Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Mexico v US military

What happens if the federal government pollutes your state and the federal government does absolutely nothing to clean it up? The likely answer is to try to use the state's environmental law enforcement agency to attempt to push the massive federal government into action. Is this fair? Of course not, but that seems to be the case in New Mexico, where the groundwater that provides the drinking water to Albuquerque and many other locales is contaminated by a massive fuel spill from nearby Kirtland Air Force base, a multi-million-gallon spill that was first made public in the last millennium and had been occurring for decades, according to environmental reports.

New Mexico is getting angry about the endless foot-dragging by the Air Force as the feds mull over the situation, thinking out loud about maybe experimenting with a form of bacteria that will consume the petroleum. After 15 years, however, the New Mexico Environment Department has just ordered the Air Force to have a start-up in place and operating using proven technology that simply pumps air into the migrating groundwater, which captures a great deal of the petroleum and brings it upward, where it can be cleaned off over time. The NMED has mandated that this system be installed and operating by June 30 or the Air Force will face fines upwards of $10,000 per day. Small experimental fixes are not enough. With an estimated 6-24 million gallons of fuel in the migrating groundwater (possibly more than twice the Exxon Valdez spill), a much more robust and fast method is required.

DoD is not used to losing battles over the environmental impacts of its bases or its contracting industries. We'll be watching to see if a state has any rights to force the feds to clean up their mess. Lucky thing for Albuquerque that it has Kirtland AFB nearby to protect it, eh?

Fleck, John (29 April 2014). State raises specter of fines in Kirtland fuel cleanup.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is Peace Day is Justice Day is Nonviolence Day. They are all inextricably intertwined.

Eighteen Earth Days ago, on Earth Day 1996, my ReSister partner, Donna Howard, and I went to a thermonuclear command facility and, using hand tools, shut it down.

We drove out in Donna's little gray Toyota, with my 71-year-old father, a US Navy veteran of the Pacific theater (Philippines) in World War II. He was totally opposed to this navy base, known as Project ELF (extremely low frequency). It was late April in northern Wisconsin, so there was still lots of snow and ice everywhere. My father, Dr. Thomas Avram John Hastings, was along to be the getaway driver--that is, to drive the car away, leaving us behind. Our intention was to catch a ride with the local sheriff's deputies back to jail.

We had hand tools and banners and printed signs advising that we were acting in accord with solemn treaties governing war, weapons, and protection of humankind. We chose Earth Day to accent the connections between war and the environment.

So we hiked in a ways and began our work of cutting down support poles for the legally unsupportable cables strung through the Chequamegon National Forest, cables that carried command signals to be pumped into the Earth and re-radiated into huge waves that bounced between the ionosphere and the Earth. These signals were modulated to a 2,400-mile length, a standing wave of only ten peaks and troughs encircling the globe, tilting down into pelagic depths to be read by ELF receivers on board US nuclear submarines of all classes (ballistic missile-carrying, hunter-killers, fast-attack, etc.). Analysts had determined that this band of command messaging was the one necessary to launch a decapitating first strike against the Soviets, since it was the only command signal receivable globally, simultaneously, and at depth.

We cut down three poles. That was sort of spectacular if you like that sort of thing. The poles were about 60 feet tall and it set up a real zing in the taut cable. One of the media folks with us (hey, if you cut down a nuclear command facility in the woods and there is no media there, does it make any sound?) said, "OK, now you did it. They are coming out." Yes, we knew they were on the way.

I tossed my metal saw on the metal cable, some three-inches thick, to see if the 1.25 million watts were still electrifying it. Nope. So I did my own decapitating first strike, cutting off the top of one of the poles. I cut off just about 18 inches of the top, picked it up, and we started to walk toward the fenced base. At that moment a snow machine with two Navy employees crested the small hill and we waved. When they got to us I smiled and said, "Happy Earth Day!" One of them shook his head and said, "You're going to prison." "Yup!" I said and we walked the mile to the military base, where we were denied entry, so we waited and our ride finally showed up.

We each got a three-year prison sentence. I just think of it as a stint in the Wisconsin Natural Guard, our active duty years. Shortly after we got out of prison, the Anishinabe tribes joined the battle and the Navy caved and shut down the facility that they said they would need for another three decades.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Apply the counterfactual

What if? What if the famous National Security Agency discovered that Cuban agents poisoned the water supply of the most populous city in a southwestern US state? The poison would have dire consequences, amounting to a chemical attack on US civilians. Indeed, according to the newspaper of record for that town:
Ethylene dibromide, once a common ingredient in motor fuels and used as a fumigant and pesticide, has posed difficult environmental cleanup problems around the United States. Long-term consumption at extremely low levels can cause liver, stomach, reproductive system and kidney problems, and may cause an increased risk of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA has set a safety standard of just 50 parts per trillion of EDB in drinking water, with a goal of zero.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is notoriously weak on protecting US citizens from many pollutants that other nations have banned or restrict much more, so when we learn that a particular chemical is that alarming to the EPA we know it's deadly serious.

What would we do to Cuba if the NSA proved they did that to a US town of half a million, with another half million in the greater metro area? What would John McCain recommend? What would the Republicans, and many Democrats, demand? This is a thought experiment, but only in one aspect. It was not Cuba who did this. This was done to Albuquerque by the US Air Force.

Military Industrial Complex v Albuquerque
When EPA learns of a LUST issue (leaking underground storage tank) they get excited. The dangers to  water that will be pumped up through wells affected by the leak are serious and require containment and remediation.
But in the case of Albuquerque, this is no leak from one relatively small underground tank at one gas station, this is a huge spill, presenting problems many orders of magnitude greater.

A giant plume of military pollution from a massive fuel spill at nearby Kirtland Air Force base is threatening the drinking water of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The city has a great sense of foreboding about this and is searching for ideas. Although the military has claimed again and again that it will take all necessary proactive measures to protect the water supply for the city, it has done nothing to date.

If some method could be found to treat the spill before it reaches the city water aquifer, that would clearly be best, far better than waiting to try to treat a lethally contaminated city water supply. Some hope is taken from a relatively tiny project in Santa Fe that uses multiple treatments of the gasoline-polluted water from one well. It is complex and expensive, but produces water acceptable to the EPA. Santa Fe has been doing this for many years after discovering the problem in the 1980s.

Why, then, some seven years after the fuel spill pollution from Kirtland was discovered in the migrating groundwater, has nothing been done? It's complex and expensive. The military has little money for that sort of thing. Indeed, when sequestration hit last year, pollution remediation was not even mentioned as an effect, it is so far down the list of concern to the military.

The patently obvious priorities of the US military are to spend a few US taxpayer dollars on a PR attempt to assuage public worries while continuing to spend gargantuan amounts on arsenals, field testing weaponry (taking that expense so the weaponeer war profiteers don't have to, thus boosting private owner profits at taxpayer expense), and sending threatening forces around the world to posture and sometimes strike at foreigners who anger them.

With "protectors" like these, one might wonder, who needs foreign enemies?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Military money pollutes Okinawan politics while bases pollute their island

Few cases of more staggering cognitive dissonance can be found than in the twisted relationships between the US military, Japanese citizens, Okinawans, and the competing values of all parties.

Three-quarters of the US military bases in the nearly seven decades of military occupation of Japan by US military forces impact just .6 percent of the landmass of Japan, that is the island of Okinawa.

This means that the famous Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution--the 'no war' mandate--is instead still the province of the US military.

Some would term it massive hypocrisy, others would scarcely arch an eyebrow as they waved it all off as realism.

Meanwhile, Okinawans bear the burden of the presence of a massive US occupation--foreigners with huge guns, military aircraft dominating "their" skies, military vessels hogging their littoral waters, and pollution from the base and all operations invading their air, waters, soil, food, and lives.

Yes, they 'benefit' from the base spending, fat crumbs from the masters' table, but the majority of Okinawans--even those who see material reward--have expressed opposition to this permanent foreigner rule, shown by their recent election of an anti-US base mayor. "An exit poll of 1,204 voters by Japan's Kyodo News service found 65 percent opposed to the base, and 13 percent in favor."--Fox News

They feel the first betrayal from the government of Japan and the second from the US.

Japan hosts more than 50,000 US troops, more than any other nation on Earth except the US itself. Germany is occupied by 40,000 US military personnel and there are far fewer--33,000--in the only official US combat theater, Afghanistan. South Korea has 28,000 US troops on its 'sovereign' soil and the remaining majority of the world's nations (more than 150 of the 193 UN member-states) have fewer each.

As in so many other places, the dispositive legal arrangements are badly morphed from sovereignty of the other nation and toward immunity enjoyed by the US military under the Status of Forces Agreement. This clouds all local and national control over their own lands, their own waters, and their own public safety. When a US military jet crashes into an Okinawan neighborhood, no Okinawan court determines much of anything. When US military personnel rape a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, those personnel enjoy the protection of a US military justice system, not the local courts for the local girl. In that 1995 case, however, Okinawan and Japanese public outrage was so understandably spectacular that the three rapists were eventually made to serve their time in a Japanese prison, seven years each. More recently, another US military gang of rapists attacked another Okinawan woman.

One of the ways that the US military and the government of Japan entice Okinawan elites to support the US bases in their prefecture is to locate those bases on private lands and craft long-term lease arrangements far above market value to those rich Okinawans (Hook, 2010). Suddenly, the US military occupiers have local prominent support. This has been too bluntly obvious, however, and does not sway the majority of Okinawans as expressed in polls and votes.

It all reminds me of the line in the old film Crimson Tide, when the commander of the nuclear submarine (Gene Hackman) scolds the Executive Officer (Denzel Washington), "We're here to preserve democracy, not practice it."

There are better ways. We are seeing them being tried by nonviolent resisters (some of whom have received longer prison sentences than the rapists of the 12-year-old child), by nonviolent peace teams from Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams and others. What we need is a US version of Article 9. No more war. Civilian-based defense only. That is the way to a far more robust democracy for us, for Japan, and for all those who can learn to stop relying on the barbarism of deadly force, wrecking stuff, and the threat to life in general. Grow up, humankind!

Hook, G. D. (2010). Intersecting risks and governing Okinawa: American bases and the unfinished war. Japan Forum,22(1/2), 195-217. doi:10.1080/09555803.2010.488954

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gearing up to diminish our effective protest

"Stop! You're being too effective!"
This was how my buddy Paul mocked the Sierra Club more than three decades ago when they tried to stop everyone from entering the hall in Minnesota where then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt was speaking. Paul and I and friends had loaded into my VW bus and trundled south and west from northwestern Wisconsin to protest Ronald Reagan's anti-environmental point person.

We crashed the party. We shut down the speech. The Sierra Club wanted to behave like negotiating partners with a regime that wanted to dismantle the Department of Interior's mandate to caretake the environment. We understood the Reagan regime as a non-negotiating predatory corporate extraction project. Did we know what we were doing? Not really. Did the Sierra Club? Not exactly, but we only knew about the Watt appearance because of them, so we owed them a bit of courtesy. But we just needed to see this nut for ourselves.

James Watt was a grotesque anomaly to us, someone who was given a brief to use his agency to destroy the mission of his agency. He was a cardboard character to us, a patently opportunistic fundamentalist Christian who claimed that it was our duty to exploit, extract, and use up all the natural resources that God gave us. His cynical misuse of the Bible was so blatant that we were astonished anyone could be even remotely fooled by any of his justifications for extreme polluting profiteering.

It was a clear worldview clash. How do you negotiate with someone who represents a worldview so antithetical to your own? Really, you don't, not at first. You turn to the Deciders, to the public, to civil society, and you deliver your message, which is your invitation to the real party, the real event, the Big Tent of Public Opinion.

That day in Minneapolis we had several members of the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater with us. I recall holding the door open so the Buffalo could enter the hall to confront Watt. The puppets were larger than life and had to bend to get through the doorway. They were well known and well loved in my home town, and not viewed as a violent threat to anyone, not even to James Watt. No police in Minneapolis would knock down such beloved characters. No one else wore anything to disguise identities, nor were we threatening anyone in any way except we needed to tell Watt to go back home to Wyoming and stop bringing his Earthwrecking policies to the rest of the country.

Nowadays, however, protesters routinely hide identities with face coverings. From bizarre and evil-looking Guy Fawkes masks in Venezuela to Teutonic buckethead coverings worn to the Maidan in Ukraine, reminiscent of Stalin's Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein's depiction of invading Germans.
Eisenstein correctly assumed everyone in the young Soviet Union would fear those images. And of course everyone feared the same sorts of images in Kiev. Erica Chenoweth commented correctly that this sort of protester appearance is exactly the opposite of effective, since it drives away recruits by making everything look highly risky and scary.

Find me the Civil Rights workers who wore masks. You'd have to go to the riots in the late 1960s, when frustrated African Americans finally used violence, were crushed, and all progress ceased. Find me the Serb kids who covered their faces when they took to the streets for 10 months to overthrow Milosevic--none did. The most effective movements are the most transparent. The most effective movements work to build connections to police and soldiers rather than battle them. This is what we see again and again. This needs to be reviewed constantly as we learn to make campaigns work and make movements successful for the sustainable long haul.

No one was arrested that day in Minneapolis and James Watt barely made it halfway through Reagan's first term before resigning in disgrace. We drew in Americans to our side, Americans who love forests and sparkling clean water. We see the results of a different way--yes, Yanukovich had to leave, but now Putin has the everlasting excuse to seize more and more of Ukraine to 'protect Russians.' Creating fear through violent appearance and violent tactics is certainly working out--not. Can we learn from this?

Friday, April 18, 2014

RePortlandia: Don't drink the Air Force water

I've watched a few episodes of Portlandia--who hasn't? I admit, I love this town, and I find Portlandia insufferably snarky. We are just like the program, only more so and with heart, not the fruitball unctuousness that Fred and Carrie bring to it. They show how Portland is not like real America and they exaggerate in order to make fun of us, but we are actually balancing what they show as unbalanced, which is what bothers me so much about that program. They are inauthentic and Portland is for real.

So, this week a 19-year-old pees into an open reservoir on Mount Tabor and the city flushes 40,000 gallons of potable water.
Hey, that is overly cautious and instantly drew fire from scientists and empiricists who said, oh come on, that much urination in 40,000 gallons is irrelevant. Those scientists are right, but the water bureau folks are correct too. Imagine if they said, oh, not to worry, it's all natural and insignificant. Really. Imagine the storm of public outrage that those water officers would treat us that way. So while we are learning that a bit of whizz in our water isn't going to make any difference, we are also spared the litigious howling that might have resulted from no action.

At least we aren't receiving direct and massive chemical and toxic pollution from a military base and then told first not to worry, and then that the solution to pollution is dilution--such as the water bureau in Albuquerque had to deal with from Kirtland Air Force base, which spilled millions of gallons of jet fuel onto and into the Earth and thus migrating groundwater. Seriously. From the story by reporter John Fleck:
Air Force officials this week backed away from including a proposal that Albuquerque’s water utility simply dilute contaminated water and deliver it to customers as one of the options if toxic chemicals from a massive Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill ever reach municipal drinking water wells.
That was an Air Force suggestion, met with citizen outrage, and subsequently withdrawn. You may not be able to fight city hall, but you can fight the most powerful military on Earth and win, if you are organized and outraged. We shut down a thermonuclear command facility that the Navy arrogantly said it would need for another 35 years despite near-unanimous opposition. Albuquerque citizens just shoved the Air Force back over an encroachment it was making into the public's health.

The world needs to learn nonviolence, conflict transformation, strategic nonviolent combat, and structural nonviolence. Then we could help military members get work helping instead of hurting. Then we could get war profiteers honest work. Then we wouldn't have massive pollution coming from an entity--the Pentagon--that is above the law.

Fleck, John (16 April 2014).

Monday, April 07, 2014

Native Earthlings v USA: Trail of Broken Treaties

Most US citizens and many other on Earth know something about the rotten history of the Europeans invading North America, of the terrible things done to the tribes in the US, and of the lies and violence and theft and broken promises and abrogated rights. Treaties were made to be broken with Native Americans.

We find the same history with the rest of the world. The US makes treaties and then violates them. Just a few examples include, but are not limited to:
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
In 1969 the US was one of the authors of this treaty that attempted to convince all the other nations not to seek to develop nuclear weapons because, it was promised, the US and the other NWS (nuclear weapons states) would dismantle theirs. As if.

The Nuremberg findings included a proscription against the "wanton destruction" of projectiles fired into cities or towns, exactly what the US has done in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and, potentially worst of all, what it has targeted with its nuclear arsenal ("city-busters").
This international law forbids attacks on civilians, exactly what the US has done with drones, with B52s, and with cruise missiles in the Balkans, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Korea, and Pakistan. If Homeland Security found a terrorist in Madison, Wisconsin, would they bomb the home of that person? If they killed a few kids and maybe a bride and groom at a wedding party where the terrorist was a guest, would that be accepted by the US citizenry? Well, what we are doing with drones is understandably not accepted by the world.
Poisonous weapons are outlawed. Nukes are as poisonous as they get.
  •  The Geneva Agreements
Torture is outlawed and the US practiced torture. This is not only well know worldwide, it is acknowledged by the US DOJ and the specific case of Guantanamo Bay is condemned by the UN as violative of international law. 
  • The UN Charter
The US invaded Iraq against the wishes of the UN and without reason violating key provisions of the UN Charter. Iraq had not attacked the US and posed no threat to the US. The lies used were blatant and obvious to most of the world when they were spoken.

The list of international law that the US has failed to sign is also daunting, but you can't break a treaty you didn't make. That doesn't detract from the poor opinion of our country that such failures engender--e.g. the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Landmine Ban, and more.

It is a long and tragic trail of broken treaties, from the original ones with Native Americans to the rest of them with all of the Earth. The US has some incredible temerity to pontificate about Russia, Iran, and other nations who join the US in breaking treaties. We need to mend much before we critique others.

Doebbler, Curtis (11 March 2014).Coming to Ukraine: The hypocrisy of the American Understanding of the International Law.

Friday, April 04, 2014

No study, no learning, no thought, no progress

"Lawmakers hostile to BRAC placed language in prior years' Defense authorization bills that banned DoD from even studying or planning for a potential infrastructure consolidation."
Jared Serbu, Army spends $500 million per year on vacant facilities, Army News, Federal News Radio, 31 March 2014

When it serves a worldview or a profiteering scheme to prey upon ignorance, shameless people in power will mandate that ignorance if they can. This has kept us behind in so many crucial areas of knowledge. You are forbidden from studying stem cells. You may not look at cures for disease that might annoy a religious fundamentalist. No multiculturalism in the classroom. No sex education beyond abstinence.The list goes on and includes corrupt politicians who have forbidden the Pentagon from examining ways to save money.

Even when there are the occasional fiscal hawks in DoD, then, the corruption in Congress can stop them from saving your taxpayer dollars. This patently relates to war profiteering, not to the defense of anything except corporate elites and their massive annual seizure of blood money. If the Pentagon cannot close unwanted bases without a Base Realignment and Closure process launched by Congress, and if Congress refuses to even allow data gathering (the most recent authorization finally allowed some), how can basic human services ever be funded? Pentagon waste is not so much a Pentagon problem as a contractor-Congress greed problem.

Nazis burned books and killed intellectuals. It seems the corporadoes and their Congressional lackeys can be relied on to stomp out the candles of illumination and knowledge creation when those candles shine a light on corruption in corporations and Congress. The only way to make this worse is exactly what the Roberts court has just done--remove all lids on corruption. Allow as much bribery as the rich can afford. No limits on how much the war profiteers can spend to buy venal politicians.

We are way past the appearance of impropriety. We are in a descent path to open, complete military industrial congressional corruption. Clearly the war system must be ended. Time to terminate forced foolishness. If your representative voted for the DoD authorization, perhaps you might consider voting for someone else next time.


Serbu, Jared (31 March 2014). Army spends $500 million per year on vacant facilities.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Living in the wilderness and paying the price for militarism

Ah, we say, maybe I'll just sell it all and move to the wildest place and live a life free of civilization's woes and ills and contamination. I'll live like a native and learn those skills and what a different, clean life that will be. Good luck, Hoss!

Ringed seals are especially vulnerable to elevated exposure of PCBs as a result of their high trophic level, low detoxification capacity, large lipid reserves, and long life span.

--Tanya M. Brown, Aaron T. Fisk, Caren C. Helbing, and Ken J. Reimer, Canadian toxicology researchers, reported in the March 2014 issue of the academic journal Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry, p. 592
There is a military radar station inside the Arctic Circle on Saglek Fjord in Labrador, Canada, built in the 1950s, that has been polluting the soil and surrounding ocean with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A team of researchers from several Canadian universities conducted a wide-ranging study of the food web from that base and found record levels of cancer-causing, immune-system destroying PCBs at all trophic (food pyramid) levels, from the benthic (ocean bottom) species to the top of the food chain. 

Those Canadians, eh? Just don't seem to care about the environment, eh?

Well, ahem, the base was a USAF early warning base, actually. Now, it seems, the Canadians are cleaning up our mess. Hey, only fair, right? We protect the world, they clean up our protection pollution. You don't hire the architect to push a broom, eh?

What if we focused on an ecology of peace? What if we didn't seek permission from most nations on Earth to give up some of their sovereignty, some control of the land and water and air and life, so that the US could come in, live very important lives of very important military enforcers for the very important US empire, and pollute not only the US base but other people's place? What if we would seek to build more collaborative projects with Canada that enhanced life rather than polluted it?

The ringed seals were only one of many species affected by these military pollutants. Seabirds, fish, and other species were contaminated. At least no humans were bothered, eh? Um, actually, the specimens tested were all taken from tissues of seals taken by Inuit hunters, the very top of the food chain there--highest trophic level, longest-lived, and so greatest bio-accumulants. As usual, the native peoples catch environmental hell as they simply live as they have for scores of thousands of years in the most wild-appearing areas. 

I recall hiking into various roadless area lakes in the Chequamegon National Forest when I lived in northern Wisconsin. There, where there were no pollutants except via the airshed, were posted signs on the trees by the lakes, warning of mercury contamination--primarily coal plants' pollution from far away. Hiking along wild stretches of the mighty Columbia River? Don't fish--stick with your bottom-of-the-food-chain trail mix. There is no more real wilderness. We need to clean up militarized civilization. It is profoundly uncivilized. This requires perpetual vigilance, eh.


Brown, T. M., Fisk, A. T., Helbing, C. C., & Reimer, K. J. (2014). Polychlorinated biphenyl profiles in ringed seals ( Pusa Hispida) reveal historical contamination by a military radar station in Labrador, Canada. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry, 33(3), 592-601. doi:10.1002/etc.2468