TBR News June 7, 2014

Jun 07 2014

TBR News June 7, 2014


The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. June 5. 2014: “There is an old British music hall song whose refrain is “He’s dead but he won’t lie down.” This line is applicable to America’s failed foreign policy, a policy of control and enforced obedience for the rest of the world. America is no longer a producing nation, that having passed to China, but she is still the major banking entity and our banks have disproportionate international control, backed ultimately by military force. Putin had very effectively pulled the plug on this system and when Washington looks to the Arctic and its untapped oil fields with longing eyes, they will see the Russian Gasprom rigs and not American-controlled ones in full operation.”


Return of the living (neo-con) dead


June 6, 2014

by Pepe Escobar

Asia Times


            Amid much hysteria, the notion has been widely peddled in the United States that President Obama’s “new” foreign policy doctrine, announced last week at West Point, rejects neo-cons and neo-liberals and is, essentially, post-imperialist and a demonstration of realpolitik.

            Not so fast. Although stepping back from the excesses of the Cheney regime – as in bombing whole nations into “democracy” – the “desire to lead” still crystallizes might is right.

             Moreover, “exceptionalism” remains the norm. Now not so blatant, but still implemented via a nasty set of tools, from financial warfare to cyber-war, from National Endowment for Democracy-style promotion of “democracy” to Joint Special Operations Command-driven counter-terrorism, drone war and all shades of shadow wars.

In the early 2000s, the model was the physical destruction and occupation of Iraq. In the 2010s the model is the slow-mo destruction, by proxy, of Syria.

And still, those who “conceptualized” the destruction of Iraq keep rearing their Alien-like slimy head. Their icon is of course Robert Kagan – one of the founders of the apocalyptically funereal Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and husband of crypto-Ukrainian hell raiser Victoria “F**k the EU” Nuland (thus their dream of Ukraine as the Khaganate of Nulands, or simply Nulandistan.)

Kagan has been devastatingly misguided on everything, as in his 2003 best-seller Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, an eulogy of “benign” Americans standing guard against the “threats” (as in Muslim fundamentalism) emanating from a Hobbesian world way beyond the cozy Kantian precinct inhabited by Europe.

Then, in The Return of History and the End of Dreams (2008), the “evil” was not Muslim fundamentalism anymore (too shabby), but the emerging of those vast autocracies, Russia and China, antithetical to Western democracies. But with The World America Made (2012), the paradisiacal shining city on the hill would once again triumph, more than capable to see those autocracies off; after all, the only reliable guarantee of global peace is American exceptionalism.

Kagan still commands the attention even of the otherwise aloof Commander-in-Chief, who avidly consumed The World America Made before his 2012 State of the Union Address, in which he proclaimed “America is back”.

It’s enlightening to flash back to Kagan writing in the Weekly Standard in March 2011, sounding like an awestruck schoolboy praising Obama; “He thoroughly rejected the so-called realist approach, extolled American exceptionalism, spoke of universal values and insisted that American power should be used, when appropriate, on behalf of those values.”

Any similarity with Obama’s “new” foreign policy doctrine is, indeed, intentional.


Catfight at the Singapore corral


Now comes Kagan’s latest opus, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: What our tired country still owes the world”, with a sorry mess already inbuilt in the title (he’s never read Paul Kennedy after all). History tells us that superpowers do retire because of over-extension – not only military but mostly economic and fiscal, as in facing bankruptcy.

Yet it’s hopeless to expect from Kagan and the neo-con nebula anything other than blindness to the lessons of history – with a special, tragic mention of Shock and Awe, trampling of Geneva Conventions, and institutionalized torture. Their parochial dichotomy is either eternal American global hegemony or outright chaos.

Progressives in the US still try to save the day, frantically calling for a core “restoration” of American economic and democratic health; a rather impossible undertaking when casino capitalism rules and the US is now for all practical purposes an oligarchy. These dreamers actually believe this “restoration” is what Obama has done or is trying to do; and that would project the US once again as a global model – and thus “encourage” democracy everywhere. Sorry to break the news, but for the overwhelming majority of the genuine, fact on the ground “international community”, the notion of the US promoting democracy is now D.O.A.

So under the banner of exceptionalism – versus the competing birth of a Eurasian century – it’s been a fascinating exercise to witness the catfight at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which I described last year as the Spielbergs and Clooneys of the military sphere all locked up in a Star Wars room (actually a ballroom with chandeliers at the Shangri-La Hotel.)

It all started with Shinzo Abe, the militaristic prime minister of that American protectorate, Japan, denouncing “unilateral efforts” to alter the strategic status quo in Asia. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, piled up, saying Asia-Pacific was becoming less stable because of “coercion and provocation” by China. And Pentagon supremo Chuck Hagel also blasted Beijing, accusing it of “destabilizing, unilateral actions” in the South China Sea.

But then Lt Gen Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff of the PLA, counterpunched in kind, saying Hagel’s talk was “full of hegemony, full of words of threat and intimidation” and part of “a provocative challenge against China”.

Major General Zhu Chenghu even allowed himself to be condescending (oh, those barbarians … ); “The Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now … If you take China as an enemy, China will absolutely become the enemy of the US.”

Major General Zhu also accused Hagel of hypocrisy; “Whatever the Chinese do is illegal, and whatever the Americans do is right.” Zhu was quick to register Hagel’s own threat, as in “the US will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.” Translation: Don’t mess with the exceptionalist. WE are the international order.

It’s as if everyone was reading from Kagan’s playbook. The difference is that Beijing is not Baghdad, and will not respond to threats by lying down. Instead, it is deploying selective, savvy, tactical moves all across the Western Pacific chessboard. Washington’s Asian network of vassals/clients/protectorates is and will be slowly but surely undermined. And on top of it, Beijing clearly sees that both Hagel and Kerry – who know next to nothing about the complexities of Asia – are clearly panicking.

Those Deng Xiaoping dictum days – from “crossing the river by feeling the stones” to “carry a low profile” – are in the past. Now we’re talking about the imminent number one economic power, already the world’s top trading nation and America’s top creditor.


Highway to Hillary


Russia – and not the US – is now the key partner or broker in negotiating hardcore international conflicts. The recent flurry of China-Russia energy and trade agreements, an essential part of their strategic partnership; the progressive integration and concerted economic/financial strategy of the BRICS; and even the slow moving process of Latin American integration all point towards a multipolar world.

Which bring us back to Obama’s “new” foreign policy doctrine. Let’s quickly survey the recent record.

Obama only refrained from pursuing his reckless, self-imposed red line and bombing Syria because he was saved (from himself) at the eleventh hour by Russian diplomacy.

The Iran dossier remains vulnerable to relentless pressure by neo-cons/Israel lobby/sectors of the weaponizing industry, with the Obama administration introducing extraneous factors bound to sidestep the negotiation.

Obama’s sanctions on Russia because of Ukraine were not only unlawful; they are peripheral, as astute European Union business leaders quickly recognized.

A simulacrum of withdrawal is being pushed in Afghanistan – to be replaced by all-out shadow war.

And the Obama administration – covertly and not so covertly – has been supporting neo-nazis in Ukraine and jihadists in Syria.

All this is still not enough for the Kagan bunch – the “conceptual” architects of the 9/11 wars, who always wanted Obama to bomb Syria; bomb Iran; start a war with Russia over Crimea; and even, sooner rather than later, bomb China to prevent it from getting back to number one. Hobbesians gone mad – wallowing in their psychotic sense of perennial entitlement – will stop at nothing to prevent the emergence of a multipolar world. It’s Exceptionalist Empire with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as global Robocop, or hell.

             Moscow and Beijing, to say the least, are not exactly impressed; rather, they detect desperation. Yet things could – and should – get much nastier, irrespective of imploding Khaganates. Just wait for the Hillary doctrine


Russian troops in Ukraine? What’s your proof of that?’ Putin’s best answers to French media


June 4, 2014



Vladimir Putin faced a barrage of tricky questions in France from the media ahead of his meeting with world leaders at the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Here are his best replies on key issues: Ukraine, Crimea and relations with the US.

On Ukraine, its sovereignty and Russian troops:

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has been occupying the center of international attention since the end of last year. While the coup-appointed government in Kiev is carrying out a military crackdown on the southeast of the country, the US said that Russian troops are allegedly involved in the crisis and they have proof of that.

“What proof? Why don’t they show it?” Putin told French media.

“The entire world remembers the US Secretary of State demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the UN Security Council. Eventually, the US troops invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein was hanged and later it turned out there had never been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You know – it’s one thing to say things and another to actually have evidence.”

“After the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev in February, the first thing the new authorities tried to do was to deprive the ethnic minorities of the right to use their native language. This caused great concern among the people living in eastern Ukraine.”

“I wouldn’t call them either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian. They are people who have certain rights, political, humanitarian rights, and they must have a chance to exercise those rights.”

“When the coup happened some people accepted this regime and were happy about it while other people, say, in eastern and southern Ukraine just won’t accept it. And it is vital to talk with those people who didn’t accept this change of power instead of sending tanks there, as you said yourself, instead of firing missiles at civilians from the air and bombing non-military targets.”

On Crimea, its referendum and historical ties to Russia:

After Crimea voted in its March referendum to join Russia, the West voiced concerns that the people in the region voted at gunpoint.

“Russian troops were in Crimea under the international treaty on the deployment of the Russian military base. It’s true that Russian troops helped Crimeans hold a referendum 1) on their independence and 2) on their desire to join the Russian Federation. No one can prevent these people from exercising a right that is stipulated in Article 1 of the UN Charter, the right of nations to self-determination.”

“We conducted an exclusively diplomatic and peaceful dialogue – I want to stress this – with our partners in Europe and the United States. In response to our attempts to hold such a dialogue and to negotiate an acceptable solution, they supported the anti-constitutional state coup in Ukraine, and following that we could not be sure that Ukraine would not become part of the North Atlantic military bloc. In that situation, we could not allow a historical part of the Russian territory with a predominantly ethnic Russian population to be incorporated into an international military alliance, especially because Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia.”

One journalist asked the president whether he wants to recreate the old borders of the Soviet Union.

“We want to use modern policies to improve our competitive advantage, including economic integration. This is what we are doing in the post-Soviet space within the Customs Union and now also within the Eurasian Union.”

On US relations and its aggressive foreign policies:

“Speaking of US policy, it’s clear that the United States is pursuing the most aggressive and toughest policy to defend its own interests – at least, this is how the American leaders see it – and they do it persistently.”

There are basically no Russian troops abroad while US troops are everywhere. There are US military bases everywhere around the world and they are always involved in the fates of other countries, even though they are thousands of kilometers away from US borders.

“There are basically no Russian troops abroad while US troops are everywhere. There are US military bases everywhere around the world and they are always involved in the fates of other countries, even though they are thousands of kilometers away from US borders.”

“The defense budget of the United States… is larger than the combined military budgets of every country in the world… So who’s pursuing an aggressive policy?”

“So it is ironic that our US partners accuse us of breaching some of these rules,” Putin said, apparently referring to Hillary’s Clinton’s statement on Russia’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe, comparing it with Hitler’s in the 1930s. “When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.”

“As for my relations with Barack Obama, I have no reason whatsoever to believe he is not willing to talk to the President of Russia. But ultimately, it is his choice. I am always ready for dialogue, and I think that dialogue is the best way to bridge any gaps.”


Facebook Patent Reveals Possible Plans For Kids


June 2 2014,

by Helen A.S. Popkin

NBC News


It’s no secret Facebook wants kids younger than 13 — its minimum age requirement — to join without lying about their age. A patent application made public last week reveals how the world’s largest social network might make that happen.

Currently, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) makes it hard for Facebook, and other websites that collect information, to allow users younger than 13 to join. Under the law, websites which cater to kids 12 and younger are restricted in the personal information they can collect, and must obtain “verifiable parental consent” for underage users. So in the past, most social networks avoided dealing with kids altogether.

Of course, multiple studies found that millions of kids under 13 join anyway, often with the OK from their parents. Facebook’s newly public patent — filed in November 2012 — describes a method of getting the official Facebook permission slip via verification through Mom or Dad’s own Facebook account. According to the patent, Facebook would use the information provided on the parent’s account to confirm the relationship with the child. Further, the parent would be able to access the child’s account and privacy settings.

Facebook would not confirm to NBC News whether the company planned to follow through with this patent, or pursue other means of expanding its terms of service to allow younger kids access to the site. As early as May 2011 however, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his desire for younger users. Speaking at NewSchools Summit — a gathering of entrepreneurs interested in transforming public education — Zuckerberg said that going after the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act “will be a fight we take on at some point.”

COPPA — enacted in 1998, long before Facebook or even MySpace existed — is criticized by businesses and child advocates alike. It limits the collection and retention of personal information on websites geared towards kids ages 13 and younger. But age restrictions remain easy to circumvent, and the law does not prevent children from being advertised to or accessing pornography.



N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images


May 31, 2014

by James Risen and Laura Poitras

New York Times


The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

One N.S.A. PowerPoint presentation from 2011, for example, displays several photographs of an unidentified man — sometimes bearded, other times clean-shaven — in different settings, along with more than two dozen data points about him. These include whether he was on the Transportation Security Administration no-fly list, his passport and visa status, known associates or suspected terrorist ties, and comments made about him by informants to American intelligence agencies.

It is not clear how many people around the world, and how many Americans, might have been caught up in the effort. Neither federal privacy laws nor the nation’s surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images. Given the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence mission, much of the imagery would involve people overseas whose data was scooped up through cable taps, Internet hubs and satellite transmissions.

Because the agency considers images a form of communications content, the N.S.A. would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans collected through its surveillance programs, just as it must to read their emails or eavesdrop on their phone conversations, according to an N.S.A. spokeswoman. Cross-border communications in which an American might be emailing or texting an image to someone targeted by the agency overseas could be excepted.

Civil-liberties advocates and other critics are concerned that the power of the improving technology, used by government and industry, could erode privacy. “Facial recognition can be very invasive,” said Alessandro Acquisti, a researcher on facial recognition technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “There are still technical limitations on it, but the computational power keeps growing, and the databases keep growing, and the algorithms keep improving.”

Continue reading the main story State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its “next generation identification” project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data.

The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing hundreds of millions of photographs of American passport holders and foreign visa applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security is funding pilot projects at police departments around the country to match suspects against faces in a crowd.

The N.S.A., though, is unique in its ability to match images with huge troves of private communications.

“We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,” said Vanee M. Vines, the agency spokeswoman.

She added that the N.S.A. did not have access to photographs in state databases of driver’s licenses or to passport photos of Americans, while declining to say whether the agency had access to the State Department database of photos of foreign visa applicants. She also declined to say whether the N.S.A. collected facial imagery of Americans from Facebook and other social media through means other than communications intercepts.

“The government and the private sector are both investing billions of dollars into face recognition” research and development, said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer and expert on facial recognition and privacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “The government leads the way in developing huge face recognition databases, while the private sector leads in accurately identifying people under challenging conditions.”

Ms. Lynch said a handful of recent court decisions could lead to new constitutional protections for the privacy of sensitive face recognition data. But she added that the law was still unclear and that Washington was operating largely in a legal vacuum.

Laura Donohue, the director of the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown Law School, agreed. “There are very few limits on this,” she said.

Congress has largely ignored the issue. “Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data,” said Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, in a letter in December to the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is now studying possible standards for commercial, but not governmental, use.

Facial recognition technology can still be a clumsy tool. It has difficulty matching low-resolution images, and photographs of people’s faces taken from the side or angles can be impossible to match against mug shots or other head-on photographs.

            Dalila B. Megherbi, an expert on facial recognition technology at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, explained that “when pictures come in different angles, different resolutions, that all affects the facial recognition algorithms in the software.”

That can lead to errors, the documents show. A 2011 PowerPoint showed one example when Tundra Freeze, the N.S.A.’s main in-house facial recognition program, was asked to identify photos matching the image of a bearded young man with dark hair. The document says the program returned 42 results, and displays several that were obviously false hits, including one of a middle-age man.

            But the technology is powerful. One 2011 PowerPoint showed how the software matched a bald young man, shown posing with another man in front of a water park, with another photo where he has a full head of hair, wears different clothes and is at a different location.

It is not clear how many images the agency has acquired. The N.S.A. does not collect facial imagery through its bulk metadata collection programs, including that involving Americans’ domestic phone records, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, according to Ms. Vines.

The N.S.A. has accelerated its use of facial recognition technology under the Obama administration, the documents show, intensifying its efforts after two intended attacks on Americans that jarred the White House. The first was the case of the so-called underwear bomber, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, tried to trigger a bomb hidden in his underwear while flying to Detroit on Christmas in 2009. Just a few months later, in May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted a car bombing in Times Square.

The agency’s use of facial recognition technology goes far beyond one program previously reported by The Guardian, which disclosed that the N.S.A. and its British counterpart, General Communications Headquarters, have jointly intercepted webcam images, including sexually explicit material, from Yahoo users.

The N.S.A. achieved a technical breakthrough in 2010 when analysts first matched images collected separately in two databases — one in a huge N.S.A. database code-named Pinwale, and another in the government’s main terrorist watch list database, known as Tide — according to N.S.A. documents. That ability to cross-reference images has led to an explosion of analytical uses inside the agency. The agency has created teams of “identity intelligence” analysts who work to combine the facial images with other records about individuals to develop comprehensive portraits of intelligence targets.

The agency has developed sophisticated ways to integrate facial recognition programs with a wide range of other databases. It intercepts video teleconferences to obtain facial imagery, gathers airline passenger data and collects photographs from national identity card databases created by foreign countries, the documents show. They also note that the N.S.A. was attempting to gain access to such databases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The documents suggest that the agency has considered getting access to iris scans through its phone and email surveillance programs. But asked whether the agency is now doing so, officials declined to comment. The documents also indicate that the N.S.A. collects iris scans of foreigners through other means.

            In addition, the agency was working with the C.I.A. and the State Department on a program called Pisces, collecting biometric data on border crossings from a wide range of countries.

One of the N.S.A.’s broadest efforts to obtain facial images is a program called Wellspring, which strips out images from emails and other communications, and displays those that might contain passport images. In addition to in-house programs, the N.S.A. relies in part on commercially available facial recognition technology, including from PittPatt, a small company owned by Google, the documents show.

The N.S.A. can now compare spy satellite photographs with intercepted personal photographs taken outdoors to determine the location. One document shows what appear to be vacation photographs of several men standing near a small waterfront dock in 2011. It matches their surroundings to a spy satellite image of the same dock taken about the same time, located at what the document describes as a militant training facility in Pakistan.


The FBI Prospers by Feeding Fears: What begins as a temporary problem becomes a never-ending emergency.


May 26, 2014

Steve Chapman



James Comey became FBI director last year, at a time when Osama bin Laden was dead, terrorism at home was on the decline and the United States was shrinking its inflammatory presence in the Muslim world. So naturally, he says the danger is way worse than you think.

Referring to al-Qaida groups in Africa and the Middle East, he recently told The New York Times, “I didn’t have anywhere near the appreciation I got after I came into this job just how virulent those affiliates had become. There are both many more than I appreciated, and they are stronger than I appreciated.”

It may look like we’ve greatly diminished if not eliminated the danger of Islamic extremism against American targets. In fact, Comey assures us, “that threat has metastasized.” Of course cancer is far more deadly once it spreads.

In this respect he resembles just about every bureaucrat in the history of government. He thinks that his agency is vitally important and growing more so every day. If there had been a Federal Bureau of Stagecoaches when passenger trains and cars came along, it would still be in business and finding ways to justify its preservation and expansion.

Terrorism has fed the FBI’s growth. Between 2001 and 2013, its budget nearly doubled after adjusting for inflation. But Comey was not pleased on arriving to learn that he would be inconvenienced by last year’s federal budget sequester.

“I was very surprised to learn how severe the potential cut is,” he complained. He warned he might have to cut 3,000 jobs. His estimate was inflated—the agency now says it eliminated just 2,200 positions through attrition. The agency’s website, however, says it has 35,344 employees—up by 30 percent since 2001.

Comey is upholding the tradition that once the government identifies an evil, the evil never goes away—it only gets bigger and tougher, requiring ever-increasing efforts to combat it. The Department of Energy was created during the “energy crisis” of the 1970s. The crisis didn’t last, but the department did.

The same pattern holds here. In the decade after 9/11, the number of terrorist episodes in this country averaged 17 a year, compared to 41 a year in the 1990s. Nor is al-Qaida gaining ground. Since 9/11, reports the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, it has carried out no attacks in the U.S.

But progress is never taken as progress. It’s always interpreted as the calm before the storm.

When Comey arrived, nerves were raw from the Boston Marathon bombing, which sparked fears of a wave of domestic attacks. Since then, there has not been a single death from homegrown terrorism in the U.S. In the following 12 months, the number of Muslim-Americans arrested on terrorism charges was 15, below the annual average of 20.

“Almost all of these arrests were for attempting to join a foreign terrorist organization abroad, not for planning attacks in the homeland, and were motivated by sympathies with rebels in Syria and elsewhere rather than by al-Qaida’s call for Muslims to attack the West,” wrote David Schanzer of Duke University and Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in The News and Observer of Raleigh.

None of this matters to Comey or his associates in the federal government, which has an unbreakable addiction to dire forecasts. When it comes to national security, they see every silver lining as attached not just to a cloud, but to a skyful of black thunderheads.

In 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a nuclear-armed existential threat, the nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey, told the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Yes, we have slain a large dragon. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.” The number of serious security threats, Woolsey claimed, had “grown, not shrunk.”

This testimony came at a time of budget austerity. “His strong warnings about the gravity of threats appeared intended to serve notice that he would be highly wary of budget-cutting efforts that might weaken intelligence programs,” reported The New York Times.

That’s the logic of people in government. What begins as a legitimate concern becomes an irrational obsession. What begins as a temporary problem becomes a never-ending emergency.


We could win the war on terrorism. But end it? No danger of that: As Ties With China Unravel, U.S. Companies Head to Mexico


May 31, 2014

by Damien Cave

New York Times


             SALTILLO, Mexico — Jason Sauey calls them lemmings — all the American companies that rushed to China to make things like toys and toilet brushes, only to be searching now for alternatives in Mexico and the United States. His own family-owned plastics company, Flambeau, nearly made the same mistake around 2004, he said, when competitors contracting with China undercut prices and seized market share.

Flambeau resisted, turning instead to its factory here in central Mexico. And now the company — which makes Duncan yo-yos, hunting decoys, plastic cases and an array of industrial items — is reaping the rewards, Mr. Sauey (pronounced SOW-ee) said.

Revenues at its Mexican plant have grown by 80 percent since 2010, according to company records, prompting a search for a second location near Mexico City. And in the past year, a dozen corporations have come to Flambeau and requested bids on projects worth tens of millions of dollars for things like smartphone cases and car parts.

“They’re all looking for a new model,” said Mr. Sauey at his offices in Middlefield, Ohio. “It’s not just about cost; it’s about speed of response and quality.”

             With labor costs rising rapidly in China, American manufacturers of all sizes are looking south to Mexico with what economists describe as an eagerness not seen since the early years of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s. From border cities like Tijuana to the central plains where new factories are filling farmland, Mexican workers are increasingly in demand.

American trade with Mexico has grown by nearly 30 percent since 2010, to $507 billion annually, and foreign direct investment in Mexico last year hit a record $35 billion. Over the past few years, manufactured goods from Mexico have claimed a larger share of the American import market, reaching a high of about 14 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, while China’s share has declined.

“When you have the wages in China doubling every few years, it changes the whole calculus,” said Christopher Wilson, an economics scholar at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “Mexico has become the most competitive place to manufacture goods for the North American market, for sure, and it’s also become the most cost-competitive place to manufacture some goods for all over the world.”

Many American companies are expanding in Mexico — including well-known brands like Caterpillar, Chrysler, Stanley Black & Decker and Callaway Golf — adding billions of dollars in investment and helping to drive the economic integration that President Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto have both described as vital to growth.

As that happens, some companies are cutting back in China and heading to Mexico to manufacture an array of products, like headsets (Plantronics); hula hoops (Hoopnotica); toilet brushes (Casabella); grills and outdoor furniture (Meco Corporation); medical supplies (DJO Global); and industrial cabinets (Viasystems Group).

And while in some cases a move to Mexico is tied to job cuts in the United States, economists say that the American economy benefits more from outsourcing manufacturing to Mexico than to China because neighbors tend to share more of the production. Roughly 40 percent of the parts found in Mexican imports originally came from the United States, compared with only 4 percent for Chinese imports, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private research group.

            Such comparisons appear to have blunted some of the scorn that greeted American companies moving production to Mexico in the 1990s. And yet, for the economic relationship to reach its full potential, experts, officials and executives say, the United States needs to make trade efficiency as important as border security. Long waits at the border continue to frustrate many companies. At the same time, Mexico needs to overcome longstanding problems like education, organized crime and corruption.

However, for every successful Flambeau, there seems to be a KidCo, another Midwestern manufacturer, which gave up trying to move production from China to Mexico last year.

“It’s a lot more convenient to fly to Mexico than to China,” said Ken Kaiser, the company’s owner. “But we just couldn’t find a way to get an advantage by moving. It took forever just to get a price quote.”

Dozens of interviews with executives, economists and American and Mexican officials over the past year show that what many companies are discovering is that there is not one Mexico, but many. Despite many signs of promise, Mexico is still a country of vast differences in efficiency and education, where only a small minority of the population has the training needed to compete with the world. Especially for the crowded middle of American manufacturing — the family-owned, medium-size businesses like KidCo and Flambeau — Mexico disappoints as often as it satisfies.

Ed Juline, a manufacturing consultant in Guadalajara who came to Mexico in 2001 with IBM, has seen many companies both attracted and repelled. Like others who help American businesses in Mexico, he described last year as a tipping point. With studies showing Mexico rapidly reaching the same cost level as China for the production of certain products, dozens of companies came to him — including KidCo — looking for help to find a Mexican factory to contract with or buy.

Business owners were in a rush. Some had tired of the travel to China or the six- to 10-week wait for orders to arrive from across the Pacific. Others said their Chinese suppliers were raising prices even as quality declined.

            At KidCo’s headquarters outside Chicago, the headaches were mounting. Last year began with a factory in northern China that produced the company’s best-selling products, a series of child-safety gates, demanding a 10 to 12 percent pay increase. Then an entire shipment of wooden gates arrived with a major flaw. “That’s when we realized we really needed to have backup supply,” said Mr. Kaiser, 61, who contacted Mr. Juline.

Mr. Juline did have some success to point to. One of his clients, Casabella, a broom, brush and mop company from Long Island, had recently completed a deal with a factory near Mexico City to produce about $800,000 worth of brushes.

But success turned out to be a rarity. The more Mr. Juline traveled around Mexico seeking partners for American manufacturers, he said, the more he realized that many Mexican business owners were unwilling to take on a surge of new business, either because they could not line up suppliers or credit, or because they feared demands for money from government inspectors or gangs.

             Guillermo Calderon, the factory manager for Diseño Global, said his response to KidCo’s bid request may have seemed high — about 20 percent above the production price in China — but that was because he wanted to make sure his company took on as little risk as possible. “It’s easier to look at the opportunities you already have instead of looking outside,” he said. “What if we get a 40,000-piece order and then they leave?”

Flambeau’s experience has been more positive. Since Mr. Sauey joined the business in 1985 at the urging of his father, a co-founder, sales have grown to $230 million, up from $65 million. And as tours of its plants in Saltillo and in rural Ohio revealed, the company has largely thrived through a calculated mix of investment in Mexico and in the United States.

 Mr. Sauey, 52, compact and serious, a passionate libertarian with an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, insisted that cross-border production keeps American companies alive. At the plant in Middlefield, a small town near Cleveland where Mennonites steer horses clear of pickup trucks, and where most factories have already closed, he pointed to a hulking contraption with robotic arms sprouting from the back. “This is what helps keep us here,” he said. The machine cost $2 million. It turns the raw materials of hard plastic into one of Flambeau’s best-selling products, cases for art supplies.

            A generation ago, Mr. Sauey said, the factory in Middlefield did about $14 million in sales. Now, because of investments in more sophisticated technology, it does twice that with the same number of employees, about 180.

The factory in Mexico has more space, many more employees — about 480, making about $17.70 a day — and more machines, many bought used. Both factories will generate roughly the same amount of revenue, according to company estimates. But while the Middlefield plant focuses on high-end plastic cases for everything from guns to medical supplies, the Saltillo factory makes simpler products — bottles for windshield washer fluid, yo-yos, hunting decoys.

Flambeau is not immune to the problems that kept KidCo in China. “In Mexico, almost right is good enough; second best is fine,” said Edward Treanor, Flambeau’s factory manager in Saltillo.

Worker turnover, maintenance troubles and inconsistent quality have been a drag on the bottom line for years. But because Mexico is closer than China, Mr. Treanor added, Flambeau could do more about it: a few months ago, the company sent a trusted American employee to oversee maintenance full time and improve factory operations.

Experts say that these are the kinds of companies succeeding now in Mexico, those big enough to manage their own factories and those that did not give up their technical knowledge by outsourcing to China.

“There are a lot of examples of clients who were in Mexico, went to China and now want to come back, and most of them have given up their expertise in manufacturing,” said Scott Stanley, a senior vice president at North American Production Sharing, one of the largest firms to help American companies set up production facilities in Mexico.

To draw more companies now, executives, officials and experts say, Mexico and the United States will need to become better neighbors, more focused on sharing labor and moving products.

Mr. Wilson at the Mexico Institute called specifically for a focus on “globally literate workforces in both countries.”

“At a very basic level, that means teaching more Spanish in the U.S. and more English in Mexico,” he said. Other, more immediate changes are also necessary, he added, including shorter wait times at the border, better roads and productivity gains in Mexico — lowering the cost of electricity, for example. After all, as the rise of China showed once before, there is no guarantee that Mexican and American manufacturing will stay attractive for long.

As Mr. Sauey notes, today’s global economy has increasingly come to resemble the volatile market for yo-yos or any other fad: the ups and downs come and go faster than ever. “It’s like shooting to the moon when the spikes happen,” he said. “And it’s like falling off a cliff when it ends.”


NATO troops and bases not welcome in Slovakia and Czech Republic


June 5, 2014



          Two Eastern European nations, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have refused to host foreign troops and military bases. The prime ministers of both countries have consecutively spoken against the proposal voiced by US President Barack Obama.

            ‘Peed in public, behave like occupiers’: Latvian mayor complains about NATO sailors

Following the example of their neighbor the Czech Republic, the prime minister of Slovakia stated that his country is ready to meet its obligations as a NATO member state, but stationing foreign troops on its territory is out of the question.

Slovak PM Robert Fico said he “can’t imagine foreign troops being deployed on our territory in the form of some bases.”

The proposal to host more NATO troops in Eastern Europe was voiced by Obama on his current tour of Europe.

Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw, Obama said America is stepping up its partnership with countries in Eastern Europe with a view to bolstering security.

Initially, it was Poland that asked for a greater US military presence in Eastern Europe.

In April, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak called on the Pentagon to deploy as many as 10,000 American troops in his country.

Three Baltic States welcomed the idea back in April. To begin with, a small contingent of American troops began to arrive in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to take part in military training.

Two countries opposed deployment of any foreign soldiers on their territory.

On Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his country sees no need to allow foreign military presence on its territory.

Last month, Defense Minister Martin Stropinsky sparked a political storm in the Czech Republic by recalling the 1968 invasion as the biggest reason not to host NATO troops in the country in a Reuters interview.

Slovakia’s Fico joined in the debate Wednesday, saying that for his country such a military presence is a sensitive issue because of the Warsaw Pact troops’ invasion into Czechoslovakia in 1968.

“Slovakia has its historical experience with participation of foreign troops. Let us remember the 1968 invasion. Therefore this topic is extraordinarily sensitive to us,” he said.

Fico said that Slovakia is committed to fulfill its obligations towards NATO despite military budget cuts and that allies would be allowed to train on Slovak territory anyway.

Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

The Czech Republic entered NATO in 1999, whereas Slovakia joined the alliance later, in 2004.

Fico’s Smer party, which has an absolute majority in Slovakia’s parliament, has been advocating warmer relations with Russia.




Inside the Ring: Memo outlines Obama’s plan to use the military against citizens


May 30,2014

Washington Times


 A 2010 Pentagon directive on military support to civilian authorities details what critics say is a troubling policy that envisions the Obama administration’s potential use of military force against Americans.

The directive contains noncontroversial provisions on support to civilian fire and emergency services, special events and the domestic use of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The troubling aspect of the directive outlines presidential authority for the use of military arms and forces, including unarmed drones, in operations against domestic unrest.

“This appears to be the latest step in the administration’s decision to use force within the United States against its citizens,” said a defense official opposed to the directive.

Directive No. 3025.18, “Defense Support of Civil Authorities,” was issued Dec. 29, 2010, and states that U.S. commanders “are provided emergency authority under this directive.”

“Federal military forces shall not be used to quell civil disturbances unless specifically authorized by the president in accordance with applicable law or permitted under emergency authority,” the directive states.

“In these circumstances, those federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances” under two conditions.

The conditions include military support needed “to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order.” A second use is when federal, state and local authorities “are unable or decline to provide adequate protection for federal property or federal governmental functions.”

“Federal action, including the use of federal military forces, is authorized when necessary to protect the federal property or functions,” the directive states.

Military assistance can include loans of arms, ammunition, vessels and aircraft. The directive states clearly that it is for engaging civilians during times of unrest.

A U.S. official said the Obama administration considered but rejected deploying military force under the directive during the recent standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his armed supporters.

Mr. Bundy is engaged in a legal battle with the federal Bureau of Land Management over unpaid grazing fees. Along with a group of protesters, Mr. Bundy in April confronted federal and local authorities in a standoff that ended when the authorities backed down.

The Pentagon directive authorizes the secretary of defense to approve the use of unarmed drones in domestic unrest. But it bans the use of missile-firing unmanned aircraft.

“Use of armed unmanned aircraft systems is not authorized,” the directive says.

The directive was signed by then-Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn. A copy can be found on the Pentagon website: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/302518p.pdf.

Defense analysts say there has been a buildup of military units within non-security-related federal agencies, notably the creation of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams. The buildup has raised questions about whether the Obama administration is undermining civil liberties under the guise of counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts.

Other agencies with SWAT teams reportedly include the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Education Department.

The militarization of federal agencies, under little-known statues that permit deputization of security officials, comes as the White House has launched verbal attacks on private citizens’ ownership of firearms despite the fact that most gun owners are law-abiding citizens.

A White House National Security Council spokeswoman declined to comment.

President Obama stated at the National Defense University a year ago: “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone or with a shotgun – without due process, nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.”




The House defense authorization bill passed last week calls for adding $10 million to the Pentagon’s future warfare think tank and for codifying the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) as a semi-independent unit.

The provision is being called the Andrew Marshall amendment after the ONA’s longtime director and reflects congressional support for the 92-year-old manager and his staying power through numerous administrations, Republican and Democratic.

Mr. Marshall’s opponents within the Pentagon and the Obama administration persuaded Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this year to downgrade the ONA by cutting its budget and placing it under the control of the undersecretary of defense for policy. The ONA currently is a separate entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Members of the House Committee on Armed Services objected and added the $10 million to the administration’s $8.9 million request, along with a legal provision that would codify ONA’s current status as separate from the policy undersecretary shop.

The committee was concerned Mr. Hagel’s downgrade would “limit the ability and flexibility of ONA to conduct long-range comparative assessments,” the report on the authorization bill states.

“The office has a long history of providing alternative analyses and strategies that challenge the ‘group think’ that can often pervade the Department of Defense,” the report says, noting an increasing demand for unconventional thinking about space warfare capabilities by China and Russia.

In addition to adding funds, the bill language requires the ONA to study alternative U.S. defense and deterrence strategies related to the space warfare programs of both countries.

China is developing advanced missiles capable of shooting down satellites in low and high earth orbits. It also is building lasers and electronic jammers to disrupt satellites, a key U.S. strategic military advantage. Russia is said to be working on anti-satellite missiles and other space weapons.

“The committee believes the office must remain an independent organization within the department, reporting directly to the secretary,” the report said.

Mr. Marshall, sometimes referred to as the Pentagon’s “Yoda,” after the Star Wars character, has come under fire from opponents in the administration, who say he is too independent and not aligned with the administration’s soft-line defense policies.

The ONA is known for its extensive use of contractors and lack of producing specific overall net assessments of future warfare challenges, as required by the office’s charter.

One example of the ONA’s unconventional thinking was the recent contractor report “China: The Three Warfares,” which revealed Beijing’s extensive use of political warfare against the United States, including psychological warfare, media warfare and legal warfare.

“‘The Three Warfares’ is a dynamic, three-dimensional, war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means,” the report says.

A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.




Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the Pentagon is deploying more and higher-quality missile defenses to counter potential nuclear attacks from North Korea and Iran.

“This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime,” Adm. Winnefeld said in a speech to the Atlantic Council. “The number of states trying to achieve that capability is growing, not shrinking, with our principal current concern being North Korea, because they are closest in terms of capability, followed by Iran.”

He added that missile defenses are needed “because we’re not betting on Dennis Rodman as our deterrent against a future North Korean ICBM threat.”

He was referring to the heavily tattooed and pierced former NBA star, who has traveled to North Korea as a guest of leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Rodman calls the dictator his “friend.”

“A robust and capable missile defense is our best bet to defend the United States from such an attack and is, in my view, our No. 1 missile defense priority,” Adm. Winnefeld said.

North Korea is continuing to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. It recently threatened to conduct a fourth nuclear test, and analysts say signs from the closed communist state suggest the North Koreans may test a missile warhead.


Irish Keep Their Eyes on Scottish Independence Vote


June 3, 2014

by Katrin Bennhold   

New York Times


 BELFAST, Northern Ireland — If Scotland votes for independence in September, the impact will be felt in neighboring Northern Ireland, less than 20 miles across the Irish Sea.

Amid a fragile peace, both nationalists and unionists here have been closely following the Scottish debate. Republicans spy an opportunity to rekindle their own dream of Irish unity; British loyalists, with their close ties to Scottish Protestants, are terrified of seeing the union they hold so dear disintegrate.

As early as 2012, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Tom Elliott, described the Scottish National Party as “a greater threat to the union than the violence of the I.R.A.,” referring to the Irish Republican Army.

Ian Paisley Jr., a lawmaker for the Democratic Unionists, warned earlier this year that if Scotland voted for independence, it could embolden dissident republicans and kindle new violence in Northern Ireland. Reg Empey, another prominent unionist, predicted that Northern Ireland could end up “like West Pakistan,” with “a foreign country on one side of us and a foreign country on the other side of us.”

In Northern Ireland, both republicans and unionists have been closely following the Scottish debate. Nationalists have privately floated the idea of a “border poll” on Irish unity; the last such referendum took place in 1973. But publicly, many play down the impact of the Scottish vote. Danny Morrison, a former head of publicity for Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the I.R.A., recently told The Sunday Herald in Scotland that despite the “schadenfreude,” it would not bring a united Ireland any closer.

Few believe that there is an appetite for the prolonged fighting of the past in either community. But unlike modern Scottish nationalism, Irish nationalism has a bloody history.

An outfit called the Scottish National Liberation Army tried to model itself on the I.R.A., surfacing from time to time by sending letter bombs and threats, but it never amounted to much. If there is one thing supporters and opponents of Scottish independence share, it is pride that the run-up to the referendum in September has been a nonviolent — albeit spirited — process.

As Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, who hopes to lead his nation out of Britain, put it in a recent interview, “No one has had so much as a nosebleed.”

By contrast, thousands died for Irish independence in the 1920s, a time when Britain still had an empire and defended it with soldiers. Many more suffered during the Troubles that for three decades pitted Roman Catholic nationalists against Protestant unionists and the British Army in Northern Ireland, which has remained part of Britain.

Since 1998, the two sides have co-existed under the carefully calibrated Good Friday Agreement. But their distrust runs deep, and their neighborhoods remain fiercely segregated.

“There is always the potential for violence,” said Daithi O’Ceallaigh, a former Irish ambassador to Britain and one of the first Irish diplomats to serve in Belfast in 1985. “Northern Ireland needs stability, and at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty on the horizon.”

Beyond stoking nationalism, Scottish independence could have other destabilizing effects: It could reduce the financial subsidies that flow from Westminster. London has long stopped considering Northern Ireland as a strategic asset, said James Mitchell of Edinburgh University, seeing it instead as “a costly liability.”

More important, a vote in favor of independence could increase the chances of Britain leaving the European Union in a possible referendum in 2017. Scottish voters tend to be more pro-European than their English counterparts.

The soft border between Northern Ireland and the republic would then become a harder border between Britain and the European Union, which could be “explosive,” said Mr. O’Ceallaigh, now at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, a pro-European think tank.

Whatever the impact of the Scottish vote here, some Irish nationalists say a peaceful secession would simply set an important precedent in Britain and beyond. “Independence without murdering anyone,” said Catherine McCartney, who grew up in a Catholic neighborhood during the Troubles and lost her brother in a bar fight involving former I.R.A. members in 2005, “that is something to be proud of.”



Barack Obama suggests Scotland should stay in UK

President says decision on Scottish independence is up to voters, but US has deep interest in ensuring UK remains united


June 5, 2014

by Severin Carrell and Ian Traynor



Barack Obama has intervened in the debate on Scottish independence by saying the United States has a deep interest in ensuring the UK remains “strong, robust and united”.

The US president said at a joint press conference in Brussels with David Cameron that the UK had been “an extraordinary partner” and that, as a foreigner, it seems to have worked well as unit.

Stressing that a decision on Scotland’s constitutional future was one for Scotland’s 4 million voters on 18 September, Obama told reporters: “There is a referendum process in place and it is up to the people of Scotland.

“The United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well. And we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner. But ultimately these are decisions that are to be made by the folks there.”

Until now the Obama administration has been carefully neutral about the referendum but Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said this was a significant intervention.

“I welcome this important contribution by President Obama,” Alexander said. “His clear statement of support for the UK staying together will resonate with many of us here in Scotland.

“As a global statesman President Obama understands that interdependence is a defining feature of our modern world, and that building bridges, not putting up new barriers, is the challenge of our generation.”

Over the last few days, senior Swedish and Danish politicians have taken a stronger stance against independence. Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, said a yes vote would lead to the “Balkanisation” of the UK, because of its potential knock-on effects elsewhere in the union.

“The Balkanisation of the British Isles is something we are not looking forward to,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “It opens up a lot, primarily in Scotland but also in the UK. What are the implications for the Irish question? What happens in Ulster?”

The Danish foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, told BBC Radio 4 in late May that an independent Scotland would need to follow strict processes and criteria to join the EU. Scottish ministers insist special, fast-track arrangements would be put in place after a yes vote, allowing Scotland to join within 18 months.

“There is actually quite strict rules about how new member states can become a member,” Lidegaard told the World this Weekend. “There is this Copenhagen accord where you have to deliver on certain criteria to be able to join the European Union. And that would be the same standards and criteria that Scotland in that case should live up to, and it would depend whether Scotland would be able to do that – whether they can get into the European Union.”


Comment: Obama’s concern herer is that Scotland has said it would shut down the secret CIA bases in their country if they broke away from England and since the US uses these bases to spy on the Russian shipping, this would be a naughty-no-no in the eyes of the US government.



Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?

And Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans


by Peter Van Buren


Last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

As the United States slips from its status as the globe’s number one economic power, small numbers of Americans continue to amass staggering amounts of wealth, while simultaneously inequality trends toward historic levels. At what appears to be a critical juncture in our history and the history of inequality in this country, here are nine questions we need to ask about who we are and what will become of us. Let’s start with a French economist who has emerged as an important voice on what’s happening in America today.

1) What does Thomas Piketty have to do with the 99%?

French economist Thomas Piketty’s surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is an unlikely beach read, though it’s selling like one. A careful parsing of massive amounts of data distilled into “only” 700 pages, it outlines the economic basis for the 1%-99% divide in the United States. (Conservative critics, of course, disagree.)

Just in case you aren’t yet rock-bottom certain about the reality of that divide, here are some stats: the top 1% of Americans hold 35% of the nation’s net worth; the bottom 80%, only 11% percent. The United States has such an unequal distribution of wealth that, in global rankings, it falls among the planet’s kleptocracies, not the developed nations that were once its peers. The mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called “Gini,” and the higher it is, the more extreme a nation’s wealth-inequality. The Gini for the U.S. is 85; for Germany, 77; Canada, 72; and Bangladesh, 64. Nations more unequal than the U.S. include Kazakhstan at 86 and the Ukraine at 90. The African continent tips in at just under 85. Odd company for the self-proclaimed “indispensable nation.”

Piketty shows that such inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more of everything (capital), rich people have a mechanism for getting ever richer than the rest of us, because the rate of return on investment is higher than the rate of economic growth. In other words, money made from investments grows faster than money made from wages. Piketty claims the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is rising at 6%-7% a year, more than three times as fast as the economy the rest of us live in.

At the same time, wages for middle and lower income Americans are sinking, driven by factors also largely under the control of the wealthy.  These include the application of new technology to eliminate human jobs, the crushing of unions, and a decline in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage that more and more Americans depend on for survival.

The short version: A rising tide lifts all yachts.

2) So why don’t the unemployed/underemployed simply find better jobs?

Another way of phrasing this question is: Why don’t we just blame the poor for their plight? Mention unemployment or underemployment and someone will inevitably invoke the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” line. If workers don’t like retail or minimum-wage jobs, or if they can’t find good paying jobs in their area, why don’t they just move? Quit retail or quit Pittsburgh (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis) and…

Move to where to do what? Our country lost one-third of all decent factory jobs — almost six million of them — between 2000 and 2009, and wherever “there” is supposed to be, piles of people are already in line. In addition, many who lost their jobs don’t have the means to move or a friend with a couch to sleep on when they get to Colorado. Some have lived for generations in the places where the jobs have disappeared. As for the jobs that are left, what do they pay? One out of four working Americans earn less than $10 per hour. At 25%, the U.S. has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the developed world. (Canada and Great Britain have 20%, Japan under 15%, and France 11%.)

One in six men, 10.4 million Americans aged 25 to 64, the prime working years, don’t have jobs at all, a portion of the male population that has almost tripled in the past four decades. They are neither all lazy nor all unskilled, and at present they await news of the uncharted places in the U.S. where those 10 million unfilled jobs are hidden.

Moving “there” to find better work isn’t an option.

3) But aren’t there small-scale versions of economic “rebirths” occurring all over America?

Travel through some of the old Rust Belt towns of this country and you’ll quickly notice that “economic rebirth” seems to mean repurposing buildings that once housed factories and shipping depots as bars and boutiques. Abandoned warehouses are now trendy restaurants; a former radiator factory is an artisanal coffee shop. In other words, in a place where a manufacturing plant once employed hundreds of skilled workers at union wages, a handful of part-timers are now serving tapas at minimum wage plus tips.

In Maryland, an ice cream plant that once employed 400 people with benefits and salaries pegged at around $40,000 a year closed its doors in 2012. Under a “rebirth” program, a smaller ice cream packer reopened the place with only 16 jobs at low wages and without benefits. The new operation had 1,600 applicants for those 16 jobs. The area around the ice cream plant once produced airplanes, pipe organs, and leather car seats. No more. There were roughly 14,000 factory jobs in the area in 2000; today, there are 8,000.

            General Electric’s Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, employed 23,000 union workers at its peak in 1973. By 2011, the sputtering plant held onto only about 1,800 workers. What was left of the union there agreed to a two-tier wage scale, and today 70% of the jobs are on the lower tier — at $13.50 an hour, almost $8 less than what the starting wage used to be. A full-time worker makes about $28,000 a year before taxes and deductions. The poverty line for a family of four in Kentucky is $23,000. Food stamp benefits are available to people who earn up to 130% of the poverty line, so a full-timer in Kentucky with a family still qualifies. Even if a worker moved to Kentucky and lucked out by landing a job at the plant, standing on your tiptoes with your lips just above sea level is not much of a step up.

Low paying jobs are not a rebirth.

4) Can’t people just get off their couches and get back to work?

There are 3.8 million Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. These are the country’s long-term unemployed, as defined by the Department of Labor. Statistically, the longer you are unemployed, the less likely it is that you’ll ever find work again. Between 2008 and 2012, only 11% of those unemployed 15 months or more found a full-time job, and research shows that those who do find a job are less likely to retain it. Think of it as a snowball effect: more unemployment creates more unemployable people.

And how hard is it to land even a minimum-wage job? This year, the Ivy League college admissions acceptance rate was 8.9%. Last year, when Walmart opened its first store in Washington, D.C., there were more than 23,000 applications for 600 jobs, which resulted in an acceptance rate of 2.6%, making the big box store about twice as selective as Harvard and five times as choosy as Cornell.

Telling unemployed people to get off their couches (or out of the cars they live in or the shelters where they sleep) and get a job makes as much sense as telling them to go study at Harvard.

5) Why can’t former factory workers retrain into new jobs?

Janesville, Wisconsin, had the oldest General Motors car factory in America, one that candidate Obama visited in 2007 and insisted would be there for another 100 years. Two days before Christmas that year and just before Obama’s inauguration, the plant closed forever, throwing 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because you either worked in the plant or in a business that depended on people working in the plant. The new president and Congress quickly paid for a two-million-dollar Janesville retraining program, using state community colleges the way the government once used trade schools built to teach new immigrants the skills needed by that Janesville factory a century ago.

This time around, however, those who finished their retraining programs simply became trained unemployables rather than untrained ones. It turned out that having a certificate in “heating and ventilation” did not automatically lead to a job in the field. There were already plenty of people out there with such certificates, never mind actual college degrees. And those who did find work in some field saw their take-home pay drop by 36%. This, it seems, is increasingly typical in twenty-first-century America (though retraining programs have been little studied in recent years).

Manufacturing is dead and the future lies in a high-tech, information-based economy, some say. So why can’t former factory workers be trained to do that? Maybe some percentage could, but the U.S. graduated 1,606,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in 2014, many of whom already have such skills.

Bottom Line: Jobs create the need for training. Training does not create jobs.

6) Shouldn’t we cut public assistance and force people into the job market?

At some point in any discussion of jobs, someone will drop the nuclear option: cut federal and state benefits and do away with most public assistance. That’ll motivate people to find jobs — or starve. Unemployment money and food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) encourage people to be lazy. Why should tax dollars be used to give food to people who won’t work for it? “If you’re able-bodied, you should be willing to work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said discussing food stamp cuts.

The problem with such statements is 73% of those enrolled in the country’s major public benefits programs are, in fact, from working families — just in jobs whose paychecks don’t cover life’s basic necessities. McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in federal assistance per year.

Why do so many of the employed need food stamps? It’s not complicated. Workers in the minimum-wage economy often need them simply to survive. All in all, 47 million people get SNAP nationwide because without it they would go hungry.

In Ohio, where I did some of the research for my book Ghosts of Tom Joad, the state pays out benefits on the first of each month. Pay Day, Food Day, Mother’s Day, people call it. SNAP is distributed in the form of an Electronic Bank Transfer card, or EBT, which, recipients will tell you, stands for “Eat Better Tonight.” EBT-friendly stores open early and stay open late on the first of the month because most people are pretty hungry come the Day.

A single person with nothing to her name in the lower 48 states would qualify for no more than $189 a month in SNAP. If she works, her net monthly income is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment. Less than fifty bucks a week for food isn’t exactly luxury fare. Sure, she can skip a meal if she needs to, and she likely does. However, she may have kids; almost two-thirds of SNAP children live in single-parent households. Twenty percent or more of the child population in 37 states lived in “food insecure households” in 2011, with New Mexico (30.6%) and the District of Columbia (30%) topping the list. And it’s not just kids. Households with disabled people account for 16% of SNAP benefits, while 9% go to households with senior citizens.

Almost 22% of American children under age 18 lived in poverty in 2012; for those under age five, it’s more than 25%. Almost 1 in 10 live in extreme poverty.

Our system is trending toward asking kids (and the disabled, and the elderly) to go to hell if they’re hungry. Many are already there.

7) Why are Walmart and other businesses opposed to SNAP cuts?

Public benefits are now a huge part of the profits of certain major corporations. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Walmart was oddly blunt about what SNAP cuts could do to its bottom line:

“Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors, and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control. These factors include… changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, [and] changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans.”

How much profit do such businesses make from public assistance? Short answer: big bucks. In one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars — more than four times the SNAP money spent at farmers’ markets nationwide. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18% of all food benefits money is spent at Walmart.

Pepsi, Coke, and the grocery chain Kroger lobbied for food stamps, an indication of how much they rely on the money. The CEO of Kraft admitted that the mac n’ cheese maker opposed food stamp cuts because users were “a big part of our audience.” One-sixth of Kraft’s revenues come from food stamp purchases. Yum Brands, the operator of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, tried to convince lawmakers in several states to allow its restaurants to accept food stamps. Products eligible for SNAP purchases are supposed to be limited to “healthy foods.” Yet lobbying by the soda industry keeps sugary drinks on the approved list, while companies like Coke and Pepsi pull in four billion dollars a year in revenues from SNAP money.

Poverty is big business.

8) Should We Raise the Minimum Wage?

One important reason to raise the minimum wage to a living one is that people who can afford to feed themselves will not need food stamps paid for by taxpayers. Companies who profit off their workers’ labor will be forced to pay a fair price for it, and not get by on taxpayer-subsidized low wages. Just as important, people who can afford to feed themselves earn not just money, but self-respect. The connection between working and taking care of yourself and your family has increasingly gone missing in America, creating a society that no longer believes in itself. Rock bottom is a poor foundation for building anything human.

But won’t higher wages cause higher prices? The way taxpayers functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers — essentially ponying up the difference between what McDonald’s and its ilk pay and what those workers need to live via SNAP and other benefits — is a hidden cost squirreled away in plain sight. You’re already paying higher prices via higher taxes; you just may not know it.

Even if taxes go down, won’t companies pass on their costs? Maybe, but they are unlikely to be significant. For example, if McDonald’s doubled the salaries of its employees to a semi-livable $14.50 an hour, not only would most of them go off public benefits, but so would the company — and yet a Big Mac would cost just 68 cents more. In general, only about 20% of the money you pay for a Big Mac goes to labor costs. At Walmart, increasing wages to $12 per hour would cost the company only about one percent of its annual sales.

Despite labor costs not being the most significant factor in the way low-wage businesses set their prices, one of the more common objections to raising the minimum wage is that companies, facing higher labor costs, will cut back on jobs. Don’t believe it.

The Los Angeles Economic Round Table concluded that raising the hourly minimum to $15 in that city would generate an additional $9.2 billion in annual sales and create more than 50,000 jobs. A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation. The area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco, the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation. Higher wages do not automatically lead to fewer jobs. Many large grocery chains, including Safeway and Kroger, are unionized and pay well-above-minimum wage. They compete as equals against their non-union rivals, despite the higher wages.

Will employers leave a state if it raises its minimum wage independent of a nationwide hike? Unlikely. Most minimum-wage employers are service businesses that are tied to where their customers are.  People are not likely to drive across state lines for a burger. A report on businesses on the Washington-Idaho border at a time when Washington’s minimum wage was nearly three bucks higher than Idaho’s found that the ones in Washington were flourishing.

While some businesses could indeed decide to close or cut back if the minimum wage rose, the net macro gains would be significant. Even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers’ hands to spend and lift 900,000 Americans above the poverty line. Consumer spending drives 70% of our economy. More money in the hands of consumers would likely increase the demand for goods and services, creating jobs.

Yes, raise the minimum wage. Double it or more. We can’t afford not to.

9) Okay, after the minimum wage is raised, what else can we do?

To end such an article, it’s traditional to suggest reforms, changes, solutions. It is, in fact, especially American to assume that every problem has a “solution.” So my instant suggestion: raise the minimum wage. Tomorrow. In a big way. And maybe appoint Thomas Piketty to the board of directors of Walmart.

But while higher wages are good, they are likely only to soften the blows still to come. What if the hyper-rich like being ever more hyper-rich and, with so many new ways to influence and control our political system and the economy, never plan to give up any of their advantages? What if they don’t want to share, not even a little more, not when it comes to the minimum wage or anything else?

            The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of “Game of Thrones” played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals — unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists — and now are free to do as they wish.

What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99%, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of twenty-first-century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor. Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers, and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that’s likely to be my future — and yours.


Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People


In Norfolk, evidence of climate change is in the streets at high tide


May 31, 2014

by Lori Montgomery

Washington Post


NORFOLK — At high tide on the small inlet next to Norfolk’s most prestigious art museum, the water lapped at the very top of the concrete sea wall that has held it back for 100 years. It seeped up through storm drains, puddled on the promenade and spread, half a foot deep, across the street, where a sign read, “Road Closed.”

The sun was shining, but all around the inlet people were bracing for more serious flooding. The Chrysler Museum of Art had just completed a $24 million renovation that emptied the basement, now accessible only by ladder, and lifted the heating and air-conditioning systems to the top floor. A local accounting firm stood behind a homemade barricade of stanchions and detachable flaps rigged to keep the water out. And the congregation of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk was looking to evacuate.

.“We don’t like being the poster child for climate change,” said the Rev. Jennifer Slade, who added that the building, with its carved-wood sanctuary and soaring flood-insurance rates, would soon be on the market for the first time in four decades. “I don’t know many churches that have to put the tide chart on their Web site” so people know whether they can get to church.

On May 6, the Obama administration released the third National Climate Assessment, and President Obama proclaimed climate change no longer a theory; its effects, he said, are already here. This came as no surprise in Norfolk, where normal tides have risen 11 / 2 feet over the past century and the sea is rising faster than anywhere else on the East Coast.

The more urgent question is what to do about it — and how to pay for it. For that, the White House has offered few answers.

Focused for much of his presidency on a politically contentious campaign to slow global warming by reducing carbon emissions, Obama has turned only recently to the matter of preparing the nation for effects that scientists say already are inevitable. Last year, the Government Accountability Office added climate change to its “high-risk” list, declaring that the lack of planning poses “significant financial risks” to the federal government, which funds flood and crop insurance, pays for disaster relief and owns hundreds of facilities exposed to rising seas.

Obama has ordered every agency to start planning for climate change, but administration officials acknowledge that the process is in its infancy. Meanwhile, there is no new money to help hard-hit places such as Norfolk, where residents are clamoring for relief.

            Norfolk exists because of the sea. Ships have been built in its harbors since the Revolutionary War. It is home to the largest naval base on the globe. Bounded by the Chesapeake Bay and two rivers, sliced by coastal creeks, Norfolk has always been vulnerable to flooding. But over the past decade, people began noticing alarming trends.

Hurricanes and nor’easters became more frequent and more damaging. Even ordinary rainstorms swamped intersections, washed away parked cars and marooned the region’s major medical center. Before 1980, the inlet near the Chrysler Museum, known as the Hague, had never flooded for more than 100 hours in a year. By 2009, it was routinely flooded for 200 and even 300 hours a year.

The city hired a Dutch consulting firm to develop an action plan, finalized in 2012, that called for new flood gates, higher roads and a retooled storm water system. Implementing the plan would cost more than $1 billion — the size of the city’s entire annual budget — and protect Norfolk from about a foot of additional water.

As the city was contemplating that enormous price tag, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) last year delivered more bad news: If current trends hold, VIMS scientists said, by the end of this century, the sea in Norfolk would rise by 5 ½ feet or more.

“Clearly, we’ve got more work to do,” said Ron Williams Jr., Norfolk’s assistant city manager for planning.

Options for dealing with the water are limited, and expensive. The city could protect itself with more barriers. Williams lamented, for instance, that a new $318 million light-rail system — paid for primarily with federal funds — was built at sea level. With a little foresight, he said, the tracks could have been elevated to create a bulwark against the tides.

As it stands, the new rail system could itself be swept away, the money wasted. “Nowhere do we have resiliency built in,” he said.

A second option calls for people to abandon the most vulnerable parts of town, to “retreat somewhat from the sea,” as Mayor Paul D. Fraim put it in a 2011 interview, when he became the first sitting politician in the nation to raise the prospect.

For now, Williams said, retreat is not on the table “on a large scale,” though “you may look at localized hot spots.” The Dutch consultants, Fugro Atlantic, recommended buying out properties in Spartan Village, a bowl-shaped neighborhood that flooded during a rainstorm in 2009.

That leaves the third option: adaptation. Raising buildings, roads and other critical infrastructure. Last fall, the city council required all new structures to be built three feet above flood level, one of the strictest standards in the state.

“People right now are having trouble getting their arms around what needs to be done. And no one can fathom what it’s going to cost,” said City Councilwoman Theresa Whibley, who represents many pricey waterfront neighborhoods, including the Hague, where the plan calls for floodgates to block the surging tide.

“When we’re talking about floodgates and building bulkheads, then you’re talking about the big bucks that even the feds don’t have. And then you’re competing with New York, Miami — even Hampton.” Whibley paused. “I don’t sound very optimistic, do I?”

The problem is particularly urgent in Norfolk and the rest of Tidewater Virginia — which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has ranked second only to New Orleans in terms of population threatened by sea-level rise — due to a fateful convergence of lousy luck. First, the seas are generally rising as the planet warms. Second, the Gulf Stream is circulating more slowly, causing more water to slosh toward the North Atlantic coast. In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey declared a 600-mile stretch of coastline, from North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras to Boston, a “sea-level rise hotspot,” with rates increasing at three to four times the global average.

Third, the land around Norfolk is sinking, a phenomenon called “subsidence,” due in part to continuing adjustments in the earth’s crust to the melting of glaciers from the last ice age. Plus, the city is slowly sinking into the crater of a meteor that slammed into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay 35 million years ago.

Put it all together, as VIMS scientists did when they were asked by the General Assembly to study recurrent flooding in tidewater Virginia, and models suggest tides ranging from 11 / 2 feet to 7½ feet higher by 2100.

Five and a half feet represents “business as usual,” a vision of the future without “significant efforts by the world’s nations to curb greenhouse gases,” the report said. “Recent trends in Virginia sea levels suggest we are on [this] curve.”

Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer who is co-director of the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative at Old Dominion University, said when the mayor was asked about the report, he waved away the question. “He says, ‘I can’t think about five feet. What do you want me to do, move the whole city?’”

It’s not just Norfolk, Atkinson said. Much of the Eastern Shore would be underwater; Baltimore and Washington would be in trouble, too. “At five feet,” he said, “the Mall’s flooded.”

Driving around town, Atkinson and his colleague Michelle Covi recently pointed out dozens of places where water regularly fills the streets, keeping people from work. “By 2040, this will be flooded every high tide,” Atkinson said as he drove north on Hampton Boulevard. “That means the main road to the Navy base will be impassable two to three hours a day.”

Atkinson pulled in to O’Sullivan’s Wharf, a bar with a back deck overlooking Knitting Mill Creek. Over hush puppies and beer, he and Covi fretted about Superfund sites along the Elizabeth River. The toxic muck has been capped, but they wondered: Is the Environmental Protection Agency looking into what might happen when the water rises?

“Even landfills could be a problem,” Covi said. “I’d think they would float. Just pop up and float away.”

At a nearby table, Atkinson spotted Deborah Miller, a retired graphic designer at Old Dominion, and her husband, Gary Chiaverotti, a retired Navy captain. The couple is among Norfolk’s earliest adapters. In 2008, after filing flood-damage claims that cost the federal government more than $100,000, they agreed to let the Federal Emergency Management Agency add about four feet to the foundation of their small house on Haven Creek.

“We didn’t have to take anything out. The man said, ‘Nothing will move,’ and it didn’t,” Miller said. “My china and crystal all stayed in the china cabinet.”

FEMA paid 95 percent of the $140,000 bill. The house no longer floods, Miller said, a huge relief. But water still swamps the property, and the couple has filed additional claims for damage to the garage.

The city keeps a list of nearly 250 people who are either awaiting FEMA help or hoping to qualify for the program. But money is tight and elevation is no cure-all.

Not far from Miller’s house, FEMA raised three small homes on an inlet off the Lafayette River. The city spent $1 million more to raise the roadbed and restore a small wetland. After all that effort, Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, has before and after photos showing that the road still floods, though a little less aggressively.

“Would it have made more sense to buy these people out?” Stiles said, adding that the city doesn’t have the money to do that, either. “It’s hard to figure out how you get out of this.”

At City Hall, the answer is more federal help. Williams, the assistant city manager, said he has met with officials at the White House, seeking a formal process to assess risks in various parts of the country and develop criteria for making federal investments so that, he said, “it’s not political.” The White House has named a task force of state and local officials to make recommendations this fall on how best to advance “climate preparedness and resilience.” Williams sees that as a positive sign.

“The White House gets it,” he said.

But in this age of austerity, even the Pentagon struggles to get its needs met. At Naval Station Norfolk, sea-level rise prompted a decision in the late 1990s to raise the station’s 12 piers, said Joe Bouchard, base commander at the time. Construction has since been completed on only four, he said, adding that work was halted in 2008, when the recession hit, the federal budget deficit soared and Congress began frantically slashing spending.

“That’s when Washington went bonkers,” said Bouchard, an expert on the national security implications of climate change. “That’s spelled B-O-N-K-E-R-S, if you want to quote me.”

The city is also looking to federal officials to help the Unitarian Church if no one steps forward to buy its property, which is assessed at $1.8 million. Williams said the city cannot use “the people’s purse to buy every property that’s vulnerable,” but he raised the possibility of a FEMA buyout.

FEMA, however, typically has limits on what it can spend, and Slade, the minister at the church, worries whether a buyout would produce enough cash to purchase property on higher ground.

“There really are no good answers, because the only answers are unacceptable,” Slade said. “The right answer is to give this space back to nature. But this is the most historic part of Norfolk.”


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