Monday, March 30, 2015

The Folly of Machine Warfare

Andrew Cockburn's "Kill Chain"

The Folly of Machine Warfare


Caveat emptor: Andrew Cockburn, the author of Kill Chain: the Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, is a friend of thirty-five years, so I am biased, proudly so in this case. While I know what Cockburn can do, I must admit I was literally blown away by this book. And I am no stranger to this subject, having worked as an engineer-analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon for 28 years.

What makes Cockburn’s book so powerful, in my opinion, is not only his sourcing and detail (which are amazing), but the fact that he has written a book that is at once overwhelming in terms of information, yet so well written, it is accessible to the general reader. It is a page turner. He dissects the rise of drone warfare and examines its conduct in fascinating detail from the point of view of the targeteers in the CIA and the White House, to the controllers in front of video screens, and to the effects on the victims at the receiving end.
In so doing, he shows how the ideology of drone warfare is really old wine in a new bottle: it is a natural evolution of three interconnected mindsets: (1) the flawed ideas underpinning the now-discredited theory of strategic bombing in WWII; (2) the search for perfect information embodied in disastrous all-knowing, all-seeing electronic battlefield (starting with McNamara’s electronic line of Vietnam); and (3) the search for surgical precision in both conflict and coercive diplomacy embodied, for example, in the naive targeting theories underpinning the drug war and the escalate-the-pressure tactics of precision targeted sanctions. At the roots of all these theories, I would argue, is an unchanging three-part set of propositions woven together in the 1930s by the evangelical instructors in the Army Air Corps Tactical School. They preached the theory of victory thru airpower alone, and they believed that only strategic bombing could justify an independent Air Force on a par with the Army and the Navy, and with comparable or even higher budgets.

These future leaders of the AF constructed a seductive tautological argument, based on the fallacious assumptions of having extensive a priori knowledge of the enemy’s inner workings coupled to perfect combat intelligence. It remains unchanged to this day and goes like this: (1) The enemy is a physical system or network made up of critical linkages and nodes, be they ball bearing works in Schweinfurt, or Salafi fanatics in Iraq with access to cell phones and the internet, or tribal warlords in the hills of Afghanistan. (2) The enemy system can be reliably analyzed and understood from a distance, making it possible to exactly identify those specific nodes or links that are vital to the functioning of the adversary system, be it an industrial power like Germany, a tribal alliance in Yemen, or the financial links of a terrorist network or foreign oligarchy. (3) That technology provides the wherewithal to attack and destroy these vital nodes or links with precision strikes and thereby administer a mortal wound to the adversary.

In short, the conduct of war is an engineering problem: In the current lexicon of the Pentagon and its defense contractors, the enemy is a ‘systems of systems’ made up of high value targets (HVTs) that can be identified and destroyed without risk from a distance with unmanned systems. The reasoning is identical to that described in the preceding paragraph. Yet despite its stridently confident predictions of decisive precision effects, from the days of the Norden bombsight in B-17s to those of the Hellfire missile fired by drones, this theory has failed to perform as its evangelists predicted and are still predicting.

Viewing war as an engineering problem focuses on technology (which benefits contractors) and destructive physical effects, but ignores and is offset by the fundamental truth of war: Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds. Our technology’s physical effects can be — and often are — offset by our opponent’s mental counters or initiatives, reflecting both his adaptability and unpredictability, and his moral strengths, like resolve and the will to resist. Combat history has proven this over and over that mental and moral effects can offset physical effects, for example, when the destruction of ball bearing factories did not have its predicted effects in WWII, when bicycles carrying 600 pounds of supplies were used to by pass destroyed bridges on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and when the Serbs used microwave ovens to fool expensive anti-radiation missiles in Kosovo. And as Cockburn shows, this has proven true again in the ongoing war on terror, and its mirror image, the war on drugs.

Any one who doubts that this critique applies to drones used in a counter-terror strategy should be asked to explain the collapse of in Yemen — the place where drones reached their apotheosis as the centerpiece of American counter-terror strategy.

Cockburn has provided a highly readable, and logically devastating story, written from a bottom-up empirical perspective. He explains why our strategy in Yemen was doomed to fail, as indeed it has in recent weeks. His meticulously referenced historical and empirical research makes this book hard to pick apart. No doubt, there are some small errors of fact. For example, not all the drone/bombers deployed in ill starred Operation Aphrodite (which blew up JFK’s elder brother) in 1944 were B-24s as Cockburn incorrectly suggests; the operation also used B-17s. But I defy anyone to find a single thread or family of threads that can be used to unravel his tapestry.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Baltimore Activist Alert - March 31 - April 1, 2015

28] Get your animal friend in the Maryland SPCA 2016 calendar – Mar. 31
29] Peace vigil – Mar. 31
30] ADC-Women's Empowerment Forum – Mar. 31
31] No JHU Drone Research -- Mar. 31
32] See the film NIGHTFALL – Mar. 31
33] See the film CHRISSY – Mar. 31
34] Laverne Cox at GWU – Mar. 31
35] Chris Dixon at Red Emma’s – Mar. 31
36] See the film ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD – Apr. 1
37] CISPES bicycle ride – Apr. 1
38] Skillshare on the need for multilingual spaces and the need for interpretation – Apr. 1
39] Ultimate Peace programs - Apr. 1
40] Janet Mock at AU – Apr. 1
28] – Enter a photo of your animal friend in the Maryland SPCA 2016 Calendar before the end of March and save! Participants who enter before Mar. 31 will pay only $40 (reg. $50) per photo. Each entry also includes one (1) free calendar! Participants can send photos after registration, so don't worry if you need a little extra time to find the purr-fect photo of Fluffy! To enter, go to and use discount code "SPCAcalendar" during checkout, or contact Jennifer Mion at or 410-235-8826, ext. 133.

The 2016 Pet Calendar will be a full-color wall calendar, released in the fall of 2015. Thirteen of the best photos will be selected for the cover and pet-of-the-month pages. Photographs must be of animals, no people, and must be in color. High-resolution horizontal photos are preferred. Small photos, especially those taken by phones, are difficult to enlarge. All entered photos will appear in the calendar. A maximum of 400 photos will be accepted through May 15, 2015. The calendar is an important fundraiser for the Maryland SPCA. Proceeds benefit the needy and homeless animals in our care!

29] – Each Tuesday from 4:30 - 5:30 PM, the Catholic Peace Fellowship-Philadelphia for peace in Afghanistan and Iraq gathers at the Suburban Station, 16th St. & JFK Blvd., at the entrance to Tracks 3 and 4 on the mezzanine. The next vigil is Mar. 31. Call 215-426-0364.

30] – Go to the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 1150 22nd St. NW, WDC on Tues., Mar. 31 at 5 PM for a "Women for Peace" panel discussion as part of the ADC-Women's Empowerment Forum. This 2015 International Women’s Day celebration will consist of a panel seminar, awards ceremony and keynote dinner. The awards dinner begins at 6:30 PM. Tickets are $125 per person. Contact Jala Naguib at 202.244.2990 or

31] – Vigil to say "No Drone Research at JHU" each Tuesday at 33rd & North Charles Sts. Join this ongoing vigil on Mar. 31 from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. Call Max at 410-366-1637.

32] – On Tues., Mar. 31 from 6 to 7:30 PM at the Jerusalem Fund, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW, WDC, see the film NIGHTFALL, director Mohamed Soueid draws from his diaries, recounting the time he spent in the Student Squad of the Palestinian Resistance Movement, Fatah, during the Lebanese civil war. He recounts stories, both happy and sad, of old friends fallen during the war, and of others still living with their memories and solitude. Attendance is free and open to the public. Go to Call the Jerusalem Fund at 202-338-1958 or email

33] – At Bloombars, 3222 11th St. NW, WDC 20010, on Tues., Mar. 31 from 7 to 9 PM, BloomBars and Africa World Now Project will commemorate Women's History Month. See “Chrissy” (2012, 90 min), by Marcia Weekes, an inspirational film about a disadvantaged school girl who is bullied and discriminated against, but who fought the odds and triumphed securing much needed help from her family and her school. See The screening will be followed by audience discussion and Q&A with Mwiza Munthali, host of the radio show "Africa Now" on WPFW 89.3FM. The suggested donation is $10. Proceeds support both the Africa World Now Project and BloomBars. Enjoy free organic popcorn. BloomScreen Indie Film Night is a weekly series of independent and foreign films, accompanied by discussions with filmmakers, experts and other guests. Go to

34] – On Tues., Mar. 31 at 7 PM at Lisner Auditorium, George Washington University, WDC, Allied in Pride, Program Board, Student Association, the LGBT Alumni Association, the Feminist Student Union, Lambda Law, the Elizabeth J. Somers Women’s Leadership Program, the Global Women’s Institute, and the Association of Queer Women and Allies are very excited to announce that Laverne Cox is coming on International Transgender Day of Visibility! The event is FREE for GW students, and $10 for others. Cox is a transgender advocate and critically acclaimed actress, writer, and producer. She is the first African-American trans woman to produce and star in her own television show (VH1's TRANSform Me), the first trans person to ever appear on the cover of Time magazine, and the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black.

In her talk, "Ain't I A Woman? My Journey to Womanhood," Cox explores how the intersections of race, class, and gender uniquely affect the lives of trans women of color. Go to

35] – On Tues., Mar. 31 at 7:30 PM @ Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201, Chris Dixon presents his book “Another Politics: Talking Across Today's Transformative Movements,” which engages the anti-authoritarian current, a political tendency including abolitionists, anarchists, anti-racist feminists, autonomists, and many other radicals. Cutting across a wide range of left social movements in North America, this current is distinguished by its commitment to directly democratic structures, anti-oppression politics, explicit organization-building, prefigurative political practices, working for reforms while also pursuing revolution, and grassroots organizing. The book draws on dozens of interviews with experienced organizers across the U.S. and Canada. It traces the strands of movement and struggle that have led into the anti-authoritarian current, explores the defining principles and practices of another politics, and examines the visionary political approaches and questions that are emerging from the activities of this current.

Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in numerous book collections as well as periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Clamor, Left Turn, and Social Movement Studies. He serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. He lives in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin Territory, where he is involved in anti-poverty organizing. Find him at Call 443-602-7585. Go to

36] – On Wed., Apr. 1 from 6 to 10 PM at the Real News Network, 231 Holliday St., Baltimore 21202, see ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. It is a film about Israel's biggest taboo - the nation’s collective denial of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 told by those who perpetrated it. This special screening of this award winning film will include a Q&A with director Lia Tarachansky, moderated by host and founder of The Real News Network, Paul Jay. See a trailer: Go to Program in Latin American Studies invites you the round table discussion WHY NOT. Panelists will analyze the emergence and possibilities of anti-violence protest movements #yamecansé and #Ican’tbreathe. The round table features speakers James Dator, (Goucher College.), Mariana Mora (CIESAS, MX), Deborah Poole (JHU), and Lester Spence (JHU). It will take place on Wed., Apr. 1 at 6 PM on the JHU Homewood Campus, Shaffer Hall 3. Contact Emma Cervone at .

37] – Come to the CISPES Office, 1525 Newton St. NW, WDC on Wed., Apr. 1 at 6:30 PM and learn about the upcoming 2015 Solidarity Cyclers Ride! You don’t need to be a professional cyclist to join this ride – you just have to be willing to take on the challenge and to help raise money for the Salvadoran struggle. Invite your friends and cycling enthusiasts! On May 23, a group of intrepid cyclists and international solidarity enthusiasts will embark on an exciting 3-day long, 180-mile journey through the beautiful trails and hills of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia to raise money to help CISPES challenge US-pushed policies and US-funded mega projects that threaten the environment and worker rights in El Salvador. Challenge yourself and challenge imperialism! Register at

38] – On Wed., Apr. 1 at 7 PM, the Washington Peace Center, 1525 Newton St., WDC, as part of April is Language Accessibility Month, will do a skillshare on the need for multilingual spaces and the need for interpretation. During this skillshare, you will also learn about the Peace Center's interpretation equipment. This skillshare will be facilitated by Sapna Pandya and Catalina Nieto.

39] – A dynamic multicultural group of 20 youth leaders from the Middle East will be visiting the USA this spring. Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis, and Palestinians from the West Bank will share their experiences and insights as emerging leaders within the Ultimate Peace programs and in their communities. The Friendship Tour offers the rare opportunity for US audiences to meet and interact with exceptional and diverse teenagers from the Middle East. Come to the Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW, WDC on Wed., Apr. 1 at 7:30 PM and meet the travelers. Visit

40] – At Ward 1, University Center, American University, WDC on Wed., Apr. 1 at 7:30 PM, the AUSG Women's Initiative and KPU present Janet Mock, a transgender rights activist, author and contributing editor at Marie Claire. Mock has been on the cutting edge of change whether it be through social media and her #GirlsLikeUs twitter campaign, or promotion of her memoir called “Redefining Realness” which made the New York Times best-seller list. She was featured in The OUT List, an LGBT documentary, and has been honored on Out Magazine’s 100 most compelling people of the year list. Look at

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Teen Kept in Solitary Confinement for 143 Days Before Even Facing Trial

Steiger writes: "A federal review conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Baltimore City Detention Center was illegally putting teens in psychologically damaging solitary confinement as they awaited trial for adult charges. One detainee was kept in solitary confinement for 143 days."

Teens are being kept in solitary confinement. (photo:

Teen Kept in Solitary Confinement for 143 Days Before Even Facing Trial

By Kay Steiger, ThinkProgress

29 March 15

A federal review conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Baltimore City Detention Center was illegally putting teens in psychologically damaging solitary confinement as they awaited trial for adult charges. One detainee was kept in solitary confinement for 143 days.

The report, released on Friday, found that in addition to a detainee identified as RC who was detained for 143 days, another detainee, EM, spent 53 of the 105 days spent in detention in solitary. Furthermore, the rules at the facility mandated that violators must spend 7 to 14 days for a first offense and must wait around 80 days for a disciplinary review.

The DOJ review found that though the detention center, put under federal review for previous civil rights violations, was still violating state and federal law by exceeding the limits for solitary confinement, failing to provide teens with drugs and other prescribed treatments, and some detainees were even denied the right to exercise. They also concluded that many of the staff were poorly trained.

“This is grossly excessive and violates basic principles of Due Process,” the Justice Department report read. “It is even more troubling for the 24 percent of juveniles in seclusion who are ultimately found not guilty under the disciplinary process.”

Solitary confinement — particularly when an inmate is subjected to it for more than a few days — is known to be psychologically damaging, and it is especially problematic to subject teens to this kind of punishment because their brains are still developing. A 2012 report released jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, which interviewed youths subjected to the punishment, found it could be extremely damaging to their mental health and development. One former prisoner said, “It’s like mind torture.” Other former detainees described hair and weight loss, stunted growth, and halted menstruation.

The report also found that the decisions behind when and for how long to house inmates in solitary confinement were widely at the discretion of the facility staff. Sometimes staff would place LGBT inmates in solitary confinement to “protect” them from the risk of sexual assault.

ACLU and HRW concluded that inmates under the age of 18 are frequently subjected to solitary confinement for extended periods of time and “the conditions that accompany solitary confinement frequently fail to meet the psychological, physical, social, and developmental needs of adolescents. These failures constitute violations of fundamental rights in a number of circumstances.”

A 2011 United Nations report said that “the imposition of solitary confinement, of any duration, on juveniles is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and violates article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture.”

An editorial in the Washington Post last year pleaded with the state of Maryland to reform its solitary confinement practices, as New York City has recently done, writing, “Prisons should isolate inmates only in rare cases when that is the singular way to prevent violence. The General Assembly should ensure that Maryland abides by this principle, rather than hiding behind euphemisms.”

© 2015 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Swedish MPs Meet Snowden, Talk Mass Surveillance/How America and the Rest of the World Ruined Haiti

Edward Snowden. (photo: unknown)

Swedish MPs Meet Snowden, Talk Mass Surveillance

By Agence France-Presse
28 March 15

Three Swedish members of parliament met with fugitive US intelligence agent Edward Snowden at a secret location in Moscow on Friday to discuss mass surveillance, Swedish media reported.
The visit was organised by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, a Stockholm-based organisation that honoured Snowden with a human rights prize in September 2014.

"We discussed his journey and he gave us a nuanced account of how mass surveillance works and what doesn't work," MP Jakop Dalunde of the Greens Party told public broadcaster SVT.

"He also gave us his point of view on what constitutes effective anti-terrorism measures and what doesn't," he added.

Dalunde was joined at the meeting by Liberal Party MP Matthias Sundin and Cecilia Magnusson of the conservative Moderate Party.

"I was invited by the Right Livelihood Foundation and for me it was self-evident to say yes," Sundin said.

Their meeting lasted two hours.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, has lived in exile in Russia since 2013 after revealing the unprecedented extent of US state surveillance.

© 2015 Reader Supported News

Published on Alternet (

How America and the Rest of the World Ruined Haiti

By Amy Wilentz [1] / The Nation [2]

March 25, 2015

How does a state fail?

It’s a question you can’t help asking yourself as you make your way in Haiti, through the chaos left by four severe tropical storms in 2008 and the destruction wrought by the 2010 earthquake—some of which is still evident on the streets of Port-au-Prince today, five years later. It’s not just the unrebuilt infrastructure that raises this question, but also the human and political waste caused by so many years of corrupting collaboration with the United States, the United Nations and outside nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
A state doesn’t fail because of some innate inferiority in its people. I make this obvious point only because people who don’t know Haiti often try, as subtly as they know how, to claim this is the case. They’re wrong: a state fails because of its history.

Haiti from its inception has been a peculiarly globalized entity. The slavery with which the French colony enriched itself was a global labor and agricultural phenomenon, bringing people from Africa to the Americas in order to serve as free labor on plantations owned by Europeans. Haiti’s revolution, too, was a global phenomenon, linking those same three continents. Haiti’s early debt was global; its economics under slavery and, later, the US occupation were global as well—and still are.

Many readers of The Nation may know something of the remarkable history of this country, since the magazine has been following it for more than a century. But for those of you coming to it cold: Haiti had unbelievably promising beginnings. Though tarnished by centuries of slavery, the country was the creation of some of the great geniuses of the 1700s. But the enormous potential of these singular men was destroyed by France, which kidnapped and killed some of Haiti’s ablest leaders, most notably Toussaint Louverture. In 1825, a scant two decades after Haitian independence was declared, France demanded an indemnity of 150 million francs (roughly estimated at $20 billion in today’s dollars) for the property lost by French plantation owners during the quite bloody, quite fiery revolution—one that Haiti had won.

Haiti was to compensate France not only for lost plantation lands and crops, but also for the loss of the Haitians themselves—i.e., for the right to be masters of their own bodies—since Haitian slaves had been France’s most valuable Caribbean asset. France backed up this demand with the threat of a full-blown blockade, and Haiti agreed to pay in exchange for France’s recognition. As a result, France duly recognized Haiti as an independent country (the United States, still a slave-owning nation and too geographically close for its own comfort, did not do so until 1862, in the midst of the Civil War). The huge debt payments were delivered assiduously by the Haitian government with money borrowed—conveniently—from French banks. Haiti also paid the interest on those loans in a timely fashion.

These reparations to France depleted Haiti’s already starved coffers and led to repeated financial crises within the country. They also led to privations, to an inability to develop domestically and to political instability—indeed, political turmoil, with presidents entering and leaving office sometimes biannually. France, in collusion with the United States, continued to bleed Haiti until related debts were finally paid off—in 1947!

This is how Haiti began to be a failed state.

France was not the only country to force Haiti down the road to failure. In 1909, US financiers began to lay the groundwork for an American occupation of Haiti. It was around that time that the National City Bank, based in New York, acquired a stake in Haiti’s central bank and created a railway to support American exploitation of Haitian resources, especially cheap labor (a little more expensive than out-and-out slavery, but…) and a variety of agricultural products for American consumption, such as sugar (and, later, the industrial production of baseballs and women’s undergarments).

As Graham Greene wrote in The Comedians, his novel about Haiti in the 1960s: “It is astonishing how much money can be made out of the poorest of the poor with a little ingenuity.”

There was never any real excuse for the occupation. Haiti was unstable, the Americans said, after a sitting president was dragged from the French embassy by a mob and killed; shortly after, the marines descended. Well, Haiti had been unstable for years. The occupation was simply a mechanism to control Haiti while American businesses sucked value out of the country and made sure nationals of other countries could not. A year after the occupation’s end, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, the marine in charge of establishing and securing control, wrote: “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.”

Nothing that the occupation built was meant to benefit Haitians. As Ernest H. Gruening wrote in 1922 in this very magazine: “nobody, be he ever so kindly and human, can wholly transmute a military occupation into a lawn party.” During the nineteen-year occupation, periodic rebellions and uprisings were brutally put down by the marines. Finally, in 1929, another massacre of Haitians provoked a review of the occupation by Congress, as well as an eventual pullout in 1934.

Nineteen years of occupation left enduring scars on Haitian society. The racism and segregation enforced by the marines led directly to the reactionary black-power rhetoric employed by François “Papa Doc” Duvalier as he rose to power in Haiti. The brutality and kleptocratic behavior of Duvalier’s administration, while not unknown in pre-occupation Haiti, had been honed to a fine point under the Americans’ regime. The nightmarish Duvalier and his corrupt son and successor, Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”), fertilized the terrain on which Haiti as a failed state would grow.
Haiti has never existed in a vacuum. In fact, Haiti today is a creation of the world, its failures often purposefully molded by outsiders, though almost always in collusion with the Haitian elite, who stand to profit from these failures. In this, it is not dissimilar to other corrupt countries with a history of colonial exploitation.

Here is a contemporary example of how this works: under Bill Clinton, Haiti’s leaders were pressured to reduce the country’s longstanding tariffs on imported food (including rice) from 50 percent to about 3 percent. The United States then began dumping cheap, taxpayer-subsidized surplus rice on the Haitian market, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, but actually so that it could dispose of an otherwise unsellable product.

Clinton’s policy was brilliant and double-edged. The Haitian politician who had to approve it was none other than the overthrown Jean-Bertrand Aristide, arguably the first freely elected president of Haiti. Aristide had been ousted in 1991, less than a year after his election, while George H.W. Bush (Papa Bush) looked the other way. Doubtless in return for Aristide’s acceptance of the lower tariff, as well as for other promises made, Clinton returned him to power. But once back in the National Palace, Aristide saw his authority undermined by the havoc and unrest that this very policy was causing in the countryside. The cheaper US rice undercut and effectively destroyed Haitian rice farming. A country that was largely self-sufficient in this staple in the 1980s was importing 80 percent of its rice by 2012.

So if Haiti can no longer feed itself, is this because it is a failed state? Haitians have rarely been fat, but the food crisis and food dependency began when weak Haitian leaders agreed to open the country’s markets to predatory global forces. This is the ugly face of “free trade.”

The crisis in rice farming also initiated a huge flow of rural people to the capital, because rice cultivators and their families could no longer survive in the countryside. The resulting overpopulation of the capital was a factor in the large number of people killed in the 2010 earthquake. After the quake, Clinton—by then the UN special envoy to Haiti, helping to run the reconstruction effort—apologized to the Haitian people. “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” He has called the policy a “devil’s bargain.”

Nonetheless, imports of subsidized American rice only increased after the earthquake. Haiti imports as much as 50 percent of its food now, mostly from the United States. Today, Haiti is the second-biggest importer of US rice in the world.

Now let’s look at politics. In 1991, Aristide was overthrown. In 1994, Bill Clinton reinstated him. Aristide served out his truncated five-year term and was elected president once more in 2000, only to be overthrown again, in 2004, this time under Baby Bush (George W.).

For seven years after that second coup, Aristide lived in US-imposed exile in South Africa. He was allowed back into Haiti only in 2011, when President Obama, given various factors, could no longer reasonably prevent his return.

Though Aristide was, for at least two decades, the overwhelming choice of the Haitian people, his support has dissipated in the chaos caused by two anti-democratic coups and a barrage of natural disasters, as well as the generational shift that has come with new voters who simply don’t remember him. Even so, the current Haitian president, a conservative Duvalierist who is another puppet of the United States, has recently put Aristide under illegal house arrest, fearing his potential as a disrupter as Haiti begins the long-overdue slog to a new round of elections.

That Haitian president is Michel Martelly, a pop singer whose slender victory in 2011 was engineered with the collusion of the United States, the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS). With his pro-business stance, Martelly is a lot more to the liking of American corporate interests in Haiti than Aristide. Among his greatest achievements as president: diverting earthquake-relief money to help extend and modernize transportation in northern Haiti, far from the earthquake’s path, as well as expanding the incentives to seduce low-wage light industry to Haiti (mainly in the north) and freeing up gold-, silver- and copper-mining contracts for giant multinational extraction companies to begin excavating (also in the north).

Is the failure of the democratic experiment in Haiti the fault of a people who cannot govern themselves? No, it’s the fault of outside interests and their Haitian collaborators, who together continue to hold the reins of power in Haiti.

By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that Aristide was democracy personified. He was flawed, but so what? Let’s put it this way: unlike Aristide, the Duvaliers—both Papa Doc and Baby Doc—were grotesque violators of free speech, honest elections and human rights, but still they managed, in the shadow of the United States, not to be overthrown for almost thirty years. Aristide, in that same shadow (Haiti hasn’t moved!), was overthrown within eight months of taking office, and then overthrown a second time. This is not about a state’s failure; it’s about failure imposed on a state.

Let’s also consider corruption, another symptom of failed states. Many say the Haitian government is disorganized, but no one is fooled: actually, the Haitian kleptocracy has been carefully organized—especially during the occupation—to be porous and incompetent, to allow for corruption. It exists to feed those politicians who kowtow to outside interests. It is a mechanism into which money is poured and then siphoned off. The Duvaliers merely perfected what the occupation handed down.

Since 1915, the United States has treated Haitian governments as, at best, rubber stamps for US policy, American businesses working in Haiti, and Haitian-run businesses friendly to American interests. For almost the entire twentieth century, only US-approved Haitians could be president. The embassy looked the other way at internal political repression, to say nothing of continuing starvation in the countryside, as long as Haitian governments were friendly—or at least anticommunist, like Papa Doc’s. Any leader who seemed to have an agenda that put the Haitian people first was thrown out, including Daniel Fignolé, a wildly popular political figure who was in office less than a month in 1957, shortly before the Duvalier dictatorship; and, of course, Aristide, who slipped in during a moment of change in Haiti and the world (post-Duvalier and post–Cold War, respectively) but was quickly sent packing.

Ever since Aristide was deposed for the second time, in 2004, there has been another occupation of Haiti, this time by the United Nations. A decade later, some 7,000 international military and police personnel still operate from the huge, modern UN Logistics Base near the airport (which is no longer named for François Duvalier but for Louverture, another coup victim sent summarily overseas). From “Log Base,” as it is called, peacekeepers have been sent out to quell dissent, resulting in many casualties. They’ve rounded up the discontented and they’ve developed informants within progressive and popular movements. They ride around town in casual pickup trucks with gunners in the back, facing the trailing traffic.

All of this is done with the ostensible motivation of protecting the Haitian people and keeping things secure. As The Nation’s Gruening wrote concerning the marine occupation in 1922: “this proceeds under the guise of benevolence…. Colonel Russell [the head of the occupation at the time] told me that it was the two million Haitian country people that he wanted to help, and that he was very fond of them but [that he was] against the ‘three hundred agitators in Port au Prince….’ The Occupation’s affection for the Haitian proletariat is truly touching. Obviously if the [agitators are] eliminated, the most docile and the cheapest labor supply that a concessionnaire ever dreamed of will be easily available. Twenty cents a day is the current Haitian wage.” Today, thanks to the machinations of American businesspeople in Haiti and colluding legislators in Washington, the minimum wage has been kept low: to less than $5 a day. Haitians’ 1922 pay comes to roughly $2.82 in today’s dollars. So, in ninety-three years, the value of a Haitian’s labor has increased by little more than $2.

One final problem must be understood in picking apart the failure of the Haitian state, and that is the overwhelming presence in Haiti—especially in Port-au-Prince and in Cap-Haïtien—of nongovernmental organizations, usually foreign-based. Unscientific estimates suggest there are some 10,000 NGOs operating in a country smaller than Maryland with a population of 10 million.

These NGOs, each with its own projects, don’t operate under any kind of umbrella; nor are they truly regulated. What they do, unintentionally, is substitute their own services for the services that a government should provide. They prop up the kleptocratic state, a mechanism for distribution of corruption. Over the years, the United States has spent billions through the Agency for International Development, a principal funder of NGOs, in an attempt to “develop” Haiti—and has achieved effectively nothing. A report by the World Bank on its own role in Haiti from 1986 through 2002 stated that “the outcome of the [World Bank] assistance program is rated unsatisfactory (if not highly so), the institutional development impact, negligible, and the sustainability of the few benefits that have accrued, unlikely.”

The end of Haiti, its utter ruin, has been predicted since the state was declared in 1804. The outside world believed a country run by former slaves could never survive; Haitians looked around and sometimes agreed. In 1944, the legendary Haitian novelist Jacques Roumain published Gouverneurs de la rosée (Masters of the Dew), set in a deforested, drought-plagued landscape. When I first arrived in Haiti in 1986, the environmental end of the country was already considered imminent. Everyone would starve and die; AIDS, too, was about to take its toll.

Today, Haiti is still deforested, the environment abused and ignored. Much of this has to do with dire poverty and government negligence, as well as foreign and domestic exploitation. But in spite of deforestation and drought, despite mudslides and hurricanes and earthquakes, despite the destruction of rice cultivation, the collapse of Haiti’s sugar industry, the neglect of its coffee cultivators, the ongoing crisis of AIDS, tuberculosis and, now, cholera—Haitians survive.

Is this because they have a special resilience, that “dignity in poverty” that visitors like to rattle on about? Nope. It’s because the situation has been so bad for so long that almost every tiny Haitian village has sent at least one person out of the country into the huge diaspora, and those wanderers (equal to about 20 percent of the on-island population) have been sending their dutiful remittances back, even over generations. This immense brain drain has adversely affected everything on the island, but it has also been crucial to Haiti’s survival as a failed state.

Many small, formerly agricultural countries survive this way in the globalized world. The Philippines is another good example: its government, like Haiti’s, provides few services and little employment for its growing population, and instead sends its people out to participate in a global economy from which, although poorly paid by employers abroad, they can send home enough money to keep people alive on the islands. Sri Lanka, Vietnam and many other countries survive in a similar fashion.

Living off such remittances, those who still reside in the home country are less likely to find themselves at that edge of desperation where political organization and unrest become urgent and necessary. Grassroots change is abortive or endlessly deferred, a situation that is much preferred by the small local elite, which provides nothing and thereby gains everything. Haiti’s ongoing crisis is the product of global forces, and only huge, unlikely changes in international behaviors—especially on the part of the biggest, most abusive nations and organizations—will allow the Haitians themselves to turn things around.

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[3] on How America and the Rest of the World Ruined Haiti

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Baltimore Activist Alert - March 29 - 30, 2015

18] “Race and Ethical policing” – Mar. 29
19] Spring Garden Party – Mar. 29
20] Water scarcity – Mar. 29
21] Pentagon Vigil – Mar. 30
22] Marc Steiner on WEAA – Mar. 30 – Apr. 3
23] Protest Exelon CEO – Mar. 30
24] Support Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – Mar. 30
25] Benefit for Maryland League of Conservation Voters – Mar. 30
27] Pledge of Resistance/FOC meeting – Mar. 30
18] – Usually, the Baltimore Ethical Society, 306 W. Franklin St., Suite 102, Baltimore 21201-4661, meets on Sundays, and generally there is a speaker and discussion from 10:30 AM to noon. On Mar. 29, however, this program BES Dialogue: “Race and Ethical policing” will begin with screening several statements excerpted from a December 2014 The Real News Network (TRNN) broadcast of a town hall meeting that addressed the question “Should the Community Control the Police?” Then the program will switch to a community dialogue to discuss issues surrounding “Black Lives Matter,” ethical policing, and the topics raised during the platform addresses this month. Watch the town hall meetings.

The leaders of the discussion follow. Laura Griffin, a member of the BES Ethical Action Committee, and Mr. Omari Jeremiah are former leaders of Community Conversations, a 2013 project to facilitate Baltimore community dialogues on welcoming immigrants in Baltimore, addressing topics such as race, prejudice and community response. Mr. Angad Singh is a member of the BES Executive Board and co-chair of the Program Committee. He is an activist for social justice and campaign finance reform, and is the father of Jaisal Noor, a TRNN host, producer, and reporter. Call 410-581-2322 or email

19] – Celebrate the start of our 2015 growing season by attending a Spring Garden Party on Sun., Mar. 29 at 12:30 PM at the Platform Gallery, 116 W. Mulberry St. There will be a silent auction of seedlings potted in beautiful handmade pottery and more, to help and inspire you to do some of your own growing this season! Learn about upcoming projects, and enjoy coffee and light fare! Call 443-433-6294. Go to Advance tickets are $7, and $10 for two; and at the door a ticket is $10 or two for $15. Go to

20] – Go to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, WDC 20004 on Sun., Mar. 29 from 2 to 4 PM for Water Day. Attend this performance and panel discussion about water scarcity and what you can do to end this problem. See

21] -- There is a weekly Pentagon Peace Vigil from 7 to 8 AM on Mondays, since 1987, outside the Pentagon Metro stop. The next vigil is Mon., Mar. 30, and it is sponsored by the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker. Email or call 202-882-9649. The vigil will be outside the Pentagon's south Metro entrance and in the designated "protest zone" behind bicycle fences across from the entrance to the Metro. By Metro, take Yellow Line and get out at the "Pentagon" stop. Do not go to the Pentagon City stop! Go up south escalators and turn left and walk across to protest area. By car from D.C. area, take 395 South and get off at Exit 8A-Pentagon South Parking. Take slight right onto S. Rotary Rd. at end of ramp and right on S. Fern St. Then take left onto Army Navy Dr. You can "pay to park" on Army Navy Dr., and there is meter parking one block on right on Eads St. Payment for both of these spots begin at 8 AM. No cameras are allowed on Pentagon grounds. Restrooms are located inside Marriott Residence Inn on corner of S. Fern and Army Navy Dr.

22] – The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday through Friday from 10 AM to noon on WEAA 88.9 FM, The Voice of the Community, or online at The call-in number is 410-319-8888, and comments can also be sent by email to All shows are also available as podcasts at

23] – On Mon., Mar. 30 at 10 AM, Exelon CEO Chris Crane will testify before the DC Public Service Commission about his company’s effort to take over Pepco. Be at 1333 H St. NW, Suite 200, West Tower City, WDC to keep Crane and Exelon honest! Crane’s company, Exelon, has a history of playing fast and loose with the truth. In a brief filed to the Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland’s Attorney General called the testimony of an Exelon official “unreliable”, “not credible” and “fundamentally flawed.” The proposed merger is a bad deal for DC residents. It means higher electric bills, lower reliability and less renewable energy. The Public Service Commission, and DC’s elected officials, especially Mayor Bowser, need to know that we’re watching! Go to

24] – Get over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 320 First St. NW, WDC on Mon., Mar. 30 at noon. The objective of the March 30 Mobilization will be to demand that federal authorities allow an Independent Medical Team (IMT) to enter FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, TX to examine Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – to determine: (a) she is still alive; (b) the exact state of her physical and mental health. For information on Dr. Siddiqui, her case, and the international campaign for her release and repatriation. Go to

To contribute financially to this campaign, send a check or money order to The Peace Thru Justice Foundation, 11006 Veirs Mill Road, STE L-15, PMB 298, Silver Spring 20902 or make an online contribution at - designate your donation "For Aafia" and send an email (at: ) to let them know a donation made.

Dr. Siddiqui, a Pakistani-born, U.S. educated neuroscientist was widely known and respected for her work in the area of dawahand humanitarian relief. She has been so cut off from the outside world that her family doesn’t even know (with certainty) whether she is alive or dead. On March 30, 2003, shortly after her return to Pakistan, Dr. Siddiqui and her three young children (ages 6, 4, and six months) were the targets of a rendition operation carried out by Pakistani and American agents. In 2008, after it was discovered that Aafia was a secretly-held prisoner at the American controlled “detention center” in Bagram, Afghanistan, she was released in a severely weakened state, reunited with her son Ahmed, and set up to be killed. Aafia was shot by a U.S. soldier (while awaiting re-interrogation); brought back to the United States and later put on trial in a federal courthouse in New York City (2010); and found guilty of “attempting to murder US personnel” in Afghanistan (despite all of the evidence in her favor); and given a sentence of 86 YEARS (Life without the possibility of parole)!

25] – Maris St. Cyr and Sam Bleicher invite you to a reception to benefit Maryland League of Conservation Voters featuring guest speaker, Brian Frosh, Maryland Attorney General. He will discuss current 2015 legislative session issues including fracking and storm water, and how the Maryland League of Conservation Voters is advancing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. It takes place on Mon., Mar. 30 from 6 to 7:30 PM at 2515 Boston Street, #1002, Baltimore 21224. The expected donations are as follows: friend--$250 or individual--$75. RSVP to Karen Doory at 410-280-9855 ext. 208 or

26] – Beyond the Classroom: University of Maryland, 1102 South Campus Commons, Building 1, 4230 Knox Road, College Park 20742, on Mon., Mar. 30 from 7 to 9 PM, see LIVING DOWNSTREAM as part of a Seminar Series on People Power: Activism for Social Change. The film is based on the acclaimed book by ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., which is an eloquent and cinematic documentary film. This poetic film follows Sandra during one pivotal year as she travels across North America, working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. After a routine cancer screening, Sandra receives some worrying results and is thrust into a period of medical uncertainty. Thus, we begin two journeys with Sandra: her private struggles with cancer and her public quest to bring attention to the urgent human rights issue of cancer prevention.

But Sandra is not the only one who is on a journey—the chemicals against which she is fighting are also on the move. We follow these invisible toxins as they migrate to some of the most beautiful places in North America. We see how these chemicals enter our bodies and how, once inside, scientists believe they may be working to cause cancer. Several experts in the fields of toxicology and cancer research make important cameo appearances in the film, highlighting their own findings on two pervasive chemicals: atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and the industrial compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Their work further illuminates the significant connection between a healthy environment and human health. Go to

27] – The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore usually meets on Mondays at 7:30 PM, and the meetings take place at Max’s residence. The next meeting will be on Mon., Mar. 30. The proposed agenda will include anti-drone activities, lobbying in Annapolis, a march from the EPA to the Pentagon, May Day and dealing with US warmongering. Call 410-366-1637 or email mobuszewski at

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Why on Earth Did the Feds Approve a High-Pressure Gas Pipeline Near a Nuke Plant?

Published on Alternet (

Why on Earth Did the Feds Approve a High-Pressure Gas Pipeline Near a Nuke Plant?

By Alison Rose Levy [1] / AlterNet [2]

March 27, 2015

A gas explosion leveled two buildings in New York’s East Village this past week, with two neighboring structures damaged, one still at risk for collapse, and 22 people injured, four of them severely. The fire raged from early afternoon into the next morning with more than 250 firefighters responding. Just over a year ago, a gas explosion leveled two buildings in Harlem, killing eight people. The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet released its conclusions as to what caused the Harlem fire.

While fires, explosions, plane crashes and others disasters are considered newsworthy, drawing people and the media to the scene, the quiet dramas of government policy, approval and planning that set the stage for—or can prevent—disastrous events are every bit as riveting.

Many accidents occur due to unavoidable human or material error, such as inadequate inspection, corroded pipes or faulty valves. But some accidents arise when two things never meant to happen at the same time and place just do. Like the tsunami that overwhelmed inadequate safety protections at the aging Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. That deadly event exemplifies what the National Transportation Safety Board defines as “interactive threats,” two or more high-risk conditions that unpredictably meet and produce an outcome far worse than the risks of either one acting alone.

Since March 3, 2015, three high-risk conditions have begun converging north of the New York metro area: the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant; a high pressure, high-volume gas pipeline; and an authorization by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build a new segment of the pipeline in close proximity to the nuclear plant. In the few weeks since the authorization, apart from some felled trees in Yorktown Heights, there have been few visible signs that millions of New Yorkers may soon be living with the increased risk of a fiery, pipeline-triggered nuclear accident, 37 miles north of the City.

In its ruling, with the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, FERC granted the pipeline company, Spectra Energy a “conditional certificate of public convenience and necessity” to build the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, one segment of the extended pipeline slated to carry fracked shale gas from Pennsylvania into New England. It will go directly along the outer perimeter of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

A 2015 NTSB safety report [3] detailed 119 “incidents” in gas transmission pipelines last year. The report also noted a mounting frequency of these incidents in what it called areas of “high consequence.” The NSTB found that “inadequate evaluation of interactive threats” leads pipeline operators to “underestimate the true magnitude of risks to a pipeline.”
In close proximity to one of this country’s major cities, Indian Point is certainly a “high-consequence” location. The quartet of organizations responsible for safety guarantees, which include the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, FERC, Entergy (the plant owners) and Spectra (the pipeline company) all claim the pipeline poses no risk to the nuclear power plant.

“Because of the distance of the proposed Project from the IPEC (Indian Point Energy Center) generating facilities and the avoidance and mitigation measures that it would implement, the proposed route would not pose any new safety hazards to the IPEC facility,” states the FERC-issued [4] Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

In line with the above, no emergency response plan has been submitted, say two independent safety experts. The experts claim to have uncovered evidence that the approval was based on unsupported safety promises, misused data and circumvented safety regulations, all provided by the NRC and Entergy. The closest point between the pipeline and plant infrastructures, according to one of the two engineers who assessed the plans, would be 105 feet from nuclear power structures in a significant seismic zone and densely populated region. An accident or failure of the new pipeline could result in a catastrophic explosion and release of the facility’s 40 years of radioactive spent fuel, rendering all of Westchester County, New York City and much of Connecticut and Long Island uninhabitable for generations.

The pipeline would be located approximately 2,500 feet (about half a mile or 10 city blocks) from the nuclear reactors themselves.

In a February 2015 letter, both New York senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, asked FERC to delay its final decision until a “thorough, independent review of all the project’s potential impacts is completed and made available to the public, with full opportunity for comment and review, including additional public meetings.”

Schumer, who is the ranking member of the Committee on Rules and Administration, also sits on the powerful Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees. However, FERC overruled the senators’ request and went on to issue its final ruling a few weeks later.

Safety Experts

According to Susan Van Dolsen, a co-founder of SAPE2016, an advocacy group opposing the pipeline, many residents of Westchester county, with its upscale bedroom communities of high-earning professionals, are dismayed at the expected plummet of their quality of life and property values due to the pollution, noise and industrial activity the pipeline and the compressor stations along its pathway will bring.

The town of Courtlandt engaged the services of two independent scientific experts to determine the validity of concerns about whether the new pipeline increases the odds of a nuclear event. Richard Kuprewicz is a pipeline regulatory and safety advisor, incident investigator, and expert witness on gas pipeline risk analysis, while Paul Blanch is an engineer with 45 years of experience in nuclear safety, engineering operations and federal regulatory requirements. Each has the expertise (and the appropriate security clearances) to probe what Kuprewicz calls the main question: “In the event of a pipeline rupture, can the nuke plant be failsafe shut down?”

Danger of Fiery Explosions Due to Pipeline Ruptures

The primary pipeline safety risk is ruptures. When a gas pipeline ruptured in San Bruno, California in 2010, it leveled a Bay Area neighborhood and killed eight people, incurring $1.4 billion in damages. The San Bruno pipeline was much smaller and carried less gas at a lower pressure than the proposed Spectra pipeline in Westchester County.

With nearly 300,000 miles of gas pipelines in the U.S. (according to the National Transportation Safety Board [5]), “the management of gas transmission pipelines requires expert knowledge and integration of multiple disciplines to detect potential problems.”

A recent NTSB study focused specifically on “high consequence areas, where an accident could cause the most damage and loss of lives.” From 2010–2013, gas pipelines were “over-represented in documented incidents in such high consequence areas.” When the NTSB investigated three major gas transmission pipeline accidents— in Palm City, FLA (2009), San Bruno, CA (2010) and Sissonville, WVA (2012)— it attributed them to “deficiencies” in the operators’ plans and oversight.

At Indian Point, neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nor FERC will require electronic safety features to automatically shut down the pipeline in the event of leaks, ruptures or explosions. Instead, Spectra, the pipeline company, will monitor the pipeline from Houston, with the promise that “upon viewing a drop in pressure within the distant pipeline, the Houston employees could close safety valves within three minutes.”

Spectra’s report gives “the impression that [they] will actually stop the gas burning, or the gas explosions, within a three-minute time period,” says Kuprewicz. “But they won't see pressure drop alarms for quite a while in the control room 1,000 miles away.”

The actual sequence of events following a pipeline rupture make the delay nearly inevitable, says Kuprewicz. In the aftermath of a rupture, there are big blasts and multiple explosions, as one or more huge fireballs rise a couple of hundred feet into the air.

“The tonnage releases on these large diameter pipelines are such that you can expect to see multiple detonations, multiple blasts,” he notes. These “cast out pipe steel in all directions and the steel forms these huge craters.” The gas roars out of the pipe at a velocity higher than the speed of sound. Given the confusion at the site in the aftermath of a rupture, “it's going to be a while before somebody in a control room gets the word that you might have a rupture.”

In the aftermath of a rupture, there are often delays in pressure monitoring devices in the control room, he says.

Long after the wait for valve closure, which Kuprewicz says could take a minimum of 20 minutes, and sometimes up to several hours, high temperature fires can continue to burn. “In the San Bruno pipeline rupture, a slightly different animal, smaller line, lower pressure, that burned for over 90 minutes,” says Kuprewicz. “The gas will explode and burn for quite a period of time.”

The pipeline valves are three miles apart, so that shut down or not, at the minimum three miles of gas (if the rupture occurred between two valves) and possibly as many as six miles of gas (if the rupture occurred at a valve site) could be released to fuel the fire.

Given his experience with rupture-precipitated fires, Kuprewicz is concerned about “the tremendous amount of heat flux generated from these high-tonnage release gas transmission pipeline ruptures that have ignited…The higher the heat flux, the longer the duration, the more damage that can occur. I have seen the heat fluxes so high that they will liquefy steel at a distance and vaporize aluminum.”

Kuprewicz adds, “I would expect extensive damage to auxiliary equipment such as transmission pipelines and equipment that might be related to fail-safe shutdown of the reactor facilities themselves.”

How near would a rupture-triggered fire be to nuclear plan structures? Paul Blanch, the nuclear safety expert, explained, “we have the gas turbine fuel oil tanks that are located in a very close proximity to the pipeline. They hold hundreds, maybe millions of gallons of burning jet fuel oil which would ignite and flow downhill into safety-related structures, including the switchyard, transformers, as well as vital tanks that are used for cooling which are in the high-heat flux and blast radius.”

In this scenario, a rupture “would disable all emergency generators, and then we have compounding problems. The fire takes out incoming power, and we wind up with no AC power on unit 2. Even backup generators would be inoperable. This scenario is similar to Fukushima. The primary reason they had a meltdown is because they lost all power. Batteries just last so long and they won’t cool the reactor,” Blanch explains.

Inadequate Safety Evaluation

Blanch initiated a FOIA request to evaluate the basis for the NRC’s assurance of a three-minute shutdown. In carefully studying the NRC analysis, and evaluating the accompanying data and references, Blanch found nothing to support a three-minute shutdown. Instead it turned out that the NRC had based its evaluation on an old 1986 EPA methodology, called the ALOHA program. As a result, the NRC vastly underestimated the risks.

“The ALOHA program itself says that it is not be used for this type of pipeline,” Blanch explains. “It applies to a gas line connected to a gas tank. It does not apply to a break in a continuous gas transmission line. You can’t use it where there are chemical leaks or fires. But the NRC used it to determine the safety of the Spectra pipeline.”

There were other errors and unsupported conclusions in the analysis, Blanch says.

For example, the determination of the statistical likelihood of a total rupture. According to the documents Blanch evaluated, the NRC analysis assumes that a total pipe rupture will occur in only 1% of the pipeline accidents. However, according to Blanch, the references accompanying that analysis clearly state that total ruptures occur in 20% of such accidents.

Another question remains “what are the odds of a pipeline rupture triggering a nuclear event?” According to Blanch, the NRC estimated those odds as approximately seven in 100 million years, which, according to NRC regulations, is considered an acceptable level of risk. However when Blanch recalculated the risk projection based on a 20% rate of pipeline accidents and the corrected size and velocity of the planned pipeline, the risk turned out to be one in 1000 years. This Blanch calls, “an unacceptable probability and a clear violation of NRC regulations.”

Blanch says that the evaluation done by the NRC is not commonly needed because “there just aren’t that many nuclear power plants in the vicinity of high speed gas transmission pipelines.” He wrote to the NRC engineer who prepared the safety analysis to point out that the rationale for the approval failed to follow NRC regulations. The NRC engineer told Blanch that he was not “familiar with the regulations and that is the responsibility of a different division within the NRC.”

From the evidence, both safety experts expressed concern that two federal agencies, the NRC and FERC, signed off on the three-minute shutdown promise, and underestimated the likelihood of an accident, based on miscalculations and inapplicable data.

“What you have in this matter are the agencies (including FERC) not having the specialized expertise and/or the willingness to challenge bogus information [concerning safety] near a nuclear plant— it’s unbelievable,” said Kuprewicz.

“The NRC is not an independent agency,” Blanch says. “They are so tied to the nuclear industry and so concerned that the industry will die, that they will minimize the impact of any possible event to lessen damage to the nuclear industry.”

Interactive Threats

“We have significant safety issues, and we're not talking about [California] where it killed seven people. We are talking tens of millions of people who could be endangered by releases from Indian Point,” says Blanch, who describes himself as “pro-nuclear.” “I’m not one of those environmentalists,” he said. “In my opinion, we need both nuclear power and this gas pipeline.” Blanch recommends that the pipeline be re-routed away from Indian Point, which he estimates would cost $2 to $3 billion.

Blanch has filed a petition alleging wrongdoing by Entergy in submitting inaccurate and incomplete information. He says it also “appears to me that the NRC has already made a determination in its inspection report that this information is accurate.”

For Blanch, this raises the question, “how can we be assured of an independent assessment of this petition if it's the same chain of command that has already approved and said this information is accurate?”

“It is irresponsible to take a recommendation from a company like Spectra that wants their business to be here, and not independently validate it. The safety of the people in the region should take precedence over the interests of two energy production companies,” says New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. “There is no other place in this country where a gas pipeline comes as close to a nuclear power plant as it does here, so it requires above and beyond oversight and analysis.”

With the “inadequate evaluation of interactive threats” in “high consequence zones” now aimed at this country’s largest urban population, Blanch is repeating the call for an independent review, similar to the one that Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have already requested.

“Failure of any of these gas pipelines could result in a total loss of cooling to the reactor cores and the inventory of spent fuel. Spectra Energy and Entergy have made no provisions to address this type of event,” Blanch wrote to New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Some of the possible consequences of a gas pipeline fire or explosion at Indian Point include loss of power to the entire site, secondary fires from liquid fuel storage tanks, reactor core damage and melting, asphyxiation of site personnel, spent fuel radioactivity release, and massive social and economic damage for generations. None of these possible outcomes are being addressed.”

Alison Rose Levy @alisonroselevy writes on health, food and the environment. Her website is [6] and her weekly radio program on Progressive Radio is Connect the Dots [7].

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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hold the dates--May 1 & 2/organizing meeting--March 28/Naomi Klein: Shock of Oil Price Plunge Is Opportunity World Must Seize

Hold the Dates!! The 30th Annual Peace, Justice, & Environment Conference hosted by Maryland United for Peace and Justice/Institute For Positive Action is happening on Fri., May 1 and Sat., May 2 at the Salem Lutheran Church, Catonsville, MD. The next organizing meeting is on Sat., Mar. 28 from 2 to 4 PM at Adelphi Friends, 2303 Metzerott Rd., Adelphi 20783. Email or call 443-418-5479. Go to

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Naomi Klein: Shock of Oil Price Plunge Is Opportunity World Must Seize

Riffing on key ideas from her last two books, Canadian author argues time is perfect to employ "shock doctrine" for good by using climate change as opportunity to "change everything" about our economy and energy systems

Jon Queally, staff writer

'Sometimes capitalism gives us a gift,' says Klein. 'And the sudden drop in oil prices is one of them.' (Image: CommonDreams/cc)

As part of the Guardian newspaper's recently launched "keep it in the ground" campaign, Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein appears in a new video on Wednesday in which she argues the current moment is ripe for the world to take advantage of the dramatic drop in global oil prices by kicking the fossil fuel industry "while it's down."

Calling on themes from her two most recent books—'The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster' in 2007 and the more recently published 'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate'—Klein says the fall in oil prices since last year should be seen as an opportunity for those concerned about both the prevailing economic order and the dangers of climate change. "Let's turn this shock," she says in the nearly five-minute video essay, "into the shift we need."

"Could this be the shock that we harness for our big shift? I think it can be." —Naomi Klein

Her list of demands include: "No drilling in the arctic... No expansion of the tar sands... more fracking bans like the ones in New York state and Scotland," and a call to support and broaden the calls for fossil fuel divestment worldwide while ramping up the needed and available solutions to the climate crisis.
"Sometimes capitalism gives us a gift," Klein says, "and the sudden drop in oil prices is one of them."

As a key concept of This Changes Everything, Klein believes that climate change can be a catalyst for progressive social change, but that opportunities, such as the fall of crude oil prices by roughly 50 percent since last year, must be seized by social movements and civil society to push governments and industry to enact policy changes and foster the transformations towards new energy systems that scientists say are necessary (and experts says are still possible) to avoid the worst impacts of global warming caused by carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions.

"Think of what we could do," says Klein, "in rolling out renewable energy, for instance. We could take power and wealth generation away from multinationals and put it into the hands of communities. And we could ensure that the jobs paid a living wage and went to the people who need it most. The same goes for our food and transit systems."

Launched just two weeks ago, the Guardian's joint campaign with and others pressuring both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust—two of the world's wealthiest and well-known charitable foundations—to divest their financial holdings in the fossil fuel industry has already garnered more 140,000 signatures and acted as a lever on small charitable groups to consider their connection to the industry that is now squarely blamed for leading humanity to the edge of climate destruction.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Wellcome told the Guardian it has no immediate plans to withdraw funds from its fossil fuel investments and statement from Bill Gates' private office made no indication the billionaire founder of Microsoft has been moved by the campaign.

But as Klein tells viewers in the new video, everyone should be paying attention to the fossil fuel markets because the drop in oil prices is only further proof that the prevailing global economy is failing, even on its own capitalistic terms.

"Not that long ago," she explains, "oil was at $100 a barrel but now it's hovering at around $50. Make no mistake, when it comes to the most critical commodity in our economy —from $100 to $50 in six months—that's a big shock."

And according to observers of the energy market like independent journalist Nick Cunningham, regressive forces are already using the glut in oil revenue to impose their own self-interested policies. "From Anchorage and the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast," Cunningham wrote last month, "the collapse in oil prices is being used as an excuse by right-wing governments to further gut social spending and shrink critical services for the poor." Cunningham cited the state of Louisiana, led by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, as a specific example of a place where the pain of falling oil prices is placed on the public while corporate interests continue to be insulated. He wrote:

Oil revenues account for 13 percent of Louisiana’s budget, so the [crash of oil prices] blew a new hole in the state’s budget projections: In November 2014, the Jindal administration announced $180 million in mid-year budget cuts to erase a looming deficit. With certain sections of the budget constitutionally off-limits, Jindal focused his budget axe—once again—on education and healthcare. For example, he took $5 million from Health Department programs that will result in fewer children with severe medical conditions being eligible for critical nursing care and physical therapy. He also moved to scrap 167 public sector jobs in the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Children and Family Services, along with other services disproportionately benefitting the poor.

But oil prices didn’t stop there. Between November and January, the price of a barrel of crude fell from the mid-$70s to below $50, setting off a second round of mid-year budget cuts announced by the Jindal administration on February 6. What did Governor Jindal do to balance the budget this time around? Unsurprisingly, he slashed an additional $60 million in public spending, including $2.5 million in cuts for environmental monitoring and $13 million for health care. The plan also called for fewer open days for public libraries, fewer staff members at state parks, and less money for programs addressing drug abuse.

Meanwhile, despite Jindal’s pathological dedication to eliminating government influence from the market, his administration has been extremely generous to corporations, passing on millions of dollars in tax benefits over his two terms. The state paid $700,000 to Wal-Mart to build new stores. It also threw $10 million at Valero, the largest independent oil refiner in the country, to expand an existing facility in the state. Louisiana shelled out $240 million in tax credits in 2013 for companies to frack oil and gas wells. In fact, the state is now spending nearly $1.1 billion per year on corporate tax breaks, a figure that has grown by an annual average of 17 percent for the last ten years, according to Gordon Russell of south Louisiana’s The Advocate.

But Klein says it doesn't have to be this way. Instead of "disaster capitalism"—the term she coined to describe how elites impose austerity and other policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful during times of disruption—there is a counter-example, which she calls a "people's shock" in which progressive policies are imposed during these episodes of upheaval in order to re-establish equity and push beyond the status quo with bold policies and solutions that benefit people, communities, ecosystems, and—in this case—the planet as a whole. "Could [the current collapse in oil prices] be the shock that we harness for our big shift?" she asks. "I think it can be."

For example, she continues, "Low oil prices means that we can introduce a fair and meaningful carbon tax—something that is much harder to do when petrol is expensive. And if we don't do it... oil prices will just encourage more dirty consumption. The money raised from that tax could go to green infrastructure which, in turn, would create a whole lot of jobs—the one million climate jobs that some labor groups have been calling for. And that kind of job creation makes a hell of a lot more sense than what the fossil fuel companies are currently demanding, which is a new wave of tax cuts and other bailouts, apparently so they won't lay off more workers. That's insane."

According to Klein's argument, "If public money is going to spent on energy jobs, it has to be for the jobs that will save us... not cook us."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Body Count Report Reveals At Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US-Led War on Terror

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Body Count Report Reveals At Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US-Led War on Terror

Although a conservative estimate, physicians' groups say the figure 'is approximately 10 times greater' than typically reported
Sarah Lazare, staff writer

The rubble of a home reportedly hit by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Kafar Daryan in Syria. (Photo: Sami Ali / AFP/Getty Images)

How do you calculate the human costs of the U.S.-led War on Terror?

On the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, groups of physicians attempted to arrive at a partial answer to this question by counting the dead.

In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the 'War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.

However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries "could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely."

Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure "is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.

In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation's total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.

Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.

The researchers identified direct and indirect deaths based on UN, government, and NGO data, as well as individual studies. While the specific number is difficult to peg, researchers say they hope to convey the large-scale of death and loss.

Speaking with Democracy Now! on Thursday, Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-author of the forward to the report, said:

"[A]t a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are."

According to Gould's forward, co-authored with Dr. Tim Takaro, the public is purposefully kept in the dark about this toll.

"A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization cause by decades of outside military intervention," they write. "As such, under-reporting of the human toll attributed to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate of through self-censorship, has been key to removing the 'fingerprints' of responsibility."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cindy Sheehan’s magical mystery bus tour.

Cindy Sheehan’s magical mystery bus tour.

Billed as a tour of the war criminal’s hideouts and part of the “Spring Rising” protest events in DC, 3/18-21- , our tour started at 1 pm on 3/19 just blocks from the Capitol- now swathed in construction frameworks and looking like a sore thumb. It is a blustery day- with bare hints of spring.

Men in black suits carrying black briefcases, women in black suits with black stockings to match criss crossed the square in front of the capitol building. They all look like serious agents. Agents of what?

Code Pink had been “spring cleaning” earlier- lobbying to cleanse the capitol of its evil war germs- visiting such offices as Senator Corker’s, McCain and Cotton- to accomplish said cleansing.

The bus was full, with Cindy’s sister De De and Malachy Kilbride key organizers, “holding the reins”. We must leave right away, since a capitol policeman is threatening a ticket. On board are folks from Canada, California, Vermont, etc., 30 +

Our first stop is at, as Cindy calls it from her mike at the front of the bus , “Mordor”- the evil Pentagon. Peacemaker, Col. Ann Wright gives an introduction to and facts and figures on this monstrosity- the largest building devoted to war in the known universe. Will Smaug be there?

Upon arrival, police cars swarm the bus with unnecessary flashing lights- telling Malachy we cannot take protest signs to the memorial. We take them back to the bus and proceed.

At the memorial, Bob Mcilvaine gives a moving testimonial, having lost his son on 9/11; his description raises more than a few eyebrows as to what actually happened, I’ll leave it at that- you can google him and you will see that he does not buy the accepted narrative, particularly given the details of his son’s death.

One protestor tells me that Hani Manjour, who hijacked the flight 77 into the Pentagon, “couldn’t even fly a Cessna!”.

On we go “over the hills “ and back across the Potomac; next stop, the FBI and Dept. of Injustice. Eugene Puryear- ANSWER-organizer gives a good talk, and as well, local peace activist Paul Magno, concerning the interrelation between the FBI, Guantanamo, Snowden, spying on activists. Others point out previous Director J. Edgar Hoover’s sordid history of counter intelligence and disruptions of progressive causes- dating from the Palmer raids to Cointelpro.. As before we are surrounded by 10+ “FBI police”.

The security business- has it ever experienced such a boom? How many policing agencies exist in DC? Answer- an absurd number!
Alli McCracken of Code Pink described the Spring Cleaning efforts on Capitol Hill.

Due to time constraints we must skip stops at the Monument to the victims of Communism, the Carlyle Group and Dyncorp headquarters (we could well have included the Heritage Foundation and Grover Norquist’s office, as- you could tell me- so many other locations.

And so-on to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Medea Benjamin takes the bull horn over with a fine and detailed roasting of AIPAC- its influence over the House and Senate.

Housed in a modern building with no words upon it revealing its existence, like the Bureau of Prisons, another missed spot- it tries to remain anonymous.
“Brick by brick, wall by wall- Israeli apartheid has to fall.” “Free Palestine”.

Our tour ended at the White House, with a group photo and boisterous chants and banners and signs upheld reading “No Endless War for Empire”and “No War with Iran”.

Media coverage was scant but for TTG- DC’s Channel 5. Did I expect NPR? ? deemed by Cindy- “Nat’l Pentagon or Nat’l Petoleum Radio”.
Between Cindy’s humor and the wrath of Medea- I pronounce the tour a smashing success.

-dave eberhardt

Optional : poem read by participant, Baltimore poet: , Dave Eberhardt

- a “peace movement poem”; did you know that upon his death Tom’s blood was frozen until it was used to deface buildings at Oak Ridge when the Plowshares 3 took their action against nukes there?
Originally read in honor of my dear friend and accomplice-in the Baltimore Four blood pouring, Tom Lewis- at his memorial service from
“Hi from the Unknown Soldier. I threw away my rifle and went swimming.

You may have seen me slipping away from the column. Shsssssh.

If in a desert "theatre" I leave to go look at the night sky with all its stars- Aldeberan (sp?), Rigel, Spica, Eta Carinae.

I am a statue to the Noble Deserter in the park.”

I was inspired by artists like Tom Lewis! He had the "duende"- the spirit, the moxie. He had the will to continue in risky action after action of civil disobedience- from our blood pouring to forward into the Plowshares movement.

Want to join us? Then practice non-violence, resist war, and don't forget to move to the left.

Forgive them mother for they know not what they do.

Heroes to follow? Tom Lewis, war resisters, Dan and Phil Berrigan, "Plowshares" activists, M. Gandhi, ML King, AJ Muste, Dorothy Day, Quakers, Norman Morrison, Rachel Corrie, Brian Willson, Medea Benjamin, Cindy Sheehan.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Why Mexico’s Farmworkers Who Harvest Our Food Are on Strike

Why Mexico’s Farmworkers Who Harvest Our Food Are on Strike
Friday, March 27, 2015
Why Mexico’s Farmworkers Who Harvest Our Food Are on Strike
Sonali Kolhatkar

A farmworker holds his knife before beginning work near Holtville, Calif., earlier this year. The Mexican strike is big news among farmworker communities in the U.S. with ties to Mexico. (Photo: AP/Gregory Bull)

The green Driscoll’s label on the organic berries that I buy each week are a comforting symbol of a family-owned company that got its start in California. Sometimes the berries are marked “Product of USA,” but more often than not, they are labeled as originating in Mexico. That is because Reiter Affiliated Cos., which sells berries through its affiliate BerryMex under the Driscoll’s label, grows much of its produce in Mexico. On its website Reiter claims to be “the largest fresh, multi-berry producer in the world and the leading supplier of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in all of North America.” Now, the farmworkers picking many of those berries are on strike, demanding a change to the brutally impoverished conditions under which they live.

The strike, taking place in San Quintín, in the Mexican state of Baja California, came just in time for Farmworker Awareness Week. As many as 50,000 mostly indigenous workers have stopped harvesting produce for more than a week in protest of labor law violations. They have carried out bold actions, including blocking traffic on a major highway. About 200 workers were reportedly arrested over such actions and have complained of mistreatment at the hands of police. What they want is for their basic needs to be met, such as obtaining health care, getting overtime pay and vacation days, and being paid wages higher than the dismal $8 a day that most of them earn.

David Bacon, a longtime labor journalist and photographer and author of “The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration,” has visited the fields of San Quintín. He told me in an interview on “Uprising” that “all of the ranches ... are producing for the U.S. market, they don’t produce for the Mexican market at all. In fact,” he added, “they were started to supply the U.S. market especially with tomatoes and strawberries at a time when the only place in the United States that was growing and harvesting them was Florida.”

Years ago the sparsely populated San Quintín area was converted into an industrial agricultural center by growers who imported indigenous workers from southern states such as Oaxaca. Bacon compared the dozen or so ranches in the area to the maquiladoras, or factories, that sprang up along the Mexican side of the U.S. border. He described the conditions of the labor camps where workers live as “really awful and terrible.”

Starting in the 1970s many of Baja California’s workers began to cross the U.S. border through California into the Central Valley, and even to states like Washington. “These are all connected communities,” maintained Bacon, which is why the San Quintín strike is big news among farmworker communities in the U.S. such as Washington’s Skagit County.

Sadly, it is not very big news elsewhere in the U.S. When the strike began last week, the Los Angeles Times was the only English-language media outlet in the country to initially cover it. (Since then, a week later, The Associated Press and others have begun to report on the strike.)

L.A. Times reporter Richard Marosi deserves great credit for being one of the few mainstream reporters focusing on this under-covered issue. His December 2014 multipart exposé “Product of Mexico,” was the result of an in-depth investigation of the treatment of Mexican farmworkers at the hands of growers who distribute to U.S. markets. Marosi described “rat-infested camps,” some without functioning toilets. Workers routinely have their wages illegally withheld, and many face debt after being gouged by the overpricing of necessities sold at company stores. Pay is so low that it amounts to less than one-tenth of what U.S.-based farmworkers earn.

“The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark,” wrote Marosi. The lack of U.S. media attention is partly why the mistreatment of the workers who pick our produce continues, says Bacon, because mainstream media tend to have a blind spot when it comes to Mexico, as well as to the struggles of working-class people overall. “We eat the fruits and the vegetables that these workers are producing,” explained Bacon, “[but] the workers themselves are invisible.”

But San Quintín’s farmworkers are refusing to remain invisible any longer. Using their collective leverage, they have stopped picking produce—at the peak of the harvest season—until they can negotiate better conditions and wages for themselves. Already there are some shortages in the U.S. market being reported. Time is of the essence for negotiations to be completed as strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes start rotting unpicked in the fields.

After the mistreatment of San Quintin’s workers came to international light last December, growers pledged to fix the problems and created the International Fresh Produce Social Responsibility Alliance. But their promises for better housing, decent wages and health care have not yet materialized.

Bacon related that the workers “are negotiating with the state government,” rather than the growers directly, “because many of the conditions that they are complaining about are actual violations of Mexican law.” They want the government simply to enforce existing laws and force growers such as BerryMex, Del Cabo, Rene Produce and others to improve working conditions. They also want charges against those protesters who were arrested to be dropped. Marosi, who is in Baja California reporting on the strike, told KPBS, “They’re saying if there’s no progress, then they’re going to continue striking, and no one’s ruling out blocking the highways again.”

It is telling that the federal government in Mexico has completely ignored the strike. President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to Bacon, has “substantially weakened Mexican labor laws” through his major labor reforms after the last election. The reforms have helped employers hire temporary workers at lower wages and have been used as a “magnet to attract investment.”

Here in the U.S., the situation is not much better. Bacon clarified that “the workers in Baja California are part of a larger indigenous farmworker community that also exists in California.” The treatment of U.S.-based workers is only marginally better.

Poor treatment of the workers who pick our produce is no accident. It is a predictable outcome of a system designed to have a bottleneck controlled by fewer and fewer corporations, in which production is moved to the cheapest and most convenient locations and then exported where needed. Food is no longer a necessity—it is a commodity. And farmworkers, whether in Mexico, the U.S. or elsewhere, are exploited like any other workforce producing high-tech gadgets, mining precious metals or sewing designer clothing.

Fortunately, it has now become trendy to “know where your food comes from.” Ultimately it is the U.S. public eating the produce that Mexico’s striking farmworkers pick. We have to acknowledge that much of our food is harvested by the hands of people struggling just to survive. Bacon summed it up, saying, “we have to stop treating these workers as though they are invisible, as though their lives don’t count.”

© 2015 TruthDig

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs