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6 Reasons Lower Oil Prices won’t Stop Solar, Wind and Electric Cars

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 - 3:40am

By Juan Cole | –

Some observers have alleged that lower oil prices will slow down the green energy revolution. This allegation is unlikely to be true even in the short term, and it is laughable in the medium to long term.

1. Solar and wind power are for electricity generation. For the most part, petroleum is not used to generate electricity. Some 70% of it is used for vehicular transportation. There are exceptions, such as Hawaii and Saudi Arabia. But both places have firm plans to move to solar; in the case of Saudi Arabia it is because the country’s leaders want to save the oil for export rather than burning it up at home.

2. It is therefore the price of coal and natural gas against which solar energy is competing. Natural gas prices are actually up slightly. In most of the US and in most of the world, solar panels are now grid parity with hydrocarbons. That is, if you were building new electricity generating capacity, you could do it as cheaply with solar panels as with a new gas or coal plant. Utility-scale solar costs can be as little nowadays as 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour, less than the natural gas equivalent. The price of petroleum is irrelevant to these considerations. Moreover, solar panels are now estimated to last for some 25 years. Once they are paid off, typically in 6 or 7 years, the fuel can be considered free, and they can not only make household electricity but also can fuel automobiles, for free. Hydrocarbons would have to be awfully cheap to compete with that.

3. Solar and wind power are still at the relative beginning of a rapid fall in manufacturing costs and efficiency improvements. Most current solar panels have an efficiency of less than 20%, i.e. they are transforming only a fifth of the photons that fall on them into electricity. But in the laboratory, scientists in Sydney have just achieved 40% efficiency. Northwestern University scientists used a different technique, of imprinting panels with grooves a la blu-ray discs to achieve similar results. I wonder if the two can be combined to get a tripling of current efficiency? Another possibility is to use less expensive materials such as perovskites, which would drop the price of the panels considerably. If real-world solar panels can be manufactured that are twice as efficient and half as expensive, it is pretty much game over for hydrocarbons. Some observers think this development is less than a decade away. Wind turbines have also seen big increases in efficiency and a drop in prices.

4. Basically, it is impossible for petroleum and natural gas prices to go anywhere but up in the medium to long run. The current fall in oil prices is mostly being driven by lower Chinese demand. But Asia is full of economies that will take up the slack over time. If most of the 1.3 billion Indians decided to drive automobiles and have air conditioning, they’d run through even the fracked hydrocarbons pretty quickly and would put enormous upward pressure on prices. Fossil fuels are relics of the past and they aren’t making any more of them, so they will run out eventually. In contrast, there is no place for solar and wind energy to go, with regard to costs, but down– because of the now-rapid pace of technological and materials innovation. The only question is when the threshold will be passed, when building a new solar plant is actually cheaper than continuing to operate an old coal or natural gas plant. Again, it could easily happen within a decade.

5. Critics underline that wind and solar only work part time as energy sources. Wind does not blow all the time, and the sun does not shine at night. Germany and Portugal, however, have shown how wind and solar can complement one another (winds often pick up at night, e.g.) if the grid is properly configured, which removes some of the problem. Computers can be used so that when there is more wind, other sources of power are scaled back until the wind subsides. Concentrated solar power plants can also used molten salt to store the sun’s energy. One such plant, now functioning in Arizona, continues to make electricity for 6 hours after sunset. Another such is being built in Nevada. But the really big next thing is more efficient, affordable household and car batteries, which may well be produced by Elon Musk’s Tesla gigafactory. Intermittency is not as big a problem as critics of renewables suggest, and it certainly will be less and less of a problem in coming years. If Tesla can increase battery efficiency by just one third, they’ll be able to put a $35,000 car on the road with a 200 mile range that can be recharged in only half an hour. More battery breakthroughs will make for a $25,000 car, and so forth. These battery improvements are coming, and coming fast, and it is irrelevant to them what the price of petroleum is.

6. Public opinion is rapidly shifting against oil, gas and coal. A recent USA Today poll found that 81% of Americans agree that the climate is changing; 60% believe that the changes are man-made, owing to burning hydrocarbons; and 71% believe that the way to deal with the problem is to turn to renewable energy! It is only a matter of time until we have a big ocean surge somewhere like Miami, produced by an antarctic ice shelf falling into the sea, which will impel many consumers to go green, even at a premium. A lot of Americans will increasingly find it unconscionable for us to burn coal. We are only at the beginning of conscience-buying. In all of the US, only about 86,000 electric cars (the majority being plug-in hybrids) were sold in 2014. That is so few that the number could well expand substantially just among environmentalists. People buy cars in part to impress their friends, and people with green friends want EVs. It isn’t just about the price of gasoline. But on the cost issue, it bears repeating that if you combine an electric vehicle with rooftop solar panels, after you pay off the panels you could get much of your fuel for free, which rather beats the average $2.60 a gallon to which gasoline has fallen on average in the US.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Arirang: South Korean solar power is back!

The Koch Tax: Why are Floridians being denied Free, Clean Energy from the Sun?

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 - 2:06am

WPBT2 | –

“According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida ranks third for solar potential nationally, but ranked 18th when it comes to development of this clean energy option. Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy discusses the untapped clean energy potential in Florida and how climate change plays a role.

Stephen Smith, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy”

WPBT2: “ISSUES: Solar Energy in the Sunshine State”

Juan Cole adds:

For more see PRWatch

How Uncle Sam’s Reputation became Icky (Political Cartoon)

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 - 12:34am

By James MacLeod via Facebook

Daesh/ ISIL Twitter Propagandist unmasked as Bangalore Internet Executive

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 - 12:25am

Channel 4 News | –

“Channel 4 News identifies the man who became one of the most-followed disseminators of pro-jihadi material on Twitter.”

Channel 4: “IS Twitter account Shami Witness unmasked | Channel 4 News”

What Ferguson, Eric Garner, and CIA Torture Have in Common

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 - 12:23am

By Shahid Buttar | (Daily Kos) |

From black sites to #BlackLivesMatter, it’s time to end impunity for criminals with badges.

There’s no better way for Washington to commemorate Human Rights Day than by letting the public finally learn the truth about torture. And there’s no better way for concerned Americans to do so than by raising our voices to challenge the compounding crimes of our lawless agencies.

Washington promised that, after years of stonewalling by the CIA and White House transcending both of the major political parties, we would finally learn some glimmers of truth when the Senate released a heavily redacted summary of its historic 6,000-page report on CIA torture crimes.

The timing could not be more poignant. The report was released on the eve of Human Rights Day, and in the wake of an ongoing, diverse, and energetic national grassroots movement for police accountability.

Parallels between CIA torture and police murders in New York, Ferguson, Cleveland, and elsewhere may be easy to overlook. Unfortunately, both sets of abuses reflect similar patterns: severe crimes committed by powerful people, officially endorsed cover-ups, and formal legal impunity that compounds the original crimes.

This week, on Human Rights Day, people in a dozen U.S. cities will take action to connect these abuses. We insist on nothing more than justice for all, including public servants.

A problem with many faces

CIA torturers and police officers who murder innocent unarmed Americans share one thing in common: impunity for violent crimes that violate global human rights commitments. The impunity they share reveals systems of separate — and unequal — justice across the United States.

Communities responding to impunity for police murders in Ferguson, New York City, and elsewhere across the country seek goals including federal laws to end racial profiling. Incidentally, body cameras are not a solution. They will neither ensure accountability for discrete cases — remember Eric Garner? — nor will they offer even transparency for abusive patterns & practices.

At root, we seek accountability for the arbitrary use of force.

Police violence in our communities is one example. CIA torture, or the Agency’s documented assassination of U.S. citizens (even their children) without trial, is another.

The Senate’s report revealed previously secret details about human rights abuses committed in our names — and with our resources — vastly beyond the little known to this point.

Crimes, whoever commits them

It confirmed, for example, that CIA personnel violated even the illegally permissive limits contrived by the Bush-era Justice Department to enable torture. In other words, the report confirmed that CIA officials broke the law. That’s why it was secret so long.

The illegality of torture is obvious to anyone who recalls the Second World War, when our nation waged a sustained global struggle before sending a Supreme Court Justice to establish the legal precedent that torture is a crime: full stop, with no exceptions.

But the only CIA official to ever face justice related to torture, John Kiriakou, was one who tried to blow the whistle.

Acts of torture are real crimes with actual victims, including U.S. service members who died at the hands of militants inspired by torture to take up arms against the United States. Police murders are also real crimes with actual victims, including surviving families who visited Washington recently to plead for justice.

Failing to indict murderers because they wear a badge is no different than covering up details of torture by government secret agents. In both cases, our system turns a blind eye to crimes by officials — even violent crimes that offend our species’ most fundamental commitments.

Justice in America: Protecting the powerful

In both St. Louis and New York, grand juries swayed by prosecutors masquerading as defense attorneys failed to even indict killer cops — including one caught on videotape, suggesting that proposals for body cameras are a red herring.

Similarly, the CIA’s ongoing history of lies, destruction of evidence, and even espionage against the people’s representatives has allowed grave crimes to go unpunished.

Despite their explicitness, legal prohibitions on torture, or police murdering innocents (or for that matter, our rights once guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution) have been reduced in reality to mere legal formalisms ignored in practice.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped peacefully seize shopping malls in St. Louis, occupy Union Station in Washington, DC, and block highways and major intersections because, as a lawyer, I swore an oath to “support the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Senators also swear a similar oath, but violate it every time they decide to “look forwards, not backwards” to ignore official crimes.

I also helped deliver a quarter million petitions to retiring Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), whose seat on the Intelligence Committee has given him a chance to read the secret report and grow outraged by its findings.

When the rest of us come to understand just how far torture extended, we should remember that “power concedes nothing without a demand” and make our voices heard.

Shahid Buttar is a civil rights lawyer and the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Mirrored from Foreign Policy in Focus via Daily Kos

Related video added by Juan Cole:

TeleSur English: “Release of CIA torture report ends in impunity in US”

Top 5 Planks of 2016 GOP Platform? Torture, War, Bank Corruption, Paid-For Elections

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 - 3:06am

By Juan Cole | –

This week, the release by the Senate of a report on torture as practiced in the zeroes by the CIA, along with Thursday night’s dramatic vote on an omnibus spending bill, laid bare the shape of the GOP platform in 2016. (Some Democrats were dragooned into voting for the spending bill, but key provisions or riders were clearly inserted by the GOP). However much the party or its members deny it, the practical actions and concrete words of party leaders make clear their priorities.

1. With a few noble exceptions like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Republican Party spokesmen, Republican politicians, and Republican media like Fox Cable News, defended torture. This defense was mounted from so many directions by so many Republicans that it now seems indisputable that the party stands for the principle of rectal hydration. Since torture is illegal in American law, presumably they want to repeal the 5th and 8th amendments to the constitution.

2. The Republican Party stands for the principle that elections should be stolen by the rich who pay the most for them. The new bill multiplies permitted donations by a factor of ten.

3. The GOP wants the US taxpayer to be made to bail out risky, casino-like “derivatives.” After the 2008 crash, caused by some corrupt Wall Street financiers stealing our money, Congress had removed FDIC protection from the riskier derivatives. The GOP, plotting in smoke filled rooms far from the light, just put the taxpayer right back in the sights the next time the bankers need a bailout. The provision was actually written by CitiBank, which won’t get my business. They think, much better to gamble with the taxpayers’ money; they would, but why would GOP lawmakers agree to be their ventriloquist’s dummy?

4. The bill blocks aid to the Palestine authority if it becomes a member of UN agencies without Israeli permission. Palestine has been recognized as a non-member observer state at the UN, and is gradually joining key committees. It likely will sign the Rome Statute, join the International Criminal Court, and sue Israel for war crimes. But in the fantasyland of Congress, none of this may be allowed to happen. The PA has other sources of money than the US, and all this provision does is further weaken the ability of the US to do effective diplomacy.

5. This fall, most Republicans ran on putting troops back into Iraq and getting even more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war than the US already is. This is a plank in their platform that leads to sanguinary wars.

These, then, are the major issues on which the GOP is running for the presidency in 2016. They underline that the party represents the 3 million wealthiest Americans, and has no scruples that might interfere in doing exactly what the 1% tells them to do.

But do these planks really amount to the platform Americans want to vote for in 2016? On the surface, no. But time shall tell.


Related video:

WCVB Channel 5 Boston “Sen. Elizabeth Warren bashes bill favoring big banks”

Israeli forces Injure 19 Palestinian Protesters at Funeral of Slain Cabinet Member

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 - 2:02am

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Some 19 Palestinians were injured on Thursday during clashes with Israeli forces in al-Bireh following the funeral of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein, a Ma’an reporter said.

Clashes broke out in the Jabal al-Tawil area between Palestinian mourners and Israeli forces who were heavily deployed inside the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Psagot.

Nineteen Palestinians were injured by rubber-coated bullets and dozens suffered excessive tear gas inhalation.

Palestinians threw rocks and empty bottles at Israeli forces, who fired from inside the settlement.

Abu Ein died Wednesday after a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during a protest march against settlements by some 300 Palestinians who intended to plant olive trees as a symbolic act, an AFP photographer said.

Troops fired tear gas, three soldiers grabbed Abu Ein and he was struck in the chest during the confrontation. Videos circulating online showed the soldiers pushing Abu Ein firmly in the chest and neck.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Large crowds turn out for Palestinian statesman’s funeral”

Part-Time Work: Shiite Militias Defending Baghdad involved in Burglaries, Kidnappings?

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 - 1:48am

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( –

Kidnappers in Baghdad are disgusing themselves in Iraqi army uniforms.

There’s been a rise in crime and kidnapping in Baghdad and it seems that perpetrators are often in military uniform, driving official cars. This has led locals to suspect members of Shiite Muslim militias recently formed to fight extremists. But even if locals are kidnapped, they don’t complain – they don’t want to tarnish the reputation of those “defending” their city and sect.

Baghdad local Nawar Mohsen was just minding his own business in his store, where he sells gold jewellery and ornaments, when three men in military uniform came in. They told him that he was wanted by the judiciary. So helpless and confused, all Mohsen could do, was follow them out of the store.

It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t actually with the Iraqi military at all; he had been kidnapped. Mohsen ended up a captive of the gang that took him for three days until his family agreed to pay the ransom they demanded. It was only then that he was dropped off by the side of the road, without any money or his mobile phone.

Mohsen says he didn’t go to the authorities because he is almost certain the kidnappers live in the same area he works in – in fact, he thinks he was even kept captive nearby. “The car that drove me there only drove for about five minutes,” he explains. Mohsen has since moved house and submitted an application to immigrate elsewhere; he says he is scared the kidnappers will return for him. “The money we paid the kidnappers would have allowed us to start a good life in Europe,” he notes sadly.

Mohsen’s story is not a unique one. There has been a steady rise in the number of kidnappings in Baghdad for the past month or so.

Official security forces have been very busy elsewhere dealing with the threat posed by the group known as the Islamic State, which has taken control of large amounts of territory in Iraq and which threatens Baghdad, if not directly at the moment, then most certainly with car bombs, suicide bombers and other terrorist actions. While official security forces like the army and police have been at work elsewhere, there has been a rise in the number of unofficial militias patrolling Baghdad’s streets. Most of these are Shiite Muslim locals who have answered a call to protect members of their own sect; unfortunately some units of these militias operate more like criminal gangs than a trained army. And it is suspected that their increasing influence and freedom of movement in Baghdad is behind the increase in kidnapping and crime.

Members of the Shiite Muslim militias have also been accused of committing murder and other crimes as they have been able to roam more freely around the country.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has expressed concern about the growing number of kidnappings and has formed a dedicated anti-kidnapping unit within the Baghdad Operations Command, the military unit dedicated to the capital’s security.

Almost immediately the unit discovered something alarming – many of the kidnappers were seen to be wearing military uniforms and driving expensive cars with tinted windows, similar to those owned by senior government officials.

Everyone in Baghdad knows only too well who has uniforms and these kinds of vehicles – members of the government’s official security forces, the special body guard units that protect senior Iraqi politicians and the unofficial mostly Shiite Muslim militia groups that have been mobilised to confront the IS group.

“Over the last few days the security forces have captured several of the gangs associated with these kidnapping crimes,” the spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command, Saad Maan, told NIQASH. “These gangs have been using the names of some of the militias and they’ve forged the identification cards and uniforms in order to carry out their crimes.”

Within just one gang, Maan relates, the nine members all drove SUVs and were wearing military uniforms when they went out to kidnap people.

A lot of Baghdadis don’t believe this official line though. They know that the Shiite Muslim militias have strong links to Iraq’s ruling political parties and that’s why they won’t go to the authorities with any complaints.

Arkan Majid lives in Baghdad’s Bayaa nieghbourhood and works in an auto sales showroom. Last week he got a call from an unknown number: The caller told him that his youngest child had been kidnapped and asked for a large ransom.

Majid says he paid the ransom and his child was returned. However because the kidnappers had called him through a local mobile phone company he was able to get an idea of who had committed the crime. “Rather than using Internet calling, they called me through a number I didn’t know – I had the number,” he told NIQASH. Majid also has a friend who works for that mobile phone service and he got him to identify the phone number’s owner. They found out that the number belonged to the son of a neighbour, a young man who had volunteered for a militia to fight against the IS group.

However just as with jewellery store owner Mohsen, Majid decided not to go any further and complain to the authorities. He did not want to be accused of tarnishing the reputation of those who had joined the fight against the IS group.

It is actually not surprising that some members of these militias are using their newfound power to commit violations against the ordinary people they are supposed to be protecting, Rashid al-Samarrai, a local security expert, told NIQASH. “After all their recruitment was hasty and there were no restrictions as to who could join them.”

“When somebody volunteers for the Iraqi military or police they are not supposed to have a criminal record,” al-Samarrai continues. “Often friends and neighbours are asked about their conduct and if they can vouch for them, to ensure that the volunteer is not just out there looking for trouble. However that’s not the case for these militias – they were recruited in a chaotic way and without any regard for history or personality.”

Additionally one could argue that, even if members of the unofficial Shiite Muslim militias had the best of intentions and motivations for joining the units, their leaders are certainly too preoccupied with the fight against the IS group to make sure that all of their members are behaving properly. There are no repercussions for bad behaviour and the door is wide open for abuses of power that include robbery, extortion and kidnapping.

Meanwhile it is the ordinary people of Baghdad who must pay the price, trapped between car bombs, the terrorist IS group and now the ever-increasing threat of crime, both petty and grand.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole (about role of militias, not any crimes with which they are associated):

AFP: “Iraq: Army and Shiite militias pushing against IS group in north”

When 1% hog the Wealth, it hurts National Growth for Everyone

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 - 1:21am

DW | –

“OECD says inequality hits national growth and says education the key to fighting this.

DW: “OECD finds growing inequality lowers growth | Journal”

The Nukes are Back, and Obama’s Pentagon is the Cause

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 - 12:41am

By James Carroll | ( –

Mark these days. A long-dreaded transformation from hope to doom is taking place as the United States of America ushers the world onto the no-turning-back road of nuclear perdition. Once, we could believe there was another way to go. Indeed, we were invited to take that path by the man who is, even today, overseeing the blocking of it, probably forever.

It was one of the most stirring speeches an American president had ever given. The place was Prague; the year was 2009; the president was the recently sworn in Barack Obama. The promise made that day is worth recalling at length, especially since, by now, it is largely forgotten:

“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act… So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now, we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can…’”

President Obama had been in office only three months when, boldly claiming his place on the world stage, he unequivocally committed himself and his country to a nuclear abolition movement that, until then, had at best existed somewhere on the distant fringes of power politics. “I know,” he added,

“that there are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda. There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible… and there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it’s worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve. But make no mistake. We know where that road leads.”

The simple existence of nuclear weapons, an American president declared, paved the road to perdition for humanity.

Obama as The Captain Ahab of Nuclear Weapons

At that moment, the foundations for an imagined abolitionist world were modest indeed, but not nonexistent.  The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had, for instance, struck a bargain between nuclear haves and have-nots, under which a path to abolition was treated as real.  The deal seemed clear enough: the have-nots would promise to forego obtaining nukes and, in return, the world’s reigning nuclear powers would pledge to take, in the words of the treaty, “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

For decades before the Obama moment, however, the superpower arsenals of nuclear warheads continued to grow like so many mushrooms, while new nuclear states — Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea — built their own impressive arsenals.  In those years, with the singular exception of South Africa, nuclear-weapons states simply ignored their half of the NPT bargain and the crucial clause mandating progress toward eventual disarmament was all but forgotten.

When the Cold War ended in 1991 with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the next year Americans elected as president Bill Clinton, who was famously against the Vietnam War, it was at least possible to imagine that nukes might go the way of internationally banned chemical weapons. But Washington chose otherwise.  Despite a paucity of enemies anywhere on Earth, the Pentagon’s 1994 Nuclear Posture Review insisted on maintaining the American nuclear arsenal at Cold War levels as a “hedge,” an insurance policy, against an imagined return of Communism, fascism, or something terrible in Russia anyway — and Clinton accepted the Pentagon’s position.

Soon enough, however, even prominent hawks of the Cold War era began to worry that such a nuclear insurance policy could itself ignite a global fire. In 1999, a chief architect of the nuclear mindset, Paul Nitze, stepped away from a lifetime obsession with building up nuclear power to denounce nukes as “a threat mostly to ourselves” and to explicitly call for unilateral disarmament. Other former apostles of nuclear realpolitik also came to embrace the goal of abolition. In 2008, four high priests of the cult of nuclear normalcy — former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger — jointly issued a sacrilegious renunciation of their nuclear faith on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” they wrote, “and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.”

Unfortunately, such figures had come to Jesus only after leaving office, when they were exempt from the responsibility of matching their high-flown rhetoric with the gritty work of making it real.

Obama in Prague was another matter.  He was at the start of what would become an eight-year presidency and his rejection of nuclear fatalism rang across the world. Only months later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in large part because of this stunning commitment. A core hope of the post-World-War-II peace movement, always marginal, had at last been embraced in the seat of power. A year later, at Obama’s direction, the Pentagon, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, actually advanced the president’s purpose, committing itself to “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.”

“The United States,” that document promised, “will not develop new nuclear warheads.” When it came to the future of the nuclear arsenal, a program of responsible maintenance was foreseen, but no new ground was to be broken. “Life Extension Programs,” the Pentagon promised, “will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide new military capabilities.”

Obama’s timing in 2009 was critical. The weapons and delivery systems of the nuclear arsenal were aging fast. Many of the country’s missiles, warheads, strategic bombers, and nuclear-powered submarines dated back to the early Cold War era and were effectively approaching their radioactive sell-by dates. In other words, massive reductions in the arsenal had to begin before pressures to launch a program for the wholesale replacement of those weapons systems grew too strong to resist.  Such a program, in turn, would necessarily mean combining the latest technological innovations with ever greater lethality in a way guaranteed to reinvigorate the entire enterprise across the world — the polar opposite of “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

Obama, in other words, was presiding over a golden moment, but an apocalyptic deadline was bearing down. And sure enough, that deadline came crashing through when three things happened: Vladimir Putin resurfaced as an incipient fascist intent on returning Russia to great power status; extremist Republicans took Congress hostage; and Barack Obama found himself lashed, like Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, to “the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on half a heart and half a lung.” Insiders often compare the Pentagon to Moby Dick, the Great White Whale, and Obama learned why. The peaceful intentions with which he began his presidency were slapped away by the flukes of the monster, like so many novice oarsmen in a whaling skiff.

Hence Obama’s course reversals in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; hence the White House stumbles, including an unseemly succession of secretaries of defense, the fourth of whom, Ashton Carter, can reliably be counted on to advance the renewal of the nuclear force. The Pentagon’s “intangible malignity,” in Melville’s phrase, was steadily quickened by both Putin and the Republicans, but Obama’s half-devoured heart shows in nothing so much as his remarkably full-bore retreat, in both rhetoric and policy, from the goal of nuclear abolition.

A recent piece by New York Times science correspondent William J. Broad made the president’s nuclear failure dramatic. Cuts to the U.S. nuclear stockpile initiated by George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, he pointed out, totaled 14,801 weapons; Obama’s reductions so far: 507 weapons. In 2010, a new START treaty between Moscow and Washington capped future deployed nukes at 1,500. As of this October, the U.S. still deploys 1,642 of them and Russia 1,643; neither nation, that is, has achieved START levels, which only count deployed weapons. (Including stored but readily re-armed and targeted nukes, the U.S. arsenal today totals about 4,800 weapons.)

In order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain.  He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants, and may get, 12 new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants, and may get, a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would, of course, both be outfitted with next-generation missiles, and we’d be off to the races. The arms races.

All of this unfolds as Vladimir Putin warms the hearts of nuclear enthusiasts everywhere not only by his aggressions in Ukraine, but also by undercutting the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile. Indeed, just this fall, Russia successfully launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile. It seems that Moscow, too, can modernize.

On a Twenty-First Century Road to Perdition

Responding to the early Obama vision of “effective measures” toward nuclear disarmament, and following up on that 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, senior Pentagon officials pursued serious discussions about practical measures to reduce the nuclear arsenal. Leading experts advocated a shift away from the Cold War’s orgasmic strike targeting doctrine that still necessitates an arsenal of weapons counted in the thousands.

In fact, in response to budget constraints, legal obligations under a jeopardized non-proliferation treaty, and the most urgent moral mandate facing the country, America’s nuclear strategy could shift without wrenching difficulty, at the very least, to one of “minimal deterrence.” Hardcore national security mavens tell us this. Such a shift would involve a reduction in both the deployed and stored nuclear arsenal to something like 500 warheads. Even if that goal were pursued unilaterally, it would leave more than enough weaponry to deter any conceivable state-based nuclear threat, including Russia’s, no matter what Putin may do.

Five hundred is, of course, a long way from zero and so from the president’s 2009 goal of abolition, and yet opposition even to that level would be fierce in Washington. Though disarming and disposing of thousands of nukes would cost far less than replacement, it would still be expensive, and you can count on one thing: Pentagon nuclearists would find firm allies among congressional Republicans, who would be loathe to fund such a retreat from virtue’s Armageddon. Meanwhile, confronting such cuts, the defense industry’s samurai lobbyists would unsheathe their swords.

But if a passionate Obama could make a compelling case for a nuclear-free world from Prague in 2009, why not go directly to the American people and make the case today? There is, of course, no sign that the president intends to do such a thing any longer, but if a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch. At the very least, a vocal rededication to an ultimate disarmament, to the actual abolition of nuclear weapons, would keep that road open for a future president to re-embark upon.

Alas, Pentagon advocates of “minimal deterrence” have already been overridden. The president’s once fiercely held conviction is now a mere shadow of itself. As happened with Ahab’s wrecked whaling ship, tumultuous seas are closing over the hope that once seized the world’s attention. Take it for granted that, in retirement and out of power, ex-president Obama will rediscover his one-time commitment to a world freed from the nuclear nightmare. He will feel the special responsibility proper to a citizen of “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The then-former president’s speeches on the subject will be riveting and his philanthropy will be sharply targeted. All for naught.

Because of decisions likely to be taken this year and next, no American president will ever again be able to embrace this purpose as Obama once did. Nuclear weapons will instead become a normalized and permanent part of the twenty-first century American arsenal, and therefore of the arsenals of many other nations; nuclear weapons, that is, will have become an essential element of the human future — as long as that future lasts.

So yes, mark these days down. Nuclear abolition itself is being abolished. Meanwhile, let us acknowledge, as that hopeful young president once asked us to, that we know where this road leads.

James Carroll is a Boston Globe columnist and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University. He is the author, among other works, of House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power and, most recently, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 James Carroll

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS This Morning: “60 Minutes” gets rare look inside nuclear arsenal”

The Trial of Richard Bruce Cheney

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 - 3:57am

By Juan Cole | –

Satire alert :

The hall at the International Criminal Court in the Hague was packed today as the trial began of former US Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney [they always give all three names of suspected felons in the newspaper.]

The ICC justices begin with the first charge, that Mr. Cheney ordered the torture practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency on over 100 prisoners, 21% of them later recognized to have been falsely accused. Prisoners were abused anally, waterboarded, slammed against walls, threatened, an arm was broken, one died from exposure. Mr. Cheney denied that these techniques were torture, to the astonishment of sitting senators. And he continues to advocate the continuation of these methods.

Cheney’s attorneys object. “Your honors, there is no evidence that Cheney ordered torture.”

One of the judges leans over the bench. “Is it not true that Mr. Cheney told NBC News on September 16, 2001, “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will.”?

Attorney: “That is not proof that he ordered torture.”

Judge: “He used the first person plural, “we,” and he used the imperative, “have to.” The very grammar indicts him. Moreover, he said in 2011 that he continued strongly to urge the use of waterboarding on prisoners. He is committed to the dark side.”

Attorney: “Waterboarding is ambiguous.”

Judge: “The US tried and hanged Japanese war criminals for waterboarding.”

Attorney: “Those individuals actually carried out waterboarding. They did not simply advocate their use.”

Judge: “Julius Streicher was quite rightly hanged after the Nuremberg Trials for having done no more than write newspaper articles urging crimes against humanity.”

Attorney: “Surely you are not calling Dick Cheney a fascist and war criminal?”

Judge: “Let us move on to the next charge. Mr. Cheney launched a war of aggression on Iraq, under false pretenses, that was illegal in international law and has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

Attorney: “The vice president feared Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Judge: “Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and UN inspectors continually said so. In any case, there are only two grounds for war in the United Nations charter: 1) self-defense and 2) UN Security Council authorization of the use of force against a danger to world order. Iraq did not attack Mr. Cheney’s country, and the UNSC did not authorize the use of force.”

Attorney: “The US Congress authorized the war.”

Judge: “Unfortunately for your client, we consider that to be just another war crime by a different branch of government, not exculpatory.”

Attorney: “Mr. Cheney was not the commander in chief and could not order that war. George W. Bush was on top of the issues and in complete control.”

Judge: “Now you are just saying silly things.”

Attorney: “It was worth a try.”

Judge: “They kept Cheney informed of the torture program but not George W. Bush or Colin Powell. This was Cheney’s baby. Not only did Mr. Cheney launch an illegal war of aggression, he set off a chain of further crimes. The Nuremberg judgement observed, “To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Mr. Cheney is also responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib, for massacres of non-combatant populations, and for the displacement of 4 million Iraqis. He made a fifth of the country homeless and created millions of orphans and widows.

Attorney: “There is no evidence that Cheney ordered any of those things.”

Judge: “Did he advocate them?”

Attorney: “Hmm.”

Judge: “Well?”

Attorney: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

Judge: “You are stalling. What about the outing of Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover field officer whose cover Mr. Cheney blew? Did not President George H. W. Bush say, “Even though I am a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are in my view the most insidious of traitors.”? ”

Attorney: “That was Richard Armitage and Bob Novak.”

Judge: “Cheney was the one who ordered Scooter Libby and other staffers to attempt to out Ms. Plame. They assiduously called journalists with this story. It was materials they left lying around that came to Mr. Armitage’s attention. It was only an accident that Novak ran with the story before one of Mr. Libby’s journalistic contacts could be convinced.”

Attorney: “Outing a CIA officer is not a crime in international law, only in US law.”

Judge: “We’ll be sure to forward the dossier to the US authorities.”

Attorney: “The US authorities already dismissed Ms. Plame’s suit on the grounds that Cheney was just doing his job.”

Judge: “That is why we are holding these proceedings at the Hague.”


Related video:

TheLipTV: “CIA Torture Report Exposes Bush + Cheney War Crimes”

Small Rustbelt Ohio Town becomes Wind Powerhouse; Goosebumps

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 - 2:17am

Ohio Environmental Council | –

“Learn how wind energy is transforming a small community in rural north western Ohio. 2:07 will give you goosebumps.”

Ohio Environmental Council: “Harnessing the Wind”

Not the Onion: American alleged Terrorist Indicted by Israel for Planning Attacks on Muslims

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 - 1:49am

TheLipTV | –

“A U.S. citizen has been indicted by the state of Israel for planning terror attacks on Muslim holy sites. The man, 30-year-old Texas native Adam Everett Livvix, was arrested in November on suspicion of possessing illegal weapons and planning a terror attack. However, this isn’t the first time Livvix has been under suspicion of terrorist activity. We take a look at Livvix’s shady history and the evidence against him, in this Lip News clip with Gabriel Mizrahi.”

TheLipTV: “U.S. Terrorist Arrested in Israel For Anti-Muslim Attack Plots”

UN Condemns USA for undermining Torture Convention, Calls for Prosecutions

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 - 1:19am

By Thalif Deen | –

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 11 2014 (IPS) – The timing was inadvertently impeccable as two stinging reports on harsh interrogation techniques – by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States and former military regimes in Brazil – were released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Not surprisingly, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric was peppered – and metaphorically tortured – with a barrage of non-stop questions on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s response to the charges.

“The secretary-general believes the prohibition of torture [by the U.N. convention] was absolute and non-negotiable,” Dujarric told reporters at Wednesday’s noon briefing.

But the questions seemed never ending – even as he refused to be pinned down.

“No, I do not believe the secretary-general had direct communication with anyone in the U.S. administration [after the report was released Tuesday].”

“No, no one is taking the report as gospel. And it is not for the secretary-general to say it is a definitive report,” he shot back. “There is an open debate – and this is the start of a process,” he added.

The release of the two reports – by a U.S. Senate committee on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, and also the systematic human rights violations in Brazil as revealed in a report by the country’s National Truth Commission – also coincided with Human Rights Day, which the United Nations commemorates annually on Dec. 10.

“Strange coincidence indeed,” Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS.

He said the report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee shows they were well aware the revelations “stink”.

“There is a very telling section [in the report] where they say that [then U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell must not be informed, because if he is, he would blow his stack,” said Prashad, who has written extensively on international politics and is the author of 15 books.

“They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable,” he added.

The United States ratified the 1987 U.N. Convention Against Torture back in October 1994 and Brazil in September 1989.

Responding to the two reports, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, urged the U.N.’s 193 member states to act unequivocally in their effort to stamp out torture.

He said the U.S. report shows torture is still taking place in quite a few of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention and have domestic legislation making torture illegal.

“To have it so clearly confirmed that it was recently practised as a matter of policy by a country such as the United States is a very stark reminder that we need to do far, far more to stamp it out everywhere,” he continued.

This has been true at the best of times, he added.

It is particularly true during this period of rising international terrorism, when it has shown a tendency to slither back into practice, disguised by euphemisms, even in countries where it is clearly outlawed, said Zeid, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

However, he “warmly welcomed” the publication of the Senate Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Programme, as well as the report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission which documents the extensive use of torture, among other gross and systematic human rights violations, over a 42-year period, including the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The Brazilian Commission, which was established in May 2012, investigated the serious human rights violations that occurred between 1946 and 1988 – the period between the last two democratic constitutions in Brazil.

These violations include unlawful imprisonment and torture; sexual violence; executions and subsequent concealing of corpses; and enforced disappearances.

“When practiced massively and systematically against a population, these violations become a crime against humanity,” the report said.

The report on the CIA said terrorist suspects, after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, were subjected to sleep deprivation (as long as a week), water-boarding, rectal-hydration, with some prisoners “literally hooked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The CIA defended its techniques by arguing that its brutal treatment of suspects was aimed at protecting the country from further terrorist attacks.

Zeid said: “Although there are very significant differences between these two exceptionally important reports, not least in their scope and the periods they cover, I commend the governments of Brazil and the United States for enabling their release.”

Few countries, he pointed out, will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, and many continue shamelessly to deny it – even when it is well documented by international human rights treaty bodies, and the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape.

“While it will take time to fully analyse the contents of these two landmark reports – and I do not wish to pre-empt that analysis – we can still draw some stark conclusions about the failures to eradicate this serious international crime, for which there should be no statute of limitations and no impunity,” Zeid declared.

He also said one question neither report can answer on its own is how both countries will fulfil their obligation to ensure accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

In all countries, he pointed out, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed.

“If they order, enable or commit torture recognized as a serious international crime they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency.”

When that happens, he said, “we undermine this exceptional Convention, and as a number of U.S. political leaders clearly acknowledged yesterday, we undermine our own claims to be civilized societies rooted in the rule of law.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Growing calls for prosecutions over secret CIA torture programme”

Ferguson on the Jordan: Israeli Soldier Beats Palestinian Cabinet Minister to Death at Tree Planting Ceremony

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 - 12:51am

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — The head of the Palestinian Authority committee against the separation wall and settlements died Wednesday after Israeli soldiers assaulted him in a village near Ramallah, committee sources said.

Ziad Abu Ein, 55, died after an Israeli soldier beat him on the chest with his helmet in the village of Turmsayya in the Ramallah district, the director of the committee’s information center, Jamil al-Barghouthi, told Ma’an.

Abu Ein also suffered severe tear gas inhalation as Israeli soldiers fired canisters in the area…

He lost consciousness and was taken to Ramallah Public Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Medical sources told Ma’an that Abu Ein lost consciousness and that his heart stopped after being beaten by Israeli soldiers and inhaling tear gas.

The Israeli army said in a statement that “approximately 200 rioters gathered in Turmus Ayya, near Ramallah. Forces halted the progress of the rioters into the civilian (Israeli settler outpost) community of Adei-Ad using riot dispersal means.”

It said it was “reviewing the circumstances of the participation of Ziad Abu Ein, and his later death.”

“The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, and his Palestinian counterpart, Hussein Al-Sheikh, have agreed that an Israeli pathologist will join a delegation of pathologists from Jordan, for a joint examination of the circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein’s death.

“Additionally, a proposal has been made to the Palestinians to establish a joint investigation team to review the incident.”

A Ma’an reporter said Abu Ein was taking part in a tree-planting project in an area of the village threatened with confiscation.

Read the whole report at Ma’an News Agency


AJ+: “Palestinian Politician Dies After Being Struck By Israeli Policeman”

Israel, Egypt Implicated in Torture: Middle East Reactions to Senate Report lament own Involvement

Wed, 10 Dec 2014 - 3:50am

By Juan Cole | –

That the release in Washington of a dense 450 page report on CIA torture conducted a decade ago would provoke massive demonstrations in the Middle East all along struck me as unlikely. It could perhaps provoke small terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, but those groups are already plotting out attacks on US embassies and it is a little unlikely that they would suddenly be more motivated by this report, which doesn’t contain anything they did not already know or suspect.

Washington has invented its own ersatz Middle East, which bears little resemblance to the actual one, and which is mainly used to score points in inside-the-Beltway debates.

Most Egyptians appear to have been traumatized by the year (2012-2013) of Muslim Brotherhood rule, and support for the Brotherhood is likely at an all time low. They have been quite unfairly branded a terrorist organization, and groups much to their right, such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and al-Qaeda itself are even more unpopular and are pursued by the powerful Egyptian military. Many Egyptian youth have demonstrated against torture, and most of them don’t like it when applied to Egyptians by the military government. But since there isn’t much sympathy in Egypt for extremist fundamentalism, most Egyptians would be neither surprised nor particularly outraged that the US was torturing al-Qaeda types.

One initial reaction to the Senate report was an article in the Cairo press drawing on remarks of expatriate Egyptians, which pointed out that Egypt has been implicated in the CIA black site torture. That is, rather than anger toward the US, this article implicitly criticizes the government of then president Hosni Mubarak in Egypt itself, both for torturing and for doing it on behalf of the United States. Another such article in Tahrir News covered the whole torture scandal, So far, the main Egyptian reaction seems to be vindication that they overthrew the torturing, toadying government of Mubarak.

Meanwhile, another major US ally, Israel, was also implicated. The left-leaning daily Haaretz reported that the CIA torturers justified their actions with regard to Israeli Supreme Court rulings on the permissibility of torture.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Social TV: ” Ishai Menuchin – On Torture in Israel”

West Only has Money for Bombs? 60,000 Child Laborers in Jordan as Syrian Refugees struggle to Survive

Wed, 10 Dec 2014 - 1:53am

AMMAN | (IRIN) | – Jordan is straining under the weight of its over 600,000 Syrian refugees, with government officials and aid agencies warning of dwindling resources and capacity to respond to the ever-growing needs.

Yet Syrians fleeing the current conflict only make up one small portion of the country’s refugee population. For decades, the tiny Kingdom, with an indigenous population of only a few million, has opened its doors to families from neighbouring Syria, Palestine and Iraq.

IRIN went to Amman to spend time with this rich mosaic of people, to understand the feeling of temporary permanence, and to learn more about the refugees’ experiences and motivations as well as their hopes for the future. We chose to tell five stories from different generations of refugees, with the aim of showing how they have both been formed by and helped form their adopted country.

Most of the over two million Palestinians living in Jordan have some kind of Jordanian citizenship, but the type of passport they hold – depending on when they arrived and from where – afford them different rights.

So while some Palestinians have full access to employment, property ownership, public education and healthcare services, others need to obtain work permits and pay higher tuition fees at schools.

“Some of the professions, they are only open to Jordanians. However, there are some of the professions that are given priority over others,” said Reem Abu Hassan, Jordanian minister of social development. “There is a high unemployment rate [in the Palestinian camps], but again there is a high unemployment rate for the Jordanian society.”

Timeline 1948 Arab-Israeli War

Israelis refer to the events of May 1948 as their “War of Independence”; Palestinians call it the Nakba (Catastrophe). In a few weeks Jewish fighters carried out a series of attacks as they carved out a Jewish state, with the violence forcing over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, of whom 100,000 are estimated to have immediately crossed the River Jordan.
1967 Six-Day War

From 5-10 June 1967, Israel fought its neighbouring Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights from those countries, respectively. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and refugees from 1948 were displaced a second time and were forced to flee. Over 300,000 people fled into Jordan from the West Bank.
1982 Hama Massacre

Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father of current President Bashar, laid siege to the city of Hama to crush an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood. While reliable numbers are limited, it is estimated that more than 20,000 people were killed and thousands fled into neighbouring states including Jordan.
2003 Invasion of Iraq

The US-led invasion of Iraq to depose President Saddam Hussein and his Baath party led hundreds of thousands to flee the violence. It is estimated that over 400,000 Iraqis have been displaced outside the country, with the UN Refugee Agency saying 48,600 refugees are currently registered in Jordan. 2011 Syrian Uprising/Syrian Civil War

In March 2011, pro-democracy protests in the southern Syrian city of Deraa were violently crushed, sparking a wider revolt. While initially peaceful, within a year the uprising had become militarized – with the crisis evolving into a bitter and ongoing civil war. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011 and over two million are now refugees. There are over 600,000 registered in Jordan.

By contrast, Iraqis living in Jordan do not have Jordanian passports and as refugees cannot obtain a residence permit that would allow them to work, unless they pay.

There is a widely-held perception that Iraqis in Jordan are well-off business owners, but while some are financially-independent economic migrants, many are locked out of employment and rely largely on aid and community support.

Syrian refugees in Jordan also struggle and face, like the Iraqis, restrictions on movement and labour, leading to economic hardship. According to Masara Srass, head of the refugee programme at the Syrian Women’s Association in Amman, many young Syrians who arrived since 2011 drop out of school early to take black-market work to be able to support their families.

This not only creates a parallel and unregulated labour force that violates international law and upsets Jordanians who also need employment, but also robs young Syrians of an education.

International NGO CARE estimates that as many as 60,000 children are actively working in Jordan, a number that has doubled since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011.

There are also themes that unite the different waves of refugees. Many are awaiting resettlement in a third country, particularly the Iraqis. Yet they are often left waiting for years – according to the US State Department, fewer than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in a third country and those that are, are picked due to exceptional circumstances.

Yet all agree that their lives in Jordan are better than returning to their countries of origin and most have grown to call the country, for better or for worse, home. 

Excerpted from IRIN News (Read the whole article here.)


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wotchit: UN World Food Program Restarts Food Aid for Syrian Refugees After Campaign

Psychologists, who Took $81 mn. to Advise, Practice Torture, betrayed the Profession

Wed, 10 Dec 2014 - 1:35am

By Laurence Alison, University of Liverpool

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.


Although these techniques have been given the newspeakish euphemism “enhanced interrogation”, they are consciously meant as a powerful assault on the basic conditions necessary for mental survival, specifically by overloading the subject’s homeostatic system.

Homeostasis is the body’s ability to adjust in response to external changes in order to maintain a stable internal equilibrium. The objective of an extreme assault on a human system is to stop the individual from adjusting in time, or at all.

For example, we are built to respond to various complex stimuli throughout the course of any given day, and when the arousal system is subjected to severe sensory deprivation over long periods, it seeks to readjust.

If the deprivation is intense and persistent, the arousal system seeks to fill the gap. And in the process, it can fill the void created with psychotic symptoms: hallucinations, paranoia, hearing voices and a loss of a sense of a cohesive or continuous sense of self.

Several other methods are directed at overload rather than deprivation, such as threats, “feral treatment” (treating people like animals), pharmacological manipulation, and humiliation. These can induce similar psychological effects, and may result in severe short, medium and even long-term symptoms, including loss of memory and a damaged ability to learn, reason or make decisions.

In fact, such techniques can damage brain structures such as the hippocampus (one of the first regions to suffer in Alzheimer’s disease) and lead to the loss of brain mass by inhibiting the regeneration of brain cells.

So both from an ethical standpoint and going on the evidence of myriad studies of trauma, enhanced interrogations are both unlikely to work and manifestly objectionable. The psychologists involved in this work should clearly have known it was an incredibly dangerous path to tread.

Connection, not correction

If you really want to stage an effective interrogation, the literature points in entirely the opposite direction – and so does orthodox law enforcement practice.

In the US (as in many other countries), rapport is considered a vital part of police interrogation. Psychological research has long shown that building rapport with witnesses increases the amount of accurate information generated. We know that rapport enhances cooperation during interviews, and elicits more accurate information.

In our own work, based on hundreds of hours of observation of field interviews, we found that interrogators that used approaches more akin to methods used in therapy were more effective at both decreasing detainee disengagement (including “no comment” interviews) and eliciting useful information and evidence.

We found that where non-judgemental acceptance, empathy and autonomy were present, alongside the ability to fluidly adapt to the detainee’s topics and shifts in what they were prepared to talk about (or not talk about), reflective listening and attentiveness were by far the most successful approach.

In fact, interrogators who resisted the (perhaps natural) urge to try and change or challenge the detainee’s behaviours and beliefs engaged more with their suspects and got more information from them.

Dismal failure

Our work on rapport is nothing new. More than 200 clinical trials, efficacy reviews, and meta-analyses have found more humane approaches to be effective in the treatment of a range of health problems once treated with harsh and coercive methods – issues as diverse as chronic mental disorder, cardiovascular rehabilitation, problem gambling, and substance use disorders.

In all those arenas, the original notion was that the “problem” needed to be dealt with through rational/persuasive and manipulative means that might persuade, coerce or control individuals “out” of their errant, criminal and destructive ways – essentially to bully them into compliance.

So a fundamental point stands: despite the ethical sanctions, the evidence is that enhanced interrogations just don’t work, and that rapport-based methods do.

It remains to be seen exactly why psychologists working today might have advocated, designed or implemented the methods described in the Senate report, but there can be no doubt that their complicity is a failure of both scientific rigour and morality. As the committee’s findings are picked over, and the political back-and-forth over them gets underway, this must not be forgotten.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

VICE News Exclusive: The Architect of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Program (Trailer)

“The committee reviewed more than 6 million pages of top-secret CIA documents and found that the architect of the interrogation program was a retired Air Force psychologist named James Mitchell, an agency contractor who — according to news reports — personally waterboarded alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Senate report does not identify Mitchell by name. He is referred to as “Contractor A” throughout the executive summary.

Mitchell has a signed a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA and was unable to discuss his role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, but Vice News met up with him in suburban Florida to discuss the Senate’s report and one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror. This is the first time Mitchell has ever appeared on camera.”

McCain on Torture: A Stain on our National Honor, Produces Misleading Info

Wed, 10 Dec 2014 - 1:08am

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) | –

Candidate for the best American speech of this decade:

“As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.”

McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.”

McCain: CIA Torture Policies ‘Stained Our National Honor’

In Record, Scientists double Solar Panel Efficiency to 40%

Wed, 10 Dec 2014 - 12:21am

Via UNSW Newsroom | –

UNSW’s solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The world-beating efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

The work was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and supported by the Australia–US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV)

“This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity,” UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green said.

“We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry,” added Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project.

The 40% efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” Professor Green said.

Power towers are being developed by Australian company, RayGen Resources, which provided design and technical support for the high efficiency prototype. Another partner in the research was Spectrolab, a US–based company that provided some of the cells used in the project.

A key part of the prototype’s design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could.

Such filters reflect particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the achievement is another world first for Australian research and development and further demonstrates the value of investing in Australia’s renewable energy ingenuity.

“We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”

The 40% efficiency achievement is outlined in a paper expected to be published soon by the Progress in Photovoltaics journal. It will also be presented at the Australian PV Institute’s Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference, which begins at UNSW today (Monday 8 December).

About UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green:

Known as the ‘Father of photovoltaics’, Martin Green is a Scientia Professor at UNSW and Director of the Australian National Energy Agency-supported Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics. He was formerly a Director of CSG Solar, a company formed specifically to commercialise the University’s thin-film, polycrystalline-silicon-on-glass solar cell. His group’s contributions to photovoltaics are well known including the development of the world’s highest efficiency silicon solar cells and the successes of several spin-off companies.

He is the author of six books on solar cells and numerous papers in the area of semiconductors, microelectronics, optoelectronics and, of course, solar cells. International awards include the 1999 Australia Prize, the 2002 Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize), the 2004 World Technology Award for Energy and the 2007 SolarWorld Einstein Award. He was elected into the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal Society in 2013.

Media contact: Ry Crozier, UNSW Media Office | +612 9385 1933 | +61 425 245 887 |


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