TBR News April 4, 2014

Apr 04 2014

The Voice of the White House


         Washington, D.C. April 3, 2014: “There is a new book just published that is giving spastic colon to the Jesus Freaks and their American political allies. Is it titles “Christ the Essene” (http://christtheessene.com/) and is by a Phillip L. Kushner, PhD. The book is very scholarly and not at all boring. It lays out the real history of Jesus, taken from a long-suppressed Dead Sea scroll and states that Jesus was not born in Bethelem but Alexandria, Egypt and that when his family moved to Judea, he joined the Essene religious cult. Unfortunately for those who love Jesus and hate homosexuals, the Essenes were an all-male cult that was very well known to be totally homosexual! The author also dissects the Gospels and when he has finished, there is little of value left to them. Dr. Kushner points out that all the Gospels were written a hundred years after Jesus was alive and are nothing but invented stories, designed to sell early Christianity to the local tribesmen. It remains to be seen if Congress will ban the book but I have read it, recommended it to friends and think it is a wonderful antidote to the mindless screamings of the Jesus Freak set.”


Lithuania pleads for US gas exports to counter Russia

March 25, 2014



Lithuania’s energy minister has called on the US Senate to speed up the export of natural gas to Europe.

Jaroslav Neverovic said that Lithuania was being forced to pay a “political price” for being entirely dependent on Russian gas supplies.

The crisis in Ukraine has led to calls for the US to ease its current restrictions on gas exports.

Some analysts have suggested that doing so would help challenge Russia’s dominance in the sector.

In his statement to a US Senate committee, Mr Neverovic urged members to do everything within their power to release natural gas resources “into the world market”.

“A law enacted in your country some 75 years ago denies us access to your abundant and affordably priced energy resources,” he said.

The energy minister said customers in Lithuania were having to pay 30% more for natural gas than other European nations, because they were “beholden to a monopolistic supplier.”

“This is not just unfair,” said Mr Neverovic. “This is abuse of monopolist position.”


‘Penalising’ Russia


The crisis in Ukraine has seen the US and European Union impose sanctions targeting members of the Russian political elite.

They have had their European and US assets frozen, and travel bans have been put in place to restrict their movements.

However, some analysts have argued that these moves are symbolic and any sanctions would only work if they impacted the wider Russian economy.

On Tuesday, David Montgomery, a senior vice president at NERA Economic Consulting, suggested that boosting US natural gas exports could hurt the Russian government.

He estimated that increased US competition could drive down Russia’s revenues from natural gas exports by as much as 30% over the next five years, and by as much as 60% in the longer term.

“Since energy exports are the mainstay of the still inefficient and lagging Russian economy, this is a penalty with teeth,” he added.


Politics, or economics?


However, Edward Chow, a senior fellow at Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said any such move was unlikely to have an immediate impact.

Mr Chow said that Russian exports of natural gas were equivalent to “twice the combined capacity” of the seven US government approved liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects, which would only be completed by the end of this decade.

“Certainly increased exports of oil and gas from the US and other countries would reduce, over time, the significance of Russian exports, but none of this will happen quickly,” he said.

Mr Chow argued that in order to reduce Russia’s influence it was crucial that European countries developed their own gas resources.

“Russia is even more reliant on the European market as the destination of 80% percent of its oil and gas exports,” he said in his testimony at the hearing.

“So, who is more reliant on whom? This has more to do with the exercise of political will rather than of economic leverage.”



In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army

April 2, 2014

by C. J. Chivers and David M. Herszenhorn

New York Times


PEREVALNOYE, Crimea — The soldiers guarding the entrances to the surrounded Ukrainian military base here just south of the capital, Simferopol, had little in common with their predecessors from past Russian military actions.

Lean and fit, few if any seemed to be conscripts. Their uniforms were crisp and neat, and their new helmets were bedecked with tinted safety goggles. They were sober.

And there was another indicator of an army undergoing an upgrade: compact encrypted radio units distributed at the small-unit level, including for soldiers on such routine duty as guard shifts beside machine-gun trucks. The radios are a telltale sign of a sweeping modernization effort undertaken five years ago by Vladimir V. Putin that has revitalized Russia’s conventional military abilities, frightening some of its former vassal states in Eastern Europe and forcing NATO to re-evaluate its longstanding view of post-Soviet Russia as a nuclear power with limited ground muscle.

 Across Crimea in the past several weeks, a sleek new vanguard of the Russian military has been on display, with forces whose mobility, equipment and behavior were sharply different from those of the Russian forces seen in the brief war in Georgia in 2008 or throughout the North Caucasus over nearly two decades of conflict with Muslim separatists.

            Past Russian military actions have often showcased an army suffering from a poor state of discipline and supply, its ranks filled mostly with the conscripts who had not managed to buy deferments or otherwise evade military service. Public drunkenness was common, as were tactical indecisiveness and soldiers who often looked as if they could not run a mile, much less swiftly.

Not so in Crimea. After a Kremlin campaign to overhaul the military, including improvements in training and equipment and, notably, large increases in pay, the results could be seen in the field. They were evident not only in the demeanor of the Russian soldiers but also in the speed with which they overwhelmed Crimea with minimal violence.

The troops in Crimea may be the elite of the new Russian military. But the Kremlin’s investment, analysts said, has revived the military, which has now shown that it can field a competent and even formidable force, and both guard the nation and project power to neighboring states.

“The development of Russian armed forces is going in two big trends, first strengthening of strategic nuclear forces, giving a guarantee that no one country in this world will try to attack Russia,” said Aleksandr Golts, an independent military analyst in Moscow.

“Second, the development of these rapid deployment forces,” he said, “to deal with any kind of local conflict, such as the war against Georgia, or this operation in Ukraine or anywhere.”

“As a result of these reforms,” Mr. Golts added, “Russia now has absolute superiority over any country in the post-Soviet space.”

One Western official who analyzes military forces in the region said the differences from the past were striking. “It does seem to us that they are much more professional this time around,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s impressive.”

The transformation of the armed forces has been a personal priority of Mr. Putin, who as prime minister from 2009 to 2012 and more recently in his return to the presidency has overseen billions of dollars in new military expenditures. The military was one of the few areas of the Russian budget to receive big spending increases, along with preparations for the Sochi Olympics, the 2018 World Cup and improvements to the railroad system, which is also a military asset.

Since the start of 2012, salaries for most military personnel have roughly tripled, to between $700 and $1,150 a month for privates and sergeants — a respectable amount in Russian terms. The Kremlin has also expanded housing and education benefits.

In a speech to military officers in February shortly after the raises were enacted, Mr. Putin declared, “I have always believed that military servicemen should be paid, as has always been the case in Russia, by the way, even more than skilled specialists in the sphere of economics or administration or other civilian sectors.”

The Russification of CrimeaAs Moscow’s grip on Crimea tightens, ethnic Russians who were born under Soviet rule are eager to recapture their identity.

The spectacular rise in military spending, which is expected to increase to about $100 billion in 2016 from about $80 billion this year, even as the economy shows signs of recession, was one of the main reasons that Russia’s respected finance minister, Aleksei L. Kudrin, who was credited with steering Russia safely through the 2008 financial crisis, left the government in 2011.

Mr. Putin has been unapologetic. He has repeatedly emphasized that rebuilding the military is crucial to Russia’s future.

At his direction, a comprehensive, multiagency military strategy was developed for the first time, with ambitious goals that included bringing all units to permanent combat readiness and upgrading weapons systems.

As commander in chief, Mr. Putin has also presided over unprecedented training exercises, including what the Kremlin billed as the largest peacetime mobilization ever — about 160,000 troops, officials said, in Russia’s Far East in the summer of 2013 — and an array of drills in western Russia to prepare for potential threats along the borders with Europe and the Caucasus.

“Our goal is to create modern, mobile and well-equipped armed forces that can respond rapidly and adequately to all potential threats, guarantee peace, and protect our country, our people and our allies, and the future of our state and nation,” Mr. Putin said in a meeting with military leaders in February 2013.

The lightning-quick seizing of strategic installations and the surrounding of military bases in Crimea, including the base here in Perevalnoye, provided a clear show of the new Russian military’s capabilities.

It was a sharp contrast to the brief war with Georgia in 2008, when Russia overwhelmed its much smaller foe on a tiny patch of ground, but also revealed the sorry state of its own forces — problems that stretched back to the two military campaigns in Chechnya. (In Georgia, Russian military vehicles were commonly seen broken down on the roads, with cursing soldiers beside them.)

“First of all, there were communications problems, because the communication is the basis of troop management,” said Mikhail Khodaryonok, editor in chief of Military-Industrial Courier, a weekly newspaper focused on the Russian armed forces.

“Problems with communications were so obvious that sharp measures were taken to improve all types of communications, including the confidential communication,” Mr. Khodaryonok said.

The upgrade was visible down to the smallest unit levels in Crimea. Here at Perevalnoye, many soldiers on guard duty wore new push-to-talk encrypted radios — a piece of equipment long used by American soldiers but only recently provided to conventional Russian units.

The Western official said the wide distribution of the encrypted radios suggested more than procurement. It might also mean that Russian noncommissioned officers were exercising more tactical latitude and decision-making, a deeper type of overhaul that could make Russian units nimbler and more effective.

            “That is a rather empowering device for the Russian Army,” the official said.

The radios were one part of a broad element of Mr. Putin’s military overhaul: the replacement of equipment carried by individual soldiers. Known as the Ratnik program — from the Russian word for warrior — the upgrade includes new helmets, flak jackets with bulletproof plates, ballistic goggles, kneepads, uniforms, and communications and navigation equipment, as well as thermal and night-vision sights for firearms.

Apparently modeled after the equipment upgrades visible on Western soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than a decade, the Ratnik kit has not yet been fully fielded. But many of its signature components were evident in Crimea, including the uniforms, helmets, goggles, flak jackets and kneepads.

Out on the roads, Russian forces could also be seen deploying electronic-warfare platforms, including the new Tigr-M and the R-330Zh jamming station, which can block GPS and satellite telephone signals.

Like many of the Russian military vehicles visible in the crisis, these vehicles contrasted with those seen in Georgia or the North Caucasus in that they had fresh paint jobs and new tires, and seemed to be in an excellent state of repair.

While analysts said that there was now better equipment and training throughout the Russian military, some cautioned against drawing too broad a conclusion based on the forces in Crimea, many of which were part of elite units that were among the first to benefit from the overhaul.

“It is certainly a step up from where they were in 2008, but how far of a step up we don’t know yet,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, a Virginia-based research group financed by the United States government. “Is the Russian military now a conventional threat to NATO? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s that much of an improvement yet. It could be down the road.”

Mr. Gorenburg noted that the Russian troops had faced no opposition, and that there had been no fighting. “Essentially they were taking over facilities and buildings from troops that had been given no orders or who had been given orders not to resist,” he said. “There was no actual combat.”

Mr. Khodaryonok, the editor of Military-Industrial Courier, said it would be a while before the modernization campaign spreads to all the armed forces. Nevertheless, he said, the military had made extraordinary strides.

“Everything is in order,” he said. “There is no more such shame as broken tanks and A.P.C.’s on the road and outdated weaponry.”

More important, he said, the military was able to make it all work. “The biggest achievement, in my opinion, is how the management was organized,” he said. “The operation’s cover, its quickness and suddenness. There were no data leaks.”

“The epoch of decay has been fully overcome,” he said. “And the armed forces of the country are on the rise.”


Russia plans to build undersea gas pipeline to Crimea: newspaper

April 1, 2014



– MOSCOW-  Russia plans to build an undersea gas pipeline to Crimea and could construct three power stations on the Black Sea peninsula following its annexation from Ukraine, Energy Minister Alexander Novak was on Tuesday quoted as saying.

Novak told the Kommersant business newspaper the three power instations could have a total capacity of 1,320 megawatts, and the cost could be up to 100 billion rubles ($2.9 billion).

The natural gas pipeline, which could cost up to 6 billion rubles to build, would have a capacity of up to 2 billion cubic meters a year, he said.

An Energy Ministry spokeswoman confirmed Novak had made the comments to Kommersant.

Novak also said Russian state gas company Gazprom would cover all the costs for the construction of the pipeline to Crimea, which has been annexed by Russia although the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution declaring invalid the referendum that backed union with Russia.

Gazprom will also take part in a tender on the privatization of local energy company Chernomorneftegaz, he added.

An Energy Ministry spokeswoman confirmed Novak comments to Kommersant. Gazprom declined comment.

Business daily Vedomosti daily quoted an unnamed Energy Ministry official as saying Gazprom could build a 400-km (250 mile) pipeline from the southern Russian city of Krasnodar to Sevastopol, Crimea’s main city, with an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic meters.

Vedomosti said another option for providing energy to Crimea was to lay a pipeline from Anapa, another southern Russian city. It said the cost of this project would be about $200-$300 million.


($1 = 35.1384 Russian Rubles)


(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Editing by Timothy Heritage)



US confirms warrantless searches of Americans

April 1 2014

by Eileen Sullivan



 WASHINGTON (AP) The Obama administration has conducted warrantless searches of Americans’ communications as part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations that target foreigners located outside of the U.S., the administration’s top intelligence official confirmed in a letter to Congress disclosed Tuesday.

            These searches were authorized by a secret surveillance court in 2011, but it was unclear until Tuesday whether any such searches on Americans had been conducted.

            The recent acknowledgement of warrantless searches on Americans offers more insight into U.S. government surveillance operations put in place after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The government has broadly interpreted these laws to allow for the collection of communications of innocent Americans, practices the Obama administration maintains are legal. But President Barack Obama has promised to review some of these programs to determine whether the government should be conducting this type of surveillance at all.

            “Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant,” Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado said in a joint statement. “However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.”

Wyden has pressed the administration on whether these searches on Americans have occurred. In a March 28 letter to Wyden, James Clapper, the government’s top intelligence official, said the NSA has searched for Americans’ communications within information it collected when it targeted foreigners located outside the U.S. In his letter, Clapper also pointed to a declassified document released last August that also acknowledged the use of such searches and stated that these searches were reviewed, and there was no finding of wrongdoing. It was unclear how often these searches are conducted.

Documents disclosed last year by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden showed that the government collects mass amounts of data from major Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook through one of its programs designed to target communications of foreigners located outside the U.S. The government is not allowed to use this authority to collect Americans’ communications, but conversations of innocent Americans are collected inadvertently. When this happens, the NSA is required to take certain measures to hide the communications of Americans that have nothing to do with foreign intelligence.

In 2011, the government sought and received approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search for Americans within the communications it already possessed through its collection of conversations of foreigners outside the U.S. Such searches would only be permissible if there were a foreign intelligence purpose.

Former NSA deputy director Chris Inglis said this authority might be used to search for the target of a terrorist attack. As an example, Inglis said if the government was concerned that terrorists were plotting to attack the New York Stock Exchange, the NSA could search for the term “New York Stock Exchange” among the conversations it collected in its targeting of foreigners overseas.

Wyden, Udall and other civil liberties advocates call this type of search a back-door loophole in the law that governs surveillance of Americans.

“If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the Fourth Amendment requires that the government secure a warrant or emergency authorization before monitoring his or her communications,” Wyden and Udall said.

The Obama administration contends the searches are legal because they are searching information they lawfully obtained.


Carbon Delirium :The Last Stage of Fossil-Fuel Addiction and Its Hazardous Impact on American Foreign Policy

by Michael Klare


Of all the preposterous, irresponsible headlines that have appeared on the front page of the New York Times in recent years, few have exceeded the inanity of this one from early March: “U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin.”  The article by normally reliable reporters Coral Davenport and Steven Erlanger suggested that, by sending our surplus natural gas to Europe and Ukraine in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the United States could help reduce the region’s heavy reliance on Russian gas and thereby stiffen its resistance to Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior.

Forget that the United States currently lacks a capacity to export LNG to Europe, and will not be able to do so on a significant scale until the 2020s.  Forget that Ukraine lacks any LNG receiving facilities and is unlikely to acquire any, as its only coastline is on the Black Sea, in areas dominated by Russian speakers with loyalties to Moscow.  Forget as well that any future U.S. exports will be funneled into the international marketplace, and so will favor sales to Asia where gas prices are 50% higher than in Europe.  Just focus on the article’s central reportorial flaw: it fails to identify a single reason why future American LNG exports (which could wind up anywhere) would have any influence whatsoever on the Russian president’s behavior.

The only way to understand the strangeness of this is to assume that the editors of the Times, like senior politicians in both parties, have become so intoxicated by the idea of an American surge in oil and gas production that they have lost their senses.

            As domestic output of oil and gas has increased in recent years — largely through the use of fracking to exploit hitherto impenetrable shale deposits — many policymakers have concluded that the United States is better positioned to throw its weight around in the world.  “Increasing U.S. energy supplies,” said then-presidential security adviser Tom Donilon in April 2013, “affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”  Leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have voiced similar views.

The impression one gets from all this balderdash is that increased oil and gas output — like an extra dose of testosterone — will somehow bolster the will and confidence of American officials when confronting their foreign counterparts.  One former White House official cited by Davenport and Erlanger caught the mood of the moment perfectly: “We’re engaging from a different position [with respect to Russia] because we’re a much larger energy producer.”

It should be obvious to anyone who has followed recent events in the Crimea and Ukraine that increased U.S. oil and gas output have provided White House officials with no particular advantage in their efforts to counter Putin’s aggressive moves — and that the prospect of future U.S. gas exports to Europe is unlikely to alter his strategic calculations.  It seems, however, that senior U.S. officials beguiled by the mesmerizing image of a future “Saudi America” have simply lost touch with reality.

For anyone familiar with addictive behavior, this sort of delusional thinking would be a sign of an advanced stage of fossil fuel addiction.  As the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality evaporates, the addict persists in the belief that relief for all problems lies just ahead — when, in fact, the very opposite is true.

The analogy is hardly new, of course, especially when it comes to America’s reliance on imported petroleum.  “America is addicted to oil,” President George W. Bush typically declared in his 2006 State of the Union address (and he was hardly the first president to do so).  Such statements have often been accompanied in the media by cartoons of Uncle Sam as a junkie, desperately injecting his next petroleum “fix.”  But few analysts have carried the analogy further, exploring the ways our growing dependence on oil has generated increasingly erratic and self-destructive behavior.  Yet it is becoming evident that the world’s addiction to fossil fuels has reached a point at which we should expect the judgment of senior leaders to become impaired, as seems to be happening.

The most persuasive evidence that fossil fuel addiction has reached a critical stage may be found in official U.S. data on carbon dioxide emissions.  The world is now emitting one and a half times as much CO2 as it did in 1988, when James Hansen, then director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned Congress that the planet was getting warmer as a result of the “greenhouse effect,” and that human activity — largely in the form of carbon emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels — was almost certainly the cause.

If a reasonable concern over the fate of the planet were stronger than our reliance on fossil fuels, we would expect to see, if not a reduction in carbon emissions, then a decline at least in the rate of increase of emissions over time.  Instead, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that global emissions will continue to rise at a torrid pace over the next quarter century, reaching 45.5 billion metric tons in 2040 — more than double the amount recorded in 1998 and enough, in the view of most scientists, to turn our planet into a living hell.  Though seldom recognized as such, this is the definition of addiction-induced self-destruction, writ large.

For many of us, the addiction to petroleum is embedded in our everyday lives in ways over which we exercise limited control.  Because of the systematic dismantling and defunding of public transportation (along with the colossal subsidization of highways), for instance, we have become highly reliant on oil-powered vehicles, and it is very hard for most of us living outside big cities to envision a practical alternative to driving.  More and more people are admittedly trying to kick this habit at an individual level by acquiring hybrid or all-electric cars, by using public transit where available, or by bicycling, but that remains a drop in the bucket.  It will take a colossal future effort to reconstruct our transportation system along climate-friendly lines.

For what might be thought of as the Big Energy equivalent of the 1%, the addiction to fossils fuels is derived from the thrill of riches and power — something that is far more difficult to resist or deconstruct.  Oil is the world’s most lucrative commodity on the planet, and a source of great wealth and influence for ruling groups in the countries that produce it, notably Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.  The leaders of these “petro-states” may not always benefit personally from the accumulation of oil revenues, but they certainly recognize that their capacity to govern, or even remain in power, rests on their responsiveness to entrenched energy interests and their skill in deploying the nation’s energy resources for political and strategic advantage.  This is just as true for Barack Obama, who has championed the energy industry’s drive to increase domestic oil and gas output, as it is for Vladimir Putin, who has sought to boost Russia’s international clout through increased fossil fuel exports.

Top officials in these countries know better than most of us that severe climate change is coming our way, and that only a sharp reduction in carbon emissions can prevent its most destructive effects.  But government and corporate officials are so wedded to fossil fuel profits — or to the political advantages that derive from controlling oil’s flow — that they are quite incapable of overcoming their craving for ever greater levels of production.  As a result, while President Obama speaks often enough of his desire to increase the nation’s reliance on renewable energy, he has embraced an “all of the above” energy plan that is underwriting a boom in oil and gas output.  The same is true for virtually every other major government figure.  Obeisance is routinely paid to the need for increased green technology, but a priority continues to be placed on increases in oil, gas, and coal production.  Even in 2040, according to EIA predictions, these fuels may still be supplying four-fifths of the world’s total energy supply.

This bias in favor of fossil fuels over other forms of energy — despite all we know about climate change — can only be viewed as a kind of carbon delirium.  You can find evidence of this pathology worldwide and in myriad ways, but here are three unmistakable examples of our advanced stage of addiction.


1. The Obama administration’s decision to allow BP to resume oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.


After energy giant BP (formerly British Petroleum) pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which resulted in the death of 11 people and a colossal oil spill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended the company’s right to acquire new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.  The ban was widely viewed as a major setback for the company, which had long sought to dominate production in the Gulf’s deep waters.  To regain access to the Gulf, BP sued the EPA and brought other pressures to bear on the Obama administration.  Finally, on March 13th, after months of lobbying and negotiations, the agency announced that BP would be allowed to resume bidding for new leases, as long as it adhered to a list of supposedly tight restrictions

BP officials viewed the announcement as an enormous victory, allowing the company to resume a frenetic search for new oil deposits in the Gulf’s deep waters.  “Today’s agreement will allow America’s largest investor to compete again for federal contracts and leases,” said BP America Chairman and President John Mingé.  Observers in the oil industry predict that the company will now acquire many additional leases in the Gulf, adding to its already substantial presence there.  “With this agreement, it’s realistic to expect that the Gulf of Mexico can be a key asset for BP’s operations not only for this decade but potentially for decades to come,” commented Stephen Simko, an oil specialist at Morningstar investment analysts.  (Six days after the EPA announced its decision, BP bid $42 million to acquire 24 new leases in the Gulf.)

So BP’s interest is clear enough, but what is the national interest in all this?  Yes, President Obama can claim that increased drilling might add a few hundred thousand barrels per day to domestic oil output, plus a few thousand new jobs.  But can he really assure our children or grandchildren that, in allowing increased drilling in the Gulf, he is doing all he can to reduce the threat of climate change as he promised to do in his most recent State of the Union address?  If he truly sought a simple and straightforward way to renew that pledge, this would have been a good place to start: plenty of people remember the damage inflicted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the indifference BP’s top officials displayed toward many of its victims, so choosing to maintain the ban on its access to new drilling leases on environmental and climate grounds would certainly have attracted public support.  The fact that Obama chose not to do so suggests instead a further surrender to the power of oil and gas interests — and to the effects of carbon delirium.


2. The Republican drive to promote construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as a response to the Ukrainian crisis


If Obama administration dreams about pressuring Putin by exporting LNG to Europe fail to pass the credibility test, a related drive by key Republicans to secure approval for the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline defies any notion of sanity.  Keystone, as you may recall, is intended to carry carbon-dense, highly corrosive diluted bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  Its construction has been held up by concerns that it will pose a threat to water supplies along its route and help increase global carbon dioxide emissions.

Because Keystone crosses an international boundary, its construction must receive approval not just from the State Department, but from the president himself.  The Republicans and their conservative backers have long favored the pipeline as a repudiation of what they view as excessive governmental deference to environmental concerns.  Now, in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, they are suddenly depicting pipeline approval as a signal of U.S. determination to resist Putin’s aggressive moves in the Crimea and Ukraine.

 “Putin is playing for the long haul, cleverly exploiting every opening he sees.  So must we,” wrote former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a recent Washington Post op-ed.  “Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and championing natural gas exports would signal that we intend to do precisely that.”

Does anyone truly believe that Vladimir Putin will be influenced by a White House announcement that it will allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline?  Putin’s government is already facing significant economic sanctions and other punitive moves, yet none of this has swayed him from pursuing what he appears to believe are Russia’s core interests.  Why, then, would the possibility that the U.S. might acquire more of its oil from Canada and less from Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela, and other foreign suppliers even register on his consciousness?

In addition, to suggest that approving Keystone XL would somehow stiffen Obama’s resolve, inspiring him to adopt tougher measures against Moscow, is to engage in what psychologists call “magical thinking.”  Were Keystone to transport any other substance than oil, the claim that its construction would somehow affect presidential decision-making or events on Russia’s borders would be laughable. So great is our reverence for petroleum, however, that we allow ourselves to believe in such miracles.  This, too, is carbon delirium.


3. The Case of the Missing $20 Billion


Finally, consider the missing $20 billion in oil revenues from the Nigerian treasury.  In Nigeria, where the average income is less than $2.00 per day and many millions live in extreme poverty, the disappearance of that much money is a cause for extreme concern.  If used for the public good, that $20 billion might have provided basic education and health care for millions, helped alleviate the AIDS epidemic, and jump-started development in poor rural areas.  But in all likelihood, much of that money has already found its way into the overseas bank accounts of well-connected Nigerian officials.

Its disappearance was first revealed in February when the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, told a parliamentary investigating committee that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to transfer the proceeds from oil sales to the national treasury as required by law. Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil producer and the proceeds from its petroleum output not claimed by the NNPC’s foreign partners are supposed to wind up in the state’s coffers.  With oil prices hovering at around $100 per barrel, Nigeria should theoretically be accumulating tens of billions of dollars per year from export sales.  Sanusi was immediately fired by President Goodluck Jonathan for conveying the news that the NNPC has been reporting suspiciously low oil revenues to the central bank, depriving the state of vital income and threatening the stability of the nation’s currency.  The only plausible explanation, he suggested, is that the company’s officials are skimming off the difference.  “A substantial amount of money has gone,” he told the New York Times.  “I wasn’t just talking about numbers.  I showed it was a scam.”

While the magnitude of the scam may be eye-catching, its existence is hardly surprising.  Ever since Nigeria began producing oil some 60 years ago, a small coterie of business and government oligarchs has controlled the allocation of petroleum revenues, using them to buy political patronage and secure their own private fortunes.  The NNPC has been an especially fertile site for corruption, as its operations are largely immune from public inspection and the opportunities for swindles are mammoth.  Sanusi is only one of a series of well-intentioned civil servants who have attempted to plumb the depths of the thievery.  A 2012 report by former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu reported the disappearance of a hardly less staggering $29 billion from the NNPC between 2001 and 2011.

Here, then, is another, equally egregious form of carbon delirium: addiction to illicit oil wealth so profound as to place the solvency and well-being of 175 million people at risk.  President Jonathan has now promised to investigate Sanusi’s charges, but it is unlikely that any significant portion of the missing $20 billion will ever make it into Nigeria’s treasury.


Curing Addiction


These examples of carbon delirium indicate just how deeply entrenched it is in global culture.  In the U.S., addiction to carbon is present at all levels of society, but the higher one rises in corporate and government circles, the more advanced the process.

Slowing the pace of climate change will only be possible once this affliction is identified, addressed, and neutralized.  Overcoming individual addiction to narcotic substances is never an easy task; resisting our addiction to carbon will prove no easier.  However, the sooner we recast the climate issue as a public health problem, akin to drug addiction, the sooner we will be able to fashion effective strategies for averting its worst effects.  This means, for example, providing programs and incentives for those of us who seek to reduce our reliance on petroleum, and imposing penalties on those who resist such a transition or actively promote addiction to fossil fuels. 

Divesting from fossil fuel stocks is certainly one way to go cold turkey.  It involves sacrificing expectations of future rewards from the possession of such stocks, while depriving the fossil fuel companies of our investment funds and, by extension, our consent for their activities.

But a more far-ranging kind of carbon detoxification must come in time.  As with all addictions, the first and most crucial step is to acknowledge that our addiction to fossil fuels has reached such an advanced stage as to pose a direct danger to all humanity.  If we are to have any hope of averting the worst effects of climate change, we must fashion a 12-step program for universal carbon renunciation and impose penalties on those who aid and abet our continuing addiction.


Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left



Europe Risks Losses of $215 Billion by Stopping Russian Gas Imports – Report

April 2, 2014

RIA Novosti


             MOSCOW, April 2 (PRIME) – Europe will have to spend up to $215 billion through investments if it decides to stop buying Russian natural gas, US-based financial research company Sanford C. Bernstein & Co said Wednesday.

“Europe needs natural gas demand to go down by 15 billion cubic meters to be able to stop purchasing Russian gas. It will also have to spend around $40 billion dollars on more expensive alternatives energy sources,” the company said in a statement.

Stopping supplies of Russia gas will lead to a situation whereby “every European will have to take a cold shower once a month, CO2 emissions will increase by 300 million tons per year, tax incentives for Norwegian gas production will amount to $12 billion dollars, the power of nuclear energy in Europe will increase 5 percent, and most of the businesses that consume significant amounts of gas will be closed,” the company said.

“We considered various scenarios of Europe refusing Russian gas supplies but none of them seem attractive,” the company said. “Our conclusion is that ‘the cure is worse than the illness’ and that Europe’s discontent with its dependency on Russian gas will not last long,” Bernstein experts think.

It will take five years to implement measures to make up for such a gas shortfall, Bernstein estimated, and more than 10,000 jobs would be eliminated in the process.

US and EU officials held high-level talks in Brussels on April 2 to discuss ways in which Washington can help Europe diversify its energy sources to reduce its dependence on Moscow. Russian energy giant Gazprom supplied about one-third of the natural gas consumed in Europe last year.


Ukraine’s Inconvenient Neo-Nazis

March 30, 2014

by Robert Parry

Consortium News


The U.S. media’s take on the Ukraine crisis is that a “democratic revolution” ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, followed by a “legitimate” change of government. So, to mention the key role played neo-Nazi militias in the putsch or to note that Yanukovych was democratically elected – and then illegally deposed – gets you dismissed as a “Russian propagandist.”

But Ukraine’s neo-Nazis are not some urban legend. Their presence is real, as they swagger in their paramilitary garb through the streets of Kiev, displaying Nazi insignias, honoring SS collaborators from World War II, and hoisting racist banners, including the white-power symbol of the Confederate battle flag.

            Over the past few days, the neo-Nazis have surged to the front of Ukraine’s unrest again by furiously protesting the killing of one of their leaders, Oleksandr Muzychko, known as Sashko Bily. The Interior Ministry reported that Muzychko died in a Monday night shoot-out with police in Rivne in western Ukraine.

But the right-wing paramilitaries claim that Muzychko was murdered in a cold-blooded contract hit, and these modern-day storm troopers have threatened to storm the parliament building if the interim Interior Minister is not fired.

This renewed disorder has complicated the storytelling of the major U.S. news media by challenging the sweetness-and-light narrative preferred by U.S. policymakers. The New York Times, the Washington Post and other leading news outlets have worked hard to airbrush the well-established fact that neo-Nazi militants spearheaded the coup on Feb. 22.

To dismiss that inconvenient fact, the major U.S. media has stressed that the extreme rightists made up a minority of the demonstrators, which – while true – is largely irrelevant since it was the paramilitary Right Sektor that provided the armed force that removed Yanukovych and then dominated the “transition” period by patrolling key government buildings. As a reward, far-right parties were given control of four ministries.

Some U.S. outlets also have picked up on the unsubstantiated U.S. government theme that Russia is dispatching unidentified “provocateurs” to destabilize the coup regime in Kiev, though it doesn’t seem like Moscow would have to do much besides stand aside and watch the interim government’s unruly supporters turn on each other.

But reality has stopped playing much of a role in the U.S. news media’s Ukraine reporting as the U.S. press continues to adjust the reality to fit with the desired narrative. For instance, the New York Times, in its boilerplate account of the uprising, has removed the fact that more than a dozen police were among the 80 or so people killed. The Times now simply reports that police fired on and killed about 80 demonstrators.

Fitting with its bowdlerized account, the Times also ignores evidence that snipers who apparently fired on both police and protesters before the coup may have been working for the opposition, not Yanukovych’s government. An intercepted phone call by two European leaders discussed those suspicions as well as the curious decision of the post-coup government not to investigate who the snipers really were.


Surrounding the Parliament


But most significantly, the U.S. mainstream media has struggled to downplay the neo-Nazi angle as was apparent in the Times’ report on President Vladimir Putin’s call on Friday to President Barack Obama to discuss possible steps to defuse the crisis. Putin noted that neo-Nazis had surrounded the parliament.

“In citing extremist action, Mr. Putin sought to capitalize on a tense internal showdown in Kiev,” the Times wrote. “The presence of masked, armed demonstrators threatening to storm the Parliament building offered the Russian government an opportunity to bolster its contention that the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, after pro-European street protests last month was an illegal coup carried out by right-wing extremists with Western encouragement.”

But the Times couldn’t simply let those facts speak for themselves, though they were all true: right-wing extremists did provide the key manpower and organization to overrun government buildings on Feb. 22 and there is no doubt that these right-wing elements were getting Western encouragement, including a shoulder-to-shoulder appearance by Sen. John McCain.

The Times felt compelled to interject an argumentative counterpoint, saying: “In fact, the nationalist groups, largely based in western Ukraine, had formed just one segment of a broad coalition of demonstrators who occupied the streets of Kiev for months demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster.”

And, that has been a consistent pattern for the supposedly objective U.S. news media. If the Russians say something, even if it is clearly true, the point must be contradicted. However, when a U.S. official states something about the Ukraine crisis, the claim goes unchallenged no matter how absurd.

For example, when Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring, “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext,” mainstream U.S. news outlets simply let the statement stand without noting that Kerry himself had voted in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

You might think that Kerry’s breathtaking hypocrisy would be newsworthy or at least a relevant fact that should be pointed out to readers, but no. The Times also has routinely distorted Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The Black Sea peninsula, a longtime Russian province that was only attached to Ukraine for administrative purposes during Soviet days, asserted its independence after the coup ousting Yanukovych, who had won Crimea overwhelmingly.

No one seriously doubts that the vast majority of Crimean citizens wanted to escape the disorder and hardship enveloping Ukraine – and to return to Russia with its higher per capita income and functioning national government – but the Obama administration and the dutiful U.S. news media have pretended otherwise.

In New York Times speak, Crimea’s popular vote to secede from Ukraine and to join Russia was simply Putin’s “seizure” of Crimea. The Times and other mainstream news outlets dismissed Crimea’s March 16 referendum as somehow rigged – citing the 96 percent tally for secession as presumptive evidence of fraud – although there was no actual evidence of election rigging. Exit polls confirmed the overwhelming majority favoring secession from Ukraine and annexation by Russia.


IMF’s ‘Reforms’


And, really, who could blame the people of Crimea? As Ukraine’s acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said, Ukraine “is on the edge of economic and financial bankruptcy” and the International Monetary Fund agreed to throw a financial lifeline only if Ukraine imposes “reforms” that Yatsenyuk has admitted are “very unpopular, very difficult, very tough.”

They will be toughest on average Ukrainians who will face severe public sector budget cuts, slashed pensions, soaring heating costs and rapid inflation due to changes in the exchange rate. The cumulative impact of these IMF “reforms” is expected to result in a 3 percent contraction of Ukraine’s already depressed economy.

Yet, much of the mainstream U.S. media ignores the understandable desire of the Crimean people to bail out on the failed Ukrainian state. Instead, the MSM pretends that Russia simply invaded Crimea and now is threatening to do the same in eastern Ukraine, or as the Times put it, Putin has engaged in “provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border.”

The bottom line is that the U.S. government and media have constructed a substantially false narrative for the American people, all the better to manufacture consent behind a $1 billion U.S. aid package for Ukraine and the launch of a new Cold War with the expectation of many more exciting confrontations to come – in places like Syria and Iran – all justifying fatter military budgets.

A more objective and less alarmist narrative on the Ukraine crisis would describe Putin’s actions as primarily defensive and reactive. He was distracted by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and was caught off-guard by the violent putsch that removed Yanukovych.

In light of Yanukovych’s democratic election victory in 2010 and his agreement on Feb. 21 to speed up new elections (a deal that was negated within hours by the U.S./EU-supported coup), Russia has a legitimate argument that the coup regime in Kiev is illegitimate.

The removal of Yanukovych not only was spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias but subsequent parliamentary actions to “impeach” him did not follow Ukraine’s constitutional rules. The putsch essentially disenfranchised the large ethnic-Russian populations in the east and south, where Yanukovych had his political base.

Then, the rump parliament in Kiev – reflecting the intense Ukrainian nationalism in the western section – passed punitive laws targeting these Russian speakers, including elimination of Russian as an official language. For Putin to be troubled by this crisis on his border — and to take action — was neither surprising nor particularly provocative.

If the New York Times and other leading U.S. outlets did their journalism in a professional way, the American people would have had a more nuanced understanding of what happened in Ukraine and why. Instead, the Times and the rest of the MSM resumed their roles as U.S. propagandists, much as they did in Iraq in 2002-03 with their usual preference for a simplistic “good-guy/bad-guy” dichotomy.

In the case of Ukraine, that happy dichotomy has been challenged again by the reemergence of those inconvenient neo-Nazis.


Arctic sea ice falls to fifth lowest level on record

National Snow and Ice Data Center says findings reinforce trend that Arctic sea ice disappearing much faster than expected

April 2. 2014

by Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent



            Arctic sea ice remained on its death spiral on Wednesday, with the amount of winter ice cover falling to its fifth lowest on the satellite record, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

The scientists said Arctic sea ice extent for March averaged 4.80m sq km (5.70m sq miles). That’s 730,000 sq km below the 1981-2010 satellite average.

The latest findings reinforce a trend that could see the Arctic losing all of its ice cover in the summer months within decades.

The world’s leading scientists this week admitted that Arctic sea ice was disappearing much faster than expected.

“The decline of Arctic sea ice in summer is occurring at a rate that exceeds most model projections,” the United Nations’ intergovernment panel on climate change said in releasing its first report since 2007.

The report said the loss of sea ice and the melting of permafrost on land were already having knock-on effects in the form of severe storms.

Arctic sea ice typically expands to its great extent for the winter on 9 March. But this year’s maximum extent was not reached until 21 March.

The scientists said strong winds in mid-March finally helped push the ice out across the Barents and Bering seas. They also noted that the Arctic had had an unusually warm temperatures in March.

More of the Arctic was under ice this winter than the all-time low in 2006, but scientists said there was a clear downward trend, despite slight variations from one season to the next.

The Arctic was losing ice cover, and the ice that remained was thinner and more susceptible to melting in the summer months.



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