Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who are the Rebels in Libya?

I am reprinting a blog ("Green Resistance") that comes, I believe, from Lebanon. I have been following it with pleasure. It is the first bit of information about the Libyan resistance with any substance that I have seen.  But I am, of course, in  no position to check the information.

"Who are these rebels in Libya? These rebels - this revolution - that is being touted quite loudly by New TV (among others). Particularly, who are the leaders amongst those rebels?

From the excellent Institute for Public Accuracy:

From Vijay Prashad, Author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, we have this  examination of the rebels:

"When one supports an intervention, one should be very careful to see whose intervention we are supporting. Is this on behalf of those young people, the workers and others? Or is it on behalf of NATO and the Libyans it may be attempting to install?

“So, for instance, when we talk about the rebel leadership in Benghazi, one should keep in mind that the two principal military leaders, one of whom was a former interior minister in the Gadafi regime, Abdel Fatah Younis. And the second, Khalifah Hifler, was a general who led Libyan troops in Chad in the 1980s and was then taken up with the Libyan National Salvation Front, went off to live in Vienna, Virginia, for 30 years, about a ten minute drive from Langley [where the CIA is headquartered], and returned to Benghazi to, in a sense, I think, hijack the rebellion on behalf of the forces of reaction. In addition to NATO members, it’s fundamentally Qatar and the UAE, the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council that is behind this. That’s the principal Arab support for the Libyan intervention and is the same force putting down the uprising in Bahrain. You had the Saudi Prince Faisal Al Turki talking about the GCC becoming perhaps a NATO of the Gulf region. So part of this intervention is precisely to clamp down on the ‘Arab Spring,’ to take attention away, as well, from Bahrain and other places, rather than a part of the Arab Spring — exactly the opposite of what the U.S. administration is claiming.”

And from W. Randy Short, an independent researcher who holds a doctorate in African studies from Howard University

“As part of my research on Libya, I came across a WikiLeaks document that seems to have been largely overlooked with all the fuss about personalities surrounding the WikiLeaks disclosures. The document shows extreme U.S. interest in the prospect of a rebellion in the eastern part of Libya. … In terms of sources of information, possibly the most dangerous aspect of what we are currently seeing has been the role of al-Jazeera. It played a very positive role in Egypt, but when things came to Libya it did a complete 180. The sheikdom of Qatar — which funds al-Jazeera — is the only nation in the Arab League that is actually participating in the military attacks. Also, it has signed an oil deal with the Libyan rebels. So if Gadafi wins, an oil deal for Qatar goes bad.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bombing Libya 

The bombing of Libya was controversial even before it began. 
To be sure, there are many questions. What is the precise goal of this military action? Who is in charge? When will the military action end? In the United States there are additional questions about Pres. Obama's initiating this action without consulting with Congress, let alone getting a declaration of war against Libya.

Opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fear that this is one more war for oil, or for political power in the Arab world. The Europeans, in particular the French, pushed hard for this action in Libya. They receive a significant part of their oil supply from that country and have an interest in a Libyan government less eccentric and unreliable than the current one.

We invaded Iraq on the pretense of protecting Iraqis against their authoritarian government. For a while, we even pretended to be fighting in Afghanistan to protect its women. In Libya the situation is different. Here there is an uprising against the reigning dictator, Qaddafi. It is not very clear who these rebels are. Their international spokesperson is a known Libyan technocrat who was associated with one of Qaddafi sons. A significant number of the rebels appear to be university educated. They have some support from some of the Libyan military. If they should win their fight will they indeed create democratic institutions and processes? I don't know whether anybody knows that. There has been very little information about the makeup of these rebellious groups.

On the other hand, there is a question about civilian casualties. The Libyan government a few days ago claimed 64 civilians killed in allied air raids. The top US military commander has claimed no injuries of civilians. Both of those are to be expected; neither is credible. In the meantime NATO warplanes bombed Tripoli among other targets. It seems unlikely that there are not going to be significant civilian casualties.

The problem is clear. The international community ought to try to save innocents from being slaughtered. Remember Ruanda or the victims of the Balkan civil war. But all governments will conveniently claim to protect the innocent, when in fact they are pursuing their very own interests in going to war. The defense of the innocents is always suspect because governments are completely untrustworthy when it comes to their justification for using violence. A plausible defense of the innocents requires a defender whom we have reason to trust. No such defenders exist.

The US and NATO seem to have succeeded in establishing a no-fly zone in Libya. They now simply keep their planes in the air to maintain that zone. Should they continue military action in support of the rebellious forces in eastern Libya? That appears to be what they are, in fact, doing.

This is an agonizing choice for the reasons already stated: we have insufficient information about the parties to this fight. For certain, support for the rebels will take the lives of more innocent bystanders. It will take the lives of young men in the military who are no more committed to Qaddafi's cruelties than anyone else. They just happen to be soldiers. It will wreak destruction of roads and buildings which no country and especially not a poor country like Libya can afford.

On the other side, can we abandon people who are fighting for their freedom? The defenders of this military action portray the alternative to bombing Libya as a “humanitarian disaster.”

The defenders of the Libyan uprising are, alas, as unreliable and untrustworthy as Qaddafi and the troops loyal to him. One's final decision may well rest on whom one trusts less-- the US military machine or the military machine of Qaddafi.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Nuclear Safety

When the first news broke about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, an enterprising reporter asked the head of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant whether he was worried about plant safety. “We don't have many tsunamis in Vermont” was the flippant reply.

That has been the response of the nuclear industry throughout. They have told us not to worry. In recent weeks they have mobilized a major lobbying campaign in Congress to maintain a favorable public attitude towards nuclear power.

But we need to take this issue seriously. Accidents do happen and as Chernobyl and now the Japanese nuclear plants demonstrated, some of those accidents are horrifying.

Nuclear plants are not all the same. GE developed one design in the 1960 whose containment structure is less robust than that of other designs. GE recommended it as being cheaper. But should there be a nuclear accident with a failure of the cooling system, radiation may well escape into the atmosphere. “Nuclear watchdogs and some politicians say the crisis should prompt the NRC to take a harder look at aging plants like Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim that have the same design as the most compromised reactor in Japan. The design, known as a Mark 1, is considered vulnerable in part over fears that molten nuclear fuel could melt through the vessel, releasing radiation to the environment, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group” ( Boston Globe March 18, 2011) For that reason, this type of nuclear power plant has been criticized since it was first built. A number of high level GE engineers resigned in the 1970s and 1980s from the company because they regarded the GE designed nuclear plants as unsafe. The reactors in Japan, as well as the one at the Yankee plant in Vermont are all of this type—considered unsafe by experts in the industry.

Nuclear energy is a highly technical field. You and I are unable to judge whether any plant is safe. We depend on expert testers for that. But can we trust those testers? Clearly the easiest and cheapest way to certify a plant as safe is falsify results, to make up the desired numbers. Over the years there have been repeated allegations that testing of nuclear power plants is corrupt and unreliable. It now appears that those allegations are correct.

In today's Boston Globe (March 18, 2011) we read: “The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, disclosures the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors. . . Nuclear engineers and academics who have worked in Japan’s atomic power industry spoke in interviews of a history of accidents, faked reports, and inaction by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments that ran Japan for nearly all of the postwar period.

Similar allegations have been made about the nuclear industry in the US. The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ [seismic qualification] is to lie.  The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York.  Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from 'failed' to 'passed. The company that put in the false safety report?  Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction which will work with Tokyo Electric to build the Texas plant, Lord help us” (

The nuclear industry's goal is to make money. For that end they are willing to spend significant lobbying dollars to persuade Congress and the public that nuclear plants are safe, even as the Japanese experience shows that to be false. They are willing to fake testing and repair records. For the sake of their bottom line the nuclear industry is prepared to mislead all of us. We should not believe that nuclear plants are safe.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What is happening to us?

America is in the midst of a major crisis that most people are not aware of.

Wisconsin is just about to abolish the collective bargaining rights for state workers, including teachers and many others. Other states are close to doing the same thing. Rights that for a century or more workers have fought for are suddenly being taken away.

Several states have moved to severely limit the rights of women to safe abortions. (See my earlier blog on that.)

The University of Nevada is in the forefront of moves considered by various colleges and universities of abolishing their philosophy departments. (An earlier attempt by Howard University to do this was scrapped in the face of vigorous protest. Mexican philosophers have been involved in the same fight for several years.) The courses designed most directly to encourage critical thinking among young people, who are just at the beginning of their careers and their lives as citizens, are now being taken away. Critical thinking is not highly regarded by those who wield power today.

Congress is trying to defund National Public radio because it represents a liberal point of view. No one even pretends that the motivation is to save money. This is an open campaign to suppress a particular kind of political opinion, to control what news and interpretations the public gets to hear. It is a clear case of thought control.

Congress is holding hearings on Muslim support for terrorism. No one is saying anything about white terrorists whose attacks are mounting in number. The shooting in Arizona of Representative Giffords is just one example of that. There exists a rising hysteria that has, in fact, little to do with terrorism and everything to do with racial prejudice against Muslim Americans. Racial hysteria is also an element in the anti-immigrant campaign.

The campaign to increase the misery of the poor, the sick, and the elderly continues apace.

You may say that all this is being done by the Republicans but those Republicans were elected. Most of these representatives are in the pocket of big business, business lobbies, people with money. But when it comes to pushing an agenda that is anti-intellectual, anti-liberal, anti-women, anti-Muslim and against the poor, the sick and the elderly, they respond to the emotions of their constituents. This is an easy way for them to appear to represent those who voted for them when, in effect, they mostly represent those who bought them.

How can we understand that campaign against established freedoms, against our traditional dedication to tolerance, against well-trained minds able to think for themselves, against different political views, against those who have the least power in our society?

Clearly the health care reform bill has something to do with all of that. People feel oppressed by the government. Although we live – we say – in a democracy, most people feel that they have nothing to say. Congressional seats are for sale, political influence goes to the highest bidder. Everyone can see that greed is rewarded, dishonesty helps you gain power, and consistent hypocrisy gains you an audience.

Battered by the economy, oppressed by employers and bureaucrats, deprived of power by the rich and famous, sold out by their elected representatives, most citizens are fearful and angry. And when people are fearful and angry they go looking for someone to vent their anger on. At such times people are willing to lash out, to blame others for their misery – usually not the guilty parties.

This was the mood in Germany in 1933 when Germans were willing to allow Adolf Hitler to try his hand at saving the nation. When Hitler went after a free press, against labor unions, when he began to persecute Jews, when he prescribed women's lives, most people said not to worry. Twelve years later Germany was in ruins.

Our traditions of freedom and democracy are stronger than they were in Germany. But the same mood of being victimized, of wanting to hurt somebody prevails in the US today. The same ugly mood that led Germans into fascism, dominates our politics today. Public speech is filled with hate and everyone has their own favorite target: the unions, Muslims, people with an education, political liberals, women, the poor, the sick, and the elderly.

Our troubles are very very serious. Can we put a stop to all this hate and destruction before it is too late?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The wages of racism
We usually date the current economic crisis back to 2008. That was the year when it became obvious that a lot of people had been persuaded to buy property they were unable to pay for. Banks were in trouble and the American people put out more than $500 billion to bail out big banks, investment houses, and automobile manufacturers. 
But here's an interesting fact. In the Black and Hispanic communities, the real estate crisis, the massive default on excessively risky mortgages, began two years earlier, in 2006. People who had been sold risky mortgages were beginning to be unable to make their payments. There was a serious rate of defaults.

But no one paid any attention to that. People thought: what else is new? As usual, white people did not pay attention to the problems of people of color.

As a consequence no one saw what was coming. No one understood that the pain felt in the Black and Hispanic community was simply an early sign of what was going to happen in the country as a whole.

Had white people – bankers and government officials who are supposed to keep a tight watch on the economy – taken the early defaults more seriously, they might have been better prepared and might have even been able to prevent or at least moderate the present meltdown.

The racist disregard of what was happening to Blacks and Hispanics carries an enormous price for everyone.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Assault on Women.
During the uprising in Egypt, an American woman reporter was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men. That produced a flurry of reports about widespread harassment of women in that country.
Most of those reports failed to mention that a similar attack on women's freedoms is building in the United States.
This morning's news brings the story that the state of Virginia has passed legislation requiring abortion clinics, that perform first trimester abortions, to be constructed and equipped like full service hospitals. Hospital construction is subsidized by the federal government; no one subsidizes the constructing of abortion clinics. The new regulations will have the effect of closing abortion clinics in the state of Virginia.
But this is just one report of many:
Conservatives not only want to reduce women's access to abortions, they are actually trying to redefine rape so as to be able to deprive women, who have suffered rape, of the possibility of having an abortion.
A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, of stalking and of domestic violence to “accuser.” The victims of less gendered crimes like burglary, would remain “victims.”
In South Dakota, conservatives proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortions.
Conservatives want to cut nearly $1 billion of food and other aid to low income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.
In Congress some have proposed a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
Maryland legislators ended all county money for a low income kids preschool program. Why? No need, they said: women should really be home with their kids, not out working.
At the federal level conservatives want to cut the pre-school program, Head Start, by $1 billion . That means that more than 200,000 children could lose their spots in preschool.
Two thirds of the elderly poor are women, and conservatives are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
Congress voted yesterday on a conservative amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic healthcare and family planning in our country.
And if that wasn't enough, conservatives are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Congressman Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses.)
While unemployment is almost 9% – and a lot higher in some places, while banks are still think a higher rate than ever, conservative legislators persecute women, cynically trying to distract attention from the failure of the economy for all low and middle income people while large corporations and Wall Street firms continue to rake in the money.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

And liberty and justice for all . .?

American families have had to tighten their belts. They bought less and, more importantly, they borrowed less money. Our government is in the same, if not worse, position. It keeps borrowing money and very soon the day will come when we'll have to pay our debts – and won't be able to.

It is time to tighten the national belt. Congress is engaging in an orgy of budget-cutting. Some of the victims of the tax cuts are political enemies of conservative legislators. Pro-life politicians want to cut federal subsidies for Planned Parenthood. Arch conservatives are once again out to take money away from National Public Radio which they regard as dangerously left-wing.

But the main target of the budget cutters are the poor. Everyone act's as if only the programs to help the poor are places where we can cut the budget. Nothing is further from the truth.

American business prides itself on its independence and keeps complaining about government interference. But they never mention the wide range of subsidies they receive. These subsidies take them different forms. Some businesses receive direct government payments as do large farming corporations. More frequently businesses are subsidized through complex tax breaks.

Here are some estimates of subsidies for different branches of business:

Oil and gas between $20-$40 billion a year
Coal around $2.7 billion a year
ethanol $4.7 billions a year
Agriculture between $10-$30 billion a year
Big banks $34 billion a year
Interstate trucking $60 billion a year

No one who is eager to cut the federal budget has seriously mentioned reducing these enormous subsidies. Instead everybody is looking at programs that help the poor, single mothers with children, the disabled, the elderly and the sick.

This is blatantly unjust. The new austerity takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

The obvious reason for that, which everyone understands, is that flourishing industries spend a good deal of money on lobbyists. They get to introduce special favors for their clients into different pieces of legislation. Businesses buy government subsidies. 
But a very interesting article in the magazine N+1 suggests a deeper reason. The author provides a history of conservative movements in the United States and shows how they are rooted in traditional anti-back racism. Overt racist talk is no longer acceptable in large parts of American society. We have all become very accepting of differences. White supremacists, once anti-back racism and became shameful, mutated into present day conservatives who are more or less constantly on the war path against the poor, the elderly, the sick and those who, generally, begin life behind the eight ball. They are equally down on the unemployed who cannot find work in the present economic crisis.                        
 The connection is obvious. A disproportionate number of poor people are black or Hispanic. In the guise of a new austerity, the old white supremacy still rides high.