Monday, November 30, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama from Michael Moore

November 30th, 2009 3:44 AM

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do -- destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true -- that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so. Read more at "MichaelMoore.com".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Waste



A few days ago, I read for the first time The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien's powerful collection of short stories about the Vietnam War. I recall that Jessica had read it in school. As I sat in the "Flying Goat" coffee shop recording some notes from my reading, Jessica's friend Shannon came in and joined me during his lunch break. "Great book," he said looking down at the well-worn library copy on the table. When Shannon had to return to work, our mutual friend Chris, took his place. "Great book," he said. They too had read the book in school. It was encouraging that a glimpse of this "truth" about war had worked its way into the school curriculum.

After Chris and Shannon were gone, I opened up "Google Earth" and explored satellite images of the former war zone, including Chu Lai and the Song Tra Bong valley, the setting for O'Brien's writing.

40 years on, the remnants of massive American bases are still clearly evident; the giant air fields, port facilities and supply depots. Da Nang, Chu Lai, Cam Ranh Bay, Tan Son Nhut, Bien Hoa. Nature is slowly reclaiming some of these human-inflicted scars.

The next day, I went for a hike in Annadel Park. I often access the park via the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Trail. At the entrance, a dedication reads:
We gave you our lives.
It is for you, the living
to give our deaths meaning.
We were young. We have died. Remember us.

This time, I paused before the sign. With emotions welling up, the only words that came were "what a waste."


Brother Jeff in Vietnam, circa 1968

I will never know what it was like on the ground in Vietnam. I will never know the horror that Tim O'Brien (or my brother Jeff) experienced while fighting "the spread of Communism." Or the terror rained upon millions of innocent Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians courtesy of our "military-industrial complex".

The closest I came was as a brief participant on the margins, aboard "the Number One Gunship in the Seventh Fleet". But even there, I witnessed war's utter waste, the absolutely mindless devastation that is unleashed under the feeblest of premises. I saw the insanity that the thrill of war begets. It was exemplified by our captain's insistence that we be the last ship to fire in the Vietnam War. One minute before the ceasefire went into effect, he ordered a final salvo from our five-inch gun. I stood by in wonder. Who might die for his vainglorious distinction?


Timtraveler aboard the U.S.S. Turner Joy (aka "Eternal Joy"), circa 1973. Photo by Drew Kampion.


And today, pursuant to some lofty-sounding but always vaguely-defined ideal, we send our children to do the very same dirty work. Our industry and economy, now so heavily invested and complicit in the war-making - its promotion, execution and reconstruction from the rubble - fails utterly to question or doubt the source of its largess. Industry has no morals.

These days, nearly everyone can agree "The American War" in Vietnam was, for all the foreign nations involved, an ideological proxy war and misguided exploit.

Yet why, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, is it so unclear? (How can it be that we are even debating this issue?) For anyone who really studies these wars, the parallels are astounding. The deceptions, propaganda, prejudices, corruption, covert operations and assassinations, the escalations - all born of the same greedy pursuit of resources, wealth and regional dominance. Only the technology has advanced - the sophistication (and cost) of the weapons systems we use.

Where are all the voices of those who know (because they have been there) the waste and life-long cost of war? Where are all the veterans of Vietnam and our subsequent illegal and unconscionable war-making campaigns? Why are we not keeping our children at home, in school, in honorable professions, creating instead of destroying? Have we relinquished hope of halting this juggernaut?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Feeding America's appetite for oil



Image from Wikipedia. Syncrude's Mildred Lake plant. The photographer notes: This is a picture of Syncrude's base mine. The yellow structures are the bases of pyramids made of sulphur - it is not economical for Syncrude to sell the sulphur so it stockpiles it instead. Behind that is the tailings pond, held in by what is recognized as the largest dam in the world. The extraction plant is just to the right of this photograph and most of the mine is to the left.
It’s a Dirty Business — The New Gold Rush That Is Blackening Canada’s Name

by Ben Webster
Published on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 by The Times Online/UK

A giant mechanical digger gouges out a chunk of topsoil, grass and tree stumps, extending a neat furrow that stretches into the distance. Dozens of similar furrows run parallel with the regularity of a ploughed field.

Yet no crop could grow in the pitch-black surface exposed by the machine working 1,000ft below our helicopter. This is the edge of a fast-expanding open-cast mine in the Canadian tar sands, one of the world's most polluting sources of oil.

It takes only a few minutes to fly across the 200 sq miles (520 sq km) of mines, processing plants and man-made lakes of toxic water. But Canada has so far extracted only 2 per cent of a resource that it hopes will turn it into a global energy superpower.

BP and Shell are among dozens of oil companies preparing to raise production from 1.3 million barrels a day at present to 2.5 million by 2015 and 6 million by 2030.

Canada faces a dilemma as it prepares for next month's UN climate summit in Copenhagen. It wants to present itself as environmentally responsible but also wants the profits from the tar sands, which cover an area of Alberta's natural coniferous forest larger than England.

The sands contain 174 billion barrels of proven reserves, the world's second-largest reserves after Saudi Arabia. With improved techniques, Canada hopes to extract between 315 billion and 1.7 trillion barrels.

A Co-operative Bank study calculated that, even if all other carbon dioxide emissions stopped, fully exploiting the tar sands would still tip the world into catastrophic climate change by raising global temperatures more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. Extracting each barrel of crude from the sticky mass of sand, clay and bitumen produces two to three times as much CO2 as drilling for a barrel of conventional oil. The tar sands boom faltered a year ago as the oil price fell below the $60 a barrel at which the extraction process is profitable. Now, with oil at about $80 a barrel, hundreds of fortune seekers arrive each day in Fort McMurray, the oil equivalent of a gold rush town. Read more

Two lanes are being added to the bridges from the town to the tar sands projects across the Athabasca River. The airport is planning a new terminal and oil companies have built four private runways to ferry workers to their sites directly. But the best indication of Fort McMurray's growth is the constant traffic jam. It can take an hour just to reach the highway from the suburbs that have sprung up in the hills around the town.

The average house costs C$600,000 (£340,000) , but that is well within the budget of truck drivers at the mines, who, with overtime, earn C$180,000 a year. Many workers fly in from depressed fishing towns in Newfoundland and save money by living in mobile cabins stacked four storeys high in clearings in the forest.

Jean Fournier, 64, a scaffolder working on a new processing plant, says that he has earned C$64,000 in the past four months - working 24 days on and four off. "That's three times what I could earn back home in New Brunswick. I've made enough money to build my own house and I'm retiring after six more weeks here."

He scowls when asked about Greenpeace's recent occupation of tar sands plants: "Greenpeace will make people starve by killing the economy. We all care about the environment but we need our jobs."

With winter temperatures of minus 40C, the 112,000 tar sands workers are more concerned with protecting themselves from the cold than the world from global warming. A comment article last week in the local paper, Fort McMurray Today, begins: "Where the hell is the global warming some people are so worried about?"

Syncrude, which operates one of the biggest mines, is working hard to improve its image and recently handed back its first piece of "reclaimed land" to the Canadian Government. Publicity photographs show imported bison and young trees, but when you visit you realise that this is less than half a square mile on the edge of a wasteland of mines and toxic lakes.

Syncrude no longer refers to tar sands, the name used since the 19th century, because it thinks "oil sands" sounds more positive. It describes the topsoil stripped away as "overburden" and the toxic lakes as "tailings ponds".

In April last year 1,600 ducks died after landing on an oil slick on one of Syncrude's lakes. It took a full year for the company and Alberta's environment agency to admit the scale of wildlife loss. To ward off another PR disaster, Syncrude has filled the lakes with orange scarecrows, known locally as bit-u-men.

Canada knows, however, that the biggest long-term threat to its tar sands industry is not dead ducks but international regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the crude is exported to the United States, where several states are considering banning it because it is so carbon-intensive. America's dependence on tar sands is a sensitive issue in Washington, and Barack Obama's ambassador to Canada toured the mines last month and questioned the companies about their carbon emissions.

Alberta's latest proposal to rid tar sands of their dirty image is a C$2 billion subsidy for carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities. Shell plans to install CCS by 2015 at an upgrading plant but admits that it would reduce carbon emissions from its tar sands production by only 15-20 per cent.

Mel Knight, the energy minister for Alberta, which receives C$12 billion a year in revenue from its oil and gas industries, told The Times: "There has to be at least a hundred years of production in the oil sands and CCS will make this more palatable. My feeling is we will reach a steady state of five million barrels a day. The oil sands are critical [to] the global supply of energy. The world needs the energy and there's no alternative that we can see."

Shell plans to increase production from 155,000 barrels a day to 255,000 next year. BP is designing a plant with an initial output of 60,000 barrels a day, rising to 200,000 within a decade.

Canada has offered belatedly to cut its current CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 but wants to be forgiven for ignoring the target set at Kyoto a decade ago. Its emissions were 26 per cent above its 1990 levels by 2006: the Kyoto target was a 6 per cent cut.

Peter Lee, director of the environmental group Global Forest Watch Canada, said: "There is no place for oil sands in a low-carbon future. Canada is ignoring its global responsibility and betraying its promises.

"If we can't get it right in Canada, one of the world's richest countries, how can we expect developing countries to reduce their emissions?"
Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at Victoria University, British Columbia, and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: "If we burn the tar sands, we are effectively saying we don't owe anything to future generations."
Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Learning from our mistakes in Vietnam


It's messy when you have to deal with unfavorable public opinion, so an all-volunteer military and extensive use of private contractors (and mercenaries) has helped remove the spotlight from our "engagements" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today's "Democracy Now!" show reports:

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan: Jeremy Scahill Reveals Private Military Firm Operating in Pakistan Under Covert Assassination and Kidnapping Program

In an explosive new article in The Nation magazine, investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill reveals the private military firm Blackwater is part of a covert program in Pakistan that includes planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. Blackwater is also said to be involved in a previously undisclosed U.S. military drone campaign that has killed scores of people inside Pakistan. The article says the program has become so secretive that top Obama administration and military officials have likely been unaware of its existence. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Scahill joins us for his first interview since the story broke.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Essential viewing



Now available on DVD. Be sure to watch the "special features" as well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Take down our 'Peace-Processing-Is-Us' sign and just go home"



All my life, it seems the Israel-Palestine conflict has been in the headlines. Weary of their perpetual childish antics, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Friedman.
Call White House, Ask for Barack

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
November 8, 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen. And yet, as much as we, the audience, know this to be true, we can never quite abandon hope for peace in the Holy Land. It is our habit. Indeed, as I ranted about this to a Jordanian friend the other day, he said it all reminded him of an old story.

“These two guys are watching a cowboy and Indian movie. And in the opening scene, an Indian is hiding behind a rock about to ambush the handsome cowboy,” he explained. “ ‘I bet that Indian is going to kill that cowboy,’ one guy says to the other. ‘Never happen,’ his friend answers. ‘The cowboy is not going to be killed in the opening scene.’ ‘I’ll bet you $10 he gets killed,’ the guy says. ‘I’ll take that bet,’ says his friend.

“Sure enough, a few minutes later, the cowboy is killed and the friend pays the $10. After the movie is over the guy says to his friend, ‘Look, I have to give you back your $10. I’d actually seen this movie before. I knew what was going to happen.’ His friend answers: ‘No, you can keep the $10. I’d seen the movie, too. I just thought it would end differently this time.’ ”

This peace process movie is not going to end differently just because we keep playing the same reel. It is time for a radically new approach. And I mean radical. I mean something no U.S. administration has ever dared to do: Take down our “Peace-Processing-Is-Us” sign and just go home. Read more

Right now we want it more than the parties. They all have other priorities today. And by constantly injecting ourselves we’ve become their Novocain. We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening. “Look, the U.S. secretary of state is here. Look, she’s standing by my side. Look, I’m doing something important! Take our picture. Put it on the news. We’re on the verge of something really big and I am indispensable to it.” This enables the respective leaders to continue with their real priorities — which are all about holding power or pursuing ideological obsessions — while pretending to advance peace, without paying any political price.

Let’s just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: “My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It’s just you and me and the problem we own.”

Indeed, it’s time for us to dust off James Baker’s line: “When you’re serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix.”

The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace — post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo — has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen — Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton — savvy enough to seize those moments.

Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other — a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership “wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations” and Israel’s leadership “wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal.”

It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can’t decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.

If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It’s time to call a halt to this dysfunctional “peace process,” which is only damaging the Obama team’s credibility.

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.