Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Christian Parenti | What Nuclear Renaissance?

t r u t h o u t | 04.30

What Nuclear Renaissance?
By Christian Parenti
The Nation

12 May 2008 Issue

If you listen to the rhetoric, nuclear power is back. Smashing atoms will replace burning carbon-based coal, gas and oil. In the face of a disaster movie-like future of runaway climate change - bringing drought, floods, famine and social breakdown - carbon-free nukes are cast as the deus ex machina to save us at the last minute.

Even a few greens support nuclear power - most famously James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory. In the popular press, discussion of nuclear energy is dominated by its boosters, thanks in part to sophisticated industry PR.

In an effort to jump-start a "nuclear renaissance," the Bush Administration has pushed one package of subsidies after another. For the past two years a program of federal loan guarantees has sat waiting for utilities to build nukes. Last year's appropriations bill set the total amount on offer at $18.5 billion. And now the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill is gaining momentum and will likely accrue amendments that will offer yet more money.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expects up to thirty applications to be filed to build atomic plants; five or six of those proposals are moving through the complicated multi-stage process. But no new atomic power stations have been fully licensed or have broken ground. And two newly proposed projects have just been shelved.

The fact is, nuclear power has not recovered from the crisis that hit it three decades ago with the reactor fire at Browns Ferry, Alabama, in 1975 and the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. Then came what seemed to be the coup de grâce: Chernobyl in 1986. The last nuclear power plant ordered by a US utility, the TVA's Watts Bar 1, began construction in 1973 and took twenty-three years to complete. Nuclear power has been in steady decline worldwide since 1984, with almost as many plants canceled as completed since then.

All of which raises the question: why is the much-storied "nuclear renaissance" so slow to get rolling? Who is holding up the show? In a nutshell, blame Warren Buffett and the banks - they won't put up the cash.

"Wall street doesn't like nuclear power," says Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. The fundamental fact is that nuclear power is too expensive and risky to attract the necessary commercial investors. Even with vast government subsidies, it is difficult or almost impossible to get proper financing and insurance. The massive federal subsidies on offer will cover up to 80 percent of construction costs of several nuclear power plants in addition to generous production tax credits, as well as risk insurance. But consider this: the average two-reactor nuclear power plant is estimated to cost $10 billion to $18 billion to build. That's before cost overruns, and no US nuclear power plant has ever been delivered on time or on budget.

As Dieter Helm, an Oxford professor and leading economic expert on energy markets, has found, there never has been and never will be a nuclear power program totally dependent on the market.

Sixty years ago, the technology was swathed in manic space-age optimism - its electricity was going to be "too cheap to meter." While that wasn't true, nuclear power did serve a key role in the cold war: spent nuclear fuel rods are refined for weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium. That fact aside, rarely has so much money, scientific know-how and raw state power been marshaled to achieve so little. By some estimates, an investment of several hundred billion dollars has led to a US nuke industry of 104 operating plants - about a quarter of the global total - that produces a mere 19 percent of our electricity.

In fact, the sputtering decline of nuclear power has been one of the greatest industrial failures of modern times. In 1985 Forbes called the nuke industry "the largest managerial disaster in history."

Atomic optimism run amok caused the largest municipal bond default in US history. In 1983 Washington Public Power Supply System abandoned three nuke plants in midconstruction. The projects were plagued by massive cost overruns - one infamous section of piping was reinstalled seventeen times, safety inspections were blatantly ignored, incompetent contractors were allowed to continue work and on and on. When the project finally died, unfinished costs had ballooned to $24 billion, and the utility walked away from $2.25 billion worth of bonds.

That project, like many others, drowned in the financial riptides of rising interest rates that were the central feature of the "Volcker recession" of the early '80s. (That was when Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker smashed inflation by jacking the Fed's interest rate from 8 percent in 1979 to more than 16 percent in 1982.) But nukes were also killed by the corruption and incompetence that so often plague large state projects, like Boston 's Big Dig, the New Orleans levees, space-based weapons systems and Iraq 's reconstruction.

Another reason atomic energy is so expensive is that its accidents are potentially catastrophic, and activists have forced utilities to build in costly double and triple safety systems. Right-wing champions of atom-smashing blame prohibitive costs on neurotic fears and unnecessary safety measures. They have a point in that safety is expensive, but safety is hardly excessive - details on that in a moment.

More important is the fact that nuclear fission is a mind-bogglingly complex process, a sublime, truly Promethean technology. Let's recall: it involves smashing a subatomic particle, a neutron, into an atom of uranium-235 to release energy and more neutrons, which then smash other atoms that release more energy and so on infinitely, except the whole process is controlled and used to boil water, which spins a turbine that generates electricity.

In this nether realm, where industry and science seek to reproduce a process akin to that which occurs inside the sun, even basic tasks - like moving the fuel rods, changing spare parts - become complicated, mechanized and expensive. Atom-smashing is to coal power, or a windmill, as a Formula One race-car engine is to the mechanics of a bicycle. Thus, it costs an enormous amount of money.

Worldwide, about twenty nuclear power plants are being built, but most are in Asia and Russia and are closely linked to nuclear weapons programs. Japan and France have large nuke programs, but both countries heavily subsidize their plants, use a single design and built their fleets not to make profits but to ensure some minimum strategic energy independence and, for France, to build an atomic arsenal.

Even if a society were ready to absorb the high costs of nuclear power, it hardly makes the most sense as a tool to quickly combat climate change. These plants take too long to build. A 2004 analysis in Science by Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, of Princeton University 's Carbon Mitigation Initiative, estimates that achieving just one-seventh of the carbon reductions necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 500 parts per billion would require "building about 700 new 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants around the world." That represents a huge wave of investment that few seem willing to undertake, and it would require decades to accomplish.

None of this has stopped the Bush Administration and Congress from channeling more money toward nukes. The current push to build nukes began in 2002, when the Administration launched its Nuclear Power 2010 program, which sought to spur construction of at least three major nuclear power plants. Then came the US Energy Policy Act of 2005, which offered three major forms of subsidy. New nuclear power plants could get production tax credits, federal loan guarantees and construction insurance against cost overruns and delays - together worth $18.5 billion.

The notion that nukes make sense and are the version of green preferred by grown-ups is being conjured by a slick PR campaign. The Nuclear Energy Institute - the industry's main trade group - has retained Hill and Knowlton to run a greenwashing campaign.

Part of their strategy involves an advocacy group with the grassroots-sounding name the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. At the center of the effort are former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman and former Greenpeace co-founder turned corporate shill Patrick Moore. (Moore is also a huge champion of GMO crops, which are notorious for impoverishing farmers in developing economies and using massive amounts of pesticides.) The industry also places ghostwritten op-eds under the bylines of scientists for hire.

All the major environmental groups oppose nuclear power. But the campaign is having some impact at the grassroots: the online environmental journal Grist found that 54 percent of its readers are ready to give atomic energy a second look; 59 percent of readers feel the same way. In other words, people who understand climate change are feeling downright desperate.

But even the Oz-like magic of corporate spin, public subsidies and presidential speechifying have their limits. In late December the man whose name is synonymous with sound money turned his back on nuclear power.

Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Company scrapped plans to build a plant in Payette, Idaho, because no matter how many times its managers ran the numbers (and they spent $13 million researching it), they found that it simply made no sense from an economic standpoint.

South Carolina Electric and Gas has also suspended its two planned reactors, citing costs as the key factor. But the company says, "We remain very upbeat about the future of nuclear power."

If a nuke plant breaks ground soon, it will likely be NRG Energy's double-reactor plant, set to be erected in South Texas . But that one has also been delayed.

The fact that new nukes make little economic sense does not mean that old nukes are not profitable. In fact, these nightmarishly complex radioactive boondoggles have recently been turned into cash cows. Utilities achieved this remarkable transformation the old-fashioned way - they used socialism.

Beginning in the 1990s, most American energy markets were deregulated one state, one region at a time. In the process many old utilities were broken up into different firms: some generated power, others sold it, still others handled transmission. One of the crucial details of deregulation was allowing utilities to pass on to rate payers the "stranded costs" - the outstanding mortgage payments of their nuclear power plants.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this occurred in California . In 1996 the State Assembly passed legislation - written by utility lobbyists - that allowed Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric to hold rates high as prices dropped nationally. The two utilities were on target to receive $28 billion over four years. This money would pay off the stranded costs of the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre atomic plants. Halfway through the deal the California power crisis hit and deregulation was put on hold - utilities were forced to stop selling off their assets, and third-party speculation in energy markets was halted. But the state floated bonds to mop up the remaining stranded costs.

Similar deals were struck across the country. Once unburdened of old debts, the nuke plants - now having relatively low overhead costs - became valuable assets. A new generation of firms began buying them up. By 2002 ten companies owned seventy of the nation's 104 reactors. Among

Many of the old plants went for a song. A particularly disturbing example of this is Vermont Yankee, a thirty-five-year-old reactor purchased by Entergy seven years ago for a mere $180 million. That's about half the price it would cost to build an equal-sized coal plant or wind farm.

Now Entergy is trying to run the power station as hard and as long as possible. In 2006 it received approval to increase power output at the plant by 20 percent. This "uprate" means the plant operates with 20 percent more pressure, heat and flow. And in just one year it earned Entergy $100 million in profits. Over the last decade, almost all US nuclear power plants have received uprates, but few match Vermont Yankee's full-throttle, 120 percent capacity.

Just after the uprate, one of Vermont Yankee's twenty-two cooling towers collapsed. That's right - it crumbled and fell over. Entergy officials said the collapse "baffled" them. The plant's spokesman, Rob Williams, admitted that "our inspections were not effective enough." Reached by phone, Gregory Jaczko, a commissioner at the NRC, admitted that the collapse "didn't look good." But he went on to reassure the public that the plant is essentially safe.

Now Entergy is petitioning the NRC to extend its operating license so that it can run the old plant for twenty years longer than was intended. Nationally, forty-eight facilities have had their licenses extended. In fact, despite critics' arguments that aging plants pose serious dangers, no license renewal requests have ever been denied.

"The NRC falls all over itself to facilitate the industry," says Ray Shadis, a consultant who has worked for both environmental groups and on NRC panels and research projects. The Project on Government Oversight and other watchdog groups point to a revolving door between the commission's staff and the nuclear industry. To take just one example, in 2007 former commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield joined the Shaw Group after spending his last months on the commission pushing to ease restrictions for precisely the type of construction activities that were the Shaw Group's specialty.

Diana Sidebotham, an antinuclear activist in Putney, Vermont, twenty miles north of the Vermont Yankee plant, thinks Entergy and the NRC are courting disaster. In 1971 Sidebotham helped found the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, and she has been trying to shut down nuclear plants ever since. Her hillside farm looks out over the ridge lines of the Connecticut River Valley .

"One of these days a plant will blow," says Sidebotham, with just a touch of a genteel but steely New England accent. "And when it does, it will cause a great many deaths and widespread suffering, not to mention extraordinary economic damage."

Accidents do happen. In 2002 the Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant in Ohio was forced to close for two years after inspectors found a football-sized corrosion hole in the reactor's six-inch-thick steel cap. The plant was very close to a major accident. Repairs cost $600 million.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he opposes any more relicensing of old nuclear plants. His rival Hillary Clinton has stopped just short of saying that. However, as was reported by the New York Times, Obama has close ties to the nuclear industry, particularly the Illinois-based Exelon, which has contributed at least $227,000 to his campaigns. Two of his top advisers have links to the firm, including his chief strategist, David Axelrod, who was a consultant for Exelon. Obama voted yes on the 2005 Energy bill, which lavished subsidies on oil, coal, ethanol and nukes; Senator Clinton, like almost half the Senate Democrats, voted against it. The Obama campaign says that as President he would not cut nuclear subsidies, only that he would boost subsidies for green power.

Activists like Sidebotham say the real issue is not how to build more nukes but how to handle the old, decrepit plants and their huge stockpiles of radioactive waste. Most ofspewing highly poisonous radioactive isotopes far and wide. This spent fuel will be hot for 10,000 years.

Since 1978 the Energy Department has been studying Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a possible permanent repository for atomic waste. But intense opposition has held up those efforts. In the meantime, the partially burned uranium is stored at the old power plants, in pools of water called "spent fuel pools." Lying near great cities, on crucial river systems, in small rural towns, these pools are potentially a far greater risk than a reactor meltdown. Scenarios for how terrorists might attack and drain them range from driving a truck bomb to crashing an explosive-laden plane into them.

Just after 9/11, when security at nuke plants was supposed to be high, lead pellets started raining down on the containment structure and guard shack at Maine Yankee, in Wiscasset. (The plant has since been decommissioned.) A group of four men in camouflage, armed and intent on killing, had infiltrated into a swamp and were firing weapons from somewhere in the reeds. This "cell" turned out to be four local duck hunters who had no idea they were hitting the power plant.

Their foray against innocent mallards proved just how easy an attack could be. Activists demanded, and got, a safety review, which led to a shockingly blunt NRC document called "Report on Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk," or NUREG-1738. The report found that containment structures, such as that at Vermont Yankee, "present no substantial obstacle to aircraft penetration." According to the NRC, a fire in the spent fuel pool at a reactor like Vermont Yankee (which stores 488 metric tons of spent fuel) would cause 25,000 fatalities over a distance of 500 miles if evacuation was 95 percent effective. But that evacuation rate would be almost impossible to achieve. The NRC claims to have the threat of terrorism under control, but for reasons of national security it can't explain how. And after 9/11 it admitted, "At this time, we could not exclude the possibility that a jetliner flying into a containment structure could damage the facility and cause a release of radiation that could impact public health."

Humanity's Faustian bargain with atomic power is a story still in its early stages. No one knows how long nuclear facilities will last or what will happen to them during future social upheavals - and there are bound to be a few of those during the next 10,000 years.

This much seems clear: a handful of firms might soak up huge federal subsidies and build one or two overpriced plants. While a new administration might tighten regulations, public safety will continue to be menaced by problems at new as well as older plants. But there will be no massive nuclear renaissance. Talk of such a renaissance, however, helps keep people distracted, their minds off the real project of developing wind, solar, geothermal and tidal kinetics to build a green power grid.


Christian Parenti, a frequent contributor to The Nation on international affairs, is the author of The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (New Press).

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Marie-Beatrice Baudet | Six Crises That Jostle the World

t r u t h o u t | 04.30

Six Crises That Jostle the World
By Marie-Béatrice Baudet
Le Monde

Monday 28 April 2008

Where will history situate the global crisis - the symptoms of which are simultaneously financial, monetary, economic, environmental, and food- and energy-related - which the planet has been undergoing since mid-2007 and which has accelerated this first half of 2008? What will its amplitude on the Richter scale of economic and social earthquakes be? Stronger than that of the Great Depression of 1929? Similar to that of the 1970s, when, just before the first oil shock of 1973 and the second-half-1974 recession, the scientists, industrialists and economists who founded the Club of Rome in 1968 called for an end to growth in the 1972 Meadows Report in order to avoid the exhaustion of the planet's resources between now and the end of the twenty-first century?

Caution is in order. If you doubt it, reread the Conseil d'analyse économique [Economic Analysis Council] (CAE) report, "Financial Crises," published in 2004, the three authors of which - Robert Boyer, Mario Dehove and Dominique Plihon - remind us at every possible opportunity that "financial crises punctuate the history of capitalism," often taking the form of "twin" (banking and exchange rate), even multiple, crises when stock market and economic activity indices collapse. They also highlight the long-standing interdependent character of markets. On top of that, as they explain, crises have been more numerous since the desertion of the Bretton-Woods accords in 1971, which concluded the end of the fixed-rate exchange system begun at the end of the Second World War. Then, as Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, associate professor at the Ecole d'économie de Paris, insists, "when one tries to quantify the scale of a crisis, one must be careful to distinguish which mechanisms are at work and which adjustments will ultimately occur." With respect to the present crisis' landing, in spite of the downward revisions performed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), global growth will mark a 3.5 to 4 percent progression, thanks to the Chinese and Indian engines, as long as they also don't slow down too much. "So, for the moment, we are not confronting a radical economic crisis," Mr. Hautcoeur resumes. An opinion shared by Philippe Chalmin, professor at Paris-Dauphine University , specializing in raw materials: "It's necessary to take a broader view and to put things into perspective. The present intensity is great, but remember the 1970s crisis: then we were all announcing the advent of a new international economic order."

On the other hand, the manifold nature of the current crisis tests economists and historians, who eagerly describe it as exceptional. Not necessarily for the same reasons, but exceptional nonetheless. So Mr. Chalmin confirms never having seen "such volatility on the exchange and raw materials markets." Also, "The habitual reference to the 1974 crisis seems altogether out-dated," he observes. "January 2, oil cost $100 a barrel - which was greeted as an unbelievable record - and April 25, it's already at $117.60!" For Jean-Paul Betbèze, chief economist for the Crédit agricole group, even though there was the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000, "we are confronting the first big crisis of the twenty-first century." According to Betbèze, this crisis is not on the classic pattern of an American (or some other region of the globe) crisis that then goes on to contaminate such and such other part of the planet. "We are dealing with an unprecedented pattern, that is, the conjunction of differentiated and interdependent crises. In the United States, it's the crisis of an over-indebted country; in Europe, it's the crisis of a region where the member states have still not resolved their political governance, which prevents them from conducting a concerted economic strategy; and, in emerging countries, we are witnessing, or will witness, a classic crisis of overheating and growth."

On top of that, insists Mr. Betbèze, "the present game between all the actors in all these crises is non-cooperative. So the fall of the dollar doesn't help the Europeans, who see their exports becoming more expensive. As for the Chinese, they refuse to revalue their currency, the yuan, which would allow Western countries to regain a competitive edge."

Pierre Bezbakh, lecturer at Paris-Dauphine University, part of whose work relates to the history of crises, confirms this more-complicated-than-ever interdependency: "The countries of the South are no longer in the position of the dominated; they are now integrated into global competition. As for the former countries of the East, they too have converted to market rules. So you have a multiplicity of actors whose interests are far from convergent." Along the lines of Patrick Artus, chief economist for Natixis, and journalist Marie-Paule Virard, who published "Le capitalisme est en train de s'autodétruire [Capitalism Is In the Process of Self-destructing]," with La Découverte in 2005, Mr. Bezbakh thinks that the present crisis represents "a complete rupture of society. Capitalism is no longer on the path to development, but on the path to liquidation. The Western powers can no longer make others pay the costs of the crisis, as they did in 1929 with the drop in raw material prices. We're witnessing a process of self-destruction, either of the system itself or of its operation." And the present crisis will be the strongest signature event in that process.

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Corporate Vultures Lurk Behind the World Food Crisis

Corporate Vultures Lurk Behind the World Food Crisis

By Anuradha Mittal, AlterNet
Posted on April 29, 2008, Printed on April 30, 2008

UN agencies are meeting in Berne to tackle the world food price crisis. Heads of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), including Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank (former U.S. trade representative) and Pascal Lamy, WTO's Director General, are among the attendees. Will the "battle plan" emerging from the Swiss capital, a charming city with splendid sandstone buildings and far removed from the grinding poverty and hunger which has reduced people to eating mud cakes in Haiti and scavenging garbage heaps, be more of the same -- promote free trade to deal with the food crisis?

The growing social unrest against food prices has forced governments to take policy measures such as export bans, to fulfill domestic needs. This has created uproar among policy circles as fear of trade being undermined sets in. "The food crisis of 2008 may become a challenge to globalization," exclaims The Economist in its April 17, 2008 issue. Not surprisingly then, the "Doha Development Round" which has been in a stalemate since the collapse of the 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun, largely due to the hypocrisy of agricultural polices of the rich nations, is being resuscitated as a solution to rising food prices.

Speaking at the Center for Global Development, Zoellick passionately argued that the time was "now or never" for breaking the Doha Round impasse and reaching a global trade deal. Pascal Lamy has argued, "At a time when the world economy is in rough waters, concluding the Doha Round can provide a strong anchor." Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the IMF, has claimed: "No one should forget that all countries rely on open trade to feed their populations. [...] Completing the Doha round would play a critically helpful role in this regard, as it would reduce trade barriers and distortions and encourage agricultural trade."

Preaching at the altar of free market to deal with the current crisis requires a degree of official amnesia. It was through the removal of tariff barriers, made possible by the international trade agreements, that allowed rich nations such as the U.S. to dump heavily subsidized farm surplus in developing countries while destroying their agricultural base and undermining local food production. In Cameroon, lowering tariff protection to 25 percent increased poultry imports by about six-fold while import surges wiped out 70 percent of Senegal's poultry industry. Similarly reduction of rice tariffs from 100 to 20 percent in Ghana as a result of the structural adjustment policies enforced by the World Bank, increased rice imports from 250,000 tons in 1998 to 415,150 tons in 2003. In all, 66 percent of rice producers recorded negative returns leading to loss of employment. Vegetable oil imports in Mozambique shrank domestic production from 21,000 tons in 1981 to 3,500 in 2002, negatively impacting some 108,000 small-holder households growing oilseeds.

Developing countries had an overall agricultural trade surplus of almost $7 billion per year in the 1960s. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), gross imports of food by developing countries grew with trade liberalization, turning into a food trade deficit of more than $11 billion by 2001 with a cereal import bill for Low Income Food Deficit Countries reaching over $38 billion in 2007/2008.

Erosion of the agricultural bases of developing countries has increased hunger among their farmers while destroying their ability to meet their food needs. The 1996 World Food Summit 's commitment to reduce the number of hungry people -- 815 million then -- by half by 2015 had become a far-fetched idea by its 10th anniversary. U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, reported last June that nearly 854 million people in the world-one in every six human beings-are gravely undernourished.

So on who's behalf are the heads of the IFIs promoting the conclusion of the Doha Round and further liberalization of agriculture. While Investors Chronicle in its April 2008 feature story, "Crop Boom Winners" explores how investors can gain exposure to the dramatic turnaround in food and farmland prices, a new report from GRAIN, Making a Killing from the Food Crisis, shows Cargill, the world's biggest grain trader, achieved an 86 percent increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of 2008; Bunge had a 77 percent increase in profits during the last quarter of 2007; ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, registered a 67 percent per cent increase in profits in 2007. Behind the chieftains of the capitalist system are powerful transnational corporations, traders, and speculators who trade food worldwide, determine commodity prices, create and then manipulate shortages and surpluses to their advantage, and are the real beneficiaries of international trade agreements.

The vultures of greed are circling the carcasses of growing hunger and poverty as another 100 million join the ranks of the world's poorest - nearly 3 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Agriculture is fundamental to the well-being of all people, both in terms of access to safe and nutritious food and as the foundation of healthy communities, cultures, and environment. The answer to the current crisis must be centered on small-scale farmers producing for local and regional markets. It is time for the developing countries to uphold the rights of their people to food sovereignty and break with decades of ill-advised policies that have failed to benefit their people.

Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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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]

"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

Ploughshares Action in Aotearoa/New Zealand on NSA ECHELON System

Ploughshares Action in Aotearoa/New Zealand on NSA ECHELON System


They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation; and there shall be no more training for war. Isaiah 2/4

Waihopai Spy Base Penetrated

On 30 April 2008, we entered the Waihopai Spy Base near Blenheim. Our group, including a Dominican Priest, temporarily closed the base by padlocking the gates and proceeded to deflate one of the large domes covering two satellite dishes.

At 6am we cut through three security fences surrounding the domes - these are armed with razor wire, infrared motion sensors and a high voltage electrified fence.

Once inside we used sickles to cut one of the two 30-metre white domes, built a shrine and knelt in prayer to remember the people killed by United States military activity.

We have financed our activities through personal savings, additional part-time employment and a small interest-free loan from one of our supporters.

We are responding to the Bush administration’s admission that intelligence gathering is the most important tool in the so-called War on Terror. This war will have no end until citizens of the world refuse to let it continue. The ECHELON spy network including Waihopai, is an important part of the US government’s global spy network and we have come in the name of the Prince of Peace to close it down.
The base is funded by New Zealand tax payers and located on New Zealand soil which makes New Zealand a target through our association with the UKUSA intelligence cooperation agreement.

Five years ago the Clark government opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq . Yet at the same time the Bush administration was using the National Security Agency’s ECHELON system, of which Waihopai is an integral component, to spy on UN Security Council members so it could more easily swing them in favour of an invasion.

There have been over 100 Ploughshares actions over the last twenty years around the world. Ploughshares direct actions are linked through the common factors of: entry to locations connected to military activity, Christian prayers and most involve some form of property destruction.
- - - - -
About Waihopai & ECHELON

Green MP Keith Locke is quoted as saying that the base has cost New Zealand up to NZ$500million since 1989. The base intercepts electronic communications throughout the Pacific region including New Zealand and is often staffed by personnel from US agencies.

In 1996 researcher Nicky Hager published an expose on Waihopai and New Zealand ’s strong links to the USA-led ECHELON network of six similar spy stations around the world. The United Nations launched an investigation in 2003 to claims that ECHELON had been used by the US government to eavesdrop on UN diplomats and Security Council members. A report published in 2000 showed that ECHELON had also been used by the US to gain commercial advantage for US corporations.

Information gathered at Waihopai is transferred to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in Wellington and fed unseen directly to Washington DC .

Ciaron O'Reilly

"The poor tell us who we are,
The prophets tell us who we could be,
So we hide the poor,
And kill the prophets."
Phil Berrigan

Cheney lawyer claims Congress has no authority over vice-president

Cheney lawyer claims Congress has no authority over vice-president

• Elana Schor,

• Tuesday April 29 2008

The lawyer for US vice-president Dick Cheney claimed today that the Congress lacks any authority to examine his behaviour on the job.

The exception claimed by Cheney's counsel came in response to requests from congressional Democrats that David Addington, the vice-president's chief of staff, testify about his involvement in the approval of interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo Bay .

Ruling out voluntary cooperation by Addington, Cheney lawyer Kathryn Wheelbarger said Cheney's conduct is "not within the [congressional] committee's power of inquiry".

"Congress lacks the constitutional power to regulate by law what a vice-president communicates in the performance of the vice president's official duties, or what a vice president recommends that a president communicate," Wheelbarger wrote to senior aides on Capitol Hill.

The exception claimed by Cheney's office recalls his attempt last year to evade rules for classified documents by deeming the vice-president's office a hybrid branch of government - both executive and legislative.

The Democratic congressman who is investigating the legal framework for the violent interrogation of terrorist suspects, John Conyers, has asked Addington and several other top Bush administration lawyers to testify. Thus far all have claimed their deliberations are privileged.

However, Philippe Sands QC, law professor at University College , London , has agreed to appear in Washington and discuss the revelations in Torture Team, his new book on the consequences of the brutal tactics used at Guantanamo . Excerpts from Torture Team were previewed exclusively by the Guardian earlier this month.

Two witnesses sought by Conyers, former US attorney general John Ashcroft and former US justice department lawyer John Yoo, claimed that their involvement in civil lawsuits related to harsh interrogations allows them to avoid appearing before Congress.

In letters to attorneys representing Ashcroft and Yoo, Conyers shot down their arguments and indicated he would pursue subpoenas if their clients did not testify at his May 6 hearing.

"I am aware of no basis for the remarkable claim that pending civil litigation somehow immunises an individual from testifying before Congress," Conyers wrote.

Conyers, who chairs the House of Representatives judiciary committee, also questioned the reasoning of Cheney's lawyer in a letter to Addington.

"It is hard to know what aspect of the invitation [to you] has given rise to concern that the committee might seek to regulate the vice president's recommendations to the president," Conyers wrote.

"Especially since far more obvious potential subjects of legislation are plentiful," he added, mentioning several: US laws on the use of torture on terrorist suspects, the 15-year-old War Crimes Act, and the rules that allowed the Bush White House to receive legal advice from a specialised office within the justice department. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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

"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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Half of Vets Suffering Brain and Mind Injuries Go Untreated, But Pentagon Pretends Nothing's Going on

Half of Vets Suffering Brain and Mind Injuries Go Untreated, But Pentagon Pretends Nothing's Going on

By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Posted on April 29, 2008, Printed on April 29, 2008

The silverbacks are grooming and posturing at the microphones.

Cammo and khaki, wall to wall. Bob Ireland, an Air Force psychiatrist and consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General, welcomes the audience to the Department of Defense's sixth annual Suicide Prevention Conference and makes jokes about how suicide prevention has been the DoD's bastard child, homeless and parentless.

In January 2008, the child nobody wanted finally managed to find a home. The Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury assumed responsibility for an issue and an injury that the military has hidden and denied for generations.

It's been left up to Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, the senior psychiatry policy analyst for the Air Force surgeon general, to report on the mental healthcare practices that have been developed for those on active duty. Kerry Knox, director of the VA's Center for Excellence on Suicide Prevention, was scheduled to share with him these introductory remarks, but is not in attendance. Apologies are made, but no one mentions how obviously difficult it would be for her to get into the self-congratulatory HOOAH! spirit of this conference when her boss just got busted big time for hiding VA suicide statistics, not just to the media but to Congress as well.

"Shh!" Ira Katz, the VA's mental health director, coyly began an email to the agency's chief communications director -- and inconveniently made public just this week. "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"

Ach, Katz, you little schemer.

In another email, he acknowledged that an average of 18 war veterans manage to kill themselves each day -- five of whom were under VA care at the time.

OK, Katz is toast. Democrats are already calling for him to resign, which seems rather mild considering how many lives were damaged by his attempts at damage control. But do the math: That's 12,000 veterans a year -- VA patients -- trying to kill themselves. On top of that, of the 6,570 who on average succeed each year, 1,825 of them are also patients at the VA. How is possible not to mention that kind of news at a conference on military suicides?

This must have been a challenging week for the conference organizers. How to deal with the Katz e-mails and the new RAND Corporation report, which is devastating in its description of DoD and VA failures. And the RAND report can't be blown off as the ravings of a bunch of leftists with an anti war agenda; RAND conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, and the U.S. intelligence community.

The report revealed that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan -- that's 300,000 men and women -- have symptoms of post-traumatic stress or major depression. Of those, only slightly more than half have sought VA treatment. Soldiers say that hesitation to seek help arises from fear that it will harm their careers.

But word gets around. Even among those who do seek help, RAND estimates that only about half receive treatment their researchers consider "minimally adequate." So why bother.

The study also estimates that about 320,000 service members may have experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment, but that just 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for that injury, despite DoD's policy that every soldier returning from Iraq be screened.

I would, of course, be very interested in DoD's response to all of these accusations. At the risk of oversimplification, whatever it is they are doing isn't working. This would be an obvious moment for a little humility and perhaps even an ideal audience to petition for new ideas.

Instead, Pflanz insists: "DoD has been living suicide prevention for a decade ... After bombs-on-target, the next most important thing is suicide prevention. I overuse that phrase," he admits, "but I think it drives home the point that we really do live and breathe suicide prevention."

I am taping this drivel, only listening with half an ear, and I'm reading about the trial that began Monday in San Francisco: Veterans' groups are asking U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti, a World War II U.S. Army veteran, to order the VA to start providing immediate treatment for suicidal veterans and prompt care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress. Government lawyers argue that the courts don't have the authority to tell VA how it should operate. That too would seem pertinent at a conference like this, but the trial hasn't been mentioned either.

What brings my attention back to the room is a question from a man sitting at the end of my row of seats. In response to some of Pflanz' brightly colored pie charts indicating what percentage of what demographic of soldiers are killing themselves, this man has asked whether or not those pie wedges take into account multiple deployments. "That information is redacted," says Pflanz definitively. What!?! The questioner smiles ruefully. He's not surprised. I sense a friendly and move over to sit next to him.

James Conover is a three-tour Vietnam vet, a behavioral health specialist who has worked with veterans for 30 years. After he got out of the service, his life fell apart, and he admits that before he got it back together he seriously contemplated throwing himself off the seventh floor balcony of his building. James takes all this very personally.

Emboldened by my new ally, I ask if any of the services take into account what happens to their members after they come home. Are they counting their veteran suicides? "We have no information on that," he answers and refers me to Kerry Knox, who, as I mentioned before, is not present.

And as today's news also includes a story about the administration's decision to renege on their promise to end stop-loss, I ask if their studies take that into account. "There's no easy access to that information."

It's utterly fantastic -- all this stuff happening at the same time, all of it intimately related to the purported subject of this conference -- and all of it completely invisible.

Pflanz moves on to leadership. "The greatest impact on preventing suicide in the military is by, whenever they have a commander's call, talking about healthy behavior, encouraging healthy behavior -- and coming across as if they really mean it."

James snorts. "Leaders. In Iraq , they call the behavioral health center 'the pink house.' Commanders tell soldiers to get on down to the pink house."

So far, presenters from each service branch have included overcoming the stigma of accessing mental health services on their list of things that need to be improved. And so far, no one has said anything about how they propose to do that, but surely calling mental health services "pink" isn't a positive contribution.

On a break in the presentations, I asked a senior chaplain if it might not be an effective leadership move for some of the senior command to set an example for their troops by admitting that they, like everyone else, have moments of weakness -- and that they have found it useful to reach out for help in those moments. He looked astonished and then amused by my innocence, and pronounced, "He'd never make flag."

(Steven Colbert would be glad to know that the background of choice for all the multicolored pies and mind-numbing numbers is a tight headshot of a beady-eyed eagle backed by a waving flag, an eagle I can't look at anymore without thinking of his son, Steagle. )

Walter Morales is the Army's suicide prevention manager. The suicide statistics in the Army are the most disturbing. At the end of 2007, the rate for completed suicides was 18.4 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980. The civilian suicide rate, which by the way does not reflect a population that is both young and screened for health, was 11 per 100,000, according to the latest figures from the CDC. And new Army figures show that 2,100 active-duty soldiers, Army alone, tried to commit suicide in 2007. That's about six a day. Before the Iraq war began, that figure was less than one suicide attempt a day.

Morales presents the Army's new initiatives. First there is ACE. ACE is a playing card, the ace of hearts to be exact. Printed on the back of the card is Ask your buddy. Care for your buddy. Escort your buddy. This card is used "Armywide," Morales boasts. "It plays a big role." But the cards are no longer in inventory. Maybe four weeks from now.

Commanders, who will be responsible for the Suicide Prevention Task Force, will soon be supplied with a "tool kit." This is a slightly larger card, but not so large, Morales points out, that it won't fit in a hat band. It is printed with a checklist of warning signs and risk factors. Exposure to combat is not listed. And unfortunately, these cards are only available on line at the moment. In the meantime, Walter has received 48 entries in a suicide awareness poster contest.

There is one truth everyone here agrees on: The No. 1 stressor for soldiers of all stripes is failed relationships. Job-related problems, legal problems, financial problems each get a small slice of the colored pies, but the real culprits are us: the wives and husbands, the girlfriends and boyfriends, and of course the families. Exposure to combat? Not there.

A question: In the absence of combat trauma, how many broken hearts end in suicide?

This is not the first conference I have attended where what was happening in the halls was far more informative than the official fare. I'll bet that some of the topics I missed hearing about were being run through the rumor mills around the refreshment tables, and that, as an obvious outsider, I was excluded. But this was a conference that was supposed to be addressing the tragic number of American soldiers and veterans who were ostensibly screened before they were allowed to enlist, and who, having been trained and used and dismissed by the various branches of the military, cannot find ways to live with what they have learned about themselves and their country.

Instead, a monstrous wrong is being done to our soldiers and veterans. The complete failure of any and all policies -- not to mention poster contests -- to put an end to this epidemic of death went entirely unacknowledged.

According to the RAND report, the new Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury and the new VA Center for Excellence on Suicide Prevention enter could provide "a historic opportunity to change the culture of psychological health within the military." But, warned Terri Tanielian, one of the lead researchers on the project, "(i)t's going to take system-level changes -- not a series of small band-aids -- to improve treatments for these illnesses."

What was truly heartbreaking and frightening about this conference was that everything I saw presented looked like a band-aid, a mere cover-up for a wound that desperately needs serious attention. Either they don't know that, or they don't care -- or they were saving the good stuff for another audience.

Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam Veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her website is Flashback.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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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]

"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

Witness: Fundraiser Spoke of Plan to Fire US Attorney

t r u t h o u t | 04.29

Witness: Fundraiser Spoke of Plan to Fire US Attorney
By Mike Robinson
The Associated Press

Monday 28 April 2008

Chicago - A government witness testified Monday that a prominent political fundraiser for the governor told him three years ago that Chicago 's chief federal prosecutor would be fired and replaced by someone chosen by then-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Restaurant owner Elie Maloof testified that Antoin "Tony" Rezko told him that the person picked to replace Patrick J. Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney in Chicago would end a federal investigation into corruption under Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"The federal prosecutor would no longer be the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald would be eliminated," Maloof said at Rezko's fraud trial.

Prosecutors said last week that former Illinois Finance Authority executive director Ali Ata, who is set to take the witness stand as early as Thursday, will testify Rezko told him of a plan to replace Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve that Ata would say he talked with Rezko about such efforts on the part of Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander and former presidential adviser Karl Rove.

Kjellander denied he had ever discussed such a thing. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said his client does not remember Kjellander ever talking to him about Fitzgerald and is certain he never spoke to anyone at the White House about removing Fitzgerald.

U.S. attorneys are nominated by the president but traditionally are chosen by the senior senator of the president's party.

Maloof's testimony Monday was the first time Hastert's name came up during Rezko's trial.

An aide to Hastert, Brad Hahn, said Hastert had never heard anything about a plan to dismiss Fitzgerald. He said the testimony was puzzling.

"We can't begin to speculate on where this comes from or what is being suggested," Hahn said.

Rezko, 52, is charged with scheming to split a $1.5 million bribe from a contractor who wanted state permission to build a hospital in the McHenry County suburb of Crystal Lake .

He is also charged with scheming to pressure kickbacks out of firms that sought to do business with a state teachers pension fund.

Rezko denies taking part in such a scheme.

Prosecutors say he raised enormous sums for Blagojevich's campaign and as a result gained the political clout to manipulate big-money decisions on hospital construction and which firms were allowed to do business with the pension fund. Blagojevich is not charged with wrongdoing.

The trial got under way March 3 and the prosecution case is now in its final stages. The court is giving the jury days off on Tuesday and Wednesday and the government tentatively plans to rest early next week.

Since taking over as U.S. attorney in September 2001, Fitzgerald has launched a vigorous attack on corruption, sending former Gov. George Ryan and a number of other political insiders to federal prison.

Last year, the firings of several U.S. attorneys around the country provoked a backlash on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers questioned whether the moves were politically motivated. Alberto Gonzales later resigned as attorney general.

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Ex-Prosecutor Tells of Push by Pentagon on Detainees

There are 266 days until Jan. 20, 2009. The New York Times

April 29, 2008

Ex-Prosecutor Tells of Push by Pentagon on Detainees


GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — The former chief prosecutor here took the witness stand on Monday on behalf of a detainee and testified that top Pentagon officials had pressured him in deciding which cases to prosecute and what evidence to use.

The prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis of the Air Force, testified that Pentagon officials had interfered with his work for political reasons and told him that charges against well-known detainees “could have real strategic political value” and that there could be no acquittals.

His testimony completed one of the more unusual transformations in the contentious history of Guantánamo. Colonel Davis, who is on active duty as a senior Air Force official and was one of the Pentagon’s most vocal advocates of the Guantánamo military commissions, has become one of the most visible critics of the system.

Testifying about his assertions for the first time, Colonel Davis said a senior Pentagon official who oversaw the military commissions, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann of the Air Force Reserve, reversed a decision he had made and insisted that prosecutors proceed with evidence derived through waterboarding of detainees and other aggressive interrogation methods that critics call torture.

Called to the stand by a Navy defense lawyer and testifying before a military judge, Colonel Davis said General Hartmann directed him last year to push war crimes cases here quickly. He said the general was trying to give the system legitimacy before a new president took office. He testified that General Hartmann referred to the long difficulties the Pentagon had had in operating the military commissions and said, “If we don’t get some cases going before the election, this thing’s going to implode.”

Spokesmen for the Pentagon and General Hartmann declined to comment on Monday, saying that the questioning was continuing before the military judge. In the past, they have said that they disagreed with some of Colonel Davis’s assertions.

The extraordinary testimony featured Colonel Davis, in uniform and perspiring slightly in an air-conditioned courtroom, being cross-examined by his successor, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army. The two uniformed officers faced each other with natural military politeness, giving way occasionally to a brisk question or stiff response.

The awkward moment of one military officer’s taking on another occurred because lawyers for a detainee facing war crimes charges called Colonel Davis to the stand after he had given news interviews criticizing General Hartmann and the running of the military commissions.

The defense lawyers for the detainee, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, once a driver for Osama bin Laden, said Colonel Davis’s contentions amounted to unlawful influence over the prosecution.

In his cross-examination, Colonel Morris did not attack Colonel Davis wholesale. But he had Colonel Davis acknowledge that he had filed the charges against Mr. Hamdan himself and that he never had concerns about any of the charges or the way the evidence was obtained.

In his time as chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris asked, had not Colonel Davis endorsed every specification of every charge against the man prosecutors say helped Mr. bin Laden elude capture after the Sept. 11 attacks?

“I never had any doubts,” Colonel Davis said, “about Mr. Hamdan’s guilt.”.

Although Colonel Davis completed his testimony, the hearing is to continue on Tuesday.

Mr. Hamdan sat quietly as the small drama unfolded Monday afternoon, listening to a Yemeni translation through earphones.

But in the morning, he briefly brought the proceedings to a halt. He appeared in court looking disheveled and obtained permission to address the judge.

His lawyers have said that he is suffering depression and is so warped by years in what they call solitary confinement here that he cannot focus on his case.

“My question is,” Mr. Hamdan said, “the animal has rights or not? But the human being doesn’t have rights?”

For a moment, Mr. Hamdan said he was dismissing his lawyers and rose to leave the courtroom.

The Navy military judge, Keith Allred, said he knew Mr. Hamdan was upset about the conditions of his confinement and reminded him that his lawyers had scheduled a legal challenge on that question that might be heard before the trial is scheduled to begin in late May.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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

"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