NATO begins largest anti-submarine exercises ever in the North Sea


By Niles Williamson
6 May 2015

NATO launched its annual anti-submarine and anti-surface North Sea naval war games Monday. Approximately 5,000 sailors and other servicemen from 11 countries will take place in the exercise.

In a significant development, the North Sea exercise will incorporate forces from non-NATO ally Sweden for the first time, alongside naval vessels from 10 NATO countries. Norway, one of the founding members of the NATO alliance, is one of three Nordic country, including Denmark and Iceland, which are a full members. Finland and Sweden, while officially remaining neutral, have developed strong ties to the military alliance, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The games, dubbed Dynamic Mongoose, are scheduled to take place over the next two weeks and will involve four submarines from Germany, Norway, Sweden and the United States that will practice avoiding underwater detection and simulating assaults on enemy ships.

Thirteen combat vessels from Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States will simulate hunting for the submarines in the waters off the Norwegian coast. The NATO research vessel Alliance, based in La Spezia, Italy, will also participate in the exercise for the first time in order to test new underwater drones and sensor buoys. France and Germany will contribute maritime patrol aircraft.

Simultaneously with the North Sea operations, Estonia and Latvia, which both border Russia, are holding their own military war games. Latvia will hold military exercises codenamed Zaibo Kiritis, involving 3,000 soldiers. More significantly, the Estonian war games, Siil-2015, will involve 13,000 military personnel, including members of the paramilitary Estonian Defense League; British, German, and Belgian jet fighters; and four Abrams battle tanks manned by American troops.

Last year US President Barack Obama traveled to Tallinn, Estonia, where he gave a speech in which he committed the United States to war with Russia over the Baltic States under the collective defense clause of NATO’s charter. “An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘who will come to help,’ you’ll know the answer—the NATO Alliance, including the Armed Forces of the United States of America, ‘right here, present, now!’ We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania…,” the president pledged.

Rear Admiral Brad Williamson, the US commander overseeing the North Sea war games, told reporters that the operation was not a direct response to recent alleged activity of Russian ships in the Baltic Sea. He made clear, however, that Russia was the target. “This is not a response to that, but provides relevance to the exercise,” Williamson said. “Russia has a right to be at sea, just as we do, but the incidents we have seen are not in line with international regulations…and that’s been the cause of concern,” Williamson concluded.

The reported detection of unidentified objects in the Baltic and Nordic region in recent months has been used to whip up anti-Russian sentiment and justify the remilitarization of Eastern Europe.

The Latvian military reported on Monday that it had spotted two Russian warships and a submarine near its maritime border. The ships were detected within Latvia’s exclusive economic zone approximately five miles from the border. Russian warships routinely pass through the area, as Moscow maintains the Baltic Fleet at its naval base in Baltiysk in the enclave of Kaliningrad.

Last week, the Finnish navy dropped depth charges and launched a surveillance operation against a possible underwater object detected in the country’s territorial waters. While the Finnish armed forces have yet to confirm that the object was a foreign submarine, the media has presented it as a foregone conclusion that it was a Russian submarine.

Prior to this incident, Finnland’s incoming Centre Party Prime Minister Juha Sipilä indicated that his government, which shares an 833-mile border with Russia, will intensify its cooperation with the NATO alliance in the coming years.

The recent incidents follow similar activity last October, when the Swedish armed forces launched a weeklong hunt in the Baltic in response to the sighting of an unidentified object in Stockholm’s territorial waters which the media claimed was a Russian vessel. While what was initially spotted has yet to be confirmed, the Swedish military admitted last week that a second reported sighting of a Russian submarine was actually a civilian work boat.

While Sweden is not yet an official member of the NATO, its involvement in the alliance’s operations have grown over the last two decades. Sweden has participated in the so-called Partnership for Peace since 1994, and has deployed troops to Afghanistan since 2006 to assist in the American military occupation of that country. The Swedish Air Force also participated in the brutal US-NATO assault on Libya in 2011, flying reconnaissance and refueling missions and assisting in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country.

In the aftermath of the US- and German-backed right-wing coup in Ukraine and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea last year, leading government officials, including former Liberal People’s Party Deputy Prime Minister Jan Björklund, have called for the country to follow in the footsteps of the nearby Baltic states and become a full member of the alliance.

The US government has encouraged every Eastern European country to significantly boost its military spending, justified by a supposed military threat from Russia. Lithuania will increase its arms purchasing budget this year by 50 percent, Poland by 20 percent, and Latvia by 15 percent. Defense spending by the Ukrainian government increased by 20 percent last year and is expected to double this year. Sweden plans to increase its military budget by 15 percent over the next five years.

The “Fight of the Century”: An orgy of wealth and profit


By Joseph Santolan
6 May 2015

On Saturday, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao boxed for twelve rounds in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout had been billed as the “Fight of the Century.” At the end of the 36-minute fight, Mayweather defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision by the three fight judges.

The fight was the subject of extravagant media hype. It was broadcast in the United States and many countries internationally by Pay-Per-View (PPV) television. Some poorer countries, such as the Philippines and Mexico, broadcast the bout without charge, subsidized by advertising revenue.

The figures involved in this one boxing match are mind-boggling.

The fight had a $300 million purse. Mayweather will make around $180 million while Pacquiao will pocket an estimated $120 million. But these figures pale before the total revenue that the fight generated.

The final figures have not yet been released, but the Wall Street Journalreported that Pay-Per-View industry executives have estimated there were three million paid viewers in the United States. HBO and Showtime charged viewers $99 to watch the fight in high definition and $89 for standard definition. Total PPV revenue in the United States is now estimated to be $300-$400 million.

But the money does not stop there. The fight brought in profits from ticket sales, hotel bookings, gambling, promotional merchandise and advertising. For the promoters and profiteers of the boxing and entertainment industries, the bout was a bonanza of over a billion dollars.

Ostentatious amounts of money oozed from every pore of the event. The shorts that Pacquiao wore in the ring displayed seven advertising logos that netted Pacquiao $2.5 million. A two-square-inch space on Pacquiao’s rear end cost Nike $416,000. Burger King paid $1 million to have their mascot walk in Mayweather’s entourage as he entered the arena, displacing the pop star Justin Bieber.

The bout was quite the fashionable to-do. Hedge fund managers and A-list actors and celebrities rubbed elbows as they posed for selfies. Many were there to be seen and not necessarily to watch the match. They spent a total of $80 million on the 16,000 tickets available for the event.

Ringside tickets sold for $250,000. About six rows back could cost anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000.

According to ABC News, the fight was “one of the most exclusive boxing events the destination has ever hosted. Only 500 tickets were offered to the public, and they sold in seconds.” To get your hands on a ticket you needed connections.

Celebrities of Hollywood and the music industry were there in droves. Music moguls Jay-Z and Beyoncé were in attendance as was billionaire heiress Paris Hilton, Robert de Niro and Michael Jordan, Clint Eastwood and Nicki Minaj, and real estate billionaire Donald Trump.

Long-time Democratic Party operative and charlatan purveyor of identity politics, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was seated in a section that averaged at least $10,000 per ticket. There were so many celebrities that many could not find space on the floor level and had to sit among the ordinary folks in the $4,000 nosebleed seats.

The multimillionaires and billionaires flew to Las Vegas in their private jets for the fight and turned McCarran International Airport into a parking lot. Pictures posted on Instragram and Twitter show the tarmac covered in hundreds of Gulf Streams and Cessnas and Lears, the exclusive air transit of the extremely wealthy. The tarmac was so crowded that McCarran had to temporarily close the terminal. Forty members of the National Guard were brought in to ensure that no one would disturb the arrival and departure of passengers for the fight.

Some late arrivals jetted in for the fight from the Kentucky Derby horse race. The Derby ran at 6:26 pm Eastern time. According to the Washington Post, they raced in police-escorted limousines from Millionaire’s Row at Churchill Downs where they had just watched a horse named American Pharaoh win at the races, to the airport. From there they boarded private jets, which flew them to Las Vegas to round out the day with the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

Less prominently featured in the press, but very much in attendance, were the billionaire managers of the world’s leading hedge funds. The Pacquiao-Mayweather bout had been scheduled to take place the day before the opening of the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) convention in Las Vegas.

The SALT convention is an annual gathering of around 2,000 executives from the world’s largest hedge fund companies that collectively control the majority of the planet’s wealth. This year’s convention has a speakers list that includes former head of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, former head of the NSA Keith Alexander, former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former director of the CIA David Petraeus, and former secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The former prime ministers of Australia and Greece, Julia Gillard and George Papandreou, were among dozens of other world leaders and CEOs.

What better way was there to kick off a convention of the financial aristocracy and its war criminals than watching a high-ticket gladiator bout?

Then there was the money to be made off gambling. Early estimates predicted over that $80 million would be placed in bets in Nevada alone. Celebrities Mark Wahlberg and P. Diddy announced to television crews that they had each bet $250,000 on the fight.

Many working people gathered on Saturday night in homes with a friend who happened to have cable or DirectTV, and they often pooled the money to pay the $100 cost for the pay-per-view. But then pay-per-view broke. Cable companies across the country, unable to meet the demand, displayed blank screens. HBO and Showtime delayed the bout as cable companies tried to restore service. Most customers were denied refunds.

Todd DuBoef, the president of fight promoter Top Rank Inc., threatened to carry out legal action against video-sharing companies and individuals who used smartphone apps and other technology to watch the fight for free.

Nevertheless, the promoters of the fight are understandably pleased with the result. The inconclusive character of the bout lays open the possibility of the “rematch of the century,” and there are again immense sums of money to be made.

The entire farcical affair was the athletic equivalent of a derivatives swap. Obscene amounts of profit were extracted from a spectacle that had little connection to any real event.

Professional sports have always labored under the deadening influence of too much money and the rapacious pursuit of profit. Nowhere has this been more evident than in boxing, with its intimate connections with casinos, gambling and organized crime. The competitors come from the most oppressed layers of society, and the vast majority have been exploited and then beaten to a pulp.

Baltimore: ‘we want justice, by any means necessary’

By Valentina Dallona On May 4, 2015

Post image for Baltimore: ‘we want justice, by any means necessary’
People had to resort to bricks and fire to be heard, but finally the authorities can no longer ignore the voices of the marginalized and oppressed.
It is not easy to sum up the history of oppression that is being expressed in these days of protests and riots in Baltimore. It becomes even more difficult when your hands are shaking with anxiety and helplessness, while right outside your window a couple of police officers are arresting a teen and the entire city is a frenzy of sirens.But let us start from the beginning. Or not quite, as the beginning of this story is not easy to spot. Let us start with Freddie Gray. On April 12, at 8.40am, at the intersection between Presbury and N-Mount Street (in the neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, West Baltimore), Freddie made the fatal mistake of running away from a police officer (Brian Rice) on bicycle, who had just made eye-contact with him. After deciding that this was enough of a probable cause to arrest the 25-year-old, Rice called out for the support of five other officers (Garrett Miller, Alicia White, William Porter, Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson) with whose assistance he arrested Freddie (probably already injuring him at this point) and threw his limp body into a police van.

Despite several calls for medical assistance by Freddie Gray, none of the officers responded. Instead, they dragged the victim around for 40 minutes, picking up other suspects in the meantime, before arriving at the police station. By that time Freddie was lying unconscious on the vehicle’s floor. A week later, on April 19, Freddie died in the hospital as the result of a severe spinal injury.

The death of Freddie Gray is only the latest in a long series of which we remember but a few names, such as those of Trayvon Martin (killed in February 2012) and Eric Garner (July 2014). The issue of police brutality against the black community suddenly hit newspaper headlines after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. Mike Brown’s premature death triggered days of riots and months of protest in Ferguson and across the country, with thousands taking to the streets to declare that “black lives matter.”

The murder of Freddie Gray thus occurred in a context in which police actions are under close scrutiny of public opinion, on the one hand, and of the legislators on the other. Tensions in black-majority neighborhoods are running high. To this background we must add the fact that we are speaking about Baltimore: a city in which 65% of the population is black and where a large majority of the overall population lives in the “hoods” of East and West Baltimore, with only a very thin “safe strip” remaining in the predominantly white middle.

In sum, this is a tale of two cities, where the wealthy, white-majority neighborhoods of Guilford, Roland Park and Canton — with their perfectly mowed lawns — stand in stark contrast to the worn-down, crime-ridden neighborhoods that make up most of the city, where the rates of unemployment are — in the best cases — double those recorded in white neighborhoods. This is without taking into account those who have stopped actively seeking employment, which includes many young black men who are prevented from pursuing a job because they have criminal records.





Table extracted from the paper ‘Down to the Wire: Displacement and Disinvestment in Baltimore City’, by Lawrence Brown

In this context, many black youths in the hoods find that the only remaining job opportunities are in drug trafficking and the informal economy that revolves around it. The drug-dealing business is not only destroying the black community as a result of addiction, but is also producing the chain of violence that inevitably comes with the trade.

Thus, the umpteenth murder took place in a city where social tensions were already at fever-pitch, waiting to burst. In the days following Freddie’s death, Sandtown has taken to the streets every single day to protest, bringing along a growing crowd of supporters. Last Saturday, April 25, everybody was there: from Freddie’s friends to Johns Hopkins academics, from local unions to the angry mothers who have lost their husbands, their sons, their brothers at the hands of the police force: 1,500 people yelling “we want justice for Freddie!” — some at the police officials, some at the Mayor, some others at the sky.

After four hours of marching through the city, the crowd poured into the square in front of Baltimore City Hall, where the leadership of the New Black Panther Party made an attempt to keep the mass of people in place for a series of speeches. This attempt failed about half an hour afterwards, when Malik Shabbazz’s request to ‘calm down, we will let you march again in about an hour’ was met by a group of hundreds of people spontaneously “leaking” back into the streets and heading towards the stadium, where the baseball season recently started again.

Although the Baltimore police department had been almost invisible throughout the march, the stadium full of devoted Orioles fans could not go unprotected: rows of riot police equipped with horses and pepper-spray blocked the entrance. At the same time, however, it was clear that police officers received orders to stay calm, so much so that they remained relatively composed even as protesters attacked six police cars parked nearby the stadium and blocked the intersection between W-Pratt St and S-Howard St for four hours.







Image: protesters smash up a police car nearby the stadium on April 25.

It was only towards 8pm that the police helicopter, which never stopped circulating overhead, began to relay the usual message: “you must clear the intersection or you will be arrested.” Even in this case, however, the authorities showed a surprising degree of restraint, clearly ordered from above: the mayor, police authorities and everybody else knew how incendiary the situation was.

But the composure displayed by the police was not enough to sedate the deep-seated anger, rooted not only in the racism and abuse of the law enforcement apparatus, but also in the lack of alternatives available to black youth in the hoods. Hence, while only 50 miles away President Obama was letting loose in a stand-up show for the annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the protesters in Baltimore went back towards the Western District, where people engaged in a night of clashes with the police.

Following the night of clashes in Sandtown, the community called for peace in the streets until Freddie’s funeral, scheduled for Monday, April 27. Rallies were not to be resumed until the following Tuesday. But things soon got more complicated: April 25 saw the announcement of a truce between the three major gangs in the city: the Bloods, the Crips and the Black Guerrilla Family. While only a few days before they had still been killing each other, on April 25 the members of the different gangs were walking together in the same march, for the first time since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, following the savage police beating of the African-American taxi driver Rodney King.

The truce is of such importance that it was invoked by the police later as a reason to abandon the low-key approach of April 25 and deploy the National Guard in the streets. On Monday morning, the Baltimore Police Department (BCPD) released a declaration stating that intelligence sources had issued a warning about a “credible threat” regarding a partnership between the city’s gangs aimed at “taking-out law enforcement officers.”

With this statement (whose validity has been questioned by the public declarations of some of the gang members involved), the authorities intended to send a clear message: we do not appreciate your unity, so be careful, as we are ready to act. The criminal economy, after all, constitutes the main relief valve of the marginalized urban underclasses, and the possibility of different criminal networks reaching common ground represents too big of a threat to law enforcement.

And so city authorities decided to first close down all public schools in the area and send the students home, and secondly to position 400 riot police nearby Mondawmin Mall, where riots were rumored to start. At this point, hundreds of school boys who had just been told to leave the nearby public school Douglass High found themselves facing off with hundreds of policemen dressed in riot gear and determined to not let anyone leave. This standoff was the immediate trigger for a long day (and night) of riots, which ended — according to estimates by the city authorities — with more than 200 arrests, 144 car fires and 15 structure fires.

In response, a state of emergency was declared across the city and the newly elected Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan called in the National Guard. Helicopters have been circling over the city 24/7 and on Tuesday, April 28, a week-long curfew was imposed, forcing everybody to stay indoors between 10pm to 5am. In the meantime, protests continue.

The riots of April 27 started around 2.30pm and went on throughout the night.

These are important days, not only for Baltimore, but for the entire country. People had to resort to bricks and fire in order to be heard, but finally the authorities (and the world) can no longer ignore the voices of the youth, the mothers, the fathers of Sandtown, who have much to talk about. They talk about the constant abuse of the police force and the everyday racism that consigns black people to a sub-human status. They talk about how the city authorities have completely divested from these neighborhoods, privatizing the little social housing that was left, closing down the recreation centers and cutting down water provisions to those households that cannot afford to pay the bills, while at the same time spending millions of dollars in TIFs and other subsidies to the big downtown developers.

They also talk about jobs, or more precisely the lack thereof, and the absence of perspectives for most of the black youth of Baltimore (and so many other cities in the United States). Because racism is the mask exploitation hides under. It constitutes yet another instrument to oppress marginalized communities and undermine social solidarity. Hence, in a city that has since the 1970s experienced a process of severe de-industrialization while companies fled abroad in the search for cheaper labor force, African-Americans have been consigned to poverty — either stuck in unemployment or hired for low-end jobs, predominantly in the service sector (the only sector that has expanded in the last few decades). As the first victims of the sub-prime mortgage bubble that trapped so many household into a spiral of debt, now they are also the first to be evicted from their residences to make space for the plans of the big private developers.

The protests of the past week talk about all of this — and, yes, they also talk about Freddie. We want justice, by any means necessary.

Valentina Dallona is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she studies social theory and labor. She is a member of the Clash City Workers collective in Italy.


UPDATE, 02/05/2015:

As many of you have probably heard by now, in the morning of May 1, the recently elected state attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest and transport to the police station have been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The announcement was completely unexpected, especially after rumors had been circulating in the previous days about police authorities sticking to the version that Freddie actually deliberately broke his own spinal chord while locked up in the police van. These charges constitute an important victory, despite the police union effort to revert the verdict by pointing to an alleged “conflict of interest” between the state attorney, Gray’s family and the local media (see picture below for the official statement).

The struggle is not over, though. While people are now being arrested for defying a needless curfew (there have been no clashes, only peaceful rallies, since the National Guard entered town), concrete steps are needed to turn this victory into systemic change.

Low Wages Cost U.S. Taxpayers $153 Billion A Year


When thousands of low-wage workers across the country protest low pay on Wednesday, they won’t only be fighting for the millions of workers who flip our burgers, stock our grocery shelves and take care of our kids. They’ll be fighting for a monumental shift in the American economy that could save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Poverty wages cost U.S. taxpayers about $153 billion each year, according to a recent report from the University of California, Berkeley. That’s because, when families depend on low-wage jobs to survive, they’re forced to rely on government programs like Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet.

The Berkeley report looks at how much states and the federal government are spending on programs like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The report found that the federal government spends about $127.8 billion per year, and states collectively spend about $25 billion per year, on public assistance programs for working families.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is stalled at a paltry $7.25 an hour. A parent working full-time at that rate over the course of the year won’t bring in enough moneyto live above the poverty line for a family of two, which means leaning on government assistance.

So when a company like McDonald’s, for instance, pays a worker the minimum wage, you, the taypayer, end up subsidizing her pay. A 2013 analysis from the National Employment Law Project found that the 10 largest fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion per year.

Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post

More than half of fast-food workers rely on public assistance, in fact. But that’s not the only sector desperate for a raise. The Berkeley report also found that child-care and home-care workers also rely on public assistance to get by.

On April 15, workers across the U.S. are planning to protest for better pay and union representation for low-wage workers. The protests are being organized by Fight for 15,a national labor movement fighting to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Here’s a look at what percentage of low-wage workers across the following fields rely on public assistance:

share of workers

Many low-wage employers, from Walmart to McDonald’s, have announced pay raises in recent months, but workers say it isn’t enough. For example, McDonald’s plan to raise wages by 10 percent will only affect a small percentage of the company’s workers. Most McDonald’s workers are employed by franchisees, and the company has said it can’t control how those workers are paid.

Fracking linked to earthquakes and increased levels of radon in homes


By Philip Guelpa
4 May 2015

A newly released study indicates that a significant correlation exists between areas where fracking (high volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits) is taking place and elevated levels of radon.

Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas, a known carcinogen, which accumulates in homes and commercial buildings. It is a radioactive decomposition product of radium-226, and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University.

In a separate study, government researchers identified a statistically significant correlation between increased seismic activity and the proximity of injection wells used to dispose of huge quantities of contaminated fracking wastewater.

Neither of these findings is entirely surprising. It has been known for years that the fracking process employs huge quantities of water and a witch’s brew of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals to break open the shale bedrock in order to release oil and natural gas trapped within. It is also known that, in addition to the hydrocarbons, the resulting wastewater “backflow” may also bring up harmful heavy metals and radioactive materials. However, the industry and its political supporters have consistently denied that this is of concern.

The findings regarding radon are based on analysis of over 860,000 measurements taken in Pennsylvania homes and other buildings from 1989 to 2013. Levels of radon began to increase noticeably in 2004 as fracking activity intensified. Between 2005 and 2013, 7,469 fracking wells were drilled in the state.

Radium is a naturally occurring inclusion in the shale deposits being fracked. As it decomposes into radon gas, it normally travels to the surface in varying quantities and can accumulate in building basements, posing a health danger to the occupants. However, the significant increase in radon levels in recent years correlated with the expansion of fracking strongly suggests a cause and effect relationship, posing a marked increase in health risk.

Joan Casey of University of California Berkeley, a coauthor of the study, said in a statement released by Johns Hopkins University that, “By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface.”

Among the study’s findings was that radon concentrations were 21 percent higher in buildings that used well water as compared to municipal sources. Buildings in rural areas where fracking is prevalent were found to have radon in concentrations 39 percent higher than those in urban areas, where fracking is not taking place.

Radon has a half-life of about four days. Within 20 days it has lost 95 percent of its radioactivity. Therefore, the source of radon contamination must be in close proximity to the locations where increased levels have been found.

The new study contradicts earlier findings by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, published in January, that there is “little potential for additional radon exposure to the public” due to fracking. Last fall, earlier DEP studies downplaying the dangers of fracking were brought into question when it was revealed that they omitted measurements on many important contaminants. Given that the state’s politicians are heavily supportive of fracking, the latest DEP study must be viewed as suspect. The reliability of the UC/Johns Hopkins results is bolstered by the very large sample size of the data used and the fact that the source of the data is the DEP itself.

Another study, published last October, using data from five states, found elevated levels of eight toxic chemicals near fracking sites. These included benzene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens. And, a September study by the National Institutes of Health found that Pennsylvanians who live close to natural gas wells are twice as likely to report skin and respiratory problems as residents who live farther away.

Not only does fracking pose dangers stemming from the release of toxic and radioactive materials, but the disposal of the huge quantities of contaminated wastewater that result is also a major problem. Treating this effluent to make it safe to return to the environment is technically difficult and expensive. Most sewage treatment plants are not capable of accomplishing this task. Therefore, the industry employs various methods to make the waste “disappear.”

One favored method is the injection of the fracking fluid deep underground, where it is supposedly “sequestered,” preventing environmental contamination. In Oklahoma, more than 50 billion gallons of wastewater went into disposal wells in 2013 alone, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Not only does this make the water unavailable for future use, an especially troublesome problem for arid areas, but it is becoming increasingly evident that introducing large quantities of water under pressure into geologic formations where it did not formerly exist is resulting in seismic disturbances—earthquakes.

A study by the US Geological Survey, released last Thursday, demonstrates a clear correlation between the increasing frequency of earthquakes and the injection well disposal of fracking wastewater. In Oklahoma, the hardest-hit state, earthquakes are hundreds of time more likely than they were a few years ago, before the underground disposal began. Elevated seismic activity associated with this practice was found in eight other states as well.

According to the report, Oklahoma is now experiencing quakes of magnitude 3 or greater at the rate of one or two a day. Previously, such events occurred there only once or twice per year. The state government has been forced to publicly acknowledge the link between the increased seismic activity and fracking wastewater injection wells.

This comes after years of denials by industry and government representatives across the country. There has been only limited regulation of fracking fluid disposal using this method. In 1988 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous and solid waste, exempting the waste from oil and gas exploration, development, and production from oversight, leaving responsibility to even weaker or nonexistent state regulations.

Earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater are capable of producing structural damage. In 2011, Oklahoma experience a magnitude 5.6 quake, which is the largest yet recorded that can be linked to fracking wastewater disposal. The cumulative effect of increasing numbers of disposal wells, especially when concentrated in close proximity appears to increase not only the frequency but also the intensity of such events.

Estimates suggest that quakes of magnitudes up to 7 or 8 could result from this practice. This is within the range of naturally occurring tremors that caused major damage. For example, the 1995 Los Angeles earthquake reached 6.7 and the San Francisco quake of 1989 measured 6.9.

Further confirmation of the link between well disposal and earthquakes comes from the observation that in the few areas where this practice has been halted, the frequency of quakes has dropped dramatically.

The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), a state regulatory agency, stated in an official report, “The commission finds increased seismic activity constitutes an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare. The commission finds damage may result if immediate action is not taken.” However, in deference to the power of the petroleum industry, the order is limited to areas where an increase in earthquake activity has already been observed.

The influence of the industry over state regulators is illustrated by a recently revealed incident in Oklahoma. As shown by emails obtained under the freedom of information law, the state seismologist, Austin Holland, was summoned to a meeting in 2013 with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm. Hamm, who has been called the founding father of the US fracking boom, expressed his “concern” that earthquakes were being linked to the fracking process. Holland indicated that meeting was “intimidating.” This was reportedly at least the second such meeting with industry executives.

The pattern seen emerging from multiple efforts by a variety of researchers consistently points to one conclusion: the combination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits, as currently practiced, poses a marked and immediate danger to human health and the environment. Despite persistent industry claims to the contrary, the process itself and the resulting waste create safety hazards.

Leakage and spillage expose humans, both industry workers and residents in nearby communities, as well as plants and animals in the environment, to carcinogens and other toxic materials at unsafe concentrations. Furthermore, tremendous quantities of water, contaminated by the fracking process, are difficult or impossible to safely return to the environment. Efforts to sequester the wastewater by injection deep underground not only remove it from any further practical use, a concern especially in more arid regions, but also causes increasingly dangerous earthquakes.

The vast proliferation of fracking in the US, where it is currently being conducted in 18 states, and increasingly around the world, is driven by a combination of the unfettered drive for profit by energy companies and increasing geopolitical rivalries without regard to the consequences.


Baltimore rally against police brutality encourages illusions in Democrats

By Nick Barrickman and Jerry White
4 May 2015

On Saturday, over a thousand people protested in Baltimore, Maryland against police brutality and the continued presence of National Guard troops in the city. Protests also took place in Boston, Atlanta and other US cities over the weekend to oppose the wave of police killings across the US, including the murder of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

A group of protesters

The Baltimore protest occurred as Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continued the police-military occupation of the city by 3,000 National Guardsmen, 578 state troopers and 432 cops from the city and surrounding areas.

Fifty people were arrested Saturday night, including two members of the National Lawyers Guild and individuals serving as medics, for violations of the 10 pm to 5 am curfew imposed after minor rioting broke out early last week in the city’s most impoverished areas. The mayor ordered police to essentially stand down on April 27 so isolated cases of looting could be used as the pretext to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and impose the curfew.

Nearly 500 protesters have been arrested since April 23. Prisoners, including young teenagers, have been penned up for days and then dragged into court with their hands and ankles shackled. Among those arrested was Kevin Moore, who shot the video of Freddie Gray being arrested and loaded into the police van before his fatal “rough ride” on April 12.

National Guardsmen deployed throughout the city

After the deployment of troops was unable to suppress opposition, city officials, in close coordination with President Obama’s Justice Department, decided to file charges against six cops involved in the murder of Gray. Announcing the charges—which range from second-degree murder to manslaughter by vehicle and false imprisonment—State Attorney Marilyn Mosby last week said the charges were not an indictment of the entire police force. Insisting no further protests were necessary, Mosby said she had heard protesters in Baltimore and across the US say, “No Justice, No Peace,” and now “your peace is sincerely needed as I work to provide justice on behalf of this young man.”

Leading the protest on Saturday were groups tied to the Democratic Party, which sought to boost illusions in the city’s political establishment, which has long been dominated by an affluent layer of African American politicians, judges, prosecutors and other administrators.

Malik Z. Shabazz, president of the Washington, DC-based activist group Black Lawyers for Justice (BLJ) and the former leader of the so-called New Black Panther Party, praised Mosby. He claimed that the wave of police killings was due to racism, not the class division of society. Such claims fly in the face of reality under conditions in which the president, the city’s mayor, police chief, half of the Baltimore Police Department and three of the six cops indicted for the murder of Freddie Gray are African American.

This promotion of racial politics is aimed at shoring up the credibility of this deeply discredited social layer and protecting the wealth and power it has accumulated in one of the most unequal cities in America. A household in the top five percent of income earners in Baltimore receives $12.30 for each dollar earned by those in the bottom 20 percent.

Democratic State Senator Catherine Pugh—who only days before was peppered by angry crowds when she implored them to honor the curfew—told protesters they were “lucky” to have a state prosecutor such as Mosby, adding, “we know that police reform is on the way.” As regards the crushing poverty in cities across the US, she said the answer was to “equalize the wealth,” by setting up “public-private partnerships for investments not only in downtowns but in our neighborhoods.”

In an interview with WBAL-TV, Pugh made it clear exactly who she thought should get a bigger share of the wealth. While denouncing “looters,” Pugh insisted, “We have to bring back the jobs but we have to understand that the African American community is not monolithic. We are a microcosm of America—we have very poor and very rich. We have people who have the capacity to expand the businesses in our communities. We just need a fair playing ground so we all take part in it.”

Pugh said she had authored legislation for the state of Maryland to channel a larger portion of its pension investments into minority-owned businesses in order to “share the wealth.”

Ruling class spokespersons such as Pugh hate and fear the masses of working class people. They offer no program to ameliorate the poverty and inequality created by decades of deindustrialization and the systematic dismantling of public education and other essential services, carried out to channel more money into the hands of the corporate and financial elite.

The Obama administration and local Democratic Party in the big cities are seeking to cultivate a new layer of opportunists and careerists as “civil rights leaders” and “community activists” on the basis of seed money for minority start-ups and other lucrative projects.

While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lifted the city’s curfew Sunday and Governor Larry Hogan announced a “draw down” of National Guard troops, these repressive forces remain on alert and could be redeployed if social anger erupts again. Whatever the legal outcome of the Freddie Gray case—and indictments are not the same as convictions—the police and the military are required to defend the property and wealth of the super-rich minority against the ever more impoverished majority.

The fascistic outlook that permeates a wide layer of the cops was revealed last week by a caller to a WBAL talk show. Saying there was widespread support in the police department to throw the mayor out for restraining them during the protests, he said, “The moment it started, we could have ended it. Trust you me. They would not let us. It’s on the mayor’s shoulders now for the people who were injured, the buildings that were burnt, and the officers that were hurt. The city may never recover from what she let happen.

“You had no idea what it did to us as police officers to sit there and let people, I’m gonna say it, thugs, hoodlums, little animals do what they did to us in the streets of Baltimore,” the caller added. He praised the police in New York City for immediately arresting 120 protesters last week.

Similarly, Teana Walsh, a member of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office in Detroit, was forced to resign Friday after saying the solution to such disturbances was to “Shoot ’em. Period. End of discussion.”

Many in attendance at Saturday’s march in Baltimore expressed doubts there would be any serious effort to provide jobs or decent public services. Trina, an out of work cook living in east Baltimore, told the World Socialist Web Site,“[Mayor] Rawlings-Blake has got to go. She’s closed all the city’s recreation centers and the kids have nowhere to go now. Drugs and everything else infests these neighborhoods, not to mention there are hundreds of vacant lots in the city.”

Tavon Miles

According to an article published in theWashington Post ’s Wonkblog section last week, there are dozens of neighborhoods located in the city of Baltimore that have standards of living equivalent to those of an undeveloped country. “Fifteen Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Eight are doing worse than Syria,” the Post reported.

Tavon Miles, another protester, expressed doubts that Mosby’s announcement of charges against the officers would end in a conviction. “You want to know what the real injustice here is? It’s that the kid who broke the police car’s window [during the eruption of social anger after Freddie Gray’s funeral last week] is still being held on a $500,000 bail, when the cops, who are charged with committing a murder, got $350,000 bail. That’s the injustice here.” Tavon added, “I’ve never even seen someone able to get bail for a murder charge.”

US “Grand Strategy” for war against China laid out


By Nick Beams
2 May 2015

The advanced stage of discussions in US foreign policy circles over the pursuit of an ever-more aggressive policy toward China has been revealed by the recent release of a chilling report under the auspices of the influential Council on Foreign Relations.

Entitled “Revising US Grand Strategy Toward China,” the report is nothing less than an agenda for war. It is authored by Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis, both of whom have close connections to the US State Department and various American foreign policy think tanks.

The report cites a publication produced during World War II defining “grand strategy” as one that “so integrates the policies and armaments of a nation that the resort to war is either rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.” This is not merely a concept of war but “an inherent element of statecraft at all times.”

The report’s central theme is that US global dominance is threatened by the rise of China and this process must be reversed by economic, diplomatic and military means.

Significantly, at the beginning of the report, its authors cite the Pentagon’s Defence Planning Guidance document of 1992, produced in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which insisted that US strategy had to “refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

While asserting that China has a “grand strategy” for regional and ultimately global domination, the authors make clear they regard the threat to the US position as arising from China’s economic growth within the present international order.

This analysis recalls that advanced at the beginning of 1907 by the senior British Foreign Office official Eyre Crowe about the impact on Britain of the rise of Germany. Crowe concluded that, whatever the intentions of its leaders, Germany’s economic expansion, in and of itself, constituted a threat to the British Empire. Seven years later, the two major powers were at war.

China is not an imperialist power as Germany was, but its very economic rise is undermining the US position.

According to the report: “Because the American effort to ‘integrate’ China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to US primacy in Asia—and could eventually result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a grand strategy toward China that centres on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.”

A repeat of the Cold War policy based on “containment” is not possible because that was grounded on the autarkic policies of the Soviet Union, whereas China’s economic growth is bound up with economic globalisation and China’s integration into world markets.

In its own way, this assertion is a direct confirmation of the Marxist analysis that the origins of war lie in the very modus operandi of the capitalist system itself. China has operated within the framework of the global market, established not least by the United States, but this integration has itself undermined US primacy.

In the report’s words: “US support for China’s entry into the global trading system has thus created the awkward situation in which Washington has contributed towards hastening Beijing’s economic growth and, by extension, accelerated its rise as a geopolitical rival.”

Accordingly, in advancing the core elements of an American “grand strategy,” the authors place considerable importance on economic issues. As part of a plan to “vitalize” the economy, the US should “construct a new set of trading relationships in Asia that exclude China, fashion effective tools to deal with China’s pervasive use of geo-economic tools in Asia and beyond, and, in partnership with US allies and like-minded partners, create a new technology-control mechanism vis-a-vis China.”

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which currently excludes China and for which Obama is now seeking fast-track authority from the US Congress to negotiate, is regarded as essential. Failure to deliver it would “seriously weaken” the US grand strategy.

The report’s focus on the underlying economic issues by no means implies any downgrading of military means. On the contrary, the authors spell out detailed measures, both in terms of US policy and those it must secure from its allies in the region.

The relationship with Japan is regarded as occupying first place. The report’s proposals include an expansion of the US-Japan security relationship to encompass all of Asia, the upgrading of the Japanese military, aligning Japan with concepts such as Air-Sea battle—a massive attack on military facilities in mainland China—and intensifying Japanese cooperation with ballistic missile defence (BMD). Anti-missile systems are seen as vital for a first-strike strategy, which aims to render inoperable any retaliation.

With regard to South Korea, the report calls for increased BMD capacity, as well as a comprehensive strategy, developed with Japan, to bring about “regime change” in North Korea.

Australia is described as the “southern anchor” of US relationships in the Pacific. The report calls for the use of the Stirling naval base in Western Australia to support “US naval force structure in the region.” The US and Australia should deploy surveillance and unmanned aerial vehicles on Australia’s Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean and “the two countries should work together to more rapidly identify potential Australian contributions to ballistic missile defence.”

And the list goes on. Indian nuclear weapons must be seen as an “asset” in the current balance of power, and US-India military co-operation should increase. Indonesia’s role in joint military exercises must be expanded, naval exercises with Vietnam stepped up and the Philippines must develop a full range of defence capabilities.

On the political front, the report calls for the reinforcement of trusted strategic relationships and partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific region that include traditional US alliances but go beyond them. It advocates strengthening Asian states’ “ability to cope with China independently” and building new forms of intra-Asian co-operation—clearly directed to counter China—that do not always involve the US but are systematically supported by it.

After detailing these anti-China measures on the economic, military and political fronts, the report states that the US must energise “high-level diplomacy” with China to “mitigate the inherently profound tensions” and to “reassure US allies and friends in Asia and beyond that its objective is to avoid a confrontation with China.”

The source of this blatant contradiction lies in a no less significant component of the US war drive—the offensive on the ideological front. The purpose of the “high-level diplomacy” and even possible joint ventures with China on some issues, is to manufacture the propaganda lie that the cause of war is the fault of America’s enemy—in this case Chinese assertiveness and aggression. That lie has been central to the launching of US military activity ever since it became an imperialist power at the end of the 19th century.

In reality, the report itself specifically rules out any accommodation with China. In their conclusion, the authors state: “[T]here is no real prospect of building fundamental trust, ‘peaceful coexistence,’ ‘mutual understanding,’ a strategic partnership, or a ‘new type of major country relations’ between the United States and China.”