U.S. empire is essentially over

SUBHEAD: American foreign policy elite eagerly await an expansion of overseas wars under Hillary Clinton.

By Michael Krieger on 20 October 2016 for Liberty Blitzkrieg -

Image above: Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves to take on Japan after beating Germany. From (https://www.hakes.com/Auction/ItemDetail/63091/JAPYOURE-NEXT-WWII-UNCLE-SAM-POSTER-BY-FLAGG).

Your average American Hillary Clinton supporter will smugly head to the polls on November 8th, entirely self-assured of his or her vital role in the defeat of fascism in these United States.

It won’t take long for such childish delusions to be vanquished by the horror of subsequent reckless and unnecessary imperial conflagrations that will be inevitably unleashed by their savior throughout the world.

The extreme dangers faced by the planet as a result of neocon warmonger Hillary Clinton becoming President have been apparent for a very long time. Oliver Stone and many others have vocally warned about it, and I’ve covered the topic on many occasions; including in the following posts:

Oliver Stone Opines on the Dangerous Extremism of Neocon Clinton
More Troubling Evidence That Hillary Clinton Will Start WW3 – Part 1
More Troubling Evidence That Hillary Clinton Will Start WW3 – Part 2
Lifelong Democrat and Former RFK Speechwriter Supports For Trump

Now, courtesy of a newly published article at The Washington Post, we are once again forced to confront this very uncomfortable reality. Here are a few of the more disturbing excerpts from today’s piece:

There is one corner of Washington where Donald Trump’s scorched-earth presidential campaign is treated as a mere distraction and where bipartisanship reigns. In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief.

The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy via a flurry of reports shaped by officials who are likely to play senior roles in a potential Clinton White House.

It is not unusual for Washington’s establishment to launch major studies in the final months of an administration to correct the perceived mistakes of a president or influence his successor. But the bipartisan nature of the recent recommendations, coming at a time when the country has never been more polarized, reflect a remarkable consensus among the foreign policy elite.

This consensus is driven by broad-based backlash against a president who has repeatedly stressed the dangers of overreach and the limits of American power, especially in the Middle East. “There’s a widespread perception that not being active enough or recognizing the limits of American power has costs,” said Philip Gordon, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama until 2015. “So the normal swing is to be more interventionist.”

Taken together, the studies and reports call for more-aggressive American action to constrain Iran, rein in the chaos in the Middle East and check Russia in Europe.
The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views and the direction she is likely to take if she is elected, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts, including a report that will be released Wednesday by the liberal Center for American Progress, call for stepped up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.
This is what passes off as “liberal” these days.
The proposed military measures include calls for safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs, as is currently happening in besieged Aleppo. So far, Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Even pinprick cruise missile strikes designed to hobble the Syrian air force or punish Assad would risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces, which are scattered throughout the key Syrian military bases that would be targeted.

“You can’t pretend you can go to war against Assad and not go to war against the Russians,” said a senior administration official who is involved in Middle East policy and was granted anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

"Inside the White House, senior administration officials regularly dismissed calls for military force from the foreign policy establishment as the product of “too much college, not enough knowledge,” writes Derek Chollet, a former top Obama administration official, in his new book “The Long Game.”

Other White House officials derisively referred to Washington’s foreign policy experts as “the Blob.”
As much as I’ve criticized Obama for his many costly foreign adventures, he is an absolute peacenik compared to Clinton. Let’s never forget that the biggest foreign policy disaster of his Presidency, the destruction of Libya, was the brainchild of his then Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Everyone has kind of given up on the Middle East. We have been at it for 15 years, and a lot of Americans think it is hopeless,” Hadley said. “We think it is not.”
What would we do without people like Hadley around to screw things up?
“The dynamic is totally different from what I saw a decade ago” when Democratic and Republican elites were feuding over the invasion of Iraq, said Brian Katulis, a senior Middle East analyst at the Center for American Progress. Today, the focus among the foreign policy elite is on rebuilding a more muscular and more “centrist internationalism,” he said.
This is an absolute disaster waiting to happen. As I tweeted earlier today:
"We stand at a very dangerous moment. The U.S. empire is essentially over, but the emperors haven’t got the memo."


The Future Hiding in Plain Sight

SUBHEAD: Current Pentagon threat assessments for 2035 are fixated on present with no sense of real future dangers.

By John Michael Greer on 19 October 2016 for the Archdruid Report

Image above: Warband culture in in film Mad Max Fury Road". From (http://www.bleedingcool.com/2015/09/10/mad-max-fury-road-is-shiny-and-chrome-on-home-video-charts/).

Carl Jung used to argue that meaningful coincidences—in his jargon, synchronicity—were as important as cause and effect in shaping the details of human life. Whether that’s true in the broadest sense, I’ll certainly vouch for the fact that they’re a constant presence in The Archdruid Report. Time and again, just as I sit down to write a post on some theme, somebody sends me a bit of data that casts unexpected light on that very theme.

Last week was a case in point. Regular readers will recall that the theme of last week’s post was the way that pop-culture depictions of deep time implicitly erase the future by presenting accounts of Earth’s long history that begin billions of years ago and end right now.

I was brooding over that theme a little more than a week ago, chasing down details of the prehistoric past and the post-historic future, when one of my readers forwarded me a copy of the latest Joint Operating Environment report by the Pentagon—JOE-35, to use the standard jargon.

The JOE-35 attempts to predict the shape of the international environment in which US military operations will take place in 2035, and mostly succeeds in providing a world-class example of the same blindness to the future I discussed in my post.

The report can be downloaded in PDF form here and is worth reading in full. It covers quite a bit of ground, and a thorough response to it would be more the size of a short book than a weekly blog post. The point I want to discuss this week is its identification of six primary “contexts for conflict” that will shape the military environment of the 2030s:

ONE: Violent Ideological Competition. 
Irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence.” That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.

TWO: Threatened U.S. Territory and Sovereignty. 
Encroachment, erosion, or disregard of U.S. sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens from coercion.” That is, states and non-state actors will attempt to carry out violent acts against US citizens and territory.

THREE:  Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing.
Increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting U.S. influence.” That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States.

FOUR: Disrupted Global Commons. 
Denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none.” That is, the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.

FIVE: A Contest for Cyberspace. 
A struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace.” That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.

SIX: Shattered and Reordered Regions.
States unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stressors, or deliberate external interference.” That is, states will continue to be overwhelmed by the increasingly harsh pressures on national survival in today’s world, and the failed states and stateless zones that will spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

JOE-35 therefore assumes, first, that each of these trends will remain locked in place without significant change for the next twenty years, and second, that no new trends of comparable importance will emerge to reshape the strategic landscape between now and 2035. History suggests that both of these are very, very risky assumptions for a great power to make.

It so happens that I have a fair number of readers who serve in the US armed forces just now, and a somewhat larger number who serve in the armed forces of other countries more or less allied with the United States.

I may have readers serving with the armed forces of Russia or China as well, but they haven’t announced themselves—and I suspect, for what it’s worth, that they’re already well acquainted with the points I intend to make.

With those readers in mind, I’d like to suggest a revision to JOE-35, which will take into account the fact that history can’t be expected to stop in its tracks for the next twenty years, just because we want it to. Once that’s included in the analysis, at least five contexts of conflict not mentioned by JOE-35 stand out from the background:

ONE: A crisis of legitimacy in the United States. 
Half a century ago, most Americans assumed as a matter of course that the United States had the world’s best, fairest, and most democratic system of government; only a small minority questioned the basic legitimacy of the institutions of government or believed they would be better off under a different system.

Since the late 1970s, however, federal policies that subsidized automation and the offshoring of industrial jobs, and tacitly permitted mass illegal immigration to force down wages, have plunged the once-proud American working class into impoverishment and immiseration.

While the wealthiest 20% or so of Americans have prospered since then, the other 80% of the population has experienced ongoing declines in standards of living.

The political impact of these policies has been amplified by a culture of contempt toward working class Americans on the part of the affluent minority, and an insistence that any attempt to discuss economic and social impacts of automation, offshoring of jobs, and mass illegal immigration must be dismissed out of hand as mere Luddism, racism, and xenophobia.

As a direct consequence, a great many working class Americans—in 1965, by and large, the sector of the public most loyal to American institutions—have lost faith in the US system of government.

This shift in values has massive military as well as political implications, since working class Americans are much more likely than others to own guns, to have served in the military, and to see political violence as a potential option.

Thus a domestic insurgency in the United States is a real possibility at this point. Since, as already noted, working class Americans are disproportionately likely to serve in the military, planning for a domestic insurgency in the United States will have to face the possibility that such an insurgency will include veterans familiar with current counterinsurgency doctrine.

It will also have to cope with the risk that National Guard and regular armed forces personnel sent to suppress such an insurgency will go over to the insurgent side, transforming the insurgency into a civil war.

As some wag has pointed out, the US military is very good at fighting insurgencies but not so good at defeating them, and the fate of Eastern Bloc nations after the fall of the Soviet Union shows just how fast a government can unravel once its military personnel turn against it.

Furthermore, since the crisis of legitimacy is driven by policies backed by a bipartisan consensus, military planners can only deal with the symptoms of a challenge whose causes are beyond their control.

TWO: The marginalization of the United States in the global arena.
Twenty years ago the United States was the world’s sole superpower, having triumphed over the Soviet Union, established a rapprochement with China, and marginalized such hostile Islamic powers as Iran.

Those advantages did not survive two decades of overbearing and unreliable US policy, which not only failed to cement the gains of previous decades but succeeded in driving Russia and China, despite their divergent interests and long history of conflict, into an alliance against the United States.

Future scholars will likely consider this to be the worst foreign policy misstep in our nation’s history.

Iran’s alignment with the Sino-Russian alliance and, more recently, overtures from the Philippines and Egypt, track the continuation of this trend, as do the establishment of Chinese naval bases across the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to the Horn of Africa, and most recently, Russian moves to reestablish overseas bases in Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and Cuba.

Russia and China are able to approach foreign alliances on the basis of a rational calculus of mutual interest, rather than the dogmatic insistence on national exceptionalism that guides so much of US foreign policy today. This allows them to offer other nations, including putative US allies, better deals than the US is willing to concede.

As a direct result, barring a radical change in its foreign policy, the United States in 2035 will be marginalized by a new global order centered on Beijing and Moscow, denied access to markets and resources by trade agreements hostile to its interests, and will have to struggle to maintain influence even over its “near abroad.” It is unwise to assume, as some current strategists do, that China’s current economic problems will slow that process.

Some European leaders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler among them, assumed that the comparable boom-bust cycle the United States experienced in the 1920s and 1930s meant that the US would be a negligible factor in the European balance of power in the 1940s. I think we all know how that turned out.

Here again, barring a drastic change in US foreign policy, military planners will be forced to deal with the consequences of unwelcome shifts without being able to affect the causes of those shifts.

Careful planning can, however, redirect resources away from global commitments that will not survive the process of marginalization, and toward securing the “near abroad” of the United States and withdrawing assets to the continental US to keep them from being compromised by former allies.

THREE: The rise of “monkey-wrenching” warfare.
The United States has the most technologically complex military in the history of war. While this is normally considered an advantage, it brings with it no shortage of liabilities.

The most important of these is the vulnerability of complex technological systems to “monkey-wrenching”—that is, strategies and tactics targeting technological weak points in order to degrade the capacities of a technologically superior force.

 The more complex a technology is, as a rule, the wider the range of monkey-wrenching attacks that can interfere with it; the more integrated a technology is with other technologies, the more drastic the potential impacts of such attacks.

The complexity and integration of US military technology make it a monkey-wrencher’s dream target, and current plans for increased complexity and integration will only heighten the risks.

The risks created by the emergence of monkey-wrenching warfare are heightened by an attitude that has deep roots in the culture of US military procurement: the unquestioned assumption that innovation is always improvement.

This assumption has played a central role in producing weapons systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is so heavily burdened with assorted innovations that it has a much shorter effective range, a much smaller payload, and much higher maintenance costs than competing Russian and Chinese fighters.

In effect, the designers of the F-35 were so busy making it innovative that they forgot to make it work. The same thing can be said about many other highly innovative but dubiously effective US military technologies.

Problems caused by excessive innovation can to some extent be anticipated and countered by US military planners. What makes monkey-wrenching attacks by hostile states and non-state actors so serious a threat is that it may not be possible to predict them in advance.

While US intelligence assets should certainly make every effort to identify monkey-wrenching technologies and tactics before they are used, US forces must be aware that at any moment, critical technologies may be put out of operation or turned to the enemy’s advantage without warning.

Rigorous training in responding to technological failure, and redundant systems that can operate independently of existing networks, may provide some protection against monkeywrenching, but the risk remains grave.

FOUR: The genesis of warband culture in failed states. 
While JOE-35 rightly identifies the collapse of weak states into failed-state conditions as a significant military threat, a lack of attention to the lessons of history leads its authors to neglect the most serious risk posed by the collapse of states in a time of general economic retrenchment and cultural crisis.

That risk is the emergence of warband culture—a set of cultural norms that dominate the terminal periods of most recorded civilizations and the dark ages that follow them, and play a central role in the historical transformation to dark age conditions.

Historians use the term “warband” to describe a force of young men whose only trade is violence, gathered around a charismatic leader and supporting itself by pillage.

While warbands tend to come into being whenever public order collapses or has not yet been imposed, the rise of a self-sustaining warband culture requires a prolonged period of disorder in which governments either do not exist or cannot establish their legitimacy in the eyes of the governed, and warbands become accepted as the de facto governments of territories of various size.

Once this happens, the warbands inevitably begin to move outward; the ethos and the economics of the warband alike require access to plunder, and this can best be obtained by invading regions not yet reduced to failed-state conditions, thus spreading the state of affairs that fosters warband culture in the first place.

Most civilizations have had to contend with warbands in their last years, and the record of attempts to quell them by military force is not good. At best, a given massing of warbands can be defeated and driven back into whatever stateless area provides them with their home base; a decade or two later, they can be counted on to return in force.

Systematic attempts to depopulate their home base simply drive them into other areas, causing the collapse of public order there.

Once warband culture establishes itself solidly on the fringes of a civilization, history suggests, the entire civilized area will eventually be reduced to failed-state conditions by warband incursions, leading to a dark age. Nothing guarantees that the modern industrial world is immune from this same process.

The spread of failed states around the periphery of the industrial world is thus an existential thread not only to the United States but to the entire project of modern civilization.

What makes this a critical issue is that US foreign policy and military actions have repeatedly created failed states in which warband culture can flourish: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine are only the most visible examples. Elements of US policy toward Mexico—for example, the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scheme—show worrisome movement in the same direction.

Unless these policies are reversed, the world of 2035 may face conditions like those that have ended civilization more than once in the past.

FIVE: The end of the Holocene environmental optimum. 
All things considered, the period since the final melting of the great ice sheets some six millennia ago has been extremely propitious for the project of human civilization. Compared to previous epochs, the global climate has been relatively stable, and sea levels have changed only slowly.

Furthermore, the globe six thousand years ago was stocked with an impressive array of natural resources, and the capacity of its natural systems to absorb sudden shocks had not been challenged on a global level for some sixty-five million years.

None of those conditions remains the case today. Ongoing dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is rapidly destabilizing the global climate, and triggering ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica that promises to send sea levels up sharply in the decades and centuries ahead.

Many other modes of pollution are disrupting natural systems in a galaxy of ways, triggering dramatic environmental changes.

Meanwhile breakneck extraction is rapidly depleting the accessible stocks of hundreds of different nonrenewable resources, each of them essential to some aspect of contemporary industrial society, and the capacity of natural systems to cope with the cascading burdens placed upon them by human action has already reached the breaking point in many areas.

The end of the Holocene environmental optimum—the era of relative ecological stability in which human civilization has flourished—is likely to be a prolonged process. By 2035, however, current estimates suggest that the initial round of impacts will be well under way.

Shifting climate belts causing agricultural failure, rising sea levels imposing drastic economic burdens on coastal communities and the nations to which they belong, rising real costs for resource extraction driving price spikes and demand destruction, and increasingly intractable conflicts pitting states, non-state actors, and refugee populations against one another for remaining supplies of fuel, raw materials, topsoil, food, and water.

US military planners will need to take increasingly hostile environmental conditions into account. They will also need to prepare for mass movements of refugees out of areas of flooding, famine, and other forms of environmental disruption, on a scale exceeding current refugee flows by orders of magnitude.

Finally, since the economic impact of these shifts on the United States will affect the nation’s ability to provide necessary resources for its military, plans for coping with cascading environmental crises will have to take into account the likelihood that the resources needed to do so may be in short supply.

Those are the five contexts for conflict I foresee. What makes them even more challenging than they would otherwise be, of course, is that none of them occur in a vacuum, and each potentially feeds into the others.

Thus, for example, it would be in the national interest of Russia and/or China to help fund and supply a domestic insurgency in the United States (contexts ONE and TWO); emergent warbands may well be able to equip themselves with the necessary gear to engage in monkeywrenching attacks against US forces sent to contain them (contexts FOUR and THREE); disruptions driven by environmental change will likely help foster the process of warband formation (contexts FIVE and FOUR), and so on.

That’s the future hiding in plain sight: the implications of US policies in the present and recent past, taken to their logical conclusions.

The fact that current Pentagon assessments of the future remain so tightly fixed on the phenomena of the present, with no sense of where those phenomena lead, gives me little hope that any of these bitter outcomes will be avoided.


For Purely Technical Reasons

SUBHEAD: The electric car offers elites a way of setting themselves apart from the gasoline-burning riffraff. 

By Dmitry Orlov on 18 October 2016 for Club Orlov -

Image above: The golf cart parking places are all full at the Lake Sumter Landing Town Center at The Villages, a gated retirement community in Florida. Photo by Stephen M. Dowell. From (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/lake/os-ap-the-villages-is-nations-fastest-growing-20160324-story.html).

It is tempting for us to think that our technological choices—whether we choose to live in a city, a suburb or out in the country; whether we want to drive a pick-up truck, a gasoline-electric hybrid or ride a bicycle; whether we take a train, drive long distances or fly—are determined by our tastes.

We may flatter ourselves that we are in control, and that our choices are reflective of our enlightened, environmentally conscious values. This view rests on a foundation of circular reasoning: we behave in enlightened ways because we are enlightened, and we are enlightened because, to wit, we behave in enlightened ways.

As to why what we consider enlightened is in fact enlightened rather than a question of possibly questionable personal taste—that is not to be discussed: de gustibus non est disputandum.

But there is an alternative viewpoint, which seems more realistic in many ways, because it rests on a foundation of physical, technical specifics rather than fickle and arbitrary consumer preference, whim or taste.

From this viewpoint, our technology and associated lifestyle choices are dictated by the technical requirements of their underlying technologies, both physical (the operation of the energy industry, the transportation industry, etc.) and political (the operation of political machines that segregate society by net worth and income, relegating wage-earners to a global disenfranchised underclass).

A few years ago I found out that I needed to replace the diesel engine on my boat (the old one blew up definitively) and looked at a number of options, one of which was to replace it with an electric motor and a large bank of batteries.

The electric option was touted as being quiet, non-polluting, and having just enough range to get in and out of the marina and to get back to dock if the wind died during a typical daysail. It turned out to be more than twice as expensive as a replacement diesel engine.

As to what one might do to take such a boat any great distance (that involves many hours of motoring) the solution is to… add a diesel engine hooked up to a very large alternator, at triple the cost of just replacing the diesel. And so I just replaced the diesel.

Diesel engines have a lot of positive qualities: they can run continuously for tens of thousands of hours; they can be rebuilt many times just by replacing the bearings, the cylinder sleeves, the piston rings and the valves; they are exceptionally reliable; the fuel they use is energy-dense.

For these reasons, they are found throughout freight and construction industries and are used for small-scale power generation. They can be very large: the larger ships have engines that are as big as houses, with ladders welded to their cylinder walls, so that servicemen can climb down into them to service them after the cylinder head and the piston assembly are pulled out using an overhead shop crane.

Small diesel engines make a lot less sense, and the silliest of them are the ones found on small yachts. There are many aspects of their design that make them silly, but there is also an overriding reason: they use the wrong fuel.

You see, diesel is a precious commodity, used in the transportation industry (by trucks, locomotives and ships), and in construction equipment, with no alternative that is feasible. A cousin of diesel fuel is jet fuel—another petroleum distillate—that is used to power jet engines, again, with no alternative that is feasible.

And then there is a fuel that is only really useful as a small engine fuel: gasoline, that is. Gasoline engines beyond a certain size become much more trouble than they are worth.

Each barrel of crude oil can be distilled and refined into a certain amount of diesel and jet fuel, a certain amount of gasoline, some tar and some far less useful substances such as naphtha. The diesel is spoken for, because it literally moves the world; but if enough small engines cannot be found to burn all the gasoline that is produced, it becomes a waste product and has to be flared off at the oil refinery, at a loss.

Indeed, prior to Henry Ford coming up with the brilliant plan to build cars cheap enough for his workers to afford, gasoline was dumped into rivers just to get rid of it, because while everyone burned kerosene (a distillate, like jet fuel and diesel) in lamps, cars remained playthings of the rich, and there simply wasn’t a market for any great quantities of gasoline.

Therefore, it became very important to find ways to sell gasoline, by finding enough uses for it, no matter how superfluous they happened to be.

And although some people think that the private automobile is a symbol of luxury and freedom and feel the thrill of the open road, the reason they think that is because these ideas were implanted in their heads by the people who were tasked with finding a market for gasoline.

Alongside cars, great effort was put into marketing all sorts of other small engines: for lawn mowers, jet skis, motorcycles, ATVs, boat outboard motors… The only semi-industrial use of gasoline is in chainsaws, small generators and air compressors, service and delivery vehicles, and outboard engines.

And so people were sold on the idea of driving their own car, whether they needed to or not, and spending lots of time stuck in traffic—all so that they would pay for gasoline. By causing all that excess traffic congestion, they also created the need to widen roads and highways, generating demand for another borderline useless petroleum product: road tar.

And since there was a problem with cramming all these cars into cities (where cars are generally not needed if the cities are laid out using proper urban design, with sufficient numbers of tram, light rail and subway lines, etc.) the solution was to move everybody out to the suburbs.

And so the reason half of the US population now lives in suburbia and drives has nothing to do with their needs, and everything to do with the need to sell them gasoline.

Some people may react negatively to the idea that their suburban castle and their magic chariot are all just part of a plan to make them spend much of their life paying for the right to dispose of toxic waste in unsafe ways.

Rest assured, their pre-programmed negative reaction is part of the plan. Every effort has been made to program people to think that this waste disposal job—carried out at one's own expense—is, in fact, something that should be considered a sign of success.

The most efficient way to motivate a slave to perform is to convince him that he is free. To this end, driving is celebrated in music and film and portrayed as a way of life.

Calling it what it is—being a slave to a machine—is bound to cause cognitive dissonance, all the more so because driving a lot destroys one's mind: in the immortal words of a character from the movie Repo Man, ”The more you drive, the less intelligent you become.”

In this respect, most of the people living in the US are far past the point of no return, and it is pointless to attempt to impart to them any ideas that are discordant with the dead-end lifestyle into which they have been unconsciously coerced.

Getting back to electric vehicles, such as what my boat would have ended up if I were gullible and made of money: they are obviously a defective idea.

Their range is limited, they take longer to charge than it takes to fill a gas tank, and they use expensive and dangerous lithium-ion batteries that need periodic replacement.

There is not enough lithium available to continue making batteries for laptops and smartphones (which periodically burst into flames), never mind providing for a giant expansion of battery-building to support lots of electric cars.

Perhaps most importantly, they shrink the market for gasoline. So, what’s the reason behind the push?

It certainly isn’t part of any particular effort to electrify transportation in general, because no electric solution exists for ships or planes, and electrifying rail freight is an impossibly expensive proposition.

It certainly isn’t part of an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, because most of the ways electricity is currently generated is by burning coal and natural gas—and will be, while supplies last, because electricity is hard to store, and no matter how many solar arrays and wind farms are installed something will be needed to power the electric grid on overcast, windless days.

No, the push for electric cars is motivated by a different sort of technology—political technology. You see, the oil age is drawing to a close. Last year the oil companies only discovered 1 barrel of oil for every 10 barrels they produced; at the turn of the century it was closer to one for every four.

At the same time, most of the easy-to-get-at oil has already been produced, and now it takes 1 barrel’s worth of energy to produce something like 10 barrels, whereas at the dawn of the age of oil it was closer to 1 for every 100 barrels.

Such a low level of net energy production is turning out to be insufficient to maintain an industrial civilization, and as a result economic growth has largely stalled out.

And although large investments in oil production have succeeded in keeping large volumes of oil flowing, for now, this is turning out to be an ineffective way to invest money, with many energy companies, once so profitable, now unable to pay the interest on their debt.

And even though constant injections of free money are currently keeping developed economies from cratering into bankruptcy, it has been clear for some time that each additional dollar of debt produces significantly less than a dollar’s worth of economic growth. Growing debt within a growing economy can be very nice; but if the economy isn’t growing as fast, it’s fatal.

As the oil age winds down, personal transportation, in the form of the automobile, is bound to once again become a plaything of the very rich.

But then, when it comes to electric cars, it already is! And I don’t mean Tesla: the most commonly used electric vehicle worldwide is the golf cart.

And who uses golf carts? Members of golf clubs; guests at resorts; residents of posh gated communities; employees at corporate and academic campuses… And what do all these people have in common? They are all members of the salaried elite; they are definitely not members of the wage-earning class.

To them, the electric car offers a way of preserving a semblance of the status quo for themselves while setting themselves apart (in their own minds) from all of the gasoline-burning riffraff.

Let the great unwashed in the flyover states, with their pickup trucks complete with gun racks, burn what’s left of the gasoline while overdosing on synthetic opiates while the salaried elites and individuals of high net worth, ensconced in their campuses and gated communities, will create a different future for themselves, replete with wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars (until they all get shot by all those they have disenfranchised).

Elites lost consent of the governed

SUBHEAD: The Great Divide in America is between the ruling Elite and the governed they have strip-mined.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 20 October 2016 for Of Two Minds -

Image above: Illustration of an uprising of peasants revolting against overlords. From (https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=501698481).

Brimming with hubris and self-importance, the ruling Elite and mainstream media cannot believe they have lost the consent of the governed.

Every ruling Elite needs the consent of the governed: even autocracies, dictatorships and corporatocracies ultimately rule with the consent, however grudging, of the governed.

The American ruling Elite has lost the consent of the governed. This reality is being masked by the mainstream media, mouthpiece of the ruling class, which is ceaselessly promoting two false narratives:
  1. The "great divide" in American politics is between left and right, Democrat or Republican.

  2. The ruling Elite has delivered "prosperity" not just to the privileged few but to the unprivileged many they govern.
Both of these assertions are false. The Great Divide in America is between the ruling Elite and the governed that the Elite has strip-mined.

The ruling Elite is privileged and protected, the governed are unprivileged and unprotected. That's the divide that counts and the divide that is finally becoming visible to the marginalized, unprivileged class of debt-serfs.

The "prosperity" of the 21st century has flowed solely to the ruling Elite and its army of technocrat toadies, factotums, flunkies, apparatchiks and apologists.

The Elite's army of technocrats and its media apologists have engineered and promoted an endless spew of ginned-up phony statistics (the super-low unemployment rate, etc.) to create the illusion of "growth" and "prosperity" that benefit everyone rather than just the top 5%.

The media is 100% committed to promoting these two false narratives because the jig is up once the bottom 95% wake up to the reality that the ruling Elite has been stripmining them for decades.

As I have tirelessly explained, the U.S. economy is not just neoliberal (the code word for maximizing private gain by any means available, including theft, fraud, embezzlement, political fixing, price-fixing, and so on)--it is neofeudal, meaning that it is structurally an updated version of Medieval feudalism in which a top layer of financial-political nobility owns the engines of wealth and governs the marginalized debt-serfs who toil to pay student loans, auto loans, credit cards, mortgages and taxes--all of which benefit the financiers and political grifters.

The media is in a self-referential frenzy to convince us the decision of the century is between unrivaled political grifter Hillary Clinton and financier-cowboy Donald Trump. Both belong to the privileged ruling Elite: both have access to cheap credit, insider information (information asymmetry) and political influence.

The cold truth is the ruling Elite has shredded the social contract by skimming the income/wealth of the unprivileged.

The fake-"progressive" pandering apologists of the ruling Elite--Robert Reich, Paul Krugman and the rest of the Keynesian Cargo Cultists--turn a blind eye to the suppression of dissent and the looting the bottom 95% because they have cushy, protected positions as tenured faculty (or equivalent).

They cheerlead for more state-funded bread and circuses for the marginalized rather than demand an end to exploitive privileges of the sort they themselves enjoy.

Consider just three of the unsustainably costly broken systems that enrich the privileged Elite by strip-mining the unprivileged: healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare because sickness is profitable, prevention is unprofitable), higher education and Imperial over-reach (the National Security State and its partner the privately owned Military-Industrial Complex).

While the unprivileged and unprotected watch their healthcare premiums and co-pays soar year after year, the CEOs of various sickcare cartels skim off tens of millions of dollars annually in pay and stock options.

The system works great if you get a $20 million paycheck. If you get a 30% increase in monthly premiums for fewer actual healthcare services--the system is broken.

Creepy Cashless Society

SUBHEAD: Money may be a shared illusion, but cash abolitionists are in a hallucination all their own.

By Elaine Ou on 14 October 2016 for Bloomberg News -

Image above: US one-hundred dollar bills.  From (http://wallpapersafari.com/money-100-dollar-wallpaper/).

It's fun to imagine a world without cash.

Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device.

Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster.

My musings about a cashless utopia were inspired by an article in the New Yorker this month by Nathan Heller.

A new book, "The Curse of Cash," by Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, doesn't go that far, but argues that big bills should be phased out, with coins perhaps replacing small bills someday as the alternative to electronic payments. Other economists have made the case for an outright ban on physical currency.

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without paper money is a world without money.

Money belongs to its current holder.  It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money.

This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion.

We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access.  Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage.

The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca ) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds.

Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

According to a national U.K. risk assessment on money laundering Banks and accounting firms are more utilized for money laundering than cash.

The one benefit of replacing cash with claims on cash is that a claim can be discounted, canceled or seized. That doesn’t sound terribly beneficial to most people, but this attribute is attractive to a growing contingent that wants to send interest rates into negative territory.

As Rogoff explains, negative-interest-rate policy is an important tool for central banks to restore macroeconomic stability.

During times of slow economic growth, a lower cost of borrowing gives companies an incentive to invest and consumers to spend. Physical currency gets in the way of negative-interest-rate policy because people who don’t want to accrue negative interest can simply store their cash in a safe.

By confining the national currency to regulated account holdings, the government can impose a tax on savings in the name of monetary policy.

Now if there’s one thing the population is good at, it’s tax avoidance.

That’s a good part of why we’re having this conversation in the first place. If interest rates fall too far below zero, it’s possible that citizens would find an alternative form of cash. Drug traffickers certainly would.

Money has been repeatedly reinvented throughout history, as shells, cigarettes and cryptographic code. Humans are resourceful.

Rogoff acknowledges this risk, and states that the removal of paper money will only be effective "provided the government is vigilant about playing Whac-a-mole as alternative transaction media come into being."

This sounds a lot like a policy employed in 13th-century China, where the use of gold or silver as a medium of exchange was punishable by death. Such is not the hallmark of a free society, but neither is the abolition of cash.

A cashless economy violates the basic laws under which currency has operated since before the Industrial Revolution. The justification for giving up a fundamental freedom is that it would clear the way for an experimental policy designed to place a tax on currency. Money may be a shared illusion, but cash abolitionists are in a hallucination all their own.

(Corrects description of Kenneth Rogoff's book in third paragraph of article published Oct. 14.)

  1. From Henry Dunning Macleod’s The Theory of Credit:
    In Miller v. Race (1 Burr., 452), confirming Anonymous (1 Lord Raymond, 738), the Court of King's Bench decided that Bank Notes have the Credit and Currency of Money to all intents and purposes. "An action would lie against the finder; that no one disputes, but not after the Note had been paid away in Currency. An action would not lie against the defendant, because he took it in the course of Currency: and, therefore, it could not be followed into his hands. It never shall be followed into the hands of a person who bona fide took it in the course of Currency. A Bank Note is constantly and universally both at home and abroad, treated as Money, as cash: and it is necessary for the purposes of commerce, that their Currency should be established and maintained."

  2. WikiLeaks, for one example. Legal marijuana-related businesses, for another.

  3. Mossack Fonseca is a law firm and a one-stop shelter shop with services including tax and accounting advice. The U.K. National Risk Assessment characterizes its accountancy category as follows:

    “This includes not only accountancy firms, but also firms which offer a range of services including accountancy services, such as large financial institutions. Businesses providing accountancy services may also offer trust or company services, or other services covered under the regulations.”


The Perpetual Electronic Lineup

SOURCE: Russ Pascatore (russ.pascatore@titanx.com)
SUBHEAD: As an adult American chances are better than 50% your in the FBI facial recognition database.

By David Kravits on 18 October 2016 for Ars Technica -

Image above: Sample of "new' Hawaii driver's license introduced in 2010 to meet federal regulations permitting it to be used for security clearance situations like boarding an airplane, an international identity check or for the federal facial recognition database. From (http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2010/Jan/30/ln/hawaii1300331.html).

Half of American adults are in a face-recognition database, according to a Georgetown University study released Tuesday. That means there's about 117 million adults in a law enforcement facial-recognition database, the study by Georgetown's Center on Privacy & Technology says.

"We are not aware of any agency that requires warrants for searches or limits them to serious crimes," the study says.

The report (PDF), titled "The Perpetual Line-up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America," shows that one-fourth of the nation's law enforcement agencies have access to face-recognition databases, and their use by those agencies is virtually unregulated.

"Innocent people don't belong in criminal databases," said Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology and co-author of the study.

"By using face recognition to scan the faces on 26 states' driver's license and ID photos, police and the FBI have basically enrolled half of all adults in a massive virtual line-up. This has never been done for fingerprints or DNA. It's uncharted and frankly dangerous territory."

Where do the mug shots come from?

For starters, about 16 states allow the FBI to use facial recognition to compare faces of suspected criminals to their driver's licenses or ID photos, according to the study. "In this line-up," the study says, "it's not a human that points to the suspect—it's an algorithm."

The study says 26 states or more allow police agencies to "run or request searches" against their databases or driver's licenses and ID photos. This equates to "roughly one in two American adults has their photos searched this way," according to the study. Many local police agencies also insert mug shots of people they arrest into searchable, biometric databases, according to the report.

According to the report, researchers obtained documents stating that at least five "major police departments," including those in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, "either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology that can do so, or expressed an interest in buying it."

The Georgetown report's release comes three months after the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the FBI has access to as many as 411.9 million images as part of its face-recognition database.

The bulk of those images are photographs of people who have committed no crime. That study, which provided examples of crimes solved by using the database, noted that the FBI database was used in investigations involving credit card and identity fraud, bank robberies, violent crime, and other felonies.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown study also said that police departments have little oversight of their databases and don't audit them for misuse:
Maryland's system, which includes the license photos of over two million residents, was launched in 2011. It has never been audited. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office system is almost 15 years old and may be the most frequently used system in the country. When asked if his office audits searches for misuse, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri replied, “No, not really.” Despite assurances to Congress, the FBI has not audited use of its face recognition system, either. Only nine of 52 agencies (17%) indicated that they log and audit their officers' face recognition searches for improper use. Of those, only one agency, the Michigan State Police, provided documentation showing that their audit regime was actually functional.
Clare Garvie, the report's lead author, sent records requests to 100 police departments. Only half of them acknowledged using facial recognition. Many of the agencies allow police to search for someone regardless of whether he or she is suspected of a crime.

"With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias" Garvie said. "It's a Wild West."


No justice for Marshall Islands

SUBHEAD: World court rejects landmark Marshall Islanders' nuclear weapons contamination case.

By Tom Arms on 17 October 2016 for Earth Island -

Image above: In 1956 the first airborne drop of an hydrogen bomb was on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Click to enlarge. From (www.drcynthiamiller.com/dr-cynthia-2/).

World court rejects landmark case charging nuclear states of failing to work towards disarmament.

The residents of the Marshall Islands are the ultimate modern age victims. If they don't die from cancer inflicted by nuclear testing they will drown from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Like most victims, they sought justice. But the International Court of Justice at The Hague refused it on what was effectively a diplomatic-cum-legal technicality.

The Marshall Islands — population 54,000 — are two parallel strings of islands covering 750,000 square miles of the South Pacific. Their best known piece of real estate is Bikini Atoll. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States was given responsibility for administering and looking after the welfare of the islanders.

It did this by exploding 67 nuclear devices on Bikini Atoll and other parts of the Marshall Islands. Over a 12-year period the US exploded the equivalent of 200 kilotons a day. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons.

Not surprisingly, Bikini Atoll is now uninhabitable. Also not surprisingly, the Marshall Islanders suffer one of the highest rates of cancer and radiation-related birth defects in the world. The US government provides the islands military protection but not a single oncologist.

The islanders contend that all nuclear weapons states are responsible for their bitter legacy. Why?

Because Article IV of the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty commits signatories to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Last year, the Marshall Islands brought cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to have nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, China, France, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom — for failing to uphold their “obligations” to negotiate for nuclear disarmament as required under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But only the cases against India, Pakistan and the UK proceeded because the rest of the nations do not recognize the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.

It was on these three cases that the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, delivered its judgment on October 5. (While the UK is a signatory to the treaty, India and Pakistan are not, but the Marshall Islands argued that the principle of disarmament is well-established in international law to be considered customary law.)

The verdict at the hugely ornate Peace Palace at The Hague was a close-run thing. However, the three key defending states pulled a technicality out of their collective legal hat.

Without bothering to argue the merits of the islanders’ case, they moved to have it thrown out on the basis that the Marshall Island diplomats had inadequately negotiated with them before going to court.

In the case involving Britain the judges voted eight to eight and the president of the court was forced to use his tie-breaker. He sided with the UK. India and Pakistan fared slightly better with a nine to seven vote in their favor.

One of the islands key advocates was its 71-year-old former foreign minister Tony De Brum, who told the court that the nuclear tests had “vaporized” several formerly idyllic atolls and rendered others “totally uninhabitable for thousands of years.”

He described the court how he witnessed one of the explosions as a nine-year old fishing in the sea with his grandfather. The explosion was 200 miles away, but the sky turned red, a giant mushroom cloud appeared on the horizon and was quickly followed by a sonic boom and blast of radioactive heat.

De Brum’s deliveries to the court were quietly passionate, poignant, but ultimately, unsuccessful.

The disappointed Marshall Islands Amsterdam-based lawyer Phon van den Biesen, speaking outside the Peace Palace on the court steps said: “It’s a dispute that is clear to all of the world except for the judges here.”

Rick Wayman, director of programs and operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation — a non-partisan nonprofit with consultative status to the United Nations — searched for a silver lining and told New Zealand Radio that “other non-nuclear countries will be inspired to step up, demand justice and take action.” Wayman, who acted as an adviser to the Marshall Islands government, added that a petition in support of the islands received more than five million signatures and support from more than 100 non-government groups. He pointed out that the ICJ ruling was close and included strong dissenting opinions.

There are some signs that the Marshall Islands case has invigorated the international anti-nuclear weapons lobby. A six-nation coalition of Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, are climbing on the islands diplomatic shoulders to press for a UN General Assembly resolution for “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

For the Marshall Islanders that is small consolation as they have been denied the right of appeal. But then they have more pressing problems as raw sewage floats into their kitchen sinks, salt water renders fresh water supplies undrinkable and the cassava and bread fruit crops wither and die. For the Marshall Islanders climate change is not a debating point but an all too real living nightmare.

The highest point in the island chain is only six feet above sea level. Because of rising sea levels the islands are expected to be uninhabitable by the middle of this century, if not sooner. The capital of Majuro is now regularly subjected to “King Tides”— unusually heavy tides that flood the city and wreck homes and businesses.

As a career diplomat and then three-times foreign minister, Tony de Brum has devoted his life to the war against nuclear weapons and saving his nation from a watery grave. He is universally acclaimed as the man who saved the Paris climate change talks by pulling together a coalition of 100 countries that ultimately included the EU, Canada and the United States — a major accomplishment for any diplomat, let alone one that represents the seventh smallest nation in the world.

De Brum also negotiated A 1983 agreement with Washington that gives the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands the right of abode in America and thousands have turned their backs on a sinking tropical island paradise to set up communities in Arkansas, Oregon, and Washington state. And finally, under the Paris Climate Change Accords, The US government is pledged to set aside $3 billion for the victims of climate change. “We will be first in line,” De Brum said.

He wants the money spent on breakwaters and desalination plants to protect water supplies. But it would seem unlikely that even the indefatigable De Brum can hold back the waves. And unless a way can be found to hold back the seas the rest of the islanders will soon follow their compatriots to the American mainland — the world’s first radioactive climate change refugees.


Navy polluting US Pacific territories

SUBHEAD: The issue of military pollution has not received sufficient attention from the scientific community.

By Dahr Jamail on 17 October 2016 for Truth Out -

Image above: A Naval aircrewman prepares a sonobuoy, equipment known to contain toxic heavy metals and chemicals, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Photo by US Pacific Fleet. From original article.

For decades, the US Navy, by its own admission, has been conducting war game exercises in US waters using bombs, missiles, sonobuoys (sonar buoys), high explosives, bullets and other materials that contain toxic chemicals -- including lead and mercury -- that are harmful to both humans and wildlife.

The Navy's 2015 Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement (EIS) states that in the thousands of warfare "testing and training events" it conducts each year, 200,000 "stressors" from the use of missiles, torpedoes, guns and other explosive firings in US waters happen biennially.

Sonobuoys, which weigh from 36 to 936 pounds apiece and many of which can contain up to five pounds of explosives, are dropped from aircraft and never recovered; they're called "expended materials."

The Navy is planning to increase its sonobuoy use from 20 to 720 annually, according to its Northwest Training and Testing 2014 document. This steep increase could have devastating impacts for humans.

"The batteries from dead sonobuoys will leach lithium into the water for 55 years," Karen Sullivan, a retired endangered species biologist, told Truthout. "Lithium can cause severe neurotoxic effects and birth defects in humans."

The Navy biennially conducts large-scale war-gaming exercises in the Gulf of Alaska that introduce heavy metals and other toxins into the environment.

The war-gaming exercises "release chemicals that are known to injure the developing brain," environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a native of Iran and author of the book Pollution and Reproductive Damage, told Truthout.

These chemicals are released not only in the Gulf of Alaska, but also off the west coast in various locations extending from Alaska to Mexico, during naval exercises.

"From a global health standpoint, it is the rising background levels of environmental toxicants that are alarming," Savabieasfahani, who was given the Rachel Carson Prize environmental award in 2015, said. "Human health has already been impacted by the cocktail of toxicants that are released by this sort of military practice."

And when one adds up the number of "expended materials" the US Navy has already released into the seas -- and what it is permitted to release in the future -- the aforementioned damages are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Serious Consequences, "Especially to Children"
Sullivan, who worked at the US Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 15 years, is an expert in the bureaucratic procedures the Navy is supposed to be following.

She calculated the numbers of used and permitted sonobuoys from Navy and Fish and Wildlife Service documents, and the totals are staggering.

"In all, 5,175 expendable 36-pound sonobuoys, every five years, are contributing 186,660 pounds, or 93 tons, of contaminants to our waters," Sullivan told Truthout.

If the older sonobuoys used in previous years are included, Sullivan believes the Navy "could have reasonably been expected to have used" 5,000 of them over a 20-year period, which would have added another 990 tons of materials, including heavy metals and leaking batteries, to the oceans.

"In a 40-year time span there could be the toxic equivalent of 1,363 tons, or 779 midsized cars made of materials that the ecosystem off the Washington-Oregon coast doesn't need," Sullivan added.
These are exactly the kinds of materials that Savabieasfahani warns are so destructive to babies and children.

"Low and even very low levels of chemicals, including heavy metals, have had serious adverse health consequences for humans, especially to children," she told Truthout.

Savabieasfahani explained that common industrial chemicals from metals that are dispersed in the environment have contributed heavily to the large number of neurodevelopmental disabilities now seen globally.

"Lead and mercury compounds released by Navy exercises add to the background levels of those neurotoxic metals," she said.

And according to the Navy, in the Pacific Northwest alone, sonobuoys comprise only 34 to 36 percent of the total weight of the expended components. Many other toxic elements are being released into the oceans.

Savabieasfahani points out that it only takes a minute amount of exposure to these toxins to cause permanent injury to human infants.

"The developing human brain is exceptionally vulnerable to lead and mercury exposures," she said.

"Major windows of developmental susceptibility occur in utero and during infancy and early childhood. During these highly sensitive life stages, those metals can cause permanent brain injury at very low exposure levels."

The Navy has also used a significant number of weapons that contained Depleted Uranium (DU). DU was supposed to be phased out in 2008.

But a draft Navy EIS from December 2008 said, "Under the no-action alternative [meaning that no other option is to be used in its place], a total of 7,200 rounds of 20-mm cannon shells [28 percent of total gun shells] would be used by close-in weapons systems (CIWS) training. Rounds are composed of depleted uranium (DU) as well as tungsten."

It could be argued that this is the way in which the Navy handles National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes, and that a "no-action alternative" in an EIS doesn't mean "no action," but instead describes what is actually a pre-existing baseline activity within which DU could still have been used, as well as plans to continue using it.

That means that since the Navy was, in late 2008, proposing to continue with its existing course of action using DU rounds, it does not look like depleted uranium was phased out in 2008.

The Navy has known for at least 20 years that DU is controversial. Thus, it could be reasonably expected that it would have kept track of where it had used DU in its exercises during 2009, and possibly during 2010.

But it did not.

The Navy's final EIS, published in September 2010, said, "No site-specific records are available to identify the areas in which such rounds were expended, but areas of accumulation likely exist beyond 12 nm from shore in the deep waters of [Warning Area] W-237."

Twelve miles offshore is not only close in, but it's well within the boundaries of federally reserved treaty fishing rights by four Native tribes, who were not consulted about the Navy's use of DU in their waters.

The Navy refuses to disclose the actual amount of DU already on the sea floor in Warning Area-237, large portions of which are situated within the boundaries of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

While they also failed to provide information about how much DU was in each of its 20-millimeter cannon shells, according to a February 2014 publication Health & Drugs – Disease, Prescription & Medication, there were 180 grams of DU in each 20-millimeter round.

Given that the Navy has admitted to using 7,200 DU rounds per year, this adds up to approximately 2,857 pounds of DU per year. Given that the US military has been using DU since the early 1980s, if the Navy used the amount of rounds it has admitted to (7,200 annually) from 1985 to 2008, it is possible that, from their 20-millimeter cannon shells alone, there could be 34 tons of DU on the seabed in Pacific Northwest waters alone.

Savabieasfahani warns us of the impacts of these chemicals and munitions, even though they are underneath ocean water and relatively far away from human population centers.

"Despite the absence of so-called 'direct impacts,' we must be seriously concerned about any release of such chemicals into the environment," she said. "In areas where military activities have been intense, we see severe public health contamination with lead and mercury. The result is horrifying birth defects in children whose environment was severely disrupted by bombing."

Savabieasfahani cites Iraq, which she has studied extensively, as an example of the impacts of DU and heavy metals released by the military. "Children living near polluting US military bases in Iraq exhibit debilitating neuro-developmental disorders," she said. "Globally, the rising levels of neurotoxicants, lead and mercury included, are at the root of this current pandemic of neurodevelopmental disabilities in children."

The Largest Polluter on Earth
Savabieasfahani has become internationally renowned for her work on the impacts of military pollution on infants and children. She notes that the issue of military pollution has not received sufficient attention from the scientific community or the general public.

"Military pollution and its public health impact needs immediate attention by our scholars and policy makers if we are to reverse the current trend in children's neurodevelopmental disabilities," she explained.

According to both the Navy and Savabieasfahani, hazardous materials from US military training activities around the globe have left heavy metals, propellants and explosives littered throughout the oceans.

"Given this, what will the Navy's war gaming cause in the food system, given that fish caught in the area are eaten around the US, and around the globe?" Savabieasfahani asked. She believes food-source contamination to "clearly be an issue when it comes to pollution created by the US military."

On this point, and the others she made, Savabieasfahani minced no words when it came to how she saw the US military.

"They are indeed the largest polluters on Earth, as they produce more toxic chemicals than the top three US chemical manufacturers combined," Savabieasfahani said. "Historically, large global ecosystems and significant human food sources have been contaminated by the US military."

One only need consider the ongoing impacts of Agent Orange in Vietnam, or the use of nuclear weapons on the people of Japan, as just two examples.

"The most recent scar left on the planet by the US military is the environmental devastation we witness in Iraq," Savabieasfahani said.
"In the past, US military exercises have polluted the drinking water of the Pacific island of Guam, released tons of toxic chemicals into Subic Bay in the Philippines, deposited carcinogens into the water source of a German spa, and spewed tons of sulfurous coal smoke into the skies of Central Europe. Vieques, the Puerto Rican island which was used as a Navy bombing range for years, remains contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl [PCBs], solvents and pesticides."
According to a Brown University study, "cancer rates are off the chart," with the mortality rate for Vieques Island residents 47 percent higher than the mainland mortality rate.

Navy Materials Used in Alaska
The Navy admits, in another EIS, to polluting the Gulf of Alaska with both hazardous and non-hazardous materials during its annual Northern Edge war-gaming exercises. These materials include lead, mercury, and most of the other heavy metals and other toxic materials mentioned by Savabieasfahani above.

The Navy acknowledges that it introduces these materials into the ocean via the use of manned and unmanned aircraft, sonobuoys, batteries and anti-corrosion compounds coating exterior surfaces of ordnance, including missiles, small-caliber rounds, torpedoes and bombs.

Other sources of the hazardous materials released by the Navy include, according to its own EIS, propellant from aircraft, ships and ordnance, along with toxic components of fuel oils including aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene, toluene, xylene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, acenaphthene and fluoranthene.

Emily Stolarcyk, who is program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC), based in Cordova, Alaska, has been tracking the Navy's Northern Edge exercise for its environmental impacts.

"The Navy has been authorized to deliver up to 352,000 pounds of expended materials into the ocean each time they conduct Northern Edge," Stolarcyk told Truthout. "10,500 pounds of that 352,000 is hazardous. But the non-hazardous garbage they leave behind is still concerning. Those scattered pieces are called 'detonation byproducts.'"

"Detonation byproducts" include sonobuoys, which are designed to be used once for about eight hours and never retrieved.

The "expended materials" section of the Navy's EIS for its Northern Edge exercises mentions that the use of DU is not part of its proposed actions in the Gulf of Alaska, and that it has been replaced by Tungsten. While seemingly an improvement, Stolarcyk pointed out that there are also negative consequences of using tungsten.

"Tungsten is a heavy metal that can have negative effects on humans and other biological organisms," she said. "Tungsten alloys may have additional health effects associated with the alloyed metals. The two primary exposures are though inhalation and ingestion."

Missiles, bombs and torpedoes are used heavily during the Navy's exercises. The Navy's own EIS shows that the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion.

The Environmental Protection Agency's "allowable" limit on cyanide is a scant one part per billion.
Stolarcyk pointed out that the Navy conducts its exercises exactly 12 nautical miles from the shore, because 12 nautical miles is the nearshore limit for the Clean Water Act, and most federal and all state regulations are not applicable to expended materials during Navy training exercises in the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, where their exercises take place.

Stolarcyk pointed out that the Navy's claims that its exercises do no harm are clearly suspect, given their purposes.

"The Navy repeatedly states that their activities pose 'no significant threat' to the environment," she said. "If these bombs and missiles pose no threat, why are they used as weapons of war? Of course there is an impact from their use. Whether or not we take the time to measure that impact is something else entirely."

Stolarcyk has, along with the EPC and, as she explained, "hundreds of concerned citizens," requested that the Navy minimize its impact in the Gulf of Alaska by extending the protections that have been enacted in the Hawaiian and Southern California Naval training ranges for all marine mammal species of the Gulf of Alaska.

Those protections include limiting the type of sonar being used, limiting the area in which the Navy is allowed to conduct its exercises. Citizens have also advocated for independent observers to be allowed to accompany all Navy vessels for the duration of all training exercises.

From 1973-2002, the Navy trained during the winter, and Stolarcyk is requesting that that practice be resumed, rather than the current practices of training in the spring and/or summer.

Overall, however, Stolarcyk prefers the Navy stop conducting any trainings that negatively impact the environment, particularly in the extremely biologically sensitive areas of the Gulf of Alaska.

"In a perfect world the Navy wouldn't use any real ordnance or sonar and would run everything as a simulation," she concluded.

The Navy Responds
Truthout previously requested comment from Captain Anastasia Wasem of the US Military's Alaska Command office about the issue of the amount of "expended materials" used by the Navy during its operations in the Gulf of Alaska, as well as ongoing concern about the impacts of toxic components.

"The Navy's training activities are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life," Wassem responded, and made no comment as to any impacts on human health.

In its assessment of the Navy's plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. Its report stated:
Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat], include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality.
According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge "may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover."

Truthout also requested comment from the Marine Resources Program manager for the US Pacific Fleet, Environmental Readiness Division, Northwest Detachment regarding the toxic contaminants they are allowed to release into the environment as per their EIS for Northern Edge, any mitigation strategies they have for these releases and the issue of DU rounds that remain in Pacific Northwest coastal waters.

Image above: Detail of map of the North West Training and Testing Area. Click to enlarge to whole map with legend. Note training area near Ketchikan, Alaska, and extending from the northern border of Washington State coastline south through the northern part of California coastline. From original article. Source (http://www.savetheolympicpeninsula.org/assets/nwtts-area-map.pdf).

Sheila Murray, a deputy with the Navy Region Northwest's public affairs office responded, explaining that the Navy's 2011 Gulf of Alaska final EIS, "Contains a comprehensive analysis of potential environmental impacts from Navy training, including military expended material that is not retrievable during the training events, such as batteries."

Murray claimed that "analysis, using best available peer reviewed science, determined that there would not be significant impacts and in fact impacts are very minimal given how spread out any usage could be and the relatively infrequent use of the [Gulf of Alaska] Temporary Maritime Activities Area."

She added that the Navy uses "designated deep water munitions disposal sites" for expended materials at locations "which have had greater rate of concentration," and clarified that in recent years the Navy has conducted one exercise every other year in Alaska, as opposed to an EIS (their own) which covered maximum activity "which is two exercises per year."

"The analysis takes into account the environmental conditions found in the [Gulf of Alaska], including sensitive areas," Murray added. "Although impacts are not significant, recently, through consultation with regulators and tribes the Navy has agreed to additional mitigation measures to include no use of explosives at Portlock Bank, a known fishing ground."

According to Murray, "when live or practice munitions are used and function properly" over 99.9 percent of the explosives are broken down and, "The total amount released is small and diluted below action levels in the ocean. In the small number of cases where the munitions do not function properly, minute quantities of the chemicals can be released into the environment."

She said the Navy believes that since the materials decompose very slowly and at low concentration levels, they do not pose a threat to human health or marine life, and that unexploded bombs left in training areas "are extremely rare events."

Truthout also asked what the Navy is doing to mitigate damage to the environment where the training exercises are conducted. Murray responded that, "The military has numerous environmental stewardship practices to promote the health of species, habitat and other environmental resources.

As a steward of the environment, the Navy avoids, minimizes or mitigates potential effects on the environment from its activities."

She claimed that studies by the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other groups "do not show significant concentrations of hazardous materials from those activities," and has taken other mitigation measures listed in chapter five of the Final EIS.

Along with other mitigation efforts, Murray said the Navy only allows sinking exercises in water greater than 6,000 feet and at least 50 nautical miles from land.

As for the use of DU munitions, Murray reiterated that these were replaced after December 2008, and for those already in the Pacific Ocean said, "Over the many years required for the rounds to corrode, mixing of the ocean water would ensure that local background uranium concentrations in seawater would remain unchanged. The exposure to marine life would be negligible."

She claimed that current research "does not suggest short- or long-term effects" from the release of DU to the environment that could result in its update by marine organisms.

Of the DU issue, Murray concluded, "Recent study of an area off southern coast of England used for test firing DU rounds (at a much greater rate than ever potentially used in GOA TMAA) did not show presence of DU in sample of intertidal and ocean bottom sediments, seaweed, mussels, and locally caught lobster and scallops. (Toque, 2006).

It would be impractical to attempt to retrieve these rounds or other military expended munitions however DU rounds are extremely stable in sea water and pose no greater threat than any other metal."

The claim that DU rounds "pose no greater threat than other metal" flies in the face of dozens of peer reviewed scientific reports about negative biological impacts of DU.

A Naval Cover Up?
Richard Steiner, a marine conservation biologist and former professor of marine conservation with the University of Alaska, Anchorage, has been trying to obtain factual environmental information from the Navy about its operations in Alaska for five years.

"I spent over a year trying to obtain specific information about Northern Edge 15, and the Navy continued to refuse to cooperate," Steiner, who regularly works as a consultant globally on marine conservation issues for governments, the UN, industry and non-governmental organizations told Truthout.

"They even provided false, conflicting information prior to the exercise (e.g. that there would be no explosives used, when indeed there were), and then after the exercise I tried for many months using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain results on impacts of the exercises, to no avail."

Steiner was particularly interested in obtaining information about the time and intensities with which the Navy was using a particularly damaging kind of sonar during their training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, but, "They would not release this information to me," because, he believes, "They had it [the sonar] active for much longer [than they had during a previous exercise], causing greater impact."

Steiner pointed out that the Navy's EIS states that it would use mid-frequency active sonar at 235 decibels "unless they choose to use it louder," and when he pressed the Navy to provide more information about this, it would not release anything regarding whether this sonar, which is particularly damaging to several marine mammals, was used as such.

"They withheld this info on national security grounds, but there is simply no reasonable argument for such," Steiner said. "The public deserves to know."

In fact, even the Navy's summary of cumulative impacts to species is classified.

Another example of the Navy's less-than-transparent actions comes from Sullivan.

"In the Navy's 2015 Northwest Training and Testing EIS Appendix on public health and safety, the words 'toxic' and 'contaminants' are not mentioned once," she said. "In the Appendix on Cumulative Impacts, those words are mentioned, but never discussed in the context of decades of munitions and heavy metals dumping."

Steiner has also, for years, requested that the Navy allow independent observers on board its fleet while its conducts its training exercises, in order to obtain independent monitoring and verification of its purported mitigation procedures.

"They will not permit such," Steiner said of the Navy's response. "They contend that their marine mammal observers do a fine job, but I would note that this side steps the need for independent observation and verification. And their MMOs [marine mammal observers] could not even determine whether one whale was a baleen or toothed whale."

According to Steiner, as a result of the Navy's unwillingness to release more environmental impact information about their exercises in Alaska, which he calls a "continuing obscurity," the public has no way of reasonably ascertaining the impact of the exercises.

In fact, on September 16, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus, voicing her concern over the Navy's lack of transparency regarding the impacts of its upcoming Northern Edge 2017 exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Senator Murkowski informed Mabus that her deputy chief of staff had been informed by briefers that, while the Navy had a number of proposed mitigation and avoidance techniques "in the works," these could not be discussed with the stakeholder community due to a lack of "public affairs guidance."

"This is extremely troubling to me," Senator Murkowski wrote. "Also troubling are reports that the Navy denied Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by conservation biologist Rick Steiner who sought to verify the impact levels of Northern Edge 2015."

Like Steiner and Murkowski, Stolarcyk takes issue with the Navy's lack of transparency.
"If the Navy would be much more transparent about where they conduct activities and what exactly they use, that would be a huge step in the right direction," she said. "Even though a large number of weapons are addressed in the EIS, classified weapons systems are completely excluded, even weapons that have since been declassified, like their mini-drones."

Stolarcyk would like to see the Navy cooperating with an independent party, like a university, in order to establish a baseline of the Gulf ecosystem (establishing what the ecosystem looks like) before the Navy does anything, and then follow up with research on the impacts after each of their exercises.

"They should take water and air quality samples, report on fish, marine mammal and bird mortality and injuries," she explained. "Establish whether or not the Navy is to blame (partly or fully) for the decline in pink salmon catch rates in 2015, the murre [seabird] die off, the 30 dead whales observed in 2015."

The lack of information puts advocates in a very difficult position, in which it is hard to determine which of the wildlife impacts can be attributed to the Navy.

"As it stands, no one knows if the Navy had anything to do with it or not," Stolarcyk said. "Their EIS lists all of these observations as possible results of their activities, but with no follow up research and no information released to the public, aside from the EIS, how are we supposed to know?"

After years of working to have the Navy be more transparent, however, Steiner is currently not hopeful about making progress on that front.

"They [the US Navy] continually ask us to trust them," Steiner concluded. "Which, unfortunately, we can't."

Truthout has reported on several other actions the Navy has taken, or planned to take, that put US citizens in harm's way, like drawing up plans to use civilians as pawns in its domestic war-gaming activities, and conducting electromagnetic warfare training in national forest areas and public highways.

See also:
Emails Reveal Navy's Intent to Break Law, Threatening Endangered Wildlife
Navy Allowed to Kill or Injure Nearly 12 Million Marine Mammals in Pacific
When Whales Cannot Hear: Ocean Noise Doubling Every 10 Years

• Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.
His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon.
Dahr Jamail is the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.