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Monday, December 9, 2013
The witness trees: Undisturbed forest are essential to our mental well being
Audio: The witness treesPosted at: Monday, December 09, 2013 - 06:42 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
"Ideas" CBC Radio One Canada November 25, 2013
Pitts Lake, Nova Scotia. Photo: Dick Miller
You can listen to this stimulating program (53:58) from a pop-up link on this page.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "Evangeline" begins with the words "This is the forest primeval". Longfellow was talking about the rich Acadian forest, and was taking a little poetic license. In fact, settlers and boat-builders had already pillaged those forests. They were later altered again and again as the pulp and paper industry flourished. Some wonder whether those forests of 500 years ago can be regrown. Are our forests fiber mines or recreational playgrounds? Are they an economic engine or necessary for our environmental health? And are they essential, as some neuroscientific research is suggesting, to our mental well being? IDEAS contributor Dick Miller re-imagines the forest of the future.
Participants in the program:
Peter Lee - Executive Director, Global Forest Watch Canada
Tom Beckley - Professor, Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, University of New Brunswick
Diana Beresford Kroeger - Chemist, Environmentalist, Author: The Global Forest: Forty Ways Trees Can Save Us (Viking, 2010); The Sweetness of a Simple Life: Tips for Healthier, Happier and Kinder Living Gleaned from the Wisdom and Science of Nature (Random House, 2013)
Donna Crossland - Historical ecologist, writer
Bob Bancroft - Wildlife biologist, consultant
Mark Brennan - Artist, audio recordist
What climate change does to our minds
Below: Pioneering research out of Cape Breton University is measuring how rising global temperatures affect the mental well-being of Canada's Inuit.Posted at: Monday, December 09, 2013 - 06:28 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
What climate change does to our minds
Geoff Dembicki TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada December 9, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded and related links.
Sometimes the smell of Skidoo exhaust makes Melva Williams yearn for the winters of her childhood, when cross-country journeys began in the darkness of early morning, layers and layers of clothing kept the intense cold out, and the ice was so thick people rarely worried about plunging through it. A few years ago, Williams and her husband found themselves unable to traverse Labrador's frozen wilderness after an unusually warm winter left the ice too thin to support their snowmobile.
Now she wonders whether "there may be a time when the weather conditions change so drastically that we cannot safely travel on the ice" at all. Each mild winter Williams experiences -- and lately there have been a lot of them -- brings her closer to that "heartbreaking" reality. "To be a part of a culture and a people that has a necessary connection to nature and the outdoors and is used to living in a certain way -- to see that slipping away is scary," she lamented in a video posted to YouTube.
Her fears may seem anachronistic in a highly modern Western culture that's never felt so detached from the physical world. Our generation venerates the self-inventing tech entrepreneurs building a "new economy" unbound by traditional notions of place or time. We spawned a transglobal class of plutocrats that calls no country home. Yet an emerging body of mental health research suggests we may share more in common with people like Williams than most of us imagine.
"We've totally misunderstood our connection to the natural world," said Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, a Canada Research Chair at Cape Breton University who's helping lead first ever studies that measure how rising global temperatures affect the mental well-being of Canada's Inuit. One of her biggest takeaways: that human identity is inextricably tied to the natural world. As climate change alters that world in profound and unexpected ways, she told The Tyee, "very few people are going to be untouched."
Canada's current economic development model is fatally flawed. The criminal case against Canada's climate negligence
Canada’s stance on climate change arguably constitutes gross moral negligence. In light of global change, our current economic development model is fatally flawed. - William Rees, Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. Much of his work is in the realm of ecological economics and human ecology. He is best known in this field for his invention of 'ecological footprint analysis', a quantitative tool that estimates humanity's ecological impact on the ecosphere in terms of appropriated ecosystem (land and water) area. In 2012, Rees won the Blue Planet Prize - the coveted award given to global leaders who make a difference in safeguarding biodiversity.Posted at: Monday, December 09, 2013 - 02:04 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The criminal case against Canada's climate negligence
William Rees Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada December 7, 2013
Photo from Tar Sands in Focus
It was several days before media reports and commentary on the havoc caused by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines finally began to acknowledge a possible connection to anthropogenic climate change. While no single hyper-storm can be positively attributed to human disruption of the global climate system, climate models predict that extreme weather events will increase in frequency and violence. Unprecedented natural maelstroms like Haiyan provide empirical evidence that the models are likely correct.
What continues to be almost entirely missing from media analysis is Canada’s role in all this, particularly the moral dimensions of the nation’s current economic development policies and those of several provinces (e.g., BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland). The facts, from Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, are that:
1) on a per capita basis, historically and at present, Canada stands among the world’s top greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters particularly of carbon dioxide (CO2). Canadians are therefore as responsible as anyone else on Earth for human-induced global warming. (To argue that as a nation our emissions are only 2-3 per cent of the global total is specious, essentially a form of denial);
This is an extraordinary state of affairs—would a thoughtful, well-informed, morally responsible people intentionally commit to an economic development path that will almost certainly contribute to accelerating climate disruption, global food shortages, ecological violence against the chronically impoverished, the physical displacement of hundreds of millions (billions?) of innocent people and generalized geopolitical chaos, possibly within their own lifetimes? (All of these things have been identified as likely outcomes of current trends in numerous graphic reports prepared by various high-level institutions ranging from national security think-tanks to the World Bank.)1 because viable alternative economic development strategies are possible.
In this light, is it not time that we had a nation-wide adult conversation about just what is going on here? How could the media report, with apparent pride, Canada’s military and civil contributions to humanitarian rescue efforts in the Philippines while ignoring our nation’s commitment to ensuring that present disasters are mere prelude to greater future catastrophe? To remain in denial about Canada’s contribution to climate change constitutes silent defence of economic policies that will permanently disrupt natural systems, injure or kill millions of people, and undermine prospects for global civilization.
Related: Let's not forget our "silent defence of economic policies" is also disrupting our social systems.
Inequality for All warns that capitalism is malfunctioning
Volkmar Richter Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada December 6, 2013
While we’re waiting for the holiday films, we’re in a slow week for new movies. A good one for documentaries though, including an extremely timely look at the failures of the U.S. economy.
Here’s the list:
Inequality For All: 4 stars
The Summit: 3
At Berkeley: 4
Bad Milo: 1 ½
Out of the Furnace: --
INEQUALITY FOR ALL: It’s almost as if Obama watched this film before his big speech about the economy the other day. His analysis of the growing gap between the rich and poor, his lament for the decline of the middle class and his ideas on how to fix the problems are exactly the same as Robert Reich so forcefully puts forward in this compelling documentary. Reich has been on to this since he was Labor Secretary in Bill Clinton’s cabinet and he’s got brand new data to back up him up. In terms of economic equality, the US is 64th in the world. That’s below Cameroon and the Ivory Coast and just two spots above Uganda. He elaborates this way: 400 Americans are now worth more than 150 million other Americans put together. It’s been developing this way for about 30 years. He pin points exactly where it started and delivers an urgent warning about the damage it’s doing.
Reich is a dynamic and entertaining speaker, a frequent commentator on TV and, as a Conan O’Brien clip shows, not at all stuffy. He’s got facts and charts (some of them animated) and delivers his message with both humor and passion. He astounds his class at Berkeley for instance (where he’s a professor) by pointing out that China gets less profit from the cell phones they manufacture than Germany. He’s only getting started. Education is being cut back in the U.S. and that means most of the poor will never climb out of poverty. The middle class is declining even though the economy needs it to thrive. A businessman in Seattle says the rich don’t create jobs, they just accumulate money. Also in Seattle, there’s Amazon.com which Reich says kills jobs. He doesn’t, like the Marxists, say that capitalism always tends to concentrate wealth but it’s a potent analysis nevertheless. The Pope recently said something like it too.
Capitalism's march toward global collapse: Failure of "climate summit" model is driving us to the brink
The Warsaw conference demonstrated that the "climate summit" model is broken and, more importantly, that capitalism itself is driving us to the brink. Protests are not the solution -- it's time to fight the system using its own weapons. Harald Welzer, 55, teaches social psychology at Flensburg and St. Gallen Universities. He is director of the "FUTURZWEI" foundation in Berlin, an international affiliate of which will shortly be launched under the name of "FUTUREPERFECT". His most recent book is Selbst denken. Eine Anleitung zum Widerstand ("Think for yourself: A Handbook for Resistance").Posted at: Monday, December 09, 2013 - 01:31 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Climate summit trap: Capitalism's march toward global collapse
Harald Welzer (Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein) SPIEGEL ONLINE Germany December 6, 2013
This article originally appeared in German in issue 49/2013 (December 2nd, 2013) of DER SPIEGEL.
The municipal utility company in the city of Potsdam is currently wooing new customers with a special "BabyBonus" offer. The slogan reads, "We value little energy robbers! Welcome to the world!" Every newborn receives a credit of 500 kilowatt hours of electricity, allowing him or her to revel from the start in a world where everything, especially energy, will always be available in abundance. These babies may later find they're in for a surprise.
When the United Nations Climate Change Conference wrapped up in Warsaw the weekend before last, it did, despite what most observers and disappointed NGO representatives believe, yield a result. It just wasn't officially announced: the termination of the at-least symbolic general agreement that urgent action must be taken to counter global warming. In other words, climate change has been definitively removed from the global policy agenda.
The intense concern over climate change triggered by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2007 and widely popularized by Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" -- a concern that led even Angela Merkel to make an appearance in the Arctic as the "climate chancellor," decked out in a red all-weather jacket -- actually dissipated a while ago, but no one wanted to say so out loud.
The United States' lack of interest in an international treaty is dressed up by its argument that gas extracted by fracking is more climate-friendly than coal, while in Japan, the Fukushima disaster and resulting phase-out of nuclear power has provided those responsible with an excellent argument for why the country now needs to burn more coal in order to stay economically competitive. Hannelore Kraft, governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, feels much the same way about her own state. And Australia, Canada, Poland and Russia have never really grasped why global warming should stop anyone from burning everything the oil rigs, mines and pipelines have to offer in the first place.
To put it another way: The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we're supposed to get through the rest of this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, which are, in any case, marginal.
Jim comment" There are many provocative comments appended to Welzer's essay. Arguments both pro and con.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
A shot of Tao
... The space between Heaven and Earth
- From Tao Ching Chapter 5. Source: www.Taoism.net and Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006
The unheralded virtues of absence
Geoff Olson Common Ground magazine British Columbia Canada December 2013
It was a warm summer night on Salt Spring Island. The wine flowed freely as wasps flew reconnaissance missions over dessert dishes. Our host held up her glass and offered us a shot of Tao – a concept, not a drink. “The hollowness of the vessel is as important as the glass itself,” she said, explaining how Taoists appreciated the value of things absent.
When I got home, I plucked a dog-eared copy of the Tao Te Ching from a bookshelf, to sharpen my recollection of Lao Tzu’s original words. “The utility of the cart depends on the hollow centre in which the axle turns,” wrote the Chinese sage in sixth century BC. “Clay is moulded into a vessel; the utility of the vessel depends on its hollow interior. Doors and windows are cut out in order to make a house; the utility of the house depends on the empty spaces.
“Thus, while the existence of things may be good, it is the non-existent in them which makes them serviceable.”
This truism may make perfect sense to Taoists, but such notions fit uneasily in westernized brainpans. For most of us, the word “nothing” conjures up a void, an absence, a lack. Nothingness is shorthand for failure, meaninglessness or just plain nihilism. In the secular, scientific mindset, nonexistence is our final destination after a few decades of putzing around on Earth. The slim volume of one’s life is bracketed by twin eternities of nada, like monstrous bookends. To believe otherwise is supposedly superstitious, pseudoscientific or shame-facedly sentimental.
In this view, we make our ways from the crib to the coffin in an eyeblink of geological time, and that’s it. You get only one shot to make the best of it, although from the perspective of a 13 billion-year-old cosmos, you might as well have never existed at all. Good times.
“Nothing is an awe-inspiring yet essentially undigested concept, highly esteemed by writers of an existentialist tendency, but by most others regarded with anxiety, nausea, or panic,” wrote P.L. Heath for his tongue-in-cheek entry on Nothing for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Nobody seems to know how to deal with it (he would, of course) and plain persons generally are reported to have little difficulty in saying, seeing, hearing, and doing nothing.”
“Emptiness” comes off even worse than “nothing” in western lingo. According to Wikipedia, it is “a human condition is a sense of generalized boredom, social alienation and apathy. Feelings of emptiness often accompany dysthymia, depression, loneliness, anhedonia, despair, or other mental/emotional disorders, including schizoid personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizotypal personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.” That’s a lot of baggage for one word to carry.
Not surprisingly, “emptiness” has different shades of meaning in Asian cultures, particularly Buddhism. The Sanskrit term Śūnyatā is commonly translated into English as emptiness, but the meanings branch out – depending on the doctrinal context – to voidness, openness, spaciousness and “thusness.” In Mahayana Buddhism, it commonly means that no person or object has an independent phenomenal existence. All things depend on other things and come into being through ‘mutual arising.’ This idea of mutual interdependence, in different language, is now a fixture in present-day ecology, social sciences and physics. The measurer and the measured are forever entangled, dancing an ontological tango that weaves the world into being.
From armed revolutionary to existential hero: Text of Mandela's statement from the dock during the Rivonia Trial & Related items
Heaven and Earth are everlasting
- From Tao Ching Chapter 7. Source: www.Taoism.net and Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006
"It is a struggle for the right to live" - Nelson Mandela’s address from the dock as accused number 1 at the Rivonia Trial on April 20 1964 Photo: AP/Daily Telegraph UK
Nelson Mandela: How apartheid regime's court tried to destroy the ANC
Anthony Sampson in Pretoria The Observer UK December 7, 2013
Police join hands to hold back demonstrators outside court in Pretoria on 12 June 1964 after eight of the accused, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo: AP
Mandela's biographer covered the historic Rivonia trial in 1963-64 for The Observer. This is his dispatch from the courtroom on 1 March 1964.
The Rivonia trial, in which Nelson Mandela and nine other leaders are charged with attempting to overthrow the state by violent means, has reached the end of its first phase. The prosecution has produced its last witness and early next week the trial will adjourn for weeks, before the defence produces its case.
This is the most important trial in the stormy history of the African opposition. The state has produced a massive collection of documents, most of them collected eight months ago, when the police raided the remote Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia, outside Johannesburg, and captured most of the accused.
Every day the 10 men have been led in from Pretoria jail, handcuffed and surrounded by police, into the ornate Palace of Justice in the middle of the city. The palace is thick with police and spectators are watched for a sign of a smile or a wink: the audience has dwindled to a handful.
The accused have listened, over the last three months, to the evidence of 174 witnesses and the recital of 500 documents. They look remarkably calm and undeterred. Mandela, in apparent good health, exchanges occasional comment with his neighbour Walter Sisulu. Black, white and Indian sit together in a row.
With tireless enthusiasm and dramatic gestures Dr Percy Yutar, the eager prosecutor, has unfolded the evidence for his opening indictment, which claims that the accused were plotting a war of liberation against the government, to be assisted by an invasion of foreign troops. The state has spread its net widely. Its evidence includes three secret witnesses, Mr X, Mr Y and Mr Z, who claimed to have been working for the liberation movement and gave details of training in explosives and guerrilla warfare.
I am prepared to die: Nelson Mandela's statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial (Monday, April 20, 1964)
Transcript Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory South Africa © 2012
The court proceedings at the Rivonia Trial were recorded by the State on dictabelt for which there is now no playback equipment. Mandela's statement from the dock was digitised with the assistance of the British Library, and this digital recording is now in the custody of the National Archives of South Africa. This recording was used to transcribe this speech. The speech is approximately 176 minutes long.
Occasion: Statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial
Place: Palace of Justice, Pretoria Supreme Court Pretoria South Africa
Date: Monday, April 20, 1964
Explanations: Nelson Mandela together with Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg were convicted on 11 June 1964, and were sentenced to life imprisonment. The first seven were to spend most of their incarceration on Robben Island. Denis Goldberg as a white male spent his incarceration at Pretoria Maximum Prison because apartheid policies applied to prisons as well. Robben Island was reserved for African, Coloured and Indian prisoners. Arthur Goldreich was among those arrested in connection with the Rivonia trial. On 11 August 1963, he together with Harold Wolpe, Abdulhay Jassat and Moosa "Mosie" Moolla escaped from jail by bribing a guard, and fled the country. Liliesleaf was the name of the farm in the district of Rivonia on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg. It was owned by the South African Communist Party, and Goldreich and his family lived in the main house as the "white owners". Amadelakufa: those who are prepared to make sacrifices.
My Lord, I am the First Accused.
I hold a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Mr. Oliver Tambo, a co-conspirator in this case. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.
I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. In the statement which I am about to make, I shall correct certain false impressions which have been created by State witnesses; amongst other things I will demonstrate that certain of the acts referred to in the evidence were not, and could not have been committed by Umkhonto. I will also deal with the relationship between the African National Congress and with the part which I personally have played in the affairs of both organisations. I shall deal also with the part played by the Communist Party. In order to explain these matters properly, I will have to explain what Umkhonto set out to achieve; what methods it prescribed for the achievement of these objects, and why these methods were chosen. I will also have to explain how I came, I became involved in the activities of these organisations.
At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
As a result of this decision, Umkhonto was formed in 1961, in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of non-violence and racial harmony was very much with us. We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which blacks and whites would fight each other. [tape seems to jump] [We viewed] the situation with alarm. Civil war would mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war, racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already had examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of inter-racial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?
The avoidance of civil war had dominated our thinking for many years, but when we decided to adopt sabotage as part of our policy, we realised that we might one day have to face the prospect of such a war. This had to be taken into account in formulating our plans. We required a plan which was flexible, and which permitted us to act in accordance with the needs of the times; above all, the plan had to be one which recognized civil war as the last resort, and left the decision on this question to the future. We did not want to be committed to civil war, but we wanted to be ready if it became inevitable.
Four forms of violence are possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to test it fully before taking any other decision.
In the light of our political background the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality. This is what we felt at the time, and this is what we said in our Manifesto, Exhibit AD, I quote:
"We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We hope, even at this late hour, that our first actions will awaken everyone to a realisation of the disastrous situation to which Nationalist policy is leading. We hope that we will bring the Government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late, so that both the Government and its policies can be changed before matters reach the desperate state of civil war", unquote
The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and would in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.
Attacks on the economic life lines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on Government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people and encourage them to participate in non-violent mass action such as strikes. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line, and we were fighting back against Government violence.
In addition, if mass action were successfully organised, and mass reprisals taken, we felt that sympathy for our cause would be roused in other countries, and that greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African Government.
I now wish, My Lord, to turn to the question of guerrilla warfare and how it came to be considered. ...
Another of the allegations made by the State is that the aims and objects of the ANC and the Communist Party are the same. I wish to deal with this and with my own political position. The allegation as to the ANC is false. This is an old allegation which was disproved at the Treason Trial, and which has again reared its head. But since the allegation had been made again I shall deal with it as well as with the relationship between the ANC and the Communist Party and Umkhonto and that Party.
The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, 'Drive the White man into the sea'. The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter. It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because monopolies, big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC's policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.
As far as the Communist Party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a State based on the principles of Marxism. Although it is prepared to work for the Freedom Charter, as a short term solution to the problems created by white supremacy, it regards the Freedom Charter as the beginning, and not the end, of its programme.
The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party's main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasise class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonise them. This is, My Lord, a vital distinction.
It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal – in this case the removal of white supremacy – and is not proof of a complete community of interests.
My Lord, the history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the co-operation between Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such co-operation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists or communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a communist world.
The speech at Rivonia Trial that changed history
Glenn Frankel Washington Post USA December 5, 2013
Nelson Mandela dies at age 95: In an extraordinary life that spanned the rural hills where he was groomed for tribal leadership, anti-apartheid activism, guerrilla warfare, 27 years of political imprisonment and, ultimately, the South African presidency, Mandela held a unique cachet that engendered respect and awe in capitals around the globe. This page links to a photo gallery.
For more than four hours he had stood in the dock in a packed, stately, wood-paneled courtroom in Pretoria, the heart of the white apartheid government, and had spoken without pause or interruption about his country and his politics and the reasons he had chosen to become an enemy of the state. And now came the moment of truth for Nelson Mandela.
“During my lifetime,” he intoned, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
He raised his head to look squarely at the white judge. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve,” he said. And he concluded with the line that his defense lawyers had pleaded with him to delete. “But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
With his gentle but defiant statement, Mandela, at the age of 45, laid his life on the line at the Rivonia Trial on April 20, 1964. ...
The trial was the climax of a half-century of struggle between white-minority rule and the African National Congress, the principal political organization opposed to white domination. As the government turned increasingly to violent repression, the ANC and its supporters found themselves running out of peaceful options. After the ANC was banned altogether in 1960, Mandela and his comrades went underground and launched a sabotage campaign in December 1961, hoping to “bring the government to its senses” by blowing up public buildings, railway tracks and power lines while minimizing human casualties. But these tactics only caused the state to crack down harder, adopting arrest without trial, state-sanctioned killings and torture and other police-state methods. Eventually, the police raided the movement’s secret headquarters in Rivonia, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, and put Mandela — who had been behind bars since 1962 — and his partners on trial for their lives.
Mandela’s economic legacy
Michael Roberts Michael Roberts Blog UK December 6, 2013
Visit this page for its charts.
The death of Nelson Mandela reminds us of the great victory that the black masses of South Africa achieved over the vicious, cruel and regressive apartheid system first encouraged by British imperialism and then adopted by a reactionary and racist white South African ruling class to preserve the privileges of a tiny few. Mandela spent 27 years in prison and the people he represented fought a long and hard battle to overthrow a grotesque regime, backed by the major imperialist powers, including the US, for decades.
Despite the efforts of the British Conservatives, particularly under Margaret Thatcher, the winer and diner-in-chief of all reactionaries globally, and the other imperialist leaders, the South African regime was eventually brought to its knees by the sacrifices of millions of black South Africans: the labour forces in the mines; the children in the schools and the people in the townships. They were backed by the solidarity actions of workers and people in the major countries through boycotts, strike action and political campaigning. It was a big defeat for the forces of reaction in Britain and America.
But the timing of the end of apartheid was also due to a change of attitude by the white ruling class in South Africa and the ruling classes of the major capitalist states. There was a hard-headed decision to no longer consider Mandela ‘a terrorist’ and recognise that a black president was inevitable and even necessary. Why? South Africa’s capitalist economy was on its knees. That was not just because of boycotting, but because the productivity of the black labour in the mines and factories had dropped away. The quality of investment in industry and availability of investment from abroad had fallen sharply. This was expressed in the profitability of capital reaching a post-war low in the global recession of the early 1980s. And unlike other capitalist economies, South Africa could find no way of turning that around through the exploitation of the labour force.
The ruling class had to change strategy. The white leadership under FW de Klerk reversed decades of previous policy and opted to release Mandela and go for black majority government that could restore labour discipline and revive profitability. For his deserts, De Klerk got the Nobel Peace Prize along with Mandela, who became president at the age of 76! And profitability did indeed rise dramatically under the first Mandela administration as the rate of exploitation of the workforce rocketed.
The rise in profitability tapered off in the early 2000s as the organic composition of capital rose sharply through increased mechanisation even though that yet a further rise in the rate of exploitation. South African industry is now in difficulty, unemployment and crime remain at global highs and economic growth is foundering.
South Africa under Mandela and later Thabo Mbeki has seen some improvement in the truly awful living situation of the black majority, in sanitation, housing, electricity, education, health etc, ending the cruel and arbitrary control of movement and the inequality of the apartheid regime. But South Africa has the highest inequality of incomes and wealth in the world still and inequality has never been higher as black capitalists have joined the white ones in the economy. Despite its professed socialist ideology, the ANC never went towards replacing the capitalist mode of production with common ownership, not even of the mines or resource industries.
Related audio: Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell remembers Nelson Mandela
"As It Happens" CBC Radio One Canada December 6, 2013
Photo: Courtesy Colin Powell
You can listen to the interview (10:40) from a pop-up link on this page.
Yesterday, Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid crusader and the country's first black president, died at the age of 95. Today, his enormous political impact is being celebrated everywhere. But millions of people are also reflecting on his personal impact -- the inspiration they found in his life, and his example.
Retired General Colin Powell has an interesting perspective. The former U.S. Secretary of State was in the audience at Nelson Mandela's inauguration, and met him many times throughout his career. On the U.S. government's labelling of Mandela as a terrorist, Colin Powell had this to say:
"When I was Secretary of State from 2001-2004, I wasn't aware he was still on a terrorist list. If I had been aware of it, he'd have been taken off that same day...Frankly, I didn't know he was on the list 'til 2008 until yesterday. But it certainly was not in the consciousness of either me or my successor Condi Rice -- two black Secretaries of State -- in a row...nor in the consciousness of Hilary Clinton. "
And on Nelson Mandela's legacy:
"There are other nations in our history that had to use violence at the beginning of their desire for independence....one that comes immediately to mind is the United States of America. But hopefully you get beyond that period of violence, either by prevailing with that violence. Or, moving to a different stage, which is what [Mandela] did...the threat of violence was always there. But, what he was really saying was, 'lets find a better way'.
Listen to General Powell describe to Carol how Mr. Mandela influenced his life.
They say 'behind every great man there's a great woman.' Nelson and Winnie, a bond unbroken
Nelson and Winnie Mandela's marriage ended, but the bond was never brokenPosted at: Sunday, December 08, 2013 - 12:37 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
David Smith in Johannesburg Guardian UK December 6, 2013
Nelson and Winnie Mandela married in 1958, but he soon went underground and in 1962 he was captured and put on trial. Photo: Api/Gamma-Rapho via Getty
Their love affair ended more than 20 years ago yet the evidence of the past few weeks is that a fundamental bond was never severed.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could be seen almost daily visiting her former husband Nelson Mandela at the Mediclinic heart hospital in Pretoria. Although they divorced in 1996, observers might be forgiven for inferring that they remained the loves of each other's lives to the end.
Madikizela-Mandela continued to be a presence in Mandela's life in recent years despite his remarriage in 1998. Indeed, she was sometimes seen laughing and joking with her successor, Graça Machel. Never shy of the spotlight, she is likely to be a central figure in the days of mourning and preparation for the funeral.
At 76, Madikizela-Mandela is a giant of South African history, the subject of books, films and controversy.
She was born Nomzamo (Xhosa for "she who will go through trials") Winifred Madikizela in the rural Transkei, her childhood "a blistering inferno of racial hatred" in the words of British biographer Emma Gilbey. She moved to Johannesburg and became South Africa's first black female social worker.
It is easy to forget that Nelson and Winnie were once an impossibly good looking and glamorous couple, a township equivalent of Burton and Taylor or the Beckhams. She was 22 and standing at a bus stop in Soweto when he first saw her and charmed her, securing a lunch date the following week. But Mandela was married with three children and devoted to the struggle against apartheid.
"The next day I got a phone call," Madikizela-Mandela has recalled. "I would be picked up after work. Nelson, a fitness fanatic, was there in the car in gym attire. I was taken to the gym, to watch him sweat! That became the pattern of my life. One moment, I was watching him. Then he would dash off to meetings, with just time to drop me off at the hostel. Even at that stage, life with him was a life without him."
After a divorce from his first wife Evelyn, Mandela married Winnie in 1958. But soon he went underground and, in 1962, was put on trial. He would spend 27 years in prison, separated from his wife and their two daughters by the dividing glass screen of the visitor room.
Madikizela-Mandela carved her own name in struggle lore. She was regularly detained by the apartheid government. She was tortured, subjected to house arrest, kept under surveillance, held in solitary confinement for a year and banished to a remote town.
When she returned to Soweto she became a part of the ANC campaign against the regime. ...
Still an ANC MP and living in Soweto, Madikizela-Mandela has since continued to divide opinions but has never been banished from the former president's home. She once recalled: "I had so little time to love him. And that love has survived all these years of separation … perhaps if I'd had time to know him better I might have found a lot of faults, but I only had time to love him and long for him all the time."
In June 2007, the Canadian High Commission in South Africa declined to grant Winnie Mandela a visa to travel to Toronto, Canada, where she was scheduled to attend a gala fundraising concert organised by arts organisation MusicaNoir, which included the world premiere of The Passion of Winnie, an opera based on her life.
Wikipedia Last modified December 7, 2013
Winnie Madikizela–Mandela (born Nomzamo Winfreda Zanyiwe Madikizela; 26 September 1936) is a South African politician who has held several government positions and headed the African National Congress Women's League. She is a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee.
Bio. A+E Television Networks, LLC USA © 1996–2013
After her husband, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison in 1990, Winnie Mandela shared in his political activities, despite her scandalous reputation. In 1993, Winnie became president of the African National Congress Women's League, and in 1994, she was elected to Parliament. She was re-elected to Parliament in 1999, but resigned in 2003, under a new financial scandal.
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West blind to Takfiri barbaric crimes in Syria; Beheadings and spies help al Qaeda gain ground in Syria
We posted yesterday on the struggle within Syria between Takfiri ('Al-Qaeda') rebels groups and Salafist rebel groups, Fear of Assad turns to fear of Al Qaeda. Why Syria’s Islamic Front is bad news for radical groups & Syria an increasingly dangerous place for journalists (eight links). Here's three more related links.Posted at: Friday, December 06, 2013 - 08:03 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
West blind to Takfiri barbaric crimes in Syria: Analyst
Press TV Iran December 6, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded video (3:18).
A political analyst has lashed out at the West for using “human rights” as a pressure tool against some countries while turning a blind eye to the “barbaric” crimes committed by the Takfiri militants in Syria, Press TV reports.
“The Western countries and the Western so-called human rights organizations look around the world to find criticisms of countries they do not like, about the human rights records of the countries they do not like, while at the same time, the mercenaries, whom they are paying for, commit these outrageous barbaric acts in Syria and they do not say a word,” said Ken Stone, with the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, in a Thursday interview with Press TV.
“These foreign-backed mercenaries obviously have nothing to do with freedom and democracy. They are merely the dogs of war that have been unleashed by certain Arab monarchies and Western countries to enforce regime change in Syria,” he added.
Stone called on the West “to step up to the plate and condemn the people that they have paid for and call them off and let the Syrian people come to a solution on their own.”
France and Belgium recently said that the European nationals who fight alongside the foreign-backed militants inside Syria pose a potential threat to the European Union and its allies.
In May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said militants from 29 different countries are operating in different parts of the country.
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
Beheadings and spies help al Qaeda gain ground in Syria
Khaled Yacoub Oweis Thomson Reuters Canada/UK December 5, 2013
Dec 5 (Reuters) - Armed with machine guns, black-clad al Qaeda fighters drove their pick-ups calmly into the northern Syrian town and took over its imposing agriculture ministry building.
They beheaded a sniper from a rival rebel unit, displayed his head in the main square and put roadblocks on major routes.
Not a shot was fired in the takeover, in which informants, including a preacher from a local mosque, played key roles.
The scene in Termanin, recounted by an activist who witnessed it last week, is being repeated in towns along the border with Turkey and at road junctions further inside Syria that have fallen out of President Bashar al-Assad's control.
Whether through weakness or a desire to focus on Assad, rebel units are making way for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda affiliate led by foreigners hardened by guerrilla warfare in Iraq, Chechnya and Libya.
The landgrab has given radical jihadists a large territorial base in the heart of a Middle East convulsed by the civil war raging in Syria since 2011.
While constant conflict and shifting alliances mean Syria is a long way from becoming a centre for global jihad, Western and Arab states backing moderate opponents of Assad are alarmed.
Asked about the group's goals, an ISIL commander in the town of Armanaz in northern Syria who had fought in Libya said it is fighting for "the downfall of the tyrant Bashar" but also seeking to impose Islamic law.
Learning lessons from the 2011 war in Libya, he said ISIL was more determined to hold on to territory under its control.
"Our mistake as mujahideen is that we were preoccupied with fighting Gaddafi and did not pay enough attention to how to hold on territory," said the commander, who goes by the nickname al-Jazaeri, or the Algerian.
Areas under ISIL control include towns across the northern Syrian provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, parts of the eastern provincial capital of Raqqa and, to a lesser extent, of central Syria and the southern province of Deraa.
Last month the ISIL took three pick-up trucks equipped with anti-aircraft guns that had crossed through the town of Atma, and came close to taking other trucks carrying thousands of U.S. supplied combat food rations, activists said.
An opposition figure who attended a meeting with U.S. officials about logistics said: "The Americans are furious at the degree of ISIL reach over supply lines. Privately they are blaming the Turks for opening their borders in such a way that facilitated the infiltration of al Qaeda."
Al-Qaeda kidnaps 51 Kurds in Northern Syria
Jason Ditz Antiwar.com News USA December 5, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters have kidnapped 51 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo Province, including nine children.
The Kurds were taken during three days of AQI fighting against the Kurdish towns of Minbej and Jarablus, and it is unclear where the abductees have been taken.
Though Kurdish militias have ousted AQI and other Islamist factions from more or less all of the northeastern region along the Iraq border, Kurdish towns and villages in Aleppo Province, where Islamist rebels control much of the countryside, remain under constant threat.
This points to the civil war continuing to boil down into three distinct territories, the Kurdish northeast, the rebel north-northwest, and the government held south. In all cases, those on the losing sides will remain targets of ethnic and sectarian cleansing.
A bunch of sexy, badass patriots—during the Bush/Cheney years, the US government's 'surrogate army'. Erik Prince's new book raises an important question: Who should do our killing?
That gruff description of Blackwater's mercenaries as a surrogate army came from then CENTCOM head Admiral William Fallon. Fallon wasn't the only one disenchanted with Blackwater's private contractors. For example, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times September 28, 2008:Posted at: Friday, December 06, 2013 - 01:55 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”
Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, by Erik Prince. Published by Portfolio (Penguin Group USA), November 2013, 416 pages. ISBN-10: 1591847214 ISBN-13: 9781591847212 (Also available as an ebook.
Forget everything you think you know about Blackwater. And get ready for a thrilling, true story that will make you rethink who the good guys and bad guys have been since 9/11.
No company in our time has been as mysterious or as controversial as Blackwater. Founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince in 1997, it recruited special forces veterans and others with the skills and courage to take on the riskiest security jobs in the world. As its reputation grew, government demand for its services escalated, and Blackwater’s men eventually completed nearly one hundred thousand missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the Bush and Obama administrations found the company indispensible.
It sounds like a classic startup success story, except for one problem: Blackwater has been demonized around the world. From uninformed news coverage to grossly distorted fictional portrayals, Blackwater employees have been smeared as mercenaries, profiteers, jackbooted thugs, and worse.
Because of the secrecy requirements of Blackwater’s contracts with the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA, Prince was unable to speak out when his company’s opponents spread false information. But now he’s able to tell the full and often shocking story of Blackwater’s rise and fall.
In Civilian Warriors, Prince pulls no punches and spares no details. He explains his original goal of building an elite center for military and law enforcement training. He recounts how the company shifted gears after 9/11. He honors our troops while challenging the Pentagon’s top leadership. And he reveals why highly efficient private military contractors have been essential to running our armed forces, since long before Blackwater came along.
Above all, Prince debunks myths about Blackwater that spread while he was forced to remain silent—myths that tarnished the memory of men who gave their lives for their country but never got the recognition they deserved. He reveals new information about some of the biggest controversies of the War on Terror, including:
Prince doesn’t pretend to be perfect, and he doesn’t hide the sometimes painful details of his private life. But he has done a great public service by setting the record straight. His book reads like a thriller but is too improbable to be fiction.
Erik Prince—portrayed by some as archvillain, thought by others to be some kind of modern day Knight Templar—founded Blackwater in 1997. He served as its CEO until 2009 and its Chairman until 2010, when the company was sold. A native of Michigan, he now lives in Abu Dhabi, where he pursues a variety of business ventures. (Blackwater changed its name to Xe Enterprises in 2009 and eventually Academi in 2010. The company was purchased in late 2010 by a group of private investors who changed the name to Academi and instituted a Board of Directors and new Senior Management. Erik Prince retained the rights to the name Blackwater and has no affiliation with Academi. Academi sells law enforcement training, logistics, close quarter training, and security services. It also produces and markets/maintains a "shoot house" system and patented the BEAR multi-target training system that was designed and developed by the company. Academi operates and markets its own armored personnel carrier, the Grizzly APC. Not to be confused with the Canadian AVGP Grizzly, the Grizzly APC is a 22 ton infantry mobility vehicle designed and manufactured by Academi for urban combat.)
Reviews: As the wife of someone who has worked for Blackwater for 9 years, I can attest that this book is 100% genuine. Finally a realistic and factual light has been shed on this company and it’s heroes. The men KIA and the men and women who risk their lives everyday for our country are getting the respect they deserve. It’s an informative read and I highly recommend it for anyone familiar with Blackwater and for anyone who would like to know the truth. - A customer review from the Amazon page for the book.
Having been protected by Blackwater officers in two war zones, I can personally attest to the high caliber and integrity of the officers who risked their lives daily while we traveled in dangerous places to fulfill the U.S. Government's mandate. The 41 officers who gave their lives for America should be honored as well as the entrepreneur who had the foresight to standup this organization and answering the call when their country needed the most. Thank you for your sacrifice - Another customer review from the Amazon page for the book.
Below: The founder and CEO of controversial military contractor Blackwater is out to defend his record and celebrate his success in his new memoir, but veteran and military contractor Brian Castner says that the book misses the big questions here.
Who should kill? Looking for answers in Erik Prince’s memoir
Brian Castner The Daily Beast USA November 22, 2013
Erik Prince, 'the great rescuer'. Photo:AP
Who should do the killing? Civilians or soldiers, government employees or private contractors? Does it even matter? Should it even matter? Does a decorated soldier become a villain when he performs the same actions in the same war as a contractor? Are some jobs, to use the standard idiom, “inherently governmental?”
This is the fundamental question posed in the new memoir, Civilian Warriors, by Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. It may be buried under layers of legal defense and rationalizing and being “done keeping quiet” and setting the record straight, but it is a worthy one, and a debate worth having, if Prince could get out of his own way.
As a candidate twenty years ago, President Clinton made “reinventing government” part of his campaign platform, gave Vice-President Gore the task of making government more efficient via the National Performance Review. Competent public administration is never sexy, and the NPR had a mixed and mostly forgotten record, but one piece of it has endured: the drive to privatize government functions. And while cities and counties kept police and fire departments sacrosanct and argued whether trash collectors were “inherently governmental,” the federal government quietly contracted out military food service then transportation then building maintenance then training then security then killing. A great beneficiary of the last three, to the tune of $2 billion, was Blackwater.
Does Prince find any functions inherently governmental? He thinks the distinction quaint. “I’ve watched that line in the sand shift far too much for it to act as any sort of standard,” he writes.
Readers who care about such things will have plenty of material to start a new debate about what contractors should or should not be allowed to do. A book by the founder of a company like Blackwater could have been many things: creation myth, mea culpa, score settler, grandstand. What it has turned out to be is a full-throated defense of the contractor system as a whole.
Blackwater is part of the DoD’s “Total Force”—active duty, reserve, civilian, contractor—and considers itself the “sixth branch” of the military, but seemingly in money and manpower, not spirit. The US government’s mission was to stabilize Iraq, but Blackwater’s mission did not seem to extend beyond protecting the principals in their care, no matter the cost.
Some always saw Iraq, as Winston Churchill famously put it in 1922, as an “ungrateful volcano” predestined for backwardness and chaos no matter our actions. In this view, Iraq was a timeless Groundhog Day of pain, and America and her soldiers have always just done the best they could in a bad situation, managed a mess since the problem was unfixable. As a veteran of the war, I admit my gut finds instant unexamined sympathy here.
But others see cause and effect, say that violence was not inevitable, and that we collectively played creator. In this view, a company may succeed when principals are protected, but a country’s wars are lost by the accumulation of a thousand slights and mistakes. We reaped what we sowed. Blackwater is more symptom than disease, but a warning all the same.
Below: Driven to "serve God, family and the United States", ex-SEAL Erik Prince made Blackwater into "the ultimate tool in the war on terror". His account of "performance excellence and driven entrepreneurialism" has been severely holed by US censors and his company reduced to shepherding diplomats. But make no mistake - with or without Blackwater, "surrogate armies" are the future. Book review by Pepe Escobar.
A bunch of sexy, badass patriots
Pepe Escobar Asia Times Online Hong Kong December 6, 2013
It's the late 1990s' Clinton boom-boom years. You are a young millionaire US patriot with a Navy SEAL background. What are you gonna do? You invest in a badass private army start-up and you go fight "terra, terra, terra" across Dar al Islam. A single owner; no pesky stockholders; no board of directors; no government bureaucracy. You can be "nimble and aggressive". You become - literally - the Prince of War. What's not to like?
This is Erik Prince's My Way, told with some measure of "contract humor" and the obligatory pious references to a "life's mission" to "serve God, family and the United States"; this is the inside story of how Blackwater turned into "something resembling its own branch of the military" and "the ultimate tool in the war on terror". In the manner of Audi extolling the merits of Vorsprung Durch Technik, Prince hails it as a "proud tale of performance excellence and driven entrepreneurialism".
No question; God may be great, but he would certainly eschew a perpetual photo-op at the roof of the Sistine Chapel to be able to toy with such an awesome PMC (private military contractor). Prince, by the way, is ballsy enough to - correctly - depict Cristobal Colon, aka Columbus, in 1492 as a pioneering PMC.
Inevitably, this also had to be the story of how Blackwater "was slagged as the face of military evil", "gun-toting bullets for hire". So forget about Jeremy Scahill's 2007 book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army indicting Prince's creation; whatever end of the ideological spectrum - from an heir of Plato to an heir of Aristoteles and every political theorist in between - the real fun for the reader starts when Prince meticulously destroys US "politicians" who "feign indignation and pretend my men hadn't done exactly what they had paid us handsomely to do".
And handsomely that was. ...
Who were these noble patriots/mercenaries? Prince answers: "Mainly former noncommissioned military officers and former members of the special operations services and elite light infantry ... Roughly two-thirds were former US Army; about one-quarter were Marines, and the rest former Navy SEALs, police SWAT team officers, and former federal agents from the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies."
Related: The vindication of Erik Prince
Alec Torres National Review USA December 5, 2013
Erik Prince now lives in Abu Dhabi. The former Navy SEAL and creator of the military-contracting company Blackwater isn’t even sure he wants to remain an American citizen.
“Uh . . . for the record, for now I plan on retaining my U.S. citizenship, but I am very, very worried about the direction of America right now,” he told me on November 18, the day before Civilian Warriors, his book about his time at the helm of Blackwater, was released.
Blackwater was an amazing success story. A company born out of a desire to help America in any way possible, it provided security for diplomats, resupply aid to soldiers, relief to disaster-struck populations, and more. Yet it was ruined by the politics and policies of the government it served. Looking back on the story of Blackwater, Prince worries about the future of the country he had risked his life for and built his company to aid and protect.
His worry is understandable. Not only were he and his company hounded by the press, sued, badgered by Congress, reviled, and subjected to IRS scrutiny, but his time first in the military and then as a private contractor provided a first-person view of the decline of American influence and prestige abroad as well as the depths of government waste and inefficiency.
“You can’t spend yourself off a cliff. You can’t make decisions leading almost to self-immolation and expect the country is going to go on the way it always has,” he said. “America is held in lower regard today wherever I go in the world. It’s not respected. It’s not trusted as a partner. The repeated blunderings of the U.S. ever since the Arab Spring have lowered America’s stock.”
Far more worrisome than America’s standing abroad, says Prince, is the growth of the U.S. government. “I believe unfortunately that the greatest threat to American liberty is becoming the U.S. government,” he told me. “It’s not a foreign enemy any more. It’s the growth and bloat of the U.S. government itself.”
Having spent years as the object of anti-war anger, forced to keep silent by an agreement with the State Department he was hired to protect, Prince has come out in the open to give his side of the story, telling a tale of bureaucratic waste, government malice, and media deceit.
But for Prince, it wasn’t always that way.
He started out with a simple idea: build a world-class one-stop training facility for special-operations personnel, who, at that time, were being shipped to different facilities around the country at the taxpayers’ expense. Financed by the fortune left to him by his late father and informed by his own experiences as a former Navy SEAL, Prince set up shop in 1998 in North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp, whose charcoal-colored waters provided the company’s name.
The years from 1999 to 2006 saw the rapid rise of Prince’s company from a struggling training facility and shooting range to a worldwide, billion-dollar corporation. At each crisis, from the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole to September 11 to America’s response in the form of the War on Terror, Blackwater stepped up to the plate, purchasing new equipment, expanding capabilities, and providing personnel where the government was lacking. Eventually Blackwater had contracts flying supplies into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, guarding American diplomats in Baghdad, and protecting CIA bases in Kabul and Taliban-held eastern Afghanistan. And while Blackwater earned a profit, it offered its services at a fraction of the cost the government would have incurred performing these functions itself.
“I wrote this book just to set the record straight,” Prince told me. “The characterization of being these overly aggressive war profiteers who were running amok was just not the case. I think the book does a pretty good job of taking those arguments apart.”
To combat the notion that military contractors are a new evil in the modern era performing what ought to be strictly governmental functions, Prince traces the history of military contracting from Columbus — who “with the stroke of Isabella’s pen . . . effectively became a private military contractor,” Prince writes — to Iraq.
“Contractors are strewn all through American history, from the founding of the country and the original colonists, to the building of the Continental Army, to the privateers of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, to the Flying Tigers, you name it,” Prince told me. “Why say, ‘Oh there should never be any fighting contractors?’ because there certainly have been in the past.”
Despite the way his company was treated by politicians and bureaucracies, Prince still sees an important future for private military contractors, who continue to constitute a large portion of America’s footprint abroad. ...
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Dangerous global warming closer than you think, climate scientists say
Two new reports lay out the case for fast action and increased awareness.Posted at: Thursday, December 05, 2013 - 06:19 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Dangerous global warming closer than you think, climate scientists say
David Biello Scientific American USA December 4, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Abrupt climate change is not only imminent, it's already here. The rapid dwindling of summer Arctic sea ice has outpaced all scientific projections, which will have impacts on everything from atmospheric circulation to global shipping. And plants, animals and other species are already struggling to keep up with rapid climate shifts, increasing the risk of mass extinction that would rival the end of the dinosaurs. So warns a new report from the U.S. National Research Council.
That's exactly why longtime climate scientist James Hansen and a panoply of scientists and economists are urging in another new paper that current efforts to restrain global warming are woefully inadequate. In particular, global negotiations to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius risk "wrecking the planet," in the words of lead author Hansen, recently retired head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a researcher at Columbia University's Earth Institute.
"We started this paper to provide a basis for legal actions against governments for not doing their jobs and protecting the rights of young people and future generations," Hansen said of the paper, entitled "Assessing 'Dangerous Climate Change.'" "We can't burn all these fossil fuels. There is no recognition of this in government policies."
The paper, published in PLOS ONE, lays out the case for why fossil fuel emissions to date are dangerous enough to permanently alter the planet's climate—raising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere above 400 parts-per-million, or levels not seen in at least 3 million years. Global emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels—which set another new high in 2012, according to the Global Carbon Project—must decline to zero new pollution within the next few decades, according to the analysis. "Affordable, clean energy is probably the biggest requirement that the planet has," Hansen noted at a gathering of journalists at Columbia University to discuss the new analysis.
Given the size of the problem—the fossil fuels of coal, oil and natural gas still provide more than 80 percent of the world's energy—an "all of the above" clean energy effort will be required, according to Hansen and his co-authors. That includes geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, solar, wind and further development of technologies to capture CO2 from fossil fuel burning and permanently store it in some way. Increasing efficiency in the use of such energy as well as switching cars from running on gasoline to electricity will also be vital. "What's called normal is completely reckless," said co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute, addressing the growth rates in fossil fuel pollution of roughly 3 percent per year, putting the world on a pathway to roughly 4 degrees C of warming by century's end. "To decarbonize the energy system very deeply would require a scale of effort unlike anything seen almost anywhere in the world."
Related: On the 'eve' of a mass extinction? What we humans have to do right now to save our species & Why climate pariahs like Australia and Canada matter
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada December 1, 2013
Seven links. We introduced them thus:
Our planet has experienced five major extinctions over the past billion or so years -- do we really want to launch an irreversible 6th?
Love 'em or hate 'em, we all know Greenwald and Snowden are important & The new political prisoners: Leakers, hackers and activists
How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year.Posted at: Thursday, December 05, 2013 - 06:09 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Snowden and Greenwald: The men who leaked the secrets
Janet Reitman Rolling Stone USA December 4, 2013
Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. Photo: Max Vadukukl/Guardian/EyePress/Newscom
Early one morning last December, Glenn Greenwald opened his laptop, scanned through his e-mail, and made a decision that almost cost him the story of his life. A columnist and blogger with a large and devoted following, Greenwald receives hundreds of e-mails every day, many from readers who claim to have "great stuff." Occasionally these claims turn out to be credible; most of the time they're cranks. There are some that seem promising but also require serious vetting. This takes time, and Greenwald, who starts each morning deluged with messages, has almost none. "My inbox is the enemy," he told me recently.
And so it was that on December 1st, 2012, Greenwald received a note from a person asking for his public encryption, or PGP, key so he could send him an e-mail securely. Greenwald didn't have one, which he now acknowledges was fairly inexcusable given that he wrote almost daily about national-security issues, and had likely been on the government's radar for some time over his vocal support of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. "I didn't really know what PGP was," he admits. "I had no idea how to install it or how to use it." It seemed time-consuming and complicated, and Greenwald, who was working on a book about how the media control political discourse, while also writing his column for The Guardian, had more pressing things to do.
"It felt Anonymous-ish to me," Greenwald says. "It was this cryptic 'I and others have things you would be interested in. . . .' He never sent me neon lights – it was much more ambiguous than that."
So he ignored the note. Soon after, the source sent Greenwald a step-by-step tutorial on encryption. Then he sent him a video Greenwald describes as "Encryption for Journalists," which "walked me through the process like I was a complete idiot."
And yet, Greenwald still didn't bother learning security protocols. "The more he sent me, the more difficult it seemed," he says. "I mean, now I had to watch a fucking video . . . ?" Greenwald still had no idea who the source was, nor what he wanted to say. "It was this Catch-22: Unless he tells me something motivating, I'm not going to drop what I'm doing, and from his side, unless I drop what I'm doing and get PGP, he can't tell me anything."
The dance went on for a month. Finally, after trying and failing to get Greenwald's attention, the source gave up.
Greenwald went back to his book and his column, publishing, among other things, scathing attacks on the Obama administration's Guantánamo and drone policies. It would take until May, six months after the anonymous stranger reached out, before Greenwald would hear from him again, through a friend, the documentarian Laura Poitras, whom the source had contacted, suggesting she and Greenwald form a partnership. In June, the three would meet face to face, in a Hong Kong hotel room, where Edward Snowden, the mysterious source, would hand over many thousands of top-secret documents: a mother lode laying bare the architecture of the national-security state. It was the "most serious compromise of classified information in the history of the U.S. intelligence community," as former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said, exposing the seemingly limitless reach of the National Security Agency, and sparking a global debate on the use of surveillance – ostensibly to fight terrorism – versus the individual right to privacy. And its disclosure was also a triumph for Greenwald's unique brand of journalism.
Greenwald is a former litigator whose messianic defense of civil liberties has made him a hero of left-libertarian circles, though he has alienated elites across the political spectrum. Famously combative, he "lives to piss people off," as one colleague says. And in the past eight years he has done an excellent job: taking on Presidents Bush and Obama, Congress, the Democratic Party, the Tea Party, the Republicans, the "liberal establishment" and, notably, the mainstream media, which he accuses – often while being interviewed by those same mainstream, liberal-establishment journalists – of cozying up to power. "I crave the hatred of those people," Greenwald says about the small, somewhat incestuous community of Beltway pundits, government officials, think-tank experts and other opinion-makers he targets routinely. "If you're not provoking that reaction in people, you're not provoking or challenging anyone, which means you're pointless."
This perspective has earned Greenwald tremendous support, especially among young, idealistic readers hungry for an uncompromised voice. "There are few writers out there who are as passionate about communicating uncomfortable truths," Snowden, who was one of Greenwald's longtime readers, tells me in an e-mail. "Glenn tells the truth no matter the cost, and that matters."
The same, of course, could be said of Snowden, who, from the moment he revealed himself as the source of the leaks, has baffled the mainstream critics who've tried to make sense of him. ...
Related: More from Rolling Stone: "The New Political Prisoners: Leakers, Hackers and Activists"
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On February 28th, Army private first class Bradley Manning pleaded not guilty to the charge of aiding the enemy for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010. After more than 1,000 days in prison, Manning may be America's most famous political prisoner – but he's far from the only one. From environmentalists to hackers to whistleblowers, the U.S. government has made a policy of charging and convicting a wide range of activists across the country. To the FBI, an information transparency activist like the late Aaron Swartz is apparently more dangerous than the men who ruined the nation's economy, and an environmentally-minded economics student poses a greater threat than the oil companies polluting America's natural resources. The government insists that such harsh penalties are necessary to protect national security – but as hacker Jeremy Hammond said in a recent letter from prison, this misleading rhetoric ultimately "enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent."
Fear of Assad turns to fear of Al Qaeda. Why Syria’s Islamic Front is bad news for radical groups & Syria an increasingly dangerous place for journalists
Intro: Lacking his father's political cunning, Bashar al-Assad can thank the hard work of others for his survival. Hafez al-Assad's worst move was to hand power to his son, Bashar - writes Robin Yassin-Kassab, a novelist and the co-editor of the Critical Muslim, a quarterly magazine of ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, interconnected world. Yassin-Kassab was born in west London in 1969. Except for six months in Beirut, he grew up in England and Scotland. He has lived and worked in London, France, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman. (Jim comment: Bashar's father had been grooming Bashar's older brother Bassel as the future president. Bashar at the time had few political aspirations. Bashar, however, was recalled in 1994 to the Syrian Army after Bassel's death in a car accident. Soon after the death of Bassel, Hafez Assad made the decision to make Bashar the new heir-apparent. Over the next six and half years, until his death in 2000, Hafez went about systematically preparing Bashar for taking over power. According to the Guardian (March 12, 2012): "A former president of Lebanon who spent nearly five years dealing with Hafez al-Assad said he had little success in winning concessions. 'I had 18 meetings with Hafez al-Assad when I was president and never won a single concession from him,' he said. 'He would talk, stall, never commit and never deliver.' Asked when he had come to the conclusion that the way of doing business had not changed when Bashar al-Assad became leader, the former president said: 'From the beginning. He surrounded himself with the same people. He does business the same way.'")Posted at: Thursday, December 05, 2013 - 03:03 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Dubious wisdom: Assad's waiting game
Robin Yassin-Kassab Al Jazeera Qater November 29, 2013
Syrian poet Rasha Omran once told me that Bashar al-Assad was "not a dictator, just a gangster boss". But he's not even that. What he is, a (dysfunctional) functionary. Syria is a dictatorship which lacks an efficient dictator.
Hafez al-Assad - the father - was an entirely different matter. Born in a dirt-floor shack, he clawed his way to the top by brute cunning, deft flexibility, and strategic intelligence. The careful manipulation of sectarian tensions in order to divide and rule was one of his key strategies, yet he was also attentive to building alliances with rural Sunnis and the urban bourgeoisie - both constituencies now alienated by his son.
Bashar's great innovation was supposedly economic reform. In practice this meant an unpleasant marriage of neoliberalism with crony capitalism. It succeeded in making his cousin Rami Makhlouf the richest man in the country. The poor, meanwhile, became much poorer, the social infrastructure crumbled, and unemployment continued to climb.
The thesis of former German diplomat Bente Scheller's book, The Wisdom of the Waiting Game, is that the Syrian regime's approach to its current existential crisis follows a "narrow path consistent with previous experience", and she focuses on foreign policy to make this point. When the regime found itself isolated on Iraq after the 2003 invasion, for instance, or on Lebanon in 2005, after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and the Syrian army's precipitous withdrawal, it waited, refusing to change its policy, until conditions changed, its opponents were humbled, and it was brought in from the cold.
In his book The Fall of the House of Assad, David Lesch points out that Bashar felt personally vindicated by these perceived policy victories, and grew in arrogance as a result. Today, with the West handing the Syria file over to Russia, and seemingly coming around to Bashar's argument that Islamism poses a greater threat than his genocidal dictatorship, it looks (for now at least) as if the refusal to budge is again paying off.
For now, Bashar may be winning, but not due to his own strength or popularity, and least of all to his wisdom. For his good fortune he should thank the hard work or failures of other actors: the solid support of Russia and Iran (the latter organising his military fight-back); the West's silent complicity; the incompetence of opposition political elites; the growth of Salafism and the consequent fears in minority communities. If, and when, he does finally conquer the revolution (still an unlikely prospect), it will be a pyrrhic victory for two reasons. First, the monopoly of power and violence established by his father has been irretrievably lost. From now on the regime will be in hock to the foreign powers and domestic sub-state militias which have rescued it. Second, with the economy, infrastructure and social cohesion of the country entirely destroyed, there will be nothing left to loot.
We receive a daily bulletin from Foreign Policy magazine. The following was in our inbox this morning.
Rocket attacks on government-controlled areas of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo have killed at least 17 people on Wednesday, according to the Syrian state news agency, SANA. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that 18 people were killed in the attacks on the Meridien and Furqan neighborhoods, including nine civilians and five Syrian soldiers. The SOHR additionally reported that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have abducted 51 Kurds in the past three days from the towns of Minbej and Jarablus in Aleppo province. The kidnappings have come after recent gains by Kurdish fighters further east, where they have expelled Islamist forces after several months of clashes. In July, ISIL abducted an estimated 200 Kurdish civilians from Aleppo province. Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said President Bashar al-Assad should lead any transition government agreed upon at a peace conference planned for January in Geneva. The opposition has maintained that Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government.
Items: Fear of Assad turns to fear of Al Qaeda as Islamists not secret police come calling
The National Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates November 27, 2013
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BEIRUT // When he was agitating for revolution, urging fellow Syrians to rise up against President Bashar Al Assad, Abdullah dreaded the midnight knock at the door from the secret police.
Now that the uprising has succeeded in his hometown near Aleppo, pro-democracy activists are living in fear again — and this time those who brand them “traitor” don’t bother to knock.
Two years ago, after Abdullah broke off his studies to run social media campaigns against Mr Al Assad, he was held and tortured by security men. This summer, it happened again — only now it was Islamist gunmen loyal to Al Qaeda who smashed into his family’s house, broke everything in their way and took him off to a cell where, once more, he was blindfolded and beaten.
“The sad thing is that those who were doing this were not Mr Al Assad’s police,” Mr Abdullah said from Turkey, where he managed to flee after his latest ordeal. “They were fighters who were supposed to be fighting for freedom, our freedom.
“Back then they called me ‘traitor’ for demanding freedom. These armed men also tortured me for calling for freedom.”
His story is increasingly familiar across northern Syria, where Mr Al Assad’s government has ceded territory to an array of rival militias. The rising power is militant Islamists and men who see democracy as the work of the devil, or the West, a system contrary to their hopes for a state ruled by religion.
Abdullah’s experience also highlights the fragmentation of Syria’s opposition, which greatly complicates new international efforts to end a civil war that has killed over 100,000.
Why Syria’s Islamic Front is bad news for radical groups
Hassan Hassan The National Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates December 3, 2013
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One of the mistakes analysts of the Syrian conflict often make is to assess rebel groups exclusively based on the slogans these organisations use. Many observers already recognise that hard-line Islamist rhetoric is more often than not used to attract funding. But in recent weeks, this rhetoric has become even more essential to prevent a deeply worrying trend: more Syrians have been drifting towards the orbit of radical groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra as a consequence of their efficiency and tireless focus on the battlefield.
This trend can be best examined by looking into the newly-formed Islamic Front, a Salafi-leaning alliance of at least seven of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria.
The nexus of this alliance was Jaish Al Islam, a merger of initially 51 groups led by Zahran Alloush from Damascus. Alloush’s alliance was seen by extremists as a Saudi scheme in lieu of the US-backed Military Councils. When Jaish Al Islam was formed in September, it started to face hostile criticism by supporters of radical groups, especially as the group lost ground in several areas around Damascus to the regime’s Iranian-backed militias. Alloush, according to sources, met senior members of Jabhat Al Nusra to contain the situation. He also recorded a video in which he praised Jabhat Al Nusra and its ideological proximity to Jaish Al Islam.
Maintaining ties with Jabhat Al Nusra has been practically unavoidable for rebel groups. Jabhat Al Nusra has successfully won hearts and minds of local communities through its efficiency not only on the battlefield but also in the delivery of aid to people. Fighters from other groups recognise its popularity and avoid confrontation with it.
The Islamic Front succeeded where Zahran Alloush failed: it convinced Jabhat Al Nusra that the alliance would work closely with it, but only quietly. The attacks against Salafi groups died down noticeably after the formation of the Front.
The closer relationship between the Islamic Front and Jabhat Al Nusra is a marriage of convenience, as the two groups increasingly view the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) as a menace.
Behind a pay wall, The Wall Street Journal reports (Dec. 3):
The U.S. and its allies have held direct talks with key Islamist militias in Syria, Western officials say, aiming to undercut al Qaeda while acknowledging that religious fighters long shunned by Washington have gained on the battlefield.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is taking its own outreach further, moving to directly arm and fund one of the Islamist groups, the Army of Islam, despite U.S. qualms.
The Saudis and the West are pivoting toward a newly created coalition of religious militias called the Islamic Front, which excludes the main al Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Syria — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, known as ISIS.
Related audio: Syria an increasingly dangerous place for journalists
"Q" CBC Radio One Canada December 5, 2013
Visit this page for its related links. You can listen to the interview with Rohde (14:26) from a pop-up link on the page.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Rohde speaks to Jian about the new rash of journalist kidnappings in Syria, how the tactics of their captors are changing, and what that means for the kind of work the media is able to do in the troubled country.
Journalists are now being held indefinitely as potential bargaining chips, a situation which leaves their families, governments and publications at a loss when it comes to effectively negotiating their release. Sometimes, their captors don't make any demands, or -- for reasons that are unclear -- connect with victims families to say that they're okay.
It's a subject Rohde feels passionately about, having himself been kidnapped and held captive for 7 months in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, he says, the people hurt most are average Syrians whose day-to-day conditions are increasingly difficult to report on.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
What we need is money, not the human rights sermon. Ukraine's Russian gambit all about cash & Balaklava's lost history: Q&A with photographer Oksana Yushko
The bitter protests in Ukraine over whether the country's future lies with Russia (as the government seems to favor) or the European Union cannot mask that the official message to the EU is little changed: What we need is money, not the human rights sermon. For the country's elite, this tug-of-war is just that - not about values, not about identity. In the end, it's all about money. Mikhail A Molchanov of St Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada is the author of Political Culture and National Identity in Russian-Ukrainian Relations (Texas A&M University Press, 2002).Posted at: Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - 06:56 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Ukraine's Russian gambit all about cash
Mikhail A Molchanov Asia Times Online Hong Kong December 4, 2013
After Ukraine's pro-European protesters took to the streets to denounce the government's backtracking on the European Union Association Agreement, things went south for both the protesters and the government.
While protesters were beaten up by the police, the government endured a siege of both the Cabinet of Minsters and the president's offices. The enraged crowd occupied municipal offices of the City of Kiev. Protesters demand resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government and the signing of the treaty with the European Union. Russia's President Vladimir Putin says it was all orchestrated from the West.
Only few days back, it seems Ukraine was well on its way to Europe, leaving Russia and its Customs Union out in the cold. The EU Vilnius summit was meant to bring Ukraine into the European Union fold, thus humiliating Russia and its designs for the rival regional association.
However, the Vilnius summit ended with disappointing results. Ukraine had suddenly announced that it was putting the process on the back burner until "effective sales markets for the Ukrainian goods can be found". Parallel to that, Ukraine's diplomats gave another reason for ending the talks - "national security".
That was a code word for Russia's pressure. In July, Moscow had subjected Ukrainian exports to new customs procedures, which lengthened the clearance time 10-fold and more. By mid-August, 900 freight train cars and 1,000 cargo trucks were stuck on the border. Trade losses averaged 20-25% of the total sales value. Ukraine could have lost up to US$2.5 billion in trade by the end of the year if the draconian customs measures had been kept in place.
Putin's adviser on regional integration matters, Sergei Glaziev, declared that that was a taste of things to come should Ukraine continue steering way from the Russia-led Customs Union.
"We are preparing to tighten the customs regime just in case Ukraine takes the suicidal step of signing an agreement of association with the EU," he said. However, were Ukraine to backtrack on its European commitments, Moscow would drop the price of its gas twofold or more. As Ukraine pays more for its gas than anyone else in Europe, Moscow was confident that its offer would not pass unnoticed.
Immediately after the decision to delay the signing of the EU Association Agreement, mass protests erupted. Last Sunday, more than 300,000 protesters took to the streets in Kiev alone. A repetition of the "orange revolution" of 2004 seemed to be in the offing. Protesters adopted a resolution demanding the resignation of President Yanukovych.
Meanwhile, the pro-government demonstrations were also gaining strength. A meeting of 20,000 people was called by the Party of the Regions on Friday. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov opined that, in addition to anti-government demonstrations, "there was a lot of events to support the decision of the government".
The general public is split in half. If in July pro-Western sympathizers were in the majority (55%), an October poll saw their numbers shrunk by 5%. Support of membership in the Customs Union is almost as high as that of the association with the EU.
Related: It is the same the world over. While power elites push and pull, those they rule pursue daily affairs as best they are able.
Below: Oksana Yushko is a freelance photographer based in Moscow. She started working as a professional journalist in 2006 and currently focuses on personal projects in Russia, Chechnya, Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. Yushko was a selected participant of the 2011 Noor-Nikon Masterclass in Documentary Photography in Bucharest, Romania, and a finalist of the 2010 Conscientious Portfolio Competition. She was also finalist of the 2013 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival, the Grand Prize Winner of Lens Culture International Exposure Awards 2011, a finalist of the Aftermath Project 2010 and a 2011 finalist of the Manuel-Riveira Oritz Foundation. Yushko’s work has been exhibited in major galleries in Russia, Finland, UK, USA, and France and her work has been published by media across the world.
Balaklava: The Lost History – photo essay by Oksana Yushko
News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) Canada April 21, 2013
This week’s feature is by Russian photographer Oksana Yushko
Balaklava is a small town by the sea in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine. During the Soviet era, it was a city that didn’t exist to the outside world. The town closed to the public for more than 30 years due to the submarine base that was situated there.
Almost the entire population of Balaklava worked at the base and even their family members could not visit the town without a good reason or proper identification. It was a closed society, an ambitious, privileged caste, a major league, a private club with limited membership. Officers were well paid, enjoyed special apartments and were given other privileges. It used to be like this.
After the collapse of the USSR in 1992, the Soviet army was automatically transferred to Russia’s control. It was only in 1997 that the ships and equipment of the Black Sea Fleet were officially divided between the two countries – Russia and Ukraine. The process of fleet division remains painful since many aspects of the two navies’ co-existence are under-regulated, causing recurring conflicts.
The system collapse turned the once privileged Soviet officers into unwanted people. I have been there many times and every time, I saw traces of this not only in the streets but also on people’s faces. They still live in the past.
The Soviet Union hasn’t existed for 20 years but the shadow of it lies everywhere. You may not see military guards on every corner but you can feel their presence. Things have changed but people’s minds and attitudes have not.
Below: Yushko is interviewed by Pauline Eiferman, an associate editor at Roads & Kingdoms and a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and l’École de Journalisme de Sciences Po in Paris.
history: Q&A with Oksana Yushko
Pauline Eiferman Roads and Kingdoms USA
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As pro-Western crowds battle police in Kiev to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an EU trade deal, Ukraine’s decades-old struggle with neighboring Russia is spilling onto the streets. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has resorted to many techniques to keep a firm grip on Ukraine, dividing its population and undermining the Orange Revolution. But the real question is what Ukrainians want for their own future: Russia or the West? One set of answers might be found in the work of photographer Oksana Yushko. She traveled to Balaklava, a small town on the Crimean Peninsula that was closed to the outside world for more than 30 years because of its top-secret submarine base. She spoke with us from her home in Moscow about Ukrainian nostalgia, hollow mountains, and finding a boyfriend on assignment.
Roads & Kingdoms: What were your first impressions of Balaklava?
Oksana Yushko: It’s a very unusual place at first sight. I went there for an assignment for Russian Reporter magazine and then I decided to do a project there. My first impression was that it was depressing, because I couldn’t see the open sea. It’s a closed bay, I didn’t feel free there. People around were open but I felt something in the air. I thought about their past and about their memories and all those feelings made me want to investigate my own childhood during the Soviet era. I decided to do a project about their memories and how they live now, in a place that used to be closed from the whole world.
Oil and LNG profits may be only the British Columbia corporatists' pipe dream but the potential damage endangers the entire province. What might the cumulative impacts be? Hardly anyone in government or industry appears to be asking
There are people, corporations, and government departments rushing for something they are not sure is there. It is more of a holy grail than anything thought out or substantive. And when they get caught up in that, like in the Klondike gold rush, all rational thinking goes out the window. - Richard Overstall, a lawyer specializing in natural resource and aboriginal issues, cited buy Bill MetcalfePosted at: Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - 06:33 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Scale and speed of industrial development in northwest B.C. undermines environmental assessment
Bill Metcalfe Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada December 3, 2013
The rush to develop LNG has resulted in multiple proposals for pipelines to transport gas from the northeastern B.C. to the coast. (Map courtesy of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, updated November 30, 2013.) This item contains one embedded link and several related links.
A juggernaut of industrial development in northwestern BC is overwhelming environmental groups, First Nations, and other citizens trying to keep up with environmental assessments. There was a time when they could concentrate of one or two projects without allowing several others to slip past them unnoticed. Not any more.
Shannon McPhail and her colleagues at the Skeena Watershed Protection Coalition worked hard for several years supporting the Tahltan Nation’s fight against Shell Canada’s proposed shale gas project in the Sacred Headwaters. In 2012, Shell abandoned the project, with compensation from the provincial government.
McPhail says she focussed entirely on Shell, to the exclusion of other environmental issues, for many months. “We put blinders on, kept our heads down. That was a strategic decision and we ignored everything else.”
But after the victory she got a shock when she raised her head and took a look around.
She saw hundreds of billions of dollars worth of liquid natural gas (LNG) plants, natural gas pipelines, mines, run-of-river hydro, port upgrades, and industry upgrades, all in different stages of proposal, investment, acceptance and construction.
“We were completely overwhelmed because we were getting hundreds of referrals,” McPhail says. “We thought, wow, there is so much going on and it is all happening so fast, we don’t feel like anybody has a handle on it.”
Richard Overstall, a Smithers lawyer specializing in natural resource and aboriginal issues, says there is no way the public can keep up.
Below: What do the general (and generally ill-informed) public get fed? Smoke and mirrors.
Economic benefits from Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion unfounded
Robyn Allan Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada November 29, 2013
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Evaluating whether heavy oil pipeline projects are in the public interest can be a challenge when information put forward by proponents is not transparent. When this happens, they must be held accountable.
This is important especially in the area of economic benefits—one of the main drivers behind energy infrastructure projects.
The most recent case in point is Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain expansion. A recent video on the company’s website enthusiastically promotes the economic benefits of the project. The voiceover warns of vast economic losses if we don’t approve Trans Mountain’s expansion and huge gains if we do.
Related: BC's land oil spill response isn't remotely 'world-leading'
Robyn Allan TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada December 2, 2013
B.C. protestors take on heavy oil pipelines and tankers as part of a nation-wide demo on Nov. 16. Photo: Pete Rockwell. Visit this page for its embedded and related links.
Editor's note: In July 2012, the B.C. government announced five conditions which must be met before it would consider the approval of heavy oil pipeline projects in the province. For The Tyee, independent economist Robyn Allan has so far looked at the first two conditions in the context of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, available here and here. In those examinations, Allan argued that the province has far from proven its commitment to meeting its own conditions over the years. Today, she breaks down the third condition, that B.C. develop "world-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems" and hold companies like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan accountable to them.]
Terrestrial oil spills are fundamentally a provincial responsibility. Whereas Ottawa is responsible for federal lands, species at risk, migratory fish and birds and their habitats, the rest falls under the purview of the province. The province's land-based spill preparedness and response principles in its five conditions for heavy oil pipelines represent "a starting point for discussion with industry and Canada towards building a world leading terrestrial spill management system for B.C."
However, more than four years earlier the province was aware it was playing Russian roulette with B.C.'s land-based resources. The Ministry of Environment commissioned an independent study in 2008 that found funding for spill preparedness and response was sorely lacking, and that provincial legislation was weak. There was no long-term liability for the restoration of resources damaged or destroyed by the release of hazardous materials. Recommendations to address the inadequate regime were made, but the government took no apparent action.
Following its five conditions, another discussion paper was released cataloguing how B.C. trailed the terrestrial spill preparedness and response regimes in neighbouring jurisdictions like Alaska, Washington and California. These are regions where diluted bitumen transport is not the threat it is in B.C., and yet these states have industry-funded -- not taxpayer-funded -- annual spill prevention, compliance and management budgets which are four to 10 times greater than B.C.'s $2.4 million.
B.C.'s Environmental Emergency Program only has 16 staff, albeit hard working and dedicated, since they respond to an average of 14 minor emergencies a day with an average of at least one of those incidents classified as more serious. B.C.'s staff pales in comparison to that of neighbours north and south. Strapped resources mean prevention and preparedness take a back seat to response, which inevitably increases spill risk.
Below: What do the general (and generally ill-informed) public get fed? Not only smoke and mirrors from the corporations but also bombast from the corporations' paid-for politicians.
Oil spill risk addressed by West Coast tanker safety report
CBC News British Columbia Canada December 3, 2013
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Potential polluters should be prepared for a worst-case scenario and face unlimited liability in the case of an oil spill from one of their tanker ships, a government-appointed panel recommends.
Federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver were in Vancouver Tuesday afternoon to release a report about oil tanker safety on the West Coast.
“No project will proceed unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment,” said Oliver.
The report was written by a three-member panel of experts appointed by the government, with 45 recommendations for improving Canada's preparedness for oil spills from tankers and barges.
Among the key recommendations: ...
Raitt welcomed the report Tuesday while listing a series of actions she said the government has already taken to improve tanker safety.
But Ottawa isn't adopting any of the recommendations, at least not yet.
Art Sterritt, the executive director of Coastal First Nations, is critical of the federal government's approach. "Whether you call it world class or you have a world-class expert panel — it doesn't matter what you call it. These people don't have anything that gives Coastal First Nations any comfort."
The province said the report is a positive development — but it, too, is waiting to see results.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Early Season's Greetings to our female visitors
Jim comment: Sent to me by a female friend with the subject "I LAUGHED SO HARD AT THE TRUTH OF THIS"Posted at: Tuesday, December 03, 2013 - 09:39 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Related" "Gender in the 21st Century": Be it resolved, men are obsolete…
Munk Debates Canada November 19, 2013
Since the beginning of human civilization, men have been the dominant sex. But now, for the first time, a host of indicators suggest that women are not only achieving equality with men but are fast emerging as the more successful sex of the species. Whether in education, employment, personal health or child rearing, statistics point to a rise in the status and power of women at home, in the workplace, and in traditional male bastions such as politics. But are men, and the age-old power structures associated with “maleness,” permanently in decline? Or do men still retain significant control over the workplace, the family and society at large, including women? In sum, where are the sexes headed in the 21st century? To find out, the Munk Debates will move the motion: be it resolved men are obsolete...
Monday, December 2, 2013
How Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) became an electronic spying giant
Intro: Where it is possible, power prefers to know about and even to control what is going on at the most humble level of its society, and the greater the power, the more irresistible the drive to know and control. It is essential to appreciate that whether you are talking about the military or huge corporations or the security apparatus, you are not talking about institutions which are democratic in nature. Quite the opposite, these institutions are run along much the same lines as all traditional forms of undemocratic government, from monarchs to dictators. Leadership and goals and methods are not subject to a vote and orders given are only to be obeyed, and there is no reason to believe that any of these institutions cherishes or promotes democratic values or principles of human rights. Of course, corporations, in order to attract talent, must publicly present a friendly face towards those principles, but that necessary charade reflects their future behavior about as much as campaign promises reflect future acts of an American politician.Posted at: Monday, December 02, 2013 - 01:38 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Those at the top of all powerful and hierarchical institutions inevitably come to believe that they know better than most people, and those with any hope of gaining top positions must adopt the same view. For centuries we saw the great landed gentry and church patriarchs of pre-democratic societies regard themselves as inherently different from the population. It is no different with the psychology of people who enjoy their wealth and influence through positions in these great modern, un-democratic institutions. The larger and more pervasive these institutions become in society - and they have become truly bloated in America - the more will their narcissistic, privileged views prevail. Also, it is axiomatic that where great power exists, it never goes unused. - John Chuckman, retired chief economist of Texaco Canada Ltd., in an opinion piece "What America has become"
The key thing here is, Canadians should demand greater accountability. To be absolutely clear, we need defence and intelligence agencies. The world is a dangerous place. It’s not a question of that. It’s a question of basic checks and balances in a liberal democracy. It’s a question of preventing the abuse and concentration of power. It’s as old as ancient Greece, Alexis de Tocqueville, Publius and the founding fathers of the United States. And we’re losing sight of that in the headlong rush to secure cyberspace. - Ronald Deibert, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and author of Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, in conversation with Mitch Potter, U.S. online snooping: What Canadians need to know, published June 10, 2013
Item: According to Ronald Deibert CSEC "operated under the Department of Defence until recently, when it became its own federal agency. Oversight of CSEC is really thin, compared to even the oversight that takes place at the [United States'] National Security Agency."
How CSEC became an electronic spying giant
Colin Freeze Globe and Mail Canada November 30, 2013
Visit this page for its related links.
It is known as “Camelot,” and it is believed to be among the most expensive government buildings Canada has ever built.
Next year, the analysts, hackers and linguists who form the heart of Communications Security Establishment Canada are expected to move from their crumbling old campus in Ottawa to a gleaming new, $1-billion headquarters.
It is the physical manifestation of just how far the agency has come since Sept. 11, 2001. Before those attacks, it was known as Canada’s other spy agency – an organization created to crack Communist codes more than seven decades ago, but rendered rudderless after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The agency’s biggest victory of the 1990s, insiders say, was its behind-the-scenes role in the seizure of a Spanish trawler during the Turbot Wars, a 1995 fishing dispute off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
But now, where it once focused on vacuuming up Russian radio signals from Arctic bases, its surveillance reach is global: Its leaders now speak of “mastering the Internet” from desktops in Ottawa. In 1999, it had a shrinking budget of $100-million a year and a staff of about 900. Today, CSEC (pronounced like “seasick” ever since “Canada” was appended to the CSE brand) has evolved into a different machine: a deeply complex, deep-pocketed spying juggernaut that has seen its budget balloon to almost half a billion dollars and its ranks rise to more than 2,100 staff.
Canadian taxpayers spent $300-million a year on the nation’s two intelligence agencies before the attacks of Sept. 11, but the bill for spying is now coming in at more than $1-billion. That’s because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also been bulked up into a $535-million-a-year agency, up from $180-million in 1999.
There are key differences between the agencies. ...
Related: Increasing data collection and surveillance in the 'North American Homeland'
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada October 17, 2013
Three links. Below an excerpt from one of those links.
The never ending war on terrorism is being used to justify the huge police state security apparatus being assembled. This includes the militarization of the northern border and the creation of a North American security perimeter. In the name of national security, there has been a steady erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights in both the U.S. and Canada. Our freedoms are under assault. The amount of information being collected and shared on all aspects of our daily lives has expanded and is being stored in massive databases. Sweeping new surveillance powers targeting terrorists and other criminals are being increasingly turned against those who are critical of government policy. There is a concerted effort to demonize political opponents, activists, protesters and other peaceful groups. We are witnessing the criminalization of dissent where those who oppose the government’s agenda are being labelled as terrorists and a threat to security.
Canada's metadata surveillance program & U.S. online snooping: What Canadians need to know
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada June 10, 2013
Five links. We introduced them thus:
You can't have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. - US President Barack Obama, June 7, 2013. Acknowledging "some trade-offs involved", he said, "We're going to have to make some choices."
Are the gates of Hell opening for Ukraine?
Left: The national flag of Ukraine. The national anthem of Ukraine is Ще не вмерла Українa, in English, "Ukraine has not yet perished".Posted at: Monday, December 02, 2013 - 12:51 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
A good writer of history is a guy who is suspicious. Suspicion marks the real difference between the man who wants to write honest history and the one who’d rather write a good story. - Jim Bishop (1907 - 1987), an American journalist and author. His newspaper/magazine career began in 1929. In 1957, he started his column, "Jim Bishop: Reporter" with King Features Syndicate, which continued until 1983. It also landed him on the master list of President Richard Nixon's political opponents. The remainder of Bishop's career was spent writing biographical books about notable figures, and Christian-themed books.
Below: 'The Saker' is an anonymous blogger. The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is a big, strong bird of prey with large feet and pointed wings. It is larger than the peregrine falcon, and has a very wide wingspan for its size. This species breeds from eastern Europe eastwards across Asia to Manchuria. It is mainly migratory except in the southernmost parts of its range, wintering in Ethiopia, the Arabian peninsula, northern Pakistan and western China. BirdLife International lists the bird as endangered.
The gates of Hell are opening for the Ukraine
'The Saker' The Vineyard of the Saker USA November 30, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Just as I have predicted in my last piece about the developments in the Ukraine, European politicians and Ukrainian opposition parties have gone into overdrive to attempt yet another color-coded revolution in Kiev. The normally demure and low-key Eurobureaucrats have suddenly found it themselves to castigate Russia with irate statements about "unacceptable Russian interference" while their own diplomats actually went on stage to encourage the (illegal) demonstrations in Kiev. As for the opposition, it used its formidable resources to bring people form all over the Ukraine, the Baltic states and Poland to Kiev to organize a mass rally and, just to make sure that enough people would show up, they began the rally with a free rock concert. Finally the united opposition parties have declared that they are creating a "united headquarters of the resistance" which will have as its first task to coordinate a Ukrainian-wide general strike.
Finally, the opposition, lead by Yulia Timoshenko from her jail, is now openly calling for the overthrow of the Yanukovich government and new elections.
And what about the "pro-Russian" Yanukovich government?
Just as I have predicted, it is already prepared to "zag" following its surprise "zig" of last week. ...
Right now, all the signs are that the Ukraine is going down the "Bosnian road" and that things are going to get really ugly. The explosive brew we now see boiling in the Ukraine is exactly the same one which so viciously exploded in Bosnia: local nationalist backed by foreign imperialists who are absolutely determined to ignore any form of common sense, nevermind a negotiated solution, to achieve their ideological goals. ...
Related: Why Ukraine matters
Greg Satell Forbes USA December 1, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
The past week has seen massive protests in Ukraine in response to President Viktor Yanukovich’s bungling of an EU trade pact. It is one of those seemingly obscure international events that are easy to miss, especially in the middle of the holiday season.
Yet the events in Ukraine matter and not just because what they bode for the future of Europe and an increasingly desperate Vladimir Putin, but because this is a story that will continue to resonate in the years to come.
Ukraine, by most standards, should be an economic juggernaut. It has ample natural resources, a highly educated, diligent workforce and is situated in an advantageous geographical position. So the story of Ukraine shows just how a country with everything going for it can suffer so much, just as it will hopefully show how a troubled society can finally find its way forward.
Even among the sordid histories of Eastern Europe, Ukraine is particularly tragic. Over the centuries, Ukraine was ruled by the Mongols, the Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland before it was overtaken by the Russian Empire during the 18th century. It endured the Holodomor—forced starvation under Stalin—in the ‘30s and bore the brunt of Hitler’s armies in World War II. Somehow, through it all, it maintained a national culture, language and identity.
It declared its formal independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, as its neighbors to the west prospered—particularly Poland, where I lived in the late 90’s— Ukraine found only chaos and kleptocracy, culminating in the Ruble crisis of 1998, which led to the collapse of the Ukrainian economy.
Faced with a country in freefall, President Leonid Kuchma appointed a reformer, Viktor Yushchenko, as Prime Minister in 1999. The ensuing years unusually prosperous for Ukraine, growing 6% in 2000, 9% in 2001, 5% in 2002, 9% in 2003 and an astounding 12% in 2004. Unemployment fell; savings and investment grew. While problems remained, it appeared that Ukraine was finally turning the corner.
Yet the reforms angered the country’s powerful oligarchs and Yushchenko was removed from power in 2001. He joined the opposition and, with an increasingly ambitious middle class and a presidential election set for 2004, the stage was set for a showdown between the incumbent powers and the reformers.
This time, I am no longer near the center of events, but thousands of miles away. I mostly stay connected through my Facebook feed which brims with friends posting news updates and plans for upcoming protests. Much seems like it was back in those heady days in 2004, when we all took to the streets in the freezing cold to protest a fraudulent election.
But I’ve noticed a difference this time. ...
So keep an eye on how the events unfold in Ukraine, because it will be a bellwether for the years to come. The question being debated really isn’t about “spheres of influence” or geopolitical chessboards, but whether we truly live in a global marketplace of ideas that transcends the selfish presumptions of an earlier age.
The Orange Revolution MKII
Timothy Ash Kyiv Post Ukraine December 1, 2013
Remarkable scenes today in Kiev, in what can only be described now as the Orange Revolution MKII, or perhaps this should be termed the Blue n' Yellow Revolution after the Blue and Yellow flags of the EU and Ukraine for whom the demonstrators have been massing.
To recap, after President Yanukovych's failure to sign the AA/DCFTA with the EU at the Vilnius summit on Friday, he returned to demonstrations in Kiev, which numbered perhaps ten thousand or so Friday night.
Early on Saturday morning (around 4am) it seems riot police attempted to clear a couple of hundred or so remaining demonstrators from the Euromaidan, and appear to have been over zealous in the use of force, with scores of demonstrators injured or arrested.
The reaction of the opposition was furious, with tens of thousands of demonstrators massing later on Saturday, and calling for the resignation of those responsible for ordering the use of force on demonstrators. The government's reaction was a mixed one, initially blaming provocation by demonstrators, but later backing down, and offering an investigation.
The opposition subsequently called for a mass demonstration for today, which was met with the City of Kiev Council announcing a ban on demonstrations in downtown Kiev until January 7, 2014.
The head of the presidential administration, Serhey Levochkin, resigned, along with a number of members of President Yanukovych's Regions' party. Levouchkin's resignation is seen as very significant in that he is regarded as a political heavyweight within the cabinet, who had some links to the opposition. His resignation appeared linked to a disagreement over the handling of the crisis.
Today has seen huge demonstrations - likely well over the 100,000 that are reported to have attended last Sunday's demonstrations, and with some estimating well over 300,000. Demonstrators took over the HQ of Kiev City Council, and appear to have attempted to move on the presidential palace/residency - only to have been fought back by riot police.
The opposition are calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych, and the Azarov government, and are talking in revolutionary terms now - I.e. over-throwing the incumbent administration. They have called for a general strike, the blockade of government buildings and continued demonstrations over the next few days.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
On the 'eve' of a mass extinction? What we humans have to do right now to save our species & Why climate pariahs like Australia and Canada matter
But you tell me
-Refrain of "Eve of Destruction" written by P. F. Sloan in 1965. Several artists have recorded it, but the best-known recording was by Barry McGuire.
Intro: Our planet has experienced five major extinctions over the past billion or so years -- do we really want to launch an irreversible 6th?
The Permian mass extinction occurred about 248 million years ago and was the greatest mass extinction ever recorded in earth history; even larger than the previously discussed Ordovician and Devonian crises and the better known End Cretaceous extinction that felled the dinosaurs. - Parks Canada, "The Permian Mass Extinction"
What went extinct? 51% of all marine families, 82% of all genera, an estimated 93-97% of all species. ... Both marine and land animals were affected. Many of the early groups of insects died out, the only mass extinction that has been observed for insects. Only land plants apparently came through mostly unscathed. Even so, forests - another major ecosystem - virtually disappeared. ... The sulphur dioxide caused acid rain and global cooling. But this was only short-term. The temperature increased as the eruptions injected carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and yet more escaped from coal deposits exposed in the surrounding area. As the oceans warmed, frozen methane located in marine sediments may have melted. If so, the release of this potent greenhouse gas could have turned the planet’s temperature up even more. As well as being devastating for marine and land plants and animals, Late Permian environmental changes created anoxic conditions in the sea. This lack of oxygen caused additional widespread extinctions because it destroyed food chains. - Natural History Museum (UK) "End-Permian mass extinction (the Great Dying)"
Scientists have long theorized that the mass extinction of Earth’s marine and terrestrial life 250 million years ago was caused by a series of volcanic eruptions in Russia that caused acid rain and ozone depletion. New research suggests that was most likely the case. ... While volcanoes and even rotting vegetation still contribute to acidic precipitation, human activity causes most of today’s acid rain, National Geographic reported. - Phillip Ross, "Earth’s Mass Extinction Mystery Solved? Study Suggests Acid Rain, Ozone Depletion Ended Life 250 Million Years Ago", International Business Times, November 24, 2013
While many of the methane releases are the result of fossil fuel extraction processes, the most dangerous ones – the ones that could lead to trillions of tons of methane escaping into the atmosphere and driving an extinction event – are from the melting of frozen methane clathrate crystals along the seabeds. And the process that drives that is global warming, principally driven by carbon dioxide. - Thom Hartmann, an author and a U.S. nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest ebook (print length, 46 pages) is The Last Hours of Humanity published by Waterfront Digital Press, August 25, 2013. From the publisher's description:
... This book, The Last Hours of Humanity, goes where far too few researchers have been willing to go, which is addressing global warming not as an economic or political problem, but as a geological problem that threatens the survival of every living thing on the planet, including us humans.
By bringing together climate scientists, geologists, and cutting edge research too often left out of the global warming debate, the Last Hours of Humanity exposes the dangerous future of planet Earth, and what we humans have to do right now to save our species.
The 'ticking time bomb' that could cause such rapid global warming we'd be unable to prevent extinction
Thom Hartmann Alternet USA November 26, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
If, 250 million years ago, you were standing thousands of miles away from what is now Siberia in the first years of the Permian Mass Extension [sic], probably the most you would notice is an odd change in the weather and a reddish hue in the northern sky. What you wouldn’t know, and probably your children wouldn’t even realize –although their grandchildren probably would – is that a tipping point had already been passed, and an extinction – an unstoppable one – was already underway.
What could get America’s leading experts on climate change to agree on something that the average American has probably never even heard of?
Our planet has experienced five major extinctions over the past billion or so years, times when more than half of all life has died in a geologically brief period of time, and the common denominator of each one has been a sudden pulse of global warming. Increasingly, it appears that a rapid release of methane played a primary role in each one.
Back in 2002, the BBC documented how, just in the previous decade, geologists had by-and-large come to the conclusion that a sudden release of methane led to the death of over 95% of everything on Earth during the Permian Mass Extinction. That methane is back, probably in even larger quantities, as life has been so active since the last mass extinction.
We laid out the scenario and its possible doomsday implications in a short video titled “ Last Hours” a few months ago. Since the world has been recently sensitized about methane, we’re now discovering more and more of it leaking from oil wells, fracking operations, melting permafrost, and even stirred up by Arctic storms.
On the News With Thom Hartmann: US methane emissions are higher than previously thought, and more
Thom Hartmann, The Thom Hartmann Program—Video Report Truthout USA November 27, 2013
This video report runs 6:54. In today’s On the News segment: Methane emissions in the South Central US are nearly five times higher than previously thought; banks want to charge us for saving money; solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in our nation, and it's about to get even cheaper and easier; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Methane emissions in the South Central US are nearly five times higher than previously thought. According to a new study from Harvard University, there is way more methane being pumped into our atmosphere, and that means a much larger effect on climate change. Overall, total US methane emissions are one and half times the EPA estimates, because the agency was using an invalid method for calculating methane in our atmosphere. The EPA used a so-called bottom-up approach, which estimates methane release by guessing what one cow or one natural gas field emits, and then multiplying it by the number of those sources. This new Harvard study measured that amount of methane actually present in our atmosphere, and then traced it back to regional sources. The study's lead author, Scot Miller, said, "Most strikingly, our results are higher by a factor of 2.7 over the South Central US, which we know is a key region for fossil-fuel extraction and refining." He explained that they will continue to research the discrepancy between their study and the EPA estimates, so that they can fully understand the impact of fossil-fuel mining on methane emissions. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and it is causing a rapid increase in global temperatures. And, many experts believe that it was responsible for the Permian Mass Extinction, which wiped out nearly all life on Earth. Not only do we need to understand how much methane is in our atmosphere and where it comes from, we must work faster to lower these emissions. If we don't, it could bring about the next mass extinction. The future of our planet, and our species, depends on it. To find out more about the Permian Extinction, and how methane emissions could bring about the next one – go to LastHours.org.
Items: "Worst COP ever," says Elizabeth May
Matthew Millar Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada November 25, 2013
Freshly returned from the United Nations Climate Change Conference “COP19”, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May described the outcomes as the “worst COP ever”.
May arrived in Poland last week without any formal accreditation from the Government of Canada and only limited access to the negotiations as an “observer”, while most parliamentarians attending the conference traveled with the delegation of their home country, regardless of their status in government or opposition.
Describing her plight as an “environmental refugee”, May was received by the Afghanistan government in volunteering her duties on policy advice and in note taking.
“Things are in a serious state of disarray” said May, with delegates reporting episodes of bad faith bargaining and industrialized nations showing a lack of leadership in not moving forward with the negotiations, while attempting to reopen previously agreed upon terms.
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment countered these claims during Question Period today. “Canadians should be proud to know that leadership is being recognized on the world stage” said Aglukkaq.
“In fact, while I was in Warsaw, I heard from representatives from Mexico, China and Colombia, who all praise Canada for its environmental record. They did this because they know we have taken significant actions to protect the Canadian environment”.
Minister Aglukkaq then related that Canadian environmental protection under the Harper government has come without a “massive, $20 billion carbon tax that would increase the cost of everything”.
Why climate pariahs like Australia and Canada matter
Geoff Dembicki TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada November 28, 2013
Canadian PM Stephen Harper and Australian PM Tony Abbott share a penchant for climate 'fossil' awards, distaste for carbon taxing, shirts. Photo: Government of Canada. Visit this page for its embedded links.
Another year, another climate conference. Another round of name-calling, blame-pinning and hand-wringing. Another set of vaguely worded commitments. Another pledge to do better the next time around.
In case you missed them, two weeks of international climate talks in Warsaw wrapped up last week. And yes, there was little on the surface to distinguish their "blurry" outcome, in the words of Politico, from the negotiations of the year before, or the year before that, or the year…
But Warsaw also signalled a power shift with global implications, caused by an emerging alliance between two middle-power countries skeptical of the entire negotiation process: Canada and Australia. The alliance pushed the talks in a less constructive direction. It may even affect humankind's chances of reaching an effective climate treaty two years from now, in Paris. Or so argues Erwin Jackson, of Australia's Climate Institute, who's worked on global warming for over 20 years.
Harper government's extensive spying and information sharing veering out of control
Now Canadian government authorities are passing on confidential health information about Canadians to the U.S., this after helping Washington spy on G20 summiteers.Posted at: Sunday, December 01, 2013 - 02:16 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
This doesn’t mean that the Canadian government’s actions were useful. They remind the world that in these matters we are Washington’s minions, working to aid and abet the U.S. in its desperate search for commercial advantage. - Thomas Walkom
Canadian woman refused U.S. entry because of depression: U.S. customs agent somehow knew of hospitalization
CBC News Canada November 29, 2013
A Toronto woman denied a flight to New York as part of a cruise trip wants to know how U.S. border agents knew about her history of mental illness.
Ellen Richardson says she was told by U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport on Monday that because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression in June 2012, she could not enter the U.S.
As a result, she missed her flight to New York City and a Caribbean cruise, for which she had paid $6,000.
"I was in shock. I was completely in shock," Richardson said Friday on CBC's 'Metro Morning'. "I had no idea how that was relevant to my seeking entry into the U.S. for a holiday."
Richardson is also an author who published a book, Hope for the Heavy Heart, in 2008 about her struggles with depression.
On a website promoting the book, Richardson describes how she became paralyzed from the waist down after jumping off the Bloor viaduct in a failed suicide attempt in 2001. In the book, Richardson says it was one of three occasions when she tried to take her own life.
Richardson told CBC News that border guards referenced her 2012 hospitalization, and not her book, in denying her entry into the U.S.
At the time, Richardson was told she could only enter the U.S. if a doctor — not her own doctor, but one from a short list of others whom she had never met — signed a document vouching for her. She would also have to pay a fee of $500.
Richardson turned around and went home. Only later did she wonder how the agent knew her history in the first place. Richardson says she has been on several cruises since 2001, all of which required U.S. flights, with no problems.
"It really hit me later — that it's quite stunning they have that information."
She has hired a lawyer and turned to her member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan, for answers.
Sullivan says the apparent lack of police involvement makes Richardson's case especially mysterious.
"We don't know how deep the connection is between U.S. customs" and Canadian authorities, he said.
Ontario's privacy watchdog said reports that private health information is being shared with U.S. border services are of "grave concern" and she will investigate.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said she will look into the matter to ensure that personal health information isn't compromised.
NDP health critic France Gelinas asked Cavoukian to investigate earlier this week.
Gelinas said she's been contacted by three people who have been denied entry to the United States based on their personal health history.
She said such information shouldn't be shared with anyone outside their health-care providers and doing so undermines the integrity of all health services in Ontario.
Border refusal for depressed paraplegic shows Canada-U.S. security co-operation has gone too far
Thomas Walkom Toronto Star Ontario Canada November 29, 2013
The behaviour of American border guards with Ellen Richardson is not at issue here. Much more disturbing is what happened on this side of the border, writes Thomas Walkom. Photo: Bernard Weil/Toronto Star
A Canadian is prevented from entering the U.S after border officials gain access to her confidential medical history.
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Commons is in an uproar over revelations that U.S. spies set up shop here in 2010 — with Canadian government assistance — to snoop on international leaders attending the G20 meeting in Toronto.
What’s common to these two stories is the practice of information sharing between Canada and the U.S.
It has long existed in some form. It accelerated wildly after the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington. It now threatens to veer out of control.
Related: The independent federal agency, National Energy Board, directly coordinated effort between CSIS, the RCMP and private oil companies.
Harper government's extensive spying on anti-oil sands groups revealed in FOIs
Matthew Millar rabble.ca Canada November 27, 2013
This article originally appeared in the Vancouver Observer November 19, 2013. Matthew Millar is National Correspondent for the Vancouver Observer. Visit this page for its embedded links.
The federal government has been vigorously spying on anti-oil sands activists and organizations in B.C. and across Canada since last December, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show.
Not only is the federal government subsidizing the energy industry in underwriting their costs, but deploying public safety resources as a de-facto "insurance policy" to ensure that federal strategies on proposed pipeline projects are achieved, these documents indicate.
Before the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, the NEB coordinated the gathering of intelligence on opponents to the oil sands.
The groups of interest are independent advocacy organizations that oppose the Harper government's policies and work for environmental protections and democratic rights, including Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, EcoSociety, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People's Summit.
Mandated as an "independent federal agency," the NEB directed the police protection of their board members and officials from Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation, 140 pages of emails from December 2012 through April 2013 show.
[Tim O'Neil, Senior Criminal Intelligence Research Specialist with the RCMP] then ordered the escalation of RCMP and CSIS intelligence measures following the opening of an SPROS/SIR database file. According to the Government of Canada, SPROS is the new National Security Program’s primary database for the electronic storage, retrieval and management of national security criminal investigations and information, and on a required basis, classified criminal intelligence and other sensitive cases.
Below: Ecojustice has asked the National Energy Board to answer 15 direct questions. Ecojustice is a national charitable organization dedicated to defending Canadians' right to a healthy environment. Ecojustice has offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary.
Ecojustice demands National Energy Board answer for spying on anti-oil sands groups
Matthew Millar Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada November 29, 2013
Following the publication of documents obtained by the Vancouver Observer showing the National Energy Board oversaw the spying activities of the RCMP and CSIS on oil sands opponents,
Barry Robinson, Staff Lawyer for Ecojustice, sent a letter today to National Energy Board (NEB) legal counsel Andrew Hudson and NEB CEO and Chair Gaétan Caron demanding answers.
When asked if Ecojustice plans to litigate against the NEB and if so, what the grounds would be, Robinson told the Vancouver Observer: "We would pursue litigation against the NEB around the procedural fairness and bias in the conduct of the hearings process."
"In the context of the documents obtained under Access to Information, they do indicate that the NEB was in communication with the RCMP and CSIS," Robinson said. "The thing that bothers me the most is an April 19, 2013 email from the RCMP".
Robinson is referring to an email authored by Tim O'Neil, Senior Criminal Intelligence Research Specialist with the RCMP. ...