Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber

Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber

m_topn picture

J U N E  2 0 0 0

In the fall of 1958 Theodore Kaczynski, a brilliant but vulnerable boy of sixteen, entered Harvard College. There he encountered a prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair. There, also, he was deceived into subjecting himself to a series of purposely brutalizing psychological experiments — experiments that may have confirmed his still-forming belief in the evil of science. Was the Unabomber born at Harvard? A look inside the files

by Alston Chase

(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part two, part three, or part four.)
LIKE many Harvard alumni, I sometimes wander the neighborhood when I return to Cambridge, reminiscing about the old days and musing on how different my life has been from what I hoped and expected then. On a trip there last fall I found myself a few blocks north of Harvard Yard, on Divinity Avenue. Near the end of this dead-end street sits the Peabody Museum — a giant Victorian structure attached to the Botanical Museum, where my mother had taken me as a young boy, in 1943, to view the spectacular exhibit of glass flowers. These left such a vivid impression that a decade later my recollection of them inspired me, then a senior in high school, to apply to Harvard.This time my return was prompted not by nostalgia but by curiosity. No. 7 Divinity Avenue is a modern multi-story academic building today, housing the university’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. In 1959 a comfortable old house stood on the site. Known as the Annex, it served as a laboratory in which staff members of the Department of Social Relations conducted research on human subjects. There, from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962, Harvard psychologists, led by Henry A. Murray, conducted a disturbing and what would now be seen as ethically indefensible experiment on twenty-two undergraduates. To preserve the anonymity of these student guinea pigs, experimenters referred to individuals by code name only. One of these students, whom they dubbed “Lawful,” was Theodore John Kaczynski, who would one day be known as the Unabomber, and who would later mail or deliver sixteen package bombs to scientists, academicians, and others over seventeen years, killing three people and injuring twenty-three.IHAD a special interest in Kaczynski. For many years he and I had lived parallel lives to some degree. Both of us had attended public high schools and had then gone on to Harvard, from which I graduated in 1957, he in 1962. At Harvard we took many of the same courses from the same professors. We were both graduate students and assistant professors in the 1960s. I studied at Oxford and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton before joining the faculty at Ohio State and later serving as chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Macalester College, in Minnesota. Kaczynski earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1967 and then joined the Berkeley Department of Mathematics as an instructor. In the early 1970s, at roughly the same time, we separately fled civilization to the Montana wilderness.

In 1971 Kaczynski moved to Great Falls, Montana; that summer he began building a cabin near the town of Lincoln, eighty miles southwest of Great Falls, on a lot he and his brother, David, had bought. In 1972 my wife and I bought an old homestead fifty-five miles south of Great Falls. Three years later we gave up our teaching jobs to live in Montana full-time. Our place had neither telephone nor electricity; it was ten miles from the nearest neighbor. In winter we were snowbound for months at a time.

In our desire to leave civilization Kaczynski and I were not alone. Many others sought a similar escape. What, I wondered, had driven Kaczynski into the wilderness, and to murder? To what degree were his motives simply a more extreme form of the alienation that prompted so many of us to seek solace in the backwoods?

Most of us may believe we already know Ted Kaczynski. According to the conventional wisdom, Kaczynski, a brilliant former professor of mathematics turned Montana hermit and mail bomber, is, simply, mentally ill. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, and there is nothing more about him to interest us. But the conventional wisdom is mistaken. I came to discover that Kaczynski is neither the extreme loner he has been made out to be nor in any clinical sense mentally ill. He is an intellectual and a convicted murderer, and to understand the connections between these two facts we must revisit his time at Harvard.

I first heard of the Murray experiment from Kaczynski himself. We had begun corresponding in July of 1998, a couple of months after a federal court in Sacramento sentenced him to life without possibility of parole. Kaczynski, I quickly discovered, was an indefatigable correspondent. Sometimes his letters to me came so fast that it was difficult to answer one before the next arrived. The letters were written with great humor, intelligence, and care. And, I found, he was in his own way a charming correspondent. He has apparently carried on a similarly voluminous correspondence with many others, often developing close friendships with them through the mail.Kaczynski told me that the Henry A. Murray Research Centerof the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, although it released some raw data about him to his attorneys, had refused to share information about the Murray team’s analysis of that data. Kaczynski hinted darkly that the Murray Center seemed to feel it had something to hide. One of his defense investigators, he said, reported that the center had told participating psychologists not to talk with his defense team.

After this intriguing start Kaczynski told me little more about the Murray experiment than what I could find in the published literature. Henry Murray’s widow, Nina, was friendly and cooperative, but could provide few answers to my questions. Several of the research assistants I interviewed couldn’t, or wouldn’t, talk much about the study. Nor could the Murray Center be entirely forthcoming. After considering my application, its research committee approved my request to view the records of this experiment, the so-called data set, which referred to subjects by code names only. But because Kaczynski’s alias was by then known to some journalists, I was not permitted to view his records.

Through research at the Murray Center and in the Harvard archives I found that, among its other purposes, Henry Murray’s experiment was intended to measure how people react under stress. Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation — what Murray himself called “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks, assaulting his subjects’ egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.

My quest was specific — to determine what effects, if any, the experiment may have had on Kaczynski. This was a subset of a larger question: What effects had Harvard had on Kaczynski? In 1998, as he faced trial for murder, Kaczynski was examined by Sally Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, at the order of a court. In her evaluation Johnson wrote that Kaczynski “has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices.” The Unabomber was created when these two belief systems converged. And it was at Harvard, Johnson suggested, that they first surfaced and met. She wrote,

During his college years he had fantasies of living a primitive life and fantasized himself as “an agitator, rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence.” He claims that during that time he started to think about breaking away from normal society.

It was at Harvard that Kaczynski first encountered the ideas about the evils of society that would provide a justification for and a focus to an anger he had felt since junior high school. It was at Harvard that he began to develop these ideas into his anti-technology ideology of revolution. It was at Harvard that Kaczynski began to have fantasies of revenge, began to dream of escaping into wilderness. And it was at Harvard, as far as can be determined, that he fixed on dualistic ideas of good and evil, and on a mathematical cognitive style that led him to think he could find absolute truth through the application of his own reason. Was the Unabomber — “the most intellectual serial killer the nation has ever produced,” as one criminologist has called him — born at Harvard?

The ManifestoTHE story of Kaczynski’s crimes began more than twenty-two years ago, but the chain of consequences they triggered has yet to run its course. Dubbed “the Unabomber” by the FBI because his early victims were associated with universities or airlines, Kaczynski conducted an increasingly lethal campaign of terrorism that began on May 26, 1978, when his first bomb slightly injured a Northwestern University public-safety officer, Terry Marker, and ended on April 24, 1995, when a bomb he had mailed killed the president of the California Forestry Association, Gilbert Murray. Yet until 1993 Kaczynski remained mute, and his intentions were entirely unknown.

By 1995 his explosives had taken a leap in sophistication; that year he suddenly became loquacious, writing letters to newspapers, magazines, targets, and a victim. Two years laterThe Washington Post, in conjunction with The New York Times, published copies of the 35,000-word essay that Kaczynski titled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” and which the press called “The Manifesto.”

Recognizing the manifesto as Kaczynski’s writing, his brother, David, turned Kaczynski in to the FBI, which arrested him at his Montana cabin on April 3, 1996. Later that year Kaczynski was removed to California to stand trial for, among other crimes, two Unabomber murders committed in that state. On January 8, 1998, having failed to dissuade his attorneys from their intention of presenting an insanity defense, and having failed to persuade the presiding judge, Garland E. Burrell Jr., to allow him to choose a new attorney, Kaczynski asked the court for permission to represent himself. In response Burrell ordered Sally Johnson to examine Kaczynski, to determine if he was competent to direct his own defense. Johnson offered a “provisional” diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but she concluded that Kaczynski was nevertheless competent to represent himself. Burrell refused to allow it. Faced with the prospect of a humiliating trial in which his attorneys would portray him as insane and his philosophy as the ravings of a madman, Kaczynski capitulated: in exchange for the government’s agreement not to seek the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to thirteen federal bombing offenses that killed three men and seriously injured two others, and acknowledged responsibility for sixteen bombings from 1978 to 1995. On May 4, 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Driving these events from first bomb to plea bargain was Kaczynski’s strong desire to have his ideas — as described in the manifesto — taken seriously.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences,” Kaczynski’s manifesto begins, “have been a disaster for the human race.” They have led, it contends, to the growth of a technological system dependent on a social, economic, and political order that suppresses individual freedom and destroys nature. “The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system.”

By forcing people to conform to machines rather than vice versa, the manifesto states, technology creates a sick society hostile to human potential. Because technology demands constant change, it destroys local, human-scale communities. Because it requires a high degree of social and economic organization, it encourages the growth of crowded and unlivable cities and of mega-states indifferent to the needs of citizens.

This evolution toward a civilization increasingly dominated by technology and the power structure serving technology, the manifesto argues, cannot be reversed on its own, because “technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom,” and because “while technological progress AS A WHOLE continually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be desirable.” Hence science and technology constitute “a mass power movement, and many scientists gratify their need for power through identification with this mass movement.” Therefore “the technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless ride into the unknown.”

Because human beings must conform to the machine,

our society tends to regard as a “sickness” any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system, and this is plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system. Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is seen as a “cure” for a “sickness” and therefore as good.

This requirement, the manifesto continues, has given rise to a social infrastructure dedicated to modifying behavior. This infrastructure includes an array of government agencies with ever-expanding police powers, an out-of-control regulatory system that encourages the limitless multiplication of laws, an education establishment that stresses conformism, ubiquitous television networks whose fare is essentially an electronic form of Valium, and a medical and psychological establishment that promotes the indiscriminate use of mind-altering drugs. Since the system threatens humanity’s survival and cannot be reformed, Kaczynski argued, it must be destroyed. Indeed, the system will probably collapse on its own, when the weight of human suffering it creates becomes unbearable. But the longer it persists, the more devastating will be the ultimate collapse. Hence “revolutionaries” like the Unabomber “by hastening the onset of the breakdown will be reducing the extent of the disaster.”

“We have no illusions about the feasibility of creating a new, ideal form of society,” Kaczynski wrote. “Our goal is only to destroy the existing form of society.” But this movement does have a further goal. It is to protect “wild nature,” which is the opposite of technology. Admittedly, “eliminating industrial society” may have some “negative consequences,” but “well, you can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

THE Unabomber’s manifesto was greeted in 1995 by many thoughtful people as a work of genius, or at least profundity, and as quite sane. In The New York Timesthe environmental writer Kirkpatrick Sale wrote that the Unabomber “is a rational man and his principal beliefs are, if hardly mainstream, entirely reasonable.” In The Nation Sale declared that the manifesto’s first sentence “is absolutely crucial for the American public to understand and ought to be on the forefront of the nation’s political agenda.” The science writer Robert Wright observed in Time magazine, “There’s a little bit of the unabomber in most of us.” An essay in The New Yorkerby Cynthia Ozick described the Unabomber as America’s “own Raskolnikov — the appealing, appalling, and disturbingly visionary murderer of ‘Crime and Punishment,’ Dostoyevsky’s masterwork of 1866.” Ozick called the Unabomber a “philosophical criminal of exceptional intelligence and humanitarian purpose, who is driven to commit murder out of an uncompromising idealism.” Sites devoted to the Unabomber multiplied on the Internet — the Church of Euthanasia Freedom ClubUnapack, the Unabomber Political Action Committee; alt.fan.unabomber; Chuck’s Unabomb Page; redacted.com; MetroActive; and Steve Hau’s Rest Stop. The University of Colorado hosted a panel titled “The Unabomber Had a Point.”

By 1997, however, when Kaczynski’s trial opened, the view had shifted. Although psychiatrists for the prosecution continued to cite the manifesto as proof of Kaczynski’s sanity, experts for the defense and many in the media now viewed it as a symptom and a product of severe mental illness. The document, they argued, revealed a paranoid mind. During the trial the press frequently quoted legal experts who attested to Kaczynski’s insanity. Gerald Lefcourt, then the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the defendant was “obviously disturbed.” Donald Heller, a former federal prosecutor, said, “This guy is not playing with a full deck.” The writer Maggie Scarf suggested in The New Republic that Kaczynski suffered from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School, is the author of The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczynski. He and William Finnegan, a writer for The New Yorker, have suggested that Kaczynski’s brother, David, his mother, Wanda, and their lawyer, Tony Bisceglie, along with Kaczynski’s defense attorneys, persuaded many in the media to portray Kaczynski as a paranoid schizophrenic. To a degree this is true. Anxious to save Kaczynski from execution, David and Wanda gave a succession of interviews from 1996 onward to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Sixty Minutes, among other outlets, in which they sought to portray Kaczynski as mentally disturbed and pathologically antisocial since childhood. Meanwhile — against his wishes and without his knowledge, Kaczynski insists — his attorneys launched a mental-health defense for their client.

One psychology expert for the defense, Karen Bronk Froming, concluded that Kaczynski exhibited a “predisposition to schizophrenia.” Another, David Vernon Foster, saw “a clear and consistent picture of schizophrenia, paranoid type.” Still another, Xavier F. Amador, described Kaczynski as “typical of the hundreds of patients with schizophrenia.” How did the experts reach their conclusions? Although objective tests alone suggested to Froming only that Kaczynski’s answers were “consistent with” schizophrenia, she told Finnegan it was Kaczynski’s writings — in particular his “anti-technology” views — that cemented this conclusion for her. Foster, who met with Kaczynski a few times but never formally examined him, cited his “delusional themes” as evidence of sickness. Amador, who never met Kaczynski at all, based his judgment on the “delusional beliefs” he detected in Kaczynski’s writing. And Sally Johnson’s provisional diagnosis — that Kaczynski suffered from “Paranoid Type” schizophrenia — was largely based on her conviction that he harbored “delusional beliefs” about the threats posed by technology. The experts also found evidence of Kaczynski’s insanity in his refusal to accept their diagnoses or to help them reach those diagnoses.

Most claims of mental illness rested on the diagnoses of experts whose judgments, therefore, derived largely from their opinions of Kaczynski’s philosophy and his personal habits — he was a recluse, a wild man in appearance, a slob of a housekeeper, a celibate — and from his refusal to admit he was ill. Thus Froming cited Kaczynski’s “unawareness of his disease” as an indication of illness. Foster complained of the defendant’s “symptom-based failure to cooperate fully with psychiatric evaluation.” Amador said that the defendant suffered “from severe deficits in awareness of illness.”

But Kaczynski was no more unkempt than many other people on our streets. His cabin was no messier than the offices of many college professors. The Montana wilds are filled with escapists like Kaczynski (and me). Celibacy and misanthropy are not diseases. Nor was Kaczynski really so much of a recluse. Any reporter could quickly discover, as I did through interviews with scores of people who have known Kaczynski (classmates, teachers, neighbors), that he was not the extreme loner he has been made out to be. And, surely, a refusal to admit to being insane or to cooperate with people who are paid to pronounce one insane cannot be taken seriously as proof of insanity.

Why were the media and the public so ready to dismiss Kaczynski as crazy? Kaczynski kept voluminous journals, and in one entry, apparently from before the bombing started, he anticipated this question.

I intend to start killing people. If I am successful at this, it is possible that, when I am caught (not alive, I fervently hope!) there will be some speculation in the news media as to my motives for killing…. If some speculation occurs, they are bound to make me out to be a sickie, and to ascribe to me motives of a sordid or “sick” type. Of course, the term “sick” in such a context represents a value judgment…. the news media may have something to say about me when I am killed or caught. And they are bound to try to analyse my psychology and depict me as “sick.” This powerful bias should be borne [in mind] in reading any attempts to analyse my psychology.

Michael Mello suggests that the public wished to see Kaczynski as insane because his ideas are too extreme for us to contemplate without discomfort. He challenges our most cherished beliefs. Mello writes,

The manifesto challenges the basic assumptions of virtually every interest group that was involved with the case: the lawyers, the mental health experts, the press and politics — both left and right…. Kaczynski’s defense team convinced the media and the public that Kaczynski was crazy, even in the absence of credible evidence … [because] we needed to believe it…. They decided that the Unabomber was mentally ill, and his ideas were mad. Then they forgot about the man and his ideas, and created a curative tale.

Mello is only half right. It is true that many believed Kaczynski was insane because they needed to believe it. But the truly disturbing aspect of Kaczynski and his ideas is not that they are so foreign but that they are so familiar. The manifesto is the work of neither a genius nor a maniac. Except for its call to violence, the ideas it expresses are perfectly ordinary and unoriginal, shared by many Americans. Its pessimism over the direction of civilization and its rejection of the modern world are shared especially with the country’s most highly educated. The manifesto is, in other words, an academic — and popular — cliché. And if concepts that many of us unreflectively accept can lead a person to commit serial murder, what does that say about us? We need to see Kaczynski as exceptional — madman or genius — because the alternative is so much more frightening.

“Exceedingly Stable”NO. 8 Prescott Street in Cambridge is a well-preserved three-story Victorian frame house, standing just outside Harvard Yard. Today it houses Harvard’s expository-writing program. But in September of 1958, when Ted Kaczynski, just sixteen, arrived at Harvard, 8 Prescott Street was a more unusual place, a sort of incubator. Earlier that year F. Skiddy von Stade Jr., Harvard’s dean of freshmen, had decided to use the house as living accommodations for the brightest, youngest freshmen. Von Stade’s well-intentioned idea was to provide these boys with a nurturing, intimate environment, so that they wouldn’t feel lost, as they might in the larger, less personal dorms. But in so doing he isolated the overly studious and less-mature boys from their classmates. He inadvertently created a ghetto for grinds, making social adjustment for them more, rather than less, difficult.

“I lived at Prescott Street that year too,” Michael Stucki told me recently. “And like Kaczynski, I was majoring in mathematics. Yet I swear I never ever even saw the guy.” Stucki, who recently retired after a career in computers, lived alone on the top floor, far from Kaczynski’s ground-floor room. In the unsocial society of 8 Prescott, that was a big distance. “It was not unusual to spend all one’s time in one’s room and then rush out the door to library or class,” Stucki said.

Francis Murphy, the Prescott Street proctor, was a graduate student who had studied for the Catholic priesthood, and to Kaczynski it seemed the house was intended to be run more like a monastery than a dorm. Whereas other freshmen lived in suites with one or two roommates, six of the sixteen students of Prescott Street, including Kaczynski, lived in single rooms. All but seven intended to major in a mathematical science. All but three came from high schools outside New England, and therefore knew few people in Massachusetts. They were, in Murphy’s words, “a serious, quiet bunch.”

Much has been made of Kaczynski’s being a “loner” and of his having been further isolated by Harvard’s famed snobbism. Snobbism was indeed pervasive at Harvard back then. A single false sartorial step could brand one an outcast. And Kaczynski looked shabby. He owned just two pairs of slacks and only a few shirts. Although he washed these each week in the coin-operated machine in the basement of the house next door to 8 Prescott, they became increasingly ragtag.

But it is a mistake to exaggerate Kaczynski’s isolation. Most public high schoolers at Harvard in those days, including Kaczynski, viewed the tweedy in-crowd as so many buttoned-down buffoons who did not realize how ridiculous they looked. And the evidence is that Kaczynski was neither exceptionally a loner nor, at least in his early years at Harvard, alienated from the school or his peers.

Harvard was a “tremendous thing for me,” Kaczynski wrote in an unpublished autobiography that he completed in 1998 and showed to me. “I got something that I had been needing all along without knowing it, namely, hard work requiring self-discipline and strenuous exercise of my abilities. I threw myself into this…. I thrived on it…. Feeling the strength of my own will, I became enthusiastic about will power.”

Freshmen were required to participate in sports, so Kaczynski took up swimming and then wrestling. He played the trombone, as he had in high school, even joining the Harvard band (which he quit almost as soon as he learned that he would have to attend drill sessions). He played pickup basketball. He made a few friends. One of his housemates, Gerald Burns, remembers sitting with Kaczynski in an all-night cafeteria, arguing about the philosophy of Kant. After Kaczynski’s arrest Burns wrote to the anarchist journal Fifth Estate that Kaczynski “was as normal as I am now: it was [just] harder on him because he was much younger than his classmates.” And indeed, most reports of his teachers, his academic adviser, his housemaster, and the health-services staff suggest that Kaczynski was in his first year at Harvard entirely balanced, although tending to be a loner. The health-services doctor who interviewed Kaczynski as part of the medical examination Harvard required for all freshmen observed,

Good impression created. Attractive, mature for age, relaxed…. Talks easily, fluently and pleasantly…. likes people and gets on well with them. May have many acquaintances but makes his friends carefully. Prefers to be by himself part of the time at least. May be slightly shy…. Essentially a practical and realistic planner and an efficient worker…. Exceedingly stable, well integrated and feels secure within himself. Usually very adaptable. May have many achievements and satisfactions.

The doctor further described Kaczynski thus: “Pleasant young man who is below usual college entrance age. Apparently a good mathematician but seems to be gifted in this direction only. Plans not crystallized yet but this is to be expected at his age. Is slightly shy and retiring but not to any abnormal extent. Should be [a] steady worker.”

Continued…(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part two, part three, or part four.)

Alston Chase is the author of Playing God in Yellowstone(1986) and In a Dark Wood (1995). He is at work on a book about Theodore Kaczynski.

The Price of Our Imperial Wars Hitting Home, With Frontline Troops Hoping Their Wives Get Paid

“My soul aches when I think about hungry soldiers, unpaid officers and their families, who have been suffering for years without a home of their own.”–Boris Yeltsin

Anxiety in Afghanistan over troops pay if US defaults

* Aug. 2 deadline raises anxiety for U.S. troops

* Fallout on U.S. forces from a default unknown

* U.S. troops seen reporting for duty regardless

By Phil Stewart

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 30 (Reuters) – It is unclear if the United States will be able to pay troops on time in the event of a debt default, the top U.S. military officer told troops in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pentagon officials were working hard to plan for a potential default but cautioned that the circumstances were extraordinary.

“So I honestly can’t answer that question,” he told troops at Kandahar air base in southern Afghanistan, as several expressed anxiety over budget wrangling in Washington.

Potentially suspending pay to U.S. forces waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is an extremely sensitive subject in the United States and Mullen acknowledged that many troops lived paycheck to paycheck.

“So if paychecks were to stop, it would have a devastating impact,” Mullen said, answering questions from troops.

“I’d like to give you a better answer than that right now, I just honestly don’t know,” he said.

The United States has warned that it will run out of money to pay all of its bills after Aug. 2 without a deal from Congress to raise a $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Where U.S. troops fall in priority for payment in a default has not been made clear.

With $172 billion of revenue between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, the U.S. Treasury could fully fund Social Security payments, Medicare and Medicaid, interest on the debt, defense vendor payments and unemployment insurance, found a study by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center.

But that would leave entire government departments — such as Labor, Commerce, Energy and Justice — unfunded, and many others unpaid, like active-duty troops and the federal workforce.

Mullen said he believed that troops would be paid eventually, and added that there was an expectation U.S. forces, seen as essential to national security, would need to show up for work.

“I have confidence that at some point in time whatever compensation you were owed you will be given,” he said.

“But I don’t know mechanically exactly how that would happen. And it is a huge concern.”

While a group of congressmen pushed forward a bill this week to ensure that the active military servicemen still get paid in the case of default, there’s no firm plan yet.

The White House hasn’t made any assurances and neither has the Treasury Department.

Some financial organizations that service military clients, like USAA and the Andrews Federal Credit Union, have stepped up to say that they will advance pay if there is a default. (Editing byMichelle Nichols)

Are rightwing bloggers to blame for the Norway massacre?

Are rightwing bloggers to blame for the Norway massacre?

In an article titled Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S., the New York Times highlights the connection between Anders Behring Breivik and American bloggers:

The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them…

His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.

Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other antijihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik’s actions was “ridiculous.”

Much as I find Geller’s writing execrable, the primary responsibility for the slaughter in Norway rests with the cowardly killer and not the hate-mongers he quotes in his pathetic manifesto.

That’s not to say that there are no consequences for spewing a constant stream of hatred and intolerance.

After the Giffords shooting, I wrote about eliminationism on the right. My focus was on the invective directed by rightwingers at the left, but it also applies to anti-Muslim bigotry rampant on a number of conservative sites…

Hate breeds violence (Originally posted 1/8/11)

Anyone who listens to the relentless liberal-bashing on rightwing radio and other conservative outlets will quickly realize that the level of vitriol and derision directed at the left will inevitably provoke a few individuals to act out. And they do. Often with deadly consequences.

Digby explains:

It is clear to me that most people in journalism and (non-right wing) blogging do not listen to right wing talk radio very often and simply cannot believe it when critics report what they are saying. … I realize that it’s hard to believe that Americans are this obnoxious. It’s probably even harder to believe they are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to promote this bigotry on the radio to millions of other Americans, but they are — they are speaking the language of eliminationism and hate day after day after day. If it soothes you to believe that those who are alarmed by that are the intemperate ones so be it, but it doesn’t change what they are doing or the effect it’s had on our politics.

For context, read The Terrorist Threat: Right-Wing Radicals and the Eliminationist Mindset:

An abortion provider who had been a frequent target of Fox News’ bloviator Bill O’Reilly was gunned down during a church service in Kansas; a mentally disturbed man who believed the “tea-bagging” movement’s contention that the Obama administration is destroying the American economy — and who reportedly owned a number of firearms — withdrew $85,000 from his bank account, said he was part of a plot to assassinate the president and disappeared (he was later captured in Las Vegas); and this week, a white supremacist who was deeply steeped in far-right conspiracism entered the U.S. Holocaust Museum and opened fire, killing a guard before being shot and wounded by security personnel.

The three incidents share a common feature: All of these men thought they were serving a higher moral purpose, that is, defending their country from an insidious “enemy within” as defined by the far right — a “baby-killer,” the Jews who secretly control the world and a president who’s been accused of being aManchurian Candidate-style foreign agent bent on nothing less than the destruction of the American Way.

David Neiwert, a veteran journalist who has covered violent right-wing groups for years, calls the worldview that informs this twisted sense of moral purpose “eliminationism.” It’s the belief that one’s political opponents are not just wrongheaded, misinformed or even acting in bad faith. Eliminationism holds that they are a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation.

As eliminationist rhetoric becomes increasingly mainstream within the American right — fueled in large part by the wildly overheated discourse found on conservative blogs and talk radio — Neiwert’s new book,The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, could not have come at a more important time. In it, Neiwert painstakingly details how the rise in eliminationism is a very real threat and points to the dangers of dismissing extreme rhetoric as merely a form of “entertainment.”

Here’s an exceptionally detailed post from Media Matters on another example of rightwing hate breeding violence:

I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.” – Byron Williams

Byron Williams, a 45-year-old ex-felon, exploded onto the national stage in the early morning hours of July 18.

According to a police investigation, Williams opened fire on California Highway Patrol officers who had stopped him on an Oakland freeway for driving erratically. For 12 frantic minutes, Williams traded shots with the police, employing three firearms and a small arsenal of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds fired from a .308-caliber rifle.

When the smoke cleared, Williams surrendered; the ballistic body armor he was wearing had saved his life. Miraculously, only two of the 10 CHP officers involved in the shootout were injured.

In an affidavit, an Oakland police investigator reported that during an interview at the hospital, Williams “stated that his intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”

One myth promulgated by the right and the media is that there is equivalence between provocative language on the far left and far right, but that is far from the case:

Even the most cursory perusal of rightwing radio, television, blogs and assorted punditry illustrates a profound distinction: in large measure, the right’s overarching purpose is to stoke hatred of the left, of liberalism. The right’s messaging infrastructure, meticulously constructed and refined over decades, promotes an image of liberals as traitors and America-haters, unworthy of their country and bent on destroying it. There is simply no comparable propaganda effort on the left.

The imbalance is stark: Democrats and liberals rail against the right’s ideas; the right rails against the left’s very existence.

The result is an atmosphere where bigotry thrives, where science and reason are under assault, where progress (associated with progressivism) is frowned upon. And it’s an atmosphere where violence becomes more likely. Pretending this is not the case is to enable it.

The deeply-etched themes that run through American politics reflect the right’s successful framing: Democrats and liberals are wimps, Republicans and conservatives are gun-toting patriots; Democrats and liberals despise their country, Republicans and conservatives are the only ones willing to protect it; Democrats and liberals want to intrude on your freedom, tax you and bankrupt the nation, Republicans and conservatives want to give you freedom, liberty and wealth. The current of eliminationism infusing the right’s worldview is an inevitable outcome of such contorted impressions – it’s a natural impulse to want to destroy that which is (supposedly) destroying you.

Those who foist the false right/left equivalency ignore this reality. Their definition of extremism is necessarily warped, since they have to stretch logic to fabricate a sense of balance. If you want single-payer health care, you’re a liberal extremist, but if you deny global warming, you’re simply a conservative skeptic. As the national discourse moves further and further right, only the most unhinged rightwingers are tagged as extreme, while all it takes for a liberal to be labeled an extremist is to espouse a policy position that is out of the mainstream. That is not to say there are not violent individuals and extremists on the left, but that it is absurd to argue that left and right are comparable in the language of violence and incitement.

When center becomes right and right becomes far right, conservatives can get away with wilder and weirder behavior. Exhortations from radio blatherers to bash liberals are dismissed as “entertainment.” Glenn Beck’s bizarre rantings barely get a yawn.

This has been a long time coming and culpability lies not just with the haters but with those in the media and Democratic establishment who refuse to confront the hate-mongering when they see it. Here’s something I wrote about Ann Coulter in 2006.  It sums up everything I want to say about the ongoing demonization of the left and the resulting potential for violence [The title of Coulter's most recent book is "Demonic"]:

NBC, a major U.S. media outlet, has given Coulter extended play in recent days. They have knowingly given a public forum to a woman who slandered 9/11 widows and who is now on the record identifying John Murtha, a U.S. Congressman, a Marine, as an ideal target for murder. Anybody who watched Ann Coulter’s June 14th appearance on the Tonight Show had to realize that it was a watershed moment in the war between the establishment media and the progressive netroots. It was also a signal to Democrats that liberal ideology can be denigrated with impunity. Had the words “Jew” or “Christian” or “Conservative” been substituted for “Liberal” we’d be waking up to a national scandal.

Never mind that Jay Leno and George Carlin sat like trembling lambs while Coulter spewed gutter-level invective at millions of Americans – we’ve already seen the same obsequiousness from Larry King, Matt Lauer (who ended his faux-debate with Coulter by saying “always fun to have you”) and others. The larger issue here is that despite an uproar from the progressive netroots, NBC saw fit to give Coulter a platform to continue her liberal-scapegoating and to slander women who lost their husbands on 9/11.

It’s hard to deny that Coulter’s words border on incitement. What she says is neither amusing nor smart nor humorous nor factual nor worthy of airing on a major media outlet. It treats a substantial segment of the population as sub-human, as creatures deserving of public scorn and worse (She said Jesus would say that “we are called upon to do battle” on liberalism). Careful not to violate Godwin’s Law, I’ll refrain from the obvious comparisons, but what we’re dealing with here is a dangerous inflection point in American politics. When this kind of opprobrium is peddled by major media outlets, it’s high time that the Democratic establishment and the larger progressive community understand that this is a make-or-break showdown with the media.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their ilk have made an industry out of liberal-bashing. Coulter fits in perfectly with those hate-traffickers. And contrary to the false Michael Moore comparisons made by Leno and others, there is no progressive counterpart to these people on the national stage. The basic thrust of the left’s critique is that George W. Bush and his administration are bad for America. It is in our tradition for citizens to defend the Constitution and to question the actions of their elected leaders. Rightwingers may characterize it as Bush Derangement Syndrome, but the progressive community, for the most part, is going after government corruption and lies, not vilifying an entire group of Americans as Bin Laden-loving traitors.

Nearly five years after I wrote that, only one thing has changed: the problem has gotten worse.

Melissa McEwan nails it:

This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is. This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.

This is a fact. It is not debatable.

And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of “both sides are just as bad,” and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it’s irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.

The Norway tragedy is the work of an evil individual, and he should burn in hell for his barbaric actions. He is culpable for the carnage he wrought, not the bloggers from whom he drew inspiration. The blood of children is on his hands. Nevertheless, we would be foolish to discount the climate created by the torrent of invective and incitement emanating from America’s right.

Breivik and the Anti-Muslim Right

Breivik and the Anti-Muslim Right 

Posted by Michael Cohen

I, for one, am shocked, shocked to read that anti-Muslim bigots are defending themselvesagainst charges of culpability in the heinous terrorist acts of Anders Behring Breivik, by hiding behind the narrow reed that they never specifically advocated violence against children.

I was even more surprised that my good friend and colleague, Josh Foust, is making a similar argument, claiming that “In reality, no one really understands why they or anyone else behaves the way they do” and that “it does not follow that [anti-Muslim] writers should be linked to and blamed for his attacks. All of them, to a person, have distanced themselves from and condemned Breivik’s actions.” This strikes me as a far too generous read on the damage being wrought, both directly and indirectly, by the propagation of anti-Muslim narratives not just in Europe, but certainly also in the United States.

Certainly these writers don’t deserve direct blame for Breivik’s horrific actions (and it doesn’t mean one should put restrictions on their right to free speech). However the notion that hate-filled words and paranoid assertions about Islamic “takeover” somehow operate in a vacuum and don’t inform, inspire or, above all, validate the views of sociopaths likeBrievik runs counter to well-understood links between extreme and paranoid narratives and activism and violence. Individuals who are prone to paranoia, fetishize violence, demonstrate anti-social or sociopathic behavior or externalize blame can certainly be susceptible to conspiratorial and eliminationist narratives.

Honestly, is anyone really shocked that as anti-Muslim attitudes have increased in recent years (on both sides of the Atlantic) that something like this has happened? It’s like being shocked that as anti-government attitudes took on greater prominence in the early 1990s, Oklahoma City happened. (The only thing most surprising is that Breivik’s actual violence was perpetrated against non-Muslims).

Indeed, Breivik’s own manifesto, apes the hate-filled fear mongering of Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and other anti-Muslim bigots. He cites both writers and other anti-Islamistfearmongers in his 1,500 page manifesto that was released at approximately the same moment that he was engaging in one of the worst acts of mass violence in Europe since WWII. He is, as Toby Archer in Foreign Policy said a clear product of “predominantly web-based community of anti-Muslim, anti-government, and anti-immigration bloggers, writers, and activists.” Again, Breivik and his views didn’t just emerge from the ether.

Similarly as Brian Fishman nicely points out, Breivik’s actions coincide with the rise of radical right extremists and incipient revanchist nationalism across Europe. It stretches credulity to argue that this is all just a coincidence or that Breivik’s actions were in no way influenced or his beliefs validated by extremist narratives about Islam andmulti-culturalism that present these as some sort of existential threat to European civilization. Indeed, at his court hearing today Breivik plead not guilty, because he “believes that he needed to carry out these acts to save Norway” and western Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination.”

Of course, such rhetoric is clearly not restricted to Islam – and especially in the UnitedStates. We see it when pro-life advocates describe abortion doctors as “murderers”; we see it when political leaders warn that their opponents are seeking to ‘destroy America'; we see it when some of those same leaders talk about their political opponents with the use of eliminationist rhetoric. Stoking hatred and presenting opponents as not simply wrong, but immoral is the sort of speech that is and should be protected – but also should be recognized for what it is, deeply dangerous. (Peter Daou has a great post on this here). After the Gabrielle Giffords a lot of commentators jumped to false conclusions about what drove Jared Loughner to violence – but in a sense trying to find that connection was almost secondary in importance. Loughner may not have been influenced by Sarah Palin puttingcrosshairs over the names of vulnerable Democratic officeholders; it doesn’t mean such speech isn’t reckless and irresponsible.

Again, none of this means that those who might have inspired or influenced Breivik are responsible for his actions. And we certainly can’t know for sure if Breivik would have acted the way he did even if not for the anti-Muslims rantings of others (though it does appear on the surface that these words served as validation for his own toxic views).

But it also doesn’t mean that we should be blind to the consequences of hate-filled language.

If anything it should lead to greater scrutiny of how such words are being interpreted and even harsher condemnation for them.  And that goes for both hate-mongers and political leaders, like the majority of Republicans running for President who have warned of creeping sharia – a stance that casually plays on anti-Muslim attitudes for electoral gain. Arguing that bigoted and prejudice speech is a value neutral exercise because it is not accompanied by calls for violence is, for a lack of a better term, a bit of cop-out.

Speech matters and those who would traffic in eliminationist, extremist narratives don’t get a pass when violent psychopaths take such rhetoric to a not illogical, violent end.

The Ultimate Cost of Forcing Moral Young Men To Fight Multiple Immoral Wars

“Psychotropic drug: Any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, and behavior. Some legal drugs such as lithium for depression are psychotropic. Many illicit drugs such as cocaine are also psychotropic. Also called a psychodynamic drug.

From the Greek psycho-, the mind + trop, a turning = (capable of) turning the mind.”

Military Deaths Linked to Prescribed Psych Drugs

If mentally incapacitated troops are being drugged with dangerous, mind-altering drugs and deployed to battle against their will, how can we say that we have a volunteer army?

The increasingly high number of DEATHS in the US military–from suicides, accidental overdose, and, increasingly, lethal drug interactions–has been linked to the exponential increase in the prescribing of powerful, psychotropic drugs.

Since The Hartford Courant first published several investigative reports (2006) about the deadly consequences of prescribing powerful psychotropic drugs to US troops who were deployed to battle with a supply of these mind-altering drugs–where those ingesting them pose a danger both to themselves and to the other troops–a series of reports have documented the continued rise in the death toll..

The latest report in The New York Times (February, 2011, below), confirms that the norm and practice in the military is reliance on potentially lethal psychotropic drug combinations continues–even as the body count climbs.

 “After a decade of treating thousands of wounded troops, the military’s medical system is awash in prescription drugs — and the results have sometimes been deadly.

By some estimates, well over 300,000 troops have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with P.T.S.D., depression, traumatic brain injury or some combination of those. The Pentagon has looked to pharmacology to treat those complex problems, following the lead of civilian medicine. As a result, psychiatric drugs have been used more widely across the military than in any previous war.

But those medications, along with narcotic painkillers, are being increasingly linked to a rising tide of other problems, among them drug dependency, suicide and fatal accidents — sometimes from the interaction of the drugs themselves. 

An Army report on suicide released last year documented the problem, saying one-third of the force was on at least one prescription medication.

“Prescription drug use is on the rise,” the report said, noting that medications were involved in one-third of the record 162 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009. An additional 101 soldiers died accidentally from the toxic mixing of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2009.”

 THE HARTFORD COURANT / ASSOCIATED PRESS   MAY 14, 2006   Military Ignores Mental Illness

“The U.S. military is sending troops with serious psychological problems into Iraq and is keeping soldiers in combat even after superiors have been alerted to suicide warnings and other signs of mental illness, a Courant investigation has found.  Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring. And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.

“Some service members who committed suicide in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite clear signs of mental distress, sometimes after being prescribed antidepressants with little or no mental health counseling or monitoring, the Courant reported. Those findings conflict with regulations adopted last year by the Army that caution against the use of antidepressants for “extended deployments.”

“I can’t imagine something more irresponsible than putting a Soldier suffering from stress on (antidepressants), when you know these drugs can cause people to become suicidal and homicidal,” said Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a New York-based advocacy group. “You’re creating chemically activated time bombs.”


TIME MAGAZINE   FEBRUARY 9, 2009  America’s Medicated Army

For the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The medicines are intended not only to help troops keep their cool but also to enable the already strapped Army to preserve its most precious resource:soldiers on the front lines.

Data contained in the Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicate that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken last fall, about 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope. Escalating violence in Afghanistan and the more isolated mission have driven troops to rely more on medication there than in Iraq, military officials say.”

TRUTHOUT  Hearing Debates Link Between Psychiatric Drugs and Veterans’ SuicidesThursday 25 February 2010

Beginning in 2002, the suicide rate among soldiers rose significantly, reaching record levels in 2007 and again in 2008 despite the Army’s major prevention and intervention efforts,

 THE NAVY TIMES   Mar 17, 2010   Medicating the military

 EXCERPT:  The DLA records detail the range of drugs being prescribed to the military community and the spending on them:

• Antipsychotic medications, including Seroquel and Risperdal, spiked most dramatically — orders jumped by more than 200 percent, and annual spending more than quadrupled, from $4 million to $16 million.

• Use of anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives such as Valium and Ambien also rose substantially; orders increased 170 percent, while spending nearly tripled, from $6 million to about $17 million.

• Antiepileptic drugs, also known as anticonvulsants, were among the most commonly used psychiatric medications. Annual orders for these drugs increased about 70 percent, while spending more than doubled, from $16 million to $35 million.

• Antidepressants had a comparatively modest 40 percent gain in orders, but it was the only drug group to show an overall decrease in spending, from $49 million in 2001 to $41 million in 2009, a drop of 16 percent. The debut in recent years of cheaper generic versions of these drugs is likely responsible for driving down costs.

Antidepressants and anticonvulsants are the most common mental health medications prescribed to service members. Seventeen percent of the active-duty force, and as much as 6 percent of deployed troops, are on antidepressants, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the Army’s highest-ranking psychiatrist, told Congress on Feb. 24.

In contrast, about 10 percent of all Americans take antidepressants, according to a 2009 Columbia University study.


Doctors — and, more recently, lawmakers — are questioning whether the drugs could be responsible for the spike in military suicides during the past several years, an upward trend that roughly parallels the rise in psychiatric drug use.

From 2001 to 2009, the Army’s suicide rate increased more than 150 percent, from 9 per 100,000 soldiers to 23 per 100,000. The Marine Corps suicide rate is up about 50 percent, from 16.7 per 100,000 Marines in 2001 to 24 per 100,000 last year. Orders for psychiatric drugs in the analysis rose 76 percent over the same period.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the newer antidepressants commonly prescribed by the military can cause or worsen suicidality, aggression and other dangerous mental states,” said Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who testified at the same Feb. 24 congressional hearing at which Sutton appeared.

Other side effects — increased irritability, aggressiveness and hostility — also could pose a risk.


USA TODAY  January 20, 2011  More Army Guard, Reserve soldiers committing suicide

The Army released final year-end statistics Wednesday. There were 301 confirmed or suspected soldier suicides in 2010, including those on active duty and reservists or National Guard troops on an inactive status, the Army reported Wednesday. This compares with 242 in 2009.

See also chart documenting US Military Suicides, 2003-2010 at Peace Patriotic.org

The prescribing practices border on reckless endangerment–which is a felony. Two questions arise:

1. If mentally incapacitated troops are being drugged and deployed against their will, how can we say that we have a volunteer army?

2. How is this prescribing practice any less deplorable than prison chain gangs?


Vera Hassner Sharav


 THE NEW YORK TIMES  February 12, 2011

For Some Troops, Powerful Drug Cocktails Have Deadly Results  

This article was reported by James Dao, Benedict Carey and Dan Frosch and written by Mr. Dao.

In his last months alive, Senior Airman Anthony Mena rarely left home without a backpack filled with medications. He returned from his second deployment to Iraq complaining of back pain, insomnia, anxiety and nightmares. Doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and prescribed powerful cocktails of psychiatric drugs and narcotics.

Yet his pain only deepened, as did his depression. “I have almost given up hope,” he told a doctor in 2008, medical records show. “I should have died in Iraq.”

Airman Mena died instead in his Albuquerque apartment, on July 21, 2009, five months after leaving the Air Force on a medical discharge. A toxicologist found eight prescription medications in his blood, including threeantidepressants, a sedative, a sleeping pill and two potent painkillers.

Yet his death was no suicide, the medical examiner concluded. What killed Airman Mena was not an overdose of any one drug, but the interaction of many. He was 23.

After a decade of treating thousands of wounded troops, the military’s medical system is awash in prescription drugs — and the results have sometimes been deadly.

By some estimates, well over 300,000 troops have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with P.T.S.D., depression,traumatic brain injury or some combination of those. The Pentagon has looked to pharmacology to treat those complex problems, following the lead of civilian medicine. As a result, psychiatric drugs have been used more widely across the military than in any previous war.

But those medications, along with narcotic painkillers, are being increasingly linked to a rising tide of other problems, among them drug dependency, suicide and fatal accidents — sometimes from the interaction of the drugs themselves. An Army report on suicide released last year documented the problem, saying one-third of the force was on at least one prescription medication.

“Prescription drug use is on the rise,” the report said, noting that medications were involved in one-third of the record 162 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009. An additional 101 soldiers died accidentally from the toxic mixing of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2009.

“I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army who has led efforts on suicide, said in an interview.

Growing awareness of the dangers of overmedicated troops has prompted the Defense Department to improve the monitoring of prescription medications and restrict their use.

In November, the Army issued a new policy on the use of multiple medications that calls for increased training for clinicians, 30-day limits on new prescriptions and comprehensive reviews of cases where patients are receiving four or more drugs.

The Pentagon is also promoting measures to prevent troops from stockpiling medications, a common source of overdoses. For instance, the Navy, which provides medical care for Marines, has begun pill “give back” days on certain bases. At Camp Lejeune, N.C., 22,000 expired pills were returned in December.

The Army and the Navy are also offering more treatments without drugs, including acupuncture and yoga. And they have tried to expand talk therapy programs — one of which, exposure therapy, is considered by some experts to be the only proven treatment for P.T.S.D. But shortages of mental health professionals have hampered those efforts.

Still, given the depth of the medical problems facing combat veterans, as well as the medical system’s heavy reliance on drugs, few experts expect the widespread use of multiple medications to decline significantly anytime soon.

The New York Times reviewed in detail the cases of three service members who died from what coroners said were toxic interactions of prescription drugs. All were classified accidents, not suicides.

Airman Mena was part of a military police unit that conducted combat patrols alongside Army units in downtown Baghdad. He cleaned up the remains of suicide bombing victims and was nearly killed by a bomb himself, his records show.

Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Bachus had spent virtually his entire adult life in the Marine Corps, deploying to the Middle East in 1991, Iraq during the invasion of 2003 and, for a short tour, Afghanistan in 2005. He suffered from what doctors called survivor’s guilt and came back “like a ghost,” said his brother, Jerry, of Westerville, Ohio.

Cpl. Nicholas Endicott joined the Marines in 2003 after working as a coal miner in West Virginia. He deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, where he saw heavy combat. On one mission, Corporal Endicott was blown more than eight feet in the air by a roadside bomb, medical records show. He came home plagued by nightmares and flashbacks and rarely left the house.

Given the complexity of drug interactions, it is difficult to know precisely what killed the three men, and the Pentagon declined to discuss their cases, citing confidentiality. But there were important similarities to their stories.

All the men had been deployed multiple times and eventually received diagnoses of P.T.S.D. All had five or more medications in their systems when they died, including opiate painkillers and mood-altering psychiatric drugs, but not alcohol. All had switched drugs repeatedly, hoping for better results that never arrived.

All died in their sleep.

Psychiatry and Warfare

The military medical system has struggled to meet the demand caused by two wars, and to this day it still reports shortages of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. But medications have always been readily available.

Across all branches, spending on psychiatric drugs has more than doubled since 2001, to $280 million in 2010, according to numbers obtained from the Defense Logistics Agency by a Cornell University psychiatrist, Dr. Richard A. Friedman.

Clinicians in the health systems of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments say that for most patients, those medications have proved safe. “It is important not to understate the benefit of these medications,” said Dr. Robert Kerns, the national director of pain management for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Paradoxically, the military came under criticism a decade ago for not prescribing enough medications, particularly for pain. In its willingness to prescribe more readily, the Pentagon was trying to meet standards similar to civilian medicine, General Chiarelli said.

But the response of modern psychiatry to modern warfare has not always been perfect. Psychiatrists still do not have good medications for the social withdrawal, nightmares and irritability that often accompany post-traumatic stress, so they mix and match drugs, trying to relieve symptoms.

“These decisions about medication are difficult enough in civilian psychiatry, but unfortunately in this very-high-stress population, there is almost no data to guide you,” said Dr. Ranga R. Krishnan, a psychiatrist at Duke University. “The psychiatrist is trying everything and to some extent is flying blind.”

Thousands of troops struggle with insomnia, anxiety and chronic pain — a combination that is particularly treacherous to treat with medications. Pairing a pain medication like oxycodone, a narcotic, with an anti-anxiety drug like Xanax, a so-called benzodiazepine, amplifies the tranquilizing effects of both, doctors say.

Similarly, antidepressants like Prozac or Celexa block liver enzymes that help break down narcotics and anxiety drugs, extending their effects.

“The sedation is not necessarily two plus two is four,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Malone, a Navy forensicpsychiatrist. “It could be synergistic. So two plus two could be five.”

Commander Malone and other military doctors said the key to the safe use of multiple prescriptions was careful monitoring: each time clinicians prescribe drugs, they must review a patient’s records and adjust dosages to reduce the risk of harmful interactions. “The goal is to use the least amount of medication at the lowest doses possible to help that patient,” she said.

But there are limits to the monitoring. Troops who see private clinicians — commonly done to avoid the stigma of seeking mental health care on a base — may receive medications that are not recorded in their official military health records.

In the case of Sergeant Bachus of the Marines, it is far from clear that he received the least amount of medication possible.

He saw combat in Iraq, his brother said, and struggled with alcoholism, anxiety, flashbacks, irritability and what doctors called survivor’s guilt after returning home. “He could make himself the life of the party,” Jerry Bachus recalled. “But he came back a shell, like a ghost.”

Sergeant Bachus received a diagnosis of P.T.S.D., and starting in 2005, doctors put him on a regimen that included Celexa for depression, Klonopin for anxiety and Risperdal, an antipsychotic. In 2006, after a period of stability, a military doctor discontinued his medications. But six months later, Sergeant Bachus asked to be put on them again.

According to a detailed autopsy report, his depression and anxiety worsened in late 2006. Yet for unexplained reasons, he was allowed to deploy to Iraq for a second time in early 2007. But when his commanders discovered that he was on psychiatric medications, he was sent home after just a few months, records show.

Frustrated and ashamed that he could not be in a front-line unit and unwilling to work behind a desk, he applied in late 2007 for a medical retirement, a lengthy and often stressful process that seemed to darken his mood.

In early March 2008, a military doctor began giving him an opiate painkiller for his back. A few days later, Sergeant Bachus, 38, called his wife, who was living in Ohio. He sounded delusional, she told investigators later, but not suicidal.

“You know, babe, I am really tired, and I don’t think I’ll have any problems falling asleep tonight,” he told her. He was found dead in his on-base quarters in North Carolina nearly three days later.

According to the autopsy report, Sergeant Bachus had in his system two antidepressants, the opiates oxymorphone and oxycodone, and Ativan for anxiety. The delirium he experienced in his final days was “most likely due to the interaction of his medications,” the report said.

Nearly 30 prescription pill bottles were found at the scene, most of them recently prescribed, according to the report.

Jerry Bachus pressed the Marine Corps and the Navy for more information about his brother’s death, but received no further explanations. “There was nothing accidental about it,” he said. “It was inevitable.”


The widespread availability of prescription medications is increasingly being linked by military officials to growingsubstance abuse, particularly with opiates. A Defense Department survey last year found that the illegal use of prescription drugs in the military had tripled from 2005 to 2008, with five times as many troops claiming to abuse prescription drugs than illegal ones like cocaine or marijuana.

The problem has become particularly acute in specialized units for wounded troops, where commanders say the trading of prescription medications is rampant. A report released last month by the Army inspector general estimated that up to a third of all soldiers in these Warrior Transition Units are overmedicated, dependent on medications or have easy access to illegal drugs.

Some of that abuse is for recreational purposes, military officials say. In response, the Army has taken several steps to tighten the monitoring of troops on multiple prescriptions in the transition units.

But in many cases, wounded troops are acquiring drugs improperly because their own prescriptions seem ineffective, experts say. They are self-medicating, sometimes to death.

“This is a huge issue, and partly it’s due to the availability of prescription drugs among returning troops,” said Dr. Martin P. Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, and the V.A. San Diego Medical Center. “Everyone knows someone who’ll say, ‘Hey, this worked for me, give it a try.’ ”

Corporal Endicott, for instance, died after adding the opiate painkiller methadone to his already long list of prescribed medications. His doctors said that they did not know where he got the narcotic and that they had not authorized it.

Corporal Endicott, who survived a roadside bomb explosion, was in heavy fighting in Afghanistan, where he saw other Marines killed. After returning from his third deployment, in 2007, Corporal Endicott told doctors that he was having nightmares and flashbacks and rarely left his house. After a car accident, he assaulted the other driver, according to medical records. Doctors diagnosed P.T.S.D. and came to suspect that Corporal Endicott had a traumatic brain injury.

Over the coming year, he was prescribed at least five medications, including the antidepressants Prozac andTrazodone, and an anti-anxiety medication. Yet he continued to have headaches, anxiety and vivid nightmares.

“He would be hitting the headboard,” said his father, Charles. “He would be saying: ‘Get down! Here they come!’ ”

On Jan. 29, 2008, Corporal Endicott was found dead in his room at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he had checked himself in for anger management after another car accident. He was 26.

A toxicologist detected at least nine prescription drugs in his system, including five different benzodiazepines, drugs used to reduce anxiety or improve sleep. Small amounts of marijuana and methadone — a narcotic that is particularly dangerous when mixed with benzodiazepines — were also found in his body.

His death prompted Marine Corps officials at Bethesda and Walter Reed Army Medical Center to initiate new procedures to keep Marines from inappropriately mixing medications, including assigning case managers to oversee patients, records show.

Whether Corporal Endicott used methadone to get high or to relieve pain remains unclear. The Marine Corps concluded that his death was not due to misconduct.

“He survived over there,” his father said. “Coming home and dying in a hospital? It’s a disgrace.”

Trying to Numb the Pain

Airman Mena also returned from war a drastically changed man. He had deployed to Iraq in 2005 but saw little action and wanted to go back. He got the chance in late 2006, when sectarian violence was hitting a peak.

After coming home, he spoke repeatedly of feeling guilty about missing patrols where a sergeant was killed and where several platoon mates were seriously wounded. Had he been driving on those missions, he told therapists, he would have avoided the attacks.

“On my first day, I saw a total of 12 bodies,” he said in one psychological assessment. “Over there, I lost faith in God, because how can God allow all these dead bodies?”

By the summer of 2008, he was on half a dozen medications for depression, anxiety, insomnia and pain. His back and neck pain worsened, but Air Force doctors could not pinpoint a cause. Once gregarious and carefree, Airman Mena had become perpetually irritable. At times he seemed to have hallucinations, his mother and friends said, and was often full of rage while driving.

In February 2009, he received an honorable discharge and was given a 100 percent disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning he was considered unable to work. He abandoned plans to become a police officer.

Now a veteran, his steady medication regimen continued — but did not seem to make him better. His mother, Pat Mena, recalls him being unable to sleep yet also listless, his face a constant shade of pale. Shocked by the piles of pills in his Albuquerque apartment, she once flushed dozens of old prescriptions down the toilet.

Yet for all his troubles, he seemed hopeful when she visited him in early July 2009. He was making plans to open a cigar store, which he planned to call Fumar. His mother would be in charge of decorating it.

The night after his mother left, he put on a new Fentanyl patch, a powerful narcotic often used by cancerpatients that he had started using just five weeks before. The Food and Drug Administration issued warnings about the patches in 2007 after deaths were linked to it, but a private clinic in Albuquerque prescribed the medication because his other painkillers had failed, records show.

With his increasingly bad memory, he often forgot what pills he was taking, his mother said. That night when he put on his new patch, he forgot to remove the old one. He died early the next day.

Was the Fentanyl the cause? Or was it the hydromorphone, another narcotic found in his system? Or the antidepressants? Or the sedative Xanax? Or all of the above?

The medical examiner could not say for sure, noting simply that the drugs together had caused “respiratory depression.”“The manner of death,” the autopsy concluded, “is accident.”

Toby Lyles contributed research.


18 veterans commit suicide each day

18 veterans commit suicide each day

By Rick Maze
Posted : Thursday Apr 22, 2010

Troubling new data show there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department.

Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months.

The numbers, which come at a time when VA is strengthening its suicide prevention programs, show about 18 veteran suicides a day, about five by veterans who are receiving VA care.

Access to care appears to be a key factor, officials said, noting that once a veteran is inside the VA care program, screening programs are in place to identify those with problems, and special efforts are made to track those considered at high risk, such as monitoring whether they are keeping appointments.

A key part of the new data shows the suicide rate is lower for veterans aged 18 to 29 who are using VA health care services than those who are not. That leads VA officials to believe that about 250 lives have been saved each year as a result of VA treatment.

VA’s suicide hotline has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Service members and veterans should push 1 for veterans’ services.

Dr. Janet Kemp, VA’s national suicide prevention coordinator, credits the hotline with rescuing 7,000 veterans who were in the act of suicide — in addition to referrals, counseling and other help.

Suicide attempts by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remains a key area of concern. In fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30, there were 1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, with 94 men and four women dying.

In general, VA officials said, women attempt suicide more often, but men are more likely to succeed in the attempt, mainly because women use less lethal and less violent means while men are more likely to use firearms.

Suicide attempts among veterans appear to follow those trends, officials said.

We All Fostered “Warlordism” In Afghanistan

Who fostered ‘warlordism’ in Afghanistan?

By M K Bhadrakumar

The Russian journalist Dmitry Babich’s reminiscences of the chronicles of wasted time of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s invariably leap out of a morality play. He always has a Russian message for the West. He is consistent in lamenting that the United States and NATO should have consulted Moscow about how to handle the Afghan war so that the Russian mistakes were not repeated. Arguably, he has a point there — although it is far too late for lamentations now. But in his latest blog, Babich certainly goes overboard. This is when he discusses ‘warlordism’ in Afghanistan and blames the West for introducing this phenomenon in the Hindu Kush. I beg to differ. To my mind, the blame should be apportioned equitably.

I have heard from none other than Ahmed Shah Massoud himself how the Soviets struck a profound deal with him after the Red Army’s disastrous defeat at his hands in 1982-83. This conversation took place soon after I was given an extended ‘conducted tour’ of Panjshir Valley — first Indian to set foot there in very many years — and was briefed about the great ambush of the crack units of the Soviet army by the Mujahideen. At that time, the war having just got over, I could still see dozens of tanks and artillery pieces and heavy armour littered all over the valley — a great setting of breathtaking scenery with all that heavy iron and steel sitting and rusting for miles as eternal monument to human folly by the side of the Panjshir river which snaked its way shyly through the deep gorges guarded by towering mountains on both aides. You had to bend back all the way to catch a glimpse of the sky.

The Soviet officers just abandoned their weaponry and fled or were taken prisoner. Massoud drew the Soviet columns deep into the gorges and then cut them to pieces from the mountain tops where his guerillas were hiding. Later, when I was taken around to see Salaang tunnel, the Mujahidden commander who was escorting me explained part of the terms of the Soviets’ deal with Massoud — that he would allow the vital artery to be kept open provided the Soviets kept their part of the bargain. Babich is right that later it was Massoud who destroyed Kabul in the 1992-96 period. But Massoud enjoyed Russian support for a decade already prior to that. Sometimes I wonder how the percentage worked: to what extent Massoud allowed himself to be pampered by the French while trading with the Soviets at the same time.

Again, who raised Rashid Dostum, a lowly car mechanic in Mazar-i-Sharif, to the rank of an army general? I don’t think the West had anything to do with that. Babich is again right that it was Dostum’s back stabbing that brought down Najibullah’s regime. But how did that happen? Ambassador Yuli Vorontsov was partly right that when the Red Army pulled out in 1989, Najib was given some stocks of food and fuel reserve to last out in the event of a siege of Kabul. But what about money? I was in charge of the Indian embassy in Kabul for a while at that time and I am aware how Najib’s equations with Dostum gradually began deteriorating. Najib ran out of money to pay the monthly wages for Dostum’s Uzbeki militia who were a notoriously brutal lot (whom the Soviet commanders used to ‘pacify’ Pashtun provinces in the south and east).

But still, I don”t think Dostum would have defected to Massoud just like that. Dostum understood that the Soviet/Russian agencies were in touch with Massoud and covertly working on a transition to a post-Najibullah era in Afghanistan. And Dostum being Dostum, he wanted to be with the winning side. He linked up with Massoud despite the visceral dislike the two of them had toward each other, primarily because he got to estimate that with tacit Russian backing, Massoud was likely to beat Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the race for Kabul.

The problem is that a great deal of what happened during those dramatic months in 1991-92 is still to be told and the one person who narrated a great deal to me subsequently (having been Massoud’s ace negotiator with the Russians and with Dostum in those tumultous months leading to the Mujahideen takeover), Dr. Abdurrahman, is no more with us. He was murdered in broad daylight in Kabul in 2002 while serving in Hamid Karzai’s cabinet as the civil aviation minister, by people who obviously feared that he knew far too much. By the way, Abdurrahman and I were good friends and when he last visited me in Ankara sometime in mid-2001 — he had come to attend the funeral of Dostum’s mother — he told me he already had a premonition that he would be killed soon. He had fallen out with the Panjshiris by that time. (Abdurrahman was a Nooristani himself). Indeed, 6 months later, he was murdered. I wrote an obituary on him.

Put simply, no one today wants to talk about all that happened. Babich’s narrative is hopelessly selective. Almost all foreign powers that dabbled in Afghanistan — including my country — have fostered ‘warlords’ some time or the other, as they found it expedient to do so in the ‘great game’. Shame on them all! Look at where all that skulduggery of realpolitik left the poor Afghan people!



Thieving Elite as Bad as Militants

Nigeria: Buhari – Thieving Elite as Bad as Militants

Ibrahim Chonoko

London — Former head of state and CPC presidential candidate in the last elections Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has said that Nigerian elite who steal public money are as bad as militants who have been destabilizing the country. In an interview with Daily Trust in London, Gen. Buhari grouped light-fingered elite in the same class with Boko Haram dissidents and Niger-Delta militants, saying that they are all destabilizing forces in the country.

“I am concerned about insecurity and destabilizing forces in our country. Anybody who steals public money in all the tiers of government – federal, state and local governments – is destabilizing the country and is as bad as the militants.”

Gen. Buhari blamed the authorities for providing a breeding ground for militants and dissidents by not dealing with issues within the ambit of the law, but expects the populace to be law-abiding.

“The government must do things within the framework of the law and be fair. If it does not, then people will try and look after themselves and this is what is happening now”.

Gen. Buhari said the government should dialogue with the Boko Haram dissidents as it did with the Niger-Delta militants, and rhetorically asked: “who committed more atrocities against the Nigerian state between Boko Haram and the militants?”

He, however, said government had adopted the right approach by asking the police to get to the bottom of the Boko Haram issue, stressing that it was the duty a of the police to tackle such issues within the ambit of the law.

Gen. Buhari and his running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare spoke at Chatham House, London on the April general elections in Nigeria which the international community has upheld as generally free and fair.

Earlier in the lecture delivered on Monday, Buhari said he will continue to boycott Council of State meeting pending the determination of the petition filed by his party challenging the election of President Goodluck Jonathan. The Council of State meeting is presided over by a sitting president, and attended by all former Heads of State.

Buhari refused to attend the meeting when he challenged the results of the 2003 Presidential Election won by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

He also expressed hope that the CPC will not have any cause to pursue its petition up to the Supreme Court as he did in the past.

US plans to double arms sales

US plans to double arms sales


WASHINGTON: The United States plans to export $46.1 billion in weapons this year, nearly doubling its 2010 figures, officials said Friday.

During the fiscal year 2011, which ends September 30, Washington expects the sales of equipment and military services through its Foreign Military Sales process. About 79 percent of these exports are financed by client countries and organisations, with the remainder funded by US aid programmes.

US military equipment sales, confined to about $10 billion in the early 2000s, tripled to around $30 billion after 2005.

“From 2005 to 2010, we have delivered through the Foreign Military Sales process $96 billion worth of equipment, goods and services to partner countries,” said Defense Security Cooperation Agency Director Vice Admiral William Landay.

Ten years ago, clients were most interested in purchasing material at the lowest cost, even if that meant spacing out deliveries, he explained.

But with the war in Afghanistan and a higher operational tempo for many armed forces, clients are seeking quicker access to purchased progress, which explains the rise in the value of American exports, according to the admiral.

Several nations participating in the NATO-led air campaign on Libya have thus contacted the DSCA to replenish their stocks of ammunition depleted by the operations.

Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom are all participating in the attacks on Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime.

The rise in exports has led the DSCA to revise its procedures to ensure faster deliveries by determining what type of weapons or other military equipment should be delivered to which country before even being contacted by a client, and purchasing the equipment before it is sold.

In all, over 13,000 contracts are currently underway with 165 countries for $327 billion, according to Landay.


Time to bury the idea of strategic asset

[If there is any chance for Pakistan and India to ever break-off hostilities, then it will come by first adopting the ideas about strategic depth and strategic assets that are laid-out in the following article.  Both Pakistan and India are showing signs that they are attempting to shake-off the Imperial stranglehold, which works to exacerbate their natural divisions.  By befriending the US, over other strategic partners, and opening doors to American corporations, both countries have opened the door to meddling which comes most often in the way of enticement, instead of threat.  By giving India and Pakistan the military and economic boosts they seek, they have gained the advantage of the benefit of the doubt, whenever Imperial policies collide with national interests.  Governments can overlook a lot of underhandedness, if doing so brings promises from their benefactors of even greater rewards in the future. 

Rest assured, that should either government ever defend is own national interests over Imperial designs, then they should expect to find that the rug has been pulled from under their feet.  The moment that either government accepts the idea that they will do the right thing for their people, even though they will lose the benefits gained from Empire, that is the beginning of their liberation.  That is the beginning of freedom from outside manipulation.] 

Time to bury the idea of strategic asset

A. S. PANNEERSELVANThe language of strategic asset reduces the ideas of home, state, country, and continent to movable pieces on the chessboard.

It is strange that even the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, near Pakistan’s capital, has failed to raise fundamental questions about the idea of creating Frankensteins in the name of strategic assets and the wisdom of the defence experts and strategic analysts. A cursory look at history since the end of the Second World War shows that strategic assets proved to be an albatross around humanity’s neck: they played a key role in undermining legitimate political struggles across the globe. Yet the military narrative has not freed itself from the stranglehold of two fatally flawed ideas — strategic asset and strategic depth.

Before exploring the debilitating impact of these two terms —strategic asset and strategic depth — it is important to understand the origins of these terms. They were the product of the colonial imagination where the world was divided among the empires, and the geostrategic pivots determined the expansion or shrinking of any colonial power. One state was pitted against another and people became collateral damage even before the term could gain the current political currency. The Cold War invested the two terms with an entirely new meaning and scale of application and the damage done to peoples and countries across the world was incomparably greater.

West Asian authoritarianism, for example, is in part the creation of the notion of strategic asset in the form of oil reserves. Much has been written, by way of strategic analysis, about the role of the Soviet Union in Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. But its move into Afghanistan is the source of our present concern and the one that redefined international politics permanently. The United States, the Arab dictators, and Pakistan used the Soviet occupation as an excuse to create a political Islam that not only distorted the religion but also unleashed unprecedented violence against its perceived enemies and against itself. The Soviets left Afghanistan by February 1989 but the so-called ‘liberators’ never left the country, which has been under one form of occupation or another since 1979. The mujahideen and their jihads were supported, funded, trained, armed, and seen as great strategic assets that could provide strategic depth to bleed the opposition to death. This vision did not take into account the irreparable damage it would inflict upon the Muslim world in general and Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular.

Well-known Pakistani writer Zahid Hussain pointed out the cost to Pakistan during an India-Pakistan-Afghanistan editors’ meet. He said: “I think 2007 was the turning point for Pakistan, when almost a dozen militant leaders got together and formed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This group had a distinctive agenda of enforcing a so-called Sharia rule in the style of the Afghan Taliban — before that, the focus of the Pakistani militants had largely been on fighting the U.S. coalition forces across the border…. That also changed the perception of how the Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are tied together. It is not only the nexus between the TTP and al-Qaeda; there is also a growing nexus between the banned militant groups and the Taliban, and a new form of al-Qaeda that has emerged. I think probably al-Qaeda has taken a different form, which the Americans have failed to understand. The new al-Qaeda is largely Pakistani. Further, there is also distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban: TTP provides the recruits or suicide bombers, but al-Qaeda largely attracts educated Pakistanis who have not been a part of other militant organisations.”

A tenuous peace process, weak governance, a security structure that is yet to gain the confidence or competence to tackle sectarian violence, growing doubts about whether to make a deal with the “good Taliban” or to break the “bad Taliban”, and the wavering international commitment have made Afghanistan more vulnerable then ever before. There is an apprehension in Kabul that with the death of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. might not show the same intensity to wage its “war on terror” as its principal enemy has been eliminated. With multiple players trying to create their own strategic assets, Afghans fear that their country might once again be divided into myriad fiefdoms of warlords and drug mafia. The tragedy is Afghanistan today is much worse off than it was before the Soviet occupation and withdrawal.

This dangerous trend spilled over to India in the form of increased militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, a shocking terrorist attack on Parliament, the monstrous Mumbai carnage, to name just a few of the horrific experiences of the past decade and a half. It is not that India is free from delusions of strategic assets and the grandeur of strategic depth, despite every move backfiring badly — notably with respect to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But that is another story.

Till the armed men from across the border reached the valley, a large number of informed Indians understood the Kashmiri struggle, and did not hesitate to criticise the government of India for rigging elections. They refused to accept the BJP’s demand for the abrogation of Article 370, which confers a special status on Jammu and Kashmir. However, the overt militarisation of the State inspired by the strategic interests of Pakistan has hurt the people of Kashmir incalculably. In reality, the power enjoyed by J&K today is decisively lower than what was enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

The same is true for most of the Northeastern States as their special status has been hugely undermined by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the constant appointments of former Army Generals as Governors, who tend to wield more power than the respective Chief Ministers. India’s new strategic interest in using its close relations with Myanmar’s military junta to check China’s reach to the Bay of Bengal has already taken a toll. The country has virtually ceased its support for the pro-democracy movement and its iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and no one knows what the fallouts will be.

The language of strategic asset reduces the ideas of home, state, country, and continent to movable pieces on the chessboard. It is a language that is never peopled; it has no capability to empathise or be poignant; it fails to understand pain; and it has no sense to understand the profound grief of any society that lost its liberal space to a variety of bigots. The security experts’ idea of supremacy is directly pitted against the people’s deepest dream of living fully while existing. To achieve this, we need to temper the power of the entrenched security establishments and retrieve the space for a larger political discourse.

(S. Panneerselvan is the Executive Director of Panos South Asia. Panos South Asia has been organising an annual editors’ retreat that brings together the influential media personalities from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to increase the information flow to curtail the mutual trust deficit.)

Merkel Orders Shutdown of 7 Nuclear Plants

Merkel Orders Shutdown of 7 Nuclear Plants

Mon, 03/14/2011 – 06:34 —

Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down seven nuclear power plants  following the meltdown at Japanese reactors and protests against nuclear energy in Germany.

Merkel said she ordered an investigation that would take three months to complete before returning to its plans to extend the running time of stations.

She said that this would mean that the seven oldest reactors will be turned off, at least temporarily, almost immediately.

Merkel said that the risks of a meltdown at the Fukushima atomic reactors in Japan, triggered by the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the region, had shown the world that nuclear safety should be reevaluated.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Germans joined hands and called for an immediate nuclear shut-down.   Even though Germany and Europe are unlikely to experience a magnitude 8.9 earthquake or a tsunami, Merkel said, the Fukushima example had shown that Japanese state-of-the-art safety precautions were not infallible.

“That changes the situation, even in Germany. We have a new situation, and this must be analyzed wholeheartedly, without reserve and completely. Only then can decisions follow,”Merkel said.

She appeared alongside the leader of her Free Democrat coalition ally, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, then alluded to the extra safety checks commissioned for all 17 of the country’s nuclear power plants on Saturday, promising that there would be “no taboos” in these inspections.

About 40,000 people formed a human chain from the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant to the city of Stuttgart on Saturday, the news agency AP reported.

The activists, holding flags with slogans reading “Nuclear power! No thanks,” were protesting against the German government’s decision to extend the operational life of several of the country’s older nuclear power plants, the wire service said.

A government crisis team is also set to meet in Berlin to discuss the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the German weekly Der Spiegelreported.

The Fukushima plant in Japan was damaged by Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake, and due to a radiation leak, radioactivity at the facility is reportedly now 20 times higher than normal levels.

Germany had previously decided to shut down all its nuclear plants by 2021, but in October 2010 it decided to extend the life of 17 nuclear power plants to 12 more years.

For decades there has been a stable and absolute majority in the polls in Germany against the use of nuclear energy. And in the last year there was a new upturn of the movement with a new generation of young activists.

The mobilizations of last year against the transports of nuclear waste had been the biggest for more than 15 years.

The former government of the Social Democrats and Green Party some years ago passed a law, which limited the running time of the existing nuclear plants.

But the law made it easy for the following government to change it.So the current government argued, that the nuclear plants are needed in order to fight climate change.

Another American Reporter Gets the Crap Beat Out Of Them, This Time In Bahrain

[Perhaps the reporters waiting to serve the interests of the corporate/government press in reporting the Empire's progress in agitating the Middle East will learn to learn to put their personal safety above their ambitions.  The Hegelian purpose of the political agitation is the pacification of the population.  It is the hallmark of all post-WWII American foreign policy--sowing confusion in the people's minds, by supporting actions which seem to be contrary to the known goals, in order for an eventual compromise (synthesis) between the two opposites.  This is the sum-total of "bi-partisanship," the alleged hallmark of true American democracy, the Communist/Hegellian doctrine of "dialectic materialism, the compromising of beliefs in order to mold an expedient consensus opinion.
Anyway, I hope the Empire's two reporters/propagandists recover quickly.]

A general view shows Pearl Square in Manama

US reporter beaten covering Bahrain unrest

(AFP) – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON — A US reporter for ABC News was beaten by thugs armed with clubs early Thursday while covering the unrest in Bahrain, the US network reported.

Correspondent Miguel Marquez was caught in the crowd and attacked while covering protests in Manama, ABC said.

Marquez, who said he was not badly injured, was clubbed while he was on the phone with his headquarters in New York describing the scene as riot police stormed through a Manama square in the dark in a harsh crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

“No! No! No! Hey! I’m a journalist here!” he yelled while still on the phone. “I’m going! I’m going! I’m going! I’m going! … I’m hit.”

He said that the thugs pulled his camera out of his hands.

“I just got beat rather badly by a gang of thugs,” Marquez said in a later call to ABC headquarters. “I’m now in a marketplace near our hotel where people are cowering in buildings.”

Witnesses and opposition said that four people were killed and up to 95 wounded when police launched the operation in the iconic Pearl Square without warning at around 3:00 am (midnight GMT), sending protesters fleeing in panic.

CBS News said its top foreign correspondent Lara Logan suffered a brutal sexual assault at the hands of a mob in Egypt while covering the downfall of president Hosni Mubarak last week.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that it was concerned “about the continued assaults on journalists covering anti-government demonstrations in the Middle East.”

“In recent days, journalists have been obstructed, assaulted, or detained in Libya, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen,” the watchdog group said.

It also said the Bahrain government “has selectively reduced the speed of Internet connections inside the country for the past two days.”

The Internet is being slowed down “in newspaper offices, hotels, and homes but not in governmental institutions”, and the video-sharing website Bambuser had been blocked.

The CPJ also said that Bahrain interior ministry officials summoned a photographer for The Associated Press, Hassan Jamali, for questioning after he took “pictures of people injured in anti-government demonstrations” and ordered him “not take additional pictures of the injured.”

Would Mankind Rather Perish Than Change?

[Mankind's brightest minds have brought us to the point of  ruin--Is that a flaw in the Divine Plan, or just another step up the evolutionary ladder which we do not yet understand? ]

“We human beings have to put our own evolution right. And that may be part of the cosmic plan.”

Where Did Man Go Wrong?

Where did man go wrong? The question sounds anachronistic in more ways than one. It’s a right question in general though, and a good starting point.

Why is it important? Because core insights into the causes of why man is destroying the earth and humanity may make the remedy clear. Indeed, to my mind insight is the remedy.

Of course, there are still a lot of people that maintain humankind is progressing, because science and technology, not to mention the media and society tell them so. Progress is the best kind of denial because at one level it’s undeniable.

Clearly, ‘human nature’ hasn’t changed in the hundred thousand years or so since modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens (one ‘wise man’ is a misnomer, two in the nomenclature is a delusion) emerged. Given that premise, it can be misleading to ask where man went wrong, since obviously something went wrong at the beginning.

That sounds a little like the Christian creation myth of ‘original sin.’ But that’s OK. Every good story, however false, has a kernel of truth.

To our modern ears, mistakes and sins mean something entirely different. But it’s interesting to note that the root meaning of  the word ‘sin’ is to “miss the mark, miss the target.” That’s synonymous with a mistake as we generally use the word. And it carries none of the hell and brimstone baggage, or even the connotation of judgment.

So if ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, however widely (and murdering another human being, for example, is missing the mark about as widely as a person can), what is the mark? And how has humankind been missing it since the beginning?

Despite the attempt, even by scientists, to merge man with nature, humans are the only creatures on the planet who are destroying the earth. Whether another creature would if it had the abilities we do only begs the question. How did nature evolve a species that is at odds with nature itself?

Leaving aside the ‘man was made in the image of God’ nonsense, it’s incontrovertible that humans evolved along the same lines, and through the same processes as all other creatures on earth. So the ‘wrong turn,’ if we want to put it that way, may originally be in evolution itself.

In short, ‘original sin’ has nothing to do with a fall from grace in the Garden, and everything to do with the evolution of conscious cognitive abilities. That means that division, fragmentation, conflict, and suffering have their roots in what some still like to call ‘higher thought.’

The essence of ‘higher thought’ is the ability to intentionally remove ‘things’ from the environment and modify them for our use. So in a sense, man didn’t go wrong, evolution did, since evolution gave us that peerless ability.

Even so, we human beings have to put our own evolution right. And that may be part of the cosmic plan. (Not by some separate deity, but rather by the intrinsic intelligence of the universe itself.)

Thought is an adaptation of unprecedented power, making possible technology, science, and culture (including the mental artifacts of belief, ritual, and tradition). But the evolution of thought carries with it the overwhelming tendency to live in the realm of our own separations, not only physically (which is necessary to survive as humans), but also psychologically (which isn’t, and has produced continual conflict and suffering).

Is it that in the evolution of complex cognition, the runaway fragmentation we see now (a la the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is almost inevitable?  And if so, doesn’t that make it even more unlikely that we humans can change course and begin to bring ourselves into harmony with the earth and the universe? Paradoxically, it makes it more likely that we can.

Physical separation is necessary; indeed, it’s the sine qua non of the human adaptive pattern. But separation is merely a useful trick of thought. And psychological separation, which is the extension of thought into a dimension where it doesn’t belong, perpetually misses the mark. That is the ‘original (and ongoing and increasing) sin.’

Without psychological separation there is no ‘me,’ no feeling of separation, from which human division, conflict, and suffering flow. So can there be utilitarian cognitive separation without illusory psychological separation?

That is the great question life is putting, with increasing urgency, to the human being.

Martin LeFevre

Ukraine, Belarus Mull Growing Crops In Chernobyl Nuke Disaster Zone

Ukraine Mulls Growing Crops In Chernobyl Nuke Disaster Zone

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials are studying the possibility of growing crops in the 30-km zone of radioactive pollution near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, a popular Russian daily said on Friday. 

Pripyat, the city abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster.

A number of Ukrainian services and departments are conducting numerous studies to establish “areas that could be used for agriculture, some partially and some in full,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted acting head of the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry Mykhailo Bolotskykh, as saying.

An explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 resulted in highly radioactive fallout in the atmosphere over an extensive area. A 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone was introduced following the accident.

Vast areas, mainly in the three then-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, were contaminated by the fallout from the major nuclear meltdown. Some 200,000 people were relocated after the accident.

The agriculture revival plan, initiated by the European Union, proposes cultivating rapeseed, also known as canola oil and widely seen as the most popular primary product to produce biodiesel, in the contaminated area.

Similar plans have earlier been voiced by Belarus, another country severely affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

“This crop has great potential, with the European Union, the U.A.E., Turkey and Pakistan expressing their readiness to buy it from Ukraine. This is really profitable,” a source close to the Ukrainian government told the newspaper.

Ukraine is currently among Europe’s largest rapeseed producers.

“The problem is that rapeseed depletes the soil. It may be grown only as part of a five-year crop rotation cycle. Or, it may be grown on lands which have no agricultural importance,” he said.

The government did not comment on the information.

The paper quotes an expert as saying that scientists have developed mechanisms of rehabilitating nuclear-polluted soil, which include growing certain crops and combining various types of fertilizers.

“Experiments show that… areas where rehabilitation measures were conducted can produce crops with almost normal radionuclide levels, hundreds of times lower than those where such measures were not taken,” the unnamed scientist told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

But many experts say that any attempt to cultivate crops in Chernobyl is “simply a crime,” saying that many dangerous isotopes buried in soil could be released back into the air and water when the polluted soil is ploughed.

“It is simply a crime – increasing air and water pollution by turning over polluted soil,” a former official with the country’s radiation and ecology watchdog said.

The plan is expected to be officially announced in March 2011, shortly before the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Source: RIA Novosti

German police clash with anti-nuclear activists

German police clash with anti-nuclear activists


German police push away anti-nuclear activists who are blocking the railway track in the small village of Leitstade near Dannenberg, November 7, 2010.

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

By Annika Breidthardt

DANNENBERG, Germany (Reuters) – German police clashed on Sunday with anti-nuclear activists trying to disrupt a shipment of nuclear waste heading to a storage dump, using truncheons and tear gas to clear a blocked rail line.

A police spokesman said some 250 activists had tried to damage the track near the waste dump to halt a train carrying the waste. When police tried to stop them, the activists responded with tear gas and flare guns.

“The situation is not yet under control,” said another police spokesman.

Riot police used truncheons, tear gas and water cannon to stop the violent activists, who were part of a larger group of about 4,000 protesters near the town of Leitstade trying to halt the train. A police vehicle was set on fire, police said.

About a dozen protesters were injured, demonstrators were quoted as saying by local media reports. Police could not confirm any injuries.

The waste shipment has become a tense political issue this year due to anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants despite overwhelming public opposition.

The waste originated in Germany and was reprocessed at the French nuclear group Areva’s processing plant at La Hague for storage in a site in the northern German town of Gorleben.

The train was held up repeatedly on its way across France and Germany on a journey that began on Friday. In Germany thousands staged sit down strikes on tracks and others lowered themselves on ropes from bridges to prevent the train from passing. They were removed by police.

The waste shipment is expected to arrive in Gorleben, near the central town of Dannenberg, later on Sunday.

Merkel’s government has slumped in popularity due largely to its decision to extend nuclear power by about 12 years beyond the original shut-down set for 2021. Germany gets 23 percent of its power from nuclear plants.

Scenes of violence in previous transports have contributed to Germany’s strong anti-nuclear mood.

Protesters fear the depot at Gorleben, built as an interim storage site, could become permanent. Greenpeace says the site, in a disused salt mine, would be unsafe over the long term.

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by David Stamp)

German protestors delay nuclear waste train

German protestors delay nuclear waste train


Anti-nuclear protestors demonstrate in Dannenberg, northern Germany, on Saturday below a puppet depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting on a makeshift symbolic nuclear toilet. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against a shipment of nuclear waste traveling to a storage site in northern Germany, and some tried to block railway tracks in a protest fueled by a government move to extend the country's use of atomic energy.
APAnti-nuclear protestors demonstrate in Dannenberg, northern Germany, on Saturday below a puppet depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting on a makeshift symbolic nuclear toilet. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against a shipment of nuclear waste traveling to a storage site in northern Germany, and some tried to block railway tracks in a protest fueled by a government move to extend the country’s use of atomic energy.

Anti-nuclear activists worry over the safety of the warehouse in Gorleben, where the waste is to be stored while a long-term storage facility is built.

A train carrying nuclear waste was slowed down by activists on Sunday as it continued its journey to a storage site in northern Germany. The highly radioactive transport was delayed by almost two hours early on Sunday, when two activists suspended themselves over the railway tracks, forcing the train to slow down to a crawl.

Other protesters obstructed sections of track and had to be removed by police. Officers detained 16 activists overnight caught with utensils to chain themselves to the railway tracks.

Tens of thousands of protesters remained in the town of Gorleben, the final destination of the consignment. Police said 20,000 people had taken part in demonstrations there on Saturday, in the largest ever protest of its kind.

The train is carrying 123 tonnes of spent radioactive rods from German reactors, which were cooled and fused inside blocks of glass at a reprocessing plant in France.

It arrived in Germany on Saturday, where around 16,500 police officers have been assigned to protect the transport on its 600- kilometre journey to Gorleben.

Environmental organization Greenpeace warned that one of the train’s axles had become noticeably hot on Saturday, according to infrared images. Police said they discovered no anomalies when they checked the train.

Anti-nuclear activists worry over the safety of the warehouse in Gorleben, where the waste is to be stored while a long-term storage facility is built. Nuclear opponents also fear that Gorleben will effectively turn into a permanent storage site for the solid iron containers holding the nuclear waste, and have expressed doubt over government proposals to bury it 860 metres deep in a rock salt formation.

The protest is also directed at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right government, which decided to extend the life-spans of Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations by an average of 12 years beyond a previous 2022 deadline.

The decision to extend nuclear power generation was passed last week in the lower house of parliament, where Ms Merkel’s coalition has the majority.

Germany has a long history of opposition to nuclear power, dating back to the 1970s and reinforced by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Ukrainian reactor in Chernobyl.

After at least eight hours of delay, the rail transport is expected in Dannenberg late on Sunday, where the 11 containers will be lifted onto lorries for the remainder of the journey.

The Web Blog That Cost Its Creator His Life

feature photo

[The Web Blog That Cost Its Creator His Life.  SEE: Greek journalist and blogger Sokratis Giolias killed]

The fifth estate: A rogue rodent

The Greek, and by extension, the European economies are facing difficult times. The Greek political situation has followed suit, with political parties facing the impossible task of sacrificing people’s hard earned finances for the good of the economy. This article is not about judging the politicians who have pocketed millions while in office, creating public service positions by the tens of thousands in order to secure votes in elections.

Mass media, typically regarded as the fourth estate, are in their majority not serving as watchdogs of the political bodies, but disappointingly all too often find themselves accomplices by non-coverage or over-coverage of specific issues. Indeed, the traditional gatekeepers of information have become fewer as mergers and acquisitions of mass media by media groups has become the norm. With fewer gatekeepers, and in some cases, a near dictatorial approach to deciding what receives extensive coverage and what gets buried, Media have allowed for a new estate: The fifth estate.

The fifth estate has manifested most obviously in Greece.

One blog, which is based on openness of information has become the most popular website in Greece, receiving millions of visitors each day. The blog, is only outvisited by Google, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, and Blogger.

In terms of information, this blog is simply destroying traditional media. The blog reposts from other blogs, contains original content, and posts users testimonials and commentaries. No censorship, no agenda, other than transparency and faith in democracy.
What’s more, the top site in Greece, runs on a blogspot platform, with no commercial advertisements.

The blog is heralded for disseminating information which led to the resignation of Minister Angela Gerekou last week, who quit after her husband was found owing over €5.5 million in taxes.

The age of information filtering is coming to an end. The risks and dangers obvious: unreliable information, lack of quality and depth in writing, and all the reasons given in a journalism class. But for a country like Greece, where the democratic deficit has been multiplied by influencable media, the value of real freedom and democracy is priceless.

Let’s hope the political “democratic” response is to impose stringent regulations on blogs.

Until then, the “rodents” will continue to gnaw away at politicians with deep pockets.

For those who don’t know what blog is being refered to in this article visit: troktiko.blogspot.com

Deepwater Horizon–The Worst-Case Scenario

Deepwater Horizon: The Worst-Case Scenario

By Richard Heinberg

22 June, 2010
Post Carbon

Reports from the Gulf of Mexico just keep getting worse. Estimates of the rate of oil spillage from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead just keep gushing (the latest official number: up to 60,000 barrels per day). Forecasts for how long it will take before the leak is finally plugged continue pluming toward August—maybe even December. In addition to the oil itself, BP has (in this case deliberately) spilled a million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersant. Biologists’ accounts of the devastation being wreaked on fish, birds, amphibians, turtles, coral reefs, and marshes grow more apocalyptic by the day—especially in view of the fact that the vast majority of animal victims die alone and uncounted. Warnings are now being raised that the natural gas being vented along with the oil will significantly extend the giant dead zones in the Gulf. And guesses as to the ultimate economic toll of this still-unfolding tragedy—on everything from the tourism and fishing industries of at least five coastal states to the pensioners in Britain whose futures are at risk if BP files for bankruptcy or is taken over by a Chinese oil company—surge every time an analyst steps back to consider the situation from another angle.

We all want the least-bad outcome here. But what if events continue on the current trajectory—that is, what if the situation keeps deteriorating? Just how awful could this get?

For weeks various petroleum engineers and geologists working on the sidelines have speculated that the problems with the Deepwater Horizon may go deep—that the steel well casing, and the cement that seals and supports that casing against the surrounding rock, may have been seriously breached far beneath the seabed. If that is true, then escaping oil mixed with sand could be eroding what’s left of the well casing and cement, pushing out through the cracks and destabilizing the ground around the casing. According to Lisa Margonelli in The Atlantic:

There is the possibility that as the ground and the casing shift, the whole thing collapses inward, the giant Blow Out Preventer falls over, the drill pipe shoots out of the remains of the well, or any number of other scenarios,” that could making it virtually impossible ever to cap the well or even to plug it at depth via relief wells.

Read, for example, this comment at TheOilDrum.com, a site frequented by oil industry technical insiders who often post anonymously. The author of the comment, “dougr,” argues fairly persuasively that disintegration of the sub-surface casing and cement is the best explanation for the recent failure of “top kill” efforts to stop the oil flow by forcibly injecting mud into the wellhead.

Concerns about the integrity of the sub-seabed well casing appear also to be motivating some seriously doomerish recent public statements from Matt Simmons, the energy investment banker who decided to go rogue a couple of years ago following the publication of his controversial Peak Oil book Twilight in the Desert. Simmons says, for example, that “it could be 24 years before the deepwater gusher ends,” a forecast that makes little sense if one accepts the conventional view of what’s wrong with the Deepwater Horizon well and how long it will take to plug it with relief wells.

Are these concerns credible? From a technical standpoint, it is clear that improperly cemented wells can and do rupture and cause blowouts. It’s fairly clear that this is part of what happened with Deepwater Horizon. But is the well casing further disintegrating, and is oil escaping the well bore horizontally as well as vertically? We just don’t know. And that is largely due to the fact that BP is as opaque on this score as it has been with regard to nearly every sensitive technical issue (including the rate of leakage) since its drilling rig exploded two months ago.

So far, up to 3.6 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf. The size of the Macondo oilfield has been estimated as being anywhere from 25 to 100 million barrels. It is unclear how much of that oil-in-place would escape upward into Gulf waters if its flow remained completely unchecked, but it is safe to assume that at least half, and probably a much greater proportion, would eventually drain upward. That means many times as much oil would enter the Gulf waters as has done so until now.

Already Deepwater Horizon is the not only the worst oil spill, but the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Multiplying the scale of this existing catastrophe multiple times sends us into truly uncharted territory.

Already, coastal ecosystems are being shredded; for a sense of how bad it is for wildlife in the Gulf now, just read “Biologists fear Gulf wildlife will suffer for generations.”In a truly worst case, oil — and perhaps dissolved methane as well — would hitch a ride on ocean currents out to the deep Atlantic, spreading ecological destruction far and wide.

For the economies of coastal states, a worst-case leakage scenario would be utterly devastating. Not only the fishing industry, but the oil industry as well would be fatally crippled, due to the disruption of operations at refineries. Shipping via the Mississippi River, which handles 60 percent of all U.S. grain exports, could be imperiled, since the Port of South Louisiana, the largest bulk cargo port in the world, might have to be closed if ships are unable to operate in oil-drenched waters. Unemployment in the region would soar and economic refugees would scatter in all directions.

The consequences for BP would almost certainly be fatal: it is questionable whether the corporation can survive even in the best case (that is, if “bottom kill” efforts succeed in August); if the spill goes on past the end of the year, then claims against the company and investor flight will probably push it into bankruptcy. Americans may shed few tears over this prospect, but BP happens to be Great Britain’s largest corporation, so the impact to the British economy could be substantial.

The consequences for the oil industry as a whole would also be dire. More regulations, soaring insurance rates, and drilling moratoria would lead to oil price spikes and shortages. Foreign national oil companies could of course continue to operate much as before, but the big independent companies, even if they shifted operations elsewhere, would be hit hard.

For President Obama, an environmental disaster of the scale we are discussing could have political consequences at least equivalent to those of the Iranian hostage crisis during the Carter presidency. Obama’s only chance at survival would be an FDR-like show of leadership backed by bold energy and economic plans and ruthless disregard for partisan bickering and monied interests.

For the U.S. economy, already weakened by a still-unfolding financial crisis, a worst-case scenario in the Gulf could be the last straw. The cumulative impacts—falling grain exports, soaring unemployment in southeastern coastal states, higher oil prices—would almost certainly spell the end to any hope of recovery and might push the nation into the worst Depression in its history.

We would all prefer not even to contemplate such a scenario, much less live with it. It is irresponsible to inflict needless worry on readers on the basis of entirely speculative and extremely unlikely events. But the more I learn about the technical issues, and the worse news gets, the more likely this scenario seems. We all hope that a relief well will succeed in stopping the oil flow sometime around August, and that until then BP will be able to siphon off most of the oil escaping through the riser and damaged blowout preventer. But one has to wonder: is anyone at the White House seriously considering the worst-case scenario? And what should citizens be doing to prepare, just in case?

W.Virginia’s Troubled Sister To Bhopal’s Union Carbide Plant

[India is making a monumental mistake by letting these corporate parasites off the hook in Bhopal.  Maybe the Indian government thinks that the "backward classes" need a little thinning-out?  Why let the useless eaters get in the way of corporate blessings?]

more about “Fatal Tragedy- Bhopal Gas“, posted with vodpod

Carbide plant saw 3 mishaps before the gas tragedy

Bhopal Prior to the leakage of the deadly methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant in 1984, three mishaps had taken place in the facility killing two factory workers, according to Madhya Pradesh Assembly records.
BJP MLAs at that time Gaurisankar Shejwar and Babulal Gaur had raised in the state Assembly in 1982 the issue of the death of UCIL employee Mohammed Ashraf and a fitter due to gas leaks in the plant.

As per the Assembly records, the then Labour Minister, Tara Singh Viyogi had confirmed that a fitter (whose name was not given in the reply) had died on October 28, 1975 and Ashraf had lost his life on December 25, 1981 due to leakages of gas in the factory.

The BJP members had also raised the issue of safety and security measures in the wake of two deaths in the plant to which the Minister had replied that he had personally inspected the factory and found that it had adequate arrangements for meeting any exigencies.

Rachna Dhingra of NGO Bhopal Group for Information and Actions said that “an employee Mohammad Ashraf died in the plant in December 1981 due to phosgene exposure while a major fire had occurred in the alpha napthol unit of the plant in 1982.

“Surprisingly, the fire incident was suppressed by the plant authorities despite the fact that it was noticed from a distance by the people living near the plant,” she claimed.

Institute Manufacturing Site


The U.S. EPA announced that Union Carbide records showed that there had been 28 leaks of MIC at the InstituteWest Virginia plant in the years 1980 through 

Institute Manufacturing Site

Bayer owns the plant site proper, the general facilities and the  A new chapter in the history of West Virginia Operations began when Union Carbide Corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company in 2001. 

Institute WV Chemical Leak Reported as Undetected for Two Weeks 

Feb 18, 2010  Institute WV Chemical Leak Reported as Undetected for Two Weeks 


Kanawha chemical plant rocked by explosion; one worker killed, one injured

August 29, 2008

By Tom Breen

INSTITUTE — One worker was killed and a second injured in an explosion at a chemical plant that shook an area west of Charleston.

The explosion, which sent a fireball hundreds of feet into the air and could be felt miles away, occurred about 10:25 p.m. Thursday. The blast occurred in a section of the Bayer CropScience plant where waste products are treated before disposal, Bayer spokesman Mike Wey said.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: A Crime Called Bhopal

[Any other country would have gone the extra mile to penalize the foreign corporation--not India.  From Union Carbide's perspective, this massive industrial accident couldn't have happened in a better location.  Only a nation which sees one class of its own citizens as "untouchables" (compared to the highest class, which produces a religious variant of the elite that are referred to as "godmen") could be counted on to defend the corporations instead of the victimized poor, in an industrial travesty of this magnitude.

India's relationship with American corporations is clearly far more important than the lives of a few thousand "untouchables."]

more about “Fatal Tragedy- Bhopal Gas“, posted with vodpod

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: A Crime Called Bhopal

By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Correspondent

Over 25 years ago on a cold winter’s night, thousands of sleeping people died after inhaling toxic gas escaping from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal. A train full of passengers at the nearby Bhopal station never moved.Nobody on it woke up. More than 10,000 men, women and children went in the first three days of the gas leak, and in the following years, another 15,000 died of complications. Deaths and debilitating physical and mental impairments still continue, for water and ground remain contaminated by the deadly methyl isocyanate gas, 40 tonnes of which seeped out into a still, windless night. Even today, about 120,000 people lead a life of suffering. Bhopal is the worst industrial tragedy in the history of mankind.

Yet, those guilty of being responsible for this have not been punished, not really. On June 7, after 25 years, a court found eight men accountable and sentenced them to two years in jail. But they walked out of prison within a few hours, having paid paltry bail money. All these men were senior officers of the Union Carbide when the disaster struck.

But a far greater mockery pertains to the company’s then chief executive officer in India, Warren Anderson. An American citizen, he remains free and is reportedly living in New York. Admittedly, he was arrested a few days after that fateful December night, but was freed on bail a couple of days later. He jumped it and fled to the U.S., his neat getaway having been facilitated, if reports are to be believed, by the Government of Madhya Pradesh, (whose capital city is Bhopal), which even gave him a private aircraft.

Anderson never appeared in any court after that. He never bothered to answer why his company never applied the same safety standards in India that it did in a sister plant in West Virginia, USA. A Greenpeace International report states: “On the night of the disaster, when an explosion at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant caused 40 tonnes of lethal gas to seep into the city of Bhopal, six safety measures designed to prevent a gas leak had either malfunctioned or were turned off or were otherwise inadequate.

In addition, the safety siren, intended to alert the community should an incident occur at the plant, was turned off…Union Carbide responded to the disaster by paying survivors inadequate compensation (some USD 550 for each) and abandoning the plant, leaving tonnes of dangerous toxic chemicals strewn around the site, and the people of Bhopal with a toxic legacy that is still causing injury today. In 2001, the company shed its name by merging with Dow Chemical”.

Obviously, money must have changed hands, thought unfortunately it must have gone to the wrong hands. Six months before the night of lethal horror, the Madhya Pradesh Government had given a clean cheat to the Union Carbide’s safety net. The inquiry, if all there was a real one, was prompted by reports of the company’s inadequate or non-existent safety measures. Some papers had headlined to say that there was a catastrophe waiting to happen. The Union Carbide’s cost-cutting steps had disabled safety procedures, and there were minor leaks between 1981 and 1984 when employees had to be rushed to hospital. Some even died.

And those who died or were maimed for life in December 1984 were mostly poor people, for the pesticide plant was located in a crowded, lowly area, mostly inhabited by workers and their families. Obviously, their voices were weak. Otherwise, how does one explain India’s Supreme Court ruling in 1996 that “diluted charges against the guilty from culpable homicide to criminal negligence, which carries a maximum jail sentence of two years”. In India, death by negligence is slapped against those responsible for causing road accidents. Shockingly, the world’s most devastating industrial calamity has been reduced to a traffic mishap!

It is clear that a political will was lacking then, is lacking now. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement, delivered last December to mark the 25th anniversary of Bhopal, that “the tragedy continues to gnaw at our collective conscience”, sounds as hollow as empty rhetoric.

Apparently New Delhi is anxious not to displease American giant corporations. Just days after the horrifying incident, India’s Ambassador to the U.S. quickly made a declaration to say that it would not affect his country’s policy on foreign investments.

In the meantime, there are growing fears that Bhopal will repeat, given that India is opening up its nuclear energy industry to foreign corporates. Washington has been pressing New Delhi to pass a law that will keep the liability of American nuclear firms in India to a bare minimum. The brunt of the financial burden would be borne by the Indian State operator! A Minister, not named, was quoted as having said that the nuclear bill would “indemnify American companies so that they don’t have to go through another Union Carbide in Bhopal”.

However, under widespread criticism by the media (still largely independent and thankfully so) and Opposition parties, the Bill is now being reworked. Bear-hugged by corporate America, New Delhi’s recklessness is indeed appalling.

China’s ‘cancer villages,’ India’s Radioactive Fly Ash, Reveal Dark Side of Economic Development

India’s generation of children crippled by uranium waste

Observer investigation uncovers link between dramatic rise in birth defects in Punjab and pollution from coal-fired power stations

Gurpreet Sigh being treated at the Baba Farid centre for Special Children in Bathinda

China’s ‘cancer villages’ reveal dark side of economic boom

Polluting factories in rural communities are forming a deadly toxic cocktail for villagers, leading to surging rates of cancer

Zheng Gumei thought she was down with a cold until the doctor told her to wait outside the room so he could talk to her son alone.

“I knew then that I must have a serious illness,” the 47-year-old farmer recalled, wiping away the tears and then staring into the distance. “I’m having treatment now. See, my hair has fallen out,” she said, taking off her hat to show the side-effects of chemotherapy.

Like many other residents of Xinglong, a small rural community next to an industrial park in China‘s Yunnan province, she had little doubt about the source of her cancer. “The pollution in this village is bad, people get sick.”

Such stories have become much more common in China in recent years as breakneck economic growth increasingly takes its toll on the nation’s health.

Since last year, there has been an explosion of lead poisoning cases close to smelting plants. Studies have shown that communities that recycle electronic waste are exposed to cadmium, mercury and brominated flame retardants. Elsewhere, there have been protests against chemical factories that are blamed for carcinogens that enter water supplies and the food chain.

Nationwide, cancer rates have surged since the 1990s to become the nation’s biggest killer. In 2007, the disease was responsible for one in five deaths, up 80% since the start of economic reforms 30 years earlier.

While the government insists it is cleaning up pollution far faster than other nations at a similar dirty stage of development, many toxic industries have simply been relocated to impoverished, poorly regulated rural areas.

Chinese farmers are almost four times more likely to die of liver cancer and twice as likely to die of stomach cancer than the global average, according to study commissioned by the World Bank. The domestic media is increasingly filled with reports of “cancer villages” – clusters of the disease near dirty factories.

There have been few epidemiological studies to validate such claims, but the scale of such reports highlights the growing fear of pollution. Last year, investigative journalist Deng Fei, posted a widely circulated Google map showing more than 100 “cancer villages“. More recent reports suggest the number could be over 400.

The vast majority are on the wealthy eastern seaboard, the first area in China to accept “outsourced” dirty industries from overseas. But as these regions have moved up the value chain and tightened regulations, there are signs that the pollution and cancer belt may be moving inland to areas that are either less aware of the dangers or too poor to turn away business.

Deep in the scorched dry countryside of northeast Yunnan, the residents of Xinglong fear they may soon join the list of sick villages. An acrid stench assails the senses near the Luliang City Industrial Park, the thicket of polluting factories that locals blame for an outbreak of deadly tumours.

Cui Xiaoliang says he lost his aunt and father to cancer after the village streams changed colour. Pointing to the lurid red discharge from the Yinhe paper mill and a yellow trickle below the Peace Technology chemical factory, he said health had declined along with the environment.

“Before the factories were built, there was no cancer. We were free of strange diseases,” he said, grimacing at the nauseating fumes. “Now, we hear every year that this person or that person has cancer, especially lung and liver cancer. My aunt never drank alcohol or smoked. Her cancer was completely caused by pollution.”

At the village clinic, doctor Zhang Jianyou said he has noticed an increase in cancer cases among the 3,000 residents. “The pollution has definitely has an impact,” he said. “I have been here 43 years. In the past, cancer was not obvious, but in recent years it has become a very evident problem. Last year alone, we had five cancer cases.”

When locals tried to protest, Zhang said they were blocked by the authorities because the chemical factories contribute to the local economy.

Everyone the Guardian spoke to at the village knew of someone who had died of cancer and most blamed the toxins that flowed from the chemical factories into the nearby Nanpan river and ground water supply.

Farmers said they have no other source of water for their crops and animals. Goat herders said a tenth of their animals had died.

The impact may well have spread into the human food chain. Wang Qingdi, a peach farmer who lives next to the chemical factory, said her crops were ruined by contaminated water and air, but she still sold them at the market because she had no other source of income.

“When the wind blows in this direction, a thick layer of soot settles on my peach trees,” he said. “Lots of fruit turn black and fall to the ground, I dare not eat the rice I plant and harvest because the pollution is so bad. I sell it on the street.”

The county environment department said it was monitoring the industrial park and paying particular attention to three companies: Longhai Chemical, Yunnan Luliang Peace Technology and the Yinhe paper mill. But inspectors lack the authority and the resources to keep close tabs and impose harsh punitive measures on any factories that break the rules.

“It is like police trying to catch a thief. It’s not easy,” said Song Bin of the Luliang Environmental Protection Department. “Some factories secretly discharge pollution. Some shut down treatment devices when electricity is in short supply. Others turn off their systems at night when they know we are not checking.”

He was cautious, however, about the health implications. “It is hard to say whether there is relationship between cancer and the factories because the workers do not have unusually high rates of the disease,” he said. “Many officials have suggested we invite experts to do a systematic study, but we haven’t done this yet because of budget and other reasons.”

The Guardian requested data on factory emissions and water quality. Under the government’s information transparency law, such information is supposed to be publicly available, but officials insisted their monitoring results were for internal reference only.

Yinhe paper mill refused to comment. The chemical factory – Yunnan Luliang Peace Technology – said the pollution problems dated back to previous owners and were now being rectified.

“The cancer situation in the village has nothing to do with us,” said Candy Xu, foreign sales manager. “The pollution accumulated over 10 years. It can’t be solved immediately but we deal with it year by year. Within three-to-five years I believe we can clear it up. The previous company was irresponsible to the local residents and it is not fair to blame us for their mistakes.”

The new owners from the rich coastal province of Zhejiang have invested in new equipment and are trying to shift production towards cleaner, high-end nutritional supplements and feed additives, but their website still lists sodium dichromate – a highly carcinogenic chemical – among its products.

In a recent study of “cancer villages”, Lee Liu of the University of Central Missouri said the problem was exacerbated by the government’s tendency to focus on urban development at the cost of rural areas. This – and a lack of independent oversight by NGOs and journalists – have mixed into a toxic cocktail.

“China appears to have produced more cancer clusters in a few decades than the rest of the world ever had,” he notes.

Whether the village of Xinglong will join the list cannot be confirmed without a full study. But rising cancer rates and appalling pollution levels leave locals in little doubt.

For Zheng, her breast cancer does not just threaten her life, but the financial well-being of her daughter. She has had to borrow 20,000 yuan (£2,000) for two courses of chemotherapy and estimates it will cost another 80,000 yuan to cure the disease. She knows that is far from certain.

“My brother-in law had cancer like me. He is dead already,” she said as her infant daughter pulled at her shirt. “I want to tell the factories they make too much pollution. Because of them Xinglong village is sick.”

Additional reporting by Chen Shi