Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sucked Back Into the Vortex: Saving Iraq from Itself Again

"They Pulled Me Back In"

by Eric Margolis

Armed humanitarianism 2.0. That’s our new western version of old-fashioned 19th century imperialism, now feminized by President Barack Obama’s lady advisors, painted pink and accompanied by the kind of soft piano music you hear in ads for women’s products.

Last week, the Obama administration latched onto the plight of Iraq’s Yazidis who were being persecuted by those awful ISIS folks – just in jolly good time to divert attention from the massacre in Gaza.

How handy. All three US networks and the increasingly shackled BBC were ordered to drop Gaza reporting and refocus their camera teams on the suffering Yazidis and, all of a sudden, Iraq’s fleeing Christians.

This was a brilliant media ploy. The world, which was furious at the US for enabling Israel’s savaging of Gaza and killing of almost 2,000 Palestinians, switched its attention to the hitherto unknown Yazidis, and to Iraqi Christians. No one in the US had ever heard of Yazidis but that was ok. Uncle Sam to the rescue.

No mention was made that Iraq’s Christians had been safe and sound under President Saddam Hussein – even privileged – until President George Bush invaded and destroyed Iraq. We can expect the same fate for Syria’s Christians if the protection of the Assad regime is torn away by the US-engineered uprising. We will then shed crocodile tears for Syria’s Christians.

The US and Europe suddenly cheered the ostensible US-French-British `rescue mission.’ Interestingly, those old colonialists, the French and British, were so quick to get involved in oil-rich Iraq: the Brits sent in some of Her Majesty’s Killers, the renowned Special Air Service, or SAS. France and Britain are sending arms to the Kurdish militia known as `pesh merga.’ Australia, now under a hard right government, may follow suit.

Around 1900, Imperial Britain, France and Russia all claimed the right to intervene in the Levant to supposedly protect its Christians. Such a useful excuse.

America thrilled to see the US Air Force dropped food and water to Yazidi refugees. Even this cynical writer was cheered to see US military power helping the oppressed.

But what of the 1.8 million oppressed Palestinians in Gaza, cut off by Israel and Egypt from food, water, medical supplies and power? What about the millions of refugees in Syria created by western attempts to overthrow its Assad dynasty for backing Iran? What of millions of internal refugees from the Afghan and Iraq Wars?

Well, Washington did just announced a temporary halt in resupplying deadly US-made Hellfire air to ground missiles to Israel, which has used up its once large supply blowing apart Palestinians in Gaza. Like the fake arms-delivery suspension by the US to Egypt’s brutish regime, it will soon be lifted when public attention has turned elsewhere.

There are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees. What are a handful of Yazidis compared to this sea of homeless? The number and plight of those Yazidi refugees were wildly exaggerated by the western powers to justify their re-intervention in Iraq.

Lurid reports of ISIS cruelty may well be true, but this old cynic suspects they are being used and exaggerated to justify intervention. After all, we saw the similar untruths about Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida’s “threat to the entire globe.”

This kind of stuff, much loved by the British, goes back to bogus stories from 1914 of German soldiers spiking Belgian babies on their bayonets. Or, remember the baloney about Kuwaiti babies thrown from their incubators by beastly Iraqis?

Now, the biggest dolts in the US Republican Party like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and my hometown’s own Peter King, claim the US homeland is threatened by pipsqueak ISIS while they try to provoke a real war with Russia over Ukraine.

To show just how bizarre US Mideast policy has become: US warplanes are dropping aid to Iraq’s Yazidis (considered devil worshippers by many Iraqi), while they bomb Zaidi tribesmen in northern Yemen who are battling its US-installed military junta in Sa’ana. Yazidis, Zaidis, it’s all very confusing, like those pesky Slovaks and Slovenes.

Meanwhile, the White House has ousted its Shia sock puppet in Baghdad, Nuri al-Maliki, in favor of a newer, even more obedient satrap. Maliki was foolish enough to actually believe he was prime minister of Iraq and refused to allow US troops to stay there indefinitely.

Big mistake, Nuri. But shed no tears for him: his vicious death squads murdered and tortured large numbers of Sunni. One of their favorite interrogation tools was an electric drill applied to the kneecap. US generals in Iraq used Shia death squads (patterned on those of El Salvador, a war I covered) to crush Sunni resistance. Now, it’s payback for the Sunnis.

Iraq’s next leader is another CIA-blessed politician who will be expected to make his nation safe for western oil companies. We see the same process in Afghanistan where CIA central casting has produced two ‘candidates’ for president.

As for de facto autonomous Kurds, they have been a western protectorate since 2003 and would be fully independent today were not for fear of a violent reaction by the irritable Turks. Israel has supplied the Kurds with arms since 1970.

Interestingly, the Kurds are now exporting oil directly to Israel though a Turkish pipeline and tanker while the regime in Baghdad, cut out of payments, fumes. There’s long been talk of an Israeli air base in Kurdistan.

“Just when I though I was out, they pulled me back in.” Michael Corleone’s plaintive line from the “Godfather” is Obama’s tune today. He’s only returning to Iraq for purely humanitarian reasons, a story that markets well to female (mainly Democratic) voters. And because the ISIS Saracens will overrun the Bible Belt soon unless Obama acts.

Never mind that the US armed and trained ISIS in Jordan to overthrow Syria’s regime. Now they have gone rogue and must be stopped by a new humanitarian crusade.

So back go American troops into the hellhole of Iraq, an act that defies both military and political logic. But US elections are on the horizon and Hillary Clinton is out there blasting Obama for having left Iraq in the first place. Hillary has just fully aligned herself with Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu and asserts US troops should have stayed in Iraq…..she who is married to a notorious wartime draft dodger. Republicans are beating the same drum.

Remember the ‘tar baby’ from Uncle Remus’s slave stories of the Deep South. All who touch him get stuck. Well, that’s Iraq for you – in spades. Instead of tar, it’s sticky oil. Obama should have stayed out of Iraq. But politics forced him back in.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014

Normalized Police Brutality and the Militarization of "Keeping the Peace"

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Talks Police Brutality with Bill Fletcher, Jr. 


This week on "The Global African," host Bill Fletcher, Jr. sits down with activist, icon and change-agent Rev. Lennox Yearwood. They discuss police brutality in the Black community, the Israel-Gaza conflict, and the Rev's own brush with law enforcement.

Thomas Ferguson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, and a Contributing Editor at AlterNet. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and taught formerly at MIT and the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and Right Turn (Hill & Wang, 1986). Most of his research focuses on how economics and politics affect institutions and vice versa. His articles have appeared in many scholarly journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Economic History. He is a long time Contributing Editor to The Nation and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of the Historical Society and the International Journal of Political Economy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Illustrated Ethnocide: Israel's Criminality in Gaza

Israeli war crimes in Gaza

by Jim Miles -

Israel reveals its true colours and true aspirations every time it attacks Gaza (or any other self-perceived enemy) as being the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, even to the degree - as the references above indicate - to the act of genocide. The western world/Washington consensus group are guilty of enormous war crimes in their full complicit support of Israel, regardless of the rhetoric expressing their concern over the deaths, while they continue to supply Israel with its military needs.

From all the terror inflicted by Israel on the Gaza Palestinians I can only ask what kind of God would permit this? Is this permitted by the God that ‘gave’ the land to Israel? For a people who were to be a shining light for others? Could God not as equally well take the same land away as the atrocities against other human beings increase in magnitude and frequency?

How many rationalizations does it take to blind oneself to the savagery and murder of innocent citizens, women, and children? How is it that the Gospel of Israel is so readily inculcated into a whole nation such that they cheer the deaths of the ‘other’? And how does that same Gospel spreads its wings over many in the western Washington consensus who somehow remain blind to the human savagery and misery of Israeli actions?

Israel will certainly survive militarily as they have many nuclear weapons with various delivery systems. But can such a militarized racist society survive its own internal contradictions for long? Can the false rhetoric of wanting peace, of being the eternal victims, of being surrounded by hateful ‘others’ continue to over-ride the obvious brutality of the various Gaza operations? What can the world not see about the past seven decades of Israeli intentions to ethnically cleanse ‘their’ land of the Palestinian people?

The current “Defensive Edge” operation is not an anomaly, but part of the ongoing demonization of the people of Gaza, with the mainstream media/political rhetoric trying to create a split between the citizens and Hamas. It is all a part of the ethnic cleansing process, really having very little to do with defending themselves against Hamas’ errant rockets, or protecting themselves from terrorists of any stripe. The West Bank has been subdued, aided and assisted by the Vichy dictatorship rule of Abbas working along with the Israeli forces. Gaza has refused to accommodate the wishes of Israel by folding its hands and acquiescing to all the Israeli demands; instead, with nowhere to go, and resistance obviously not being futile, they struggle against the overwhelming firepower of Israel.

The many demonstrations around the world indicate two significant trends. The first is the obvious that Israel does not really care about anyone else’s opinion and will operate mainly within the needs of their internal political structures and their long term goals of occupying all the lands of Palestine. The second is that perhaps the world is waking up with abhorrence to the atrocities committed by Israel against the people of Gaza, an awakening that has slumbered for years, but with this renewed violent episode in a time when western/Washington consensus rule is fully showing its true colours of political-economic-military dominance of the rest of the world. This has led to increased awareness globally about the militarization and domination of people’s lives, about the racist nature of the Israeli attacks, and about the lack of validity about Israel’s claims of victimhood and its desire for peace.

Perhaps the fall-out from this will be in terms of ‘blow back’. The boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement will very likely receive more attention, not so much from governments, but from an increasing number of concerned citizens. With that will go the recognition that what Israel says, its ‘hasbara’ attempts to persuade others what a wonderful place Israel is, will fall now upon ears deafened by the rockets, missiles, and bombs that have fallen on Gaza - and the resulting screams, tears, and cries that are seldom heard within mainstream media.

A highly militarized Israeli society guarding Palestinians in bantustan like areas could survive for quite some time. Hope carries forward that somehow the Israelis will create their own fully dysfunctional state that will be forced to change its actions (BDS, pariah status…..) and seek a non-violent solution by accommodating all peoples within its boundaries.

The New World Battlefield Coming to a City Near You!

Gaza, Ukraine and US preparations for urban warfare

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS

For more than a month, the world has watched in horror as the Israeli military has pounded the densely populated and impoverished territory of Gaza with bombs, missiles and shells, while deploying tens of thousands of troops against a trapped population.

This sustained onslaught has killed nearly 2,000, wounded over 10,000 more and left nearly half a million people displaced by the massive destruction of homes and basic infrastructure.

"Policing" the G20 - Toronto 2010

While receiving far less media coverage, similar atrocities are unfolding in eastern Ukraine, where the US-backed Kiev regime has launched its military, with key support from autonomous fascist militias, in a savage siege of the major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The death toll there has doubled in the last two weeks, pegged by Wednesday’s exceedingly conservative United Nations estimate at 2,086, with at least 5,000 more confirmed wounded.

Here too hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes in what is emerging as a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing by the right-wing nationalists in Kiev. And, as in Gaza, hospitals and schools have been shelled, killing patients and children.

Images from both Gaza and Ukraine of the lifeless and maimed bodies of children, of older men and women weeping beside the ruins of homes and apartment blocks, and of innocent men and women cut down by shrapnel while leaving their homes or going to find food or water for their families, have shocked and appalled working people all over the globe.

In other quarters, however, these events are being closely watched with dispassionate and professional interest.

This is the case in the offices of senior political and military figures in Berlin and other European capitals, which have backed the Kiev regime’s “anti-terrorist” campaign against the population of eastern Ukraine.

The governments of Europe have remained silent even as the media has been forced to admit that virtually the entire ground offensive in this war of repression is being carried out by far right and neo-Nazi militias. These include the Azov Battalion, which, as the Sunday Times of London notes “has as its symbol the wolf’s hook that was used by Nazi storm troopers and is now banned in Germany.”

By their own admission, these fascist militias have attracted neo-Nazi and white supremacist recruits from a number of other countries, including Sweden, Italy, France, Canada and Greece. While there has been a hue and cry about the alleged danger of European Islamists going to fight in Syria and then returning to Europe, no such concerns have been raised about those gaining combat experience in eastern Ukraine. Under conditions of rising social tensions on the continent, there is undoubtedly among some layers of Europe’s ruling elite a feeling that battle-hardened fascist thugs may prove useful in the not too distant future.

The closest attention to the events in Gaza and Ukraine, however, is being paid by the Pentagon, which is up to its elbows in blood in both of these wars. The US military has the closest relations with the Israel Defense Forces, which Washington funds to the tune of $3 billion annually.

The Pentagon recently asked Congress for another $19 million—on top of $23 million already allocated—to train and equip Ukrainian National Guard units. In the midst of the “anti-terror” offensive in the east of the country, the US military last month rushed a team of specialists in “strategy and policy” to Kiev to evaluate this bloody campaign.

Both of these conflicts provide real-life laboratories for what is increasingly a top priority of the Pentagon—the preparation of US forces for urban warfare.

As far as Israel goes, this is nothing new. In 2001, the US built an Urban Warfare Training facility for the IDF in the Negev desert at the cost of $266 million. The 7.4-square-mile simulated city is used for joint training exercises involving Israeli and US special forces units, who share techniques that they have learned, respectively, in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Donetsk and Luhansk, the Pentagon is overseeing something that it views with even greater interest—a full-scale siege of a modern city and a center of the industrial working class of over a million people.

Combat in large cities is central to the military doctrine that is being developed by the US armed forces. This is spelled out in a document entitled “Megacities and the United States Army: Preparing for a complex and uncertain future,” which was released in June by the Army’s Strategic Studies Group and endorsed by its chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Predicting that it is “highly likely that megacities [described as metropolitan areas with populations of more than 10 million] will be the strategic key terrain in any future crisis that requires U.S. military intervention,” the report reveals that the Pentagon has conducted “case studies” and “field work” in preparation for such interventions in: Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; Bangkok, Thailand; Mexico City, Mexico, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil … and New York City.

Describing the conditions that it anticipates will require US military intervention, the report warns, “As inequality between rich and poor increases … Stagnation will coexist with unprecedented development, as slums and shanty towns rapidly expand alongside modern high-rises. This is the urban future.”

“Radical income disparity,” is further described as the foremost “driver of instability” in these far-flung urban areas.

In other words, the Pentagon brass is seeking to prepare the US military for directly counterrevolutionary interventions aimed at quelling popular revolts that it sees as the inevitable consequence of the unprecedented social inequality created by world capitalism in crisis.

The inclusion of New York City in its “case studies” serves to make explicit that these preparations are directed at revolutionary developments not only in Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Latin America, but most critically within the United States itself.

This goal of preparing the US military to suppress popular rebellion inside the US has also been pursued with a series of provocative “urban warfare training” exercises conducted in major US cities in recent years. There was also the opening earlier this year in Virginia of a US Army Asymmetric Warfare Group training center that consists of a mock American town, replete with office buildings, a church, a sports stadium, a subway stop and a train station. The Army said that the $96 million center is designed to realistically “replicate complex operational environments and develop solutions.”

The Pentagon’s preparations go hand-in-hand with the militarization of supposedly civilian police forces, which are almost universally outfitted with SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) squads armed to the teeth for modern warfare, like those deployed against St. Louis residents protesting the police murder of Michael Brown.

The slaughter in Gaza and Ukraine represents a warning to the working class in the US and all over the world. The same financial and corporate oligarchy that supports these wars is prepared to employ murderous violence to defend its system against a revolutionary challenge from the working class.

It is clear that the ruling classes and their military commands are getting ready for such an eventuality. The working class must prepare itself accordingly.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Picturing the Devastation of the Mount Polley Tailings Spill

Photos: I Went to the Mount Polley Mine Spill Site

by Carol Linnitt - DeSmog Blog Canada

It’s Monday, August 11th, and both my gumboots are dangerously sinking into the muck I’m trying to cross.

I took far too bold a step towards a sturdy log ahead as I’m trying to cross a sludge river left behind in the wake of the Mount Polly mine tailings pond breach.

Now I’m balanced precariously, one boot in front, one behind, and trying not to topple into the muck beneath that could contain high levels of arsenic, mercury, zinc, lead and selenium – all toxins and heavy metals stored in the breached tailings pond fed by the Imperial Metals gold and copper mine near Likely B.C.

It has been one week since the waste pond wall breached, sending an estimated 10 million cubic metres (or 10 billion litres) of waste water and 4.5 million cubic metres of sandy sludge into the Hazeltine Creek that feeds Quesnel Lake. (For comparison, the Kalamazoo oil spill in Michigan totaled an estimated 3.3 million litres).

A field of debris and dried sediment from the Imperial Metals tailings pond 
can be seen pouring out of what once was Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake. 
Photo by Farhan Umedaly, Vovo Productions.

It’s at the convergence of the Hazeltine and Quesnel Lake that I now find myself, arms outstretched to maintain my balance, and sinking.

I finally manage to rock myself back far enough to regain balance on my back foot. I gently maneuver my front foot back and forth to relieve the suction around my boot. If I topple over I will plunge my bare hand into the sludge which, at this stage, contains an unknown mixture of chemical compounds known to cause cancer and birth defects. I didn’t know this until later, but even short-term exposure to selenium can cause respiratory problems like pulmonary edema or bronchial pneumonia.

A mud boulder sits in the deep sludge from the Mount Polley mine tailings pond. 
Photo by Carol Linnitt.

Like everyone else around here, I have imperfect knowledge of just what health effects to fear in the wake of the spill.

Maybe I should have worn that damn mask.

But that might have rubbed my guide, local carpenter Tate Patton, the wrong way.

Tate Patton, resident of Likely, B.C. lives on the shore of Lake Quesnel.  
Photo by Carol Linnitt.

Like a lot of local residents, Patton doesn’t like to play up the ‘disaster porn’ aspect of the accident. Having an out-of-towner tromping around in the wreckage taking selfies with a garish facemask is exactly what most residents are looking to avoid.

Despite the anger aroused by the incident at the Mount Polley tailings facility, a lot of folks in the community around Likely, B.C. want to focus on recovery, rather than regret.

What was once the Hazeltine Creek is now 
a contaminated field of sludge and debris. 
Photo by Carol Linnitt.

There was no chance of traversing the deep muck, I realized, not without waders.

I manage to back track successfully to more solid ground. I survey my surroundings for another route closer to what remains of Hazeltine Creek. No dice.

Soft silty mud from the spill. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

The spill caused a massive mudslide down the once humble creek bed, expanding its width from a mere six feet, to an incredible 150 metres.

As the material from the tailings pond flooded down the creek it tore at the surrounding forest, stripping the bank of trees, boulders and vegetation. The debris field at the mouth of the Hazeltine Creek stretches for more than a kilometer across.

A portion of the debris field shows the massive amounts of trees 
pulled down by the flood of tailings pond water and waste. 
Photo by Farhan Umedaly, Vovo Productions.

Ropes slung to the shore are used to contain the stacks of limbless trees, stripped of their branches and bark from their violent tumble down the creek.

Ropes secured to the shore contain the debris field in Quesnel Lake. 
Photo by Carol Linnitt.

The mixture of sediment, fine sand, chemicals and heavy metals that collects at the bottom of tailings ponds is known as “slurry.” According to Gerald MacBurney, a former tailings foreman at the Mount Polley mine, the water from the tailings pond is less of an environmental concern than the slurry. “That’s where all the nasty stuff is,” he told me.

Tate Patton, who brought me to Hazeltine Creek, said it took hours for the tailings pond to drain out, the roaring sound of the flood carrying down Quesnel Lake for over six hours.

“I live about five or six miles down the lake and you could hear the sound from there for hours until the wind switched direction and you couldn’t hear it as well,” Patton said.

For several hours the tailings waste and debris poured into Quesnel Lake, one of the world’s deepest glacial fjord lakes. To this day no one knows quite how deep the lake is. The deepest recorded measurement reached down 610 metres. The lake is home to a quarter of the province’s sockeye salmon and is world famous for its brightly coloured rainbow trout among fly fishers.

Debris stretches across the shore near the mouth of the Hazeltine Creek. 
Photo by Farhan Umedaly, Vovo Productions.

Temperatures of the water flowing out of Quesnel Lake can quickly fluctuate eight degrees, leading hydrogeologists to theorize about complex water currents and circulation within the waterbody.

Patton said the depth of the lake is a bonus when it comes to dilution of the spill materials. “We have a lot of pluses,” he said. “The water is deep, the levels are high right now, and we haven’t had much rain.”

When the floodwaters subsided, a wide river of slurry and mud had entirely replaced Hazeltine Creek, leaving fluvial fans of sludge along low-lying areas and trailing into Quesnel Lake.

Sludge from the spill carries out into Quesnel Lake. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

At the base of the creek the floor of the lake quickly drops out. Sediment from the spill poured out into the depths leaving only a plume of suspended solids, visible only from the air, behind.

What remains of the spill on land sits caked in tailings waste. No clean up or dredging of the creek bed or debris area is expected until additional pumping of tailings waste from Polly Lake is complete.

Tate Patton points to beaver tracks in mud from the spill. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

Patton pointed at a beaver track in the drying mud. “Lots of animal tracks around here,” he said.

Bloomberg journalist Christopher Donville (left), Tate Patton (centre) and 
author Carol Linnitt (right) journey back to the town of Likely. The debris field 
is just visible in the background. Photo by Farhan Umedaly, Vovo Productions.

We took a final survey of the scene as the sun retreated behind Mount Polley. Patton stopped the boat on the way back in to dislodge broken sticks and branches from the outboard motor.

“That’s a camp site, over there,” he said, pointing to an area not more than two kilometres from the mouth of Hazeltine Creek. “They were evacuated. Must have been terrifying,” he said. “Must have been loud.”

This article is published as part of a joint-venture between the Vancouver Observer and DeSmog Canada.
All images by Carol Linnitt and Farhan Umedaly, Vovo Productions.

Through the Valley of SWAT: America's Homegrown Counterinsurgents

To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

by Matthew Harwood  - TomDispatch

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott's handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders. They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic. He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Bay Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa Bay police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars' worth, and one legal handgun -- the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.
Tomgram: Matthew Harwood, One Nation Under SWAT

Think of it as a different kind of blowback. Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country. Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs -- 15 tons of protective equipment -- for a song from the Pentagon. And there’s nothing special in that. The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come. They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country. When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained. To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment. “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.” And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.” Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren't “combat vehicles” at all. Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations. He suggests instead that one good reason for having them -- other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) -- is essentially to keep up with the Joneses. As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters! (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

A striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways. It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should). Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom



To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

by Matthew Harwood


The War on Your Doorstep

The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic. It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.

While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide. Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.

Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.

In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

Upping the Racial Profiling Ante

In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.

Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.

On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.

Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.

Everyday Militarization

Don’t think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.

As Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department’s Community Policing Services office, observes, police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression. He notes that recruit training favors a stress-based regimen that’s modeled on military boot camp rather than on the more relaxed academic setting a minority of police departments still employ. The result, he suggests, is young officers who believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safer. Or as comedian Bill Maher reminded officers recently: “The words on your car, ‘protect and serve,’ refer to us, not you.”

This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing. Its emphasis is on a mission of “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don’t command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn’t supposed to be their currency. Trust is.

Nevertheless, police recruiting videos, as in those from California’s Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico’s Hobbs Police Department, actively play up not the community angle but militarization as a way of attracting young men with the promise of Army-style adventure and high-tech toys. Policing, according to recruiting videos like these, isn’t about calmly solving problems; it’s about you and your boys breaking down doors in the middle of the night.

SWAT’s influence reaches well beyond that. Take the increasing adoption of battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, often black, jumpsuits, Bickel fears, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

A small project at Johns Hopkins University seemed to bear this out. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents, the survey indicated, would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Summarizing its findings, Bickel writes, “The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors.”

Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys?

“I wonder if I can get in trouble for doing this,” the young man says to his buddy in the passenger seat as they film the Saginaw County Sheriff Office’s new toy: a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. As they film the MRAP from behind, their amateur video has a Red Dawn-esque feel, as if an occupying military were now patrolling this Michigan county’s streets. “This is getting ready for f**king crazy times, dude,” one young man comments. “Why,” his friend replies, “has our city gotten that f**king bad?”

In fact, nothing happening in Saginaw County warranted the deployment of an armored vehicle capable of withstanding bullets and the sort of improvised explosive devices that insurgent forces have regularly planted along roads in America’s recent war zones. Sheriff William Federspiel, however, fears the worst. "As sheriff of the county, I have to put ourselves in the best position to protect our citizens and protect our property," he told a reporter. "I have to prepare for something disastrous."

Lucky for Federspiel, his exercise in paranoid disaster preparedness didn’t cost his office a penny. That $425,000 MRAP came as a gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam, from one of our far-flung counterinsurgency wars. The nasty little secret of policing’s militarization is that taxpayers are subsidizing it through programs overseen by the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department.

Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it’s one of the core enablers of American policing’s excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today’s warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to U.S. law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.

In its recent report, the ACLU found a disturbing range of military gear being transferred to civilian police departments nationwide. Police in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance, received 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two robots that can be armed, military helmets, and a Mamba tactical vehicle. Police in Gwinnet County, Georgia, received 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. The Utah Highway Patrol, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune investigation, got an MRAP from the 1033 program, and Utah police received 1,230 rifles and four grenade launchers. After South Carolina’s Columbia Police Department received its very own MRAP worth $658,000, its SWAT Commander Captain E.M. Marsh noted that 500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country.

Astoundingly, one-third of all war materiel parceled out to state, local, and tribal police agencies is brand new. This raises further disconcerting questions: Is the Pentagon simply wasteful when it purchases military weapons and equipment with taxpayer dollars? Or could this be another downstream, subsidized market for defense contractors? Whatever the answer, the Pentagon is actively distributing weaponry and equipment made for U.S. counterinsurgency campaigns abroad to police who patrol American streets and this is considered sound policy in Washington. The message seems striking enough: what might be necessary for Kabul might also be necessary for DeKalb County.

In other words, the twenty-first-century war on terror has melded thoroughly with the twentieth-century war on drugs, and the result couldn’t be anymore disturbing: police forces that increasingly look and act like occupying armies.

How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police

When police departments look to muscle up their arms and tactics, the Pentagon isn’t the only game in town. Civilian agencies are in on it, too.

During a 2011 investigation, reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz discovered that, since 9/11, police departments watching over some of the safest places in America have used $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to militarize in the name of counterterrorism.

In Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the city and its surrounding county went on an $8 million spending spree with federal money, according to Becker and Schulz. Although the area averaged less than two murders a year since 2005, every squad car is now armed with an assault rifle. Police also have access to Kevlar helmets that can stop heavy firepower as well as an armored truck worth approximately $250,000. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1,500 beat cops have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles with homeland security grant funding.

As with the 1033 program, neither DHS nor state and local governments account for how the equipment, including body armor and drones, is used. While the rationale behind stocking up on these military-grade supplies is invariably the possibility of a terrorist attack, school shooting, or some other horrific event, the gear is normally used to conduct paramilitary drug raids, as Balko notes.

Still, the most startling source of police militarization is the Department of Justice, the very agency officially dedicated to spreading the community policing model through its Community Oriented Policing Services office.

In 1988, Congress authorized the Byrne grant programs in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which gave state and local police federal funds to enlist in the government’s drug war. That grant program, according to Balko, led to the creation of regional and multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces, which gorged themselves on federal money and, with little federal, state, or local oversight, spent it beefing up their weapons and tactics. In 2011, 585 of these task forces operated off of Byrne grant funding.

The grants, Balko reports, also incentivized the type of policing that has made the war on drugs such a destructive force in American society. The Justice Department doled out Byrne grants based on how many arrests officers made, how much property they seized, and how many warrants they served. The very things these narcotics task forces did very well. “As a result,” Balko writes, “we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line.”

Regardless of whether this militarization has occurred due to federal incentives or executive decision-making in police departments or both, police across the nation are up-armoring with little or no public debate. In fact, when the ACLU requested SWAT records from 255 law enforcement agencies as part of its investigation, 114 denied them. The justifications for such denials varied, but included arguments that the documents contained “trade secrets” or that the cost of complying with the request would be prohibitive. Communities have a right to know how the police do their jobs, but more often than not, police departments think otherwise.

Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Report by report, evidence is mounting that America’s militarized police are a threat to public safety. But in a country where the cops increasingly look upon themselves as soldiers doing battle day in, day out, there’s no need for public accountability or even an apology when things go grievously wrong.

If community policing rests on mutual trust between the police and the people, militarized policing operates on the assumption of “officer safety” at all costs and contempt for anyone who sees things differently. The result is an “us versus them” mentality.

Just ask the parents of Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Around 3:00 a.m. on May 28th, the Habersham County Special Response Team conducted a no-knock raid at a relative’s home near Cornelia, Georgia, where the family was staying. The officers were looking for the homeowner’s son, whom they suspected of selling $50 worth of drugs to a confidential informant. As it happened, he no longer lived there.

Despite evidence that children were present -- a minivan in the driveway, children’s toys littering the yard, and a Pack ‘n Play next to the door -- a SWAT officer tossed a “flashbang” grenade into the home. It landed in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s crib and exploded, critically wounding the toddler. When his distraught mother tried to reach him, officers screamed at her to sit down and shut up, telling her that her child was fine and had just lost a tooth. In fact, his nose was hanging off his face, his body had been severely burned, and he had a hole in his chest. Rushed to the hospital, Bou Bou had to be put into a medically induced coma.

The police claimed that it was all a mistake and that there had been no evidence children were present. “There was no malicious act performed,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen.” The Phonesavanhs have yet to receive an apology from the sheriff’s office. “Nothing. Nothing for our son. No card. No balloon. Not a phone call. Not anything,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN.

Similarly, Tampa Bay Police Chief Jane Castor continues to insist that Jay Westcott’s death in the militarized raid on his house was his own fault. "Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture," Castor said. "If there's an indication that there is armed trafficking going on -- someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm -- then the tactical response team will do the initial entry."

In her defense of the SWAT raid, Castor simply dismissed any responsibility for Westcott’s death. “They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner,” she wrote the Tampa Bay Times -- “everything,” that is, but find an alternative to storming the home of a man they knew feared for his life.

Almost half of all American households report having a gun, as the ACLU notes in its report. That means the police always have a ready-made excuse for using SWAT teams to execute warrants when less confrontational and less violent alternatives exist.

In other words, if police believe you’re selling drugs, beware. Suspicion is all they need to turn your world upside down. And if they’re wrong, don’t worry; the intent couldn’t have been better.

Voices in the Wilderness

The militarization of the police shouldn’t be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are “barometers of the society in which they operate.” In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the “hooah” mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.

While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up “intimidating” to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that “the lines between municipal law enforcement and the U.S. military cannot be blurred.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting “most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills.” In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”). It’s a decision he would like to take back. “My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose,” he wrote in the Nation. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict.”

These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn't be breaking down any citizen's door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.

War, once started, can rarely be contained.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor at the American Civil Liberties Union and a TomDispatch regular. You can follow him on Twitter @mharwood31.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Matthew Harwood

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NDP MP Rankin Answers Consituent Concern Over Party's Gaza Position

[Letter from NDP MP Murray Rankin]

by "Murray Rankin"

Dear [JB],

Thank you for writing to me. Like you, I am very concerned by the recent violence in Gaza and Israel. No one can remain insensitive to such a terrible situation affecting innocent civilians, with hundreds killed and millions living in fear for their safety. This situation is unacceptable to me, just as it is unacceptable to you.

I want to be very clear about what my NDP colleagues and I have said and done in response.

The suggestion that the NDP has been silent or indifferent about Palestinian suffering is not correct. I am  proud to belong to a party – the only political party in Canada – that consistently defends human rights and international law and works in support of a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East. The current situation in Gaza is no exception. The NDP has criticized the indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas. We have also criticized the unacceptable number of civilian casualties from Israeli attacks, including the horrifying shelling of a UN facility sheltering refugees in Gaza.

I would encourage you to read NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar’s most recent statement.

My NDP colleagues and I will continue to call for international law to be respected by all parties. Since the conflict began, the NDP has publicly called for an immediate ceasefire and the protection of civilians, for Canada to contribute humanitarian support for civilians in Gaza, for all parties to abide by international law, and for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance within Gaza, including food, fuel and medical treatment.

The NDP has called on the Canadian government to take a leadership role in the protection of civilians, securing an immediate ceasefire and working towards a lasting, negotiated settlement to the conflict. In line with the NDP position and longstanding Canadian policy, we will continue to push the government to oppose settlements in the occupied territories, which are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a serious obstacle to a just and lasting peace, and to support a negotiated two-state settlement.

Since the start of the current conflict, we have put out repeated statements, social media messages and comments to the media responding to events and calling on Canada to support diplomatic efforts for an immediate ceasefire, including by working to ensure the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance within Gaza and promote the sustained reopening of crossing points, in keeping with UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).

NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to criticize cuts to Canadian support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and call for Canada to support the UNRWA emergency appeal for the Gaza Strip.

 For your reference, here are a few relevant excerpts from media interviews:

"We totally disagree with the government's approach. We think it's not balanced. We think that we should be telling our friends, Israel and [Prime Minister] Netanyahu in particular, that he's not doing enough to protect civilians. ... We disagree with Mr. Netanyahu and his approach, because notwithstanding their claim to trying to be careful, we've seen too high of civilian casualties and it's unacceptable." – The Hill Times (30/07/14):
“Israel should be doing more to de-escalate and taking more care in dealing with civilian casualties. ... The government shouldn’t be simply rubber stamping everything that comes from (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu. We should be telling him that there are too many civilian casualties and it’s unacceptable. We also have to think in terms of the Israelis who are living in fear … living in constant fear is not acceptable either.” – Ottawa Citizen (28/07/14)
“We do not have a responsible foreign policy when it comes to this issue. We’re not actually playing a constructive role. No one is going to call us to help negotiate things behind the scenes because of our stated position.” – Ottawa Citizen (15/07/14)

We believe that the Canadian government must pursue a balanced and responsible position focused on civilian protection and supporting international efforts for an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and that the Conservative government’s failure to strike any balance during this conflict has further diminished Canada’s international reputation. The principled NDP position has been recognized by representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Canadian Council of Imams, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Islamic Society of North America.

“I particularly value your insights and principled position pertaining to Palestinian rights and our pursuit of a just peace. I remain confident of your continued support and constructive efforts in elping us achieve our freedom, self-determination, and global recognition." – Executive Committee Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Hanan
Ashrawi, in a letter to NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar.

“We are writing this letter in recognition of your just and fair policy pertaining to the Israeli Palestinian crisis. Your party has placed equal value on both Israeli and Palestinian lives and has bravely stood for ending the bloodshed, upholding human rights and abiding by international law. We the undersigned organizations applaud your position.”  – Canadian Council of Imams (CCI); Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN); Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA); Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); Muslim Medical Association of Canada (MMAC)

I wholeheartedly agree with you that the Conservative government’s unbalanced response to this conflict is wrong.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I want you to know that I will continue to work with my NDP colleagues to press the government of Canada to take a leadership role in demanding the protection of innocent civilians, securing a lasting ceasefire and working towards a just and comprehensive peace.


"Murray Rankin"

Will "Polluter Pay" in Mount Polley Tailings Spill?

Mount Polley Bankruptcy Could Leave BC Public Footing Cleanup Bill

by Peter Ewart - Common Sense Canadian

The clean-up costs for the massive tailing pond spill at Imperial Metals’ Polley Mountain mine have been estimated by some to range between $50 and $500 million. In addition, legal action will undoubtedly be launched by individuals, businesses, and First Nations in the region which could result in hundreds of millions more in costs.
Resident Rod Marining surveys the damage.

And then there are law firms launching suits on behalf of Imperial stockholders who have suffered huge stock losses when the company’s stock plunged over 40%. Whatever the final amount, the issue comes down to – Who is going to pay?

On August 8, BC Environment Minister Mary Polak said: “We have a polluter-pay model in British Columbia and we expect the company will be the one paying for the cleanup and recovery” and that she has “heard commitments that [the company] is ready, willing and able to continue to fund what they need to”.

However, comments from Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch suggest that the situation may be a lot more dicey than this optimistic statement from the Minister. According to one news report, Kynoch has committed to paying for the clean-up “to the best of [his] ability”. But in contrast to Mary Polak’s statement that the company is “ready, willing and able” to pay for the spill, Kynoch is more equivocal and doubts that the company’s insurance will be high enough to cover the cost (for more on the insurance issue see Aug. 12 column).


Imperial in financial Catch-22

After indicating that the company does not have the money in the bank at this time, Kynoch goes on to say that, “If it’s $400 million, then we are going to have to get mines generating to make that money to do the cleanup.”

But there is a problem here when Kynoch says that we need to “get mines generating” the cleanup funds. For one thing, as noted before in 250 News on Aug. 7th, company financial statements of previous years reveal that the Mount Polley mine itself was being used to generate “cash flow” for the company’s new Red Chris mine in northwestern BC, as well as other Imperial operations. Yes, the Red Chris mine is nearing finish as is its extension to the Northwest Transmission Line, and presumably will generate substantial amounts of revenue down the road. But completion of the construction, as well as start-up funds, will be required for a while before that happens, especially since negotiations are still going on between Red Chris and that Tahltan First Nation regarding the mine.

So the Red Chris mine will still need cash flow from other parts of the company. But the Mount Polley mine, which has been a cash cow for Red Chris, will likely not be in operation until the end of the year or later. In the meantime, clean up and associated costs for the spill will be mounting by the day. To compound the problem, Imperial Metals’ other operating mine, Huckleberry Mine (which Imperial has a 50% stake in), was down for several months earlier this year because of equipment failure. The company has a lot of debt, and, as one financial analyst says, “the shutdown of Mount Polley will stretch thin an already tight balance sheet”.

Red Chris: The sharks are circling


Red Chris Mine (Unuk River Post)

So how will the financial oligarchs who dominate the Canadian and global mining industry view this dicey situation? Speaking plainly, some are no doubt looking at how to hive off the lucrative Red Chris mining asset and other Imperial assets from the Mount Polley operation, which is already nearing the end of its life as a mine and will be beset with clean-up costs and lawsuits for years to come. Indeed, a number of big companies were in fierce competition to gain control of the Red Chris property several years ago, but Imperial Metals eventually won out. Now the situation has changed and the sharks are circling again as can be seen by recent business analyst speculation on how Red Chris might be torn away.

But could this conceivably happen? Could the Red Chris mine and other Imperial assets be siloed or separated off from a Mount Polley mine that is burdened with debt and lawsuits? Could then the Mount Polley operation (or even Imperial Metals itself) eventually go bankrupt requiring public funds to clean up the mess and leaving plaintiffs twisting in the wind?


Each Imperial mine is its own separate company

The first thing to get straight is that, although the Mount Polley mine and the Red Chris mine are all part of the parent company Imperial Metals and are subsidiaries of it, they exist as separate companies. For example, the Mount Polley mine is owned by the Mount Polley Mining Corporation (Imperial Metals acquired majority ownership back in the 1990s) and the Red Chris mine is owned by the Red Chris Development Corporation. In turn, both are wholly owned by Imperial Metals.

To many, it would seem logical that any debt or obligations incurred by the Mount Polley Mining Corporation should fall on the parent company Imperial Metals and its wholly owned subsidiaries such as Red Chris Development Corporation. But that is not necessarily the case according to current corporate law and government policy.

For example, a few years ago in BC, there was a tank car spill on a railway and the parent railway company and its 100% owned subsidiary company (which actually operated the railway) were sued. But the BC Provincial Court ruled “that the parent company wasn’t liable for the subsidiary’s environmental offences” because it merely owned the railway and didn’t operate it (Environmental Compliance Insider).

But wait. If we examine Business Registry records regarding Imperial Metals and its subsidiary companies, we find that there are several overlapping members of the Boards of Directors, i.e. several of the Imperial Metals directors sit on the board of Mount Polley Mining Corporation and the same is true for some of the company officers. Doesn’t this prove something in terms of potential responsibility?

Not in this particular railway case. The court found that it didn’t matter that there were overlapping directors. The parent company got off Scot free (although this does not always happen).

BC public could be left out in the cold

In such a circumstance, it is within the realm of possibility that the subsidiary company could then go bankrupt and leave the plaintiffs and the people of BC out in the cold.

And yes, corporate reorganizations do happen all the time where assets are hived off. Indeed, Imperial Metals, facing bankruptcy back in the early 2000s, did exactly that in a court-sanctioned restructuring which saw subsidiary oil and gas companies and assets shifted into a separate company from its mining assets (which were facing difficulty at that time as a result of low metal prices).

In any case, a better situation for the workforce, local communities and businesses, First Nations communities and the people of British Columbia will be that Imperial Metals and its subsidiaries remain intact and continue operating under strict public oversight, as well as with First Nations and community consent. It is especially important that Red Chris Development Corporation is not sold off by Imperial Metals and that the Mount Polley Mining Corporation is not hived off and put into bankruptcy.


Red Chris revenue should support Polley cleanup

As revealed in Imperial’s Annual Reports, the Mount Polley mine provided cash flow for the Red Chris mine construction and all sorts of profits for Imperial shareholders. Now it is Red Chris and Imperial’s turn. Clean-up costs and legal costs can be expected to go on for years. Rather than being sold off for a song and taken over by global financiers, the revenue from the lucrative Red Chris mine must be used to pay for these costs now and in the future. As previously noted, Imperial Metals’ president Brian Kynoch appears to support that course of action.

In terms of Imperial’s current financial woes, an immediate solution could be for Imperial’s largest investors, several of whom have very deep pockets, to step up to the plate and provide financing to stabilize the company’s situation. These dominant investors, who have directors connected to them on Imperial’s board, have profited greatly from Imperial’s operations in the past and should have been aware of the risks the Mount Polley mine was taking.

It is clear that vigilance is needed in this fast moving situation. For its part, the provincial government must make it very clear to Imperial Metals, as well as those who may be considering carving the company up, that it will not go along with any financial maneuvers that will hurt or endanger the interests of the people of BC or hinder the clean-up and financial reparations.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

American Petro Dollar Will Ultimately Prevail Russia Trade War

My Money’s on Putin

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch

“History shows that the United States has benefited politically and economically from wars in Europe. The huge outflow of capital from Europe following the First and Second World Wars, transformed the U.S. into a superpower … Today, faced with economic decline, the US is trying to precipitate another European war to achieve the same objective.”

– Sergey Glazyev, Russian politician and economist

“The discovery of the world’s largest, known gas reserves in the Persian Gulf, shared by Qatar and Iran, and new assessments which found 70 percent more gas in the Levantine in 2007, are key to understanding the dynamics of the conflicts we see today. After a completion of the PARS pipeline, from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean coast, the European Union would receive more than an estimated 45 percent of the gas it consumes over the next 100 – 120 years from Russian and Iranian sources. Under non-conflict circumstances, this would warrant an increased integration of the European, Russian and Iranian energy sectors and national economies.”

– Christof Lehmann, Interview with Route Magazine

The United States failed operation in Syria, has led to an intensification of Washington’s proxy war in Ukraine. What the Obama administration hoped to achieve in Syria through its support of so called “moderate” Islamic militants was to topple the regime of Bashar al Assad, replace him with a US-backed puppet, and prevent the construction of the critical Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline.

That plan hasn’t succeeded nor will it in the near future, which means that the plan for the prospective pipeline will eventually go forward.

Why is that a problem?

It’s a problem because–according to Dr. Lehmann–”Together with the Russian gas… the EU would be able to cover some 50 percent of its requirements for natural gas via Iranian and Russian sources.” As the primary suppliers of critical resources to Europe, Moscow and Tehran would grow stronger both economically and politically which would significantly undermine the influence of the US and its allies in the region, particularly Qatar and Israel. This is why opponents of the pipeline developed a plan to sabotage the project by fomenting a civil war in Syria.

Here’s Lehmann again:

“In 2007, Qatar sent USD 10 billion to Turkey´s Foreign Minister Davotoglu to prepare Turkey´s and Syria´s Muslim Brotherhood for the subversion of Syria. As we recently learned from former French Foreign Minister Dumas, it was also about that time, that actors in the United Kingdom began planning the subversion of Syria with the help of “rebels”’ (Christof Lehmann, Interview with Route Magazine)

In other words, the idea to arm, train and fund an army of jihadi militants, to oust al Assad and open up Syria to western interests, had its origins in an evolving energy picture that clearly tilted in the favor of US rivals in the region. (Note: We’re not sure why Lehmann leaves out Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the other Gulf States that have also been implicated.)

Lehmann’s thesis is supported by other analysts including the Guardian’s Nafeez Ahmed who explains what was going on behind the scenes of the fake civil uprising in Syria. Here’s a clip from an article by Ahmed titled “Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern”:

“In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorised CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. A range of US government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had “cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations” intended to weaken the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria,” wrote Hersh, “a byproduct” of which is “the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups” hostile to the United States and “sympathetic to al-Qaeda.” He noted that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria”…

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television:

“I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”
… Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials confirmed US-UK training of Syrian opposition forces since 2011 aimed at eliciting “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”

So what was this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria and Iran all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”

In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources.”
(“Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern“, The Guardian)

Apparently, Assad was approached by Qatar on the pipeline issue in 2009, but he refused to cooperate in order “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally.” Had Assad fallen in line and agreed to Qatar’s offer, then the effort to remove him from office probably would have been called off. In any event, it was the developments in Syria that triggered the frenzied reaction in Ukraine.

According to Lehmann:

“The war in Ukraine became predictable (unavoidable?) when the great Muslim Brotherhood Project in Syria failed during the summer of 2012. …In June and July 2012 some 20,000 NATO mercenaries who had been recruited and trained in Libya and then staged in the Jordanian border town Al-Mafraq, launched two massive campaigns aimed at seizing the Syrian city of Aleppo. Both campaigns failed and the ”Libyan Brigade” was literally wiped out by the Syrian Arab Army.

It was after this decisive defeat that Saudi Arabia began a massive campaign for the recruitment of jihadi fighters via the network of the Muslim Brotherhoods evil twin sister Al-Qaeda.

The International Crisis Group responded by publishing its report ”Tentative Jihad”. Washington had to make an attempt to distance itself ”politically” from the ”extremists”. Plan B, the chemical weapons plan was hedged but it became obvious that the war on Syria was not winnable anymore.” (“The Atlantic Axis and the Making of a War in Ukraine“, New eastern Outlook)

There were other factors that pushed the US towards a conflagration with Moscow in Ukraine, but the driving force was the fact that US rivals (Russia and Iran) stood to be the dominant players in an energy war that would increasingly erode Washington’s power. Further economic integration between Europe and Russia poses a direct threat to US plans to pivot to Asia, deploy NATO to Russia’s borders, and to continue to denominate global energy supplies in US dollars.

Lehmann notes that he had a conversation with “a top-NATO admiral from a northern European country” who clarified the situation in a terse, two-sentence summary of US foreign policy. He said:

“American colleagues at the Pentagon told me, unequivocally, that the US and UK never would allow European – Soviet relations to develop to such a degree that they would challenge the US/UK’s political, economic or military primacy and hegemony on the European continent. Such a development will be prevented by all necessary means, if necessary by provoking a war in central Europe”.

This is the crux of the issue. The United States is not going to allow any state or combination of states to challenge its dominance. Washington doesn’t want rivals. It wants to be the undisputed, global superpower, which is the point that Paul Wolfowitz articulated in an early draft of the US National Defense Strategy:

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”

So the Obama administration is going to do whatever it thinks is necessary to stop further EU-Russia economic integration and to preserve the petrodollar system. That system originated in 1974 when President Richard Nixon persuaded OPEC members to denominate their oil exclusively in dollars, and to recycle their surplus oil proceeds into U.S. Treasuries. The arrangement turned out to be a huge windfall for the US, which rakes in more than $1 billion per day via the process. This, in turn, allows the US to over-consume and run hefty deficits. Other nations must stockpile dollars to purchase the energy that runs their machinery, heats their homes and fuels their vehicles. Meanwhile, the US can breezily exchange paper currency, which it can print at no-expense to itself, for valuable imported goods that cost dearly in terms of labor and materials. These dollars then go into purchasing oil or natural gas, the profits of which are then recycled back into USTs or other dollar-denominated assets such as U.S. stocks, bonds, real estate, or ETFs. This is the virtuous circle that keeps the US in the top spot.

As one critic put it: “World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy.”

The petrodollar system helps to maintain the dollar’s monopoly pricing which, in turn, sustains the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It creates excessive demand for dollars which allows the Fed to expand the nation’s credit by dramatically reducing the cost of financing. If oil and natural gas were no longer denominated in USDs, the value of the dollar would fall sharply, the bond market would collapse, and the US economy would slip into a long-term slump.

This is one of the reasons why the US invaded Iraq shortly after Saddam had switched over to the euro; because it considers any challenge to the petrodollar looting scam as a direct threat to US national security.

Moscow is aware of Washington’s Achilles’s heel and is making every effort to exploit that weakness by reducing its use of the dollar in its trade agreements. So far, Moscow has persuaded China and Iran to drop the dollar in their bilateral dealings, and they have found that other trading partners are eager to do the same. Recently, Russian economic ministers conducted a “de-dollarization” meeting in which a “currency switch executive order” was issued stating that “the government has the legal power to force Russian companies to trade a percentage of certain goods in rubles.”

Last week, according to RT:

“The Russian and Chinese central banks have agreed a draft currency swap agreement, which will allow them to increase trade in domestic currencies and cut the dependence on the US dollar in bilateral payments. “The draft document between the Central Bank of Russia and the People’s Bank of China on national currency swaps has been agreed by the parties…..The agreement will stimulate further development of direct trade in yuan and rubles on the domestic foreign exchange markets of Russia and China,” the Russian regulator said.

Currently, over 75 percent of payments in Russia-China trade settlements are made in US dollars, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.” (“De-Dollarization Accelerates – China/Russia Complete Currency Swap Agreement“, Zero Hedge)

The attack on the petrodollar recycling system is one of many asymmetrical strategies Moscow is presently employing to discourage US aggression, to defend its sovereignty, and to promote a multi-polar world order where the rule of law prevails. The Kremlin is also pushing for institutional changes that will help to level the playing field instead of creating an unfair advantage for the richer countries like the US. Naturally, replacing the IMF, whose exploitative loans and punitive policies, topped the list for most of the emerging market nations, particularly the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) who, in July, agreed to create a $100 billion Development Bank that will “will counter the influence of Western-based lending institutions and the dollar. The new bank will provide money for infrastructure and development projects in BRICS countries, and unlike the IMF or World Bank, each nation has equal say, regardless of GDP size.

According to RT:

“The big launch of the BRICS bank is seen as a first step to break the dominance of the US dollar in global trade, as well as dollar-backed institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, both US-based institutions BRICS countries have little influence within…

“This mechanism creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.”
(“BRICS establish $100bn bank and currency pool to cut out Western dominance“, RT)

It’s clear that Washington’s aggression in Ukraine has focused Moscow’s attention on retaliation. But rather than confront the US militarily, as Obama and Co. would prefer, Putin is taking aim at the vulnerabilities within the system. A BRICS Development Bank challenges the IMF’s dominant role as lender of last resort, a role that has enhanced the power of the wealthy countries and their industries. The new bank creates the basis for real institutional change, albeit, still within the pervasive capitalist framework.

Russian politician and economist, Sergei Glazyev, summarized Moscow’s approach to the US-Russia conflagration in an essay titled “US is militarizing Ukraine to invade Russia.” Here’s an excerpt:

“To stop the war, you need to terminate its driving forces. At this stage, the war unfolds mainly in the planes of economic, public relations and politics. All the power of US economic superiority is based on the financial pyramid of debt, and this has gone long beyond sustainability. Its major lenders are collapsing enough to deprive the US market of accumulated US dollars and Treasury bonds. Of course, the collapse of the US financial system will cause serious losses to all holders of US currency and securities. But first, these losses for Russia, Europe and China will be less than the losses caused by American geopolitics unleashing another world war. Secondly, the sooner the exit from the financial obligations of this American pyramid, the less will be the losses. Third, the collapse of the dollar Ponzi scheme gives an opportunity, finally, to reform the global financial system on the basis of equity and mutual benefit.”

Washington thinks “modern warfare” involves covert support for proxy armies comprised of Neo Nazis and Islamic extremists. Moscow thinks modern warfare means undermining the enemy’s ability to wage war through sustained attacks on it’s currency, its institutions, its bond market, and its ability to convince its allies that it is a responsible steward of the global economic system.

I’ll put my money on Russia.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at