nuclear power plants.... Many of these significant events occurred because reactor owners, and often the NRC, tolerated known safety problems....

At Indian Point [in New York State's Lower Hudson Valley], for example, the NRC discovered that the liner of a refueling cavity at Unit 2 has been leaking since at least 1993. By allowing this reactor to continue operating with equipment that cannot perform its only safety function, the NRC is putting people living around Indian Point at elevated and undue risk.

The NRC audits only about 5% of activities at nuclear plants each year. Because its spotlight is more like a strobe light — providing brief, narrow glimpses into plant conditions — the NRC must focus on the most important problem areas. Lessons from the 14 near-misses reveal how the NRC should apply its limited resources to reap the greatest returns to public safety....

Overall, our analysis of NRC oversight of safety-related events and practices at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2010 suggests these conclusions:

• Nuclear power plants continue to experience problems with safety-related equipment and worker errors that increase the risk of damage to the reactor core — and thus harm to employees and the public.

• Recognized but misdiagnosed or unresolved safety problems often cause significant events at nuclear power plants, or increase their severity.

• When onsite NRC inspectors discover a broken device, an erroneous test result, or a maintenance activity that does not reflect procedure, they too often focus just on that problem. Every such finding should trigger an evaluation of why an owner failed to fix a problem before NRC inspectors found it.

• The NRC can better serve the U.S. public and plant owners by emulating the persistence shown by onsite inspectors who made good catches while eliminating the indefensible lapses that led to negative outcomes.

• Four of the 14 special inspections occurred at three plants owned by Progress Energy. While the company may simply have had an unlucky year, corporate-wide approaches to safety may have contributed to this poor performance. When conditions trigger special inspections at more than one plant with the same owner, the NRC should formally evaluate whether corporate policies and practices contributed to the shortcomings....

While none of the safety problems in 2010 caused harm to plant employees or the public, their frequency — more than one per month — is high for a mature industry. The severe accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 occurred when a handful of known problems — aggravated by a few worker miscues — transformed fairly routine events into catastrophes. That plant owners could have avoided nearly all 14 near-misses in 2010 had they corrected known deficiencies in a timely manner suggests that our luck at nuclear roulette may someday run out.

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9. NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE
By Ralph Nader

The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States — many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the West Coast exposed to potential tsunamis.

Nuclear power plants boil water to produce steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power’s overly complex fuel cycle begins with uranium mines and ends with deadly radioactive wastes for which there still are no permanent storage facilities to contain them for tens of thousands of years.

Atomic power plants generate 20% of the nation’s electricity. Over 40 years ago, the industry’s promoter and regulator, the Atomic Energy Commission, estimated that a full nuclear meltdown could contaminate an area “the size of Pennsylvania” and cause massive casualties. You, the taxpayers, have heavily subsidized nuclear power research, development, and promotion from day one with tens of billions of dollars.

Because of many costs, perils, close calls at various reactors, and the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, there has not been a nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1974.

Now the industry is coming back “on your back” claiming it will help reduce global warming from fossil fuel emitted greenhouse gases. Pushed aggressively by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, who refuses to meet with longtime nuclear industry critics, here is what “on your back” means:

1. Wall Street will not finance new nuclear plants without a 100% taxpayer loan guarantee. Too risky. That’s a lot of guarantee given that new nukes cost $12 billion each, assuming no mishaps. Obama and the Congress are OK with that arrangement.

2. Nuclear power is uninsurable in the private insurance market — too risky. Under the Price-Anderson Act, taxpayers pay the greatest cost of a meltdown’s devastation.

3. Nuclear power plants and transports of radioactive wastes are a national security nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security. Imagine the target that thousands of vulnerable spent fuel rods present for sabotage.

4. Guess who pays for whatever final waste repositories are licensed? You the taxpayer and your descendants as far as your gene line persists. Huge decommissioning costs, at the end of a nuclear plant’s existence come from the ratepayers’ pockets.

5. Nuclear plant disasters present impossible evacuation burdens for those living anywhere near a plant, especially if time is short.

Imagine evacuating the long-troubled Indian Point plants 26 miles north of New York City. Workers in that region have a hard enough time evacuating their places of employment during 5 p.m. rush hour. That’s one reason Secretary of State Clinton (in her time as Senator of New York) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the shutdown of Indian Point.

6. Nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary. It can’t compete against energy conservation, including cogeneration [the production of electricity using waste heat, as in steam], windpower and ever more efficient, quicker, safer, renewable forms of providing electricity....

The people in northern Japan may lose their land, homes, relatives, and friends as a result of a dangerous technology designed simply to boil water. There are better ways to generate steam.

— Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. This article is excerpted from Nader.Org, March 18.

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10. AN INAPPROPRIATE TRUTH
By the Activist Newsletter

It is understandable that for diplomatic or political reasons the true thinking of some leading U.S. officials on matters of international affairs and national security is not always articulated in public.

It is doubtful, for instance, that Secretary of State Clinton or President Obama are likely to publicly express their real feelings about the uprisings in Middle Eastern countries that functioned as faithful satellites in the past.

But every now and then a Washington big wig accidentally or naively blurts out a government truth that's supposed to be kept quiet — as did Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee March 10.

He said China and Russia represented the biggest "mortal threat" to the United States — a statement that is certainly not the expressed public policy of the Obama Administration.  Clapper made the statement  in answer to a question by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Following Clapper's remark, according to Fox News:

"Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), broke in to say he was 'really kind of taken aback' by the answer. Levin said North Korea and Iran are the first nations that come to his mind, not Russia and China.

"Clapper clarified that North Korea and Iran are 'of great concern,' but questioned whether they pose a 'direct mortal threat' to the United States. The intelligence chief seemed to be focused on which countries have the capability, not necessarily the intent, to threaten the United States.

"Pressed by Manchin to narrow his list, Clapper picked China....

"Levin, apparently not satisfied by the exchange, again jumped in to press Clapper further. 'I'm just as surprised by your answer to that question. You're saying China has the intent to be our mortal adversary?' he said.

"Clapper said he was 'loathe' to pick one country,' but said Russia and China have the 'capability.' He said he could not get into 'gauging intent.'

"Levin, who seemed to be on the verge of laughing, said: 'By that measure, the U.S. represents the biggest threat' to China and Russia...."

It is not precisely known whether Clapper was stating his own personal view or that of the Obama Administration, which does not publicly take such a stand, although it may do so privately.

Questioned later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Clapper: "Obviously, Russia and China are two of the three largest nuclear powers in the world. Therefore, they have dangerous weapons and have the capacity. But he made clear that we do not view Russia and China as a threat," Carney said. The press secretary later added that the director's response was misinterpreted.

It was interesting that Clapper picked China over Russia as the main threat, even though Russia is a nuclear power nearly equal to the U.S. while China lags far behind in matters nuclear and military. "Mortal danger" thus means in economics and politics as well as, or in place of, military strength. And how, we wonder, would the world's military superpower react when confronted with such a mortal, thus existential, non-military danger?

Clapper was entirely correct in doubting that either Iran or North Korea represented a 'direct mortal threat' to the U.S. His comment was a refreshing riposte to the exaggerations about the intentions of both Pyongyang and Teheran — the favorite whipping boys of both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Unfortunately, he probably was correct — though hardly diplomatic — about Washington's true perception about which countries constitute the main danger to America's hegemonic "leadership" of the world. In our analysis of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review last year we wrote:

"It's fairly obvious from the QDR, though not acknowledged, that the Obama government believes China and Russia are the two possible 'nation-state aggressors' against which Washington must  prepare to 'defend' itself."

Both Beijing and Moscow are well aware that Washington has not completely emerged from its Cold War suspicion of them as potentially dangerous rivals of the Unites States that may in time come to blows. But it must have been disturbing to learn that an official of Clapper's high rank said so publicly, because if it was intentional it would represent a serious diplomatic breach, and possible American escalation of tensions.

In all probability Clapper misspoke, in the diplomatic sense of telling an inappropriate truth. He has made mistakes before, such as last month in another hearing when he described the Egyptian Islamic Muslim Brotherhood as being "largely secular." 

And as far as Levin's critique of Clapper is concerned, his witty remark, "By that measure, the U.S. represents the biggest threat to China and Russia," is close to the truth, though if queried he'd say, "just kidding."

J.A.S.

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11. LEONARD WEINGLASS 1933-2011
By Gloria La Riva
[Coordinator, National Committee to Free the Cuban Five]

Leonard Weinglass, preeminent civil rights attorney and fighter for justice whose defense history includes the Chicago 8, Daniel Ellsberg, Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Cuban Five, died on March 23 of cancer.

Known as Len to all, the last picture taken of him was in hospital days before he died as he reviewed his latest appeals documents for Antonio Guerrero of the Cuban Five, for whom he was official appeals attorney. Weinglass was instrumental in the overall case of the Five, especially the latest appeal of Gerardo HernĂ¡ndez, who is serving an unjust double life sentence for defending Cuba — along with his four compatriots  — from U.S.-backed terrorism. Weinglass joined the Cuban Five's case in the appeals phase in 2002.

Born Aug. 27, 1933, in New York City, Weinglass earned his law degree from Yale University in 1958. After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a judge advocate, he entered civilian life as a lawyer in an era framed by the great African American Civil Rights movement and the struggle against the Vietnam war. Many of those activists would come to depend on Weinglass to win justice and freedom.

He earned a well-deserved reputation as a people's defense lawyer, the kind of attorney who does not separate his political and personal life from his legal career.

Wineglass's long history of defending political and death-row cases attests to those principles: radical activist Angela Davis in 1973; eight Vietnamese students who faced deportation in 1974 due to their political activities against the war; the Atmore-Holman Brothers in Alabama prison in 1977; Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers defendant in 1970; Juan Segarra Palmer, Puerto Rican independentista in the Hartford 15 case in 1989; and too many more to mention.

Weinglass was never without a political case, and many times, more than one.

His passion for justice brought him and another people's advocate, William Kunstler, into the national spotlight in the conspiracy trial of the Chicago Eight from 1969 to 1970.
Both attorneys became known for their courageous and forthright defense of the antiwar activists they represented against a brutal judge who cited both for contempt many times.

At 10 months, it was the longest trial of its time and was recognized as a Nixon government prosecution, with the arch-reactionary Judge Julius Hoffman as his legal henchman. The Eight faced lengthy prison sentences on "conspiracy" charges from the vicious police attack on a mass anti-war rally at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale was separated from the trial by Hoffman after being literally shackled and gagged in the courtroom, but progressives always referred to the case as the Eight.

Because of their constant defiance of Hoffman's brutality and outrageous rulings against the Eight, Weinglass and Kunstler were greatly respected in the antiwar movement. Years later, the title of an acclaimed documentary, "The Chicago 10," honored the two lawyers who stood side-by-side with the eight defendants.

In 2002, Weinglass joined the appeals team of the Cuban Five political prisoners. He brought to their case his decades of experience in previous political cases, which was of great tactical and strategic benefit to their struggle.

Because of the U.S. government's politically-motivated persecution of the Five, Weinglass firmly believed that — even as he worked night and day in their legal case — victory is not possible without political solidarity and public pressure.

Whenever the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five needed advice from him on the next steps to take, when we requested interviews so the Free the Five supporters could receive an orientation on the case, he always took the time, no matter how busy he was.

In addition to full-time legal work for the Five, Weinglass spoke for the Five at many peace protests, public forums, press conferences, at home and abroad. He had an outstanding ability to explain the complexities of the Five's case in a popular way, and to inspire others to take up their fight. He was especially loved and was very close to the Cuban Five, their families and the Cuban people.

In the month before he died, a special website was set up for family and friends to write him. Hundreds of solidarity messages poured in, from former political prisoners to colleagues in law to his family.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote: "You have been an inspiration to me since we first met in 1969. Your quiet, selfless, relentless, brilliant and heroic commitment to truth and justice — against all odds — has made a difference worldwide. Having been by your side here at home, in Chicago, Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and for the Cuban Five I can testify to your sole, selfless commitment to a world of peace and principle and good times along the way."

A huge void is left with Len's passing, but his inspiration and example will live on.

Leonard Weinglass, ¡Presente!

To find out more about the Cuban 5, visit http://www.freethefive.org/

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12. BIG CORPORATIONS AVOID TAXES

As working class and middle class American families fill out their income tax returns by April 15, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding U.S. taxes altogether, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). On March 27 he released a list of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.

Sanders, the only socialist in Congress, has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4% surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year.

Here are the 10 worst corporate tax avoiders:

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year, received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 paid only 1.1% of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

— From the website of Bernie Sanders and Chicago Sun-Times

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13. IRAN NOT CLOSE TO  NUCLEAR  'BREAKOUT'
By the Activist Newsletter

State Department nonproliferation adviser Robert Einhorn told a Washington conference March 9 that Iran was nowhere close to “breakout capability” for the production of a single nuclear weapon, though he believed Iran would like to reach that capability at some future point.

At the same time, Einhorn also conceded that he had no idea if Iran had even made any political decision related to producing a nuclear weapon and speculated that Tehran, which has repeatedly ruled out creating such weapons, is “undecided” and the leadership is “divided” on the scheme.

Einhorn added that the international sanctions against Iran are “taking a big toll” and chided Iran for allegedly being unwilling to negotiate seriously. The U.S. continues to demand Iran halt its civilian nuclear program, but the demand seems particularly odd couched in the terms Einhorn presented — of a government distant from acquiring nuclear weapons and at best “undecided” on the prospect.

The Obama Administration officially argues that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons. However, the latest information in the public domain is a summary of a U.S. National Intelligence Agency Estimate from 2007 that says Tehran apparently abandoned attempts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.

U.S. officials said last month that a newly drawn up National Intelligence Estimate, not yet publicly released, concludes Iran's leaders are split over whether to use their civilian nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. But they did not specify whether the new document revised the 2007 conclusion that Iran had stopped direct work on its arms program.

— Based on information supplied by the AP and Antiwar.com.

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14. AMERICA'S 20-YEAR WAR — AND COUNTING

{Following is Activist Newsletter editor Jack A. Smith's talk at the March 15 public meeting on the Arab Uprisings and America's Wars at the State University of New York in New Paltz, N.Y.]

Eight years ago this week, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and the war is still going on. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago — and the Obama Administration doubled the number of American troops and expanded the war to western Pakistan and Yemen.

The majority of Americans want to get out of Afghanistan, but the war wasn't even a small issue in the elections. Both ruling parties support the war and it wasn't allowed to become an issue, regardless of public opinion.

It is said that the war in Afghanistan is America's longest war. That may be true some day, but not yet. In fact, the Iraq war is the longest because it's really 20 years old, not eight.

The Iraq war actually began when the U.S. launched the Persian Gulf war in January 1991 to punish Iraqi President Saddam Hussain for invading Kuwait, a small, neighboring emirate run by a powerful oligarchy. Kuwait was part of Iraq's Basra province until it became a protectorate of British imperialism from 1899 to 1961 when it was granted independence. Iraq considered Kuwait part of its own territory and invaded in August 1990 to get it back.

The Gulf War lasted only 42 days, during which the U.S. Air Force conducted 110,000 bombing and strafing attacks. The bombers destroyed most of Iraq's civilian infrastructure — from water, electrical and gas lines, to housing, factories, schools, and hospitals. About 125,000 Iraqi troops and 100,000 civilians were killed. U.S. forces suffered 113 soldiers killed in action, plus 35 from "friendly fire."

But the war didn't end with Iraq's defeat. The U.S. and Britain enforced dreadful sanctions and a no-fly zone backed up with bombings for over a dozen years until sanctions ended with the Bush Administration invasion March 19, 2003. According to the UN over a million Iraqis died from 1991 to 2003 — half of them young children — from hunger, disease and exposure.

At least another million Iraqis died as a consequence of invasion from March 2003 to March 2011, and over four million are refugees in Iraq or nearby countries, out of a population of 25 million.

The Iraq war is illegal in international law, and unjust by the ethical theory of Just War. It was based on lies by the Bush Administration that the Iraq government was implicated in 9/11, and that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Legally and morally, George W. Bush and several members of his administration are war criminals who got away with the crime.

The Bush administration's true reasons for launching the war were based on one tactical consideration and two strategic objectives. Tactically, the Gulf war and sanctions reduced Iraq to penury. Its army was useless. It had no air force. It was a pushover — so Washington pushed.

Strategic Objective one was a quick victory in Iraq, establishing a government subordinate to Washington in Baghdad, denationalizing Iraq's world class oil reserves, and selling them cheaply to American companies after taking enough oil revenue to pay for the invasion.

Strategic Objective two was to extend U.S. hegemony over the only remaining oil-rich country in the Middle East not yet a satellite in American's orbit — Iran.

America's overwhelming might and quick victory in Iraq were intended  to frighten Iran into submission. If and when that failed, American ground troops — with Navy and Air Force support— could invade from neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

 A victory in Iraq and Iran would put the U.S. in charge of some of the largest oil reserves in the world.  It would solidify hegemony over the entire Middle East — the greatest of geopolitical trophies.

Being an imperialist pipe dream to begin with, the neoconservative war plan went up in smoke. A force of up to 25,000 Iraqi guerrillas with only small weapons and improvised explosives fought the occupation army to a stalemate. In the end, President Bush paid off the guerrillas and  tribal leaders, and promised to leave by the end of this year.

Even though two million Iraqis are dead, and 50,000 U.S. troops still occupy Iraq — and all may not leave by Dec. 31 — the war is receding from the consciousness of the American people. In a few years it may be as forgotten as the 14-year U.S. war to colonize the Philippines (1899-1913), which took a million Filipino lives.

So let's talk about Afghanistan before it too is forgotten by newer U.S. wars of choice to come. [A week after this talk Washington was bombing Libya.] With a population of nearly 30 million people, it is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, a society where the literacy rate is 28 percent.

Afghanistan has one of the lowest life expectancy rates — 44 years. It has one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world — 257 children die for every 1,000 live births.

The U.S. invasion in 2001 was the most recent of many foreign attacks in Afghan history. They have ousted every occupying army from that of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn to the British Empire and the USSR. Have no doubt: Ours is next.

The war is stalemated, despite President Obama's decision to double the number of American troops to 105,000, plus 40,000 more from NATO, and tens of thousands of "contractors" who perform military-type tasks. There may be as many as 25,000 full and part time armed guerrilla fighters, mainly from the Taliban but including other groups fighting occupation.

Washington claims its war is primarily against al-Qaeda, but acknowledges less than 50 of its members are in Afghanistan. Another 100, along with a portion of the Taliban, seek sanctuary in the mountainous western tribal areas of Pakistan. They are under frequent fire from the CIA's drone attacks, which probably have killed more civilians than combatants.

Gen. David Petraeus, leader of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, claims making substantial progress, but this is challenged by many independent sources, including Inter Press Service's Gareth Porter. He wrote Feb. 15 that "in 2010, the Taliban and their allies increased their total number of attacks to 34,000, compared with 22,000 in 2009, according to official data — a 54 percent rise."

Obama says he expects U.S. forces will leave in 2014, beginning with an insignificant withdrawal this summer. But two months ago Vice President Biden said U.S. battlefield "gains... are fragile and reversible.... If the Afghan people want it, we won't leave in 2014."

On March 7, the AP reported: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that both the U.S. and Afghan governments agree the American military should remain involved in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations to help train and advise Afghan forces." No total was given.

Gates claimed Washington "has no interest in setting up permanent military bases in Afghanistan." There is no evidence to support this statement. Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to build and improve large permanent military encampments.

I think the U.S. will seek permanent military and political involvement in Afghanistan, for itself and NATO. One of the unstated reasons President Bush attacked Afghanistan after 9/11 — instead of doing the smart thing by launching a major worldwide police effort to apprehend the leaders behind the tragic assault — was to insert the U.S. into strategic Central Asia.

Naturally Bush was also engaging in political showmanship by going after al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but there are other reasons too, including challenging Russia and China.

1. As a result of the Afghan adventure, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has now transformed its mission from the "defense of Europe" to an international military force backing up America's wars anywhere in the world.

2. U.S./NATO troops and air bases are now stationed on both sides of Iran — a reminder that Washington still seeks hegemony over the Persian Gulf's remaining independent state.

3. They are also on the western border of volatile Pakistan, close to India and — the big prize — minutes from the Chinese border by jet plane or missiles, depending on circumstances.

4. Just as important are the nearby "Stans" — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the former southern republics of the Soviet Union . The first four joined the Chinese and Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization a few months before Bush's Afghan invasion. The U.S. and NATO prevailed upon these nations to help in the delivery of military and other supplies to Afghanistan, and three of them ended up with air bases on their territories.

Washington has been courting these oil- and gas-rich Central Asian nations since extending its global reach to Afghanistan. It's been paying high prices for use of the bases and offering trade, "partnership" programs and other inducements to attract them into the U.S-NATO orbit, and to distance the Shanghai "Stans" from Moscow and Beijing.

One of Washington's major projects for Central Asia is to begin constructing what is known as the TAPI pipeline which will eventually bring gas and oil from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is likely a branch of the pipeline may end up in south Pakistan at a port on the Arabian Sea, where energy can be transported to Europe, reducing the need to import Russian natural gas. This is aimed at cementing Washington's position in the region and challenging  Russia and China.

The U.S. has a great deal at stake in Central Asia, but knows it will not break the Afghan resistance and doesn't want to spend another 10 years fighting an unwinnable war. That's why it's  reported the Obama Administration is conducting secret talks with the Taliban in hopes of making a deal.

Washington's plan is to spend multi-billions creating a massive puppet Afghan Army, while also shoring up the government of President Hamid Karzai — the leader of a corrupt regime the U.S. put into office but now finds impossible to remove. Karzai himself has been justly and publicly critical of America's conduct of the war, especially the repeated killing of civilians.

At some point, according to news reports, the Taliban and probably other resistance warlords will be offered political power in a number of provincial governments and representation in Karzai's national regime. A financial payoff is certainly possible. In return the Taliban and the others would promise not to fight U.S. troops and to allow an orderly withdrawal of most  of the Pentagon forces at an appropriate time. This could allow the U.S. to claim success.

The Taliban is on record insisting that all U.S. troops must depart, and that American bases must revert to Afghan control. It is doubtful the Obama Administration will agree because of its varied reasons for remaining Central Asia.

[On March 30 Gareth Porter reported from Washington: "The announcement by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy in Congressional testimony March 15 that the United States would continue to carry out 'counter-terrorism operations' from 'joint bases' in Afghanistan well beyond 2014 signaled that President Obama has given up the negotiating flexibility he would need to be able reach a peace agreement with the Taliban leadership."

[Evidently, the White House will use the next few years to coerce, bribe, and if "necessary" launch a massive escalation of the Af-Pak war to weaken the Taliban sufficiently to force the group to agree to Obama's terms about long-term  bases and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan. This likely means the war will last beyond 2014 and may greatly expand.]

A majority of the American people, according to opinion polls, still want the Afghan war to end now or quickly, and the people do have the power to bring that about, as they did during the Vietnam war.

A huge peace movement developed in the U.S. six months before the Iraq invasion. In January 2003 the ANSWER Coalition conducted a Washington rally that drew a half million people. The movement declined after the war began but still remained relatively strong until the day President Obama won in 2008, causing many Democrats to end peace activism. 

The only way to hasten the end of this endless, stalemated and unnecessary Bush-Obama war is to rebuild our educational and activist antiwar and left movements and take to the streets with marches, rallies and massive civil resistance to demand peace now — not in 2014, not in another 10 years. It's time to end the imperialist Bush-Obama war, and bring our troops home now.

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15. RISING SEAS TO FLOOD U.S. COASTS

TUCSON, Arizona — Rising sea levels in hundreds of cities along U.S. coastlines will lose about 10% of their land area by 2100, according to new research led by University of Arizona scientists. The research is the first analysis of vulnerability to sea level rise that includes every U.S. coastal city in the lower 48 with a population of 50,000 or more.

Cities along the Gulf of Mexico and southern Atlantic coasts such as Miami, New Orleans, Tampa and Virginia Beach will be particularly hard hit, the researchers discovered. New York's Long Island, Manhattan and the Lower Hudson Valley will be hit as well.

"Our work should help people plan with more certainty and to make decisions about what level of sea-level rise, and by implication, what level of global warming is acceptable to their communities and neighbors," said co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences and of atmospheric sciences and co-director of University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment.

In total, 20 U.S. municipalities with populations greater than 300,000 and 160 municipalities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000 have land area with elevations at or below six meters (19.6 feet) and connectivity to the sea.

Overpeck and his colleagues examined how much land area from the 180 municipalities could be affected by one to six meters of sea level rise.

The latest scientific projections indicate that by 2100, sea levels will rise about one meter (39 inches). At the current rate of global warming, sea levels are projected to continue rising after 2100 by as much as one meter per century.

"According to the most recent sea level rise science, that's where we're heading," said lead researcher Jeremy Weiss, a senior research specialist in the University of Arizona's Department of Geosciences. "Impacts from sea-level rise could be erosion, temporary flooding and permanent inundation."

"With the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the projections are that the global average temperature will be eight degrees Fahrenheit warmer than present by 2100," said Weiss.

"That amount of warming will likely lock us into at least four to six meters of sea-level rise in subsequent centuries," Weiss predicted, "because parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will slowly melt away like a block of ice on the sidewalk in the summertime."

At three meters (9.8 feet), on average more than 20% of land in those cities could be affected. Nine large cities, including Boston and New York, would have more than 10% of their current land area threatened. By six meters, about one-third of the land area in U.S. coastal cities could be affected, the researchers determined.

Some states are already preparing for rising sea levels. On December 31, 2010, the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force, created by the state legislature in 2007, presented its report.

"Sea level rise and coastal flooding from storm surge are already affecting and will increasingly affect New York's entire ocean and estuarine coastline from Montauk Point to the Battery and up the Hudson River to the federal dam at Troy," the Task Force stated.

More than 62% of New York's population lives in marine coastal counties, and these areas have tremendous economic value in terms of commerce and natural benefits such as habitat, water-quality improvement, flood control, and storm protection, the report says.

"The likelihood that powerful storms will hit New York State's coastline is very high, as is the associated threat to human life and coastal infrastructure. This vulnerability will increase in area and magnitude over time," the Task Force warned.

Sea level rise affecting the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, including New York City, is projected to be two to five inches by the 2020s and 12 to 23 inches by the end of this century, according to the Task Force. "However," its report warned, "rapid melt of land-based ice could double these projections in the next few decades, with a potential rise of up to 55 inches by the end of the century."

Public and private infrastructure dominates large sections of New York's coastline and the coastlines of many other coastal cities studied by Overpeck and Weiss.

This infrastructure includes power plants, sewage and drinking-water treatment plants and pump stations, landfills, waste transfer stations, major road and rail transportation networks, air and sea ports, and a host of industrial facilities.

Beneath the streets of New York City, and other coastal cities, elaborate systems of public utilities are vulnerable to increased flooding from the intrusion of surface water as well as from rising groundwater levels.

The New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force advises the legislature to begin "proactive adaptation planning" before sea level rise and related coastal hazards worsen current flooding problems that much of New York State's coastal infrastructure already faces and create new problems as well.

—This article is by Environmental News Service Feb. 16.

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16. THAWING PERMAFROST SPEEDS WARMING

WASHINGTON — Global warming could cause up to 60% of the world's permafrost to thaw by 2200 and release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that would further speed up climate change, a new study warned.

Using projections based on UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado estimated that if global warming continues even at a moderate pace, a third of the earth's permafrost will be gone by 2200.

If the planet warms at a faster pace, the world could see 59% of the permanently frozen underground layer of earth thaw out; as that happens, organic matter that has been trapped in the permafrost for tens of millennia will begin to decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

The NSIDC scientists then used a model to predict how much carbon the thawing permafrost would release and came up with the staggering figure of 190 gigatons by 2200.

"That's the equivalent of half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age. That's a lot of carbon," NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer, the lead author of the study, told AFP.

A gigaton is one billion tons, so 190 gigatons is the equivalent of around a billion tons of carbon entering the atmosphere each year between now and 2200.

Schaefer said carbon that would be released from melting permafrost has to be accounted for in global warming strategies.

"If we don't account for the release of carbon from permafrost, we'll overshoot the C02 concentration we are aiming for and will end up with a warmer climate than we want," he said.

But all was not doom and gloom, he said.

"If we start cutting emissions now, we will slow down the thaw rate and push the start of this carbon release off into the future," he said.

[Schaefer told the Inter Press Service: "The additional carbon from permafrost would increase the average temperatures in the Arctic by eight to 10 degrees Celsius, [one degree Celsius equals 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit], the study reported. Not only would this utterly transform the Arctic, it would also increase the planet's average temperature by about three degrees C [5.4 F]. And this increase would be on top of the three to six degrees C from continuing to burn fossil fuels over the next 100 years."]

In a study published in 2009, University of Florida ecology professor Ted Schuur used a different method to study the effect of thawing permafrost on atmospheric carbon and arrived at the same annual figure for carbon entering the atmosphere as Schaefer and his co-authors.

Some argue that the loss of permafrost would not present a significant threat to the planet, as plants would start to grow on the warmer earth and suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, thus blunting the problem.

But Schuur said in his study two years ago that protection from plant growth "doesn't last, because there is so much carbon in the permafrost that eventually the plants can't keep up."

Schaefer insisted that a major preventive effort, starting now, could stave off the worst-case scenario of rapidly melting permafrost releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and further accelerating global warming and permafrost melting.

— The NSIDC study was published in the meteorological journal "Tellus" in late February.
This article was written for Agence France Presse Feb. 17.

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17. EXTINCTION CRISIS — SAVE THESE SPECIES
By the Center for Biological Diversity

Already in the United States thousands of species — from elk and river otters to frogs and orchids — have been pushed toward extinction because the land and water they depend on has been polluted, paved over, or destroyed.

To save and recover these imperiled plants and animals, we have the strongest law in the world for protecting species: the Endangered Species Act. But it can only work if we use it. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has recently refused protections for more than 254 imperiled plants and animals in the United States that are critically close to extinction. Instead of taking action now, the administration put them on a waiting list, where they'll remain without protection for years or even decades.

We must take action today to tell the administration to do right by plants and animals that desperately need protection.

If we do nothing, species like these will go extinct in our lifetimes: the Pacific fisher, a fierce but imperiled carnivore that lives in fast-disappearing old-growth forests along the West Coast; Montana fluvial Arctic grayling, a near-extinct purple-silver fish; and the Black Warrior waterdog, a large, gilled salamander that's been waiting for protection since 1991.

We need to get them on the endangered species list immediately because that's the only way that killing them becomes illegal and the only way to save their habitat from logging, bulldozing and other forms of destruction. A petition to President Obama to save these species is at http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/o/2167/t/5243/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5181.

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18. ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES' TO MULTIPLY
By the Activist Newsletter

Many millions of "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington Feb. 21.

Environmental refugees, reports an article by AFP,  have been defined as "people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with the associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty.... In their desperation, these people feel they have no alternative but to seek sanctuary elsewhere, however hazardous the attempt."

According to University of California Professor Cristina Tirado at the AAAS meeting: "In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees.... When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate."

Several panel speakers discussed how climate change is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food.

Said Michigan State University professor Ewen Todd: "Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the Mediterranean region, but we're going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in.... In many Middle Eastern and North African countries you have a cocktail of politics, religion and other things, but often it's just poor people saying 'I've got to survive, I've got to eat, I've got to feed my family' that ignites things."

The panel cited ways in which climate change has impacted food security and safety, said AFP. Warmer winters allow pests that carry plant diseases to survive over the cold months and attack crops in the spring, soil physicist Ray Knighton of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Increased rainfall — another result of climate change — when coupled with more fungal pathogens can "dramatically impact crop yield and quality," said Knighton, adding that greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollutants have changed plant structures and reduced crops' defenses to pests and pathogens.

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19. REPORT: U.S. HATE GROUPS SURGE
By Black  Radio Network

MONTGOMERY, AL - The number of active hate groups in the United States topped 1,000 for the first time, and the antigovernment “patriot” movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued growth in 2010.

Several factors fueled the growth: resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.

The report is in the 73-page Spring 2011 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) quarterly investigative journal Intelligence Report. (Link below.)

“Far-right extremists remain highly energized, even as politicians across the country co-opt many of the radical ideas and issues that are important to them,” said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report. “This success in having their voices heard in the political arena, where they have long occupied the fringe of conservative thought, might eventually take the wind out of their sails, but so far we’re not seeing any sign of that.”

The SPLC documented 1,002 hate groups operating in 2010 – a 7.5% increase from the 932 groups active a year earlier and a 66% rise since 2000. It is the first time the number of hate groups has topped 1,000 since the SPLC began counting them in the 1980s.

But the most dramatic growth in the radical right came in the antigovernment “patriot” movement. These conspiracy-minded organizations, which see the federal government as their primary enemy, grew by 61% over the previous year. Their numbers increased to 824 groups in 2010, from 512 groups a year earlier. Previously, the only higher count of Patriot groups came in 1996, during the movement’s heyday, when the SPLC found 858 groups. Militias, the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement, grew from 127 groups to 330 – a 160% increase.

“Nativist extremist” groups – organizations that go beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected undocumented immigrants or their employers – saw their numbers increase by 3%, from 309 groups to 319.

Taken together, these three strands of the radical right – hate groups, nativist extremist groups and patriot organizations – increased from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010, a 22%  rise. That followed a 2008-09 increase of 40%.

Mainstream politicians have promoted many of the ideas and conspiracy theories important to these groups. Last April, for example, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070, the harshest state anti-immigrant law in the country, setting off a flood of proposals for similar laws. State legislators also have offered proposals that would roll back birthright citizenship, bar judges from considering Islamic law in state courtrooms, institute an alternative currency, and even allow a state to disregard federal laws and regulations....