Saturday, March 29, 2014

Koloakula the Albatross Update

The Leysan Albatross whose life has been followed a web cam operated by Cornell University was two months old on Thursday. I wrote about it when it was a month old. It parents built their nest next to a residence on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. Someone named the little one Kaloakulua.

The web cam has audio and you can almost always hear other birds in the background, and often a rooster crowing. I don't know if it was this one who was on camera yesterday, or even if this is a rooster.

The little one has made itself a couple of new new nests in the past couple of weeks.

People post occasional comments on a Twitter feed next to the screen. These are a good way to bring yourself up to date, as are video segments posted at the bottom of the web page that show highlights -- parents feeding the young'n, other Abatrosses stopping by, little Kaloakulua flapping its wings and etc. The parents are gone the vast majority of the time. Recently Kaloakulua went ten days without being fed, but she or he seems to be developing OK, as far as I can tell, and seems almost as big, physically, as its parents.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mill Street

My brother Bob put this picture up on Facebook. That's Bob on the left, my sister Sandy, and me. It was taken from just outside the house trailer we lived in on Mill Street, in Norwalk, Ohio, my birthplace. It must have been taken in 1954 or 1955.

The house with the white wood siding is where the Scotts lived. They were our landlords. There were two other trailers further back off the street than ours.

This image from Google maps shows that the Scott's house is still there. Our trailer would have been straight ahead of you, with its front door facing the Scott's house.

The little pieces of concrete in the grass were probably a pad outside our trailer door, plus a short piece of sidewalk. It wasn't a big trailer. In fact it was a very small one. Most camping trailers now are larger. (Update: Mom says it was 37 feet long, had two bedrooms and a small bathroom with a shower.)

The shorter brick building on the right wasn't there. That area was all grass and there was a big shade tree there. The taller brick building partially shown on the far right is the old mill, which was boarded up then, but has since been made into a bed and breakfast.

This view also from Google maps is looking back toward the Scotts house from the end of Mill Street, which was only that one block long. It shows the mill with its stone lower half. I remember big shade trees along Mill Street. Perhaps they were victims of the Dutch Elm Disease that spread across the contry a few years after we moved to Michigan.

The two-story white house on the left, which is across the street from where our trailer was, was where my Dad's mother and father lived. They died when I was very young and I can barely remember them.

I don't remember the snowman-making picture, but I do remember a lot about Mill Street. My Dad was driving for Norwalk Truck Line, which wasn't far away. We sometimes dropped him off there in the car, especially when his truck was parked in a remote lot called the Pea Patch that was a block or two further on a narrow gravel street. The first car I remember us having was a used black 1952 Cadillac. My Dad, who had been a car nut in his younger days, would occasionally bring home a used Cadillac and greatly upset my Mom. After the Cadillac we had a white 1954 Ford station wagon "with a Thunderbird engine," they always said. It was also said that "it never used a drop of oil." We used Shell oil, and bought Shell gasoline whenever we could, and I do the same today. Shell gas when I can get it, Shell oil, always, in my pickup, motorcycle and semis.

I wouldn't attend school until we moved to Michigan, and in Norwalk, while Bob and Sandy were in school, Mom and I often walked to the shopping district a few blocks away, with Mom pushing the stroller with my infant brother Bill in it. Downtown Norwalk seemed busy and bustling, and it may have been, although the population was only 10,000.

Norwalk is on US 20, probably a busy route in those pre-Interstate days, being the main east west route through the upper Midwest, passing through places like Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago as it made its way coast to coast along what is roughly the route now taken by I-90. I'm guessing Norwalk, which is the seat of Huron County, was the shopping destination for the immediate surrounding area, which is still a farming area dotted with very small burgs. Sandusky, 29,000 then, was16 miles away, and after that the big city would have been the huge metropolis of Cleveland, 60 miles to the east.

This is Norwalk today, also from Google.

Mill Street is at the other end of the business district, six blocks ahead on your right.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The War Between the CIA and Congress - Update

Or, Heinrich Versus The CIA and the President, continued

Unlike the media in general, which is attempting to bury the story, the World Socialist Web Site is keeping abreast of developments in the struggle between members of congress and the CIA (which is being backed by President Obama,) to block release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, and of efforts by congress to make the CIA account for spying on intelligence committee members and its efforts to intimidate the committee by filing a criminal referral with the justice department over its possession of documents the CIA never meant for it to see.

NM Sen. Martin Heinrich, an intelligence committee member, initially spoke out on  the issue but has since taken to not commenting, as have other committee members, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has now become involved with letters to the president and CIA director.

Constitutional conflict escalates between US Senate and CIA

By Patrick Martin
22 March 2014
In twin letters sent Wednesday to the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid renewed charges of unconstitutional CIA spying on the Senate, first made in a speech March 11 by the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein.

Reid’s letters represent a significant escalation of the constitutional conflict that has erupted since the public exposure of CIA spying on the Senate committee, which is charged with the legal responsibility of overseeing the intelligence agency.

The CIA was seeking to track down how the committee came into possession of an internal CIA report, the so-called “Panetta Review,” which acknowledged CIA torture in secret overseas prisons, and a subsequent cover-up by CIA operatives that has also implicated the White House. The Senate panel has prepared a 6,300-page draft report on the torture program, which began in 2002 under Bush and was officially ended under Obama in January 2009. The CIA has been fighting to prevent publication of the report for more than a year.

In the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the top official of the Justice Department, Reid noted the CIA’s own admission that it had accessed files on a computer network reserved for the use of the Intelligence Committee staff. He then declared: “The CIA’s decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context. This action has serious separation of powers implications.”

Reid denounced the decision of the CIA acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, to file a criminal referral with the Justice Department over possession of the Panetta Review document, which he called “a transparent attempt to intimidate the Committee and undermine its oversight of the Agency.” The letter notes that Eatinger is named 1,600 times in the draft report on the torture program, and has “a clear conflict of interest” in investigating issues relating to it.

Reid pointed out that the charges of misconduct by the Senate committee staff have no foundation: “To my knowledge, the CIA has produced no evidence to support its claims. The allegation that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the CIA’s highly secure classified networks is so absurd as to be comical.”

The letter concludes by summarizing the basic constitutional issue: “The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation. These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress’s ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok.”

The second letter, addressed to CIA Director John Brennan, repeats much of the same language, while informing Brennan that Reid has instructed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Terrance W. Gainer, to conduct “a forensic examination of the computers and computer network” assigned for use of the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, to determine how the Panetta Review came into their possession.

The letter requests Brennan to “take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Sergeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination while the examination is underway.”

The language is restrained, but the meaning is stark: the leader of the Senate is asking the CIA director to halt any ongoing CIA efforts to conduct further surveillance of the operations of the Senate committee, or to spy on any other activities of the Senate.

The Obama administration is clearly aligned with the CIA in the conflict with the Senate. White House officials confirmed last week that Obama had agreed to withhold thousands of documents from the Senate committee, at the CIA’s request, and that the president had been notified of the criminal referral to the Justice Department—what Reid’s letter called “a transparent attempt to intimidate”—before it happened.

Obama has blocked any prosecution of either CIA operatives who were engaged in the torture program or top Bush administration officials, up to and including the former president, who authorized, approved or provided legal rationales for torture. There is little doubt that the same practices continue under the Obama administration, albeit with greater secrecy and “deniability” for the president, and the same powers are claimed by Obama to justify the administration’s global assassination program.

At his daily press briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney danced around a question about the Reid letters. A reporter asked him directly, citing the criticisms by Reid and Feinstein, “does the President feel the need to take any action to rein in the CIA or to address this difference between” the legislative and executive branches.

Carney’s full reply: “The disputes around the protocols established in 2009 for the provision of documents to the committee are being reviewed by an independent inspector general as well as the Department of Justice. So I think that’s appropriate, and I’m not going to comment on what are ongoing reviews. So I have nothing new to add to that discussion.”

Similar obfuscation came from Attorney General Holder, asked Wednesday about the issue during a press briefing on an unrelated matter. “We get referrals all the time,” he told reporters, a cynical remark that suggests that no one should get unduly exercised about mutual charges of illegal activities by the Senate and the CIA. A Justice Department spokesman, asked later about the Reid letter, would say only, “We are reviewing the letter.”

The US media is playing a critical role in support of the Obama administration and the spy agency, with press coverage generally portraying the conflict between the Senate and the CIA as a Washington “power struggle,” which is “arcane in its particulars” and of no great significance—“spat” and “tussle” were two of the words used to describe what is one of the most blatant violations of constitutional norms since the Iran-Contra and Watergate affairs.

The New York Times, which generally sets the agenda for the television networks and the rest of the corporate-controlled media, relegated its report on the Reid letter to the bottom of page A17, the very last item in its coverage of national news on Friday.

The next stage in the conflict between the Senate and the CIA is likely to follow a vote next week by the Senate Intelligence Committee calling on the White House to declassify either the full torture report or a shorter, 400-page summary.

The letters from Reid and the earlier remarks from Feinstein are a reaction by the Senators to the extraordinary incursions of the CIA into the prerogatives of Congress, incursions that point to the unchecked powers exercised by the military-intelligence apparatus and its contempt for basic constitutional restraints. However, Reid and Feinstein, along with the entire political establishment, have sanctioned and supported the growth of these powers.

Despite the sharp language of the Reid letters, the real position of the Senate Democrats is one of political prostration. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are parties of American imperialism, committed to the state machinery of violence, spying and provocation.

This subservience was expressed in particularly cringing fashion in a letter sent to Obama Thursday by Senator Mark Udall, a member of the Intelligence Committee and a leading “critic” of CIA abuses. Udall hailed Obama’s weasel-worded promise of last week, to support declassification of the torture report “as soon as the report is completed.” Given that the report will not be “complete” until the CIA says so, this assurance is worthless.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's In Martin Heinrich's Classified CIA Report?

Evidence of torture by the CIA, among other things, according to Jason Leopold writing in Al Jazeera, who says he's talked to three people who've seen the report.

The report, the result of a years long investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which NM Democratic Sen Martin Heinrich is a member, is currently being blocked from release by the CIA because they refuse to "declassify" it. This despite President Obama saying he wants the report released, apparently forgetting that he is the CIA director's boss.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Radiation Leak In Carlsbad

Nationally known nuclear engineer Arne Gundersun has posted a twelve minute video in which he explains what's known about the February 14 nuclear accident and radiation leak from the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, or WIPP, warning that the danger is worse than we're been told, and noting that most of what the government has said about the accident to date has later proven to be untrue.

Gunderson, a former nuclear plant manager and nuclear industry executive, founded an organization called Fairewinds, a nuclear industry information site. Gunderson is the "go to" guy when the anti nuclear community wants information, and has been the most reliable source of information about Fukishima.

 WIPP, a nuclear waste storage facility a half mile underground in an old salt mine, is the nuclear radiation industry's hoped for replacement for Yucca Mountain, the site in Nevada which, before it became publicly known that it was on a fault line, was the long hoped for solution for storing the nation's nuclear waste.

Radiation began leaking from WIPP on February 14 when, according to the government, a "chunk of salt" fell from the ceiling of the mine and onto a container of radioactive waste. Gunderson reports that "whistleblowers and employees" say that's not true, but that the ceiling collapsed in a section of the mine, which could mean there's a much worse problem than we're being told about.

Also, it's now being questioned by Gunderson, and others, whether the collapse may have been caused by oil and gas well fracking in the area. WIPP sits in the Permain Basin oil and gas field and is close to where oil and gas wells are being drilled.

It was just admitted in a report released last week that, as many have suspected, the hundreds of earthquakes that have occurred in Oklahoma over the past two years were caused by fracking, whereby a toxic mix of chemicals is pumped underground, at high pressure, to crack layers of rock and release oil and gas. The fractures -- "fracking" -- cause earthquakes themselves, and it's theorized that the fracking fluid migrates along fault lines and lubricates them and might cause larger earthquakes in the future.

The radiation coming from WIPP is escaping through the filters that are supposed to filter the air that's circulated through the mine and keep the underground radioactive waste from overheating and exploding.  The government says the filters remove 99.9 percent of the radiation. Gunderson doubts they remove that much, but says that even if they do, that means that, based on simple math, since the accident there has been an accumulated 30 minutes of unrestricted release of radiation into New Mexico's environment.

Independent activists have detected radiation a mile from WIPP, including one of the most deadly forms of radiation, plutonium, which has a half life of 250,000 years, or 25 times longer than the longest lasting civilizations in human history. Half life means that after 250,000 years the amount of tumors and cancers and birth defects being caused will be half as many.


The blog No To Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is also a source of information.

A web site based in Hawaii says it has an inside source at WIPP and that the radiation leak has been 1,000 times more severe than reported. It also says the leak was caused by an explosion. This nice color graphic of WIPP is from them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The New Main Street Consensus

(Note: Writing in Talking Points Memo, Jonathon Taplin argues that the consensus that has ruled the US since World War II, centered around the notions of American Exceptionalism, and that Wall Street and Washington policy elites knew what was best for the US, is finished, but our politicians haven't realized it yet. This was posted Dec. 30. It's not written from a radical Left perspective, but if what Taplin says is true it could lead to radical change in America.)

Since 1953 when two senior partners of a Wall Street law firm, the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles began running American foreign (and often domestic) policy, an establishment view, through Democratic and Republican presidencies alike, has been the norm. As Stephen Kinzer, in his book, Brothers, has written about the Dulles brothers, “Their life’s work was turning American money and power into global money and power. They deeply believed, or made themselves believe, that what benefited them and their clients would benefit everyone.” They created a world in which the Wall Street elites at first set our foreign policy and eventually (under President Ronald Reagan) came to dominate domestic and tax policy—all to the benefit of themselves and their clients.

In 1969 the median salary for a male worker was $35,567 (in 2012 dollars). Today it is $33,904. So for 44 years, while wages for the top 10 percent have continued to climb, most Americans have been caught in a ”Great Stagnation,” bringing into question the whole purpose of the American capitalist economy. The notion that what benefited the establishment would benefit everyone, had been thoroughly discredited.

Seen through this lens, the savage partisanship of the current moment makes an odd kind of sense. What were the establishment priorities that moved inexorably forward in both Republican and Democratic administrations? The first was a robust and aggressive foreign policy. As Kinzer writes of the Dulles brothers, “Exceptionalism—the view that the United States has a right to impose its will because it knows more, sees farther, and lives on a higher moral plane than other nations—was to them not a platitude, but the organizing principle of daily life and global politics.” From Eisenhower to Obama, this principle has been the guiding light of our foreign policy, bringing with it annual defense expenditures that dwarf those of all the world’s major powers combined. The second principle of the establishment was, “what is good for Wall Street is good for America.” Despite Democrats efforts to paint the GOP as the party of Wall Street, one would only have to look at the efforts of Clinton’s Treasury secretaries Rubin and Summers to kill the Glass-Steagal Act and deregulate the big banks and the commodities markets, to see that the establishment rules no matter who is in power. Was it any surprise that Obama then appointed the architects of bank deregulation, Summers and Geithner, to clean up the mess their policies had caused?

So when we observe politicians as diverse as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) railing against the twin poles of establishment orthodoxy, can we really be surprised? Is there not a new consensus that the era of America as global policeman is over? Is there not a new Main Street consensus that the era of crony capitalism and corporate welfare is finished? Is there not a right/left consensus that the wholesale violations of the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy must end?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is yes and that any potential Presidential candidate for 2016 must understand that a reform agenda must be at the heart of their campaign. And as for President Obama, if he wants to regain his tarnished legacy, he needs to read up on the last three years of Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidency in which a reform agenda: “Three C’s of the Square Deal” became his constant theme: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. The New Main Street Consensus is for reform and there is very little that Wall Street and K Street can do to change that reality.

Professor Jonathan Taplin is the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.