Thursday, July 7, 2011

07-07-11 Activist Newsletter

July 7, 2011, Issue #168













By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

During his speech on Afghanistan June 22, President Obama revealed that "Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war." He knew this was a deceptive understatement, as did everyone who keeps close watch on the Bush-Obama wars all these years.

Few Americans , however, have closely followed Washington's 21st century wars of choice, so a trillion probably sounds right to them, but that amount in 10 years — when the annual cost of air conditioning alone for the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq amounts to $20.2 billion a year — is  way off base.

(It's difficult to conceive of one trillion, so we'll repeat a method we've used before: Sixty seconds comprise a minute. One million seconds  comes out to be about 11½ days. A billion seconds is 32 years. And a trillion seconds is 32,000 years.)

The latest objective estimate for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made public June 29, is between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion (140,800 years), according to the research project "Costs of War" by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.

The university assembled a team of economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis, which included future costs for veterans care and interest on war debts to be paid over the next few decades.

The medical costs are huge. "While we know how many U.S. soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6,000)," the report pointed out, "what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall." This doesn't even include the thousands of deaths and injuries among quasi-military contractors. There are about as many contractors as troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's impossible to precisely predict the interest costs on these wars. In 2010, $400 billion of our tax money went toward paying off past war debts as far back as the Korean War of the early 1950s. We'll pay war debts indefinitely because Washington is always borrowing to plan for or start new wars. So far, the U.S.-led NATO war for regime change in Libya is costing American taxpayers about a billion. The Pentagon has blueprints ready for many different kinds of future wars, from small counter-terrorism escapades, to cyberspace and outer space conflicts, to nuclear war, all the way up to World War III.

The Brown University figures may turn out to be underestimates. A few independent studies over the years have been somewhat higher but were brushed aside by the White House and the mass media. This may happen to the Brown calculations as well.

The respected Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes wrote a book three years ago estimating the cost of the Iraq war only, based on data collected in 2006. It was titled "The Three Trillion Dollar War." They based their calculations on the "hidden" costs of the war that include enormous medical care expenses over the next 50 years for tens of thousands of badly wounded soldiers, other benefits, equipment replacement, and interest on war debts.

Stiglitz and Bilmes calculated in 2008 that the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be between $5 and $7 trillion.  They called these adventures the "credit card wars." Using a somewhat different methodology a few years ago, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, estimated the Iraq war ultimately will cost $3.5 trillion. They didn't include the Afghan war.

Assuming Obama is reelected, the Bush-Obama wars — including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen (and Somalia, where the U.S. is now engaged in drone strikes), plus the wars in Obama's final years — will certainly top $5 trillion in real costs.

In this connection, we cannot forget that current Pentagon spending of around $700 billion a year represents a huge increase since 2001, when it totaled about $380 billion. (By comparison, during this same time period, military spending by Iran — portrayed by Washington, Tel-Aviv and Saudi Arabia as the greatest danger to peace in the Middle East — dropped from $9 billion in 2001 to $7 billion in 2010.)

But Defense Department expenses are only half the story. Double the Pentagon's $700 billion for a true estimate of the amount of money the U.S. spent on war-related issues  last year. That's $1.4 trillion a year for the United States. How is this possible?

Instead of just discussing the Pentagon budget, it is essential to also consider Washington's various other "national security" budgets. That of course includes the costs of Washington's 16 different intelligence services, the percentage of the annual national debt to pay for past war expenses, Homeland Security, nuclear weapons, additional annual spending requests for Iraq and Afghan wars, military retiree pay and healthcare for vets, NASA, FBI (for its war-related military work), etc. When it's all included it comes to $1,398 trillion for fiscal 2010, according to the War Resisters League and other sources.

It's not enough just to take note of the money Washington spent on stalemated wars of imperial choice. It's fruitful to contemplate where our $5 trillion Bush-Obama war funding might have been invested instead. It could have paid for a fairly swift transition from fossil fuels to a solar-wind energy system for the entire U.S. — a prospect that will now take many decades longer, if at all, as the world gets warmer from greenhouse gases. And there probably would have been enough left to overhaul America's decaying and outdated civil infrastructure, among other projects.

But while the big corporations, Wall Street and the wealthy are thriving, global warming and infrastructure repair have been brushed aside. States are cutting back on schools and healthcare. Counties and towns are closing summer swimming pools and public facilities. Jobs and growth are stagnant. The federal government is sharply cutting the social service budget, and Medicare et al. are nearing the chopping block.

During his Afghan speech, President Obama also declared that "we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding." Finally, some "real change we can believe in" — right? Meanwhile, as The White House and Congress slash the deficit, be assured despite a bit of fixing here and there, the military and national security budgets will remain essentially unchanged.

— For the Brown Univ. study,
— For Stiglitz and Bilmes,
— For cost of air conditioning, Afghan-Iraq — See Domestic News Briefs below. 


[Editor's Note: At this writing the Greek government, at the behest of Israel and the U.S., is preventing the boats of Freedom Flotilla II to sail to Gaza, including the American vessel. This article by one of the participants — the African American author and poet Alice Walker — explains her reasons for joining the project.]

Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: what else would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?

There is a scene in the movie Gandhi that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire. The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.

Alongside this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is, for me, an awareness of paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the American south in our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for help — our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection to non-violent protesters — and came to stand with us.

They got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few "good ol' boys" of Neshoba County, Mississippi, and were beaten and shot to death along with James Chaney, a young black man of formidable courage who died with them. So, even though our boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner flag in my own heart.

And what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored in our president's latest speech on Israel and Palestine, and whose impoverished, terrorized, segregated existence was mocked by the standing ovations recently given in the U.S. Congress to the prime minister of Israel?

I see children, all children, as humanity's most precious resource, because it will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in speeches that circle the globe.

As adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child, etc, is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to cease the behavior that makes children everywhere feel afraid.

I once asked my best friend and husband during the era of segregation, who was as staunch a defender of black people's human rights as anyone I'd ever met: how did you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed you? What force shaped your response to the great injustice facing people of color of that time?

I thought he might say it was the speeches, the marches, the example of Martin Luther King Jr., or of others in the movement who exhibited impactful courage and grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an episode from his childhood that had led him, inevitably, to our struggle.

He was a little boy on his way home from yeshiva, the Jewish school he attended after regular school let out. His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he was alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.

It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put — without delay, and with tenderness — back on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are right to try.

That is why I sail.

— Alice Walker, a long-time advocate of progressive causes, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Color Purple (1982). A longer version of this article appears on Alice Walker's blog:


By Tom Engelhardt

It’s already gone, having barely outlasted its moment — just long enough for the media to suggest that no one thought it added up to much.

Okay, it was a little more than the military wanted, something less than Joe Biden would have liked, not enough for the growing crew of anti-war congressional types, but way too much for John McCain, Lindsey Graham, & Co.

I’m talking about the 13 minutes of “remarks” on “the way forward in Afghanistan” that President Obama delivered in the East Room of the White House June 22.

Tell me you weren’t holding your breath wondering whether the 33,000 surge troops he ordered into Afghanistan as 2009 ended would be removed in a 12-month, 14-month, or 18-month span. Tell me you weren’t gripped with anxiety about whether 3,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 American soldiers would come out this year (leaving either 95,000, 93,000, 88,000, or 83,000 behind)?

You weren’t? Well, if so, you were in good company.

Billed as the beginning of the end of the Afghan War, it should have been big and it couldn’t have been smaller. The patented Obama words were meant to soar, starting with a George W. Bush-style invocation of 9/11 and ending with the usual copious blessings upon this country and our military. But on the evidence, they couldn’t have fallen flatter. I doubt I was alone in thinking that it was like seeing Ronald Reagan on an unimaginably bad day in an ad captioned “It’s never going to be morning again in America.”

If you clicked Obama off that night or let the event slide instantly into your mental trash can, I don’t blame you. Still, the president’s Afghan remarks shouldn’t be sent down the memory hole quite so quickly.

For one thing, while the mainstream media's pundits and talking heads are always raring to discuss his policy remarks, the words that frame them are generally ignored — and yet the discomfort of the moment can’t be separated from them. So start with this: whether by inclination, political calculation, or some mix of the two, our president has become a rhetorical idolater.

These days he can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.

Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps.

I wouldn’t claim that Americans had never had such thoughts before, only that presidents didn’t feel required to say them in a mantra-like way just about every time they appeared in public. Sometimes, of course, when you feel a compulsion to say the same things ad nauseam, you display weakness, not strength; you reveal the most fantastic of fantasy worlds, not a deeper reality.

The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course. As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[L]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.” He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:

“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination... and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.... We are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”

I know, I know. You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over. But hang in there, because that’s just a start. For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective. They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.” They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.” (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?) And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from.”

In a country that now “supports the troops” with bumper-sticker fervor but pays next to no attention to the wars they fight, perhaps Obama is simply striving to be the premier twenty-first-century American. Still, you have to wonder what such presidential fawning, omnipresent enough to be boilerplate, really represents. The strange thing is we hear this sort of thing all the time. And yet no one ever comments on it.

Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.”

The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.

Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.” Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back.... God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”

As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.

And yet who living in this riven, confused, semi-paralyzed country of ours truly believes that, in 2011, Americans can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish? Who thinks that, not having won a war in memory, the U.S. military is incontestably the finest fighting force now or ever (and on a “climb to glory” at that), or that this country is at present specially blessed by God, or that ours is a mission of selfless kindheartedness on planet Earth?

Obama’s remarks have no wings these days because they are ever more divorced from reality. Perhaps because this president in fawning mode is such an uncomfortable sight, and because Americans generally feel so ill-at-ease about their relationship to our wars, however, such remarks are neither attacked nor defended, discussed nor debated, but as if by some unspoken agreement simply ignored.

Here, in any case, is what they aren’t: effective rallying cries for a nation in need of unity. Here’s what they may be: strange, defensive artifacts of an imperial power in visible decline, part of what might be imagined as the Great American Unraveling. But hold that thought a moment. After all, the topic of the president’s remarks was Afghanistan.

If Obama framed his Afghan remarks in a rhetoric of militarized super-national surrealism, then what he had to say about the future of the war itself was deceptive in the extreme  — not lies perhaps, but full falsehoods half told. Consider just the two most important of them: that his “surge” consisted only of 33,000 American troops and that “by next summer,” Americans are going to be so on the road to leaving Afghanistan that it isn’t funny.

Unfortunately, it just ain’t so. First of all, the real Obama surge was minimally almost 55,000 and possibly 66,000 troops, depending on how you count them. When he came into office in January 2009, there were about 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Another 11,000 had been designated to go in the last days of the Bush administration, but only departed in the first Obama months. In March 2009, the president announced his own “new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” and dispatched 21,700 more troops. Then, in December 2009 in a televised speech to the nation from West Point, he announced that another 30,000 would be going. (With “support troops,” it turned out to be 33,000.)

In other words, in September 2012, 14 months from now, only about half the actual troop surge of the Obama years will have been withdrawn. In addition, though seldom discussed, the Obama “surge” was hardly restricted to troops. There was a much ballyhooed “civilian surge” of State Department and aid types that more than tripled the “civilian” effort in Afghanistan. Their drawdown was recently addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but only in the vaguest of terms.

Then there was a major surge of CIA personnel (along with U.S. special operations forces), and there’s no indication whatsoever that anyone in Washington intends reductions there, or in the drone surge that went with it. As a troop drawdown begins, CIA agents, those special ops forces, and the drones are clearly slated to remain at or beyond a surge peak.

Finally, there was a surge in private contractors  — hired foreign guns and hired Afghans  — tens of thousands of them. It goes unmentioned, as does the surge in base building, which has yet to end, and the surge in massive citadel-style embassy building in the region, which is assumedly ongoing.

All of this makes mincemeat of the idea that we are in the process of ending the Afghan war. I know the president said, “Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” And that was a foggy enough formulation that you might be forgiven for imagining more or less everything will be over “by 2014”  — which, by the way, means not Jan. 1, but Dec. 31 of that year.

If what we know of U.S. plans in Afghanistan plays out, however, Dec. 31, 2014, will be the date for the departure of the last of the full Obama surge of 64,000 troops. In other words, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan, some of them “combat troops” officially relabeled (as in Iraq) for less warlike activity. All would be part of an American “support” mission that would include huge numbers of “trainers” for the Afghan security forces and also U.S. special forces operatives and CIA types engaged in “counterterror” activities in the country and region.

The U.S. general in charge of training the Afghan military recently suggested that his mission wouldn’t be done until 2017 (and no one who knows anything about the country believes that an effective Afghan Army will be in place then either). In addition, although the president didn’t directly mention this in his speech, the Obama administration has been involved in quiet talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to nail down a “strategic partnership” agreement that would allow American troops, spies, and air power to hunker down as “tenants” on some of the giant bases we've built. There they would evidently remain for years, if not decades (as some reports have it).

In other words, on Dec. 31, 2014, if all goes as planned, the U.S. will be girding for years more of wildly expensive war, even if in a slimmed down form. This is the reality, as American planners imagine it, behind the president’s speech....

— Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. This article appeared at TomDispatch, June 30, 2011.

By Patrick Cockburn

Human rights organizations have cast doubt on claims of mass rape and other abuses perpetrated by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which have been widely used to justify NATO's war in Libya.

NATO leaders, opposition groups and the media have produced a stream of stories since the start of the insurrection Feb. 15, claiming the Gaddafi regime has ordered mass rapes, used foreign mercenaries and employed helicopters against civilian protesters.

An investigation by Amnesty International has failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.

The findings by the investigators appear to be at odds with the views of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who two weeks ago told a press conference that "we have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government. Apparently he [Colonel Gaddafi] used it to punish people."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was "deeply concerned" that Gaddafi's troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. "Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called 'virginity tests' have taken place in countries throughout the region," she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that "we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped."

She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: "We have not been able to find evidence."....

— The full article from the UK newspaper The Independent 24 June 2011 is at

By the Activist Newsletter

Native American leader Leonard Peltier, now 66, has been serving two life terms in U.S. federal prisons for some 35 years so far. A member of AIM (the American Indian Movement) who protested U.S. government actions against Native Americans, he was convicted of murder in the shooting of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents during a 1975 conflict on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Oglala Sioux land in South Dakota.

A huge international movement is convinced that Leonard Peltier is innocent, as he has steadfastly maintained, and is the victim of an FBI frame-up. Many actions over the years have been taken on his behalf, but he was denied parole again two years ago this month, and his next scheduled hearing is 2024. President Bill Clinton, knowing the facts of the matter, came very close to pardoning Leonard just before leaving office, but buckled in the face of FBI pressure.

The Peltier case came to mind again after viewing a six-minute TV interview June 28 with Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition. It's at We urge our readers to re-familiarize themselves with this case. Leonard is one of our most noted political prisoners and he must not be forgotten! The defense committee website is at

Leonard's 67th birthday is Sept. 12.  You may send cards and letters to Leonard Peltier, #89637-132 USP-Lewisburg, U.S. Penitentiary, PO Box 1000, Lewisburg, PA 17837.


[Editor's Note: The following article was posted June 24 by the ACLU's Racial Justice Program in response to the College Board's report, "The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color." The report was discussed at a forum at Harvard University June 20 to improve the academic achievement of young men of color, saying that bolstering their educational success should be a national priority. Links to the report and to the ACLU's paper on the "school-to-prison pipeline" are at the bottom.]

By Rachel Goodman and Swati Prakash

Let’s be straight when we talk about why it is men of color aren’t graduating from college.

It’s true, as this week’s College Board report notes, that just one in four African-American or Native-American men, and one in five Latino men, hold an associate’s degree or higher. But how can we be surprised about this outcome when boys of color attend public schools more segregated today than they were in the 1960s? Since Brown v. Board of Education officially ended racial segregation in schools, white flight to private schools combined with residential segregation has isolated children of color. The way we finance schools concentrates funding in wealthy communities, which dooms poor children, often children of color, to attend schools severely lacking in resources.

The College Board’s report documents the alarming disparity in the graduation rate of young men of color when compared with their white male and minority female peers (educational attainment is higher for women within every racial group). The report explores these gaps at the high school and college levels, but it fails to examine and explain the root of the problem.

The urban school districts across the country that are responsible for educating huge numbers of children of color are, in many cases, collapsing. In Detroit, for example, officials announced yesterday a budget that would cut teacher salaries by 10% across the board in an attempt to reduce class size to a still-outrageous 30 students per elementary school classroom. In New York City, where African-American and Latino students comprise 82% of public school students, the New York Times reported this week that public high schools that earn “A” grades from the Department of Education still graduate many students who are not prepared for college-level work.

Thinking about why men of color don’t graduate from college in the numbers we would like them to without considering the boys trapped in these failing systems misses a crucial piece of the story.

What’s worse, in many places, boys of color spend their school days being treated like potential criminals. Major cities like New York increasingly rely on police to maintain classroom discipline, and many employ a “zero-tolerance” policy resulting in arrests of children for infractions as minor as having rap lyrics in their locker. Despite evidence that these policies do not make schools safer, as documented in a 2009 New York Civil Liberties Union report, over-policing persists around the country. The College Board report notes the “alarming” fact that, of the 18- to 24-years olds in jail or prison, 42% are African-American, and 23% are Latino (although they make up just 7% and 8% of the population, respectively). But these statistics don’t reflect the unjust reality inside our public school systems, which all too often push young men of color toward the criminal justice system instead of toward college.

So, let’s add two recommendations to the College Board’s report: 1) Ensure that all schools have the resources they need to provide a quality education to all children; and 2) Eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline that funnels children out of the public school system into the criminal justice system. Instead of treating men and boys of color as delinquents and future dropouts, let’s invest in dismantling the structural barriers that continue to prevent them from achieving their full potential.

— For the ACLU's report on the "School-to-Prison Pipeline," mentioned in the last paragraph," see
— For the College Board report, see

By the Activist Newsletter

New York State appears to be on the road to permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing to recover natural gas and oil from the state’s Marcellus shale formations.  Opposition to "fracking" is increasing throughout the state, however. Opponents are primarily concerned about the proven danger to ground water and the massive destruction of ecosystems, among many criticisms.

On July 1 the state legislature allowed a moratorium on fracking to expire. Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected the option of continuing the ban. On the same day the state's Department of Environmental Conservation issued a summary report suggesting the drilling procedure would be "safe" for 85% of the shale formations, ruling out state land and areas adjacent to New York City's upstate water supplies. The DEC did not exclude private lands, including those within the Catskill Forest Preserve, and the Delaware River Basin.

More public hearings will be held about the DEC's recommendations and no final decisions are expected until next year.

There are two main reasons why the road to fracking is being cleared despite the dangers: (1) Gas and oil drilling from shale will produce huge profits for the corporations involved, while deficit-ridden states will get a trickle-down share of taxes and some jobs for the unemployed. (2) The Obama Administration is anxious to exploit shale to make the U.S. less dependent on "foreign" energy sources and to increase natural gas consumption, which is a somewhat less lethal for global warming than oil.

The state's anti-fracking movement is young and growing, though not yet strong enough to buck the governor and the legislature in Albany. A year ago, hardly anyone knew what fracking was, but scores of public demonstrations have been taking place throughout the state in recent months. A major Albany protest is taking place July 7.

On June 25, 13 anti-fracking demonstrations took place throughout the state in Afton, Ancram, Andes, Albany, Buffalo, High Falls, Huntington, Ithaca, New Paltz, New York City (Foley Sq.), NYC (Hudson River Park), Sharon Springs and Sidney. Newspaper reports indicate the Ithaca protest was attended by between 2,000-3,000 people.

In our own Hudson Valley village of New Paltz, over 100 people took part in a spirited two-hour street corner rally that day, organized by the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition.  The event, in front of the public library, featured a 16-foot model of  a fracking tower dubbed the "Dragon of Hydro-fracking." Participants carried scores of homemade signs such as "Once We Frack We Can't Go Back," and "Protect Our Water, Health and Future." Four coalition supporters gave brief talks. Over 90 petitions to Gov. Cuomo were signed and sent to Albany, calling on him to "protect the public's health and safety" and to put the purity of drinking water before corporate profits by instituting a permanent ban.

By Beyond Nuclear

The Obama Administration advocates building additional nuclear power plants in the United States as a contribution to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels that are primarily responsible for global warming.

Many organizations associated with the environmental movement, usually preferring solar and wind alternatives, strongly oppose the use of nuclear power as a substitute source of energy,.

Following is a listing of "Ten Reasons to Say No to Nuclear and Ten Brighter Ideas" advocated by the organization Beyond Nuclear, which "aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future." Their web address is

Ten reasons to say no to nuclear power:

1 New reactors are too expensive, costing at least $12-25 billion each of taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ money and likely more. The industry has a notorious history of huge cost-overruns.

2 From licensing through construction to operation, reactors take too long to come on line – at least 6-10 years each with more delays likely – to address climate change in time.

3 A meltdown could cause tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and spread radioactive contamination across vast areas for centuries.

4 Security at reactors is inadequate, due to cost cutting by an industry otherwise unable to compete in the electricity market. Most reactors still remain vulnerable to aircraft and other attacks, making them potential dirty bombs in our backyards.

5 Civilian nuclear programs provide the materials, knowledge and technology to transition to nuclear weapons production as happened in India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Nuclear expansion impedes the goals of nonproliferation and disarmament.

6 No country has an operating repository for radioactive waste. Instead, waste is stored in unsecured fuel pools and casks at reactor sites. There is no solution to the seven-decade old radioactive waste problem.

7 Reactors require enormous quantities of water to operate. If water sources diminish significantly or become too hot – due to droughts that will increase under global warming – reactors cannot operate safely or efficiently.

8 Nuclear power is not emissions-free. Reactors routinely release radioactivity and toxic chemicals, harmful to health. From uranium mining to waste storage, nuclear power emits greenhouse gases.

9 Exposure to radiation alters DNA which can cause cancer, genetic mutations and shorten lives. Wildlife near the Chernobyl reactor explosion have demonstrated decreased longevity.

10 Nuclear corporations violate human rights and environmental justice for indigenous peoples, minority populations and affected communities.

Ten Brighter Ideas

1 Conservation is key and simply achieved. Start by turning off lights and unplugging electrical equipment when not in use. Consider installing movement-sensitive switching.

2 If every U.S. household installed just one compact fluorescent light bulb, it would displace the electricity provided by one nuclear reactor. 1=1! Twenty compact fluorescents in every household would displace the need for at least 25% of all U.S. reactors.

3 Updating heating, lighting, cooling and other electrical appliances with energy-efficient models can save more energy than all operating U.S. reactors produce annually and can reduce home electricity use by at least 20%.

4 Energy efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce carbon emissions and is at least seven times more cost-effective at displacing carbon than nuclear power.

5 Homeowners and renters alike can choose to buy green power instead of nuclear-generated electricity. Check with your electric utility to find out how.

6 Wind power in 12 U.S. states could generate 2.5 times the current U.S. electricity production. Each of six states, individually, could produce more wind energy than the electricity produced by all operating U.S. reactors.

7 Solar resources on just 1% of the U.S. landmass are three times as large as all U.S. wind energy potential.

8 Conversion of just 15% of U.S. parking lot acreage to photovoltaic rooftops would produce more electricity than the U.S. generates today.

9 Support for green collar jobs provides more opportunity for more people by building sustainable communities and a robust economy.

10 The U.S. can become both nuclear-free and carbon-free.


[Editor's Note: More than meets the eye is taking place in the Middle East. The U.S./NATO "humanitarian intervention" excuse for regime change in Libya is a case in point. The situation in Syria may be another example. Day after day we read about the clashes between demonstrators and the government — and we believe it is right to rebel against unjust authority, when that is the case — but there's more going on, according to this article by former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar, a regular correspondent for Asia Times Online known for his astute grasp of Eurasian geopolitics.]

By M. K. Bhadrakumar

Seldom it is that the Russian Foreign Ministry chooses a Sunday (June 12) to issue a formal statement. Evidently, something of extreme gravity arose for Moscow to speak out urgently. The provocation was the appearance of a United States guided missile cruiser in the Black Sea for naval exercises with Ukraine. The USS Monterrey cruiser equipped with the AEGIS air defense system is taking part in joint Ukrainian-U.S. exercises, Sea Breeze 2011.

There is nothing extraordinary about a U.S.-Ukraine naval exercise. Last year, too, an exercise took place. But, as Moscow posed, "While leaving aside the unsettled issue of a possible European missile shield architecture, Russia would like to know, in compliance with the Russia-NATO Lisbon summit decisions, what 'aggravation' the U.S. command meant by moving the basic strike unit of the regional missile defense grouping being formed by NATO in the region, from the Mediterranean to the East?"

The Foreign Ministry statement then went on to give its own explanation that the Monterrey was sent to European waters as part of the U.S. administration's phased adaptive approach to building the European segment of the global missile shield. The program's first stage envisages the deployment of a group of U.S. warships in the Adriatic, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to protect South Europe from possible missile strikes. The role of the U.S. warship's missiles in the Sea Breeze 2011 anti-piracy exercises is also unclear, the statement said.

"We have to state that our concerns continue to be ignored and under the guise of talks on European missile shield cooperation, efforts are under way to build the missile shield configuration whose consequences are dangerous and about which we have numerously informed our U.S. and NATO partners," the Russian statement added.

The U.S. claims that this is a routine naval exercise. On the other hand, Moscow asks: "If this is an ordinary visit, then it is unclear why a warship with this type of armament was chosen to move to this quite sensitive region."

Without doubt, the U.S. is stepping up pressure on Russia's Black Sea fleet. The U.S.'s provocation is taking place against the backdrop of the turmoil in Syria. Russia is stubbornly blocking U.S. attempts to drum up a case for Libya-style intervention in Syria. Moscow understands that a major reason for the U.S. to push for regime change in Syria is to get the Russian naval base in that country wound up.

The Syrian base [in Tarsus, just north of Lebanon] is the only toehold Russia has in the Mediterranean region. The Black Sea Fleet counts on the Syrian base for sustaining any effective Mediterranean presence by the Russian navy. With the establishment of U.S. military bases in Romania and the appearance of the U.S. warship in the Black Sea region, the arc of encirclement is tightening. It is a cat-and-mouse game, where the U.S. is gaining the upper hand.
Ostensibly, the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad is repressive since almost everyday reports are coming out that more bloodshed has taken place. But the Western reports are completely silent as to the assistance that the Syrian opposition is getting from outside. No one is interested in probing or questioning, for instance, the circumstances in which 120 Syrian security personnel could have been shot and killed in one "incident."

The Western, Saudi, Israeli and Turkish involvement in Syria's unrest is almost crystal clear but that is beyond the zone of discussion when we speak of "Syria on the boil." In short, Russia has lost the information war over Syria. Henceforth, its dilemma will be that it will be seen as being obstructionist and illogical when a laudable democratization process is unfolding in Syria and the "Arab Spring" is straining to make an appearance.

Moscow has made it clear that it will not brook a resolution at the United Nations Security Council over Syria, no matter its wording or contents. It also voted against the Western move at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week to open a Syria nuclear file — similar to the Iran file — at the UN Security Council.

Moscow's dilemma is that it cannot openly explain its side of the U.S.'s geopolitical agenda toward Syria. Any such explanation will expose the hollowness of the U.S.-Russia [diplomatic] reset, which the Kremlin under President Dmitry Medvedev assiduously worked for. But Washington is not going to let Russia off the hook either. It is certain to tighten the noose around Assad's neck.

Put simply, the U.S. wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle. But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime in Damascus that succeeds Assad.

The stakes are very high. Last year, the deputy head of Russian military intelligence was killed in mysterious circumstances while on an inspection tour of the naval base in Syria. His body was found floating on the Mediterranean off the Turkish coast. To be sure, many intelligence agencies are deeply embroiled in the Syrian broth.

First and foremost, a regime change in Syria has become absolutely critical for breaking Israel's regional isolation. The U.S.-Israeli hope is that the back of the Hezbollah [organization in Lebanon] can be broken only if the regime of Assad is overthrown in Damascus and the Syrian-Iranian alliance is ended. Again, a regime change in Syria will force the Hamas leadership to vacate Damascus. Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal has been living in Damascus under Assad's protection for several years. [Hamas in Gaza, which recently reconciled with Fatah in the West Bank, is a major target by the U.S. and Israel.]

All in all, therefore, any movement on the Israel-Palestine peace process on Israeli terms will be possible only if the U.S. and Israel crack the hard Syrian nut. Washington and Tel Aviv have been trying to persuade Russia to fall in line and accept "defeat" over Syria. But Moscow has stuck to its guns. And now by sending the warship to the Black Sea, U.S. has signaled that it will make Russia pay a price for its obduracy and pretensions as a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern power.

The parliamentary election result in Turkey ensuring another term for the ruling "Islamist" party AKP (Justice and Development Party) significantly strengthens the U.S. position on Syria. Ankara has hardened its stance on Assad and has begun openly criticizing him. A more obtrusive Turkish role in destabilizing Assad and forcing a regime change in Damascus can now be expected in the coming weeks. Ironically, Turkey also controls the Bosphorus Straits [the narrow passage through which Russian shipping must pass to reach the Mediterranean].

By improving ties with Turkey in the past decade, Moscow had been hoping that Ankara would gradually move toward an independent foreign policy. The Kremlin's expectation was that the two countries could get together and form a condominium over the Black Sea. But as events unfold, it is becoming clear that Ankara is reverting to its earlier priorities as a NATO country and U.S.'s pre-eminent partner in the region. Ankara cannot be faulted: it made a shrewd assessment and drew a balance sheet concluding that its interests are best served by identifying with the Western move to effect a regime change in Syria.

Additionally, Ankara finds it profitable that it identifies with the Saudi approach to the upheaval in the Middle East. The wealthy Arabs in the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf are willing to send their "green money" to Turkey. Ankara also shares Saudi misgivings about Iran's rise as regional power.

In sum, the U.S. is slowly but steadily getting the upper hand over its agenda of a regime change in Syria. Whether Moscow will buckle under this immense pressure and accept a rollback of its influence in Syria is the big question. Moscow has threatened to cooperate with Beijing and adopt a common stance over Syria. But Moscow's ability to counter the American juggernaut over Syria is weakening by the day.

The course of events over Syria will certainly impact profoundly on the U.S.-Russia reset. The Obama administration seems to have done its homework and concluded that it is worth taking that risk for the sake of ensuring Israel's security. The warship that sailed into the Black Sea carries a blunt message to Russia to accept that it is a mere pale shadow of the former Soviet Union.

— Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. This article was posted on Asia Times June 14.


[Editor's Note: Following is an excerpt from Maureen Dowd's New York Times column of June 26, titled "Why Is He Bi? (Sigh)."]

By Maureen Dowd

He was born this way. Bi. Not bisexual. Not even bipartisan. Just binary. Our president likes to be on both sides at once.

In Afghanistan, he wants to go but he wants to stay. He’s surging and withdrawing simultaneously. He’s leaving fewer troops than are needed for a counterinsurgency strategy and more troops than are needed for a counterterrorism strategy — and he seems to want both strategies at the same time. Our work is done but we have to still be there. Our work isn’t done but we can go.

On Libya, President Obama wants to lead from behind. He’s engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi while telling Congress he’s not engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi.

On the budget, he wants to cut spending and increase spending. On the environment, he wants to increase energy production but is reluctant to drill [Less reluctant than Dowd thinks: Editor]. On health care, he wants to get everybody covered but will not press for a universal system. On Wall Street, he assails fat cats, but at cocktail parties, he wants to collect some of their fat for his campaign.

On politics, he likes to be friends with the other side but bash ’em at the same time. For others, bipartisanship means transcending their own prior political identities. For President Obama, it means that he participates in all political identities. He does not seem deeply affiliated with any side except his own.

He was elected on the idea of bold change, but now — except for the capture of Osama and his drone campaign in Pakistan and Yemen — he plays it safe. He shirks politics as usual but gets all twisted up in politics.

The man who was able to beat the Clintons in 2008 because the country wanted a break from Clintonian euphemism and casuistry is now breaking creative new ground in euphemism and casuistry.

Obama is “evolving” on the issue of gay marriage, which, as any girl will tell you, is the first sign of a commitment-phobe.

Maybe, given all his economic and war woes as he heads into 2012, Obama fears the disapproval of the homophobic elements within his own party. But he has tried to explain his reluctance on gay marriage as an expression of his Christianity, even though he rarely goes to church and is the picture of a secular humanist.

While picking up more than three-quarters of a million dollars from 600 guests at a gay and lesbian fund-raising gala in Manhattan on Thursday night, the president declared, “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” even as he held to his position that the issue should be left to the states to decide....

As a community organizer, Obama developed impressive empathetic gifts. But now he is misusing them. It’s not enough to understand how everybody in the room thinks. You have to decide which ones in the room are right, and stand with them. A leader is not a mediator or an umpire or a convener or a facilitator.


•• THE COST OF KEEPING COOL IN THE WAR ZONE — The amount the Pentagon spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan — air conditioning! — is $20.2 billion. That's according to retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq, NPR reported June 25.

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Anderson said on All Things Considered. Much  of the cost is transporting the gasoline required to operate the air conditioners.

To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than "improved goat trails," Anderson says. "And you've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way." He calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. [Full story:]

•• REGULATORS UNDERMINE NUCLEAR PLANT SAFETY — Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by the Associated Press revealed June 20.

Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews. The result? Rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety — and inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors. [The full article is at]

•• HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS FLUNK HISTORY EXAM — American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released June 14. Only, 20%  of fourth graders, 17% of eighth graders and 12% of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

History advocates contend that students’ poor showing on the tests underlines neglect shown to the subject by federal and state policy makers, especially since the 2002 No Child Left Behind act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject. The federal accountability law, the advocates say, has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend less time on history and other subjects.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2%  of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision” of the United States Supreme Court in the past seven decades. [Edited from New York Times June 14.]


•• U.S. FARES POORLY IN EGYPT POLLS — Egyptians largely reject U.S. involvement in Egypt and appear split on whether to extend the longstanding peace treaty with neighboring Israel. They overwhelmingly support the revolution and are eager to vote without delay, but haven't yet identified a trusted party or politician to steer the nation toward their vision of an Islam-compatible democracy.

That's the portrait emerging from  Egypt's electorate as the country prepares for the first vote since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, according to survey results released in recent weeks by U.S. polling firms. With no single group garnering more than 15% of public support and the majority of voters still undecided, the poll results augur a closely contested parliamentary election this fall.

Recalling that Washington supported the dictatorship for 30 years until the end, 75% of Egyptians oppose U.S. aid to political groups — according the latest Gallup poll — and 68% think the United States will try to exert direct influence over Egypt's political future. Two-thirds of Egyptians disagreed that the U.S. is serious about encouraging democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. [Edited from McClatchy Newspapers June 25.]

•• BOLIVIA SEEKS TO SECURE FOOD — Bolivian President Evo Morales, has signed a new law which aims to ensure food security for his country, the poorest in South America. Under the plan, state-owned companies will be set up to produce seeds and fertilizers. The purpose is to safeguard biodiversity and protect native foodstuffs, as well as ending dependence on foreign seed companies.

The recent rise in global food prices forced many Bolivians to abandon their indigenous staples, such as quinoa, in flavor of cheaper, imported products.   The government plans to invest $5 billion over 10 years, with generous credits to small farmers, in order to bring about what it calls a food revolution to ensure Bolivians can feed themselves for generations to come.

Bolivia is home to thousands of native varieties of crops, including potato and corn. The Morales government wants to improve genetic stock through natural selection. It rejects what it describes as an invasion of genetically-modified seeds, fearing they will contaminate indigenous species, and prove to be too expensive for small farmers to buy. [Edited from the BBC June 27.]

•• ABBAS DECIDES TO PRESS UN RECOGNITION BID — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said June 26 that with no renewal of peace talks on the horizon, the Palestinians would pursue their unilateral bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September. Abbas indicated recently that the Palestinian Authority would be willing to withdraw the UN bid if dormant talks with Israel could be resurrected. Israel, however, continues to reject a moratorium on settlement building as a precondition.

Negotiations  between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ended last September  when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank while negotiations were taking place. Abbas then decided to go to the UN General Assembly in September to ask for membership and recognition of a Palestinian state in the borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War. [Edited from AFP information June 27.]

•• ISRAEL DEMOLISHES MORE HOMES — The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has issued a new report June 22 detailing the government’s dramatic escalation in the number of Palestinian home demolitions in the Jordan Valley, part of the eastern West Bank. According to the report, the Israeli government has demolished 103 homes there so far this year, after 86 were demolished in all of 2010 and only 28 in 2009. The moves in the first six months of this year have left more than 700 Palestinians homeless.

The area, as with the rest of the West Bank, was occupied by Israel in 1967. Since then, the Israeli government has been repeatedly criticized for forced evictions and harsh military restrictions over Palestinian movement. B’Tselem warned that the current policy of escalating demolitions amounted to a “de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley.” The Netanyahu government has ruled out allowing the Jordan Valley to be part of an independent Palestinian state, and insists rather that it is part of Israel’s “border with Jordan.” (From