TBR News November 9, 2017

Nov 09 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 9, 2017:” The Internet has an enormous storehouse of information and nearly any desired material can be located and downloaded. That is the positive aspect of the Internet. The negative side is that the Internet supplies an enormous flood of false, misleading and useless information, almost all of invented out of whole cloth by the same types that also have rushed to join, and use, what is known as the Social Network.

The Social Networks are a handy means for persons to express their personal views on almost any subject and to communicate with others of a like mind. The problem that one notes from reading their postings is the same one observes in reading the comments appended to serious articles on major newspapers. In reading both of these areas, one is at once struck by the utter stupidity of the writers, their total lack of English, their constant bad grammar and terrible spelling and, most important, their desire not to express a thoughtful view but to parade their insignificance and ignorance to a wide audience.

Another negative aspect of the Social Network is that, at least in the United States, all of the networks of any size are working closely with such official governmental agencies as the DHS and the FBI, to spy on their members at no cost or effort to themselves. In these cases, the mindless babblings and boastings of the dim of wit load federal surveillance files with moronic chatters from which the authorities can easily build a criminal case.

We did some research on the social networks and discovered that they have attracted more members than the government can keep up with, redolent of the thousands of hungry flies congregating in a cow pen.”


Table of Contents

  • Washington’s Wonderful World of Corruption
  • Suburbs Rebel Against Trump, Threatening Republicans in Congress
  • Syrian army ousts ‘IS’ from Albu Kamal, last urban stronghold in country
  • Shifting sands: What is changing in Saudi Arabia?
  • Saudi Arabia could seize $800bn in assets in corruption crackdown
  • Saudi Arabia vs. Iran: From ‘twin pillars’ to proxy wars
  • America’s opioid crisis & modern anxieties prove the limits of capitalism
  • Special Report: The decisions behind Monsanto’s weed-killer crisis
  • Antarctic supervolcano to rival Yellowstone melting ice sheet from within – NASA


 Washington’s Wonderful World of Corruption

Top officials sell out to anyone for anything

November 7, 2017

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

One of the interesting side benefits, if one might call it that, of the everlasting investigation into Russiagate is the window provided on the extreme corruption of U.S. politicians and government officials. It has become evident that anyone can seemingly buy political and media support for nearly anything as long as enough money is put on the table. And worse, the sell-out has clearly been going on for some time, with the disease disproportionately afflicting former senior officials that have been engaged in national security.

If this corruption from the top down does not constitute a crisis that directly challenges the credibility of the entire U.S. political system, it is not clear what more would be needed to make the case. And it was not carried out by the Russians or anyone else seeking to bring down our so-called democracy. We Americans appear to have done it all to ourselves through inexplicable tolerance for a combination of greed and fundamental dishonesty on the part of our elected and appointed government officials.

A recent story that received remarkably little play in the media provides some insight into how it all works, driven by a money-fueled corruption that sells out American interests by those who once had sworn to protect them.

The several articles that covered the story described how some prominent figures in the U.S. national security community actively sought a Turkish government sourced contract to use their resources to bring about the character assassination and eventual extradition of American green card holder Fetullah Gülen from Pennsylvania. Gülen is, to be sure, a controversial figure who is the founder in his native Turkey of a movement called Hizmet, which is in turn linked to hundreds of schools worldwide that claim to teach a curriculum that fuses a moderate and tolerant form of Islam with high academic achievement in traditional courses of study, including the sciences.

Critics of Gülen claim that his movement is a cult and that the schools are used to brainwash students, who continue to do Hizmet’s bidding after they obtain positions in government, the military or within the educational system. The current president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gülen for the attempted coup that took place last July and has sought his extradition. Erdogan has a strong motive for finding a scapegoat as he has sought to aggrandize his power in the wake of the coup, which has resulted in the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Turks while hundreds of thousands more have lost their jobs.

That Gülen is actually guilty of initiating the coup attempt has not been demonstrated by any reasonable standard. An extradition request submitted to the U.S. government by Ankara was reported to be not very convincing. There have also been suggestions, by me among others, that Erdogan knew about the coup in advance and let it happen so he could crackdown on opponents, which is certainly what has happened. Erdogan has, since the coup, frequently expressed his frustration with the U.S. Department of Justice extradition process, claiming that he has been betrayed by Washington. He has more generally speaking behaved like a madman, antagonizing all his former friends in Europe while also unnecessarily complicating relations with the United States over the two countries’ roles in Syria.

Enter former General Michael Flynn and former Bill Clinton CIA Director James Woolsey, both of whom were national security advisers to candidate Donald Trump during his campaign when they competed for contracts with Turkish businessmen linked to the Erdogan government to discredit Gülen and possibly even enable his abduction and illegal transfer to Turkey. If, as a consequence of their labors, Gülen were to be somehow returned home he would potentially be tried on treason charges, which might in the near future carry the death penalty in Turkey.

Both Flynn and Woolsey are highly controversial figures. Woolsey, in spite of having no intelligence experience, was notoriously appointed CIA Director by Bill Clinton to reward the neoconservatives for their support of his candidacy. But Woolsey never met privately with the president during his two years in office. He is regarded as an ardent neocon and Islamophobe affiliated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and the AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). I once debated him on NPR where he asserted that Israel does not spy on the United States, a delusional viewpoint to be sure. Former CIA Senior analyst Mel Goodman, recalling Woolsey’s tenure at the Agency, commented in 2003 that “[he] was a disaster as CIA director in the 90s and is now running around this country calling for a World War IV to deal with the Islamic problem. This is a dangerous individual…”

Flynn, is, of course, better known, and not for any good qualities that he might possess. He is, like Woolsey, an ardent hawk on Iran and other related issues but is also ready to make a buck through his company The Flynn Intel Group, where Woolsey served as an unpaid adviser. In the summer of 2016 Flynn had obtained a three-month contract for $530,000 to “research” Gülen and produce a short documentary film discrediting him, an arrangement that should have been reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, but the big prize was a possible contract in the millions of dollars to create a negative narrative on the Hizmet founder and put pressure on the U.S. government to bring about his extradition.

Woolsey and Flynn, both Trump advisers at the time, found themselves in competition for the money. Flynn had a New York meeting at the Essex House with the businessmen accompanied by the Turkish Foreign and Energy Ministers as well as Erdogan’s son-in-law on September 19th 2016 where, inter alia, the possibility of kidnapping Gülen and flying him to Turkey was discussed. Flynn has denied that the possibility of kidnapping was ever raised, but Woolsey, who was at the meeting for a brief time, insists that “whisking away” Gülen in the dead of night was on the agenda, though he concedes that the discussion was “hypothetical.”

On the next day, Woolsey and his wife met separately with the same two Turkish businessmen at the Peninsula Hotel in New York City and discussed with them a more general but broadly based $10 million plan of their own that would combine lobbying with public relations to discredit Gülen both in the press and in congress. Woolsey stressed that he had the kind of contacts in government and the media to make the plan work.

Woolsey did not get the $10 million contract that he sought and Flynn’s well-remunerated work for Turkey reportedly consisted of some research, a short documentary that may or may not have been produced, and a November op-ed in The Hill by Flynn that denounced Gülen as a “radical Islamist…who portrays himself as a moderate.”

But the real story about Flynn and Woolsey is the fashion in which senior ex-government employees shamelessly exploit their status to turn money from any and all comers without any regard for either the long- or short- term consequences of what they are doing. The guilt or innocence of Fetullah Gülen was never an issue for them, nor the reputation of the United States judiciary in a case which has all the hallmarks of a political witch hunt. And if a kidnapping actually was contemplated, it begs one to pause and consider what kind of people are in power in this country.

Neither Flynn nor Woolsey ever considered that their working as presidential campaign advisers while simultaneously getting embroiled in an acrimonious political dispute involving a major ally just might be seen as a serious conflict of interest, even if it was technically not-illegal. All that motivated them was the desire to exploit a situation that they cared not at all about for profit to themselves.

No one expects top rank ex-officials to retire from the world, but out of respect for their former positions, they should retain at least a modicum of decency. This is lacking across the board from the Clintons on down to the Flynns and Woolseys as Americans apparently now expect less and less from their elected officials and have even ceased to demand minimal ethical standards



Suburbs Rebel Against Trump, Threatening Republicans in Congress

November 8, 2017

by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martinov

The New York Times

RICHMOND, Va. — The American suburbs appear to be in revolt against President Trump after a muscular coalition of college-educated voters and racial and ethnic minorities on Tuesday dealt the Republican Party a thumping rejection and propelled a diverse class of Democrats into office.

From the tax-obsessed suburbs of New York City to high-tech neighborhoods outside Seattle to the sprawling, polyglot developments of Fairfax and Prince William County, Va., voters shunned Republicans up and down the ballot in off-year elections. Leaders in both parties said the elections amounted to an earsplitting alarm bell for Republicans ahead of the 2018 elections, when the party’s grip on the House of Representatives may hinge on the socially moderate, multiethnic communities surrounding major cities.

“Voters are taking their anger out at the president, and the only way they can do that is by going after Republicans on the ballot,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. “If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.”

The Democrats’ gains were deep and broad, signaling profound alienation from the Republican Party among the sort of upscale moderates who were once a pillar of their coalition.

Democrats not only swept Virginia’s statewide races but neared a majority in the House of Delegates, a legislative chamber that was gerrymandered to make the Republican majority virtually unassailable. They seized county executive offices in Westchester and Nassau County, N.Y., and captured bellwether mayoral elections in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Manchester, N.H., all races that had appeared to favor Republicans only months ago.

In Washington State, Democrats won a special election to take control of the State Senate, establishing total Democratic dominance of government on the West Coast. Democrats took council seats in vote-rich Delaware County, in the Philadelphia suburbs, a perennial battleground for control of the House.

Even in the Deep South, Georgia Democrats captured two state House seats where they previously had not even fielded candidates while snatching a State Senate seat in Buckhead, Atlanta’s toniest enclave.

“Republicans are being obliterated in the suburbs,” said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. “I don’t think the Republican Party has a future in any state like Washington or Virginia, or Oregon or California, or many other places, where the majority of the voters are from urban or suburban areas.”

Mr. Vance placed the blame squarely on Mr. Trump: “Among college-educated suburbanites, he is a pariah.” In Washington, D.C., congressional Republicans braced for a new wave of retirements just one day after another pair of House members, veteran Representative Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Representative Ted Poe of Texas, declared they would not seek re-election. Mr. Dent, channeling the exasperation of his colleagues, suggested an exodus might be imminent.

“Our guys know they’re going to be running into a fierce storm,” said Mr. Dent, a leader of his caucus’s moderate wing who has already announced he will not run again. “Do they really want to go through another year of this?”

Even in the White House, where Mr. Trump’s first reaction was to savage Ed Gillespie, the party’s defeated gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, two advisers acknowledged on Wednesday morning that Mr. Trump was likely to help drive Democratic turnout next year in much the same way his predecessor, Barack Obama, did for conservative voters during midterm elections.

But by Wednesday afternoon, the story had changed. At a White House briefing, aides dismissed the importance of New Jersey and Virginia in either 2018 or 2020. One White House official blamed congressional Republicans, asserting that swing voters last night embraced Democrats because they were frustrated that lawmakers had not moved on the president’s agenda.

In fact, some of the most competitive House races of the 2018 midterms will take place in the two states. In New Jersey, Republicans will struggle to retain Mr. LoBiondo’s seat and will have to protect such imperiled incumbents as Leonard Lance, Tom MacArthur and Rodney Felinghuysen. In Virginia, the district of Representative Barbara Comstock, a Republican, went 56 percent to 43 percent for Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, the Democrats’ triumphant gubernatorial candidate. Mr. Northam also captured 51 percent of the votes in the district of Representative Scott Taylor, a freshman Republican from Virginia Beach.

Democrats were as buoyant as Republicans were dejected. Party leaders gleefully predicted that the Senate, where the Republicans hold a two-seat majority, might now be in play, and they said that their fund-raising and candidate recruitment would take off going into the new year.

We’ll get a lot of candidates who are going to want to run, and I think for donors who have been on the sidelines, dispirited for the last year, I’m telling you people are jazzed up,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, the ever-upbeat former national Democratic Party chair.

Democrats still face formidable obstacles in the 2018 election, including some not at work in this week’s elections. If a suburban insurrection might help Democrats take the House, the Senate seats at stake next year are overwhelmingly in conservative, rural states, where feelings about Mr. Trump range from ambivalent to positive. So far, only two Republican Senate seats appear in play, the Arizona seat being vacated by Jeff Flake and Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada.

In House races, Democratic candidates are likely to face Republican attacks tying them to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the unpopular Democratic minority leader, and a range of liberal policies, like single-payer health care, that are causing divisions in the Democratic ranks.

But to many Democrats and, much to their consternation, some Republicans, the results recalled the last time a radioactive Republican was in the White House and voters took out their frustrations on a Republican-held Congress. In 2005, Democrats rolled to victory in Virginia and New Jersey, presaging a wave election in 2006, and inspiring throngs of Democrats to run for office in difficult districts.

Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he had spent Tuesday evening calling potential House candidates and urging them to watch the returns, joking: “I just want to encourage you to turn on the television, if it’s not already on.”

Mr. Luján said the results would embolden Democrats to contest an ambitious list of races in 2018. The party has already been pursuing more than a dozen seats across the states that voted on Tuesday night, including some that overlap heavily with areas in Virginia and New Jersey where Democrats won by landslide margins.

“Democrats down there were very aggressive about expanding their map and recruiting strong candidates, even where they were told they couldn’t win,” Mr. Luján said of Virginia. “We’re going to make our Republican colleagues fight for every inch.”

At the Senate level, too, Democrats are seeking to expand the map. Mindful of their narrow path to a majority, they are strenuously wooing Phil Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor, to run for the seat that Senator Bob Corker is vacating. Mr. Bredesen has been courted personally by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, as well as several former governors who now serve in the Senate, including Mark Warner of Virginia, according to Democrats briefed on the overtures. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee commissioned a poll aimed at coaxing him into the race.

Mr. Bredesen is in Washington this week for meetings and is said to be nearing a decision.

Democrats won on Tuesday with a historically diverse slate of candidates: Having long struggled to bring diversity to the leadership tier of their party, they elected the first transgender legislator in the country, the first Vietnamese-American legislator in Virginia, the first African-American female mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and the first black statewide officer in Virginia in more than a quarter-century, among other groundbreaking candidates.

Kathy Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who was elected to the House of Delegates in a Fairfax-based seat that Republicans previously held, said voters in her district had mobilized to rebuke Mr. Trump and his brand of politics. She urged national Democrats to follow Virginia’s example by recruiting candidates from a range of backgrounds for the midterm campaign.

“This was a clear rejection of racism and bigotry and hateful violence,” Ms. Tran said of the elections, adding: “People are hungry for a government that reflects the diversity of our communities.”

County-level results captured the dizzying scale of the lurch away from Republicans: In Virginia, Mr. Northam captured the outer Washington suburbs of Prince William and Loudoun County by 20 percentage points or more. Four years earlier, Governor McAuliffe, a fellow Democrat, won both areas by single digits. In the traditional Republican stronghold of Chesterfield County, outside Richmond, Mr. Northam trailed Republican Mr. Gillespie, by less than 300 votes. And in Virginia Beach, which Mr. Trump even carried while losing the state, Mr. Northam won by 5 percentage points.

In New Jersey, Mr. Murphy carried the densely populated New York and Philadelphia suburbs by staggering margins. He won Middlesex County, a politically influential suburb southwest of New York City, and Bergen County, the state’s most populous locality, by about 15 percentage points each. Eight years earlier, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, carried Middlesex and nearly matched his Democratic opponent in Bergen, strong showings that made his narrow statewide victory possible.

And in Delaware County, Pa., long home to a fearsome Republican machine, Democrats won seats on the county council for the first time since the 1970s thanks to a local campaign that featured yard signs that got straight to the point: “Vote Nov. 7th Against Trump.”

Robert F. McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, and the last Republican to win a major election in the state, acknowledged on election night that the electorate there had soured on his party. The state, he said, had been swamped by “anger and malaise and vitriol” emanating from federal politics, and Democrats benefited from the electric energy of their base.

“The enthusiastic left showed up tonight in big numbers,” Mr. McDonnell said, “and that really determined the outcome.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.


Syrian army ousts ‘IS’ from Albu Kamal, last urban stronghold in country

The Syrian army, fighting alongside Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has seized the last urban hub held by the “Islamic State” in Syria. With IS effectively wiped out, the war in Syria may enter a new phase.

November 8, 2017


The Syrian army and allied Shiite militia forces encircled the town of Albu Kamal on Wednesday before ousting the “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group from its last urban stronghold in the country.

Syrian state television declared that “Albu Kamal is liberated,” while a Syrian military commander told the Reuters news agency that “The last stronghold of Daesh [the Arabic term for IS], Albu Kamal, is free of the Daesh organization.”

Albu Kamal is located on the Syrian border with Iraq, on the bank of the Euphrates in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour. Military sources reported Wednesday that Lebanese Hezbollah soldiers, fighting alongside the Syrian army, entered the town through Iraq, while the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces crossed through Syria to help seize the town.Backed by Russian aerial support and missile strikes, Syrian regime forces had advanced towards Albu Kamal over the past two weeks.

Fighting in and around the area has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. According to Linda Tom from the United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office in Damascus, some 120,000 people have been displaced from Albu Kamal alone.

While IS continues to controls areas of desert and a handful of small pockets along the Euphrates, the jihadi group has largely been ousted from its former strongholds by Russia and Iran-backed Syrian forces in central and eastern parts of the country, and by the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in northern and eastern Syria.

However, the group continues to out guerilla operations in Syria and Iraq at an alarming frequency, while lone militants continue to target civilians in western states.

Next phase of the Syria conflict

The ousting of IS in Syria is likely to lead to a far more geopolitically sensitive phase of the Syrian war, with the Syrian government vowing to recapture all the territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). These areas include IS’ self-proclaimed former capital Raqqa, as well as a number of oil and gas  fields  located near the Euphrates.

Under the control of Kurdish-led groups, many of the territories have since established their own autonomy, introduced their own internal policies and even announced local elections.

On Tuesday, Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, described US forces as illegal invaders for their role in propping up the Kurdish militias fighting in the country.

Washington, meanwhile, has yet to outline its plans for the region once IS has been defeated. Whether the United States intends to continue backing the SDF also remains unknown.


Shifting sands: What is changing in Saudi Arabia?

November 8, 2017

by William Maclean


Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has ordered a crackdown on corruption, the latest in a wave of frenetic changes in the kingdom over the past 2-1/2 years. Prince Mohammed says he is determined to remodel his conservative country into a modern state no longer dependent on oil.

As his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has handed the 32-year-old Prince Mohammed more and more power over the past three years, the ambitious young leader has taken on everything from economic reforms to waging war in neighboring Yemen. Here is what you need to know.


Prince Mohammed capped his rapid rise to power in June this year by replacing his elder cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, widely known as MbN, as crown prince.

A source close to King Salman said MbN’s dismissal was “in the higher interests of the state” because he was incapacitated by morphine and cocaine addiction, a legacy of an assassination attempt that left shrapnel in his body.

Reuters could not independently confirm MbN’s addiction issues.


Prince Mohammed tightened his grip on power with the start of the anti-corruption campaign at the weekend, purging the kingdom’s political and business elite. Among those arrested were 11 princes.

Many Saudis welcomed the moves as an assault on the endemic theft of public funds by the powerful. U.S. President Donald Trump said those arrested had been “‘milking’ their country for years” but some Western officials expressed unease about the possible reaction in Riyadh’s opaque tribal and royal politics.


Prince Mohammed launched a military campaign in neighboring Yemen in March 2015. A Saudi-led coalition, acting on an invitation from the internationally-recognized government, has targeted the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a war which has killed more than 10,000 people.

The war is closely identified with the prince in his role as defense minister. His image once adorned war propaganda but is rarely associated with the war now, although he has said it must continue in order to quash Iranian influence.

Even before the conflict, Yemen was the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula and now millions of people there are facing famine and a cholera epidemic. The coalition denies it blocks commercial shipments of food, medicine and fuel.


Prince Mohammed has helped lead a diplomatic campaign to isolate Qatar, saying Riyadh’s erstwhile ally backs terrorism and cozies up to Iran. Qatar rejects the accusations and says it is being punished for straying from its neighbors’ backing for authoritarian rulers.

The campaign has divided Gulf Arab countries, who Washington regards as essential to its influence in the region. Qatar had incensed Riyadh by cheering Arab Spring uprisings against some autocratic Arab rulers.


Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran, its competitor for influence in the Middle East, has deepened as King Salman and Prince Mohammed worked to build a Sunni coalition against Tehran and its allies in the Arab world.

In May, as deputy crown prince, Prince Mohammed used unusually provocative language to rule out dialogue with revolutionary Shi‘ite Muslim theocracy Iran, which he said was trying to interfere in Arab lands and dominate the Muslim world.

On Tuesday, state media quoted him as describing Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen as “direct military aggression” that could be an act of war.

Prince Mohammed has also opened a new front in the proxy war with Iran by threatening Tehran’s ally Hezbollah and its home country Lebanon. The resignation on Saturday of the Saudi-allied Lebanese prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh, was widely seen as the first act on this new front.

The crown prince has also sought the help of Shi‘ite leaders in Iraq to try to reverse Iran’s dominant role there and shore up security on the kingdom’s northern border, and has tried to improve ties with the United States under Trump, who shares his and King Salman’s antipathy to Iran’s government.


The planned sale of about 5 percent of national oil company Saudi Aramco [IPO-ARMO.SE] next year is a centerpiece of Vision 2030, Prince Mohammed’s blueprint to move the economy away from what he called its “addiction to oil” toward the private sector.

The IPO is expected to raise as much as $100 billion but investors wonder whether Aramco can be valued anywhere close to the $2 trillion figure announced by the crown prince and there has been market speculation that the IPO could be delayed beyond 2018 or shelved. He recently stated it would happen next year.

Many Saudis have misgivings about the sale, with some fearing Riyadh is selling cheaply at a time of low oil prices.


Vision 2030 has begun to reduce a big state budget deficit with austerity measures but has not yet created major new sources of non-oil growth or jobs.

The phased removal of subsidies on fuel, water and electricity has started but some austerity moves have been unpopular. Already, some have been reversed or delayed as the economy has slowed because of low oil prices.

The plan includes private investment and privatizations and building the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The aim is to create jobs and raise the participation of women in the workforce from 22 percent now to 30 percent by 2030.


Saudi Arabia adheres to an austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas.

Prince Mohammed’s ascent represents a social and cultural sea change, with power set to be passed to a much younger generation seemingly more in tune with young Saudis. In moves that reinforce that perception, women will be permitted to drive from next year and allowed to attend sports events.

The crown prince has also said the country will move to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam, and reforms have begun in areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy such as education, courts and the law. Saudi authorities have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component or pre-date Islam.


Last month Prince Mohammed announced a $500-billion plan to create a business and industrial zone extending across its borders into Jordan and Egypt, part of his efforts to reduce dependence on oil.

The 26,500 square-km (10,230 square-mile) zone, known as NEOM, will focus on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment, and will power itself solely with wind power and solar energy.

The crown prince says the government, Public Investment Fund and local and international investors are expected to sink billions into the zone in coming years. The crown prince told Reuters NEOM would be floated on financial markets alongside Aramco.

Reporting by Gulf team, Editing by Timothy Heritage


Saudi Arabia could seize $800bn in assets in corruption crackdown

November 8, 2017


The Saudi anti-corruption push involving the arrest of princes and government ministers may lead to the confiscation of cash and other assets worth of at least $800 billion, according to people close to the issue, writes the Wall Street Journal.

“They reckon they could get around two to three trillion riyals from these people. That’s the number they are talking about,” a person close to the government told the paper.

On Saturday, Saudi state media reported the arrest of at least 11 Saudi princes and four incumbent ministers, with the minister of the National Guard, and the economy minister among those detained. The arrests are reportedly the part of a broader plan to fight corruption in the kingdom.

Some leading businessmen have been arrested since the crackdown started, with more than 60 princes, officials and other big-name Saudis in custody, according to the sources cited by the WSJ.

The kingdom’s central bank has reportedly frozen the accounts of “persons of interest” and said the step was “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

According to the media, most of the frozen assets are abroad, which will make the process of reclaiming and confiscating longer and more complicated. All the funds accumulated through corruption are to become state property.

The anti-corruption crackdown is led by a newly established committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The agency was created by royal decree of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and published by Saudi Arabia’s official news agency on Saturday.

The committee is exempt from “laws, regulations, instructions, orders, and decision” while performing its wide range of duties, namely “identifying offenses, crimes, persons and entities” complicit in corruption, and gives it the power to impose punitive measures on those caught red-handed. Those include asset freezes, travel bans and arrests.



Saudi Arabia vs. Iran: From ‘twin pillars’ to proxy wars

The Middle East has been torn by a polarizing feud between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran. DW examines the tense relationship and why both countries are fueling regional conflicts.

November 8, 2017

by Lewis Sanders IV


Divisive rhetoric serves Saudi Arabia and Iran’s interests in the Middle East, but sectarianism is not the root of conflict between the two Muslim-majority nations. Rather, the tense relationship between Riyadh and Tehran revolves around power and influence, whether in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon or at home.

US: ‘Twin pillars’ policy

With support from the United States, Riyadh and Tehran attempted to improve ties during the 1960s, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi making official state visits to each other’s respective countries.

However, tension was ever-present. In a series of letters written in the late 1960s, the shah reportedly urged Faisal to modernize Saudi Arabia within the framework of Western cultural values, saying: “Please, my brother, modernize. Open up your country. Make the schools mixed women and men. Let women wear miniskirts. Have discos. Be modern. Otherwise I cannot guarantee you will stay in your throne.”

Faisal responded by saying: “Your majesty, I appreciate your advice. May I remind you, you are not the shah of France. You are not in the Elysee. You are in Iran. Your population is 90 percent Muslim. Please don’t forget that.”

State competition between the two countries escalated during US President Richard Nixon’s pursuit of a “twin pillars” policy in the 1970s, which meant offering material support to the shah’s regime while continuing to maintain strategic ties with Riyadh.

Revolutionary turn

The 1979 revolution in Iran spearheaded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei led to the shah’s ouster and fundamentally changed relations between what would become a Shiite-dominated Islamic republic and the Sunni-majority kingdom.

For Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Revolution marked an attempt at dethroning its hegemonic role in the region, especially as Tehran attempted to export its revolution to other Gulf countries. During the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War, the Saudis, along with the US, provided support for Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and even urged other Gulf nations to back Baghdad.



America’s opioid crisis & modern anxieties prove the limits of capitalism

November 7, 2017

by Slavoj Žižek


The drug crisis in America and South Korea’s frightening suicide rate both come from the same place. The flaw in capitalism which has gradually removed much of the meaning and ideology from life.

Last month, in response to America’s escalating opioid epidemic, Donald Trump declared a public health emergency. Describing the crisis as a “national shame and human tragedy” and the “worst drug crisis in American history,” the President lashed out at the devastation caused by the mass prescription of opioid painkillers.

“The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs, using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far. No part of our society – not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural – has been spared this plague of drug addiction,” he explained.

Although Trump is as far as one can imagine from being a Marxist, his proclamation cannot but evoke Marx’s well-known characterization of religion as the “opium of the people” (from his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

And this characterization is worth quoting here: “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

One can immediately notice that Trump (who wants to begin his war on opioids by prohibiting the most dangerous drugs) is a very vulgar Marxist, similar to those hard-line Communists (like Enver Hoxha or the Khmer Rouge) who tried to undermine religion by simply outlawing it. Marx’s approach is more subtle: instead of directly fighting religion, the goal of the Communists is to change the social situation (of exploitation and domination) which gives birth to the need for religion. Marx nonetheless remains all too naïve, not only with regard to his idea of religion also in his reaction to different versions of the opium of the people.

For instance, it is true that radical Islam is an exemplary case of religion as the opium of the people: a false confrontation with capitalist modernity which allows some Muslims to dwell in their ideological dream while their countries are ravaged by the effects of global capitalism – and precisely the same holds for Christian fundamentalism. However, there are today, in our Western world, two other versions of the opium of the people: the opium and the people.

Online goals

As the rise of populism demonstrates, the opium of the people is also “the people” in itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms. And, last but not least, for many of us, the opium of the people is actual opium, the escape into drugs, which is precisely the phenomenon Trump is talking about.

So, to paraphrase Marx, where does this need to escape into opium come from? Like Freud, we have to take a look at the psychopathology of global-capitalist everyday life. Yet another form of today’s opium of the people is our escape into the pseudo-social digital universes of Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms.

Indeed, in a speech to Harvard graduates in May 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told his audience: “Our job is to create a sense of purpose!” – and this from a man who, with Facebook, has created the world’s most expanded instrument of the purposeless loss of time!

The country whose daily life is most impregnated by the digital virtualization is South Korea. Here is Franco Berardi’s report on his journey to Seoul: “Korea is the ground zero of the world, a blueprint for the future of the planet… after colonization and wars, after dictatorship and starvation, the South Korean mind, liberated from the burden of the natural body, smoothly entered the digital sphere with a lower degree of cultural resistance that virtually any other population in the world. In the emptied cultural space, the Korean experience is marked by an extreme degree of individualization, and simultaneously it is headed toward the ultimate cabling of the collective mind. These lonely minds walk in the urban space in tender continuous interaction with the pictures, tweets, games coming out of their small screens, perfectly insulated and perfectly wired into the smooth interface of the flow… South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is the most common cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea. Interestingly, the toll of suicides in South Korea has doubled during the last decade… in the space of two generations, their condition has certainly improved by the point of view of revenue, nutrition, freedom, and possibility of traveling abroad. But the price of this improvement has been the desertification of daily life, the hyper-acceleration of rhythms, the extreme individualization of biographies, and work precariousness which also means unbridled competition… the intensification of the rhythm of work, the desertification of the landscape and the virtualization of the emotional life are converging to create a level of loneliness and despair that is difficult to consciously refuse and oppose.”

Soulless future

What Berardi’s impressions of Seoul provide is the image of a place deprived of its history, a worldless place. Badiou has reflected that we live in a social space which is progressively experienced as worldless. Even the Nazi anti-Semitism, however ghastly it was, opened up a world: it described its critical situation by suggesting an enemy, which was a “Jewish conspiracy;” it named a goal and the means of achieving it. Nazism ruptured reality in a way which allowed its subjects to acquire a global cognitive mapping, which included a space for their meaningful engagement.

Perhaps it is here that one should locate one of the leading dangers of capitalism: although it is global and encompasses the whole world, it sustains a worldless ideological constellation, depriving the vast majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping.

Capitalism is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: it is not global at the level of meaning. There is, after all, no global-capitalist worldview, and no capitalist civilization proper: In fact, the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East. Capitalism’s global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the reality of the global market mechanism.

This, then, is what makes millions to seek refuge in our opiums: not just new poverty and lack of prospect but the unbearable superego pressure in its two aspects – the pressure to succeed professionally and the pressure to enjoy life fully in all its intensity. Perhaps, this second aspect is even more unsettling: what remains of our life when our retreat into private pleasure itself becomes a stuff of brutal injunction?



November 8, 2017

by Christian Jürs

A most interesting individual was James P. Atwood (April 16, 1930- July 20, 1997).

During the Iran Contra affair, General Secord’s arms shipments, arraigned through the CIA, transferred weapons destined for Central America to Merex Corporation, (Merex International Arms)  of Savannah, Ga. The Merex address was occupied by Combat Military Ordinances Ltd., controlled by James P. Atwood.

Atwood, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of U.S.Military Intelligence, [and later a CIA contract worker], stationed in their Berlin office, was involved in major arms trades with CIA-sponsored international buyers, specifically Middle Eastern Arab states.

Among other activities, Atwood became known as the Dagger King because of his manufacture and merchandising of a large number of German ceremonial swords and daggers from the Third Reich period.

As a top US Army Intelligence agent and important CIA contract worker and former FBI employee, Atwood ran guns, drugs, counterfeit rare German daggers, stolen archives and much more in and out of various countries from his headquarters in Savannah, Georgia.

Merex systems was founded by Otto Skorzeny’s associate Gerhard Mertins in Bonn after the war and was considered a CIA proprietary firm. Merex was close to and worked with the BND, the German intelligence service evolved from the CIA-controlled Gehlen organization.

Merex weapons systems was founded by Otto Skorzeny’s associate Gerhard Mertins in Bonn after the war and was considered a CIA proprietary firm. Merex was close to and worked with the BND, the German intelligence service evolved from the CIA-controlled Gehlen organization.

Monzer Al-Kassar utilized the Merex firm for some of his weapons transactions with the CIA-controlled international weapons cartel.

Atwood was involved with Interarmco, run by Samuel Cummings, an Englishman who ran the largest arms firm in the world. Sam Cummings got his start working with the CIA to procure weapons for the 1954 coup in Guatemala.  Cummings died in Monaco Carlo with a country place at Villars in the Swiss Alps where he resettled in 1960 because he had looted his CIA employers and found European residence safer than Warrenton, Virginia.

Interarms (formerly Interarmco and officially the International Armaments Corporation) was the world’s largest private arms dealer, and once had enough weapons in their warehouses to equip forty U.S. divisions

Also connected with Atwood’s firm were Collector’s Armory, Thomas Nelson Prop, and a George Petersen of Springfield, Virginia, and Emmanuel (Manny) Wiegenberg, a Canadian arms dealer.and look into Atwood’s role in supplying weapons and explosives to the Quebec Libré movement.

During his career, Atwood worked with the CIA’s Sam Cummings, Tom Nelson, Jim Critchfield and many others

Atwood’s activities are linked to the CIA’s Robert Crowley, Deputy Director of Clandestine Affairs (who knew him and disliked him), to Jim Critchfield and a number of other CIA luminaries.

Arrested by the Army’s CIC in the early 60s, for misuse of government mail, tax fraud and other matters, Atwood got the CIA to force the charges against him dropped. All the paperwork was supposed to have been destroyed but a copy of the 62 count indictment, plus the Chicago Federal judge’s orders, have survived.

Atwood operated in the Middle East, Germany and Central America. He sold US secrets to Marcus Wolfe of the Stasi and the BND photographed them together in East Berlin

He smuggled guns into Guatemala and Nicaragua and drugs into the US.

Atwood’s role in supplying weapons and explosives to the Quebec Libré movement. The head of the Canada Desk at the Company was actively encouraging this group to split away from Canada. This is a chapter that the CIA does not want discussed. Atwood’s connections with Skorzeny and the IRA/Provo wing make dramatic reading. One of Atwood’s Irish connections is the man who ran the cell that blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979. There is also the shipping of weapons into the southern Mexican provinces by Atwood and his Guatemala based consortium, Oceanic Cargo.

Atwood had a number of ex-Gestapo and SD people on board, some of whom were wanted for war crimes.

Both Schwend and Klaus Barbie formed Transmaritania which was a shipping company that also generated millions of dollars in profits from the cocaine business. They purchased their weapons from another SS colleague, Colonel Otto Skorzeny who had been head of SS Commando units towards the end of the war, later worked for the CIA and had started the Merex weapons business in Bonn after the war. Another Atwood contact was one Walter Rauff, a senior SD officer, friend of Dulles and once head of the SD in Milan (after a tour in Tunisia as head of the SD there during Rommel’s campaign in Africa.)

The Rauff story is even more entertaining than the Barbie one and more disruptive when it becomes public. Rauff worked for the CIA, lived unmolested and well protected by the CIA, in South America.

While Atwood was involved in supplying weapons to Cuban insurgents for the Bay of Pigs incident, he stated to a number of his associates that he learned of highly classified information on the accidental release, in Florida, of deadly toxins that the CIA was planning to use in advance of the invasion to “soften up” Castro’s militia.

The designated head of the CIA, Porter Goss, was a CIA agent in Florida at this time, was involved in the planning and expected execution of the Cuban invasion and suddenly became “very ill”, as his specs on Google point out, and had to retire. Atwood told his friends that Goss, later a Florida political figure, was a participating party in this specific part of the CIA invasion plans.

The head of the Canada Desk at the Company (CIA) was actively encouraging this group to split away from Canada. This is a chapter that the CIA does not want discussed.

One of Atwood’s Irish connections is the man who blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979 and there was also  \the shipping of weapons into the southern Mexican provinces by Atwood and his Guatemala based consortium. Atwood had a number of ex-Gestapo and SD people on board, some of whom were wanted. Klaus Barbie was also connected.

Barbie, who was Gestapo chief in Lyon, France, during the war, worked for the CIC after the war and fled to South America when his American handlers tipped him off. Barbie took some of the hidden Nazi gold and invested it in several businesses and also continued to prosper by starting the Estrella Company which sold bark, coca paste, and assault weapons to a former SS officer, Frederich Schwend in Lima, Peru. Schwend had been trained by the OSS in the early 1940s after he had informed Allen Dulles that the German SS had hidden millions in gold, cash, and loot as the European war was winding down.

Both Schwend and Barbie formed Transmaritania which was a shipping company that also generated millions of dollars in profits from the cocaine business. They purchased their weapons from another SS colleague, Colonel Otto Skorzeny who had been head of SS Commando units towards the end of the war, later worked for the CIA and had started the Merex weapons business in Bonn after the war. Also a person to consider is one Walter Rauff, a senior SD officer, friend of Dulles and once head of the SD in Milan (after a tour in Tunesia as head of the SD there during Rommel’s campaign in Africa.)

The Rauff story is even more entertaining than the Barbie one and more disruptive.

Rauff and the notorious Mengele worked for the CIA.

In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was considerable concern expressed in US intelligence circles about the whereabouts, and also the security of, certain ex-Soviet military tactical atomic warheads. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union launched R&D to miniaturize and improve reliability of nuclear weapons. Development activities included strategic systems for the Navy; cruise missiles, aviation bombs and artillery projectiles [the smallest nuclear charge was developed for a 152mm artillery projectile].The model is based on unclassified data on the components in an atomic artillery shell, to see if such a system could be reassembled in a suitcase. Indeed, as it turns out, the physics package, neutron generators, batteries, arming mechanism and other essentials of a small atomic weapon can fit, just barely, in an attaché case. The result is a plutonium-fueled gun-type atomic weapon having a yield of one-to-ten kilotons, the same yield range attributed in a 1998 US media interview by General Lebed to the Russian “nuclear suitcase” weapon.”

The smallest possible bomb-like object would be a single critical mass of plutonium (or U-233) at maximum density under normal conditions. An unreflected spherical alpha-phase critical mass of Pu-239 weighs 10.5 kg and is 10.1 cm across.

In 1992, following a successful treasure hunt in Austria, where he and author Gregory Douglas located and dug up a small fortune in gold and silver coins buried in the last weeks of the war by SS General Odilo Globocnik, James Atwood, the former Interarmco people and an Israeli Russian named  Yurenko (actually Schemiel  Gofshstein) formed a consortium in conjunction with James Critchfield, retired senior CIA specialist on oil matters in the Mideast  to obtain a number of these obsolete but still viable weapons.

Both Critchfield and the Interarmco people had, at the behest of the CIA, supplied weapons to the rebels in Afghanistan during their protracted struggle with the Soviet Union. Critchfield worked with the Dalai Lama of Tibet in a guerrilla war against Communist China and headed a CIA task force during the Cuban missile crisis. He also ran regional agency operations when the two superpowers raced to secure satellites first in Eastern Europe, then in the Middle East.

In the early 1960s, Critchfield recommended to the CIA that the United States support the Baath Party, which staged a 1963 coup against the Iraqi government that the CIA believed was falling under Soviet influence. Critchfield later boasted, during the Iran-Iraq war that he and the CIA “had created Saddam Hussein.” With the growing political importance of Middle East oil, he became the CIA’s national intelligence officer for energy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then an energy policy planner at the White House. He also fronted a dummy CIA corporation in the Middle East known as Basic Resources, which was used to gather OPEC-related intelligence for the Nixon administration. .

Critchfield was the chief of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division in the 1960s and a national intelligence officer for energy as the oil shortage crisis began in the early 1970s.  Officially retiring from the CIA in 1974, Critchfield became a consultant, corporate president of Tetra Tech International, a Honeywell Inc. subsidiary and which managed oil, gas, and water projects in the strategic Masandam Peninsula.

It sits on the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the West’s oil is transported. At the same time, Critchfield was a primary adviser to the Sultan of Oman, focusing on Middle East energy resources, especially those in Oman.

These CIA-controlled companies include Aero Systems, Inc., of Miami, Arrow Air, Aero Systems Pvt. Ltd of Singapore, Hierax of Hong Kong, Pan Aviation in Miami, Merex in Georgia, Sur International, St. Lucia Airways, Global International Airways, International Air Tours of Nigeria, Continental Shelf Explorations, Inc., Jupiter, Florida, Varicon, Inc., Dane Aviation Supply of Miami, Parvus, Safir, International Trading and Investment Guaranty Corp., Ltd., and Information Security International Inc., Zenith Technical Enterprises, Ltd., Mineral Carriers, Ltd. Air America, CAA, and Information Security International Inc.,Air Asia Co., Ltd., Arrow Air, Civil Air Transport (CAT) , Dane Aviation Supply, Intermountain Aviation, SODIMAC Southern Air Transport

And another three hundred committees, institutes, media entities and other ventures.

Since at least 1981, a worldwide network of independent  [i.e., no direct U.S. government ties] companies, including airlines, aviation and military spare parts suppliers, and trading companies, has been utilized by the CIA and the U.S. government to illegally ship arms and military spare parts to Iran and to the Contras.

These companies were set up with the approval and knowledge of senior CIA officials and other senior U.S. government officials and staffed primarily by ex-CIA, ex-FBI and ex-military officers.


Special Report: The decisions behind Monsanto’s weed-killer crisis

November 9, 2017

by Emily Flitter


(Reuters) – In early 2016, agri-business giant Monsanto faced a decision that would prove pivotal in what since has become a sprawling herbicide crisis, with millions of acres of crops damaged.

Monsanto had readied new genetically modified soybeans seeds. They were engineered for use with a powerful new weed-killer that contained a chemical called dicamba but aimed to control the substance’s main shortcoming: a tendency to drift into neighboring farmers’ fields and kill vegetation.

The company had to choose whether to immediately start selling the seeds or wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sign off on the safety of the companion herbicide.

The firm stood to lose a lot of money by waiting. Because Monsanto had bred the dicamba-resistant trait into its entire stock of soybeans, the only alternative would have been “to not sell a single soybean in the United States” that year, Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge told Reuters in an interview.

Betting on a quick approval, Monsanto sold the seeds, and farmers planted a million acres of the genetically modified soybeans in 2016. But the EPA’s deliberations on the weed-killer dragged on for another 11 months because of concerns about dicamba’s historical drift problems.

That delay left farmers who bought the seeds with no matching herbicide and three bad alternatives: Hire workers to pull weeds; use the less-effective herbicide glyphosate; or illegally spray an older version of dicamba at the risk of damage to nearby farms.

The resulting rash of illegal spraying that year damaged 42,000 acres of crops in Missouri, among the hardest hit areas, as well as swaths of crops in nine other states, according to an August 2016 advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The damage this year has covered 3.6 million acres in 25 states, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist who has tracked dicamba damage reports and produced estimates cited by the EPA.

Dicamba drift damage

In the 2017 growing season, farmers reported 3.6 million acres of damage from dicamba, which has a tendency to drift from where it sprayed to nearby crops. Regulators are still trying to determine whether the damage was caused by illegal use of older dicamba formulas or by new formulas from Monsanto and BASF that were designed to reduce drift.

The episode highlights a hole in a U.S regulatory system that has separate agencies approving genetically modified seeds and their matching herbicides.

Monsanto has blamed farmers for the illegal spraying and argued it could not have foreseen that the disjointed approval process would set off a crop-damage crisis.

But a Reuters review of regulatory records and interviews with crop scientists shows that Monsanto was repeatedly warned by crop scientists, starting as far back as 2011, of the dangers of releasing a dicamba-resistant seed without an accompanying herbicide designed to reduce drift to nearby farms.

In 2015, just before Monsanto released its soybeans seeds, Arkansas regulators notified the firm of damage from illegal spraying of its dicamba-resistant cotton seeds. Some cotton farmers chose to illegally spray old versions of dicamba because other herbicides approved for use on the seeds were far less effective.

The EPA did not approve the new dicamba formulation that Monsanto now sells for use with cotton and soybean seeds – XtendiMax with Vapor Grip – until after the 2016 growing season.

Monsanto’s Partridge acknowledged that the company misjudged the regulatory timeline for approval of its new herbicide.

“The EPA process was lengthier than usual,” Partridge said.

Monsanto, however, denies culpability for the crisis that followed the two-stage approval.

“The illegal misuse of old dicamba herbicides with Xtend seeds was not foreseeable,” the company’s attorneys said in a response to one class action suit filed by farmers in Missouri. “Even if it were foreseeable that farmers would illegally apply old dicamba to their Xtend crops, which it was not, Monsanto is not liable for harms caused by other manufacturers’ products.”

Monsanto’s Partridge said in a written statement that the reports of damage from illegal spraying of dicamba on its cotton seeds in 2015 were “extremely isolated.”

“Those who applied dicamba illegally should be held responsible,” Partridge said.

Monsanto’s handling of the delayed herbicide approval may cause the firm legal and public relations damage, but it has boosted the company’s business considerably. Instead of halting seed sales while waiting on herbicide approval, Monsanto captured a quarter of the nation’s massive soybean market by the start of 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even the damage from dicamba may have boosted sales. Some farmers whose crops were harmed said in interviews that they bought Monsanto’s new dicamba-resistant seeds as a defense against drift from nearby spraying.

State regulators believe the illegal spraying of dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean crops continued in 2017 – after the EPA approved Monsanto’s new herbicide. Farmers would still benefit from using old versions of dicamba because it is cheaper than XtendiMax. Many growers also have dicamba on hand because it is legal to use for limited purposes.

Regulators have not yet determined, however, how much damage came from illegal spraying and how much came from the legal application of XtendiMax, which weed scientists say still vaporizes under certain conditions.

Monsanto concedes that XtendiMax has caused crop damage, but blames farmers who the company says did not properly follow directions for applying the herbicide.

The EPA, after delaying a decision on XtendiMax, gave the herbicide a limited two-year approval – as opposed to the standard 20 years – in case drift issues arose.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman, Rick Corker, acknowledged in a statement to Reuters that the release of an engineered seed before its companion herbicide caused problems. The department, he said, is now in talks with the EPA about whether to coordinate approvals of paired seeds and chemicals.

“USDA and EPA are in discussions regarding the timing of our deregulations,” Corker said in a statement.

The EPA did not comment on whether it planned any policy changes in response to the dicamba crisis.


Dicamba is cheap, plentiful, and has been used as a weed killer for decades. But its tendency to damage nearby fields had caused U.S. regulators to limit its use to the task of clearing fields before planting or after harvest, when there are no crops to damage and cooler temperatures make it less likely the substance will migrate.

Farmers who illegally sprayed dicamba during growing season are now facing fines of up to $1,000 for each violation of EPA rules limiting the use of dicamba, which are enforced by state regulators.

Farmers with damaged crops have filed at least seven lawsuits — five class-action suits and two by individuals — seeking compensation from Monsanto. The suits claim the company should have known that releasing the seeds without a paired herbicide would cause problems.

Monsanto officials had been repeatedly warned of the potential for damage from illegal spraying of dicamba on seeds designed to resist the chemical.

In October 2011, five scientists from Ohio State University addressed a conference in Columbus focused on the future of dicamba. In attendance were agriculture researchers from across the country as well as representatives of the companies Monsanto, Dow Chemical and BASF.

According to Douglas Doohan, one of the conference’s organizers, three Monsanto employees, including Industry Affairs Director Douglas Rushing, attended the meeting. Monsanto had a keen interest in the topic because the company was far along in developing its new line of dicamba products at the time.

In their introduction to the symposium, Doohan and his colleagues outlined what they called an increased risk of illegal dicamba spraying by farmers once dicamba-resistant seeds became available. They also argued that dicamba-resistant seeds – and the illegal spraying that might accompany them – would lead farmers whose crops were damaged to buy their own dicamba-tolerant seeds to protect themselves from further drift, according to conference records.

In another general session, Doohan said, he and Ohio State Professor Joe Heimlich outlined the risks of illegal spraying in a memorable way – a skit in which Doohan played a farmer digging out an old container of dicamba to spray on his dicamba-resistant crops, without regard for regulatory standards.

Monsanto’s Rushing gave his own presentation about dicamba to the symposium, according to conference records. Rushing explained the need for a new herbicide-and-seed combination to replace those that had grown less effective as weeds become more tolerant to certain chemicals, according to slides outlining Rushing’s conference presentation. He raised the issue of damage from dicamba drift, but said the risks could be reduced by using certain kinds of sprayers and taking other precautions.

Rushing could not be reached for comment. Monsanto did not directly respond to questions about the symposium.


Years later, some of what the scientists outlined in their presentations was becoming reality.

Monsanto released its dicamba-resistant cotton seed in the summer of 2015. The seed was compatible with two other legally available herbicides, giving farmers options for dealing with weeds before the EPA’s approval of XtendiMax.

But farmers started digging into their dicamba stockpiles anyway, and damage reports started to trickle in. Monsanto officials were among the first to see those reports, according to minutes of an Arkansas Plant Board committee meeting in July 2015.

Jammy Turner, a Monsanto salesman, was on the Arkansas Plant Board, the agricultural regulator that investigated the complaints. He and Duane Simpson, a Monsanto lobbyist, attended the committee meeting. There, the board’s Pesticide Division Director Susie Nichols gave a report about drift damage complaints linked to the new seed technology.

At that meeting, lobbyist Simpson was asked by the board what Monsanto was doing about drift damage complaints, according to the minutes. Simpson told the committee that the firm had been telling farmers not to spray dicamba illegally, even over crops specifically designed to withstand it. He said the company would consider pulling whatever licenses Monsanto had given to offending farmers to use its technology.

At an Aug. 8, 2016 meeting of the same committee, Simpson was asked again how Monsanto was dealing with farmers illegally spraying dicamba on Xtend crops. This time, he responded that Monsanto saw no way to pull farmers’ seed licenses over the issue.

Monsanto did not comment on Simpson’s statements in response to written questions from Reuters. The company said it would consider revoking a particular farmer’s license if asked to do so by state regulators “when they have investigated and adjudicated an egregious violation.”

Larry Steckel, a weed scientist and professor at the University of Tennessee, said those early damage reports should have been a red flag to Monsanto against releasing its soybean seeds the following year.

“It turned out to be a precursor of what was to come,” he said.

Neither Turner nor Simpson responded to calls and emails seeking comment. Monsanto did not comment on the company’s involvement in the Arkansas investigations.

By the end of 2015, the damage reports linked to the Xtend cotton seeds were making the rounds among scientists. Weed scientist Michael Owen, a professor at Iowa State University, said he warned at the ISU Annual Integrated Crop Management Conference on Dec. 2-3, 2015 that no dicamba formulations had been approved for use on Xtend crops. He told attendees it wasn’t clear when the formulas would be greenlighted, and that the situation was cause for concern.

Monsanto representatives attended that conference, according to ISU Program Services Coordinator Brent Pringnitz, who handled the registration. He would not identify them.

Owen said he also repeated his warning directly to Monsanto officials around the same time, but did not name them.

Monsanto did not comment on Owen’s assertion that he warned the company about dicamba spraying.


Farmers who spoke to Reuters and others who gave testimony recorded in state records described a variety of reasons why they purchased Xtend seeds before XtendiMax was available.

One farmer in Arkansas, Doug Masters, planted Xtend cotton in 2015 and was caught illegally spraying dicamba, according to Arkansas Plant Board records. He said the Monsanto salesman who sold him the Xtend seeds told him that, by the time the plants came up in the summer of 2015, it would be legal to spray dicamba and he should go ahead and do it, according to the board records.

Masters declined to identify the Monsanto salesman to Arkansas regulators, records show. He declined again, when reached by Reuters, to identify the representative. Masters admitted that he illegally sprayed dicamba, and the Plant Board fined him $4,000, assessing the maximum penalty allowed for four violations.

Monsanto did not comment on Masters’ testimony to the plant board.

Ritchard Zolman, another Arkansas farmer caught illegally spraying his cotton in 2015, said in a disciplinary hearing held by the Arkansas Plant Board that he’d planted Xtend seeds because he thought he could spray dicamba legally over his fields 14 days before his crops came up from the ground, according to records.

But the Plant Board ruled it was illegal to spray dicamba onto a field where planted crops had not yet sprouted, disciplinary records show. Zolman was fined $3,000 for three dicamba spraying violations, records show.

Zolman declined to comment.

In Missouri, Gary Dalton Murphy III said he and his family planted Xtend soybeans in 2016 after “hearing” that dicamba would be legal to spray by the summer. He did not say who told him dicamba would be legal that season.

When Murphy learned XtendiMax would not be available, the family got rid of their weeds by hand, hiring extra workers to help.

Additional reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas; Editing by Rich Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot


Antarctic supervolcano to rival Yellowstone melting ice sheet from within – NASA

November 9, 2017


Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have found new evidence to support a theory that the breakup of Antarctic ice may be caused in part by a massive geothermal heat source, with output close to the scale of Yellowstone National Park.

A geothermal heat source called a mantle plume – a hot stream of subterranean molten rock that rises through the Earth’s crust – may explain the breathing effect visible on Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land and elsewhere along the massive ice sheet.

While the mantle plume is not a new discovery, the recent research indicates it may explain why the ice sheet collapsed in a previous era of rapid climate change 11,000 years ago and why the sheet is breaking up so quickly now.

“I thought it was crazy. I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it,”said Hélène Seroussi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Seroussi and Erik Ivins of JPL used the Ice Sheet System Model (ISSM), a mathematical depiction of the physics of ice sheets developed by scientists at JPL and the University of California, Irvine. Seroussi then tweaked the ISSM to hunt for natural heat sources as well as meltwater deposits.

This warm water lubricates the ice sheet from below, allowing glaciers to slide off into the sea. Studying meltwater in western Antarctica may allow scientists to estimate how much ice will be lost in future.

The Antarctic’s underwater systems of lakes and rivers fill and drain rapidly which can force surface ice to rise or fall by as much as 6 meters (20ft). The average thickness of the ice is  2.6km (1.6 miles) but can reach 4.7km in parts of the sheet. This motion allows scientists to better understand the underground topography and better estimate concentrations of water sources beneath the surface.

The JPL scientists corroborated their work with readings from NASA’s IceSat satellite and airborne Operation IceBridge campaign which observe variations in the altitude of the Antarctic ice sheet’s surface. The team found that the geothermal heat emitted by the Antarctic mantle plume is up to 150 milliwatts per square meter. For comparison, over the entirety of Yellowstone National Park the underground heat measures an average of 200 milliwatts per square meter.

During their initial work, Seroussi and Ivins created simulations using higher heat flows than 150 milliwatts per square meter, which did not align with their space-based readings, except for one area: The Ross Sea.

Their calculations showed that, in certain sections of the sea, a heat flow of at least 150-180 milliwatts was required to create sufficient meltwater flows that matched with observations. They now believe the mantle plume is responsible for these higher-than-average readings.

The Marie Byrd Land mantle plume formed 50 to 110 million years ago, predating the Western Antarctic ice sheet. The mantle plume theory was initially proposed 30 years ago but other, competing theories suggested the sheer weight of the ice sheets causes melting deep below the surface.



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