On September 29, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put its stamp of approval on the Cove Point LNG project, Dominion Resources’ bid to convert its liquefied natural gas import terminal on the Chesapeake Bay into an export facility. It’s the fourth approval FERC has granted to build an export facility, and the first on the Atlantic Coast. The first three are located on the Gulf Coast.
Why is Cove Point important? Some have been calling it “the next Keystone XL.” What the Keystone XL pipeline is to the Alberta tar sands, Cove Point is to the Marcellus Shale, a porous rock formation harboring as much as 500 tcf of methane gas. If constructed, the Keystone XL would be a major conduit of dirty bitumen from the tar sands, and consequently it’s become the rallying call for opposition against extraction of the tar sands. Likewise, if Cove Point is built, it would be the conduit for natural gas obtained by fracking the Marcellus Shale to be delivered to Asia. Among the export terminals approved by the Department of Energy and in line for approval by FERC, Cove Point has become the rallying cry for opposition against liquefied natural gas exports. (In July, more than a thousand people marched in Washington, DC against Cove Point and LNG exports.) LNG exports are intimately connected with the extreme method of fossil fuel extraction called hydraulic fracking, because exporting to Asian markets would make fracking more profitable and thereby incentivize more drilling.
FERC’s permitting of Cove Point is a big regulatory hurdle, the biggest among many state and local permits it had to obtain after the Department of Energy said it was okay for Dominion to export. But it’s not a surprise. When I say FERC put its stamp of approval on Cove Point LNG, what I really mean is that FERC applied its rubberstamp of approval. FERC is responsible for reviewing proposals for interstate natural gas pipelines and LNG terminals (up to this point, only import terminals). Among the all the major projects submitted to FERC, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that was turned down. FERC’s nickname—the Federal Energy Rubberstamp Commission—is well-earned.
In my opinion, however, FERC is even more than a rubberstamp—it’s the gas industry’s best friend. Understanding that the game is rigged and how the game is rigged is important if we’re going to contest the coming wave of infrastructure associated with the fracking boom. Continue reading →
Kabul, Afghanistan–The fire in the Chaman e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon. She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.
No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.
Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.
Standing amid piles of ashes near what once was her home, a young mother smiled as she introduced her three little children, Shuba, age 3 ½, and Medinah and Monawra, twin girls, age 1 ½. They were trapped in one of the homes, but their uncle rescued them. Continue reading →
The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.
At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.
Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare. Continue reading →
The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.
Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.
Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.
There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.
Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading →
If the U.S. bombs the holy hell out of Syria’s chemical weapons supply, who will be there to secure the remains of those chemical weapons? It’s a realistic expectation that they will fall into the hands of radical factions of the Free Syrian Army affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Bashar al-Assad is a bona fide madman. Rather than deter him, a bombing campaign will likely provoke him to use more chemical weapons. The whole discussion of a military intervention is short-sighted. Bombing Syria is a proposition that will go sideways faster than Obama and his supporters in Congress think.
The good news is that someone has thought through this scenario. The bad news is that to secure Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles–estimated at 1,000 tons–the U.S. would have to deploy 75,000 troops:
The potential of strategic US strikes in Syria has sparked fears Damascus’ chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands if the government is toppled. A recent congressional report says 75,000 troops would be needed to safeguard the WMD caches.
The Congressional Research Center (CRS) report, issued just one day before the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, was compiled with the aim of “responding to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons.”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.
A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”
Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”
International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”
Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.
In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.
The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.
The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.
SCOTUS did the right thing today when it struck down DOMA, finding it unconstitutional. The decision gives citizens like plaintiff Edith Windsor equal access under the law. After all, she is a tax-paying American and should have full the privileges and benefits which are bestowed on others.
Other countries such as France and Spain already recognize marriage rights for gays. There are 11 countries that recognize gay marriage. People will look back on it decades from now and wonder what took us so long for us Americans to change the law.
The SCOTUS decision in effect recognizes the LGBT community as a class. It is an evolutionary decision in the history of our country. Still, I find it strange that any Justice would dissent from the overall decision.
SCOTUS also punted on Prop 8–they found that the plaintiffs had “no standing” and declined to rule on the larger issue of gay marriage as a right. That means the right to marry has been restored in California, but other states don’t have to recognize gay marriages.
Every state should follow suit in allowing gay marriage, because it is the inevitable conclusion to a protracted struggle for gay rights. LGBT activists will be unable to retreat from the marriage issue, until this last momentous task is complete.
Fortunately, the mountain to climb to equal rights in marriage may not be as hard to ascend as it used to be. The Department of Defense, one of the most conservative power structures in our society, has already moved in the right direction by removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) from its regulations, thus allowing gays to come out of hiding. They also recognize gay married couples for benefits, and most recently, endorsed open Pride festivities.
Overall, I see the Supreme Court’s decisions as a huge step forward for the LGBT community. I feel a sense of relief for all of my gay activist friends who fought for years for this decision. Now other branches of the government should finish the work of implementing the rights of everyone.
Medea Benjamin, founder of the organization CODEPINK, has actually been to Pakistan and seen the results of drone bombing. Obama has not. She had several pointed questions for him, which she yelled from the back of the room even as she was being thrown out.
“Will you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims? That will make us safer.”
Right-wing opinion spewer Michelle Malkin called her a “serial heckler.” A conspiracy theory sprang up on social media that Benjamin was planted by Obama to help make him look good.
In my opinion, she derailed him. Obama spent most of the speech justifying the drone program as “legal” and making us safer. He failed to address how the U.N. has said that drone strikes in Pakistan violate its sovereignty. He failed to justify the deaths of three American citizens killed by drones and the maiming and killing of children by drone attacks. Or the terror thousands have suffered in the Mideast anticipating drone attacks on their homes and villages.
Toward the end of his address Benjamin started in and wouldn’t let up. Eventually, Obama was brought to a standstill. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he conceded.
Seriously, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RIGHT NOW SAYING YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO @medeabenjamin
We get the usual sexism whenever CODEPINK comes to town. They, and Medea, are screeching loonies, freaks, bitches and worse. At least they’re not dressed up like vaginas this time (like they did at the Democratic National Convention). At first Obama called Benjamin a “young lady.”
Right-wingers found plenty to heckle in the heckler. And Obama-worshiping liberals squirmed in their seats and said, “Won’t she just shut up??”
The fact is, disruption and interruption get attention. Passivity doesn’t. Look at what passivity has gotten us for the last decade. Iraq, Afghanistan, financial collapse, unemployment, loss of civil liberties, cuts to education, lack of accountability. And on and on.
Political activity for most people means “being informed,” sadly equated with watching MSNBC. People sitting in front of the TV getting outraged and fearful serves the interests of the powerful. It keeps them paralyzed. To combat impotence and vent rage, you might rant on Facebook, troll on websites, and tweet clever, snarky haikus.
My favorite form of pseudo-activism is signing online petitions. From my brief days of fundraising, I know that fifty percent of the time online petitions are a way to scoop up info on potential donors.
You can get involved in “the democratic process” and knock on doors for a candidate. The bravest souls scrawl a slogan on a sign and actually get out on the streets. The hardcore get arrested.
A variety of tactics, from moderate to radical, is important in movements for social change. But the moderate may have little to no effect these days. We’re entering an age – or maybe we’re long past it – when thousands of people carrying signs make no difference to those wielding power. Post-9/11, crowds are viewed as a threat to maintaining order. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to break out the teargas and tasers.
During Obama’s speech, Benjamin asked questions that the White House press corps can’t and won’t ask. Maybe the questions don’t occur to them. Even if they did, they don’t dare ask them for fear of losing “access.”
What mainstream media has been good for in the past is investigative journalism. Free press is supposed to be the watchdog of government corruption and wrongdoing. What they didn’t realize when they snickered at Wikileaks was that eventually the Obama administration was going to come down hard on them too. Investigative reporting through whistleblowers is all but impossible now.
So what have we got left? It’s getting cramped in here–less wiggle room to reform the corrupt system, agitate on the streets, expose wrongdoing and hold lawbreakers accountable.
We can go into the halls of power and say fuck dignity and make a ruckus, that’s what we can do.
Every person in power needs to know that prepared speeches and talking points aren’t going to cut it any more. Pushed to the breaking point by unemployment, low wages and illegal foreclosures, ordinary people are becoming radicalized.
Your next interview, Mr. President, ain’t gonna be softball questions thrown by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. It’s gonna be Medea Benjamin in your face every day.
On Wednesday, March 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. With two hearings on successive days related to the polarizing issue of same-sex marriage, there has been a frenzy of activity outside the Court. John Zangas has been there to report.
by John Zangas
As the Supreme Court hears the DOMA arguments, I’m reflecting on the historic events outside the Court over the past few days. What has struck me most is the spirit and resolve of the families I met on the Court steps.
The voices of their children were especially moving to me. They just want their parents to be happy and to live like other families do. They said they are as ordinary, plain, and real as anyone. They got a moment to speak their truth, and I got to record and photograph it.
These families eclipsed the inequality embedded in laws like DOMA and Prop 8 just by their presence, compassion and humanity during two days of hearings.
Every element on the steps of the Court–the activists’ posters, the police, press, even the ugly hate slogans–was necessary to tell a story about this country. Right now it’s a story about being on the outside and knocking on the door to be let in.
The question is, will the Court finally let them into our house?