Friday, August 02, 2013

A Future of Mobile Nuclear Power Generation

Hooking up the Grid: Power Ships and Floating Nuclear Plants 

by James Stafford -

How do you overcome chronic power shortages in developing countries or in remote areas? “Power ships” and floating nuclear platforms.

First, we’ve got a massive new Turkish-owned vessel docked 100 meters off the coast of Beirut and hooked up to Lebanon’s electricity grid, delivering 188 megawatts of electricity daily.

A second Turkish ship is scheduled to arrive in Lebanon in August, which should bump it to 270 megawatts daily.

Akademik Lomonosov will be docked in Russia’s Far East 
Kamchatka region, off the Arctic town of Vilyuchink

Second, we’ve got a much bigger endeavor—Russia’s plans for floating nuclear reactors to dock in the remote Arctic. This floating nuclear power plant—the first ever in the world--will have two 35-megawatt generators that will be able to supply power to remote Arctic communities directly from the ship. It’s the Akademik Lomonosov, and it’s slated for completion by 2016. Once it’s finished, the Russians—courtesy of Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation--plan to build 4-6 more. The Akademik Lomonosov differs from the Turkish vessels in that it is not self-propelled; rather it must be towed to its destination.

The Akademik Lomonosov is an autonomous power facility, manufactured as non-self-propelled vessel. It is 140m long, 30m wide and 10m high. It has a draught of 5.56m. Its displacement is 21,500t with a crew of 70 people.

Once it’s docked, it will be able to provide electric power through two light-water reactors, heat, and fresh water through a desalination plant that operates on the excess heat produced by the reactors. Specifically, the floating nuclear ship will be able to produce about 70 megawatts of electricity and over 60 gallons of fresh water.

For Lebanon, it’s about lessening chronic power shortages and keeping the peace as tension from Syria seeps over the border, not to mention the squeeze on energy with the addition of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But for the Arctic, it’s about oil and gas exploration and production in the end. It’s about ensuring remote communities critical to oil and gas exploration are powered up.

Floating Power Ships—Lebanon and Beyond

The ship docked off Beirut, the Fatmagül Sultan, is a $370 million, three-year agreement between the government and Lebanon and the ship’s operator, Turkish energy company Karadeniz Holding--and it’s only one of a fleet of seven that came online in 2007. Five more are in the construction phase. These Turkish vessels have operated in Iraq and Pakistan, and Karadeniz has had its eye on other energy-crisis destinations in Africa, including Libya.

It’s certainly not a long-term solution, but because it’s roving power, it will almost always be in demand—somewhere.

For Lebanon, the Fatmagül Sultan provides an additional two hours of electricity a day, which is most important in the summer months when demand spikes. The ship is meant to be only a temporary solution—buying the government three years to re-haul its power plants.

The Turkish endeavor in Lebanon is a brilliant idea, but it hasn’t been without its hiccups. The second Turkish power ship was supposed to arrive in June, but has been delayed until August due to technical issues. Also the first power ship halted electricity production in April and only resume in early June during which time it awaited new fuel shipments and conducted repairs. Lebanon is entitled to $82,000 a day in delay fees.

Powering the Arctic

The Akademik Lomonosov will be docked in Russia’s Far East Kamchatka region, off the Arctic town of Vilyuchink, where there is already a new pier waiting for it. The nuclear reactors are designed to operate similar to traditional small nuclear reactors, and the ship has a 40-year lifespan, with fuel recycled every dozen years or so. But the question on everyone’s mind is “are they safe”? Well, no one can answer that with any accuracy, but surely things are steadier on land than at sea.

Rosatom says the vessels can withstand any load and are impervious to extreme weather conditions, including tsunamis, collisions with other vessels, or running aground. And Kamchatka is no stranger to extreme marine weather conditions. Kamchatka is also home to frequent seismic activity, which has the area’s residents a bit concerned about the implications of floating nuclear power plant nearby. The greatest concern is that the floating plant will be expelling radioactive steam, and environmental groups aren’t buying declarations that the ship is tsunami-proof. The general consensus among environmental groups is that floating is more dangerous than stationary because there are more weather variables that could cause an accident.

Rosatom likes the idea of a floating, mobile nuclear power plant, but detractors say they don’t see the cost-effectiveness here. Bellona, the Russian nuclear watchdog group, argues that it costs at least five times more to launch a low-capacity floating nuclear power plant than it does to build a stationary 1,000-megawat power plant. (See the full Bellona report here.)

During the Vietnam war, the US Department of Defense also operated a 10-megawat floating nuclear power plant, the Sturgis. But applications for anything but military use never really got off the ground. The US tried out its own floating nuclear power plant project in 1974—in the Atlantic Ocean, just offshore Atlantic City, New Jersey—but abandoned the project because it was too expensive and the public was pressuring the government over safety concerns.

Bottom Line: We like the Turkish initiative because we see commercial viability and real demand for this, though only as a roving temporary power solution for developing countries or for situations of temporary severe energy shortage. We’re not thrilled with Rosatom’s floating nuclear power plant, mostly because we don’t see any economic sense in it, and history has demonstrated this. Certainly, it’s nothing that should attract private investment.

New Prosperity Proposal Old Wine in a Busted Environmental Bottle

Federal and Provincial Departments Refute Proponent's Claims Mine Bid is Environmentally Sound

by Friends of the Nemaiah Valley

Williams Lake, B.C. August 1, 2013 - Evidence from federal and provincial mining, environment and fisheries officials has raised serious concerns about Taseko Mines Ltd's revised submission for a massive open pit low-grade ore mine at Teztan Biny, Fish Lake.

As the Federal Review Panel’s technical hearings for the proposed New Prosperity Mine wrap up today, the evidence (see examples below) is piling up that not only is this mine economically unfeasible and a burden to future generations and governments, but that Taseko Mines Ltd.’s claims to have ‘saved’ Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), are baseless.
“The Friends of Nemaiah Valley have been active participants in both the general and technical hearings and we are increasingly concerned about why we are even at the hearing stage of this process,” said David Williams. “What we now have before us is a stark picture of a mine plan that in fact does not contemplate ‘saving’ anything, and still plans to completely destroy large portions of Fish Creek, Little Fish Lake, and offers an unproven and entirely experimental recirculation life-support scheme for Teztan Biny.

“This is not just our assessment,” Mr. Williams said. “We have now heard from the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who have all confirmed the entirely unproven nature of this kind of mine proposal”

“This has not been done anywhere ever in history and there is no evidence that it can be done now.”

Here are just some of the facts.

BC Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM):
“The water quality monitoring and effects assessment results indicate that significant adverse changes to water quality in Fish Lake and its tributaries will occur in the future, even if an effective groundwater capture system could be implemented (which is uncertain …)” ( Written Submission, July 30, 2013, p. 3 ).

“….MEM believes that the project presents significant environmental risk … MEM concludes that it is unlikely that the project can be developed as currently designed without adverse effects to the water quality of Fish Lake and its tributaries from [Tailings Storage Facility] seepage …” ( Written Submission, July 30, 2013, p. 6 ).

Environment Canada:
“The Proponent’s modelling suggests water quality in Fish Lake may be marginal for the protection of aquatic life.” ( Written Submission, July 25, 2013, p.10 )

“There are few, if any, examples of lake recirculation at the scale proposed by the Proponent” ( Written Submission, July 25, 2013, p. 11 ).

“Environment Canada is concerned that the recirculation mitigation measure proposed to manage water quality and the biological productivity of Fish Lake is unproven at this scale…the high level of uncertainty regarding the Proponent’s recirculation scheme is a particular concern given the stated goal of preserving Fish Lake.” ( Written Submission, July 25, 2013, p. 12 ).

“Environment Canada is concerned that the Proponent may have underestimated the potential impacts of the Project on water quality in Wasp Lake, Little Onion Lake and Big Onion Lake. Given that these lakes drain to the Taseko River, Environment Canada is also concerned that the Proponent may have underestimated impacts on water quality in the Taseko River.” ( Written Submission, July 25, 2013, p. 19 ).
Department of Fisheries and Oceans:
“Natural Resources Canada recently expressed concern that Taseko’s seepage rate estimates for the TSF [Tailings Storage Facility] may be 11 times higher than those modeled in the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] … as a result, groundwater seepage estimates that were modeled in the EIS may be underestimated. If actual baseline groundwater seepage contributions into Taseko River are significantly higher than those modeled, then development of the Project could result in impacts to Taseko River that have not been considered by the Proponent.” ( Written Submission, July 23, 2013, p. 13 ).

“The Proponent’s mitigation and adaptive management plan to preserve the functioning of Fish Lake using a recirculated closed system uses unprecedented and untested technology … DFO is not aware of any examples of wilderness lakes or watersheds that have been subject to a recirculation program.” ( Written Submission, July 23, 2013, p. 14 ).

Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William said:
“We call on the Proponent to acknowledge the real environmental impacts of increased seepage, of destroying wetlands, of destroying Little Fish Lake, and the unproven disaster that lake recirculation presents for the lands and waters of the Tsilhqot’in people.”

Hello All Friends of Friends of the Nemaiah Valley; We have issued the following News Release today after following the week of technical hearings before the Panel re the New Prosperity mine hearings.For more, please see:

Lac Megantic Culprit Company Says It Can't Pay for Clean Up/Recovery

Company Responsible for Deadly Oil Train Crash Says It Won't Pay, TransCanada Pushes Pipeline Deal


Yves Engler: Tragedy in Canadian town turns into an opportunity for some to argue that pipeline transport is safer, when the real argument should be against an oil-driven economy.

Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian - Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy, and previously he published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority

Thursday, August 01, 2013

US Continues "Double Tap" Missile Attacks Against First Responders

Bureau Investigation Finds Fresh Evidence of CIA Drone Strikes on Rescuers

by Chris Woods with Mushtaq Yusufzai  - Bureau of Investigative Journalism


If proved, US targeting of rescuers who respond to scene of earlier explosions are clearly "war crimes" 

The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosqueA field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike. The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN investigators.

The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes around a single village in North Waziristan – attacks that were aimed at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012.

The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque

Congressional aides have previously been reported as describing to the Los Angeles Times reviewing a CIA video showing Yahya al-Libi alone being killed. But the Bureau’s field research appears to confirm what others reported at the time – that al-Libi’s death was part of a sequence of strikes on the same location that killed up to 16 people.

If correct, that would indicate that Congressional aides were not shown crucial additional video material.

The CIA has robustly rejected the charge. Spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

Tactic revived

The Bureau first broke the story of the CIA’s deliberate targeting of rescuers in a February 2012 investigation for the Sunday Times. It found evidence of 11 attacks on rescuers - so-called ‘double-tap’ strikes – in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011, along with a drone strike deliberately targeting a funeral, causing mass casualties.

Reports of these controversial tactics ended by July 2011. But credible news reports emerged a year later indicating that double-tap strikes had been revived.

International media including the BBC, CNN and news agency AFP variously reported that rescuers had been targeted on five occasions between May 24 and July 23 2012, with a mosque and prayers for the dead also reportedly bombed.

The Bureau commissioned a report into the alleged attacks from Mushtaq Yusufzai, a respected journalist based in Peshawar, who reports regularly for NBC and for local paper The News.

Over a period of months, Yusufzai – who has extensive government, Taliban and civilian contacts throughout Waziristan – built up a detailed understanding of the attacks through his sources.

His findings indicate that five double-tap strikes did indeed take place again in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque. In total 53 people were killed in these attacks with 57 injured, the report suggests.

Yusufzai could find no evidence to support media claims that rescuers had been targeted on two further occasions.

No confirmed civilian deaths were reported by local communities in any of the strikes. A woman and three children were reportedly injured in one of the attacks. Yusufzai says: ‘It is possible some civilians were killed, but we don’t know’.

However a parallel investigation by legal charity Reprieve reports that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 (see below), with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.

Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar says Reprieve’s findings are based on interviews with villagers from affected areas.

‘On both occasions [in July] our independent investigation showed a high number of civilians who were rescuers were killed in the strikes,’ says Akbar.

While some 2012 double-tap strikes appear to have been aimed at al Qaeda’s Yahya al-Libi, Reprieve believes both July attacks were focused on killing another senior militant, Sadiq Noor.

Noor is deputy to militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Both men are long-time targets for the CIA because of their support for the Taliban’s Afghan insurgency. Noor had falsely been reported killed on at least two previous occasions. It is not known whether he survived either of the strikes.

Summary of the Bureau’s new findings

The Bureau’s field research finds that – as widely reported at the time – on May 24 2012 a CIA-controlled armed drone hit a mosque in the village of Hasukhel in North Waziristan, killing some worshippers. Six further people were killed in a second drone strike shortly afterwards as they took part in rescue work, according to Yusufzai’s sources.

On June 3 2012, two Taliban commanders and their men were targeted as they visited the village of Gangi Khel in South Waziristan to attend funeral prayers for a relative killed in an earlier drone strike. Despite reports that the two commanders were killed, the Bureau’s research finds both men survived and there were no fatalities.

An attack on June 4 2012 ultimately killed al Qaeda second-in-command Yahya al-Libi. Despite US claims that al-Libi alone died, Bureau research appears to corroborate multiple accounts indicating that at least 16 people, all alleged militants, died in a series of missile strikes. This reportedly included the deliberate targeting of rescuers. Congressional oversight committee staffers reportedly told the LA Times they had seen video showing only al-Libi’s death. They may have been unaware of additional strikes. The CIA told the Bureau it ‘provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.'

On July 6 2012, a group of alleged militants were targeted and killed as they ate dinner with local tribesmen. Another nearby mixed group who were praying were not attacked. After waiting 30 minutes rescue work began. CIA drones then returned, killing 12 others including three brothers. Legal charity Reprieve reports eyewitnesses as identifying eight civilians killed in the attack, who it names as Salay Khan; Mir Jahan Gul; Allah Mir Khan; Noor Bhadshah Khan; Mir Gull Jan; Batkai Jan; Gallop Haji Jan and Gull Saeed Khan.

An initial attack on a house in Dre Nishtar in the Shawal valley on July 23 2012 killed five alleged militants. Local villagers refused to assist in aid work because they feared a fresh attack. Alleged militants involved in the rescue were then targeted in a second strike, with a further seven killed and eight injured. Reprieve believes civilians may also have died in this attack, and is continuing to investigate.

No evidence could be found for a claimed attack on rescuers on May 28 2012. Instead, Yusufzai’s sources said two separate linked strikes took place. An initial 4am attack failed to destroy a truck. The vehicle was pursued and destroyed 10 minutes later as it passed through Hasukhel village, killing seven alleged militants. Four civilians including three children were also injured when a nearby house was damaged.

Similarly, the Bureau can find no evidence to support a claimed double-tap attack on June 14 2012 in Miranshah. Instead, one individual died on the building’s roof, in what Yusufzai’s sources describe as a highly precise attack causing minimal structural damage.

Special rules?

The rescuer strikes examined by Yusufzai all appear to have been aimed at very senior militants – so-called High Value Targets. Under international humanitarian law, the greater the threat a target represents, and the more imminent that threat is deemed to be, the greater the leeway for targeting. The Bureau’s findings suggest that strikes on rescuers are still permitted in certain circumstances, such as in the pursuit of a high value target such as Yahya al-Libi.

The Bureau’s original investigation into the deliberate targeting of rescuers found that a significant number of civilians had been reported killed, alongside Taliban rescuers.

It was the presence of civilians amid groups of rescuers which meant the US may have committed war crimes, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Christof Heyns noted in June 2012:
If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime.

Heyns’ colleague Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on torture, also told reporters in October 2012: ‘The Bureau has alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns… has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.’

The Bureau understands that Emmerson’s ongoing UN investigation into drone strikes is likely to engage with the issue of targeting first responders.

Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes that civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations, and are often prevented from doing so by militants. They also fear further CIA attacks, he says.

As Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes, civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations’

Sarah Knuckey is an international lawyer at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, based at New York University’s School of Law. An adviser to UN rapporteur Christof Heyns, Knuckey also co-authored the 2012 report Living Under Drones, which gathered substantial testimony in Pakistan about strikes on rescuers.
‘The threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbours and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded,’ the report noted.

Commenting on the Bureau’s latest findings, Knuckey says civilians cannot be targeted under the laws of war.
But she adds: ‘Secondary strikes are not necessarily unlawful. If, for example, secondary strikes are carried out on additional military targets who come to the area of a first strike, the strikes might comply with the laws of war. And the Bureau’s findings of no evidence of civilian harm from the 2012 strikes they investigated suggest that proper precautions in attack may have been taken for those strikes.

‘The key question around the legality of secondary strikes is: On what basis is the US making the assessment that the ‘rescuers’ are legitimate military targets? Is the US assuming that anyone coming to a second strike is also a militant, or does it have – for each rescuer – intelligence on that person’s militant status? If secondary strikes take place within 10-20 minutes of a first strike, is that sufficient time to determine militancy?’

Stark contrast

The US has not generally responded to the issue of double-tap strikes. But three months after the 2012 attacks, a senior diplomat denied that civilian rescuers were ever ‘deliberately’ targeted by the CIA.

A group of US peace activists visiting Pakistan in October 2012 were told by acting US ambassador Richard E Hoagland: ’For at least the last several years that I have been here in Pakistan and more intimately associated with the knowledge of this [drone campaign], there was never any deliberate strikes against civilian rescuers.’

The US Senate and House intelligence committees are charged with overseeing the CIA’s drone targeted killing project. But there is an unexplained disparity between an account of what committee members were shown by the CIA on a particular strike, and what other sources report.

Is the US assuming that anyone coming to a second strike is also a militant, or does it have – for each rescuer – intelligence on that person’s militant status?’
Sarah Knuckey, New York University

Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, was killed by the CIA on June 4 2012 in a strike on the village of Hassokhel in North Waziristan.

Almost all media reports at the time placed the death toll at 15-18. Sources including the Washington Post said rescuers were targeted and killed at the scene.

But the US has consistently denied this. ‘American officials said that Mr Libi was the only person who died in the attack, although others were present in the compound,’ the New York Times noted.

In July 2012, the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of the workings of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. According to reporter Ken Dilanian, staffers from both committees visit CIA headquarters once a month, where they watch video and review other evidence relating to drone strikes.

‘The BBC and other news organisations quoted local officials saying that 15 “suspected militants” were killed in the June 4 Pakistan strike that killed al Libi,’ Dilanian reports. ‘But the [CIA] video shows that he alone was killed, congressional aides say.'

The Bureau’s findings are in stark contrast, appearing to confirm original news reports that rescuers were indeed targeted at the time and that many more died.

According to Yusufzai’s sources, an initial 4am attack on a small house in the village of Hassokhel killed five. A dozen people ‘including Arabs, Turkmen and local tribesmen’ then started rescue work.

But as they were removing bodies, the CIA’s drones reportedly struck again – killing 10 more, including Yahya al-Libi, ‘who was observing the rescue operation when he too came under missile attack,’ the source said.

Neither the House nor Senate intelligence committees were prepared to comment on the disparity between these reports.

The Bureau approached the CIA for comment on the latest sequence of rescuer strikes. While declining to comment on most questions, spokesman Edward Price robustly denied the suggestion that the oversight committees may have been misled.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Belling the Egyptian Cat: Revolution Contained, Army Back in Driver's Seat

Egyptian Revolution Derailed, Contained

by Nicola Nasser - CounterPunch

A fourth wave of the Egyptian revolution seems inevitable, until the revolution changes the regime or the regime emerges victorious, pending another revolution.

The January 25 revolution in Egypt, which removed the former president Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011 and, in its second wave, overwhelmed the first anniversary of his elected successor Mohammad Morsi on June 30, 2013 with millions over millions of anti – Muslim Brotherhood protesters until the military intervened to remove him in turn three days later, is now entering its third stage without yet being completed, fulfilled or finished.

In a statement issued on July 27, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry grasped the fact that the Egyptian revolution has not yet run its course; “Its final verdict is not yet decided,” he said, “but it will be forever impacted by what happens right now.” He described the situation prevailing “now” as a “pivotal moment for Egypt.”

Years ago, John C. Campbel, in “Foreign Policy,” had described the Middle East as “a house of containment built on shifting sands,” from the perspective of the United States, and his description still applies today, no better than to the current state of affairs in Egypt, where the state has become more like a house of cards.

So far, Egypt’s revolution was more a “regime exchange” than a “regime change.” The old pro – U.S. market economy centers of power had merely rotated power among the liberal “remnants” of the Mubarak regime and the conservatives of his opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood, with the military playing the role of the arbiter. For example, the Sawiris family billionaires who were milking them are coming back now after they were replaced by the billionaire and MB leader Khairat al-Shater and his ilks during the Morsi era. They were thus far successful in derailing and containing the revolution, which has changed nothing of the old regime, neither internally nor externally.

This rotation of power has so far proved an effective mechanism in containing the revolution and derailing it away from evolving into a new order. The political polarization along these lines is another mechanism; Mazda Majidi on July 20 wrote on the Web site of the U.S. Party of Socialism and Liberation: “A long confrontation with the military on one side and Brotherhood supporters on the other could yield a situation where the people in the streets right now will be sidelined,” and consequently their revolution aborted.

Washington D.C. is adapting to this “regime exchange” in order to prevent a “change in the regime,” which the successive US administrations have nurtured as a strategic asset to both the United States and its Israeli regional ally since the Camp David accords of 1979.

Answering his question whether the removal of Morsi was a U.S.-engineered coup, Majidi wrote that “Washington would have had no incentive to orchestrate a military coup to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood (MB);” Morsi “worked well with the U.S.,” “played a key role” in brokering a truce between Israel and Hamas in late 2012,” and in the conflict in Syria, he and the MB “were solidly behind the U.S. effort to overthrow the Syrian state;” accordingly, “Washington could live with Morsi, but it obviously has no problems with Egypt’s military,” who are the most committed to the strategic ties with the U.S. and the best guardians of the peace treaty with Israel.

Maintaining or discarding those ties and that treaty will undoubtedly be the most vital dividing line externally between fulfilling the Egyptian revolution and derailing it away from disturbing the regional balance of power and status quo, which both the U.S and the Israeli beneficiaries thereof have nurtured during the past more than three decades as their “holy cow.”

No surprise, therefore, that the internal threats to this status quo have become the concern of the U.S. and Israeli allies, but Israel in particular. Israeli leaders seemed on alert to preempt this threat. On July 26, President Shimon Peres said in an Al-Hurra TV channel: “What is politics if it can’t provide people with bread?” Backed by US Republican Senator Rand Paul, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now urging the West to adopt a new “Marshall Plan” for the Egyptian economy.

Within this context monitors could interpret the U.S. refusal to label the Egyptian military latest intervention on July 3 as a coup, lest the Barak Obama administration become obliged by law to cut the U.S. aid to Egypt. Similarly Qatar, which had sponsored the Morsi –led MB government, would not withdraw its ($7b) support to Egypt. The same applies to the ($12b) prompt financial support extended by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait within (48) hours of the latest “exchange” of power in Egypt, which, in view of the U.S. strategic alliance with the three countries, could not have been promptly forthcoming without a U.S. “green light,” according to anti – American analysts.

Any U.S. Israeli “Marshall Plan,” however, will only be another mechanism to maintain and reinforce the status quo and will not change the regime in Egypt, let alone bringing in a new regime.

Beneficiaries of the status quo are keen to prove to the revolting masses that their revolution has thus far made their bad situation worse: Economically, significant capital fled abroad, Egypt’s debt is a staggering 88 percent of its GDP, tourism collapsed, agriculture hit hard, foreign investment declined, labor unrest spread, unemployment on the rise, inflation soars, economic growth plunged, public finances deteriorated, value of Egyptian pound fell, purchase power of salaries eroded, half of Egyptians live at or below poverty line, etc., and personal safety and public security have become a daily headache, with the harassment of women becoming a social phenomenon.

And in the name of democracy, according to Jon Lee Anderson, writing in The New Yorker on July 5, “the devils long contained in Egypt’s national Pandora’s box having been loosened from their chains,” so “as if everything in Egypt must now be performed by the mob, for the mob, in full view of everyone.”

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. He can be reached at:

Israeli Soldiers Aid Settler Funeral Procession Attack in Hebron

Several Palestinians Injured Near Hebron

by IMEMC & Agencies

Palestinian medical sources in Hebron, in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, have reported Thursday [August 1, 2013] that several Palestinians have been injured, and one has been kidnapped, after Israeli soldiers and settlers attacked a funeral procession in Beit Ummar town, north of the city.

Media spokesperson of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Beit Ummar, Mohammad Awad, told the Radio Bethlehem 2000 that a number of settlers attacked a funeral procession in the town, as they were leaving a local graveyard, and also attacked a local reporter identified as Nayef al-Hashlamon.

Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene and attacked the Palestinian instead of removing the settlers.

Awad also stated that he was also attacked by a settler woman who tried to slap him in the face as he tried to take pictures of the attack, and that the soldiers pushed him around causing his camera to drop, and kidnapped one youth identified as Ahmad Younis Al-Allami, 23, after violently beating him.

There have been numerous incidents of similar attacks against locals participating in burial ceremonies and funeral processions in Hebron leading to dozens of injuries and several arrests.

Snowden Flies Coop: Whistleblower Granted 1 year Asylum in Russia

Snowden Granted 1-year Asylum in Russia, Leaves Airport

by RT

Edward Snowden Safest in Russia, says Father

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and is allowed to enter the country’s territory.

The whistleblower has been granted temporary political asylum in Russia, Snowden's legal representative Anatoly Kucherena said, with his words later confirmed by Russia’s Federal Migration service.

“I have just handed over to him papers from the Russian Immigration Service. They are what he needs to leave the transit zone,” he added.

Kucherena showed a photocopy of the document to the press. According to it, Snowden is free to stay in Russia until at least July 31, 2014. His asylum status may be extended annually upon request.

With his newly-awarded legal status in Russia, Snowden cannot be handed over to the US authorities, even if Washington files an official request. He can now be transported to the United States only if he agrees to go voluntarily.

Snowden departed at around 15.30 Moscow time (11.30 GMT), airport sources said. His departure came some 30 minutes before his new refugee status was officially announced.

His present location has not been made public nor will it be disclosed, Kucherena said.

“He is the most wanted person on earth and his security will be a priority,” the attorney explained. “He will deal with personal security issues and lodging himself. I will just consult him as his lawyer.”

Snowden eventually intends to talk to the press in Russia, but needs at least one day of privacy, Kucherena said.

The whistleblower was unaccompanied when he left the airport in a regular taxi, Kucherena added.

However, WikiLeaks contradicted the lawyer, saying the organization’s activist Sarah Harrison accompanied Snowden.

Russia is confident that the latest development in the Snowden case will not affect US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Moscow, presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said.

“We are aware of the atmosphere being created in the US over Snowden, but we didn’t get any signals [indicating a possible cancellation of the visit] from American authorities,” he told RIA Novosti.

Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor, came to international prominence after leaking several classified documents detailing massive electronic surveillance by the US government and foreign allies who collaborated with them.

Snowden was hiding out in a Hong Kong hotel when he first went public in May. Amidst mounting US pressure on both Beijing and local authorities in the former-British colony to hand the whistleblower over for prosecution, Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23.

Moscow was initially intended as a temporary stopover on his journey, as Snowden was believed to be headed to Ecuador via Cuba. However, he ended up getting stranded at Sheremetyevo Airport after the US government revoked his passport. Snowden could neither leave Russia nor enter it, forcing him to remain in the airport’s transit zone.

In July, Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia, a status that would allow him to live and work in the country for one year. Kucherena earlier said the fugitive whistleblower is considering securing permanent residency in Russia, where he will attempt to build a life.

Why Talk of Israel/Palestine Talks Now?

Peace Talks Resume Between Israel and the Palestinians, But Little Hope of Imminent Breakthrough


Phyllis Bennis and Shir Hever discuss the timing of the talks, U.S and European interests in resuming them, and the imbalanced power between the negotiating sides.

Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Researching the economic aspect of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, some of his research topics include international aid to the Palestinians and Israel, the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of the economy of the Israeli occupation.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. She is the author of Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis , Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer.

America's Gunpoint Evictions: Bringing the Shock Doctrine to a (Black) Neighbourhood Near You

The Great Eviction: The Landscape of Wall Street’s Creative Destruction

by Laura Gottesdiener  - TomDispatch

We cautiously ascend the staircase, the pitch black of the boarded-up house pierced only by my companion’s tiny circle of light. At the top of the landing, the flashlight beam dances in a corner as Quafin, who offered only her first name, points out the furnace. She is giddy; this house -- unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block -- isn’t completely uninhabitable.

It had been vacated, sealed, and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America. It warned: “entry by unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.” 
But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house and its requirement to provide the “maintenance and security” that would ensure the property could soon be reoccupied. The basement door is ajar, the plumbing has been torn out of the walls, and the carpet is stained with water. The last family to live here bought the home for $175,000 in 2002; eight years later, the bank claimed an improbable $286,100 in past-due balances and repossessed it.

Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The Backyard Shock Doctrine
 African Americans had every reason to celebrate Barack Obama's election in 2008. History was made. Then reality set in. Economically speaking, the Obama era has been a five-year nightmare for Black America.
The unemployment rate for blacks now stands at 13.7%, almost twice the rate for all eligible workers. Under other circumstances, 13.7% unemployment would be a national crisis; it would dominate the headlines and the nightly news and the editorial pages; 13.7% unemployment would have any politician in office fearing for his or her career. In Washington, there would be blue-ribbon commissions, congressional hearings, and expert panels. But because we're talking about 13.7% of eligible black workers, there is no outrage. Except for the anger and pain felt within the black community, that jobless rate is a silent scandal.

The wealth of African Americans is in similarly dire straits. Many black families saw their personal wealth, significant amounts of it invested in their homes, evaporate in the economic collapse of 2007-2009, triggered by a housing meltdown in which African Americans were disproportionately targeted for shoddy subprime mortgage loans. As of 2010, the median net wealth of black families was $4,900; of white families, $97,000. A third of black households had zero or negative wealth. Gains made across generations were wiped out like that.

Consider these statistics the vital signs of Black America in the Obama era. As Laura Gottesdiener writes in her debut at TomDispatch, there may be no more vivid illustration of their collective economic distress in these years than the foreclosure crisis pocking the inner cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, among other places. Gottesdiener’s new book, A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home, is a people’s history of the financial crisis that jolted this country and has never ended. It has been hailed by Naomi Klein as “riveting” and Noam Chomsky as a “most valuable study... with historical depth and analytical insight.” Andy Kroll

 The Great Eviction: The Landscape of 

Wall Street’s Creative Destruction

by Laura Gottesdiener

It’s May 2012 and we’re in Woodlawn, a largely African American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The crew Quafin is a part of dubbed themselves the HIT Squad, short for Housing Identification and Target. Their goal is to map blighted, bank-owned homes with overdue property taxes and neighbors angry enough about the destruction of their neighborhood to consider supporting a plan to repossess on the repossessors.

“Anything I can do,” one woman tells the group after being briefed on its plan to rehab bank-owned homes and move in families without houses. She points across the street to a sagging, boarded-up place adorned with a worn banner -- “Grandma’s House Child Care: Register Now!” -- and a disconnected number. There are 20 banked-owned homes like it in a five-block radius. Records showed that at least five of them were years past due on their property taxes.

Where exterior walls once were, some houses sport charred holes from fires lit by people trying to stay warm. In 2011, two Chicago firefighters died trying to extinguish such a fire at a vacant foreclosed building. Now, houses across the South Side are pockmarked with red Xs, indicating places the fire department believes to be structurally unsound. In other states -- Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York, to name recent examples -- foreclosed houses have taken to exploding after bank contractors forgot to turn off the gas.

Most of the occupied homes in the neighborhood we’re visiting display small signs: “Don’t shoot,” they read in lettering superimposed on a child’s face, “I want to grow up.” On the bank-owned houses, such signs have been replaced by heavy-duty steel window guards. (“We work with all types of servicers, receivers, property management, and bank asset managers, enabling you to quickly and easily secure your building so you can move on,” boasts Door and Window Guard Systems, a leading company in the burgeoning “building security industry.”)

The dangerous houses are the ones left unsecured, littered with trash and empty Cobra vodka bottles. We approach one that reeks of rancid tuna fish and attempt to push open the basement door, held closed only by a flimsy wire. The next-door neighbor, returning home, asks: “Did you know they killed someone in that backyard just this morning?”

The Equivalent of the Population of Michigan Foreclosed

Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis has displaced at least 10 million people from more than four million homes across the country. Families have been evicted from colonials and bungalows, A-frames and two-family brownstones, trailers and ranches, apartment buildings and the prefabricated cookie-cutters that sprang up after World War II. The displaced are young and old, rich and poor, and of every race, ethnicity, and religion. They add up to approximately the entire population of Michigan.

However, African American neighborhoods were targeted more aggressively than others for the sort of predatory loans that led to mass evictions after the economic meltdown of 2007-2008. At the height of the rapacious lending boom, nearly 50% of all loans given to African American families were deemed “subprime.” The New York Times described these contracts as “a financial time-bomb.”

Over the last year and a half, I traveled through many of these neighborhoods, reporting on the grassroots movements of resistance to foreclosure and displacement that have been springing up in the wake of the explosion. These community efforts have proven creative, inspiring, and often effective -- but in too many cities and towns, the landscape that forms the backdrop to such a movement of hope is one of almost overwhelming destruction. Lots filled with “Cheap Bank-Owned!” trailers line highways. Cities hire contractors dubbed “Blackwater Bailiffs” to keep pace with the dizzying eviction rate.

In recent years, the foreclosure crisis has been turning many African American communities into conflict zones, torn between a market hell-bent on commodifying life itself and communities organizing to protect their neighborhoods. The more I ventured into such areas, the more I came to realize that the clash of values going on isn’t just theoretical or metaphorical.

“Internal displacement causes conflict,” explained J.R. Fleming, the chairman of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. “And there’s no other country in the world that would force so much internal displacement and pretend that it’s something else.”

Evictions at Gunpoint

It was three in the morning when at least a dozen police cruisers pulled up to the single-story, green-shuttered house in the African American Atlanta suburb where Christine Frazer and her family lived. The precise number of sheriffs and deputies who arrived is disputed; the local radio station reported 25, while Frazer recalled seeing between 40 and 50.

A locksmith drilled off the home’s locks and dozens of officers burst into the house with flashlights and handguns.

“Who’s in the house?” they shouted. Aside from Frazer, a widow with a vocal devotion to the Man Above, there were three other residents: her 85-year-old mother, her adult daughter, and her four-year-old grandson. Things began to happen fast. Animal control rounded up the pets. Officers told the women to get dressed. Could she take a shower? Frazer asked. Imagine there’s a fire in your house, the officer replied.

“They came to my home like I was a drug dealer,” she told reporters later. Over the next seven hours, the officers hauled out the entire contents of her home and cordoned off the street to prevent friends from helping her retrieve her things.

“I have no idea where some of my jewelry is, stuff I bought when I was 30 years old,” said Frazer. “I am sixty-three. They just threw everything everywhere, helter-skelter on the front lawn in the dark.”

The eviction-turned-raid sparked controversy across Atlanta when it occurred in the spring of 2012, in part because Frazer had a motion pending in federal court that should have stayed the eviction, and in part because she was an active participant of Occupy Homes Atlanta. But this type of militarized reaction is often the outcome when communities -- especially those of color -- organize to resist eviction.

When Nicole Shelton attempted to move back into her repossessed home in a picket-fence subdivision in North Carolina, the Raleigh police department sent in more than a dozen police officers and an eight-person SWAT team. Officers were equipped with M5 submachine guns. A helicopter roared overhead. In Boston, one organizer with the community group City Life/Vida Urbana remembers the police acting so aggressively at an eviction blockade in a Haitian neighborhood that the grandmother of the family had a heart attack right in the driveway.

And sometimes it doesn’t require resistance at all. On the South Side of Chicago, explained Toussaint Losier, a community organizer completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, “They bust in the door, and it’s at the point of a gun that you get evicted.”

Exiles in America

There have been widespread foreclosures -- and some organized resistance -- in predominately white communities, too. Kevin Kirkman, captain of the civil division of the Lee County sheriff’s office, explained, “I get so many [eviction] papers in here, it’s unbelievable.”

More than 75% of the residents in North Carolina’s Lee County are whites. But Kirkman still sees the ripple effects of mass foreclosure here. “You’re talking about a mudslide where a lot of things are affected. You’re talking about taxes, about retail sales if people move, about food services, about gasoline. You see what I’m talking about? When you lose a family in the community? Some people leave the community. I have seen people leave the state of North Carolina.”

He added, “I’m going be honest with you, my feeling is that I would not do these evictions.”

Still, the difficulties white America has faced during the foreclosure crisis don’t compare with what Wall Street and the banks have inflicted, physically and psychologically, on African American neighborhoods. As countless leaked documents, insider dispositions, and Department of Justice filings demonstrate, those neighborhoods were systematically and illegally targeted for the worst of the worst mortgages. As one former Wells Fargo mortgage broker explained in a sworn affidavit, “The company put ‘bounties’ on minority borrowers. By this I mean that loan officers received cash incentives to aggressively market subprime loans in minority communities.”

This pushing of predatory loans was all the more insidious because these same communities had been starved of mortgages for decades as a result of the Federal Housing Authority’s refusal to guarantee loans in communities of color. As Mike Fannon, development associate for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, explained, “The same banks that denied capital now injected too much toxic capital and decimated the local economy.”

The effect, according to a 2012 National Fair Housing Alliance report, has been “the largest loss of wealth for these communities in modern history.” Between 2009 and 2012 African Americans lost just under $200 billion in wealth, bringing the gap between white and black wealth to a staggering 20:1 ratio.

There is also a longer trajectory of racial exclusion at play here, a history that makes the foreclosure crisis yet another chapter in an epic and enduring quest for home. From enslavement to sharecropping, redlining to restrictive covenants, the United States has too often been an inhospitable land for people of color. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King echoed W.E.B. Dubois in declaring that the African American still "finds himself in exile in his own land.” Today, it’s hard not to see that reality painted across the 2010 census data, where the maps measuring the concentration of vacant houses and the maps measuring the concentration of African Americans, while not exactly the same, are uncomfortably close to a match.

As Ben Austen wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.” The same phenomenon holds true in cities across the country. And once a house is empty in such neighborhoods, all too often, no one is moving back in.

Crime Starts at the Top

“There were feces in the basement, urine, rolled-up carpet,” said Thomas Turner, a housing activist in Chicago describing the inside of a foreclosed home, once owned, according to neighbors, by an 80-year-old man. Under the ownership of the Pittsburgh-based bank PNC, Turner explained, “It was abandoned for six years, so squatters and strippers had punched holes in the walls. There was no toilet, no tub, all the kitchen cabinets were torn out. The bedroom looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer and just started swinging… I still see gang members on the front porch or rolling up real slow in the car.”

Another Chicago resident, Erica Johnson, described a vacant home similarly. “There were clothes, books, broken dressers, little white drug bags, used condoms,” she said. “It was a little drug house, and they were probably bringing their girls up in here.”

Some foreclosed homes become brothels, such as a Deutsche Bank-owned house in South Los Angeles where the girls’ names and prices were scrawled in blue marker across the upstairs walls. Others become meth labs or gang hideouts.

These bank-owned vacant houses help spread crime and poverty in already distressed communities -- a reality that became obvious to me when I accompanied Dorian Morris, a certified building inspector, on one of his surveys of the vacant homes on the north side of Minneapolis. Signs on nearly every home advertised the severity of the housing crisis in this area: neon green “no trespassing” stickers on boarded-up foreclosed homes and red “stand together, stop foreclosure” posters on places supporting Occupy Homes Minneapolis. On more than a dozen lots, the only indication that a family once lived there was a skinny red metal rod marking the spot where a razed house once stood.

As in other hard-hit African American neighborhoods across the country, residents here had organized to stop bank-pursued evictions from stripping the value from the community. Neighborhood support had, for instance, helped a mother named Monique White beat her eviction in a highly publicized six-month battle against US Bank only weeks before I arrived. Still, the never-ending evictions were eating away at the stability of the neighborhood.

“That’s a known crack house,” said Morris, as he pointed at a brick structure less than 100 meters away from a neighborhood park. More than half the homes within sight were boarded up with plywood. Within five minutes, we had passed two former residences he identified as current drug houses and a handful more that he said had already been raided by the police -- all foreclosed homes where families used to live.

As we drove, we discussed the illegal chain of events that transformed these homes into drug dens. The crimes started at the top. Banks peddled toxic mortgages like crack, paying employees cash incentives to push them in African American neighborhoods. The loans exploded, so they forged millions of foreclosure affidavits to speed state-enforced evictions.

Once homes are vacant, bank contractors insufficiently seal and maintain them, allowing intruders to strip the houses of their copper wiring, plumbing, and sometimes even the furnace. The copper alone sells for anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar per pound. Finally, people dealing drugs begin to use the houses at night as distribution centers. The street-level crime drags down neighboring property values, spurring more foreclosures and evictions. And so the cycle continues.

Banks are legally obligated to maintain and market their foreclosed properties, but they often shirk those responsibilities -- especially in communities of color. In an investigation of more than 1,000 homes across the country, the National Fair Housing Alliance found that bank-owned homes in communities of color were more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to have graffiti and peeling paint on the exterior, trash and dead leaves strewn across the sidewalk, unsecured locks on the doors, and be missing “for sale” signs on their front lawns.

Foreclosed houses in such neighborhoods were also 80% more likely to have a broken or boarded-up window, and 30% more likely to have trash on the front lawn. After a lawsuit, Wells Fargo paid $42 million to settle charges of racially discriminatory maintenance; there’s scant evidence to suggest the practice has changed since. Cities have increased fines levied against banks that don’t maintain their houses, but not a single bank has been held accountable for drug dealing, murders, and rapes that occur on their unmaintained or poorly maintained properties. The only “crime” they appear concerned about is when community activists try to fix up such homes and move families in -- doing the job the bank was supposed to do in the first place. Then banks call the police to arrest the “trespassers.”

Sacrifice Zones

The double standards in property maintenance lead to an “extremely troubling” trend in home sales: these uninviting neglected houses, disproportionately located in communities of color, are most often being snapped up by investors rather than families. Overwhelmingly, the investor of choice is the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms and now the nation’s largest owner of single-family homes. Since April 2012, Blackstone has spent more than $4.5 billion buying at least 30,000 houses concentrated in cities hard-hit by foreclosure, including Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando, Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix, and urban areas across California. According to local real estate brokers, the company often makes its purchases in cash.

The idea is that there’s big money to be made in rental properties these days, given that there are millions of displaced, former homeowners with wrecked credit scores looking for places to stay. It’s like a pay-to-play game of musical chairs -- except Wall Street owns the stereo, the speakers, the chairs, and the roof, and somehow when the music stops you’re always out.

Vacant houses, whether owned by banks or Blackstone, create foreclosure spirals, each vacant house dragging down the property values of neighbors, which, in turn, decreases a city’s property tax revenue and the capacity of local government to provide essential services. Shuttered schools in Philadelphia and Chicago. Closed hospitals in Cleveland. Slashed senior programs in Baltimore. All of these essential services, eliminated far more often in communities of color, are the collateral damage of the foreclosure crisis.

A 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, submitted to the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, cited nearly a dozen examples of how such declines in tax revenues caused by vacancies have led cities to cut funding for public works, libraries, parks, recreation programs, and school districts. One city even cut a program intended to address vacant foreclosed properties, thanks to a tax revenue shortfall.

The final dystopian outcome of this spiral is what journalist Naomi Klein famously termed the shock doctrine: a crisis is pushed so far that it finally justifies dramatic outside intervention (read: privatization). It’s the type of outcome we’re currently seeing in Michigan, where, according to a court ruling last week, "Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing only emphasizes the broader consequences of predatory lending and the foreclosures that inevitably result." That city may be undergoing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, but unlike when the big banks and giant financial outfits teetered at the edge of collapse, President Obama has made it clear that this time there will be no billion-dollar federal bailout.

“With the mass displacement, it ends up being a situation where people are just like, ‘Well, we’ll just have to bulldoze those homes,’” Chicago organizer Toussaint Losier told me. “They become sacrifice zones rather than places where people bring imaginative solutions.”

The Shield and the Sword

Small groups of community organizers are shouldering the Herculean task of protecting such neighborhoods abandoned by the federal government.

“Look, if you want to take our home, it’s an act of war,” explains Losier, so his group’s response is, metaphorically, “the sword and the shield.” It’s a strategy he learned from the Boston anti-foreclosure group City Life/Vida Urbana. The shield represents the exceedingly modest legal protection afforded to people under a judicial system that assigns more rights to the banks than them -- and allows no-guilt settlements for the powerful caught flagrantly breaking the law. (In the case of foreclosure crimes, see for example the $335 million Bank of America discrimination settlement in 2011, the $26 billion robo-signing settlement in 2012, and the $8.5 billion settlement over wrongful foreclosures in 2013.)

The sword represents actions -- from petitions to eviction blockades -- aimed at stopping evictions and repairing neighborhoods. And yes, there is a life-size, fabricated sword-and-shield set at the City Life office in Boston. First-time attendees of the group’s weekly meetings must hoist the sword over their heads and assert that they are willing to fight for their homes. “Then we will fight with you!” the rest of the group cheers.

Across the country, communities of color deploy these two strategies, and a third that could be called “the paintbrush”: creative tactics aimed at building something new amid the devastation. In Detroit and Philadelphia, neighborhoods are seeding community gardens in hundreds of vacant lots. In Boston, one set of community activists cleaned up their block and dumped the trash -- gathered from the front lawn of a foreclosed Bank of America-owned home -- on the doorstep of the regional bank president’s brownstone.

In Minnesota and California, grassroots political organizing pressured state legislatures to adopt the nation’s first two homeowner bills of rights. A Barclays report later complained that “servicers have become significantly more cautious when carrying out foreclosure sales” as a result of the legislation. In Chicago, home liberation groups are rehabbing and occupying vacant properties, while anti-violence groups are intervening in the conflicts caused by poverty and mass displacement.

Both of the foreclosed Chicago houses that Thomas Turner and Erica Johnson described as being filled with feces, used condoms, and drugs are now clean, painted, and occupied. Turner even stenciled small purple birds on the walls of the one he worked on. But the continued scale of the crisis -- forgotten by a media more interested in rising home values than eviction notices -- requires more than community rehab and tepid financial regulation. It demands that we question, and reimagine, a system of property ownership that has prevented large segments of the population from making real decisions about the communities in which they live. And in case you’re thinking that this is a problem only for Black America, think again. As the New York Times warned in April, “The alchemists of Wall Street are at it again… reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good.”

The question is whether, this time around, we’ll see their potion for what it is: poison that threatens to turn each of us, as W.E.B. Dubois wrote, into “an outcast and a stranger in my own house.”

Laura Gottesdiener is a journalist, social justice activist, and author of A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home, published this month by Zuccotti Park Press. She is an associate editor for Waging Nonviolence, and she has written for Rolling Stone, Ms. magazine, the Arizona Republic, AlterNet, and other publications. This is her first TomDispatch piece. She lived and worked in the People’s Kitchen during the occupation of Zuccotti Park.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Laura Gottesdiener

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Just Who the EPA Protects: Leak Fingers Fracked Water Cover Up

Leaked Report Shows EPA Censored Dimock's Fracking Water Contamination Study

by Kate Sinding  - Natural Resources Defense Council

The Los Angeles Times published a story yesterday reporting on a leaked document that indicates that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never conveyed to the public the possibility that methane released during drilling “and perhaps during the fracking process” resulted in “significant,” and possibly long-term, “damage to the water quality” of a drinking water source for 19 families in Dimock, PA, even though some staff believed this was the case.

A Dimock, PA, resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in 2009. Photo credit: Reuters

The story reports that this crucial interpretation—which stands in stark contrast to the narrative being pushed by industry that the EPA found Dimock’s water to be “safe”—was evidently presented to the highest level staff in the region sometime in the spring of 2012.

Yet the EPA closed its investigation of contaminated drinking water supplies in Dimock just months later (July 2012), declaring that it was no longer necessary for residents to be provided with alternative drinking water supplies. In doing so, it provided no justification based on the data it had in its possession, which some believed pointed to significant and possibly long-term damage to local drinking water.

The EPA simply walked away and asked the public and the residents of Dimock to take its word for it. Indeed, the agency did not even mention the word “methane” at all in its press release announcing the end of the investigation. As a result, it was widely reported in the mainstream press that the EPA had found the water in Dimock was “safe” to drink, as reported in USA Today and elsewhere. This perception persists among many in the general public.

If this news is true, why has the EPA failed to provide a proper scientific explanation for effectively declaring Dimock’s water safe, and why has it abandoned the residents of Dimock? Is it because of pressure from the oil & gas industry? The people of Dimock deserve some answers.

What Happened in Dimock?

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection determined that shoddy drilling practices by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation had resulted in methane contamination of a large aquifer in Dimock, polluting the drinking water of 19 families. The state’s enforcement against Cabot then followed a tortured path: it first prohibited Cabot from drilling any further wells in the area. Then the state lifted that ban, and subsequently promised the residents of Dimock a new pipeline to supply uncontaminated drinking water from a neighboring community. Then it rescinded that promise.

Concerned about the state’s spotty enforcement, on behalf of the Dimock residents, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asked the EPA to step in and launch its own investigation of the water quality. But when the EPA released the results of its investigation, effectively declaring Dimock’s water safe, it failed to share two important pieces of information.

First, it did not share that Cabot had contaminated the water with dangerously high levels of methane.

Second, it limited the scope of its discussion to whether certain federal standards for specific contaminants—not including methane—were exceeded.

That was ostensibly because the investigation was pursuant to the EPA’s specific and limited powers under the federal “Superfund” law and Safe Drinking Water Act only. These laws do not specify standards for all contaminants that may present a risk to human health and/or the potability of a water supply, including methane, certain other organic compounds and new/uncommon chemicals such as those that may be used in drilling and fracking operations.

Critically, though, some of the EPA’s initial memos did reference, and express concern about the potential health impacts of, other such contaminants that were found in the families’ water—including glycol compounds, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthlate (DEHP) and 2-methoxyethanol.

But evidently a decision was made not to discuss or further pursue them in the final analysis. Indeed, the agency did not report that multiple other contaminants were, in fact, detected, at levels below those specified under those laws. And none of these contaminants, including methane, were mentioned in the EPA’s final determination. Nor did the EPA mention that the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was—and is still—continuing an investigation into the potential short- and long-term health risks of using Dimock water with these chemicals present.

Yet, the leaked report made public yesterday suggests that the EPA basically declared that Dimock residents’ water was okay to drink, despite the fact that some of its own staff believed that it showed serious contamination, possibly from fracking, that was likely to persist for a long time. It suggests that the EPA’s own consultants, and perhaps field staff, believed not only that the Dimock aquifer had been contaminated by high levels of methane from the Marcellus Shale, but that this contamination resulted in “significant damage to the water quality.”

Actor Mark Ruffalo,New York State resident and anti-fracking 
activist, holds a gallon jug of drinking water from Dimock, PA.

So, once again, we are left with the question why—in the face of these doubts,—the EPA would decide to terminate its investigation in Dimock without making public any analysis of its data that supports its decision to walk away, and instead keep internal dissenting views a secret. And why—a year later—haven’t they investigated those views further to determine the level of risk?

Troubling Trend at the EPA

Unfortunately, what appears to have happened in Dimock, PA, is just the latest in a larger, troubling trend we’re seeing of the EPA failing to act on science in controversial fracking cases across the country. Instead, the agency appears to be systematically pulling back from high-profile fracking investigations.

First, in March of 2012—without explanation—the EPA abruptly withdrew an emergency order it had issued two years earlier against Range Resources Corporation after the agency found nearby natural gas production operations from the company had likely caused methane and toxic chemical contamination in Parker County, TX, drinking water supplies. The order had required Range Resources to provide families with alternative water supplies, install explosivity meters in homes and remediate the aquifer.

But there is no evidence the company ever fully completed these or other requirements of the order. Yet the agency withdrew the emergency order. In fact, reports indicate the water there remains contaminated and a health threat, and the EPA Inspector General is investigating the matter.

On top of that, the Associated Press reported that a leaked confidential report proved that the EPA had scientific evidence against Range, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with the agency’s ongoing national study of fracking. The Associated Press also reported that interviews with the company confirmed this. When asked to explain its actions in light of all of this, the EPA’s silence has been deafening.

Then, in late June 2013, EPA made an equally abrupt and unexplained announcement that it was abandoning an investigation into a high-profile drinking water contamination case in Pavillion, WY. That report generated fierce pushback from the oil and gas industry. Even though the U.S. Geologic Survey released its own data in 2012 that backed up the EPA’s findings, suddenly, and without any meaningful explanation, the agency announced that it would not finalize its report and instead would leave matters in the hands of Wyoming regulators. As in Parker County and Dimock, these state regulators are the reason the EPA stepped in to begin with—because they had not given adequate attention to residents’ drinking water complaints in the first place.

Now it seems the third shoe drops in Dimock—the latest in what was a triumvirate of highly anticipated federal fracking-related investigations.

Not only does this pattern of behavior leave impacted residents in the lurch, but it raises important questions as to whether the agency is caving to pressure from industry, antagonistic members of Congress and/or other outside sources.

Implications for the EPA’s Ongoing Fracking Study

This trend also calls into serious question the agency’s commitment to conducting an impartial, comprehensive assessment of the risks fracking presents to drinking water—a first-of-its-kind study that is now in its fourth year, with initial results now promised in 2014. The EPA recently announced that it had delayed the expected final date of this study by 2 years.

With communities across the country already suffering the consequences, it must deliver an impartial and thorough evaluation of the risks.

The EPA has said that there is no connection between its dropping its investigations in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County, and that it remains committed to its national study. But if the EPA is really committed to understanding the risks of fracking to drinking water, then it doesn’t make sense that the agency would drop the investigations in these three cases, where they have been collecting substantial data. By abandoning these inquiries and leaving them in the hands of state regulators that, in each case having shown they are not up to the task, the EPA is walking away from important scientific information and analysis.

Our federal government has a responsibility to protect the citizens in communities that are suffering consequences from fracking and to give them the full facts. It owes it to the American people to fully and fairly investigate every case that can help to answer some of the vexing scientific questions as to whether, and if so how, fracking and related activities contaminate drinking water. Sadly, the EPA’s recent pattern of activity suggests neither has been happening.

If what we’re hearing is true, this is a disturbing indication that the EPA may not be telling the American people everything it knows about the risks of fracking or providing them with the explanations that they deserve. Americans are counting on the administration to protect them against an industry that’s running wild, but it is falling down on the job from one community to the next.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

Europe's Remorse over Hezbollah Blacklisting

The morning after blacklisting Hezbollah: is the EU experiencing ‘byers remorse’?

by Franklin Lamb in Damascus

It may well have seemd like a fine idea at the European Unions Foreign Ministers cocktail recption in Brussels, where ample alcholol freely flowed the night before last weeks vote to blacklist the “military wing” of Hezbollah. But shortly after the vote the EU appeared to be experiencing a severe hangover as the stark reality of its impetuous decison began to soak in.

After periodical discussion of the US-Israel demand for blacklisting Hezbollah for more than a year, and adding its name to the EU list of 26 organizations and 11 individuals currently being designated as ‘terrorists’ is in becoming clearer by the day the the EU actions may not have been in anyone’s interest except possibly Israels.

It is true there was never much enthusiam at EU HQ for taking the blacklisting step given some fundaental uncertainites of what it would mean in reality. But American and Bristish pressure, and headlines from Israel screaming: “ We told you about rising anti-semitism from Europe” following the EU decision to blacklist illegal Zionist colonies imiplanted on the West Bank portion of occupied Palestine, weeks earlier. To round up EU votes, the US State Department staff designated to lobby the 28 EU foreign minisstries also focused on the unproven Bulgaria bus attack, and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as reasons to go along with the blacklisting decision which requried a unanimous vote for the 28 EU countries foreign ministers.

Minutes after the EU vote, problems began to appear and it became obvious that buying into the US-UK Hezbollah “ military wing” blacklisting project was not an attractive product after all.

Some of the reportedly emphasized ‘talking points’ to the EU Foreign Ministries from Washington and London included the following:

· The EU blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing would “compensate” Isreal, as it has been demanding, for the EU vote early this month that essentiallly boycotted Zionist colonial projects throughout the illegally occupied West Bank

· The action would not affect UNIFIL or UNSCR 1701 because Hezbollah has good relations with UNIFIL and they would likely continue to work with the 15 European countries nationas making up UNIFIL including the five EU members ,France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Ireland who have troops patrolling the Lebanon-Palestine border;

· Israel would be assauged and can claim a victory in its war with Hezbollah;

· The Lebanese political parties backed by certain EU member states and the Gulf Countries such as Saudi Arabia would benefit in terms of estalishing a new pro-March 14th dominated governemnt, significantly pressuring Hezbollah’s delegation in Parliament and at the ballot box by the blacklisting—although it was not spelled out precisely how to would work;

· US-led western aid to the Lebanese army would likely increase and Hezollarah’s international reputation would suffer;

· There would be no damage to EU-Lebanese relations and any negative reactions would soon dye down.

However great all this may have sounded in some capitals before the ill-considered vote, a rude awakening began to dawn almost immediatley after the votes were counted. Criticisms, complications and doubts from the EU action are contining to be voiced and second thoughts are spreading despite efforts of the EU Ambassador to Lebanon, Ms. Angeline Eichhorst at damage control.

Even before the EU’s decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s “military wing” was publicly released, Ms. Eichhorst sought and was granted appointments with Hezbollah’s Ammar al-Musawi, Liaison for International Relations, and Minister of State Mohammad Fneish, at which she repeatedly offered assurances that the EU vote will have zero effect on relations with the group’s “civilian wing.” She assured the gentlemen that the EU votes do not reflect on the Lebanese government in any way, explaining that the EU “has no problem with Hezbollah participating in any future government.”

Ambassador Eichhorst declared that “this decision is a political message to Hezbollah for the attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, which is a terrorist attack on European soil.”

She added, however, that this does not reflect on the Lebanese government in any way, explaining that the EU “has no problem with Hezbollah participating in any future government.” After her meeting with Hezbollah’s minister in the current caretaker government, she stated, “Financial assistance will continue, of which Minister Fneish’s ministry gets a sizeable share, and we want for this cooperation to continue.”

For his part, and ever gracious towards the EU’s well-meaning Ambassador , who appeared to understand some of the diplomatic complications the EU action unlearned, Hezbollah MP Fneish reminded the ambassador that “Israel occupied our land for many years, and we did not hear a single objection (from the EU) “we were careful to maintain good relations with Europe, despite the terrible legacy Europe left behind among our people – from the Palestinian cause to colonialism – and despite this, you choose to remind us again of this painful history.”

Minister Fneish reiterated Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s statement that the European decision will provide Israel with political cover for any future attack on Lebanon, in which case Hezbollah would consider the EU a partner in such a crime. Eichhorst replied that the EU decision has nothing to do with Resistance to Israel or Lebanese sovereignty.”

Both Musawi and Fneish stood their ground in their discussions with EU ambassador Eichhorst, insisting that the decision was an insult to the Resistance. They dismissed the decision as politically motivated, particularly given that the outcome of the Burgas investigation is rooted in allegations and conjecture, even by the admission of the ambassador herself who conceded that there are no firm results regarding responsibility for the Burgas incident that cost innocent lives.

Ms. Eichhorst’s hosts were reportedly far too polite to ask the EU ambassador just how the EU planned to somehow go about distinguishing a “civil wing” and a “military wing”.

And they are not alone in appearing a bit puzzled. According to a lawyer at the American Society of International Law in Washington DC, the EU decision was a big mistake from an international law standpoint and could be an international lawyer’s worst nightmare or a dream come true. Which would depend if the lawyer was representing the EU in trying to unravel the civil-military conundrum or advising thousands of EU member states businesses and agencies wanting to continue any business with the Lebanese government, UNIFIL, or countless NGO’s who regularly interact with Hezbollah.

“It’s a real legal mess!” the ASIL source explained, as he described the legal confusion the EU action caused. “The best thing for EU credibility and international relations right now on this subject would be for the EU to forget what it did and to desist from any implementation whatsoever. And then let the designation be removed after the six months trial period as provided by EU regulations. Otherwise, their decision will swamp courtrooms and complicate Middle East-European political and economic relations with challenges from all points on the compass with uncertain outcomes to say the least.”

It is not only Hezbollah, the leader of the National Lebanese Resistance and American international lawyers who have expressed concerns about the EU action last week. It seems that nearly everyone else does too and this reaction is adding to the EU’s ‘morning after’ queasiness.

Many citizens of Lebanon are expressing concern that the EU brush stroke aimed at Hezbollah’s “military wing” may tar them as well due to the ‘terrorism’ label toxicity these days. A Sunni taxi driver wondered if his children could now get visas to Europe because of the ruling. Lebanon is very sensitive to the issue of Visas as they see fellow citizens are being forced out of Gulf countries due to fabricated claims of association with Hezbollah. In these countries hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have had visas for decades. It is the uncertainly among many-understandably paranoid Lebanese living and working abroad than is causing near panic among some in Lebanon.

It’s hard to find in Lebanon, even among Hezbollah detractors, a political party that is publicly endorsing the EU decision because they basically see no advantage for Lebanon of their own tightly controlled sects, whether Christian, Muslim, or Druze.

On 7/27/13 Former premier Fouad Saniora, head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc, no friend of Hezbollah, voiced "concern and regret over the reasons that led the European Union to take the decision of putting Hezbollah’s so-called military wing on its terror list." Saniora added in a statement released from his party’s media office:

“We had commented on this issue in the bloc's statement and voiced our regret and also our concern over the reasons that led the EU to take such a decision, especially that we in Lebanon have ties of solid friendship with 28 European countries, and thus none of us would have liked to see this happening.”

Saniora’s friend and colleague, Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel argued over the week-end that the European Union's decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing is “ambiguous,” pointing out that it will have a negative impact on the country. In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) he argued that “The decision confused the Lebanese situation and will constitute negative repercussions on all matter especially the cabinet formation process,” Gemayel said. He pointed out that the decision targets Hezbollah members who his party considered “ghosts,” saying: “The members that are responsible for Hezbollah’s military action are unknown.”

Even Israeli officials have problems with the EU’s decision. Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman and MK Avigdor Lieberman slammed the EU's decision to put military wing of Hezbollah on terrorist list, saying that not only military wing, but the entire organization should be blacklisted. “

As usual, Lieberman found some anti-Semitism lurking among the Europeans, claiming that they were satisfied with going only halfway, and like the West Bank Settlements EU decision, the EU wants to punish not the terrorists but those (like-Israel!) who reject terrorism and fight it. Half a dozen other Israeli officials including the ever garrulous Shimon Peres chimed in to form a chorus condemning the EU.

Far be it for this observer to advise the European Union’s Foreign Ministry or to promote an American association’s legal analysis and advice. However, the American Society of International Law lawyer, quoted above, makes a valid point.

The best move for the EU now, as it tries to recover from the current self-inflicted debacle is to do nothing to inflame the situation by cooking up some dubious terrorist lists. Rather, in six months the EU should assure that this month’s blacklisting decision acquiesced in under US-Israel pressure, lapses.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and is reachable c/o