Monday, November 30, 2009
Rana Husseini - A Review [reposted from Human Rights and Culture]
"The value of this book lies not only in the fact that Husseini brings to light an unspeakable and rampant atrocity but also in the way she tells her own story and how she shows the reader the step-by-step process of her investigations. A powerful and important book."—Booklist, Starred Review
"Rana is utterly inspiring. She is a young woman of courage, committed to the principles of truth and justice...If enough people read this book, maybe the next time a young woman is being stoned to death from having fallen in love, someone will intervene to save her life." —Jane Fonda, actress, writer, and political activist
"Rana Husseini has almost single-handedly brought this crime to public attention through her newspaper articles and campaigns, and her achievements in journalism and human rights have been internationally recognized. She has produced a brilliantly researched and passionate attack on honor killings around the world. A powerful, heartfelt and important book."—HM Queen Noor of Jordan, international humanitarian activist
"Disturbing, informative and readable, Murder in the Name of Honor tackles one of the mose shocking crimes of the 21st Century. A remarkable insight into a horrifying crime and a call to action for everyone who cares about human rights. A must read."—Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, and chair of the Amnesty International USA Leadership Council
In this new provocative firsthand account, MURDER IN THE NAME OF HONOR, Rana Husseini chronicles the many stories behind cases of so-called honor killings that she has uncovered during years of international investigative reporting. Taking us from the narrow alleys of Old Amman to the war-torn region of Baghdad, from the bustling streets of Derby in the UK to the quiet suburbs of St Louis, USA, Rana uses her journalistic ability to meticulously reconstruct each crime scene, seeking not to shock but to humanize each murder, to help readers understand the multiple contradictions, which allow these horrendous crimes to occur.
Through Rana’s interviews, many never before published, we hear from women who have survived their attempted murders and are now in jail, as it is the only place they can be protected from their family. We hear from convicted murderers; some of whom are repentant for their crimes, others who are not. We hear from parents who put their sons to the tasks of killing their daughters. And we hear from countless government officials, neighbors and police- those who have enabled these crimes and those who seek to stop them.
Along the way Rana tells the moving story of her own personal journey from being a young naïve journalist, stumbling across these incomprehensible crimes to becoming a powerful advocate, dedicated to exposing every murder she hears about. She describes the countless rallies, letter writing campaigns, protests, and court-cases she has organized and attended and the successes she has had using the media to affect change against many odds.
Rana’s story is personal but also grounded in years of extensive research from dozens of countries, where so-called honor killings have been reported including Pakistan, Jordan, Sweden, the UK and the US. Rana describes what is being done in specific locations and what still needs to be done on a social, political and economic level to get this issue the attention it deserves. She delves into the very complicated issue of these crimes occurring in migrant communities across Europe and North America and explains the links between so-called honor crimes and other forms of discrimination occurring against women worldwide.
At once chilling, gut-wrenching, inspiring, and informative, MURDER IN THE NAME OF HONOR is the most comprehensive and accessible resource on this issue and a call to arms to all those who believe in the equal rights of women, the power of the media to make a difference, and their obligation as citizens of an international community to fight for the justice for all.
Rana Husseini is a Jordanian journalist who has worked on the issue of violence against women and, in particular, the brutal crimes committed in the name of honour killings.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Take a Deep Breath: We are in the Last Home Stretch
A Nations' Health is at Stake
This will be a brief Blog. The purpose is a simple one. We've been through months of struggle. Pre-national election; immediate post national election; Congressional preparations. Strong and broad agitation activity was the hallmark of that period.
Then the focus was on the 3 House Committees and their deliberations; and the 2 Senate Committees. Massive amounts of electronic mails was transmitted; Position papers written proving over and over again that on a national health system that is as strong as Medicare can both protect people and be economically sound; rallies and communities meetings were held….the focus was to win a Single Payer law that would finance a system of health care that would yield a universal system.
But, the Democratic Party kept its unfortunate pre and post election position, i.e., they would NOT support a Single Payer system. They said it would be too "disruptive" to the insurance system.
At the same time, the human cost of the capitalist economic and financial crisis kept mounting. The public/media toll has been mostly in terms of the number of uninsured, moving quickly toward 50 million people. What is not documented enough is the human suffering that not having insurance has meant; and, the same human suffering for those WITH insurance, but with insurance that is very bad and doesn't cover the full cost of cancer, respiratory, kidney and other problems.
House Bill; Senate Bill
Now, as we watch and suffer the continuing human crisis, the House has settled on its proposal and the Senate will do so within the next couple of weeks.
Then we move into the most isolate, insolated phase: the House and Senate Conference Committee where the White House has the most influence.
Many of us are exhausted or just plain disappointed in the outcome of the Congressional debates. And, we have every reason to be exhausted, disappointed and also angry.
Corporate America, while complaining about the outcome so far, behind the scenes in their corporate board rooms, are extremely happy about the millions of dollars they've paid to lobbyist and politicians. They are in the drivers seat, at this point. In fact, they stand to gain the most with people without health insurance being forced to buy their insurance almost entirely from them, at their rates. This will constitute a huge bailout for the for-profit insurance carriers.
But, that seat is not a stable one. Corporate America knows full well that they don't have the numbers of people. They know that all of the media and pay-off monies will mean nothing if the peoples' movement is galvanized. And, be sure, their fear an aroused population.
December, Holiday Month
December is the month is the perfect time for this "humanity issue" to be publicly debated Peoples' generosity and great national feelings for caring about everyone, especially those who have nothing is rampant. Corporate America and Wall Street want to make sure the feelings are NOT linked to the actions of the Senate in the first instance; and then in the crucial final step.
They want to make sure the religious organizations do not take up the theme of:
"Health Care for All"
"No Profits in Health Care"
We need to strongly make that link.
So, now is the time to regroup with your friends; your community organizations and your local and national union. Link these ALL TOGETHER.
The issues are simple:
No. 1 THE BIGGEST, BROADEST "PUBLIC OPTION"
This would keep "Medicare For All" in the Mix even after the passage of the law.
No. 2 TAX THE RICH NOT WORKERS: NO TAXING OF BENEFITS [HOUSE BILL]
If this does not take place, than union households will have been lied to. They were told that they would not suffer, at all, from the legislation. But, in fact, if their union benefit is taxed, employers will be paying more; that means, that employers will either cut back on benefits or charge more at negotiations time.
Keep it simple; but keep it strong.
Winning this level of the fight can set the stage for the larger struggle in health care such as greater access to primary care physicians and nurses; more public hospitals funding so that hospitals like Grady in Atlanta, Georgia and Charity in New Orleans get and stay open. And, that discrimination in health care services will end.
BTW It will also set stage for further struggles for "Card Check" legislation and the other key issues of JOBS; JOBS; JOBS.
In Preparation for Copenhagen: World Trade Union Federation's Trade Union Int'l for Transport Sounds Alarm and Solidarity
Public Transportation systems are a crucial strategy to begin to reverse the disastrous Climate Change [aka Global Warming] direction that our earth is on. Key to that strategy is the worker and unions who represent workers in those transport systems. The Neoliberal policies that still grip the world economic capitalist system is taking its toll as the world continues its lurching toward greater climate change.
The December, 2009 United Nations meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark will certainly focus on public vs. private systems. Clearly public systems in every aspect of economic and political life are preferred over the greed of private/profit making systems.
The following is the resolution by the Transport Trade Union International [TUI] of the World Federation of Trade Unions, Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, November 17, 2009.
World Federation of Trade Unions
Class oriented - uniting - democratic - modern - independent!
Painting by Pablo Picasso on the occasion of 10th anniversary of WFTU in 1955
Resolution of the meeting of TUI Transport held in Lisbon on November 17th 2009
In the History of Humankind, the development of societies is intimately connected to the development of means of transportation, which have always brought peoples together, whilst at the same time helping to disseminate ideas, thus contributing to increase the consciousness of working people.
Transports are a strategic sector for an integral and sustainable development in each country. For several decades, there was in Europe the concern to introduce a strong social component, namely by creating a public transportation system. Placing people at the core, as the main beneficiaries of transportation policies, many States became the driving force in this sector, with a view to placing transports at the service of society and the peoples. The sector created jobs and reduced asymmetries, its workers acquired an important class consciousness, strengthened their trade union activity and representation and played an extremely important role in securing fundamental rights for working people as a whole.
The abandonment of these policies, in favour of neoliberal policies which seek an unbridled increase in profits through a greater exploitation of the workers, has subordinated everything to the interests of the major economic groups. This has had very negative effects for the sector, namely:
· Causing the disintegration of a system which should be an essentially integrated and complementary system and therefore more economical, balanced and environmentally-friendly.
· Decreasing the system's public nature in order to favour the private interests of economic groups which have pocketed the returns generated by public investment, in a logic of "public investment, private profit";
· Threatening democracy and national sovereignty, a threat which is actually contained in the neoliberal and anti-social provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.
· Reducing the transportation systems' public role, with higher fares, more expensive travel cards, and less services, thereby making the mobility of communities more difficult and more costly;
· Subordinating public transportation to private transportation, in particular road transports, with a negative impact on environmental sustainability, namely by increasing the emission of CO2, thus leading to dangerous climate change;
· Resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs, deteriorated living standards and working conditions and making precarious jobs more widespread;
· Seeking to deregulate labour relations, in the quest for longer working hours and less pay;
· Representing an assault on collective bargaining, thus creating entire generations of workers without rights and with deregulated labour relations;
· Deteriorating safety and health standards at the workplace;
· Seeking to pit the workers against each other, by making it easier to hire the workers from less developed countries under the labour rules that exist in those countries;
· Trying to break the bonds of solidarity among the workers, by promoting individualism and group mentality among certain trades.
In a European context, the European Union is the top expression of neoliberalism in the Continent. The impact of its decisions extends beyond the EU arena. The steps that are being taken tend to promote the same policies that led to the serious economic and social crisis which grips our societies.
The Lisbon Treaty enshrines policies of full liberalization of the transport sector, which are contained in the various directives and packages for the transport sector, deregulating labour relations through measures that seek to introduce the so-called "flexicurity", which is none other than flexibility for the workers and security for the profits of big business.
The serious decisions taken by the European Court of Justice regarding the Laval, Viking Line and Ruffert cases, among others, have made it clear that free competition, the freedom of circulation for companies and the right to establishment that are envisaged in the European Union Treaty that is in force, and which are also included in the Lisbon Treaty, are used to justify practices of social dumping, to degrade collective bargaining, to relocate workers from low-wage to high-wage countries, whilst preserving wage differentials in the countries of origin, in order to pit the workers in competition against each other and to favour greater exploitation and higher profits.
Issues such as the packages for the railways, European air space, the liberalization of ports and the deregulation of maritime transports, etc., are all different sides of the same coin: the attempt to liberalize this sector so as to favour the interests of the big economic groups.
The crisis in which we are sunk is the result of capitalist policies, which are not the solution to the existing problems: on the contrary, those policies are part of the problem.
The Trade Union movement, more than ever has a role and a historic duty to lead the workers in the struggle to build a new society, which may respect the peoples' interests, value labour as a factor for social progress, and be a society of solidarity and peace.
Based on the concrete struggles in each country, trade union activity should build on strengthening unity in action, with concrete proposals, demands and mass action, in order to give strength to a response that must be vigorous, against an offensive that is global in nature.
To state that solutions for the workers' problems can be found within neoliberal policies, as long as one or other aspect are more "humanized", is a fundamental mistake. Capital is insatiable in its appetites.
There can be no solution without the workers' mobilization for the struggle, an organized and class struggle. The workers must be involved in the processes of collective bargaining of their demands. What the workers need is a militant and demanding trade-unionism, in Europe and throughout the world.
It is in this context that Transport – TUI and the organizations that were present at the Lisbon Conference of November 17, 2009, considered it necessary, whilst taking into account each country's specificities and each organization's identity and priorities for trade union activity, to strengthen the cooperation in defence of the following priority lines of action:
· To oppose a Europe that represents the interests of the economic groups and to strive for alternative policies that correspond to the peoples' aspirations for welfare, that can generate solidarity and promote peace;
· To defend integrated systems of transportation, that are placed at the service of societies and the peoples, that cooperate in their own midst and can be more economical, safer and more environmentally-friendly;
· Stronger public investment in public and socially-oriented transportation, that may contribute to environmental protection and create decent and secure jobs;
· To oppose all decisions that seek to promote "flexicurity", which means security for the capitalists and flexibility for the workers;
· To struggle against all attempts at social dumping, which strive to level labour rules by the lowest standards, thereby reducing the workers' capacity to resist and fight;
· To raise workers' wages and improve their living standards;
· To defend policies that may raise the workers' professional standards and enhance the working classes' knowledge;
· To improve workplace safety and health conditions.
These organizations consider that it is the workers' struggle that can change the policies at the service of big business, which have brought a major crisis to the world, and to prevent the ongoing attempts to make the workers pay for the crisis – a crisis for which they are not responsible.
Therefore, to defend the transport workers in Europe, to improve their living standards and working conditions and to defend an integrated transportation system that may serve the communities and the peoples, the Transport TUI proposes to the European Transport Trade Unions:
To hold a day of action and struggle during the first quarter of 2010, that may be as broad and united as possible, involving public actions, demonstrations, rallies, strikes, etc., in which the concrete and specific demands of the workers in each country may also be included.
The precise date of this day of action will be announced before the end of 2009.
Lisbon, November 17, 2009
Hoggan initially thought there was a fierce scientific controversy about climate change. Sensibly he did a lot of reading, only to find to his surprise that there was no such controversy. How did the public confusion arise? There was nothing accidental about it. As a public relations specialist, Hoggan observed with gathering horror a campaign at work.
“To a trained eye the unsavoury public relations tactics and techniques and the strategic media manipulation became obvious. The more I thought about it, the more deeply offended I became.”
DeSmogBlog was born to research the misinformation campaigns and share the information widely. This book pulls together some of that research in an organised narrative. Richard Littlemore has assisted Hoggan in the writing.
Climate scientists are sometimes blamed for not communicating their message clearly enough to the public. If they tried to match the efforts of the denial campaigners as detailed by Hoggan they wouldn’t have any time to do their science. Those who vociferously claim that anthropogenic global warming is still uncertain and doubtful certainly don’t spend time and money on any science.
That is not what they are interested in. As far back as 1991 a group of coal-related organisations set out, in their own words, “to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and “supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good.” This was the pattern of the work done in succeeding years by a variety of corporations and industry associations who devoted considerable financial resources to influence the public conversation.
They used slogans and messages they had tested for effectiveness but not accuracy. They hired scientists prepared to say in public things they could not get printed in the peer-reviewed scientific press.
They took advantage of mainstream journalists’ interest in featuring contrarian and controversial science stories. They planned “grassroots” groups to give the impression that they were not an industry-driven lobby. New Zealand’s Climate “Science” Coalition and the International Coalition it helped to found fit this purpose nicely.
Hoggan describes the work of many individuals and organisations who are available for spreading the doctrine of doubt. Conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) have played a major part in the task in the new millenium. Their donors are well disguised, but in the case of CEI have certainly in the past included ExxonMobil and probably GM and Ford. Their advocacy, such as the infamous TV commercials portraying the benefits of carbon dioxide, obviously involves heavy expenditure.
Lists of scientists reportedly expressing dissent over anthropogenic global warming have become a staple of the denial crusade. Hoggan discusses some of these lists and comments:
“The beauty of this tactic as a method of keeping the debate alive is that none of these ‘scientists’ ever have to conduct any actual research or put their views forward to be tested in the scientific peer-review process. They don’t even have to be experts in a related field. And they certainly don’t have to win the argument. As long as groups of scientists are seen to be disagreeing, the public continues to assume that the science is uncertain.”
Apparent throughout Hoggan’s book is the lack of substance to the denial campaign. According to them, the Mann hockey stick is a “notorious intellectual swindle”. The impression is sedulously fostered that statistical investigation has shown the graph to be false.
But Hoggan points out that the ideologists are uncurious about whether Mann’s work has been tested by other scientists or confirmed or falsified by the use of other methods or other proxy data sources. He dryly comments that the reason is that the other climate-reconstruction graphs published since Mann produce enough hockey sticks to outfit a whole team and then some.
A significant movement in the campaign in more recent times has been a change of emphasis from denial that anthropogenic warming is occurring to claims that there is no need to rush into measures to mitigate it.
Bjorn Lomborg argues with apparent passion that he also cares about climate change, but that careful economic analysis shows that more pressing problems like AIDS, malnutrition, and the provision of fresh water to people in the developing world are more important matters and unfortunately don’t at this stage leave enough money for climate change mitigation. Frank Maisano specialises in media communication.
He supplies thousands of reporters and important people in industry and politics with useful material on energy issues. Underlying it though is a consistent argument that climate change, though real, is either impossible or too expensive to fix.
In his chapter on the manipulated media Hoggan acknowledges the complexity issue in relation to global warming. Indeed he extends a lot of understanding to reporters and editors. They are under pressure and the science takes some understanding. The temptation to fall back on balance has been strong. However he notices that increasingly the balance model is being abandoned, and is insistent that it’s past time for people in the media to check their facts and start sharing them ethically and responsibly with the public.
Hoggan’s book is a thoughtful and sustained exposure of a movement which has done great harm. I read it with close interest and shared his dismay. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how denial has had such a charmed run. His presentation is painstaking and reasonable. There’s nothing shrill about it, and his justifiable anger is relatively muted.
He urges his readers not to take him at face value but to do some checking of his material and satisfy themselves that it is reliable. Nevertheless the activity he describes is rightly characterised as betrayal, selfishness, greed and irresponsibility. The people who have launched the highly successful campaign of denial and delay are not attending to the work of a body of outstanding scientists although that work is of utmost import for human life.
They have turned what should have been a public policy dialogue driven by science into a theatre for a cynical public relations exercise of the most dishonest kind. Instead of looking at the seriousness of the warnings they have sensed a threat to their business profitability and made that their motivating factor. They have spread a false complacency and the result has been a twenty year delay in addressing an issue of high urgency.
Hoggan thought at first that David Suzuki was a bit over the top when he wondered out loud whether there was a legal way of throwing Canada’s so-called leaders into jail for criminal action (or inaction) in relation to climate change. But then he recognised Suzuki was right, in the sense that it will indeed be a crime if we do not demand of our leaders that they start fixing this problem, beginning today.
“And the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognisable, perhaps uninhabitable.”
Article by Bryan Walker appearing courtesy of Celsias; originally posted on Hot Topic
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Nicholas Lezard: Something rotten in society? Time to revive communism
[reposted from The Guardian]
I remember when, in this paper's excellent Weekend magazine's Q & A, Slavoj Žižek was asked to "tell us a secret", he replied: "Communism will win." I don't think anyone familiar with Žižek's writings will think he was joking, but just in case you thought the matter needed clarification, here it is, in book form. We know something is rotten with society, as the financial crisis shows, but what to do with it? The answer, he says at the close of his book, is simple: revive communism.
Žižek makes a plea to disillusioned communists: "Do not be afraid, join us, come back! You've had your anti-communist fun, and you are pardoned for it – time to get serious again!" (Those exclamation marks do undermine the notion of "seriousness", it has to be said.)
Reading Žižek is hard work. But it is worth it; like hacking through miles of undergrowth and jungle vegetation in order to be rewarded, every so often, with a splendid view. Here's some of the undergrowth (the ellipsis is Žižek's), coming after a rather taxing quote from the Italian radical philosopher Toni Negri: "What we find here is the standard post-Hegelian matrix of the productive flux which is always in excess with regard to the structural totality which tries to subdue and control it . . . But what if, in a parallax shift, we perceive the capitalist network itself as the true excess over the flow of the productive multitude?" Yes indeed – what then?
I am perhaps not the best person, then, to explicate Žižek, for there are times when I simply do not understand what he is saying. (He would doubtless call me an idiot, a word he is fond of using, applying it liberally, if not so much in this book.) His two intellectual mentors are Hegel and Lacan – and I have also had my problems with them, which is not, of course, to imply that either they or Žižek are charlatans. But one does sometimes yearn for a move away from impenetrability.
For when Žižek stops talking like that and actually says something directly, then he is electrifying. It is, I suggest, this tendency, and this one alone, that accounts for his popularity and presence; it's certainly why I'm recommending his book this week. Never mind the audacity or novelty value of his pro-communist proclamations, revel in the way he can zero in on the absurdities and contradictions of the modern world. His frame of reference may include Lacan and Hegel, but it also takes in dumb Hollywood films, stuff he's noticed on the telly, the kind of bullshit PR companies burp out. He quotes the information sheet from a New York hotel: "Dear Guest! To guarantee that you will fully enjoy your stay with us, this hotel is totally smoke-free. For any infringement of this regulation, you will be charged $200."
"The beauty of this formulation, taken literally," purrs Žižek, "is that you are to be punished for refusing to fully enjoy your stay." This is the Žižek I like, the one who lets the system show us how stupid and cynical it is. You really feel he is on to something. The malaise and meaninglessness of contemporary democracy – in what sense, we may ask, are we living in a democracy? – is something that has to be addressed, and addressed bravely. Pausing to take a brief, horrified look at Berlusconi (for "Italy today is effectively a kind of experimental laboratory of our future"), he notes that "his democracy is a democracy of those who, as it were, win by default, who rule through cynical demoralisation". Well, there's a lot of it about. On the other hand, he notes the worldwide delight that greeted Barack Obama's election, and views it sympathetically, even though making perhaps forgivably snide remarks about him from the left is becoming increasingly fashionable.
The bottom line about Žižek is that he is revolted by a world in which the world's poor starve while banks are handed trillions. You will have to run up from time to time against the concept of Greimasian semiotic squares, of which, if you are like me, you may be pitifully ignorant; but, unlike me, you don't have to read every word. There is enough in here to keep you going.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
[reposted from The Nation]
Oyster Creek Generating Station, in suburban Lacey Township, New Jersey, opened the same month Richard Nixon took office vowing to bring "an honorable peace" to Vietnam. This nuke plant, the oldest in the country, was slated to close in 2009 when its original forty-year license was ending. It had seen four decades of service, using radioactively produced heat to boil water into high-pressure steam that ran continuously through hundreds of miles of increasingly brittle and stressed piping.
If constructed today, Oyster Creek would not be licensed, because it does not meet current safety standards. Yet on April 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)--the government agency overseeing the industry--relicensed Oyster Creek, extending its life span twenty years beyond what was originally intended.
Seven days later workers at the plant found an ongoing radioactive leak of tritium-polluted water. Tritium is a form of hydrogen. In August workers found another tritium leak coming from a pipe buried in a concrete wall. Radiation makes metal brittle, so old pipes must be routinely switched out for new ones. The second leak was spilling about 7,200 gallons a day and contained 500 times the acceptable level of radiation for drinking water.
That leaking pipe had erroneously--or perhaps fraudulently--been listed in paperwork as replaced. How this error occurred remains unclear. What seems likely is that the plant's previous owner, GPU Nuclear, was deliberately skimping on maintenance as it approached the end of the plant's license. Then Oyster Creek was sold to Exelon and won relicensing. How many other mislabeled, brittle, old components remain in the plant's guts is impossible to determine without a massive audit and investigation. Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common: crumbling, leaky, accident-prone old nuclear plants, shrouded in secrecy and subject to lax maintenance, are getting relicensed all over the country.
In the face of climate change, many people who are desperate for alternatives to fossil fuels are considering the potential of nuclear power. The government has put up $18.5 billion in subsidies to build atomic plants. As a candidate for president, John McCain called for forty-five new nuke plants.
Environmentalists have rightly pointed out the dangers this would entail. But new nukes are not the issue. As laid out in these pages last year [see Parenti, "What Nuclear Renaissance?" May 12, 2008], new atomic plants are prohibitively expensive. If enough public subsidies are thrown at the industry, one or two gold-plated, state-of-the-art, extremely expensive nuclear power stations may eventually be built, at most.
The real issue is what happens to old nukes. The atomic power industry has a plan: it wants to make as much money as possible from the existing fleet of 104 old, often decrepit, reactors by getting the government to extend their licenses. The oldest plants, most of which opened in the early 1970s and were designed to operate for only forty years, should be dead by now. Yet, zombielike, they march on, thanks to the indulgence of the NRC.
More than half of America's nuclear plants have received new twenty-year operating licenses. In fact, the NRC has not rejected a single license-renewal application. Many of these plants have also received "power up-rates" that allow them to run at up to 120 percent of their originally intended capacity. That means their systems are subjected to unprecedented amounts of heat, pressure, corrosion, stress and embrittling radiation.
These undead nukes are highly dangerous. But constant, careful (and expensive) inspection and maintenance would mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, the NRC does not require anything like that. And the industry often operates in a cavalier profit-before-safety style.
At the heart of the matter is the culture of the NRC. During his campaign Obama called the NRC "a moribund agency...captive of the industry that it regulates." Unfortunately, since then Obama's position has softened considerably.
The NRC is run by a five-member commission. When Obama came to office he inherited one open seat; another opened soon after. Filling those seats with safety-conscious experts not in thrall to the industry would have done much to change the culture of the NRC.
The president's first move was a good one: he made commissioner Gregory Jaczko chair of the commission. Jaczko has openly questioned the safety culture of both the NRC and the industry and is respected among environmentalists as a serious and safety-oriented regulator.
But in October Obama nominated two people for the open seats. In classic fashion, he cut it down the middle. The relatively decent appointment, in the view of environmentalists, is George Apostolakis, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. He sits on a safety oversight board within the NRC. His academic specialty is probabilistic risk assessment of complex technological systems, risk management and decision analysis.
"He is safety-minded," says Ed Lyman, senior staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But I worry that his approach might be a little too theoretical, too academic. He might not be ready to really regulate the industry."
The other nominee, William Magwood, is described by environmentalists as a disaster. Magwood worked at the Department of Energy as the director of its nuclear energy program. In that capacity, he acted as a booster for the industry. He's made numerous public speeches promoting atomic energy. And most recently he worked as a consultant for the nuclear industry.
Because the NRC is an independent regulatory agency, the president's nominees must be confirmed by the Senate. A key player there--notorious climate-science denier Senator James Inhofe, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee--greeted the appointments with a backhanded compliment to the president: "At the very least, the selection of these individuals indicates President Obama understands the importance of the NRC in rebuilding our nation's nuclear capabilities." Given the source, this was damning praise indeed.
Lax safety culture at the NRC is at least in part a result of the revolving door between the atomic power business and the commission, including both middle- and upper-level staff. The most prominent example of this involved commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield, who championed accelerated licensing and other major policy initiatives that directly benefited the Shaw Group, the self-described "largest provider of commercial nuclear power plant maintenance and modifications services in the United States." Twelve days after Merrifield left the NRC, in 2007, he became a top executive at--yes--the Shaw Group. Then, in late October of this year, after pressure from public interest groups, the NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that Merrifield had violated government ethics rules by courting industry while still at the NRC.
This corrupt symbiosis between the industry and NRC is even found at the level of language. Critics say the staff habitually defers to the industry, rarely double-checking corporate assertions about safety. During relicensing, the NRC has used industry language verbatim in its reports. A recent random sampling of NRC relicensing reports conducted by its Office of the Inspector General found that almost half the language in the documents had been lifted verbatim or nearly so from industry applications. In other words, not only is the NRC failing to conduct its own research; it can't even rewrite the nuke industry's boilerplate self-justifications when issuing new licenses.
"Politically, the nuclear industry is very effective," says Richard Webster, legal director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, which represents five citizens' groups fighting Oyster Creek. "If only they ran nuclear plants as well as they lobby."
This cozy relationship is helped by the fact that the nuclear power industry's drive for profit coincides with the NRC's bureaucratic will to survive. If all the old plants were mothballed, the raison d'être of the NRC (and maybe much of the bureaucracy itself) would disappear.
Environmentalists describe the relicensing and up-rate process as highly opaque, rigged in the industry's favor, designed to exclude public participation and marginalize opposition. They say safety is closely linked to transparency--which is in short supply.
Over the past two decades the NRC has also promulgated rules that effectively exclude from consideration many of the grounds on which the public could intervene to oppose relicensing. For example, the public cannot raise the issue of terrorism. Nor can it question maintenance plans, or waste storage plans, or even evacuation procedures.
The NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that its own agency had "established an unreasonably high burden of requiring absolute proof of a safety problem, versus lack of reasonable assurance of maintaining public health and safety, before it will act to shut down a power plant."
The parameters for relicensing are sometimes shockingly permissive. For example, Oyster Creek, only fifty miles from Philadelphia, lacks a reactor containment shell strong enough to withstand a jet crash. And the geography around the plant isn't possible to evacuate: originally built in a rural area, the plant is now surrounded by sprawl. But the NRC takes none of that into account.
Even more amazing, Oyster Creek's relicensing process did not require testing metals in the plant's core for embrittlement. The containment shell, such as it is, was found to have been corroded down to half its intended thickness. Citizens' groups had to file a lawsuit just to get the NRC to hold a public hearing that would yield a ruling. And that was the first one the NRC had held during more than forty-five relicensing processes.
Indian Point, forty miles north of Times Square, is also applying for a new license. It too leaks radioactive water like a sieve: tens of thousands of gallons of radioactive, tritium- and strontium 90-laced water from one of its spent fuel pools have polluted groundwater and the Hudson River. The first of several leaks was discovered in 2005, but the plant's owner, Entergy, failed to report the problem for almost a month.
Vermont Yankee, also owned by Entergy, has one of the worst operating records in the country, runs at 120 percent capacity because of a 2006 power up-rate, and is well on its way to being relicensed. As detailed in these pages last year, Vermont Yankee has recently suffered a number of almost comical problems: a fire set off emergency mobilizations in three states; a cooling tower collapsed; a crane dropped a cask of atomic waste; parts of a fuel rod even went missing. To save money Entergy has been caught skipping routine maintenance and not hiring needed staff. This year the plant has been battling what seem to be unending leaks: in February the water cleanup system leaked, in May a condenser tube leak was identified but not repaired, in June there was a leak in a service water pipe. Then a recirculation pump unexpectedly reduced power and locked up, preventing the operators from changing its speed. And in August Entergy announced that it was not doing all of the required monthly radiological monitoring of its spent fuel.
FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio also wants a new twenty-year license. In 2002 that plant came very close to calamity. Largely by chance, staff discovered a six-inch-deep hole in the reactor vessel head; only three-eighths of an inch of metal remained. This barrier protects against a reactor breach and a possible chain of events that could have led to a reactor meltdown. The hole could have been found and fixed earlier, but the plant's owner, FirstEnergy, requested that the NRC allow it to delay a mandated inspection. In October 2008 Davis-Besse workers also discovered a tritium leak.
This fleet of poorly regulated zombie plants is the real story of nuclear power. Building hundreds of new nukes to save us from climate change is a pipe dream--the time and expense necessary for that would be impossible to overcome in the decade or two remaining. And so the debate about the future of atomic power in the age of climate change functions mostly as a smoke screen behind which these old, leaky, crumbling plants are being pushed to the limit of their endurance. Half the fleet has already been relicensed and many up-rated to run at more than 100 percent of their designed capacity. To avoid dangerous accidents over the next two decades, the industry must be subject to real oversight. For that to happen, the NRC must be reformed.
There will likely be one more opening on the commission. If the risk of a real nuclear disaster is to be diminished, Obama must nominate a robust safety- and transparency-minded commissioner who will stand up to the powerful companies that own the zombie nuke fleet.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
by JEREMY SCAHILL [reposted from The Nation]
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater's involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so "compartmentalized" that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.
The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, "We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature." A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. "We don't have any contracts to do that work for us. We don't contract that kind of work out, period," the official said. "There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services." The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency's director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. "This is a parallel operation to the CIA," said the source. "They are two separate beasts." The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war--knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country. Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. "Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government," Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has "no other operations of any kind in Pakistan."
A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source's claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.
His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater's covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, "From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct," adding, "There's no question that's occurring."
"It wouldn't surprise me because we've outsourced nearly everything," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater's role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater's involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. "Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don't have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it's that simple. It would not surprise me."
The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi
The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater's presence in Pakistan is "not really visible, and that's why nobody has cracked down on it," said the source. Blackwater's operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. "It's Blackwater via JSOC, and it's a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis." The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. "It's a very rudimentary operation," says the source. "I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It's very bare bones, and that's the point."
Blackwater's work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA's counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a "media-scouring/open-source network," according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. "They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them," he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.
The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater's classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, "The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you're doing is really one military guy to another." Blackwater's first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified "black" operations. "With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above 'secret'--even though you have no business doing so," said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that "do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust," he added. "Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That's exactly what it is: a circle of love." Blackwater, therefore, has access to "all source" reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. "That's how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors," said the source. "We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don't unless they ask."
According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have "conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up," he said, adding, "They have a sizable force in Pakistan--not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way--but to support a legitimate contract that's classified for JSOC." Blackwater's Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT "was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it." Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. "Nobody even gives them a second thought."
The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as "Qatar cubed," in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. "This is supposed to be the brave new world," he says. "This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don't have to deal with that because they're operating under a classified mandate."
In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. "That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don't know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan," he said. "So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?"
Pakistan's Military Contracting Maze
Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. "The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets," he said. "It's not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people." Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls "Blackwater Vanilla," and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. "Good or bad, there's a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That's probably a good thing," said the source. "It's the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they're the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It's not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They're very good at what they do."
The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, "that's not entirely accurate." While he concurred with the military intelligence source's description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral's main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.
A spokesperson for the US State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. "We cannot help you," said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. "You'll have to contact the companies directly." Blackwater's Corallo said the company has "no operations of any kind" in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.
According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States." Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.
For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. "Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship," he said. "They've met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another." Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.
According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got BW guys that are assisting... and they're all going to want to go on the jobs--so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that--in some of those cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house." Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.' But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work."
The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, "There's no real oversight. It's not really on people's radar screen."
In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by "a private American security contractor." The statement said, "Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments."
Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?
Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.
In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at "hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company's contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft." In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.
The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it's JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."
The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC's drone bombings as well. "It's Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC," said the source. When civilians are killed, "people go, 'Oh, it's the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.' Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that's JSOC [hitting] somebody they've identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they've culled the intelligence themselves or it's been shared with them and they take that person out and that's how it works."
The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. "Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that," he says. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don't care. If there's one person they're going after and there's thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That's the mentality." He added, "They're not accountable to anybody and they know that. It's an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?"
In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.
Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. "The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?" asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. "Let's forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren't about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory."
JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney's Extra Special Force
Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal's elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war--which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan--there is a concomitant rise in JSOC's power and influence within the military structure. "I don't see how you can escape that; it's just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it's inevitable, I think," Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, "I'm alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command," under which JSOC operates. "That's backward. But that's essentially what we have today."
From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater's 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army's Delta Force, the Navy's SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators--which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater's alleged contracts with JSOC.
Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. "The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they've been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don't," said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. "They're known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they've got the experience. They're very valuable."
"They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia," said the military intelligence source. "They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they're talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It's a ridiculous revolving door."
While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. "What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing," said Colonel Wilkerson. "That's dangerous, that's very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don't tell the theater commander what you're doing."
Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. "I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good," says Wilkerson. "I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions." He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld "built up initially because Rumsfeld didn't get the responsiveness. He didn't get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse's mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch--read: Cheney and Rumsfeld--wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier."
Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. "When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn't tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, 'Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?' So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him--we rendered him home."
As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using "reprogrammed" funds "without explicit congressional authority or appropriation," according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA's authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end "near total dependence on CIA." Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT operations...before publication" of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.
The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the "darkest acts" in part to keep them concealed from Congress. "Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress," said the source. "They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: 'Preparing the Battlefield.'"
The significance of the flexibility of JSOC's operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA's is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress," she said. "If they are not, that is a violation of the law."
Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan
For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater's alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater's operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved--almost from the beginning of the "war on terror"--with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater's presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, "Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan." In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater's rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.
The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater "provides security for a US-backed aid project" in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. "We have no contracts in Pakistan," Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. "We've been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there."
Reports of Blackwater's alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. "The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar," he said. "That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities." Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are "wildly incorrect," saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has "found refuge from potential U.S. attacks" in Karachi "with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service."
In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi's Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, "The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in."
The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired "bungalows" in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large gated community established "for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan." Its motto is: "Home for Defenders." The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.
The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it's the contractors' fault, not the government's. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. "We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention," said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. "In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it's almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations." Addicott added, "If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That's one of the reasons we're not members of the International Criminal Court."
If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater's alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. "Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we're going to go as a nation that are dangerous," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Monday, November 23, 2009
Journalist Bardach (Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana) presents a fast-paced inside view of Castro’s Cuba without the political rhetoric of so many Cuba experts. Divided into three parts—"The Long Dying," "The Fidel Obsession," and "Raul’s Reign"—the book has chapters on Castro enemies Orlando Bosch Avila and Luis Posada Carriles, as well as the terrorist attack on Cubana Airlines flight 455, that progress as if they were in a spy novel. Bardach also aptly relates the Castro–Hugo Chavez connection and offers powerful insight on the county’s relations with the United States post–Fidel and on the effects of Raul’s leadership, marked by an aging group of political insiders. For Raul to be as successful as his brother, Bardach posits that Cuba’s economy must be restructured, especially after the disastrous hurricane season of 2008, which ripped the nation’s crops and agriculture industry apart.
Verdict If you want one analysis on Castro and the future of Cuba, look no further than this excellent account. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/08.]—Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., AL
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Film Review: Precious
Lee Daniels' "Precious" Is a Film Masterpiece
Film producer and promoter, Lee Daniels, returned to the directors chair, after his 2005 film effort, "Shadowboxer," by taking the book by Sapphire, "Push" and making an outstanding film: "Precious."
The casting of Gabourey 'Gabby" Sidibe as the lead character, "Precious", and Mo'Nique as her mother, "Mary," were expert decisions. There were totally mother and daughter and all of the human drama that Sapphire wrote and Daniels maintained that relationship in the film.
This is just one more excellent acting performance by Mo'Nique. She had, probably the most difficult role in the film and she never disappointed.
Controversy surrounds the book and film. Is it racist cliché's or not? Armond White, the chief film critic of the New York Press and the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, was quoted by the NY Times, "Not since 'The Birth of a Nation' has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of Black America life as much as 'Precious.'"
In reply to Armond White; and, as reported in the same NYTimes article, the author of the book "Push," Sapphire said in reply to stereo types charge: "'Black people are able to say 'Precious' represents some of our children, but some of our children go to Yale." In reply to the charge that the book and film identify child abuse of being Black, "Child abuse is not Black….What do you call the man in Austria who imprisoned his daughter for years?" Sapphire is not backing down one inch.
I would ask concerning films that have this kind of theme and controversy: What is the purpose of the film? "Birth of a Nation" was meant to promote racism and racist actions; and, it did. "Precious" clearly was meant to do as AO Scott observed in his next day article and further review, that the public education system has some answers, answers that I would add need to be broadened and depended.
With the financial backing of Oprah Winfrey and her full support of the film's theme, her "Color Purple" film of a couple decades ago came to minds of many. Remember, that film evoked a lot of controversy. At first many avoided that film, but later saw it. It has become a Broadway play. "Precious" might be headed that way.
Daniels had a previous experience with extreme human drama when he was a producer the Academy Award recognized film, "Monsters Ball." That was also a very rough film. Remember, in that film the main character was a strong Black woman played by Halle Berry with many serious issues. Bill Bob Thornton was the other lead character.
In this film, the viewer is transfixed with eyes glued to a screen that unfolds a human drama that is as extreme as it is believable. There is not one moment of this film that any unreality is portrayed. When Precious day dreams about being a star singing performer or a white, blond haired woman, these all made sense in the film.
When Precious finally finds some friendly people, she is ready to make something of herself. Paula Patton as Ms Blu Rain becomes her teacher in a special public school. She is referred to that school by a teacher and principle that recognize that he abilities in math go beyond that narrow ability.
Two supporting actors shore up the film's key elements. Maria Carey plays Precious' social worker, Ms. Weiss; and, Lenny Kravitz play male nurse John. They are both excellent and play well within their scripted roles.
Geoffrey Fletcher did a great job in adapting the book to an effective screenplay.
Daniels currently lives in New York City. He was born in Philly and lived a large part of his life in L.A. He will have lots of knuckles knocking on his door.
Emissions Increase Despite Financial Crisis
ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2009) — A new study from Norwegian and New Zealand scientists provides updated numbers for CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. While the global financial crisis may have slowed down the emission growth, it has not been sufficient to stop it: From 2007 to 2008 global emissions from fossil fuels increased by 2.2 percent. From 2003 to 2007, the average fossil emissions increased by 3.7 percent a year.
"The financial crisis started in the latter part of 2008, so the full effect of the financial crisis of CO2 emissions will most likely be on the emissions in 2009," scientist Gunnar Myhre at CICERO Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo, said.
Coal most important
According to the study published in Environmental Research Letters, coal in 2006 bypassed oil as the largest source of CO2 emissions. Emissions from gas and oil have had a rather constant growth since 1990. For coal however, the picture is different.
"Emissions from coal have had a strong increase since 2000 and coal is now the driver of the strong fossil fuel CO2 emission growth. The main reason is increased use of coal in China, largely due to export production," Myhre said.
India coming up
For the first time, India's emissions now increase faster than the Chinese emissions.
"The growth rate of the emissions has been slightly higher in India the last two years. Still, China is by far the leading world polluter, but we can expect Indian emissions to play an increasingly important role in the future," Myhre said.
Fossil energy's role
According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a large reduction of emissions from fossil sources is needed to reduce global warming. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to 383 ppm in 2007. Around 75 percent of the increase until now is due to CO2 emissions from fossil energy. 25 percent is due to changes in land use.
Whereas the trend in CO2 emissions from land use over the last few decades has been relatively constant, an increasing trend in fossil fuel CO2 emissions has been reported. This increasing trend is driven by enhanced economic growth and also an increase in carbon intensity.
All main IPCC scenarios of fossil fuel CO2 emissions show an increase over the next few decades with a large spread in emissions estimates up to 2100. Future atmospheric CO2 concentrations not only depend on the emissions, but also on the net uptake of CO2 by land and ocean.
The study was conducted by Gunnar Myhre and Kari Alterskjær at Center for International Climate and Environmental Research -- Oslo (CICERO) and Dave Lowe at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand.
By Irene Kahn [reposted from BuzzFlash.com]
For all those who care about social and economic injustice.
You can read much more about this must-read book at its website The Unheard Truth
"Khan argues with passion, backed up by analysis, that fighting poverty is about fighting deprivation, exclusion, insecurity and powerlessness. People living in poverty lack material resources but that more than that, they lack control over their own lives. To tackle global poverty, we need to focus on the human rights abuses that drive poverty and keep people poor. Giving people a say in their own future, and demanding that they be treated with dignity and respect for their rights is the way to make progress."
"A powerful argument by the secretary general of Amnesty International that poverty is not just an economic problem but a global human-rights violation. In our rapidly globalizing age with economic growth occurring in almost every corner of the world, it is easy to forget that more than one billion people still live on less than one dollar a day. Poverty is the worst human-rights crisis in the world today, denying billions of people their most basic rights. In a bracing argument enriched by compelling photographs from across the world, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan makes the case that poverty remains a global epidemic because we continue to define it as an economic problem whose only solution is foreign aid and investment. Khan calls for a reevaluation of this longstanding assumption and turns us toward confronting poverty as a human-rights violation. Empowering the poor with basic rights of security is our only chance for eradicating poverty and giving freedom and dignity to those who have never experienced it."
About the Author:
Irene Khan, as the first woman and first Asian secretary general of Amnesty International, has brought a strong focus to socioeconomic rights and violence against women around the world. She lives with her husband and daughter in London.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
"This is an extraordinary book... No other account gives a complete picture of the control fraud that occurred in the S & L crisis... There is no one else in the whole world who understands so well exactly how these lootings occurred in all their details and how the changes in government regulations and in statutes in the early 1980s caused this spate of looting... This book will be a classic." --George A. Akerlof, University of California, Berkeley, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics
The catastrophic collapse of companies such as Enron, WorldCom, ImClone, and Tyco left angry investors, employees, reporters, and government investigators demanding to know how the CEOs deceived everyone into believing their companies were spectacularly successful when in fact they were massively insolvent. Why did the nation's top accounting firms give such companies clean audit reports? Where were the regulators and whistleblowers who should expose fraudulent CEOs before they loot their companies for hundreds of millions of dollars? In this expert insider's account of the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s, William Black lays bare the strategies that corrupt CEOs and CFOs - in collusion with those who have regulatory oversight of their industries - use to defraud companies for their personal gain. Recounting the investigations he conducted as Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Black fully reveals how Charles Keating and hundreds of other S&L owners took advantage of a weak regulatory environment to perpetrate accounting fraud on a massive scale. He also authoritatively links the S&L crash to the business failures of the early 2000s, showing how CEOs then and now are using the same tactics to defeat regulatory restraints and commit the same types of destructive fraud. Black uses the latest advances in criminology and economics to develop a theory of why 'control fraud' - looting a company for personal profit - tends to occur in waves that make financial markets deeply inefficient. He also explains how to prevent such waves. Throughout the book, Black drives home the larger point that control fraud is a major, ongoing threat in business that requires active, independent regulators to contain it. His book is a wake-up call for everyone who believes that market forces alone will keep companies and their owners honest.
from Amazon UK
Friday, November 20, 2009
Theatre Review: Superior Donuts
Chicago's Steppenwolf's "Superior Donuts" Does It Great On New York's Broadway
Tracy Letts the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Winning Playwright for "August: Osage County" has done it again. This time it is a smaller story that brings together Russians, Polish, African Americans and a few others in an outdated, but highly relevant diner in Chicago, Illinois. The play expertly directed by Tina Landau, another Steppenwolf stalwart is quick, timely and right on the political mark on a number of issues.
The lead actor, Michael McKean is not a Steppenwolf ensemble actor, but he leads the cast though its ups and downs. And, Jon Michael Hill, who plays the African American young student, does an amazing job of keeping the play on track through some difficult messages. He is a Steppenwolf actor since 2007.
McKean is the center of the play as he takes us through the life of Arthur Przybyszewski the son of a pro war father who called his son a coward for leaving the U.S. for Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft. After returning to the U.S. via the amnesty by President Jimmy Carter he inherits his fathers donut shop.
His friendship with Hill and encounters with other characters is done very smoothly, but with the artistic tension that this plays keeps throughout.
The genius of Letts is to bring together people with their highly charged "issues" on the stage for less than 2 hours; and, achieve a real theatrical experience. But, like "Osage County," Letts, on a far more limited scale, accomplishes the technical achievements of great playwriting and making a statement that is worth saying.
This is a play that can translate well to productions in small venues and university campuses. Thank you Steppenwolf, again, for a a great production and ensemble of writers, directors and actors.
November 19th, 2009
Reflections by comrade Fidel [reposted from Granma]
THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION AND PEACE
I know Chavez well, and no one could be more reluctant than him to allow a showdown between the Venezuelan and Colombian peoples leading to bloodshed. These are two fraternal peoples, the same as Cubans living in the east, center and west end of our island. I find no other way to explain the close relationship between Venezuelans and Colombians.
The slanderous Yankee accusation that Chavez is planning a war against neighboring Colombia led an influential paper of that country to run a story last Sunday, November 15, under the headline "War Drums." It was a pejorative and insulting editorial against the Venezuelan President asserting, among other things, that "Colombia should take very seriously the gravest threat to its national security in more than seven decades as it comes from a President with a military background…"
It goes on to say that: "The reason is the growing potential for a provocation that can go from an incident along the border to an attack on civilian and military facilities in Colombia."
Further on the editorial claims it is likely "…that Hugo Chavez intensifies his attacks against the ‘scrawny’ –the sobriquet he applies to his oppositionists—and tries to remove from regional and local governments those who contradict him. He already did it with the Mayor of Caracas…and now he wants to try with the governors of the states sharing borders with Colombia who refuse to be under his rule…a clash with Colombian forces or the accusation that the paramilitary plan to conduct actions within Venezuelan territory could be the pretext required by Chavez’s regime to suspend constitutional rights."
Such words can only serve to justify the United States’ aggressive plans and the blatant treachery of the Venezuelan oligarchy and counterrevolution to their Homeland.
Coinciding with the release of that editorial, the Bolivarian leader had published his weekly column known as "Chavez’s lines," where he analyzed the shameless concession of seven US military bases in Colombia, a country that shares about 1,281 miles of border with Venezuela.
In his article, the President of the Bolivarian Republic was very clear and brave in explaining his position.
"…I said it this Friday at the rally for peace and against the US military bases in Colombian territory: It is my duty to appeal to all of you, men and women, to defend Bolivar’s Homeland, our children’s Homeland… Our Homeland is free today and we shall defend it with our lives. Never again will Venezuela be anybody’s colony; never again will it kneel down before any invader or empire…the extremely serious and transcendental problem in Colombia cannot be overlooked by the Latin American governments…"
Later on, he added some important concepts: "…the entire ‘gringo’ war arsenal included in the agreement responds to the concept of extraterritorial operations…it turns the Colombian territory into an enormous Yankee military enclave…the greatest threat to peace and security in the South American region and in Our America."
"The agreement…prevents Colombia from offering anyone security and respect; not even Colombian men and women. A country that has lost its sovereignty and become an instrument of the ‘new colonial power’ envisioned by our Liberator cannot offer such guarantees."
Chavez is a true revolutionary, a profound and sincere thinker, a courageous and restless worker. He did not win power through a coup d’état. He rebelled against the repression and genocide unleashed by the neoliberal governments that surrendered the country’s huge natural resources to the United States. He endured incarceration; he matured and developed his ideas. He did not win power with weapons despite his military background.
It is his merit to have taken the difficult path of a profound social Revolution starting out from the so-called representative democracy and an absolute freedom of expression, at a time when the most powerful media resources of the country were –they still are—in the hands of the oligarchy and at the service of the empire’s interests.
In just 11 years, Venezuela has achieved the greatest educational and social progress attained by any country in the world, despite the coup d’état and the destabilization plans and smearing campaigns implemented by the United States.
The empire did not decree an economic blockade on Venezuela, --as it did in the case of Cuba-- after the failure of its sophisticated actions against the Venezuelan people because it would have meant blockading itself given its foreign energy dependence. But it has not abandoned its purpose to do away with the Bolivarian process and the generous support this gives the Caribbean and Central American peoples in terms of oil resources, and its extensive trade relations with South America, China, Russia and numerous countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. Large segments of the population in every continent sympathize with the Bolivarian Revolution whose relations with Cuba are especially upsetting for the empire which for half a century has sustained a criminal blockade against our country. Through the ALBA, Bolivar’s Venezuela and Marti’s Cuba are promoting a new type of relationship and exchange on rational and fair basis.
The Bolivarian Revolution has been particularly generous with the Caribbean countries in times of an exceptionally grave energy crisis.
In the current new stage, the Venezuelan Revolution is facing entirely new problems which did not exist almost exactly 50 years ago, when our Revolution triumphed in Cuba.
At that time, drug-trafficking, organized crime, social violence and the paramilitaries were barely known. The United States had yet to become the huge drug market that capitalism and the consumer society have turned it into. It was not so difficult for the Revolution to fight drug-trafficking in Cuba and to prevent the country from being drawn to its production and consumption.
Today, such scourges have brought to Mexico, Central America and South America a growing tragedy which is far from beaten. The unequal terms of trade, protectionism and the plundering of their natural resources has been compounded by drug-trafficking and the violence of organized crime that underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and the huge US drug market have created in the Latin American societies. The incompetence of that imperial and wealthy nation to prevent drug-trafficking and abuse has paved the way for the cultivation in many places of Latin America of plants whose value as raw material for drug production often exceeds that of the rest of the farm products, thus creating a very serious social and political quagmire.
In Colombia, the paramilitary is today the imperialism’s frontline force to combat the Bolivarian Revolution.
It is precisely thanks to his military background that Chavez knows that the struggle against drug-trafficking is a vulgar pretext used by the United States to justify a military agreement that fully responds to the US post-cold war strategic concept of extending its world domination.
The air bases, the means, the operational rights and total impunity granted to the Yankee military and civilian personnel by Colombia in its own territory have nothing to do with fighting drug cultivation, production and trafficking. This is currently a world problem spreading not only to South American countries, but also to Africa and other regions. It already prevails in Afghanistan despite the massive presence of the Yankee troops.
Drugs should not be used as a pretext to set up bases, invade countries and bring violence, war and plundering to Third World nations. This is the worst environment to sow good qualities among the people and to bring education, healthcare and development to other nations.
Those who think that division between Venezuelans and Colombians can lead to the success of their counterrevolutionary plans are deceiving themselves. Many of the best and most humble workers in Venezuela are Colombians; the Revolution has given them and their immediate family education, healthcare, employment, the right to citizenship and other benefits. Together, Venezuelans and Colombians shall defend the great Homeland of the Liberator of the Americas; together, they shall fight for peace and freedom.
The thousands of Cuban doctors, educators and other collaborators carrying out their internationalist duty in Venezuela shall be with them!
Fidel Castro Ruz
November 18, 2009