Category Archives: Far East

the madness of King Donald is nothing new

On the day Trump was inaugurated as the 45th POTUS, I couldn’t help noticing something odd as the banner rolling at the bottom of BBC’s rolling news coverage momentarily froze. The letters B.R.E.A… had already scrolled left off the screen so we were left with a message that began …KING DONALD. Yes, imperial America has crowned the emperor it always wanted!

Unsurprisingly, the coronation of Trump caused many liberals and quite a few leftists to scratch their heads until their scalps were bleeding, such was the floundering search for answers. How on earth did this happen? Where did America suddenly go so wrong?

Such questions are perfectly good ones but ought to have been asked more than two decades ago. No useful answers can be gleaned when the inquiry begins with outright denial. The unpalatable fact is that America did not go off the rails all of a sudden about eighteen months ago, any more than its demise is the fault of the crafty Russians. America has been sick for a very, very long time and Trump is just the worst symptom so far.

It wasn’t Trump who attacked Iraq on a whim and slaughtered a million people. Nor did he first sanction the bombardment of Yemen now suffering the worst cholera outbreak in history.

It wasn’t Trump who opened Gitmo and the other ‘black sites’ where prisoners are held indefinitely in contravention to human rights and the Geneva Convention. Nor did he introduce ‘the free world’ to medieval throwbacks like extraordinary rendition (kidnap and torture), waterboarding (torture) and “rectal feeding” (torture and rape). And though soon after taking office he did direct the extrajudicial murder of American citizens, he was only following an earlier precedent set by Obama.

Trump is truly the heir and successor to Obama, who pursued the Afghan war into Pakistan, bombed the people of Libya to provide air cover for Islamist terrorists and future warlords, and expanded the “Global War on Terror” throughout the benighted continent (in his words “S-hole”) of Africa; who replaced torture with extrajudicial killings by drone attack, and who reneged on his promise to close Gitmo. But then, Obama was the fulfilment of Bush jr, who in turn should be prosecuted both for the illegal invasion of Iraq and for his gloating admission of America’s use of torture. Instead, Obama gave Bush his blessing and moved on.

Nor was Trump in office when the US covertly backed the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009 which saw the democratically elected leader President Manuel Zelaya ousted by a military takeover (that was Obama again), or when the White House provided support for the failed Venezuelan coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 (Bush jr.), Nor did Trump instigate the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11th 1973 (that was Nixon). Nor did he open the School of the Americas where during 1980s (especially under Reagan) Latin American despots trained their own thugs in torture techniques. He didn’t carpet bomb Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, nor has he yet used chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange against civilians (LBJ and Nixon). So it wasn’t Trump who made America sick, any more than it was simply Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, LBJ and Bush I and II combined. The rot set in long, long ago.

In fact US foreign policy has been unremittingly hawkish ever since it dropped atomic bombs on Japan at the end of the Second World War. Within a decade it was engaged in total war on the Korean Peninsula and had carried out clandestine regime change operations against the democratic governments of Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954). Regarding the Korean War, Gen. Curtis LeMay afterwards said:

“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too.”

Proudly he also boasted:

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?” 1

Today when Trump shakes his fist at Pyongyang, there is no context. North Korea remains part of Bush jr’s declared “axis of evil” and presumably we are expected to believe that its people still hate our freedoms.

But then such obvious continuity in US foreign policy is unsurprising once we turn our attention to the powers behind the throne. Let’s begin with the CIA which was formed under the National Security Act of 1947 as a peacetime, non-military intelligence agency. Under Eisenhower, the agency’s first civilian head, Allen Dulles, worked alongside Secretary of State and rabid anti-Communist brother John Foster Dulles, and began with the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran and of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. The toppling of Árbenz was done on behalf of the United Fruit Company for whom Allen Dulles was on the company’s board of directors, and brother John had worked as a lawyer. Allen Dulles remained in charge of US intelligence until 1961 when he was forced to resign after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He was then succeeded by John McCone who continued the policy of coups and assassinations in the Dominican Republic, Laos, Ecuador, British Guiana and, more famously, against Castro in Cuba.

Later, when America made its second “pivot to Asia” in the 70s, it was Henry Kissinger who operated as the invisible hand behind Nixon’s dirty wars in Indochina. Shortly afterwards Kissinger turned those same genocidal talents to organising campaigns of state terror carried out throughout Latin America. Guilty of so much bloodshed, Kissinger is another who should be prosecuted for war crimes but instead at the age of 94 he now lingers like a putrid smell, visiting Trump twice already ‘to provide advice’ to the Oval Office.

Back in May, Kissinger met for a “bizarre unscheduled meeting” the day after Trump fired FBI Director, James Comey, and more recently in mid-October Kissinger popped by again. On this occasion the old warmonger told journalists “I’m here at a moment when the opportunity to build a constructive, peaceful world order is very great.” 2

When Kissinger talks about peace and the construction of a “world order” we have good cause to be alarmed. Investigative journalist, Philip Giraldi, a former intelligence officer in the CIA and founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), wrote in 2007 a detailed piece published by antiwar.com entitled “Henry Kissinger: Realist, or Neocon?” Giraldi says:

Kissinger is reported to be a frequent visitor to the White House, most particularly to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, and has been a driving force to confront Iran. According to at least one source, he is the principal architect of the new policy to create a regional alliance of Arab states opposed to Iran while at the same time increasing direct pressure on the government in Tehran. President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have adopted another recommendation from Kissinger that in effect abandons the “freedom agenda” for Iraq and the Arab Middle East in favor of focusing on Iran as a strategic menace to the entire region. The shift in emphasis means that during Bush’s last year there will be a major effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge using whatever means are necessary. As diplomacy so far has consisted of shouting matches staking out adversarial positions, the only options that would be viewed as viable by the White House are military in nature. 3

Click here to read Giraldi’s full article.

America’s foreign policy has never been the preserve of the Commander-in-Chief but driven from behind by the Dulles brothers, Kissinger Associates, and now the neo-con faction who moved in to the White House under Ford – the first man appointed Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment, and the only person to have served as both Vice President and President without being elected to either office. The self-appointed neo-cons took complete charge of US foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and have effectively never moved out.

Tom Lehrer famously quipped that “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize”. 4 So where is satire now that Obama has been made a fellow peace laureate? Where is it now that the incumbent US President talks of America being “locked and loaded” and retweets obscene fascist propaganda?

That said King Donald is the emperor without any clothes whatsoever. For his presidency represents the final unmasking of American imperialism. The Palestinians have long known that US peacemaking was a farce. Most Iranians knew it too. For North Koreans the war against America never ended in the first place. Now finally, we can all laugh out loud whenever America says it comes to broker peace.

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Update:

In an article entitled “Trump Isn’t Unique” published the next day [Tuesday 16th] by Counterpunch, Ted Rall extends the same point and applies it to all of the presidents in American history beginning with George Washington, including Lincoln and FDR, and then finishing with Obama.

Rall writes:

Folks are already saying: “Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.” Obama, most Democrats have already forgotten, broke his promise to try for a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He went on languid vacations while the global economy was collapsing, handed trillions to bankers no strings attached and did nothing to help the unemployed and people whose homes were stolen by the banks. And he slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians with drones — people who represented zero threat to anyone — just for fun.

If that’s a great president, give me a shitty one.

Click here to read the full article.

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1 From Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals (1988). https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Curtis_LeMay

2 From a transcript published in an article entitled “Henry Kissinger to President Trump: This Is ‘A Moment When The Opportunity To Build A Constructive, Peaceful World Order Is Very Great” written by Tim Hains, published in Real Clear Politics on October 10, 2017. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/10/10/henry_kissinger_to_president_trump_this_is_a_moment_when_the_opportunity_to_build_a_constructive_peaceful_world_order_is_very_great.html

3 From an article entitled “Henry Kissinger: Realist, or Neocon?” written by Philip Giraldi, published in antiwar.com on September 11, 2007. http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2007/09/11/henry-kissinger-realist-or-neocon/

4 Reported in an article entitled “Stop clapping, this is serious” published in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 1, 2003. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/02/28/1046407753895.html

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Iran, Korea (North and South), USA

NATO, the EU, and peace in our time…?

In 2003, the British government published a Defence White Paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Chapter 3 was headed “Further Requirements for Defence”; it opens as follows:

There are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO – but the threat from proliferation and international terrorism remains very real and in the worst case could result in serious casualties and significant disruption to the national economy and our way of life. 1

[bold emphasis added]

However, more recently, following Nato’s deployment of thousands of troops to the Baltics and Poland, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defended his decision telling German newspaper Bild, “[it] is an appropriate response” to Russia’s “aggressive actions”:

“We want to show our partners that we are there when they need us. And we want to show potential attackers that we react when they threaten us.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

To understand this extraordinary and troubling volte-face from “no major conventional threats” (2003) to the current ‘new Cold War’ hostilities and Russia singled out as a “potential attacker”, it is helpful if we retrace the steps just a little further again. Back to the early ’90s as the rubble of the Berlin Wall lay strewn and the dust had barely settled.

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Nato’s chequered retreat

Once the Cold War ended (officially at least), Nato’s raison d’être was inevitably thrown into question. If it was to re-establish its role in the world, then it urgently needed to rediscover a purpose. The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the ongoing civil war between the republics perfectly served these ends. Nato became the peacemaker.

With UN Security Council Resolution 816 calling for the enforcement of “a no-fly zone” over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nato entered the conflict in April 1993. For the first time in its history, it was directly engaged in combat. (Note the bold highlight – it will be repeated later.)

The Bosnian War (1992–1995) happened during an unprecedented period of modern history. In the immediate wake of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War, anti-imperialist voices were at their weakest. Consequently, with anti-war opposition stifled, there was almost nothing by way of countervailing analysis or commentary.

By the time of the Kosovo War (1998–1999), the silencing of dissent became more intense again. The proclaimed success of Nato’s earlier intervention ending the Bosnian War with the negotiated settlement of the Dayton Accords had engendered an atmosphere in which anti-war sentiment had been completely marginalised and opposition voices were quiescent.

As in Bosnia, Nato’s campaign in Kosovo was presented as a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that pre-Iraq and -Libya did not possess such a deathly, hollow ring. It was a propaganda line that would be adopted as an article of faith, particularly, it seemed, within ranks of the liberal left. And those who protested too loudly against the bombing were judged to be appeasers – there was little outcry at the time.

One journalist who spoke up against the official narrative was John Laughland. The following extract is taken, however, from a later article published in 2007 by the Guardian: it is Laughland’s response to the now largely forgotten verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after it ruled that Serbia was not guilty of the massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. 3

In the piece, Laughland challenges some of the half-truths that had inculpated the Serbs and their leader, “the Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milošević:

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade [Milošević] failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence? 4

Click here to read John Laughland’s full article.

This is Noam Chomsky, another critic of the Kosovo war, answering questions regarding the guilt or otherwise of Milošević and the Serbian forces:

Investigative journalist John Pilger was another who spoke out strongly at the time and continues to do so now:

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes. 5

Click here to read John Pilger’s latest article [August 23rd] in full.

For an alternative perspective on Nato and the West’s involvement in the breakup of Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, I also recommend Boris Malagurski’s controversial Canadian documentary The Weight of Chains which is embedded below – although the style is light, the content is serious and, on the whole, well-documented:

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The West’s about-turn

But then came the attacks of September 11th, which presented the Nato alliance with a fresh threat – purportedly of existential proportions. Overnight, everything was changed. Indeed, on September 12th, Nato met in emergency session and, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 5  of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

The “Global War on Terror” was thereby launched with Nato at the helm, although during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF-A), of course, only America and Britain sent out forces to overthrow the Taliban. The other Nato allies looked on and waited. Meanwhile, Canadian and US forces were jointly mobilised under Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) around the North American continent.

It was later, in October 2003, under the mission title International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Nato forces stepped fully into the fray. Here is how BBC news had then reported the story:

Nato is repositioning itself for a future as a key force in the “war on terror”, according to its US ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

The organisation has been struggling to define its role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat from which was the basis of its foundation. […]

Questions have been asked about Nato’s role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the alliance intervened in Kosovo, it did not formally operate in the military campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  […]

“Nato’s purpose is to be on the front lines, to fight the war on terrorism for Europeans, and for Americans and Canadians.

“That’s where we’ve turned the organisation, that’s how we’ve transformed it over the last two years.”

In particular, Mr Burns stressed the role the newly-established rapid response force would play.

The force is designed to be able to deploy within days to anywhere in the world if needed, with between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.

Mr Burns refuted suggestions that it would merely be a tool of American foreign policy. 6

[bold emphasis in original]

A decade on and, after the 2014 Wales Summit, that same Nato Response Force (NRF) has been enhanced with the formation of a “spearhead force” or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) within it. And the prime target is no longer “terror”, but Russia instead (already by 2014, history had turned full circle):

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO agreed the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. This is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. The RAP addresses risks and threats from the east and the south. […]

Due to the changed security environment on NATO’s borders, the RAP includes ‘assurance measures’ for NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, reinforce their defence and deter potential aggression. 7

This is taken from Nato’s official release on its Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and note that references to Russia remain oblique throughout – although you certainly don’t need to be a mind-reader to understand the real message, which goes on as follows:

To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the first six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – were inaugurated in Central and Eastern Europe. Two more NFIUs are being set up in Hungary and Slovakia. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters is being set up.

And whereas Nato (at least in their public documents) are timid when it comes to mentioning the name of their latest (and oldest) enemy, the closely-affiliated think tank Atlantic Council  is altogether brazen:

Firstly, the VJTF’s size does not pose a credible deterrent to Russia, particularly with regard to the Baltic States, which are widely viewed as the flash point for any potential NATO-Russia confrontation. Russia has undertaken massive impromptu military exercises involving up to 100,000 troops along its borders with the Baltic States. It would be difficult for a NATO force of 5,000 to deter Russia from afar. […]

The VJTF should be high on the agenda of the Alliance’s seminal Warsaw Summit in July, and for good reason. Russia has become emboldened by its military forays in Ukraine and Syria. In the unlikely event it sets its sights on NATO territory next, NATO must ensure its spearhead force is sharp enough to respond. 8

Likewise, following a meeting of Nato ministers of defence last February, Nato released this more coded announcement:

“NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The enhanced forward presence will be “multinational, to make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” he stressed. 9 [bold highlight added]

Stoltenberg is thus invocating Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – Nato’s call to arms.

In short then, the “War on Terror” has allowed Nato’s existence to be kept on ice. Ready for when the Cold War could begin again in earnest.

*

Nato and the EU pincer

At last month’s Warsaw summit [on July 8th], Nato issued a official joint declaration with the EU for the first time in its history. The declaration begins:

We believe that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

Continuing:

Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is facing unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and East. Our citizens demand that we use all ways and means available to address these challenges so as to enhance their security.

Now let us unpick this opening statement. Firstly, notice the fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy. After all, “our citizens” did not get a vote on the actions of the long-standing Nato-EU strategic partnership and we certainly have no say whenever it comes to Nato’s long-standing meddling in “the South and East”.

In fact, contrary to this official statement, “the Euro-Atlantic community” (presuming this uncertain label attaches to the people of Europe and America) has been consistently opposed to the post-9/11 spate of wars. Our only consistent and clear demand having been for a cessation to hostilities. Yet in spite of the wishes of the “Euro-Atlantic” majority, a perpetual “Global War on Terror” is ravaging Central Asia, the Middle East and (though rarely if ever reported upon) many territories in North Africa. This extended warzone – reduced in the Nato-EU lexicon to ‘the East and the South’ – involves multiple interconnected battles which spill over into each other causing incalculable misery to some of the poorest people on earth, and very much to the detriment of our own western security.

We read on:

The substantial cooperation between NATO and the EU, unique and essential partners, established more than 15 years ago, also contributes to this end.

In light of the common challenges we are now confronting, we have to step-up our efforts: we need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition; because our security is interconnected; because together we can mobilize a broad range of tools to respond to the challenges we face; and because we have to make the most efficient use of resources. A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing. Together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond. [bold emphasis added]

This post-Brexit statement signed by Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk, and Secretary General of Nato, Jens Stoltenburg, is all about a deepening collaboration between the two organisations. An arrangement that, amongst other things, will involve “Facilitat[ing] a stronger defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic.”

Is this the same EU that proponents say brings peace in our times?

*

James Baker’s booby trap

For those puzzled by the relationship between Nato and the EU, here are a few vital statistics – encyclopaedic background details. Firstly, the EU and Nato individually comprise 28 member countries. Of these countries, 22 are joint members of both bodies. A club of nations including many that once fell behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, plus the formerly occupied Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 10

As Soviet satellites under Moscow’s thumb, these states were once the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. Today there is no buffer.

And here is another piece of the historical geostrategic jigsaw, albeit a forgotten one – at least in the West – that Nato membership of every one of these former Eastern Bloc countries is in contravention to Western promises made shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall; a deal (declared though never formally signed) that if Russia acceded to the reunification of Germany then the old Eastern Bloc would remain non-aligned:

What the US secretary of state [James Baker] said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” 11

The West’s double-dealing, though a dusty footnote in the West, is very well-remembered in Russia. The loss of twenty-four million lives during the Second World War (one third of the total fatalities) gives Russians good reason to fear an invasion – especially one from the west – its concerns about Nato’s eastward expansion are perfectly understandable.

*

Encirclement

During the last seven decades of the post-war nuclear age, a fragile peace held out. Just. As much, if not more, by sheer luck than judgement. Indeed, our world very narrowly escaped all-out thermonuclear obliteration on numerous occasions – two of the best known incidents remembered in an earlier post. Here is a more detailed overview titled “Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew” written by Gunnar Westberg and published in Counterpunch.

We did not need hindsight to see that the first Cold War was an era of astonishing madness, but with the aid of hindsight we do know that the madness itself was premised on a wholly non-existent threat of Soviet invasion. The Kremlin had no plans to launch an attack and there never had been a “missile gap” of any kind. Instead, the USSR was mainly preoccupied with quelling dissent amongst its own downtrodden population (or crushing those desperate to flee the occupation of its Eastern Bloc satellites).

Yet, in spite of the lack of an authentic communist threat, the superpowers repeatedly went to the brink of Armageddon, and had it not been for the remarkable courage and cool-headed reason of (at least) two men (both Russians – or, more accurately, Soviets) who held their nerve during moments of extreme crisis, there would be little that remains of our wonderful and shared European heritage besides a few smouldering mounds of rubble.

So what of Russia today? Is it planning to invade the West? Let us consider the evidence as dispassionately as we can.

Eighteen months ago it was widely reported (and believed by most in the West) that Russian battalions and, even more crucially, columns of tanks had begun crossing into Eastern Ukraine. At one point, Poroshenko held up Russian passports as evidence – there were six. 12 The principle claims, however, turned out to be completely bogus, though retraction by our media has been understandably muted. Russia did not invade Ukraine, and there is literally no evidence that it had any intention of doing so. (Crimea was not invaded, and though the territory was annexed following a referendum that was never legally sanctioned, the majority of Crimeans evidently welcomed the return of their territory to Russia – the reason there was no bloodshed.)

It is undeniable that Russia has covertly aided the ‘rebels’ in Eastern Ukraine (or the ‘separatists’ – both labels are propagandistically skewed and there is no absolutely neutral alternative), just as America has provided military assistance to Kiev. However, when the ‘rebels’ held a referendum of their own, the Russians ignored the results. They preferred not to be dragged directly into a war with Kiev. Meanwhile, while some Russians did indeed cross the border to fight, so did many westerners – individuals in fact joined the armed factions on both sides in the conflict.

Perhaps more revealing was Russia’s judicious response when Turkey shot down one of its jet fighters flying close to the Syrian border last winter. Was their jet violating Turkish airspace? The Russians said it didn’t; the Americans said it did – no evidence was ever released to prove the Russians guilty:

Either way, if Russia was wishing to spark a wider war, then what better provocation could The Kremlin find? In refraining from a retaliatory strike, however, Russia was careful to avoid a potential tripwire and an escalation into a full-blown war against a Nato member.

By contrast we have recently seen Nato forces, with the EU’s mutual aid and consent, engaged in one of the largest military exercises since the end of the first Cold War:

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large numbers of vehicles, aircraft and ships will be deployed in one of the biggest exercises on NATO’s eastern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put further strain on the already-tense relations between the Kremlin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 exercise, which includes manoeuvres such as a night-time helicopter assault and the dropping of US paratroopers to build a temporary bridge over the Vistula river, is being held one month before a NATO summit in Warsaw that will approve more troops to be stationed in eastern Europe. 13

Stretched out for 450 miles across the length of Poland, more than 30,000 troops from 24 nations played out war games on Russia’s borders. These forces actually included German tank divisions; the first to move in sight of Russia’s border since 1941. According to The Independent article quoted above, this sent out a “clear message to Russia”.

Is there also a clue in the name of this “clear message” too? After all, an anaconda is a snake, but not just any old snake, the largest snake in the world – and it kills its prey by constriction.

At the same time, Nato formally switched on the first stage of its $800 million state of the art “missile defence” shield in Romania and broke the ground on a sister site in Poland. Ostensibly to protect Europe against Iranian nukes, which are, of course, non-existent, the system is rather blatantly directed against Russia’s security. Understood in terms of the twisted but unavoidable logic of nuclear deterrence, this becomes a far greater provocation than mere tanks rolled up to the Russian border. For if Russia’s deterrent is effectively defused, then, rendered defenceless, Russia is de facto under attack.

Indeed, to better navigate the geopolitical landscape of today, rather than hastily dismissing the Russian outlook as deeply paranoid (as we are encouraged to view it), we might try to step into their shoes for a moment. Suppose, for instance, a potentially hostile power – let’s say China – deployed thousands of troops to Ireland. Would Britain raise any concern? Or suppose China built bases in Mexico… there are none but that doesn’t stop the howls of red scare rumour-mongering. And we do not even need imagine the response were Russia to install its latest “regional missile defence system” in Cuba… Another missile crisis, anyone?

But then, Russia is routinely portrayed as the aggressor by the western media, so now consider these further incontestable facts:

Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. 14

On July 6th Sibel Edmonds’ alternative outlet ‘Newsbud’ broadcast a discussion with Montenegrin author, political activist and university professor, Filip Kovacevic, who had recently authored a piece published by ‘BoilingFrogsPost’  in which he analyses “The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg”.

Here Kovacevic explains why he believes Nato’s influence is undergoing serious decline, and the danger this poses of more widespread international conflict:

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America über alles

The Russian army can outgun British troops on the battlefield, according to a shock Ministry of Defence report.

So begins a flabbergasting article even by Daily Mail standards entitled perhaps even more hilariously “Shock Ministry of Defence report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield… [blah, blah, blah]”

This same piece continues:

The leaked assessment warns that rocket launchers and other weapons at Moscow’s disposal were superior to ours – while its mastery of electronic warfare technology was ‘game changing’. 15

Well, I say “blah, blah, blah” although the headline actually reads “… as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin”.

If true, then surely that represents a move to the good? Or is the Daily Mail and the MOD proposing that Britain might one day wish to test its relative might on the battlefield against Russia?

The peace we have enjoyed in Europe is becoming extremely fragile again. Outside Europe, after two decades of sustained neo-imperialist adventuring, we have destroyed lives and devastated ancient civilisations, spreading only chaos and pandemonium. The havoc we have wrecked is certainly coming back to haunt us, both directly and indirectly. But far more dangerous to the West is the immediate threat we pose to Russia. If Russia fights back, then everything is lost.

To prevent the unthinkable, there has to be a rollback. Our perpetual meddling in “the South and East” is already generating a crisis close to Russia’s borders. If this meddling moves along to Iran (as is being mooted again), then Russia will be directly drawn into conflict against the West.

Equally pressing, however, is the requirement to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. Sanctions historically are a precursor to war, but surely even the biggest warmongers cannot seriously contemplate war with Russia. So why inflict such counterproductive damage on our own European economies when this tactic of isolation achieves nothing except to serve the vested interests of neo-cons in Washington? There has to be rapprochement with Russia.

With relations between Russia and Europe (or, better still, the West) restored, the resolution of many conflicts and international disputes becomes foreseeable again. It also becomes possible to end the overwhelmingly dire threat of thermonuclear exchange, accidental or otherwise. Such a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament could and should have happened long ago – shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the official ending of Cold War hostilities. Instead, as we know, Nato and the West opportunistically pressed eastward.

Nato was inaugurated to confront a perceived communist threat – a threat, largely imagined, that has since been vanquished altogether. In light of this irreversible change in international relations, Nato’s dissolution ought thereafter to become a final peacetime objective. For what function does Nato serve in any truly post-Cold War world? To ensure its own survival it will always look for enemies elsewhere.

In an extended piece recently published in The Atlantic arguing the case for Nato, former Fulbright Professor of Political Science at Moscow State University and ardent globalist, Ira Straus, writes candidly that:

The main, but unstated, reason the U.S. has troops in Europe nowadays is not for the defense of Europe but because it is a cheaper, more convenient location for getting to the Mideast than the continental U.S. It costs us more, not less, when we keep all our troops at home.

We have an irrationally small number of troops in Europe today (64,000). It would be cheaper for us if we put three times as many of our troops in Europe.

Under the heading “The [American] people support NATO as a plus for American power, and they’re right”, Straus continues:

Most people have the common sense to support their own society and their own power. NATO is the greatest extension that America has in the world. It is a kind of Greater America (and so is its informal additional wing in the Pacific). Trump likes American greatness and building big. This is the place for it.

The Alliance is what has preserved America’s greatness no matter how weak or incompetent its leaders. 16

So yes, Nato is “a kind of Greater America” although in reality they operate together as a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ team. America lost its reputation long ago and is less squeamish about getting its hands bloodied. Nato generally turns up afterwards and mops up.

Meanwhile, the more soft-spoken but firm Atlanticist alliance between Nato and the EU, with neighbouring HQs in Brussels and joined-at-the-hip foreign policy agendas (EU foreign policy is totally reliant on Nato), has also been instrumental in expanding post-9/11 Western influence militarily into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, throughout many other regions of North Africa, into Syria, and within Ukraine. And whatever the EU may have dreamed of becoming — no matter how many Nobel Peace Prizes it receives! — it is no longer tenable to claim that it is in the business of making peace.

Ties between the EU and Nato ought now to be loosened rather than strengthened, as is actually happening. Last month’s joint statement supplying further proof, if any were needed, that the EU is really just a different arm of our aggressively expanding military-industrial complex:

A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

Is this the Europe we were hoping to build?

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 Additional:

Afshin Rattansi spoke with John Pilger in an extended interview broadcast on RT’s Going Underground on August 31st. The subjects covered included the last days of the Obama presidency, the race between Sanders, Clinton and Trump, and the looming threat of global conflict. Pilger says:

“The United States is in a frenzy of preparation for conflict of some kind. And conflict of some kind can lead to war of the real kind – against China and against Russia – on two fronts. The greatest build-up of forces since the Second World War has happened in Eastern Europe and in the Balkan states.” [from 9:00 mins]

“The full American so-called “interest” has gone to a country [Ukraine] that means ‘borderland’ and through which the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early 1940s at the cost of something like 27 million lives. Imagine – and this is something that we’re not allowed to imagine – imagine the equivalent in the United States. The border with Mexico. The border with Canada. Well, we can imagine it because it happened when the Russians unwisely put missiles into Cuba, and we almost had then World War III.

“But I think what is striking in a country like the United States which has constitutionally the freest media in the world. These war preparations against Russia and against China have not been mentioned. A great silence covers them.

“When China is mentioned it’s about its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It’s very interesting to see how the American public is being primed to accept so-called “aggressive moves” by China when in fact they are clearly defensive moves. The United States has something like 400 major bases encircling China like a great noose. Well, actually it’s an arc: it starts in Australia, it goes all the way through Asia – the Philippines (where they’re back – were thrown out a few years ago, but they’re back now), Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Looking straight at Shanghai is Okinawa. Okinawa has 32 American military installations. Japan has 130 in all. Okinawa is interesting – it’s about the size of Long Island. If you imagine Long Island as a Chinese base looking straight at New York, that’s the equivalent. [from 10.50 mins]

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1 From a 2003 British government white paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”, Ch3, p. 11. http://archives.livreblancdefenseetsecurite.gouv.fr/2008/…/whitepaper2003.pdf  

2 From an article entitled “Jens Stoltenberg: NATO troop deployment right response to aggressive Russia”, written by Hanne Cokelaere, published in Politico.eu on June 6, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/jens-stoltenberg-nato-troop-deployment-right-response-to-aggressive-russia/ 

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THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide. […]

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by Bosnia.

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.

From an article entitled “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide” written by Marlise Simons, published in The New York Times on February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/world/europe/27hague.html?ref=world&_r=0

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Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

From an article entitled “Lies of the vigilantes” written by John Laughland, published in the Guardian on February 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/28/warcrimes.balkans

5 From an article entitled “Provoking nuclear war by media” written by John Pilger, published on August 23, 2016. http://johnpilger.com/articles/provoking-nuclear-war-by-media

6 From an article entitled “Nato turns to terrorism fight” published in BBC news on October 18, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3201578.stm

7 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

8 From an article entitled “It’s Time to Sharpen NATO’s ‘Spearhead’ Force” written by Robbie Gramer, published by the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/it-s-time-to-sharpen-nato-s-spearhead-force

9 From an article entitled “NATO boosts its defence and deterrence posture” published by Nato on its official website on February 10, 2016. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127834.htm

10 28 NATO member countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

28 EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

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Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

From an article entitled “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” written by Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe, published in Der Spiegel on November 26, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

12 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31206434

13 From an article entitled “NATO allies launch largest military exercise since end of Cold War in clear message to Russia” written by Wiktor Szary, published in The independent on June 6, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anakonda-16-nato-allies-launch-largest-military-exercise-since-end-of-cold-war-in-poland-in-clear-a7068141.html

14 From an article entitled “Baiting the bear: Russia and Nato” written by Conn Hallinan, published in Counterpunch on May 4, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/04/baiting-the-bear-russia-and-nato/

15 From an article entitled “Shock Ministry of Defense report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin” written by James Tapsfield, published by the Daily Mail on August 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3732828/Russian-forces-defeat-battlefield-shock-Ministry-Defence-report-warns.html

16 From an article entitled “Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?” written by Nicholas Clairmont, published in The Atlantic on August 23, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/natos-a-deal/496952/  

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Japan’s ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan on how Fukushima changed his mind about nuclear power

It is little more than three years since the Tōhoku earthquake devastated the northeast of Japan in 2011. The most powerful earthquake Japan has ever experienced (fifth biggest in the world since records began) triggered a massive tsunami which caused widespread destruction of nearby houses and infrastructure as well as the immediate deaths of more than 15,000 people. The tsunami also resulted in the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant with meltdown of three of its six reactors and a number of explosions – the largest in the Reactor 3 building blowing off the roof and producing a huge radioactive plume. Fukushima is a disaster that, although rarely making it into the news, is ongoing.

To mark this third anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima disaster, on Tuesday last week [March 11th] Democracy Now! devoted the full show to an exclusive interview with Naoto Kan, Japan’s Prime Minister at the time, who says Fukushima “was definitely the largest, most severe of all nuclear disasters, including going above Chernobyl”, but that in the worst-case scenario it could have been a hundred times more serious:

[A]t the Daiichi plant, there are six reactors and seven spent fuel pools. And then, 12 kilometers from there, at the Daini, the second Fukushima nuclear power plant, there are four additional reactors and four spent fuel pools, meaning that when you combine both Daiichi and Daini together, there’s 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools altogether. And if we were to lose control of all of this, it would mean that the accident, the disaster, could be on a scale of many tens or even hundred times more radioactive materials being released than what happened at Chernobyl. And so, thinking about this made me also think about the risk of the possibility that maybe even areas including Tokyo might need to be evacuated. […]

And within this scenario, it said that the worst case could mean having to evacuate up to a 250-kilometer radius of the area… [and] that would involve 40 percent of the population of the whole country of Japan.

This greater crisis has so far been averted, but meanwhile the damaged reactors continue to leak, polluting the air and the ocean, whilst the threat of a worse disaster will persist until the spent fuel rods can be safely removed. This is itself an extraordinarily complex and hazardous procedure involving novel technical challenges.

A small army of engineers and volunteers – including, most deplorably, many recruited from the ranks of Japan’s homeless population (see this article from The Independent) – are also there to help with decontamination of the site. While, and for obvious reasons, the surviving reactors at Fukushima need to be decommissioned too. The operation, not of saving, but merely ameliorating the level of radioactive pollution still being released by the crippled plant, as well as maintaining today’s precarious though stable conditions means extraordinary costs not only in economic terms, but human terms as well. Sustained efforts which will have to go on indefinitely.

Advocates of nuclear power sometimes claim that since the disaster at Fukushima was a result of an almost unprecedented natural disaster, we should not be too alarmed by nuclear plants closer to home. The reactors were old, they point out, and poorly maintained. In the days after the disaster, one prominent environmentalist, whose name does not need repeating here, went so far as to inform the world that the limited failure of the Daiichi plant had led to his own road to Damascus conversion: immediately after the disaster, he wrote, “The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.” It is perhaps worth noting that the person in question resides in Wales not Japan.

There are a number of points here. The most glaring being that many of the reactors still in operation around the world are equivalently old-fashioned – and very likely no better maintained than those at Daiichi. At the time of the disaster, the reactors at Fukushima were between thirty and forty years old. As you can see from the chart below (based on the latest information from the IAEA), more than fifty of the world’s 435 reactors are now forty or more years old with over half constructed more than thirty years ago:

But it is also important to understand why the reactors at Fukushima failed at all. All had survived the earthquake intact and were then successfully shutdown, however at Daiichi the core temperature inside the reactors continued to rise when the cooling systems stopped working. It was this breakdown of the cooling systems, in turn due to an electrical blackout and loss of backup generators, that caused the meltdowns. So, the disaster at Fukushima shows how reactors – including ones located in areas less prone to natural disasters – might become vulnerable in the event of a major and long-lasting power outage. Click here to read more on this in a report published by the Huffington Post entitled “Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors”.

Perhaps of still greater concern is the staggering fact that there are many nuclear plants throughout the world – including a further six in Japan – also built very close to active geological fault-lines. In the case of the Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, an active fault runs directly beneath one of its reactors.

Prior to the disaster, Naoto Kan had also been strongly in favour of nuclear power. Shortly afterwards, and whilst holding the office of Prime Minister (he later resigned in August), Kan altered his opinion:

Before March 11 and the disaster, I was holding the position that if the safety could be ensured, then we should continue to utilize nuclear power, nuclear power plants. But, as you [interviewer Amy Goodman] said, this position changed. The Fukushima disaster brought us on the verge of having to evacuate 50 million people, and we were only just one small step away from perhaps facing this kind of situation… the one way to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk, to get rid of the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change [my] position, that the only way to do this, what was necessary to do this, was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.

In the second half of the interview, Naoto Kan was also asked to account for his own actions in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. For instance, why had he ordered the TEPCO employees to remain on the site? This was his response:

Well, the first thing which happened at 3:00 a.m. on March the 15th, the minister for the economy came to my office, came to me, and he said that the TEPCO headquarters had requested to him for the workers from the Daiichi site to be withdrawn from their positions. However, then considering what would happen on the site if all of TEPCO’s technicians from on site were withdrawn, considering the fact that there were six reactors and four spent fuel pools at the Daiichi site itself, this would mean the potential of being—losing control completely of this whole site. Even if the Self-Defense Forces, for example, were sent into the location, sent into the site, of course, they are not trained to deal with nuclear operations.

So, with no TEPCO staff, no TEPCO technicians on site, this would, in effect, mean actually abandoning all of these six reactors and seven pools on the Daiichi site, which would mean in turn that the worst-case scenario could actually become reality. And so, despite the, of course, huge risk that was there, I decided that it was very important to keep the technicians and the TEPCO workers on site for as long as possible to try and deal with the situation.

And why such a slow response from the Japanese authorities, with his government only prepared to evacuate those who lived in the immediate vicinity of the plant? Again, Kan’s response:

[U]pon hearing reports of the fact that the cooling functions at the plant had stopped, the first thing that we did was to evacuate those within the five-kilometer radius of the plant, and then, from here, expanding to the 10, 15, 20 and 30 kilometers, giving instructions for people to remain indoors. And this was done straightaway on the days of March 11 and March 12.

And so, upon the advice and recommendations of experts as we were thinking how to set these evacuation zones, and when and how, one of the considerations was that if the broader evacuation zone had been set right from the beginning, then those who were living closest to the plant, because of transportation and congestion, may not actually be able to leave the area. And so the decision was made to first evacuate those closest to the plant, so within the five-kilometer zone. And then, from there, we gradually expanded to 10, 15, 20 and so on.

At the time, I had been hearing also and we were aware of the instructions which had been given, for example, by the United States embassy and the embassies of other countries for their citizens within, for example, 50 miles to evacuate. However, in the case, of course, from the position of the Japanese government, there are so many citizens living within this area, so to move this number of people all at once was something we had to really consider how this could be feasible.

Finally, Naoto Kan was asked if he felt that the reason nuclear power is still being pushed, even after Fukushima, has to do with nuclear weapons and the production of plutonium? He replied:

In regards to considering countries which are considering or wanting to build new nuclear power plants, I believe that there are two main reasons for this. One is in the situation particularly of countries which are, for example, at the moment reliant on buying natural gas from Russia, wanting to be not controlled or not having to completely follow Russia for this, but to be energy-independent. And so, for example, the country of Estonia, which did actually decide not to build its nuclear power plant, but is perhaps one example of this. And the next major reason, I believe, is also because, of course, if nuclear power plants are built, this also does lead to creation of plutonium. And so, this leads to the latent capability to create nuclear weapons. And so, having this is also one reason that I believe some countries consider building or having nuclear power, so keeping the future possibility of this. And this is a reason which I think cannot be denied.

Adding:

I personally believe that it is important to abolish both of these, both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Of course, in the case of Japan, we do not possess nuclear weapons, so we’re working now here in Japan to prevent or to get rid of nuclear power plants.

This is one of the most interesting and illuminating political interviews I have watched in many years and I would recommend it, but especially to those who remain on the fence about this issue. As Japan tries to take stock of the scale of the Fukushima tragedy, the polluted spectre of its defunct remains ought to serve as both a stark and urgent warning to other nations committing themselves already or else contemplating any future reliant upon nuclear power.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Update:

One of the video clips embedded above has since been removed from youtube. It was a CNN news report explaining some of the difficulties involved in removing spent fuel rods from the site. Here instead is another report from NHK World:

Two of the original posts of the interview were also later removed, so here is another upload of the Democracy Now! interview with Naoto Kan – now in two parts:

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is history about to repeat itself at Fukushima?

At primary school we had a daily assembly, singing hymns and mumbling prayers (my school having been Church of England affiliated), and listening to short stories that served the purpose of a moral lesson by providing our thought for the day. Parables from the Gospels mixed in with tales drawn from Greek myths or Aesop’s fables.

I have long since forgotten most of these stories, aside from the more famous tales of Icarus and Midas, and except, that is, for one story which also lodged much deeper in my memory. It concerned a crisis that came to a small city in Japan where the people and animals had suddenly started going mad and dying. Increasingly numbers falling victim to a mysterious plague, which, due to the strange symptoms, the locals had called “dancing cat fever”.

Minamata, the place of this disaster, now bears the name of its disease. If you type “Minamata” into google you will discover indeed that “Minamata disease” is listed at the top of the search; references to the disease ranking above almost all the other links to general descriptions of the city itself. You will also learn – if you didn’t know already – that the cause of this fatal disease was industrial poisoning; heavy metals, and specifically an organomercury compound called methylmercury, which had been released into the bay by a chemical factory called Chisso Corporation over a period of many decades. A deadly neurotoxin which then bioaccumulated in the fish and shellfish caught and eaten by the local community.

Hearing about the dying cats and the birds falling out of the air and all the people suffering made this one of the saddest stories I had ever heard. Sad not only because it was true, but almost unbearably sad because so much of the suffering (which still continues) was completely avoidable.

For many years, there had been clear and irrefutable evidence that the disease was being caused by effluent released from the local chemical plant, and throughout this time, Chisso were also fully aware of their own responsibility in the poisoning. Instead of cleaning up their operation, however, the management at Chisso took the decision to disguise the facts. Diverting their poisons away from the main outlet into the harbour and then discharging the same effluent more covertly into the nearby Minamata River. Actions that exacerbated the environmental damage whilst deliberately prolonging the agony of the people.

It was this part of the story which carried the important moral lesson, leaving the deepest impression on my still very innocent mind. Such callous deliberation causing me to wonder how people can behave so monstrously to one another.

So now I hear another story coming from Japan. One part of this new story available, for instance, in this Guardian report from yesterday:

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Thursday another tank holding highly contaminated water overflowed, probably sending the liquid into the Pacific Ocean, in the second such breach in less than two months. […]

The latest leaks show Tepco’s efforts to improve its handling of the contaminated water are not sufficient, Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters on Thursday. The government will take steps to deal with the water, he said, adding that he thought the situation was under control.1

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

With disturbing echoes of a potentially looming disaster reminiscent of what happened at Minamata having been reported a week earlier:

Local fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday restarted operations suspended late last month after heavy amounts of contaminated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was found leaking into the ocean. […]

On Tuesday, the federation decided to resume trial fishing after a string of radiation tests by member co-ops did not find any readings above the government’s 100 becquerels per kilogram safety limit for food products.

Of the 100 fish and seafood products tested, 95 were clear of radioactive material, with the other five containing less than 1/10 of the limit, the federation said. […]

The federation said Tuesday that it would put the catches on sale after confirming that radiation readings for the catch is below 50 becquerels per kilogram — less than half the mandatory limit.2

Click here to read the full report in The Japan Times.

Back in the coastal waters off Minamata, mercury still permeates the sediments and fishing remains prohibited. The city itself has never recovered from the disaster and its dwindling population continue to be divided over attitudes towards the Chisso Corporation and their own victimhood:

Indeed, the environmental disaster that struck Minamata has never really stopped. Though much of the mercury has been dredged from the bay overlooking the Shiranui Sea, the fishing grounds are still dangerously polluted and the fishermen, who numbered heavily among the victims, are gone.

Minamata’s population has declined by a third, to fewer than 35,000, and most of those who are left are elderly. Young people who flee for the cities after graduating from high school say they go to great lengths to conceal their origins because elsewhere in Japan Minamata’s residents are often regarded as “polluted,” even if they do not suffer from Minamata disease.

“You simply cannot get a position in a company if people know you are from Minamata,” said Tsuginori Hamamoto, a leader of one of the many victims’ groups, who is himself confined to a wheelchair because of mercury-tainted fish he ate. “For young people, it is almost impossible to find a marriage partner.” Bitter Divisions

Moreover, the town itself is bitterly divided. Mr. Hamamoto and other victims are constantly pressing for memorials and commemorative museums that they say would restore some dignity to the victims; many other residents want all reminders of the disease swept away in hopes that Chisso, whose factory still dominates the town, will invest further here.3

Click here to read the full article published in The New York Times.

And the latest official message is that it’s safe again to eat the fish from Fukushima. The contamination being within acceptable limits, the authorities say, trying very hard to persuade the world that this horrendous disaster is mostly behind us:

“Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during lobbying for the 2020 Olympics. “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future.”

But why would anyone believe them…? Here is part of a report from the Georgia Straight:

About 800 people worldwide will get cancer from radiation due to Fukushima in fish eaten to date, according to Georgia Straight calculations. The Straight results relied on a widely used cancer-risk formula developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as radiation levels in 33,000 fish tested by the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

Half the cancers will be fatal. About 500 will be in Japan; 75 will be due to Japanese fish exports to other countries; and 225 will be from fishing in the Pacific by nations other than Japan.

And that’s likely only a small part of the actual long-term cancer impacts from eating the fish. Two nuclear experts who saw the Straight’s figures said the real cancer toll could be 100 times higher—or 80,000 cancers.

“The potential numbers could be two orders of magnitude [100 times] higher than your numbers,” Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear-policy lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a phone interview. “Hundreds of cancers are nothing to sneeze at, and it is a fraction of what I suspect the total will be.” […]

The Straight also sent its cancer calculations to Eiichiro Ochiai, a retired chemistry professor in Vancouver who taught at UBC and the University of Tokyo and has written a book titled Hiroshima to Fukushima: Biohazards of Radiation (to be released on October 31).

In a phone interview, Ochiai agreed the calculations were done correctly and that the actual cancer toll will likely be higher. He said cancer-risk formulas used by governments underestimate the true cancer impact, especially those cases that arise from eating contaminated food.

“The official data is all denial,” Ochiai said. “The nuclear industry tries to suppress the truth.”4

Truth is that there is no genuinely “safe level” for radiation, just as there is no safe level for inhaling asbestos fibres or tobacco smoke. Nor is there any safe level for consuming heavy metals like uranium. So it seems that perhaps the hardest lesson to be learnt from Minamata (or countless other environmental disasters) is the most straightforward one: that those in authority rarely, if ever, actually care about what happens to you. Instead they lie. First to make money, and then, afterwards, to avoid prosecution and save face. Surely we aren’t so innocent as to believe differently.

1 From an article entitled “Second breach at Fukushima nuclear plant leaks toxic water into sea”, from Reuters, published in the Guardian on October 3, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/03/fukushima-nuclear-plant-leak-japan

2 From an article entitled “Trial fishing resumes of Fukushima after radiation tests” published by The Japan Times on September 25, 2013. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/09/25/national/trial-fishing-resumes-off-fukushima-after-radiation-tests/#.Uk7eDFOwd9Q

3 From an article entitled “Japan and the Mercury-Poisoned Sea: A Reckoning That Won’t Go Away”, written by David E. Sanger, published by The New York Times on January 16, 1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/16/world/japan-and-the-mercury-poisoned-sea-a-reckoning-that-won-t-go-away.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

4 From an article entitled “Fish data belie Japan’s claims on Fukushima”, written by Alex Roslin, published in the Georgia Straight on October 2, 2013. http://www.straight.com/life/497646/fish-data-belie-japans-claims-fukushima

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Gold Diggers of 2013

We are now in the midst of what can only be described as a gold rush. Of course some countries, China being the shining example, have been rapidly expanding their gold reserves for many years – the full amount of Chinese gold being a closely guarded secret although most analysts anticipate a full disclosure of Chinese gold reserves in the relatively near future, and based on an accumulation rate of slightly less than 1,000 tons per year, it is widely believed that China may already be the second largest holder in the world, which, as zerohedge noted back in November, means “surpassing Germany’s 3,395 tons and [becoming] second only to the US.”

Meanwhile, other countries are suddenly asking for the repossession of their own physical reserves that have been stored in vaults around the world during many decades. About a year ago I reported on Hugo Chavez’s retrieval of Venezuela’s physical gold reserves, and more recently we hear how, for instance, the Dutch and German governments are increasingly eager to get their hands on their own gold. Here is part of a report from Dutch News published in late November:

Questions have been asked in parliament about the location and value of the country’s gold reserves, most of which is said to be in foreign vaults, news agency ANP reports on Wednesday [Nov 28th].

The Netherlands is said to have 612 tonnes of gold, with a value of some €24bn. Just 10% of it is held at the central bank headquarters in Amsterdam. The rest is in bank vaults in the US, Canada and Britain.

Socialist and Christian Democrat MPs are now asking if it is sensible to keep the gold abroad and want to know how pure the gold bars actually are. 1

Anyone would think they don’t trust us or something – although when I mean us, I actually mean our central bankers obviously, and frankly who does trust them? Indeed, it turns out that the Germans had started repatriating their own reserves shortly after the launch of the euro and around the time of Brown’s Bottom, which was more then a decade ago:

The report [I’ll come back to this in a moment] claimed that the Bundesbank had slashed its holdings in London from 1,440 tons to 500 tons in 2000 and 2001, allegedly because storage costs were too high. The metal was flown to Frankfurt by air freight.

The revelation has baffled gold veterans. The shift came as the euro was at its weakest, slumping to $0.84 against the dollar. But it also came as the Bank of England was selling off most of Britain’s gold reserves – at market lows – on orders from Gordon Brown. 2

Click here to read the full article in the Telegraph.

The report in question, which had been produced by the German court of auditors (Bundesrechnungshof), is now demanding a complete audit of the nation’s gold reserves:

Germany’s gold bars, stored in the United States, Britain and France “have never been physically checked by the Bundesbank itself, or other independent auditors, regarding their authenticity or weight,” reveals a report prepared by the Federal Auditors’ Office. Instead, the Bundesbank relies on a “written confirmation by the storage sites.” […]

Concerns about Germany’s gold reserves arose this year after a group of German federal lawmakers wanted to check gold bars stored at the Banque de France in Paris. But they were turned away by local officials who said there were no facilities to visit the vaults, Deutsche Welle reported. […]

The Bundesbank has reportedly decided to ship 150 tons of gold from the New York Federal Reserve to Germany, according to German daily Bild. After returning to Germany the gold will be melted down to test the overall purity of each consignment before being re-cast into standard gold bars. 3

Click here to read the full report published by Russia Today in late October.

So why this accelerating rush to acquire gold, as in the case of China, or, as in the cases of Germany and Holland, to repatriate their gold reserves? What can it all portend…?

An article simply entitled “Are Fiat Currencies Headed for a Collapse?” published by CNBC back in July 2012 offers a concise assessment of the situation:

A fiat currency derives its worth from the issuing government – it is not fixed in value to any objective standard. That means central banks can print as much money as they want. If an economy is struggling, injecting more notes into the system juices activity but lowers the value of the currency in question.

With major central banks all desperate to stimulate their economies, some say currencies have entered a dangerous new phase often described as a race to the bottom.

Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, says investors will soon start to demand fiat currencies be backed by gold or other hard assets.

“It’s already happening, you’re beginning to see that trend with central banks stocking up on gold. The estimate is that at least half of the buying is central bank buying. They are looking to the day when they can say okay, our currency is backed by gold and therefore we’re a strong country,” Mobius told CNBC Asia. 4

Of course, such rumours of widespread currency collapse have been with us ever since the financial panic of 2007/8 – rumours that were quickly given extra legs thanks to the enormous bank bailouts and the multiple rounds of quantitative easing (QE) both in the US and in Europe – all this money printing being the immediate way that the derivatives Ponzi scheme, the original cause and the deep root of the crisis, could be propped up. Yet, in spite of such vast injections of new money, the more serious catastrophe predicted by many has not (as yet) come about. So does this mean, as our governments wish to persuade us, that the crisis has been brought under control, or does it simply mean that they’ve managed to kick the can just a little further down the road than most of the economic pessimists could have imagined?

Undoubtedly such rampant money printing without anything like commensurate economic growth does mean, and however cunningly it may be have been disguised, that the money we hold has undergone and continues to undergo a rapid devaluation. So prices in the longer term must be expected to rise since inflation is already baked into the quantitatively-eased cake: the only legitimate questions being not if, but when, and importantly, how sharp the eventual decline in our purchasing power turns out to be.

In Britain, for instance, prices of goods and services are certainly rising quickly, and well above the skillfully massaged Consumer Price Index (CPI) figure of less than 3%, whilst at the same time wages remain flat (falling in real terms and thereby magnifying the impact of inflation for most people), but, on the face of it at least, there is little indication of any kind of hyperinflationary collapse coming around the corner. However, there is one outstanding factor to be considered here: that the newly printed money has largely been hoarded by the banks that received it, and for so long as the banks are reluctant to lend, little to none of this issuance flows back out into the money supply. For this reason, most of the coming inflation remains as yet in the pipeline.

So are we about to see a protracted devaluation of our currencies involving many decades of relatively low inflation at survivable rates (although perhaps as high as ten or twenty percent), or ought we to expect a sudden leap to genuine hyperinflationary levels? Put differently, are the western economies going to continue to more slowly but inexorably sink or, alternatively, is the genuine ‘fiscal cliff’ of a currency collapse nearing? The simple answer is that I don’t know – I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to understand the deeper complexity here; and when it comes to economics, pretending to understand and then making lousy predictions is far better left to the professionals! What is clear is that so long as the imposed ‘solution’ to this still deepening financial crisis relies upon the deadly cocktail of “austerity measures” mixed with money printing, the prospect of eventual hyperinflation looms not merely as a worst-case scenario, but a worst-case that appears increasingly likely.

Why do I say this? Well, because at the same time as “austerity” is destroying growth, the endless rounds of QE are effectively reducing the value of our money by repeatedly diluting it. So maintaining this combination of imposed “austerity” and sustained money printing is just about the most perfect recipe for creating not mere inflation, but stagflation – which is precisely what we are already seeing.

But then outright hyperinflation is always a result of political choices, rather than simply an outcome of economic failures. It happens whenever a government decides (or, very often, feels coerced) to flood the economy with currency in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep up with repayments on unsustainable debts and so to survive. And for dramatic effects, this tail-chasing exercise has to go on and on and on…

So here’s what I think we can most certainly expect in the immediate future – even given a best-case scenario. Undoubtedly our economies will continue to shrivel away under the imposed “austerity measures”, bringing mass unemployment in the wake of economic decline, and that rise in joblessness, in turn, generating a frenzied competition for the remaining jobs, and forcing down ordinary wages still further (when wages have already, certainly in real terms, substantially fallen since the crisis began).

In the meantime, attacks of QE are continually eating into our earnings and savings, and in terms of devaluation, it hardly matters whether one decides to stuff their money under the mattress or deposit it in a savings scheme, given the poor rates of return on offer. But let’s also keep in mind that all of this is being done merely to serve and protect the interests of the major banks: the ones long-since deemed “too big too fail”. Institutions not only operating outside of the law, but tacitly encouraged to carry on doing so (as the lack of prosecutions following the fixing of Libor and the more extraordinary scandal involving HSBC goes to show).

And now the increasing desire shown by governments and central banks (not to mention many of the richest individuals) to suddenly acquire gold and, perhaps even more importantly, to hold on to it, offers clues beyond the competing economic theories as to what the “money masters” themselves are actually anticipating. Needless to say, it does not bode well for the majority of us.

The steadily rising price of gold is at the same time, of course, a key indicator (alongside the rising price of other commodities like silver and copper) of how much our currencies have already been debased. During the past five years, both gold and silver have approximately doubled in their value, equivalent to an annual inflation rate of slightly less than 15% (which is obviously far higher than the CPI’s paltry 3%) – I offer a more detailed analysis of these trends as a footnote.5 And these rises have happened in spite of the fact that the price of gold and silver, like everything else in our supposedly ‘free market’ system, is subject to manipulation by the major financial players, who, having “invested” so heavily in varieties of paper, have a clear interest in keeping the value of precious metals down – and the Ponzi scheme up and running.

Meanwhile, the continued appliance of tough “austerity measures” in spite of so much damning evidence of ineffectiveness in rescuing any ailing economies, anywhere, ever (either during this crisis – to judge by the effects on Greece, Spain and elsewhere – or earlier ‘interventions’ in Latin America, Africa and in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union) proves only that there is still very much a political will to enforce such neo-liberal “shock therapy”.

“Austerity” kills the poor and the weak and is already doing precisely this in places like Greece. It cannot provide any cure for what is an intrinsically systemic failure. Instead, such tight restrictions on government investment in welfare and infrastructure during a depression is like telling a starving person that it might help if they were to eat their own stomach. A brutal approach that is nothing short of criminal lunacy. And the same goes for the bailouts – the banks are fundamentally broken, indeed the entire financial system is in a state of ruin, and repeatedly bailing them out means simply throwing good money after bad… ad infinitum.

During the depression years of 1930s, there was another famous rush for gold. It eventually led to US President Franklin Roosevelt signing the notorious Executive Order 6102 in April 1933, “forbidding the hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates within the continental United States”. An order that was supposed to apply to every individual, partnership, association and corporation, and making possession “of gold or silver coin or bullion or currency” a criminal offence. It was the same year that Warner Bros. released the first of a string of popular musicals: Gold Diggers of 1933; quickly followed up with Gold Diggers of 1935 and … of 1937. These sugary confections, mostly remembered now for their lavish and dreamy choreographed sequences put together by the great Busby Berkeley, are ‘rags to riches’ tales with guaranteed happy endings that had helped to keep the public’s pecker up.

This time around we are perhaps still a long way off any equivalent to FDR’s Executive Order, though it is always wise to keep history in mind. Back on the entertainment front, and with the depression looking set to move up through the gears once more, we are offered the rather grittier and altogether more worthy distraction of a big screen release for Victor Hugo’s grand epic turned Broadway musical, Les Misérables – Surely the producers aren’t trying to plant the seeds for revolution?!!!

I can think of no better way to finish such a gloomy article than with a song. And what better than Noël Coward’s wonderfully sardonic ditty “There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner” (albeit written during the rather more solvent 1950s). Here’s a chorus:

There are bad times just around the corner
The horizon is gloomy as can be
There are black birds over
The greyish cliffs of Dover
And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC
We’re an unhappy breed and very bored indeed
When reminded of something that Nelson said
And while the press and the politicians nag, nag, nag
We’ll wait until we drop down dead

You can enjoy a complete performance embedded below – Is there any better national anthem for these turbulent times?

*

Update:

It seems that the story had already moved forward before I released the post – so here’s the part I missed: “Germany bring home gold stored in US, France,” released by Associated Press (published by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday Jan 16th):

In what sounds like the setup for a stylish Hollywood heist movie, Germany is transferring nearly 700 tons of gold bars worth $36 billion from Paris and New York to its vaults in Frankfurt.

The move is part of an effort by Germany’s central bank to bring much of its gold home after keeping big reserves outside the country for safekeeping during the Cold War.

Click here to read the full story.

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1 From an article entitled “Are the Netherlands’ gold reserves real? MPs want answers” published by Dutch News on November 28, 2012. http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2012/11/are_the_netherlands_gold_reser.php

2 From an article entitled “Bundesbank slashed London gold holdings in mystery move” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International business editor, published by the Telegraph on October 24, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9631962/Bundesbank-slashed-London-gold-holdings-in-mystery-move.html

3 From an article entitled “Germany orders a check on its gold reserves” published by Russia Today on October 29, 2012. http://rt.com/business/news/germany-gold-reserves-check-472/

4 From an article entitled “Are Fiat Currencies Headed for a Collapse?” written by Lisa Oake, published by CNBC on July 27, 2012. http://www.cnbc.com/id/48349503/Are_Fiat_Currencies_Headed_for_a_Collapse

5 As I write, the price of gold is $1687 per oz and silver stands at $31.7 per oz. Over the last five years this compares to lows and highs of $709 and $1900 for gold and ranging between $8.92 and $48.5 for silver. In other words, the current values are still below the high peaks that were reached in 2011. However, if you judge from the trend rather than from spot values then both graphs are very clearly climbing throughout the 5 years – and in that period (a period which approximately coincides with the length of the current crisis) gold has almost doubled in value (being around $900 in January 2008) and silver likewise (from just over $15 in January 2008). A doubling of prices over five years would equate to an inflation rate of very slightly under 15%. Click on the links to see price charts over 5 years for gold and silver.

Copper is a little different. The price of copper as I write is $3.6 per pound. If you study the price over the last 5 years then there has been a more modest rise compared to gold and silver (beginning with a price already a little over $3 in January 2008, before sharply falling by December 2008 and then recovering again in late 2010). But the trend for copper is very much more interesting when considered over ten years. Back in 2003, silver was still in a dip at around $0.7 but in early 2004 it sudden began to rise spectacularly, reaching $3.5 by mid 2006 – an incredible five-fold increase. It has more or less maintained this high price ever since, flattening off in recent years, although as the chart below shows, the overall trend remains modestly upward:

Historical Copper Prices - Copper Price History Chart

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, China, Germany, Netherlands, Venezuela

Greenpeace and Arne Gundersen blow the whistle on Fukushima

Arnold Gundersen holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. He coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, but later became an industry whistle-blower1, also serving as an expert witness for the investigation into the accident at Three Mile Island.2 He is currently the chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, as well as co-author of the latest Greenpeace report, “Lessons from Fukushima”.

The report’s conclusions begin as follows:

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has proven that the nuclear industry’s theory of nuclear safety is false. Historical evidence – Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – shows a major nuclear accident has occurred somewhere in the world about once every decade. The regular occurrence of reactor accidents contradicts the nuclear industry’s claim that such events would occur only once in 250 years.

CCTV Host Margaret Harrington speaks here with Maggie and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds about Arne’s recent trip to Japan and their report for Greenpeace about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The closing section of the video also features Gundersen’s own theory on why Fukushima failed so catastrophically, and what this means for other nuclear reactors of similar design:

One year on from the Fukushima disaster, and both the British government and the Obama administration continue to call for an expansion of the nuclear power industry. On yesterday’s Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Gundersen, who again spoke candidly about the long term legacy of Fukushima, the design failures of the Mark I type nuclear reactors used at Fukushima and also in operation elsewhere, and more generally, about how the economics of nuclear energy is distorted.

Here are a few extracts taken from what he had to say:

Well, I think the first—the first lesson is that this is a technology that can destroy a nation. I was reading Mikhail Gorbachev’s memoirs, and he claims that it was Chernobyl, not perestroika, that destroyed the Soviet Union. And as you look at the transcripts coming out of Japan, we see that the Fukushima accident was on the verge of causing the evacuation of Tokyo. And had the wind been blowing the other way, across the island instead of out to sea, Japan would have been cut in half and destroyed as a functional country. So, this is a technology where perhaps accidents don’t happen every day, but when they do, they can destroy a country.

The other things are the cost is astronomical. To fix this is going to be something on the order of half-a-trillion dollars. All of the money that Japan saved on oil over the 40 years that they’ve had nuclear plants just got thrown away in the half-a-trillion-dollar recovery effort.

And the other piece is the human issues. The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.

You know, left to Wall Street druthers—we subsidize their insurance, and we subsidize them on the front end, as far as their ability to build these plants. If it were up to Wall Street and this was a real capitalistic country, we wouldn’t be building nuclear. We’ve basically socialized the risks, but any profits flow to the corporations. […]

I’m on record as saying that we should close the 23 reactors with the Mark I design. Just three weeks before Fukushima, my wife and I were talking, and she said, “Where is the next accident going to occur?” I said, “I don’t know where, but I know it’s going to be in a Mark I design.” These containment vents prove to fail three times out of three. And the NRC’s response is, “Well, let’s make those vents better.” Well, if they just failed three times out of three, it’s hard to imagine how to make something like that better.

In addition, the fuel is stored on the roof, essentially, in unshielded, unprotected areas. And there’s more nuclear caesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim, Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever exploded in the atmosphere. So we have an enormous inventory of nuclear material way up on the roofs of these buildings, and I think it’s time to close these Mark 1s down, because of those two design features.

Click here to watch the interview and read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima”. The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

Taken from the official Greenpeace press release of February 28th which accompanied the publication of their report: “Lessons from Fukushima”.

Click here to read the Greenpeace report.

1 The following extracts are from a New York Times report about Arnold Gundersen published on February 12th,1995:

“FOR three years, Arnold Gundersen was awakened by harassing phone calls in the middle of the night. He became so concerned about his family’s safety that he bought a large dog for protection. The problem? He was a whistle-blower, one of those who take on the dismally unpopular role of exposing what they find to be unsafe or unlawful practices in the workplace, especially the nuclear workplace.” […]

“Mr. Gundersen, who lives in Warren, told of the day in 1990 when he discovered radioactive material in an accounting safe at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, the consulting firm where he held a $120,000-a-year job as senior vice president. Three weeks after he notified the company president of what he believed to be radiation safety violations, Mr. Gundersen said, he was fired.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/12/nyregion/paying-the-price-for-blowing-the-whistle.html

2 Click here to see Arnold Gundersen presenting evidence for what he calls “the three myths of Three Mile Island” and here to read Gundersen’s report on the Three Mile Island accident.

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“austerity” is too good for the bankers: their punishment should fit their crimes

Ever since I began writing this blog and long before that, one thing has been at the forefront of the political agenda:– “Austerity measures”. The quotation marks are ugly but essential. Those annoying little curly tadpoles hopefully raising the question: what does this phrase actually mean and what is it hiding? Perhaps a dictionary might help us:

Austere: grave, sober, or serious; self-disciplined, abstemious, or ascetic; severely simple or plain. Austerity is then, more often than not, considered ennobling; the word even carries implicitly wholesome religious connotations. The life of a monk is austere. The saints too practiced austerity. And Christ himself is said to have led an austere life. The religious justification is that obsessing about material comforts misses the bigger spiritual picture, but I am not intending to argue either for or against that opinion. My contention here being simply that the meaning of “austerity measures” relies heavily although unconsciously on these traditional ideals. In more purely secular terms, tightening the belt being very often regarded as a good thing.

There is, of course, a constantly expanding menagerie of euphemisms and doublespeak. Civilian casualties in war are now simply “collateral damage”; war itself becoming “kinetic action”; “enemy combatant” meaning a prisoner of war denied their rights; “theater” the war zone; whilst kidnap and torture have been reduced to “extraordinary rendition”. All of these are designed to hide the indefensible truth. But “austerity measures” achieves more again. It doesn’t merely hide the truth, but almost reverses it.

First, let me translate “austerity measures” into useful Standard English: “austerity measures” means enforced poverty. There are no ugly tadpoles required here, because this is quite literally the meaning of the phrase. With the proper words in place, the spell is undone and the truth becomes unavoidable and as clear as day. “Austerity” means being pushed down. Being forced to submit. In short, there is nothing edifying nor ennobling about stripping ordinary people of their very basic and essential public services and economic rights.

“Austerity measures” — what are they good for? Absolutely nothing! You cannot rescue any economy during a depression by impoverishing the people of that country. We can understand this through applying basic economics, or we can find the empirical proof in so many cases where the IMF and the World Bank have applied such “measures” in the past. By making people poorer, personal debt increases as does government debt. As people stop spending, others are forced out of work. The economy shrinks and tax revenues are driven down. Eventually the debt repayments become impossible to maintain. It is a downward death spiral, as the latest report from Greece on Democracy Now! shows all too clearly:

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript of the same report [from Feb 14th] on the Democracy Now! website.

Greece has now been brought to its knees by imposed “austerity”, and so long as its main political parties continue taking the same course, the situation will quickly worsen. Society is already breaking down and sooner or later the whole political system will surely follow. A revolution in Greece of one kind or another is coming. We can only pray that it’s a good one.

Wherever severe “austerity” moves to next, whether it is Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy or here in Britain, the same results must be expected. Oh, and if you think that Greece has a more serious debt problem than anywhere else, then it’s time to think again. Japan has a far higher level of public debt than Greece (see here), and if you also include business and bank debts, then the picture looks very different again. This graphic, published on zerohedge.com [from November 2011] shows very clearly which nation is currently leading in the global debt race to the bottom (and it’s not Greece – not by a long chalk):

Owe your banker £1000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed. The economist John Maynard Keynes called this ‘the old saying’. So old that it seems to have been long since forgotten. These days, as Keynes would no doubt be surprised to learn, there are some banks deemed simply ‘too big to fail’. Which is, of course, precisely how we got into this mess in the first place, as well as the reason we remain stuck in it.

The ‘megabanks’ have failed, trading poorly, making bad investments and decisions, whilst influencing economic policies in ways that are now proven to be destructive and against the interests of most on the planet, and all the time conducting their operations way beyond their actual means. They are all bankrupt, having “invested” in a load of completely worthless paper which they prefer to call “toxic assets”. And here it is important to understand that in the topsy-turvy world of finance, all debts held are considered to be ‘assets’, even if those debts cannot be repaid, in which case they are regarded as ‘toxic’, whilst remaining as ‘assets’ nonetheless!

The question now being asked is will the latest 130 billion euro bailout save the Greek economy, and the answer to that question is a resounding no. It will no more save the Greek economy than the 110 billion euro bailout did less than two years ago, back in May 2010. Greece will default eventually. Meanwhile the Greek people will have received no benefit from any of these huge bailouts, since the money is only ever used to pay off the bankers’ losses. And yet, when we trace back those losses, what we discover is that they were a product of unquestionably criminal practices. William Black, a highly respected former financial regulator, has explained more than once how the whole financial system became a Ponzi Scheme — and Black is far from a lone voice. Click here to read an earlier post on William Black.

Yet the bankers have so far remained immune from any prosecution. Instead of prison they are receiving continued bailouts, whilst also picking up private perks in the form of bonuses. So how do they get away with it? Simple – they run the show. And evidence of this banker occupation is all around. Goldman Sacks, for instance, are everywhere.

They have not only ‘conquered Europe’, as an extraordinary article in the Independent put it, but long since embedded themselves in other positions of power and influence including, perhaps most significantly, the White House. More recently, they have openly installed unelected puppets to run Greece and Italy. Which is how the Ponzi Scheme that Black and others have uncovered remains officially unchallenged, unhampered and unabated. The bailouts keeping the crooked casino afloat a little longer, whilst the debt contagion spreads far and wide, generating renewed opportunity for asset-stripping along the way. The Greeks are the scapegoats, and also the first victims.

Two years ago, speaking on Al Jazeera, Max Keiser pointed out [7:30 minutes in] that Goldman Sacks had illegally colluded with the Greek government in order to hide debts in their bid for entry into the Eurozone:

The same collusion was more recently picked over in this detailed BBC report from Nick Dunbar, author of “The Devil’s Derivatives”. According to Dunbar’s version of events, however, the secret deal that had been fraudulently cooked up to conceal the true level of Greek government debt was “perfectly legal”:

In his latest book Vultures’ Picnic, investigative journalist, Greg Palast, also delves into Goldman Sacks chicanery. Hidden within documents that he took great pains to authenticate, he discovers evidence that the dodgy deal was a deliberate plan to force the Greek nation into bankruptcy and a fire-sale:

Greece’s economy blew apart because a bunch of olive-spitting, ouzo-guzzling, lazy-ass Greeks refuse to put in a full day’s work, retire while they’re still teenagers, pocket pensions fit for a pasha; and they’ve gone on a social-services spending spree using borrowed money. Now that the bill has come due and the Greeks have to pay with higher taxes and cuts in their big fat welfare state, they run riot, screaming in the streets, busting windows and burning banks.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because of the document in my hand marked, “RESTRICTED DISTRIBUTION.”

I’ll cut to the indictment: Greece is a crime scene. The people are victims of a fraud, a scam, a hustle and a flim-flam. And––cover the children’s ears when I say this––a bank named Goldman Sachs is holding the smoking gun.

You can read a little more about Palast’s investigation, and what it reveals about the Greek crisis here and also on page 27 of chapter one.

There has been a loud call (one that I have also joined in) for the bankers to pay their way in the form of Toban Taxes and so forth, but frankly this is not enough. “Austerity” is too good for bankers. Nothing short of a full criminal investigation is actually needed, with a debt moratorium imposed for as long as that investigation takes. A cancellation of all odious debts should then follow.

Until that time, and as the people of Greece and elsewhere continue to suffer, we would be wise to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. They are the unfortunate recent victims in an ever-expanding and increasingly merciless financial war. For “bailouts” read “more debt”, whilst “austerity measures” means nothing other than economic “shock and awe”.

On the positive side, even parts of the mainstream media are finally beginning to awaken to the crisis now taking hold in Greece and elsewhere. Here, for instance, is Paul Mason, the economics editor for BBC‘s Newsnight, taking a break from his usual duties to speak on Democracy Now! (and to plug his book, obviously) last Wednesday [Feb 22nd]:

Paul Mason appears to be under the unfortunate delusion that only he and Glenn Beck (of all people) are making the connection between the deepening financial crisis and the rise of popular movements across Europe, North Africa and America. If only Mason had figured out how to navigate the internet, he’d be so much better informed.

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

Additional:

As for the truth about just how lazy the Greek’s really are, here’s a BBC news article from Feb 26th:

But the statistics suggest the country has not lost its way due to laziness. If you look at the average annual hours worked by each worker, the Greeks seem very hard-working.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average Greek worker toils away for 2,017 hours per year which is more than any other European country.

Out of the 34 members of the OECD, that is just two places behind the board leaders, South Korea.

On the other hand, the average German worker – normally thought of as the very epitome of industriousness – only manages 1,408 hours a year. Germany is 33rd out of 34 on the OECD list (or 24th out of 25 looking at the European countries alone).

Europe’s top 10 and bottom 10

Most hours worked Most productive Least hours worked Least productive
1 Greece Luxembourg Netherlands Poland
2 Hungary Norway Germany Hungary
3 Poland Ireland Norway Turkey
4 Estonia Belgium France Estonia
5 Turkey Netherlands Denmark Czech Rep
6 Czech Rep France Ireland Portugal
7 Italy Germany Belgium Slovakia
8 Slovakia Denmark Austria Greece
9 Portugal Sweden Luxembourg Slovenia
10 Iceland Austria Sweden Iceland

Looking though the table above, you might notice a negative correlation between long working hours and increased productivity. This exposes another pernicious myth, as we can clearly see that it’s far better to work clever than to work hard.

Click here to read the full article which is entitled “Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe”, written by Charlotte McDonald.

*

Click here to add your signature to the statement of solidarity with the people of Greece backed by trade union leaders, members of Parliament and campaigners published in the Guardian.

The people of Greece face an unprecedented economic and political crisis. They are being driven to poverty and mass unemployment by the demands of the so-called Troika – the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund which has imposed Lucas Papademos, formerly of Vice-President of the ECB, as Prime Minister.

Hospitals in Greece are running out of basic medicines, nearly half of all young people are unemployed, workers in some sectors have not been paid for months, and many are forced to resort to soup kitchens or scavenge from rubbish dumps.

Now the Troika demands a cut of 23% to the minimum wage, the sacking of tens of thousands of public sector workers and the decimation of pensions which have already lost nearly 50% of their value. International capital is asset stripping an entire country and ripping apart its social fabric.

Greece is at the cutting edge of the austerity measures that are being introduced across Europe. All the evidence shows that while these measures may protect the interests of the rich, they just make matters worse for the majority of the population. What happens in Greece today we will see in Portugal tomorrow and in Ireland the day after. In Britain, the Coalition government is pursuing similar measures which will see workers earnings cut, working longer for a smaller pension, and the dismantling of the NHS along with other public services.

Mikis Theodorakis, famous Greek composer of Zorba’s Dance, and Manolis Glezos, veteran resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation who took down the swastika from the Acropolis during the 2nd World War and replaced it with the Greek flag, have issued a statement calling for a European Front to defend the people of Greece and all those facing austerity.

The Coalition of Resistance and the People’s Charter have decided to support this call and agreed to work with trades unions, campaigns and parties across Europe to establish a European Solidarity Campaign to defend the people of Greece. The campaign aims to organise solidarity and raise practical support for the people of Greece; they cannot be made to pay for a crisis for which they are not responsible.

 

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Libya one year on, and the debate over NATO intervention in Syria

It is just over a year since the start of the Libyan uprising, and four months since the overthrow of Gaddafi, but concerns are growing that lingering divisions between factions could tear it apart, with more than 500 militias still operating throughout the country.

On Tuesday [Feb 21st], Democracy Now! spoke briefly with co-author of last week’s Amnesty International report, Carsten Jürgensen, who told them of the widespread human rights abuses that continue to be committed in Libya:

Horrific images of people who have been tortured and abused, people who have been tortured very recently when we saw them, in some cases only hours before. In fact, my colleagues saw detainees being beaten in a courtyard of a prison. And people have shown us, you know, obvious traces of torture, being whipped, or people also told us they have been subjected to electric shocks. People have been beaten by all sorts of objects.

They also spoke to Vijay Prashad, chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, asking both for his thoughts about Libya and, in light of that, what action should now be taken in Syria. Here is part of his answer:

The uprising, it seems to me, within a month of breaking out in February, had gained immense momentum. And at its highest point, it was at the time when NATO decided to intervene. There was a conversion of an uprising, an internal civil war, into a NATO intervention. By May, there were already concerns from Amnesty International that there were maybe atrocities by NATO, by rebel forces and by Gaddafi’s troops, that it was a very dangerous soup of violence in Libya. This, Amnesty said in May of last year…

In October, Amnesty did another very important report suggesting that if human rights is going to be used as a lubricant for intervention, one has to be very careful to continue to investigate the violence. One has to not only document violence, but also see that the perpetrators are prosecuted. And one has to bring a society to some kind of closure. This is what Amnesty began to say in October. Those were very prescient words from Amnesty, because, indeed, what Amnesty had proposed has not happened since October.

Russia recently requested that the UN Security Council investigate the deaths of civilians (estimated to be as many as 30,000) during the NATO bombing campaign of Libya. In response, US Ambassador Susan Rice accused the Russians of deliberately trying to distract attention from the situation in Syria. Prashad told Democracy Now! :

The real question is, why won’t NATO allow an evaluation of the Libyan war? What if we discover that the number of civilian casualties, the bombing in places like Marjah, the bombing in places in the center of Tripoli, had indeed cost the lives of a very large number of civilians? What is the harm of NATO coming under an evaluation? It will demonstrate, for instance, the actual commitment to human rights and to responsibility to protect civilians that the United States purports to support. So, the fact that they are not allowing an evaluation causes concern around the world. It means, perhaps, that the bombing campaigns are not going to protect civilians. They might, in fact, exacerbate the danger to civilians. […]

[There] are serious questions about the truncating of a human rights process towards war making rather than towards peace making. So I don’t see this as a distraction; I see this as the fundamental question.

And it is precisely why the Russians and the Chinese are loathe to give another open-ended resolution to allow NATO to continue war making in Syria. They have said quite clearly that unless the resolution says this is not going to invoke Chapter 7, Article 42, of the U.N. Charter—in other words, the right to make war or to preserve the principles of the United Nations—unless it says specifically that this resolution is not under Chapter 7, we cannot sign on to it. So, I think there are some serious issues at stake. This veto by the Russians and the Chinese is not disgusting or a distraction. It’s about the principles involved here and whether this is just about a power grab by the West or a genuine concern for the people of Libya and Syria.

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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ACTA is a treaty drawn up by pirates and for pirates

With SOPA and PIPA kicked into the long grass, another attempt to close down free speech on the internet is now coming under scrutiny. ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, is yet another draft of legislation that is ostensibly for the purpose of enforcing intellectual property rights, although unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA is an international treaty. (And apologies for such an obfuscation of acronyms — I presume that’s the correct collective noun).

ACTA, which establishes its own governing body outside existing international institutions such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or even the United Nations, was originally signed by countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States back on October 1st 2011.

When, last Thursday [Jan 26th], twenty-two of the European Union member states including the UK also signed the agreement, French Member of the European Parliament, Kader Arif, was so angered by “manoeuvres” used to get the bill approved, that he immediately resigned in protest from his position as rapporteur:

Negotiations over a controversial anti-piracy agreement have been described as a “masquerade” by a key Euro MP.

Kader Arif, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), resigned over the issue on Friday.

He said he had witnessed “never-before-seen manoeuvres” by officials preparing the treaty.1

And Kader Arif made the following statement:

“I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

In Poland, tens of thousands of demonstrators also voiced opposition to their own government’s signature to the ACTA agreement:

Crowds of mostly young people held banners with slogans such as “no to censorship” and “a free internet”.

Earlier in the week, hackers attacked several Polish government websites, including that of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.2

Russia Today reported that the Anonymous group had earlier sent out ‘a stern warning’ to the Polish authorities, issuing what was little short of a blackmail note:

“Polish government – we are more powerful than you. We have a lot of your files and personal information. We warn you to exercise caution” which was published on pastebin.com.

The scope of ACTA is more expansive than SOPA and PIPA, not merely geographically, but because it aims to establish and enforce global standards in many other areas. Here’s analysis of how the new legislation will affect the lives of people across the world, published in Forbes:

Worse, it appears to go much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, according to critics of the agreement:

  • ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.
  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament.
  • ACTA was written and hammered out behind closed doors. While some of the provisions have been taken out of the final US draft, plenty of unknowns still exist. It’s not nearly clear enough how the agreement will affect US laws.3

Click here to read more details in Forbes.

With regards to the internet, the tightening of control on websites will automatically lead to the closer scrutiny of all internet users:

Under ACTA, internet service providers are virtually obliged to monitor all user activity for possible copyright violations. It also gives trademark owners and officers of the law great authority to violate privacy while investigating suspected infringements.4

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, told Russia Today that the ACTA copyright protection treaty is an “excellent example of abuse of power by the corporate industry”:

“This legislation about putting people in jail was negotiated by corporations and the lawmakers just got it in their lap,” he explained. “That is not how a democratic society should work, quite regardless of what this law says.”

Click here to read the full Russia Today article.

Jonathan Swift famously said that “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” ACTA is a perfect example of Swift’s observation, drawn up in order to serve the interests of the biggest pirates of our economies. The pirates at the helm of the megabanks who continue to force whole nations to surrender their wealth to bail them out on the basis of threats from their pirate buddies at the credit rating agencies. And the multinational corporate pirates who refuse to pay up their modest contribution in taxes, preferring to bury their treasures in offshore havens.

We already have laws to bring many of the major pirates to justice, but these laws are rarely used for such purposes. Regulations that haven’t so far been axed are increasingly being ignored. Meanwhile, bills like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have been drawn up to further choke opposition, opening the way for greater corporate control over our lives. All of this so-called ‘anti-piracy’ legislation is nothing but humbug, and poisonous humbug at that. The signing of ACTA, which is clearly designed to squeeze out the little guy and stifle the independent voice, represents just another miserable step towards a globalised corporate tyranny. In short, ACTA was written by the pirates and for the pirates.

1 From an article entitled “European Parliament rapporteur quits in Acta protest” written by Dave Lee, published by BBC news on January 27, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16757142

2 From an article entitled “ACTA action: Poland signs up to ‘censorship’ as 20,000 rage”, published by Russia Today on January 26, 2012. http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

3 From an article entitled “If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet ACTA”, written by E.D. Kain, published by Forbes on January 23, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/23/if-you-thought-sopa-was-bad-just-wait-until-you-meet-acta/

4  http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

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internet freedom and the sovereigns of cyberspace

With two controversial internet ‘anti-piracy’ bills, SOPA and PIPA, now moving through Congress, Rebecca MacKinnon, author of the forthcoming book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” spoke on yesterday’s Democracy Now! about the clampdown on internet freedom, as well as the dangerous rise of internet surveillance:

[And so,] it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences.

MacKinnon cites examples from all over the world showing how the internet can be controlled or else used for control. Here is China:

And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

This is Egypt:

Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And this is America:

American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

But much worse, here is America again (and I had no idea how much access the US government already has to investigate the private lives of citizens – the bold highlight is added):

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview

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