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10 More Years in Afghanistan

When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later.  Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's.  Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond." 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He'd like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night.  He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations.  He'd like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo.  And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections.  Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are perfectly reasonable demands.

Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time.  U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding.  U.S. missiles already  hit Pakistan in a steady stream.  These two nations' concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai's.

The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years and years.  We're spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated.  The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide. 

When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too.  But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation.  Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.

Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth.  I bet we'd favor that course if asked.  We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles. 

We stopped the missiles.  Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before.  But we didn't stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls.  The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress.  And Syrians didn't get the aid that we favored.

We aren't asked about the drone strikes.  We aren't asked about most military operations.  And we aren't being asked about Afghanistan.  Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide.  This state of affairs suggests that we haven't learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis.  Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact.  The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.

What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan?  We'd have invented a new disease.  They'd replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome.  Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars.  Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.

Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he's "ending" out for another decade, establishing that there's very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won't allow them to roll right over us.

Shifting from Defense to Offense: Americans Want Improved Social Security and Medicare and less Military Spending

By Dave Lindorff


A tectonic shift is occurring in the US body politic. Ignore the media-driven sideshow about the 2014 contest for control of the House or about the screwed-up Obamacare insurance-market website. The real political battle is over Social Security and Medicare, and there the story is a historic turn from fighting against Washington efforts to cut those programs to demanding that both be expanded.


Groups Call on Congress to Make Massive Cuts in Runaway Military Spending

A diverse array of organizations today launched a campaign to enact major cuts in wasteful military spending, as part of the December 13 federal budget resolution.

The groups include peace, human service, economic and environmental justice organizations, food sovereignty and green energy groups, and grassroots community organizations. They are calling for long overdue reductions in military spending in order to meet dire needs at home and reinvest in our future.

The groups are launching a sign-on letter calling for cuts of 25-50% in the trillion dollar military budget that accounts for 53% of all discretionary federal spending. The groups will deliver the letter to Congress on December 10 - International Human Rights Day.

The groups want Congress to focus on:

- Adequately funding critical social needs, including food stamps, Social Security, improved and expanded Medicare for all, and public education including college,

- Creating a full employment public jobs program to jump start the green economy (a Green New Deal),

- Rebuilding vital infrastructure.

Groups initiating the campaign include the Backbone Campaign; Coalition Against Nukes; Code Pink; Fellowship of Reconciliation, Freepress.org; Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space; Green Shadow Cabinet; Hip Hop Congress; Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution; No FEAR Coalition; Organic Consumers Association; Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign; PopularResistance.org; RootsAction.org and others. Additional groups can sign on to the letter here.

According to David Swanson, Campaign Coordinator for RootsAction.org, "The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth, and its government is rolling in money. Pretenses otherwise would collapse if the U.S. reduced its military budget to anything remotely resembling other countries'. Redirecting the savings would save far more lives than are taken in our wars, and improve lives at home and abroad beyond our wildest imaginings."

"Do we want to feed hungry people or feed the weapons industry? It's critical to show that we, as a people, choose food, education and green energy over bombs," said Medea Benjamin of Code Pink.

Jill Stein, Green Shadow Cabinet president, noted, "After $5 trillion and a decade spent on bloody military excess, with no real gains for democracy, security or stability - it's time to put these resources where we need them, including an emergency full-employment program to jumpstart the Green economy, halt climate change and make wars for oil obsolete."

"It is time to heed the warning of former President Eisenhower about the Congressional-military-industrial complex. We can either feed the Pentagon, or feed, house, educate and serve the American people," stated Mark Dunlea, Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS. Representing three thousand emergency food programs feeding 3 million New Yorkers annually, the Hunger Action Network is worried about the recent and pending cuts to food stamps (SNAP) and other safety net programs.

Renowned public interest advocate, Ralph Nader, commented, "Since we no longer have major adversaries, why is the overall military budget larger than ever – taking over half the discretionary expenditures of the federal government? Our country needs to rollback the Empire, really cut the so-called defense budget and apply those monies to repairing and rebuilding our public works with good paying green jobs everywhere that cannot be exported."

Reverend Kristin Stoneking, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation added, "Money in itself is morally neutral, but what we do with money has ultimate moral significance. Our runaway military spending  impairs and diminishes the very soul of our country as we ignore needs for food, jobs and health care among our citizens, and perpetuate a culture of violence abroad. Redirecting millions away from exporting violence and toward creating a culture of peace at home by responding to the basic needs of Americans is not only wise but right."

The groups want Congress to stop using the massive military budget to police the world. Instead they call for reviving the traditional approach of defending America from invasion or military aggression against our territorial integrity. Likewise they oppose militarization of our borders against nonexistent military threats, in violation of the human right to seek refuge from economic or political oppression. The groups want the US to pull American troops from Europe, Japan, Korea and from 1000 bases in nearly 130 countries which cost over a hundred billion dollars a year to maintain.  

The groups also want Congress to stop the massive waste and fraud in Pentagon spending, war profiteering by military contractors, and the revolving door between government and military industries.

While many Congress members understand the need to cut military spending, virtually all Congress members protect defense contracts provided to their own districts. The groups are calling for retraining and guaranteed re-employment of any displaced military-industrial workers, and for impacted communities to have a lead role in planning their green economic transition.

The coalition proposal builds on similar, though less comprehensive, measures from within Congress. Senator Bernie Sanders' recent budget blueprint calls for hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts in the military budget. In the prior Congress, more than 50 representatives signed on to a letter by then-members Barney Franks and Ron Paul calling for a 25% cut.

Fracking Lobby’s Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media, “Other ALECs,” Democratic PR Firms

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) - the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry - has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it's rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time. 

In the US Social Security’s ‘just a floor’: In Finland Saunas are Hot, Retirement is Cool

By Dave Lindorff


Helsinki—Mikko Kautto, impeccable in a blue suit and open-collared shirt, was sitting at a table in the cafeteria of the modern Centre for Pensions building on the outskirts of Finland’s capital city, answering questions about the operation of his Nordic country’s retirement system.


Veterans' Day

Veteran’s Day is over. The sparkling parades are a vague memory, and the soaring oratory has passed. The citizenry can now return to its complacency, tossing the bright, red, plastic poppies into the trash, and picking up new ones next year.

A ‘60-Minutes’ Scandal: Lara Logan, Hotness and Benghazi Gone Wild

By John Grant


Lara Logan is a formidable TV reporter who has covered wars and other stories at significant risk. She’s supremely confident and has a powerful journalistic institution supporting her. But as a would-be ethical journalist, she seems to rely too much on her sexual allure and to be too tight with elite elements of the US military establishment.

What’s more important: Security or freedom?: The Big Question the National Security State isn’t Asking

By Dave Lindorff


So National Security Agency Director Keith B. Alexander, who, along with his boss, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., thinks that “if you can collect it, you should collect it,” now is asking whether it might not be such a good idea in the case of spying on the citizens of US allies like Germany, France, Spain et al.


Yemeni Man To Tell Congress About Drone Strike That Killed Brother Who Stood Up To Al Qaeda

Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni man whose relatives were killed in a US drone strike, is traveling to the United States this week to tell his story to Congress and human rights activists at this weekend’s Drone Summit (which I’m covering for Truthout, FYI).

Jaber’s brother-in-law, 49-year-old Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was killed in a covert drone strike on Hadhramout in August 2012. Salem was a Yemeni cleric and father of seven who preached loudly against the extremism exhibited by Al Qaeda, which his family feared would invite violent retribution from Al Qaeda linked militants. But in the end, it was US violence that ended Salem’s life as well as that of Waleed bin ali Jaber, a local policeman who was with Salem at the time of strike.

Read the rest at Dispatched from the Underclass.

Big Brother’s Loyal Sister: How Dianne Feinstein Is Betraying Civil Liberties

By Norman Solomon

Ever since the first big revelations about the National Security Agency five months ago, Dianne Feinstein has been in overdrive to defend the surveillance state. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she generates an abundance of fog, weasel words, anti-whistleblower slander and bogus notions of reform -- while methodically stabbing civil liberties in the back.

Feinstein’s powerful service to Big Brother, reaching new heights in recent months, is just getting started. She’s hard at work to muddy all the waters of public discourse she can -- striving to protect the NSA from real legislative remedies while serving as a key political enabler for President Obama’s shameless abuse of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Last Sunday, on CBS, when Feinstein told “Face the Nation” viewers that Edward Snowden has done “enormous disservice to our country,” it was one of her more restrained smears. In June, when Snowden first went public as a whistleblower, Feinstein quickly declared that he had committed “an act of treason.” Since then, she has refused to tone down the claim. “I stand by it,” she told The Hill on Oct. 29.

Days ago, taking it from the top of the NSA’s main talking points, Feinstein led off a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece with 9/11 fear-mongering. “The Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States was highly organized and sophisticated and designed to strike at the heart of the American economy and government,” she wrote, and quickly added: “We know that terrorists remain determined to kill Americans and our allies.”

From there, Senator Feinstein praised the NSA’s “call-records program” and then insisted: “This is not a surveillance program.” (Paging Mr. Orwell.)

Feinstein’s essay -- touting her new bill, the “FISA Improvements Act,” which she just pushed through the Senate Intelligence Committee -- claimed that the legislation will “bridge the gap between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties.” But as Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Trevor Timm writes, the bill actually “codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms.”

California’s senior senator is good at tactical maneuvers that blow media smoke. In late October -- while continuing to defend the NSA’s planetary dragnet on emails and phone calls -- Feinstein voiced concern “that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t satisfactorily informed.” Spinning the myth that congressional oversight of the NSA really exists, she added: “Therefore, our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.”

As usual, Feinstein’s verbal gymnastics were in sync with choreography from the Obama White House. The “certain surveillance activities” that she has begun to criticize are the NSA’s efforts targeting the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allied foreign leaders. Feinstein mildly chided Obama for ostensibly not being aware of the eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone (“That is a big problem”), but she was merely snipping at a few threads of the NSA’s vast global spying -- while, like the administration as a whole, reaffirming support for the vast fabric of the agency’s surveillance programs.

The White House is now signaling policy changes in response to the uproar about monitoring Merkel’s phone, the New York Times reported on Nov. 5, but “President Obama and his top advisers have concluded that there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of ‘metadata,’ including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States.” Feinstein is on the same page: eager to fine tune and continue mass surveillance.

With fanfare that foreshadows a drawn-out onslaught of hype, Feinstein has announced that the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold hearings on NSA surveillance. “Her committee is now making preparations for a major investigative undertaking, which is expected to take at least several months,” the Wall Street Journal reports. When the show is over, “The report that results from the probe will be classified.”

With Dianne Feinstein’s hand on the gavel, you can expect plenty of fake inquiries to pantomime actual oversight. She has shown a clear commitment to deep-sixing vital information about the surveillance state, in a never-ending quest for the uninformed consent of the governed. “From out of the gate, we know that her entire approach is to make those hearings into a tragic farce,” I said during an interview on C-SPAN Radio last week. “Her entire approach to this issue has been to do damage control for the NSA…. She is an apologist and a flack for the surveillance state, she is aligned with the Obama White House with that agenda, and we at the grassroots must push back against that kind of a politics.”

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Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

Revealed: Never Before Seen Photos of Tesoro Fracked Oil Spill in North Dakota, Pipeline Restarted Today

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A month after over 865,200 gallons of oil spilled from Tesoro Logistics' 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipeline resumed operations today.

What’s done abroad can be done at home too...: Is NSA spying really about blackmail?

By Dave Lindorff


A revealing page-one article in today’s New York Times (“Tap on Merkel Provides Peek a Vast Spy Net”) reports on how the NSA’s global spying program, dating back at least to early in the Bush/Cheney administration, was vacuuming up the phone conversations (and no doubt later the internet communications) of not just leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but opposition leader Merkel before her party took power in Germany.


Now Let's Shut Down the Other Half of the Government Instead: The Deadly Half

What Was “Essential” and What Wasn’t
The Government Shutdown in Perspective
By Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford

TomDispatch

On a damp Friday morning 11 days into the government shutdown, a “few dozen” truckers took to the Capital Beltway in a demonstration with the Twitter hashtag #T2SDA (Truckers to Shut Down America).  They wanted to tell lawmakers they were angry, launch an impeachment campaign against the president, and pressure Congress to end itself.

They were on a “ride for the Constitution,” protesting big government and yet the opinion polls were clear.  In fact, the numbers were stunning.  One after another, they showed that Americans opposed the shutdown and were hurting because of it.  At that moment, according to those polls, nearly one in three Americans said they felt personally affected not by too much government, but by too little, by the sudden freeze in critical services.

In reality, that government shutdown was partial and selective. Paychecks, for example, kept flowing to the very lawmakers who most fervently supported it, while the plush congressional gym with its heated pool, paddleball courts, and flat-screen televisions remained open. That’s because “essential” services continued, even as “nonessential” ones ceased. And it turned out that whether the services you cared about were essential or not was a matter of just who got to do the defining.  In that distinction between what was necessary and what wasn’t, it was easy enough to spot the values of the people’s representatives. And what we saw was gut-wrenching. Stomach-churning.

Prioritized above all else were, of course, “national security” activities, deemed beyond essential under the banner of “protecting life and property.”  Surveillance at the National Security Agency, for instance, continued, uninterrupted, though it was liberated from its obviously nonessential and, even in the best-funded of times, minimal responsibility to disclose those activities under the Freedom of Information Act.  Such disclosure was judged superfluous in a shutdown era, while spying on Americans (not to speak of Brazilians, Mexicans, Europeans, Indians, and others around the planet) was deemed indispensible.

Then there was the carefully orchestrated Special Operations Forces mission in Libya to capture a terror suspect off the streets of Tripoli in broad daylight, proving that in a shutdown period, the U.S. military wasn’t about to shut off the lights. And don’t forget the nighttime landing of a Navy SEAL team in Somalia in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a different terrorist target. These activities were deemed essential to national survival, even though the chances of an American being killed in a terrorist attack are, at the moment, estimated at around one in 20 million. Remember that number, because we’ll come back to it.

Indeed, only for a brief moment did the shutdown reduce the gusher of taxpayer dollars, billions and billions of them, into the Pentagon’s coffers. After a couple days in which civilian Defense Department employees were furloughed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that 90% of them could resume work because they “contribute to morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members.” This from the crew that, according to Foreign Policy, went on a jaw-dropping, morale-boosting $5 billion spending spree on the eve of the shutdown to exhaust any remaining cash from the closing fiscal year, buying spy satellites, drones, infrared cameras and, yes, a $9 million sparkling new gym for the Air Force Academy, replete with CrossFit space and a “television studio.”

Furloughing Children

Then there were the nonessential activities.

In Arkansas, for instance, federal funds for infant formula to feed 2,000 at-risk newborn babies were in jeopardy, as were 85,000 meals for needy children in that state. Nutrition for low-income kids was considered nonessential even though one in four children in this country doesn’t have consistent access to nutritious food, and medical research makes it clear that improper nutrition stunts brain architecture in the young, forever affecting their ability to learn and interact socially. Things got so bad that a Texas couple dug into their own reserves to keep the program running in six states.

If children in need were “furloughed,” so were abused women. Across the country, domestic violence shelters struggled to provide services as federal funds were cut off. Some shelters raised spare change from their communities to keep the doors open. According to estimates, as many as six million women each year are victims of domestic violence. On average in this country, three women are murdered by an intimate partner every day.

But funding for domestic violence protection: nonessential.

Funds for early childhood education, too, were shut off. Seven thousand low-income kids from 11 states were turned away. Their “head start” was obviously less than essential, even though evidence shows that early education for at-risk children is the best way to help them catch up with their wealthier peers in cognition and adds to their odds of staying out of prison in later life.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wasn’t accepting new patients because of the shutdown. Typically 200 new patients arrive every week for experimental treatment. On average around 30 of them are children, 10 of whom have cancer.

Cancer, in fact, is the leading cause of death among children ages one to 14.  But treatment for them didn’t qualify as essential. Unlike fighting terrorism -- remember the less-likely-than-being-struck-by-lightning odds of one in 20 million -- treating kids with cancer didn’t make the cut as “protecting life and property.”

A father of two young girls in the town of Eliot, Maine, said to a National Priorities Project staffer in disbelief, “If even one kid can’t get cancer treatment, isn’t that enough to end the shutdown?”

Let this be the last time we find ourselves on the wrong side of that question. Because every day we as a nation allowed our lawmakers to keep the government closed was a day in which we as a people were complicit in replying "no."

Let this be the last time that a couple dozen Tea Party truckers are the only ones angry enough to take to the streets. The vast majority of Americans, whatever their anger when faced with pollsters or TV news interviewers, took this shutdown lying down, perhaps imagining -- incorrectly -- that they were powerless.

Let this be the last time we allow ourselves such lethargy. After all, there are 243 million Americans old enough to vote, which means 243 million ways to demand a government that serves the people instead of shutting them out.  Keep in mind that in the office of every member of Congress is a staffer tracking constituent calls. And what those constituents say actually matters in how legislators vote. They know that a flood of angry telephone calls from their home districts means legions of angry constituents ready to turn out in the next election and possibly turn them out of office.

Shutting Down Taxes

Americans, however, didn’t get angry enough to demand an end to the shutdown, perhaps at least in part because poisonous rhetoric had convinced many that the government was nothing more than a big, wasteful behemoth -- until, at least, it shut down on them. Think of these last weeks as a vivid lesson in reality, in the ways that every American is intimately connected to government services, whether by enjoying a safe food and water supply and Interstate highways, or through Meals on Wheels, cancer treatment, or tuition assistance for higher education, not to speak of Social Security checks and Medicare.

Deep in the politics of the shutdown lies another truth: that it was all about taxes -- about, to be more specific, the unwillingness of the Republicans to raise a penny of new tax revenue, even by closing egregious loopholes that give billions away to the richest Americans.  Simply shutting down the tax break on capital gains and dividends (at $83 billion annually) would be more than enough to triple funding for Head Start, domestic violence protection, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and cancer care at the NIH.

So let this be the last time we as a nation let our elected officials cut nutrition assistance for vulnerable children at the same moment that they protect deep tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations. And let’s call recent events in Washington just what they are: breathtaking greed paired with a callous lack of concern for the most vulnerable among us.

It’s time to create a roll of dishonor and call out the lawmakers who supported the shutdown, knowing just what was involved: Mark Meadows (North Carolina, 11th congressional district), Walter Jones (NC-3), Rodney Davis (IL-13), John Mica (FL-7), Daniel Webster (FL-10), Jim Gerlach (PA-6), Justin Amash (MI-3). And that’s just to start a list that seems never to end.

Such representatives obviously should not be reelected, but we need a long-haul strategy as well -- the unsexy yet necessary systemic set of changes that will ensure our government truly represents the people. Gerrymandered district lines must be redrawn fairly, which means that citizens in each state will have to wrest control over redistricting from biased political bodies. California has set the example. Then the big money must be pulled out of political campaigns, so that our politicians learn how to be something other than talented (and beholden) fundraisers.

Finally, we must build, person by person, an electorate that’s informed enough about how our government is supposed to work to fulfill its responsibility in this democracy: to ensure, that is, that it operates in the best interests of the broadest diversity of Americans.

Ahead will be long battles. They’ll take years. And it will be worth it if, in the end, we can give the right answer to that father who asked a question that should have been on everyone’s lips.

Mattea Kramer is research director at National Priorities Project, where Jo Comerford is executive director. They authored A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget and serve as regular commentators for media outlets across the country.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford

Shot down like a dog: Why We Should Not Forget Miriam Carey

By John Grant

 

For the past week I’ve been talking with anyone I could shoehorn about the shooting death of Miriam Carey on the streets of Washington DC. As with any homicide -- and that’s how it would be classified for the autopsy -- there are differing opinions and mitigating circumstances to consider.

For instance, the mitigating circumstance most articulated by officialdom and the media to justify the killing of Miriam Carey is that the threat of terrorism is in the forefront of the minds of police officers in the nation’s capital, where 17 days earlier a random gunman had murdered 12 people at the Navy Yard.

Everyone Else Gets Priced Out of the Game

  “Excuse me for interrupting, Congressman, but I thought you might like to know that Theresa has been in the waiting room for almost two hours now, hoping to see you.”

 

“Theresa?”

 

“She’s the new aide in our Scottsville office.”

 

US Court: Transcanada's Keystone XL Profits More Important than Environment

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

In a major ruling that's flown under the radar, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit - based in Denver, Colorado - decided not to grant the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma a temporary injunction on the construction of the southern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline

The Court's decision hinged on an "injury" balancing test: Would Transcanada be hurt more financially from receiving an injunction? Had it lost, it would be stuck with one until Sierra Club, et al receive a U.S. District Court decision on the legality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant Transcanada a Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) for construction of what's now called the Gulf Coast Pipeline in February 2012. 

Or would ecosystems suffer even greater and potentially incalculable damage from the 485-mile, 700,000 barrels per day pipeline crossing 2,227 streams?

In a 2-1 decision, the Court sided with Transcanada, and by extension, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Court ruled, "the threatened environmental injuries were outweighed by the financial harm that the injunction would cause Transcanada."

Commenting on the case brought by Sierra Club, et al, Judge Jerome A. Holmes and Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. - appointees of President George W. Bush and President George H.W. Bush, respectively - shot down the arguments sharply.

U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit Judge Jerome A. Holmes; Photo Credit: The White House

Holmes and Kelly ruled that Sierra Club, et al failed to show how the pipeline will have a significant environmental impact despite the fact it's been deemed a "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet" by retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen. 

Construction of Keystone XL's southern half - subject of significant grassroots activism by the Tar Sands Blockade and others - is now nearly complete. Tar sands dilbit is slated to begin to flow through it in early 2014. 

NWP 12: "New Normal" for Tar Sands Pipeline Approval

After protestors succeeded initially in delaying Keystone XL, Big Oil has chosen a "new normal" stealth approval method: the non-transparent NWP 12. 

This avoids the more strenuous National Environmental Protection Act permitting process overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires public hearings and public comments for major federal pipeline projects. NEPA compels the EPA to take comments into account in response throughout the Environmental Impact Statement phase, allowing robust public participation in the process.

Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes explained in an interview with DeSmogBlog that NWP 12 is for utility projects with up to a half an acre of stream or wetland impacts, and has never been used for tar sands pipelines before Keystone XL's southern half.

The southern half of the pipeline was approved via Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012, directly after Obama gave a speech in front of a Cushing, OK pipeyard.

President Barack Obama speaks in Cushing, OK in March 2013; Photo Credit: White House

"The Corps is abusing the nationwide permit program. Nationwide permits were intended to permit categories of projects with truly minimal impacts, not tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states," said Hayes. 

Utilizing tricky legal loopholes, Transcanada used NWP 12 to push through Keystone XL's southern half in February 2012, calling each half acre segment of Keystone XL's southern half a "single and complete project." The Army Corps of Engineers agreed despite the fact that Transcanada refers to the pipeline at-large as the "Gulf Coast Pipeline project."

"What the Corps is doing is artificially dividing up these massive pipelines, treating them as thousands of individual projects to avoid environmental review," Hayes explained. "In this case, there were 2,227 crossings of federal waterways, so the Corps has treated the Gulf Coast Pipeline as 2,227 'single and complete projects,' each of which qualifies under NWP 12."

Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes; Photo Credit: Sierra Club

Why, I asked Hayes? 

"The Corps artificially treats these massive pipelines as thousands of individual projects so as to qualify under NWP 12 and avoid NEPA compliance."

NWP 12 has also been utilized by Enbridge for the Flanagan South Pipeline, a 600-mile, 600,000 barrels per day pipeline set to shuttle tar sands crude from Flanagan, IL to Cushing, OK, crossing over 2,000 streams. That pipeline is scheduled to begin operations in mid-2014, demonstrating how NWP 12 is the "new normal" way to fast-track domestic tar sands pipelines. 

Dissent: Laws Violated, Economic Harm Transcanada's Fault

Perhaps the biggest irony of the Appeals Court decision is that Judges Holmes and Kelly barely grappled with the central issue of the legal challenge to begin with: using NWP 12 rather than going through the NEPA process. 

"The majority opinion avoided addressing the legal questions that are central to this lawsuit - whether the Corps violated the law in permitting this pipeline - and instead it was based on how much money a delay in construction would cost TransCanada," said Hayes. 

Though Judges Holmes and Kelly stayed mum about these issues, dissenting U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado Judge William Martínez - an Obama appointee - did not, pulling no punches in doing so. 

U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado Judge William Martínez; Photo Credit: Judgepedia

"Given the totality of the circumstances...I believe the...Gulf Coast Pipeline required a comprehensive NEPA analysis," Martínez wrote.

"There are also no specific findings in support of the Corps' conclusion that the Gulf Coast Pipeline, as a whole, would have minimal cumulative impact. The failure to consider the cumulative effects of all of the water crossings involved in the Gulf Coast Pipeline violates the terms of NWP 12, and, therefore, the approval of the use of NWP 12 for construction of the Gulf Coast Pipeline violated the law." 

Though Judges Holmes and Kelly grappled with the issue of water crossings - belittling the amount of water Keystone XL's southern half would cross over - Martínez said it's about much more than just water. 

There is "real and signifcant harm caused by the actual construction of the pipeline, including the clearing of trees and vegetation, removing topsoil, filling wetlands, building access roads, and clearing an eighty-five foot construction right-of-way for the length of the pipeline," he stated.

Hayes agreed with this assessment, pointing to examples of things the Judges simply ignored in their assessment. 

"[T]he court's balancing test ignored the host of environmental impacts associated with this pipeline, including the risks of tar sands oil spills," said Hayes.

"Remember that the 2010 tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan is still being cleaned up, and so far has cost over a billion dollars. It's a bit of a Catch-22 to say that this is all just about a few acres of wetlands loss, when the whole point of this lawsuit is that the Corps avoided analyzing any of the pipeline's environmental impacts as required by NEPA."

Lastly, Martínez put the onus on Transcanada for its economic decision-making.

"Transcanada chose to incur its economic harm by entering into contracts for services before the Gulf Coast Pipeline was approved, even in light of the controversial nature of the Pipeline," said Martínez (emphasis his).

U.S. District Court Decision Forthcoming, Activism Persists 

Sierra Club, et al now await a summary judgment from the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on whether Keystone XL failed the dictates of NEPA. It's a key decision, Hayes says, because "a ruling in our favor could prevent the Corps from doing this in the future."

While they await this lower court judgment, activists continue efforts to fend off these pipeline projects. 

"This decision yet again demonstrates why direct action is necessary. The permitting process for Keystone XL's southern leg was illegal, yet regulators, inspectors, Obama, and the courts are failing to do what is necessary to protect the people and ecosystems threatened by this toxic pipeline," said Ron Seifert, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesman

"If all the branches of government are so helplessly captured by industry that they will do nothing to stave off climate change, then the people must rise up and take the defense of the environment into their own hands."

Photo Credit: tankist276 | ShutterStock

President Pivot prepares to screw the old and infirm: Whatever Happened to ‘No negotiations’ with Debt Ceiling ‘Hostage Takers’

By Dave Lindorff


President Obama ran for president promising change. What his backers didn’t realize was that he wasn’t talking about changing America for the better. He was talking about changing his position whenever he found himself in a confrontation with Republicans. There’s a reason that beginning with Obama’s 2008 campaign, and on through the past five years of his presidency, we have gotten used to a presidential behavior called “pivoting.”  


On the Side of Terror

  “Congressman, you have a noon meeting with a group of peace activists who want to talk with you about your position on Syria.  And I should warn you that there are some TV vans down in the parking lot.”

 

Is the Federal Government a Drug-Induced Hallucination?

You laugh, but that could be a side-effect.  Consider:

The Capitol Police just murdered an unarmed mother fleeing her car on foot, declared her child "unharmed," and received the longest standing-ovation in Congress since Osama bin Laden's Muslim sea burial.  Try holding your breath until Congress takes the standing ovation back, and you'll wish your were in the "Holy Land" having your house sprayed with "Skunk" artificial sewage by the Israeli military or in Old Town Alexandria tasting the air of the authentic raw sewage across the river until it's "treated" and spread on farms in the exurbs for the benefit of we the people.

Why? Because freedom.

Who would give all of this up in exchange for a reduced military costing less than $1 trillion per year?  Well, maybe the dude who just cremated himself alive on the National Mall, it's hard to know.  Or possibly me the next time a tourist asks me why they named it the National Mall knowing fully damn well that they'd confuse everyone who arrived expecting department stores and food courts.

This weekend, government programs aimed at slowing the starvation or other premature death of the least well off among us were closed, out of business, gone fishing.  But the fucking football game between the Navy and the Air Force was an essential government service proudly played for the honor of "everyone fighting for this country" as one brainwashed midshipman put it. Did you know the top paid people in the U.S. military are all football coaches, and essential public servants?

President after president of countries 8% of us could find on a map are going to the United Nations to compare U.S. "exceptionalism" to Nazi Ubermenschen.  Can you imagine the anti-American idiocy involved?  But the last living prosecutor at Nuremberg, an American, has been saying the same thing.  What'shis problem? And how could he dare if this weren't all hallucinatory?

President Obama was praised for his speech at the United Nations because he didn't threaten a first nuclear strike.  That's the standard.  Now he's getting credit for locking people up on ships outside of any system of law, because he can't have murdered them if he locked them up on ships.  That's progress!  If you squeeze down the passages of this psychedelic rabbit hole and peer out a window, you see a radically different world outside.

Switzerland is working on a maximum wage and a guaranteed basic income.  But how many wars are they going to be able to join in after that colossal waste of funding?  Their entire population is already suffering war deprivation.  The Swiss can't expect the U.S. to pick up the tab for their wars while they make chocolate and don't even have the decency to spray sewage on anyone.

I once heard a likely lunatic propose that instead of paying farmers not to farm (and dumping sludge on their land) the U.S. government could pay weapons makers not to make weapons, stop giving and selling weapons to everybody else's governments, and ban U.S. troops and mercenaries from any distance greater than 500 miles from the United States.  I say lunatic, because in this particular hallucination that we're all living through money multiplies itself if it's spent on killing people.  A half a billion dollars for Solyndra is an outrageous waste that kills nobody and is lost forever.  But a half billion dollars for two days -- give or take a speech by Congressman Cruz -- of blowing stuff up in Afghanistan is cost-free since the half billion dollars reproduces itself at the Federal Reserve which not only grows laboratory hamburgers but sells them to foreigners for national security resources misplaced beneath the wrong nations.

The winding down drawdown ending of the gradual scaling back of the wrapping up completed war on Afghanistan has eaten the wrong sort of size pill somehow.  There are now almost twice as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan as when Barack Obama became president.

We're still spending over $10 million every hour (even during a government shutdown) for a war in Afghanistan that has now completed its 12th year and begins its 13th today.  This spending drains rather than fueling the U.S. economy.  Inflicting more war on Afghanistan has involved the killing of thousands of civilians. Experts in the U.S., British, and Afghan governments agree that this is making us less safe, not protecting us.

Why? Because Obama.

Captain Peace Prize is attempting what he failed at in Iraq: an agreement with a puppet to continue an "ended" war indefinitely.  President Obama is trying to negotiate a deal with corrupt lame-duck President Hamid Karzai to keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with immunity from prosecution for crimes and the right to continue attacking Afghans including with raids on their homes at night. This could mean nine major U.S. military bases remaining in Afghanistan at a huge cost in dollars, lives, safety, and environmental destruction for decades to come.

Oh, and the good, smart, humanitarian, not-Iraq war on Afghanistan is as illegal as whatever we consumed to induce this bizarre hallucination.

There's a place to scream I'm Not Going to Take It Anymore right here.

Al Jolson wrote a note to President Harding some years back now:

"The weary world is waiting for
Peace forevermore
So take away the gun
From every mother's son
And put an end to war."

And still, 86 new Adolf Hitler misidentifications later, they do not listen.  Except that they listened on missiles into Syria.  The two parties wanted the missiles.  Raytheon's stock was through the roof.  And we said no, no, and hell no, and go Dick Cheney yourselves.  And the bipartisan agreement was stopped by our 90% opposition and 0.5% actively expressed outrage.  And within a couple of weeks the zombie of pretended partisanship was back in the form of a shutdown dispute that, through a perfectly harmonious bipartisan agreement, didn't shut down the military or the NSA or the Navy v. Air Force football game.

Everything useful is shut down.  Everything deadly is up and running.  And a gang of truckers is on its way to DC to shut down the government.  Make sense of any of this if you dare, and I'm willing to bet you've worn a Redskins shirt to the Holocaust museum.

Park rangers ‘punked’: Government Shuts Down But Perversions Persist

By Linn Washington, Jr.


On the first day of the federal government shut-down, as hundreds of tourists were turned away from the shuttered Liberty Bell and other fabled sites within the Independence National Historical Park in downtown Philadelphia, Richard Dyost stood near the building housing the Bell and received a big laugh.

Congress should stop blowing smoke: Weed to the Rescue in Budget Crisis?

By Linn Washington, Jr.


Imagine U.S. House Speaker John Boehner blasted on weed.

Given Boehner’s teary-eyed trait, he’d probably cry uncontrollably when high on pot alternating his crocodile tears with hysterical laughter…perhaps even laughing at some of that dumb shi-tuff he and his GOP colleagues constantly do on Capitol Hill.

A Tale of Two Congress Members

In 2010 in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, many people who prioritize peace over war probably voted for Democrat Tom Perriello over Republican Robert Hurt.  I know many who did just that.

Here's what Congressman Hurt said on Tuesday about Syria:

"I have repeatedly stated ... that before the United States should commit any of its precious American lives or military resources to an attack on the Syrian regime, the President must articulate a compelling American national security interest that requires military action. I have attended classified briefings, and I have concluded that, at this time, the President has not demonstrated that a compelling national security interest is at stake. Because of this, I will not be able to support the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution should it come to a vote under current circumstances."

Meanwhile, former Congressman Perriello has advocated, with his colleagues at the Center for American Progress for the United States to "increase its assistance to the Syrian opposition with the goal of supporting an alternative opposition government that is better organized than at present."  According to Perriello the U.S. has a "national security interest" in "preparing the groundwork for a political and economic transition to a new regime in Syria in the foreseeable future." 

Perriello told The Atlantic: "Within that context, you have to look at a set of tactics. A lot of people seem to be dismissing the idea that there's any role for a surgical, strategic strike short of regime change. While I have advocated for a more aggressive posture that would potentially include regime transition, there is absolutely an argument for inflicting some cost to the regime for the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population. ... And that I think you can do largely from the air without a lot of involvement on the ground. ... He knows if we intervene, his days are over, so part of what he’s doing, like a petulant child, is seeing how far he can push before we come in. Traditionally, the use of chemical and biological weapons, with very few exceptions, has been something you cannot do without invoking dramatic action. ... One of the reasons I came to the conclusion a year and a half ago that we needed to intervene is that both sides appear just strong enough not to lose."  In the same interview Perriello refused to support the Constitutional requirement to take the question of war to Congress for its authorization.

Would Perriello resist a war if the president were a Republican?  Would Hurt then support war?  We can't know.  But both have expressed their ideologies on war clearly and quite consistently thus far.  Perriello voted for every war dollar that came before him while he was in Congress, including a 2009 "emergency" supplemental that included a bailout for bankers and barely passed.  Perriello has written and spoken publicly hundreds of times of his support for war.  Hurt has spoken and written a number of times now of his opposition.

I was part of groups of residents that met with Perriello to discuss his funding of war in Afghanistan.  It was like talking to a brick wall.  I was part of a group of residents who met with Hurt to discuss authorization for missile strikes or wider war in Syria.  It was like talking to a human being.

Whoever the Democrats put up against Hurt in the next election might possibly be his superior on any number of issues.  But check his or her position on war with a magnifying glass.  Militarism swallows roughly half of federal discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense.  You can't be in favor of a trillion dollar military and in favor of schools or housing or anything else.  The military is the main thing our government does.  It matters whether we get it right, or whether we thoughtlessly get it backwards.

After decades US still has huge poison gas stash: Washington Demands Syria Destroy Chemical Weapons Lickety-Split

By Dave Lindorff

 
The US is demanding, in negotiations at the UN, that all Syrian chemical weapons, stocks and production facilities be eliminated by June 30 of next year. This has an element of hypocrisy, because the US itself has been incredibly slow about eliminating its own stocks of chemical weapons.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to Syria as having one of the largest chemical stockpiles in the world. But the US and Russia both still have stocks of chemicals many times as large. Syria’s neighbor Israel, which refuses to admit it has the weapons and has yet to ratify the treaty banning them, is suspected of also having a large arsenal.

A fight against the very essence of the Internet: Attacking Net Neutrality Once Again

By Alfredo Lopez

 

Last week, Verizon, the telephone giant, went to court to accuse the Federal Communications Commission of "overstepping its authority" and reverse the authority's over-step. It's a legal wrangle that, bottled and distributed, would be a safe substitute for sleeping pills.

Is Dithering Always Bad?: Trust and Verify and Vomit

By John Grant


The media didn’t waste time lining up US leaders to trash Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent op-ed in The New York Times. There was the expected outrage that such a “dictator” and “tyrant” had the gall to lecture the United States of America. Bill O’Reilly referred to Putin as “a criminal monster.” Charles Krauthammer kept it real and called Putin "a KGB thug.”

New Video Short about the Cancerous Militarization of the US, produced by Class War Films

For a timely explanation of the crisis of the militarization of America, days after popular opposition, in a historic first, blocked a US war -- in this case against the sovereign nation of Syria -- check out this film by Lanny Cotler and Paul Edwards of Class War Films

To view the film, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net

Senators could vote on Syria force next week if diplomacy fails

Reuters - Lawmakers said on Wednesday the Senate could start voting on a resolution to authorize the use of military force against Syria as soon as next week if efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis fall short.

A resolution authorizing strikes against Syria had been expected to come before the full Senate for a vote this week. But it was delayed after President Barack Obama asked lawmakers to wait for the outcome of a Russia-backed diplomatic initiative under which Syria would give up its chemical weapons.

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