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Iraq invasion was about oil | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Iraq invasion was about oil | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

Maximising Persian Gulf oil flows to avert a potential global energy crisis motivated Iraq War planners – not WMD or democracy
Tony Blair leaves the Iraq war inquiry

Tony Blair leaves the Iraq war inquiry. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War – yet to this day, few media reflections on the conflict accurately explore the extent to which opening up Persian Gulf energy resources to the world economy was a prime driver behind the Anglo-American invasion.

The overwhelming narrative has been one of incompetence and failure in an otherwise noble, if ill-conceived and badly managed endeavour to free Iraqis from tyranny. To be sure, the conduct of the war was indeed replete with incompetence at a colossal scale – but this doesn’t erase the very real mendacity of the cold, strategic logic that motivated the war’s US and British planners in the first place.

According to the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC) document endorsed by senior Bush administration officials as far back as 1997, “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification” for the US “to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

So Saddam’s WMD was not really the issue – and neither was Saddam himself.

The real issue is candidly described in a 2001 report on “energy security” – commissioned by then US Vice-President Dick Cheney – published by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker Institute for Public Policy. It warned of an impending global energy crisis that would increase “US and global vulnerability to disruption”, and leave the US facing “unprecedented energy price volatility.”

The main source of disruption, the report observed, is “Middle East tension“, in particular, the threat posed by Iraq. Critically, the documented illustrated that US officials had lost all faith in Saddam due his erratic and unpredictable energy export policies. In 2000, Iraq had “effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so.” There is a “possibility that Saddam Hussein may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time” in order to damage prices:

“Iraq remains a destabilising influence to… the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a pan-Arab leader… and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments. The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East, to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies.”

The Iraq War was only partly, however, about big profits for Anglo-American oil conglomerates – that would be a bonus (one which in the end has failed to materialise to the degree hoped for – not for want of trying though).

The real goal – as Greg Muttitt documented in his book Fuel on the Fireciting declassified Foreign Office files from 2003 onwards – was stabilising global energy supplies as a whole by ensuring the free flow of Iraqi oil to world markets – benefits to US and UK companies constituted an important but secondary goal:

“The most important strategic interest lay in expanding global energy supplies, through foreign investment, in some of the world’s largest oil reserves – in particular Iraq. This meshed neatly with the secondary aim of securing contracts for their companies. Note that the strategy documents released here tend to refer to ‘British and global energy supplies.’ British energy security is to be obtained by there being ample global supplies – it is not about the specific flow.”

To this end, as Whitehall documents obtained by the Independent show, the US and British sought to privatise Iraqi oil production with a view to allow foreign companies to takeover. Minutes of a meeting held on 12 May 2003 said:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

A “desirable” outcome for Iraqi’s crippled oil industry, officials concluded, is:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

The documents added that “foreign companies’ involvement seems to be the only possible solution” to make Iraq a reliable oil exporter. This, however, would be “politically sensitive”, and would “require careful handling to avoid the impression that we are trying to push the Iraqis down one particular path.”

Media analyses claiming lazily that there was no planning for the aftermath of the Iraq War should look closer at the public record. The reality is that extensive plans for postwar reconstruction were pursued, but they did not consider humanitarian and societal issues of any significance, focusing instead on maintaining the authoritarian structures of Saddam’s brutal regime after his removal, while upgrading Iraq’s oil infrastructure to benefit foreign investors.

A series of news reports, for instance, confirmed how the State Department had set up 17 separate working groups to work out this post-war plan. Iraq would be “governed by a senior US military officer… with a civilian administrator”, which would “initially impose martial law”, while Iraqis would be relegated to the sidelines as “advisers” to the US administration. The US envisaged “a broad and protracted American role in managing the reconstruction of the country… with a continued role for thousands of US troops there for years to come”, in “defence of the country’s oil fields”, which would eventually be “privatised” along with “other supporting industries.”

The centrality of concerns about energy to Iraq War planning was most candidly confirmed eight years ago by a former senior British Army official in Iraq, James Ellery, currently director of British security firm and US defence contractor, Aegis.

Brigadier-General James Ellery CBE, the Foreign Office’s Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad since 2003, had confirmed the critical role of Iraqi oil reserves in alleviating a “world shortage” of conventional oil. The Iraq War has helped to head off what Ellery described as “the tide of Easternisation” – a shift in global political and economic power toward China and India, to whom goes “two thirds of the Middle East’s oil.” His remarks were made as part of a presentation at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, sponsored by the Iraqi Youth Foundation, on 22nd April 2008:

“The reason that oil reached $117 a barrel last week was less to do with security of supply… than World shortage.”

He went on to emphasise the strategic significance of Iraqi petroleum fields in relation to the danger of production peaks being breached in major oil reserves around the world:

“Russia’s production has peaked at 10 million barrels per day; Africa has proved slow to yield affordable extra supplies – from Sudan and Angola for example. Thus the only near-term potential increase will be from Iraq.”

Whether Iraq began “favouring East or West” could therefore be “de-stabilising” not only “within the region but to nations far beyond which have an interest.”

“Iraq holds the key to stability in the region”, Ellery continued, due to its “relatively large, consuming population,” its being home to “the second largest reserve of oil – under exploited”, and finally its geostrategic location “on the routes between Asia, Europe, Arabia and North Africa – hence the Silk Road.”

Despite escalating instability and internal terrorism, Iraq is now swiftlyreclaiming its rank as one of the world’s fastest-growing exporters, cushioning the impact of supply outages elsewhere and thus welcomed by OPEC. Back in 2008, Ellery had confirmed Allied ambitions to “raise Iraqi’s oil production from 2.5 million bpd today to 3 million by next year and maybe ultimately 6 million barrels per day.”

Thus, the primary motive of the war – mobilising Iraqi oil production tosustain global oil flows and moderate global oil prices – has, so far, been fairly successful according to the International Energy Agency.

Eleven years on, there should be no doubt that the 2003 Iraq War was among the first major resource wars of the 21st century. It is unlikely to be the last.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Iraq invasion was about oil | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Iraq invasion was about oil | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

Maximising Persian Gulf oil flows to avert a potential global energy crisis motivated Iraq War planners – not WMD or democracy
Tony Blair leaves the Iraq war inquiry

Tony Blair leaves the Iraq war inquiry. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War – yet to this day, few media reflections on the conflict accurately explore the extent to which opening up Persian Gulf energy resources to the world economy was a prime driver behind the Anglo-American invasion.

The overwhelming narrative has been one of incompetence and failure in an otherwise noble, if ill-conceived and badly managed endeavour to free Iraqis from tyranny. To be sure, the conduct of the war was indeed replete with incompetence at a colossal scale – but this doesn’t erase the very real mendacity of the cold, strategic logic that motivated the war’s US and British planners in the first place.

According to the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC) document endorsed by senior Bush administration officials as far back as 1997, “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification” for the US “to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

So Saddam’s WMD was not really the issue – and neither was Saddam himself.

The real issue is candidly described in a 2001 report on “energy security” – commissioned by then US Vice-President Dick Cheney – published by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker Institute for Public Policy. It warned of an impending global energy crisis that would increase “US and global vulnerability to disruption”, and leave the US facing “unprecedented energy price volatility.”

The main source of disruption, the report observed, is “Middle East tension“, in particular, the threat posed by Iraq. Critically, the documented illustrated that US officials had lost all faith in Saddam due his erratic and unpredictable energy export policies. In 2000, Iraq had “effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so.” There is a “possibility that Saddam Hussein may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time” in order to damage prices:

“Iraq remains a destabilising influence to… the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a pan-Arab leader… and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments. The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East, to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies.”

The Iraq War was only partly, however, about big profits for Anglo-American oil conglomerates – that would be a bonus (one which in the end has failed to materialise to the degree hoped for – not for want of trying though).

The real goal – as Greg Muttitt documented in his book Fuel on the Fireciting declassified Foreign Office files from 2003 onwards – was stabilising global energy supplies as a whole by ensuring the free flow of Iraqi oil to world markets – benefits to US and UK companies constituted an important but secondary goal:

“The most important strategic interest lay in expanding global energy supplies, through foreign investment, in some of the world’s largest oil reserves – in particular Iraq. This meshed neatly with the secondary aim of securing contracts for their companies. Note that the strategy documents released here tend to refer to ‘British and global energy supplies.’ British energy security is to be obtained by there being ample global supplies – it is not about the specific flow.”

To this end, as Whitehall documents obtained by the Independent show, the US and British sought to privatise Iraqi oil production with a view to allow foreign companies to takeover. Minutes of a meeting held on 12 May 2003 said:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

A “desirable” outcome for Iraqi’s crippled oil industry, officials concluded, is:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

The documents added that “foreign companies’ involvement seems to be the only possible solution” to make Iraq a reliable oil exporter. This, however, would be “politically sensitive”, and would “require careful handling to avoid the impression that we are trying to push the Iraqis down one particular path.”

Media analyses claiming lazily that there was no planning for the aftermath of the Iraq War should look closer at the public record. The reality is that extensive plans for postwar reconstruction were pursued, but they did not consider humanitarian and societal issues of any significance, focusing instead on maintaining the authoritarian structures of Saddam’s brutal regime after his removal, while upgrading Iraq’s oil infrastructure to benefit foreign investors.

A series of news reports, for instance, confirmed how the State Department had set up 17 separate working groups to work out this post-war plan. Iraq would be “governed by a senior US military officer… with a civilian administrator”, which would “initially impose martial law”, while Iraqis would be relegated to the sidelines as “advisers” to the US administration. The US envisaged “a broad and protracted American role in managing the reconstruction of the country… with a continued role for thousands of US troops there for years to come”, in “defence of the country’s oil fields”, which would eventually be “privatised” along with “other supporting industries.”

The centrality of concerns about energy to Iraq War planning was most candidly confirmed eight years ago by a former senior British Army official in Iraq, James Ellery, currently director of British security firm and US defence contractor, Aegis.

Brigadier-General James Ellery CBE, the Foreign Office’s Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad since 2003, had confirmed the critical role of Iraqi oil reserves in alleviating a “world shortage” of conventional oil. The Iraq War has helped to head off what Ellery described as “the tide of Easternisation” – a shift in global political and economic power toward China and India, to whom goes “two thirds of the Middle East’s oil.” His remarks were made as part of a presentation at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, sponsored by the Iraqi Youth Foundation, on 22nd April 2008:

“The reason that oil reached $117 a barrel last week was less to do with security of supply… than World shortage.”

He went on to emphasise the strategic significance of Iraqi petroleum fields in relation to the danger of production peaks being breached in major oil reserves around the world:

“Russia’s production has peaked at 10 million barrels per day; Africa has proved slow to yield affordable extra supplies – from Sudan and Angola for example. Thus the only near-term potential increase will be from Iraq.”

Whether Iraq began “favouring East or West” could therefore be “de-stabilising” not only “within the region but to nations far beyond which have an interest.”

“Iraq holds the key to stability in the region”, Ellery continued, due to its “relatively large, consuming population,” its being home to “the second largest reserve of oil – under exploited”, and finally its geostrategic location “on the routes between Asia, Europe, Arabia and North Africa – hence the Silk Road.”

Despite escalating instability and internal terrorism, Iraq is now swiftlyreclaiming its rank as one of the world’s fastest-growing exporters, cushioning the impact of supply outages elsewhere and thus welcomed by OPEC. Back in 2008, Ellery had confirmed Allied ambitions to “raise Iraqi’s oil production from 2.5 million bpd today to 3 million by next year and maybe ultimately 6 million barrels per day.”

Thus, the primary motive of the war – mobilising Iraqi oil production tosustain global oil flows and moderate global oil prices – has, so far, been fairly successful according to the International Energy Agency.

Eleven years on, there should be no doubt that the 2003 Iraq War was among the first major resource wars of the 21st century. It is unlikely to be the last.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From South America to South Asia, a new age of unrest is in full swing as industrial civilisation transitions to post-carbon reality
A pro-European protester swings a metal chain during riots in Kiev

A protester in Ukraine swings a metal chain during clashes – a taste of things to come? Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

But this hasn’t happened. And it won’t.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraineIceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet – but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of thedanger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.

Hunger games

The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.

In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.

Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.

Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:

“Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months… In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest.”

But Bar-Yam’s analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don’t go deep enough – he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.

It’s a gas

The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country’s grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated inofficial statistics – Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortagesdriven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine’s oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.

Currently, about 80% of Ukraine’s oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine’s energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.

The Ukrainian government’s recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim – apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leakedEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reportreveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine’s ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.

“Socialism” or Soc-oil-ism?

In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country’s oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.

The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela’s escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela’s oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.

Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased – in fact almost doubling since 1990 – this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.

Looming pandemic?

These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Globalagriculture‘s excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further – elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change‘s (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.

This is likely to be a very conservative estimate. Considering that the current trajectory of industrial agriculture is already seeing yield plateausin major food basket regions, the interaction of environmental, energy, and economic crises suggests that business-as-usual won’t work.

The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure – a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.

Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn’t the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition – backed up with people power and ethical consistence.

It’s time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation – a new form of prosperity – that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.

But if we continue to make like ostriches, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From South America to South Asia, a new age of unrest is in full swing as industrial civilisation transitions to post-carbon reality
A pro-European protester swings a metal chain during riots in Kiev

A protester in Ukraine swings a metal chain during clashes – a taste of things to come? Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

But this hasn’t happened. And it won’t.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraineIceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet – but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of thedanger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.

Hunger games

The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.

In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.

Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.

Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:

“Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months… In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest.”

But Bar-Yam’s analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don’t go deep enough – he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.

It’s a gas

The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country’s grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated inofficial statistics – Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortagesdriven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine’s oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.

Currently, about 80% of Ukraine’s oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine’s energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.

The Ukrainian government’s recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim – apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leakedEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reportreveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine’s ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.

“Socialism” or Soc-oil-ism?

In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country’s oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.

The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela’s escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela’s oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.

Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased – in fact almost doubling since 1990 – this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.

Looming pandemic?

These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Globalagriculture‘s excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further – elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change‘s (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.

This is likely to be a very conservative estimate. Considering that the current trajectory of industrial agriculture is already seeing yield plateausin major food basket regions, the interaction of environmental, energy, and economic crises suggests that business-as-usual won’t work.

The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure – a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.

Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn’t the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition – backed up with people power and ethical consistence.

It’s time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation – a new form of prosperity – that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.

But if we continue to make like ostriches, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Flood alerts across England and Wales as south-west braces for 80mph storm | UK news | theguardian.com

Flood alerts across England and Wales as south-west braces for 80mph storm | UK news | theguardian.com.

Somerset, Devon and Dorset at greatest risk of flooding as Environment Agency issues warnings as far north as Hull
theguardian.com, Saturday 8 February 2014 12.26 GMT
Waves break at Porthleven in Cornwall

Waves break at high tide in Porthleven, Cornwall, on Saturday as south-west England and Wales braced for more storms and flooding. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Large areas of England and Wales are on flood and storm alert as a new storm is poised to hit the south and south-west with winds of up to 80mph.

The flooded Somerset Levels where many residents have already been forced from their homes after weeks of heavy rain remain at the highest risk of continued flooding on Saturday.

The Environment Agency said there was a risk of flooding along the coast of Devon and Dorset from the combination of high tides and high winds.

There are more than 300 low-level flood alerts and nearly 200 medium-risk flood warnings in place across Wales and southern and central England as far north as Hull.

The Met Office issued an amber warning of high winds for the south of England and Wales and yellow rain warnings for the south and west of England and Wales.

“After a short lull, winds will increase from the south-west during the course of Saturday with severe gales affecting coastal districts, bringing gusts of 60-70mph and isolated 80mph at the most exposed locations within the amber warning area. Large waves are also expected to affect south-west facing coasts. Further inland, gusts of 50-60 mph are likely.”

The Met Office warned the public to be prepared for disruption to transport and power supplies, particularly when combined with the effect of heavy rain.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said an additional 1,500 troops were on six hours’ notice to move if required to help victims of new flooding. Several hundred Royal Marines and engineers are already helping in south-west England.

Engineers have strengthened the shore along the railway line at Dawlish in Devon to prevent further damage to the tracks although Cornwall and Plymouth remain cut off from the rest of the rail network. Flybe said it will increase the number of weekday flights between Gatwick and Newquay in Cornwall from three to six after the airport said it would waive fees.

As residents in Somerset have struggled to cope with rising water, police arrested three men on suspicion of stealing fuel from near the cut-off village of Muchelney.

The arrests follow the theft of 600 gallons of domestic heating oil from a farm in Moorland and the theft of two fire service quad bikes from Burrowbridge last week.

Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has ordered a flood defence repair audit of both Environment Agency defences and private defences after the latest meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra on Friday night.

He said: “We continue to make sure every preparation is made before the severe weather expected this weekend and the following days. I ask everyone to remain vigilant and follow the advice being issued by the Environment Agency.

“I want to reassure the country that everything possible is being done to help those communities affected by these terrible storms, and work to be prepared for any further bad weather we may see in the days ahead.”

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From North America to Europe, the ‘national security’ apparatus is being bought off by Big Oil to rout peaceful activism
Climate and anti-fracking activists blocade site

Are the hundreds of peaceful protesters who blockaded the Cuadrilla oil drilling site outside Balcombe, West Sussex, dangerous “extremists”? Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energycompanies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists.

Activists tarred with the same brush

In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada‘s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on ‘national security’ grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project’s corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.

The Northern Gateway is an $8 billion project to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to the British Columbia coast, where it can be shipped to global markets. According to the documents a Canadian federal agency, the National Energy Board, worked with CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to coordinate with Enbridge, TransCanada, and other energy corporations in gathering intelligence on anti-fracking activists – despite senior police privately admitting they “could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat.”

Now it has emerged that former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl – the man appointed by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to head up the CSIS’ civilian oversight panel, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) – has been lobbying for Enbridge since 2011.

But that’s not all. According to CBC News, only one member of Strahl’s spy watchdog committee “has no ties to either the current government or the oil industry.” For instance, SIRC member Denis Losier sits on the board of directors of Enbridge-subsidiary, Enbridge NB, while Yves Fortier, is a former board member of TransCanada, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Counter-insurgency in the homeland

Investigative journalist Steve Horn reports that TransCanada has also worked closely with American law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in attempting to criminalise US citizens opposed to the pipeline. Files obtained under freedom of information last summer showed that in training documents for the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), TransCanada suggested that non-violent Keystone XL protestors could be deterred using criminal and anti-terror statutes:

“… the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well.”

According to the Earth Island Journal, official documents show that TransCanada “has established close ties with state and federal law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route.” But TransCanada is only one example of “the revolving door between state law enforcement agencies and the private sector, especially in areas where fracking and pipeline construction have become big business.”

This has had a tangible impact. In March last year, US law enforcement officials had infiltrated and spied on environmentalists attending a tar sands resistance camp in Oklahoma, leading to the successful pre-emptive disruption of their protest action.

Just last December, other activists in Oklahoma faced terror charges for draping an anti-fracking banner in the lobby of the offices housing US oil and gas company, Devon Energy. The two protestors were charged with carrying out a “terrorism hoax” for using gold glitter on their banner, some of which happened to scatter to the floor of the building – depicted by a police spokesman as a potentially “dangerous or toxic” substance in the form of a “black powder,” causing a panic.

But Suzanne Goldenberg reports a different account:

“After a few uneventful minutes, [the activists] Stephenson and Warner took down the banner and left the building – apologising to the janitor who came hurrying over with a broom. A few people, clutching coffee cups, wandered around in the lobby below, according to Stephenson. But she did not detect much of a response to the banner. There wasn’t even that much mess, she said. The pair had used just four small tubes of glitter on their two banners.”

The criminalisation of peaceful activism under the rubric of ‘anti-terrorism’ is an escalating trend linked directly to corporate co-optationof the national security apparatus. In one egregious example, thousands of pages of government records confirm how local US police departments, the FBI and the DHS monitored Occupy activists nationwide as part of public-private intelligence sharing with banks and corporations.

Anti-fracking activists in particular have come under increased FBI surveillance in recent years under an expanded definition of ‘eco-terrorism‘, although the FBI concedes that eco-terrorism is on the decline. This is consistent with US defence planning documents over the last decade which increasingly highlight the danger of domestic “insurgencies” due to the potential collapse of public order under various environmental, energy or economic crises.

Manufacturing “consensus”

In the UK, Scotland Yard’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (which started life as the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and later became the National Domestic Extremism Unit), has had a long record of equating the spectre of “domestic extremism” with “single-issue protests, such as animal rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-GM crops.” Apart from animal rights, these movements have been “overwhelmingly peaceful” points out George Monbiot.

This has not prevented the police unit from monitoring almost 9,000 Britons deemed to hold “radical political views,” ranging from “anti-capitalists” to “anti-war demonstrators.” Increasingly though, according to a Guardian investigation, the unit “is known to have focused its resources on spying on environmental campaigners, particularly those engaged in direct action and civil disobedience to protest against climate change.”

Most recently, British police have gone so far as to conduct surveillance of Cambridge University students involved in social campaigns like anti-fracking, education, anti-fascism, and opposition to austerity, despite a lack of reason to suspect criminal activity.

This is no accident. Yesterday, senior Tory and ex-Cabinet minister Lord Deben, chairman of the UK government-sponsored Committee on Climate Change, characterised anyone suggesting that fracking is “devastatingly damaging” as a far-left “extremist,” holding “nonsensical” views associated with “Trotskyite” dogma. In contrast, he described “moderate” environmentalists as situated safely in the legitimate spectrum of a “broad range of consensus” across “all political parties.”

In other words, if you are disillusioned with the existing party political system and its approach to environmental issues, you are an extremist.

Deben’s comments demonstrate the regressive mindset behind the British government’s private collaboration with shale gas industry executives to “manage the British public’s hostility to fracking,” as revealed in official emails analysed by Damien Carrington.

The emails exposed the alarming extent to which government is “acting as an arm of the gas industry,” compounding earlier revelations that Department of Energy and Climate Change employees involved in drafting UK energy policy have been seconded from UK gas corporations.

Public opinion is the enemy

The latest polling data shows that some 47% of Britons “would not be happy for a gas well site using fracking to open within 10 miles of their home,” with just 14% saying they would be happy. By implication, the government views nearly half of the British public as potential extremists merely for being sceptical of shale gas.

This illustrates precisely why the trend-line of mass surveillance exemplified in the Snowden disclosures has escalated across the Western world. From North America to Europe, the twin spectres of “terrorism” and “extremism” are being disingenuously deployed by an ever more centralised nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power, to suppress widening public opposition to that very process of unaccountable centralisation.

But then, what’s new? Back in 1975, the Trilateral Commission – a network of some 300 American, European and Japanese elites drawn from business, banking, government, academia and media founded by Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockerfeller – published an influential study called The Crisis of Democracy.

The report concluded that the problems of governance “stem from an excess of democracy” which makes government “less powerful and more active” due to being “overloaded with participants and demands.” This democratic excess at the time consisted of:

“… a marked upswing in other forms of citizen participation, in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ’cause’ organizations… [including] markedly higher levels of self-consciousness on the part of blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women… [and] a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private… People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.”

The solution, therefore, is “to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions,” including “hegemonic power” in the world. This requires the government to somehow “reinforce tendencies towards political passivity” and to instill “a greater degree of moderation in democracy.” This is because:

“… the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups… In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively.”

Today, such official sentiments live on in the form of covert psychological operations targeted against Western publics by the CIAPentagon andMI6, invariably designed to exaggerate threats to manipulate public opinion in favour of government policy.

As the global economy continues to suffocate itself, and as publics increasingly lose faith in prevailing institutions, the spectre of ‘terror’ is an increasingly convenient tool to attempt to restore authority by whipping populations into panic-induced subordination.

Evidently, however, what the nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power fears the most is simply an “excess of democracy”: the unpalatable prospect of citizens rising up and taking power back.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog

Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog.

Veteran Journalists Reveal that – Contrary to It’s Claims of “Openness” and “Transparency” – This Administration Is the Most Closed Ever

Long-time CNN political reporter Bob Franken (now with MSNBC) said last week:

FRANKEN: Well, let’s use the “P” word here. This is propaganda when it comes from the White House: government covering the government. It’s not what you’re supposed to do in the United States of America. But we have an administration, every president gets to the point where he dislikes the press. It’s that simple. And every administration tries to manipulate the press. But this is the most hostile to the media that has been in United States history. Not only do we have this thing where they’re…

[Interviewer]: Wait, you would go that far?

FRANKEN: I would go that far.

[Interviewer]: The most hostile in history?

FRANKEN: The most hostile because first of all, we have the situation where they are in fact shutting out the press. And by the way, when they say you can’t have every photographer in, they know full-well that there’s a thing called a pool, which is to say you have one representative from each of the media that represents all of them and shares the pictures and the sound and all that kind of thing. So that’s totally disingenuous, which is a polite word.

But the reason I say most hostile is because of the Justice Department moves that they’ve made against the press. Obviously they have a contempt for the journalistic process. Those of us who are in journalism, of course, believe that it is vital if you’re going to have informed electorate as opposed to one that’s been propagandized.

 

 

Many other veteran reporters agree.  For example, the Washington Post reported recently:

With the passage of the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a vast expansion of intelligence agencies and their powers, the aggressive exploitation of intrusive digital surveillance capabilities, the excessive classification of public documents and officials’ sophisticated control of the news media’s access to the workings of government, journalists who cover national security are facing vast and unprecedented challenges in their efforts to hold the government accountable to its citizens. They find that government officials are increasingly fearful of talking to them, and they worry that their communications with sources can be monitored at any time.So what are they doing? Many reporters covering national security and government policy in Washington these days are taking precautions to keep their sources from becoming casualties in the Obama administration’s war on leaks. They and their remaining government sources often avoid telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges, arranging furtive one-on-one meetings instead. A few news organizations have even set up separate computer networks and safe rooms for journalists trained in encryption and other ways to thwart surveillance.

“I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit accountability news organization. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for government to monitor those contacts.”

“We have to think more about when we use cellphones, when we use e-mail and when we need to meet sources in person,” said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of the Associated Press. “We need to be more and more aware that government can track our work without talking to our reporters, without letting us know.”

These concerns, expressed by numerous journalists I interviewed, are well-founded. Relying on the 1917 Espionage Act, which was rarely invoked before President Obama took office, this administration has secretly used the phone and e-mail records of government officials and reporters to identify and prosecute government sources for national security stories.

***

In addition to ongoing leak investigations, six government employees and two contractors, including fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have been prosecuted since 2009 under the Espionage Act for providing information to reporters about, among other subjects, the NSA’s communications surveillance, the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects and, in the case of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war documents.

***

The Obama administration has drawn a dubious distinction between whistleblowing that reveals bureaucratic waste or fraud, and leaks to the news media about unexamined secret government policies and activities; it punishes the latter as espionage.

***

Every disclosure to the press of classified information now triggers a leak investigation, said Washington Post national news editor Cameron Barr. “Investigations can be done electronically. They don’t need to compel journalists to reveal sources.”

The Post’s Justice Department reporter, Sari Horwitz, said a Justice official told her that “access to e-mail, phone records and cellphones make it easier to do now.”

After the New York Times published a 2012 story by David E. Sanger about covert cyberattacks by the United States and Israel against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, federal prosecutors and the FBI questioned scores of officials throughout the government who were identified in computer analyses of phone, text and e-mail records as having contact with Sanger.

“A memo went out from the chief of staff a year ago to White House employees and the intelligence agencies that told people to freeze and retain any e-mail, and presumably phone logs, of communications with me,” Sanger said. As a result, longtime sources no longer talk to him. “They tell me: ‘David, I love you, but don’t e-mail me. Let’s don’t chat until this blows over.’ ”

Sanger, who has worked for the Times in Washington for two decades, said, “This is most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

***

A survey of government departments and agencies this summer by the Washington bureau of McClatchy newspapers found that they had wide latitude in defining what kinds of behavior constitute a threat. “Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material,” it reported in June. “They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told me that the Insider Threat Program has already “created internal surveillance, heightened a degree of paranoia in government and made people conscious of contacts with the public, advocates and the press.”

***

“People think they’re looking at reporters’ records,” Post national security reporter Dana Priest told me. “I’m writing fewer things in e-mail. I’m even afraid to tell officials what I want to talk about because it’s all going into one giant computer.”

***

“Whenever I’m asked what is the most manipulative and secretive administration I’ve covered, I always say it’s the one in office now,” Bob Schieffer, CBS News anchor and chief Washington correspondent, told me.“Every administration learns from the previous administration. They become more secretive and put tighter clamps on information. This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

While Obama says he’s running the most transparent administration ever, he’s actually running themost secretive administration ever (background).

The government has taken to protecting criminal wrongdoing by attacking whistleblowers … and any journalists who have the nerve to report on the beans spilled by the whistleblowers.  (The government has also repealed long-standing laws against using propaganda against Americans on U.S. soil, and the government is manipulating social media – more proof here and here).

The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

And it goes out of its way to smear whistleblowersthreaten reporters who discuss whistleblower information and harass honest analysts.

Journalism is not only being criminalized in America, but investigative reporting is actually treated liketerrorism.

The government admits that journalists could be targeted with counter-terrorism laws (and here). For example, after Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing aboutbad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge

After the government’s spying on the Associated Press made it clear to everyone that the government is trying to put a chill journalism, the senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek tweeted:

Serious idea. Instead of calling it Obama’s war on whistleblowers, let’s just call it what it is: Obama’s war on journalism.

Moreover:

  • The Bush White House worked hard to smear CIA officersbloggers and anyone else who criticized the Iraq war

And the American government has been instrumental in locking up journalists in America (and here),Yemen and elsewhere for the crime of … embarrassing the U.S. government.

 

Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog

Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog.

Japanese (And American) Governments Go to Extreme Lengths to Cover Up Fukushima and Other Disasters

Japan and the U.S. are doing everything they can to cover up the danger of the Fukushima crisis.

The Daily Beast notes:

The Japanese government, which already has a long history of cover-ups and opaqueness, is on its way to becoming even less open and transparent after the lower house the Diet, Japan’s parliament, passed the Designated Secrets Bill on Tuesday. With new powers to classify nearly anything as a state secret and harsh punishments for leakers that can easily be used to intimidate whistleblowers and stifle press freedom, many in Japan worry that the if the bill becomes law it will be only the first step towards even more severe erosions of freedom in the country.

***

Even politicians inside the ruling bloc are saying, “It can’t be denied that another purpose is to muzzle the press, shut up whistleblowers, and ensure that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima ceases to be an embarrassment before the Olympics.”

***

The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers and ominously would allow journalists who obtained information by “inappropriate means” and whistleblowers to be jailed for up to ten years. The law would also allow the police to raid the offices of media organizations and seize evidence at their discretion.

***

The bill has even grants no longer existent agencies the power to classify secrets.

***

Despite the bill’s enlargement of the state’s power over information, it contains no oversight process to act as a check on ministries and government agencies designating large amounts of information as ‘secret’ for capricious or self-interested reasons.

***

Masako Mori, the Minister of Justice, has declared that nuclear related information will most likely be a designated secret. For the Abe administration this would be fantastic way to deal with the issue of tons of radiated water leaking from the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant since the triple meltdown in March of 2011.There seems to be no end to stopping the toxic waste leaks there but the new legislation would allow the administration to plug the information leakspermanently.

***

Mizuho Fukushima, former leader of the Social Democratic Party, compared the bill to the pre-World War II Peace Maintenance Preservation Laws and other Secrecy laws at the time, remarking that there was a time in police-state Japan when the weather reports could be considered “secret.”

““Once you open the door to such kind of laws, the government will have the right to designate anything as a state secret and by speaking about it or mentioning it, you can be arrested and prosecuted.” Ms. Fukushima explained, “Especially during war time, it was very difficult for defendants and lawyers to fight their court cases, because they were not told what exactly what was the state secret that they had been accused of having revealed.”

Outspoken Upper House Councilor Taro Yamamoto, who is known to be a strong supporter of investigative journalism, minces no words: “The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he warned.

While his statement may seem alarmist, even a senior official of the National Police Agency agrees. “I would say this is Abe’s attempt to make sure that his own shady issues aren’t brought to light, and a misuse of legislative power.

***

The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, the Civil Broadcasters Federation, and most major news organizations in Japan’s have expressed staunch opposition to the bill.

***

Japan is about to take a giant step back into its oppressive past. When one also considers Prime Minister Abe’s stated ambition to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants and remove Article 9 from the constitution, the article which prevents Japan from waging war, it seems like the Empire of The Sun may be moving towards darker times.

Indeed, Ex-SKF notes that :

A citizen was forcibly removed from the balcony in the Diet where he was observing the debate of the State Secrecy Protection Law in the Lower House on November 26, 2013, as he shouted his opposition to the passage of the law. His mouth was stuffed with cloth so that he couldn’t shout any more while being removed by several guards against his will.

(From Tokyo Shinbun, 11/26/2013, via this tweet)

What’s even scarier to me than the man being forcibly removed by the guards is people sitting near him. They just sit there as if nothing is happening. They are not even looking; the one in the same row even looks away.

It’s not just Fukushima … and It’s not Just Japan

It’s not just Fukushima …

Governments have been covering up nuclear meltdowns for 50 years.

There has been a cover-up by the American government ever since the Fukushima earthquake. TheAmerican (and Canadian) authorities virtually stopped monitoring airborn radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation.

The U.S. government increased allowable radiation levels so that we could be exposed to radiation. Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that high-level friends in the State Department told him that Hillary Clinton signed a pact with her counterpart in Japan agreeing that the U.S. will continue buying seafood from Japan, despite that food not being tested for radioactive materials.

The American government controls Japanese nuclear policy. And the Japanese would never have proposed such a draconian bill without U.S. backing.  Indeed, the U.S. Charge d’Affairs Kurt Tong saidof the Japanese bill:

It’s a positive step that would make Japan a “more effective alliance partner.”

Earlier this year, the acting EPA director signed a revised version of the EPA’s Protective Action Guide for radiological incidents, which radically relaxed the safety guidelines agencies follow in the wake of a nuclear-reactor meltdown or other unexpected release of radiation.  EPA whistleblowers called it “a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace.”

Whistleblowers at American nuclear facilities (like all other types of whistleblowers)  have also beenmercilessly harassed.

It’s not just nuclear accidents … it’s everything.

The American government repeatedly covers up how bad things are, uses claims of national security to keep everything in the dark, and changes basic rules and definitions to allow the game to continue. Seethisthisthis and this.

When BP – through criminal negligence – blew out the Deepwater Horizon oil well, the governmenthelped cover it up (and here).   As just one example, the government approved the massive use of ahighly-toxic dispersant to temporarily hide the oil.

The government also changed the testing standards for seafood to pretend that higher levels of toxic PAHs in our food was business-as-usual.

The government covers up the disgusting and unhealthy natureof much industrially-produced food.

The government’s response to the outbreak of mad cow disease was simple: it stopped testing for mad cow, and prevented cattle ranchers and meat processors from voluntarily testing their own cows (and see this and this)

The EPA just raised the allowable amount of a dangerous pesticide by 3,000% … pretending that it won’t have adverse health effects.

In response to new studies showing the substantial dangers of genetically modified foods, the government passed legislation more or less pushing it onto our plates.

The Centers for Disease Control – the lead agency tasked with addressing disease in America – covered up lead poisoning in children in the Washington, D.C. area.

The former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy says that the government whitewashed the severity of the Tennessee coal ash accident.

And after drug companies were busted for using fraudulent data for drug approval, the FDA allowed the potentially dangerous drugs to stay on the market.

Indeed, the cynical might say that the main function of government these days is to throw money at giant corporations and to cover up for them when their misdeeds are revealed.

And the American government is censoring reporters at least as much as Japan.

 

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