Saturday, May 23, 2015

Losing Our Beautiful Young Minds: Why Western Youth Join ISIS

Their precious young minds and our precious young minds

by William Blum - The Anti-Empire Report #139

She was a redheaded rebel, the singer in the family, a trash-talking, tattooed 21-year-old wrapped up in a hip-hop dream of becoming Holland’s Eminem. Then Betsy found Allah. After her sudden conversion to Islam last summer, Betsy began dressing in full Muslim robes. By January, the once-agnostic Dutch woman, raised in a home where the only sign of religion was a dusty Bible on a shelf, began defending homegrown terrorists. … Denis Cuspert, a German hip-hop artist known as Deso Dogg who converted in 2010 and later joined The Islamic State [ISIS], delivers a rap-like chant portraying the path to jihad as a chance for empowerment, spiritual fulfillment, vengeance and adventure. … ‘The door to jihad is standing there waiting for you,’ says a Swedish convert to Islam in a video. ‘It is the fastest way to paradise.’1

Tales told many times in recent years, all over Europe, at times in the United States. Parents and authorities are deeply distressed and perplexed. How can young people raised in the West – the freedom-obsessed, democratic, peace-loving, humanitarian, fun-filled West – join the Islamic State and support the public cutting off of the heads of breathing, living human beings? Each of us in our own way are lost souls searching for answers to the awful mysteries of life. But THIS? What life-quest does The Islamic State satisfy that our beloved West can’t satisfy? ISIS is unique in the world in making US foreign policy look good. The Defense Department and the State Department have special task forces studying the new enemy; the latter regularly puts out videos to counteract the many Islamic State videos.

I hope those researching the question look inwardly as well as at ISIS. How do young people raised in the West – the same West we know and love – coldly machine-gun to death more than a dozen Iraqis, men, women, children, reporters, absolutely in cold blood, in the video made famous by Chelsea Manning; but this of course is nothing compared to Fallujah with its two-headed babies, even three-headed, an eye in the middle of the forehead. The Islamic State has done nothing compared to what the United States did to the people of Fallujah. Can anyone name a horror in all of history more gruesome? Yes, there are some, but not many; and much of Fallujah was personally executed by nice, clean-cut, freedom-obsessed, democratic, peace-loving, humanitarian, fun-filled made-in America young men.

Here’s US Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, in his memoir, April 6, 2004, the time of Fallujah, in video teleconference with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “We’ve got to smash somebody’s ass quickly,” said Powell. “There has to be a total victory somewhere. We must have a brute demonstration of power.” Then Bush spoke: “At the end of this campaign al-Sadr must be gone. At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out. Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal. … There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!” 2

“Years from now when America looks out on a democratic Middle East, growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima” in World War II. – George W. Bush, 2006 3

Well, George, it’s either that or Fallujah was one of the key reasons for the rise of ISIS.

My point here is not that United States foreign policy is as barbaric and depraved as The Islamic State. It’s not. Most of the time. I simply hope to make it a bit easier to understand the enemy by seeing ourselves without the stars in our eyes. And I haven’t even mentioned what the United States has led the world in for over a century – torture.

The ever-fascinating and ever-revealing subject of ideology

Jeb Bush has gotten himself into trouble because, like all politicians running for office, he is unable to give simple honest answers to simple straightforward questions, for fear of offending one or another segment of the population. How refreshing it would be to have a politician say only what s/he actually believes, even if it’s as stupid as usual.

The brother of the previous president has been asked repeatedly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” At first his answer was “yes”, then at times “I don’t know”, even “no” at least once, or he’s refused to answer at all. Clearly he’s been guessing about which reply would win him points with the most people, or which would lose him the least.

This caused a minor uproar, even among conservatives. Right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham was moved to make a rare rational remark: “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.”

Such discussions always leave out a critical point. Why did millions of Americans, and even more millions abroad, march against the war in the fall of 2002 and early 2003, before it began? What did they know that the Bush brothers and countless other politicians didn’t know? It was clear to the protesters that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were habitual liars, that they couldn’t care less about the people of Iraq, that the defenseless people of that ancient civilization were going to be bombed to hell; most of the protesters knew something about the bombings of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Panama, Yugoslavia, or Afghanistan; and they knew about napalm, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, etc. Those who marched knew that the impending war was something a moral person could not support; and that it was totally illegal, a textbook case of a “war of aggression”; one didn’t have to be an expert in international law to know this.

Didn’t the Brothers Bush, Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war in the Senate), et al know about any of these things? Of course they did. They just didn’t care enough; supporting the empire’s domination and expansion was a given, and remains so; no US politician gets very far – certainly not to the White House – questioning the right of American Exceptionalism to impose itself upon humanity (for humanity’s sake of course).

Consider the darlings du jour of the American Left, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They very seldom speak out critically about US foreign policy or even the military budget. The anti-war/anti-imperialist segment of the American left need to put proper pressure on the two senators.

Mr. Sanders should also be asked why he routinely refers to himself as a “democratic socialist”. Why not just “socialist”? It’s likely a legacy of the Cold War. I think that he and other political figures who use the term are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to disassociate themselves from communism, the Soviet Union, Marxism, etc., all those things that are not good for you. (The word “socialist” once connoted furtive men with European accents, sinister facial hair, and bombs.)

It would be delightful to hear Sanders openly declare that he is simply a “socialist”. Socialism can be democratic; indeed, a lot more so than capitalism, particularly concerning the distribution of wealth and all the ramifications of that. Presented here are some relevant thoughts on these issues, from myself and others:

It’s only the socialists who maintain as a bedrock principle: People before Profit, which can serve as a very concise definition of socialism, an ideology anathema to the Right and libertarians, who fervently believe, against all evidence, in the rationality of a free market. I personally favor the idea of a centralized, planned economy. (Oh my God, a damn Commie!) Modern society is much too complex and technical to leave its operation in the hands of libertarians, communitarians, or anarchists seeking to return to a “community” or “village” level.

“Washington has always regarded democratic socialism as a greater challenge than totalitarian Communism, which was easy to vilify and made for a handy enemy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the favored tactic for dealing with the inconvenient popularity of economic nationalism and democratic socialism was to try to equate them with Stalinism, deliberately blurring the clear differences between the world views.” – Naomi Klein

“If it is true, as often said, that most socialist regimes turn out to be dictatorships, that is largely because a dictatorship is much harder to overthrow or subvert than a democracy.” – Jean Bricmont, Belgian author of “Humanitarian Imperialism” (2006)

Without a proclaimed socialist vision, radical change becomes too many different things for too many different individuals and groups.

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” – Martin Luther King

The United States is so fearful of the word “socialism” that it changed the “social sciences” to the “behavioral sciences”.

If for no other reason than to save the environment, the world needs to abandon the capitalist system. Every day, in every spot on earth, in a multitude of ways, corporations are faced with a choice: to optimize profits or to do what’s best for the planet.

The great majority of people in any society work for a salary. They don’t need to be motivated by the profit motive. It’s not in anyone’s genes. Virtually everybody, if given the choice, would prefer to work at jobs where the main motivations are to help others, improve the quality of life of society, and provide themselves with meaningful and satisfying work. It’s not natural to be primarily motivated by trying to win or steal “customers” from other people, no holds barred, survival of the fittest or the least honest.

And what about this thing called “democracy”, or “majority rule”? Many millions marched against the invasion of Iraq before it began. I don’t know of a single soul who marched in favor of it, although I’m sure there must have been someone somewhere. That lucky soul was the one they listened to.

Finally, the question being asked of Jeb Bush and others is not the best one. They’re asked: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” A more important question would be: “Knowing what we knew then, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” And the answer should be “no”, because we knew that Saddam Hussein had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. This is very well documented, from diverse sources, international and Iraqi, including Saddam himself and his chief lieutenants.4

The American Mainstream Media – A Classic Tale Of Propaganda

“When an American warplane accidentally struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign …”

These words appeared in the Washington Post on April 24, 2015 as part of a story about US drone warfare and how an American drone attack in Pakistan in January had accidentally killed two Western aid workers. The Post felt no need to document the Belgrade incident, or explain it any further. Almost anyone who follows international news halfway seriously knows about this famous “accident” of May 7, 1999. The only problem is that the story is pure propaganda.

Three people inside the Chinese embassy were killed and Washington apologized profusely to Beijing, blaming outdated maps among other problems. However, two well-documented and very convincing reports in The Observer of London in October and November of that year, based on NATO and US military and intelligence sources, revealed that the embassy had been purposely targeted after NATO discovered that it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications. The Chinese were doing this after NATO planes had successfully silenced the Yugoslav government’s own transmitters.5 The story of how the US mainstream media covered up the real story behind the embassy bombing is absolutely embarrassing.6

Over and above the military need, there may have been a political purpose served. China, then as now, was clearly the principal barrier to US hegemony in Asia, if not elsewhere. The bombing of the embassy was perhaps Washington’s charming way of telling Beijing that this is only a small sample of what can happen to you if you have any ideas of resisting or competing with the American juggernaut. Since an American bombing campaign over Belgrade was already being carried out, Washington was able to have a much better than usual “plausible denial” for the embassy bombing. The opportunity may have been irresistible to American leaders. The chance might never come again.

All of US/NATO’s other bombing “mistakes” in Yugoslavia were typically followed by their spokesman telling the world: “We regret the loss of life.” These same words were used by the IRA in Northern Ireland on a number of occasions over the years following one of their bombings which appeared to have struck the wrong target. But their actions were invariably called “terrorist”.

Undoubtedly, the US media will be writing of the “accidental” American bombing of the Chinese embassy as long as the empire exists and China does not become a member of NATO.

Personal stuff

I’m part of a panel at the annual Left Forum in New York, Saturday, May 30, noon to 1:50, Room 1.89: US Wars of Aggression & Islamic Jihad: What is the Bigger Danger and How Should the Antiwar Movement Respond?

Other panel members are David Swanson and Alan Goodman.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
524 W. 59th St (Between 10th and 11th)

On May 20 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a list of 39 English-language books recovered during the raid that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden. Noam Chomsky and I are the only two authors on the list with two books.

As some of you may remember, in January, 2006 bin Laden, in an audiotape, recommended that Americans read my book Rogue State. This resulted in the US media discovering my existence for a week. You can read the full story in my book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy (pp. 281-84).


Washington Post, May 7, 2015
Ricardo Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story (2008), pages 349-350
Associated Press, November 11, 2006
William Blum, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, pp. 61-2
The Observer (London), October 17, 1999 (“Nato bombed Chinese deliberately”), and November 28, 1999 (“Truth behind America’s raid on Belgrade”)
Extra! Update (magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR], New York), December 1999; appeared first as solitary article October 22, 1999 (“U.S. Media Overlook Expose on Chinese Embassy Bombing”)

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

← Issue #138

Friday, May 22, 2015

Iceland for Everybody: Burying the Banksters

The US needs the Iceland option: If ‘Too-Big-to-Fail’’ Means Too-Big-To-Jail’ It Should Mean ‘Too-Big-to-Be’

by Dave Lindorff  - This Can't Be Happening

In a couple of days, the so-called US Justice Department will be announcing an “agreement” reached with five large banks, including two of the largest in the US -- JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, the holding companies for Chase and Citibank -- under which these banks or bank holding companies will plead guilty to felonies involving the manipulation of international currency markets for at least the past eight years.

This is not really a plea deal, or what in the lingo of criminals is called “copping a plea.” It’s a negotiation in which the nation’s top law-enforcement organization -- the one that just sentenced a teenager to death in Boston in the Marathon bombing case, and that routinely sends ordinary people “up the river” for minor drug offenses or even tax fraud -- is taking seriously these banks’ concerns that if they plead guilty to felonies they might be barred by SEC rules from engaging in many profitable practices. So -- get this -- the Justice Department is seeking assurances from the commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission that they will not enforce those rules against these particular felonious banks.

There will be fines, of course, though nothing that will even dent the profits of these megabanks, which also include two British-based institutions, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as the Swiss-based bank UBS. But under these deals, not one bank executive will even be forced to quit his post, much less face jail time or even a fine. As the New York Times put it in an article last Thursday, “In reality, those accommodations render the plea deals, at least in part, an exercise in stagecraft.”

What this means is that the departure of bankers’ friend Eric Holder as Attorney General, and his replacement by Loretta Lynch, has not changed the policy announced by Holder several years back that there would be no prosecutions of the leaders of the so-called “too-big-to-fail” banks for the scandals and crimes that collapsed the US and the global economies in 2008, bringing on the so-called Great Recession that is still punishing the people of the US and many other countries. In fact it demonstrates that there will be no real prosecution of wrongdoing by these monolithic banks for crimes committed since the financial crisis either and going forward.

As the Times wrote by way of explanation for this refusal to prosecute the criminal banker class: “ much as prosecutors want to punish banks for misdeeds, they are also mindful that too harsh a penalty could imperil banks that are at the heart of the global economy.”

This statement, made by the paper’s two reporters, Ben Protess and Michael Corkery, as if it were a fact, is clearly nonsense.

The big banks, far from being “at the heart of the global economy,” actually function more like tapeworms feeding on that economy. And the case in question, the manipulation of currency markets, is a good example of this. By manipulating currency markets, these banks have been doing nothing to facilitate trade and commerce. On the contrary, they have been profiteering by rigging the markets and raising the costs of doing business for all companies and for all people who need to change one currency for another. Every raw material that a company in the US buys from abroad, every product that a foreign buyer purchases from a US producer, every consumer good that a US citizen buys from a foreign supplier, costs more because of the rigged currency trading that the banks have secretly been engaging in.

How much did this massive conspiracy cost, and how much did these corrupt banks make by manipulating currencies? Here’s what Matt Levine wrote about that in Bloomberg News:

“How much money did those banks make manipulating that $5.3 trillion foreign exchange market? I don't know! No one seems to care. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority says ‘that it is not practicable to quantify the financial benefit’ that each bank got from its manipulations; the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency don't even acknowledge that the question might be interesting.”

So that’s how the US is handling criminality by some of the largest and most predatory corporations in the US and the world today.

Compare the US to Iceland, a country that responded to the same banking crisis of 2008 by aggressively prosecuting and jailing its top bankers. This past February, Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences of four top executives of Kaupthing Bank, one of the country’s biggest financial institutions. Those bankers are will now be serving four-to-five-year sentences for their felonies, at least if they want to ever return to Iceland. A number of other Iceland bankers, including top executives of three of the country’s top banks, were convicted earlier and sentenced to prison terms.

Here’s the thing. If the government really believes that banks like JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citibank and Wells Fargo are “too big to fail” because prosecuting their chief executives -- or even forcing their chief executives to quit their posts! -- could lead to a new financial crisis (a claim that seems totally absurd), then those institutions are simply too big to allow to exist.

And there is a simple answer to that: break the damned things up! It’s not as if these huge banks are responsible for running the US economic engine by lending money to businesses and the public. In fact, they are not doing that at all. Mostly, they are taking free money from the Federal Reserve and gambling with it, not lending it, and are putting smaller banks that actually do lend money out of business. We’d be better of if each of these huge banks became ten smaller independent banks that would have to behave like banks, and that wouldn’t have the outsize power of banks that are bigger than entire countries.

The idea that certain companies and their executives and owners are simply beyond prosecution whatever their crimes is intolerable. It should be intolerable not just in a supposed “democracy,” but in any county.

When people whose primary driving motive in life is greed, power and endless acquisitiveness -- which is what we’re talking about when we consider people like JP Morgan Chase’s chairman, president and CEO Jamie Dimon or Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein -- are told that they are beyond prosecution, it is an open invitation to rapacious criminal activity, and that is what we have witnessed in the years both running up to the 2008 financial meltdown and in the years since.

It’s past time for the American people to wake up and demand an end to this outrage. We need to be more like Iceland: Prosecute the bankers!

Peace, peace, peace! Just Another Empty Cliché

They Say “Peace” But Really, It’s War

by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunch 

They say “may peace prevail on earth”, but every night, there are fires burning in the terrible slums of Nairobi, Jakarta, Guatemala City and Mumbai.
The World Education Forum is now taking place in Seoul, South Korea. UNESCO and Korea organized this colorful event. Everyone is talking, others are singing, and a few are dancing.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is talking peace, and the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is talking peace.

Peace, peace, peace! It has been turned into one of those cliché words that are repeated in every political speech, words like “freedom” and “democracy”.

The military top brass claims it exists to defend peace. Leaders, who are giving orders to destroy entire nations, killing millions, demand peace. Neocon economists, financing war and profiting from it, demand peace. It seems like, these days, whoever murders, bombs, mutilates and robs is obsessed with, peace.


So what is peace, really? Is it a state of existence in which there are no missiles flying and no bombs exploding? Is it only that?

In 2014, I worked on my documentary film for the Latin American television network, TeleSUR. I ended up filming in some of the toughest slums on earth, in Matare and Kibela, both located in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. One of my “guides” had the nickname “Fire”.

Fire used to be a gangster. He had no other choice. He didn’t know any better when he was a child and everyone around him was a gangster, too. They had to be.

At one point, tired, he sat down at the curb. His calves were exposed. There were several scars from bullets, clearly visible.

“I feel old”, he said. He was only slightly over 30. “I used to have many friends here. Now I am alone. All my friends are dead.”

Officially, there is peace in Kenya.

For decades, Kenya functioned as a client state of the West, implementing a savage market regime, hosting foreign military bases. Billions of dollars were made here. But almost nowhere on earth is the misery is more brutal than here.

Two years earlier, while filming my “Tumaini” near Kisumu city and the Uganda border, I saw entire hamlets standing empty like ghosts. The people had vanished, died – from AIDS and hunger. But it was still called peace.

Peace it was when the US military medics were operating under the open sky, on desperately poor and sick Haitians, in the notorious slum of Cité Soleil. I saw and photographed a woman, laid on a makeshift table, having her tumor removed using only local anesthetics. I asked the North American doctors, why is it like this? I knew there was a top-notch military facility two minutes away.

“This is as close as we get to real combat situation”, one doctor replied, frankly. “For us, this is great training.”

After the surgery was over, the woman got up, and supported by her frightened husband, walked away towards the bus stop.


Back to peace…

It is not peace if a woman gets raped in the middle of the street, and while she is screaming for help, her neighbors are scared to even open their doors.

It is not peace when old people are dying, abandoned and surrounded by suddenly useless memories, totally alone.

It is not peace when the murder rate in some city or neighborhood reaches that of a war zone. It is not peace when life expectancy is hanging somewhere around 40 years.

It is not peace when people live in constant fear of losing their house, their job, and all basic necessities.

It is not peace when members of minorities are treated like animals, killed by police, discriminated against at every strep of their lives.

If someone asks me to define war, allowing me to use only one word, without even thinking I would reply “fear”.

It is not peace when society is petrified!


Peace, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, is that serene surface of the lake lost deep in the forest, so brilliantly depicted by your traditional artists.

Peace is when a mother sings a lullaby to her child, unhurriedly, offering her entire heart.

Peace is when people know that if they become ill there will be doctors ready to fight for their lives, free of charge, no matter what effort it takes, no matter what equipment it requires and what cost it incurs.

Peace is when human life matters more than anything else, much more than power and profits.

Peace is when every citizen knows that knowledge is free, and that it constitutes a basic human right. Peace is when knowledge is valued and respected and admired.

Peace is when women can leave their houses freely, without being terrified.

Peace is knowledge that somewhere there, in that big government building, sit decent human beings, not perfect, but decent, working hard to improve the welfare of the people.

Peace is faith that life is improving, that humanity is marching forward.

Peace is kindness. It is compassion and solidarity.

Peace is certainty that there are several basic certainties, and that there will be more of them with each coming year.

Peace is when the entire body relaxes, the mind opens and the heart begins beating regularly.

Peace is that smile which appears on our faces, when we know that something pleasant is ahead of us, or when we see the beautiful colors of pristine nature.

Peace is in beauty and in reciprocated love.

But above all, Peace is lack of fear.


Sometimes it is necessary to fight for peace. Sometimes many brave men and women have to die for peace because peace is also true freedom, and it is integrity. And freedom and integrity have their price: no despot wants to give them away for free.

The World Education Forum is a good venue to ask some pointed questions, and to straighten up the lexicon. Education? Yes, of course, but what education, and education for whom? Education based on what ideals?

UNESCO is a great organization, with a brave, and proud past. It should not be allowed to sink to the level of other and servile UN agencies.

Ban Ki-moon should be challenged publicly! And so should be Jim Yong Kim, for taking dictates from the most violent and aggressive nations on earth. There is no time for politeness, anymore. Millions are dying. Peace, true peace, is being violated. Fake peace is promoted. Fake peace is what we are told to desire.

Philosophy is not for dusty library shells. All of us are now obliged to analyze, to rethink essential concepts. In order to change the world, we have to first redefine all basic terms and meanings: freedom, democracy, and peace!

I want to live in peace, Mr. Ban Ki-moon! But not in the peace that you are promoting: not in the peace for those chosen few, not in a peace, which is sacrificing millions.

There is one beautiful, truly stunning sister of Peace. She is often restrained, most of the time she has to hide. But without her, Peace will never be able to succeed. Her name is Justice!

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

California's Long Fracked Beach

What the Frack Is Happening Under Long Beach, CA?

by Joshua Frank - CounterPunch

Perhaps you’ve driven past them at night: several towering panels lit up like a psychedelic art installation, with a 45-foot waterfall gushing down the side and onto the boulder-strewn, pedestal-shaped, very-much-manmade island.

Oil island off the coast of Long Beach, California

The brightly painted structures seem harmless enough–if a bit out of place several hundred feet offshore from Long Beach’s affluent Bluff Park neighborhood–but what goes on behind the palm-lined façade is profoundly controversial and potentially very dangerous.

I’ve always wondered how an oil spill can be called an accident when we know that they’re inevitable. The recent disaster in Santa Barbara is a case in point. The Los Angeles Times reported Texas-based Plains-Pipeline, which was responsible for the pipe that ruptured off the coast — spilling at least 105,000 gallons of oil — was handed 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. Yet Plains-Pipeline wasn’t put out of business, in fact they continued to profit. In 2014 the company brought in $43 billion in revenue. The environment be damned. Last month, OC Weekly published an investigative piece I wrote on fracking and oil production in Long Beach, California where a similar catastrophe may just be a little earthquake away. Is anyone out there listening? - JF

Built in 1965, the four THUMS islands–so named for the companies that first developed the sites: Texaco, Humble, Unocal, Mobil and Shell–were designed by esteemed landscape architect Joseph Linesch, who had a knack for turning blight into eye candy. While Long Beach’s Gas & Oil Department (LBGO) operates the islands, a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum (known as Occidental Long Beach Inc.) is contracted to perform the work of extracting fossil fuels from beneath the ocean floor.

The THUMS islands include portions of Pier J in the Port of Long Beach, and were constructed from a goliath supply of stone from Catalina Island–640,000 tons of it–along with 3.2 million cubic yards of sand from Long Beach Harbor. The purpose was to exploit the vast reserves of the Wilmington Oil Field, which stretches 13 miles long and 3 miles wide, from onshore San Pedro to offshore Seal Beach. Since it was first discovered in 1932, 6,150 wells have been drilled in the oil field, with nearly 1,550 pumps still active.

It’s estimated the Wilmington reserves originally contained 3 billion barrels of oil, with around 300 million barrels left in the tank today. In 1940, Long Beach began to sink as a result of so much oil being drained from beneath the city. By the early 1950s, this so-called “subsidence” phenomenon was causing the city’s elevation to drop by approximately 2 feet per year. The results were destructive: Streets cracked, pipes warped, and buildings became unsafe. The sinking even caused minor geological tremors. In 1953, Long Beach began injecting water into the oil reservoirs, and the subsidence stopped.

It’s safe to say the wells have been a bit of a cash cow for Long Beach, accounting for almost 5 percent of the city’s total budget–almost $80 million annually over the past two years alone. The city has used nearly every technique in the oil playbook to pump the liquid loot out of the ground, including the contentious practice known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The process involves shooting a virulent cocktail of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to force oil and natural gas to the surface. Fracking is typically utilized in tricky geological areas where other extraction methods can’t get the job done.

In March, the Weekly obtained an internal two-page city document produced by LBGO that was meant to only be seen by the city’s 11-member Sustainable City Commission, which reports to the mayor’s office and advises the City Council. Titled “Hydraulic Fracturing in Long Beach,” the memo states that fracking was started on the THUMS islands in the early 1970s and has been practiced consistently in Long Beach since the mid-1990s, with a total of 196 wells fracked so far. The document goes on to say that “LBGO has followed all Federal and State regulations . . . [and] has safely conducted a hydraulic fracturing operation and, at the same time, successfully addresses many of the public concerns.”

With this odd memo, LBGO appears to be attempting to fend off internal critics as tales of fouled aquifers, toxic air pollution and earthquakes associated with fracking operations have made their way to California from places such as Oklahoma, Texas and Pennsylvania, where these types of problems have been well-documented. Citizens across the country, including many in California, want fracking banned outright. Their belief that the practice is unsafe is shared by many in the scientific community.

Retired geologist Dr. Tom Williams finds it’s not only fracking that’s cause for concern in Long Beach, but also all of the oil and gas operations. The oil-industry insider now advises various groups in the Los Angeles area that oppose fracking. “Long Beach is sitting on a bomb,” asserts Williams, a no-nonsense man who worked for more than 20 years with Parsons Oil & Gas and 10 years with the government of Dubai.

“[An earthquake produced by the] Palos Verdes fault zone will eventually hit, and well cases will pop, and there’ll be a massive spill.”

Williams’ prediction isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. A significant 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Long Beach in 1933, the largest quake ever recorded to have hit the Southern California coast. (The Palos Verdes fault line, which slices directly through the Port of Long Beach, is estimated to have the potential for a 7.25 magnitude quake.) According to geologists, it’s not a matter of if such an event will happen, but merely how soon. When a quake that large strikes, there’s really no telling how much damage it will cause Long Beach’s fossil fuel projects, especially the pipelines that carry oil below the seabed, up to 155,000 barrels per day, from the oil islands to onshore refineries in Torrence. (Spills do happen. In 2013, a leak occurred in the Port of Long Beach, and the THUMS lines were temporarily taken offline.)

The fight against fracking is spreading across California, with voters backing ballot measures banning the practice in San Benito and Mendocino counties. In the Los Angeles area, Beverly Hills has outlawed the practice, and residents of Culver City, Carson and Baldwin Hills are pushing for similar resolutions, as are citizen groups in Orange County’s Brea.

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, and six members of the small, feisty outfit called Stop Fracking Long Beach (SFLB) are gathered at the quaint downtown Green House café for a biweekly brainstorming meeting. The six-week-old organization, which already counts nearly 300 members on its Facebook page, is committed to figuring out what’s going on in–or rather, underneath–their town. They don’t swallow the story the city government has been feeding them, that fracking is harmless and they need not worry.

“We know what we’re up against,” insists Peggy O’Neil Rosales, a longtime Long Beach resident and brand-new member of SFLB.

“Long Beach is the only city in the country with its own Gas & Oil Department. That tells you something right there. Sure, they say [fracking] is fine and safe, but there’s absolutely no public oversight whatsoever. We know very little about what’s really going on and how it’s impacting our community.”

City officials are doing their best to keep it that way. Long Beach’s new Mayor Robert Garcia, whom many consider to be a progressive, pro-environment Democrat, has long been an advocate for transitioning away from fossil fuels in order to combat climate change. But Garcia doesn’t appear to be overly troubled by oil production’s more immediate impacts here in the city. “The mayor supports Governor [Jerry] Brown’s efforts to combat climate change, as well as the study of fracking’s health, environmental and economic impacts,” says Daniel Brezenoff, Garcia’s spokesperson. “Our operations are assessed regularly by multiple state and federal agencies.”

That’s exactly the problem, argue environmental activists who have consistently targeted Brown for his warm embrace of oil and gas production in California. In February, groups protested during Brown’s speech at the Oakland March for Real Climate Leadership. The demonstration occurred the same week a petition containing more than 184,000 signatures was delivered to the governor’s Sacramento office, urging him to ban fracking throughout the state.

“Governor Brown has painted a bold vision to make California a global leader on climate change, but he has made zero mention of the extreme dangers of fracking or made any substantial attempt to address it,” Tim Molina of California-based Courage Campaign, one of the groups responsible for gathering signatures, complained in a statement.

“We met with Governor Brown to urge him to follow the lead of New York Governor Cuomo and acknowledge the real threat that fracking poses to the health and safety of our communities–and implement a statewide ban on fracking.”

So why are environmental activists so worried? To begin with, they argue, fracking pollutes groundwater and excessively wastes precious supplies during a severe drought–some 70 million gallons were diverted for use in fracking last year in California alone. In fact, the California Environmental Protection Agency admitted in early February that state officials allowed more than 2,500 fracking wells to dump wastewater into protected underground aquifers, mostly in Kern County. Nonetheless, oil and gas development has been exempt from the mandatory water restrictions Brown announced in early April.

That isn’t the type of failed leadership Mayor Garcia ought to be following, contends Alexandra Nagy, a community organizer for Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that’s fighting fracking. And, Nagy believes, it’s not just water pollution we should be worrying about. “If you live within 1,500 feet of an oil and gas well, you are considered a sensitive receptor, meaning you are being exposed to toxic chemicals and carcinogens coming from the oil and gas field and are at higher risk of illness and disease,” she says. “Of all the fracked wells in California, half are within 1,500 feet of a sensitive receptor. Los Angeles County is the second most productive county after Kern, and the Wilmington Oil Field, which lies through Long Beach, is the most productive field in LA County, third most in the country.”

Dozens of recent studies back up Nagy’s claims. Last year, a peer-reviewed paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that people were more than twice as likely to have skin and respiratory ailments if they resided near natural gas wells as opposed to those who did not. The study was followed up with a 56-page report from Earthworks, a public interest group, which looked at FLIR (infrared) camera film from several oil and gas facilities in California. The organization’s air samples at the sites found the “presence of 15 compounds known to have negative effects on human health, as well as 11 compounds for which no health data is available.” The report also noted that residents in these areas reported smelling odors likely related to nearby oil development and experienced higher than normal rates of skin rashes, sinus problems, headaches, nosebleeds and other ailments.

While Long Beach has made strides in cleaning its filthy air during the past two decades, the greater Long Beach area still ranks as one of the most polluted in the entire country, according to the American Lung Association and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). Local air-quality problems have long been associated with diesel rigs and large container ships traveling in and out of the bustling Port of Long Beach, but no doubt local oil and gas drilling has contributed to the problem. (When asked how the Long Beach Health Department manages risks associated with oil and gas production, the agency did not respond.)

Elliot Gonzales, a 27-year-old SFLB member and the co-founder of Green Long Beach, says he immersed himself in local environmental and social justice causes after arriving in the coastal city from his home state of Florida. “I was just totally disgusted by the air quality when I first got here,” he says.

“So many people here just accept the pollution as the norm, but we don’t have to. We need to make Long Beach a cleaner, better city for everyone.”

Gonzales’ tenacity and commitment to the environment caught the attention of former Mayor Bob Foster’s staff, and he was soon appointed to Long Beach’s Sustainable City Commission, on which he’s served ever since, having been reappointed by Garcia last year. “I was always bugging [the City Council], so I guess they just couldn’t ignore me any longer,” Gonzales says with a chuckle.

While the Sustainable City Commission lacks regulatory muscle, the body can bring issues before the City Council and is set up to serve as a sounding board for the public. “Fracking is a political quagmire for the City Council,” Gonzales admits. “But that’s not a reason to ignore the issue that so many of us are concerned about.”

In December, Gonzales asked for fracking to be placed on the commission’s agenda; the initial response came the following January. It was terse, to say the least. “With the Sustainability Commission, [fracking] touches on other issues that make it highly sensitive,” said Larry Rich of the Office of Sustainability during the January meeting. “So that’s why it’s not on our agenda tonight . . . and unless we get some specific direction from [City Council] to take it up as an issue, we won’t be seeing it on our agenda.”

Gonzales, who was absent during that meeting, wasn’t pleased when he heard Rich’s response. “All we really want is more accountability and an open forum to discuss the issues of fracking in a public setting,” he says. “I believe it’s unfair to communities here in Long Beach to not even be open to discussing the potential impacts of fracking on air and water quality. How can [city government] ignore these types of public-health concerns?”

On March 26, SFLB members and others came out to voice their fears about fracking at the commission’s monthly meeting and back up Gonzales’ plea to make it an agenda item. Six local residents took the podium to address why they felt it was crucial to press the City Council and Garcia to make the subject worthy of public debate.

“I am here today to beseech you to bring the issue of fracking to the City Council,” resident Erin Foley said.

“We know that fracking affects us, whether fracking is recognized as happening here or not, or recognized as a danger by the oil and gas industry. . . . This is a local, state and federal issue, and I feel that starting locally is very important. . . . We know there are pipelines going underneath Long Beach to San Pedro, and that fracking has been occurring on the THUMS islands off the shore of Long Beach for more than a decade, so that makes the people around here a stakeholder in this.”

Christopher J. Garner, who directs the city’s Gas & Oil Department, downplayed the importance and risk of fracking in an interview with the Weekly. “The last time a [frack] job occurred in [Long Beach was] over a year ago,” he says.

“I can assure you that the expert opinion [is] . . . that our operations are very well-regulated by several federal and state regulatory agencies. Extreme caution is made to eliminate or minimize any risks to the environment.”

Yet the Weekly has received exclusive data gathered by FracTracker, a leading resource on oil and gas operations, which indicates that hydraulic fracturing has occurred in Long Beach no less than 22 times since 2012. In a draft report commissioned by California Natural Resources Agency released in January, the authors estimated the “integrated data imply a rate of 16 hydraulic fracturing operations per year offshore in California waters, all in the offshore portion of the Wilmington field [in Long Beach].”

Read the rest of this article at OC Weekly.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, both published by AK Press. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter@brickburner.

Immigration Canada Deadline Looms for Haitian and Zimbabwean Refugees

Members of Montreal's Haitian community to protest in front of Immigration Canada in anger and worry over quickly approaching deadline


Press point at 11AM (Monday, May 25) in front of the offices of Immigration Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency at 1010 Saint-Antoine Street in Montreal.

MONTREALOn Monday May 25th 2015, members of the NON-STATUS ACTION COMMITTEE will gather before the offices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in order to denounce the federal government's inaction with regards to the lives of thousands of people and families living in Canada who are affected by the lifting of the moratorium on removals to Haiti and Zimbabwe.


In December of 2014, the Canadian government announced the lifting of the moratorium that prevented the deportations of Haitians and Zimbabweans affected by the measure. Thus opening the path for thousands to be deported to their countries of origin, the government also granted a temporary stay until June 1st 2015, allowing the non-status people to make a humanitarian and compassionate claims application. Their actual number is unclear, but we estimate over 3,000 are affected. The great majority of those affected who are of Haitian origin reside in Montreal, and many have young children who were born here.


Members of the NON-STATUS ACTION COMMITTEE will be in front of 1010 Saint-Antoine this Monday, May 25 at 11am in order to express their concern and anger in the face of the approaching June 1st 2015 deadline established by the federal government.

To date, the Conservative government has refused an answer:

  • To our open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, dating back to March 12th 2015
  • To the request made by Quebec's Immigration Minister on May 12th 2015
  • To the community organizations of Greater Montreal on the necessity to extend the deadline of June 1st 2015 by three (3) months.

Given these circumstances, the Committee will reiterate its refusal of the case-by-case approach to this issue; it will continue to demand a collective and comprehensive solution allowing every person affected by the
lifting of the moratorium to regularize their status and remain in Canada. On Sunday May 31st at 2PM, we will walk with SOLIDARITY ACROSS BORDERS from St-Michel metro to Jarry Park in solidarity will people living without status.

- 30 -


6970 Marquette Street, Montreal (Quebec) H2E 2C7
Serge Bouchereau; Telephone : 514-383-8281

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thanks, But No Tanks for Petronas Ultimatum

Premier Clark spews more hot air with LNG non-announcent

by Damien Gillis - The Common Sense Canadian

For all the fanfare of yesterday’s press conference, you’d think Premier Christy Clark would have some big, new development to announce for her much-vaunted but yet-to-be-built LNG industry. Sorry folks, nothing to see here.

Petronas CEO Shamsul Abbas lecturing BC at
last year’s LNG conference (photo - Damien Gillis)

All Clark had to offer was warmed up leftovers from the umpteen previous press conferences, media advisories and political speeches she’s been making for the past several years.

Still no final investment decision from Malaysian energy giant Petronas – only “the beginning of the company’s final decision path toward an investment decision”, whatever the heck that means. The “path” to any real bucks being forked out by a single one of the 18 companies and global consortia proposing LNG plants is proving to be a long and winding road.
Are we there yet?

For years now, we’ve watched the likes of Chevron and Petronas punt their promised final investment decisions to next quarter, next year, some vaguely defined point in the future – while many others have outright fallen by the wayside (BG Group, Apache, Encana, EOG to name a few). But we never seem to get there.

And what if we did ever get there? At this point, after all the slashing of royalties and taxes, all the gutting of environmental protections, all the deals with China, India and Malaysia to supply the labour via foreign temporary workers, what’s actually left for the people of BC?

Take your ball and go home

In her press conference yesterday, Clark boasted that the “memorandum of understanding” with Petronas locks in low royalty and tax rates for years to come. This is supposed to be good news for the people of BC?

As I noted back when Petronas CEO Shamsul Abbas took the stage at a glitzy, taxpayer-funded BC LNG conference last year – to lecture us about not “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” – if these are the only terms under which the likes of Petronas will come set up shop here, then we don’t need them. It’s as if they’re saying, “Cut your public benefits and environmental standards to zero, or we’ll take our ball and go home.” Well, take your bloody ball and go home then.

It’s not all about money

And this is all assuming that with enough money on the table (which of course there isn’t), we’d go for this deal. Well, increasingly, the public and First Nations beg to differ. Just look at the Lax Kw’alaams Band and their recent rejection of an unprecedented bag of loot – $1.15 BILLION and $100 million worth of crown land. Apparently, there’s more to money for some of us – like protecting wild salmon that would be severly threatened by Petronas’ proposed plant on top of the Skeena River eestuary.

That’s what yesterday’s announcement was really about: quelling investor fears over the very public face plant that was the failed Lax Kw’alaams deal. Except that Clark has nothing meaningful or new to offer. And she’s panicking now. After all the big promises of a $100 Billion “Prosperity Fund” in the last election – the thing that vaulted her past the NDP, long favoured in the polls – even she now must realize that it’s time to put up or shut up (well, we can dream on the latter)

Yet that’s looking less and less likely. Her other favourite horse – tax fraudster Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto – is facing an uphill battle in Howe Sound. First Nations and citizens along the various pipeline routes are digging in their heels. Asian LNG prices have plummeted to well below the break-even point for BC LNG exports, obliterating the entire business case for the industry.

In fact, about only way the Petronases of the world can hope to see a profit from BC LNG is by picking your and my pockets. The only way this industry makes sense is with huge, unbilled environmental externalities and massive taxpayer subsidies.

Take it or leave it, says Mr. Abbas.

Leave it, then.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
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Declaring War on Alaska: US Navy's Destructive Arctic Games

Destroying What Remains: How the U.S. Navy Plans to War Game the Arctic

by Dahr Jamail  - TomDispatch

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.] 

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, "the great one." During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks. It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over.

It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as "endangered" in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the U.S. military. 
Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, The Navy's Great Alaskan "War"
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This site will be taking off Memorial Day. The next post will be on Tuesday, May 26th. Tom]

It isn’t the best of times for the American Arctic and let me explain why.

The world is in the midst of an oil glut.  In the last year, oil prices bottomed out before rising modestly.  A NASA study just offered the news that a massive ice shelf in Antarctica, half the size of Rhode Island, will disintegrate by 2020, and not so long ago Science magazine reported that the melting of that region's ice sheets is proceeding far faster than expected.  SayonaraMiami Beach!  All of this, of course, is happening thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.  In March, the Obama administration responded to such a world by preparing the way for a rather familiar future.  It lifted a ban on drilling for oil and gas off the U.S. southern Atlantic coast, opening those waters and their untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas to future drilling.  Then, less than two weeks ago, the Interior Department green-lighted Shell Oil, a company with a memorably bleak record of exploration and disaster in the Arctic, to launch this country into a drill-baby-drill future in northern waters.

If Shell gets all its other permits in place, it will begin drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.  This will happen under what might be some of the worst weather conditions on the planet in an area “prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, [and] frigid temperatures.”  We’re talking, of course, about another four billion barrels of potentially exploitable oil just in that region, which is also a sanctuary for whales, polar bears, and other species that have no vote in this matter.  Subhankar Banerjee put the environmental problem in a nutshell (or perhaps an ice cube) at this site back in March in a piece aptly titled “Arctic Nightmares.” Of the dangers of letting Shell loose in those waters, he wrote, “Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.”  Keep in mind that this sort of far north drilling can only go on because the past drilling and burning of fossil fuels has helped melt Arctic sea ice and open up its potentially vast energy reserves to exploitation.  It’s a little like watching the proverbial snake eat its tail.

So, thanks to our environmental president, things look bad off Alaska. And as TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail reports, in June they’re about to get significantly worse.  The U.S. Navy is arriving in the Gulf of Alaska big time -- and we’re not talking about the cavalry riding to the rescue here.  In waters that are starting to seem like Grand Central Station, that service is planning to launch massive war games with a new set of potentially deleterious effects on those seas and what lives in them.  But let Jamail explain.  Note that this is a joint project of TomDispatch and Truthout, the invaluable website where he now works.  Tom 

Destroying What Remains: How the U.S. Navy Plans to War Game the Arctic

by Dahr Jamail

That summer in 2003 when my life in Alaska ended was an unnerving one for me. It followed a winter and spring in which I found myself protesting the coming invasion of Iraq in the streets of Anchorage, then impotently watching the televised spectacle of the Bush administration’s "shock and awe" assault on that country as Baghdad burned and Iraqis were slaughtered. While on Denali that summer I listened to news of the beginnings of what would be an occupation from hell and, in my tent on a glacier at 17,000 thousand feet, wondered what in the world I could do.

In this way, in a cloud of angst, I traveled to Iraq as an independent news team of one and found myself reporting on atrocities that were evident to anyone not embedded with the U.S. military, which was then laying waste to the country. My early reporting, some of it for TomDispatch, warned of body counts on a trajectory toward one million, rampant torture in the military’s detention facilities, and the toxic legacy it had left in the city of Fallujah thanks to the use of depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous.

As I learned, the U.S. military is an industrial-scale killing machine and also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet, which makes it a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As it happens, distant lands like Iraq sitting atop vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas are by no means its only playing fields.

Take the place where I now live, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The U.S. Navy already has plans to conduct electromagnetic warfare training in an area close to where I moved to once again seek solace in the mountains: Olympic National Forest and nearby Olympic National Park. And this June, it's scheduling massive war games in the Gulf of Alaska, including live bombing runs that will mean the detonation of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic munitions, as well as the use of active sonar in the most pristine, economically valuable, and sustainable salmon fishery in the country (arguably in the world). And all of this is to happen right in the middle of fishing season.

This time, in other words, the bombs will be falling far closer to home. Whether it's war-torn Iraq or "peaceful" Alaska, Sunnis and Shi'ites or salmon and whales, to me the omnipresent “footprint” of the U.S. military feels inescapable.

The War Comes Home

In 2013, U.S. Navy researchers predicted ice-free summer Arctic waters by 2016 and it looks as if that prediction might come true. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that there was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter of the satellite era. Given that the Navy has been making plans for "ice-free" operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June "Northern Edge" exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled "Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic" was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska's "premier" joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region -- they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years -- but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360% rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).

The waters in the Gulf of Alaska are some of the most pristine in the world, rivaled only by those in the Antarctic, and among the purest and most nutrient-rich waters anywhere. Northern Edge will take place in an Alaskan “marine protected area,” as well as in a NOAA-designated “fisheries protected area.” These war games will also coincide with the key breeding and migratory periods of the marine life in the region as they make their way toward Prince William Sound, as well as further north into the Arctic.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions. No fewer than a dozen native tribes including the Eskimo, Eyak, Athabascan, Tlingit, Sun'aq, and Aleut rely on the area for subsistence living, not to speak of their cultural and spiritual identities.

The Navy is already permitted to use live ordnance including bombs, missiles, and torpedoes, along with active and passive sonar in "realistic" war gaming that is expected to involve the release of as much as 352,000 pounds of "expended materials" every year. (The Navy’s EIS lists numerous things as “expended materials,” including missiles, bombs, torpedoes.) At present, the Navy is well into the process of securing the necessary permits for the next five years and has even mentioned making plans for the next 20. Large numbers of warships and submarines are slated to move into the area and the potential pollution from this has worried Alaskans who live nearby.

"We are concerned about expended materials in addition to the bombs, jet noise, and sonar," the Eyak Preservation Council's Emily Stolarcyk tells me as we sit in her office in Cordova, Alaska. EPC is an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat. "Chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, cyanide, ammonium perchlorate, the Navy's own environmental impact statement says there is a high risk of chemical exposure to fish."

Tiny Cordova, population 2,300, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state and consistently ranks among the top 10 busiest U.S. fishing ports. Since September, when Stolarcyk first became aware of the Navy's plans, she has been working tirelessly, calling local, state and federal officials and alerting virtually every fisherman she runs into about what she calls “the storm” looming on the horizon. "The propellants from the Navy's missiles and some of their other weapons will release benzene, toluene, xylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthalene into the waters of twenty percent of the training area, according to their own EIS [environmental impact statement]," she explains as we look down on Cordova’s harbor with salmon fishing season rapidly approaching. As it happens, most of the chemicals she mentioned were part of BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which I covered for years, so as I listened to her I had an eerie sense of futuristic déjà vu.

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s "allowable" limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

The Navy's EIS estimates that, in the five-year period in which these war games are to be conducted, there will be more than 182,000 "takes" -- direct deaths of a marine mammal, or the disruption of essential behaviors like breeding, nursing, or surfacing. On the deaths of fish, it offers no estimates at all. Nevertheless, the Navy will be permitted to use at least 352,000 pounds of expended materials in these games annually. The potential negative effects could be far-reaching, given species migration and the global current system in northern waters.

In the meantime, the Navy is giving Stolarcyk’s efforts the cold shoulder, showing what she calls “total disregard toward the people making their living from these waters." She adds, “They say this is for national security. They are theoretically defending us, but if they destroy our food source and how we make our living, while polluting our air and water, what's left to defend?"

Stolarcyk has been labeled an "activist" and "environmentalist," perhaps because the main organizations she’s managed to sign on to her efforts are indeed environmental groups like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the Alaska Center for the Environment, and the Alaskans First Coalition.

"Why does wanting to protect wild salmon habitat make me an activist?" she asks. "How has that caused me to be branded as an environmentalist?" Given that the Alaska commercial fishing industry could be decimated if its iconic “wild-caught” salmon turn up with traces of cyanide or any of the myriad chemicals the Navy will be using, Stolarcyk could as easily be seen as fighting for the well-being, if not the survival, of the fishing industry in her state.

War Gaming the Community

The clock is ticking in Cordova and others in Stolarcyk’s community are beginning to share her concerns. A few like Alexis Cooper, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), a non-profit organization that represents the commercial fishermen in the area, have begun to speak out. "We're already seeing reduced numbers of halibut without the Navy having expanded their operations in the GOA [Gulf of Alaska]," she says, "and we’re already seeing other decreases in harvestable species."

CDFU represents more than 800 commercial salmon fishermen, an industry that accounts for an estimated 90% of Cordova’s economy. Without salmon, like many other towns along coastal southeastern Alaska, it would effectively cease to exist.

Teal Webber, a lifelong commercial fisherwoman and member of the Native Village of Eyak, gets visibly upset when the Navy's plans come up. "You wouldn't bomb a bunch of farmland," she says, "and the salmon run comes right through this area, so why are they doing this now?" She adds, "When all of the fishing community in Cordova gets the news about how much impact the Navy's war games could have, you'll see them oppose it en masse."

While I’m in town, Stolarcyk offers a public presentation of the case against Northern Edge in the elementary school auditorium. As she shows a slide from the Navy's environmental impact statement indicating that the areas affected will take decades to recover, several fishermen quietly shake their heads.

One of them, James Weiss, who also works for Alaska's Fish and Game Department, pulls me aside and quietly says, "My son is growing up here, eating everything that comes out of the sea. I know fish travel through that area they plan to bomb and pollute, so of course I'm concerned. This is too important of a fishing area to put at risk."

In the question-and-answer session that follows, Jim Kasch, the town’s mayor, assures Stolarcyk that he'll ask the city council to become involved. "What's disturbing is that there is no thought about the fish and marine life," he tells me later. "It's a sensitive area and we live off the ocean. This is just scary." A Marine veteran, Kasch acknowledges the Navy's need to train, then pauses and adds, "But dropping live ordnance in a sensitive fishery just isn't a good idea. The entire coast of Alaska lives and breathes from our resources from the ocean."

That evening, with the sun still high in the spring sky, I walk along the boat docks in the harbor and can’t help but wonder whether this small, scruffy town has a hope in hell of stopping or altering Northern Edge. There have been examples of such unlikely victories in the past. A dozen years ago, the Navy was, for example, finally forced to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as its own private bombing and test range, but only after having done so since the 1940s. In the wake of those six decades of target practice, the island’s population has the highest cancer and asthma rates in the Caribbean, a phenomenon locals attribute to the Navy's activities.

Similarly, earlier this year a federal court ruled that Navy war games off the coast of California violated the law. It deemed an estimated 9.6 million "harms" to whales and dolphins via high-intensity sonar and underwater detonations improperly assessed as "negligible" in that service’s EIS.

As a result of Stolarcyk's work, on May 6th Cordova’s city council passed a resolution formally opposing the upcoming war games. Unfortunately, the largest seafood processor in Cordova (and Alaska), Trident Seafoods, has yet to offer a comment on Northern Edge. Its representatives wouldn’t even return my phone call on the subject. Nor, for instance, has Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, whose president, Katrina Hoffman, wrote me that “as an organization, we have no position statement on the matter at this time." This, despite their stated aim of supporting "the ability of communities in this region to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems.” (Of course, it should be noted that at least some of their funds come from the Navy.)

Government-to-Government Consultation

At Kodiak Island, my next stop, I find a stronger sense of the threat on the horizon in both the fishing and tribal communities and palpable anger about the Navy's plans. Take J.J. Marsh, the CEO of the Sun'aq Tribe, the largest on the island. "I think it's horrible," she says the minute I sit down in her office. “I grew up here. I was raised on subsistence living. I grew up caring about the environment and the animals and fishing in a native household living off the land and seeing my grandpa being a fisherman. So obviously, the need to protect this is clear."

What, I ask, is her tribe going to do?

She responds instantly. "We are going to file for a government-to-government consultation and so are other Kodiak tribes so that hopefully we can get this stopped.”

The U.S. government has a unique relationship with Alaska’s Native tribes, like all other American Indian tribes. It treats each as if it were an autonomous government. If a tribe requests a “consultation,” Washington must respond and Marsh hopes that such an intervention might help block Northern Edge. "It's about the generations to come. We have an opportunity as a sovereign tribe to go to battle on this with the feds. If we aren't going to do it, who is?"

Melissa Borton, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, feels similarly. Like Marsh’s tribe, hers was, until recently, remarkably unaware of the Navy's plans. That’s hardly surprising since that service has essentially made no effort to publicize what it is going to do. "We are absolutely going to be part of this [attempt to stop the Navy]," she tells me. "I'm appalled."

One reason she’s appalled: she lived through Alaska’s monster Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. “We are still feeling its effects,” she says. 
“Every time they make these environmental decisions they affect us... We are already plagued with cancer and it comes from the military waste already in our ground or that our fish and deer eat and we eat those... I've lost family to cancer, as most around here have and at some point in time this has to stop."

When I meet with Natasha Hayden, an Afognak tribal council member whose husband is a commercial fisherman, she puts the matter simply and bluntly. “This is a frontal attack by the Navy on our cultural identity."

Gary Knagin, lifelong fisherman and member of the Sun'aq tribe, is busily preparing his boat and crew for the salmon season when we talk. “We aren't going to be able to eat if they do this. It's bullshit. It'll be detrimental to us and it's obvious why. In June, when we are out there, salmon are jumping [in the waters] where they want to bomb as far as you can see in any direction. That's the salmon run. So why do they have to do it in June? If our fish are contaminated, the whole state's economy is hit. The fishing industry here supports everyone and every other business here is reliant upon the fishing industry. So if you take out the fishing, you take out the town."

The Navy’s Free Ride

I requested comment from the U.S. military's Alaskan Command office, and Captain Anastasia Wasem responded after I returned home from my trip north. In our email exchange, I asked her why the Navy had chosen the Gulf of Alaska, given that it was a critical habitat for all five of the state’s wild salmon. She replied that the waters where the war games will occur, which the Navy refers to as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, are "strategically significant" and claimed that a recent "Pacific command study" found that naval training opportunities are declining everywhere in the Pacific "except Alaska," which she referred to as "a true national asset."

"The Navy's training activities,” she added, “are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life."

In its assessment of the Navy’s plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. "Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat],” its report said, “include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality." According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge “may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover.”

Captain Wasem assured me that the Navy made its plans in consultation with the NMFS, but she failed to add that those consultations were found to be inadequate by the agency or to acknowledge that it expressed serious concerns about the coming war games. In fact, in 2011 it made four conservation recommendations to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise offset possible adverse effects to essential fish habitat. Although such recommendations were non-binding, the Navy was supposed to consider the public interest in its planning.

One of the recommendations, for instance, was that it develop a plan to report on fish mortality during the exercises. The Navy rejected this, claiming that such reporting would "not provide much, if any, valuable data." As Stolarcyk told me, “The Navy declined to do three of their four recommendations, and NMFS just rolled over."

I asked Captain Wasem why the Navy choose to hold the exercise in the middle of salmon fishing season.

"The Northern Edge exercise is scheduled when weather is most conducive for training," she explained vaguely, pointing out that "the Northern Edge exercise is a big investment for DoD [the Department of Defense] in terms of funding, use of equipment/fuels, strategic transportation, and personnel."

Arctic Nightmares

The bottom line on all this is simple, if brutal. The Navy is increasingly focused on possible future climate-change conflicts in the melting waters of the north and, in that context, has little or no intention of caretaking the environment when it comes to military exercises. In addition, the federal agencies tasked with overseeing any war-gaming plans have neither the legal ability nor the will to enforce environmental regulations when what’s at stake, at least according to the Pentagon, is “national security.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the safety of locals in the Navy’s expanding area of operation, there is no obvious recourse. Alaskans can’t turn to NMFS or the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA. If you want to stop the U.S. military from dropping live munitions, or blasting electromagnetic radiation into national forests and marine sanctuaries, or poisoning your environment, you'd better figure out how to file a major lawsuit or, if you belong to a Native tribe, demand a government-to-government consultation and hope it works. And both of those are long shots, at best.

Meanwhile, as the race heats up for reserves of oil and gas in the melting Arctic that shouldn't be extracted and burned in the first place, so do the Navy's war games. From southern California to Alaska, if you live in a coastal town or city, odds are that the Navy is coming your way, if it's not already there.

Nevertheless, Emily Stolarcyk shows no signs of throwing in the towel, despite the way the deck is stacked against her efforts. "It's supposedly our constitutional right that control of the military is in the hands of the citizens," she told me in our last session together. At one point, she paused and asked, "Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes around not protecting salmon? Look at California, Oregon, and Washington's salmon. They’ve been decimated. We have the best and most pristine salmon left on the planet, and the Navy wants to do these exercises. You can't have both."

Stolarcyk and I share a bond common among people who have lived in our northernmost state, a place whose wilderness is so vast and beautiful as to make your head spin. Those of us who have experienced its rivers and mountains, have been awed by the northern lights, and are regularly reminded of our own insignificance (even as we gained a new appreciation for how precious life really is) tend to want to protect the place as well as share it with others.

"Everyone has been telling me from the start that I'm fighting a lost cause and I will not win," Stolarcyk said as our time together wound down. "No other non-profit in Alaska will touch this. But I actually believe we can fight this and we can stop them. I believe in the power of one. If I can convince someone to join me, it spreads from there. It takes a spark to start a fire, and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done."

Three decades ago, in his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez suggested that, when it came to exploiting the Arctic versus living sustainably in it, the ecosystems of the region were too vulnerable to absorb attempts to "accommodate both sides." In the years since, whether it’s been the Navy, Big Energy, or the increasingly catastrophic impacts of human-caused climate disruption, only one side has been accommodated and the results have been dismal.

In Iraq in wartime, I saw what the U.S. military was capable of in a distant ravaged land. In June, I’ll see what that military is capable of in what still passes for peacetime and close to home indeed. As I sit at my desk writing this story on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, the roar of Navy jets periodically rumbles in from across Puget Sound where a massive naval air station is located. I can’t help but wonder whether, years from now, I’ll still be writing pieces with titles like "Destroying What Remains," as the Navy continues its war-gaming in an ice-free summer Arctic amid a sea of off-shore oil drilling platforms.

Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, spent, all told, more than a year as an unembedded journalist in Iraq between 2003 and 2014. He is a recipient of numerous honors, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for his work in Iraq. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a staff reporter for Truthout. This is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.

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Copyright 2015 Dahr Jamail