Friday, September 18, 2009

Afghanistan: Where Empires Go to Die

Afghanistan: Where Empires Go to Die

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On September 7 the Swedish aid agency Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that the previous week US soldiers raided one of its hospitals. According to the director of the aid agency, Anders Fange, troops stormed through both the men's and women's wards, where they frantically searched for wounded Taliban fighters.

Soldiers demanded that hospital administrators inform the military of any incoming patients who might be insurgents, after which the military would then decide if said patients would be admitted or not. Fange called the incident "not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement" between nongovernmental organizations and international forces.

Fange said that US troops broke down doors and tied up visitors and hospital staff.

Impeding operations at medical facilities in Afghanistan directly violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and the obstruction of medical operations during wartime.

Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a public affairs officer for the US Navy, confirmed the raid, and told The Associated Press, "Complaints like this are rare."

Despite Sidenstricker's claim that "complaints like this" are rare in Afghanistan, they are, in fact, common. Just as they are in Iraq, the other occupation. A desperate conventional military, when losing a guerilla war, tends to toss international law out the window. Yet even more so when the entire occupation itself is a violation of international law.

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild and also a Truthout contributor, is very clear about the overall illegality of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan by the United States.

"The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of US law," Cohn, who is also a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and recently co-authored the book "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" said, "Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men - 15 from Saudi Arabia - did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal."

Thus, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, along with the ongoing slaughter of Afghan civilians and raiding hospitals, are in violation of international law as well as the US Constitution.

And of course the same applies for Iraq.

Let us recall November 8, 2004, when the US military launched its siege of Fallujah. The first thing done by the US military was to invade and occupy Fallujah General Hospital. Then, too, like this recent incident in Afghanistan, doctors, patients and visitors alike had their hands tied and they were laid on the ground, oftentimes face down, and held at gunpoint.

During my first four trips to Iraq, I commonly encountered hospital staff who reported US military raids on their facilities. US soldiers regularly entered hospitals to search for wounded resistance fighters.

Doctors from Fallujah General Hospital, as well as others who worked in clinics throughout the city during both US sieges of Fallujah in 2004, reported that US Marines obstructed their services and that US snipers intentionally targeted their clinics and ambulances.

"The Marines have said they didn't close the hospital, but essentially they did," Dr. Abdulla, an orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital who spoke on condition of using a different name, told Truthout in May 2004 of his experiences in the hospital. "They closed the bridge which connects us to the city [and] closed our road ... the area in front of our hospital was full of their soldiers and vehicles."

He added that this prevented countless patients who desperately needed medical care from receiving medical care. "Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved," said Dr. Abdulla. He also blamed the military for shooting at civilian ambulances, as well as shooting near the clinic at which he worked. "Some days we couldn't leave, or even go near the door because of the snipers," he said, "They were shooting at the front door of the clinic!"

Dr. Abdulla also said that US snipers shot and killed one of the ambulance drivers of the clinic where he worked during the fighting.

Dr. Ahmed, who also asked that only his first name be used because he feared US military reprisals, said, "The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much-needed medications." He also stated that several times Marines kept the physicians in the residence building, thereby intentionally prohibiting them from entering the hospital to treat patients.

"All the time they came in, searched rooms and wandered around," said Dr. Ahmed, while explaining how US troops often entered the hospital in order to search for resistance fighters. Both he and Dr. Abdulla said the US troops never offered any medicine or supplies to assist the hospital when they carried out their incursions. Describing a situation that has occurred in other hospitals, he added, "Most of our patients left the hospital because they were afraid."

Dr. Abdulla said that one of their ambulance drivers was shot and killed by US snipers while he was attempting to collect the wounded near another clinic inside the city.

"The major problem we found were the American snipers," said Dr. Rashid, who worked at another clinic in the Jumaria Quarter of Falluja. "We saw them on top of the buildings near the mayor's office."

Dr. Rashid told of another incident in which a US sniper shot an ambulance driver in the leg. The ambulance driver survived, but a man who came to his rescue was shot by a US sniper and died on the operating table after Dr. Rashid and others had worked to save him. "He was a volunteer working on the ambulance to help collect the wounded," Dr. Rashid said sadly.

During Truthout's visit to the hospital in May 2004, two ambulances in the parking lot sat with bullet holes in their windshields, while others had bullet holes in their back doors and sides.

"I remember once we sent an ambulance to evacuate a family that was bombed by an aircraft," said Dr. Abdulla while continuing to speak about the US snipers, "The ambulance was sniped - one of the family died, and three were injured by the firing."

Neither Dr. Abdulla nor Dr. Rashid said they knew of any medical aid being provided to their hospital or clinics by the US military. On this topic, Dr. Rashid said flatly, "They send only bombs, not medicine."

Chuwader General Hospital in Sadr City also reported similar findings to Truthout, as did other hospitals throughout Baghdad.

Dr. Abdul Ali, the ex-chief surgeon at Al-Noman Hospital, admitted that US soldiers had come to the hospital asking for information about resistance fighters. To this he said, "My policy is not to give my patients to the Americans. I deny information for the sake of the patient."

During an interview in April 2004, he admitted this intrusion occurred fairly regularly and interfered with patients receiving medical treatment. He noted, "Ten days ago this happened - this occurred after people began to come in from Fallujah, even though most of them were children, women and elderly."

A doctor at Al-Kerkh Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared a similar experience of the problem that appears to be rampant throughout much of the country: "We hear of Americans removing wounded Iraqis from hospitals. They are always coming here and asking us if we have injured fighters."

Speaking about the US military raid of the hospital in Afghanistan, UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was not aware of the details of the particular incident, but that international law requires the military to avoid operations in medical facilities.

"The rules are that medical facilities are not combat areas. It's unacceptable for a medical facility to become an area of active combat operations," he said. "The only exception to that under the Geneva Conventions is if a risk is being posed to people."

"There is the Hippocratic oath," Fange added, "If anyone is wounded, sick or in need of treatment ... if they are a human being, then they are received and treated as they should be by international law."

These are all indications of a US Empire in decline. Another recent sign of US desperation in Afghanistan was the bombing of two fuel tanker trucks that the Taliban had captured from NATO. US warplanes bombed the vehicles, from which impoverished local villagers were taking free gas, incinerating as many as 150 civilians, according to reports from villagers.

The United States Empire is following a long line of empires and conquerors that have met their end in Afghanistan. The Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, Mongols, British and Soviets all met the end of their ambitions in Afghanistan.

And today, the US Empire is on the fast track of its demise. A recent article by Tom Englehardt provides us more key indicators of this:

  • In 2002 there were 5,200 US soldiers in Afghanistan. By December of this year, there will be 68,000.
  • Compared to the same period in 2008, Taliban attacks on coalition forces using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has risen 114 percent.
  • Compared to the same period in 2008, coalition deaths from IED attacks have increased sixfold.
  • Overall Taliban attacks on coalition forces in the first five months of 2009, compared to the same period last year, have increased 59 percent.
  • Genghis Khan could not hold onto Afghanistan.

    Neither will the United States, particularly when in its desperation to continue its illegal occupation, it tosses aside international law, along with its own Constitution.

    US suspends eastern European missile shield plan

    US suspends eastern European missile shield plan

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    President Barack Obama has announced the suspension of plans to develop two bases in Poland and the Czech Republic that were to be part of a proposed United States missile defense shield.

    In 2002, the Bush administration announced plans to extend the missile shield system into Eastern Europe with the establishment of an anti-ballistic missile silo in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic. In August 2008, the US signed agreements with both countries—in exchange for large-scale US financial support—that would have seen the new facilities opened by 2012.

    Purportedly designed to counter the threat of a missile attack on European NATO members from a “rogue state” such as Iran, the proposed system was the continuation of a long-standing US military plan to use a missile shield to neutralize the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union and then, since 1991, Russia. The Russian elite met the eastward expansion of the US system into former Warsaw Pact countries with utmost hostility. Moscow correctly saw the missile shield as an arms race that threatened the strike capabilities of its long-range ballistic missile arsenal, further tipping the balance of nuclear power in Eurasia in favor of the US.

    Obama stated that the US would continue to pursue a “proven, cost-effective” missile system using existing bases and sea-based interceptors. In a live television address Thursday, the US president said that it was necessary to “deploy a defense system that best responds to the threats we face,” that would take the form of “a stronger, smarter and swifter defense” of US and allied European countries.

    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that the move did not mark an abandonment of the plans to develop a missile defense system in Europe, adding that the Pentagon was in negotiations with Warsaw and Prague about deploying upgraded SM-3 missile interceptors on their territory from 2015. Gates pointed out that the US would continue to deploy “current and proven missile defense systems” in Europe.

    Obama stressed that he had spoken to the leaders of both Poland and the Czech Republic and promised to continue to develop the US commitment to their defense. He also claimed that the Kremlin’s fear about the missile defense system was “entirely unfounded.” In a subsequent news conference, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia.”

    Obama’s announcement on missile defense quickly came under fire from the Republican right. John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision” and that the US was offering a concession to Moscow when Russia could offer nothing in return.

    Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, said his party would “work to overturn this wrong-headed policy.”

    “Scrapping our missile defense effort in Europe has severe consequences for our diplomatic relations and weakens our national security. Our allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, deserve better,” Cantor said in a statement.

    Seeking to deflect criticism that the administration had given in to demands from the Kremlin and compromised national security, the White House stated that the review of missile defense was conducted by the military and was based on new intelligence that the Iranian ballistic missile program did not pose a threat to the United States, but could threaten Europe, requiring a shift towards alternative missile defense systems.

    There are real concerns within the military that the defensive shield system pushed under Bush—dubbed the “son of Star Wars”—after the Reagan-era plan for space-based anti-ballistic weapons—would not be able to function for many years to come, and that resources would be better spent developing more conventional systems. The US is cooperating with Israel in developing a new anti-ballistic missile system known as David’s Sling, while the Pentagon will place more emphasis on using its Aegis naval anti-missile system, already deployed off Japan.

    In addition to the military issues, the Obama administration is making a geopolitical move regarding the Czech and Polish bases. Washington has sought improved relations with Moscow this year, in an attempt to “reset” hostile positions developed during the Bush presidency. During talks with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Obama reportedly recognized Moscow’s concerns over the planned missile shield bases in Eastern Europe. The US president, according to one Kremlin source, also acknowledged the “peculiarities” of Russian relations with the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, in which Washington had organized pro-Western “color revolutions.”

    These limited concessions were made in exchange for the Kremlin’s cooperation with the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. Shortly before Obama arrived for the summit in Moscow in July, Medvedev announced that Russia would permit the US Air Force to fly over Russian airspace en route to Afghanistan.

    Washington also hopes to gain Moscow’s cooperation in placing new international sanctions on Iran, supposedly as punishment for Tehran’s refusal to end the enrichment of uranium, which the Islamic Republic states is intended for lawful civilian energy purposes. The US hopes that new sanctions against Iran will further its aim of replacing the regime in Tehran with one more favorable to US interests, something that Washington sought to achieve through its backing of the campaign of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

    The shelving of the Polish and Czech bases will also appease Washington’s NATO allies in Europe, especially Germany, who were opposed to the serious deterioration of relations between the US-led alliance and Russia under the Bush administration. Berlin has particularly close ties to Moscow, especially in the energy sector, with Russia providing much of Germany’s natural gas needs.

    Rather than the suspension of the planned eastern European bases representing a major change in US strategy, the Obama administration is making a tactical shift in order to meet the same basic strategic goals of American imperialism pursued during the Bush years: US domination of the Middle East and Central Asia, home of the world’s greatest reserves of oil and gas.

    That Obama is adopting what BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds characterized as “a far more cautious and flexible foreign policy” than that of President Bush is a product of recognition among the majority of the Washington military and security apparatus that the recklessness of the previous administration was yielding disastrous results.

    In order to win the war in Afghanistan, while maintaining its occupation of Iraq, Washington has concluded that it needs to temporarily curtail its aggression in other parts of the world while reengaging its European allies and regional powers such as Russia.

    This shift in US foreign policy was expressed earlier this month by one of the most consistent defenders of American imperialism, former Carter-era national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a leading adviser to the Obama presidency.

    One of the architects of the policy of rolling back the power of the Soviet Union by lending US support in 1979 to the Mujahedin in Afghanistan—the forerunners of the Taliban and Al Qaeda—Brzezinski addressed a conference of military and foreign policy figures in Geneva, Switzerland last week. In his speech Brzezinski backed British and German calls for a United Nations conference on Afghanistan, through which the European powers are seeking to establish a greater role for themselves in the carve-up of Central Asia in exchange for extending their support for the US-led occupation.

    Brzezinski warned that despite the presence of around 100,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the occupation is faced with defeat by an increasingly hostile population who view them as unwelcome invaders, as had happened to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

    He said that Washington’s policy in Afghanistan was the foreign policy issue with “perhaps the greatest need for strategic review,” including engaging other powers in the occupation of the country. If the United States could not secure the cooperation of its European allies in Afghanistan, Brzezinski said, “that would probably spell the end of the Alliance [NATO].”

    These comments echoed an August 20 op-ed piece Brzezinski had written for the New York Times, in which he stated that the “dispersal of global power”—i.e., the relative decline of US imperialism and the rise of major rivals in Europe and Asia—necessitated a new strategy for NATO. In particular Brzezinski advocated renewing NATO’s role in Afghanistan, while reaching out to Russia and China.

    Black Sea Crisis Deepens As US-NATO Threat To Iran Grows

    Black Sea Crisis Deepens As US-NATO Threat To Iran Grows

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    Tensions are mounting in the Black Sea with the threat of another conflict between U.S. and NATO client state Georgia and Russia as Washington is manifesting plans for possible military strikes against Iran in both word and deed.

    Referring to Georgia having recently impounded several vessels off the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia, reportedly 23 in total this year, the New York Times wrote on September 9 that "Rising tensions between Russia and Georgia over shipping rights to a breakaway Georgian region have opened a potential new theater for conflict between the countries, a little more than a year after they went to war." [1]

    Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh ordered his nation's navy to respond to Georgia's forceful seizure of civilian ships in neutral waters, calling such actions what they are - piracy - by confronting and if need be sinking Georgian navy and coast guard vessels. The Georgian and navy and coast guard are trained by the United States and NATO.

    The spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry addressed the dangers inherent in Georgia's latest provocations by warning “They risk aggravating the military and political situation in the region and could result in serious armed incidents.” [2]

    On September 15 Russia announced that its "border guards will detain all vessels that violate Abkhazia's maritime border...." [3]

    Russia would be not only entitled but obligated to provide such assistance to neighboring Abkhazia as "Under mutual assistance treaties signed last November, Russia pledged to help Abkhazia and South Ossetia protect their borders, and the signatories granted each other the right to set up military bases in their respective territories." [4]

    In attempting to enforce a naval blockade - the International Criminal Court plans to include blockades against coasts and ports in its list of acts of war this year [5] - against Abkhazia, the current Georgian regime of Mikheil Saakashvili is fully aware that Russia is compelled by treaty and national interests alike to respond. Having been roundly defeated in its last skirmish with Russia, the five-day war in August of last year, Tbilisi would never risk actions like its current ones without a guarantee of backing from the U.S. and NATO.

    Days after last year's war ended then U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joseph Biden flew into the Georgian capital to pledge $1 billion in assistance to the nation, making Georgia the third largest recipient of American foreign aid after Egypt and Israel.

    U.S. and NATO warships poured into the Black Sea in August of 2008 and American ships visited the Georgia port cities of Batumi and Poti to deliver what Washington described as civilian aid but which Russian sources suspected contained replacements for military equipment lost in the conflict.

    Less than a month after the war ended NATO sent a delegation to Georgia to "evaluate damage to military infrastructure following a five-day war between Moscow and Tbilisi...." [6]

    In December a meeting of NATO foreign ministers agreed upon a special Annual National Program for Georgia and in the same month Washington announced the creation of the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership.

    In the past week a top-level delegation of NATO defense and logistics experts visited Georgia on September 9 "to promote the development of the Georgian Armed Forces" [7] and on September 14 high-ranking officials of the U.S. George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies arrived at the headquarters of the Georgian Ministry of Defense "to review issues of interdepartmental coordination in the course of security sector management and national security revision." [8]

    The ongoing military integration of Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan, which also borders Iran - Washington's Georgetown University is holding a conference on Strategic Partnership between U.S. and Azerbaijan: Bilateral and Regional Criteria on September 18 - by the Pentagon and NATO is integrally connected with general military plans in the Black Sea and the Caucasus regions as a whole and, even more ominously, with joint war plans against Iran.

    As early as January of 2007 reports on that score surfaced in Bulgarian and Romanian news sources. Novinite (Sofia News Agency) reported that the Pentagon “could be using its two air force bases in Bulgaria and one on Romania's Black Sea coast to launch an attack on Iran...." [9]

    The bases are the Bezmer and Graf Ignitievo airbases in Bulgaria and the Mihail Kogalniceanu counterpart near the Romanian city of Constanza on the Black Sea.

    The Pentagon has seven new bases altogether in Bulgaria and Romania and in addition to stationing warplanes - F-15s, F-16s and A-10 Thunderbolts - has 3,000-5,000 troops deployed in the two nations at any given time, and Washington established its Joint Task Force-East (JTF-East) permanent headquarters at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in Romania.

    A U.S. government website provides these details about Joint Task Force-East:

    "All U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force training operations in Romania and Bulgaria will fall under the command of JTF–East, which in turn is under the command of USEUCOM [United States European Command]. Physically located in Romania and Bulgaria, JTF East will include a small permanent headquarters (in Romania) consisting of approximately 100-300 personnel who will oversee rotations of U.S. Army brigade-sized units and U.S. Air Force Weapons Training Deployments (WTD). Access to Romanian and Bulgarian air and ground training facilities will provide JTF-East forces the opportunity to train and interact with military forces throughout the entire 92-country USEUCOM area of responsibility. U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) and U.S Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) are actively involved in establishing JTF-East." [10]

    The four military bases in Romania and three in Bulgaria that the Pentagon and NATO have gained indefinite access to since the two nations were incorporated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004 allow for full spectrum operations: Infantry deployments in the area and downrange to Afghanistan and Iraq, runways for bombers and fighter jets, docking facilities for American and NATO warships including Aegis class interceptor missile vessels, training grounds for Western special forces and for foreign armed forces being integrated into NATO.

    Added to bases and troops provided by Turkey and Georgia - and in the future Ukraine - the Bulgarian and Romanian sites are an integral component of plans by the U.S. and its allies to transform the Black Sea into NATO territory with only the Russian coastline not controlled by the Alliance. And that of newly independent Abkhazia, which makes control of that country so vital.

    Last week the Romanian defense ministry announced the intention to acquire between 48 and 54 new generation fighter jets - American F-16s and F-35s have been mentioned - as part of "a new strategy for buying multi-role aircraft, which means to first buy aircraft to make the transition to fifth generation equipment, over the coming 10-12 years." [11]

    With the recent change in government in the former Soviet republic of Moldova - the aftermath of this April's violent "Twitter Revolution" - the new parliamentary speaker, Mihai Ghimpu, has openly spoken of the nation merging with, which is to say being absorbed by, neighboring Romania. Transdniester [the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic] broke away from Moldova in 1990 exactly because of the threat of being pulled into Romania and fighting ensued which cost the lives of some 1,500 persons.

    Romania is now a member of NATO and should civil war erupt in Moldova and/or fighting flare up between Moldova and Transdniester and Romania sends troops - all but a certainty - NATO can activate its Article 5 military clause to intervene. There are 1,200 Russian peacekeepers in Transdniester.

    Transdniester's neighbor to its east is Ukraine, linked with Moldova through the U.S.-concocted GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) bloc, which has been collaborating in enforcing a land blockade against Transdniester. Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, whose poll ratings are currently in the low single digits, is hellbent on dragging his nation into NATO against overwhelming domestic opposition and can be counted on to attack Transdniester from the eastern end if a conflict breaks out.

    A Moldovan news source last week quoted an opposition leader issuing this dire warning:

    "Moldova's ethnic minorities are categorically against unification with Romania.

    "If we, those who are not ethnic Moldovans, will have to defend Moldova's
    statehood, then we will find powerful allies outside Moldova, including in Russia. Along with it, Ukraine, Turkey and Bulgaria would be involved in this fighting. Last year we all witnessed how Russia defended the interests of its nationals in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Why does somebody believe that in case of a civil war in Moldova Russia will simply watch how its nationals are dying? Our task is to prevent such developments." [12]

    Indeed, the entire Black Sea and Caucasus regions could go up in flames if Western proxies in GUAM attack any of the so-called frozen conflict nations - Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Georgia, Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan and Transdniester by Moldova and Ukraine. A likely possibility is that all four would be attacked simultaneously and in unison.

    An opportunity for that happening would be a concentrated attack on Iran, which borders Azerbaijan and Armenia. The latter, being the protector of Nagorno Karabakh, would immediately become a belligerent if Azerbaijan began military hostilities against Karabakh.

    On September 15 news stories revealed that the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, had released a report which in part stated, "If biting sanctions do not persuade the Islamic Republic to demonstrate sincerity in negotiations and give up its enrichment activities, the White House will have to begin serious consideration of the option of a U.S.-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities." [13]

    The report was authored by Charles Robb, a former Democratic senator from
    Virginia, Daniel Coats, former Republican senator from Indiana, and retired General Charles Wald, a former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command.

    Iran is to be given 60 days to in essence abandon its civilian nuclear power program and if it doesn't capitulate the Obama administration should "prepare overtly for any military option" which would include "deploying an additional aircraft carrier battle group to the waters off Iran and conducting joint exercises with U.S. allies." [14]

    The main Iranian nuclear reactor is being constructed at Bushehr and would be a main target of any U.S. and Israeli bombing and missile attacks. As of 2006 there were 3,700 Russian experts and technicians - and their families - living in the environs of the facility.

    It has been assumed for the past eight years that a military attack on Iran would be launched by the United States from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and by long-range Israeli bombers flying over Iraq and Turkey.

    During that period the U.S. and its NATO allies have also acquired access to airbases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (in Baluchistan, bordering Iran), Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in addition to those they already have in Turkey.

    Washington and Brussels have also expanded their military presence into Bulgaria, Georgia and Romania on the Black Sea and into Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea bordering northeastern Iran.

    Plans for massive military aggression against Iran, then, might include air and missile strikes from locations much nearer the nation than previously suspected.

    The American Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced plans last week to supply Turkey, the only NATO member state bordering Iran, with almost $8 billion dollars worth of theater interceptor missiles, of the upgraded and longer-range PAC-3 (Patriot Advance Capability-3) model. The project includes delivering almost 300 Patriots for deployment at twelve command posts inside Turkey.

    In June the Turkish government confirmed that NATO AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes would be deployed in its Konya province.

    The last time AWACS and Patriot missiles were sent to Turkey was in late 2002 and early 2003 in preparation for the invasion of Iraq.

    On September 15 the newspaper of the U.S. armed forces, Stars and Stripes, ran an article titled "U.S., Israeli forces to test missile defense while Iran simmers," which included these details on the biannual Juniper Cobra war games:

    "Some 1,000 U.S. European Command troops will soon deploy to Israel for a large-scale missile defense exercise with Israeli forces.

    "This year's Juniper Cobra comes at a time of continued concern about Iran's nuclear program, which will be the subject of talks in October.

    "The U.S. troops, from all four branches of service, will work alongside an equal number of Israel Defense Force personnel, taking part in computer-simulated war games....Juniper Cobra will test a variety of air and missile defense technology during next month's exercise, including the U.S.-controlled X-Band." [15]

    The same feature documented that this month's exercise is the culmination of months of buildup.

    "In April, about 100 Europe-based personnel took part in a missile defense exercise that for the first time incorporated a U.S.-owned radar system, which was deployed to the country in October 2008. The U.S. X-Band radar is intended to give Israel early warning in the event of a missile launch from Iran.

    "For nearly a year, a mix of troops and U.S. Defense Department contractors have been managing the day-to-day operation of the X-Band, which is situated at Nevatim air base in the Negev Desert." [16]

    The same publication revealed two days earlier that the Pentagon conducted a large-scale counterinsurgency exercise with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade last week in Germany, "the largest such exercise ever held by the U.S. military outside of the United States...." [17] The two units are scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, but could be diverted to Iran, which has borders with both nations, should need arise.

    What the role of Black Sea NATO states and clients could be in a multinational, multi-vectored assault on Iran was indicated in the aftermath of last year's Georgian-Russian war.

    At a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels a year ago, Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin "said that Russian intelligence had obtained information indicating that the Georgian military infrastructure could be used for logistical support of U.S. troops if they launched an attack on Iran." [18]

    Rogozin was further quoted as saying, "What NATO is doing now in Georgia is restoring its ability to monitor its airspace, in other words restoring the whole locator system and an anti-missile defence system which were destroyed by Russian artillery.

    "[The restoration of surveillance systems and airbases in Georgia is being] done for logistic support of some air operations either of the Alliance as a whole or of the United States in particular in this region. The swift reconstruction of the airfields and all the systems proves that some air operation is being planned against another country which is located not far from Georgia...." [19]

    Early last October Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security
    Council "described the U.S. and NATO policy of increasing their military presence in Eastern Europe as seeking strategic military superiority over Russia.

    "The official added that the United States would need allies in the region if the country decided to attack Iran." [20]

    Patrushev stated, "If it decides to carry out missile and bomb attacks
    against Iran, the US will need loyal allies. And if Georgia is involved in this war, this will pose additional threats to Russia's national security." [21]

    Later last October an Azerbaijani website reported that 100 Iranian Air Force jets were exercising near the nation's border and that "military sources from the United States reported that territories in Azerbaijan and in Georgia may be used for attacking Iran...." [22]

    Writing in The Hindu the same month Indian journalist Atul Aneja wrote of the effects of the Georgian-Russian war of the preceding August and offered this information:

    "Russia’s military assertion in Georgia and a show of strength in parts of West Asia [Middle East], combined with domestic political and economic preoccupations in Washington, appear to have forestalled the chances of an immediate strike against Iran.

    "Following Russia’s movement into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged that Moscow was aware that serious plans to attack Iran had been laid out. 'We know that certain players are planning an attack against Iran. But we oppose any unilateral step and [a] military solution to the nuclear crisis.'

    "Russia seized control of two airfields in Georgia from where air strikes against Iran were being planned. The Russian forces also apparently recovered weapons and Israeli spy drones that would have been useful for the surveillance of possible Iranian targets." [23]

    The same newspaper, in quoting Dmitry Rogozin asserting that Russian military intelligence had captured documents proving Washington had launched “active military preparations on Georgia’s territory” for air strikes against Iran, added information on Israeli involvement:

    "Israel had supplied Georgia with sophisticated Hermes 450 UAV spy drones, multiple rocket launchers and other military equipment that Georgia, as well as modernised Georgia’s Soviet-made tanks that were used in the attack against South Ossetia. Israeli instructors had also helped train Georgia troops." [24]

    Rather than viewing the wars of the past decade - against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq - and the concomitant expansion of U.S. and NATO military presence inside all three countries and in several others on their peripheries as an unrelated series of events, the trend must be seen for what it is: A consistent and calculated strategy of employing each successive war zone as a launching pad for new aggression.

    The Pentagon has major military bases in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq that it never intends to abandon. The U.S. and its NATO allies have bases in Bulgaria, Romania, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Bahrain (where the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is headquartered) and other nations in the vicinity of the last ten years' wars which can be used for the next ten - or twenty or thirty - years' conflicts.

    1) New York Times, September 9, 2009
    2) Ibid
    3) Russian Information Agency Novosti, September 15, 2009
    4) Ibid
    5) Wikipedia
    6) Agence France-Presse, September 8, 2009
    7) Trend News Agency, September 9, 2009
    8) Georgia Ministry of Defence, September 14, 2009
    9) Turkish Daily News, January 30, 2007
    10) U.S. Department of State
    11) The Financiarul, September 9, 2009
    12) Infotag, September 11, 2009
    13) Bloomberg News, September 15, 2009
    14) Ibid
    15) Stars and Stripes, September 15, 2009
    16) Ibid
    17) Stars and Stripes, September 13, 2009
    18) Russian Information Agency Novosti, September 17, 2008
    19) Russia Today, September 17, 2008
    20) Russian Information Agency Novosti, October 1, 2008
    21) Fars News Agency, October 2, 2008
    22) Today.AZ, October 20, 2008
    23) The Hindu, October 13, 2008
    24) The Hindu, September 19, 2008

    Is America Hooked on War?

    Is America Hooked on War?

    Go To Original

    "War is peace" was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth, Minitrue in "Newspeak," the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel 1984. Some 60 years later, a quarter-century after Orwell's imagined future bit the dust, the phrase is, in a number of ways, eerily applicable to the United States.

    Last week, for instance, a New York Times front-page story by Eric Schmitt and David Sanger was headlined "Obama Is Facing Doubts in Party on Afghanistan, Troop Buildup at Issue." It offered a modern version of journalistic Newspeak.

    "Doubts," of course, imply dissent, and in fact just the week before there had been a major break in Washington's ranks, though not among Democrats. The conservative columnist George Will wrote a piece offering blunt advice to the Obama administration, summed up in its headline: "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan." In our age of political and audience fragmentation and polarization, think of this as the Afghan version of Vietnam's Cronkite moment.

    The Times report on those Democratic doubts, on the other hand, represented a more typical Washington moment. Ignored, for instance, was Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's end-of-August call for the president to develop an Afghan withdrawal timetable. The focus of the piece was instead an upcoming speech by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He was, Schmitt and Sanger reported, planning to push back against well-placed leaks (in the Times, among other places) indicating that war commander General Stanley McChrystal was urging the president to commit 15,000 to 45,000 more American troops to the Afghan War.

    Here, according to the two reporters, was the gist of Levin's message about what everyone agrees is a "deteriorating" U.S. position: "[H]e was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces."

    Think of this as the line in the sand within the Democratic Party, and be assured that the debates within the halls of power over McChrystal's troop requests and Levin's proposal are likely to be fierce this fall. Thought about for a moment, however, both positions can be summed up with the same word: More.

    The essence of this "debate" comes down to: More of them versus more of us (and keep in mind that more of them -- an expanded training program for the Afghan National Army -- actually means more of "us" in the form of extra trainers and advisors). In other words, however contentious the disputes in Washington, however dismally the public now views the war, however much the president's war coalition might threaten to crack open, the only choices will be between more and more.

    No alternatives are likely to get a real hearing. Few alternative policy proposals even exist because alternatives that don't fit with "more" have ceased to be part of Washington's war culture. No serious thought, effort, or investment goes into them. Clearly referring to Will's column, one of the unnamed "senior officials" who swarm through our major newspapers made the administration's position clear, saying sardonically, according to the Washington Post, "I don't anticipate that the briefing books for the [administration] principals on these debates over the next weeks and months will be filled with submissions from opinion columnists... I do anticipate they will be filled with vigorous discussion... of how successful we've been to date."

    State of War

    Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it's hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the United States is a war state, that it garrisons much of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere at any moment. Similarly, we've become used to the idea that, when various forms of force (or threats of force) don't work, our response, as in Afghanistan, is to recalibrate and apply some alternate version of the same under a new or rebranded name -- the hot one now being "counterinsurgency" or COIN -- in a marginally different manner. When it comes to war, as well as preparations for war, more is now generally the order of the day.

    This wasn't always the case. The early Republic that the most hawkish conservatives love to cite was a land whose leaders looked with suspicion on the very idea of a standing army. They would have viewed our hundreds of global garrisons, our vast network of spies, agents, Special Forces teams, surveillance operatives, interrogators, rent-a-guns, and mercenary corporations, as well as our staggering Pentagon budget and the constant future-war gaming and planning that accompanies it, with genuine horror.

    The question is: What kind of country do we actually live in when the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) lists 16 intelligence services ranging from Air Force Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency? What could "intelligence" mean once spread over 16 sizeable, bureaucratic, often competing outfits with a cumulative 2009 budget estimated at more than $55 billion (a startling percentage of which is controlled by the Pentagon)? What exactly is so intelligent about all that? And why does no one think it even mildly strange or in any way out of the ordinary?

    What does it mean when the most military-obsessed administration in our history, which, year after year, submitted ever more bloated Pentagon budgets to Congress, is succeeded by one headed by a president who ran, at least partially, on an antiwar platform, and who has now submitted an even larger Pentagon budget? What does this tell you about Washington and about the viability of non-militarized alternatives to the path George W. Bush took? What does it mean when the new administration, surveying nearly eight years and two wars' worth of disasters, decides to expand the U.S. Armed Forces rather than shrink the U.S. global mission?

    What kind of a world do we inhabit when, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7% and an underemployment rate of 16.8%, the American taxpayer is financing the building of a three-story, exceedingly permanent-looking $17 million troop barracks at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? This, in turn, is part of a taxpayer-funded $220 million upgrade of the base that includes new "water treatment plants, headquarters buildings, fuel farms, and power generating plants." And what about the U.S. air base built at Balad, north of Baghdad, that now has 15 bus routes, two fire stations, two water treatment plants, two sewage treatment plants, two power plants, a water bottling plant, and the requisite set of fast-food outlets, PXes, and so on, as well as air traffic levels sometimes compared to those at Chicago's O'Hare International?

    What kind of American world are we living in when a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq involves the removal of more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment? Or in which the possibility of withdrawal leads the Pentagon to issue nearly billion-dollar contracts (new ones!) to increase the number of private security contractors in that country?

    What do you make of a world in which the U.S. has robot assassins in the skies over its war zones, 24/7, and the "pilots" who control them from thousands of miles away are ready on a moment's notice to launch missiles -- "Hellfire" missiles at that -- into Pashtun peasant villages in the wild, mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan? What does it mean when American pilots can be at war "in" Afghanistan, 9 to 5, by remote control, while their bodies remain at a base outside Las Vegas and then can head home past a sign that warns them to drive carefully because this is "the most dangerous part of your day"?

    What does it mean when, for our security and future safety, the Pentagon funds the wildest ideas imaginable for developing high-tech weapons systems, many of which sound as if they came straight out of the pages of sci-fi novels? Take, for example, Boeing's advanced coordinated system of hand-held drones, robots, sensors, and other battlefield surveillance equipment slated for seven Army brigades within the next two years at a cost of $2 billion and for the full Army by 2025; or the Next Generation Bomber, an advanced "platform" slated for 2018; or a truly futuristic bomber, "a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere," for 2035? What does it mean about our world when those people in our government peering deepest into a blue-skies future are planning ways to send armed "platforms" up into those skies and kill more than a quarter century from now?

    And do you ever wonder about this: If such weaponry is being endlessly developed for our safety and security, and that of our children and grandchildren, why is it that one of our most successful businesses involves the sale of the same weaponry to other countries? Few Americans are comfortable thinking about this, which may explain why global-arms-trade pieces don't tend to make it onto the front pages of our newspapers. Recently, the Times Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, for instance, wrote a piece on the subject which appeared inside the paper on a quiet Labor Day. "Despite Slump, U.S. Role as Top Arms Supplier Grows" was the headline. Perhaps Shanker, too, felt uncomfortable with his subject, because he included the following generic description: "In the highly competitive global arms market, nations vie for both profit and political influence through weapons sales, in particular to developing nations..." The figures he cited from a new congressional study of that "highly competitive" market told a different story: The U.S., with $37.8 billion in arms sales (up $12.4 billion from 2007), controlled 68.4% of the global arms market in 2008. Highly competitively speaking, Italy came "a distant second" with $3.7 billion. In sales to "developing nations," the U.S. inked $29.6 billion in weapons agreements or 70.1% of the market. Russia was a vanishingly distant second at $3.3 billion or 7.8% of the market. In other words, with 70% of the market, the U.S. actually has what, in any other field, would qualify as a monopoly position -- in this case, in things that go boom in the night. With the American car industry in a ditch, it seems that this (along with Hollywood films that go boom in the night) is what we now do best, as befits a war, if not warrior, state. Is that an American accomplishment you're comfortable with?

    On the day I'm writing this piece, "Names of the Dead," a feature which appears almost daily in my hometown newspaper, records the death of an Army private from DeKalb, Illinois, in Afghanistan. Among the spare facts offered: he was 20 years old, which means he was probably born not long before the First Gulf War was launched in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. If you include that war, which never really ended -- low-level U.S. military actions against Saddam Hussein's regime continued until the invasion of 2003 -- as well as U.S. actions in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, not to speak of the steady warfare underway since November 2001, in his short life, there was hardly a moment in which the U.S. wasn't engaged in military operations somewhere on the planet (invariably thousands of miles from home). If that private left a one-year-old baby behind in the States, and you believe the statements of various military officials, that child could pass her tenth birthday before the war in which her father died comes to an end. Given the record of these last years, and the present military talk about being better prepared for "the next war," she could reach 2025, the age when she, too, might join the military without ever spending a warless day. Is that the future you had in mind?

    Consider this: War is now the American way, even if peace is what most Americans experience while their proxies fight in distant lands. Any serious alternative to war, which means our "security," is increasingly inconceivable. In Orwellian terms then, war is indeed peace in the United States and peace, war.

    American Newspeak

    Newspeak, as Orwell imagined it, was an ever more constricted form of English that would, sooner or later, make "all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended," he wrote in an appendix to his novel, "that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought... should be literally unthinkable."

    When it comes to war (and peace), we live in a world of American Newspeak in which alternatives to a state of war are not only ever more unacceptable, but ever harder to imagine. If war is now our permanent situation, in good Orwellian fashion it has also been sundered from a set of words that once accompanied it.

    It lacks, for instance, "victory." After all, when was the last time the U.S. actually won a war (unless you include our "victories" over small countries incapable of defending themselves like the tiny Caribbean Island of Grenada in 1983 or powerless Panama in 1989)? The smashing "victory" over Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War only led to a stop-and-start conflict now almost two decades old that has proved a catastrophe. Keep heading backward through the Vietnam and Korean Wars and the last time the U.S. military was truly victorious was in 1945.

    But achieving victory no longer seems to matter. War American-style is now conceptually unending, as are preparations for it. When George W. Bush proclaimed a Global War on Terror (aka World War IV), conceived as a "generational struggle" like the Cold War, he caught a certain American reality. In a sense, the ongoing war system can't absorb victory. Any such endpoint might indeed prove to be a kind of defeat.

    No longer has war anything to do with the taking of territory either, or even with direct conquest. War is increasingly a state of being, not a process with a beginning, an end, and an actual geography.

    Similarly drained of its traditional meaning has been the word "security" -- though it has moved from a state of being (secure) to an eternal, immensely profitable process whose endpoint is unachievable. If we ever decided we were either secure enough, or more willing to live without the unreachable idea of total security, the American way of war and the national security state would lose much of their meaning. In other words, in our world, security is insecurity.

    As for "peace," war's companion and theoretical opposite, though still used in official speeches, it, too, has been emptied of meaning and all but discredited. Appropriately enough, diplomacy, that part of government which classically would have been associated with peace, or at least with the pursuit of the goals of war by other means, has been dwarfed by, subordinated to, or even subsumed by the Pentagon. In recent years, the U.S. military with its vast funds has taken over, or encroached upon, a range of activities that once would have been left to an underfunded State Department, especially humanitarian aid operations, foreign aid, and what's now called nation-building. (On this subject, check out Stephen Glain's recent essay, "The American Leviathan" in the Nation magazine.)

    Diplomacy itself has been militarized and, like our country, is now hidden behind massive fortifications, and has been placed under Lord-of-the-Flies-style guard. The State Department's embassies are now bunkers and military-style headquarters for the prosecution of war policies; its officials, when enough of them can be found, are now sent out into the provinces in war zones to do "civilian" things.

    And peace itself? Simply put, there's no money in it. Of the nearly trillion dollars the U.S. invests in war and war-related activities, nothing goes to peace. No money, no effort, no thought. The very idea that there might be peaceful alternatives to endless war is so discredited that it's left to utopians, bleeding hearts, and feathered doves. As in Orwell's Newspeak, while "peace" remains with us, it's largely been shorn of its possibilities. No longer the opposite of war, it's just a rhetorical flourish embedded, like one of our reporters, in Warspeak.

    What a world might be like in which we began not just to withdraw our troops from one war to fight another, but to seriously scale down the American global mission, close those hundreds of bases -- recently, there were almost 300 of them, macro to micro, in Iraq alone -- and bring our military home is beyond imagining. To discuss such obviously absurd possibilities makes you an apostate to America's true religion and addiction, which is force. However much it might seem that most of us are peaceably watching our TV sets or computer screens or iPhones, we Americans are also -- always -- marching as to war. We may not all bother to attend the church of our new religion, but we all tithe. We all partake. In this sense, we live peaceably in a state of war.

    Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products: Find Out What's in the Stuff You Use

    Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products: Find Out What's in the Stuff You Use

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    Guess how I spent my summer? Testing over 900 everyday consumer products to find out what hazardous chemicals they might contain. Our team tested everything from pet collars and chew toys, to women's handbags, sedans and SUVs. Yet, despite all of the attention in 2008 to lead in toys, we are still universally finding elevated levels of lead, mercury, arsenic and other chemicals that can be hazards to human health, especially for children and pets.

    At our new website,, consumers can find over 15,000 test results on over 5,000 common items including pet products, back-to-school items, children's toys, and the latest on cars and children's car seats.

    What does all of this test data tell us? Hazardous chemicals are still far too commonplace in everyday consumer products. One quarter of all pet products had detectable levels of lead, including seven percent with levels higher than 300 ppm - the current Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard for lead in children's products. Sixty-four percent (64%) of the plastic women's handbags contained lead over 300 ppm. No matter how selective consumers are, they are likely to be faced with these unnecessary hazards in their homes, offices and vehicles.

    The well-publicized and oft-criticized CPSC reforms of 2008 were clumsily implemented, but did put in place critical protections against hazardous chemicals in children's products. But most products, including pet products and women's handbags are not regulated by the CPSC. What's more, the CPSC only regulates less than ten chemicals in children's products; there's no system in place to adequately deal with the thousands of other chemicals on the market or provide incentives for companies to develop safer chemicals.

    So why will this year's reform - the 2009 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- be different from the 2008 CPSC reform? The TSCA reform package being introduced is partly based on a real-world tested regulatory system from Europe known as REACH. The REACH-type regulation has already been put through a "trial by fire," which has not uncovered unintended consequences. TSCA reform package also shifts the burden upstream to chemical manufacturers, not chemical users like product manufacturers and retailers, to develop hazard information of chemicals. Overall, this system of regulating at the chemical manufacturer level is significantly more efficient and cost-effective than an attempt to regulate hundreds of individual product or component manufacturers.

    Ultimately, the TSCA reform package addresses the root problem in a common sense way by phasing out the chemicals we know are toxic, requiring chemical manufactures to provide chemical hazard information and promoting the use and development of safer chemical alternatives.

    To date, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only required testing on about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since 1976. Meanwhile, incidences of asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and behavioral problems--conditions that have been linked to environmental exposures--have risen. Clearly, the law is not working as intended. The government has little authority to protect people from hazardous chemicals.

    Right now, we have a tremendous opportunity for positive change as Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Bobby Rush will soon be introducing new bills to reform the outdated, toothless TSCA of 1976, that we currently use to regulate chemicals. If we strengthen our chemical laws, not only will safer chemicals support healthier families, but the "Made in the USA" label on our products will be a guarantee--not a warning! This is not only about our health, safety and the environment, but also about our prosperity.

    Would You Know How Survive After the Oil Crash?

    Would You Know How to Survive After the Oil Crash?

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    Do you know how to make shoes? Can you build a house? How about grow food? Do you have a doctor and a dentist in your circle of friends?

    These are the questions that Andre Angelantoni thinks you should be able to answer in order to plan for the next 10 to 15 years. Angelantoni believes there are radical changes ahead for our society -- and no, it's not the rapture he sees coming, but a post-peak-oil world.

    Simply put, peak oil is the point when the world hits the maximum rate of petroleum extraction, and after that, production begins to decline. Since the calculations of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, Ph.D., in 1956, there has been speculation about when (and for some, if) the world will hit its peak production of oil.

    Angelantoni is among the crowd of geologists, oil-industry experts and numbers crunchers that believes we are at or near peak, and the way down will be a painful and bumpy ride.

    A few years ago, Angelantoni left San Francisco's dot-com (or dot-bomb, as he says) rat race to start a business helping people prepare for life after cheap oil. He offers an online "Uncrash Course" that covers things like how to survive potential disease outbreaks, what career path you should be on and what skills you can offer your community, how you should prepare for an environmental disaster, what do you do about your finances, where should you live, how you will eat and how you will get around.

    And he's not alone. Across the country, groups known as "transition towns" are gaining steam, helping their communities become more resilient in the face of a changing energy landscape.

    Is Peak Oil for Real?

    It would be infinitely more convenient at the moment to dismiss Angelantoni as an end-of-the-world extremist, like the survivalists who have taken to the hills to grow their own food and otherwise live off the land.

    Except that there is growing evidence about peak oil and when we may actually hit the top of production (and likewise, what that means for our slide down the decline).

    In 2008, Richard Heinberg, a well-known author and educator about peak oil wrote:

    Petroleum is a finite substance, and we have reached the inevitable point at which it simply isn't possible to increase the rate at which we extract it from the ground. Most oil-producing countries, including the U.S., have already seen their glory days and are now watching output from their wells gradually dwindle. Only a few nations are early in the production cycle and able to ramp up the rate of flow.

    Not everyone shares his certainty. Bill McKibben, the renowned environmental writer and climate-change activist is a little more cautious:

    Who knows if we're actually going to see oil production peak sometime soon? Not me. I've read persuasive arguments that we will from writers like Michael Klare and James Howard Kunstler and Paul Roberts. I've also read confident counterarguments from people who've been right in the past, like Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

    Oil depletion is not a straightforward physical law, like the fact that the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. Instead, it's a detective story that turns on questions like, are the Saudis lying about how fast oil is being depleted in their giant field at Ghawar?

    Energy consultant Michael Lynch recently wrote an anti-peak-oil op-ed in the New York Times by. He wrote, "Like many Malthusian beliefs, peak-oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material."

    Joseph Romm, who writes for Climate Progress and previously served as a high-ranking member of the U.S Department of Energy during the Clinton years, quickly challenged Lynch's op-ed.

    But the most compelling evidence may now be coming -- the U.S government itself. Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, wrote in June about the findings of the 2009 report, "International Energy Outlook," from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. The EIA has previously scoffed at peak oil charges. Until now.

    Klare writes:

    For the first time, the well-respected Energy Information Administration appears to be joining with those experts who have long argued that the era of cheap and plentiful oil is drawing to a close. ...

    For years now, assorted petroleum geologists and other energy types have been warning that world oil output is approaching a maximum sustainable daily level -- a peak -- and will subsequently go into decline, possibly producing global economic chaos. Whatever the timing of the arrival of peak oil's actual peak, there is growing agreement that we have, at last, made it into peak-oil territory, if not yet to the moment of irreversible decline.

    This is groundbreaking coming from the U.S. government, although don't expect President Barack Obama to mention peak oil in any upcoming speeches.

    Determining the peak is not so cut and dried, McKibben points out. In addition, tiny market changes, like a period of economic decline where less oil is consumed can mask depleting supplies. But for those who are convinced of the data, they aren't waiting around for the federal government to jump into crisis mode.

    What Will a Post-Peak-Oil World Look Like?

    It's an intellectual exercise to even imagine what our lives would look like if oil was no longer cheap and plentiful. Sure, there will always be some in the ground, but when it becomes too expensive to get it out, there will be big changes afoot.

    We depend on oil to get us to the store and to get our food and goods there as well. It's a huge component of the industrial agriculture model that feeds most of our country. And petroleum is in just about everything we buy -- from bubble gum to tires to eyeglasses.

    And when you consider how oil powers our economy, things look bleak.

    "The global-energy equation is changing rapidly, and with it is likely to come great power competition, economic peril, rising starvation, growing unrest, environmental disaster and shrinking energy supplies, no matter what steps are taken," Klare wrote.

    Peak-oil prophet James Howard Kunstler, who has written extensively on the subject, echoes his sentiments. In his book The Long Emergency, he cautions: "What is generally not comprehended about this predicament is that the developed world will begin to suffer long before the oil and gas actually run out. The American way of life -- which is now virtually synonymous with suburbia -- can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas."

    And it gets worse in his eyes. "Oil led the human race to a threshold of nearly godlike power to transform the world. It was right there in the ground, easy to get. We used it as if there was no tomorrow. Now there may not be one."

    Life After the Peak

    But Angelantoni doesn't quite see it that way. There will be life after cheap oil, at least for many of us, but it will be vastly different from what most Americans are accustomed to.

    We may crash and burn, or we can aim for something Angelantoni calls "creative descent." This involves teaching people about the coming crisis, retraining them in skills that will be useful and helping communities to be more localized.

    "The first thing, really is to figure out where you want to live," said Angelantoni. Some areas, like the Southwest, may prove to be fairly unlivable as climate change kicks in as well. And disaster-prone areas, like geological-fault-riddled California may be dicey, he says.

    But it's not all bad.

    "There will be a lot of opportunity to start new businesses," he said. "We have to localize."

    The relocalization movement has been around for decades but has gotten a second wind as the stumbling economy and mounting environmental pressures have shocked many into action. The basic premise is for communities to become more self-sufficient, and hence more resilient. This often means more local-food networks, more local energy and water systems and robust community businesses.

    This idea has recently spun into transition towns, which has spread around the U.S. and in 14 countries. They provide a structure for communities to relocalize. Towns form working groups on issues like energy, food, transportation and local economics.

    "It's not a political movement, it doesn't have a political bias," said Transition US Executive Director Carolyn Stayton. "Different types of people can be interested in it -- it is an us, not a them, it is about how we all can together create a future that works for us."

    Each town has its own priorities and issues it is working on. For instance, in Santa Cruz, Calif., they are holding a reskilling expo where people can learn about composting, beekeeping, water catchment and nonviolent communication, in addition to workshops about peak oil and local economics.

    Folks in Berea, Ky., just held a 100-mile potluck to help promote local food and farmers and to grow community awareness about their transition initiatives.

    It's easy, she says, to become paralyzed by fear -- global warming, economic turmoil and the loss of cheap energy can be a lot to take in. Transition towns examine those issues, but then "imagines what can be on the other side," Stayton said.

    "What would our future look like? People imagine it looking like a healthy, wholesome place where people don't have to commute, where neighbors know each other, where business is local and vibrant and people have skills that they are sharing. The vision becomes so enticing that the problems shrink in their power, and people get propelled to create a future that solves the problems."

    For Angelantoni, this kind of community resilience is the opposite of many survivalists, who head to the hills to see if they can live independently. His version of surviving a post-peak-oil world is dependent on communities coming together and adapting to new ways of supporting each other -- leaving their big cars and their big houses and their many toys behind.

    "We are going to have to get much more practical," he said. "Are you going to be the butcher, baker, or candlestick maker in your local community? What are the skills you need? What are the skills you have?"

    And the time to start answering those questions is now. "Some people think we have until the end of the century to get off oil. I'm not one of those people," he said. "I think we goofed. I think we are going to see, with the economy cratering, that we may have as little as 10 to 20 years."

    Angelantoni echoes what folks like Kunstler have been saying for years -- new technology won't bail us out of this one, and we've started too late on renewable energy and alternative fuels to have them quickly replace fossil fuels in our energy diet.

    Taking it to the Next Level

    There is a least some amount of shuffling above the neighborhood level when it comes to peak oil.

    The city of San Francisco recently put together a Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, which is getting ready to present its findings to the city's Board of Supervisors. Like most of Americans, San Francisco is fossil-fuel dependent, with 84 percent of the energy consumed coming from oil and natural gas, both likely at or nearing peaks.

    So what's a city to do? Here's what the task force says:

    • Encourage the installation of local, renewable, distributed electric-generating facilities
    • Pursue the conversion of the electric system to a smart grid
    • Convert vacant and underutilized public and private properties to food gardens
    • Vastly expand urban agriculture programs and services
    • Expand passenger capacity of all mass transit
    • Avoid infrastructure investments that are predicated on increased auto use
    • Convert city equipment, buses and trucks to 100 percent biodiesel from reclaimed lipids, as feasible
    • Discourage private auto use by disincentivizing car travel and ensuring that alternatives (walking, bicycling, public transportation) are competitive with driving
    • Expand the potential for rail and water transport, for both passengers and freight
    • Encourage local manufacturing that utilizes recycled material as feedstock
    • Retrofit the building stock for energy conservation, efficiency and on-site generation
    • Begin an education plan, to inform San Francisco residents about peak oil and gas and its implications

    One of the main things the task force stresses is beginning to take action ... now.

    We will only know when we've hit peak oil after it is has already happened, and that means we may be nearing too late.

    "The recent spread of peak-oil resolutions and projects by cities and towns across America is thus a very hopeful sign," John Michael Greer wrote in the task force report; he has authored essays about "catabolic collapse."

    "It's going to take drastic changes and a great deal of economic rebuilding before these communities can get by on the more-limited resources of a deindustrial future, but the crucial first steps toward sustainability are at least on the table now. If our future is to be anything but a desperate attempt to keep our balance as we skid down the slope of collapse and decline, these projects may well point the way."

    And what can the average person do?

    "If you own a house, think about putting solar on it, making it more energy efficient or moving to some place smaller," said Jeanne Rosenmeier, a member of San Francisco's task force. "You should be thinking about how to get around without a car and if you have a place to grow a bit of food. There are people out there saying 'hoard gold, buy guns,' but I'm not advising that."

    Angelantoni believes courses like his are a good place to start.

    "When people go down the tunnel of thinking about what it will look like, they get stopped at 'I lost my job, how do I make money, what do I do for food,' " he said. "We aim to show them a glimpse of what it could be like on the other side -- people are now thinking about how to become business people -- and less about who's going to hire them.

    "People need to get in action now and think of how they can be a resilient citizen, a contributor. We've labeled ourselves as consumers for so long, we don't see ourselves as citizens."

    Obama administration to seek extension of Patriot Act spy powers

    Obama administration to seek extension of Patriot Act spy powers

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    In a letter from the Justice Department to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Obama administration has gone on record for the first time supporting the extension of key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, including the notorious provision that gives the federal government the power to subpoena library records of any individual.

    Several provisions of the Patriot Act, legislation adopted in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that grants sweeping surveillance powers to US intelligence agencies, are scheduled to expire December 31, unless renewed by Congress. The House and Senate judiciary committees have scheduled hearings next week on the proposed reauthorizations.

    In a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate panel, sent Monday and reported in the press Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich argues for reauthorization of three expiring sections of the Patriot Act:

  • Section 206, which provides for roving surveillance of targets who take evasive measures like using throw-away cell phones. In such cases, US intelligence agencies can monitor any telecommunications device that might be used by the suspect, without being compelled to specify the number in advance or get a warrant.

  • Section 215, dubbed by civil liberties groups the “library provision,” which allows federal agents to obtain business, medical, library and other records simply by presenting a written demand, called a national security letter, to the organization maintaining the records. This provision has been used 220 times over the past eight years, Justice Department officials said, but it is not clear whether a single letter to a large corporation, like AT&T or Verizon, could be used to make repeated demands for information. The national security letters must be approved by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which almost never rejects such surveillance requests.

  • The third section has been nickname the “Lone Wolf” provision, since it authorizes intelligence gathering against any non-citizen, regardless of whether the individual is suspected of being linked to a foreign government or terrorist organization. The Obama administration claims that the provision has never been actually used, but that the power needs to be held in reserve in case of need.

  • Assistant Attorney General Weich claims in his letter to Leahy that the roving wiretap provision has been used only 20 times. But last March, in testimony before Congress, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said that his agency alone had used roving wiretaps in terrorism investigations a total of 147 times since 2001.

    The discrepancy only underscores the lack of credibility of all declarations from the spy agencies about their secret surveillance tactics. In practice, the US intelligence apparatus (as well as the Pentagon) conduct their operations without any oversight or accountability, with the complicity of their supposed watchdogs in the congressional intelligence committees.

    Section 215 is the most expansive of the three sections, since it allows the FBI and other agencies to demand electronic records of any business, as well as “any tangible things” like bank and credit card statements, as well as medical and mental health records, on any individual.

    The Obama administration letter explicitly defends the record of the Bush administration in exercising surveillance powers under Section 215. Weich writes:

    “At the time of the USA PATRIOT Act, there was concern that the FBI would exploit the broad scope of the business records authority to collect sensitive personal information on constitutionally protected activities, such as the use of public libraries. This simply has not occurred, even in the environment of heightened terrorist threat activity.”

    The assistant attorney general then argues that the good behavior of the Bush administration justifies an extension of the “library” provision:

    “Based upon this operational experience, we believe that the FISA business records authority should be reauthorized. There will continue to be instances in which FBI investigators need to obtain transactional information that does not fall within the scope of authorities relating to national security letters and are operating in an environment that precludes the use of less secure criminal authorities.”

    The reaction of congressional Democrats to the proposed extension of Patriot Act powers has been overwhelmingly favorable. In a statement issued Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy said, “I am pleased that the Justice Department has signaled its willingness to work with Congress in addressing the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. It is important that Congress and the executive branch work together to ensure that we protect both our national security and our civil liberties.”

    Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois and liberal Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin issued a joint statement favorably contrasting the Obama administration’s willingness to consult with Congress to the Bush administration’s simple assertion of executive powers. The two Democrats are introducing a bill to provide a fig leaf for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act by supposedly tightening the legal standard for obtaining national security letters, including requiring the government to show some “nexus” to terrorism. The two introduced similar legislation previously, with the support of then-Senator Barack Obama.

    The Durbin-Feingold bill would repeal the legal immunity given to telecommunications companies that collaborated with illegal government spying. Obama voted last year in favor of the legislation that granted the telecoms immunity, and his administration strongly opposes any repeal.

    The American Civil Liberties Union took essentially the same position as the Senate liberals, calling the administration position on Patriot Act reauthorization “a mixed bag,” while hailing its willingness to work with Congress as “definitely a sea change from what we’ve seen in the past.”

    On the same day as the Justice Department letter on the Patriot Act, the Obama administration filed an 85-page legal document with the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia arguing that prisoners at the US-run prison at Bagram, near Kabul, Afghanistan, should not have access to US courts. A lower federal court ruled that prisoners seized in other countries and taken to Afghanistan by the US government can challenge their detention in US courts through habeas corpus, like the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

    While Obama has publicly vowed to close Guantánamo Bay by next January, only a handful of the nearly 250 prisoners have been moved to other facilities or released, and the CIA and military are building up Bagram as an even larger facility for interrogation and imprisonment without trial. There are an estimated 600 detainees now at Bagram, an unknown number of them non-Afghans brought into the country on CIA and military planes.

    Secretive spending on US intelligence disclosed

    Secretive spending on US intelligence disclosed

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    Intelligence activities across the U.S. government and military cost a total of $75 billion a year, the nation's top intelligence official said on Tuesday, disclosing an overall number long shrouded in secrecy.

    Dennis Blair, the U.S. director of national intelligence, cited the figure as part of a four-year strategic blueprint for the sprawling, 200,000-person intelligence community.

    In an unclassified version of the blueprint released by Blair's office, intelligence agencies singled out as threats Iran's nuclear program, North Korea's "erratic behavior," and insurgencies fueled by militant groups, though Blair cited gains against al Qaeda.

    Blair also cited challenges from China's military modernization and natural resource-driven diplomacy, as well as from efforts by Russia to reassert its power.

    "I think for the first time we have a good understanding of the world that we're in," Blair said.

    Officials said the $75 billion total figure cited by Blair incorporated spending by the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, as well as the amounts spent by the Pentagon on military intelligence activities.

    The United States has taken some steps in recent years to open the books on some of its secretive intelligence spending activities.

    It has disclosed the amount spent by the 16 intelligence agencies -- $47.5 billion in 2008 alone -- but those figures did not incorporate the military's intelligence activities, officials said.

    Blair, in a conference call with reporters, explained that his four-year strategy was not set up on the "traditional fault line ... between military intelligence and national intelligence."

    "This whole distinction between military and non-military intelligence is no longer relevant," Blair said.

    Spending for most intelligence programs is described in classified annexes to intelligence and national defense authorization and appropriations legislation. Members of Congress have access to these annexes but must make special arrangements to read them.

    Boston launches flu shot tracking

    Boston launches flu shot tracking

    City to pinpoint areas of low rates of vaccination

    Using technology originally developed for mass disasters, Boston disease trackers are embarking on a novel experiment - one of the first in the country - aimed at eventually creating a citywide registry of everyone who has had a flu vaccination.

    The resulting vaccination map would allow swift intervention in neighborhoods left vulnerable to the fast-moving respiratory illness.

    The trial starts this afternoon, when several hundred people are expected to queue up for immunizations at the headquarters of the Boston Public Health Commission. Each of them will get a bracelet printed with a unique identifier code. Information about the vaccine's recipients, and the shot, will be entered into handheld devices similar to those used by delivery truck drivers.

    Infectious disease specialists in Boston and elsewhere predicted that the registry approach could prove even more useful if something more sinister strikes: a bioterrorism attack or the long-feared arrival of a global flu epidemic. In such crises, the registry could be used to track who received a special vaccine or antidote to a deadly germ.

    "Anything you can do to better pinpoint who's vaccinated and who's not, that's absolutely vital," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota. "I wish more cities were doing this kind of thing."

    Boston is believed to be the first city to embrace this particular approach to tracking vaccinations against the seasonal flu, estimated to kill 36,000 people each year in the United States, principally the elderly.

    But when Boston bought the monitoring system from a Milwaukee company in 2006, emergency authorities had a far different use in mind: tracking people injured in big fires, plane crashes, or other disasters.

    "When there's a large catastrophic event, people end up in a variety of healthcare facilities," said Dr. Anita Barry, Boston's director of communicable disease control. "Of course, their family members and loved ones are trying to find out where they are and how they're doing."

    To see how well the system would work, emergency crews tested it at the Boston Marathon and the Fourth of July extravaganza on the Esplanade. The trial proved successful.

    "If we can make it work in the Boston Marathon medical tent, then you have to think about making it so that it can work in other environments as well - whether it's a community clinic or a doctor's office or a flu shot clinic," said Rich Serino, chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services. Thus, the idea to use the registry as a flu vaccine tracker was born.

    Every autumn in medical offices across the country, flu vaccine floods in. The perishable medical product must be delivered to millions in a matter of months.

    Keeping track of that cache of vaccine - and which patients are getting it - is a daunting proposition.

    In some medical offices, the information is entered into electronic medical records. At Boston's health department, nurses fill out paper forms.

    But there's never been any way to systematically monitor whether, for example, Dorchester has lower vaccination rates than the North End.

    "When you're working in one clinic, you don't have a good sense of that," said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, top disease doctor at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "But if you're tracking multiple clinics in real time, you can see where the uptake is better and where it's less, and then focus on outreach."

    Today's experiment, which does not require any additional direct spending, is a first step toward that.

    When people arrive for their shots, they will get an ID bracelet with a barcode. Next, basic information - name, age, gender, address - will be entered into the patient tracking database. There will be electronic records, too, of who gave the vaccine and whether it was injected into the right arm or the left, and time-stamped for that day.

    The resulting trove of data could be used to figure out why some patients had to wait longer than others to be vaccinated. "When all is said and done," said Jun Davantes, director of product management at EMSystems, the company that makes the technology, "Boston will be able to identify where there are certain bottlenecks in the process and hopefully improve it the next time around."

    Ultimately, city health authorities said, they envision creating a network across the city that would allow public and private providers of flu shots to add data to a registry.

    But acknowledging patients' privacy concerns, officials promised that if a citywide system were implemented, only a limited amount of information would be gathered - all sitting behind an encrypted firewall.

    "I have had people say, 'Oh, that's so big brother,' " said Laura Williams, EMS deputy chief of staff. "But in truth, the unique identifier is unique to the incident. It's not like you will go to the hospital, and they'll say, 'You're the one who got the flu vaccine at 10 o'clock yesterday at the Boston Public Health Commission.' "

    A Factory Like a City

    A Factory Like a City

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    Last month, Toyota announced it would close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California, after General Motors announced it was withdrawing from the partnership under which the plant has operated for over two decades. The plant employs 4,500 workers directly, and the jobs of another 30,000 throughout Northern California are dependent on its continued operation. Taking families into account, the threatened closure will eliminate the income of over 100,000 people.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    People have spent their lives in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, probably more time with the compressed-air tools at their workstations than with their families at home. The plant is like a city, thousands of jobs and thousands of people working in a complicated dance where each one's contribution makes possible that of the next person down the line. And like a city, it supports the people who work in it.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    A NUMMI job brings the paycheck that pays the mortgage and the (now astronomical) tuition for kids in college. A NUMMI job makes possible the friendships that grow over years laboring in the same workplace. Working at NUMMI means being part of the union, with all the frustrations and infighting, but also the ability to pull together to get the contract that makes an industrial job bearable, and ensures that a kid's visit to a doctor or dentist doesn't bottom out the family bank account.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    General Motors used to run this plant by itself, back in the '60s and '70s, when it was GM Fremont. It was a feisty plant with a feisty union, and a linchpin for years in the movement to stop concessions in union bargaining. When GM closed the plant the first time, in the early '80s, many thought it was revenge. Afterwards, autoworkers from Fremont became migrants. Many lived a lonely existence in motels in Oklahoma City or Texas, trying to hold onto seniority in a union auto job, sending money back home to families in California. Others lost their homes, and worse. In the wave of plant closures of the early 1980s, the Department of Commerce even kept a statistic of how many people committed suicide for every thousand who lost jobs when their plant shut down. No one in Washington has the courage to face that number anymore.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    When GM and Toyota announced their partnership to reopen the plant, desperation was so great that people agreed to a union contract outside the national pattern before the lines even started moving. Big concessions to the "Japanese style of management" often pitted workers against each other and against their union too. It took years to fight those problems out with management.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    When General Motors withdrew from its partnership with Toyota, everyone knew that spelled trouble. What sense did it make for GM to withdraw from a plant that consistently made vehicles that sold well, at a profit? But the GM bailout put the company under managers with no concern for keeping people working and plants open. Making GM profitable again meant getting dividends and profits flowing to a tiny group of bankers and investors, who already have more money than they can spend. And keeping production going at low-cost plants outside the US will bring that profitability back, although at the cost of the jobs and welfare of tens of thousands of people. Whose interest was our government serving with such a bailout? Even in France the conservative Sarkozy told French automakers they had to keep the factories running if they wanted a government subsidy. But here in the US, who was bailed out and who wasn't?

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    Without a GM partner, Toyota is moving to close the only plant it owns in the US with a union. And they just got a big taxpayer-funded present too. More vehicles sold under the Cash for Clunkers program were Corollas made at the NUMMI plant than any other model. The administration and Congress voted to throw three billion dollars at Toyota and the other auto giants to reduce car prices and increase sales. But there was no requirement that the subsidy come with a commitment to keep the people working who made the cars they sold.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)

    Look at the photographs of the people of NUMMI. These experienced and talented people could make anything. If Toyota doesn't want to make cars in Fremont, why not put the plant to use making buses or the railcars for BART and local transit systems (for which taxpayers have already agreed to give up billions of dollars)? And if Toyota and GM don't want to give up the plant or put it to that use, then a true government commitment would be to use its power of eminent domain to take it over and ensure that the abilities of its workers don't go to waste, and that their families and the others depending on continued production there aren't plunged into misery and despair.

    Factory Worker

    (Photo: David Bacon / Truthout)