Sunday, March 30, 2008

Applying Gandhi’s Ideas to Climate Change

by Peter Applebome
The New York Times
March 30, 2008

At what was once a Capuchin monastery on the Hudson River, the Zen archers were out in force on Friday. They were members of a New York City group celebrating 10 years of study with a retreat at what’s now the Garrison Institute, a New Agey organization that tries to meld contemplation and action.

The idea of the Zen archery is to combine intention and action, focus and carry-through. Physical action slows. The archer and the bow become one. The art becomes artless. The archer evolves through perseverance and discipline. Or so they say.

It’s not much of a stretch to go from the visiting Zen archers to the institute’s own initiative, an ambitious program next month to look at how the ideas of Mohandas K. Gandhi relate to current environmental issues, particularly climate change.

Central to Gandhi, after all, was the notion that the truth, power and moral force of a movement are inseparable from the truth, power and moral force of its actors.

Hence Gandhi nonviolently freeing India from the greatest empire of his time, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. overturning segregation in the South, Nelson Mandela ending apartheid — intention wedded to action, focus leading to carry-through, evolution resulting from perseverance and discipline. Like the Zen archers, it may seem way too abstruse and exotic for the short attention span of modern life, but then, maybe not.

The Garrison Institute, founded in 2003, sits across the river from an important site in American environmental history, Storm King Mountain, where more than 40 years ago an epic battle over land use helped redefine environmental activism and law.

So there’s nothing unexpected in the current melding of Gandhi and climate change, tied to the Metropolitan Opera’s first staging of Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi, “Satyagraha” (“The Power of Truth”), beginning April 11. After that is a private conference at the institute, followed by a free public event on April 13 at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan including scholars, environmental leaders and artists, among them Mr. Glass.

The guiding notion is that climate change today calls for the same kind of collective will, shared destiny, moral purpose, personal responsibility and strategic acumen as the other great movements, and that Gandhi’s ideas and achievements are entirely germane to what needs to happen now.

“The environment and nonviolence is like a marriage made in heaven,” Mr. Glass said. “If we treated the environment with nonviolence we wouldn’t have the polar ice cap melting away.”

Remarkably, almost a century ago, Gandhi’s writings were full of thoughts on the environment.

“The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

“God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. ... If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

“This little globe of ours is not a toy of yesterday.”

“We may utilize the gifts of Nature just as we choose, but in Her books, the debits are always equal to the credits.”

To the reflexively jaundiced modern eye, Gandhi evokes a presence seemingly ancient and somewhat naïve, but naïve is the last word you could apply to Gandhi, who wedded moral insights to a shrewd tactical sense of politics and public opinion.

“He had an ability to find a very simple symbol that could mobilize a great number of people; think of his Salt March,” said Gandhi’s grandson and biographer, Rajmohan Gandhi, referring to the 1930 protest against the British tax on salt that helped galvanize India against British rule. “You might say he was an advertising genius.”

Al Gore cited both Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln in a speech on climate change in 2007. He noted Gandhi’s sense of satyagraha and a statement of Lincoln’s during the depths of the Civil War: “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

But disenthralling ourselves, seeing the world and its perils afresh, may be even harder now than it has ever been — too many diversions, too murky and vaporous a peril, too little sense of urgency, an enemy that is more us than them.

And if there’s an advertising genius who has found the simple symbol to make people individually and collectively change behavior, he hasn’t stepped forward.

From Storm King to Woodstock to the institutes and ashrams that dot the landscape today, the Hudson Valley has played a remarkable and barely understood role in the evolution of the nation’s environmental and personal consciousness over the past half-century.

But skeptics might say it’s produced more individual evolution than a transformed culture.

No mere conference is likely to change that, but maybe the Gandhi-philes will find some clues. Without them, we’re left, it seems, with the few Zen archers able to magically hit their targets, while the vast majority of us neither know nor much care what ours are.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?

by Bridget Stutchbury
The New York Times
March 30, 2008

Though a consumer may not be able to tell the difference, a striking red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China — the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead. In the same way, a plump red tomato from Florida is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, were once a common sight in the Eastern United States. In mating season, the male in his handsome tuxedo-like suit sings deliriously as he whirrs madly over the hayfields. Bobolink numbers have plummeted almost 50 percent in the last four decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, captured bobolinks feeding in rice fields in Bolivia and took samples of their blood to test for pesticide exposure. She found that about half of the birds had drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families.

What should you put on your bird-friendly grocery list? Organic coffee, for one thing. Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Organic bananas should also be on your list. Bananas are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. Although bananas present little risk of pesticide ingestion to the consumer, the environment where they are grown is heavily contaminated.

When it comes to nontraditional Latin American crops like melons, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, it can be difficult to find any that are organically grown. We should buy these foods only if they are not imported from Latin America.

Now that spring is here, we take it for granted that the birds’ cheerful songs will fill the air when our apple trees blossom. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, March 28, 2008

The (Formerly) Hidden Fallout of Three Mile Island

by John LaForge
Common Dreams News Center
March 28, 2008

Today marks 29 years since the partial meltdown and radiation disaster at Three Mile Island (TMI) near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.News accounts noted the reactor’s loss-of-coolant, fuel melting, multiple explosions, venting of radioactive gases, dumping of contaminated water and the buildup of explosive hydrogen inside the reactor vessel. The accident caused such a nationwide scare that the expansion of nuclear power ended in the United States.

Yet the environmental and health consequences of the TMI disaster aren’t widely understood. Official cover-ups, industry propaganda, and ignorance of radiation-induced illnesses have led to present-day trivialization of TMI and a supposed revival of reactor construction. Any such revival is totally dependent on billions in federal subsidies included in the recent energy bill, because, as Forbes magazine blazoned across its cover: “The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale.”

The nuclear industry’s attempt to raise nuclear power from the dead involves denying the damage resulting from TMI itself and flies in the face of 25 years of science regarding the effects of low-dose radiation. One Wisconsin legislator said on the record last December, “Three Mile Island was a success of containment.”

Things weren’t much different in 1979. President Carter’s Kemeny Commission hurriedly finished its report on the disaster issuing it in Oct. 1979. The commission did not consider any data on the effects of wind-borne radiation, although the wind blew 6-to-9 mph toward upstate New York and western Pennsylvania.

Over 10 million curies of radioactive noble gases including 43,000 curies of krypton-85 — which stays in the environment for 100 years — as well as 15-to-24 curies of radioactive iodine-131, were vented from the “containment” building. (A curie — 37 billion disintegrations per second — is a huge amount of radiation.) As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) later noted, several “deliberate but uncontrolled releases” were used to vent radioactive gas. Official airborne release estimates are just guesses, because of the insufficient number of outside radiation monitors half weren’t working, and a large number of them went off-scale.

On the third day of the venting of these gases, half the population within 15 miles — 144,000 people — fled the area. By this time the bulk of the accident’s airborne radiation was already spewed and drifting on the wind.

In addition, approximately 400,000 gallons of radioactive cooling water that had leaked from the reactor were secretly dumped into the Susquehanna River, a source of drinking water for nearby communities. Later about 2.3 million gallons of radioactively contaminated cooling water were allowed to be “evaporated” into the atmosphere.

In 1980, Pennsylvania State Health Department authorities reported a sharp rise in hypothyroidism in newborn infants in the three counties downwind from the reactor. Late in 1979, four times as many infants as normal were born with the disease. The NRC said the increase was unrelated to radiation released by TMI. Upwind incidence of the disease had dropped to below the national average.

The same year, six workers entered the heavily contaminated reactor building. Five of the six later died of radiation-induced cancers. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that UCS opposed license renewal for the surviving TMI units and demanded health studies for neighbors. The NRC refused.

In the county where TMI is located infant deaths soared 53.7 percent in the first month after the accident; 27 percent in the first year. As originally published, the federal government’s own Monthly Vital Statistics Report shows a statistically significant rise in infant and over-all mortality rates shortly after the accident.

Studying 10 counties closest to TMI, Jay M. Gould, in his meticulously documented 1990 book Deadly Deceit, found that childhood cancers, other infant diseases, and deaths from birth defects were 15% to 35% higher than before the accident, and those from breast cancer 7% higher. These increases far exceeded those elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

Gould suggests that between 50,000 and 100,000 excess deaths occurred after the TMI accident. Joseph Mangano of the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP) says, “The NRC allows reactors to emit a certain level of radiation, but it does not do follow-up studies to see if there are excessive infant deaths, birth defects or cancers.”

Leukemia deaths among kids fewer than 10 years of age (between 1980 and 1984) jumped almost 50 percent compared to the national rate.

Mangano reports that “between 1980 and 1984, death rates in the three nearest counties were considerably higher than 1970-74 (before the reactor opened) for leukemia, female breast, thyroid and bone and joint cancers.”

The Spring 2000 edition of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Mangano and Ernest Sternglass reported that in counties adjacent to nuclear reactors, infant mortality falls dramatically after the reactors close. The RPHP study found that in the first two years after the reactors were shuttered, infant death rates fell 15-to-20 percent. In communities near Big Rock Point in Michigan for example, the decrease in infant mortality rates was 54 percent; at Maine Yankee, the percentage decrease was 33.4 %.

The evidence of cancers caused by reactor operations brings to mind the words of Roger Mattson, former Director of NRC Division of Systems Safety, who said during the TMI meltdown, “I’m not sure why you are not moving people. I don’t know what we are protecting at this point.”

© Copyrighted 2008

NPR Just as Pro-War as the Commercial Networks

by Norman Soloman
Common Dreams News Center
March 27, 2008

While the Iraqi government continued its large-scale military assault in Basra, the NPR reporter’s voice from Iraq was unequivocal this morning: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.”

Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the U.S. media establishment. In the “War Made Easy” documentary film, I put it this way: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.”

So it goes at NPR News, where — on “Morning Edition” as well as the evening program “All Things Considered” — the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.

Earlier this week — a few days into the sixth year of the Iraq war — “All Things Considered” aired a discussion with a familiar guest.

“To talk about the state of the war and how the U.S. military changes tactics to deal with it,” said longtime anchor Robert Siegel, “we turn now to retired Gen. Robert Scales, who’s talked with us many times over the course of the conflict.”

This is the sort of introduction that elevates a guest to truly expert status — conveying to the listeners that expertise and wisdom, not just opinions, are being sought.

Siegel asked about the progression of assaults on U.S. troops over the years: “How have the attacks and the countermeasures to them evolved?”

Naturally, Gen. Scales responded with the language of a military man. “The enemy has built ever-larger explosives,” he said. “They’ve found clever ways to hide their IEDs, their roadside bombs, and even more diabolical means for detonating these devices.”

We’d expect a retired American general to speak in such categorical terms — referring to “the enemy” and declaring in a matter-of-fact tone that attacks on U.S. troops became even more “diabolical.” But what about an American journalist?

Well, if the American journalist is careful to function with independence instead of deference to the Pentagon, then the journalist’s assumptions will sound different than the outlooks of a high-ranking U.S. military officer.

In this case, an independent reporter might even be willing to ask a pointed question along these lines: You just used the word “diabolical” to describe attacks on the U.S. military by Iraqis, but would that ever be an appropriate adjective to use to describe attacks on Iraqis by the U.S. military?

In sharp contrast, what happened during the “All Things Considered” discussion on March 24 was a conversation of shared sensibilities. The retired U.S. Army general discussed the war effort in terms notably similar to those of the ostensibly independent journalist — who, along the way, made the phrase “the enemy” his own in a followup question.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge an entire news program on the basis of a couple of segments. But I’m a frequent listener to “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage — especially from Washington.

Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function.

To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.

© Copyrighted 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008


by Michael Moore
March 24, 2008

It would have to happen on Easter Sunday, wouldn't it, that the 4,000th American soldier would die in Iraq. Play me that crazy preacher again, will you, about how maybe God, in all his infinite wisdom, may not exactly be blessing America these days. Is anyone surprised?

4,000 dead. Unofficial estimates are that there may be up to 100,000 wounded, injured, or mentally ruined by this war. And there could be up to a million Iraqi dead. We will pay the consequences of this for a long, long time. God will keep blessing America.

And where is Darth Vader in all this? A reporter from ABC News this week told Dick Cheney, in regards to Iraq, "two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting." Cheney cut her off with a one word answer: "So?"

"So?" As in, "So what?" As in, "F*** you. I could care less."

I would like every American to see Cheney flip the virtual bird at the them, the American people. Click here and pass it around. Then ask yourself why we haven't risen up and thrown him and his puppet out of the White House.

The Democrats have had the power to literally pull the plug on this war for the past 15 months -- and they have refused to do so. What are we to do about that? Continue to sink into our despair? Or get creative? Real creative. I know there are many of you reading this who have the chutzpah and ingenuity to confront your local congressperson. Will you? For me?

Cheney spent Wednesday, the 5th anniversary of the war, not mourning the dead he killed, but fishing off the Sultan of Oman's royal yacht. So? Ask your favorite Republican what they think of that.

The Founding Fathers would never have uttered the presumptuous words, "God Bless America." That, to them, sounded like a command instead of a request, and one doesn't command God, even if they are America. In fact, they were worried God would punish America. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington feared that God would react unfavorably against his soldiers for the way they were behaving. John Adams wondered if God might punish America and cause it to lose the war, just to prove His point that America was not worthy. They and the others believed it would be arrogant on their part to assume that God would single out America for a blessing. What a long road we have traveled since then.

I see that Frontline on PBS this week has a documentary called "Bush's War." That's what I've been calling it for a long time. It's not the "Iraq War." Iraq did nothing. Iraq didn't plan 9/11. It didn't have weapons of mass destruction. It DID have movie theaters and bars and women wearing what they wanted and a significant Christian population and one of the few Arab capitals with an open synagogue.

But that's all gone now. Show a movie and you'll be shot in the head. Over a hundred women have been randomly executed for not wearing a scarf. I'm happy, as a blessed American, that I had a hand in all this. I just paid my taxes, so that means I helped to pay for this freedom we've brought to Baghdad. So? Will God bless me?

God bless all of you in this Easter Week as we begin the 6th year of Bush's War.

God help America. Please.

Michael Moore

Parks in Peril

by The New York Times
March 24, 2008

The country’s treasured open spaces are no more immune to air pollution from coal-fired power plants than are its big cities. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and kills trees. Mercury emissions poison streams. Nitrogen oxides and sulfates create smog and haze.

For all these reasons, Congress in 1977 amended the Clean Air Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to make a special effort to clean the air in national parks, wildlife refuges and other places of “scenic” and “historical” value it hoped to leave in somewhat better shape for future generations.

No administration since, Democratic or Republican, has paid any attention to this mandate, and despite high hopes, the Bush administration seems likely to fail as well. Two weeks ago, the antiregulatory brigade in the Office of Management and Budget killed ozone standards that would have offered stronger protections for plants, trees, crops and wildlife. And the Environmental Protection Agency, ignoring protests from its own regional offices and the National Park Service, is nearing approval of regulations that would make it easier to build coal-fired plants near parks and wilderness areas without installing pollution controls.

Improving the national parks was one of President Bush’s two big environmental promises in the 2000 campaign. The other was his pledge to control greenhouse gas emissions, abandoned the day he rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. As for the parks, Mr. Bush has commendably increased their budgets and started a separate centennial campaign to encourage private contributions on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for cleaner air in the parks is not nearly as strong as his fealty to the utilities.

In 2003, for instance, his proposal for revising the Clean Air Act, known as Clear Skies, would have stifled dissent by making it harder for the Park Service and other agencies to object to new power plants. In 2005, an otherwise admirable E.P.A. plan to reduce power plant pollution east of the Mississippi, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, also provided cover for many of the dirtiest plants to avoid expensive pollution controls. And in 2006, the White House weakened a proposed rule that would have greatly reduced the airborne particulates that ruin the scenic views in many parks.

The net result is that one in three national parks suffers from one or another form of air pollution, including immensely popular destinations like Yosemite in California, Great Smoky Mountain, straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, and Gettysburg.

The air in these parks will only get worse if the administration proceeds with its latest rules opening the way for more downwind power plants. Members of Congress and nearly every environmental organization have asked Mr. Bush to abandon this ruinous idea. Doing so would improve not only the parks but also whatever positive legacy Mr. Bush hopes to leave behind.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Media Ignore Contractors Killed in Iraq

March 19, 2008

It is inevitable that in the next few days the Pentagon will announce the 4,000th U.S. military death in Iraq. But as the Iraq War begins its sixth year, a significant number of deaths connected to the invasion have remained off the books, uncounted by the U.S. military and seldom noticed by the media.

Private contractors have played an integral role in the occupation of Iraq, often performing duties that would otherwise have to be carried out by the U.S. military. At present, it is believed that there are about as many contractors as active-duty U.S. personnel--slightly more than 150,000. The only available tally of contractor deaths in Iraq from the Labor Department stands at 1,123 as of the end of last year (Houston Chronicle, 2/9/08), a number that is almost certainly an undercount. But even this conservative figure is rarely, if ever, included in media discussions about the deaths associated with the Iraq War.

This hidden death toll receives sporadic media attention. On May 19, 2007, the New York Times ("Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record") reported: "Casualties among private contractors in Iraq have soared to record levels this year, setting a pace that seems certain to turn 2007 into the bloodiest year yet for the civilians who work alongside the American military in the war zone, according to new government numbers."

To put the rate of death in perspective, the Times noted that this would "suggest that for every four American soldiers or marines who die in Iraq, a contractor is killed." That trend would continue for the rest of the year. According to the Houston Chronicle (2/9/08), "The number of civilian contractors reported killed in Iraq jumped 17 percent in 2007 and accounted for more than one in four deaths associated with the U.S. occupation last year." The Chronicle's tally of 1,123 contractor deaths is likely an undercount, since it is actually just a tally of "the number of insurance claims filed with the Labor Department's Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation. Workers whose families or employers do not seek compensation are not counted."

The privatization of so many functions of the Iraq War was not an accident. As investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill wrote (Nation, 4/2/07), it was this way by design: "The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the U.S. troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations."

Scahill added that "contractors have provided the Bush administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints."

The unprecedented reliance on privatized forces is only rarely noted by the press. A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (6/21/07) of over 400 media outlets found that "fewer than one-quarter of those outlets--only 93 of them--ever mentioned private military contractors beyond a brief account of a death or injury." In one of the exceptions to this trend, the New York Times (7/17/07) declared that the rampant use of private contractors in Iraq represented
"the face of battle in a new war and a new century… a rented army of 130,000 civilians supporting 160,000 United States soldiers and Marines. Taking the place of enlisted troops in every American army before this one, these contract employees cook meals, wash clothes, deliver fuel and guard bases. And they die and suffer alongside their brothers and sisters in uniform."

Those deaths, however, are disappeared by the White House and the military officials in charge of managing the war--and the perception of that war.

Consider the events of March 31, 2004, when four Blackwater contractors were ambushed in Fallujah. The killing and mutilation of these workers was a major news story, a clear sign of the intensity of the insurgency against the U.S. occupation; the U.S.'s reaction to those deaths was one of the bloodiest episodes in the entire war (Action Alert, 11/16/04). But in the tally of U.S. deaths supplied by the Pentagon and reported across the mainstream media, these deaths simply do not exist.

There are, of course, many different ways to measure the cost of the Iraq War. The mainstream media find it permissible to discuss total U.S. troop deaths and the price tag of the occupation. There is some discussion of Iraqi civilian casualties, though much of that media debate is dedicated to challenging statistical estimates that are considered to be too politically damaging (Extra!, 1-2/08).

But when it comes to private contractors, there is near-silence. The U.S. military and the Bush White House surely have an interest in concealing this aspect of the Iraq War. By keeping contractor deaths away from public view, the media grant them a tremendous favor.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

U.S. Power Plant Emissions Way Up

by Environment News Service
March 18, 2008

The biggest single year increase in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants in nine years occurred in 2007, finds a new analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project. The finding of a 2.9 percent rise in carbon dioxide emissions over 2006 is based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the largest factor in the U.S. contribution to climate change, the electric power industry's emissions of carbon dioxide, CO2, have risen 5.9 percent since 2002 and 11.7 percent since 1997, the analysis shows.

Texas tops the list of the 10 states with the biggest one-year increases in CO2 emissions, with Georgia, Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia and North Carolina close behind.

The top three states - Texas, Georgia and Arizona - had the greatest increases in CO2 emissions on a one, five and 10 year basis.

Director of the Environmental Integrity Project Eric Schaeffer said, "The current debate over global warming policy tends to focus on long-term goals, like how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next 50 years. But while we debate, CO2 emissions from power plants keep rising, making an already dire situation worse."

"Because CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of between 50 and 200 years, today's emissions could cause global warming for up to two centuries to come," he warned.

Data from 2006 show that the 10 states with the least efficient power production relative to resulting greenhouse gas emissions were North Dakota, Wyoming, Kentucky, Indiana, Utah, West Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, and Iowa.

The report explains why national environmental groups are fighting to stop the construction of new conventional coal-fired power plants, which they say would make a bad situation worse.

"For example" the report points out, "the eight planned coal-fired plants that TXU withdrew in the face of determined opposition in Texas would have added an estimated 64 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, increasing emissions from power plants in that state by 24 percent."

Some of the rise in CO2 emissions comes from existing coal fired power plants, the analysis found, either because these plants are operating at increasingly higher capacities, or because these aging plants require more heat to generate electricity. "For example, all of the top 10 highest emitting plants in the nation, either held steady or increased CO2 output from 2006 to 2007."

Read more here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008

New Evidence Challenges Official Story of RFK Assassination

by James Randerson
The Guardian
February 22, 2008

The official record states that senator Robert F. Kennedy, like his brother before him, was killed by a crazed lone gunman. But the assassination of a man who seemed to embody so much hope for a bitterly divided country embroiled in an unpopular war still troubles this nation.

Little about the official explanation of the events at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, makes sense. Now a new forensic analysis of the only audio recording of the fatal shots has given new weight to a controversial theory that there were in fact two shooters, and that the man convicted of Kennedy's killing — Sirhan Sirhan - did not fire the fatal shots.

Following his victory speech to supporters after clinching a tight democratic primary victory in California, Kennedy left the podium in the Embassy ballroom to address a press conference.

But the shortcut he and his entourage took through the hotel's pantry quickly descended into bloody mayhem. As Kennedy turned from shaking hands with two of the kitchen staff, a gunman stepped forward and began firing. Kennedy was hit by four shots including one which lodged in the vertebrae in his neck and another which entered his brain from below his right ear. He died in hospital the following day. Five other people were injured but survived.

Sirhan - a Palestinian refugee who said he wanted to "sacrifice" Kennedy "for the cause of the poor exploited people" - was quickly apprehended. He was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.

"Sirhan was apprehended at the scene with literally a smoking gun," said acoustic forensic expert Philip Van Praag of PVP Designs, who has carried out the new analysis. "At the beginning many people looked upon this as an open-and-shut case. It was one man, Sirhan Sirhan, who was observed by a number of people, who aimed and fired a gun in the direction of Kennedy's entourage."

But the lone gunman explanation has always looked shaky. The autopsy of Kennedy's body suggested that all four shots that hit him came from behind, and powder marks on his skin showed they must have been from close range.

But Sirhan was in front of Kennedy when he fired, and after shooting two shots was overcome by hotel staff, who pinned him to a table. Also, Sirhan fired eight shots in total, yet 14 were found lodged around the room and in the victims.

"There is no doubt in our minds that no fewer than 14 shots were fired in the pantry on that evening and that Sirhan did not in fact kill Senator Kennedy," said Robert Joling, a forensic scientist who has been involved with the Kennedy case for nearly 40 years. He and Van Praag have published a book on the killing this week entitled "An Open and Shut Case".

The inconsistencies in the case have bred numerous conspiracy theories, including the involvement of the CIA and the idea that Sirhan - who claims not to remember the shooting and pleaded insanity at his trial - was a "Manchurian Candidate" assassin who was hypnotically programmed to kill the senator.

Now Van Praag has added new weight to the 'two shooters' theory. He reanalysed the only audio recording of the shooting, which was made by an independent journalist, Stanislaw Pruszynski. "At the time Pruszynski was not even aware that his recorder was still on," said Van Praag.

The recording quality is poor, but it is possible to make out 13 shots over the course of just over 5 seconds, before what Van Praag describes as "blood-curdling screams" obscure the sound. That is more than the eight rounds that Sirhan's cheap Iver Johnson Cadet 55 revolver carried.

Also, there are two pairs of double shots that occurred so close together it is inconceivable that Sirhan could have fired them all. The third and fourth shots and the seventh and eighth were separated by 122 and 149 milliseconds respectively. In tests, a trained firearms expert firing under ideal conditions could only manage 366 milliseconds between shots using the same weapon. And he was not being pinned to a table at the time.

Lastly, five of the shots - 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 in the sequence - were found to have odd acoustic characteristics when specific frequencies were analysed separately. Van Praag thinks this is because they came from a different gun pointing away from Pruszynski's microphone.

To recreate this he recorded the sounds made by firing the Iver Johnson and another revolver, a Harrington and Richardson 922. At least one member of Kennedy's entourage was carrying this weapon when the killing happened. In the acoustic tests it produced the same frequency anomalies Van Praag had seen in the original recording but only when fired away from the microphone.

He presented his results on Thursday at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in Washington DC.

Paul Schrade, a close associate of Kennedy's who was director of the United Auto Workers union, was at the senator's side in the pantry and was shot in the head. He told the meeting that America lost an outstanding leader and potentially great president that day.

"I think we were in a position of really changing this country," he said. "What we lost was a real hope and possibility of having a better country and having better relations around the world."

He wants to see the case reopened and properly investigated. "We're going to go ahead and do our best to find out who the second gunman was and that's going to take a lot of work," he said.

Van Praag also wants the case reexamined. "We would hope that the evidence that we have uncovered ... would make a strong enough case to get serious consideration once again by the authorities," he said.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Only Lesson We Ever Learn Is That We Never Learn

by Robert Fisk
The Independent
March 19, 2008

Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill, who in the end called Palestine a "hell-disaster".

But we have used these parallels before and they have drifted away in the Tigris breeze. Iraq is swamped in blood. Yet what is the state of our remorse? Why, we will have a public inquiry – but not yet! If only inadequacy was our only sin.

Today, we are engaged in a fruitless debate. What went wrong? How did the people – the senatus populusque Romanus of our modern world – not rise up in rebellion when told the lies about weapons of mass destruction, about Saddam's links with Osama bin Laden and 11 September? How did we let it happen? And how come we didn't plan for the aftermath of war?

Oh, the British tried to get the Americans to listen, Downing Street now tells us. We really, honestly did try, before we absolutely and completely knew it was right to embark on this illegal war. There is now a vast literature on the Iraq debacle and there are precedents for post-war planning – of which more later – but this is not the point. Our predicament in Iraq is on an infinitely more terrible scale.

As the Americans came storming up Iraq in 2003, their cruise missiles hissing through the sandstorm towards a hundred Iraqi towns and cities, I would sit in my filthy room in the Baghdad Palestine Hotel, unable to sleep for the thunder of explosions, and root through the books I'd brought to fill the dark, dangerous hours. Tolstoy's War and Peace reminded me how conflict can be described with sensitivity and grace and horror – I recommend the Battle of Borodino – along with a file of newspaper clippings. In this little folder, there was a long rant by Pat Buchanan, written five months earlier; and still, today I feel its power and its prescience and its absolute historical honesty: "With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.

"They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."

How easily the little men took us into the inferno, with no knowledge or, at least, interest in history. None of them read of the 1920 Iraqi insurgency against British occupation, nor of Churchill's brusque and brutal settlement of Iraq the following year.

On our historical radars, not even Crassus appeared, the wealthiest Roman general of all, who demanded an emperorship after conquering Macedonia – "Mission Accomplished" – and vengefully set forth to destroy Mesopotamia. At a spot in the desert near the Euphrates river, the Parthians – ancestors of present day Iraqi insurgents – annihilated the legions, chopped off Crassus's head and sent it back to Rome filled with gold. Today, they would have videotaped his beheading.

To their monumental hubris, these little men who took us to war five years ago now prove that they have learnt nothing. Anthony Blair – as we should always have called this small town lawyer – should be facing trial for his mendacity. Instead, he now presumes to bring peace to an Arab-Israeli conflict which he has done so much to exacerbate. And now we have the man who changed his mind on the legality of war – and did so on a single sheet of A4 paper – daring to suggest that we should test immigrants for British citizenship. Question 1, I contend, should be: Which blood-soaked British attorney general helped to send 176 British soldiers to their deaths for a lie? Question 2: How did he get away with it?

But in a sense, the facile, dumbo nature of Lord Goldsmith's proposal is a clue to the whole transitory, cardboard structure of our decision-making. The great issues that face us – be they Iraq or Afghanistan, the US economy or global warming, planned invasions or "terrorism" – are discussed not according to serious political timetables but around television schedules and press conferences.

Will the first air raids on Iraq hit prime-time television in the States? Mercifully, yes. Will the first US troops in Baghdad appear on the breakfast shows? Of course. Will Saddam's capture be announced by Bush and Blair simultaneously?.

But this is all part of the problem. True, Churchill and Roosevelt argued about the timing of the announcement that war in Europe had ended. And it was the Russians who pipped them to the post. But we told the truth. When the British were retreating to Dunkirk, Churchill announced that the Germans had "penetrated deeply and spread alarm and confusion in their tracks".

Why didn't Bush or Blair tell us this when the Iraqi insurgents began to assault the Western occupation forces? Well, they were too busy telling us that things were getting better, that the rebels were mere "dead-enders".

On 17 June 1940, Churchill told the people of Britain: "The news from France is very bad and I grieve for the gallant French people who have fallen into this terrible misfortune." Why didn't Blair or Bush tell us that the news from Iraq was very bad and that they grieved – even just a few tears for a minute or so – for the Iraqis?

For these were the men who had the temerity, the sheer, unadulterated gall, to dress themselves up as Churchill, heroes who would stage a rerun of the Second World War, the BBC dutifully calling the invaders "the Allies" – they did, by the way – and painting Saddam's regime as the Third Reich.

Of course, when I was at school, our leaders – Attlee, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, or Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in the United States – had real experience of real war. Not a single Western leader today has any first-hand experience of conflict. When the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began, the most prominent European opponent of the war was Jacques Chirac, who fought in the Algerian conflict. But he has now gone. So has Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran but himself duped by Rumsfeld and the CIA.

Yet one of the terrible ironies of our times is that the most bloodthirsty of American statesmen – Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz – have either never heard a shot fired in anger or have ensured they did not have to fight for their country when they had the chance to do so. No wonder Hollywood titles like "Shock and Awe" appeal to the White House. Movies are their only experience of human conflict; the same goes for Blair and Brown.

Churchill had to account for the loss of Singapore before a packed House. Brown won't even account for Iraq until the war is over.

It is a grotesque truism that today – after all the posturing of our political midgets five years ago – we might at last be permitted a valid seance with the ghosts of the Second World War. Statistics are the medium, and the room would have to be dark. But it is a fact that the total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200).

They count for just over a third of the total fatalities (11,014) of the entire British Expeditionary Force from the German invasion of Belgium to the final evacuation at Dunkirk in June 1940. The number of British dead in Iraq – 176 – is almost equal to the total of UK forces lost at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45 (just over 200). The number of US wounded in Iraq – 29,395 – is more than nine times the number of Americans injured on 6 June (3,184) and more than a quarter of the tally for US wounded in the entire 1950-53 Korean war (103,284).

Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead – they range from 350,000 up to a million – these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom – 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded – from 1940 to 1945.

Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or – more terrible still – two Hiroshimas.

Yet in a sense, all this is a distraction from the awful truth in Buchanan's warning. We have dispatched our armies into the land of Islam. We have done so with the sole encouragement of Israel, whose own false intelligence over Iraq has been discreetly forgotten by our masters, while weeping crocodile tears for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.

America's massive military prestige has been irreparably diminished. And if there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?

We blithely connect Afghanistan to Iraq. If only Washington had not become distracted by Iraq, so the narrative now goes, the Taliban could not have re-established themselves. But al-Qa'ida and the nebulous Osama bin Laden were not distracted. Which is why they expanded their operations into Iraq and then used this experience to assault the West in Afghanistan with the hitherto – in Afghanistan – unheard of suicide bomber.

And I will hazard a terrible guess: that we have lost Afghanistan as surely as we have lost Iraq and as surely as we are going to "lose" Pakistan. It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror – yes, our terror – of Islam that is leading us into the abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim peoples alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and "terror". But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and "terror". It's not too complicated an equation. And we don't need a public inquiry to get it right.


Floodplain Development is Booming in Missouri

by Emily Gertz
March 19, 2008

Once it was a cornfield; now it's a Wal-Mart, a Taco Bell, a Target. Here along a stretch of Missouri's Highway 40, in the Chesterfield Valley area just west of downtown St. Louis, what's said to be the largest strip mall in the country sits on about 46 acres of Mississippi River bottomlands. Less than 20 years ago, the land was open space.

It's been fifteen years since the Great Flood of 1993 put this land under 10 feet of water. Since then, thousands of acres of floodplain in the St. Louis area have been built up with strip malls, office and industrial parks, and 28,000 new homes. And all this infrastructure depends on miles and miles of levees to hold back the Mississippi and Missouri rivers the next time they try to retake the land.

If you ignore the historical tendency of the Mississippi and Missouri to periodically drown it, this vast, flat landscape does present an appealing canvas for building. "When you have such an expansive floodplain, people don't have a problem with building on the fringes," says Dan Burkemper, director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. "And then the fringe moves closer to the river every day."

The Flood of 1993 was one of the most destructive in the recorded history of the Mississippi Basin: nearly 50 people were killed, over 70,000 evacuated, and 50,000 homes damaged on over 17 million acres (close to 27,000 square miles) across nine states. Over 16,000 square miles of working cropland was flooded, at a loss of more than $5 billion. All told, the flood caused around $16 billion in damage.

Read more here.

©2008 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Real News of Iraq War Blacked Out in US

March 19, 2008

Dozens of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland last weekend for the Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan hearings (3/13/08-3/16/08), where they offered harrowing testimony about atrocities they had witnessed or participated in directly. The BBC predicted that the event, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, "could be dominating the headlines around the world this week" (3/7/08). The hearings were covered as far afield as the U.K. (Guardian, 3/17/08), Australia (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/14/08), Croatia (Javno, 3/16/08), and Iran (Press TV, 3/14/08). Yet there has been an almost complete media blackout on this historic news event in the U.S. corporate media.

Despite being noted in the New York Times' Paris-based International Herald Tribune (3/13/08), Winter Soldier has yet to be mentioned in the New York Times itself. No major U.S. newspaper has covered the hearings except as a story of local interest; the few stories major U.S. newspapers have published on the event have focused on the participation of local vets (Boston Globe, 3/16/08; Boston Herald, 3/16/08; Newsday, 3/16/08, Buffalo News, 3/16/08).

The Washington Post, too, published their account in the metro section (3/15/08). In contrast, the paper published an article about pro-war demonstrators protesting the Winter Soldier hearings in the A section (3/16/08), despite the fact that they were, according to the Post, "small in number."

None of the major broadcast TV networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) have mentioned the hearings in their newscasts. PBS has been silent as well.

But for a couple of exceptions (Time, 3/15/08; NPR, 3/16/08), the hearings have been virtually ignored by all but the independent media (Democracy Now!, 3/14/08; 3/17-18/08; In These Times, 3/17/08; Alternet, 3/14/08) and military publications (Stars and Stripes, 3/15/08 and the four Military Times newsweeklies, 3/15/08, 3/17/08), in a pattern reminiscent of the near complete corporate media blackout on the first Winter Soldier hearings. FAIR founder Jeff Cohen (Huffington Post, 3/16/08) traces the beginning of his career as a media critic back to his experience of watching as “one of the rare mainstream camera crews showed up at Winter Soldier... and then abruptly packed up to leave in the middle of particularly gripping testimony.”

While the testimony of soldiers who had served multiple tours of duty was broadcast on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now!, Free Speech TV, and the Real News network, the major broadcast networks and PBS instead devoted airtime to the pro-war assessments of Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, both of whom have only made brief visits to Iraq (NBC Nightly News, ABC World News, CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour, all 3/17/08).

Given the common media rhetoric of "supporting the troops" (FAIR Action Alert, 3/26/03), to ignore these same troops when they speak out about the horrors of the war is unconscionable. On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, it is particularly important that the media reverse this silence, and include the voices of the vets who are speaking out about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan in national news coverage.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Wages of Peace

by Robert Pollin & Heidi Garrett-Peltier
The Nation
March 13, 2008

There is no longer any doubt that the Iraq War is a moral and strategic disaster for the United States. But what has not yet been fully recognized is that it has also been an economic disaster. To date, the government has spent more than $522 billion on the war, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008.

With just the amount of the Iraq budget of 2007, $138 billion, the government could instead have provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million Americans who are uninsured. What's more, we could have added 30,000 elementary and secondary schoolteachers and built 400 schools in which they could teach. And we could have provided basic home weatherization for about 1.6 million existing homes, reducing energy consumption in these homes by 30 percent.

But the economic consequences of Iraq run even deeper than the squandered opportunities for vital public investments. Spending on Iraq is also a job killer. Every $1 billion spent on a combination of education, healthcare, energy conservation and infrastructure investments creates between 50 and 100 percent more jobs than the same money going to Iraq. Taking the 2007 Iraq budget of $138 billion, this means that upward of 1 million jobs were lost because the Bush Administration chose the Iraq sinkhole over public investment.

Recognizing these costs of the Iraq War is even more crucial now that the economy is facing recession. While a recession is probably unavoidable, its length and severity will depend on the effectiveness of the government's stimulus initiatives. By a wide margin, the most effective stimulus is to expand public investment projects, especially at the state and local levels. The least effective fiscal stimulus is the one crafted by the Bush Administration and Congress--mostly to just send out rebate checks to all taxpayers. This is because a high proportion of the new spending encouraged by the rebates will purchase imports rather than financing new jobs in the United States, whereas public investment would concentrate job expansion within the country. Combining this Bush stimulus initiative with the ongoing spending on Iraq will only deepen the severity of the recession.

The government spent an estimated $572 billion on the military in 2007. This amounts to about $1,800 for every resident of the country. That's more than the combined GDPs of Sweden and Thailand, and eight times federal spending on education.

The level of military spending has risen dramatically since 2001, with the increases beginning even before 9/11. As a share of GDP, the military budget rose from 3 percent to 4.4 percent during the first seven years of the Bush presidency. At the current size of the economy, a difference between a military budget at 4.4 rather than 3 percent of GDP amounts to $134 billion.

The largest increases in the military budget during the Bush presidency have been associated with the Iraq War. Indeed, the $138 billion spent on Iraq in 2007 was basically equal to the total increase in military spending that caused the military budget to rise to 4.4 percent of GDP. It is often argued that the military budget is a cornerstone of the economy--that the Pentagon is a major underwriter of important technical innovations as well as a source of millions of decent jobs. At one level these claims are true. When the government spends upward of $600 billion per year of taxpayers' money on anything, it cannot help but generate millions of jobs. Similarly, when it spends a large share of that budget on maintaining and strengthening the most powerful military force in the history of the world, this cannot fail to encourage technical innovations that are somehow connected to the instruments of warfare.

Yet it is also true that channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into areas such as renewable energy and mass transportation would create a hothouse environment supporting new technologies. For example, utilities in Arizona and Nevada are developing plans to build "concentrated" solar power plants, which use the sun to heat a liquid that can drive a turbine. It is estimated that this technology, operating on a large scale, could drive down the costs of solar electricity dramatically, from its current level of about $4 per watt to between $2.50 and $3 per watt in the sunniest regions of the country. At these prices, solar electricity becomes much cheaper than oil-driven power and within range of coal. These and related technologies could advance much more rapidly toward cost competitiveness with coal, oil and nuclear power if they were to receive even a fraction of the subsidies that now support weapons development (as well as the oil industry).

Read more here:

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Green Buildings Overlooked as Most Effective Way to Reduce Climate Changing Emissions

by Stephen Leahy
Inter Press Service
March 13, 2008

Making buildings more environmentally friendly is the easiest and most effective way to cut climate-changing carbon emissions, often slashing energy costs by up to 70 percent. So why isn't there a massive effort to "green up" existing buildings and set green standards for all new construction?

North America's buildings are responsible for a staggering 2,200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions -- 35 percent of the continent's annual total. A new report released Thursday says a rapid uptake of currently available and emerging advanced energy-saving technologies could slash emissions by 1,700 megatonnes (MT) of CO2 emissions by 2030.

A cut of that size would nearly equal the CO2 emitted by the entire U.S. transportation sector in 2000.

"Improving our built environment is probably the single greatest opportunity to protect and enhance the natural environment," said Adrián Vázquez, executive director of the tri-national Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) that produced the report, "Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges".

Examples of green building strategies include energy efficient appliances, solar panels, ample windows that eliminate the need for electric light during daytime hours, and rooftop gardens that cool in the summer and insulate in the winter.

"Green building represents some of the ripest 'low-hanging fruit' for achieving significant reductions in climate change emissions," Vázquez told IPS.

Buildings are the proverbial elephant in the room in terms of energy and resource use, according to the report. In the U.S., they devoured 40 percent of all energy, with 1.24 million new single family homes being built every year. In Canada, buildings are responsible for 50 percent of all natural resources used. In Mexico, they use 25 percent of all electricity and produce 20 percent of the country's waste.

The most efficient buildings today use about 70 percent less energy than conventional properties. Despite proven environmental, economic and health benefits, however, green building accounts for a only small fraction of new homes and commercial buildings -- just two percent of the new non-residential building market, less than half of one percent of the residential market in the United States and Canada, and even less than that in Mexico.

It would seem that energy costs aren't high enough. Multi-billion-dollar government subsidies paid to the energy sector lowers the actual cost of energy, and tilts the market away from green buildings towards the cheapest built structures.

In Mexico, the government "greatly subsidises" electricity costs, especially in the hotter areas, said Vázquez. There is no financial incentive to build more efficient buildings in Mexico, and most people can't afford to pay higher costs up front even if they would save money in the long run, he said.

"We need a full lifecycle analysis and the Mexican government is very interested especially for the low-income housing it is building," Vázquez said.

"Greener buildings are more expensive to build but the payback is just five or six years," said Jonathan Westeinde, managing partner of the Windmill Development Group in Ottawa and the CEC's advisory group chair.

"The problem is that the tenant benefits from lower energy costs, not the building owner or developer," he said.

One way around this is for governments to make green building techniques the new normal standard for all new construction and renovation of existing buildings in North America. The report calls upon North American governments, industry and non-governmental leaders to set clear targets to achieve the most rapid possible adoption of green building in North America. This would include "aggressive targets for carbon-neutral or net zero-energy buildings, together with performance monitoring to track progress towards these targets".

Green buildings use less water, create less waste and are healthier for people and their productivity, boosting the benefits to governments and society as a whole, Westeinde, a developer, said in an interview. The annual cost of building-related sickness is estimated to be 58 billion dollars in the U.S., the report found. Green building has the potential to generate an additional 200 billion dollars annually in worker performance in the United States by creating offices with better indoor air.

Retrofitting existing buildings is where the bulk of the energy and carbon reduction will come from. A regulatory framework and new ways to finance such retrofits are crucial but currently governments are completely ignoring the building sector. The fact is commercial buildings are already replacing windows and heating/cooling equipment every eight to 12 years but will install equipment to meet the minimum standards, he said.

"The building industry also has the lowest research and development investment of any sector. There is a big potential for improvement there," he noted.

Canada has not been very interested in buildings as part of its climate change mitigation efforts. "Hopefully this will wake them up," he said.

Mexico's Ministry of the Environment is already very interested and supports green buildings for the housing and commercial building sector, said Vázquez.

Public interest in energy efficiency and green buildings has never been higher in all three countries, according to Westeinde. "People understand the necessity for doing something about climate change," he said.

Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

Spitzer's Eco-Legacy

by Grist Magazine
March 12, 2008

Prostitution-ring participant Eliot Spitzer has resigned as New York's governor, leaving behind a not-too-shabby environmental legacy. As New York's attorney general, he sued the Bush administration over various eco-issues, including greenhouse-gas emissions, mercury pollution and water guzzling from power plants, pesticide use in public housing, and efficiency standards for appliances.

Spitzer took plenty of polluters to court, too. Among his many victories, he forced six New York power plants to radically cut emissions that cause acid rain and smog. He was also the first attorney general to sue operators of coal-fired power plants in other states, arguing that their pollution blows into New York and contaminates the air breathed by his constituents.

Under Spitzer's short reign as governor, New York saw plans for a wholesale farmer's market in the Bronx and began to require "global warming index" stickers on new vehicles. Spitzer gave the governor's mansion an eco-facelift and unveiled an energy plan aiming to cut electricity use in his state 15 percent by 2015.

The governorship now falls to Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, also a Democrat. Paterson is not so much in the eco-spotlight, but did chair a renewable-energy task force that laid out plans for meeting a quarter of New York's energy needs through clean sources by 2013, and developing and supporting a green-collar workforce. Whether he'll follow in Spitzer's footsteps -- the eco-aimed ones, not the ones treading a path to a prostitute's door -- remains to be seen.

©2008 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Milk Wars

by David E. Gumpert
The Nation
March 5, 2008

For the past sixty years, there hasn't been much good news for America's small dairies. Thanks to rising land costs and intensifying price pressures, the bucolic sight of cows grazing in the countryside has become ever less common. Since 1970 alone, the number of dairies has plunged an astounding 88 percent, to 75,000, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The consolidation means that factory-style dairies with between 1,000 and 5,000 cows have become increasingly common.

The one bit of encouraging news for small dairies has been the growing market among health-conscious consumers for unpasteurized milk and dairy products like yogurt, butter and cream. There may be a half-million or more raw-milk drinkers in the United States, with the number growing "exponentially," says Sally Fallon, co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which encourages consumption of raw milk for its healthful enzymes, bacteria and proteins.

Small dairies have rushed to meet this need via a completely new business model. Instead of selling milk in bulk to processors who offer take-it-or-leave-it prices of $1.50 to $2 a gallon, some small dairies sell directly to consumers at whatever price the market will bear, typically from $5 a gallon to as much as $10 a gallon. At those prices, dairy farmers actually begin thinking in terms of a long-forgotten word: profit.

In New York state, which regulates direct sales of raw milk to consumers by issuing permits to dairies, the number of raw-milk dairies with permits has doubled to twenty from ten in 2005. The same sort of minirevival has occurred in other states that allow raw-milk sales direct from the farm, like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. In California--one of the few states that allow sales of raw milk via Whole Foods Market and other retail outlets--the largest raw-milk dairy, the 350-cow Organic Pastures Dairy Company, has seen its annual sales climb by 25 percent annually, to more than $5 million.

Arguing that raw milk isn't safe and that consumers must be protected from its dangers, some government regulators and legislators are targeting small raw-milk dairies for tough enforcement actions, focusing most intensively on dairies in New York and California.

State regulators have supplemented inspections by obtaining search warrants, pushing restrictive legislation and even threatening to throw dairy farmers into jail. They've been encouraged by the US Food and Drug Administration, which in a sixty-four-slide PowerPoint presentation posted on its website last March, exhorted "everyone charged with protecting the public health to prevent the sale of raw milk to consumers...."

Barb and Steve Smith see New York's ever-harsher tactics against their tiny Meadowsweet Farm as closely related to the rising demand for raw milk. They obtained a raw-milk permit in 1997 because they were desperate to extricate themselves and their nine children from the commodity bondage that dominated their lives from the time they purchased the farm in 1995. "We figured by selling milk to the processor we were getting about $1 an hour for our work," says Steve.

The raw-milk option was slow going until 2005 and 2006, when demand began rising sharply. Anywhere from twenty to thirty customers would regularly visit their lonely outpost near Lodi, most of them from Ithaca, the home of Cornell University, which is about forty-five minutes away.

"But our customers always wanted more things raw--butter, kefir, cream," says Barb. New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets prohibits the sale of any raw dairy products except milk and cheese that has been aged at least sixty days.

The expanding customer demands coincided with what the Smiths say was a change in the department's inspection procedures, beginning in the summer of 2006. Minor violations like a tear in a screen door or excessive weeds outside the barn, overlooked in earlier years, now meant fines of a few hundred dollars and automatic thirty-day re-inspections.

One day in February 2007, they received four letters from Ag and Markets announcing violations and fines. On that day, Barb says, she and Steve concluded, "They were not giving us any way to achieve compliance."

Ag and Markets declined recent requests for comment about the Smiths' case, but last July, when a number of dairy farmers with raw-milk permits began complaining about intensified inspections, agency spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden told me, "Even though there is a demand for this product and we have regulations that allow for the sale of raw milk, food safety must come first. Therefore, we take our responsibility in safeguarding consumers from food-borne illness very seriously."

The Smiths decided over the next few months to pursue an increasingly popular avenue among dairies in states that don't allow the sale of raw milk or have very restrictive policies: issuing "herd shares" or "cow shares," legal agreements under which consumers acquire partial ownership of the dairy herd and receive milk and other dairy products from "their" cows.

While some state agriculture officials have challenged these arrangements, they have held up to legal tests in two major states. In Ohio, a small dairy sued the Ohio Department of Agriculture in 2006 over efforts to shut down its herd share, and won in state court. The Michigan Department of Agriculture last year backed off on seeking criminal charges against a farmer who formed a herd share for Ann Arbor consumers, in the face of widespread public opposition.

Last spring, the Smiths established a herd share, in the form of a limited liability company. Simultaneously, they gave up their raw-milk permit. They spread the word in Ithaca that buying shares in the LLC would entitle owners to raw milk and the other high-demand raw-milk products, along with delivery to easy-access drop-off points.

By the summer, they had 130 shareholders paying $50 each for shares, plus the equivalent of $6 a gallon for milk, in the form of fees to feed and house the cows; thirty more customers joined a waiting list for future shares. The Smiths were able to reduce their herd to fourteen cows from thirty, generating the same cash flow but with reduced fuel and feed costs.

New York's Ag and Markets immediately showed its displeasure by stepping up its inspection and enforcement efforts. In late August, the department notified the Smiths that fines for "unsanitary plant conditions" totaled $1,700 and needed to be paid within fifteen days to avoid legal action.

Arguing that they no longer had a raw-milk permit and were serving only private shareholders, the Smiths resisted. That led to steady escalation by Ag and Markets, including the quarantining in October of 130 quarts of yogurt, twenty bottles of buttermilk and five gallons of whole milk in the Smiths' cooler.

On December 13, with the support of the recently formed Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the Smiths filed suit against the department and two of its officials. They asked the court to allow members of the dairy LLC to continue to pick up their raw-milk products without harassment from regulators.

The same day, in the middle of a snowstorm, two Ag and Markets inspectors showed up to force the Smiths to dump the quarantined milk, yogurt and buttermilk into buckets while the inspectors poured in bleach. The inspectors returned yet again just before Christmas with a search warrant, but the Smiths' lawyer advised them to refuse the inspection since the warrant didn't allow for breaking into the Smiths' locked cooler.

The entire affair has evolved into a three-front legal battle: an additional Ag and Markets regulatory complaint to shut the Smiths' dairy, the Smiths' lawsuit and, most recently, a show-cause order in state court as to why the Smiths shouldn't be held in contempt for refusing to allow the inspectors access to their locked coolers. If the judge rules in favor of the state and if the Smiths continue to resist, they could be thrown in jail. At a hearing February 28, a state judge took under advisement both the state's request for a contempt finding and the Smiths' request to quash the show-cause order.

While New York agriculture officials have been fighting small dairies via regulations and the courts, California regulators have been fighting a legislative battle. There, the marketplace is much different, since retail sales of raw milk are allowed. But because of high capital costs and the state's tough regulations (for example, requiring automated bottling equipment), only two dairies serve the entire market...

Read more here.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Changing Our National Priorities

by Senator Bernie Sanders
Common Dreams News Center
March 8, 2008

There are three major trends in American society that must be addressed when the Senate next week debates the federal budget. First, the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major nation in the industrialized world, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. Second, it is a national disgrace that we have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. More than 18 percent of our kids live in poverty. Third, year after year, we have had record-breaking deficits and our national debt will soon be $10 trillion. That is a grossly unfair burden to leave to our kids and grandchildren. It also is economically unsustainable.

I plan to offer an amendment that addresses these issues, to change our national priorities, and to move this country in a very different direction than where we have been going in the last seven years.

According to the latest available statistics from the Internal Revenue Service, the top 1 percent of Americans earned significantly more income in 2005 than the bottom 50 percent. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported that the wealthiest 1 percent saw total income rise by $180,000 in 2005. That is more than the average middle-class family makes in three years. The CBO also found that the total share of after-tax income going to the top 1 percent hit the highest level on record, while the middle class and working families received the smallest share of after-tax income on record.

Meanwhile, while the rich have become much richer, nearly 5 million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty over the past seven years, including over 1 million of our children.

We have a moral responsibility to put children ahead of millionaires and billionaires. That is why, during the Senate’s consideration of the budget resolution, I will offer an amendment to restore the top income tax bracket to 39.6 percent for households earning more than $1 million a year.

Restoring the top income tax bracket for people making more than $1 million to what it was in 2000 would increase revenue by $32.5 billion over the next three years, according to the Joint Tax Committee, including $10.8 billion next year alone.

I would devote that revenue the needs of our children; job creation; and deficit reduction.

Instead of giving $32.5 billion in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, my amendment would, over the next three years, provide:

  • $10 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to help about 7 million children with disabilities and, in the process, relieve pressure on local property taxpayers.
  • $5 billion for Head Start — a program which has been cut by more than 11 percent since 2002. Today, less than half of all eligible children are enrolled in Head Start. Only about 3 percent of all eligible children are enrolled in Early Head Start. My amendment would begin to correct this situation.
  • $4 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant. Today, due to inadequate funding, only about one in seven eligible children are able to receive federal child care assistance. Already, 250,000 fewer children receive child care assistance today than in 2000.
  • $3 billion for school construction. According to the most recent estimates, schools across the country have a $100 billion backlog in badly-needed school repairs. Investing $3 billion is a small, but important step to help repair crumbling schools across the country and, in the process, create tens of thousands of jobs for painters, carpenters, electricians, and construction workers.
  • $4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program so that low-income families with children, seniors on fixed incomes, and persons with disabilities will be able to stay warm in the winter. After adjusting for energy prices and inflation, the heating assistance program has been cut by 34.5 percent or $1.3 billion compared to 2002. My amendment would begin to reverse this trend.
  • $3 billion for food stamps, so that we can begin to reduce the growing number of children and adults living with food insecurity.
  • $3 billion to reduce the deficit.

This amendment is a fiscally responsible way to reduce childhood poverty, address an income gap greater than at any time since the Roaring Twenties, and lower our deficit.

© Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Food Crisis Approaching

by James Randerson
The Guardian
March 7, 2008

Food security and the rapid rise in food prices make up the "elephant in the room" that politicians must face up to quickly, according to the [British] government's new chief scientific adviser.

In his first major speech since taking over, Professor John Beddington said the global rush to grow biofuels was compounding the problem, and cutting down rainforest to produce biofuel crops was "profoundly stupid".

He told the Govnet Sustainable Development UK Conference in Westminster: "There is progress on climate change. But out there is another major problem. It is very hard to imagine how we can see a world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous increase in the demand for food which is quite properly going to happen as we alleviate poverty."

He predicted that price rises in staples such as rice, maize and wheat would continue because of increased demand caused by population growth and increasing wealth in developing nations. He also said that climate change would lead to pressure on food supplies because of decreased rainfall in many areas and crop failures related to climate. "The agriculture industry needs to double its food production, using less water than today," he said. The food crisis would bite more quickly than climate change, he added.

But he reserved some of his most scathing comments for the biofuel industry, which he said had delivered a "major shock" to world food prices. "In terms of biofuels there has been, quite properly, a reaction against it," he said. "There are real problems with unsustainability."

Biofuel production is due to increase hugely in the next 15 years. The US plans to produce 30bn gallons of biofuels by 2022 - which will mean trebling maize production. The EU has a target for biofuels to make up 5.75% of transport fuels by 2010.

But Beddington said it was vital that biofuels were grown sustainably. "Some of the biofuels are hopeless. The idea that you cut down rainforest to actually grow biofuels seems profoundly stupid."

Before taking over the chief scientist post from Sir David King nine weeks ago, Beddington was professor of applied population biology at Imperial College London. He is an expert on the sustainable use of renewable resources.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said at the conference that the world's population was expected to grow from 6.2bn today to 9.5bn in less than 50 years' time. "How are we going to feed everybody?" he asked.

Beddington said that in the short term, development and increasing wealth would add to the food crisis. "Once you move to [an income of] between £1 a day and £5 a day you get an increase in demand for meat and dairy products ... and that generates a demand for additional grain." Above £5 a day, people begin to demand processed and packaged food, which entails greater energy use. About 2.7bn people in the world live on less than £1 a day.

There would also be increases at the higher end of the wage scale, he said. At present there are 350m households on £8,000 a year. That is projected to increase to 2.1bn by 2030. "It's tremendous good news. You are seeing a genuine prediction from the World Bank that poverty alleviation is actually working."

But he cautioned that the increased purchasing power would lead to greater pressure on food supplies. Global grain stores are currently at the lowest levels ever, just 40 days from running out. "I am only nine weeks into the job, so don't yet have all the answers, but it is clear that science and research to increase the efficiency of agricultural production per unit of land is critical."

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Necessary Embrace of Conspiracy

by Robert Shetterly
Common Dreams News Center
August 31, 2007

Several years ago I gave a talk on Martha’s Vineyard about many of the people whose portraits I’ve painted in the Americans Who Tell the Truth series. I spent some time talking about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. When I talk about King, I like to focus on his last year — the period when, defying the advice of many of his advisors in the civil rights movement, he spoke against the Vietnam War, equating racism with imperialism. King felt bound to make the point that the forces of capitalism, materialism, and militarism that were driving segregation were also driving the war, and until we confronted the source of the problem, the abuses would continue. It was April 4, 1967, in Riverside Church in New York, that he made that declaration. A year to the day before his assassination.

It has always confounded me every year when we celebrate Dr. King’s life that no mention is made of that Riverside Church speech in the major media. We are always treated to sound bites of the 1963 I Have a Dream speech. That speech’s oratory is as powerful as it is non-confrontational. Which is why it is re-played for modern audiences. Dr. King was about confrontation. Non-violence and confrontation, each ennobling and making the other effective. In 1967 he said, “… my country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” And he explained how our economic system thrived on exploitation and violence, or, as Emma Goldman put it, “The greatest bulwark of capitalism is militarism.” This was probably the most important speech King ever gave and not playing it when we ostensibly honor him, is tantamount to castrating him morally and intellectually. Just as there is a long history of White America castrating black men, there is an equal legacy of Elite America cutting the most important truths of our social prophets out of the history books. We pay homage to King’s icon, the cardboard cutout, but not to his strongest beliefs and his most cogent analysis of our problems — to what vision called forth his courage. And, if we think that he spoke the truth, to censor that truth is to promote a curious kind of segregation. He is segregated, not for the color of his skin, but for the accuracy of his perception, how close to the bone his words cut. We can’t bear to hear the sound of truth’s knife scraping on hypocrisy’s bone. Only people who actually want to change the system dance to that music or want it to be heard.

Equally important, and part of the same neglect, is the intentional ignoring of the facts of his death. In my talk on Martha’s Vineyard I spoke about William Pepper’s book, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, Jr. Pepper had been James Earl Ray’s lawyer. Ray was the man convicted of killing King. But both Pepper and the King family were convinced that Ray was innocent. The King family hired Pepper to represent them in a suit; they asked only $100.00 in damages to clear Ray’s name. Before the trial came to court in 1999, Ray had died in prison. The jury determined that King had been assassinated by a conspiracy involving the Memphis police, the Mafia, the FBI, and the Special Forces of the U.S. Army. Ray, the patsy, had left town before the shot was fired. Pepper had confessions from people involved from each of the organizations named. The verdict was barely mentioned in the U.S. media then and is not mentioned every year on the anniversary of his death. Why?

After my talk on Martha’s Vineyard a man came up to me and said, “I enjoyed your speech and was with you until you started that conspiracy stuff about MLK, Jr.” I said, “That’s not conspiracy. What I told you are facts.” End of conversation.

I think we’re confronted with two conspiracies here: one to commit the crime, the other to ignore it even when the facts are known. ( Two sides of the same coin.) The man who accused me of slipping into the neurotic, aliens-are-among-us land of conspiracy nuts was unable to hear the evidence, perhaps because he was so utterly convinced by our government and media that conspiracies don’t exist, people who espouse them are dangerous fruitcakes, and if you begin to think like that, your whole house of cards wobbles then topples. Who wants that? Better a standing tower of marked cards, than having to admit the game is rigged and the ground is shaking.

America is steeped in conspiracy, and even more steeped in propaganda that discredits those who try to expose the conspiracies. Whether we’re talking about MLK, Jr., JFK, RFK, Iran-Contra, 9/11, or, most importantly, the status quo, anyone who works to uncover the truth is branded a “conspiracy nut” and discredited before any evidence has a fair hearing. The government/corporate/media version is THE VERSION. Anything else is illusory.

In fact, the cultural success of labeling investigative reporters and forensic historians, and, simply, anyone who tries to name reality, “conspiracy nuts” is perhaps the most successful conspiracy of our time. Well, not the most successful. That prize goes to the conspiracy to give corporations all the rights of individual persons under our Constitution. That conspiracy has codified and consolidated corporate power so that it controls our lives in almost every meaningful way. It controls the election funds of our candidates, and them once they are in office. It controls our major media including public broadcasting. It controls the content of our television programming. It controls how are tax dollars are spent making sure that the richest get the most welfare. It controls the laws, the courts, the prison system and the mind numbing propaganda that we are the greatest democracy on earth. It controls the values with which we raise our children. It controls our ability to dispense justice. It controls how we treat nature, how we deface our land with strip malls, and blow the tops off our mountains — a form of corporate free speech. It dictates our modes of transportation. It controls our inability to respond to true crises like climate change. It attempts to create a spiritual deficiency in every person that can be filled and healed only with stuff — and no stuff is ever enough.

As Richard Grossman puts it, “Isn’t it an old story? People create what looks to be a nifty machine, a robot, called the corporation. Over time, the robots get together and overpower the people. … For a century, the robots propagandize and indoctrinate each generation of people so they grow up believing that robots are people too, gifts from God and Mother Nature; that they are inevitable and the source of all that is good. How odd that we have been so gullible, so docile, obedient.”

It is obvious to say that we have been engineered into a culture that values competitive consumption and consumers instead of community cooperation and citizenship. Capitalism with its obsessive and necessary appetite for consumption, expanding markets, resource depletion, and increasing profits has consumed democracy. Have you ever watched a small snake swallow a large frog? The snake’s hinged jaw stretches wider and wider, squeezing the frog millimeter by millimeter into its gullet until finally the snake looks like the Holland Tunnel might if it had devoured the Titanic. Then the acids and enzymes do their corrosive work. The frog becomes the snake. And the snake claims it is the frog. Capitalism has gulped down democracy and claimed it is democracy. When, immediately after 9/11, President Bush advised Americans to demonstrate their love of freedom and their resistance to terrorism by courageously, selflessly, hurrying to the mall to buy something, he was speaking as the snake that identifies itself as a frog. He was asking us to play a little game with our brains’ synapses, replace the snake icon with the frog’s. Sadly, he may also have been speaking about democracy in the only way that he can understand or recognize it. And, for him, Christianity has been another tidy meal for the snake.

Perhaps this switcheroo is nowhere more obvious than in the military /industrial complex. We are told that the vulnerable frog needs protecting. The threats are grave. So we fork over our money and children’s lives for war and weapons. We are told that we are building security and peace. More lives. More weapons. What we aren’t told is that the largest US export to the world is weapons. What we aren’t told is that enormous fortunes are being made from the arms trade. What we aren’t told is that the more precarious and unstable the world is, the better the business for the arms dealers — that the real promotion is not for security and peace but insecurity and war, that the lives of our children are the necessary collateral damage for this monster. What we aren’t told is that the only real security is in cooperation, conservation, and fairness, not imperialism. The frog, who is a snake, wrapped in a flag, pleads for patriotism and counts the cash. The snake’s forked tongue is a barbeque fork on which we’ve all been roasted.

I’d call that conspiracy.

The neocons have claimed, with some accuracy, that they can create reality faster than we can react: the deed is done, now deal with it. The troops have invaded, Halliburton, Blackwater, and Lockheed signed their contracts, the prisoners are tortured, your email is bugged, the resources for social programs are gone, the laws are changed, the Wal-Mart is built, the sludge dump has already polluted the aquifer, truth is hollowed out —- catch me if you can!
How is that not conspiracy?

The cooks & the crooks create a new status quo, legalize it, propagandize it, mythologize it, fundamentalize it, slather it with fear and patriotism, and force feed it to the complacent, sedated cow we call America.
How is that not conspiracy?

Of course, ever since the Constitution was signed and didn’t free the slaves or give the vote to women, poor folks, Native Americans and freed blacks so that people with power and money could continue to profit, America has been a conspiracy against itself. It’s been cowboy grilling his own heart over a smoke & mirrors campfire, a CEO with inherited wealth and three hundred years of patrician, affirmative action crooning “Only in America.”

The reason we can’t talk about conspiracy is because it is the modus operandi. It isn’t the elephant in the room, it is the room itself. We all live there. We can impeach a few elephants, and we should, but the architecture is in place. And they control it.

When I was in school, I was reminded - repeatedly — to avoid using an indefinite pronoun without identifying whom it refers to, as in, “They are coming to get us,” … or, “They control everything.” Who are They? It’s bad practice to think and write like that. Without reference it just sounds like paranoia. But the hell of it is that it’s damned hard to say who the They are that are in conspiracy to destroy democracy and, by exploitation, nature. Did They do it on purpose or merely discover by serendipity, like cavemen seeing copper ooze out of a rock by a fire, the wondrous possibility and power of what they had found. For instance, the invention of the TV was not a conspiracy. But once the realization of how TV could be used to submerge the public in a lobotomizing swamp of advertising, sound bites, inactivity, community destruction, titillation, false history, empty myth, consumption, and complicity in making fortunes for the sponsors, the program was clear. Conspiracy was the silent partner in the euphemism good business practice. And, once they saw the implications of giving corporations First Amendment rights, they were home free.

Time to re-think conspiracy.

We need to embrace conspiracy in two ways. One, admit that it’s real, its quotidian, it’s the fabric of our lives, the mercury in the air, the dioxin in the water, it’s filling the airwaves and the marketplace and the courts and the halls of Congress before we even get out of bed every morning. Two, counter it with a conspiracy of our own. On our side we have the fundamental fact that although the corporate They can alter many of our realities, they can’t alter Reality. They can’t change the behavior of Nature. They can sell off the rain forest, but they can’t leverage the effect of cutting it. They can keep the mileage of cars poor so we’ll buy more gas, but they can’t alter the amount of oil in the ground or the damage to the atmosphere. They can privatize every human interaction and every natural resource, but they can’t privatize the laws of nature. They have conspired to change reality. We must conspire to live in harmony with Reality.

In the same way, they can conspire to kill Martin Luther King, Jr., but they can’t totally eradicate the truth of who did it and why.

Con + spirare, from the Latin. To breathe together. Those are the roots of conspiracy. Breathing together doesn’t sound like an activity of the ideologically deracinated whispering seditiously in a dank cellar or a board room, foul breaths denting a weak flame flickering over a candle nub, gunpowder or greed blackened fingers setting a timer, the whites of creased eyes glinting like knives with treason, murder, power, and deceit.

Con + spirare
sounds like healthy men and women standing in the sun figuring out how in the hell they are going to take care of each other and their aging mother Earth and love life while doing it. Breathing together, sharing the same air, plotting to make sure that what’s mine is yours, conspiring to save their self-respect, their ideals, the future for their children.

I want to be part of a conspiracy. Pervasive, populist, revolutionary, and totally transparent. Grassroots. Idealistic. Simplistic. Life-affirming. Community building

A conspiracy to make the common good and the love of nature the common denominator of every economic transaction.

And the simple truth is either we start breathing together, conspiring big time, right out in the open, nakedly, unashamedly, or we will have conspired in secret, by default, in our own demise.

We have let them breathe for us, and they have stolen our breath, our air, our spirit.

Secret con + spirare is death. Open con + spirare is life.

Conspiracy is dead. Long live conspiracy!

Robert Shetterly lives in Brooksville, Maine

© Copyrighted 1997-2008