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Obama Channels Cheney’s Geopolitical Energy Policy June 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Energy, Environment, Nuclear weapons/power.
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Roger’s note: Back in the fall of 2008, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote an essay entitled “Plus ça change you can believe in.”  Obama has not disappointed this cynical prediction.  I would not have thought that he would have out Bushed Bush on warmongering, but there is no surprise that he is loyal to the big money (despite the phony claim of small contributors) that put him in office.

Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by TomDispatch.com

 

Four Ways the President Is Pursuing Cheney’s Geopolitics of Global Energy

by Michael T. Klare

As details of his administration’s global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known — a war that involves a mélange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations — President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. “As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign,” Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.”

When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama’s energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney’s, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.

More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration — many with oil-company backgrounds — Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.

Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world’s remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation’s rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney — a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.

More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. “Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature,” he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. “We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality.”

Cheney’s reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. “Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses,” Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration’s decision to intervene, “he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy.”

This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, “[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”

For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America’s power at the expense of its rivals.

Cheney’s World

Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist — a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.

That blueprint consists of four key features:

1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington’s freedom of action.

2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an “economic stranglehold” over other major oil importers.

3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America’s potential economic rivals, China and Japan.

4. Promote energy “diversification” in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.

The first objective, increased reliance on domestic oil and gas, was highlighted in National Energy Policy, the energy strategy Cheney devised for the president in May 2001 in close consultation with representatives of the oil giants. Although mostly known for its advocacy of increased drilling on federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cheney Report (as it came to be known) largely focused on the threat of growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers and the need to achieve greater “energy security” through a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead program of accelerated exploitation of domestic energy supplies.

“A primary goal of the National Energy Policy is to add supply from diverse sources,” the report declared. “This means domestic oil, gas, and coal. It also means hydropower and nuclear power.” The plan also called for a concerted drive to increase U.S. reliance on friendly sources of energy in the Western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.

The second objective, control over the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, was, for Cheney, the principal reason for both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although before that invasion, the president and other top officials focused on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, his human rights record, and the need to bring democracy to Iraq, Cheney never wavered in his belief that the basic goal was to ensure that Washington would control the Middle Eastern oil jugular.

After Saddam’s ouster and the occupation of Iraq began, Cheney was especially outspoken in his insistence that neighboring Iran be prevented, by force of arms if need be, from challenging American preeminence in the Gulf. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open,” he declared from the deck of an aircraft carrier during maneuvers off the coast of Iran in May 2007. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”

Cheney also focused in a major way on ensuring control over the sea lanes from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf (out of which 35% of the world’s tradable oil flows each day) across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, and into the South and East China Seas. To this day, these maritime corridors remain essential for the economic survival of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, bringing oil and other raw materials to their industries and carrying manufactured goods to their markets abroad. By maintaining U.S. control over these vital conduits, Cheney sought to guarantee the loyalty of America’s key Asian allies and constrain the rise of China. In pursuit of these classic geopolitical objectives, he pushed for an enhanced U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the establishment of a network of military alliances linking Japan, Australia, and India, all aimed at containing China.

Finally, Cheney sought to rein in America’s other major great-power rival, Russia. While his boss, George W. Bush, spoke of the potential for cooperation with Moscow, Cheney, still an energy cold warrior, viewed Russia as a geopolitical competitor and sought every opportunity to diminish its power and influence. He particularly feared that Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas could undermine its resolve to resist aggressive Russian moves in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

To counter this trend, Cheney tried to persuade the Europeans to get more of their energy from the Caspian Sea basin by building new pipelines to that region via Georgia and Turkey. The idea was to bypass Russia by persuading Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to export their gas through these conduits, not those owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled monopoly. When Georgia came under attack from Russian forces in August 2008, after Georgian troops shelled the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, Cheney was the first senior U.S. official to visit Tbilisi, bringing a promise of $1 billion in reconstruction assistance, as well as an offer of fast-track entry into NATO. France and Germany blocked the move, fearing Moscow might respond with actions that could destabilize Europe.

Obama as Cheney

This four-part geopolitical blueprint, relentlessly pursued by Cheney while vice president, is now being implemented in every respect by President Obama.

When it comes to the pursuit of enhanced energy independence, Obama has embraced the ultra-nationalistic orientation of the 2001 Cheney report, with its call for increased reliance on domestic and Western Hemisphere oil and natural gas — no matter the dangers of drilling in environmentally fragile offshore areas or the use of hazardous techniques like hydro-fracking. In recent speeches, he has boasted of his administration’s efforts to facilitate increased oil and gas drilling at home and promised to speed drilling in new locations, including offshore Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Over the last three years,” he boasted in his January State of the Union address, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years… Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” He spoke with particular enthusiasm about the extraction of natural gas via fracking from shale deposits: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”

Obama has also voiced his desire to increase U.S. reliance on Western Hemisphere energy, thereby diminishing its dependence on unreliable and unfriendly suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. In March 2011, with the Arab Spring gaining momentum, he traveled to Brazil for five days of trade talks, a geopolitical energy pivot noted at the time. In the eyes of many observers, Obama’s focus on Brazil was inextricably linked to that country’s emergence as a major oil producer, thanks to new discoveries in the “pre-salt” fields off its coast in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, discoveries that could help the U.S. wean itself off Middle Eastern oil but could also turn out to be pollution nightmares. Although environmentalists have warned of the risks of drilling in the pre-salt fields, where a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout is an ever-present danger, Obama has made no secret of his geopolitical priorities. “By some estimates, the oil you recently discovered off the shores of Brazil could amount to twice the reserves we have in the United States,” he told Brazilian business leaders in that country’s capital. “When you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”

At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will retain its role as the ultimate guardian of the Persian Gulf sea lanes. Even while trumpeting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, he has insisted that the United States will bolster its air, naval, and special operations forces in the Gulf region, so as to remain the preeminent military power there. “Back to the future,” is how Major General Karl R. Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, described the new posture, referring to a time before the Iraq War when the U.S. exercised dominance in the region mainly through its air and naval superiority.

While less conspicuous than “boots on the ground,” the expanded air and naval presence will be kept strong enough to overpower any conceivable adversary. “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last October. Such a build-up has in fact been accentuated, in preparation either for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should Obama conclude that negotiations to curb Iranian enrichment activities have reached a dead end, or to clear the Strait of Hormuz, if the Iranians carry out threats to block oil shipping there in retaliation for the even harsher economic sanctions due to be imposed after July 1st.

Like Cheney, Obama also seeks to ensure U.S. control over the vital sea lanes extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. This is, in fact, the heart of Obama’s much publicized policy “pivot” to Asia and his new military doctrine, first revealed in a speech to the Australian Parliament on November 17th. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he declared, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A major priority of this effort, he indicated, would be enhanced “maritime security,” especially in the South China Sea.

Central to the Obama plan — like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007 — is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest. When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea. He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India. “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”

As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China — especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system — is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing. “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction. “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”

Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe. On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe — bypassing Russia, naturally. At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid. As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region — and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.

In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations. What explains this surprising behavior? Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking — and there’s no evidence of that — it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.

When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world — and the first time around was anything but a success — it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest — in the form of assured energy supplies — may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.

In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional — and often dirty — energy resources. According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise — a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.

It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power. And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages. But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.

In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia. President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.

© 2012 Michael T. Klare

 

 

 

Michael T. Klare

Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published. His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.

U.S.-Backed Bloodshed Stains Bahrain’s Arab Spring April 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 by TruthDig.com

by Amy Goodman

Three days after Hosni Mubarak resigned as the long-standing dictator in Egypt, people in the small Gulf state of Bahrain took to the streets, marching to their version of Tahrir, Pearl Square, in the capital city of Manama. Bahrain has been ruled by the same family, the House of Khalifa, since the 1780s—more than 220 years. Bahrainis were not demanding an end to the monarchy, but for more representation in their government.

One month into the uprising, Saudi Arabia sent military and police forces over the 16-mile causeway that connects the Saudi mainland to Bahrain, an island. Since then, the protesters, the press and human-rights organizations have suffered increasingly violent repression.

One courageous young Bahraini pro-democracy activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, has seen the brutality up close. To her horror, she watched her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist, be beaten and arrested. She described it to me from Manama:

“Security forces attacked my home. They came in without prior warning. They broke down the building door, and they broke down our apartment door, and instantly attacked my father, without giving him a chance to speak and without giving any reason for his arrest. They dragged my father down the stairs and started beating him in front of me. They beat him until he was unconscious. The last thing I heard my father say was that he couldn’t breathe. When I tried to intervene, when I tried to tell them, ‘Please to stop beating him. He will go with you voluntarily. You don’t need to beat him this way,’ they told me to shut up, basically, and they grabbed me … and dragged me up the stairs back into the apartment. By the time I had gotten out of the room again, the only trace of my father was his blood on the stairs.”

Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of al-Khawaja. Zainab’s husband and brother-in-law also have been arrested. Tweeting as “angryarabiya,” she has commenced a water-only fast in protest. She also has written a letter to President Barack Obama: “If anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American.”

Obama condemned the Gadhafi government in his speech justifying the recent military attacks in Libya, saying: “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested.” Now that the same things are happening in Bahrain, Obama has little to say.

As with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the sentiment is nationalist, not religious. The country is 70 percent Shia, ruled by the Sunni minority. Nevertheless, a central rallying cry of the protests has been “Not Shia, Not Sunni: Bahraini.” This debunks the argument used by the Bahraini government that the current regime is the best bulwark against increased influence of Iran, a Shia country, in the oil-rich Gulf. Add to that Bahrain’s strategic role: It is where the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based, tasked with protecting “U.S. interests” like the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal, and supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely, U.S. interests include supporting democracy over despots.

Nabeel Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights—the organization formerly run by the recently abducted Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Rajab is facing a possible military trial for publishing the photograph of a protester who died in custody. Rajab told me: “Hundreds of people are in jail for practicing their freedom of expression. People are tortured for expressing their freedom of expression. Thousands of people sacked from their jobs. … And all that, because one day, a month ago, almost half of the Bahraini population came out in the street demanding democracy and respect for human rights.”

Rajab noted that democracy in Bahrain would lead to democracy in neighboring Gulf dictatorships, especially Saudi Arabia, so most regional governments have a stake in crushing the protests. Saudi Arabia is well-positioned for the task, as the recent beneficiary of the largest arms deal in U.S. history. Despite the threats, Rajab was resolute: “As far as I’m breathing, as far as I’m alive, I am going to continue. I believe in change. I believe in democracy. I believe in human rights. I’m willing to give my life. I’m willing to give anything to achieve this goal.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Libya. Oil. War. Is it that simple? March 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Barack Obama, Libya, War.
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Monday, Mar 21, 2011 18:11 ET

How The World Works

Obama cited national security and potential massacres as reasons for intervention. But the price of gas also counts

By Andrew Leonard
Libya oil refinery
AP/Hussein Malla
A Libyan oil worker walks in front of a refinery

Critics on both the left and right are asking the same question: On what grounds can President Obama justify military intervention in Libya that do not also mandate immediate action in Bahrain and Yemen? In all three cases, authoritarian governments are cracking down on protesters and dissent with murderous reprisals. Moammar Gadhafi might boast the honor of being the craziest dictator in the North African-Mideast region, but sheer insanity doesn’t seem quite enough of a rationale for raining down Tomahawk missiles.

Could the answer be as simple as oil? The politics of fossil fuel have explained a century of foreign interventions in the Mideast — why not this one? And you don’t have to be a war-protesting no-blood-for-oil-sign-waving critic to make the claim: On Monday, an influential Democratic congressman suggested Obama’s intervention was all about the black gold.

From The Hill:

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said that he agreed with President Obama’s decision to launch, along with allies, attacks against Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi. But Markey said the attacks were primarily motivated by oil.

“We are in Libya because of oil,” Markey said on MSNBC. “It all goes back to the 5 million barrels of oil we import from OPEC on a daily basis.”

(Democratic Senator James Webb made similar points in a Tuesday afternoon interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.)

 

Libya is the 16th largest producer of oil in the world, responsible, before the recent turmoil, for about 2 percent of world production, or around 1,600,000 barrels per day. Yemen and Bahrain are also oil producers — but far smaller. Bahrain pumps out 45,000 barrels per day; Yemen, 260,000.

Since civil war broke out in Libya, production has fallen by about 75 percent. But the quality of Libya’s oil may be more important than the sheer volume of production. Libya’s “sweet light crude” oil is extremely low in sulfur content, which makes it highly desirable in global markets: It’s cleaner burning and easier to refine into gasoline. Saudi Arabian oil, in contrast, contains much more sulfur. Swap in Saudi oil for missing Libyan oil and you end up maxxing out world refinery capacity, and hiking downstream prices for gasoline.

Rising oil prices are considered a major threat to U.S. economic recovery. So if you’re looking for a tidy explanation for Western willingness to intervene in Libya, there you have it. Instability in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain or Yemen has little potential for roiling world energy markets. Libya is a major player — what happens there can and will affect the global economy.

The fact the European oil companies like Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol have the biggest foreign presence in Libya also goes a long way toward explaining why the U.N. Security Council agreed to act. But the explanation becomes a little less tidy when you consider that the quickest way to restore order to world oil markets would simply have been to let Gadhafi wipe out the rebels, something he seemed poised to do before the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing a no-fly zone. That would have been hard-headed realpolitik.

The situation we’re in now, in which Western military might prevents Gadhafi from a quick victory, but keeps in place the conditions for a long-drawn-out civil war, actually predicts the worst possible outcome for oil markets. The brutal truth about intervention in Libya is that whether or not it was motivated by oil or economic concerns, the prospects for a quick resolution and ensuing calm in oil markets are bleak. That’s a lesson we should have learned from Iraq.

Ecuadorian Court Rules Against Chevron in Historic Case February 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
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(LOOK FOR THE DOCUMENTARY “CRUDE” AT A LOCAL THEATRE OR ON DVD)

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Written by Sofía Jarrín   
Tuesday, 15 February 2011 22:08
The military procession travelled from the end of the pipeline to the highlands of Ecuador, to celebrate the country’s first barrel of crude oil extracted from Lago Agrio, Sucumbios province, on July 26, 1972. Ecuador’s military running the government, dictatorship-style, was honoring the signed contract with Texaco Petroleum Company to fulfill the promise of economic prosperity and development for the small Andean country. Many present during the official ceremony dipped their hands in the thick substance to signal the beginning of a new era. That first barrel of crude oil is still sitting in a corner of the Military School “Eloy Alfaro” museum.

Forty years later, a court in the same small town of Lago Agrio, ruled against the oil company requiring Texaco, now Chevron Corporation, to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon and permanently affecting the lives of thousands of villagers in the area. According to the plaintiffs, the environmental contamination left by the company in a span of 26 years is ten times worse than the Gulf of Mexico spill.
“We can tell our neighbors and those affected that justice exists. They can dream again of drinking clean water, not with oil residue like we’ve had to drink until now. We can dream that the cleanup of the land can begin and dream of a better way of life,” said Guillermo Grefa, an indigenous Amazon leader.
The residents of Sucumbios spent the last 18 years seeking justice for the environmental damages suffered in their territories by Texaco’s oil exploration. These are mostly indigenous people who before the oil company moved in, were hunters, gatherers, subsistence farmers who depended on the rivers as their main water source. Now the region has the highest incidence of cancer in the country, with an excess of deaths among men from all types of cancer 3.6 times higher in the villages closest to the oil fields, according to a study published in the Occupational Environmental Medicine journal. Child leukemia is three times the national average as well.
Worse stories can be found on the book Las palabras de la selva (The jungle speaks), a psychosociological report on the impact of Texaco’s oil exploration on the Amazon communities of Ecuador published by the Institute of Development and International Cooperation Studies. Based on ground analysis and oral testimonies, the researchers found that 72.4 percent of the population were affected by the land and water pollution generated by the oil fields, although most lacked information about what could be harmful to their health, such as eating dead, contaminated fish. From those interviewed, 87.8 percent reported to have lost their crops and  22.1 percent were forcibly displaced. Indigenous tribes went into a process of “forced acculturation” that meant to many, the loss of spiritual and cultural relations they once had with the rainforest. The introduction of money, alcohol and new diseases forever changed their way of life.
The researchers also found out that sexual violence was also a recurring problem, and despite cultural restraints of shame and silence around these issues, one in seven people said to have known personally, including the names of the victims and incidents details, cases of sexual violence against indigenous women and girls allegedly perpetrated by Texaco workers and settlers.
Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled 399 oil fields in an area as big as 1 million acres (430.000 hectares) and extracted as many as 1,500 barrels of crude oil with a profit of around $30 billion. In the process, Chevron has admitted that Texaco dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of toxic water into streams and soil in the rainforest – about 4 million gallons daily at the height of its operation. According to the Amazon Defense Front, Texaco administered over 900 unlined, open-air waste pits out of the jungle floor and filled them with deadly toxins that were run off via a piping system into nearby streams and rivers. The company also burned or vented millions of cubic meters of natural gas into the atmosphere without adequate controls.
In a confidential memo dated July 17, 1972, Texaco gave specific instructions to its operational base in Ecuador by stating that “only major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan instructions are to be reported”, further clarifying that a major event is that “which attracts the attention of the press and/or regulatory authorities.” That was just the beginning of a series of attempts by Texaco and its parent company since 2001, Chevron, to shadow the truth about the environmental damage inflicted during a time when little regulations existed.
During the length of the trial, the company was accused of constantly manipulating the facts and other acts of corruption, among which the worst was likely the creation of a fake lab in Ecuador to make an “independent assessment” of the environmental damages that surprisingly contradicted the plaintiffs findings. Chevron also held an extensive lobbying campaign in the United States to pressure the Bush administration to force Ecuador to drop the case. There are accusations of case materials that have mysteriously disappeared, and confirmed death threats against the lawyers who represented the affected communities.
The case, Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco, began on November 3, 1993, when 30,000 people from Ecuador’s Amazon filed a class action suit against Texaco in New York federal court. The trial was then forced to move from New York to a local court in Ecuador in 2002, alleging that any decision required national jurisdiction.
In Ecuador, two local judges were removed from the case under direct pressure from Chevron which accused the courts of being corrupt, unfair, and inadequate. This forced each incoming judge to review tens of thousands of documents, as Ecuador’s legal proceedings rely on written instead of oral statements. The third, Nicolás Zambrano, was considered to be a more conservative judge, but he finally ruled against Chevron ordering the company to pay $8.6 billion in damages and twice that amout if they refuse to “publicly apologize to the victims of the Ecuadorian Amazon for the crimes committed.”
“No amount of money will give their lives back and the damage caused by the pollution. However, this amount is not enough to remediate what has been affected,” said Luiz Yanza, co-founder of the Amazon Defense Front. “We have to remember that water, life, the earth were damaged. That many people died. That is why we believe that amount must be reviewed.”
The plaintiffs have announced they will appeal the decision to demand the $27 billion they think is needed to repair the damages done to the environment and improve people’s health in the region. Chevron Corporation has also vowed to appeal, calling the court’s ruling the product of fraud, and is leaning on a recent jurisdiction by a New York judge that blocked any award from this case for 28 days citing the “company [is] of considerable importance to our economy.”
In a statement released by Pablo Fajardo, one of the best-known attorneys representing the indigenous tribes said that rather than accepting responsibility, Chevron continues its campaign of warfare against the Ecuadorian courts.
 
“We call on the company to end its polemical attacks and search jointly with the plaintiffs for common solutions. We believe the evidence before the court deserves international respect and the plaintiffs will take whatever actions are appropriate consistent with the law to press the claims to a final conclusion,” he said.
 

US Influence in Iraq Far From Over March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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by Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun, March 1, 2009

Barack Obama won the votes of many Americans by promising to swiftly end the Iraq War and bring U.S. troops home. He denounced George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a “violation of international law.”

So will U.S. troops leave Iraq? Will those responsible for this trumped-up war face justice?

No, on both counts.

President Obama says U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by August 2010. However, the U.S. military occupation will not end. What we are seeing is a public relations shell game.

The U.S. has 142,000 soldiers and nearly 100,000 mercenaries occupying Iraq. Obama’s plan calls for withdrawing the larger portion of the U.S. garrison but leaving 50,000-60,000 troops in Iraq.

To get around his promise to withdraw all “combat” troops, the president and his advisers are rebranding the stay-behind garrison as “training troops, protection for American interests, and counterterrorism forces.”

At a time when the U.S. is bankrupt and faces a $1.75 trillion deficit, the Pentagon’s gargantuan $664 billion budget (50% of total global military spending) will grow in 2009 and 2010 by another $200 billion to pay for the occupation of Iraq and Obama’s expanded war in Afghanistan. Throw in another $40 billion to $50 billion for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Obama insists the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq. But his words are belied by the Pentagon, which continues to expand bases in Iraq, including Balad and Al-Asad, with 4,400-metre runways for heavy bombers and transports.

AIR BRIDGE

They are key links in the U.S. Air Force’s new air bridge that extends from Germany to Bulgaria and Romania, Iraq and the Gulf, then onward to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Besides Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and U.S. embassy (the world’s largest), the Pentagon reportedly wants to retain 58 permanent bases in Iraq (by comparison, there are 36 in South Korea), total control of its air space and immunity from Iraqi law for all U.S. troops.

The U.S. also will retain major bases in neighbouring Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Diego Garcia. U.S. oil companies are moving in to exploit Iraq’s vast energy reserves, the Mideast’s second largest after Saudi Arabia.

U.S. troop levels will remain high during Iraq’s December elections to ensure “security,” according to the Pentagon. In other words, ensuring the U.S.-selected regime “wins” the vote. Iraqi parties, notably Baath, opposing the U.S. occupation, are banned from running. Many Iraqis believe the U.S. will never leave their nation.

In short, contrary to all Obama’s high-blown rhetoric about pulling out of Iraq, Washington clearly intends it will remain a U.S. military, political and economic protectorate. Washington is following exactly the same control model the British Empire used to rule Iraq, and exploit its oil: Install a figurehead ruler, keep him in power using a “native” army (read today’s Iraqis army and police). RAF units based in Iraq (read U.S. air bases) bomb any rebellious areas. Smaller British ground units based in non-urban areas are on call to put down attempted coups against the king. The U.S. plan for Iraq is identical.

Obama made clear that officials responsible for the Iraq war, torture, kidnapping or assassination will not be prosecuted. The theft of over $50 billion in U.S. “reconstruction” funds sent to Iraq is being hushed up.

By contrast, Britons are demanding release of cabinet documents leading to war that are likely to expose Tony Blair’s lies and illegalities.

BYGONES

There is no corresponding call for justice in the United States. Obama tells the public, let bygones be bygones. Unless, of course, it’s Osama bin Laden.

Between 600,000 and one million Iraqis died as a result of President George W. Bush’s aggression, which cost nearly $1 trillion and some 4,500 U.S. dead. Four million Iraqis remain refugees. The U.S. holds over 20,000 Iraqi political prisoners.

Mr. President, this is not a bygone. It’s a historic crime that demands justice. Keep your word about withdrawing from Iraq. Enough with the Bush doubletalk.

Eric Margolis is a columnist for The Toronto Sun. A veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World

Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

 

“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”

Judge Judy

 

Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?

In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”

(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)

 

In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword.  The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions.  The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).

 

In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.”  He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.”  (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).

 

Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure.  If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.

 

In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.

 

First the latter.  Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

A bald faced lie.

Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.”  Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’”  She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”

Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).

Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.”   Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions.  He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”  It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.

Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission.  As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel,  and Blackwater, now Xe).  Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial.  Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years.  But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.

Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”  Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).

The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”

Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie.  In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.  But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place?  In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration.  The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.

(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.”  “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”

http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/128916/why_the_dark_secrets_of_the_first_gulf_war_are_still_haunting_us/)

As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.

Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years.  They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?  Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity? 

There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention.  One of them is “war profiteering.”  Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.  And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.

The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq.  It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation  Iraqi  Liberation.

Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”

Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”

Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade.  Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”

Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”

Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison.  U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.

Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”

Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.

Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”

Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.

Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”

Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it.  Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”

Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”

Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?

Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”

Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.

Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”

Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees.  It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees.  Right?  We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.

Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”

Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.

One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coal-Fired Power Stations Are Death Factories. Close Them. February 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
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by James Hansen

A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders. The reason is this – coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet.

The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyse decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?

Those who lead us have no excuse – they are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests. They have at their disposal the best scientific organisations in the world, such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallise, revealing the urgency. Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The pre-industrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm; it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

Earth, with its four-kilometre-deep oceans, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So the climate will continue to change, even if we make maximum effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide. Arctic sea ice will melt away in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear – practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years – if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harbouring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened.

The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine. If coastal ice shelves buttressing the west Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea levels by several metres in a century. Such rates of sea level change have occurred many times in Earth’s history in response to global warming rates no higher than those of the past 30 years. Almost half of the world’s great cities are located on coastlines.

The most threatening change, from my perspective, is extermination of species. Several times in Earth’s history, rapid global warming occurred, apparently spurred by amplifying feedbacks. In each case, more than half of plant and animal species became extinct. New species came into being over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. But these are time scales and generations that we cannot imagine. If we drive our fellow species to extinction, we will leave a far more desolate planet for our descendants than the world we inherited from our elders.

Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilise the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. They would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.

Fossil-fuel reservoirs will dictate the actions needed to solve the problem. Oil, of which half the readily accessible reserves have already been burnt, is used in vehicles, so it’s impractical to capture the carbon dioxide. This is likely to drive carbon dioxide levels to at least 400 ppm. But if we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide – coal – it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm, lower still if we improve agricultural and forestry practices, increasing carbon storage in trees and soil.

Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world’s oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on “clean coal” or that they will build power plants that are “capture-ready” in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.

The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death. When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for the extermination of about 400 species – its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm.

The German and Australian governments pretend to be green. When I show German officials the evidence that the coal source must be cut off, they say they will tighten the “carbon cap”. But a cap only slows the use of a fuel – it does not leave it in the ground. When I point out that their new coal plants require that they convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground, they are silent. The Australian government was elected on a platform of solving the climate problem, but then, with the help of industry, it set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young, let alone the unborn. These governments are not green. They are black – coal black.

The three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are the UK, the US and Germany, in that order. Politicians here have asked me why am I speaking to them. Surely the US must lead? But coal interests have great power in the US; the essential moratorium and phase-out of coal requires a growing public demand and a political will yet to be demonstrated.

The Prime Minister should not underestimate his potential to transform the situation. And he must not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of continuing to burn coal or take refuge in a “carbon cap” or some “target” for future emission reductions. My message to Gordon Brown is that young people are beginning to understand the situation. They want to know: will you join their side? Remember that history, and your children, will judge you.

James Hansen is director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He was the first scientist to warn the US Congress of the dangers of climate change.

State Department Should Investigate Environmental Abuses in Ecuador by Chevron, Say Congressmen Howard Berman and Jim McGovern December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Human Rights, Latin America.
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chevron-pollution-shushufindi-ecuadorThe Pollution Chevron Left Behind…Shushufindi pit 38

www.earthtimes.org

Posted : Fri, 19 Dec 2008 15:31:58 GMT
Author : DC-AMAZON-DEFENSE

WASHINGTON – (Business Wire) The Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and the Co-Chair of the House Human Rights Commission have called for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to investigate why the State Department’s annual human rights report includes “countless” examples of abuses across the world but fails to mention the “detrimental impact” of environmental destruction in the Ecuadorian rainforest from the oil operations of Texaco, now owned by Chevron.

 

In a letter to Rice, U.S. Congressmen Howard Berman and Jim McGovern wrote: “We are … deeply troubled by the fact that the Human Rights Report does not even begin to reflect the grave human rights situation in the region. When the 2007 Report states that ‘Although oil companies increased efforts to minimize the environmental and social impact of their oil projects in the Amazonian region, environmental damage, particularly deforestation, continued,’ it falls laughably short of factually documenting what it is legally mandated to do, which is to report on the ‘status of internally recognized human rights.’”

Berman serves as Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and McGovern is Co-Chair of the House Human Rights Commission. McGovern recently returned from a congressional trip to Ecuador’s rainforest to view the environmental impact of oil operations in a large area of rainforest where Texaco (now Chevron) built and operated hundreds of wells in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chevron is currently a defendant in a civil suit in Ecuador where a court-appointed expert found damages could be as high as $27 billion. Plaintiffs say the toxic dumping by Texaco was 30 times larger than the oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster and was done intentionally to lower production costs.

In their letter, the congressmen asked Rice to answer several questions:

  • Why is there no mention of the high cancer rate and the significant numbers of deaths that occurred in the region?
  • Why does the Report not state that this is an issue going as far back as 1964 when U.S. companies first extracted oil?
  • Why does the Report give countless examples of ongoing human rights investigations, court cases, national human rights committee proceedings, but fails to mention the 15-year-old lawsuit against Chevron, which is now pending in Ecuador?

The court-appointed expert in Ecuador determined that the contamination was largely the product of sub-standard practices used by Texaco from 1964 to 1990, when the company dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste over an area of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island. Chevron now owns Texaco and will bear any liability in the case, which is being tried in Ecuador at Chevron’s request.

According to the expert, more than 1,000 people have died of cancer in the region because of the oil contamination and five indigenous groups are struggling to survive.

A final court ruling on Chevron’s liability and damages is expected in 2009.

A copy of the letter can be obtained at www.chevrontoxico.org at Featured Documents or by emailing the media contact above.

About the Amazon Defense Coalition

The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador’s Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation.

 

Amazon Defense Coalition
Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109
Karen@hintoncommunications.com

Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabia and “Foggy Bottom” December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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www.huffingtonpost.com, December 2, 2008

Raymond J. Learsy

Last Thursday Bill Clinton disclosed his complete donor list of contributors to his foundation that funds his library and charitable work, in an effort to abate concerns of conflicts of interest should Senator Hillary Clinton be confirmed as President-elect Obama’s Secretary of State.

Does it, or does it just raise additional and potentially disturbing issues? According to Bloomberg, the Clinton foundation collected at least $41 million from foreign nations. Leading the list of open-handed generosity was a donation of between $10 and $25 million from Saudi Arabia. And that of course is singularly worrisome as it raises the question of whether our putative Secretary of State would be, in any way, beholden to Saudi Arabia.

We have come to realize that Saudi donations and contributions both direct and indirect, have achieved insidious influence on the American Government extending from the price and supply of oil to U.S. policies toward the Persian Gulf states, Iran and Iraq. The incestuous relationship between the American government and Saudi Arabia, seeded by President George H.W. Bush and his appointees, has reached its apogee under the presidency of George W. Bush. During these years the nation has endured the embarrassment of having Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, treat the Oval Office as an annex of the Saudi Embassy.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia has had debilitating cost to the United States in lives and fortune. 9/11 came and went, and under President George W. Bush Saudi Arabia has never been held to account for the fact that the majority of hijackers who carried out their murderous attack were Saudis. Nor has there been a serious American policy of bringing to an end the billions of Saudi money from Saudi citizens and charities that are flooding Wahhabi schools and cultural centers in Pakistan and around the world, forming today’s and tomorrow’s extremists, while teaching young minds hatred of Shiites, Hindus, Christians and Jews. Not to speak of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan where Saudi Jihadists are part and parcel of the irredentist fabric of murder and pillage.

And then of course there is the issue of oil where Saudi Arabia, in its leadership role within OPEC, has led OPEC to the promised land of $147 barrel oil. This, while our administration continued to stock up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve irrespective of price or market perception, nor effectively initiating meaningful programs for alternative energy nor significantly reducing our fossil fuel consumption. And of course never seriously confronting the Saudis on their manipulative production and pricing policies, much to the pleasure of the administration’s friends in the oil industry, and at enormous cost to the nation as a whole.

On December 17, 2008 the Financial Times would categorize Saudi Arabia’s pricing influence within OPEC, and I quote, “Saudi Arabia’s willingness to sacrifice market share should consolidate its power as the only country able to influence the price of oil and therefore the world’s economic health.”

A benign and cooperative American administration toward OPEC is key to the Saudis and their focused policies for ever higher oil prices. We are in effect the de facto protectors of their independence and we have extended that protection under an amenable Bush administration without any meaningful quid pro quo. Herein the State Department of the next administration will have to play a key role.

Senator Hillary Clinton is a personage of outstanding ability and extensive experience. If Bill Clinton’s brush with the Saudis makes her more pious than the pope in encouraging arms length monitoring of Saudi issues and limiting Saudi access, so much the better. It is long past time that our relationship with Saudi Arabia be based on clear cut national interests and not clouded by Saudi access, influence, and personal relationships at the highest levels — influence that is forever at the expense of this nation and its citizens and to the benefit of the Saudis and its royals. That has been the case these last eight years, and to some degree before. Can Hillary Clinton assure us that there will not be any Saudi preferential access to Foggy Bottom in spite of the myriad millions visited on the Clinton foundation? That there will be no preferential treatment given to that telephone call seeking to jump the line coming from Riyadh or the Saudi Embassy, even if its 3 A.M.?!

Agile Ecuador government riles friends and foes December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

W. T. Whitney Jr.
People’s Weekly World, 15 Dec 2008
Pursuing social justice and national independence, the government of President Rafael Correa has gained new adversaries while prodding old foes. Having won a 57 percent majority in a run-off vote, Illinois-trained economist Correa, candidate of the populist Alianza Pais party, became president in January 2007.

Correa, no shrinking violet, is forcing the U.S. military to leave Manta Airbase, advocates “socialism of the 21st century,” and with Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts resists U.S. imperialism. Last week in Tehran he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
entered into joint banking, energy, trade and scientific projects. Ecuador is requesting loans from Iraq, according to Foreign Minister Maria Elsa Viteri.

In the same vein, Correa responded in kind to a reprimand last week from Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos complaining that Ecuador did little to fight leftist FARC insurgents in Colombia. Diplomatic relations with the U.S. puppet Colombian government were broken last March when Colombia attacked a FARC encampment in Ecuador.

Now, Correa’s government has challenged an ally in the struggle for Latin American unity. Two months ago Ecuador ousted Brazil’s Odebrecht Company because of an unfinished dam project, in the process reneging on four contracts for other company projects worth $700 million. On Nov. 21, Ecuador announced refusal to pay on a $550 million loan provided by Brazil’s state-owned National Bank of Economic and Social Development that had gone directly to Odebrecht.

In response, President Lula da Silva withdrew Brazil’s ambassador in Quito, the first such recall since 1870. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim threatened cessation of trade between the two countries.

International lenders were put on alert in mid-November when Ecuador delayed a $30.6 million interest payment on $3.9 billion in outstanding bonds. A 30-day moratorium period was used to study the possibility of default on all $10.3 billion in foreign debt obligations. Correa and advisors studied a report released Nov. 21 by an international, independent team of debt analysts, a year in the making.

Correa viewed the report as documenting an “illegitimate, corrupt, and illegal debt,” beyond government control. Hugo Arias, one of its authors, indicated that 80 percent of the debt emanated from old debt refinanced, and that $127 billion in principle alone has been paid over decades on loans originally worth $80 billion. Ally Venezuela holds most of the outstanding bonds.

President Correa is following the lead of former Cuban President Fidel Castro who at a conference on foreign debt on Aug. 1, 1985 asked, “Must debts to the oppressor be paid by the oppressed?”
The current debt crisis coincides with a 60 percent drop in oil revenues for Latin America’s fourth largest oil exporter. Ecuador’s government must delve into foreign cash reserves when prices dip below $76 per barrel. Plans to fund social programs through oil earnings inexorably went awry.

A back-up plan to use mining revenues, particularly from gold and copper, to cover state obligations boomeranged. On Nov. 17 demonstrations broke out nationwide led by indigenous and peasant groups opposed to a proposed mining law. Protesters concerned about diminished water and soil quality, land rights and local autonomy rejected promises that mining royalties set at 5 percent would pay for social projects.

Two days later 10,000 indigenous and leftist marchers blocked traffic on the Pan American Highway. Chants and banners called dramatically for water rights. Appealing to the new constitution, community leader Jose Cueva spoke for many marchers: “The president needs to first pass a food sovereignty law, a water law and a biodiversity law. Then we can have a national dialogue over what to do about mining.”

President Correa railed against “romantic notions, novelty, fixations or whatever, to say no to mining,” especially when we are “seated on hundreds of billions of dollars.” Calling for “environmentally, socially and economically responsible” mining, he denounced “infantile” and “fundamentalist” ideas.

The indigenous and social movements had been crucial to the 65 percent popular vote in September putting a new, government-orchestrated constitution into effect, one that embraced indigenous rights. Recently in disarray, CONAIE, the main indigenous federation, has revived.

Under the constitution, Correa and 5,993 other elected officials face re-election in 2009. CONAIE and other social movements have been instrumental over the past decade in overthrowing three presidents.

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