Seven months after the end of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, the Syrian army is making progress in the Damascus countryside and the opposition is exerting all its military might to achieve a strategic victory in Aleppo. Recently, news of the regime using poison gas against the opposition has reemerged with Israel leading the charge.
All the voices calling for organizing the Geneva III conference for negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition have faded. The circumstances on the ground that allowed the regime not to give concessions at Geneva II still hold. The Syrian army continues, with its allies, to make progress on the ground. This allows the regime, once again, not to give any serious concessions in any negotiations that will take place in the foreseeable future. It is on this basis that the opposition’s latest battles in Quneitra, Daraa, Kassab, Idlib and Aleppo have been waged.
Until now, it appears that of all the battles, the battle of Aleppo stands in a class of its own. In the battles of Damascus, its countryside (Eastern Ghouta and Qalamoun), Homs and its nearby surroundings, the opposition forces acknowledged their loss. They put up a strong fight just to make the other side pay a heavy price. All the other battles do not make up, in military or moral terms, for losing in Damascus and the central region, except the battle for Aleppo. That is why we see the opposition forces’ massive mobilization in the economic capital of Syria.
The opposition is not merely talking about making progress in Aleppo but is promising to take complete control of the largest city in the north. Based on its discussions, the opposition wants to achieve a quick victory in Aleppo before the regime and its allies finish their battles in Damascus and Homs. Achieving stability in the capital and the central region for the regime will free up a large segment of the elite forces and will allow the Syrian army and its allies to move towards other active fronts. It would then be very difficult for the opposition to achieve progress of any strategic value in the north or the south. Until today, the al-Qaeda-inspired fighters have not been able to make a strategic breakthrough in the north. In Aleppo, the war is led by Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Foreign Fighters and Supporters) which includes mostly Caucasian fighters who are well-trained and have combat experience.
Against this background, news has emerged once again that the Syrian army has used chemical weapons. Last August, the Syrian government asked for an investigation of an incident whereby militants used chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal in Aleppo. But after the attack on Eastern Ghouta, the regime was accused by Western forces of using poison gas against the opposition. Washington led a campaign threatening an attack on Syria until Russia proposed a solution that required Syria to give up its chemical arsenal. This time, the Syrian government sent a letter to the United Nations on March 25 saying that it monitored communications between the opposition in Jobar, which is adjacent to the capital, indicating that “the terrorist organizations are going to launch attacks by using poison gas with the aim of framing government forces.”
While the opposition has remained silent, Israel this time led the charge of accusing the regime of using chemical weapons. On April 7, the Israeli Channel 10 website reported a “major Israeli security source” saying that the Syrian army has gone back to using chemical weapons against the opposition forces. It used it at least in one case on March 17 in Harasta, eastern Damascus. According to the Israeli security source, the material used was not deadly chemical weapons found on the list of prohibited materials based on the agreement with the West, but rather substances that cripple those exposed to it for several hours.
After four days, the Syrian opposition grabbed the accusation and ran with it. The Syrian National Coalition issued a statement asking the international community to investigate the use of poison gas by the regime in Harasta. The Western press started again to play the tune of the regime using chemical weapons. Yesterday, the regime and the opposition exchanged accusations about using poison gas in the town of Kfar Zita in the Hama countryside.
Washington has distanced itself from this debate so far. The State Department’s spokesperson, Jennifer Psaki, said yesterday that her country does not have proof of chemical weapons use. The British and the French seem more excited than others to take up the issue. Western diplomatic sources in Paris say that since the failure of the Geneva II conference, the French authorities have been talking about the possibility of the Syrian regime using chemical weapons that are not internationally prohibited and that the international community must act to deter the regime.
The source likened this claim to the audio recording of a secret meeting of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s work team published on March 27 in which they talked about creating a pretext that would allow Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria. But intervention does not seem possible at this point. According to a source close to the regime in Syria, the goal of “this intimidation is twofold. Exonerating the opposition of what it is doing and a desperate attempt to draw red lines in front of the the Syrian army and its allies in their battle in the Damascus countryside so the opposition can make some progress in the north.”
By Gilad Atzmon | October 6, 2009
The question of “who is a Jew?” has been debated in Israel since it attained statehood. In the Jewish state the authorities, Rabbis and the media would dig into one’s bloodline with no shame whatsoever. For the Israelis and orthodox Jews, Jewishness is obviously a blood related concept. However, Jewishness and blood concerns are becoming a subject of a growing debate in the UK. In the last few days The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are trying to decide whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a ‘self hating Jew’ or just an ordinary anti-Semite. Like the Israeli Rabbis they both dig into his bloodline.
Ahmadinejad is revealed to have a ‘Jewish past’ said the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. According to the paper, a photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 “clearly” suggests that his family had Jewish roots. The Telegraph even found the ‘experts’ who suggested that “Mr Ahmadinejad’s track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.” Needless to say that Ahmadinejad has never come on record with a single anti-Jewish ‘hate- filled’ attack as the Telegraph suggests. He is indeed extremely critical of the Jewish state and its raison d’etre. He is also highly critical of the crude and manipulative mobilisation of the holocaust at the expense of the Palestinian people.
One may wonder why a Western media outlet happens to selectively engage with issues to do with the racial or ethnic origin of the Iranian president. At the end of the day, digging into peoples ethnic past and family bloodline is not a common practice you expect from the Western press. It is something you tend to leave for racists, Nazis and Rabbis. For one reason or another, no one in the so called free press tried to dwell on the close ties between multibillion swindler Bernie Maddof and his tribe. The ‘free press’ saved itself also from dealing with Wolfowitz’s ethnicity, in spite of the fact that the Zionist war he brought on us has cost 1.5 million lives by now. If you wonder how it is that the Western free media is reverting to ‘pathology’ in order to deal with a Muslim president, the answer is simple not to say trivial:
The so called ‘liberal West’ is yet to find the answers to President Ahmadinejad within the realm of reason. It lacks the argumentative capacity to address Ahmadinejad. Instead, it insists to spin banal racially orientated ideas that cannot hold water, “By making anti-Israeli statements” says The Daily Telegraph, “he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections.” The truth of the matter is clear. Ahmadinejad has already managed to re-direct a floodlight of reasoning and skepticism just to enlighten our darkest corner of hypocrisy. He somehow manages to remind us all what thinking is all about.
It is pretty much impossible to deny the fact that Ahmadinejad’s take on the holocaust and Israel is coherent, consistent and valid. He seems to have three main issues with the narrative:
1. Around sixty Million died in WWII, the vast majority of them were innocent civilians. How is it, asks Ahmadinejad, that we insist to concentrate on the particularity of the suffering of one ‘very’ specific group of people i.e. the Jews?
2. The Iranian president rightly maintains that this historical chapter must be historically examined. This would mean as well that every event in the past should be subject to scrutiny, elaboration and revision. “If we allow ourselves to question God and the Prophets, we may as well allow ourselves to question the holocaust.”
3. Regardless of the truthfulness of the holocaust, it is not a trivial fact that the suffering of the Jews in Europe had nothing to do with the Palestinian people. Hence, there is no reason for the Palestinians to pay for crimes committed by others. If some Western Leaders feel guilty for crimes committed against the Jews by their ancestors, which they seem to claim, they better allocate some land for the Jews within their territories rather than expect the Palestinians to keep upholding the Zionist murderous burden.
As much as it is obviously clear that the above points raised by Ahmadinejad are totally valid, it is also painfully transparent that the West lacks the means to address those issues. Instead we seem to revert to supremacy and pseudo scientific discourse dwelling on blood, pathology and lame psychoanalysis.
As embarrassing as it may seem, in just three moves Ahmadinejad manages to expose the current deceptive Western mode of discussion. He, in fact identifies the holocaust as the core of our hypocritical stand, a tendency that has managed to shatter our ethical judgment. The holocaust was there to divert the attention from the colossal crimes committed by the allies: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden are just brief examples of institutionalized genocide at the hands of the English Speaking Empire. The holocaust has successfully matured into a new religion. Yet, it lacks theology. It doesn’t allow any form of criticism or reformism. It is in fact an anti-Western religion inspired by hate and vengeance. It is dark, it is blind and it lacks mercy and compassion. It is a faith that declares an assault on any form of doubt. It is a crude brutal belief system that stands in opposition to the notions of liberty and goodness. As if this is not enough, those who subscribe to this religion are complicit in an ongoing assault against grace and peace.
As things stand at the moment, The British media is yet to decide whether Ahmadinejad is a ‘Jew rebel’ or just a ‘Meshugena Goy’. The Guardian was very quick to publish its own take on the subject refuting the Telegraph’s account. However, one thing is clear, neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph or any other so called ‘free media’ outlets are free enough to address the questions raised by Ahmadinejad.
1. Why only the Jews?
2. Why do you all say NO to scrutinizing the past?
3. Why do the Palestinians have to pay the price?
Instead of engaging in these crucial elementary questions. The British main papers succumb to racially orientated bloodline digging.
Rather than following the banal Zionist query ‘who is a Jew?’ I suggest that we take the discourse one step further and ask a very simple question: What Jewishness stands for?
Ed Miliband, UK Labour Party leader and younger brother of former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has just been on a visit to Israel and occupied Palestine. Ed, who is Jewish, is a wannabe prime minister. And he may succeed in taking the top job next year if Agent Cameron continues annoying the voting public.
A BBC report tells us that Miliband and his wife Justine “were shown where the rockets are fired which rain down on this Israeli town of Sderot.
“They visited a playgroup which looks like many you would see in the UK, until you realise the kids are playing inside instead of outside as they would not be safe under the deep blue sky and are only so under a roof of reinforced concrete.”
The BBC, as usual when reporting on Israel, jettisons journalistic principles and fails to present a balanced, factual picture. How many Israeli children have actually been killed by garden-shed rockets “raining down” from Gaza? And how safe are Palestinian children from the frequent Israeli air-strikes? How many have been slaughtered by Israel’s state-of-the-art missiles, bombs, tank shells and other ordnance? I’ll start them off… 1520 Palestinian children killed and around 6,000 injured since the year 2000.
Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, underscored the situation in this chilling statement: “They [the Israelis] have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine. They have legitimised the destruction of their synagogues and their schools by hitting our mosques and our schools.” Al-Zahar knows all about a father’s grief. He has been the target of assassination attempts. His two sons were killed and his daughter injured in Israeli raids. Why doesn’t the BBC go interview him?
The fact is, Sderot is vital to Israel’s propaganda effort. It is an important plank in the regime’s attempt to justify the bloodshed it has inflicted on the people of Gaza. The Israelis use it ad nauseam to brainwash the media and their own people. And Miliband apparently accepts it all.
When Western politicians are hustled along to Sderot does it never occur to them to ask, what right have the Israelis to be here? If they did a little homework they would know that Sderot is built on the lands of a Palestinian village called Najd, which was ethnically cleansed by Jewish militia in 1948 before Israel was declared a state and before any Arab armies entered Palestine. The 600+ villagers, were forced to flee for their lives. Britain was on watch as the mandated government while this and many other atrocities were committed by Jewish terrorists.
Najd was just one of 418 Palestinian villages and towns wiped off the map by Zionist Jews. It was not even allocated to the Jews in the 1947 UN Partition Plan but they seized it all the same and bulldozed its 82 homes. There is no American that I know, or Briton, who would stand for being thrown out of his home by foreign thugs.
Palestinian Arabs owned over 90 percent of the land in Najd and, according to UN Resolution 194 and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they have a right to return home. But, as we have come to expect, Israel refuses to recognise the rights of others and will not allow them back.
The inhabitants of Najd, one supposes, became refugees in the nearby Gaza camps. The irony is that the sons and grandsons of some of those displaced and dispossessed families are very likely manning the rocket launchers…. Well, wouldn’t you?
And who but an Israeli would be so arrogant as to live on land stolen from their neighbour at gun-point… and demand to be left in peace?
In a statement Ed Miliband told Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East: “If elected leader of the Labour Party, I would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority and take a first-hand look at what is happening on the ground in Gaza.” At a reception later, he said: “I did say I would make a visit to see for myself the situation and I promise to do that.”
Martin Linton, Director of LFPME, remarked: “We are glad that Ed has said he will go and see the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for himself. It is difficult for anyone to understand just how desperate the situation is until they have seen it for themselves…”
Did Ed Miliband drop in on Gaza for coffee with Dr Al-Zahar and Prime Minister Haniyeh? No. Instead of seeing the situation first hand as promised, he accepted whatever tosh came out of Israel’s propaganda machine. So, was he prevented from visiting Gaza by Netanyahu, or did he plain forget?
Do let us know, Ed.
The satellite images released by NATO that allegedly show a current build-up of Russian troops near Ukrainian border were taken in August 2013 amid military drills, a source in the General Staff of the Russian Army has said.
NATO’s top military commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, on Wednesday claimed that there is evidence of what he says are 40,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, tweeting a link to satellite images.
The images, some of them colored and some black and white, appear to show multiple Russian tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and a “special forces brigade” with locations and dates added to them. The dates marked range from March 22 to March 27, 2014. Another image not available on the original webpage but used by some Western media has “April 2, 2014” stamped on it.
Upon looking at the photos, a senior official at the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces has confirmed to RIA Novosti the troops shown are indeed Russian ones and that they were photographed in the south of Russia.
There is one problem, though: the images were taken some eight months before the stated date, the source said.
“These shots, which were distributed by NATO, show Russian Armed Forces units of the Southern Military District, which in the summer of last year were taking part in various drills, including near the Ukrainian border,” the General Staff official told RIA Novosti.
Large military drills held in the south of Russia last year included Combat Commonwealth 2013 – a joint air defense exercise of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Back then, Ukrainian troops participated in the international drills.
NATO on Thursday continued ramping up allegations of possible “Russian invasion” into Ukraine, with NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen claiming that 40,000 Russian troops are still amassed on the Ukrainian border “not training but ready for combat.”
Rasmussen’s “message to Russia” was then “to stop blaming others for your own actions, to stop massing your troops, to stop escalating this crisis and start engaging in a genuine dialogue.”
Meanwhile, General Breedlove on Wednesday said that US troops may soon be deployed to Europe to “reassure” the NATO allies – a notion, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called a flagrant breach of the bloc’s international obligations.
The Ukrainian coup-imposed government has also stepped up its rhetoric on Russia’s military presence, even claiming there is “military activity on behalf of the Russian Federation… on the territory of Ukraine” in an invitation to the Netherlands via OSCE network.
Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich on Thursday responded to the allegations by stressing that “on the territory of Ukraine, there is no military activity conducted by Russia.”
“This has been confirmed by the group of inspectors from Denmark, Germany, Poland, Austria and Sweden, who were in Ukraine from March 20 to April 2 and visited Kharkov, Donetsk, Mariupol, Nikolaev and Odessa regions,” Lukashevich stated.
Suggesting the territory mentioned in the diplomatic note might have been that of the Crimean Republic, the spokesman said the related activity there has to do with transferring of the ships and military hardware to Ukraine, as well as with the “inventorying of the military installations.” As soon as this process is finished, the international inspectors are welcome to the territory of the peninsula – provided they send a request to Moscow, not to Kiev, he stressed.
When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.
The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.
Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.
Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.
The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a December 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.
Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.
Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed December 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.
And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”
The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.
But the order allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.
The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.
The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.
The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.
That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.
Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.
The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.
The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”
The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”
That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”
On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.
Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.
The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.
It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does not constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.
Despite the fact that the New York Times had to run a correction on February 26 for claiming that Globovisión in Venezuela was “[t]he only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government,” Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeats the same error in the New York Review of Books yesterday, writing that:
Two of the four private stations voluntarily dropped their critical coverage; a third was forced off the air; and the fourth was hounded by administrative sanctions and criminal charges until the owner sold it last year to investors reportedly linked to the governments, who have dramatically curtailed its critical content.
In fact, the stations he claims have “dropped their critical coverage,” Venevisión and Televen, regularly run coverage that is critical of the government, as documented here.
Since the claim that these stations have “dropped their critical coverage” is demonstrably false, the NYRB, like the New York Times, should run a correction.
The fourth station he refers to is Globovisión. During the run-up to last April’s presidential elections, according to a Carter Center study, Globovisión gave nine times as much coverage to opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles as to governing party candidate Nicolás Maduro. Readers who are familiar with right-wing TV in the United States will note that this would not be possible for Fox News, for example, to get away with. So, if Globovisión “dramatically curtailed” its anti-government bias – Wilkinson offers no data — because it was bought by someone who wanted to practice mainstream journalism, the station could still have a lot of room to trash the government.
In fact, on February 17, in the heat of the recent protests, Globovisión ran an interview with opposition leader María Corina Machado in which she denounced the government for a series of alleged crimes and argued that people had the right to overthrow it. This casts a bit of a shadow over Wilkinson’s further claim that “while some news programs have interviewed opposition leaders and government critics, they do so under the legal and political constraints imposed by the government.”
It’s too bad that Wilkinson ignored or perhaps didn’t read the Carter Center’s report on the Venezuelan media during the vigorously contested 2013 presidential election campaign. The data from the report, taking into account audience share, indicate that TV media coverage was pretty evenly split between the two candidates. This contradicts the exaggerated picture that he paints in this article of an “authoritarian” government seeking to “control how the news gets reported on Venezuelan TV.”
The 2,800-word article – which provides few links or sources to back up dozens of allegations – contains a number of exaggerations and inaccuracies. For example, in describing the protests he writes that “Most of these have been peaceful, though in many places protesters have barricaded streets, and some have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails.” This contradicts daily news reports in the major international media. Some of the large daytime marches have been peaceful, but every night for nearly two months there have been violent protests where the participants throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces and sometimes neighbors who try to clear or pass through barricades. Not to mention the occasional shootings by protesters. He doesn’t mention it, but half of the 39 fatalities he refers to have apparently been caused by protesters.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is the job of human rights groups to denounce and expose all human rights abuses committed by governments (and non-state actors too), and I would not criticize a human rights organization for being too harsh on any government. And if Wilkinson wants to ignore or pretend he can’t see that this is another attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government taking place, that’s his prerogative too. But why the gross exaggerations and false statements? Aren’t there enough things to complain about without making things up?
HRW can get away with outrageous double standards if they want. They barely lifted a finger when a U.S.-backed coup overthrew the democratically-elected government of Haiti in 2004. The perpetrators of the coup killed thousands of people, and officials of the constitutional government were put in jail. This did not raise a tiny fraction of the concern at HRW as compared to the “independence of the judiciary” in Venezuela, which of course was not more independent before their enemy Chávez was elected.
In 2008, more than 100 scholars and experts signed a letter documenting and “highlighting exaggerations and inaccuracies” in a “politically motivated” report by HRW on Venezuela. It is clear that HRW did not take any steps to correct their bias or carelessness with the facts. That is a shame. Of course, there is no political price to pay in the U.S. for exaggerating or making false statements about a government that Washington wants to destabilize. But it does not serve the cause of human rights; and it undermines the good work that HRW does in other countries when they are seen as a partisan ally of a U.S.-backed attempt at “regime change.”
Really they should stick to the facts.
Back in February the Guardian quietly announced a deal with the global consumer goods corporation Unilever. Here is the beginning of the Guardian’s press release:
Guardian News and Media today officially launches Guardian Labs – its branded content and innovation agency – which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences. The official launch of the new commercial proposition is marked by the announcement of a pioneering seven-figure partnership with Unilever, centred on the shared values of sustainable living and open storytelling. … The new Unilever partnership will create a bespoke engagement platform to increase awareness of, and foster debate about, sustainability issues, and ultimately encourage people to live more sustainable lives.
I wonder how many of those who proudly declare themselves “Guardian readers” recognised their beloved newspaper in that statement.
In fact, it makes perfect sense for Unilever – a corporation whose brand “positioning” depends on its customers identifying it as a responsible and caring business, despite the evidence to the contrary – to team up with the Guardian, another corporation whose brand positioning has already persuaded most of its customers that it is a responsible and caring business.
Today the Guardian columnist George Monbiot does something pretty brave for a Guardian columnist: he alerts his readers to the existence of this arrangement and gently questions what it represents, in an article bewailing the fact that “corporations have colonised our public life”.
Here is what he says:
I recognise and regret the fact that all newspapers depend for their survival on corporate money (advertising and sponsorship probably account, in most cases, for about 70% of their income). But this, to me, looks like another step down the primrose path. As the environmental campaigner Peter Gerhardt puts it, companies like Unilever “try to stakeholderise every conflict”. By this, I think, he means that they embrace their critics, involving them in a dialogue that is open in the sense that a lobster pot is open, breaking down critical distance and identity until no one knows who they are any more.
It’s worth noting how rarely journalists criticise the nature of the media they work in. Maybe that is not so surprising: few businesses, the media included, are happy having their flaws paraded in public. But what Monbiot has done here is to appear brave while really shrinking from the truth. He criticises the Guardian while really not criticising it.
Monbiot’s implication in the nice metaphor above is that Unilever is the the lobster pot, while the poor Guardian is the lobster in danger of being “stakeholderised”. Or, in another metaphor he uses, the Guardian is the one being led up the primrose path.
What he encourages his readers to infer is that the Guardian is the victim in this deal, being seduced and violated by Unilever. The reality is that Unilever and the Guardian are both wolves in sheep’s clothing. The arrangement works to the benefit of them both. In Monbiot’s reckoning, the Guardian is “public life” being colonised by Unilever. In fact, the Guardian is no more public life than Unilever. Both have colonised the public space, in the interests of maximising profits whatever the consequences to the public good and the planet. (And please, no one try to claim that my argument is refuted by the fact that the Guardian loses money. It is not a charity. Its goal is not to lose money; its goal is to find a strategy, like the one with Unilever, to revive its fortunes in a dying industry.)
In fact, the lobster pot metaphor would be much more apt to describe Monbiot’s relationship with the Guardian. The newspaper has “embraced” him, “breaking down his critical distance and identity until he no longer knows who he is”. Now if he told us that, I really would be cheering him for his honesty.
Last week, The New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini praised Zubin Mehta for his courage and Israeli political culture for its freedom in an article about musicians responding to political challenges:
A recent example of a principled artist speaking out took place when the conductor Zubin Mehta presented a concert at Carnegie Hall with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Mr. Mehta, its music director, is a revered figure in Israel. Yet in an interview with The New York Times before the performance, Mr. Mehta, speaking from ‘my private musician’s perspective,’ as he put it, challenged certain policies of the Israeli government that were taking it in a ‘wrong direction,’ he said, especially regarding the settlements.
It takes nothing away from Mr. Mehta’s forthright comments to suggest that he has less at stake than Mr. [Valery] Gergiev [who has criticized Putin]. Israeli culture has long encouraged fierce internal debate of all national policies, especially within the Knesset, its legislative body.
It’s not the first time Tommasini has promoted Israel and Mehta. In an review of the Israel Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall published on March 21, titled “The Tentative, the Vibrant and Then the Impassioned,” Tommasini said the following about the Indian-born conductor, in what appears as out of place and inappropriate as a shrimp salad at a Passover seder:
Mr. Mehta has long been revered in Israel for his work with the orchestra, but his prominence has not stopped him from criticizing government policies [link in the original] when he sees fit.
The praise for Mehta’s political courage and forthright dissent and for the open-mindedness of Israeli society began with a March 19 piece by The New York Timesmusic writer, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim titled “Political Views Test the Harmony,” in which she quoted from an interview she did with the conductor.
‘I have such a love for this country, Israel, that I see it as a tragedy what’s going on,’ the Mumbai-born Mr. Mehta, now 77, said recently at the Pierre Hotel, a few blocks from Carnegie Hall, where he will conduct an Israel Philharmonic benefit concert on Thursday. ‘I speak openly about a country that I see, from my private musician’s perspective, as going in the wrong direction, as far as the settlements, as far as internal economic policies. But they know I’m a friend. And being in a democracy, I express my opinions freely….’
‘I’m a very involved person,” said Mr. Mehta, who is not Jewish and continues to hold Indian citizenship. ‘Many of my colleagues are not. But I have my own opinions about what goes on and what should happen.’
As I wrote in a post criticizing da Fonseca-Wollheim for her ill-conceived praise of Mehta, the fact is the Mehta has spent his career assiduously avoiding criticizing Israeli government policies — whether they are unbridled military aggression such as its two Lebanon wars and Operation Cast Lead or the ongoing settlement policy in the West Bank and Golan Heights with its related dispossession of the indigenous population.
What’s more, Zubin Mehta is not Jewish, has never lived in Israel, does not speak Hebrew, and has spent the majority of his career conducting orchestras in Europe, especially in Germany where his fluent German has allowed him to communicate with his audiences and players as he is unable to do in Israel.
Mehta, whose lifelong association with the Israel Philharmonic began in the 60s, has expressed a love for Israel that I am sure is honestly held. But the fact that the great conductor has always spent most of his life and career elsewhere is not always clear to the readers of these New York Times articles. And it could explain why Mehta has not been publicly identified with any strong political position about Israel and its politics. This is especially understandable since Israelis are known for resenting political criticism from foreigners no matter how attached to the country they may be.
The Israeli Philharmonic is one of the most effective public relations tools Israel possesses. Mehta, who has been its music director since 1977, is one of Israel’s foremost goodwill ambassadors. When the orchestra performs in New York City it makes sense that the conductor would promote it by stating “his opposition” to the settlements and how Israeli society is open to such criticism: It is what the orchestra’s mostly Jewish and liberal Zionist audience wants to hear. Whether Mehta’s words are honest or merely good p.r. is something that an astute reporter should have considered.
Why did The New York Times reporters and editors pass along Mehta’s word that he was an outspoken critic of Israel and that Israel is open to his alleged criticism without even raising an eyebrow? Why did Anthony Tommasini repeat Mehta’s claims in two additional columns when the claims were not germane to those two subsequent columns?
Maybe because it’s in the water. Because you get pro-Israel attitude from Isabel Kershner, Jodi Rudoren, Ethan Bronner and Thomas Friedman, and the editors of The New York Times Book Review, and even a reporter who generally doesn’t cover Israel feels the need to skewer Jimmy Carter as a radioactive loser in an arts column.
If one were a bit prone to paranoia one might conclude that the series of articles referencing Mehta was orchestrated.
P.S. FYI, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim is married to the prominent pro-Israel Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens.
IRA GLUNTS first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts is a Jewish American who lives in Madison, New York. He owns and operates a used and rare book business and is a part-time reference librarian. Mr. Glunts can be reached at gluntsi[at]morrisville[dot]edu.
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Oritz
A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export “pressure transducers,” sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran in violation with sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.
Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice’s Massachusetts District Attorney.
Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast with outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC all picking it up, and inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.
Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the translating pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office declares, “Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium.”
Unmentioned is the fact that, not only can transducers be used for thousands of other reasons, but also that Iran’s enrichment of uranium is legal, Iran’s enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never even been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels. It’s like arresting someone over trading light bulbs, which can be used in automobiles, which can be used to run people over.
The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new; just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, certain language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng – in bold below - is curious.
Reuters reported that Cheng had “supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said.”
Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Read that again. “Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.
It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran’s uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media – despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.
The reports of the Cheng case, however, are a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian “nuclear weapons program” did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg‘s own cribbed report. In fact, the phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney’s own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the “Boston Press Release Service,” and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
That the offending phrase – “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” – was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrot the government line as a matter of policy.
“The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the release reads.
The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who herself has a sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution, in one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.
In this indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration’s own economic war on Iran.
Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed their Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted “for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran’s nuclear program.”
The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran’s nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that’s bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.
The chaos in Ukraine can be viewed, in part, as what happens when a collection of “oligarchs” – sometimes competing, sometime collaborating – take control of a society, buying most of the politicians and owning the media. The political/media classes become corrupted by serving their wealthy patrons and society breaks down into warring factions.
In that sense, Ukraine could be a cautionary tale for the United States and other countries that are veering down a similar path toward vast income inequality, with billionaire “oligarchs” using their money to control politicians and to pay for propaganda through media ventures.
Depending on your point of view, there may be “good oligarchs” and “bad oligarchs,” but the concept of oligarchy is antithetical to democracy, a system in which governance is supposed to be driven by the informed consent of the majority with respect for minority rights. Instead, we’re moving toward a competition among oligarchs with the “people” mostly as bystanders to be manipulated one way or the other.
On Wednesday, a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court lifted limits on total amounts that an individual can contribute during a campaign cycle, an extension of the 2010 ruling on Citizens United allowing the rich to spend unlimited sums on political advertising. It was another step toward an American oligarchy where politicians, activists and even journalists compete to satisfy one “oligarch” or another.
Regarding political spending, that can mean the energy tycoon Koch Brothers financing the Tea Party or Americans for Prosperity to tear down government regulations of businesses. Or it can mean casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson staging his own “primary” in which Republican hopefuls compete to show who would do the most for Israel. Or – from a liberal perspective – it can be billionaire investor Tom Steyer pressing for action on man-made climate change.
On the Right, there also have been vast investments in propaganda – from books, magazines and newspapers to talk radio, TV and the Internet – by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife, an imbalance countered, in only a relatively small way, by a few liberal “oligarchs” who have started their own big-budget Web sites.
And, despite the appearance of a few “left-of-center” U.S. sites, there continues to be a lock-step consensus – across the nation’s media – regarding most international conflicts, such as the recent crises in Syria and Ukraine. In those cases, these liberal “oligarchic” sites are as likely to go with the conventional wisdom as the right-wing “oligarchic” sites.
So, if you want to find critical reporting on U.S. interference in Ukrainian politics or a challenging analysis of U.S. claims about the Syrian chemical weapons attack, you’re not likely to find them at ProPublica, which is backed by ex-subprime mortgage bankers Herbert and Marion Sandler and is edited by well-paid traditional journalists from the mainstream press, like Stephen Engelberg, formerly of the New York Times. Nor at FirstLook.org funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Though both ProPublica and FirstLook do some fine work on certain topics – such as the environment and privacy rights, respectively – they haven’t shown much willingness to get in the way of U.S. foreign-policy stampedes as they run out of control. Presumably, that would make their funders nervous and possibly put their larger business interests at risk.
Another new media “oligarch,” Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has shied away from reining in “the neocons who brought us the Iraq War.” He has left neocons like Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl in charge of the opinion section of Official Washington’s hometown newspaper. Their positions on Syria and Ukraine have been predictable.
And, of course, other mainstream outlets – like the New York Times, the Daily Beast and the major TV networks – have completely fallen into line behind the conventional wisdom. Most coverage of the Syrian civil war and the Ukraine crisis couldn’t have been more submissive to the U.S. government’s propaganda themes if the stories had been written by Radio Liberty or the CIA.
Anyone looking for journalistic skepticism about the mainstream U.S. narrative on these touchy issues has had to seek out Internet sites like Consortiumnews.com which relies on mostly small donations from readers.
But the broader problem is the debilitating impact on democracy when the political/media process takes on the form of some super-hero movie in which super-human combatants do battle – crashing from building to building – while the regular humans mostly watch as powerless spectators as the chaos unfolds.
The Ukraine Mess
In Ukraine’s case, this process was telescoped in time because of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, which was followed by the triumphal intervention of Western “free-market” advisers who descended on Kiev – as well as Moscow – with self-confident prescriptions of privatization and deregulation.
Very quickly, well-connected operatives were scoring mind-boggling deals as they gained control of lucrative industries and valuable resources at bargain-basement prices. Billionaires were made overnight even as much of the population descended to near starvation levels of poverty and despair.
In Russia, strong-willed nationalist Vladimir Putin emerged to put some brakes on this process, banishing some oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky into exile and jailing others like Mikhail Khordorkovsky. However, in Ukraine, the oligarchs continued buying politicians and finally created a crisis of confidence in government itself.
Though public resentment of political corruption was a driving force in the large protests that set the stage for the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, the manipulation of that popular anger may end up impoverishing Ukrainians even more by entrenching oligarchic control even further.
Not only has the Washington-based International Monetary Fund moved to impose “macroeconomic reforms” that will slash spending on Ukraine’s already scant social programs, but “oligarchs” are moving to take direct control of the government.
For instance, the coup regime in Kiev appointed billionaire steel magnate Serhiy Taruta as governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine where many ethnic Russians live. Taruta quickly moved to suppress pro-Russian sentiment.
As part of the crackdown, the Kiev regime arrested Pavel Gubarev, who had called himself the “people’s governor.” Mikhail Dobkin, a pro-Yanukovych former regional governor who indicated he would seek the presidency, was arrested on sedition charges.
Governor Taruta also has called for some of the IMF’s more draconian demands to be put off until after political resistance to the new order in Kiev has faded.
“People are concerned with one thing,” Taruta told the Washington Post in a flattering story about his leadership. “If we show we can provide help and support, we will calm the situation down. Three to four months from now is the time to talk about financial reform in Ukraine.”
That would mean delaying the harshest elements of the IMF plan until after the scheduled presidential election on May 25, meaning that the voters will have already gone to the polls before they get a taste of what’s in store for them. By then, they may have another billionaire industrialist, Petro Poroshenko, as their new president. He is now the leading candidate.
According to Forbes magazine, there are now about 1,600 billionaires in the world, worth a total of around $6.6 trillion. The writing seems to be scribbled on the walls of Ukraine as well as the United States and around the globe that we are entering the Age of the Oligarchs.
- Business model of Yatsenyuk is to build oligarchic corporation out of Ukraine (voiceofrussia.com)
It was Valentine’s Day when the nation’s only radioactive nuclear waste facility first released radioactive particles including Plutonium and Americium into the atmosphere of New Mexico and beyond, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Earlier that same day, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on an application to modify and expand that nuclear waste facility, which the department said it planned to allow.
The first thing the U.S. government and the government contractor running the supposedly secure radioactive waste project did immediately when faced with the first-time-ever release of radioactivity from the underground site was – not tell anyone, anything. They told no one the truth for four days, even though the truth didn’t seem all that bad, as such things go. Unless contradictory data emerged, this would seem to be a brief release of a relatively small amount of very dangerous isotopes from nuclear weapons waste stored half a mile underground in a salt deposit. While the full scope of the release remains unknown weeks later, it seems clear that this was no Fukushima, except for the operators’ default to instant deceit.
The next day, February 15, 2014, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which is responsible for the project issued “Event News Release No. 1,” a reassuring press release about “a radiological event” (not further defined), misleadingly stating that “a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground” (NOT a release into the air). [emphasis added]
The press release expanded on its false reassurance by saying: “Multiple perimeter monitors at the [facility’s] boundary have confirmed there is no danger to human health or the environment. No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” No one was exposed, the press release implied, and added further details to reinforce the “no danger to human health or the environment” claim that is so often the first thing the nuclear industry says about any “event,” regardless of what people may or may not know to be true. Other press releases maintained this official story for several days.
Nuclear industry lies are rational in terms of protecting interests
According to that story, “there were no employees working underground at the time,” and the 139 employees at the surface had to be “cleared by radiological control technicians” and test negative for contamination before they were allowed to leave the site, something of an odd precaution for radiation that was reported only underground. The official story did not mention that the underground part of the facility had been closed down for the previous nine days, since February 5, when a 29-year-old salt truck had caught fire, forcing the evacuation of all 86 employees then working underground.
To be fair to the folks running the underground nuclear repository, which bears the anodyne name Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), when the continuous air monitoring system first detected radioactivity being released on February 14, 2014, the system automatically shut down air exchange with the outside, at least according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), which describes the facility this way:
“WIPP, a cornerstone of DOE’s [nuclear waste] cleanup effort, is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons. Located in southeastern New Mexico, 26 miles east of Carlsbad, WIPP’s facilities include disposal rooms excavated in an ancient, stable salt formation, 2,150 feet (almost one-half mile) underground. Waste disposal began at WIPP on March 26, 1999.”
The waste isolation mine was designed to last 10,000 years without leaking. As of 2014, WIPP had more than 1,000 employees and a $202 million annual budget.
Among the details that remain unclear about this WIPP accident are how long it took the system to detect the release and how much Plutonium and Americium were released. The government’s initial position was none. That wouldn’t last long.
On February 17, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CERMC) posted on its Facebook page that it “is currently processing and analyzing ambient air filters from our air samplers located near the WIPP facility. We should have results by the end of the week which will give some indication as to whether any radiation was released into the environment. Hopefully CEMRC will get its filters from the exhaust air shaft at the WIPP site soon so we can analyze those for radionuclides as well. Lastly, remember that adults living within a 100-mile radius of the WIPP site can receive a free whole body count to see what types and levels of radiation are in their lungs and/or whole body…”
Government admits radioactive release, says: don’t worry, be happy
It wasn’t until February 19 that the Energy Dept. issued a press release acknowledging the reality of the airborne release of radioactivity. And this was only after that day’s edition of the local newspaper, the Current-Argus in Carlsbad, had already reported on the Carlsbad Environmental Center’s news release about higher than normal levels of radioactivity including Plutonium and Americium. The government belatedly confirmed the report, without apology, instead putting a positive spin on it, even though officials had been denying it (or perhaps had not known about it) for days. Under the headline “Radiological Monitoring Continues at WIPP” – even though the radiation was detected a half mile away – the new DOE release said:
“Recent laboratory analyses by Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) found some trace amounts of americium and plutonium from a sampling station located on the WIPP access road. This is consistent with the fact that HEPA [high-efficiency particulate absorption] filters remove at least 99.97% of contaminants from the air, meaning a minute amount still can pass through the filters. As noted by the CEMRC, an independent environmental monitoring organization, the levels found from the sample are below the levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure public health is protected.”
The Carlsbad Environmental Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, is a quasi-governmental agency. Besides monitoring the waste project, the center has been a contractor for government labs – the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory – as well as the Nuclear Waste Partnership, a private contractor. The center also works with the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security on issues relating to conventional explosives used to spread radioactive materials (or, in the words of the website: “issues involving Homeland Security particularly those involving radiation dispersal devices (RDDs or dirty bombs).”
Radiation reached Carlsbad by February 24, but officials did not say this publicly until March 10. A week later they denied the report, saying the Carlsbad radiation came from somewhere other than the waste plant. They didn’t say where.
Dirty bomb or accident – different intent, same effects
Anyone making a dirty bomb would be delighted to use Plutonium as a terror weapon, because Plutonium is very deadly, and remains deadly for a long time (Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,000 years). A lot of Plutonium will kill you very quickly at close range, especially if it’s been made into a bomb, which the U.S. proved pretty definitively at Nagasaki in 1945. But even a tiny amount of Plutonium, inhaled and lodged in your lungs, can kill you slowly. In that sense, what happened at the nuclear waste isolation facility was that its operators managed to set off a small dirty bomb. No wonder they claimed no one was exposed.
Talking about dirty bombs or even RDDs is not a preferred public relations approach for most of the nuclear industry, even when their facilities actually become radiation dispersal devices (RDDs). The spin is always about how safe everyone is and how trivial the level of radiation exposure is. The public relations pattern with the New Mexico waste project release is standard – and fundamentally dishonest, as it has been always. On February 24, the Energy Dept. produced another press release with the benign headline, “WIPP Reports New Environmental Monitoring Date” with text that included:
“Dose assessment modeling, which calculates potential radioactivity exposure to people, from the release data showed a potential dose of less than one millirem at each of the environmental sampling locations. A person receives about 10 millirems from a single chest x-ray procedure. The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirem from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation.”
Even though the basic assertions here may be factually true in a narrow sense, the implied argument – that there’s nothing to be concerned about – is a lie. First note the use of “potential” – twice – which makes clear that the “dose of less than one millirem” – which could potentially be much more – has little meaning for understanding reality. The statement is careful NOT to use “maximum” or any other limiting word. The first sentence implies a full body dose, the next sentence executes a bait and switch, referring to a chest X-ray which delivers a targeted dose. The last sentence pretends to put it all in perspective by trivializing the earlier doses in the context of an average annual dose of 620 millirem.
Plutonium: one millionth of a gram, officially “safe,” can be lethal
In this press release and thousands like it, the government lies with an apparently reasonable tone, good enough to persuade the New York Times and others. But it’s a big lie, because governments know that no radiation exposure is good for anyone, that any exposure is a risk. The honest discussion would be over how much radiation a person can tolerate and remain healthy for a reasonable time. There are many correct answers to that depending on the particular conditions of exposure. It is dishonest to conflate “naturally occurring and other sources of radiation” because “other sources” are mostly from nuclear medicine, power plants and warheads – all sources created by deliberate human choice.
The deeper lie is in the suggestion that, since a person gets 620 millirem a year, what harm can come from a little bit (or a lot) more? The answer is that great harm can come from very limited exposure, although that’s not necessarily likely. The official “acceptable” body dose of Plutonium is less than one millionth of a gram, and even this amount can eventually be lethal, because Plutonium that gets into the human body doesn’t all come out. It tends to concentrate in the blood, muscle and bone. Americium behaves similarly in the human body. Another official lie embedded in government language is the suggestion that 620 millirem is somehow “safe.” It’s not. It’s already too great an exposure, and the effects of radiation are cumulative.
A particularly articulate internet post, Bobby1’s Blog of Februray 22 (and later revisions), challenged the official story as to both the amount of radioactive material released, how far it had spread, and the danger it posed.
But the official spin works. Matthew Wald of the Times has been writing about nuclear issues for years, yet on February 25 he still managed to start his piece with error-filled credulity: “Almost two weeks after an unexplained puff of radioactive materials forced the closing of a salt mine in New Mexico that is used to bury nuclear bomb wastes, managers of the mine are planning to send workers back in and are telling nearby residents that their health is safe.” The mine was already closed when the so-called “puff” of Plutonium and Americium created conditions that no one can honestly call “safe.” The rest of his piece reads like Wald is also on the DOE payroll.
Energy Dept. said no one was contaminated – that was false
On February 26, in a letter to residents of the Carlsbad area, DOE field manager Jose Franco made what appears to be the first official admission that workers at the waste pilot plant had suffered internal radioactive contamination. Franco wrote that “13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination.” Previously the agency had said there were 139 employees on site at the time of the release, and no external radiation was detected on any of them.
“It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed,” Franco wrote, adding that the contamination was “likely at very low levels” and “predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.”
Franco said it would probably take weeks to establish a credible estimate of the contamination dose these 13 employees received. The Times of February 27 carried the story on page A16 and online with Matthew Wald downplaying its importance. Local media gave the development more scrutiny, since the implications were clear: among other things, officials had no idea why there was a Plutonium release, they had no idea how much Plutonium was released, they had no idea how far the Plutonium had traveled, and they had no idea how many people had been contaminated (the number of contaminated employees later rose to 17, and then to 21).
Actually the detected level of Plutonium was millions of times higher than officials first acknowledged
On March 2, another articulate online post, Pissin’ On The Roses, presented a cogent argument that the Plutonium release had been much greater than the official story allowed. Basing the conclusion on public and leaked documents, the blog argues that the numbers are inconsistent and make sense only by assuming that the radioactive release lasted about 33 minutes: “When we ‘followed the math’, the story didn’t square with what the public was told, ie ‘the release was less than EPA reportable requirements’ (supposedly 37bq/m^3 for Plutonium). In fact, the math showed levels thousands of times greater than EPA reportable requirements for Plutonium.” But there was no report to the EPA.
Almost a month later, Southwest Research and Information Center, an independent organization that focuses on health, environmental, and nuclear issues, used Energy Dept. data to reach a similar, but more extreme conclusion: that the release actually lasted more than 15 hours.
Asking questions is a problem: we might find the wrong answers
Actually, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was stalling, apparently reluctant to get involved with protecting the environment around the government’s only underground nuclear weapons waste storage site, now that it had begun releasing radiation for the first time. On February 27, New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators wrote directly to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, asking for the EPA’s independent assessment of the “event,” as well as deployment of EPA assets to New Mexico to assess the situation independently. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, noted that since “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary regulatory authority in regard to any releases of radioactive materials to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” the EPA should do more than merely monitor the Energy Dept. and other agencies involved.
The EPA stonewalled. In effect, the Democratic administration in Washington had this answer for two Democratic senators: Drop dead. The EPA said it at greater length, but not until March 5, and then in a letter from the regional administrator, not the administrator in Washington. “We are still evaluating the situation,” wrote Ron Curry, without ever saying why the primary regulatory authority was refusing to “conduct independent studies.”
“As you know, the EPA’s primary regulatory responsibility is to ensure that any releases of radioactive material from the WIPP facility are below the EPA exposure limits for members of the public,” the regional bureaucrat began, launching a paragraph of denial and irresponsibility. Curry said that the EPA would “inspect” the work of others and, so far, “it is very unlikely that any exposures would approach these regulatory limits or represent a public health
concern.” EPA doesn’t know this, EPA has no independent way of knowing this, and as of March 5, EPA had no interest in knowing this independently, even as the primarily responsible regulator.
Besides, Curry added, “we note that the available information supports the conclusion that nearly all of the radioactive material was retained within the filtration system… [and] that radiation levels have declined significantly….”
Translation: that’s what we’ve been told officially and that’s good enough for us.
Also on March 5, the Energy Dept. issued a press release asserting more apparently good news: “Follow-up testing of employees who were exposed… shows exposure levels were extremely low and the employees are unlikely to experience any health effects as a result…. [tests] came back negative for plutonium and americium, the two radioactive isotopes that were detected in preliminary bioassays.” The release does not offer an explanation for this reported atypical behavior of ingested Plutonium and Americium.
Area residents received a letter from DOE dated March 5 containing an identical reassurance. It also expressed hope that workers might be able to re-enter the mine the following week, for the first time since the February 5 salt truck fire.
Fear of more Plutonium? Expert says: Don’t lick your iPhone charger!
During February, in response to continued rising public concern, the Energy Dept. started holding regular public meetings. On March 6, five nuclear waste officials appeared at a sparsely attended public forum billed by the Energy Dept. as a “WIPP Recovery Town Hall Meeting” at the Civic Center in Carlsbad. The almost 90-minute session (recorded by DOE with low quality audio) featured David Klaus from the Department of Energy (DOE), David Huizenga from DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, Joe Franco from the DOE Carlsbad Field Office, Farok Sharif from Nuclear Waste Partnerships [he was later removed from the job and replaced] and Fran Williams from Energy Dept. contractor UCOR, who told the audience flatly: “There are no health impacts to you, to your family, the members of your community from the event.”
Williams, Director of Environmental, Safety, Health and Quality for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s contractor UCOR has 35 years of experience in her field, health physics and occupational medicine. Although the “Town Hall” received little coverage, Williams made the most news with her comments 57 minutes into the meeting, about radiation levels in the region: “They’re down at the levels of licking your iPhone charger. I’m not trying to be funny; I’m trying to equate radiation exposure to something that you can understand…. I hope that helps. ”
“Many left Thursday night’s meeting [March 6] with the Department of Energy uneasy,” reported Albuquerque TV station KRQE. “They pleaded for more information about the underground radiation leak last month that seeped radiation outside, but many remain frustrated and concerned for their safety.
The DOE tried to reassure people they are safe even though the underground storage areas remained sealed off.”
The next night (March 7) the local Republican Congressman, Rep. Steve Pearce, held his own town hall meeting. The long time backer of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (whose private contractors contributed to his campaigns) promised to ask tough questions. Pearce said, “I will hold their feet to the fire.”
Other than his meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and New Mexico’s two senators the day before, Pearce’s involvement in events at WIPP appears largely limited to cheerleading, as in his February 5 press release saying everything was fine after the fire and his February 15 press release saying everything was fine after the release of radioactivity.
Radioactive waste isolated for 10,000 years – until it’s not
More than three weeks after the detection of airborne Plutonium, no one had been able to re-enter the salt mine to assess conditions underground or to determine the cause of the accident. WIPP was built without underground surveillance cameras. Officials at the Energy Dept. and other agencies have refused to speak publicly about the issues or to answer reporters’ questions on the record. Even their public bromides began to diverge, with DOE suggesting that WIPP would be operational in the near future, while the NM Environmental Dept. issued a legal notice saying WIPP would “be unable to resume normal activities for a protracted period of time.”
On March 8, the Albuquerque Journal News published a story that said, “No one knows yet how or why a waste drum leaked at southeast New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Valentine’s Day, triggering alarms, exposing workers and setting off a cascade of events that could cripple the nation’s radioactive waste disposal system.”
Reviewing Dept. of Energy records, the Journal concluded that there were only two likely scenarios for the February 14 accident:
(1) If a waste drum’s contents overheated, that might cause a spontaneous explosion that spread radioactive debris. Planners in 1997 contemplated this possibility before WIPP opened, and gave odds of it happening as 10,000 to 1.
(2) If the roof in one of the salt cavern rooms fell, that might rupture one or more waste drums and lead to the spread of radioactive debris. Planners gave the odds of that happening as one in a million.
The most likely cause of an accident, planners thought, would be mishandling of waste drums by workers, but there were no workers underground on February 14.
The next day, March 9, DOE announced that remote testing of areas not in the path of the radiation release showed “no detectable radioactive contamination
in the air or on the equipment lowered and returned to the surface. Air quality results were also normal. These results were expected….” DOE suggested that workers might be sent down the mine before the end of the week.
The Energy Dept also announced that four more workers had been contaminated by ingesting Plutonium or Americium at “extremely low levels,” bringing the total to 17 workers contaminated. [On March 27, DOE would announce four more being tested for contamination, raising the total to 21.] The DOE also announced that there would be no workforce layoffs during “recovery efforts” for which there is no estimated end point.
A fire suppression system is useful when there’s a fire
One of the problems for the workers underground on February 5, when the 29-year-old salt truck caught fire, was that the truck’s onboard automatic fire suppression system had been deactivated. Emergency teams put out the fire and evacuated the tunnels without any injuries other than six workers needing treatment for smoke inhalation. Rep. Pearce promptly issued a press release calling it a “minor fire” that posed no threat to public health or safety, which appeared true at the time.
But the deactivated fire protection on the truck turned out to be just the first of a host of shortcomings and failures relating to the waste plant, problems that are still being uncovered.
“This accident was preventable” was the understated conclusion of the Accident Investigation Board in the Dept. of Energy in its 187-page report released March 13. The Board’s four-week investigation included at least two pre-accident visits to the mine, which has been inactive since February 5. The Board praised the workers and their supervisors for responding quickly, knowledgeably, and cooperatively to minimize the emergency. The Board found extensive fault with management’s performance over a longer period of time, finding that maintenance programs were ineffective, fire protection was inadequate, preparedness was inadequate, emergency management was ineffective – and that these criticisms had been made before, some more than once. According to one news report:
“At a community meeting in Carlsbad on Thursday to preview the report, the lead investigator, Ted Wyka, praised the 86 workers who were half-mile underground in the mine when the fire started, saying they ‘did everything they could’ to tell others to evacuate.
“But a number of safety systems and processes failed, Mr Wyka said. Emergency strobe lights were not activated for five minutes and not all workers heard the evacuation announcement. One worker also switched the air system from normal to filtration mode, which sent smoke billowing through the tunnels.”
New Mexico’s senators, in a joint statement, found the Board’s report “deeply concerning” and urged DOE management to take the critique seriously and fix the shortcomings. For his part, Rep. Pearce “applauded” the DOE for “a candid, transparent report” that demonstrated how poorly they had been doing their job for many years.
Senators Heinrich and Udall have written to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, asking why his agency has failed to carry out its responsibility under federal mine safety law, which requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration “to inspect WIPP no less than four times a year.” Records show that WIPP was inspected twice – instead of 12 times – in the past three years
With WIPP closed, Los Alamos waste has to be trucked to Texas
The Los Alamos National Laboratory has been a disaster waiting to happen for years, a disaster that almost happened in 2011 as wildfires approached the facility where radioactive waste was stored in roughly 20,000 steel drums above ground. The fires were held back, but the waste is still there, scheduled for “permanent” storage at the underground waste plant before the next fire season in the summer. Now that can’t happen because WIPP is leaking, and closed.
On March 20, the Energy Dept and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, announced plans to truck the Los Alamos waste to West Texas for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists, another government contractor. DOE “has committed to the state of New Mexico to removing several thousand cubic meters of TRU waste from LANL by June 30, 2014. The waste will be moved to WIPP for final disposal once the site reopens. “
According to DOE, it has already moved most of the Los Alamos waste, which “consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil, and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements, mostly plutonium.”
On March 21, the New Mexico Environment Department withdrew its temporary permit that would have allowed the waste plant to expand. That’s the same permit that the department said on February 14 that it would approve at the end of the 60-day public comment period. The permit would have allowed WIPP to build two new disposal vaults in the salt mine. According to the news release:
“NMED [NM Environment Dept.] cannot move forward on the WIPP’s request to open additional underground storage panels and for the other requested permit modifications until more information is known about the recent events at the WIPP,” said Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. “Just as NMED needs more information to make informed decisions on permit modifications, the public also needs more information about the radiation release in order to provide informed input during the public comment period. Once NMED has all of our questions answered, we will proceed with consideration of a revised draft Permit.”
With so many other questions to be answered, the question of whether WIPP will ever re-open gets harder to answer with any certainty. There have been numerous reports, by DOE and others, of further radioactive leaks from the site – none of them known to be large and all considered officially “safe.” As Arnie Gundersen at Fairewinds notes, DOE says that when the WIPP ventilation system is set on filtration mode, its air filters collect 99.97% of all the radioactive particles headed for the atmosphere. Accepting that capture rate as correct, Gunderson points out that, mathematically, if the filters are 99.9% effective (which he doubts), that means that out of every 1,000 minutes there is one unfiltered minute. In other words, the radioactive leak continues, albeit slowly, even when the filters work at peak capacity (which is not a constant). Just since February 14, Gundersen calculates, perfectly functioning filters would still have allowed another half hour of contamination into the environment.
Nuclear supporters continue to minimize any danger. Plutonium and Americium are heavy elements, the argument goes, so they fall to the ground quickly. And they stay there unless there’s a lot of wind. No one knows now just how much Plutonium or Americium the waste plant has already emitted, or how much it will emit. But anyone who cares to know knows that this is spring in the southwest, when the winds pick up and dust storms have already happened this year.
Highlights from the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme, Newsnight, broadcast less than 10 hours after the attacks on September 11.
Notable for statements by Richard Perle, who appears keen throughout to imply a connection with Iraq and Iran — thus sticking to the Project for the New American Century script, of which he is co-author.
Bush and top administration officials issued 935 false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. These statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the U.S. to war under decidedly false pretenses.
935 LIES to start bloody and vicious wars to destroy Israel’s enemies. Richard Pearle is an agent of influence for Israel.