By Abid Aslam | November 24, 2008
WASHINGTON, (IPS) – Think of it as a stimulus package without deficit spending: Were the United States to normalise trade relations with Iran and were the Islamic Republic to liberalise its economy, Washington could cut its fuel costs and add tens of billions of dollars to its economy, say U.S. exporters.
Such moves could lower world oil prices by as much as 10 percent, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) says in a report aimed at the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Obama, who is to take office in January, has signaled willingness to explore new approaches to his country’s long standoff with Iran. During his election campaign, opponents lambasted Obama for favouring appeasement at a time when Washington seeks to tighten the screws on Tehran for its alleged support of terrorism and nuclear ambitions.
Few, if any, expect a radical shift in U.S. policy under Obama but presidential transitions always are seen as opportunities for some degree of change.
In this case, says NFTC president Bill Reinsch, the lobby seeks to persuade the incoming administration that “broad unilateral sanctions intended to change the behaviour of problematic regimes often miss that target, but do succeed in generating a number of significant economic consequences.”
According to the NFTC, if the United States were to scrap its unilateral sanctions and, in turn, Iran were to lift prohibitions against foreign investment, particularly in its oil sector, the Middle Eastern nation could boost its crude oil production by about 50 percent and lower world prices by about 10 percent. This would cut the cost of U.S. oil imports by 38 billion — 76 billion dollars a year.
The pro-trade group further estimates that economic liberalisation in Iran would boost that country’s overall trade by up to 61 billion dollars, adding 32 percent to its gross domestic product (GDP). In turn, U.S. non-oil trade and trade in services with Iran also would shoot up, by about 46 billion dollars or 0.4 percent of U.S. GDP.
“Opening Iran’s marketplace to foreign investment could also be a boon to competitive U.S. multinational firms operating in a variety of manufacturing and service sectors,” says the NFTC study.
The Bush administration, which recently has worked through the United Nations to force Iran to stop enriching uranium, last month imposed sweeping new unilateral sanctions designed to cut off key Iranian military and banking institutions from the U.S. financial system.
Israel and the United States say Iran is enriching uranium in order to build nuclear weapons. Tehran has repeatedly said its purposes are peaceful. Washington also has placed Iran on its list of states sponsoring terrorism, chiefly militant factions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip.
Under U.S. law domestic and foreign firms are barred from investing more than 20 million dollars in Iran. For its part, Tehran has taken over the operation of its strategic oil and gas sector, which accounts for roughly 40 percent of the national economy. Governments that have voiced support for the U.S. stance have not curbed their firms’ involvement in Iran. Washington has not prosecuted non-U.S. companies for allegedly breaking the law. Federal lawmakers have been weighing measures to force authorities here to pursue foreign sanctions violators.
The NFTC has long opposed unilateral sanctions and has assailed as futile the Iran measures already in place and those under consideration by legislators.
“As with all economic embargoes, the efficacy of the sanctions in forcing political change is controversial,” write report authors Dean DeRosa and Gary Hufbauer, both economists. “In economic terms, however, both sides lose from the geopolitical standoff.”
Hufbauer has spent decades analysing the use of sanctions. In a report earlier this year, he and colleagues at the Peterson Institute for International Economics think tank examined more than 200 cases over the past one hundred years, including those against Iran. They found that the economic restrictions had contributed to achieving foreign policy goals only about one-third of the time. Most of these instances involved only partial success.
Critically, the study released in July found that sanctions tended to work when aimed against friendly and democratic countries, but not when they were brought to bear on adversaries and autocrats. In recent years, the record for multilateral sanctions has been better than that for unilateral U.S. sanctions, it added.
Not that the alternatives have been attractive. Said Hufbauer and colleagues: “Our success rate of one-third overall indicates that in about two-thirds of the cases the foreign policy goal was not achieved or, if it was achieved, other means were decisive — usually military force.”
By Supreet Minhas | Columbia Spectator | January 31, 2010
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned century-old restrictions on corporate spending in elections under the guise of protecting First Amendment free speech rights. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” This argument of the majority decision rests on the notions that corporations are covered by the same free speech protections as individual citizens and that campaign donations or financing are the same as speech.
Corporations, however, are inherently not the same as individuals and thus cannot have the same protections as individuals. There are a slew of laws that protect corporations and their interests in the arena for which they are by definition formed—namely the marketplace. The laws that govern corporations and the rights enjoyed by them are distinct from the laws and rights of individuals. A corporation, for example, can enter into contracts like an individual, but unlike an individual, a corporation’s members can be protected by limited liability so their personal assets are not at stake.
If a corporation, then, is a distinct legal entity governed by different laws than an individual is, corporations are not protected under the First Amendment in the same way that individuals are protected. Corporations, especially in their most powerful and wealthy incarnations, are exponentially more influential than most individuals in America. The restrictions on corporate spending in elections that were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court were meant to redress this power balance between average individuals and unduly influential businesses. Corporations already have a plethora of ways to influence politics, from political action committees to lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The framers of the Bill of Rights wanted to protect the voices of the trampled, not amplify the voices of the elite.
The other part of the Supreme Court’s premise for its decision is that the First Amendment free speech clause applies to campaign funding. While speech can be interpreted loosely as any form of expression, such an open, ambiguous definition would create a myriad of problems with all kinds of laws. An architect has a vision of a building: it is his art, his self expression, yet he cannot ignore local zoning laws that, for instance, restrict the height of his building. Should he sue the state for violation of his free speech, his right to expression? Equating money with speech also opens the door to sundry ludicrous claims by, for instance, an employer who objects to minimum wage laws since he’d like to express that his employees are only worth paying $3 an hour. There have to be restrictions on what constitutes speech to prevent a bastardization of the term and an overly liberal interpretation of the First Amendment.
A corporation already has the power to issue a statement in favor of a candidate or policy through its political action committees, and individual members of a business are welcome to contribute money as well. However, allowing a corporation to use its vast profits to directly finance the election or to remove a candidate compromises the democratic notion of a free and fair election. There are unseemly ties even now between politicians and various industries, but this new ruling would make such connections more robust and give them a veneer of legitimacy. A politician financed by a business would become completely beholden to its political agenda and not to the voters.
It’s not only the independence of politicians that’s at stake, but also the independence of our judges, who are at the very least expected to be impartial. Many states still use elections to appoint judges, which leaves them vulnerable to the influence of political spending. In a recent speech at a law school conference, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor worried about the impact of corporate campaign funding in judicial elections, saying that “judicial campaigning makes last week’s decision in Citizens United an increasing problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.”
Two cornerstones of our democracy—free elections and an independent judiciary—are threatened by the Supreme Court’s activist and meddling decision. The case could have been decided much more narrowly in favor of Citizens United, but instead, the majority of the justices decided to expand the case to champion the rights of big money over the interest of the American people. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act last March. It would prohibit contributions from political action committees and would match individual donations, limited to $100, on a 4:1 basis so that fundraising focuses on the people. Such a system has been in place in New York City since the 1988 Campaign Finance Act. The rest of the country is long overdue to follow. Never before has the fight for public financing been more necessary.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. She is a prospective law student.
By Carmelle Wolfson
“Organic eggs labeled ‘Harduf’ are coming from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank,” I exclaim to my aunt over the phone to the kibbutz that allegedly harvested the eggs. “There is no way,” she says, astonished. Eventually she comes to believe the validity of this claim. “We all buy them,” she admits, adding that it’s what they sell at the kibbutz grocery. “I don’t think people in Harduf know.”
The Harduf organic food company is managed by one kibbutz member, but owned by Israeli food giant Tnuva. According to Haaretz and Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, Tnuva buys the organic eggs from illegal outpost Gva’ot Olam near the West Bank Palestinian village Yanoun.
The anthroposophic community of Harduf, while distinguishing itself from the kibbutz movement, comes from the kibbutz tradition – a Socialist Zionist agricultural commune built on Avodah Ivrit (exclusively Jewish labour). Kibbutzim, once regarded as utopian communes, in recent years have moved towards private ownership, graded wages and hierarchical governing bodies, while farming is being replaced by production plants and industrial companies.
The kibbutz was instrumental in defining territory for the Jewish state of Israel. Yitzhak Tabenkin, a spiritual leader of the Kibbutz Movement, described the movement as, “a builder of communal settlements whose aim is to colonize the country in order to establish a territory for the Jewish people.”
Most kibbutzim were strategically situated on the peripheries. Before and during the 1948 war kibbutzniks fought in the Haganah military underground to hold their settlements and later went on to establish the “Israeli Defense Forces”. Kibbutzniks also formed a major part of Israel’s military elite up until the past decade.
“They were the pioneers of this colonization, even though ideologically at least some of them objected the colonization and that way of expelling the Palestinians,” points out Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot, an Israeli organization that educates citizens about the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe, referring to the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians by Israel in 1948). In many cases they settled Palestinian houses and cultivated and picked the fruits of Palestinians’ fields. “The new practice of the Zionists was that after buying land, they did what they call redeeming the land. It means that after buying that land only Jews can live off that land,” explains Bronstein.
By the late 1970s the political climate shifted to the right as the government liberalized the Israeli economy. The history of the kibbutz’s rise and fall is commonly understood as stemming from massive organizational debts and the dismantling of the Jewish labour economy, in turn shifting people’s relation to communal values. This led towards an industrial economy and eventual privatization.
But a central factor in this transformation often left unmentioned is that after the 1967 war the value of the kibbutz as a frontline force had become obsolete. The then burgeoning settler movement soon came to replace the kibbutz as a central colonizing body. Occupying Palestinian land and cultivating it to be inhabited by exclusively Jewish communities, the strategies of settlers are not much different than early kibbutzniks.
Some Jewish settlements positioning themselves deep inside the West Bank and far beyond the Green Line have even called themselves kibbutzim. Recently, an outpost was erected under the name “Kibbutz Givat Menachem”, pointing out that both kibbutzim and illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank were established on Palestinian land and should not be treated differentially. The “kibbutz” was evacuated in November.
The so-called “Hilltop Youth,” young devoutly religious settlers committed to the idea of an ethnically exclusive socialist commune of God (a socialism derived from Jewish rather than Marxist scripture) are restoring the Socialist Zionist tradition. Setting up caravans as illegal outposts in the West Bank, farming the land, and using violence to deter Palestinians from reclaiming their fields, The Hilltop Youth are the new frontier, renewing the custom of Avodah Ivrit lost to the free market economy. From these outposts, Jewish settlements in the West Bank can grow.
Movement leader Avri Ran is the founder of the Gva’ot Olam illegal outpost farm, where Harduf gets their eggs. Organic vegetables, fruit and dairy are cultivated by an exclusively Jewish workforce and then sold at most natural food stores in Israel. Ran, an IDF reserves captain, is a kibbutznik himself who grew up on Kibbutz Nir Chen according to IsraelNationalNews.com. The kibbutz is in the Negev desert less than 30 km northeast of the Gaza Strip.
I asked a relative in Kibbutz Hatzor (about 40 km south of Tel Aviv) what he thinks about the comparison of settlers to kibbutzniks. Hatzor is a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, one of the most leftist and secular youth movements amongst the kibbutzim (originally affiliated with the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre and now associated with the Zionist social democratic party Meretz). “The prevailing attitude among ‘our’ kibbutz movement,” he says, framing it in the context of Israel’s internal religious and secular divide, “Is that there’s a distinct difference between the absolute need for a State, and the steps that were taken to realize that need, and the approach that says that the land is God-given and thus there’s only one legitimate claim.”
The Arab-Jewish border in the 1947 UN partition plan ran right through Hatzor fields, as my uncle himself has told me. Before Hatzor existed Palestinians lived in the area, but after Israel’s declaration a battle between Israeli and Egyptian forces in the South resulted in the Palestinians being pushed south into Gaza. Now, not a single Palestinian can be seen on the kibbutz.
On Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva – just west of Israel’s Green Line with the West Bank, kibbutz members aided the army in expelling and preventing the return of the Palestinian residents from Khirbet Al Jalama after the ‘48 war. These actions, which included blowing up the remaining Palestinian homes, were carried out despite an Israeli court decision to allow the Palestinians to return to their homes.
The irony of this Israeli political division is that the Hilltop Youth, who have gained international notoriety for being on the vanguard of Palestinian dispossession and racism, generally live in open fields on hilltops inside their own caravans. While the movement considered the source of Israel’s moral consciousness wiped out Palestinian villages and forcefully ejected Palestinians from their homes.
Death of the web moves closer as UN calls for policing cyberspace
By Paul Joseph Watson, Alex Jones & Steve Watson | Prison Planet | February 1, 2010
Calls to introduce a licensing system to police the Internet on behalf of a powerful UN agency represent the latest salvo in a long-running battle to kill free speech on the web and bring an end to the powerful digital democracy that has devastated the carbon tax agenda of the UN by exposing the Climategate scandal.
UN International Telcommunications Union secretary general Hamadoun Toure told the World Economic Forum in Davos this past weekend that global treaties need to be enacted in the name of stopping cyber warfare.
Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, told fellow globalists at the summit that the Internet needed to be policed by means of introducing licenses similar to drivers licenses – in other words government permission to use the web.
“We need a kind of World Health Organization for the Internet,” he said.
“If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance.”
Andre Kudelski, chairman of Kudelski Group, said that people should be forced to “have two computers that cannot connect and pass on viruses”. Since using the Internet requires a computer to connect to a network, it seems unclear as to how this would work without blocking off entire areas of the Internet altogether.
Globalists are invoking the threat of cyber attacks by nation states in order to accomplish their real agenda of stifling and regulating out of existence the last true outpost of free speech – the Internet. The establishment is furious at the level of influence individuals and small political groups have been able to wield by means of the world wide web, particularly over the last few years.
Climategate is a perfect example of the power of the digital democracy that authoritarian enemies of free speech want to crush. The Copenhagen global warming conference was completely devastated by the Climategate revelations which appeared just days before elitists convened to ram through their CO2 scam. As a result of bloggers feverishly pursuing the Climategate story, the entire foundation of the UN’s IPCC has been totally eviscerated and the global warming hoax is on its last legs.
The power to cripple entire branches of their control freak agenda within a matter of weeks has the globalists hopping mad, which is why their mission to eliminate real free speech on the web is accelerating.
“Don’t be surprised if it becomes reality in the near future,” writes ZD Net’s Doug Hanchard. “Every device connected to the Internet will have a permament license plate and without it, the network won’t allow you to log in.” … Full article
By Daniel Larison
The American Conservative
January 30th, 2010
But the failure to achieve a second, explicit, U.N. resolution was a political problem, not a legal obstacle. Few of the anti-war movement care to recall that the Kosovan War was, if anything, predicated upon a flimsier legal case than the Iraqi intervention. ~Alex Massie
One of the reasons why I keep revisiting the illegality and immorality of the intervention in Kosovo long after most people have forgotten about it is precisely because so many opponents of the Iraq war don’t want to acknowledge that Kosovo was every bit as unjustifiable and wrong as Iraq was. By endorsing the war in Kosovo even now, as Obama did again in Oslo, many opponents of the Iraq war have opened themselves up to the attack that Iraq hawks were using from the beginning. If someone pointed out that invading Iraq would violate international law and not have U.N. sanction, the hawks would throw the precedent of Kosovo in his face. Unless he was a principled progressive or antiwar conservative, the opponent of the invasion was always at a loss to respond. If invading Iraq was based on phony or exaggerated intelligence about WMDs, Kosovo was based on lies about preventing genocide and protecting human rights. Unless you are among the fairly small percentage that opposed both, the odds are that you are outraged over invading Iraq in inverse proportion to how outraged you were over bombing Serbia.
Inexplicably, Kosovo is remembered across much of the spectrum, especially the center-left, as a great success, despite having been disastrous for the very people it was supposed to help and despite being based on lies every bit as blatant and outrageous as the invasion of Iraq. As it hapened, Blair was Prime Minister during Britain’s participation in both wars of aggression. As far back as 1999, he has been the chief proponent of liberal interventionism aimed at subverting the normal protections of international law afforded to sovereign states, and he continues to be an outspoken advocate for killing foreigners for their own benefit. What is disheartening about all this is not just that Blair will never be held to account for his responsibility for the war in Iraq, but that he has never had to answer for or defend his decision to support an unprovoked, unnecessary war of aggression against Serbia.
Even though the air war led to the expulsions of Albanians from Kosovo it was meant to prevent, and even though the “negotiations” at Rambouillet involved delivering an intolerable ultimatum designed to start a war, this criminal operation continues to enjoy support or indifference from most Westerners. There were no allied casualties, and the war was brief, so there was little time for the publics in NATO nations to grow weary and disgusted with their criminal leaders. The war was over relatively quickly, so the media lost interest in the false atrocity stories that the Clinton administration used in its war propaganda, and the previous decade of constant anti-Serb coverage made the public receptive to whatever lies the administration wanted to tell.
What I can say about Blair is that he has been quite consistent. State sovereignty and international [law] did not matter to him in 1999, and they didn’t matter to him later in 2002-03. Given his remarks at the Chilcot inquiry about Iran, I am quite sure that he would have no difficulty supporting and even joining in an illegal attack on Iran were he still a minister in the British government. This makes him one of the most unabashed, unapologetic advocates of aggressive war alive today, and I’m not sure that this requires much courage when there have been and continue to be absolutely no consequences, legal or otherwise, for his actions.
But it seems the Israeli involvement in the nation was not always so positive. On Dec. 27, 1982, the US newspaper Christian Science Monitor reported that since 1968 Israel had sold weapons to two Haitian dictators-Francois Duvalier, who became president in 1957; and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, who succeeded him in 1971. The two, known as “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc,” controlled and terrorized the country with a private army. On March 27, 1983, the New York Times reported that Israel was among the few countries that had agreed to sell weapons to Baby Doc, and provided him with the long-term payment arrangement that he requested.
Paul Farmer, who would serve as President Bill Clinton’s deputy UN representative to Haiti, previously reported that Gen. Prosper Avril, the head of the military junta that took power in Haiti in 1988, received temporary asylum in Israel in 1990. Avril was the head of Baby Doc’s notorious “Presidential Guard,” and a US court ruled that he was responsible for “scandalous human rights violations.” He would later serve prison time in Haiti for his crimes.
In 1990, four years after Baby Doc was ousted from power, the popular priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti-in the first democratic elections the nation had seen. But in 1991 he was deposed in a military coup. Britain’s The Independent newspaper reported Oct. 14, 1991 that about 2,000 Uzi and Galil machine-guns from Israel were sent to Haiti in the weeks prior to the coup-with diplomats claiming the weapons went to military units especially loyal to the coup-plotters.
According to an Aug. 1, 2005 report in Jane’s Intelligence Review, weapons of Israeli origin were being smuggled through Florida and ending up with armed gangs in Port-au-Prince in this period-some in collaboration with the junta, and some opposed.
The Israeli Defense Ministry did not issue any reaction by publication time.
Now, as Israeli doctors and nurses work around the clock at the hospital that was established in Haiti, one can only hope that Israel’s contribution to the suffering nation will now focus on saving lives, and not on weapons shipments.
There have been repeated allegations in Gaza that civilians have suffered disfiguring burn injuries after being hit by white phosphorus Photo: AFP
01/02/2010 – Ma’an/Agencies – Israeli findings delivered to the UN in response to the Goldstone report compound allegations that white phosphorus munitions were deployed toward an UNRWA compound in Gaza during last year’s devastating offensive, Israeli media reported on Monday.
The incident occurred two days before the end of Operation Cast Lead on 15 January 2009, in southern Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, the Israeli daily Haretz reported.
White phosphorus smoke was used to create a cover, according to the report, to shield Israeli forces from combatants’ view, who were in close proximity to the UNRWA compound.
The munitions dispersed hundreds of pieces of felt loaded with phosphorus and the report said these pieces landed into the UNRWA compound, causing injury to an UNRWA employee and to two Palestinian civilians who took cover at the location, the daily wrote.
The Israeli government’s findings assert that this endangered human life during, acknowledging international allegations.
According to the daily, Gaza Division Commander Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Colonel Ilan Malka, were the subject of disciplinary action after headquarters staff found that the men exceeded their authority in approving the use of phosphorus shells that endangered human life, the Israeli government report said.
Additional report from Philip Weiss:
February 1, 2010
BBC on Israel’s reprimands re white phosphorus attack:
Israel has revealed it has reprimanded two top army officers for authorising an artillery attack which hit a UN compound in Gaza last year.
In the attack on 15 January 2009 the compound was set ablaze by white phosphorus shells.
If you read the Goldstone report (Chapter XII, paragraphs 887 on..) Israel used white phosphorus on countless occasions during the ground phase of the operation: against Beit Lahiya, a crowded urban area in the north, with the result that several members of a huddled family, the Abu Halimas, were burned alive; in Khuza’a, a more rural area at the east of the Gaza Strip, in amongst many homes; and in the attack on Al-Quds Hospital. So why only cop to it with respect to the U.N. facilities? In the Abu Halima case, Goldstone said an exploding shell was used. Completely indiscriminate.
Press TV – February 1, 2010
Washington strikes a softer tone on its controversial military base in Japan, saying is ready to negotiate the relocation of the US forces on Okinawa Island.
US Assistant Secretary of Defense Wallace Gregson said the White House was not after an “American-imposed” solution to the months-long dispute with Tokyo.
“Our plan is based on our alliance relationships, and if we have to go back to negotiating, we’ll go back to negotiating,” Gregson said in a Tokyo speech on Monday.
“And it’s not negotiating like the United States and the Soviet Union in the old days of the Cold War. This is less negotiation than it is collaboration and mutual effort,” said the retired Marine general.
Locals on the island of Okinawa have long been demanding that the US Marine Corps air base close, citing aircraft noise, pollution, the risk of accidents and crimes committed by American troops.
Under a 2006 agreement between Tokyo and Washington, the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station is to be moved from an urban area to a less populated coastal region within the southern prefecture of the island by 2014.
But Japan’s new center-left government has launched a review of the deal, with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama now also seeking a pull-out of American forces from the island or even out of Japan altogether.
Last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Japan to “move on” with the original plan, indicating moving the base within Okinawa was “the way forward”.
But Gregson said Washington could wait until Tokyo reconsidered the relocation deal signed under Japan’s previous conservative governments.
“We certainly understand the need for the new government to reexamine that, we are patient on that.”
The 2006 deal is part of a wider plan to rearrange the presence of some 47,000 US troops currently stationed in Japan.
By Harvey Wasserman | Online Journal | February 1, 2010
Amidst utter chaos in the atomic reactor industry, Team Obama is poised to vastly expand a bitterly contested loan guarantee program that may cost far more than expected, both financially and politically.
The long-stalled, much-hyped “renaissance” in atomic power has failed to find private financing. New construction projects are opposed for financial reasons by fiscal conservatives such as the Heritage Foundation and National Taxpayers Union, and by a national grassroots safe energy campaign that has already beaten such loan guarantees three times.
New reactor designs are being challenged by regulators in both the US and Europe. Key projects, new and old, are engulfed in political/financial uproars in Florida, Texas, Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and elsewhere.
And 53 years after the opening of the first commercial reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is now convening a “blue ribbon” commission on managing radioactive waste, for which the industry still has no solution. Though stacked with reactor advocates, the commission may certify the death certificate for Nevada’s failed Yucca Mountain dump.
In 2005, George W. Bush’s energy bill embraced appropriations for an $18.5 billion loan guarantee program, which the Obama administration now may want to triple. But the DOE has been unable to minister to a chaotic industry in no shape to proceed with new reactor construction. As many as five government agencies are negotiating over interest rates, accountability, capital sourcing, scoring, potential default and accident liability, design flaws and other fiscal, procedural and regulatory issues, any or all of which could wind up in the courts.
In 2007, a national grassroots uprising helped kill a proposed addition of $50 billion in guarantees, then beat them twice again.
When Obama endorsed “safe, clean nuclear power plants” and “clean coal” in this year’s State of the Union, more than 10,000 MoveOn.org members slammed that as the worst moment of the speech.
The first designated recipient of the residual Bush guarantees may be at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia, where two reactors now operate. Georgia regulators have ruled that consumers must pay for two proposed new reactors even as they are being built.
But initial estimates of $2-3 billion per unit have soared to $8 billion and more, even long before construction begins. Standardized designs have not been certified. Ongoing technical challenges remind potential investors that the first generation of reactors cost an average of more than double their original estimates.
The Westinghouse AP-1000 model, currently slated for Vogtle — and for another site in South Carolina — has become an unwanted front runner.
Owned by Japan’s Toshiba, Westinghouse has been warned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of serious design problems relating to hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.
The issues are not abstract. Florida’s Turkey Point plant took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1991, sustaining more than $100 million in damage while dangerously losing off-site communication and power, desperately relying on what Mary Olson of NIRS terms “shaky back-up power.” Ohio’s Perry reactor was damaged by a 1986 earthquake that knocked out surrounding roads and bridges. A state commission later warned that evacuation under such conditions could be impossible.
Long considered a loyal industry lapdog, the NRC’s willingness to send Westinghouse back to the drawing board indicates the AP-1000’s problems are serious. That they could be expensive and time-consuming to correct means the Vogtle project may prove a losing choice for the first loan guarantees.
South Texas is also high among candidates for loan money. But San Antonio, a primary partner in a two-reactor project there, has been rocked by political fallout from soaring cost estimates. As the San Antonio city council recently prepared to approve financing, it learned the price had jumped by $4 billion, to a staggering $17-18 billion. Angry debate over who-knew-what-when has led to the possibility that the city could pull out altogether.
In Florida, four reactors have been put on hold by a plummeting economy and the shifting political aims of Governor Charlie Crist. Crist originally supported two reactors proposed by Florida Power & Light to be built at Turkey Point, south of Miami, and another proposed for Levy County by Progress Energy. State regulators voted to allow the utilities to charge ratepayers before construction began, or even a license was approved.
But Crist is now running for US Senate, and has distanced himself from the increasingly unpopular utilities. With votes from two new appointees, the Public Service Commission has nixed more than $1 billion in rate hikes. The utilities have in turn suspended preliminary reactor construction (though they say they will continue to pursue licenses).
At Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, the financially tortured Constellation Energy has committed to the French AREVA’s European Power Reactor, now under serious challenge by regulators in France, Finland and Great Britain. An EPR under construction in Finland is now at least three years behind schedule, and more than $3 billion over budget.
Meanwhile, at Entergy’s 30-year-old Yankee reactor in Vermont, a series of radiation and information leaks have severely damaged prospects for re-licensing. The decision will soon be made by a deeply divided state legislature. “It would be better for the industry to let Vermont Yankee die a quiet death in the Green Mountain state,” says Deb Katz of the grassroots Citizens Awareness Network. “With radioactive leaks, lies and systemic mismanagement, Entergy is no poster child for a new generation of nukes.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey may require operators of the aging Oyster Creek reactor to install sizable towers to protect what’s left of the severely damaged Barnegat Bay, which the plant uses for cooling. Though the requirement may not be enforced for as much as seven years, the towers’ high cost could prompt a shutdown of the relatively small plant.
This unending stream of technical, financial and political downfalls could doom the “reactor renaissance” to history’s radioactive dump heap. “President Obama needs to remember what Candidate Obama promised: no more taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “Renewables and energy efficiency provide both greater carbon emissions reductions and more jobs per dollar spent than nuclear. Unlike nuclear power, they are relatively quick to install, and are actually safe and clean.”
Indeed, despite congressional and White House support for these latest proposed loan guarantees, the grassroots fight over both old and new nukes grows fiercer by the day.
In the long run, this alleged “nuclear renaissance” could prove to be little more than a rhetorical relapse.
Press TV – February 1, 2010
Additional charges have been leveled against an American national once indicted for abusing Haitian boys he was supposed to be helping.
Douglas Perlitz, 39, founded and operated a home and school for needy children in Haiti, known as Project Pierre Toussaint.
But he was arrested in his home in Colorado in September 2009 after a federal grand jury indicted him on 10 counts related to the abuse of nine boys over a period of 10 years.
Prosecutors on Thursday pushed an additional nine counts against Perlitz, bringing the number of his abuse victims to a total of 18.
The American national, who lived in Haiti for years, is accused of enticing the boys into sexual acts with promises of food and shelter, and with gifts, such as cell phones and cash.
According to the new indictment in Federal District Court in Connecticut, Perlitz offered money to one of the boys and assured him that he would not be expelled from school even if he failed his classes.
He allegedly gave another boy and his family money and other benefits, and in another case, offered a television, shoes, clothes and meals to another boy, demanding sexual acts and silence in return.
Those who refused to cooperate with Perlitz were denied benefits, the indictment added.
Douglas Perlitz, scheduled to appear in federal court in New Haven on Tuesday, would face a maximum of 30 years in prison and fine of $2.5 million if convicted.
AFP | February 1, 2010
Washington – The 700-billion-dollar US government effort to rescue the financial system has failed to meet key goals such as sparking lending and curbing risky activities by banks, a special auditor said Sunday.
The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said in a report to Congress that it is too soon to measure the overall success of the program passed at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008.
The quarterly report said that because of TARP, “there are clear signs that aspects of the financial system are far more stable than they were at the height of the crisis in the fall of 2008.”
But the report also stated that “many of TARP’s stated goals… have simply not been met” and that the potential for a new crisis looms without major reforms.
“Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car,” the report said.
The program has fallen short in key areas such as boosting credit, curbing home foreclosures and deterring the risky behavior of financial firms that are considered “too big to fail,” said the report from inspector general Neil Barofsky.
Despite the explicit goal to increase financing to US businesses and consumers, “lending continues to decrease,” said the report from inspector general Neil Barofsky.
It also noted that TARP has failed to live up to the “explicit purpose” stated by Congress of “preserving homeownership and promoting jobs.
“The TARP foreclosure prevention program has only permanently modified a small fraction of eligible mortgages, and unemployment is the highest it has been in a generation,” it said.
“Whether these goals can effectively be met through existing TARP programs is very much an open question at this time.”
The report said that by coming to the aid of the troubled housing market, the US government effectively “has become the mortgage market, with the taxpayer shouldering the risk that had once been borne by the private investor.”
More broadly, the report said the underlying problems that led to the financial crisis remain, including the continued existence of financial firms that are “too big to fail” and engaging in practices that can destabilize the system.
“The substantial costs of TARP — in money, moral hazard effects on the market, and government credibility — will have been for naught if we do nothing to correct the fundamental problems in our financial system and end up in a similar or even greater crisis in two, or five, or 10 years’ time,” the document said.
“It is hard to see how any of the fundamental problems in the system have been addressed to date.” – AFP