Thursday, February 20, 2014

02-21-14 Activist Newsletter

1.   Editor’s Note:
2.   Quotes Of The Month: Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
3.   New Killer Weapon For U.S. Navy
4.   New York Limits Solitary Confinement
5.   A Day In The Life Of Palestinians
6.   U.S Fumes As Latin Nations Advance
7.   U.S. Versus Russia In Ukraine
8.   Distorting Russia, Putin, Sochi And Ukraine
9.  The U.S., Russia And Pussy Riot
10. Poll: U.S. Didn’t Achieve War Goals
11. Intl. Women’s Day Rally In Mid-Hudson
12. States Pass 52 Anti-Choice Laws In 2013
13. UN Criticizes Vatican Over Child Abuse
14. Your Internet Is In Real Danger
15. Anti-Drone Protesters Jailed
16. NSA’s Secret Role In Drone Assassinations
17. A Worker Reads History
18. Youth Plan Mass Keystone Xl Protest
19. North Carolina Protest Hits Right Wing
20. Books: Washington’s Gilded Age
21. Books: The Sixth Extinction
22. Tennessee Workers Reject Uaw
23. Polk Awards To Anti-Spying Journalists
24. Fracking & Pipelines Undermine New York

25. Fracking Depletes Water Supplies

Is the Obama Administration launching a new Cold War against Russia, or more probably simply invigorating the old one that never really ended against the USSR?  

Following Washington’s lead, the U.S. mass media is indulging in anti-Moscow excesses not seen since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.

Whether the media is criticizing Russia for supporting Iran and Syria; demonizing elected President
Putin as a virtual dictator and grossly exaggerating the size of his opposition; spreading false information about the Ukrainian crisis; inventing scare stories about the Olympics; and even propelling the punk rock group Pussy Riot to global fame because its members hate Putin — it sounds like the Cold War is returning.

The flames of continuing crisis in Ukraine are being vigorously fanned by the U.S., which has spent $5 billion in recent years to encourage popular opinion in the country to shift away from Russia and toward Europe. Washington has threatened sanctions against the Kiev government and sides completely with the anti-Russian protesters, in whose ranks reside a section of extreme rightists. In our view the U.S. is seeking regime change in Kiev and appears willing to support  a coup d'etat to eventually bring NATO to the Russian border.

Because there is much confusion about these issues, we have published three articles below that provide clarity. We hope you take the time to read them. The first is “U.S. Versus Russia In Ukraine” from Stratfor, the private intelligence group. Second is “Distorting Russia, Putin, Sochi,” originally published in The Nation by Stephen F. Cohen, one of the best objective U.S. reporters about the USSR and now Russia. Third is the “U.S., Russia and Pussy Riot” by Christian Caryl, from Foreign Policy.

2.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

Brecht was one of the great poets, playwrights and theater directors of the 20th century. He wrote over 50 plays. His best known plays in the U.S. are the “Three Penny Opera,” “Mother Courage and Her Children,” the “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” “Saint Joan of the Stockyards,” and “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.” 

A Marxist, he fled Germany in 1933 when the Nazis came to power and eventually arrived in the U.S. in 1941. He retuned to Europe in 1947 and two years later settled in East Berlin where he established and directed the famous Berliner Ensemble. Further down we have reprinted his poem, “A Worker Reads History,” article number 17.

·      “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

·      “When the leaders speak of peace the common folk know that the war is coming. When the leaders curse war the mobilization order is already written out.”

·      “On the wall in chalk it is written: They want war. He who wrote it has already fallen.”

·      “First comes a full stomach, then comes ethics.”

·      “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.”

·      “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”

       (Note: Brecht below speaks to those suffering from hunger, oppression and violence.)
·      “Everything or nothing. All of us or none. One alone his lot can’t better. Either gun or fetter. Everything or nothing. All of us or none.”


The Navy's new "revolutionary" laser.
By Andea Germanos, Common Dreams

The U.S. Navy is getting ready to roll out its Laser Weapon System this year — a technology the military has touted as "revolutionizing" modern warfare. The Navy's laser directs a beam of energy that can burn through a target or fry sensitive electronics.

A prototype of the weapon, which can target "asymmetrical threats" like drones, boat swarms, and much else is set to be mounted on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf later this year, the Associated Press reported Feb. 18.

"It fundamentally changes the way we fight," said Capt. Mike Ziv, program manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command. The military has praised the laser's cost-saving ability — a fraction of what it costs to fire a missile.

"We're taking the laser weapon system prototype to sea this year," reported Navy spokesman Chris Johnson as saying last month. "We are hoping to develop a system that we can produce and install aboard future warships."

"The future is here," stated Peter A. Morrision, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's Sold-State Laser Technology Maturation Program, as the Navy began demonstrations of the new technology last spring. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."

By Donna Lieberman
, NYCLU Executive Director

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York State Department of Corrections announced Feb. 19 an unprecedented agreement to reform the way solitary confinement is used in New York's prisons. Effective immediately, the state is removing children, pregnant women and the developmentally disabled from solitary confinement.

New York  rally against solitary confinement.
When the NYCLU first exposed the brutal, unsafe and ineffective use of solitary confinement in state
prisons in our 2012 report "Boxed In," we asked our members and the public to tell the governor and the Department of Corrections to adopt more humane and effective policies. Tens of thousands of you took action. And your voices helped make a difference.

The problem isn't fixed – isolation in prison has consistently been linked with mental anguish, risk of serious harm and higher rates of recidivism. But the state and governor have shown they care about safety and dignity, and have committed to working with the NYCLU and corrections experts on additional reforms.

The new agreement comes as a result of the NYCLU's class-action lawsuit, Peoples v. Fischer. Leroy Peoples was sentenced to 36 months in isolation for nonviolent behavior – he was accused of filing a false legal document. And it wasn't the first time he was sent to isolation. In 2005, he was sentenced to six months for unauthorized possession of multi-vitamins.

"Life in the box stripped me of my dignity, and made me feel like a chained dog," he said.

While in confinement, prisoners like Peoples are unable to access educational programming or even a radio. They live in a space the size of a parking spot with nothing to do but stare at the wall. Some day they'll return to their home communities, but how will their experiences in isolation have damaged them?

There is another way. There are alternatives to isolation that prioritize the safety of prisoners, prison workers and New York's communities.

It would be productive to thank Governor Cuomo and Department of Corrections Commissioner Annucci for doing the right thing, and urge them to make New York a national leader in the movement toward alternatives to solitary confinement.

Palestinian children attempt  to block jeep. Only a 15-year-old was arrested.
By the Activist Newsletter

The UN has named 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Here’s one reason why:

The Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) maintains a website of daily reports of actions taken against Palestinians by the Israeli army, police or civilian settlers. Here is the condensed account for Feb. 5. The website details contain authentication for each episode. You may check any day at After putting in the date you wish, press “Go” and the address of the report appears just below. Click it, and prepare to obtain an idea of what Palestinians experience, day after day in their homeland — the occupied West Bank and virtually imprisoned Gaza.

The toll for a typical day, Feb. 5, 2014:

·      Israeli Army opens fire on farmers in al-Shuja’iya
·      Israeli forces shoot their way onto Khan Yunis farmland and bulldoze crops
·      Night home invasions – Israeli Army uses explosives to break into home
·      Occupation settlers beat up and hospitalize Palestinian lorry driver
Child held for throwing a rock.
·      Zionist fanatics destroy 100 Palestinian olive trees
·      Israeli soldiers abduct two 17-year-old youths
·      Israeli Army destroys 2 Palestinian homes – injury
·      Israeli Army forces Palestinian man to destroy his own home
·      Israeli Army military exercises force 38 Palestinian families out of their homes
·      Night peace disruption and/or home invasions in 9 towns and villages
·      2 attacks – 25 raids including home invasions – 1 beaten – 2 injured
·      6 acts of agricultural/economic sabotage
·      18 taken prisoner – 10 detained – 105 restrictions of movement
·      Home invasions & occupations: 02:35-04:00, Rantis - 02:00, Kafr Jamal - 02:00, Huwara - 12:40, Jericho - 00:55-04:15, Jericho.
·      Peace disruption raids: 09:00, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound - 15:00, al-Isawiya - 05:00, Beit Hanina - 12:00, Jabal al-Mukabir - Sur Baher - al-Isawiya - 01:55, al-Bireh - morning, Ibziq - morning, al-Malah.


Leaders of 33 Latin American/Caribbean nations meet outside CELAC conference in Cuba.
By Jacqueline Villagomez, Liberation News, Feb. 4, 2014

The second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) took place in Havana, Cuba, January 28-29. The final declaration, identifying the region as a Zone of Peace, was read by Cuban President and outgoing CELAC chief Raul Castro.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, attended the conference and also had a 55-minute private meeting with hospitalized former President Fidel Castro. Among the international leaders at the summit was Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A main goal of CELEC is to become an alternative to the Organization of American States, which was set up in 1948 under the direction of the U.S. government to combat communist and popular struggles taking place in the region. In 1962, two years after the Cuban Revolution, Cuba  was excluded from the OAS.

Washington, which dominated the OAS for decades, accused CELEC nations of betraying “democratic principles” by supporting Cuba during this summit.

Some 33 regional heads of state attended the conference and condemned Washington's 54-year effort to strangle Cuba economically and to isolate and overthrow the revolutionary Havana government. In his speech, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua thanked and acknowledged the Cuban people and former President Fidel Castro for helping make the dream of CELAC possible and holding the Summit in socialist Cuba.

In the last decade, under the guidance of Cuba and Venezuela, the Latin American and Caribbean nations have been seeking deeper regional integration, purposely excluding the U.S. and Canada because as Bolivian President Evo Morales said, “Where there are U.S. military bases that do not respect democracy, where there is a political empire with its constraints, there is no development for that country, and especially there is no social peace.”
Raul Castro and UN's Ban Ki-moon.

CELAC has two main purposes:

• To increase regional trade, independence, economic, social, and cultural development and cooperation, and solidarity among its members to allow them to defend their economies and natural and human resources.

• To end U.S. and Canadian imperialist interference in the region, so that the Latin American and Caribbean nations become the legitimate representatives of their interests and affairs and assert their sovereignty and self-determination.

Understanding that there can not be peace without social justice and that social and economic development cannot be achieved without peace, the second CELAC Summit declared the region a “Zone of Peace” in order to eradicate war, the threat of force in the region and to peacefully resolve disputes between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The final conference statement declared “the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful co-existence among nations."
From the Activist Newsletter: Following is additional CELAC news from Venezuela Analysis:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, supporting Puerto Rican independence from Washington, said: “Venezuela has come to Havana with proposals to declare the region 'free of colonies' and to invite Puerto Rico to formally join the family.” There was no immediate response from Puerto Rico, which remains an unincorporated United States territory.

Maduro called on CELAC members to continue on the “path of unity, freedom and prosperity as Simon Bolivar dreamed.” Other left-wing leaders joined Maduro in calling for the Falklands/Malvinas to be handed over to Argentina. They also slammed the U.S. on issues ranging from espionage to the ongoing embargo on the host country, Cuba.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the summit: “The only way to resist and get rid of the [U.S.] empire of capitalism is [regional] integration. We have to make Latin America and the Caribbean a space of free men and women.”

Cuban President Raul Castro also called on the US to end its embargo of his country, and to close the military base at Guantanamo Bay.

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada submitted a request for membership of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). ALBA is a nine-nation anti-imperialist political and economic bloc first founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004.

At the summit, tributes were also paid to Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died in March last year. The summit opened with one minute of silence for Chavez, a key advocate of CELAC's creation.

President Castro said: “We deeply regret the physical absence of one of the great leaders of our America, the unforgettable Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent and tireless promoter and fighter for independence, cooperation, solidarity and integration, Latin American and Caribbean unity and the very creation of this community.” A museum dedicated to Chavez in the east of Havana was inaugurated during the conference.

This year's summit ended with Cuba passing the rotating CELAC presidency to Costa Rica.


Anti-government protester on streets of Kiev this week.
[Ever since the political implosion of the USSR in 1991 the U.S. has been seeking to pull former Soviet republics into its own orbit of economic, political and military satellites. Washington’s objective is to weaken Moscow strategically and strengthen its own global hegemony. Washington has already spent $5 billion to convince Ukrainians to agitate for closer relations with Europe at the expense of ties with Russia — a main factor leading to recent riots in Kiev and other cities. This article is from Stratfor, the private political intelligence firm.  One may differ with this or that, but it is a useful analysis.]

By George Friedman

The struggle for some of the most strategic territory in the world took an interesting twist. We recently discussed what appeared to be a significant shift in German national strategy in which Berlin seemed to declare a new doctrine of increased assertiveness in the world — a shift that followed intense German interest in Ukraine. Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in a now-famous cell phone conversation, declared her strong contempt for the European Union and its weakness and counseled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to proceed quickly and without the Europeans to piece together a specific opposition coalition before the Russians saw what was happening and took action. [From Activist Newsletter: She was recorded as commenting, “Fuck the E.U.]

This is a new twist not because it makes clear that the United States is not the only country intercepting phone calls, but because it puts U.S. policy in Ukraine in a new light and forces us to reconsider U.S. strategy toward Russia and Germany. Nuland's cell phone conversation is hardly definitive, but it is an additional indicator of American strategic thinking.

[From the Activist Newsletter: Who is Virginia Nuland? According to a recent article by well-known geopolitical analyst, author and columnist Immanuel Wallerstein, “she is a surviving member of the neocon clique that surrounded George W. Bush, in whose government she served. Her husband, Robert Kagan, is one of the best-known ideologues of the neocon group. It is an interesting question what she is doing in such a key position in the Department of State of an Obama presidency. The least he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were supposed to do was to remove the neocons from such a role.”]

U.S. foreign policy has evolved during the past few years. Previously, the United States was focused heavily on the Islamic world and, more important, tended to regard the use of force as an early option in the execution of U.S. policy rather than as a last resort. This was true not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Africa and elsewhere. The strategy was successful when its goal was to destroy an enemy military force. It proved far more difficult to use in occupying countries and shaping their internal and foreign policies. Military force has intrinsic limits.

The alternative has been a shift to a balance-of-power strategy in which the United States relies on the natural schisms that exist in every region to block the emergence of regional hegemons and contain unrest and groups that could threaten U.S. interests. The best example of the old policy is Libya, where the United States directly intervened with air power and special operations forces on the ground to unseat Muammar Gaddafi. Western efforts to replace him with a regime favorable to the United States and its allies have not succeeded. The new strategy can be seen in Syria, where rather than directly intervening Washington has stood back and allowed the warring factions to expend their energy on each other, preventing either side from diverting resources to activities that might challenge U.S. interests.

Ukrainian capital became a battlefield last week.
Behind this is a schism in U.S. foreign policy that has more to do with motivation than actual action. On one side, there are those who consciously support the Syria model for the United States as not necessarily the best moral option but the only practical option there is. On the other, there are those who argue on behalf of moral interventions, as we saw in Libya, and removing tyrants as an end in itself. Given the outcome in Libya, this faction is on the defensive, as it must explain how an intervention will actually improve the moral situation. Given that this faction also tended to oppose Iraq, it must show how an intervention will not degenerate into Iraqi-type warfare. That is hard to do, so for all the rhetoric, the United States is by default falling into a balance-of-power model.

Russia emerged as a problem for Washington after the Orange Revolution in 2004, when the United States, supporting anti-Russian factions in Ukraine, succeeded in crafting a relatively pro-Western, anti-Russian government. The Russians read this as U.S. intelligence operations designed to create an anti-Russian Ukraine that, as we have written, would directly challenge Russian strategic and economic interests. Moreover, Moscow saw the Orange Revolution (along with the Rose Revolution) as a dress rehearsal for something that could occur in Russia next. The Russian response was to use its own covert capabilities, in conjunction with economic pressure from natural gas cutoffs, to undermine Ukraine's government and to use its war with Georgia as a striking reminder of the resurrection of Russian military capabilities. These moves, plus disappointment with Western aid, allowed a more pro-Russian government to emerge in Kiev, reducing the Russians' fears and increasing their confidence. In time, Moscow became more effective and assertive in playing its cards right in the Middle East — giving rise to the current situations in Syria and Iran and elsewhere.

Washington had two options. One was to allow the balance of power to assert itself, in this case relying on the Europeans to contain the Russians. The other was to continue to follow the balance of power model but at a notch higher than pure passivity. As Nuland's call shows, U.S. confidence in Europe's will for and interest in blocking the Russians was low; hence a purely passive model would not work. The next step was the lowest possible level of involvement to contain the Russians and counter their moves in the Middle East. This meant a very limited and not too covert support for anti-Russian, pro-European demonstrators — the re-creation of a pro-Western, anti-Russian government in Ukraine. To a considerable degree, the U.S. talks with Iran also allow Washington to deny the Russians an Iranian card, although the Syrian theater still allows the Kremlin some room to maneuver.

Presidents Yankovich and Putin.
The United States is not prepared to intervene in the former Soviet Union. Russia is not a global power, and its military has many weaknesses, but it is by far the strongest in the region and is able to project power in the former Soviet periphery, as the war with Georgia showed. At the moment, the U.S. military also has many weaknesses. Having fought for more than a decade in the core of the Islamic world, the U.S. military is highly focused on a way of war not relevant to the former Soviet Union, its alliance structure around the former Soviet Union is frayed and not supportive of war, and the inevitable post-war cutbacks that traditionally follow any war the United States fights are cutting into capabilities. A direct intervention, even were it contemplated (which it is not), is not an option. The only correlation of forces that matters is what exists at a given point in time in a given place. In that sense, the closer U.S. forces get to the Russian homeland, the greater the advantage the Russians have.

Instead, the United States did the same thing that it did prior to the Orange Revolution: back the type of
intervention that both the human rights advocates and the balance-of-power advocates could support. Giving financial and psychological support to the demonstrators protesting Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to reject a closer relationship with Europe, and later protesting the government's attempt to suppress the demonstrations, preserved the possibility of regime change in Ukraine, with minimal exposure and risk to the United States.

As we said a few weeks ago, it appeared that it was the Germans who were particularly pressing the issue, and that they were the ones virtually controlling one of the leaders of the protests, Vitali Klitschko. The United States appeared to be taking a back seat to Germany. Indeed, Berlin's statements indicating that it is prepared to take a more assertive role in the world appeared to be a historic shift in German foreign policy.

The statements were even more notable since, over the years, Germany appeared to have been moving closer to Russia on economic and strategic issues. Neither country was comfortable with U.S. aggressiveness in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Both countries shared the need to create new economic relationships in the face of the European economic crisis and the need to contain the United States. Hence, the apparent German shift was startling.

Although Germany's move should not be dismissed, its meaning was not as clear as it seemed. In her cell phone call, Nuland is clearly dismissing the Germans, Klitschko and all their efforts in Ukraine. This could mean that the strategy was too feeble for American tastes (Berlin cannot, after all, risk too big a confrontation with Moscow). Or it could mean that when the Germans said they were planning to be more assertive, their new boldness was meant to head off U.S. efforts. Looking at this week's events, it is not clear what the Germans meant.

What is clear is that the United States was not satisfied with Germany and the European Union. Logically, this meant that the U.S. intended to be more aggressive than the Germans in supporting opponents of the Ukrainian regime. This is a touchy issue for human rights advocates, or should be. Yanukovich is the elected president of Ukraine, winner of an election that is generally agreed to have been honest (even though his constitutional amendments and subsequent parliamentary elections may not have been). He was acting within his authority in rejecting the deal with the European Union. If demonstrators can unseat an elected president because they disagree with his actions, they have set a precedent that undermines constitutionalism. Even if he was rough in suppressing the demonstrators, it does not nullify his election.

From a balance of power strategy, however, it makes great sense. A pro-Western, even ambiguous, Ukraine poses a profound strategic problem for Russia. It would be as if Texas became pro-Russian, and the Mississippi River system, oil production, the Midwest and the Southwest became vulnerable. The Russian ability to engage in Iran or Syria suddenly contracts. Moscow's focus must be on Ukraine.

Using the demonstrations to create a massive problem for Russia does two things. It creates a real strategic challenge for the Russians and forces them on the defensive. Second, it reminds Russia that Washington has capabilities and options that make challenging Washington difficult. And it can be framed in a way that human rights advocates will applaud in spite of the constitutional issues, enemies of the Iranian talks will appreciate and Central Europeans from Poland to Romania will see as a sign of U.S. commitment to the region. The United States will re-emerge as an alternative to Germany and Russia. It is a brilliant stroke.

Its one weakness, if we can call it that, is that it is hard to see how it can work. Russia has significant economic leverage in Ukraine, it is not clear that pro-Western demonstrators are in the majority, and Russian covert capabilities in Ukraine outstrip American capabilities. The Federal Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service have been collecting files on Ukrainians for a long time. We would expect that after the Olympics in Sochi, the Russians could play their trump cards.

On the other hand, even if the play fails, the United States will have demonstrated that it is back in the game and that the Russians should look around their periphery and wonder where the Obama administration will act next. Putting someone in a defensive crouch does not require that the first punch work. It is enough for the opponent to understand that the next punch will come when he is least expecting it. The mere willingness of the U.S. to engage will change the expectations of Central Europe, cause tensions between the Central Europeans and the Germans and create an opening for the United States.

Of course, the question is whether and where the Russians will answer the Americans, or even if they will consider the U.S. actions significant at all. In a sense, Syria was Moscow's move and this is the countermove. The Russians can choose to call the game. They have many reasons to. Their economy is under pressure. The Germans may not rally to the United States, but they will not break from it. And if the United States ups the ante in Central Europe, Russian inroads there will dissolve.

If the Russians are now an American problem, which they are, and if the United States is not going to revert to a direct intervention mode, which it cannot, then this strategy makes sense. At the very least it gives the Russians a problem and a sense of insecurity that can curb their actions elsewhere. At best it could create a regime that might not counterbalance Russia but could make pipelines and ports vulnerable — especially with U.S. help.

The public interception of Nuland's phone call was not all that embarrassing. It showed the world that the United States, not Germany, is leading the way in Ukraine. And it showed the Russians that the Americans care so little, they will express it on an open cell phone line. Nuland's obscene dismissal of the European Union and treatment of Russia as a problem to deal with confirms a U.S. policy: The United States is not going to war, but passivity is over.

— From Stratfor 2-11-14,


By Stephen F. Cohen

The degradation of mainstream American press coverage of Russia, a country still vital to U.S. national security, has been under way for many years. If the recent tsunami of shamefully unprofessional and politically inflammatory articles in leading newspapers and magazines — particularly about the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine and, unfailingly, President Vladimir Putin — is an indication, this media malpractice is now pervasive and the new norm.

There are notable exceptions, but a general pattern has developed. Even in the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages. As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.

The history of this degradation is also clear. It began in the early 1990s, following the end of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. media adopted Washington’s narrative that almost everything President Boris Yeltsin did was a “transition from communism to democracy” and thus in America’s best interests. This included his economic “shock therapy” and oligarchic looting of essential state assets, which destroyed tens of millions of Russian lives; armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament and imposition of a “presidential” Constitution, which dealt a crippling blow to democratization and now empowers Putin; brutal war in tiny Chechnya, which gave rise to terrorists in Russia’s North Caucasus; rigging of his own re-election in 1996; and leaving behind, in 1999, his approval ratings in single digits, a disintegrating country laden with weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, most American journalists still give the impression that Yeltsin was an ideal Russian leader.

Since the early 2000s, the media have followed a different leader-centric narrative, also consistent with U.S. policy that devalues multifaceted analysis for a relentless demonization of Putin, with little regard for facts. (Was any Soviet Communist leader after Stalin ever so personally villainized?) If Russia under Yeltsin was presented as having legitimate politics and national interests, we are now made to believe that Putin’s Russia has none at all, at home or abroad — even on its own borders, as in Ukraine.

Russia today has serious problems and many repugnant Kremlin policies. But anyone relying on mainstream American media will not find there any of their origins or influences in Yeltsin’s Russia or in provocative U.S. policies since the 1990s — only in the “autocrat” Putin who, however authoritarian, in reality lacks such power. Nor is he credited with stabilizing a disintegrating nuclear-armed country, assisting U.S. security pursuits from Afghanistan and Syria to Iran or even with granting amnesty, in December, to more than 1,000 jailed prisoners, including mothers of young children.

Not surprisingly, in January The Wall Street Journal featured the widely discredited former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, branding Putin’s government as one of “deceit, violence and cynicism,” with the Kremlin a “nerve center of the troubles that bedevil the West.” But wanton Putin-bashing is also the dominant narrative in centrist, liberal and progressive media, from the Post, Times and The New Republic to CNN, MSNBC and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, where Howard Dean, not previously known for his Russia expertise, recently declared, to the panel’s approval, “Vladimir Putin is a thug.”

The media therefore eagerly await Putin’s downfall — due to his “failing economy” (some of its indicators are better than U.S. ones), the valor of street protesters and other right-minded oppositionists (whose policies are rarely examined), the defection of his electorate (his approval ratings remain around 65%) or some welcomed “cataclysm.” Evidently believing, as does the Times, for example, that democrats and a “much better future” will succeed Putin (not zealous ultranationalists growing in the streets and corridors of power), U.S. commentators remain indifferent to what the hoped-for “destabilization of his regime” might mean in the world’s largest nuclear country.

Certainly, The New Republic’s lead writer on Russia, Julia Ioffe, does not explore the question, or much else of real consequence, in her nearly 10,000-word February 17 cover story. Ioffe’s bannered theme is devoutly Putin-phobic: “He Crushed His Opposition and Has Nothing to Show for It But a Country That Is Falling Apart.” Neither sweeping assertion is spelled out or documented. A compilation of chats with Russian-born Ioffe’s disaffected (but seemingly not “crushed”) Moscow acquaintances and titillating personal gossip long circulating on the Internet, the article seems better suited (apart from some factual errors) for the Russian tabloids, as does Ioffe’s disdain for objectivity. Protest shouts of “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a thief!” were “one of the most exhilarating moments I’d ever experienced.” So was tweeting “Putin’s fucked, y’all.” Nor does she forget the hopeful mantra “cataclysm seems closer than ever now.”

Los Angles Times' Sochi terrorism "joke."
For weeks, this toxic coverage has focused on the Sochi Olympics and the deepening crisis in UkraineTimes declared the newly built complex a “Soviet-style dystopia” and warned in a headline, Terrorism and Tension, Not Sports and Joy. On opening day, the paper found space for three anti-Putin articles and a lead editorial, a feat rivaled by the Post. Facts hardly mattered. Virtually every US report insisted that a record $51 billion “squandered” by Putin on the Sochi Games proved they were “corrupt.” But as Ben Aris of Business New Europe pointed out, as much as $44 billion may have been spent “to develop the infrastructure of the entire region,” investment “the entire country needs.”
. Even before the Games began, the

Overall pre-Sochi coverage was even worse, exploiting the threat of terrorism so licentiously it seemed pornographic. The Post, long known among critical-minded Russia-watchers as Pravda on the Potomac, exemplified the media ethos. A sports columnist and an editorial page editor turned the Olympics into “a contest of wills” between the despised Putin’s “thugocracy” and terrorist “insurgents.” The “two warring parties” were so equated that readers might have wondered which to cheer for. If nothing else, American journalists gave terrorists an early victory, tainting “Putin’s Games” and frightening away many foreign spectators, including some relatives of the athletes.

The Sochi Games will soon pass, triumphantly or tragically, but the potentially fateful Ukrainian crisis will not. A new Cold War divide between West and East may now be unfolding, not in Berlin but in the heart of Russia’s historical civilization. The result could be a permanent confrontation fraught with instability and the threat of a hot war far worse than the one in Georgia in 2008. These dangers have been all but ignored in highly selective, partisan and inflammatory U.S. media accounts, which portray the European Union’s “Partnership” proposal benignly as Ukraine’s chance for democracy, prosperity and escape from Russia, thwarted only by a “bullying” Putin and his “cronies” in Kiev.

Not long ago, committed readers could count on The New York Review of Books for factually trustworthy alternative perspectives on important historical and contemporary subjects. But when it comes to Russia and Ukraine, the NYRB has succumbed to the general media mania. In a January 21 blog post, Amy Knight, a regular contributor and inveterate Putin-basher, warned the U.S. government against cooperating with the Kremlin on Sochi security, even suggesting that Putin’s secret services “might have had an interest in allowing or even facilitating such attacks” as killed or wounded dozens of Russians in Volgograd in December.
Knight’s innuendo prefigured a purported report on Ukraine by Yale professor Timothy Snyder in the February 20 issue. Omissions of facts, by journalists or scholars, are no less an untruth than misstatements of fact. Snyder’s article was full of both, which are widespread in the popular media, but these are in the esteemed NYRB and by an acclaimed academic….

Perhaps the largest untruth promoted by Snyder and most U.S. media is the claim that “Ukraine’s future integration into Europe” is “yearned for throughout the country.” But every informed observer knows — from Ukraine’s history, geography, languages, religions, culture, recent politics and opinion surveys—that the country is deeply divided as to whether it should join Europe or remain close politically and economically to Russia. There is not one Ukraine or one “Ukrainian people” but at least two, generally situated in its Western and Eastern regions.

Such factual distortions point to two flagrant omissions by Snyder and other U.S. media accounts. The now exceedingly dangerous confrontation between the two Ukraines was not “ignited,” as the Times claims, by Yanukovych’s duplicitous negotiating — or by Putin — but by the EU’s reckless ultimatum, in November, that the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country choose between Europe and Russia. Putin’s proposal for a tripartite arrangement, rarely if ever reported, was flatly rejected by U.S. and E.U. officials.

But the most crucial media omission is Moscow’s reasonable conviction that the struggle for Ukraine is yet another chapter in the West’s ongoing, U.S.-led march toward post-Soviet Russia, which began in the 1990s with NATO’s eastward expansion and continued with U.S.-funded NGO political activities inside Russia, a U.S.-NATO military outpost in Georgia and missile-defense installations near Russia. Whether this longstanding Washington-Brussels policy is wise or reckless, it—not Putin’s December financial offer to save Ukraine’s collapsing economy — is deceitful. The EU’s “civilizational” proposal, for example, includes “security policy” provisions, almost never reported, that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.

State Dept's Nuland offers food to Kiev protesters.
Any doubts about the Obama Administration’s real intentions in Ukraine should have been dispelled by

the recently revealed taped conversation between a top State Department official, Victoria Nuland, and the US ambassador in Kiev. The media predictably focused on the source of the “leak” and on Nuland’s verbal “gaffe”—“Fuck the E.U.” But the essential revelation was that high-level U.S. officials were plotting to “midwife” a new, anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ousting or neutralizing its democratically elected president — that is, a coup.

Americans are left with a new edition of an old question. Has Washington’s 20-year winner-take-all approach to post-Soviet Russia shaped this degraded news coverage, or is official policy shaped by the coverage? Did Senator John McCain stand in Kiev alongside the well-known leader of an extreme nationalist party because he was ill informed by the media, or have the media deleted this part of the story because of McCain’s folly?

And what of Barack Obama’s decision to send only a low-level delegation, including retired gay athletes, to Sochi? In August, Putin virtually saved Obama’s presidency by persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to eliminate his chemical weapons. Putin then helped to facilitate Obama’s heralded opening to Iran. Should not Obama himself have gone to Sochi — either out of gratitude to Putin, or to stand with Russia’s leader against international terrorists who have struck both of our countries? Did he not go because he was ensnared by his unwise Russia policies, or because the U.S. media misrepresented the varying reasons cited: the granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, differences on the Middle East, infringements on gay rights in Russia, and now Ukraine? Whatever the explanation, as Russian intellectuals say when faced with two bad alternatives, “Both are worst.”

— Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and his The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin are now in paperback.
— From The Nation, issue March 3, 2014

Madonna introduces Pussy Riot members at Amnesty benefit.

By Christian Caryl

Two of Russia's most famous dissidents visited the United States recently. I speak, of course, of Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, members of the feminist conceptual art group known as Pussy Riot who were recently released from jail by President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. media have been raving.

"Pussy Riot gals stun Brooklyn crowd with powerful speech," blared the New York Post about the duo's recent appearance at a fundraising concert for Amnesty International. "Pussy Riot stole the show from Madonna" was the verdict from Time. They put in a bravado performance on The Colbert Report and even had the New Yorker gushing about their presumed artistic achievements. Pretty impressive.

There's just one problem. Most of the adoring coverage of the two Pussy Riot stars presumes that their protest is having an enormous impact on the political situation in their home country. If not, why are we (and Madonna) paying such inordinate attention to them?

In fact, though, there is little evidence that they have any sort of influence on Russian public opinion at all. Most Russians regard Pussy Riot with outright hostility. As one recent public opinion survey revealed, the number of Russians who view the prison sentence the two women received as either fair or too soft has actually grown in the two years since they went to jail: The figure is now 66%. (A reminder: Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were convicted on charges of "hooliganism" after performing an impromptu anti-Putin concert in a Moscow cathedral in 2012.)

But the overarching sentiment regarding Pussy Riot back home can probably be characterized more accurately as general indifference. The broader opposition movement in Russia has never embraced Pussy Riot — perhaps because members of the group exult in their reputation as radical avant-gardists, a position that is scarcely calculated to gain much traction with the country's deeply conservative mainstream. (Tolokonnikova once had herself photographed having sex with her husband in a museum as part of an edgy protest against patriarchy, or something.)

Indeed, the remaining members of Pussy Riot have now expelled Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina from the group for sundry minor misdeeds, which means that the two women now represent the outer fringe of a fringe. [The Guardian reports that other members of the punk group were highly critical of the two women for appearing at the Amnesty concert.]

A caption in a fine story by New Republic reporter Julia Ioffe, who shows how other Russian critics of Putin's regime regard the group as an irrelevant sideshow, makes the same point: "Pussy Riot, who galvanized Western outrage over Putin's repressive regime, evokes a more complicated response at home." Andrew Monaghan of the London think tank Chatham House, who tracks public opinion in Russia, puts it with rather less understatement: My sense is that most Russians just don't give a damn….

These days, many Westerners, appalled by Putin's authoritarian airs, find themselves almost instinctively rooting for the opposition. Western reporters covered the big anti-Putin protests of 2012 as if the president's fall from power was just a matter of days — yet here he is, glibly presiding over the Olympics, and the protesters are nowhere to be seen. Not only that, his approval rating, now hovering at around 65%, would be the envy of just about any of his counterparts in the West.

By contrast, the most prominent opposition leader, corruption fighter Alexey Navalny, scores at 1% percent in most current opinion polls…. [T]he real opposition in their country today is the Communist Party, which regularly garners about 20% in elections and opinion surveys and which, unlike the liberal protesters, has a solid organizational infrastructure across the country….

— From Foreign Policy, Feb. 5

Washington D.C., 15 days after 9/11, the ANSWER Coalition brought 25,000 to the capital to protest the impending war. They knew then what the opinion polls say most Americans know now after 13 years: They say it was a mistake to go to war and it gained the U.S. nothing.
By Pew Research Center, Gallup & Activist Newsletter

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans do not think the U.S. has achieved its goals in either country, according to poll released Jan. 30 by Pew Research Center and USA Today.

The latest Gallup Poll revealed Feb. 19 that “For the first time since the U.S. initially became involved in Afghanistan in 2001, Americans are as likely to say U.S. military involvement there was a mistake (49%) as to say it was not (48%).

About half of Americans (52%) say the U.S. has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan while 38% say it has mostly succeeded. Opinions about the U.S. war in Iraq are virtually the same: 52% say the United States has mostly failed in reaching its goals there, while 37% say it has mostly succeeded.

In both cases, evaluations of the wars have turned more negative in recent years. In November 2011, as the U.S. was completing its military withdrawal from Iraq, a majority (56%) thought the U.S. had achieved its goals there.

Similarly, the public’s critical assessment of U.S. achievements in Afghanistan stands in contrast to opinion in June 2011, shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed in neighboring Pakistan. At that time, 58% answered a forward-looking question by saying they thought the U.S. would achieve its goals in that country; the question in the current survey asks whether the U.S. has achieved its goals.

Nearly a month after the U.S. invasion in 2001, 9% of the American people (including the Activist Newsletter and a number of its readers) said it was a mistake,  while 89% thought it was correct. (The Newsletter organized two busses full of antiwar activists from the Mid-Hudson region to join the big ANSWER rally in Washington a week before Bush began bombing.
By the Activist Newsletter

Hudson Valley readers are invited to attend a Thursday, March 6, public and student meeting to commemorate International Women’s Day.  It will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Lecture Center 108 at SUNY New Paltz.

This meeting is sponsored by Mid-Hudson chapter of the national group WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), the Mid-Hudson Valley chapter of Amnesty International,  and the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. There are dozens of  endorsers  including New York Civil Liberties Union,  Coalition of Labor Union Women (AFL-CIO), Mid-Hudson Valley Planned Parenthood, and United University Professions (SUNY NP chapter), among others.

The speakers list is in formation. Selected so far are Donna Goodman,  of the Mid-Hudson WORD chapter, a UUP union delegate and an editor of the Activist Newsletter; Ilgu Ozler, a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at SUNY New Paltz and chair of Mid-Hudson Amnesty; Urban Lyrics (a campus slam poetry group); Himali Gahdhi of  Grace Smith House (a women's and children's shelter)and Leah Obias of the Philippina activist organization Damayan. A full listing of speakers and endorsers will be available soon.)

The forum will both celebrate the many advances women have won through struggle and signal the hard work necessary to eliminate the remaining obstacles to full female equality. In addition: “We will call for an end to violence against all women — in the home, on the street and in all public and private spaces; reproductive justice for all women — including full access to contraception, abortion, health care and child care; a living wage for all, and equity in the workplace, with paid family leave, and an end to sexual harassment at work; and full equality for women in all areas of society. We stand for full equality and respect and against racism, sexism, anti-LGBT bigotry, and commercialization of women in mass media." 

This forum will be Mid-Hudson WORD's fourth event in a year and a half, including Women's Day last year and two summer outdoor rallies. For information about this group  contact For information about the March 6 event (or for directions or to volunteer) contact Donna Goodman at, or Ilgu Ozler at Campus map:

 [Following are some of the key findings from the new 23rd edition of “Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States.” Published by NARAL Pro-Choice America, this report summarizes the state of women's access to reproductive health care nationwide, including legislation enacted in 2013.”]

By the Activist Newsletter as edited from NARAL

In the 2010 elections, anti-choice politicians seized control of many state legislatures, vowing to focus on the nation’s economic challenges. Once elected, however, these same lawmakers abandoned their promise and instead launched a War on Women. Now, for the third straight year, women have paid the price for this bait-and-switch strategy as anti-choice lawmakers took every opportunity to restrict further the right to choose.

Among the 52 anti-choice state measures enacted in 2013, the most prominent trends were: bans on abortion care after 20 weeks; measures prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion; and laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not applied to
other medical professionals. Laws that single out abortion providers particularly threaten access to abortion care because they reduce further the already declining number of providers. Already, 87% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

A total of 24 states enacted 52 anti-choice measures in 2013. Arkansas enacted the most anti-choice legislation
in 2013, with 8 laws. Oklahoma enacted 5 anti-choice laws, and Missouri and North Dakota enacted
4 anti-choice laws. Since 1995, states have enacted 807 anti-choice measures.

Anti-choice state measures 
enacted in 2013 included: • Arkansas, North Dakota, and Texas enacted bans on abortion care after 20 weeks. • Arkansas went even further by enacting a ban on abortion care after 12 weeks, and North Dakota went the furthest by enacting a law to ban abortion as early as six weeks— before many women even know they are pregnant….

If the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was overturned, it would open the door for anti-choice lawmakers in state and federal governments to enact and enforce laws banning abortion. In fact, some states already have abortion bans on the books, either from before Roe or because they enacted laws after Roe hoping to prompt the Supreme Court to overturn it.

Currently, these bans are unenforceable; however, if Roe were overturned they would become enforceable immediately. Still other states have anti-choice legislatures and governors likely to enact abortion bans if Roe were overturned.
Continuing the latest trend that began in 2010 of enacting laws that ban abortion earlier and earlier in
pregnancy, in 2013, North Dakota went the furthest, enacting a “heartbeat” law that makes abortion illegal as early as six weeks. This law is a de facto near-total ban; it takes effect before many women even know they are pregnant. Some 14 states have unconstitutional and unenforceable near-total criminal bans on abortion. They are AL, AZ, AR, DE, LA, MA, MI, MS, ND, NM, OK, VT, WV, WI….

The anti-choice movement has undertaken a campaign to impose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers — but not other medical professionals — in an obvious attempt to drive doctors out of practice and make abortion care more expensive and difficult to obtain. Such proposals are known as TRAP laws: Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.
Common TRAP regulations include those that limit the provision of care only to doctors, require doctors to convert their practices needlessly into mini-hospitals at great expense, limit abortion care to hospitals or other specialized facilities, rather than physicians’ offices, an impossibility in many parts of the country, and/or require doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital with nothing requiring facilities to grant such privileges.

A total of 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not imposed on other medical professionals. These states prohibit some qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion care. Some 25 of these states restrict the provision of abortion care — often even in the early stages
of pregnancy  — to hospitals or other specialized facilities.

New York State, where the bulk of our readers live, was graded “A” in the NARAL Map. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) is pro-choice, the State Senate is mixed-choice, and the Assembly is pro-choice. New York, however, is not among the 16 states with constitutions that provide greater protection of a woman’s right to choose than does the federal Constitution. In addition, 39% of New York counties have no abortion provider.

At the same time, New York law improves women’s access to emergency contraception (EC); it provides low-income women access to abortion;  provides certain low-income women increased coverage for Medicaid- funded family-planning services; and 
its law protects women seeking reproductive-health care and medical personnel from blockades and violence.

Further, as progressive as the state is, New York State allows certain individuals
or entities to refuse to provide women specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals; prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion care, and has an unconstitutional and unenforceable law that subjects abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not applied to other medical professionals.

— “Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States” is at:
For information, @ProChoiceNY.

By Lizzy Davies and Henry McDonald

The Vatican has failed to acknowledge the huge scale of clerical sex abuse and has implemented policies that have led to "the continuation of the abuse and the impunity of the perpetrators," a UN panel said on Feb. 5 in a scathing rebuke of the Holy See's handling of the global scandal.

In grimly worded findings released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the watchdog urged the Holy See to "immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers" from their posts in the church and hand over the cases to law enforcement authorities in the countries concerned.

It also asked the Vatican to ensure that an expert commission set up by Pope Francis last year will "investigate independently" all cases of child sex abuse and the way in which they are handled by the Catholic hierarchy. Records concerning past cases should be opened up so that they can be used to hold the abusers – and those who may have sought to protect them – accountable, the panel added.

Man protests outside UN in NYC.      (Photo AFP)
The Holy See must establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures" for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of abuse to civil law enforcement authorities, it said.

The committee said it was "particularly concerned" that in dealing with allegations of child sex abuse,
"the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry."

The Vatican responded testily to the findings, saying that though it would submit them "to a thorough study and examination", it regretted what it perceived to be interference in its affairs. The statement was thought to refer to the committee's remarks on contraception and abortion.

"The Holy See does … regret to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom," said a Vatican statement.

"The Holy See reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the convention on the rights of the child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine."

But the report, the recommendations of which are entirely non-binding, was welcomed by those who have long found the Vatican's approach to the scandal wanting.

"This day has been a long time coming, but the international community is finally holding the Vatican accountable for its role in enabling and perpetuating sexual violence in the church," said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The whole world will be watching to ensure that the Vatican takes the concrete steps required by the UN to protect children and end these crimes. Impunity and cover-up, including at the highest levels of the church, will not be tolerated."
Barbara Blaine, president of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused (Snap), described the report as a "scathing" indictment of the way the Vatican had handled the scandal.

"It's a wake-up call, not to Catholic officials (who have known about and concealed abuse for decades and still do) but for secular officials, especially those in law enforcement, who can and should investigate Catholic abuses and cover-ups and prosecute the church supervisors who are still protecting predators and endangering children," she said.

As part of its wide-ranging remit, the UN committee also expressed concern about how the Holy See's stance on contraception, abortion and homosexuality was affecting minors.
— From The Guardian, 2-5-14

By Sandra Fulton, American Civil Liberties Union

Net neutrality – the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all data on the Internet equally – is vital to free speech. But earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the FCC's net neutrality rules, jeopardizing the openness of the Internet that we have come  to take for granted.

The court ruled that for the FCC to preserve net neutrality, it must first reclassify the Internet as a "common carrier" – a term used to describe a utility like plain-old telephone service or an electric company – so that it can be subject to particular government regulations. On Feb. 3 we delivered a petition with more than 1 million signatures calling on them to do just that.

Without strong net neutrality rules, an ISP can interfere with a user's access to content online – that
could mean, for example, blocking controversial content or discriminating against a competitor's site. We've seen it happen before. In 2007,  Verizon Wireless blocked text messages from the reproductive rights group NARAL. That same year, Comcast was caught discriminating against an entire class of online activities by limiting file transfers from customers using popular peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella.

Net neutrality has benefits beyond free speech, too: It also promotes innovation by guaranteeing small startups have the same visibility and access as established corporations, a principle that allowed companies like Google and Amazon to compete when they began.

Following the ruling, the ACLU, along with Free Press, Common Cause, DailyKos, Fight for the Future, Sierra Club, and others sent out  petitions calling for the FCC to reclassify the Internet and reinstate their net neutrality rules. We delivered the signatures this week.

Right now, most Americans have very few options when it comes to high-quality broadband service, so we can't just decide to vote with our feet if a company violates "net neutrality." Accordingly, our broadband providers have the technical means and the financial incentives to block or slow down controversial content or their competitors, or to give established players who can afford to pay for the privilege an Internet "fast lane." Additionally, because the companies have to monitor your online activity in order to manipulate the data, the lack of neutrality rules raises profound privacy issues. Let's hope the FCC moves quickly to safeguard the Internet and assure it remains open and free.
By David Swanson

Twelve of the Hancock 17 anti-drone protestors were found guilty of disorderly conduct Feb.7, but were acquitted of trespassing.

The group demonstrated at Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, N.Y., Oct. 25, 2012, to bring a “Citizens War Crimes Indictment” to the base. Drones attacking foreign targets are “piloted” remotely from Hancock. The demonstrators called for an end to drone warfare and symbolically blocked the gates. 

In passing sentence, Town of DeWitt Court Judge David Gideon declared: "At some point this has to stop," evidently referring to a series of drone actions that have taken place outside the gates in recent years.

DeWitt imposed the the maximum sentence —15 days in jail (starting immediately) and a $250 fine with a $125 court surcharge. He also imposed a two-year Order of Protection, prohibiting the defendants from going to the home, school, business or place of employment of Col. Earl A. Evans, Commander of Hancock's mission support group.
Protesting outside  drone base near Syracuse.

Considering that the defendants had never met or knew of him before their arrest, it is clear the intent is to keep people away from the base.

The defendants were prepared for whatever sentence the judge imposed. In the words of Ed Kinane, "Any penalty this court can impose on me is trivial compared to the death sentences imposed on the drone victims."
Of the five defendants not sentenced, one, is to be sentenced later. Two others had their cases dismissed on technical grounds, and the remaining two had plead guilty earlier.

The defendants are part of the Upstate N.Y. Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which seeks to educate the public and Hancock Air Base personnel about the war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan with the MQ-9 Reaper Drone piloted from Hancock.

— The Upstate N.Y.Coalition may be reached at 
—  From War is a Crime, Feb. 7, 2014.
By Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

Long distance killing can be done from U.S. base near Syracuse.
The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device.

The former JSOC drone operator is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed as a result of the NSA’s increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic.

One problem, he explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. According to the former drone operator, the geolocation cells at the NSA that run the tracking program – known as Geo Cell –sometimes facilitate strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike.

“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there,” he says. “But we don’t know who’s behind it, who’s holding it. It’s of course assumed that the phone belongs to a human being who is nefarious and considered an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.’ This is where it gets very shady.”

The former drone operator also says that he personally participated in drone strikes where the identity of the target was known, but other unknown people nearby were also killed.

“They might have been terrorists,” he says. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”

What’s more, he adds, the NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls. Based on his experience, he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata.

This important article is continued on the new website (The Intercept) edited by the three of the best known anti-surveillance and investigative journalists in the world — Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. It is at
Greenwood and Scahill appeared on Democracy Now Feb. 10 and it is worth watching at

By Bertolt Brecht (1935, translated by H. R. Hayes)

[Brecht scorned the “Great Man” theory of history, as this poem makes clear. Many of his other poems and songs chastened cultural, artistic and political individualism, which became more fashionable in the U.S. between the two world wars and remains so today.]

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome

Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom

Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend

The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.

He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?

Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet

was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory. At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
So many particulars.
So many questions.

Demonstraters carry mock pipeline at  earlier mass protest against Tar Sands oil.
By Peter Rothberg, The Nation

With President Obama on the cusp of a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, hundreds of students and young people are expected to risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience at the White House March 2 to pressure President Obama to reject the project.

A planned sit-in is expected to be the largest act of civil disobedience by young people in the recent history of the environmental movement. The protest, known as “XL Dissent,” is meant to send a clear signal to President Obama that the youth support that helped elect him sees Keystone XL as a decision that will define his entire legacy.

“Obama was the first president I voted for, and I want real climate action and a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Nick Stracco, a senior at Tulane University. “The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that’s to reject Keystone XL.”

The Canadian tar sands is one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and other materials underneath Canada’s Boreal forest have created the biggest and most environmentally devastating energy projects on earth.

The Keystone XL fight has become an iconic issue for environmentally minded young people across the country, many of whom are involved in local campaigns to help stop the pipeline or the broader fossil fuel divestment campaign, which has spread to over 300 universities across the United States.

As co-founder Bill McKibben aptly puts it: "As the fight to stop KXL enters its final stages, it’s truly inspiring to see young people at the forefront. This pipeline is scheduled to last 40 years —   right through the prime of their lives. President Obama needs to look them in the face."

The "XL Dissent"protest will begin with a march from Georgetown University to the White House. After a rally in Lafayette Square, hundreds of students and young people are expected to risk arrest at the White House fence. The day before the protest, students will meet for a nonviolent direct action training and fossil fuel divestment conference.

— An illustrated account of the tar sands region is at
By Ari Berman

On February 1, 1960, four black students at North Carolina A&T kicked off the 1960s civil rights movement by trying to eat at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro. Two months later, young activists founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  at Shaw University in Raleigh, which would transform the South through sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration drives.

With this history, it was fitting that North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement held a massive  "Moral March" in Raleigh Feb. 8 which began at Shaw University, exactly 54 years after North Carolina’s trailblazing role in the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of activists — from all backgrounds, races and causes — marched to the North Carolina State Capitol. Then they held an exuberant rally protesting the right-wing policies of the North Carolina government and commemorating the eighth anniversary of the HKonJ coalition (the acronym stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the NC legislature sits).
Feb. 8 Moral Monday protest in Raleigh.

Since taking over the legislature in 2010 and the governor’s mansion in 2012, controlling state government for the first time in over a century, Republicans eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 state residents; refused Medicaid coverage for 500,000; ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slashed taxes for the top 5% while raising taxes on the bottom 95%; axed public financing of judicial races; prohibited death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts; passed one of the country’s most draconian anti-choice laws; and enacted the country’s worst voter suppression law, which mandates strict voter ID, cuts early voting and eliminates same-day registration, among other things.

The fierce reaction against these policies led to the Moral Monday Movement when nearly 1,000 activists were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience inside the North Carolina General Assembly. Rallies were held in more than 30 cities across the state and the approval ratings of North Carolina Republicans fell dramatically.

The Moral Monday protests transformed North Carolina politics in 2013, building a multiracial, The Moral Monday protests transformed North Carolina politics in 2013, building a multiracial, multi-issue movement centered on social justice. “We have come to say to the extremists, who ignore the common good and have chosen the low road, your actions have worked in reverse,” said Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and the leader of the Moral Monday movement, in his boisterous keynote speech.

“You may have thought you were going to discourage us, but instead you have encouraged us. The more you push us back, the more we will fight to go forward. The more you try to oppress us, the more you will inspire us.”

If the Feb. 8 rally was any indication, the Moral Monday movement will be bigger and broader in 2014. An estimated 15,000 activists attended the HKonJ rally last year, bringing 30 buses; this year, the NC NAACP estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 people rallied in Raleigh, with 100 buses converging from all over the state and country. It was the largest civil rights rally in the South since tens of thousands of voting rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in support of the Voting Rights Act.

“This Moral March inaugurates a fresh year of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation and nonviolent direct action,” Barber said. There will be a new wave of direct action protests when the North Carolina legislature returns in the spring, a new wave of activists doing voter mobilization and registration during the “Freedom Summer 2014,” and litigation challenging North Carolina’s voter suppression bill. The movement will be active in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box. They will be focused not just on changing minds, but on changing outcomes.

To that end, the HKonJ coalition called for five demands:

• Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
• Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
• Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
• Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
• Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.

— From Huffington Post. The coalition website is at

Happy days are here again for Mr. Big Bucks.
Reviewed by Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs December, 2013

“This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! 
— in America's Gilded Capital,” By Mark Leibovich, 386 pages, Blue Rider Press.

Ce pays-ci (“this country here”) is what the denizens of Versailles called their gilded cage in the reign of Louis XIV. “This town” is the name that members of what was once called the American Establishment have given their special place on the Potomac.

In the most entertaining and depressing book about the U.S. political system published in many years, Leibovich [chief national correspondent for the N.Y. Times Magazine] lets readers peep behind the curtain and see what goes on in the greenrooms and at the parties of the Washington elite.

He reveals an ugly spectacle: tribunes of the people transform into corporate shills, money makes the world go round, and insecure arrivistes stroke one another’s egos as they bathe in a flowing river of narcissism. It turns out that contrary to the prevalent fears of political polarization, this is a golden age of bipartisanship.

Not much happens on the floor of Congress, of course, but when it comes to doing favors for friends, Washington is enjoying a new Era of Good Feelings, in which politicians help their colleagues score regardless of their party affiliation.

The Chinese Communist Party once ordered its cadres to read “The Ancien Régime and the Revolution,” Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of how the failings of the old elite paved the way for the French Revolution. But today’s Washington elite is probably too busy imitating the benighted creatures of Versailles to learn anything useful from their fate.

[From the Activist Newsletter: It’s not a profound book but it’s a quick read, has some funny vignettes and is quite interesting, especially on how our political system is controlled by big money corporations and Wall St. Our favorite quote from the book is a joke attributed to President Reagan about two Episcopal ministers: “One of the preachers said to the other, ‘Times have really changed, haven’t they? I never had sex with my wife before we were married, did you?’ And the other Episcopal priest said, “I don't know. What is your wife’s maiden name?”’

Reviewed by Casper Henderson

 “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” 
by Elizabeth Kolbert, 336 pages, Henry Holt and Co.

One day around 66 million years ago – it was in June or July if the evidence from fossilized pollen traces has been interpreted correctly – an asteroid somewhat larger than Manhattan ploughed into the Earth near what is now Chicxulub in the Yucután Peninsula, Mexico at 45,000 mph.

As it hit with a force equivalent to more than 100 million megatons of TNT, or about 1,500 times the total content of the world's present nuclear arsenals, the asteroid sent a vast cloud of scalding vapor thousands of miles in all directions, and blasted more than 50 times its own mass of pulverized rock high into the sky where, as tiny particles, it incandesced and heated the entire atmosphere to several hundred degrees centigrade, killing almost everything unprotected by soil, rock or deep water.

Many scientists believe that about three-quarters of animals, including the pterosaurs, the mosasaurs and, as every child now knows, the non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out as a result. It took millions of years for life to recover and surpass its previous diversity, this time with a new ensemble of species that included our distant ancestors. This event, known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene (and formerly as the Cretaceous-Tertiary) extinction, is counted as one of five mass extinctions over the last 500 millions years or so, where a mass extinction is defined as an event in which a significant proportion of life is eliminated in a geologically insignificant amount of time.

At first glance, the footprint of industrialized humanity on the biosphere may look small compared with that of the Chicxulub asteroid…. What is beyond reasonable doubt is that something big is under way. The best estimates are that the Earth is losing species at many times the background rate (the natural churn in which a few species go extinct every year while new ones evolve), and that 30% to 50% will be functionally extinct by 2050.

The plight of the non-human world has inspired many works of popular science over the last 20 years or so…. But with extinctions and new discoveries piling up, there is a need for still more studies. And in “The Sixth Extinction,” Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker, offers well-composed snapshots of history, theory and observation that will fascinate, enlighten and appall many readers.

Kolbert begins with a visit to a research station in Costa Rica, where researchers are documenting the disappearance of the golden frog, Atelopus zeteki. Amphibians, the class that includes frogs, are the most endangered group of animals in the world, with an extinction rate as much as 45,000 times the background rate. In addition to factors such as habitat loss, a kind of chytrid fungus, inadvertently spread by humans and lethal to many amphibians, is thought to be to blame.

The book then turns to the development of extinction as an idea and how it has changed our view of life. In this account the phenomenon was discovered in the early 19th century by the anatomist Georges Cuvier, who recognized that enormous teeth and bones recovered from sites in what is now Ohio belonged not to elephants but to hitherto unknown beasts. The mastodons, and other strange giants whose remains came across his dissecting table, had lived in "a world previous to ours," which, Cuvier suggested, had perished in a great catastrophe.

Charles Darwin accepted Cuvier's view that the deep past had been filled with extinctions, but rejected catastrophe as a principal cause in favor of a gradual, or uniformitarian view of extinction championed by the geologist Charles Lyell. Only in the 1980s was the hypothesis, proposed by Luis and Walter Alvarez, that a massive asteroid had caused mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period generally accepted.

Paleontologists came to agree that life was characterized by long periods of stability occasionally interrupted by panic. Kolbert's history tour concludes with a look at the far future. Jan Zalasiewicz, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester, argues that although our age (for which he champions the term Anthropocene) will leave a record in the geological strata no thicker than a cigarette paper, its impact will nevertheless be great.

One of the strengths of “Field Notes from a Catastrophe,” Kolbert's 2006 book on global warming, was vivid reportage from exotic locations. The Sixth Extinction shares this characteristic. There are useful, indeed exemplary, discussions of ocean acidification starting from readily observable natural effects off the Italian coast, of the fate of coral from the Great Barrier Reef, of the extent to which tropical forests in Peru can adapt to rapid change, of habitat fragmentation in the Amazon basin and beyond, and of the consequences of the mass global transference of species from one place to another. It is all pretty grim.

Towards the end, Kolbert writes: "We are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways remain open and which don't." I don't know about you, but I don't recall being involved in that decision. Indeed, it seems that some of the most important decisions are being taken by those individuals who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep people in the dark about climate change and who are blocking moves to a green economy. We need to decide otherwise.

The extinction crisis is so vast and complex that it is almost repels thought. It is what the cultural critic Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject. We need a lot more imaginative thinking about the choices we can make and what comes next, whether it be the "Rambunctious Garden" of environment writer Emma Marris, the feral landscape of George Monbiot or a world utterly transformed by synthetic biology as envisaged by Craig Venter. We need new big stories. Is it too much to ask that we should alter Earth with compassion for the other creatures with whom we share it, and in celebration of their endless forms?

— Excerpted from The Guardian, Feb. 16. Reviewer Caspar Henderson wrote “The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.”
Edited from Politico and Moon over Alabama

Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., have rejected the United Auto Workers, shooting down the union’s hopes of securing a foothold at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South. The vote was 712 to 626, said the UAW, which blamed the loss on “politicians and outside special interest groups.”

The vote, announced Feb. 14 after three days of balloting, is a devastating loss for the UAW, whose membership has plummeted from a high of 1.5 million in 1979 to around 400,000 today. Outgoing UAW President Bob King had staked his legacy on organizing a Southern auto plant for the first time.

The UAW had advantages in organizing the Volkswagen plant it probably won’t find elsewhere. For starters, Volkswagen — under pressure from the powerful German steelworkers’ union, IG Metall, which holds seats on the company’s board — decided not to resist unionization. The union’s presence would have also allowed the company to set up a German-style “works council,” in which representatives of both workers and middle management offer advice to executives on how to best run the plant.

The workers who voted against the union were besieged by a right wing anti-union campaign that told them incorrectly Volkswagen would not build an additional production line there should the workers vote for the union and thereby for a workers council.

The union has already asked the National labor Relations Board to consider holding another vote due to the fact of interference byRepublican lawmakers.

New production line facilities for Volkswagen are decided by the global board in Germany where the global unions have half minus one of the votes. The Chattanooga plant is now the only one out of Volkswagen’s over 100 union plants without a works council.
By Common Dreams

MacAskill, Greenwald, and Poitras. 
The four journalists most responsible for a series of explosive news stories in 2013 based on National Security Agency documents leaked to them by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been awarded this year's George Polk Award, one of the nation's most prestigious and coveted for investigative reporting.

Announced Feb. 16, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras of The Guardian newspaper and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post will receive the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting, one of 13 categories honored by the annual prizes.

According to Long Island University, which created and bestows the award, the four journalists earned the prize by conferring with Edward Snowden to negotiate the release [and publication] of sensitive documents from the NSA about U.S. global surveillance.

John Darnton, curator of the awards, said: “In the tradition of George Polk, many of the journalists we have recognized did more than report news. They heightened public awareness with perceptive detection and dogged pursuit of stories that otherwise would not have seen the light of day. Repercussions of the NSA stories in particular will be with us for years to come.”

[New York Gov. Cuomo has announced he will not make a decision on allowing fracking in the state until after the November elections. New York State has the strongest movement against fracking in the U.S., but there is still a good chance Cuomo may capitulate to Big Business. In addition to fracking, this article points to the dangers from the construction of pipelines in the state, and notes that you “can’t frack without a pipeline. There’s no point in drilling if there’s nowhere for the gas to go.”]

By Ellen Cantarow

For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations
drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.

But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York.  Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too. We all are.

Gas fracked from shale formations goes by several names (“unconventional gas,” “natural gas,” “shale gas”), but whatever it’s called, it’s mainly methane. Though we may not know it, fracked gas increasingly fuels our stoves and furnaces. It also helps to fuel the floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and ever-hotter summers that are engulfing the planet. The industry’s global-warming footprint is actually greater than that of coal. (A Cornell University study that established this in 2011 has been reconfirmed since.) Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and an ecological nightmare due to its potential for dangerous leaks.

According to former Mobil Oil executive Lou Allstadt, the greatest danger of fracking is the methane it adds to the atmosphere through leaks from wells, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found leakage rates of 2.3% to 17% of annual production at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado, and Utah. Moreover, no technology can guarantee long-term safety decades into the future when it comes to well casings (there are hundreds of thousands of frack wells in the U.S. to date) or in the millions of miles of pipelines that crisscross this country.

The energy industry boasts that fracking is a “bridge” to renewable energies, but a 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that shale gas development could end up crowding out alternative energies. That's because as fracking spreads, it drives natural gas prices down, spurring greater consumer use, and so more fracking. In a country deficient in regulations and high in corporate pressures on government, this cascade effect creates enormous disincentives for investment in large alternative energy programs.

The sorry state of U.S. renewable energy development proves the case. As the fracking industry has surged, the country continues to lag far behind Germany and Denmark, the world’s renewable-energy leaders. A quarter-century after the world’s leading climate change scientist, James Hansen, first warned Congress about global warming, Americans have only bad options: coal, shale gas, oil, or nuclear power.

There’s been a great deal of reporting about “the drilling part” of fracking — the moment when drills penetrate shale and millions of gallons of chemical-and-sand-laced water are pumped down at high pressure to fracture the rock. Not so much has been written about all that follows. It’s the “everything else” that has turned a drilling technology into a land-and-water-devouring industry so vast that it’s arguably one of the most pervasive extractive adventures in history.

According to Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, the co-author of a study that established the global warming footprint of the industry, fracking “involves much more than drill-the-well-frack-the-well-connect-the-pipeline-and-go-away.” Almost all other industries "occur in a zoned industrial area, inside of buildings, separated from home and farm, separated from schools." By contrast, the industry spawned by fracking "permits the oil and gas industries to establish [their infrastructures] next to where we live. They are imposing on us the requirement to locate our homes, hospitals, and schools inside their industrial space."

Wells, flanked by batteries of vats, tanks, and diesel trucks, often stand less than a mile from homes. So do compressor stations that condense gas for its long journey through pipelines, and which are known to emit carcinogens and neurotoxins.  Radioactive waste (spewed up in fracking flow-back and drill cuttings) gets dumped on roads and in ordinary waste sites. Liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals that move this energy source for export are a constant danger due to explosions, fires, spills, and leaks. Every part of the fracking colossus, it seems, has its rap sheet of potential environmental and public health harms.

Of all these, pipelines are the industry’s most ubiquitous feature. U.S. Energy Information Administration maps show landscapes so densely veined by pipelines that they look like smashed windshields. There are more than 350,000 miles of gas pipelines in the U.S. These are for the transmission of gas from region to region. Not included are more than two million miles of distribution and service pipelines, which run through thousands of cities and towns with new branches under constant construction.  All these pipelines mean countless Americans — even those living far from gas fields, compressor stations, and terminals — find themselves on the frontlines of fracking.

The letter arrived in the spring of 2011. It offered Leona Briggs $10,400 to give a group of companies the right to run a pipeline with an all-American name — the Constitution — through her land. For 50 years Briggs has lived in the town of Davenport, just south of the Susquehanna River in New York’s Western Catskills. Maybe she seemed like an easy mark. After all, her house’s clapboard exterior needs a paint job and she’s living on a meager Social Security check every month. But she refused.

She treasures her land, her apple trees, the wildlife that surrounds her. She points toward a tree, a home to an American kestrel. “There was a whole nest of them in this pine tree out here.” Her voice trembles with emotion. “My son was born here, my daughter was raised here, my granddaughter was raised here. It’s home. And they’re gonna take it from us?”

Company representatives began bullying her, she says. If she didn’t accept, they claimed, they’d reduce the price to $7,100. And if she kept on being stubborn, they’d finally take what they needed by eminent domain. But Briggs didn’t budge. “It’s not a money thing. This is our home. I’m 65 years old. And if that pipeline goes through I can’t live here.”

The Constitution Pipeline would carry shale gas more than 120 miles from Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County through New York’s Schoharie County. This would be the first interstate transmission pipeline in the region, and at 30 inches in diameter, a big one. Four corporations — Williams, a Tulsa-based energy infrastructure company, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings — are the partners. Williams claims the pipeline “is not designed to facilitate natural gas drilling in New York.” But it would connect with two others — the Iroquois, running from the Long Island shore to Canada, and the Tennessee, extending from the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast into Pennsylvania’s frack fields. This link-up, opponents believe, means that the Constitution would be able to export fracked gas from New York, the only Marcellus state to have resisted drilling so far.
In 2010, a high-pressure pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. It was the same size as the proposed Constitution pipeline. What makes that distant tragedy personal to Briggs is her memory of two local pipeline explosions. In the town of Blenheim, 22 miles east of her home, 10 houses were destroyed in 1990 in what a news report called “a cauldron of fire.” Another pipeline erupted in 2004 right in the village of Davenport. From her front porch, Briggs could see the flames that destroyed a house and forced the evacuation of neighbors within a half-mile radius. “That was an 8-inch pipe,” she says. “What would a 30-inch gas line do out here?”

Carl Weimer, executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit watchdog organization, says that, on average, there is “a significant incident — somewhere — about every other day. And someone ends up in the hospital or dead about every nine or ten days.” This begs the question: are pipelines carrying shale gas different in their explosive potential than other pipelines?

“There isn’t any database that allows you to get at that,” says Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert and consultant of 40 years’ experience. “If it’s a steel pipeline and it has enough gas in it under enough pressure, it can leak or rupture.” Many pipelines, says Kuprewicz, aren’t bound by any safety regulations, and even when they are, enforcement can often be lax. Where regulations exist, he continues, corporate compliance is uneven. “Some companies comply with and exceed regulations, others don’t.  If I want to find out about what’s going on, I may [have to] get additional information via subpoena.”

In 2013 alone, Williams, one of the partners in the Constitution pipeline, had five incidents, including two major explosions in New Jersey and Louisiana. These were just the latest in what an online publication, Natural Gas Watch, calls “a lengthy record of pipeline safety violations.” As for Cabot, its name has become synonymous with water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Even that state’s Department of Environmental Protection, historically joined at the hip to gas companies, imposed sanctions on Cabot in 2010. (The corporation later settled with 32 of 36 Dimock families who claimed contamination of their water supplies.)

About 40 miles northeast of Davenport lies the town of Schoharie, where James and Margaret Bixby live on a well-tended, 150-year-old farm. The day I visited, their 19-acre pond glimmered in the early fall sunlight. As we talked, Bixby listed all the wildlife in the area: bear, raccoon, beavers, muskrats, wood ducks, mallards, mergansers, cranes, skunks, and Canadian geese.  He began telling me about the last of these.  “Pretty soon they’re going to come in by the hundreds, migrating north. A dozen will stay, hatching their young. We have wild turkeys, just about everything. I don’t care to live no place else.”

The Bixbys were offered more money than Briggs — more than $62,000 — for a pipeline right of way and they, too, turned it down. He and his wife are holding fast and so, he says, are 60 neighbors. “They don’t want it to bust up this little valley.”  Pointing, he added, “There’s gonna be a path up our woods there as far as you can see, [and] there’s gonna be another one over there. That’s nothing nice to look at.”

Driving around New York and Pennsylvania you’ll spot odd, denuded stretches running down hillsides like ski jumps. On the crests of the hills, the remains of tree lines look like Mohawk haircuts on either side of shaved pipeline slopes. This is only the most obvious sign of pipeline environmental degradation. The Constitution pipeline would also impact 37 Catskills trout streams, endangering aquatic life. According to Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper, one of the state’s most venerable environmental watchdog organizations, the pipeline would “cross hundreds of streams and wetlands by literally digging a hole through them…. Any project that jeopardizes multiple water resources in two states is clearly against the public's interest.”

Longtime residents aren’t alone in opposing the building of the Constitution pipeline. This tranquil region has been attracting retirees like Bob Stack, a former electrical engineer. In 2004, he and his wife, Anne, bought 97 acres near Leona Briggs’s home. Their dream: to build a straw bale house, a sustainable structure that uses straw for insulation. No sooner had engineers visited the land to start planning than the couple got a letter from Constitution Pipeline LLC. “We were absolutely clueless. We knew nothing about fracking or about pipelines. Fracking was about as remote from us as oil in Iraq or someplace else,” says Anne. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘What an outrage!’” The Stacks, who moved east from Nevada, are now living in limbo.

“Once you have this pulsing fossil fuel energy coming through, it will… industrialize the Susquehanna River valley,” says Anne Marie Garti, who in June 2012 co-founded a local activist group, Stop the Pipeline. (“The unConstitutional Pipeline” reads the organization’s website banner.) “They’re going to start building factories. There’s an interstate, a railroad, there’s cheap labor, and there’s a river to dump the toxins in.”

Garti, a small, quietly assertive former interactive computer software designer, is now a lawyer; her aim: helping people like Briggs and the Bixbys. She grew up in the town of Delhi, near Briggs’s home. In 2008, she found herself among a small group of activists who convinced New York’s then-Governor David Paterson to impose a moratorium on fracking. Under the measure’s shelter a powerful grassroots anti-fracking movement grew, using zoning ordinances to ban drilling in municipalities.

Mark Pezzati, a graphic designer, helped get his town, Andes, in New York’s Delaware County to enact a fracking ban. “Pipeline news wasn’t high on the radar [then]," he says. "Most people were concerned about drilling.” In 2010, Pezzati was shocked to discover that a pipeline called the Millennium had penetrated his state.

New fracked gas pipeline  in Pennsylvania.
It turned out that local land use laws govern only drilling. Under the 1938 Natural Gas Act, pipelines and compressor stations represent interstate commerce. “Suddenly there was this frantic flurry of emails, where people were saying, ‘We’ve got to meet and make people aware.’” (The meeting took place and 200 people flocked to listen to Garti.) “As time went on,” adds Pezzati, “it became apparent that you really can’t frack without a pipeline. There’s no point in drilling if there’s nowhere for the gas to go. So a light bulb went on. If you could stop pipelines you could stop fracking.”

That was when Pezzati and his friends, used to arguing for bans at town board meetings, came up against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which, among other responsibilities, regulates interstate natural gas transmission. It tilts to corporations, and even Garti found the bureaucratic hurdles it posed daunting.  "I have some experience and training in environmental law and it took me a month to figure out the intricacies of FERC's process," she told me.

Because FERC refused to disclose the names of landowners in the pipeline’s path, Garti, Pezzati and about a dozen other volunteers had to pore over county tax databases, matching names and addresses to the proposed route. “First we sent letters, then we did door-to-door outreach,” says Garti. Her basic message to landowners along the right of way: “Just say no.”

“People are kind of impressed that you came all the way to their house,” Pezzati points out. “There’s not that many landowners in favor.”

Garti attributes local resentment against the pipeline corporations and their threats to exercise eminent domain to a “fierce” regional “independence” dating back to the anti-rent struggles of tenant farmers against wealthy landlords in the nineteenth century. “People don’t like the idea of somebody coming on their land and taking it from them.”

The activists drafted a letter refusing entry to corporate representatives and circulated it to local landowners. By October 2012, Stop the Pipeline was able to marshal a crowd of 800 for a public hearing called by FERC — “a big crowd for a sparsely populated rural area,” Garti recalls.  The vast majority opposed the pipeline’s construction. By January 2013, 1,000 people had sent in statements of opposition.

The organization has created a website with instructions about FERC procedures and handouts for local organizing, as well as a list of organizations opposing the pipeline. These include the Clean Air Council and Trout Unlimited. Among state and federal agencies expressing concerns to FERC have been the Army Corps of Engineers and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, known in earlier fracking battles for its collusion with the gas industry.

“Just like we have a fracking story that’s different in New York State, we have a pipeline story that’s different,” says Garti. “The force of the opposition to pipelines is in New York State. And we have a shot at winning this thing.”

Having covered the environmental degradation of Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields, the wastelands that were Wisconsin’s silica-rich hills, and tiny New York towns where grassroots fracking battles are ongoing, I now have a sense of what it means to be in the crosshairs of the fracking industry. But it was nothing compared to how I felt when I learned Spectra Energy had its sights set on my hometown, Boston.

Fracking isn’t just about drilling and wells and extracting a difficult energy source at a painful cost to the environment.  Corporations like Spectra have designs on spreading their pipelines through state after state, through thousands of backyards and farm fields and forests and watersheds.  That means thousands of miles of pipe that may leave ravaged landscapes, produce methane leaks, and even, perhaps, lead to catastrophic explosions — and odds are those pipelines are coming to a town near you.

Spectra’s website explains that the Algonquin pipeline “will provide the Northeast with a unique opportunity to secure a… domestically produced source of energy to support its current demand, as well as its future growth.“ Translation: Spectra aims to expand fracking as long as that’s possible. And a glance at any industry source like Oil & Gas Journal shows other corporations hotly pursuing the same goal. (A new New-York-based group, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, is the center of opposition to this project.)

It remains to be seen whether the people of Massachusetts will undertake the same type of grassroots efforts, exhibit the same fortitude as Bob and Anne Stack and Leona Briggs, or demonstrate the same organizing acumen as Anne Marie Garti and Mark Pezzati. But Massachusetts citizens had better get organized if they want to stop Spectra Energy and halt its plans to run the Algonquin all the way from Texas northward to Boston and beyond. Fracking is on its way to my doorstep — and yours.  Who’s going to hold the line in your town?

— From Tomdispatch, Jan. 30, 2014. Tom Dispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reported on Israel and the West Bank from 1979 to 2009 for the Village Voice, Mother Jones, Inquiry, and Grand Street, among other publications. For the past four years she has been writing about the toll the oil and gas industries are taking on the environment.


America's oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of Texas to California, new research has found.
the country, from

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.
Fracking those wells used 97 billion gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America's energy rush.

"Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country's most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions," said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors' network.
Without new tougher regulations on water use, she warned industry could be on a "collision course" with other water users.

It can take millions of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well, and much of the drilling is tightly concentrated in areas where water is in chronically short supply, or where there have been multi-year droughts.

Some oil and gas producers were beginning to recycle water, especially in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, the report said. But it said those savings were too little to offset the huge demand for water for fracking in the coming years.

— From the Guardian, Feb. 5.