Saturday, December 05, 2015

How to Deal with Labour's Hawks?

Labour’s Dilemma: What Should Be Done with the 66 MPs Who Voted with the Tories to Approve Airstrikes in Syria?

by Andy Worthington

So the warmongers are happy now, as our planes began bombing Syria within hours of Wednesday’s vote in the House of Commons, as civilians die, because they always do, and as we’re told that this is the start of years of war. What a shame and a disgrace.

This century, this millennium, since the trigger of 9/11, which Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda intended to destabilise us, and to drag us into wars we couldn’t win, we have been mired in disaster in Afghanistan and we plumbed the depths in Iraq, and, when the Labour government gave way to the Tory-led coalition government, and, in turn, the Tories alone, in May’s particularly depressing General Election, we got involved in the destruction of Libya and, after a burst of sanity in 2013, when Parliament voted against bombing Syria, we got back in the game with bombing against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq, which has now been extended to Syria.

Wars of choice, for the whole of this time, so that my son, who is 16 in two weeks, doesn’t remember a time when we weren’t at war. My son was just one year old when we enthusiastically joined the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan, and hideously overstayed our welcome after toppling the Taliban. My son was three when we illegally invaded Iraq, an invasion in which our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was not Bush’s poodle, as many in the UK think, but was the key ally who gave legitimacy to Bush’s lawless plans.

And these endless wars? They are now longer in duration than the two World Wars combined, and yet they have never had more than the faintest trace of justification — only, arguably, in Afghanistan, at the beginning, although I didn’t agree with that particular invasion either, as wars without proper plans — attributes which all these wars share — are a recipe for disaster. And here we are, 14 years later, with no end in sight, bombing more civilians in Syria.

Yes, we say we have military targets, we say we are clever, but we’re not. Bombs always kill civilians. No one knows quite how many civilians have died in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria as a result of our bombs, but it is in the hundreds of thousands, at the every least. Blood is on the hands of those who authorised our bombs to be dropped — from Tony Blair to his cabinet to the MPs of all parties who backed him, and the media who did so too, and, more recently, with david Cameron taking Blair’s place.

On Wednesday, MPs spent all day debating David Cameron’s proposals to bomb Syria — a knee-jerk reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris, which, whatever their connection to Daesh, were carried out by European citizens. He tried to claim Daesh is a threat to our national security here in the UK, he lied about there being 70,000 moderate fighters waiting for our help, when the situation on the ground is much more complicated than that, and he called all his critics “terrorist sympathisers.” He tried to hide his desire not to be left out of the latest warmongering coalition, and he and others tried, with varying measures of failure, to disguise how, fundamentally, they like being at war.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee disagreed with David Cameron, and even Britain’s newspapers, dominated by right-wingers, failed to respond enthusiastically to the pounding of war drums from No. 10. On the eve of the vote, less than 50% of the British people were convinced. And yet, on the night, the bombing was approved by 397 votes to 223. The Tories “whipped” their MPs into line (such a horrible word, although apt, like a description of public school violence), but Jeremy Corbyn gave his MPs a free vote.

Some have criticised him for this, but to do otherwise would have been to have walked into a trap — set by his own opponents within the Labour party, who, suicidally, would have used it as the trigger for a coup — I say suicidally, because Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader by a majority of party members, and none of his opponents have shown any ability to endear themselves to members of the public, or even members of their own party, with anything approaching his appeal.

This was true, in the leadership election, for all his opponents — Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall — and although the media enthusiastically congratulated Hilary Benn for his warmongering speech on Wednesday night (predictably, providing yet another excuse to bash Jeremy, as they do so relentlessly and so disgracefully), there is no sign that his speech (which I saw, partly, and cynically, as his leadership pitch) will endear him to people either — and, of course, to those who remember his father, the great anti-war campaigner Tony Benn, his son’s warmongering (from Iraq onwards) is profoundly depressing (see Tony Benn here, arguing against Iraq airstrikes in 1998).

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, didn’t vote for war and nor did 152 of his colleagues. I commend him, as I commend those 152 MPs, and as I also commend the other MPs who voted against the proposals: the seven Tory rebels — John Baron (Basildon & Billericay), David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden), Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) and Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) — plus the 53 SNP MPs, the three SDLP MPs, the two Lib Dems who defied their whip (Norman Lamb and Mark Williams), the two Plaid Cymru MPs, and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

They established that a case had not been made for us to bomb Syria, and, as we now find ourselves embroiled in what may well be an the open-ended war, even with British troops sent senselessly to die.

Below, I’m publishing the list of the 153 MPs who voted against the Tories’ proposals, and for anyone who wants to identify which of those MPs are truly committed not just to peace (and against senseless war), but also to social justice and, I would say, the socialist values of the Labour party, I’ve also noted which of these MPs also voted against the Tories’ wretched welfare cuts, back in July, when Harriet Harman was acting leader, and 48 Labour MPs defied the whip.

As the Guardian noted at the time, Harman “had urged Labour MPs to send a message to the electorate that they were listening to concerns over welfare payments by abstaining on the welfare bill after voting for an amendment that set out the party’s objections to the bill,” but 48 principled MPs objected — including Jeremy Corbyn, then the frontrunner in the leadership contest, John McDonnell, and three of the London mayoral candidates (Diane Abbott, David Lammy and the eventual winner of that contest, Sadiq Khan). All the other leadership candidates abstained.

I’m also posting the names of the 66 Labour MPs who voted with the Tories in support of airstrikes in Syria — and I note that only one of them voted against the welfare bill in July — because I want to be on record as stating that I believe it is appropriate for everyone who supports the Labour Party, or who wants a credible alternative to the Tories, to ask if these are the kind of people who should be trying to take the party into the future — and to suggest that, if there is to be a revived and revitalised Labour Party that remembers its roots, then some of these MPs should be deselected by their constituents.

Many are Blairites, who, to my mind, have lost touch with what the party should be, and who, since 2010, have failed to realise that being like the Tories but a bit less nasty isn’t electorally viable. it may be that socialism isn’t electorally viable, either, but I think we need to have a clear alternative to the Tories, i think we need that alternative to be socialist, and I also think it’s obvious that there are millions of us who are actually excited about the possibilities, and are hugely relieved that there is now a genuine alternative to the me-me-me-obsessed, big business-loving, poor-bashing selfishness and greed that has been mainstream politics, whether Tory or Labour, for the last 20 years.

Please note that members of the Shadow Cabinet are marked with asterisks — and of particular concern, it seems to me, should be the 11 members of the Shadow Cabinet who voted with the Tories, as opposed to the 16 who stood with Jeremy Corbyn. Please also note that there was one abstention on Wednesday by another Shadow Cabinet member, chief whip Rosie Winterton, and another four Labour MPs abstained (as did seven Tories). Five other labour MPs were not present, two of whom opposed the welfare bill. The 48th MP who voted against the welfare bill was Michael Meacher, who, sadly, died in October, but whose seat (Oldham West and Royton) was won on Thursday night by his Labour successor, Jim McMahon, with a thumping majority that reinforces Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Michael Meacher, of course, was one of the 36 MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for his leadership bid, and I think I can safely say that he would also have voted with Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday night.

The 153 Labour MPs who voted against airstrikes in Syria

* Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) Shadow secretary of state for international development, also voted against welfare bill in July
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East & Saddleworth) also voted against welfare bill in July
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
David Anderson (Blaydon) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Jon Ashworth (Leicester South) Shadow minister without portfolio
Clive Betts (Sheffield South East)
Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham, City of)
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central)
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West)
Lyn Brown (West Ham)
Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East)
Karen Buck (Westminster North)
Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield)
Richard Burgon (Leeds East) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Andy Burnham (Leigh) Shadow home secretary
Dawn Butler (Brent Central) also voted against welfare bill in July
Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill)
Ruth Cadbury (Brentford & Isleworth)
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Sarah Champion (Rotherham)
Julie Cooper (Burnley)
* Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) Leader of the Labour Party, also voted against welfare bill in July
David Crausby (Bolton North East)
Jon Cruddas (Dagenham & Rainham)
John Cryer (Leyton & Wanstead)
Judith Cummins (Bradford South)
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North)
Jim Cunningham (Coventry South)
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe)
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) also voted against welfare bill in July
Peter Dowd (Bootle) also voted against welfare bill in July
Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington)
Clive Efford (Eltham)
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central)
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central)
Chris Evans (Islwyn)
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Rob Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South)
Paul Flynn (Newport West) also voted against welfare bill in July
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield)
Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham Deptford)
Barry Gardiner (Brent North)
Pat Glass (Durham North West)
Mary Glindon (Tyneside North) also voted against welfare bill in July
Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Kate Green (Stretford & Urmston) Shadow minister for women and equalities
* Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) Shadow secretary of state for transport
Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Nia Griffith (Llanelli) Shadow secretary of state for Wales
Andrew Gwynne (Denton & Reddish)
Louise Haigh (Sheffield Heeley) also voted against welfare bill in July
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East)
David Hanson (Delyn)
Harry Harpham (Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough)
Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) also voted against welfare bill in July
Helen Hayes (Dulwich & West Norwood)
Sue Hayman (Workington) also voted against welfare bill in July
* John Healey (Wentworth & Dearne) Shadow minister for housing and planning
Mark Hendrick (Preston)
Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow)
Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch)
Sharon Hodgson (Washington & Sunderland West)
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Kate Hollern (Blackburn)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) was teller for the rebels who voted against welfare bill in July
Rupa Huq (Ealing Central & Acton)
Imran Hussain (Bradford East) also voted against welfare bill in July
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)
Diana Johnson (Hull North)
Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) also voted against welfare bill in July
Mike Kane (Wythenshawe & Sale East)
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester Gorton) also voted against welfare bill in July
Barbara Keeley (Worsley & Eccles South)
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) also voted against welfare bill in July
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon)
David Lammy (Tottenham) also voted against welfare bill in July
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) also voted against welfare bill in July
Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields)
Clive Lewis (Norwich South) also voted against welfare bill in July
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford & Eccles) also voted against welfare bill in July
Ian Lucas (Wrexham)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Selly Oak)
* Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) Shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) also voted against welfare bill in July
* John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington) Shadow chancellor of the exchequer, also voted against welfare bill in July
Liz McInnes (Heywood & Middleton) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) Shadow attorney general
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port & Neston)
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood)
* Seema Malhotra (Feltham & Heston) Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
John Mann (Bassetlaw)
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) also voted against welfare bill in July
Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South)
Rachael Maskell (York Central) also voted against welfare bill in July
Chris Matheson (Chester, City of)
Alan Meale (Mansfield)
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) also voted against welfare bill in July
Ed Miliband (Doncaster North)
Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) also voted against welfare bill in July
Jessica Morden (Newport East)
Grahame Morris (Easington) also voted against welfare bill in July
* Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) Shadow secretary of state for Scotland
* Lisa Nandy (Wigan) Shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change
Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby)
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central)
Kate Osamor (Edmonton) also voted against welfare bill in July
Albert Owen (Ynys Mon)
Teresa Pearce (Erith & Thamesmead) also voted against welfare bill in July
Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich & Woolwich)
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield)
Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East)
Angela Rayner (Ashton Under Lyne)
Christina Rees (Neath)
Rachel Reeves (Leeds West)
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge & Hyde)
Marie Rimmer (St Helens South & Whiston) also voted against welfare bill in July
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool Walton)
Naseem Shah (Bradford West)
Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) also voted against welfare bill in July
Gavin Shuker (Luton South)
Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead & Kilburn) also voted against welfare bill in July
Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) also voted against welfare bill in July
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith)
Andrew Smith (Oxford East)
Cat Smith (Lancaster & Fleetwood) also voted against welfare bill in July
Jeff Smith (Manchester Withington)
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
* Owen Smith (Pontypridd) Shadow secretary of state for work and pensions
Karin Smyth (Bristol South)
Keir Starmer (Holborn & St Pancras)
Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) also voted against welfare bill in July
Wes Streeting (Ilford North)
Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton) also voted against welfare bill in July
Mark Tami (Alyn & Deeside)
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen)
Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury)
Stephen Timms (East Ham)
* Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) Shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, shadow minister for the constitutional convention
Karl Turner (Hull East)
Derek Twigg (Halton)
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool West Derby)
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South)
Catherine West (Hornsey & Wood Green)
Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test)
David Winnick (Walsall North) also voted against welfare bill in July
Iain Wright (Hartlepool) also voted against welfare bill in July
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) also voted against welfare bill in July

The 66 Labour MPs who voted for airstrikes in Syria

* Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) Shadow secretary of state for health
Ian Austin (Dudley North)
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
Margaret Beckett (Derby South)
* Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) Shadow foreign secretary
* Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) Shadow minister for mental health
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East)
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)
* Chris Bryant (Rhondda) Shadow leader of the House of Commons
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
Jenny Chapman (Darlington)
* Vernon Coaker (Gedling) Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland
Ann Coffey (Stockport)
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford)
Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark)
Mary Creagh (Wakefield)
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow)
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale)
Wayne David (Caerphilly)
* Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) Shadow minister for young people and voter registration
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge)
* Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) Shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport
* Angela Eagle (Wallasey) Shadow first secretary of state, shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills
* Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood) Shadow secretary of state for defence
Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside)
Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse)
Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East)
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham)
Margaret Hodge (Barking)
George Howarth (Knowsley)
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central)
Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle)
Graham Jones (Hyndburn)
Helen Jones (Warrington North) BUT voted against welfare bill in July
Kevan Jones (Durham North)
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South)
Liz Kendall (Leicester West)
Dr Peter Kyle (Hove)
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East)
Holly Lynch (Halifax)
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden)
Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East)
Conor McGinn (St Helens North)
Alison McGovern (Wirral South)
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South)
* Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) Shadow secretary of state for education
Jamie Reed (Copeland)
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East)
Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West)
Joan Ryan (Enfield North)
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North)
Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge)
John Spellar (Warley)
Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston)
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
Anna Turley (Redcar)
Chuka Umunna (Streatham)
Keith Vaz (Leicester East)
* Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) Deputy leader of the Labour Party, party chair and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield)
John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness)

The 5 Labour MPs who abstained in the Syria vote

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen)
Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr)
Steve Reed (Croydon North)
Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall)
* Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) Opposition chief whip

The 5 Labour MPs who were unable to attend the Syria vote

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) voted against welfare bill in July
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire)
Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West)
Mike Gapes (Ilford South)
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) voted against welfare bill in July

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Impunity Continues: Child Murderer Deemed 'Not Responsible' by Israeli Court

Impunity Continues: Child Murderer Deemed 'Not Responsible' by Israeli Court

by Mazin Qumsiyeh -

Israeli murder of Palestinian civilians continues with impunity.108 Palestinians were killed since 1 October. In one incident over 1500 heavily armed Israeli colonial soldiers invaded Shufat refugee camp in Jerusalem (yes there are refugee camps also in Jerusalem) and demolished a home while injuring many natives. Yosef Haim BenDavid is an “adult” Israeli settler who recruited two other teenage Israelis and went looking for “Arabs” and managed to kidnap a child Mohammad Khdair. The three then tortured and burned the child to death. An Israeli judge aided by Israeli system ruled that indeed the murderer did the deed but he is not responsible  because of his “mental state”.

The same system refuses to punish murderous Jews who burn whole families (like the Dawabsheh family (father, mother and child burned in their own home by colonial Jewish terrorists). Israeli authorities are even sending bills to the Palestinian authority for costs of treating the Dawabshe family (what Chutzpah!).

Israel also protects its political and military elites who regularly engage in crimes against humanity and war crimes (Sharon, Begin, Peres, Netanyahu etc). The same Israeli system executes innocents and many  Palestinians almost daily without trials and when there are trials, Israeli prosecution and Israeli judges sentence Palestinians including children to long jail sentences for “throwing stones” or even concoct charges and plant “evidence” to convict them. Palestinian mental state is not considered in this one country with two systems of laws one for the privileged “chosen” and one for the natives.

But I continue to be most inspired by Palestinian children and youth all around us (60% of us). The spirit  should teach something to old politicians who have been doing the same futile things over and over again. The spirit is of change and youth. That is the future and we let children literally draw inspiration for us (see  calendar below). For those interested look at our Palestine Museum of Natural history facebook page
(under that name). Available Children Calendar of Palestine Natural History, Chronique
palestinienne (voir ci-dessous/see below) ...

I gave the keynote speech for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. This is a network of six Palestinian hospitals in illegally occupied and annexed Eastern part of the city. My background is in medical genetics (in  addition to biology and other areas) and I discussed briefly challenges and opportunities facing provision of medical healthcare under Israeli repression.

These range from denial of access and movement, invasion of hospitals, kidnapping patients, and even  attacking and injuring and killings of patients and medical staff. It was truly inspiring to see the excellent level of care provided despite these obstacles and discuss ways to improve it especially in times of conflicts with increased demand and limited resources (e.g. Palestinian Authority was tied by Oslo process to spend 40+% of its budget on security which leaves little for healthcare, education, environment, research and other important areas).

2016 Calendar of Palestine Natural History available and proceeds help
Palestine's children, see:

And if you like to donate directly before year-end to the Palestine Museum of Natural History, please go to and here are activities of the first year:

Chronique palestinienne : 29 novembre, Journée Internationale de Solidarité
avec la Palestine

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine

Oil Savaged Wildlife in Sakhalin Spill Reminiscent of Exxon Valdez

Grounded Russian oil tanker leaks into North Pacific

by Emily Russell - KNOM, Nome 

December 2, 2015

A Russian tanker carrying 200,000 gallons of oil ran aground off an island in the North Pacific over the weekend. As it continues to leak, it resurrects a debate on how safety can be improved in a region where a major wildlife corridor overlaps with a busy shipping through-point.

The tanker struck a reef off the island of Sakhalin during a storm, according to The Siberian Times.

Oiled sea birds. Sakhalin Watch and Club Boomerang

The vessel been stuck on that reef since Saturday, leaking oil into the surrounding area. The region’s governor has called it an “ecological disaster.”

Oiled cormorant. Photo by Sakhalin Watch and Club Boomerang

Pictures of an oiled shoreline quickly surfaced online, leading many to worry about the far-reaching effects of the spill.

Melanie Smith with Audubon Alaska says along with contaminating the local wildlife, some Alaska species may be affected as well.

“There’s a very large sea lion rookery there and several globally significant bird areas are in the region and a number of Alaskan species use those IBAs — important bird areas. So we’re not sure whether individual birds that travel between Sakhalin and Alaska are being affected, but we do know that a number of Alaskan species are present in that area, which is part of our concern.”

Audubon Alaska has been working with the Coast Guard to prevent accidents like this one from happening in American waters. Along with designating a specific shipping route for the Bering Strait, Smith says Audubon’s top priority has been to designate areas to be avoided.

Sakhalin Watch and Club Boomerang

“And that’s a technical term that designates a place off limits to ships other than those that are accessing local communities. So aside from local traffic, large vessels would avoid those areas whenever they need to deviate from the route that the coast guard identified.”

The Bering Strait not only serves as a choke-point for vessel traffic, but also as one of the world’s most active migratory corridors, which in turn helps feed the region’s Native communities.

“So you have hundreds of thousands of mammals, about 12 million birds nesting in the region, and really important cultural subsistence areas around all of those communities. So those areas to be avoided that we’ve identified, there are four of them, and they would protect those ecological and cultural values.”

Despite those efforts, a spill in the Bering Strait would still be hard to respond to.

The Russian tanker that ran aground in the North Pacific was less than 500 feet from a port that has access to clean-up equipment. But, those efforts were stalled due harsh weather.

Elena Agarkova is the senior shipping officer at the Worldwide Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Program, says this incident should encourage more infrastructure development.

“In the Bering Strait, you know the northern Bering region, we don’t have that kind of response infrastructure, so even if the weather cooperates, it will take a much longer time for any response vessel to reach the potential oil spill location. It’ll be even more difficult for U.S. or Russian forces to respond to an incident like that in the Bering Strait.”

And that brings up the final hurdle to ensuring safe shipping through the strait: cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. Agarkova says the WWF has been advocating for more bilateral cooperation.

“We’ve been urging the Coast Guard to resume their cooperation with Russia on oil spill preparedness and response including holding actual exercises in the Bering Strait. They were supposed to do those a couple years ago and they were postponed. And because the current political situation its been a challenge to get that process going again.”

While cooperation may be a long way off, many on both sides of the strait are hoping the North Pacific storm will soon pass. Meanwhile, oil continues to leak into surrounding waters.

An earlier version of this story implied oil was leaking into the Bering Strait. Oil is leaking into the North Pacific. We regret the error.

Faux Environmentalism: Where Oil and Greens Mix

Secret Agreement Between Environmental Groups and Oil Companies Marks End of an Era

by Dru Oja Jay - Medium

For traditional conservationists, it was a little like finding out that Amnesty International had opened its own prison wing in Guantanamo.” That’s how Naomi Klein described the Nature Conservancy’s decision to allow oil drilling on land it was conserving to protect an endangered bird in 1999.

My, how things have changed!

Since then, Amnesty International-branded prisons — or at least their environmental equivalent — have become de rigeur among well-funded NGOs. That trend reached a kind of turning point last week, when the Financial Post revealed that four prominent Canadian Environmental groups sat in secret negotiations with oil companies for months, and — according to the report — agreed to stop campaigning against certain tar sands pipelines in exchange for the tepid climate measures Alberta’s NDP government announced at the end of November. The problem: the NDP’s measures allow for a 40% increase in tar sands extraction, and flout the consensus among climate scientists about what is needed to prevent “game over for the climate”.

In the interceding years, Canada has seen two major agreements between corporations and environmentalists.

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement started as a huge battle between environmentalists and First Nations on one side and logging companies on the other. The agreement itself happened when funders turned off the tap and the major environmental groups joined secret negotiations with logging companies. The result was a major capitulation to logging companies presented to the public as a victory. Because major green groups switched sides, the odds that resistance to continued logging could be effective went from improbable to impossible. Facing off against Weyerhaeuser is one thing; facing off against Weyerhaeuser and Greenpeace, Sierra Club and ForestEthics is quite another.

In 2009, Macdonald Stainsby and I wrote a report about the GBR deal called Offsetting Resistance, in which we warned: “the plan for the tar sands campaign is emerging along the same lines as the ‘Great Bear Rainforest’ deal, and include many of the same players and tactics.”

Perhaps to their credit, environmentalists have not spent a lot of time feuding publicly about these differences when it comes to the GBR.

But in 2010, major political and strategic divergences were highlighted when a number of Canadian groups signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, which notably excluded First Nations. This time, a lot more people raised a fuss.

Journalist Dawn Paley brought these voices to the fore with several hard-hitting reports.

“I think that, if anything, the CBFA has resulted in an immense fracturing, not only in the ENGO sector, but also among First Nations,” Clayton Thomas-Muller, who was then tar sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Paley at the time.

Many suggestions of a tar sands agreement were already surfacing in 2010. While it was clear that there was little appetite for a deal with oil companies on either side, funder pressure ensured that the idea stayed alive.

In 2013, Paley published a report raising the same warning: that environmental groups were gearing up for a similar deal in the tar sands. Tzeporah Berman — who was a key architect of the Great Bear and Boreal deals — responded in a public Facebook post, writing “I am so tired of these attacks that have no basis in fact.”

The 2015 version — tar sands edition — of the secret agreement has finally been unveiled. According to the Financial Post:

In addition to [Environmental Defense executive director Tim] Gray, environmental leaders that participated in the discussions were Karen Mahon, Forest Ethics Canada Director; Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute; and Steven Guilbeault, senior director and founder of Equiterre.

Unlike the previous pair of secret deals, none of these groups appear to have wanted their involvement to become public. More than a week elapsed with no suggestion that any groups had agreed to stop their anti-pipeline organizing.

ForestEthics, which jumped to the front of the protests against the Kinder Morgan pipeline after paying little attention to efforts to stop the pipeline for years, even sent emails asking for donations after the showdown at Burnaby Mountain.

Tzeporah Berman, who is the main representative of US funders of anti-tar sands work, made no mention of the concessions in a December 1st opinion piece that lauded the Alberta government for their leadership. She did, however, drop a king-size hint that some groups would let one or more pipelines slide:

We created the political space for a government to do the right thing. Does this mean they still want a pipeline? Probably. But they sure don’t need four of them now.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, Berman and the four environmental organizations will face some tough questions from their constituencies. Will ForestEthics use its position to allow Kinder Morgan to proceed while blocking Northern Gateway? Will Equiterre look the other way on either Line 9 or Energy East? Will Environmental Defense drop its work against Line 9 in Ontario?

Most crucially: did these groups agree (as some did in previous secret agreements) to try to convince other environmental actors to stop opposing pipelines?

With the Boreal Forest Agreement, for example, the environmental partners agreed to help the logging companies market their products as eco-friendly. This created a situation where communities that wanted to stop logging on their lands didn’t just have to oppose multinational giants like Weyerhauser, but also environmental organizations that are household names. First Nations communities were effectively pitted against each other.

When it comes to the tar sands, the public is too well-informed to accept overblown ENGO claims that a forest has been “saved”. The rhetoric, this time around, is much more tortured.

What’s different about this secret agreement is how many groups are going be working in ways that are directly at odds with the secret agreement. Some have been straightforward about rejecting the detente. “The only way that we stop fighting pipelines is when we stop pipelines,” campaigner Cameron Fenton told the Financial Post.

It’s too early to declare the death of the funder-driven corporate-collaboration dealmaking, but it’s not too early to declare its decline. Climate justice activists have long rejected the paradigm of ramping up a big campaign in order to “make a deal” on a five year horizon so that funders can move on to the next thing. This deal will galvanize that conviction.

While some very wealthy foundations are still keen to push the secret agreement paradigm, divisions are showing among the ranks of funders as well. It’s with serendipitous timing that a day before news of the secret agreement dropped, Farhad Ebrahimi of the Chorus Foundation published a long article enjoining donors to provide long-term funding to communities resisting climate-killing projects and building alternatives. He also asked them to do nothing less than give up the control that leads to secret agreements:

A truly just transition will require long-term work, and long-term work will require long-term commitments from the philanthropic community. Long-term funding commitments don’t just give organizations the runway to do the work — they also free them from the annual ritual of re-application. In a culture that often fetishizes “risk,” I propose that this is an important way for funders to take on greater risk — by allocating more of our budgets long-term — on behalf of the social movements that we aim to support.

The willingness of prominent environmental groups to secretly put themselves at odds with other campaigns — and scientific consensus — is no longer as shocking as it was in 1999. It is, however, more likely now than at any point since then to be unacceptable to donors and volunteers.

We warned of a secret tar sands deal in 2009, and many worked hard to stop it in the interceding years. In the end, we got an unsatisfying compromise: the deal wasn’t as big a deal as we said it would be, but it still happened.

This seems like a good time to close the book on eight years of this particular thread of NGO- and funder-critiquing journalism. It hasn’t been particularly fun, but it will probably continue to be necessary. I’ll end with one last fearless prediction: the secret agreement model will go out with a whimper, not a bang.

Movements have transformation in their sights, and they’re less and less interested in declaring pitiful “victories” and moving on. We want it all: a liveable planet, equal distribution of sustainably-harvested wealth, decolonization of control over lands, and democratic organizations that reflect those goals. Leaving the bulk of the remaining tar sands in the ground by stopping all of the proposed pipelines is the first necessary step.

Go to the profile of druojajay

Dru Oja Jay is co-author of the report Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River and co-author of the book Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Mass Murder Here and There

Do Mass Killings Bother You?

by David Swanson - CounterPunch

We now know this. A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children.

I repeat: his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies. Do such things bother you?

What if you learned that this young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and that he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and that he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? What if you learned that his religious leader was a Christian chaplain?

Do such things still bother you?

What if you learned that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are civilians? That the pilots “double-tap,” meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them? That as a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help? That a drone pilot sent a missile into a group of children from which three children survived who recognized their dead brothers but had no idea that various pieces of flesh were what was left of their Mom and Dad and consequently cried out for those now gone-forever individuals?

Is this troubling?

What if President Obama’s claim of few or no civilian deaths was proven false by well-documented reporting? And by the fact that most victims are targeted without even knowing their names?

What if a leading candidate for president in the past week were to both declare that the way to win a war is to start killing whole families, and stage a public Christian prayer session in order to win over a certain demographic of voters?

Is that bothering?

What if it became clear that police officers in the United States have been murdering people at a higher rate than drone pilots? Would you want to see police videos of their killings? Would you want to see drone videos of their killings? We have thus far gained limited access to the former and none to the latter.

What if it were discovered that gun murders in San Bernardino are almost routine. Would they all be equally tragic?

My point is not to cease caring about the tragedy that the television stations tell you to care about. I wish everyone would care 1,000 times more, and even better do something to take away the guns and the hatred and the culture of violence and the economic injustice and the alienation.

My point is that there are other tragedies that go unmentioned, including larger ones. And exploiting one tragedy to fuel hatred toward a large segment of the human population of earth is madness.

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Garzon Considers Stopping ISIS Financial Flows Crucial

Baltasar Garzon Considers Stopping ISIS Financial Flows Crucial

by Sandra Finley - The Battles

What is the importance of Garzon’s recent statement it's,
crucial that the financial and arms flows to ISIL be investigated“ ?

Two excerpts from 2015-11-22 Offshore Banking and ISIS.
The flow of money and weapons to ISIS is unlikely to be stopped because it would mean shutting down the offshore banking of the elites.
(causes of terrorism) Universally, the outcomes (of American interference in resource-rich countries to ensure access of American corporations to cheap oil, copper, labour, land, … ) are corruption of governance, the siphoning off of resource revenues, impoverishment of local people, poisoning of their environments, mobilization of local freedom fighters determined to protect their families and their land, growth of military – – “terrorism”.

Garzon is savvy. Behind his call for an investigation into where the money for ISIS is coming from (wow!):

2015-08-20 Spain’s campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzon, seeks change in law to prosecute global corporations. The Guardian


… the idea that economic and environmental crimes be considered crimes against humanity, akin to torture or genocide …

. . . This latest initiative will likely face serious political obstacles as well, said Garzón. “The problems will come when this initiative affects powerful countries, such as the United States, China or Israel,” he said. “But little by little the path will be paved.”

Garzon offers a non-violent tool for achieving the impossible. “Terrorism” will continue to grow unless we stop the appropriation of resources that do not belong to us, the destruction of other people’s environment and governance systems. Garzon’s proposal addresses the “at root” causes of terrorism.

His dogged determination means we have a torch to follow.

The following indicates Baltasar Garzon could use help spreading his message.

Blows my mind:

Media coverage of Garzon’s “crucial that the financial and arms flows to ISIL be investigated” will mention his past work for international justice. It will NOT mention his pursuit through the courts of “The Bush Six“. The picture painted: Garzon has pursued these bad guys in the world (e.g. Pinochet) and the gaping hole in the picture must be maintained – – do NOT indicate ANYTHING about his work that might cast us in a bad light.

Often, on-line “Comments” will point out such serious omissions. In this case they are critical for understanding why Garzon lost his judgeship in Spain, for one thing. I did a quick scroll-through of Comments and found not a peep about Garzon’s efforts vis-a-vis “The Bush Six”. But I suppose, the Commenters can’t see our own role, they are informed by the media and the media won’t mention it.

NOTE: “Excerpts” is now working. Clicking on Garzon will generate a list of the postings related to him with a short excerpt from each.

Solidarity with the Warriors
Baltasar Garzon

RELATED: Did you know?

2015-02-07 Russia leads initiative at UN to stop the flow of money to ISIS

You can bet that the propaganda machines are revving into high gear. There will be character assassinations of Russia, along with Garzon and Prime Minister J Trudeau who has mandated his Minister Responsible for Canada Revenue to work with the international community to shut down the illegal activity in the offshore banking of the elites. (see 2015-11-22 Offshore Banking and ISIS)

Any bets on whether the U.S. signs onto any UN initiatives to investigate offshore banking?

The Root of All Evils: Resources and Global Conflict

ISIS, Turkey and Oil - The Bigger Picture 

by James Stafford -

As the terrorist attack in Paris sparks worldwide fear of similar reprisals and a bloody shootout and hostage situation in a five-star Mali hotel exacerbates those concerns, global energy security reels under the pressure of unfathomable geopolitics.

In an exclusive interview with, Robert Bensh—managing director and partner at Pelicourt, a Western-owned oil and gas company navigating tricky conflict zones—discusses:

• The terrorist threat to global energy security
• What ISIS is really after
• The bigger oil picture for ISIS
• Why Iraq can’t cope
• Why Iraqi Kurdistan has disappointed
• Why loose and shifting alliances spell geopolitical disaster
• Whether it’s all as doom-and-gloom as it seems …

James Stafford: In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris and the shooting rampage and hostage situation at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, how are we supposed to understand the role of energy in this equation; or the threat to global energy security?

Robert Bensh: We don’t have to force a connection here. Every modern day conflict—even if not immediately evident—has at its heart control over resources from oil and gas to water. Religion is but a symptom; a tool used to consolidate opinions, cement power and lure in new recruits.

James Stafford: How significant a role does oil play in funding the Islamic State?

Robert Bensh: I think we have to look at this from a much broader angle. While ISIS is earning significant income from oil sales, keeping in mind that no one really has a true estimate of volumes, the more dangerous aspect of this is that we are well beyond the point at which this is a crazy group of jihadists running amok.

James Stafford: You’re speaking about their level of organization and overall capabilities?

Robert Bensh: Exactly. It’s not their short-term energy disruptions we should be as concerned about. The bigger picture is that ISIS is trying to build a nation here—a fully functional state with its own oil and gas resources. And one of the most important aspects of their plan is to strangle Iraq’s oil revenues in a concerted effort to reduce Baghdad’s capabilities to defend its territory. At this rate, ISIS could become the next member of OPEC.

James Stafford: Is Iraq even remotely equipped to deal with this threat?

Robert Bensh: The latest disintegration of the Iraqi state came with the war in 2003. The follow-on prime minister—Nouri Al-Maliki—largely destroyed national institutions that would have presented a challenge to his Shi’ite rule. The weakened state that emerged from this has not been able to effectively combat the forward push of ISIS. And while the Kurds in Northern Iraq were a fundamental line of defense for Baghdad, that too is eroding as the Kurds have allowed themselves to become mixed up in disruptive internal politics that will undo all the work made to date towards independence. That development is not sitting well with investors who put a lot of money into what appeared to be a very stable and forward-moving Iraqi Kurdistan.

James Stafford: How does Russia fit into this equation?

Robert Bensh: It’s all connected; and for the energy sector, it all reverberates globally. Less attention will now be paid to Russia’s activities in Ukraine in light of the terrorist attack in Paris and the fear that this has sparked off an extended playing ground for the jihadists. As this happens, it is interesting to watch Russia’s relations with Turkey, and the additional insecurity Turkey adds to the conflict in Syria. Turkey’s game of playing all sides in the balance of power game is difficult to sustain. The downing by Turkey of a Russian jet conducting air strikes over northern Syria is just the first move in the new phase of this game, and analysts should probably start looking at ISIS oil sales to Turkey in their examinations of why Turkey downed a Russian jet at a time when the Russians were specifically targeting ISIS-controlled oil facilities and tankers.

James Stafford: What can we expect from Turkey?

Robert Bensh: President Erdogan has now consolidated his power thanks to his victory in the recent parliamentary elections. This means a clear Turkish policy of regime change for Syria. This in turn will be taken advantage of by ISIS. ISIS has already taken great advantage of Turkey’s double game in the form of boosting Syrian and Iraqi Kurds to keep ISIS back but trying to encourage Kurdish disunity by simultaneously attacking the Turkish Kurds. This is diminishing the Kurds’ ability to fight ISIS and also creating a very dangerous situation on the Turkish-Syrian border and across into Southeastern Turkey, where oil interests will suffer significantly. Amid the melee, Russia has been launching air strikes against ISIS in northern Syria, too close to the Turkish border for Erdogan’s comfort.

James Stafford: How can oil and gas investors possibly navigate this geopolitical terrain?

Robert Bensh: They can’t. No one can. Alliances are very unclear, and shifting. No one has a clear strategy because it’s not just about containing the ISIS advance. It’s about WHO is containing the ISIS advance—even after Paris. Will a Turkish-American air strike combo be the one to kick ISIS out of northern Syria? Or will the Russians? At the end of the day, there is one additional, untapped energy resource to be considered—the Levant Basin. This is where Israel has made game-changing gas finds that will render it energy independent and much more powerful. This is where Lebanon will eventually start exploring, if its political standoff is ever resolved, and if ISIS doesn’t upset these plans. What is rarely talked about is Syria’s unexplored portion of this highly promising basin. Whoever ends up in power in Syria will end up with this—the longer game.

James Stafford: Is it all as doom-and-gloom as the mainstream media portrays it?

Robert Bensh: That is always a matter of perspective. It’s always important to remember that the Middle East has been in a state of conflict since time immemorial and most likely will be for our lifetimes. It reaches us today in different ways, through the proliferation of various globalized media sources. As such, it always seems to be on our doorstep. At the same time, this same globalization in many ways aids the proliferation of terrorism as a new form of conflict. Whether it is ‘doom-and-gloom’ is a matter of personal perception. But any way you look at it, these are dire straits out of which no government has a clear path.

James Stafford: What advice would you give investors today about venturing into the oil and gas sector outside of North America?

Robert Bensh: Only invest in management that has a certain geopolitical foresight. Oil and gas men tend to be short-sighted—like most other people. Just because you can make a play work in the U.S does not mean you will succeed in a foreign country in this day and age. Geopolitical insight is paramount to success, and while no one will have all the answers, good management will at least be prepared for a number of eventualities.

Remembering Grief on a Dying Planet

A missing item on the COP21 climate agenda: Grieving

by Robert Jensen - TeleSur

There’s an important item missing from world leaders’ agenda for the climate change summit underway in Paris: Grieving.

This 21st round of the U.N. Conference of Parties (COP21) hopes for an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hold the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That’s an ambitious goal, mocked by some as idealistic, but there’s nothing wrong with ambition yoked to ideals. Still, goals also must be realistic, consistent with the laws of physics and chemistry, and honest about the possibilities within, and the impediments created by, the world’s economic and political systems.

Here’s one of the toughest parts of those realities we have to grapple with: Even if leaders produce a serious agreement with enforcement mechanisms, we will not be living in the same kind of world in which people created those social systems. The consequences of human recklessness define our future.

Even if pledges for emission reductions being discussed by world leaders were to be achieved, we are going to see potentially catastrophic global warming by the end of this century, and likely far earlier. The scientific community’s consensus on climate change includes not only models about what likely will happen if we don’t curtail emissions, but the extent of the warming already locked in by past emissions and the intensifying effects of climate feedback loops.

And climate disruption is only one part of the story of ecological degradation. Predictions are a fool’s game, but look at any critical measure of the health of the ecosphere on which our lives depend—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Are we heading in the right direction?

Whether or not we want to confront any of this politically, many people have at least a visceral sense of what is coming. If we want to begin shaping a livable future, we should start grieving, collectively, for what we have lost and likely will lose. Grieving is not surrender but an acceptance of what can’t be changed and a commitment to what can be accomplished, within limits the ecosphere sets. We understand the importance of such grieving in personal contexts, when we lose loved ones, and now we need to apply it to the planet, together.

My friend Jim Koplin was the first person I knew who had faced these realities, decades ago, long before these crises were headline news. Jim was radicalized by the social movements of the 1960s and shaped by his rural roots in the dirt of the Depression-era farm on which he was born. As he focused on social justice, critiquing the domination/subordination dynamic at the heart of exploitation within the human family, he was increasingly more alarmed about the effects of humans’ attempts to dominate the larger living world.

Because he refused to turn away from reality, later in his life Jim confided to his friends, “I wake up every morning in a state of profound grief.”

Jim wasn’t unhappy with his life or depressed. His grief, not only for people suffering but also for the destruction of the living systems of the world, didn’t lead him to retreat. Until he died at 79, Jim was actively engaged in political projects, public education efforts, and community organizing. His capacity to face difficult truths was a source of strength, and so important to me that after his death I wrote a book about him, Plain Radical, offering his wisdom to those who never met him.

Jim helped me understand that there are no solutions to multiple, cascading ecological crises if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Even many tough-minded activists willing to challenge unjust concentrations of wealth and power are reluctant to let go of a commitment to this so-called “lifestyle,” which has not produced a culture of life but a kind of death cult, a society that values cheap pleasures and cheap toys more than healthy people and a healthy planet.

When we refuse to grieve for what is passing away, we are more likely to cling irrationally to ways of living that cannot be sustained. When we cannot acknowledge the deep sorrow of what is lost, we scramble to hide from the reality of the loss and perpetuate the illusion that we can continue on this course. That’s why a collective grieving process should be a priority for us all, helping us let go of the delusion that we can maintain unsustainable systems.

The technological fundamentalists—those who believe we can defy all limits and invent our way out of any crisis—will tell us we need to use our imaginations. I agree, but our task is not to imagine a narcissistic science-fiction future. A decent human future—perhaps the possibility of a human future at all—depends on our ability to imagine a new relationship to the larger living world.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, 2015). Jensen’s other books include Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. 

Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to Twitter: @jensenrobertw.

Chip Falls Far from the Block: Benn Plays Corbyn's Brutus on Syria Vote

Labour’s Pro-War Left: ‘Blairites’ Team-up with Cameron to Ram Through Syria Bombing Vote

by 21st Century Wire 

December 2, 2015

21st Century Wire says…

It was reminiscent of the eve of the Iraq War vote in 2003, when Tony Blair managed to scare enough Labour members into backing an illegal war in the Middle East.

A near replay of that scenario happened tonight in the UK Parliament.

Before the ink was even dry on the vote, the bait-and-switch tactics were already underway, with Tory Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond telling the public that Britain’s ‘Anti-ISIL’ bombing operation ‘could take years.’ During a segment from BBC Newsnight Hammond was asked if the bombing would last as long as four years, to which he replied, “I hope it won’t be four years, but I caution that it isn’t going to be months.”

Despite having no legal basis under international law, and no real case being made by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the vote passed 397 to 223 in favour of bombing Syria, effective at midnight.

Today’s decision gives warfare a green light, at least in terms of the UK’s new pro-war political coalition of convenience. It will almost certainly lead to additional calls for additional US and UK “boots on the ground” in both Syria and Iraq.

Leading the Labour Party rebellion was pro-war Labour MP, Hilary Benn (image, above), who appears to have seized on an opportunity to undermine Labour’s populist leader Jeremy Corbyn – perhaps in order for Benn to then challenge the leadership position himself in the near future? Time will tell, however it’s now common knowledge that Benn’s betrayal was done with Tories in Downing Street quietly cheering him on behind the scenes – in the hopes that the new split might rid Cameron of one of the last remaining prominent anti-war , pro-civil liberty and anti-austerity voices left in government.

If Benn used something as important as a war vote in order to grab power within his party, then the backlash will not be kind at all, especially if the Syria Project rapidly goes south, as many in the know predict it will.

The 66 Labour MPs who voted for airstrikes – Full list

According to the Press Assocation 66 Labour MPs voted for the government motion approving airstrikes.

They were: Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Dr Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Ironically, Hilary Benn MP is the son of Labour’s legendary anti-war activist and leader, Tony Benn, who recently passed away at the age of 89. Undoubtedly, Hilary Benn’s shrewd move to undercut his own party could leave a long sour taste in the mouths of his father’s faithful following. He will be regarded by many as a son who completely betrayed his father’s legacy as a brave voice for justice and nonintervention.

Indeed, Benn’s famous 23-year-old speech about Britain’s wars in the Middle East is still relevant today.

Let the bombing begin, but Westminster’s hawks should be warned that today’s Parliamentary decision could come back to haunt them – should they end up on the wrong side of history regarding Syria.

There’s a bigger agenda at play. Readers should know that this is all part of a step by step process in establishing a new EU Army.

Climate Technofixes and other "Negative Emissions" Myths

Climate Technofix: Weaving Carbon into Gold and Other Myths of "Negative Emissions"

by Rachel Smolker, PhD  - Independent Science News

When the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) published their most recent fifth assessment report, something surprising and deeply disturbing was lurking in the small print in chapter three on “mitigation”.

The IPCC revealed that to achieve even a recognizably normal future climate the models they reviewed relied on not only drastically reducing emissions in the future, but also on widespread use of some advanced technology that can remove some of the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.

In fact, most (101 of 116 models they reviewed to achieve 430-480 PPM stabilization) incorporated some sort of “negative emissions” technological fix (Fuss et al., 2014).

The terminology of “negative emissions” has now entered the jargon in climate negotiations currently underway in Paris. Yet such a technology is currently nonexistent. The only approach to sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere mentioned by the IPCC as “near term available” is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, commonly referred to as “BECCS” (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration).

BECCS involves producing biomass in massive amounts and either refining it into liquid biofuels (ethanol etc.) or burning it for electricity and heat, while also capturing the resulting CO2 emissions and burying them underground.

IPCC acknowledges that there are risks and uncertainties associated with large scale BECCS. But, while IPCC has remained scientifically rigorous in their assessments of the state of our climate (chapter one of the report), when it comes to assessing “mitigation” options (chapter three), scientific rigor appears to have fallen by the wayside in favor of economic wishful thinking. The fact is that no matter how costly or difficult it may be economically and no matter how difficult to make the models “work” to lay out a path to climate stabilization, embracing fantasy technofixes is a losing strategy. We already know that for both technical and economic reasons, BECCS can never achieve “negative emissions”. In fact, in a new report on BECCS, by Biofuelwatch refers to reliance on BECCS to clean up our climate mess as being roughly as dependable as counting on a visit from carbon sucking extraterrestrials from another planet.
The reality of BECCS

There are currently only a handful of operating commercial BECCS facility in existence, based at ethanol refineries, the most notable being the Archer Daniels Midland project in Decatur Illinois. These capture CO2 from fermentation, which is cheaper and easier than capturing CO2 from other processes because fermentation results in a relatively pure CO2 stream. The Decatur project is a proof of concept project for underground storage of CO2. However, its developers never claimed to provide “negative emissions” nor even to be “carbon neutral”. A few others sell the captured fermentation CO2 for industrial applications including soft drinks and enhanced oil recovery (see below).

Meanwhile, burning wood for industrial and commercial scale electricity and heat is the bioenergy process that is scaling up most rapidly, with co-firing of wood pellets in coal power plants. Industry and governments continue to claim that burning wood for electricity is renewable and “carbon neutral”. Hence they subsidize it alongside wind and solar, even though the CO2 emissions are generally much higher even than for coal per unit of energy generated. The notion that those emissions will be offset by regrowth of the trees and crops that are used has been refuted over and over again, yet still is not reflected in policies. Yet, if the process is not “carbon neutral” in the first place, it can never be rendered “negative” by carbon capture.

We also know full well by now that the demand for “biomass” and the associated land, water, fertilizers use etc. would be hugely destructive on a variety of fronts beyond greenhouse gas emissions – affecting food production, water, human rights and biodiversity. This is clear already at the current scale of bioenergy production.

BECCS is the bioenergy twin of “clean coal”, the carbon capture (CCS) technology that has been touted for years by the coal industry. So how has that worked out?

Carbon capture from fossil fuel processes, as from bioenergy, is expensive and energy intensive. Most attempts – almost all involving coal and natural gas, have encountered a multitude of technical problems and massive cost overruns. They have failed to operate efficiently if at all.

FutureGen, a demonstration “clean coal” plant, was intended to be a US showcase example of CCS technology. Somewhere around 200 million dollars of pubic funding were spent prior to cancellation in 2013. It was canceled in part because private investors wouldn’t chip in. They didn’t consider it viable, presumably because the technical and economic challenges were simply too great.

Another CCS “clean coal” project is in progress in Kemper, Mississippi. The facility will use lignite coal strip mined from an adjacent area of around 48 square miles. Costs were initially estimated at 1.8 billion but have so far ballooned to an astounding 6.17 billion. Even then, the facility is required only to “try” to capture CO2. If they fail, they won’t be held responsible. If they succeed, they have contracted to sell the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. The project is nevertheless still presented as “good for the climate”.

Last year SaskPower’s billion dollar Boundary Dam project, capturing CO2 from a coal plant came online amid massive hype and proclamations of success. However, recent release of internal documents:

“have not only shed light on the technical and financial problems with the plant but the political deception that has gone with it… A little over a year later, the hype about the purported environmental benefits and affordability of the Boundary Dam CCS plant have gone up in a puff of green smoke.”

CCS has been held up as the promise behind “clean coal” for decades. Yet a few weeks ago, after 22 years of lobbying for so-called “clean coal” and failing to produce a single speck of it, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity announced that they will scale back their lobbying efforts.

In “Carbon capture: Miracle machine or white elephant“, the Financial Times noted “Few technologies have had so much money thrown at them for so many years by so many governments and companies, with such feeble results.”

Even above and beyond the problems already mentioned, necessary infrastructure, such as pipelines, to handle captured CO2 and transport it to storage sites are not always conveniently available. Underground storage of CO2 is also questionable. Leaks are pretty much inevitable. A slow leak would release the CO2 back into the atmosphere, while catastrophic leaks from, say, an earthquake, could be lethal to surrounding populations as CO2 is deadly when concentrated.

Where carbon capture has been implemented (primarily in natural gas refinery operations), the costs are offset in part by selling the CO2 for “enhanced oil recovery”, that is: pumping compressed CO2 into depleted oil wells which forces more oil to the surface. But this is neither considered “sequestration” nor is it climate friendly. Quite the reverse.

Still, governments continue to dole out the cash for CCS projects. Doing so is viewed, politically, as “taking action” to reduce emissions. Energy companies on the other hand, have not invested significantly into BECCS or CCS. Governments, that is, we the taxpayers, are instead footing the bill for this endless nonsense.

None of this bodes well for a miraculous, rapid and effective scaling up of BECCS as climate savior. Just recently, DRAX, one of UK’s largest power companies, announced that they were abandoning their “White Rose” BECCS project. That project, sometimes billed as “carbon negative”, was to involve construction of a sizeable new coal plant (the first new plant in UK since 1972). DRAX was slated to receive millions in government subsidies for mixing wood pellets with coal and, in theory at least, capturing and burying some proportion of the CO2 emissions.

Now, as the Paris climate negotiations are just beginning, the UK announced they will altogether drop their promised “pioneering” funding competition for CCS.

Now what?

The idea that we can somehow remove CO2 from the atmosphere is highly appealing. But so far it is simply not possible, and BECCS, even if it existed and was affordable, could not achieve that. Nevertheless, polluting industries, with their slick PR machinery and near infinite budgets, stand prepared to hype whatever will allow them to maintain business as usual: whether it is clean coal, carbon neutral bioenergy, or negative emissions. These are the lies and false promises upon which we are expected to hang our hopes. In reality, they are pointless babble, smoke and mirrors designed to distract a public that is finally coming to recognize the causes and magnitude of the climate crisis but which still remains naively vulnerable to false hopes for a magical technofix.

As the Paris climate negotiations are underway, we bear witness the latest fad: “CO2 recycling”. Instead of putting serious attention to addressing the roots of the problem, we are encouraged to embrace an entrepreneurial and stylishly clever mindset that CO2 is no longer a “problem” but should instead be viewed as a valuable commodity! Why not make stuff from CO2 and sell it? We can profit from our own pollution!

Recently, “XPrize” announced a collaboration with the American energy company, NRG and the oil sands innovation alliance (Cosia) to provide a 20 million dollar bounty for development of a technology capable of making something of value from CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

But, recall the famous 3R’s of waste management? Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We learned that reuse and recycle only slightly postpone the approach into landfills: a blink of the eye in the lifetime of a plastic. As it turns out, reduce is really the key, it alone addresses the root of the problem. The same is likely to be true for CO2. The only seeming reason to make CO2 products dependent on the perpetuation of an unsustainable and polluting industry (to generate the CO2) is to keep the polluting industry alive.

This idea of CO2 recycling brings to mind the famous fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, In that story, the princess is commanded to spin straw into gold. A magical imp offers to assist her with this impossible task, but only if she promises to hand over her firstborn child to him. When her child is born, the imp offers that if she can only guess his name, she can keep her child. Happily, she succeeds.

Now we have the fossil fuel industry, XPrize backers representing some of the most atrociously polluting industries, and even some well intentioned people who genuinely, if naively, wish for a technofix to “solve the climate problem” demanding that we spin gold out of CO2 emissions if we want our children to have a decent future.

But we don’t actually have to play mind games with magical imps. We know of tried and true solutions to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Those include a global transition away from industrial agriculture and towards agroecology, good soil practices and the restoration of native ecosystems, including the halting of deforestation. Overall good stewardship of the land and nature would take us much farther towards healing the atmosphere, something that many, including organizations such as La Via Campesina (the peasant farmers), Global Forest Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network and indigenous peoples around the world have long fought for.

Those real solutions will not generate “renewable energy” or marketable products and therefore are not technically “negative emissions”. They do not rely on shiny new technofixes or pretend to “recycle” pollution. Importantly, they are not so amenable to monetization, corruption, or corporate monopolization. Hence they are rarely given more than lip service, and when they are, it is in the context of bringing them into the market, and providing offsets for polluters as in the case with forests and “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation” (REDD) and “Climate Smart Agriculture“.

What is needed more than ever is to see through the smoke and mirrors, stop providing massive funding for lifelines to the polluting industries and embrace the obvious and common sense solutions that are tried and true, and remain our best hope.

Fuss et al. (2014) Betting on negative emissions. Nature Climate Change 4: 850–853.

Rachel Smolker is Co-Director of Biofuelwatch

For more in-depth, see Biofuelwatch’s new report:
Last-ditch option or wishful thinking? Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.