Saturday, May 17, 2014

Armed Gunmen Storm Ukraine's Largest Nuke Plant

Gunmen Attempt to Enter Ukraine's Largest Nuclear Power Plant

by RT

Ukrainian police stopped a group of armed men from entering Europe's largest nuclear power plant, located in southeastern Ukraine. In video footage allegedly showing the attempted break-in, the men say they are members of the Right Sector group.

The gunmen were stopped Thursday at the entrance of the city of Energodar, near Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, the facility's press service said in a Friday statement on its website.

The power plant’s authorities said the incident did not affect the station’s operations. However, security at the plant and throughout Energodar has been heightened.

Several cars full of men who introduced themselves as members of the notorious neo-Nazi group Right Sector were stopped at a checkpoint near Energodar, Ukraine’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported. The men were wearing masks, had guns, and said that they were headed to “protect the nuclear power plant and the city from possible seizures,” according to the paper.

“We moved out to protect the city, but we were stopped and circled by police,” a Right Sector member told RBK Ukraine.

Local police said they confiscated the men’s weapons and launched a criminal investigation.

Footage posted on Svoboda TV's YouTube account on Thursday – allegedly shot during the attempted break-in – shows a group of masked men preparing to enter Energodar.

In the footage, the men say they are members of the Right Sector in Zaporizhia (Zaporozhye) region, adding that they came to protect Energodar from activists who wanted to “hoist Russian flags” in the city.

“The Right Sector got hold of information that pro-Russian activists are preparing to change [Ukrainian] flags to Russian at the check points of Energodar city. The Right Sector moved forward to prevent this,” one man says.

The men in the video are holding Ukrainian flags and shouting nationalist slogans including, “Heroes don’t die! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!”

However, on its official website, the Right Sector denied that its men wanted to seize the station.

“There was misinformation [in the media] that this group belongs to the Right Sector,” the statement on the far-right group’s website reads. 
“The Right Sector officially notifies that it had and has no plans to storm the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.”

Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant is the largest nuclear power plant (NPP) not only in Ukraine, but also in Europe, according to the operator of Ukrainian NPPs. It is situated in the steppe zone of Ukraine, on the bank of the Kakhovka water reservoir. The plant generates 40-42 billion kWh per year, which accounts for one-fifth of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine and almost 47 percent of electricity generated at Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

Previously, Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh threatened to destroy Russian pipelines supplying gas to Europe through Ukrainian territory. Moscow put Yarosh on the international wanted list and charged him with inciting terrorism after he urged Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov to launch attacks on Russia.

Right Sector group members were very active in the violence which triggered the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich in February. The group’s fighters used clubs, petrol bombs, and firearms against Ukrainian police and have been wearing Nazi insignia.

The group has adopted an extreme, anti-Russian stance and moved its headquarters from Kiev to the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk in April.

Right Sector members have been identified among the National Guard forces, which were formed after the coup and are loyal to Kiev authorities. National Guard battalions have been involved in the punitive military operation against pro-federalization activists in southeastern Ukraine, in which many have been killed or wounded.

Among the latest violence was the massacre in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on May 2, when clashes erupted between anti-government protesters and radicals supporting the coup-imposed authorities in Kiev. Forty-eight people were killed and over 200 injured as nationalists burnt the protester camp and set fire to the Trade Unions House with anti-Kiev activists trapped inside.

Many of those who managed to escape the flames were then beaten to death by nationalists, according to witnesses.

Reading Flashpoint in Ukraine

Flashpoint in Ukraine: Explains Today’s Most Important Geopolitical Issue


It’s the gravest one since WW II. Possible global war looms. Things head perilously closer to it than any previous time. Neocons infest Washington. They influence administration policy. They want Russian and Chinese rivals marginalized, weakened, isolated and controlled. They’re surrounding both countries with US bases.

Obama’s pivot is global. Unchallenged worldwide dominance is sought. Multiple direct and proxy wars continue. More are planned. Ukraine is in the eye of the storm. Washington wants all former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries co-opted into NATO.

Ukraine is the crown jewel. Eastern resistance threatens Obama’s imperial project. Preserving it requires crushing it. Doing so risks civil war.

At risk is spilling it cross border. Potential East/West confrontation could follow. Global wars start this way.

WW I and II weapons were toys compared to today’s super-weapons. Admiral Hyman Rickover was the father of America’s nuclear navy.

In 1982 congressional testimony, he said:

“In all wars, man has used the best weapons available to him.”
“If history has any meaning for us, it shows that men will continue to use (them) to win.”

They’ll use everything in their arsenals to prevent losing. America v. Russia and/or China risks possible mushroom-shaped cloud denouement.

Flashpoint Ukraine conditions risk the unthinkable. This book explains what everyone needs to know. It’s more vital now than ever.

Nuclear Power's Renaissance Back Burnered

The Future of Nuclear – SMRs?

by Executive Report with ISA Intel -

Nuclear power is not an industry that experiences huge growth rates, and it is infinitely more difficult for investors to find a hidden gem in nuclear energy than it is in oil and gas. There just aren’t any mom and pop nuclear shops out there. Nevertheless, it is a global industry that does around $140 billion in annual business and thus it is important to get a status check on what is going on in the nuclear world from time to time.

A Renaissance Delayed

The “nuclear renaissance” was supposed to have kicked into high gear by now, as many predicted only a few short years ago. But the industry has hit a standstill in the western world, as a confluence of events conspired to kill off the renaissance before it got started.

First was the financial crisis, which depressed demand for electricity worldwide, and despite the economic recovery, power demand will not reach the trajectories that executives had previously anticipated. Then came the fracking revolution, which caused natural gas prices to plummet as a glut of new fuel came online. Utilities suddenly found it much cheaper to go with gas over nuclear power.

Meanwhile, the collapse of the cap-and-trade bill in 2009 in the U.S. Congress doomed carbon pricing for at least half a decade, perhaps longer. As a carbon-free fuel, the nuclear industry would have benefited enormously from restrictions or costs put on fossil fuels. Climate hawks are still trying to gain back the momentum they had in the months and years prior to 2009.

The nail in the coffin for the nuclear industry came on March 11, 2011 in the form of a massive tsunami. The meltdown of three of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi scared off any interest in nuclear power on the behalf of many governments across the globe.

A Nuclear Future

Still nuclear power has a lot going for it. It can provide truly massive baseload power. It has a tiny footprint in terms of land use with a power density of 338 megawatts per square meter. A Bloomberg article earlier this week noted that it would take 772 square miles of wind turbines to account for the equivalent amount of power coming out of just two reactors at Indian Point in Westchester County, New York.

Nuclear power will also not suffer from severe price fluctuations that natural gas power plants have to deal with. And over the long-term, which may be one of its biggest strengths, nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. As more and more governments move to place limits on carbon pollution, nuclear will be there to pick up the slack.

But that doesn’t mean that utilities will simply build the massive gigawatt style nuclear plants of yore. Nuclear reactors of that size can cost over $8 billion a piece and take nearly a decade to complete. Utilities – and their shareholders and financiers – can’t and won’t wait that long to see a return. Moreover, demand for electricity in many countries is simply not growing that fast to justify such an outlay.

Scale Down to Scale Up

So, nuclear will need to be much more nimble.

That means new reactor designs, specifically smaller and cheaper ones. Small modular reactors (SMRs) offer an interesting model for 21st century nuclear power. They offer several advantages over conventional large reactors. First, they can be added incrementally in doses of 50 or 100 megawatts, which could match up well to electricity demand that is growing slowly.

SMRs can be theoretically manufactured as if on assembly line, instead of on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis at its final site. This could significantly reduce costs on a per-megawatt basis. They would also require significantly less money upfront, reducing risk, and thus, the cost of capital.

SMRs also offer potential benefits in terms of safety and security. They can be constructed underground, reducing their vulnerability to terrorist attacks or extreme weather events. Finally, SMRs could be constructed in remote areas that don’t have connections to commercial power lines – offering off-grid, decentralized power.

That is the idea anyway. But there are very big obstacles standing in the way. First, many critics doubt the hype. Without a single SMR constructed to date, much of the supposed advantages remain theoretical. Second, SMRs face the same problems as conventional nuclear power – cheap natural gas and flat demand.

But the huge potential of SMRs has caught the attention of policymakers at the highest levels. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Energy decided to offer $452 million in grants to the private sector – on the condition that recipients offer up an equivalent amount of money – in an effort to get a viable SMR design licensed and up and running by 2022. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has setup its regulations based on large light-water reactor designs and is notoriously resistant to change, is working with DOE and the nuclear industry to kick start the design licensing process.

And progress has been disappointing, despite strong support from the Obama administration. The first recipient of DOE grant money, mPower, a division of Babcock & Wilcox (NYSE: BWC), is not doing too well. B&W and DOE spent a combined $400 million on mPower, but B&W decided to shelve the plans and lay off workers. B&W sees a weak power market for the foreseeable future, and doesn’t believe SMRs justify the risk.

The second recipient of DOE grant money was NuScale Power, a small company based in Portland, OR, and a subsidiary of Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR). NuScale is working on a 45-megawatt reactor that would eliminate a lot of the complicated engineering that goes into a large conventional reactor. As electricity demand rises, up to 11 additional SMRs could be added to a single site, totaling 540 megawatts of nuclear capacity, according to the company’s vision. NuScale hopes to submit a design to the NRC in 2015 for approval by 2018, putting on track for full commercialization within a decade.

All of this is not to say that big nuclear power plants are dead. China is in the midst of a massive buildout of nuclear power, and has plans to reach 58 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2020, quadrupling the size of its current fleet. Then, in the following ten years, China plans on tripling again to 150 gigawatts.

Such monumental plans for nuclear power have some companies in a great position to profit. In particular, Westinghouse remains a huge player in the global nuclear market. Westinghouse, a division of Toshiba (TYO: 6502), is the owner of the only generation III+ reactor design that is certified by the NRC, one that is the favorite for many new Chinese projects. There are currently four AP1000’s under construction in China, as well as two additional units that received a green light from Chinese regulators in February. The AP1000 is also the design of choice for the first nuclear reactors under construction in the United States in three decades.

Nevertheless, in the U.S., SMRs are more likely to win out over the long-run. “The future as we look at it for new nuclear, a decade-plus out, would be on efficient modular reactor designs,” said Christopher Crane, CEO of Exelon Corporation. Exelon (NYSE: EXC) just recently acquired Pepco, a utility that serves the mid-Atlantic region of the eastern seaboard. The combined company will be the largest utility in the U.S. in terms of customers served. But Exelon is also the largest holder of nuclear power plants in the country, and as of 2010, it generated 93 percent of its electricity from nuclear. If the executive of the largest nuclear power owner in the U.S. is looking at SMRs, investors should take note.

Indeed, despite the hiccups with mPower, there is still strong bipartisan support for nuclear power in the halls of Congress. Just look at the political firestorm that resulted from the Solyndra debacle compared to the non-news that was B&W’s decision to scale back its SMR plans. The White House’s FY1 budget proposal included a 30 percent increase in DOE’s SMR program. Strong political support for any energy source is hard to come by, and for nuclear power in general, and SMRs in particular, political support will be key in the years to come.

But it is no guarantee they will succeed. Investors should keep their eyes on this space because nuclear power is at a crossroads.

Dispossessed but Defiant. Indigenous Struggles From Around the World

Dispossessed, defiant, indigenous, struggles, world, international photo exhibition, Victoria


CJPME cordially invites you to a bold and timely international photo exhibition: Dispossessed but Defiant. Indigenous Struggles From Around the World.

In the Café Gallery, at The Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, 3220 Cedar Hill Road, Victoria, V8P 3Y3.

We hope you will join us for an evening of viewing and conversation, as well as presentations by special guests who have kindly offered to share stories from their families' moving histories.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is delighted to present Dispossessed but Defiant. Indigenous Struggles From Around the World: An International Photo Exhibition.

Made up of over 100 photos, the exhibition depicts different aspects of indigenous peoples’ experiences of dispossession, and their inspiring struggles to resist these processes. Spanning almost 150 years, the compelling photos of the exhibition capture the experiences of three indigenous groups: Canada’s Indigenous peoples, the Palestinians and Black South Africans.

The struggles of indigenous peoples for human rights, respect and recognition can last generations. Although each indigenous people is unique, Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world have faced similar challenges in the wake of their respective encounters with settlers of European origin and their governments, amongst others:

  • Land loss
  • Expulsion from traditional lands
  • Destruction of homes & communities
  • Discriminatory education policies
  • Pressures to assimilate
  • Barriers to integration
  • Military occupation
  • Restrictions on movement and residency
  • Detention and imprisonment
  • Cultural dispossession, and destruction and denigration of cultural identity
  • Criminalization of peaceful resistance

To one degree or another, each of the above groups has faced most if not all of the above. We hope that the compelling images in this exhibition will open Canadians’ eyes to the agony of dispossession, and to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression.

The images in this exhibition are powerful, and may cause serious reflection for many. CJPME offers this exhibition in the belief that art can awaken awareness of our common humanity, and cause us to envision a brighter future despite the bleakness of the past.

A number of collaborating parties must be acknowledged and thank for their contributions as the exhibition tours Canada:

The South African institutions which were indispensable in the creation of the South African segment of this exhibition: UWT-Robben Island Mayibuye Archives, UWC Libraries, Museum Africa, The National Library of South Africa, and the many South African photographers whose work is featured in this exhibition.
The First Nations of Canada who contributed photos to the exhibition, despite the current demands of their ongoing struggle to overcome the legacy of the residential schools system; as well, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, which has owned up to its part in that tragedy and has helped provide photos for the exhibition.

And for the Palestinian portion of the exhibition, the support of the following individuals and institutions: Dr. Elias Sanbar, for the access that he provided to his collection of photos; Mr. Walid Khalidi, and the Institute for Palestine Studies for access to their photo archives; and ActiveStills, for their courageous photography in a volatile context.

The CJPME Foundation developed this exhibition in consultation with academic experts in each of the three subject areas of the exhibition. It is thus important to acknowledge the vital support and collaboration of Professor Emeritus John S. Saul (York University), Dr. Marie Battiste (University of Saskatchewan) and Dr. James Reilly (University of Toronto’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations) for their suggestions, edits and insights.

CJPME is grateful to the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria and its funders for the opportunity to present this exhibition in Victoria. The selection of photos and their captions is wholly the responsibility of CJPME.

Exhibition produced by the CJPME Foundation.

- See more here.

Testing America's Deterrence: Playing War in the South China Sea

South China Sea: How Many Battalions Does the Passive Voice Have? And...Island Games: Okinotorishima vs. Johnson South Reef

by Peter Lee - China Matters

My Twitter feed contained the following ringing statement:

Claims disputes pervade maritime Asia. All parties must be prevented from use force/threat thereof to alter status quo.

To paraphrase Napoleon on the Pope, how many battalions does the frickin’ passive voice have?

“Must be prevented”. That’s the problem with the pivot.

The "pivot to Asia" is an idea. It's not a doctrine, like the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, or the Bush Doctrine, all of which were based on the statement, "If you do X, It's War!"(Or, in the case of the immortal Bush doctrine, If you're thinking of doing X, or I think you're thinking of doing X, or if you're not thinking of doing X but I want to bomb you anyway, It's War!)

The pivot expresses the hope that the PRC will mistake a US preference for an national doctrine, construe the US desire to make mischief for the PRC in its near beyond as a matter of existential resolve, and do the United States the courtesy of dignifying Washington’s expressions of disapproval as a deterrent.

The PRC, on the other hand, has a genuine doctrine: its territorial integrity is an existential issue. And it has openly applied it to the South China Sea.

I might point out that the PRC tried to make its South China Sea priorities a matter of engagement with the United States (remember the “core interest” kerfuffle?), but Hillary Clinton instead, oh so cleverly, turned the issue on its head as a matter of Chinese aggression, and made support for the PRC’s South China Sea adversaries into the keystone of the pivot.

So those chickens have come home to roost. As the United States committed fully to the pivot architecture, the PRC has decided to flout the US deterrent by moving the HYSY 981 into Vietnam’s claimed EEZ and so far the US response has been…extremely muted.

I expect that President Obama is loath to pile a PRC crisis on top of his Russian crisis.

I also suspect that the United States did not have a riposte ready in its well-financed, exhaustively think-tanked China strategy for a PRC provocation like this.

Perhaps the US was lazily assuming that the PRC, its military completely overmatched by the United States’, would never have the gumption to test the US deterrent.

In any case, there it is.

Undoubtedly, the US foreign policy apparatus is working up a portfolio of appropriately muscular options for President Obama, all the way from blasting the HYSY 981 out of the water to sailing the USSN Ronald Reagan et. al. through the Chinese flotilla, to joint patrols with the Philippine navy/coast guard, to drawing a red line in the waters of the South China Sea…

Anyway, I think the PRC is determined to show that its determination and staying power exceed that of the United States in South China Sea jostling up to the point of military confrontation.

And maybe even including war, if a feisty op-ed in Global Times is taken at face value:

It's a demanding and risky job to let other countries get used to China's rise and treat China as a major power. Vietnam and the Philippines, which haven't updated their knowledge about China, still cherish the illusion that China can simply be forced back by pressure.

China's interests are beyond the South China Sea. It must strike a balance between securing its territorial waters and maintaining a vibrant growth trend.

China faces a dilemma with its growing power. On the one hand, it will be confronted by neighbors like Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, and other stakeholders like the US if it makes use of its power.

On the other, if China conceals its power, its determination to safeguard territorial integrity will be underestimated, which would further foster the unscrupulousness of countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan.

China has taken the first assertive step in securing its territorial integrity in the South China Sea, and in the meantime faces strong protests from Hanoi and Manila, and obvious bias from the US. China's diplomatic risks are rising, but these are the costs that have to be borne as China becomes more powerful.

The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn't mean China can't resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines. Many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China's sincerely peaceful intentions, but it is also highly likely that China's strategy would face more uncertainties.

There are some off ramps for the current crisis short of a direct mano-a-mano confrontation between the US and the PRC.

Vietnam, the United States, et. al. might simply suck it up and limit themselves to verbal castigation of the PRC until August 15, when the HYSY 981-zilla is due to lumber off.

Or Vietnam will decide that capitulation is the better part of valor, heed PRC calls for bilateral talks and, in bad news for the Philippines, contribute to the further fracturing of the shaky South China Sea anti-PRC United Front.

I suspect that the PRC has put an attractive pile of economic carrots on the table together with the HSYS 981 stick, and Vietnam is currently weighing the psychic benefits of partnership in an anti-Chinese alliance with the economic benefits that might accrue from expanded PRC trade and investment.

I think in the medium term, Vietnam will come to the conclusion that existential, war-worthy interests for the United States are not identical with those of any other nation in Asia, including Japan, and the most credible deterrent is one that it is in the control of Vietnam.

I’m sure France would be interested in obliging Vietnam with the sale of a few ship (and platform)-killing missiles that might make the PRC think twice before it engages in tomfoolery in Vietnam’s offshore near beyond.

And that, I think, is how the PRC’s leadership sees the endgame playing out. Asian powers become richer, stronger, and more independent of the United States. And the United States, anxious for regional influence, eventually comes back to the PRC…

Anyway, moving from the general to the particular, there’s an apparent PRC building program on Johnson South Reef, a formation that the Philippines considers inside its 200 nm EEZ.

The Philippines released photos that appear to show a dredge pumping up sand to expand the above surface area of the reef. The Philippine foreign ministry accused the PRC of violating the stand-still agreement negotiated with ASEAN. According to AFP, the PRC for its part acknowledged work was going on but it was just “renovation” of facilities for Chinese troops stationed on the reef, presumably claiming that its work therefore doesn’t violate the standstill agreement.

Interestingly, the PRC had actually established itself at Johnson South Reef after a skirmish with Vietnam, not the Philippines, in 1988, at a time when both Vietnam and PRC were both racing to occupy the reef. Vietnam, thanks to its “flying rectangle”—an EEZ claim only slightly less risible than the Chinese “cow tongue”—claims many of the islands that are also subject to PRC-Philippine wrangling.

As a reminder to readers of the folly of turning the South China Sea into an internationalized issue, here is the map of what I call the “salad bowl” of Spratly sovereignty claims, courtesy of Wikipedia. Remember, EEZs can’t be defined until sovereignty is agreed—and there is no accepted multi-lateral mechanism for determining sovereignty.

As to the motive for the Chinese jiggery-pokery on Johnson Second Reef, the Philippines raised the specter of airfield construction and, by implication, enhancement of the PRC military threat to adjacent Philippine claims.

It is apparently unlikely that an airfield that could contribute significantly to the PRC military presence in the islands could be constructed on the reef.

For a more likely explanation of PRC intentions, let us turn to…Okinotorishima Island!

Long story short, Okoritorishima Island was the occasion for an exercise of EEZ aggrandizement by Japan, abetted for some reason by the complaisant solons of the UNCLOS Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The PRC has cast a stern and disapproving eye on the Okinotorishima exercise. The information and illustrations below, unless otherwise acknowledged, are from a presentation by Julia Xue of Qingdao Ocean University at a conference in Washington, D.C. in 2010.

The two Okinotorishima islands, 1700 km SSW from Tokyo and a good 700 km from the nearest inhabited Japanese territory, were not impressive in their original form. One lump was 4.7 meters across, the other 2.6 meters across. And they were clearly eroding and not long for the above-surface world unless steps were taken:

Through an intensive application of resources i.e. $600 million dollars to build a protective cofferdam around the islands, sheath the islands itself, and construct a platform, the rocks were transformed into this:

Here is Shintaro Ishihara, everybody’s favorite advocate of island restraint, standing on one of the islands of Okinotorishima.

And kneeling on the island to kiss the sacred territory:

Except he’s not standing/kneeling/kissing the rocks themselves. He’s standing on an erosion-prevention cap over the rocks.

Here’s the rocks, under the cap:

And Japan, over the objections of the PRC and South Korea, proclaimed a radial 200 nm EEZ around Okinotorishima. The Japanese government leaned on the argument that, although UNCLOS denied an EEZ to “rocks” that could not support “human habitation or economic life on their own”, Okinotorishima was not “rocks”; it was an “island” that could not support “human habitation or economic life on their own,” UNCLOS was talking about a totally different thing, so problem solved.

Anyway, Japan took this less-than-impressive, less-than-natural feature to UNCLOS and was able to get an extension of the Japanese continental shelf to Okinotorishima Island. (Thanks to the creation of the Okinotorishima EEZ, the “Shikoku Basin Region” was a non-EEZ zone surrounded on all sides by Japanese EEZs, so I imagine that UNCLOS committee was relatively cavalier in assigning it to Japan).

Image from Yomiuri Shimbun.

Okinotorishima plus “Shikoku Basin Region” add about 400,000 sq km to Japan’s already impressive EEZ endowment.

And Japan further used Okinotorishima to apply to UNCLOS for another southward extension of its continental shelf to the boundaries of Palau (the application is pending).

An article for a Japanese think tank, the Ocean Policy Research Council, by an admiral in the JMSDF declared that Japan’s EEZ grab was related to security: that it wanted to be able to “constrain” Chinese military vessels. If this was indeed the intent, that dog may no longer hunt. The United States has strongly asserted its right to send military vessels through the PRC EEZ to track PLAN submarines, and the PRC has apparently grudgingly accepted that point, so it would be difficult to exclude PRC military vessels from the Okinotorishima EEZ. On the other hand, if PRC decides to get chesty again about US military vessels operating inside its EEZ, Japan’s massive EEZ holdings could be used to bottle up the Chinese inside the oft-invoked “first island chain”.

As to where this all leads, it appears that UNCLOS has been rather feckless in alienating ocean areas on the basis of dubious exercises in “islandisation”. It is difficult—though of course not impossible—for China’s adversaries to criticize the PRC for adopting the Japanese precedent of jacking up an island and claiming an EEZ.

Perhaps at Johnson Second Reef, the PRC is cloning the Japanese “lilypad” approach displayed at Okinotorishima, not for military purposes but to assert rights to an EEZ.

As to the motive for doing this in the cluttered confines of the South China Sea, I would speculate that the PRC is looking forward to the day when it finally retreats from the anachronistic and ahistoric “nine dash line” (which has never even been surveyed; it’s literally just lines drawn on a map), turns on a dime, and presents a portfolio of territorial sovereignty and EEZ claims…that pretty much cover the same area.

Enbridge or Marine Life: Canada Chooses Oil

Big Mammals vs. Big Oil: New Pipeline Puts Humpback Whales at Risk

by Nate Scweber - Al Jazeera English

In a deep fjord in British Columbia called the Douglas Channel, where the Kitimat River pours runs of Chinook salmon into the Pacific Ocean, fishermen see singing humpback whales fling themselves into the air.
Michael Patrick O'Neill / Alamy

These barnacled, 40-ton whales with long, ridged flippers were harpooned to the brink of extinction in the 1900s. Only through intense conservation efforts have they found safety in ancient migration routes. Mothers birth a single calf in tropical seas and fast for months as it nurses, before migrating thousands of miles up to the North Pacific. 
There, in enclaves like the Douglas Channel — a critical feeding ground — the whales nourish themselves on krill.

“They’re amazingly beautiful; they’ll knock your socks off,” says Tracey John Hittel, a fishing lodge owner in Kitimat, a town on the channel. Hittel takes guests to see the whales in a 30-foot fishing boat. 
“They’ll come so close you can see their eye right against yours,” he says.

Now the humpbacks are the flashpoint of an environmental battle. Environmentalists cried foul last month when the Canadian government stripped the whales of protections under its Species at Risk Act (SARA), Canada’s equivalent of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Stephen Harper’s administration downgraded the status of humpbacks from “threatened” to “species of special concern.” 
To add to the problem, many fear that a massive pipeline, poised to pump a half-million barrels of crude oil a day into tanker ships in the Douglas Channel, is on the verge of being approved. The Northern Gateway Pipeline, similar to another pipeline roiling politics in the United States, the Keystone XL, would affect the whales’ feeding grounds. 
An announcement on Northern Gateway is expected in June from Prime Minister Harper.

“The Harper government is dismantling environmental protections in order to promote the extraction and transportation of the world’s dirtiest oil,” says Michael Byers, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.
“The downgrading of humpback whales is part of this.”

But the whale decision has made curious allies of Harper, a booster of pipelines and formerly an accountant for Imperial Oil in Alberta, and Canada’s top marine biologists.

$8B pipe, 2,000 whales

Humpback numbers before industrial whaling proliferated in the 19th century are unknown, but in the 20th century alone, whalers killed some 200,000 of them. By 1966, scientists estimated there remained fewer than 5,000 animals. The same year, to save them from extinction, the International Whaling Commission banned commercial hunting. Canada joined the ban in 1972.

SARA, Canada’s endangered species law, mandates that for any species listed as “endangered” or “threatened,” the government must identify “critical habitat.” These habitats are breeding or feeding grounds so vital to a species’ survival that industrial activity, such as shipping, must be strictly regulated.

Last year, the Canadian government announced four areas of humpback critical habitat — including the mouth of the Douglas Channel, which is a crucial feeding ground for the whales.

This presented a problem for Enbridge Inc., Canada’s largest exporter of crude oil, which in 2005 had announced its intentions to build a 730-mile, $8 billion pipeline to the Pacific Ocean, culminating in the town of Kitimat on the Douglas Channel. The company plans to run 220 oil tankers per year to Kitimat.

“It was a roadblock,” says Linda Nowlan, a conservation director in British Columbia for the World Wildlife Fund. “The Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on a collision course with the law.”

Meanwhile, thanks to SARA, the humpback population in British Columbia has rebounded. Scientists have estimated that there are more than 2,000 humpbacks there, more than enough for their genetic diversity to protect them from catastrophe. The annual population growth rate is a healthy 4 percent, and scientists now think that there are between 18,000 and 22,000 whales in the Northern Pacific, the highest number in decades.

Despite a 2011 recommendation from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) that humpbacks be downgraded from “threatened” to “species of special concern” — which meant the whales would lose the special habitat protection afforded by the law — the government didn’t act. It was only in April this year, six months after it became apparent that the designation of the Douglas Channel as a critical habitat for the humpback could preclude Enbridge’s pipeline plans, that the government acted on COSEWIC’s advice.

There is a whole pile of scientists being forced to support a government [whose] pretty much every other environmental decision we disagree with. It’s such an irony.

“It happened with lightning speed,” says Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans, a British Columbia-based environmental group.
“The government moves at a glacial pace usually.”

Nowlan agrees. “Multiple years are more the norm for the government to respond,” she says.

But Jane Watson, a biology professor at Vancouver Island University and former COSEWIC member, says that though she has often disagreed with Prime Minister Harper, he did right by the humpbacks.

“There is a whole pile of scientists being forced to support a government [whose] pretty much every other environmental decision we disagree with,” she says.
“It’s such an irony.”

Grass-roots opposition

The whale controversy simmered while grassroots opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline sparked. In April, the small town of Kitimat, a center for aluminum smelting, held a non-binding vote on the Northern Gateway Pipeline. It failed 58 percent to 42 percent.

“It’s not like we’re doing this on a whim; we’re trying to protect the identity and the culture of a people — a spill would be catastrophic to the Gitga’at way of life,” says Cameron Hill, 45, a council member for the Hartley Bay First Nations community, at the mouth of the Douglas Channel.

That fear is acute this spring, he says, because it marks the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, about 700 miles north, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Parts of that shore are still slick with oil. As Alaska officials seek more oil revenue, the state petitioned the U.S. government in February to remove humpbacks from the endangered species list, a move that would make it easier for oil companies to drill exploratory wells in arctic seas.

Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, based in British Columbia, says that with Douglas Channel tanker traffic poised to triple, whales could be hurt by noise pollution, or smashed by ships.

A spokesman for Enbridge says the company has no comment. Enbridge has previously said that the pipeline would create more than 500 long-term jobs, and more than 3,000 during construction. According to its website, it would slow its tankers as they crossed the Douglas Channel.

Meanwhile, the government is under pressure from industrialists who feel Canada has been treated unfairly by the United States. Though the largest importer of Canadian oil, for years the U.S. has delayed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would siphon tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico, amid protests from environmentalists, ranchers and Native Americans. James Coleman, a professor of business and law at the University of Calgary, says investor hopes are high that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline will outflank Keystone.

“Because of Keystone, there’s a strong sense in Canada that the only solution is to have different markets,” Coleman says. 
“But it has raised the stakes for environmentalists too, because the argument from industry is that the oil is going to get to market one way or another, and environmentalists are saying, ‘Maybe we can block all of these.’”

Other endangered species

Canada is home to more than 160 other species listed as “endangered” and “threatened.” Most still have no designated critical habitat. Scientists say this is because they are tasked with assessing rare animals, across thousands of miles of harsh terrains, with little money. Despite their disinclination to let the designation of a species be used as a pawn in a fight between environmentalists and developers, many scientists now fear that a bad precedent has been set. 
With eyes on Northern Gateway, some environmental groups sued the government to identify critical habitat, and this drew disproportionate concern to humpbacks just in the Douglas Channel.

“Some people have this image of this one channel as the key to survival of all life on the planet. Environmental groups are duping the public,” says Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia and a former member of COSEWIC.
“Let’s say every whale in the Douglas Channel is run over; you would probably never even notice it in terms of the recovery of whales on this coast.”

Douglas Channel is also home to sea otters.
Michael Patrick O'Neill / Alamy

But humpbacks are not the only species of special concern there. Douglas Channel is also home to sea otters. And for a population of killer whales, listed as “threatened,” the mouth of the channel is classified as “potential critical habitat.”

The second-largest animal on earth lives there too, the fin whale. Averaging 65 feet long, it has been listed in Canada as “threatened” since 2006, but there has been no identification of its critical habitat to date.

While the delay in fin whales’ habitat designation has not yet been challenged in court, scientists in the Douglas Channel have documented something extraordinary about the behemoths, usually found in the deepest water, far out past the continental shelf.

“The mouth of the Douglas Channel is one of the few places in the world where fin whales come close to shore,” says marine scientist Hussein Alidina, of the World Wildlife Fund in Canada.
“Clearly it has to do with feeding.”

Updated: This article had incorrectly identified Hussein Alidina as a whale biologist.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Save the Sasquatch: Lumber Men Seek Park Access

Don’t let logging trucks in park

Sasquatch Provincial Park is a Class A Park established for the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and natural environments and for the protection and maintenance of recreational values.

A logging company had applied for a park use permit to haul through the park and has twice been denied by park staff. They now are applying for a park boundary adjustment to remove the roads from the park allowing them to run their trucks up and down the roads.

The licensee has deemed two routes that do not go through the park as not economically viable for them.

There is an estimated 975,000 m3 of harvestable timber that would go through the park; an estimated 21,667 logging trucks. The licensee has said they will only haul in the ‘shoulder’ months but not on weekends. The hauling could go on indefinitely.

Last year 330,000 people visited the park; 132,270 during “shoulder months” of which 13,727 were campers and 118,543 were day visitors.

Policy says that the minister may stop this process if there is “significant public opposition.”

Join me and email Minister of Environment Mary Polak to show your opposition to this hauling proposal.

Can the Surveillance State Be Stopped?

Can We Stop America’s Surveillance State?

by Danny Schechter -

New York, New York - With the publication of Glenn Greenwald’s new book on Edward Snowden and the NSA, the state surveillance issue is back in full force as if it ever went a way.

Purloined formerly top-secret NSA documents are now there for the downloading, even as the calls for truth and privacy buttressed by irrefutable information, has run up against the institutional armor of the surveillance state that has little respect for public opinion or calls for “reform.”

Every day, there are new stories showing duplicity in high places and revealing the existence of new tracking technologies and forced and voluntary collusion between the secret agency and its many “partners” in the private sector. PBS Frontline is out with one more expose.

Just as the publication of the Pentagon Papers in l971 did not end the Vietnam War, the leaks from a world of questionable ‘intelligence” has only made our Spymasters more determined.

There was four more years of carnage after Daniel Ellsberg dropped the hidden history of our intervention in Vietnam showing how officials knew the truth even as they fed the public a litany of lies to keep a profitable if murderous enterprise going.

The charade was finally ended by the Vietnamese liberation army 39 years ago this month, but the NSA and handsomely financed partners in the self-styled “Intelligence community” will go on and on until someone stops them, and their spying, and that someone is hard to identify given the way the agencies seem to have the goods on the government as well as the rest of us.

There is no American liberation army with the clout to shut them down.

I spoke with retired CIA veteran Ray McGovern for a TV series I am producing about how government spying intimidates people in government.

He told me:

“Everybody is afraid. It’s not just the journalists, it’s people like Barack Obama, it’s people like Diane Feinstein–think about what the NSA has on Diane Feinstein and her husband, who has made billions from Defense, and post office, and all kinds of nice cozy contracts, okay? This goes back to J. Edgar Hoover…”

So far, all the noise and media condemnations have not led to meaningful reforms. or legal restraints on the NSA’s electronic octopus. Jameel Jaffer writes in the Guardian about law suits against the NSA that were thrown out of Court:

“What’s surprising – even remarkable – is what the government says on the way to its conclusion. It says, in essence, that the Constitution is utterly indifferent to the NSA’s large-scale surveillance of Americans’ international telephone calls and emails:

“The privacy rights of US persons in international communications are significantly diminished, if not completely eliminated, when those communications have been transmitted to or obtained from non-US persons located outside the United States.

That phrase – “if not completely eliminated” – is unusually revealing. Think of it as the Justice Department’s twin to the NSA’s “collect it all.”

Leave it to the outspoken Chinese Artist Ai Wei Wei who has been spied on and jailed in China to recognize the similarities between pervasive Chinese surveillance and the US imitation of it.

He writes:

 “Civilisation is built on that trust and everyone must fight to defend it, and to protect our vulnerable aspects – our inner feelings, our families. We must not hand over our rights to other people. No state power should be given that kind of trust. Not China. Not the US.”

Easier said than done. As we focus on the government role in spying, we seem to be ignoring the commercial aspects of wiretapping and eavesdropping.

American corporations are not just cooperating with the NSA but competing with it. And, not just with Google cars photographing every street in the world.

Just ask Donald Sterling, formerly of the LA Clippers Owner and jerk as he may be, about what non-government spying did it to him. Who has been prosecuted in that eavesdropping incident?

I spoke to Sam Antar who was wiretapped by the government as part of an investigation into illegal practices by the Crazy Eddy electronics chain years ago and who became a convicted felon. He says that spying has become a profitable business, that is bigger and even more insidious than the NSA.

I told Antar. “You made a point before about how a lot of the spying is not ideological. It’s almost like a technology itself. It’s almost like a business with no particular political goals, but, you know, it gets funding, it gets support. People are afraid of what they don’t know so they justify it.

“That’s entirely correct. My point is, is this: “It’s not a left wing issue. It’s not a right wing issue per se. It, it goes on everywhere in this world. People want to know about what they don’t know about.

And spying agencies play to that?


So where are we? We know more than ever, and they know we know it—but that hasn’t stopped the government to try to shut down all debate on the issue. A new executive order this month ordered all government employees not to publicly discuss classified information, even if it has appeared in reputable media outlets.

And Congress? Can we expect politicians allegedly providing oversight on overreach to enact effective reforms. Not so far, writes Jameel Jaffer who tells us to be very, very wary:

“While the current version of the reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, would make some necessary changes to a handful of surveillance laws, it would not narrow the surveillance powers granted by the 2008 law. Nor would it narrow the surveillance powers the NSA derives from the presidential directive that regulates the NSA’s surveillance activities outside the United States. Reform is urgently necessary, and years overdue, but this imperfect legislation would leave some of the government’s most sweeping authorities intact – and to a large extent it would leave the privacy rights, of Americans and non-Americans alike, to the mercy of the NSA.”

And that’s where we are, in a sense , where we have always been, on the receiving end of government abuse.

CIA veteran Ray McGovern says let’s hope there are more Snowdens in the wings, “Now, if you only have 1 out of 100 or maybe even out of 1,000…technically proficient people like this, that’s all you need to do what Edward Snowden did.

The governments cannot operate without these very bright people–a lot of these bright people bring consciousness to their expertise, as long as that’s the case, and that will continue to be the case, the governments will not be able to get away with this kind of thing.

So, that’s the good news–bad news of course is that they’ll keep trying, and as I said before, with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches all kind of complicit in this…well, and then you have the media, and the corporations and all that–it looks very much like the classic definition that Mussolini gave to Fascism.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs at He is producing a TV documentary series on America’s surveillance state. Comments to

•AlJazeera: Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been at the center of controversy ever since breaking the story about the existence of the expansive National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program, told Al Jazeera’s John Seigenthaler on Wednesday that there were “many more stories to go” based on the top-secret documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In on the Hunt: Biden Issue Springboards into Ukraine Energy Gig

Night of the Hunter: Family Values in American Foreign Policy

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque 

The only article I ever had published in The Nation involved the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortune.

The piece was written 12 years ago, as the Enron scandal was breaking. (And boy, doesn't that seem several centuries ago now, looking back over the vast flooded plains of blood and ruin that our bipartisan elites have bequeathed us since then.)

Hunter Biden

It was a short article, dealing with the key role that the accounting firm Arthur Andersen had played both in the unfolding Enron morass in 2002 and the murky political machinations that kept George W. Bush from facing charges over what appeared to be a fairly flagrant -- and highly profitable -- bout of insider trading in 1990. That was when yet another Bush business was bailed out -- yet again -- by sugar daddies currying favor with his sour daddy in the White House; in this case, Harken Energy. Bush became a company director and member of the audit committee -- then cashed out just weeks before Harken's stock took a deep dive.

The deal netted L'il Dub a cool $800,000+, while ordinary investors in the company took an acid bath. The hijinks were so blatant the SEC was forced to investigate but in the end declined to take "enforcement action" against the president's son. However, as I noted in the article, the SEC made a point of declaring that

this [decision] "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)

All in all, the Harken caper was pretty small beer when viewed against the Bush Family's mammoth record of corruption, going back many decades, mixing politics and private profit with a cheerful amorality that easily encompassed mobsters, tyrants, gun-runners, drug dealers, religious extremists, spies and, yes, the Nazis.

I wrote a lot about this interesting history (as did others, most notably Robert Parry), and always found a ready audience on the left eager to see, rightly, the true face of American power -- sleazy, greasy, brutal, cold -- in the machinations of this clan of ruthless clowns. But I don’t think we will see an equal eagerness to pursue a very similar story that broke this week about the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortunes. And unlike the Harken deal (although not dissimilar from many other Bush Family deals, including the one with German fascists), this particular piece of elite corruption could have — or is already having — deadly international consequences.

We speak, of course, of the news that the son of the US Vice President, and the stepson of the US Secretary of State, have been given lucrative positions with a Ukrainian energy firm whose future fortunes depend on the Kyiv coup regime’s control of western Ukraine — where pro-Russian forces are in the ascendant. As Yahoo News reports:

In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.

On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.

Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?

The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.

So: a Ukrainian energy firm with holdings in pro-Russian Ukraine has just hired the son of the US Vice President — who has been Washington’s point man in supporting the coup regime in Kyiv — to a prominent and no doubt well-remunerated position. At the same time, Washington has been fierce and forceful in its support for the Kyiv regime’s violent efforts to quell the kind of opposition in Western Ukraine that it employed to take power in the capital; i.e., occupation of public spaces with the support of armed militias, with support from foreign entities (the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine; Washington (and US oligarchs) in Kyiv).

America policy in Ukraine — securing control of eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv regime, and, if possible, the rollback of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea — has now become directly tied to the personal family fortunes of the American Vice President and Secretary of State. In what way is this remotely differently from the corruption of the Bush Family that once stuck so painfully in “progressive” craws? And yet, is it even remotely conceivable that we will see the same angry attention to this blatant baksheesh that we saw back in those Bush Regime days of yore?

UPDATE: It looks like L’il Hunter and Devon might be in high cotton. On Thursday night, the New York Times reports that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and once a major backer of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovich, has now thrown his support and his money behind the American-backed Kyiv regime. According to the Times (which of course doesn’t breathe a word of Akhmetov’s unsavoury past), Akhmetov has ordered “his” workers onto the streets of Mariupol, Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities to reassert the control of the Kyiv government. The pro-Russian forces have “melted away,” even in Donetsk, ground zero of the resistance, and oligarchical control is being re-established.

Of course, Akhmetov has long-standing ties to John McCain and his rightwing network, so it’s not surprising to see him turning his ermine coat this way and that as the prevailing winds blow across Ukraine. The oligarchs are banding together on every side of the ostensible conflict — Ukranian, Russian, Republican, Democrat — and the fix, as always, as ever, is in.

So good luck, Hunter! I expect we’ll see you on a national ticket someday — maybe with Chelsea Clinton — running against one Bush or another, with Ukrainian oil money (suitably laundered) pouring into your campaign coffers — and into that future Bush campaign as well.

The Hidden and Revealed, Real and Imagined Yemen

The Bloody War that Doesn’t Exist:What the Media Not Telling Us about Yemen

by Ramzy Baroud  -

In Yemen today, the US embassy is closed to the public. Officials telling CNN there is credible information of a threat against Western interests there,” a CNN news anchor read the news bulletin on May 08.

This is CNN’s Yemen. It is a Yemen that seems to exist for one single purpose, and nothing else: maintain Western, and by extension, US interests in that part of the world. When these interests are threatened, only then does Yemen matter.

Yemen of ‘Western Interests’

Every reference in that specifically-tailored discourse serves a purpose. It is as if al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) exists to justify US military intervention and unending drone war. Last April, 63 Yemenis were reportedly killed in US drone strikes allegedly targeting al-Qaeda. No credible verification of that claim is available, and none of the victims have been identified. “Signature” drone strikes don’t require identification, we are told. It could take months, if not years, before rights groups shed light on the April killings, which are a continuation of a protracted drone war.

The Western narrative of Yemen is unmistakable. It is driven by interests and little else. It is ultimately about control of strategic areas. Yemen’s massive border with Saudi Arabia, and access to major waterways - the Red Sea, Gulf of Eden and the Arabian Sea - and its close proximity to Africa and Somalia in particular, all point to unrivalled significance of Yemen to the US and other Western powers. In this narrative, Yemen is about oil and security. It is about the kind of ‘stability’ that guarantees that the status quo concerned with Western interests remain intact.

Even the very geography of Yemen is somehow defined based on interests. On May 07, when militants reportedly bombed an oil export pipeline halting the crude flow that travels between the central Maarib Province to the Red Sea, Yemen’s geography precipitously shrunk in media consciousness to be a map that merely borders and follows the oil pipelines. Those who live, fight, starve and die beyond the confines of the ill-defined Western interests often go unreported. Their share of the Yemen map is rarely highlighted.

In fact, little was known about Yemen in the West before October 2000, when US naval vessel USS Cole was damaged in a suicide attack, killing 17 US military men. The attack was later blamed on al-Qaeda, paving the way for the opportune narrative which continues to define US involvement in Yemen until this day.

The US ‘war on terror’ had in fact reached Yemen even before the war in Iraq was unleashed a few years later. Thousands of people were killed, tens of thousands were displaced. The people of that poor, divided, corruption-laden country were punished so severely for crimes they didn’t commit.

The reason that the ‘war in Yemen’ has never morphed into a ‘war on Yemen’ is because the ruling class of that country found a way to co-exist with the ever prevalent US interests, including their violent dimensions. Just as the US began its military push against Yemen, then President Ali Abdullah Saleh introduced a referendum to modify the constitution in order to boost his (and his family’s) political power and extend his mandate.

Many Yemenis lost their lives protesting Saleh’s move. Washington, however, didn’t seem to mind. Saleh knew the price expected of him to ensure the barter. In November 2001, he made a highly choreographed visit to then US President Bush in Washington, declaring that Yemen had officially joined the US ‘war on terror.’ The war in Yemen carried on for years, without mass protests in London and New York demanding an end to that war, as was the case in Iraq.

Despite the military hardware, the military strikes, the drone attacks and the piled bodies of rarely identified victims, the war simply didn’t exist, although the facts prove otherwise.

Revolutionary Yemen

But intersecting with that Yemen, there is a Yemen that is poor, a Yemen that is rebellious and proud, and a Yemen that is marred in a civil war and seemingly endless division.

A fair historian would tell you that Yemen’s revolution started long before Tunisia and Egypt, and all the rest. That is a whole different Yemen, where unemployed youth, men and women have exhibited a remarkable level of tenacity and determination, mass protesting for equality, reforms, freedom and democracy.

The popular consciousness of Yemen is simply astounding. How could a people of a country, so poor and so divided, command a level of mass mobilization that is hardly paralleled anywhere else?

This is the dissident and spirited Yemen. Its youth have turned political organization into a form of art. When they amassed their popular, non-violent forces in major Yemeni cities in January 2011, there seemed to be no force, however lethal, capable of removing them from the squares. Indeed, Saleh wholeheartedly tried, but the more he killed, the more committed to their non-violent resistance the Yemenis became, and the quicker their numbers multiplied.

Poor Yemen

This politically conscious Yemen overlaps with another one, a Yemen of shocking statistics. It is a country of 25 million, where 54 percent live below the poverty line, and where unemployment among youth exceeds 60 percent (general unemployment stands at 40 percent according to recent government reports cited by Al Monitor). Millions of Yemenis are malnourished. Malnutrition levels are the second highest in the world. 4.5 million are food insecure. Nearly half of the country’s children suffer from stunted growth.

Revolutionary Yemen feeds on and is inspired by poor, oppressed Yemen, which is exploited for political reasons by those who, on January 2010, designated themselves Friends of Yemen.

It is another club that serves as a political platform meant to balance out the US ‘war on terror’ campaign, but pretends to operate independently from it. Yemen’s ‘friends’ pledged billions, little of which has been delivered, and only a portion of what is delivered is spent in ways that are transparent or helpful. There is little evidence that Yemen’s donors are making much difference in reversing the vicious cycle of entrenched poverty, rising unemployment and continued deterioration of the economy.

Friends of Yemen behave as if the US war is not a major component of Yemen’s crisis. Yemen’s problems and failures are discussed based on other variables – corruption, poor governance and such. Millions of people have been displaced by this war. They are hungry, desperate and frightened by the complete lack of security. Isn’t it strange that somehow the US war is not an item on their agenda?

Yemen of Division

The official Yemeni discourse is even more curious. Formed in November 2011, after Saleh handed powers to his deputy, now President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni government continues to speak of dialogue and reforms. The National Dialogue Conference concluded in Jan 2014 after ten months of intense discussions. In February, a governmental committee approved the recommendation of turning Yemen into a federation of six regions. This is meant to be the first practical step towards a lasting political transition, but it likely to inspire further divides where some southern parties are vying for complete secession from the north, and are now organizing to defeat the government initiative.

Yemen is a country of deep political divisions with a bloody history of separation and unity, and most perplexing political alliances, which are in constant breakup and formation.

One and Only Yemen

But why are we too hesitant to tell the Yemeni story as it is, with all of its complexities and details? Are we intimidated by the sheer intricacy of the story? Or is it because we remember Yemen whenever it is convenient to do so?

Western media knows Yemen whenever al-Qaeda threatens western interests, or when angry tribesmen – frustrated by the joint US-central government violence and years of neglect – blow up an oil pipeline.

Throughout much of 2011, Arab media covered Yemen around the clock promoting an indiscriminate ‘Arab Spring’ narrative, with little regard to the distinctiveness of the Yemeni story. When the spring didn’t deliver what it promised, Yemen was disowned and forgotten, as it has always been.

The United Nations occasionally remembers Yemen in one of its intermittent reports, highlighting the poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment with atrocious graphs and grim numbers.

The odd thing is that there is only one Yemen and one Yemeni story: that of war, western intervention, corruption, division, unemployment, terror, poverty and revolution. They are all aspects of the same story, and will continue to form one singular rationale of why Yemen is in this awful crisis.

Until we realize this, Yemen shall continue to be divided into mini-stories, and numerous narratives that hardly overlap in our news broadcasts, despite the fact that they always really do.

- Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). (A version of this article was first published in Middle East Eye –

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nakba Rising to the Level of Consciousness in Israel?

LUBYA, IsraelPalestinians are due to stage marches in both the occupied territories and Israel Thursday to commemorate the loss of their homeland 66 years ago – an event they call the Nakba, or “Catastrophe” – a little more than a week after Israeli Jews celebrated the anniversary of the Jewish state’s birth.

But for many Israeli Jews, it is becoming ever harder to mark their Independence Day without confronting the fact that Israel’s establishment created a new set of victims, said Eitan Bronstein, founder of Zochrot, or “Remembering”, an organisation dedicated to teaching Israeli Jews about the Nakba.

“Once, the Nakba was a non-issue for Israeli Jews. Many had never heard of it or didn’t know what the term meant. But now it is unavoidable. Israelis have to face it.”

Long excluded from the Israeli national discourse, the Nakba – and the ensuing destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages – is slowly forcing itself into the consciousness of ordinary Israelis. And that is creating new sources of tension and potential conflict.

Last week, as Israeli Jews held street parties celebrating Independence Day according to the Hebrew calendar, some 20,000 of their compatriots – Palestinians citizens of Israel – gathered in a forest half way between Nazareth and Tiberias. In the largest Nakba procession ever staged in Israel, they waved Palestinian flags as they marched to Lubya, one of more than 500 Palestinian villages destroyed in the aftermath of Israel’s creation.

As has become typical in recent years, the march produced a counter-demonstration: hardline Jewish nationalists staged noisy celebrations close by, fervently waving Israeli flags and trying to get as close to the march as police would allow.

‘Fifth column’

Scenes of the Nakba procession – all over social media, as well as the Israeli news – upset the Israeli right. Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, and leader of Israel is Our Home party, called Palestinian citizens who joined the march “a fifth column whose aim is the destruction of Israel”. He added that their rightful place was not in Israel but “Ramallah”, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered.

Numbering 1.5 million, the Palestinian minority comprises a fifth of Israel’s population. Able to reach the destroyed villages, unlike most Palestinian refugees, they have increasingly shouldered the struggle to keep alive the memory of what was lost in 1948.

Most Israeli Jews, however, regard efforts to revisit 1948 as a threat to Zionism, said Bronstein. A long-standing consensus in Israel is that any concession to Palestinians on the refugee question could open the door to the right of return, destroying Israel’s Jewish character.

Im Tirtzu, a far-right youth movement opposed to what it sees as growing anti-Zionist influences on Israeli society, organised protests at several Israeli universities this week as Palestinian students tried to hold Nakba commemorations.

Matan Peleg, Im Tirtzu’s director, said: “The left is trying to promote these Nakba events to make Israelis feel guilty about our Independence Day. But Israelis aren’t falling for it. We know who started the war.”

Israel has long insisted that the many Palestinians left of their own accord or that their exodus was possibly even coordinated by Arab leaders. Palestinians in turn have always vehemently denied this narrative and insist that the civilian population was forced out.

Peleg said Israel respected the human rights of its Arab population more than any Arab state in the Middle East. “Israelis are made angry by the hypocrisy. When we see the Palestinian flag being raised, we know that they [those on the march] don’t want Israel to exist.”

Sights like those at Lubya are likely to fuel a “harsh” reaction from Israel, said Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and expert on the events of 1948. “Unfortunately, we are likely to see more draconian legislation in the future and the possibility of brutal violence,” he said.

The Israeli parliament has already passed a law preventing any publicly-funded institution – such as schools, universities and libraries – from providing a voice to the Palestinian narrative of 1948.

New assertiveness

Pappe said an announcement last month by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of new legislation to define Israel in exclusively Jewish terms indicated further efforts to eradicate discussion of the Nakba and Israel’s responsibility.

Ziad Awaisi, one of the Nakba march organisers, said such moves were only galvanising the resolution of Palestinians on the refugee issue. “A new, young generation is ready to be more assertive about the Nakba and the rights of the refugees. They are willing to confront the Israeli authorities,” he said.

Estimates are that one in four Palestinian citizens of Israel belongs to a family expelled from its home in 1948, making them a potentially powerful force in Israel for a historical re-evaluation.

The “March of Return” has been held annually since 1998, each year to a different destroyed village. In recent years, the number of participants has swelled dramatically, with young families and youths playing an ever greater part.

The erased village of Lubya is covered by a pine forest known to the Jewish population as Lavi Park and nowadays chiefly visited by walkers, cyclists and families out for a barbecue.

Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli parliament who has emerged in recent years as a stern critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, asked in a commentary last week: “Can the Nakba and Independence coexist in the same space?”

Calling Israelis ”insensitive”, he wrote: “All around the country, cemeteries were desecrated, holy places were turned into storerooms and animal pens, entire villages were wiped off the face of their tilled earth, and one person’s place of mourning and devastation became another’s place of leisure and holiday-making.”

Representing refugees

At Lubya, refugees spoke longingly of their desire to return to a village that was once home to nearly 3,000 Palestinians. Many were among the 750,000 Palestinians forced out of the new state of Israel in 1948 and into refugee camps across the region.

Awaisi said the large attendance at this year’s march may have reflected in part the fact that a significant proportion of Lubya’s refugees ended up in Yarmouk, a camp in Damascus that is now caught in the midst of Syria’s civil war.

“It is important that we show the refugees that we are active on their behalf, especially when the Palestinian leaders [based in Ramallah] grow ever quieter on the right of return.”

But, he added, local tensions were also driving a renewed interest in the Nakba. “The recent attacks on our communities, including mosques and churches, and the failure of the police to do anything, are a reminder to people that our presence here is under threat. This march was a way to say: We are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Nakba initiatives inside Israel are taking off on various fronts, adding to the tension with Israeli Jews.

Zochrot, or Remembering in Hebrew, is a small but growing organisation of Israelis – Jews and Palestinians – whose goal is to be “provocative”, said Raneen Jeries, the group’s media director. “We want to make them [Israeli Jews] angry. That is how we raise awareness. They have to take note of the history they were not taught at school.”

Map of destroyed villages

Last week Zochrot launched a phone app called iNakba, the first of its kind. In three languages, English, Arabic and Hebrew, it flags up on an interactive map all the Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, allowing users to locate them and share information.

Jeries said it had been an instant success, gaining thousands of downloads on its first day.

“Colonial regimes like Israel use maps as a political tool, to erase communities, heritage, even nations. But this app puts Palestine back on the map. With the help of users, it will create the most accurate map ever and reconnect the refugees to their villages.”

For the past decade Zochrot has been running regular visits for Israelis to the ruins of different villages, often buried under pine forests and hidden inside gated communities reserved for the Jewish population.

Zochrot has created a “nakba kit” for teachers, though it is barred from use in the classroom by education officials.

The group has also created an archive of filmed interviews with veteran Israeli fighters from the 1948 war, who admit their role in expelling Palestinians and, in some cases, participating in massacres. Most Israeli Jews are still taught a long-discredited narrative that Palestinians fled under orders from Arab leaders.

Last year Zochrot held the first-ever conference on the practical implementation of a right of return, at a time when most Israeli Jews still reject even the principle.

Holy places reclaimed

Groups of refugees inside Israel have been trying to reclaim mosques and churches, usually the only buildings still standing in the destroyed villages, defying Israeli orders that have typically declared the ruins “closed military areas”.

In two destroyed Christian villages in the Galilee, Biram and Iqrit, youths have set up encampments next to the surviving churches, daring Israel to force them out.

Such efforts are leading to confrontations.

Last month a refugee family that tried to hold a baptism in a church at al-Bassa, now the industrial zone of the northern Jewish town of Shlomi, was attacked. A group of Jewish residents reportedly called them “stinking Christians” and smashed the camera of the official photographer.

Shlomi’s mayor, Gabi Naaman, told the Haaretz newspaper that refugee families trying to renovate or use the church were “trespassing”. He added that the building was too dilapidated to be safe. “I will act to close the place down because it’s dangerous, and I will block any entry to it in the future.”

At other sites, such as at the historic mosque of Ghabsiyya, east of Acre, Israeli authorities have been trying to prevent refugees from using the building by sealing it off with razor wire and high walls.

According to Pappe, as Israelis are faced with the realities of 1948, there is likely to be an ideological entrenchment. “Israelis may admit the ethnic cleansing [of 1948] but then they say it was justified, or that the Palestinians were the successors of the Nazis, or that Israel was going to be exterminated.”

But Jeries insists that the work of the Nakba groups is only just beginning. “Israeli society now acknowledges the Nakba. But there is much more to be done,” she said. “Israeli Jews don’t yet want to take responsibility for it: to fix historical injustices and take back the refugees. It is going to be a long process.”

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001.

See also -

2 Palestinians killed at Nakba rally: Israeli forces shot and killed a young Palestinian man and a teenage boy Thursday during a protest rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba west of Ramallah in the central West Bank.

Africa and Operation New Normal

The U.S. Military’s New Normal in Africa: A Secret African Mission and an African Mission that’s No Secret

by Nick Turse  - TomDispatch

What is Operation New Normal?

It’s a question without an answer, a riddle the U.S. military refuses to solve. It’s a secret operation in Africa that no one knows anything about. Except that someone does. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Magee. He lives and breathes Operation New Normal. But he doesn’t want to breath paint fumes or talk to me, so you can’t know anything about it.

Confused? Stay with me.

Whatever Operation New Normal may be pales in comparison to the real “new normal” for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The lower-cased variant is bold and muscular. It’s an expeditionary force on a war footing. To the men involved, it’s a story of growth and expansion, new battlefields, “combat,” and “war.” It’s the culmination of years of construction, ingratiation, and interventions, the fruits of wide-eyed expansion and dismal policy failures, the backing of proxies to fight America’s battles, while increasing U.S. personnel and firepower in and around the continent. It is, to quote an officer with AFRICOM, the blossoming of a “war-fighting combatant command.” And unlike Operation New Normal, it’s finally heading for a media outlet near you.
Tomgram: Nick Turse, How "Benghazi" Birthed the New Normal in Africa

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This site rumbles along, significantly thanks to your contributions. So just note that Anand Gopal’s remarkable new history of America’s disastrous Afghan War, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, and Nick Turse’s bestselling classic on an earlier American disaster, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, are both available at our donation page, along with other books connected to the site -- any of them personalized and signed in return for a contribution of $100 or more! Tom]

Amid the horrific headlines about the fanatical Islamist sect Boko Haram that should make Nigerians cringe, here’s a line from a recent Guardian article that should make Americans do the same, as the U.S. military continues its “pivot” to Africa: “[U.S.] defense officials are looking to Washington’s alliance with Yemen, with its close intelligence cooperation and CIA drone strikes, as an example for dealing with Boko Haram.”

In fact, as the latest news reports indicate, that “close” relationship is proving something less than a raging success. An escalating drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has resulted in numerous dead “militants,” but also numerous dead Yemeni civilians -- and a rising tide of resentment against Washington and possibly support for AQAP. As the Washington-Sana relationship ratchets up, meaning more U.S. boots on the ground, more CIA drones in the skies, and more attacks on AQAP, the results have been dismal indeed: only recently, the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital was temporarily closed to the public (for fear of attack), the insurgents launched a successful assault on soldiers guarding the presidential palace in the heart of that city, oil pipelines were bombed, electricity in various cities intermittently blacked out, and an incident, a claimed attempt to kidnap a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando from a Sana barbershop, resulted in two Yemeni deaths (and possibly rising local anger). In the meantime, AQAP seems ever more audacious and the country ever less stable. In other words, Washington’s vaunted Yemeni model has been effective so far -- if you happen to belong to AQAP.

One of the poorer, less resource rich countries on the planet, Yemen is at least a global backwater. Nigeria is another matter. With the largest economy in Africa, much oil, and much wealth sloshing around, it has a corrupt leadership, a brutal and incompetent military, and an Islamist insurgency in its poverty-stricken north that, for simple bestiality, makes AQAP look like a paragon of virtue. The U.S. has aided and trained Nigerian “counterterrorism” forces for years with little to show. Add in the Yemeni model with drones overhead and who knows how the situation may spin further out of control.

In response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 young women, the Obama administration has already sent in a small military team (with FBI, State Department, and Justice Department representatives included) and launched drone and "manned surveillance flights," which may prove to be just the first steps in what one day could become a larger operation. Under the circumstances, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. has already played a curious role in Nigeria’s destabilization, thanks to its 2011 intervention in Libya. In the chaos surrounding the fall of Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, his immense arsenals of weapons were looted and soon enough AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other light weaponry, as well as the requisite pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns made their way across an increasingly destabilized region, including into the hands of Boko Haram. Its militants are far better armed and trained today thanks to post-Libyan developments.

All of this, writes Nick Turse, is but part of what the U.S. military has started to call the “new normal” in Africa. The only U.S. reporter to consistently follow the U.S. pivot to that region in recent years, Turse makes clear that every new African nightmare turns out to be another opening for U.S. military involvement. Each further step by that military leads to yet more regional destabilization, and so to a greater urge to bring the Yemeni model (and its siblings) to bear with... well, you know what effect. Why doesn’t Washington? Tom


The U.S. Military’s New Normal in Africa: A Secret African Mission and an African Mission that’s No Secret

by Nick Turse


Ever Less New, Ever More Normal

Since 9/11, the U.S. military has been ramping up missions on the African continent, funneling money into projects to woo allies, supporting and training proxy forces, conducting humanitarian outreach, carrying out air strikes and commando raids, creating a sophisticated logistics network throughout the region, and building a string of camps, “cooperative security locations,” and bases-by-other-names.

All the while, AFRICOM downplayed the expansion and much of the media, with a few notable exceptions, played along. With the end of the Iraq War and the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan, Washington has, however, visibly “pivoted” to Africa and, in recent weeks, many news organizations, especially those devoted to the military, have begun waking up to the new normal there.

While daily U.S. troop strength continent-wide hovers in the relatively modest range of 5,000 to 8,000 personnel, an under-the-radar expansion has been constant, with the U.S. military now conducting operations alongside almost every African military in almost every African country and averaging more than a mission a day.

This increased engagement has come at a continuing cost. When the U.S. and other allies intervened in 2011 to aid in the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, for instance, it helped set off a chain reaction that led to a security vacuum destabilizing that country as well as neighboring Mali. The latter saw its elected government overthrown by a U.S.-trained officer. The former never recovered and has tottered toward failed-state status ever since. Local militias have been carving out fiefdoms, while killing untold numbers of Libyans -- as well, of course, as U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in a September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the “cradle” of the Libyan revolution, whose forces the U.S. had aided with training, materiel, and military might.

Quickly politicized by Congressional Republicans and conservative news outlets, “Benghazi” has become a shorthand for many things, including Obama administration cover-ups and misconduct, as well as White House lies and malfeasance. Missing, however, has been thoughtful analysis of the implications of American power-projection in Africa or the possibility that blowback might result from it.

Far from being chastened by the Benghazi deaths or chalking them up to a failure to imagine the consequences of armed interventions in situations whose local politics they barely grasp, the Pentagon and the Obama administration have used Benghazi as a growth opportunity, a means to take military efforts on the continent to the next level. “Benghazi” has provided AFRICOM with a beefed-up mandate and new clout. It birthed the new normal in Africa.

The Spoils of Blowback

Those 2012 killings “changed AFRICOM forever,” Major General Raymond Fox, commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, told attendees of a recent Sea-Air-Space conference organized by the Navy League, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. The proof lies in the new “crisis response” forces that have popped up in and around Africa, greatly enhancing the regional reach, capabilities, and firepower of the U.S. military.

Following the debacle in Benghazi, for instance, the U.S. established an Africa-focused force known as Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF CR) to give AFRICOM quick-reaction capabilities on the continent. “Temporarily positioned” at Morón Air Base in Spain, this rotating unit of Marines and sailors is officially billed as “a balanced, expeditionary force with built-in command, ground, aviation, and logistics elements and organized, trained, and equipped to accomplish a specific mission.”

Similarly, Benghazi provided the justification for the birthing of another rapid reaction unit, the Commander’s In-Extremis Force. Long in the planning stages and supported by the head of the Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven, the Fort Carson, Colorado-based unit -- part of the 10th Special Forces Group -- was sent to Europe weeks after Benghazi. Elements of this specialized counterterrorism unit are now “constantly forward deployed,” AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson told TomDispatch, and stand “ready for the commander to use, if there’s a crisis.”

The East Africa Response Force (EARF), operating from the lone avowed American base in Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti -- is another new quick-reaction unit. When asked about EARF, Benson said, “The growing complexity of the security environment demonstrated the need for us to have a [Department of Defense]-positioned response force that could respond to crises in the African region.”

In late December, just days after the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, out of Fort Riley, Kansas, arrived in Djibouti to serve as the newly christened EARF, members of the unit were whisked off to South Sudan. Led by EARF’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Magee, the 45-man platoon was dispatched to that restive nation (midwifed into being by the U.S. only a few years earlier) as it slid toward civil war with armed factions moving close to the U.S. embassy in the capital, Juba. The obvious fear: another Benghazi.

Joined by elements of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response and more shadowy special ops troops, members of EARF helped secure and reinforce the embassy and evacuate Americans. Magee and most of his troops returned to Djibouti in February, although a few were still serving in South Sudan as recently as last month.

South Sudan, a nation the U.S. poured much time and effort into building, is lurching toward the brink of genocide, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. With a ceasefire already in shambles within hours of being signed, the country stands as another stark foreign policy failure on a continent now rife with them. But just as Benghazi proved a useful excuse for dispatching more forward-deployed firepower toward Africa, the embassy scare in South Sudan acted as a convenient template for future crises in which the U.S. military would be even more involved. “We’re basically the firemen for AFRICOM. If something arises and they need troops somewhere, we can be there just like that,” Captain John Young, a company commander with the East Africa Response Force, told Stars and Stripes in the wake of the Juba mission.

The New Normal and the Same Old, Same Old

A batch of official Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch convinced me that EARF was intimately connected with Operation New Normal. A July 2013 briefing slide, for instance, references “East Africa Response Force/New Normal,” while another concerning operations on that continent mentions “New Normal Reaction Force East.” At the same time, the phrase “new normal” has been increasingly on the lips of the men running America’s African ops.

Jason Hyland, a 30-year State Department veteran who serves as Foreign Policy Advisor to Brigadier General Wayne Grigsby, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), for instance, told an interviewer that the task force “is at the forefront in this region in implementing U.S. policy on the ‘new normal’ to protect our missions when there are uncertain conditions.”

A news release from CJTF-HOA concerning the Juba operation also used the phrase: “While the East Africa Response Force was providing security for the embassy, additional forces were required to continue the evacuation mission. Under the auspices of ‘the new normal,’ which refers to the heightened threat U.S. Embassies face throughout the world, the SP-MAGTF CR arrived from Morón, Spain,” wrote Technical Sergeant Jasmine Reif.

Earlier this year in Seapower magazine, the commander of Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, Colonel Scott Benedict, described the “new normal” as a world filled with “a lot of rapidly moving crises,” requiring military interventions and likened it to the Marine Corps deployments in the so-called Banana Wars in Central America and the Caribbean in the early twentieth century.

On a visit to Camp Lemonnier, Marine commandant General James Amos echoed the same sentiments, calling his troops “America’s insurance policy.” Referencing the Marine task force, he invoked that phrase in an even more expansive way. Aside from “winning battles” in Afghanistan, he said, the creation of that force was “probably the most significant thing we’ve done in the last year-and-a-half as far as adjusting the Marine Corps for what people are now calling the new normal, which are these crises that are happening around the world.”

In March, Brigadier General Wayne Grigsby explicitly noted that the phrase meant far more than simple embassy security missions. “Sitting in Djibouti is really the new normal,” the CJTF-HOA commander said. (He was, in fact, sitting in an office in that country.) “It’s not the new normal... as far as providing security for our threatened embassies. It’s really the new normal on how we’re going to operate as a [Department of Defense entity] in supporting the national security strategy of our country.”

Operation New Normal and the Incredible Disappearing Lee Magee

With so many officials talking about the “new normal” and with documents citing a specific operation sporting the same name, I called up AFRICOM’s media chief Benjamin Benson looking for more information. “I don’t know the name new normal,” he told me. “It isn’t a term we’re using to define one of the operations.”

That seemed awfully curious. An official military document obtained by TomDispatch explicitly noted that U.S. troops would be deployed as part of Operation New Normal in 2014. The term was even used, in still another document, alongside other code-named operations like Juniper Micron and Observant Compass, missions to aid the French and African interventions in Mali and to degrade or destroy Joseph Kony’s murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa.

From a 2013 U.S. Army Africa briefing slide referencing Operation New Normal.

Next, I got in touch with Lieutenant Colonel Glen Roberts at CJTF-HOA and explained that I wanted to know about Operation New Normal. His response was effusive and unequivocal: I should speak with Lee Magee -- that is Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Magee, a West Point graduate, third-generation Army officer, and commander of the East African Response Force who had deployed to South Sudan as the nation shattered on the rocks of reality. “He lives this concept and has executed it,” was how Roberts put it.

Was I available to talk to Magee the next day? Yes, indeed.

On March 27th, the day of the proposed interview, however, a lower-ranking public affairs official got in touch to explain that Lieutenant Colonel Magee could not speak to me and Lieutenant Colonel Roberts was out of the office. I asked to reschedule for the next day. The spokesman said he didn’t know what their calendars looked like, but that Roberts was expected back later that day. I left a message, but heard nothing.

The next morning, I called the press office in Djibouti and asked to speak to Magee. He wasn’t there. No one was. Everyone had left work early. The reason? “Paint fumes.”

That was a new one.

Another follow-up and Roberts finally got back in touch. “Apologies, but I am no longer able to arrange an interview with Magee,” he informed me. “Thanks for understanding.”

But I didn’t understand and told him so. After all, Magee was the man who lived and executed the new normal. I thought we were set for an interview. What happened?

“He has simply declined an interview, as is his privilege,” was the best Roberts could do. Magee had been dropped into the hot zone in South Sudan to forestall the next Benghazi, and had previously spoken with other media outlets about his work in Africa, but conversing with me about Operation New Normal was apparently beyond the pale. Or maybe it had something to do with those paint fumes.

On March 31st, Roberts told me that he could answer the questions by email -- questions that I had already sent in on March 17th. But no response came. I followed up again. And again. And again. I sent the questions a second time.

As of publication, almost two months after my initial inquiry, no word yet. That, evidently, is the new normal, too.

The Real New Normal

Quite obviously, the U.S. military isn’t eager to talk about Operation New Normal, which -- despite Benjamin Benson’s contentions, Lee Magee’s silence, and Glen Roberts’ disappearance -- is almost certainly the name for a U.S. military mission in East Africa that, U.S. documents suggest, is tied to the Benghazi-birthed East African Response Force.

More important than uncovering the nature of Operation New Normal, however, is recognizing the real new normal in Africa for the U.S. military: ever-increasing missions across the continent -- now averaging about 1.5 per day -- ever more engagement with local proxies in ever more African countries, the construction of ever more new facilities in ever more countries (including plans for a possible new compound in Niger), and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa. Add to this impressive build-up the three new rapid reaction forces, specialized teams like a contingent of AFRICOM personnel and officials from the FBI and the departments of Justice, State, and Defense created to help rescue hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, and other shadowy quick-response units like the seldom-mentioned Naval Special Warfare Unit 10.

“Having resources [on the continent] that are ready for a response is really valuable,” Benson told me when talking about the Djibouti-based EARF. The same holds for the U.S. military’s new normal in Africa: more of everything valuable to a military seeking a new mission in the wake of two fading, none-too-successful wars.

The Benghazi killings, unrest in South Sudan, and now the Boko Haram kidnappings have provided the U.S. with ways to bring a long-running “light footprint in Africa” narrative into line with a far heavier reality. Each crisis has provided the U.S. with further justification for publicizing a steady expansion on that continent that’s been underway but under wraps for years. New forces, new battlefields, and a new openness about a new “war,” to quote one of the men waging it. That’s the real new normal for the U.S. military in Africa -- and you don’t need to talk to Lieutenant Colonel Lee Magee to know it.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation, at the BBC and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (now out in paperback).

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Copyright 2014 Nick Turse