December 4, 2009
Goldman Sachs senior executives are arming themselves with New York gun permits, according to Alice Schroeder on Bloomberg.com. The banksters “are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.”
One can understand why the banksters are worried. The company, now known as Gold Sacks, has a large responsibility for the financial crisis and the fraudulent “securities” that wrecked the world economy and Americans’ pensions. A former Gold Sachs CEO had control of the US Treasury during the Bush regime from which he diverted $750 billion to bail out the banks, thus supplying them with free capital. Gold Sachs made $27,000 million during the first three quarters of 2009 and is paying out massive bonuses, leaving the busted taxpayers with the debt and interest charges.
Little wonder the US can’t afford health care for the uninsured and unemployed. It is far more important to finance multi-million dollar bonuses for investment bankers. I mean, what would we do without capitalism?
Of course, it is not really capitalism. It is an oligarchy or a financial plutocracy.
In a failed state, the government’s priorities are totally separate from those of the people. The US can’t afford health care or a bailout for jobless homeowners, but it can afford a pointless war and multi-million dollar bonuses for banksters who wrecked the economy.
Millions of laid-off workers lost their health insurance subsidies on December 1, the day President Obama announced a $30 billion “surge” in Afghanistan.
The expensive “surge” came 24 hours after the Detroit Free Press published a 127-page supplement of home foreclosures in its metro area. In Michigan 48 per cent of mortgages are on properties that are worth less than the loan, according to a report from First American CoreLogic.
As bad as it is in Michigan, the state ranks seventh in foreclosures, so six states are in even more dire straits.
Why does President Obama think the US can afford a war in Afghanistan when the US economy is falling apart? Massive joblessness. Massive homelessness. Millions of Americans without medical care.
The additional $30 billion for the war comes on top of the $65 billion already appropriated for the year. These appropriations are always fattened with supplementary appropriations. The true cost is well in excess of $100,000,000,000.
Whose going to pay for it? Democratic Representative David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee proposes to raise income taxes on everyone earning more than $30,000. This is called “trickle-up” economics. You tax the little guy and give the money to the armaments companies.
There was a time when Democratic presidents represented the little man, and Republicans represented business. Today both parties represent the moneyed interests. On December 3 at the jobs summit with business leaders, Obama said, “We don’t have enough public dollars to fill the hole of private dollars that was created as a consequence of the crisis.”
In other words, all the public’s money has been spent on the banks and the wars.
Despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and the ease with which Obama won the presidential election over McCain/Palin, the Democratic Party has totally collapsed. The Democrats have abandoned every constituency. Democrats have discarded the American people. Democrats, in pursuit of campaign contributions, represent the moneyed interests on Wall Street, the munitions companies, the insurance companies, the agri-businesses that have destroyed independent farmers, despoilers of the environment, unaccountable police, and the builders of detention centers. The exception is Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
The Democrats have become brownshirt Republicans.
The American people, except for the one percent of super-rich, have been abandoned.
Obama had a different message during the presidential campaign. On May 4, 2008, he went to Elkhart, Indiana, to sympathize with the unemployed. On February 9, 2009, just after his inauguration, he returned to Elkhart to say:
“You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics. But when we say we’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began – nearly 600,000 in the past month alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America, with an unemployment rate over 15 percent; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach, Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International – companies that have sustained this community for years – we’re talking about Ed Neufeldt and people like him all across this country.
“We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place. Parents who’ve lost their health care and lie awake nights praying the kids don’t get sick. Families who’ve lost the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it.
“That’s what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis. Those are the stories I heard when I came here to Elkhart six months ago and that I have carried with me every day since. I promised you back then that if were elected President, I would do everything I could to help this community recover. And that’s why I’ve come back today – to tell you how I intend to keep that promise.”
What’s the story in Elkhart 9 months after President Obama reaffirms his promise? “Long-term unemployed face dwindling options.”
Lawrie Covey, 58, has been out of work for two years. “I can’t even get a job cleaning rooms at a local motel.” Her son, who was night shift foreman for a local manufacturer and who lost his job after eight years, was splitting the rent. Winter is upon them, and the heating bill is rising. Their transportation is 20 years old and needs a new radiator. Both her and her son’s unemployment benefits have run out. Lawrie Covey has fallen back on her experience growing up on a firm. She is raising chickens and picking wild mushrooms and has a garden. If she makes it through the winter, she hopes to get a couple of baby pigs to raise to see them through the next year.
Lawrie Covey, to whom President Obama made a promise could just as well be an Afghan peasant. She doesn’t count any more than the thousands of Afghans who have been murdered in their sleep by US air strikes on “terrorists.”
She voted for a president who spent all the money on wars based in lies and deceptions and on Gold Sacks, the richest institution in the world.
Obama is loading up the poor with enormous debts that imply hyperinflation in order to make Gold Sacks too heavy to lift and in order to reward the munitions industry for its service to world peace and American hegemony.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. His new book, How the Economy was Lost, will be published next month by AK Press / CounterPunch. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
Press Release, Gaza Freedom March, 4 December 2009
The Gaza Freedom March that will take place in Gaza on 31 December is an historic initiative to break the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million people who live there. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and nonviolent resistance to injustice worldwide, the march will gather people from all over the world to march — hand in hand — with the people of Gaza to demand that the Israelis open the borders.
Marking the one-year anniversary of the December 2008 Israeli invasion that left more than 1,400 dead, this is a grassroots global response to the inaction on the part of world leaders and institutions. More than 1,000 international delegates from 42 countries have already signed up and more are signing on every day.
Participants include Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, leading Syrian comedian Duraid Lahham, French Senator Alima Boumediene-Thiery, autthor and Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello, former European Parliamentarians Luisa Morgantini from Italy and Eva Quistorp from Germany, President of the US Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Michael Ratner, Japanese former Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, French hip-hop artists Ministere des Affaires Populaires, and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.
We also have families of three generations, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, 70 students, an interfaith group that includes rabbis, priests and imams, a women’s delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans group and Palestinians born overseas who have never seen their families in Gaza.
The international delegates will enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December. In the morning 31 December, they will join Palestinians in a nonviolent march from northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border. On the Israeli side of the Erez border will be a gathering of Palestinians and Jews who are also calling on the Israeli government to open the border.
Inside Gaza, excitement is growing. Representatives of all aspects of civil society, including students, professors, refugee groups, unions, women’s organizations, nongovernmental organizations, have been busy organizing and estimate that at least 50,000 Palestinians will participate. People from the different sectors will march in their uniforms — fishermen, doctors, students, farmers, etc. Local Palestinian rappers, hip-hop bands and dabke dancers will perform on mobile stages.
By Prof Richard S. Lindzen – Wall Street Journal – 2006-06-26
Bill Clinton has become the latest evangelist for Mr. Gore’s gospel, proclaiming that current weather events show that he and Mr. Gore were right about global warming, and we are all suffering the consequences of President Bush’s obtuseness on the matter. And why not? Mr. Gore assures us that “the debate in the scientific community is over.”
That statement, which Mr. Gore made in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, ought to have been followed by an asterisk. What exactly is this debate that Mr. Gore is referring to? Is there really a scientific community that is debating all these issues and then somehow agreeing in unison? Far from such a thing being over, it has never been clear to me what this “debate” actually is in the first place.
The media rarely help, of course. When Newsweek featured global warming in a 1988 issue, it was claimed that all scientists agreed. Periodically thereafter it was revealed that although there had been lingering doubts beforehand, now all scientists did indeed agree. Even Mr. Gore qualified his statement on ABC only a few minutes after he made it, clarifying things in an important way. When Mr. Stephanopoulos confronted Mr. Gore with the fact that the best estimates of rising sea levels are far less dire than he suggests in his movie, Mr. Gore defended his claims by noting that scientists “don’t have any models that give them a high level of confidence” one way or the other and went on to claim — in his defense — that scientists “don’t know… They just don’t know.”
So, presumably, those scientists do not belong to the “consensus.” Yet their research is forced, whether the evidence supports it or not, into Mr. Gore’s preferred global-warming template — namely, shrill alarmism. To believe it requires that one ignore the truly inconvenient facts. To take the issue of rising sea levels, these include: that the Arctic was as warm or warmer in 1940; that icebergs have been known since time immemorial; that the evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average. A likely result of all this is increased pressure pushing ice off the coastal perimeter of that country, which is depicted so ominously in Mr. Gore’s movie. In the absence of factual context, these images are perhaps dire or alarming.
They are less so otherwise. Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don’t know why.
The other elements of the global-warming scare scenario are predicated on similar oversights. Malaria, claimed as a byproduct of warming, was once common in Michigan and Siberia and remains common in Siberia — mosquitoes don’t require tropical warmth. Hurricanes, too, vary on multidecadal time scales; sea-surface temperature is likely to be an important factor. This temperature, itself, varies on multidecadal time scales. However, questions concerning the origin of the relevant sea-surface temperatures and the nature of trends in hurricane intensity are being hotly argued within the profession.
Even among those arguing, there is general agreement that we can’t attribute any particular hurricane to global warming. To be sure, there is one exception, Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who argues that it must be global warming because he can’t think of anything else. While arguments like these, based on lassitude, are becoming rather common in climate assessments, such claims, given the primitive state of weather and climate science, are hardly compelling.
A general characteristic of Mr. Gore’s approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse. Regardless, these items are clearly not issues over which debate is ended — at least not in terms of the actual science.
A clearer claim as to what debate has ended is provided by the environmental journalist Gregg Easterbrook. He concludes that the scientific community now agrees that significant warming is occurring, and that there is clear evidence of human influences on the climate system. This is still a most peculiar claim. At some level, it has never been widely contested. Most of the climate community has agreed since 1988 that global mean temperatures have increased on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, having risen significantly from about 1919 to 1940, decreased between 1940 and the early ’70s, increased again until the ’90s, and remaining essentially flat since 1998.
There is also little disagreement that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen from about 280 ppmv (parts per million by volume) in the 19th century to about 387 ppmv today. Finally, there has been no question whatsoever that carbon dioxide is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse gas — albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming. Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in carbon dioxide should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed, assuming that the small observed increase was in fact due to increasing carbon dioxide rather than a natural fluctuation in the climate system. Although no cause for alarm rests on this issue, there has been an intense effort to claim that the theoretically expected contribution from additional carbon dioxide has actually been detected.
Given that we do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change, this task is currently impossible. Nevertheless there has been a persistent effort to suggest otherwise, and with surprising impact. Thus, although the conflicted state of the affair was accurately presented in the 1996 text of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the infamous “summary for policy makers” reported ambiguously that “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” This sufficed as the smoking gun for Kyoto.
The next IPCC report again described the problems surrounding what has become known as the attribution issue: that is, to explain what mechanisms are responsible for observed changes in climate. Some deployed the lassitude argument — e.g., we can’t think of an alternative — to support human attribution. But the “summary for policy makers” claimed in a manner largely unrelated to the actual text of the report that “In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”
In a similar vein, the National Academy of Sciences issued a brief (15-page) report responding to questions from the White House. It again enumerated the difficulties with attribution, but again the report was preceded by a front end that ambiguously claimed that “The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.” This was sufficient for CNN’s Michelle Mitchell to presciently declare that the report represented a “unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.” Well, no.
More recently, a study in the journal Science by the social scientist Nancy Oreskes claimed that a search of the ISI Web of Knowledge Database for the years 1993 to 2003 under the key words “global climate change” produced 928 articles, all of whose abstracts supported what she referred to as the consensus view. A British social scientist, Benny Peiser, checked her procedure and found that only 913 of the 928 articles had abstracts at all, and that only 13 of the remaining 913 explicitly endorsed the so-called consensus view. Several actually opposed it.
Even more recently, the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush administration’s coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.” This, for Mr. Easterbrook, meant: “Case closed.” What exactly was this evidence? The models imply that greenhouse warming should impact atmospheric temperatures more than surface temperatures, and yet satellite data showed no warming in the atmosphere since 1979. The report showed that selective corrections to the atmospheric data could lead to some warming, thus reducing the conflict between observations and models descriptions of what greenhouse warming should look like. That, to me, means the case is still very much open.
So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at least three points.
First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists — especially those outside the area of climate dynamics.
Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a “moral” crusade.
Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce — if we’re lucky.
Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.
David Green, The Electronic Intifada, 4 December 2009
|Former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Richard Herman|
Chancellor Richard Herman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently resigned due to his cooperation with political influence-peddlers seeking to gain admission for less qualified but privileged applicants. But Herman also participated in a more acceptable form of political corruption — publicly displayed with the invocation of high principle — in his cooperation with the Israel lobby in opposition to the British boycott of Israeli academics, and in the funding of the Israel Studies Project at the Urbana campus.
The Israel Studies Project, jointly funded since 2005 by the chancellor’s office and the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, has had nothing to do with the serious study of Israel, and everything to do with promoting support for its criminal political behavior. Its guests, in residence for two weeks during the fall or spring of each year, have included propagandists Yossi Klein Halevi and Hillel Halkin; and, most recently, writer and talk show host Irit Linur, described below. There have been no invitations to Israeli dissidents, and none to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The unquestioned assumption that the study of Israel excludes the voices of 20 percent of its citizens is consistent with the state-sponsored racism of the Israel Studies Project, implicit and explicit.
Under what ethical code should a partisan political interest group (no less a venal one) be permitted to buy its own program at a public university with which to promote its agenda?
A 26 July 2007 letter to Herman captures the flavor of Herman’s relationship with the Israel lobby. It was signed by Jay Tcath, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Joel Schwitzer, Executive Director of Hillel at the Urbana Campus, with a copy to Michael Kotzin, Executive Vice President of Jewish United Fund and the promoter with Herman of the Israel Studies Project. In it they profusely thanked Herman for his opposition to the academic boycott promoted by the UK’s University and College Union, and for declaring himself, “in effect, an Israeli academic.” They also thanked him for exploring a resumption of study abroad programs between the University of Illinois and Israel.
After a visit to Israel sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, Herman stated in a letter published on 16 August 2007 in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the Israel Studies Project “promotes and supports the academic study of Jewish culture and society in the spirit of free and open inquiry.” He referred both to Israeli and Palestinian higher education in asserting that “change will only come through collaborations.”
Referring to the UK University and College Union boycott, Herman concluded: “The irony is hardly lost on me.”
Indeed there is abundant irony not to be lost in considering the Israel Studies Project in light of Herman’s effort to occupy the high moral ground — even barring the admissions scandal that was his downfall. Needless to say, Herman never lifted a finger during his tenure to either criticize any Israeli action, or to ensure that Palestinian perspectives be represented on campus. He said nothing in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza last winter nor has he criticized Israel’s blatant and repeated violations of the right of Palestinians to an education and academic freedom.
Instead, the Israel Studies Project and Herman’s advocacy for it point to the ironies of racism and corruption rather than the principles of academic freedom. Its purpose is the promotion of Israeli policies (as well as American support for those policies) and the sanitization of Israeli culture. Appropriately, Israeli writer Irit Linur spoke about “Making TV Drama in Israel” on 17 November.
Linur has a well-known political reputation in Israel. In 2002, Linur used her radio program to call for a boycott of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper “until it fires journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy.” Hass and Levy are the most courageous and incisive Jewish Israeli journalists critical of the Israeli occupation, and it is therefore inconceivable that either would receive an invitation from the Israel Studies Project, as did the (ironically) boycott-advocating Linur.
Earlier this year, after the organization Breaking the Silence in Israel published soldier testimonies about Israeli military crimes in Gaza, the Israeli director of the New Israel Fund released a statement critical of Linur and her co-host for threats to “break the bones” of Breaking the Silence. Israeli commentator Itay Ziv subsequently wrote in the local Tel Aviv paper Ha’Ir: “Irit Linur is a dangerous person. She behaves on her program like a quick thinking intellectual to give the impression of intellectual integrity. She gives violence an aesthetic wrapping.”
During Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Keshev, the Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, accused Linur of “racist messages and comments, which often turn into an all-out incitement, urging the killing of innocent civilians.” They quote Linur: “I say, let us bomb Ramallah [the demonstrators there] … and before [Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah] fires a stray rocket at them, we can already declare them martyrs. They are the enemy.”
Prior to Linur’s presentation, members of the Urbana chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine distributed a flier based on Keshev’s documentation of Linur’s incitements to violence. In its 18 November story on the event, the student newspaper emphasized these complaints. However, any such discussion was absent from the talk itself, which centered on Linur’s anecdotal tales of TV writing in Israel.
The Israel Studies Project is administered by the Program for Jewish Culture and Society (PJCS). The Director and Assistant Director of the PJCS expressed their obliviousness to Linur’s political background, as well as to the existence of Students for Justice in Palestine on campus to the Daily Illini.
In sharp contrast, on 10 November, the distinguished Israeli historian Ilan Pappe spoke to a packed hall of 250 to 300 at Illinois State University in Normal (50 miles west of Urbana) on “Palestine: The Historical Lessons for Our Time.” In 45 minutes, Pappe summarized what has been his life’s work, research into the Zionist movement’s and Israel’s colonization of Palestine, resulting in the expulsion of the Palestinian people. Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is a seminal work. But as a dissident, he lives and works in the United Kingdom rather than Israel, where severe pressure is placed on academics who challenge Israel’s policies — by people like Irit Linur. One must finally acknowledge that as the ironies mount, the pattern of blatant hypocrisy is revealed.
Yet the topic of the Linur event indicates that even for the Israel Studies Project, pro-Israeli political rhetoric/propaganda is perhaps no longer routinely acceptable in official venues on the Urbana campus. It is to be hoped that in the near future, cultural sanitization will give way to a serious consideration of historical and political truths.
David Green is a 59-year-old Jewish-American who lives in Champaign, Illinois, and works for the University of Illinois. He has been writing about Israel/Palestine for the past 12 years. He can be reached at davegreen84 A T yahoo D O T com.
December 4, 2009 08:09 EST
Micheal Martin – © Unknown
Mr Martin had intended to visit the troubled territory later this month to assess the humanitarian situation, but his request was turned down by officials who he claims gave no adequate reason for their rejection.
Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee Mr Martin said he was anxious to visit the disputed land.
“I would like to see real progress in opening up Gaza and ending the unjustified blockade of its population,” he added.
“The continuation of the blockade is only providing succour to the extremists and raising, rather than reducing the risk, of further conflict in the region.”
The minister told the committee he hoped a European Council gathering in Brussels on Monday would help peace negotiations get back on track.
“If progress is not quickly realised and the situation remains at an impasse, then the international community as a whole may need to re-consider what further pressure it can bring in favour of achieving a negotiated, two-State settlement,” he said.
The turning down of Minister Martin’s request follows the refusal of similar applications by British, French and Turkish authorities.
Bernard Durkan, chairman of the Oireachtas committee described the Israeli Government’s decision as an intolerable affront.
“That an Irish Foreign Minister is not permitted to visit a region to assess a humanitarian situation is almost without precedent and is tantamount to censorship,” he said.
Where Penn Intelligence and Central Intelligence Collide
The Pentagon permeates everyday life in America. Its influence, along with that of the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies, is almost everywhere. From movies like Iron Man and G.I. Joe to video games like Halo 2 and America’s Army, from Home Depot to Google, from MIT to Harvard, the list of Pentagon-sponsored corporations, institutions and products is miles long.
Of course, with two wars going strong and more than 800 military bases in 40 different countries and overseas territories, our global military presence is massive and requires maintenance. As a result, the U.S. accounts for nearly half of all military spending across the globe.
All in all, this presence has meant 60 years of near-constant warfare for America. Between the end of World War II and the end of the Kosovo conflict, the U.S. engaged in more than 200 non-covert military operations, according to a tally by the Federation of American Scientists.
But what does this have to do with you? Penn is part of the “military-industrial complex” (to borrow a term from President Eisenhower) that keeps America’s war machine running. In fact, academia in general is a key pillar in the apparatus that produces weapons, technology, information and innovation for America’s military bureaucracy and its private corporate partners.
According to a 2002 report by the Association of American Universities, nearly 350 colleges and universities do Pentagon-funded research. The Department of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the third-largest provider of funding for university research, after the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Penn is a microcosm of this reality. It has a long history with the DoD, as well as the CIA and the FBI, including a decade-long stint in the 1950s and ‘60s as one of the premier institutions for secret chemical and biological weapons research in the country. Penn does not engage in classified research today, but non-classified research continues apace. For example, in the 2009 fiscal year Penn received approximately $34.3 million in funding from the DoD, according to Penn’s Vice Provost for Research Dr. Steven Fluharty. This money represents only 4.8 percent of total government-sponsored research at the university, but since Pentagon money is often concentrated in very specific departments and laboratories, it has a large impact on a number of disciplines, especially engineering, computer science and math.
The Coming Robot Army: The Case of the GRASP Lab
Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab is an interdisciplinary research center nestled neatly into the fourth floor of the Engineering School’s Levine Hall. Bringing together engineers, biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists, the GRASP Lab develops sophisticated robots and the operating systems on which they depend. As a result, it is an on-campus favorite of the Pentagon, which is currently working to replace a large swath of U.S. military personnel with robots and drones.
Almost all of what is being undertaken at the GRASP Lab involves graduate students. The end product is often a series of algorithms, a computer system or a conceptual framework — no one at Penn is developing actual bombs or missiles. And because such research is basic, it also has potential applications outside the realm of war, in search and rescue missions, for instance. Yet as far as the DoD is concerned, the work the GRASP Lab does is the first link in a chain of research and development on which the Department depends as it develops technology for use on the battlefield.
Many have read about the drones the U.S. military is using to conduct bombing raids and surveillance operations in the Middle East. According to Defense Industry Daily, Penn professors, through the SWARMS project, are trying to get those drones to “autonomously converge on enemy troops, aircraft and ships, decide what to do, then engage the enemy with surveillance or weapons to help U.S. forces defeat them. All this without direct human intervention.”
SWARMS, which stands for Scalable Swarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors and is headed by Penn professor Vijay Kumar, was funded by a $5 million grant from the Army Research Office. The project is near completion, but similar technology is being developed and applied further under another project, Micro Autonomous System Technologies (MAST) Alliance. This was funded by a $22 million grant for 10 years from the Army Research Lab — the single largest grant in the Engineering School’s history. Like SWARMS, the project is working to enhance “warfighting capabilities” and “situational awareness” in “complex terrain, such as caves and mountains, or an urban environment,” according to the Army.
The SWARMS project and MAST Alliance are being developed for use in the drones that have a central role in the military’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and are highly publicized in U.S. media. These technologies, nevertheless, are controversial. The New York Times estimates that such attacks have killed approximately 700 Pakistani civilians between 2006 and 2009, while the New America Foundation reports that between 250 and 320 Pakistani civilians have been killed in drone bombings over the same period.
For another project, the Nano Air Vehicle, professor Mark Yim says he received a 10-month $1.7 million contract from Lockheed Martin, the largest arms manufacturer in the world and a subcontractor of the DoD. His task was to help develop a 1.5-inch flying robot that looks like a maple tree seed and includes a “chemical rocket enclosed in its one-bladed wing,” a tiny robot that can fly in the air, conduct surveillance operations and readily deliver two-gram “payloads,” a euphemism for bombs, rockets, surveillance devices or whatever else can fit in its minuscule frame.
When researchers were asked about the ethical implications of their work — the preceding examples are only a brief sampling of Penn’s military research — almost all of them took refuge in “hope.” Kumar, for instance, said he “would hope that [the SWARMS technology] would be used to save human lives.” The military, however, has a clearer view of what it wants out of Kumar’s project and others like it. Discussing its overall research agenda in its 2008 annual report, the ARO stated: “The vision of the Director, Army Research Office is to develop the science and technology that will maintain the Army’s overwhelming capability in the expanding range of present and future operations.” In other words, SWARMS and projects like it are meant for war.
Intelligence Agencies, Mandarin Teachers and Covert Classrooms
Research is not the only area of university life in which the military and intelligence establishment are interested. What happens in the classroom has also become a priority for certain agencies. The most notable example of this phenomenon is the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP). With the advent of PRISP, the federal government now operates its own secret scholarship program for future spies and intelligence analysts.
The brainchild of anthropologist Felix Moos and Senator Pat Roberts, “PRISP links undergraduate and graduate students with U.S. security and intelligence agencies like the NSA or CIA, and unannounced to universities, professors or fellow-students, PRISP students enter American campuses, classrooms, laboratories and professors’ offices without disclosing links to these agencies,” according to anthropologist and reporter David Price.
Participants in PRISP receive up to $50,000 in tuition and stipends over a two-year period for university programs that have been approved by one of the U.S. intelligence agencies. In return for this funding, each participant must work as an analyst for the approving agency for at least one and a half years. There is no way to tell if PRISP students are active on Penn’s campus, and that’s the point. Nobody knows who is or is not a soon-to-be secret agent or analyst for the government.
There are other cases in which intelligence agencies are operating openly on Penn’s campus. The most explicit example is that of International Relations 290, Introduction to Theory and Practice of Counterintelligence. Frank Plantan, Bruce Newsome and Anne-Louise Antonoff will teach this undergraduate course for the first time this spring. The course is not particularly unique, except for the fact that the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX) developed it.
International Relations 290 came about when a representative from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) approached the International Relations department at a national security symposium held at Penn in the spring of 2009. Plantan, a co-director of the undergraduate International Relations program, says that both the curriculum and the syllabus for the course came from the DNI (of which OCNIX is a part), which will also send speakers to Penn to discuss the various subjects the class will cover. Penn professors merely teach the material that is provided.
Another example of visible operation of intelligence agencies at Penn is the Startalk Penn High School Chinese Academy. In 2006 the National Security Agency (NSA), in partnership with the University of Maryland, began sponsoring a series of language programs in an initiative called Startalk that teach “critical languages” — those deemed important by the national security establishment — to youth across the country. At Penn, Startalk kicked off in the summer of 2007, when 30 high school students and four local teachers received government subsidies to learn the intricacies of the Chinese language from Penn faculty. The program has continued every summer since.
Mien-hwa Chiang, one of the faculty members involved, recognizes that this program is the U.S. government’s attempt to develop the capacity to exert “soft power ” in the realms of language, culture and communication. She acknowledges, however, that while the students are familiar with the Startalk name they do not know that the program is an NSA initiative. In fact, in scanning Startalk promotional material it is nearly impossible to find any mention of the NSA.
Penn sophomore Chloe Summers participated in the Startalk program two years in a row before enrolling at Penn. She said that while she assumed the program had something to do with the government, she was never told that she was involved in a national security initiative. “Basically what I thought is they are trying to get students to learn Chinese so [the government] can hire them in the future. But it wasn’t explicitly said, they didn’t say it was sponsored by the NSA. It was very ambiguous,” she says. As with INTR 290, an intelligence agency is taking an active role in the classroom with Startalk. But in this case, children under the age of 18 are being incorporated into a national security strategy without full disclosure.
Footnotes from History
None of this is new to Penn. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, according to documents obtained at the University Archives, Penn’s now-defunct Institute for Cooperative Research researched biological and chemical weapons and developed delivery systems for them, funded by massive secret grants from the Pentagon. Back then, students could take Political Science 551, Strategic Intelligence and National Policy, a “thinly disguised training course for future intelligence agents” taught by a pair of former spies, according to a 1966 report in Ramparts magazine title “A War Catalog of the University of Pennsylvania.”
A string of revelations in the 1970s, many of which appeared in reports in the Daily Pennsylvanian, revealed the extent of Penn’s covert involvement with the national security establishment: In 1977, for instance, declassified CIA documents revealed that Penn had participated in the CIA’s secret MKULTRA mind-control experiments, which used narcotics, electric shocks, poisons and chemicals on volunteers, unwitting human subjects and prisoners. Declassified documents from the FBI’s domestic spying program, COINTEPLRO, revealed that at least one member of the University administration in the late 1960s was an FBI informant and that the FBI had attempted to influence coverage in the DP during the same period. It also came to light that the CIA had spied on student protestors in 1969 and that the University’s own campus security force had a history of spying on left-wing student dissident groups. The last revelation led to the resignation of two members of the University administration.
This is all to say that Penn has long been a stomping ground of the military and the U.S. intelligence establishment. There is one major difference, however, between the past and the present. Back then, when students learned about these issues, they took action. For instance, after the secret germ warfare research was revealed a series of large student protests shook the campus, including a six-day occupation of College Hall by 1,000 students and community members. Student action was supported by the faculty senate, which threatened to chastise Penn President Gaylord Harnwell if he did not cancel the secret germ warfare contracts. These actions worked: The contracts were canceled. Penn no longer engages in secret research.
These were the days when young people had their say. It was the age of the student power movement, which took seriously President Eisenhower’s warning, when he said: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”