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Posted on on December 18th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

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Posted on on November 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

In effect – what Ms Napoleoni says is that the Islamic State uses globalization and aim at creating an original Muslim State that is for the Muslim world a parallel to what Israel is to World Jewry – albeit the first stage overlaps the borders of the Caliphate of Baghdad and will claim besides Iraq and Syria also Jordan , Lebanon, and Israel.
Now an ebook – The book will be available in printed form December 2nd, 2014.…

Introduction to Loretta Napoleoni’s THE ISLAMIST PHOENIX.

September 8, 2014

The following is the introduction to The Islamist Phoenix, a study of ISIS by Loretta Napoleoni, one of the world’s leading experts on money laundering and the financing of terror. Islamist Phoenix will be available as an ebook in early November, and as a trade paperback on December 2nd.

For the first time since World War One, an armed organization is redesigning the map of the Middle East drawn by the French and the British. Waging a war of conquest, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (al Sham), or ISIS, is erasing the borders that the Sykes-Picot Accord established in 1916. The region where the black and golden flag of IS flies already stretches from the Mediterranean shores of Syria well into the heart of Iraq, the Sunni tribal area. It is bigger than the United Kingdom or Texas and, since the end of June 2014, is known as the Islamic Caliphate. “Caliphate” is the name given to an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph, or successor to the Prophet Muhammad – the most famous being the Ottoman Caliphate (or Empire), which began in 1453 and lasted until the dissolution of the Caliphate and expulsion of the last caliph, Abdulmecid, at the hands of Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

Many believe that the Islamic State, like al-Qaeda before it, wants to turn back the clock, and indeed in Western media Syrian and Iraqi refugees describe its rule in their countries as a sort of carbon copy of the Taliban regime. Posters forbid smoking and the use of cameras. Women are not allowed to travel without a male relative, must be covered up, and cannot wear trousers in public. The Islamic State seems also engaged in a sort of religious cleansing through proselytism: people must either join its creed, radical Salafism; flee; or face execution.

Paradoxically, to deem the IS essentially backward would be mistaken. Indeed, during the last few years the belief that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader and the new Caliph, is a clone of Mullah Omar may well have led Western intelligence to undervalue him and his organization’s strength. While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the writings of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the cradle of the Islamic State.

What distinguishes the Islamic State from all other armed groups that predate it, including those active during the Cold War, and what accounts for its enormous successes, is its modernity and pragmatism. So far its leadership has understood the limitations that contemporary powers face in a globalized and multipolar world – for example, the inability to reach an agreement for foreign intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya and Iraq. Against this backdrop the Islamic State’s leadership has successfully exploited the Syrian conflict, the most recent version of the traditional war by proxy, to its own advantage almost unobserved, drawing funds from a variety of people: Kuwaitis, Qataris, Saudis, who, seeking a regime change in Syria, have been willing to bankroll several armed groups. However, instead of fighting the sponsors’ war by proxy, the Islamic State has used their money to establish its own territorial strongholds in financially strategic regions, for example in the rich oilfields of Eastern Syria. No previous Middle Eastern armed organization has been able to promote itself as the region’s new ruler with the money of its rich Gulf sponsors.

In sharp contrast with the Taliban’s rhetoric and despite the barbarous treatment of the enemy, the Islamic State is spreading a positive and powerful political message in the Muslim world: the return of the Caliphate associated with happier and richer times for Muslims. This message comes at a time of great destabilization in the Middle East, while Syria and Iraq are ablaze, Libya is on the verge of another tribal conflict, Egypt is restive, and Israel has been once again at war with Gaza. Hence, the rebirth of the Caliphate and of its Caliph, al-Baghdadi, appears to many Sunnis not as yet another armed group but somehow as a political entity that is rising from the ashes of decades of war and destruction.

The fact that this Islamist Phoenix materialized on the first day of Ramadan 2014, the holy month of fasting and prayer, should be regarded as a powerful omen of the challenge that the Islamic State poses to the legitimacy of all the 57 countries that follow the Islamic faith. As clearly stated by its spokesman, Abu Mohamed al-Adnani: “the legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the Caliph’s authority and the arrival of his troops to their areas.” This is a challenge posed by a new political organization that, while claiming to trace its legitimacy all the way back to 7th-8th century Arabia and the first territorial manifestations of Islam, comprises a contemporary state and commands a modern army. As such it should not be underestimated, especially if the Islamic State consolidates its territorial conquests.

That the threat is real, and that it is particularly felt by those who share a border with Syria and Iraq, are facts: in July, 2014 the black and golden flag of the Islamic State appeared in Jordanian villages, and in August thousands of IS militants streamed into Lebanon from Syria and took Arsal. Even former sponsors fear the military power of the Caliphate: at the beginning of July, al-Arabiya broadcast that Saudi Arabia had deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area.

Under the religious veneer and the terrorist tactics, therefore, lays a political and military machine fully engaged in nation-building, seeking consensus after territorial conquest. Residents of the enclaves controlled by the Caliphate affirm that its arrival coincided with improvements in the day-to-day running of their villages, from fixing holes in the roads to organizing soup kitchens for those who had lost their homes to the daylong availability of electricty.

_76526461_iraq_syria_isis_caliphate_25.07.14_624mapWhile territorially the Islamic State’s master plan is to recreate the ancient Caliphate of Baghdad — an entity that the Mongols destroyed in 1261 and that stretched from the Iraqi capital all the way into modern Israel — its political goal seems to be the shaping of a twenty-first century incarnation. In his first speech as Caliph, al-Baghdadi pledged to return to Muslims the “dignity, might, rights, and leadership” of the past, and at the same time called for doctors, engineers, judges, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence to join him. As he spoke, a team of translators across the world worked almost in real time to release the text of his speech on jihadist websites, facebook and twitter accounts in several languages including English, French, and German.

The Islamic State wants to be for Muslims what Israel is for Jews, a state in their ancient land that they have reclaimed in modern times, a religious and powerful state that protects them wherever they are, something to be proud of. This is a potent message for the disenfranchised Muslim youth who live in the political vacuum created by disturbing factors, such as the corruption and inefficacy of the Free Syrian and Iraqi Army, the Maliki government’s refusal to integrate Sunnis into the fabric of political life, the absence of proper socio-economic infrastructures destroyed during the war, and a high rate of unemployment. It is a powerful message also for those living abroad, the disenfranchised Muslim youth of Europe. No other armed organization has shown such insight and political intuition into the domestic politics of the Middle East and Muslim immigrants’ frustration all over the world, and no other armed organization has adapted to contingent factors, such as the provision of basic socio-economic infrastructures in the territory it controls to succeed at nation-building.

Its leadership has also studied the tactical and structural mistakes of past armed groups as well as their successes, and has put these lessons into a modern context. Like the European armed organizations of the 1960s and 1970s, the Islamic State understands the power of propaganda, of fear at home and abroad, and has been skilfully used social media to propagate sleek videos and images of its barbarous actions. Fear is a much more powerful weapon of conquest than religious lectures, something that al-Qaeda has never understood. Equally, the Islamic State knows that the 24-hour media seeks ever more brutal images, because in a world overloaded with information, extreme violence sells the news: thus the plentiful supply of photos and videos of brutal punishments and tortures uploaded in formats that can be easily watched on mobile phones. Shockingly, in a voyeuristic society, sadism, when appealingly packaged, becomes a major attraction.

The Islamic State has closely analysed the propaganda machine that the US and UK administration employed to justify the preventive strike in Iraq in 2003, in particular the creation of the myth of al Zarqawi which US Secretary of State Colin Powell used on in his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq. Thanks to an extensive and highly professional use of social media, the Islamic State has propagated equally false mythologies to proselytize, recruit, and raise funds across the Muslim world.

Crucial for the successes of this strategy have been the secrecy and mythology carefully woven around the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi. Again, in a world overloaded with information, mystery plays a major role in stimulating the collective imagination. The less people know, the more they want to know, and the more they imagine. Give people a few clips and they will complete the picture as they like it. Islam is premised on a certain nostalgia rooted in the return of the Prophet, while the West still fears Islam. Hence the IS is leading Muslims to believe that the Prophet has returned wearing the clothes of al-Baghdadi and at the same time it terrorizes Westerners with shockingly barbarous killings. Modern advertising has constructed a trillion-dollar industry atop these simple concepts. Now the Islamic State propaganda machine is using them to manufacture the myth of al-Baghdadi and his new Caliphate. What’s surprising is our surprise.

Finally, unlike al-Qaeda, the Islamic State is showing pragmatism. It seems to understand that, in the twenty-first century, new nations cannot be built and held together with terror and violence alone. To blossom, they require popular consensus. Hence the IS uses violence and Sharia law together with propaganda distributed over social media and a variety of popular social programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of the Sunni population trapped inside the Caliphate.

If this strategy succeeds, the world will be forced to turn a new leaf in the history of terrorism and nation-building, because the Islamic State will have provided a workable solution to the dilemma of terrorism. This, in a nutshell, is the true challenge that any armed organization poses to the modern state: whether to consider acts of terrorism as a threat to national security or to law and order. This dilemma springs from the ambiguous nature of terrorism: it has military aims – for example, among the goals of the Islamic State are freeing the territories of the old Caliphate of Baghdad from the tyrannical rule of the Shiites and the annexation of Jordan and Israel to recreate its ancient borders – but it employs criminal and barbarous methods like suicide bombings, the crucifixion of its opponents, and the beheading of hostages. Terrorism, therefore, could be defined as a crime with the aims of war. This ambiguity has allowed states to deny members of armed organizations the status of soldiers and enemies, relegating them to the ranks of outlaws even while using armies against them.

If the Islamic State succeeds in building a modern state, one that the world will not be able to ignore, using terrorism to gain territorial control and social and political reforms to secure internal popular consensus, it will prove what all armed organizations have affirmed: that they are not terrorists but enemies engaged in an asymmetrical war to overthrow illegitimate, tyrannical, and corrupted regimes. No matter how barbarous their actions are or have been, their status as threats to national security, as warriors, will be beyond doubt.

As the Islamic State’s war of conquest progresses, it is becoming clear that since 9/11 the business of Islamist terrorism has been getting stronger instead of weaker — to the extent that now it has morphed into a state — by simply keeping abreast with a fast-changing world in which propaganda and technology play an increasingly vital role. The same cannot be said for the forces engaged in stopping it from spreading.


Posted on on October 24th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

A while ago I received the following e-mail:

New World Disorder
with Kofi Annan

Please join the Foreign Policy Association for an evening with H.E. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Founder and Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, who will discuss “New World Disorder: Challenges for the UN in the 21st Century.”

Mr. Annan will be speaking as part of the Andrew Carnegie Distinguished Lecture on Conflict Prevention in Honor of David Hamburg.

October 23, 2014
From 6:00pm to 8:00pm
300 Madison Avenue
New York City

I answered with an e-mail to the FPA addressed to Mr. McDara King, but as the place seems to be run by inexperienced interns that do not acknowledge mail and as it turned out did not list me either I got no notice about what turned out to have been a need to change the venue because so many people showed interest in the event. The event was moved to the old building of the Bernard Baruch College and nobody bothered telling this to the 6 guards at PwC.

I report this in order to say that I missed half of UNSG Kofi Annan’s presentation – but do not want to waste time in my posting about the event because I picked up there his very recently released volume:

“WE THE PEOPLES: A UN for the 21st Century.” by KOFI ANNAN

which is a collection of material including some of his original speeches or articles and some of others he obviously considers very pertinent.

I post this as I highly recommend this volume to anyone interested in how the UN works – or does not.

I am sure I will peruse the book going to original articles that point at things happening these days that were predicted and were avoidable – but this organization of Governments, not being turned in time to be an organization of Peoples as the Charter suggested, is like a huge ship running into icebergs and hard to steer.

Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the UN and served two terms – January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006.

In 2001 Kofi Annan and the United Nations under his leadership were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace with the citation praising Annan’s leadership for “bringing new life to the organization.” Yes, looking at his record and his assembled material in the book it becomes obvious that even if much of what he tried he could not achieve, nevertheless, it is clear that it was not all a waste, and indeed he started to enlarge the scope of the UN by opening the door to Civil Society and by creating the Global Compact.

In the second half of his presentation above that I did hear – two innovation he promoted became clear points he prides himself with – but as he said – it is actually the R2P – THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT – that he was able to introduce to the UN – that becomes his personal achievement pride most important life achievement – that was tested in Kenya in 2008.

We believe that since the acceptance of the UN Charter in 1945, it was only the Addition of the Declaration of Human Rights, and Kofi Annan’s R2P that add up to the UN reality.

Looking at my notes from last night – I quote him “When the whole World has Changed You Can Not Have Static Institutions.”
This in regard to the need to give recognition to the importance of Latin America (Brazil), India, Africa (South Africa or Nigeria – and if they cannot agree – the unpretentious Gambia). They ought to get seats at the Security Council, The World Bank and The IMF.

He said that Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that you cannot have military solutions anymore.

President Eisenhower already told us not to lose sight of the UN as a means to achieve peace.

Dealing with Climate Change is absolutely essential for the future of mankind. Who could have predicted this i San Francisco in 1995, he said? No society can survive either without Sustainable Development and Human Rights. On the economy he said this is a story of subsidies – like in the case of gas (he meant gasoline and I assume diesel just the same) – these are subsidies for the middle class and the rich. This is not good for the environment, he said.

To a question about borders he answered by mentioning Syria and Somalia.

In the book, under the title NOT JUST A REGIONAL CONFLICT, I discovered that Kofi Annan’s last Address to the Security Council was about the Middle East and the Arab World and it looks like it was then a prediction of things to come.



Posted on on June 14th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper By Robert Bryce, 371 pages, PublicAffairs Credit Patricia Wall/The New York Times



Every so often we need someone to put in a kind word for the devil, if only to remind us of unpleasant facts. On energy policy, we need someone willing to declare flat out that “if oil didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. No other substance comes close to oil when it comes to energy density, ease of handling, and flexibility.”

{This obviously does not mean that the use of the fossil fuels is a panacea – it means only that the author thinks the energy density in petroleum made it an ideal fuel when in use – but the side effects are another matter. nevertheless I decided to post this in order to supply to our readers the variety of views on the subject. Above does not remember that originally Henry Ford intended his motor-vehicle to use ethanol from grain- which would have made more sense from an environmentalist point of view as that CO2 would have been a recycled CO2 – a Pincas Jawetz Comment.}

We need someone who says: Don’t kid yourself, coal will be around for a long, long time, as a cheap source of electricity across the globe. Someone who scoffs that anyone who believes in wind power and biofuels as a solution to the soaring demand for energy also believes in the Easter Bunny. And someone willing to argue that the most sensible long-term answer to the world’s unquenchable thirst for electricity is a revival of nuclear power, a reality that he says thinking environmentalists are coming to accept.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group, fills that role with zest. The author of four books on oil and energy, Mr. Bryce has written a new book well worth reading, though it will not sit well with those who applauded when Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize. The title of his breezy book — “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” — captures the headlong rush of Western culture’s endless drive for ever better technology. It is an extraordinary impulse that has created a world in which more people live longer and more comfortably than ever before.

The book amounts to Mr. Bryce’s emphatic, against-the-grain views on energy policy coupled to a once-over-lightly history of Western technology. His eccentric take on history bounces from the Panama Canal to Edison’s light bulb to the first computers, weirdly wrapping in excerpts on the AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifle, Olympic 100 meter times, and the Tour de France. He introduces puzzling techno-terms like “attoseconds,” which are billionths of a billionth of a second. (That, astonishingly, is the scale of time used in laser snapshots of the inner workings of an atom.) His historical vignettes do illustrate the benefits of Smaller Faster, etc., but they are like making an entire meal of amuse-bouches.

Mr. Bryce’s policy prescriptions will be more welcome in Houston than in the White House. He contends that the pantheon of environmentalists like Mr. Gore, Bill McKibben, Amory Lovins and Greenpeace — he calls them “the catastrophists” — are wildly optimistic, if not daft, in their extravagant hopes for wind power, solar cells and biofuels. He insists that his differences with them are not ideological but purely physics and economics: that their alternative possibilities are inherently too weak as fuels to scale them up to meet the world’s unceasing demand for more electricity.

From studies of wind farms he calculates that the average power density for wind energy is about one watt per square meter. A wind farm large enough to power just one data center for Facebook would require nearly 11 square miles of land, he says. On a far larger scale, the United States has about 300 billion watts of coal-fired generation capacity. So to replace it by wind power would sop up 300,000 square kilometers of land, about the area of Italy. Here he is tilting at windmills — no one has ever proposed shuttering the nation’s coal mines and relying on wind — but the comparison serves his contention that in the big picture, wind power will always be a minor player.

Biofuels have a power density even smaller, only a third of wind’s, and thus they hog even more land, he writes. Mr. Bryce considers it a scandal and a gross misuse of government subsidies that 40 percent of the nation’s corn harvest already goes into producing corn-based ethanol, pushing food prices much higher as collateral damage.

He pounces on Mr. Lovins’s prediction that by 2050, the United States will draw 23 percent of its power from biofuels. That is “ludicrous beyond language,” he says. If an acre of switchgrass yields about 17 barrels of oil equivalent a year, then achieving that 23 percent would take up 342,000 square miles of cropland, the equivalent of Texas, New York and Ohio combined, he calculates.

Mr. Bryce knows his way around an oil field, and he writes authoritatively about the constantly improving technology of extracting oil and gas. Thanks to those improvements, estimates of oil and gas reserves have shot up, defying repeated predictions that they were on the verge of topping out. Comparable innovations in wind energy or biofuels just aren’t possible, he maintains.

Disappointing for a man so sure of other data, Mr. Bryce waffles on the critical point of global warming. He declares himself a resolute “climate agnostic,” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a reality. Environmentalists might well see this as a convenient way to skirt the issue of the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for endangering the planet.

He says he is neither an “alarmist” (a revealing choice of words) nor a “denier,” but tries to patch together an “incontrovertible” climate outlook that both “tribes” can accept: Carbon dioxide emissions are rising, dramatically so, and that will continue; the world will need vastly more energy in the decades ahead to raise the living standards of those in poverty; and if ever we needed smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper, the time is now.

Mr. Bryce’s solution is “N2N,” a reliance on natural gas on the way to a more nuclear world. He is not the first to note that natural gas is relatively clean and available in extraordinary abundance. It generates electricity; it is the coming thing in propelling vehicles. Its use is already cutting CO2 emissions in the United States.

Mr. Bryce makes a case that nuclear power is clean and green and far superior to any other fuel in power density. His enthusiastic embrace of nuclear will astonish most readers, however, with his contention that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan should be seen as a boon to the revival of nuclear power, rather than an obstacle.

At Fukushima, three reactors melted down with a substantial release of radiation, forcing as many as 300,000 people from their homes, and leaving still unresolved problems of cleaning up massive amounts of radioactive water. And yet, Mr. Bryce writes, even though the plant was wrecked by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to rock the planet, the World Health Organization has concluded that radiation exposure due to Fukushima was low. No lives were lost to radiation — at least none so far.

Mr. Bryce is decidedly bullish on America, not least because of what’s happening in the oil patch. America enjoys the cheapest power in the industrial world, at 12 cents a kilowatt hour versus 26 cents in Europe and 24 cents in Japan. It leads the world in natural gas production, nuclear production and refined oil output. Thanks to the oil shale, it could soon eclipse Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil.

“The best way to protect the environment is to get richer,” he asserts. “Wealthy countries can afford to protect the environment. Poor ones generally can’t.”

A version of this article appears in print on June 8, 2014, on page BU4 of the New York edition with the headline: Wind? Biofuels? Get Real, a Contrarian Says.


Posted on on May 22nd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

A Solar-backed Currency for the Refugees of Western Sahara.

By Mel Chin | Creative Time | April 30, 2014…

View of Smara, one of the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

What the world needs now is the first Bank of the Sun.

The HSBC ads at Newark International Airport could not have been more appropriate for my trek to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. As I ambled through the jet bridge with my carry-on, color-coordinated images of demure North African women met my eyes, accompanied by some facts assembled by the bank—”0.3% of Saharan solar energy could power Europe”—and a self-aggrandizing but, for me, prescient message: “Do you see a world of potential? We do.”

It was the fall of 2011, and I was on a string of flights from North Carolina to Algeria to participate in an ARTifariti convening of international artists presenting human rights–related projects at the Algerian camps and in Western Sahara. During previous gatherings, a New York–based art critic had presented a slide show to international artists and Sahrawi refugees, sharing pieces by activist artists and filmmakers such as Ai Weiwei and Spike Lee. The get-togethers offered a forum to consider artists who might do a project in the camps.

And in the end, the refugees had chosen a Chinese Texan who had spearheaded Operation Paydirt’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project, an artwork that prompted Americans to draw their own versions of $100 bills (in order to raise awareness of and prevent childhood lead poisoning). Essentially they said, “Bring us the guy with the money.” So I packed my bags and left for the western lands of North Africa.

Mel Chin

Operation Paydirt’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project in St. Roch, New Orleans. CREDIT: Amanda Wiles, 2009.

At an unknown hour on a starless night, I arrived in the 27 February Camp—one of Algeria’s five Sahrawi refugee camps (named after the date in 1976 on which the Polisario Front declared the birth of the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic)—and was led to the home of our host, Abderrahman. As we entered his compound, the seasoned warrior, dressed in a blue darrâa, emerged from a UN tent, unfurled a carpet over the sand, ignited charcoal and began to prepare the customary tea for us. We attempted to translate from Hassaniya Arabic to Spanish to English over tea, getting a taste of enthusiastic nomad hospitality.

That night I heard firsthand the history of the Sahrawi people, who today are divided between Algerian refugee camps and a sliver of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara that they call the “liberated territories.” For nearly four decades, warfare and political powers have trapped more than 150,000 Sahrawis in the camps and separated them from their family members in the liberated territories, which are bounded by the Moroccan wall to the west and Algeria’s border to the east.

When Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara in 1975 (Mauritania withdrew in 1979), they split up the land and seized the Sahrawis’ natural resources—water, rich fishing grounds and the world’s largest phosphate mine. Now, inhabiting either the arid, landlocked region of Western Sahara or the bare-bones camps of Algeria, the Sahrawi people depend entirely on international humanitarian aid for food, water and medicine. And while Western Sahara has none of the lead-poisoning problems of postindustrial America, its liberated territories have more landmines than any other place on the planet.

Mel Chin

In the tent of Abderrahman and his family. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

In the morning I awoke from this harrowing chronicle in a land of sand and rock that was brutally burnished by the sun—and I can guarantee that there was no bank in sight. I soon learned why the Sahrawi people were so interested in the Fundred Dollar Bill project: they have no currency of their own and deal mostly with Algerian dinars. In response, we created a background template for their currency, printed thousands of blank bills and distributed them through the camps, announcing a design opportunity. After we curated their drawings, the Sahrawis would vote on the designs for what might become their first currency.

The denominations for the currency, called “sollars,” were 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Children and teens drew the 5s and 10s; young adults, the 20s; and of course, the elders, the 100s. But the designs for the 50s would have two adult versions, one male and one female. The survivalist family culture that has emerged from the hostile desert climate has enforced a long-standing code of equality between the sexes. In a region where food is scarce and hot summer temperatures and freezing desert nights can kill, whoever survives the elements must be allowed equal rights in the tribe to barter and represent the family, regardless of religious dictates.

Mel Chin

The children’s school at the 27 February Camp. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

While I was in the camps, I came to understand that the symbolic and therapeutic benefits of designing the first Sahrawi currency with the refugees were not worthy enough goals. The Sahrawi people need a real economy. And to make that happen, the fictional currency I helped the refugees design had to be backed by something real and exchangeable on international markets.

As I mulled over the problem under the blazing sun, I realized that the desert holds the potential to bring Sahrawis economic and political independence—and the leverage necessary to help us all combat climate change.

What the world needs now is the first Bank of the Sun. The first solar energy–backed currency in the world could bring the Sahrawi people an independent economy and offer a major breakthrough in an environmental quagmire. We would create a new model of banking and currency, free from the dominance of gold and oil, for first-world countries to follow.

And this model would be delivered by the Sahrawi people, who have been waiting for freedom and self-determination for 39 years! By achieving worldwide renown for freeing people from hydrocarbon dependency, the Sahrawi could then barter with the global community for another form of independence: their right to self-determination.

Mel Chin Bank of the Sun Western SaharaFreedom is the concept propelling my action with the Sahrawi people. The sun on this poster for the Bank of the Sun is composed of the Arabic word for “freedom,” repeated 38 times—once for every year the Sahrawis have waited for the right to self-determination (as of last year). CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2013.

I admit that it was a pretty far-out and grand idea, but I suppose I did see a world of potential in Saharan solar energy, just like the jetway HSBC ad said. I was thinking like a bank.

After getting back from the Tindouf camps, I found myself in Texas, accepting a national award for my efforts in public art and, most likely, boring everyone with crazy talk about a Bank of the Sun in landmine-laced Western Sahara. My friends were more concerned about my diminishing sense of self-preservation than about anything I said—especially after I told them that my trip to Tifariti had been interrupted by the armed kidnapping of three foreign-aid workers from a neighboring refugee camp. They didn’t even entertain my ideas with any questions about how the bank idea could be pulled off.

As with most such gatherings, there was not much left to do after the award ceremony but drink and dance. So, with friends in tow, we honky-tonked through San Antonio, taking over a bar by the River Walk and proceeding to do what had to be done. While taking a break from the floor, I noticed a man about my age sitting at a table with a beer, tapping his feet to the bluesy beat. I had my posse pull him onto the floor. He began to move in a calculated way, like an engineer. Intrigued, I joined him and the party on the floor.

Over the din, I shouted, “What do you do?”

He shouted back, “I’m an engineer.”

“Really?” I asked. “What kind?”

“A solar engineer.”

I challenged Texas style: “So, ever heard of Western Sahara?”

Matter-of-factly he replied, “Yes, we designed a power station for the refugee camps there.”

For me, a light flicked on, burning away the haze of booze and turning the blaring R&B into a background of sweet birds; the bodies in frantic motion seemed to stand still. I urged him off the dance floor. He told me, in an Australian accent, that he was Dr. Richard Corkish, head of photovoltaic engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Not only that—his colleague had just been in the same refugee camps I had visited, advising on how to power a women’s clinic. It was a profound coincidence, to say the least. We closed the bar, and I left clutching Dr. Corkish’s business card.

For me, a light flicked on, burning away the haze of booze and turning the blaring R&B into a background of sweet birds.

Since our night on the floor, Dr. Corkish has been an adviser to the Bank of the Sun, which is on its way to becoming a reality. He has assigned students the project as part of his curriculum and counseled us on the design of a modular, pragmatic stand-alone solar power plant in Western Sahara, as well as a cost-effective method for transmitting power. Following Corkish’s methodologies, we could generate more than enough energy for Sahrawi needs, creating a surplus to sell to neighboring countries or even to Europe. By working in the Western Sahara to retool our approach to energy, we would prove that the most advanced methods of solar-power storage and delivery are feasible even in a place with no infrastructure. The most appropriate technology for us all could be built from the sand up.

In February 2013 I discussed the project with Ahmad Bukhari, the Polisario representative to the United Nations, and later with Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, the ambassador to the United States for the Western Saharan people. Skeptical at first, they have both become advisers and creative collaborators.

To make the first Bank of the Sun a reality, we have to find a place where electricity can be generated that is both safe from armed conflict and close enough to someone interested in buying energy. Bukhari suggested placing the stand-alone solar power plant not in the camps but in Mijek, a nomadic outpost in the liberated territories. Mijek continues to be the most likely site because the energy could be sold to Zouérat, a town in northern Mauritania where an iron ore mine needs more power than is available. The Mauritanian ambassador recently confirmed that the country would buy any energy offered. I have started to seek funds for a fact-finding trek, during which I will finally step on the sands of Western Sahara.

Mel Chin

The site and plans for the potential Bank of the Sun. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2013.

During my time in the Sahrawi refugee camps, I relearned a lesson I picked up in the flood-wracked and environmentally poisoned parts of New Orleans: you are not inspired by tragedy or human suffering—you are compelled.

My brilliant translator, a young man named Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, was born in the camps and has never traveled beyond his host country, Algeria, or the shameful wall of sand and explosives erected by Morocco in Western Sahara. Sulaiman is majestic in his capacity for optimism and his aptitude for imagining alternative futures based on ideas we discussed during my stay. On our last night together, he spoke with me about staring each night into the vast sky above the camps. He then asked, “No disrespect, but why is it so easy for an artist to see our need for justice when the rest of the world can’t?”

A question like that makes you think about what could be and about how our humanity is challenged if we don’t take action to amplify his question—and to force an answer.


This piece from Creative Time Reports is republished without trying to track down permission. Climate Reports is made possible by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. This series is produced in conjunction with the 2013 Marfa Dialogues/NY organized by Ballroom Marfa, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Public Concern Foundation. We hope that the authors will not mind our trying to publicize their very sound dream for a mos reasonable future. The only question is if the world will be enlightened enough to see that the true realists are the dreamers of today.



Posted on on May 16th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Five Principles for Independent Media in 2014.

Friday, 16 May 2014  —  By Joe Macare and Maya Schenwar – respectably the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of  Truthout  – written as an Op-Ed piece.  We regard this as their professed CREDO, and post this at a time we realize – it has become justifiably hard for professional journalism to make ends meet if intent on providing the complete truth they know.


Today’s media landscape is constantly shifting. As the industry follows wider economic trends, steady writing jobs remain few and far between. Many talented reporters and critics move around from outlet to outlet in a largely freelance economy. The way audiences find news and analysis has also changed – more and more often, readers will follow those writers around, using social media feeds to find stories, rather than going directly to one web site (let alone one television network, radio station or print publication).

The line between “audience” and “media-makers” has eroded  amplifying voices and movements traditionally excluded from dominant journalistic platforms. Tweets and Facebook posts often travel farther and wider and faster than even the most “high-profile” newspaper articles.


As corporate media companies have scrambled to adapt, sometimes in the process offering platforms to people who disrupt the hegemony of the mainstream, new outlets have emerged which can’t be categorized as mainstream, yet, but don’t fit clearly into the mold of independent media either. Some of them openly tack still further to the right than corporate news (Free Beacon, for example, or the Breitbart News Network), while others have drawn criticism for the extent to which they seem dominated by the same, already overrepresented voices.

Meanwhile, at the same time as social media has become increasingly recognized – though certainly not by everyone – as Media with a capital M (media to be taken seriously), it has enabled the emergence of new critiques of all sections of media – or perhaps more accurately, it has amplified critiques that were not new but now for the first time are too loud to be ignored.


In light of these developments, what principles should independent media follow? If we want the things we say about ourselves to ring true in the landscape in which we find ourselves in 2014, how should we act, write and envision our mission and purpose?



The following are principles to which Truthout already strives to adhere, but which we now feel are important to articulate explicitly. We hope to help inform a conversation which has already begun, but which needs to move with some swiftness from one that is reactive to one that is proactive. We hope to gesture towards an independent media that serves the future – whether that’s five minutes from now or 50 years ahead of us – and the people who live in it.



1. Be Intentional


Independent media has, on occasion, erred on the side of declaring not just an appropriate independence from corporations or political parties, but an independence from causes, ideologies, convictions, even points of view.


Most of us are not afraid to admit, privately, that we have intentions and that these intentions are political.
But elsewhere, we feel we must make a point of insisting on our objectivity and balance, lest we be accused of partisanship or bias. This fear is not without substance:

Accusations of bias have been used to discredit independent media, defund public media, and even to end mainstream careers. One of the earliest things both of us were taught about journalism was that it should strive, at all (or most) costs,  for the grand ideal of “objectivity.”


Yet every time we retreat behind the shield of “objectivity,” something is lost.  In part, that’s because the corporate media is not afraid to openly side with those with the most power – whether it’s the partisan conservative ties of Fox News or the “progressive” DNC partisanship of MSNBC. Fortunately, more and more reporters, and other media-makers, espouse the view, as we do, that “the myth of ‘objective’ journalism is not only false, but also unhelpful.”  The next step, then, is to embrace being intentional.


For independent media, what does it mean to take a truly intentional approach? It means making decisions with an informed, wider context in mind and with clear social justice aims – both editorial decisions and decisions about our own practices. It means reframing and sometimes even discarding the idea of “bias;”  in fact, we all should be “biased” toward truth, justice and freedom.


For us, at Truthout, it means constantly asking about everything we publish, whether it’s an original piece or one reprinted from a partner publication: Why are we publishing this? What does it add – to Truthout, to the broader conversation, to the struggle for justice?


It means being intentional about what voices we quote and promote; being aware that if we do not make conscious choices, invisible privileges will lead to the continued predominance of white, male, abled, heterosexual, cisgender and well-off voices. It means acknowledging power dynamics and seeking, wherever possible, to confront power and to avoid the cheap and easy satisfaction of criticizing those who do not have it – punching up, not punching down.


It means taking a stand on some issues and making it clear we do not believe they are up for debate. For example, we are not interested in “debating” the rights of trans and non-binary people to determine their own gender, to be accepted as such and to be afforded the same rights and basic human decency as cisgender people. We won’t represent “both sides” of a debate about whether it’s justified for the US government to pre-emptively murder a teenage boy.


2. Be Humble


An emphasis on talking heads, definitive opinions, and sound bites on cable TV has perpetuated the idea that being indisputably right is the main goal of both journalism and public dialogue. This closes out opportunities for questioning, and imagining, and experimentation. Independent media must take responsibility and serve as a forum for creative thought concerning social justice.


Confidence that one is 100 percent right – or 100 percent knowledgeable – about everything in a given area should not be a precursor for being granted a voice or a platform. Indeed, it could be argued that 100 percent confidence is usually a good indicator that something is being distorted or overlooked. When challenging the status quo, sometimes the “answer” is not immediately available, because the structures necessary to build those answers are not yet in place.


We must admit that we don’t know everything.


Non-corporate media can and should provide a space to puzzle out possibilities for both dismantling current systems and paving new paths, and for this journey, humility is an essential ingredient.


This approach has almost immeasurable intellectual, political and professional value. Intellectually, it is far more likely to yield new insights than the current fad for “explainer” journalism that assumes both that its audience is ill-informed in the extreme, and that the best way to rectify that is to have the subject at hand broken down into bite-sized flash cards by a wonkish figure of authority. Politically, it will broaden our understanding of who gets to speak with authority.


Professionally, it will simply lead to better journalism – by almost any standards. Journalism is a field that’s grounded in inquiry, and with inquiry must come a willingness and a capacity to learn.  As we carry on our work as independent journalists, we should carry with us the mindset that the world has a lot to teach us – and that when it comes down to it, much of our job is simply to listen.



3. Be Bold


At the 2014 annual meeting of The Media Consortium, Rinku Sen (president and executive director of Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines) encouraged attendees to make two paradigmatic shifts. Firstly, to value not only those stories which prove to be great successes but also the ones read, seen or heard by only a handful of people;  secondly, to move from a framework of scarcity to one of abundance.


What do these ideas have to do with being bold?  The answer is that both can free us from a fear of failure that hampers the kind of journalism we could otherwise be producing.


Of course it’s only sensible and good for media outlets to look at data about our audiences, to keep track of what is most read and what’s having the biggest impact on the wider conversation and the wider world. But if our approach as writers and editors is tied too closely to chasing a bigger and bigger audience, and our desire to reach this audience is primarily tied to ensuring we stay funded, we are putting the cart before the horse in a way that risks falling into the same traps that hamstring the corporate media.


If we commit to covering stories that would otherwise go untold, it should be with the understanding that this is a worthwhile act in and of itself. If we commit to giving a voice to the voiceless, it cannot be conditional on the immediate popularity of what the voiceless have to say. While of course we want to amplify these voices and disseminate these stories to as many people as possible, and should always be refining our approach to do that as effectively as possible, one thing is inevitable: Some stories that are worth telling will not be well-received.


Taking risks and putting out ideas that might make some people uncomfortable, even angry, is the only way to move dialogues forward. (As we discuss below, however, too many media outlets are only interested in provoking anger and discomfort in people whose anger will generate attention, but is assumed ultimately not to matter.)


As part of this process, testing the bounds of what’s considered “journalism” – and who should be given a platform in a publication – is crucial. “ Journalism” cannot remain confined to a scroll of “professionals” enacting formulas and filling in the blanks with interviews. If independent media is to provide a genuine alternative to corporate media, we must free ourselves from the respectability politics that not only keeps marginalized people in the margins but also limits the quality and range of public discourse.



4. Be Accountable


Too often, media have strived to maintain an airy distance from critique, an almost patrician-like separation from the “mob” of social media, comments sections, the mass of reader feedback emails and similar forums. The fear has been, perhaps, that to make media accountable would mean opening the floodgates and allowing oneself to be held hostage to anyone with a grudge.


To be sure, as we have outlined above, a media outlet that committed to never making any reader or subject of a story unhappy would be a media outlet that never published anything of value. If we have already decided to be bold, we have already decided that we are going to upset somebody. But if we have already decided to be intentional, then we can make decisions about to whom we are accountable.


In fact, pretty much every media outlet out there already makes these decisions – it’s just that usually, they decide that the only people whose feedback is worth listening to are the ones who already hold the most power, money and influence. George Orwell famously defined journalism as “printing what someone else does not want printed,” adding “everything else is public relations” – this now seems to us somewhat incomplete without specifying that journalism is publishing what someone with power does not want to see the light of day. There is sadly no shortage of journalism that is happy to be combative and take people to task, but only when they are people already marginalized.


If we are intentional, if we have a clear ethical and political compass, and if we are bold, then we will be able to stick to our guns when we anger powerful, wealthy and high-profile men, but think carefully about what we might have done wrong if we upset marginalized communities – not the other way around.


This also requires us to think differently about the people for whom we are writing and publishing. Independent media must embrace and value readers, not only as “audiences” but as communities.

Since we aren’t working for profit, our work only has a point if we are serving our communities and developing alongside them. That service and development is a collaborative effort, and we must remain conscious of the spirit of our involvement as journalists.


We must always remain conscious of whose stories we’re telling, and the impact these stories will make on not only the larger public but on the subjects of our stories themselves.

We must not, in the name of “good journalism,” ignore the effects of that journalism on the people about whom we’re writing.


This means going beyond a legalistic outlook in which anything heard or printed in a public forum is fair game, and damn the consequences. It means acknowledging that by virtue of the platforms we have, most of us enjoy  “a tremendous privilege and an even greater responsibility,” and that, to quote Susie Cagle, “At the least, we should seek to minimize harm to those we use – and yes, we do use them – to tell stories and ultimately earn livelihoods for ourselves.”



5. Progress, Not Perfection


The term “progressive” has been batted around in recent years to mean a number of contradictory things, some of which simply connote maintaining the status quo and tweaking it around the edges or returning to a mythical golden age when life was good for everyone.  Journalists are uniquely positioned to provide an example of what it might mean instead to strive to be “progressive” in a different sense: committed to improving ourselves, our work and our society, but acutely aware of the inevitability of imperfection.


A strawman often invoked in recent years against efforts to hold media accountable, especially media that self-identifies as progressive, left-wing or feminist, is that critics are demanding an unreasonable and unachievable perfection.


It is true that perfection is unachievable. But the claim “nobody’s perfect!” is offered too frequently as a defense mechanism. It’s a knee-jerk resistance to criticism that many of us can recognize from arguments in our personal lives. Since nobody is perfect, the thinking goes, we should surely not have our shortcomings pointed out but rather our accomplishments praised. Since the bar is set so low, surely we have done enough.


What would the media culture look like if, instead, we took “nobody’s perfect” to mean that we acknowledged our own limitations, shortcomings and past mistakes – and instead of either denying them, downplaying them or being discouraged by them, resolved to learn from them?


It’s hard to say, because that isn’t the media culture we currently have. But it’s the one we’re trying to build, not with a wholly defined end in sight but as a continual process, working to carve our own media landscape, transforming as we go.


We can’t promise perfection. We don’t pretend this practice will be easy – that there won’t be times when important priorities conflict or when the needs of different communities clash (after all, “there are some very real tensions for us to hold in the face of overlapping systems of oppression“).  All we can do is make our best good-faith effort to be intentional, humble, bold and accountable, more so today – than yesterday – and even more so tomorrow – working with the conviction that a better media world is possible. Starting with Truthout.


Maya Schenwar

Maya Schenwar is Truthout’s Editor-in-Chief. Her book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, will be out from Berrett-Koehler Publishers in October. Follow her on Twitter: @mayaschenwar.

Previously, she was a senior editor and reporter at Truthout, writing on US defense policy, the criminal justice system, campaign politics, and immigration reform. Prior to her work at Truthout, Maya was contributing editor at Punk Planet magazine. She has also written for the Guardian, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, AlterNet, Z Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Common Dreams, the New Jersey Star-Ledger and others. She also served as a publicity coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Maya is on the Board of Advisors at Waging Nonviolence.

Joe Macare

Joe Macaré is Truthout’s Publisher. Follow him on Twitter: @joemacare.


Posted on on February 21st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.


A prominent rabbi and imam, each raised in orthodoxy, overcome the temptations of bigotry and work to bridge the chasm between Muslims and JewsRabbi Marc Schneier, the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty, grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic. Imam Shamsi Ali, who grew up in a small Indonesian village and studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seems unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, amid increasing acrimony between Jews and Muslims, the two men overcame their prejudices and bonded over a shared belief in the importance of opening up a dialogue and finding mutual respect. In doing so, they became not only friends but also defenders of each other’s religion, denouncing the twin threats of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and promoting interfaith cooperation.

In Sons of Abraham, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends and offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that frequently divide Jews and Muslims, clarifying erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behavior. Rabbi Schneier dispels misconceptions about chosenness in Judaism, while Imam Ali explains the truth behind concepts like jihad and Shari’a. And on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two speak forthrightly on the importance of having a civil discussion and the urgency of reaching a peaceful solution.

As Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali show, by reaching a fuller understanding of one another’s faith traditions, Jews and Muslims can realize that they are actually more united than divided in their core beliefs. Both traditions promote kindness, service, and responsibility for the less fortunate—and both religions call on their members to extend compassion to those outside the faith. In this sorely needed book, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali challenge Jews and Muslims to step out of their comfort zones, find common ground in their shared Abrahamic traditions, and stand together and fight for a better world for all.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Sons of Abraham represents the culmination of years of work by Rabbi Schneier, my partner at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Imam Ali, and myself to bring Muslims and Jews together all across the world.  Few people thought that these orthodox religious leaders could be friends, and even fewer believed their work would succeed, but Sons of Abraham shows how their friendship has created a model for a worldwide Muslim-Jewish reconciliation.”
—Russell Simmons, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-founder of Def Jam Records“Through a robust discussion of the history and mindsets that define both Judaism and Islam, Imam Shamsi Ali and Rabbi Marc Schneier offer that the truest illustration of faith lies not in traditions or a myopic approach to piety, but rather in a deeply held belief in one God, a concern for human dignity, and a commitment to mutual respect.  The authors—in their friendship and in their service—offer a rare example of cooperation and provide a beacon of hope as we pursue peace between peoples torn apart by millennia of misunderstanding and mistrust.  Sons of Abraham is a work of political, social, and religious significance and a roadmap for how we should and can move forward.”
—Congressman André Carson

“In this book my friends Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali show us that Muslims and Jews are not enemies, but friends who are united by our belief in a monotheistic god and our lineage to our forefather Abraham. The Rabbi and Imam’s friendship is a reminder that peace and friendship are possible between our peoples.”
—S. Daniel Abraham, Chairman, Center for Middle East Peace  

Read More

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807033074
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/17/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 291,633


Posted on on February 1st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Launch media viewer
Robert M. Gates in April 2011 on a visit to Irbil, Iraq, as secretary of defense. His new memoir covers his service under Presidents Bush and Obama. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Robert M. Gates gives us a forthright, impassioned, sometimes conflicted account of his four and a half years as defense secretary in his fascinating new memoir “Duty,” a book that is highly revealing about decision making in both the Obama and Bush White Houses.

Mr. Gates — who has won plaudits from both Republicans and Democrats over the years for his pragmatic, common-sense approach to his job — has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history, was director of central intelligence in the early ’90s, and worked under eight presidents. His writing is informed not only by a keen sense of historical context, but also by a longtime Washington veteran’s understanding of how the levers of government work or fail to work.

Unlike many careful Washington memoirists, Mr. Gates speaks his mind on a host of issues, freely expressing his dismay with the micro-managerial zeal of White House national security aides and his unfettered fury at a dysfunctional Congress. The majority of it, he says, is “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities,” “hypocritical, egotistical” and eager to put “self (and re-election) before country.”

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Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Some of his more detailed descriptions of debates within the administration over Afghanistan will be of interest mainly to Washington policy wonks. They can be read as Mr. Gates’s efforts to set the record straight or to take issue with accounts already in print, like in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.” But while his overall portraits of Mr. Obama (“the most deliberative president I worked for”) and George W. Bush (he “had strong convictions about certain issues, such as Iraq, and trying to persuade him otherwise was a fool’s errand”) are familiar enough, they are fleshed out with myriad, telling glimpses of the two men at work. Mr. Gates — whose nickname in the Obama White House was Yoda — also gives us his shrewd take on a range of foreign policy matters, an understanding of his mission to reform the incoherent spending and procurement policies of the Pentagon, and a tactile sense of what it was like to be defense secretary during two wars. (For security reasons, he traveled to Iraq inside “a sort of large silver Airstream trailer” placed in the hold of a military cargo plane, which, he says, felt “a lot like being FedExed halfway around the world.”)

Headlines have already been made by passages in this book relating to Mr. Obama’s stewardship of the war in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates writes that while he “never doubted Obama’s support for the troops,” he did question his support for their mission there. From early on, he writes, there was suspicion in the White House that the president was “getting the ‘bum’s rush’ from senior military officers” over the question of a troop increase in Afghanistan, and that that suspicion grew over time.

During a heated March 2011 meeting, Mr. Gates says, the president suggested he was possibly “being gamed” by the military. Listening to this, Mr. Gates says he thought, “The president doesn’t trust his commander,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, “can’t stand” the Afghan president Hamid Karzai, “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Such widely quoted bits of the book — now being dissected on TV — give the impression that as a whole it is less nuanced and measured than it actually is. In fact, Mr. Gates seems less intent on settling scores here than in trying candidly to lay out his feelings about his tenure at the Pentagon and his ambivalent, sometimes contradictory thoughts about the people he worked with.

He writes that he found President Obama’s methodical approach to problem solving “refreshing and reassuring,” and commends his ability to make tough decisions “regardless of the domestic political consequences.” But he also talks about coming close to resigning, feeling “deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the uncertainties and inherent unpredictability of war.” In a note to himself, he wrote: “They all seem to think it’s a science.”

Mr. Gates says he found it dismaying to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton talk about her opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq in terms of domestic politics and the Iowa primary. But in another passage, he praises her as “smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. does not fare as well. Mr. Gates says Mr. Biden is “impossible not to like” though, in his opinion, Mr. Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

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Clockwise from top left, Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff; and Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Clockwise from top left: Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski; Charles Dharapak/Associated Press; Jim Bourg/Reuters 

Mr. Obama’s national security aides like Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes are singled out for some of Mr. Gates’s most stinging criticism. He suggests that such advisers were often “out of their depth” in foreign policy and military matters, and blurred the chain of command by circumventing more senior officials. In this respect, this book echoes the journalist James Mann’s 2012 book “The Obamians,” which argued that the president leaned heavily on an inner circle of young aides who had been with him through his 2008 campaign, while keeping more experienced hands at a distance.

The Obama White House, Mr. Gates writes, was “by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.” He adds that its “controlling nature” and “its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the people in the cabinet departments — in the trenches — who had actually done the work, offended Hillary Clinton as much as it did me.”

Mr. Gates points out continuities in national security policies between Mr. Bush’s second term and Mr. Obama’s first. And he notes other similarities between the two presidents: both “had the worst of both worlds on the Hill: they were neither particularly liked nor feared” and did little to reach out to individual members of Congress; nor did either “work much at establishing close personal relationships with other world leaders.” In short, both seemed “very aloof with respect to two constituencies important to their success in foreign affairs.”

Regarding the Bush administration, the most compelling parts of this book concern Iran and Mr. Gates’s worries about “the influence of the Israelis and the Saudis” on the White House, particularly the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and “their shared desire to have problems like Iran ‘taken care of’ while Bush was still president.” Mr. Gates repeatedly warned of the dangers of “looking for another war” when America was already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point, he says, he was so worried that Mr. Bush might be persuaded by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Olmert “to act or enable the Israelis to act” (that is, to take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon) that he made an intense private call to Mr. Bush in which he argued “we must not make our vital interests in the entire Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia hostage to another nation’s decisions — no matter how close an ally.”

Mr. Gates says little more about Mr. Cheney’s influence in the White House, observing that by 2007 the vice president “was the outlier on the team” with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley “and me in broad agreement on virtually all important issues.” He is also curiously elliptical when it comes to his predecessor at the Pentagon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom he replaced in December 2006. Instead, he talks in more general terms about the chaotic war in Iraq he inherited, writing that he was “stunned by what I saw as amazing bungling after the initial military success.” He also confides that Mr. Bush told him in January 2008 that “he wished he’d made the change in secretary of defense ‘a couple of years earlier.’ It was the only thing I ever heard him say even indirectly critical of Rumsfeld.”

Critics of the Bush administration, he writes, fail to understand the sense of fear and urgency that Sept. 11 left on the White House. He adds, though, that “the key question for me was why” several years later, with improved defenses in place, “there was not a top-to-bottom review of policies and authorities with an eye to culling out those that were most at odds with our traditions, culture, and history, such as renditions and ‘enhanced interrogations.’ ” He says that in the summer of 2008, he and Ms. Rice argued “for an aggressive effort to get legislation that would permit us to close” Guantánamo Bay prison but did not prevail.

Mr. Gates is at his most emotional — and moving — in talking about his love for the men and women who serve in the military. “Signing the deployment orders, visiting hospitals, writing the condolence letters and attending the funerals at Arlington all were taking a growing emotional toll on me,” he writes near the end of this plain-spoken memoir. “Even thinking about the troops, I would lose my composure with increasing frequency. I realized I was beginning to regard protecting them — avoiding their sacrifice — as my highest priority. And I knew that this loss of objectivity meant it was time to leave.”

In retrospect, Mr. Gates says, his time as secretary of defense reinforced his “belief that in recent decades, American presidents, confronted with a tough problem abroad, have too often been too quick to reach for a gun — to use military force” even though “wars are a lot easier to get into than out of.”

Memoirs of a Secretary at War
By Robert M. Gates
Illustrated. 618 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $35.


Posted on on January 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (



CTMD Upcoming Events


Center for Traditional Music and Dance & Verite sou Tanbou present

Verite Sou Tanbou   


A conversation about Vodou and the Environment

followed by a Vodou singing session








Sunday, Jan 19th, 6:30PM
138 South Oxford Street, 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY
(Kindly RSVP by January 18th to
Your RSVP will be confirmed via e-mail.)
The Center for Traditional Music and Dance and its Haitian Community Cultural Initiative, Verite sou Tanbou (formerly known as Ayiti Fasafas), invite you to “Vodou Is Nature,” an educational workshop on Haitian Vodou practice and performance in New York City. Oungan (Vodou priest) Dieudonné Jean-Jacques and Manbo (Vodou Priestess) Marie Carmel will lead a conversation discussing the roots of Haitian Vodou with respect to the environment, in its “four elements” (air, earth, fire, and water), and the Vodou spirits (lwa) which guard and represent the powerful forces and precious resources of the natural world.  The conversation will be translated into English and Kreyol and will be followed by a question-and-answer session, plus a performance of traditional Vodou songs on nature themes. Audience participation is encouraged!
WikiCommons Tree



Verite sou Tanbou image design by Kesler Pierre.

Roots/water photo by Pam Fray, 2007 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Support for this program is provided to the Center for Traditional Music and Dance and Verite sou Tanbou by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Con Edison, the Emma A. Sheafer Charitable Trust, the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, the Gilder Foundation, the Hearst Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Scherman Foundation.

Find out more about CTMD!
For more information about upcoming events, what’s happening in New York City’s traditional music and dance scene, to join or to donate, go to CTMD’s website.  


Posted on on December 28th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


From Daniel Pipes of Middle East Forum about his new book

“Islam and Bebop Jazz”


Dear Reader:

To commemorate the publication of this look at the connections of Islam to jazz, I posted today “Bibliography – My Writings on Music and Islam.” It contains nine items. 

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Pipes

Islam and Bebop Jazz

by Daniel Pipes
December 27, 2013

The passing of Al-Hajj Dr. Yusef Abdul Lateef, 93, on Dec. 23 in Massachusetts brings to mind the exotic, semi-forgotten influence of Islam on the American music scene in the 1950s, when Islam, and specifically Ahmadiyya Islam, was cool.

Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on Oct. 9, 1920, in Chattanooga and grew up in Detroit, where his father changed the family name to Evans. He began as a saxophonist in 1946, then went on to play the flute, oboe, bassoon, and many other instruments. In a very long and important career, he made music with such renowned figures as Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus, as well as being a band leader in his own right.


Yusef Abdul Lateef died at 93 on Dec. 23, 2013.

Lateef become one of the first black jazz musicians to associate with Islam, converting in 1948 and changing his name at that time, then twice going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and writing a PhD dissertation in 1975 titled “An Overview of Western and Islamic Education.” As an implicit indication of his piety, from 1980 on he banned alcohol from his performances.

Missionaries of the small Ahmadiyya movement out of Pakistan had eye-popping success among leading jazz musicians of the 1950s, converting in addition to Lateef such luminaries as Nuh Alahi, Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Fard Daleel, Mustafa Daleel (Oliver Mesheux), Talib Daoud, Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones), Muhammad Sadiq, Sahib Shihab (Edmund Gregory), Dakota Staton (Aliya Rabia), and McCoy Tyner (Sulaiman Saud).


Dakota Staton, aka Aliya Rabia (1930-2007).

Superstars whispered to have converted included John Coltrane (who first married a Muslim), Dizzy Gillespie (whose band included several Muslims), Charlie Parker (Abdul Karim), and Pharaoh Sanders (whose work contains Muslim themes). One listing of Muslim jazz players contains about 125 names. These musicians preferred to perform at clubs owned by fellow Muslims, many of whom hailed from the Caribbean.

In short, Islam was the unofficial religion of bebop.

The musicians turned to Islam in part for genuine religious reasons; in part because (in the words of 1953 Ebony article), “Islam breaks down racial barriers and endows its followers with purpose and dignity”; and in part because Islam served them as a mark of distinction in a United States where Muslim numbered only about 100,000 out of a population of 150 million.


(1) This connection contains a certain irony, given Islam’s dubious and sometimes directly hostile attitude toward music. For example, when the singer British Cat Stevens first converted to Islam in 1977, he stopped recording music for two decades. For a time in 2010, Somali Islamists not only banned all music but even school bells. Their counterparts in Mali in 2013 banned mobile phone ringtones.

(2) Ahmadis also harbor reservations about music, especially what they call pop music (which presumably includes jazz): Replying to a question on this topic, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, replied in 2010:

it all depends on the degree of the habit and the nature of the music. The music in itself, as a whole, cannot be dubbed as bad. … In these things it is a matter of taste. … as far as pop music is concerned I don’t know how people can tolerate that! Just sheer nonsense! I don’t disrespect music altogether, because I know the classical music had some nobility in it. … the taste left behind by this modern “so-called music” is ugly and evil, and the society under its influence is becoming uglier and more permissive, more careless of the traditional values, so this music is obviously evil and sinful. … an occasional brush with music which draws you into itself at the cost of higher values, at the cost of memory of Allah, at the cost of prayers, where you are taken over by music and that becomes all your ambition and obsession; if that happens then you are a loser, obviously.

(3) The Islam of the bebop era enhanced the musicians’ cool factor and was apolitical.

(4) That stands in sharp contrast to American Muslim music of subsequent years, which is characterized by alienation and anger. In the 1990s, for example, the Nation of Islam could count on the support of Ice Cube, King Sun, KMD, Movement X, Queen Latifa, Poor Righteous Teachers, Prince Akeem, Sister Souljah, and Tribe Called Quest. The Five Percenters, a splinter group of the Nation, had Grand Puba, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. and Rakim, and Lakim Shabazz in its corner. Normative Islam also had a smattering of artists such as Soldiers of Allah. Mattias Gardell, a biographyer of Louis Farrakhan, finds that the “hip-hop movement’s role in popularizing the message of black militant Islam cannot be overestimated.” (December 27, 2013)


Louis Farrakhan was a talented violinist when young and still Eugene Walcott. He made his mark in the late 1950s with theatrical and musical creations, the only ones the Nation of Islam countenanced in its early decades.

 This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.


Posted on on December 14th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



I recognized the stories from decades of living in the East End of London.
There are fifty thousand homeless people in New York City and 22,000 homeless children.
Governments across the world have abandoned their poorer or disadvantaged citizens to their fate.
I didn’t find this story either hopeful or pleasant but I read it carefully.

I congratulate EKATERINA LOUSHNIKOVA on this piece of work.



The lower depths in Russia today.

Over a century after Maksim Gorky’s famous play about homeless people – ‘The Lower Depths’ – Ekaterina Loushnikova has been looking around her home city of Kirov to see if anything has changed.


The church porch

I stood in the porch of Kirov’s St Serafim’s church, a traditional place for beggars to congregate. I wasn’t asking for anything, but someone handed me two roubles (about 4p). Ordinary Russians are kindhearted and I didn’t turn it down. I passed it on to my new acquaintance, an elderly woman in a flower-patterned headscarf sitting on a wooden box that once contained fruit. Lyudmila Petrovna is eighty years old, and begs for alms outside the church during morning and evening services. She doesn’t get a lot – it’s a rare day that she collects one hundred roubles (just less than two pounds sterling) – but people also bring her food: bread, toffees, biscuits, pea soup in a glass jar. Lyudmila Petrovna is cheered by their offerings, and asks each of them if there’s someone they’d like her to pray for.

Lyudmila Petrovna on the church porch. Cast out of her apartment by her own family,
Lyudmila is now forced to supliment her pension with begging.. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova.

Lyudmila Petrovna rarely collects as much as 100 roubles (just less than £2), but people also bring her food… and she offers to pray for them in return.

The elderly woman has a monthly pension of 6000 roubles (£110); the average Russian earns about 30,000 roubles (£550) a month.
A third of Lyudmila Petrovna’s money goes on the rent for a room in a communal flat in a nearby jerry-built block; the rest has to meet all her needs for the month. In Kirov, bread costs 20 roubles, potatoes 30, milk also 30, tea 40, and sugar 50 roubles. You can survive, of course, but you can forget about buying meat, sausage, fish, eggs and other non-essentials, and you buy any clothes you need in the second-hand shop. Here, amongst a heap of clothing from Europe and the US, Lyudmila Petrovna finds a frilled linen skirt ‘made in Germany’, a Dutch-made jacket and American shoes, which are two sizes too big but will be fine if she wears three pairs of socks with them. She can buy the socks here too, and the whole lot sets her back about 500 roubles. The old lady is as pleased as punch at finding such cheap stuff from European countries she has never seen.

‘Lyudmila Petrovna,’ I ask, ‘do you know where Holland is?’

‘I couldn’t tell you exactly’, she replies, ‘but I know it’s in Europe. I used to get good marks for geography! I was a good learner; I had ten years of school.’

Down and out

Before she retired, Lyudmila Petrovna was a postwoman, but she’s not keen on talking about the years when she worked and had her own flat – or about her children and grandchildren either. ‘They said, “Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma… or we’ll put you in a care home. You’re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.” I’d already transferred the flat to their names. I went to stay with my sister but it didn’t work out, so I came back, and was homeless. Sometimes I’d sleep in an attic, sometimes in a cellar, sometimes right on the street under a tree. People would beat me up, boys would throw stones at me, the police would pick me up and throw me in a cell, then they’d let me go – this happened over and over again. But what could they do with me? The children had taken my name off the register for the flat, but if I wasn’t registered anywhere I couldn’t get my pension. I was living off bread and holy water from St Tryphon’s well.’

‘They said, “Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma… or we’ll put you in a care home. You’re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.”’

Lyudmila Petrovna didn’t go to the social services. She was too embarrassed about her tattered clothes, her hands black with dirt, and the rumbling in her hungry stomach, and even more about her inconsolable grief. Sorrow doesn’t like company: it prefers solitude, wrapped in a cocoon of tears that have dried to a crust around the heart. Many people find consolation in a bottle of wine, but you don’t get much wine or vodka in a church porch. What they drink here is hawthorn berries and hot peppers infused in spirit from a chemist’s shop or hardware store – cheap and cheerful at thirty roubles a bottle. It’s not something you can drink for long: after a couple of years your skin turns yellow and becomes ulcerated, you lose your feet, then your memory, and finally your right to be called human. If a living corpse like this is lucky, they get picked up and taken to a drug dependency unit or a psychiatric clinic; if not, it’s straight to the cemetery for burial at government expense. While homeless people are alive they survive whatever way they can. They try to avoid contact with social services and charities, thinking that instead of help they’ll end up with servitude.

A saviour appears

Lyudmila Petrovna was lucky – she was saved by a happy marriage. ‘I got married when I was eighty. My suitor lived in the block of flats next to the church, and would come and sit in the porch with us for a chat. The old fellow was lonely – all his family had died or moved away. But he was nearly ninety, and one day he said, “If only someone would come and help me a bit at home. I haven’t washed the dishes for three years; my porridge is full of grubs; I put my laundry to soak last year and never got round to washing it, and the neighbours are cursing me day and night because of the smell.” So I went round and did a bit of washing and cleaning for him. Then one day I said, “Well, you might give me a bit of floor and a coat to sleep on, it’ll be warmer than the street”. And he said, “You may as well come and live with me. I’m fond of you.”

Off we went to the registry office, all dressed up – him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not!

‘He registered me at the flat, so I could claim my pension. But our happy life together didn’t last long. My old man’s health started going – if it wasn’t his heart it was his blood pressure; and I’d be phoning for the ambulance every day. One day he proposed to me: “Let’s get married, love. You never know when I’ll die.” So off we went to the registry office, all dressed up – him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not! We arrived and they said they couldn’t marry us straight away: “You might change your minds, just wait for a month to be sure of your feelings for each other”. So we waited a month and went back, and this time we got married. We didn’t have what you’d call a proper wedding; we had tea and sweets and I baked a cake. I don’t drink wine, but I gave some to the winos to warm the cockles of their hearts on our special day. Everyone drank to us and wished us a long and happy life together, but my old fellow died not long afterwards. The drunks in the porch didn’t even have time to dry out – one day they were drinking to his health, the next to his eternal rest.’

Lyudmila Petrovna has a photo album to remind her of her husband, as well as his jacket with the medals, and, most importantly, a roof over her head. She’s also adopted a stray dog called Naida, and the two of them live happily together.

People of No Permanent Abode

Splavnaya Street still has wooden pavements from the time of the Second World War, and is lined with cheap one-storey wooden housing blocks of the same era, probably built by German prisoners of war. The only stone building in the area is the rather grandly named Centre for the Rehabilitation of People of No Permanent Abode or Occupation. Here the social services give homeless people a warm bed with clean sheets, a hot shower and a packed lunch consisting of pasta, vegetable oil, sugar, tea and instant Chinese noodles. There’s no meat for the homeless. It’s also not supposed to become a permanent place of residence: the rules state that you can spend the night there but in the morning you have to go to work. However, many of the people there are unemployed, and some are disabled as well. Aleksei, who was brought up in a children’s home, lost his toes to frostbite when he lived in an unheated hut. The 37-year-old, who looks 20 years younger, has nothing: no father or mother, no place to live, no work, no money – just a younger sister who has a bed in the next room. This is their home; they have nowhere else to go. And there are many like them. The centre has fifty permanent residents and no room for any more.

Former Lieutenant-Colonol Nicholas took to drinking while serving in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
His wife has left him and he now spends his days in the rehabilitation centre. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova.

‘Don’t take my photo!’ warns Valera, a thin man of indeterminate age with a swarthy impassive face. It’s not hard to tell that he’s spent a lot of his life behind bars; and indeed he recently left prison after serving a 20-year sentence. What for? Robbery, burglary – all sorts, but no, he’d never killed anyone.

‘Do you have a family, any relatives?’

‘Not a soul’, he tells me, ‘no relatives, no friends, no home. Just me. So I’m living here for the time being.’

It feels as though the ex-con is finding it difficult to get used to freedom. He needs to start a new life, but how do you do that if you’ve spent 20 years behind bars? After struggling on the outside for a few months or a couple of years, former prisoners usually revert to crime just to get back home – to jail.

Some have a bit of luck. One of Valera’s roommates, another ex-con, has found a job in the north. His name is Alexander and he did time for murder.

If only I can stay off the bottle!’ he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.

‘Yeah, I stabbed one of my colleagues with a knife. I’d had too much to drink. They gave me 15 years, and I served every day. But now I’m out I’m starting a new life. My mother’s in a care home and I have two sons. I have no contact with one of them – his mother has a new family now and she doesn’t want to see me. But my elder son, from an earlier marriage, is doing his military service, and when he finishes he might join me. My mother can come and live with us too. If only I can stay off the bottle!’ he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.

A retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel

In the next room I meet a man who is in such a state of chronic insobriety that it’s impossible to tell when he last drank – this morning, yesterday, the day before – or whether his breath just permanently reeks of alcohol. He unexpectedly introduces himself as Nicolas, in the French manner, and he turns out to be a retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel. ‘I served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Chechnya’, he tells me. ‘Carried out government instructions. I have medals to show for it – and wounds. I started drinking on active service – war drives you to all sorts of things. But that’s it – I’m quitting. I’ve made my mind up.’

‘Do you get any visitors here?’

‘Yes, my wife came to see me yesterday, but she’s found someone else, she’s left me. Are you married? I’m still a young man, after all;’ and the retired colonel winks at me provocatively.

One-time murderer and career criminal, Yury Flegontovich now works as a religious activist. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova

I’ve never had so many conversations about marriage as in this homeless centre and the prisons I’ve visited. It’s like a dream of paradise for them. ‘I long to meet someone and have a family. There’s nothing worse than loneliness,’ says a talkative, plumpish man as he gets up from his bed, introducing himself as Yury Flegontovich. ‘Wait a minute while I get dressed and I’ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!’

‘Wait a minute while I get dressed and I’ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!’

I hear his ‘tale’ in the centre’s library. Its shelves are full of books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Durrenmatt and Cortázar, as well as contemporary detective fiction, but my new acquaintance’s life beats them all. He arrives for his appointment with a journalist in an expensive suit, a silk shirt and a colourful tie complete with tiepin.

‘I now work for the Church of the New Testament [an evangelical protestant church] but I used to be a professional criminal’, he begins. ‘When I was young I messed about a fair bit – thieved, murdered, beat people up, went to prison once or twice. The first time I got sent down I was 18 – I roughed up a cop and got two years for it. When I came out I got my own gang together, and we stole cars, took the windscreens off. Did good business! Then I got sent down again, this time to a high security place. Came out of there, and started thieving and murdering again. I don’t know how many people I killed. Our boss was a guy known as “Cheburashka” [after a children’s TV cartoon character], but then I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat – but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos. They tried to kill me and they buried me alive, but I managed to scrabble my way out.

I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat – but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos.

‘I repented of my sins and became a pilgrim – I walked 7,000 kilometres around holy places, churches and monasteries. The one that made a particular impression on me was the Holy Trinity monastery in Perm, where I walked into a cell to find one monk had pulled up another monk’s habit and was buggering him like there was no tomorrow! And he didn’t even stop when I came in – he just said, “Brother, you should knock before you come in.” I left the next day and went off the Orthodox Church. We have people living here in the Centre that were buggered in prison [and so considered the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy], and you need to be careful around them. You can help them, but don’t shake their hands!’

‘I’ve been shaking everyone’s hand!!!’ I cried in horror. Yury Flegontovich gave me a look of sympathy. ‘You’d better wash your hands with household soap then. Of course you’re a woman, not a bloke, but wash them anyway. You could catch some kind of itch or heaven knows what – they’re all tramps here, after all. In Perm I used to crash out in a shaft at a district heating plant, and I’d wake up in the morning on top of a thick black pile of cockroaches, all crawling around under me. Men and women would be sitting around eating and drinking, and there’d be a stinking corpse lying in the corner. No one had even thought about burying it!

‘And listen to what I saw here yesterday. There was a fight between an amputee and his girlfriend, who’s completely off her head. She had epilepsy and it’s turned into schizophrenia. She bashed him over the head with his own crutch, and he broke a stool over her. When the manager found out he threw them both out. He’s a strict man, but fair.’

Managing – just…

The Centre’s manager is Vladimir Zmeyev, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of police from Soviet times. He began his career as a police officer attached to the women’s department of a sexual health clinic, and later was in charge of detention centres and sobering-up stations for arrestees and alcoholics. Now he runs a homeless centre. Such is life. There’s never a dull moment.

‘My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough…. ’

‘My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough,’ he tells me. ‘One of our employees even got murdered by a homeless guy. The member of staff made some critical remark to him, and he grabbed a knife and stabbed him. The blade pierced his lung and he died instantly…’

The dead man’s wife still works at the Centre. She is coming up to retirement age so it’s not easy to find another job. Not that it’s easy here – staff salaries are sometimes lower than the wages of some residents. A construction worker, even if he’s a former tramp, can earn up to thirty thousand roubles a month, while an administrative worker at the Centre can’t earn more than five thousand, and there’s nothing they can do about it, that’s the rate for the job. Staff usually have two jobs, just to survive. After the murder, CCTV cameras were installed everywhere – a mouse would find it difficult to avoid them, but experienced ex-cons can and do.

A new arrival to the centre. Having fallen on hard times, he had taken to drinking fufyrika, a chemist-grade pepper lotion. Kirov, a city of 473,000 people, has about 2,000 homeless residents. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova

‘They still bring in drink and food, from who knows where,’ laments Vladimir Zmeyev. ‘We can’t feed them properly here. We have an annual budget of just 150,000 roubles (£3,000) for food and drink. But we do get donations and residents who are earning well help the rest out. We’ve had businessmen, bureaucrats, intellectuals; all kinds of military people living here. I remember one police officer that spent a long time working in Chechnya and came home to find his wife had left him for someone else. He did the right thing by her – didn’t take her to court over the flat, left her everything and went to live in a vault in the cemetery. Started to drink of course – his friends brought him here.’

‘And do people really get back on their feet after coming here?’ I asked.

‘Unfortunately, most of them go back to where they came from – cellars, doorways, heating plant shafts. They stay here for the winter, but as soon as it gets warmer they’re off. What can you do, it’s their decision.’

As I’m leaving I see one more sight. They’ve just signed in a new resident. His face is covered in bruises and ulcers, he has the watery blue eyes of a habitual drunkard, and the look of someone who no longer expects anything out of life…

The Centre staff fuss around the newcomer; they will wash him, give him medical treatment, delouse his clothes, establish his identity and renew his papers, but how can they re-establish his life, half of which is already lost?

Back at home, I spend a long time washing my hands with household soap, and wipe them with disinfectant, just in case. After all, you can’t avoid yourself…




Posted on on December 2nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (







Julya Rabinowich: österreichische Schriftstellerin, Dramatikerin, Malerin und Simultandolmetscherin.


Moderation: Isolde Charim, Autorin und Philosophin

Anmeldungen unter:

Tel.: 3188260/20

Fax: 318 82 60/10


Melitta Campostrini
Bruno Kreisky Forum
for International Dialogue
Armbrustergasse 15


Posted on on December 2nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


Media Decoder

Turning to Public to Back Investigative Journalism.

If you suspect your local town government is corrupt, would you pay a journalist to investigate?
We re-post this and add the question – Would you bother spending money on investigating the UN that wastes your money?


  Asie Mohtarez

Israel Mirsky, founder of the journalism site Uncoverage.

Uncoverage, a website that will be announced on Monday {that is today}, will test whether the public cares enough about investigative journalism to pay for it. The site, to be at, will allow journalists and nonprofits to seek crowdsourced funding for both articles and topics like, for example, the Syrian war. Money for general topics will be split up among projects by the site’s editors.

The nonprofit investigative group the Center for Public Integrity has signed on as a partner whose projects will be featured on the site.

The commercial site is being founded by Israel Mirsky, an entrepreneur who said that the current model for financing investigative journalism was broken.

“I am passionate about depleted uranium” he said, “but if I want to see more on the topic, my only choice is to buy a paper where reporting on the topic has appeared before and watch for future articles. I can’t imagine a less effective and satisfying way to get journalism on a topic I care about.”

Investigative journalism, he said, is shrinking as web journalism grows, and tends to cater to celebrities and other traffic-driving topics. “There is a lot of things digital journalism can do well, investigations is not one of them,” he said.

He said that sites like Kickstarter, which lets people back a broad array of projects like movies or new businesses, are not suited to investigative journalists who might require serial funding, instead of a one-time infusion.

Uncoverage, which will take 5 to 7 percent of every transaction, will provide specific services to journalists and other safeguards like fact-checkers who verify the quality of the pitches and editors who hone the pitches and help shape and sell the final product.

Editors will receive a portion of the funding of each article they work on beyond the site’s take, a compensation structure Mr. Mirsky said was intended to give an incentive to editors to build followings for their topics.

Topic cans be proposed by would-be backers, but only on subjects of public interest. “I won’t take money for journalism on Miley Cyrus — it is not an open season,” Mr. Mirsky said.

He also said that the site was only for journalists with significant experience. “This is not a place to start your career,” he said.

The site will post completed work, but hopes journalists will also be able to sell their articles to other outlets for the widest possible distribution.


Posted on on November 29th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



Das demokratische Zeitalter

Rezension: Christian Moser [Müller, Jan-Werner (2013): Das demokratische Zeitalter. Eine politische Ideengeschichte Europas im 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, ISBN 9783518585856, Preis: € 41,10]

Politische Ideen bewegen die Menschen

Das 20.Jahrhundert war das Zeitalter der Ideologien. Der deutsche Politologe Jan-Werner Müller definiert Ideologien als Formen eines leidenschaftlichen, mitunter auch fanatischen Glaubens an Ideen und Entwürfe zur Perfektionierung der Gesellschaft. Nach dieser Lesart stiften Ideologien nicht nur Sinn und versprechen innerweltliche Erlösung, sondern manche „politische Religionen“ wie der Nationalsozialismus oder der Kommunismus erheben den Anspruch, einen „neuen Menschen“ erschaffen zu können.

Mehr dazu unter


Die Politische Akademie verlost fünf Exemplare des Buches edition noir Band 24 „Wohlstandsatlas Österreich“ der Julius Raab-Stiftung.

Die Gewinnfrage lautet: Von wem stammt die berühmte politische Formel „Wohlstand für alle“?

a) Ludwig Erhard
b) Adolf Kolping
c) Alois Mock

Ihre Antwort samt Namen und Adresse schicken Sie bitte bis Di., 03.12.2013, 12:00 Uhr an

Die Politische Akademie wünscht viel Erfolg!


Posted on on September 10th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

The pillar of fire that went before the peace camp.

Haaretz ?September 8, 2013 in Hebrew / September 9, 2013 in English.

Uri Avnery, who is turning 90 on September 10, 2013, wasn’t just a pioneer of Israeli journalism – he mainly stands out as a statesman and prophet.

By Gideon Levy in HAARETZ – Hebrew Sep. 8, 2013 / English September 9, 2013

He’ll be 90 years old tomorrow. He is as fleet as a deer (but less than he once was); brilliant, sharp and clear (definitely no less than he once was). Barbra Streisand won’t be singing for him and Bill Clinton won’t be coming. He won’t even receive the Israel Prize for journalism. Here, they prefer to give that to television anchors and political gossips. But Uri Avnery doesn’t need all these things. He has already left his imprint, and the history minister has granted him what no momentary minister ever received.

Last week he wrote in his column: “What is there about it [poison gas] that is so special, such a red line? … Poison gas is not a weapon of mass destruction … moreover, it is not a decisive weapon … poor Obama.”

Avnery has already been granted the best gift a person his age could receive – he is as relevant as he always was. Israel is a consumer of the media he helped create; its Hebrew contains quite a few expressions he invented; it is dealing with issues that he was the first to address; and the only diplomatic vision Israel has, if indeed it still has one, is his.

He broke the back of the propaganda model of journalism. Back in the day, before the fashion started for faculties of journalism and PR, there were two schools for aspiring journalists here: Avnery’s weekly magazine, Ha’olam Hazeh, and Army Radio. The first educated, the second corrupted. Avnery was dean of the school that educated.

You just have to recall the long line to the newspaper seller outside the intellectuals’ hangout Cafe Cassit in Tel Aviv every Tuesday evening, and the next morning at the Knesset library, to realize what an effect he had. Suffice it to remember what a war Isser Harel’s Shin Bet security service waged against him. Suffice it to recall what kind of journalism we had here in the heyday of the self-censoring “editors committee,” with the lies about Qibiyeh and the fabrications about Kafr Qasem, to understand that without Ha’olam Hazeh, we would have had no journalism here.

The weekly also played a role in Haaretz – the only real newspaper that’s left here, forged by its legendary editor Gershom Schocken – with a number of senior journalists coming from Ha’olam Hazeh to the daily.

But the history minister will not just remember Avnery the journalist and editor. First and foremost, Avnery stands out as a statesman and prophet. The fighter from the “Samson’s Foxes” unit during the War of Independence – who wrote the books “In the Fields of Philistia” and subsequently “The Other Side of the Coin” – was and is a true Zionist. His two-volume autobiography, which he is now finishing, will certainly be a true biography of the state.

Avnery was one of the first to utter the words that everyone mumbles now – “two states for two peoples.” Together with Yeshayahu Leibowitz and the radical socialist organization Matzpen, he was the pillar of fire that went before the camp. He was a detested, denounced and ostracized trailblazer who survived two assassination attempts – and Israel never kneeled before him to ask his forgiveness, or at least to say thank you.

He supported the rebellion of the striking sailors before anyone was yet talking about “social justice.” He supported the Israeli version of the Black Panthers before anyone had yet coined the phrase “ethnic demon.” He fought corruption in Labor Party forerunner Mapai, before anyone had heard about the connection between big money and government. He wrote about nightlife and celebrities, the Hebrew word for which – yeduanim – he invented, long before the celeb culture started here. He also met with Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat in Beirut when Arafat was the enemy of the people.

How easy it is to imagine what the State of Israel would be like if it had walked in the guiding light of this prophet. How frustrating it is that Israel never heeded him. A prophet? Avnery would grimace at the word. He was never a man for high language, pathos and emotion. Rather, he is a man of words that are simple, sharp and cool. Read his analyses from decades ago or today and answer honestly, what was he wrong about?

He is still fighting, writing and protesting, imbued with optimism and enthusiasm that, to a man like me, are foreign and incomprehensible. “If we keep looking down at our feet, we will die of sorrow. Therefore, I always look up,” he once stated in a Haaretz interview.

The truth is, I am very envious of Avnery – the rich biography and enthusiastic faith of the man for whom no heir has been found, the man whom we never listened to in time, the prophet in his own city. Mazal Tov.


When I congratulated Uri Avnery on his actual 90-th Birthday – September 10th – and called him writing his autobiography – “What Could Have Been” – he corrected me characteristically:

Let’s think more about the future !



Posted on on July 24th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Communicating Environmental Patriotism
A Rhetorical History of the American Environmental Movement.
By Anne Marie Todd

Published June 7th 2013 by Routledge – 174 pages

Series: Routledge Explorations in Environmental Studies

Environmental patriotism, the belief that the national environment defines a country’s greatness, is a significant strand in twentieth century American environmentalism. This book is the first to explore the history of environmental patriotism in America through the intriguing stories of environmental patriots and the rhetoric of their speeches and propaganda,

The See America First movement began in 1906 with the aim of protecting and promoting the landscapes of the American West. In 1908, Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt hosted the White House Conservation Conference to promote the wise use of natural resources for generations of Americans. In 1912, Pittsburgh’s smoke investigationcondemned the effects of coal smoke on the city’s environment. In World War II, a massive propaganda effort mobilized millions of Americans to plant victory gardens to save resources for the war abroad. While these may not seem like crucial moments for the American environmental movement, this new history of American environmentalism shows that they are linked by patriotism.

The book offers a provoking critique of environmentalists’ communication strategies and suggests patriotism as a persuasive hook for new ways to make environmental issues a national priority. This original research should be of interest to scholars of environmental communication, environmental history, American history and environmental philosophy.


Posted on on July 24th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Death by Corporation, Part II: Companies as Cancer Cells.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013 09:40 By Dr Brian Moench, Truthout | Report

The financial industry, chemical industry, drug companies, nuclear industrial complex and dirty energy empire work “like tumor cells for the relentless destruction of the environment that they themselves depend upon for their very lives. And the rest of us stand by and watch it happen.”

The Financial Industry

The global financial crisis of 2008, at a cost of more than $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression. The financial crisis became a human crisis. The World Bank estimated that 53 million people worldwide were thrown into poverty and that between 200,000 and 400,000 babies died annually as a result. Millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered severe malnutrition and long-term brain damage as fallout from the financial disaster.

Suicide rates rise and fall with the state of the economy. Unemployment and foreclosure are the largest triggers in increased suicide risk. About 35,000 Americans die every year from suicides, up about 28 percent since 1999. Suicide rates in Europe, where the recession has been even more severe, are even higher. Ervin Lupoe from Wilmington, California, shot his five children and wife to death before turning the gun on himself. Lupoe was deep in debt, behind on his mortgage and had been fired from his hospital job. Anxiety, fear, crime, domestic abuse, murder and suicide all increased worldwide because of the financial crisis.

It was an “avoidable” disaster caused by widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking by Wall Street, according to the conclusions of a federal inquiry. It was the private market, not government programs, that made, packaged and sold most of these wretched loans without regard to their quality. The packaging, combined with credit default swaps and other esoteric derivatives, spread the contagion throughout the world. That’s why what initially seemed to be a large but containable US mortgage problem touched off a worldwide financial crisis.

The speculative binge was abetted by a giant “shadow banking system” in which the banks relied heavily on short-term debt, snake oil mortgage hucksters and credit rating agencies that essentially prostituted themselves for cash from the investment banks. Regulators “lacked the political will” to scrutinize and hold accountable the institutions they were supposed to oversee. The financial industry spent $2.7 billion on lobbying from 1999 to 2008, while individuals and committees affiliated with it made more than $1 billion of campaign contributions.

The banking industry is completely unchastened. It is now pressing a full-frontal assault on repealing Dodd-Frank – a small, inadequate attempt to prevent it from destroying our economy again.

The Chemical Industry

Albert Einstein is often attributed with a statement like, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Although Einstein may not have actually said that, and he was not an entomologist, the importance of pollinators to modern agriculture is difficult to overstate. Humans likely will not survive a total collapse of the bee population, and we are headed in that direction. Eighty-seven of the top human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.

“Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to 7 billion people,” said UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Colony collapse disorder” (CCD) began to appear in 2007. The bees were abandoning their hives, losing their homing behavior and acting disoriented, kind of like “bee autism.” Like three blind mice, scientists, federal regulators and the media initially pointed the finger at climate change, poor nutrition, fungus, cell-tower radiation, mites, and viruses. Finally they’ve begun to open their eyes.

A new class of pesticides that systemically infiltrates the entire plant from seed to flower, called neonicotinoids, attacks the nervous system of insects with devastating efficiency. Neonicotinoids surged in popularity about the time CCD appeared. Not surprisingly, they were found to be as toxic to beneficial insects as they were to pests. These pesticides have risen to the top of the list of CCD culprits, and the European Union has placed a two-year ban on neonicotinoids. So far, nothing has been done by the EPA in the US.

Europe and the United States have different approaches to environmental regulation of toxic substances. Europe errs on the side of safety; the US errs on the side of corporate profits. Where Europe requires chemicals to demonstrate safety before release and is willing to take products off the shelf at a relatively low threshold of evidence, the United States does virtually the opposite. The EPA basically assumes all products are safe and will withdraw products only after they have been conclusively proven guilty of serious harm.

The chemical companies Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow, DuPont and Monsanto (highlighted in Part I of this essay) have waved a smoke screen in front of the bee calamity, claiming the mystery cannot yet be solved and not even precautionary action can be taken. The mounting science that implicates their product is “faulty,” they say, just like the “junk” science that exposed tobacco, asbestos, lead and human-caused global warming. But to show its objectivity and concern, Monsanto is hosting a “Bee Summit,” Bayer is breaking ground on a “Bee Care Center,” and Sygenta is funding grants for research into the accelerating demise of honeybees in the United States. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to guess that the pesticide industry’s research will exonerate pesticides.

Despite the unique and critical function that bees perform, despite what is common sense to everyone else, the EPA appears only too happy to let the smoke screen obscure its responsibility to protect our food supply. The EPA has shunned researchers who have drawn conclusions critical of neonicotinoids and are poised to make the situation even worse by approving another bee-killing class of pesticides from our friends at Dow – the sulfoximines.

When it comes to safeguarding the food supply of all humankind or the profits of a handful of chemical companies, you can tell who has the upper hand.

The Drug Companies

About 20 years ago, the United States became, and still is, virtually the only major country where the $600 billion drug industry can advertise directly to consumers. Patients now tell their doctors what drugs they should be on. For the drug companies, the results have been spectacular, for public health, the exact opposite. The US is 49th in the world in life expectancy despite Americans taking more prescription drugs per capita than any other country. Spending on prescription drugs more than doubled between 1999 and 2008. Nine of ten adults over 60 are on a prescription drug, as are one of every four children and teenagers. More than 20 percent of all American adults are taking at least one drug for “psychiatric” or “behavioral” disorders. Americans’ recent fascination with doped-up zombies is a reality show playing out in front of their own mirrors.

Between 2001 and 2007, the percentage of adults and children on one or more prescriptions for chronic conditions rose by more than 12 million. Twenty-five percent of American children now take a drug for some kind of chronic condition. Nearly 3 million children are on Lipitor, the anti-cholesterol drug that is increasingly suspected of causing a wide range of neurologic pathologies, including Lou Gehrig’s disease. (It turns out nerve cells require cholesterol to function). Twenty million Americans are on these anti-cholesterol drugs, the largest-selling class of prescription medicine.

I have seen patients on as many as 18 prescription drugs. When I was in medical school, I was told that by the time a patient is on five different drugs, there is virtually a 100 percent chance of having an adverse drug interaction. One doctor observed that there is no scientific basis for treating older folks with more than $300 of meds per month that have serious side effects and largely unknown multiple drug interactions. In fact 200,000 Americans are killed every year by prescription drugs, including adverse drug interactions. A standard marketing approach for drug companies seeking to meet “sales quotas” is to send drug reps to doctors and push them to prescribe drugs for off-label use, which although legal, raises obvious questions of ethics, efficacy and magnification of side-effect risks. The end result is Americans take epilepsy seizure drugs for pain, antipsychotics for the blues and an antidepressants for knee pain – and hot flashes – all because of marketing and sales quotas.

A deadly example is Cephalon’s painkilling fentanyl lollipop, Actiq, which is loaded with the potent painkiller that I use only as a supplement to general anesthesia and for the first few hours of postoperative pain. The product was approved only to treat terminal cancer patients in chronic pain who are already on an opioid drug because life-threatening conditions can occur at any dose in patients without a chronic, buildup of tolerance for narcotics. With the pressure to meet their quota at their backs, Cephalon sales reps were regularly sent to doctors who treated no cancer patients, with free coupons to pass out to patients with simple problems like migraines and back pain. A study by Prime Therapeutics found Actiq was prescribed off-label nearly 90 percent of the time. You can go online right now and get a free coupon for a “reduced price” on your fentanyl lollipop. Meeting a sales quota is certainly one of the reasons prescription pain killer overdoses kill 15,000 people a year, nearly four times more than in 1999, with 500,000 ER visits and costing health care insurers $72.5 billion annually. Some pharmaceutical corporations have become simply drug dealers with fancier clothes.

Many drugs become part of mainstream medical practice only because of studies sponsored by drug companies.
Most published trials funded by drug companies show positive results and are conducted overseas – on sick Russians, homeless Poles and slum-dwelling Chinese – in places where regulation is virtually nonexistent. Furthermore, drug companies spend twice as much on sales and marketing as they do on research. The pharmaceutical industry has the largest political lobbying force in the United States. None of that lobbying is to persuade Congress to let them save more lives. Its only objective is let the industry make more money.

The pharmaceutical industry has heavily infiltrated the curriculum in American medical schools, is taking a dominant role in its relationship with the medical profession, and is having a corrupting influence on academic research into its own products. At Harvard Medical School, the pinnacle of American medicine, where I served as an instructor years ago, of the 8,900 professors and lecturers there in 2009, 1,600 admitted that they or a family member have had some kind of business link to drug companies, sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, that could bias their teaching or research.

The story of Vioxx and Celebrex is a microcosm of drug company behavior. When studies on Vioxx and Celebrex became available in 1998 and 1999, many doctors were disappointed. Neither drug alleviated pain any better than the older medicines. And the drugs cost close to $3 a pill; over-the-counter pain relievers, in contrast, cost pennies a dose.

Merck had known of potential lethal side effects even before launching Vioxx in 1999 but had brushed all such disturbing tests under the rug. Merck held data for three years that proved Vioxx caused an alarming increase in the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Estimates of deaths caused by Vioxx are as high as 500,000. Merck knowingly and maliciously allowed a deadly drug to continue to be sold to patients for years to maximize profits through the sale of a product they knew was killing people. Merck’s actions fit the legal definition of “negligent homicide.” Part of this story is the cozy relationship between Merck and the FDA. An FDA scientist who discovered the Vioxx heart connection early on said his FDA bosses forced him to quash information that was potentially damaging to Merck. The most disturbing part of the Vioxx story is – despite paying out billions of dollars in lawsuits, Vioxx still made money for Merck. Walking over a few dead bodies on the way to meet a sales quota is just what we do in corporate America.

The Nuclear Industrial Complex

Any discussion about corporations that threaten the future of mankind must obviously include the nuclear industry. Even outside the realm of nuclear accidents, every phase of the nuclear fuel cycle releases radiation into the environment – the uranium mining, the milling, the fuel production, the power plant operation and the multiple streams of waste.

For example, out of sight, out of mind, and virtually out of the discussion of nuclear power are the 200 million tons of uranium mill tailings still lying scattered throughout the Western US exposed to the winds and rain. Dr. William Lochstet of Penn State University calculated that operation of a single uranium mine could result in 8.5 million deaths over time.1 Dr. Robert O. Pohl of Cornell believed the potential health effects from mill tailings could “completely dwarf” those from the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle and add significantly to the worldwide toll of death and mutations.2 In 1977, Dr. Walter H. Jordan, of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), stated the commission “had underestimated radon emissions from tailings piles by a factor of 100,000. It is very difficult to argue that deaths to future generations are unimportant.”3 Radon gas is heavier than air but can travel thousands of miles from its source, damaging chromosomes and causing cancer every mile of the way.

The health risks of radiation always have been viewed differently by scientists with a background in the hard sciences – physics and engineering – compared with scientists with a background in the soft sciences – biology, genetics, physiology and medicine. Generally, the “hard” scientists tend to discount risks of low-dose radiation and are more often proponents of nuclear power. The “soft” scientists observe that biological organisms are too complex to establish rules for safe exposure; they more often oppose nuclear power, like the aforementioned scientists who have warned about mill tailings.

Hermann Muller won the 1943 Nobel Prize for discovering genetic mutations caused by X-rays. In a paper he published in 1964, “Radiation and Heredity,” he predicted the gradual reduction of the survival of the human species as the exposure to ionizing radiation increased. Since then, radiation to the human population has steadily increased. And, in fact, sperm counts and fertility rates are dropping worldwide, according to a 2010 report from the European Science Foundation. Multiple culprits likely are involved, but our exposure to radiation, from medical procedures to fallout from nuclear tests, accidents and power plants, are at the top of the list.

The National Academy of Sciences’ last report on the health risk of radiation in 2006 (BEIR VII) stated all radiation has consequences, and no dose can be considered safe. Radiation damage is cumulative, and each successive dose builds upon the cellular mutation caused by the last. It can take years for radiation damage to manifest pathology. For nuclear apologists to declare that no one died from Fukushima, so onward with the “nuclear renaissance,” reveals childlike ignorance or deliberate deception.

All nuclear power plants are potential global disasters that threaten the future of mankind and every living thing. Every human has been affected by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl accident because the radiation eventually circumnavigated the entire globe. Radiation’s calling card is damage to chromosomes that can be passed on to subsequent generations. Chromosomal damage is not just the first step in a long road to cancer and infertility, it is also a common denominator for myriad diseases and dysfunction involving virtually every organ system.

Fukushima, although it has disappeared from the news cycle, is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind.
Three self-sustaining nuclear meltdowns that will not be fully contained for years, six damaged reactors, the equivalent of 20 nuclear cores exposed. Half of Japan is now contaminated. Serious cleanup could cost $10 trillion. The Japanese government has admitted that the amount of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima nuclear disaster so far is the equivalent of 168 Hiroshima bombs. That doesn’t count the radioactivity that is still being spread into the Pacific Ocean from radioactively contaminated water used to cool the doomed reactors, which will end up distributed throughout the global ecosystem.

The whole concept of nuclear power plants, launched by President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech to the United Nations in 1953, was an afterthought to the development of nuclear weapons. The public had become terrified of “mutually assured destruction” and those politicians, convinced that nuclear arms were nonetheless imperative, were looking for a means to soothe Americans’ nuclear anxiety, or what we might call today “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”

The promise of safe, “too cheap to meter” electricity turned out to be a complete and utter fraud, and the governments of the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia played a major role in that deception.

But so did the corporations that stood to cash in on the nuclear power “boom.” The companies that helped bring us these nuclear power plant disasters – General Electric, Hitachi, Toshiba – through flawed designs, poor construction, cheap materials and prioritizing profits over safety have nonetheless enjoyed near immunity from financial consequence. In virtually every country with nuclear reactors, the laws seriously limit a nuclear company’s liability to a tiny fraction of the real damages. So when that is the case and a corporation’s only motive is profit, there is little incentive for them to prioritize safety instead.

The list of examples of nuclear corporations cutting safety corners to save money is too long for this article, but how the nuclear industry responded after the Fukushima debacle is just the most recent example. Rather than being chastened by this disaster, the nuclear industry has done just exactly what the financial industry did – act like nothing happened and fight tooth and nail against any reform. The NRC spent a year assembling a list of 12 post-Fukushima safety improvements but, succumbing to industry pressure, chose to demand only three. Then it gave the industry up to five years to comply. Recently the nuclear industry complained to congressional Republicans that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was being too aggressive in pursuing post-Fukushima safety regulations, so they got him canned.

Granting a license extension to an existing nuclear power plant may not seem like much of a reason to march and protest, but nuclear reactors have a limited life span because all their component parts do. And the materials degrade more quickly because of the radioactive exposure. Extending a plant’s life of operation definitely increases the risk of an accident. So far by 2013, 71 nuclear reactors have applied for a 20-year extension of their licenses, and all 71 have been approved, many with the same design flaws as found at Fukushima. “Fukushima? What Me Worry?”

The Dirty Energy Empire

Finally, this brings us to the fossil fuel industry. As I write this, the temperature is a record-setting 105 degrees in Salt Lake City; no relief is expected for a week. Western forests are being obliterated by drought, pine beetle infestations and wildfires. Reservoirs are only half full. The summer is just getting started; so is global warming.

To keep the climate stabilized enough to maintain civilization as we have come to know it, or even avoid mass starvation and global chaos, we will have to stay within a carbon budget. The world must only allow about one fifth of the known, economically recoverable reserves of coal, oil and gas to be extracted and burned. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of these corporations are entertaining any thoughts of self-restraint. As mindless, amoral, and unbridled as a malignancy destroying its host, Exxon-Mobil, TransCanada, Peabody Energy, Koch Industries and the like employ hundreds of thousands of people working like tumor cells for the relentless destruction of the environment and climate that they themselves depend upon for their very lives. And the rest of us stand by and watch it happen. In fact, if we work for a bank, we may not only be watching it happen, we may be loaning them the money to make sure it happens.

If the fossil-fuel corporations seem like Frankenstein monsters, unbelievably they may actually not be the worst. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, many Chinese and Indian companies that make the refrigerant HCFC-22 are demanding big money to dispose of a byproduct of that process, HFC-23, which is a greenhouse gas 14,800 times more potent than CO2. Despite having cheap destruction technology readily available, they intend to hold their stores of HFC-23 hostage until the rest of the world pays up. This has caught the attention of other manufacturers of HCFC-22 in developing countries who are poised to join in the “climate bomb” threat.

Under a UN program, incinerators for HFC-23 are installed at 19 refrigerant facilities, mostly in China and India but also in South Korea, Argentina and Mexico, to help control the super greenhouse gas. Destruction of HFC-23 is extremely cheap. But refrigerant companies made billions in windfall profits from the sale of carbon credits, maximized through manipulation of HCFC-22 and HFC-23 production levels. This prompted the European Emissions Trading Scheme to ban the trade of HFC-23 credits as of May 1, 2013. Other carbon markets have followed suit, resulting in the collapse of the HFC-23 credit market. What is at stake here is the greenhouse gas equivalent of one-fourth of China’s annual CO2 emissions.

As disturbing as all of this is, something looms on the horizon that could dismantle what few tools citizens have to defend their health, environment, wallet and climate from evisceration by corporate invaders from across the globe. In Part III of Mankind: Death by Corporation, we’ll investigate what is being assembled behind a curtain of secrecy, a “Death Star” of corporate omnipotence, allowing them to impose their will on citizens and communities anywhere in the world as never before – The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

[1] William Lochstet, “Radiological Impact of the Proposed Crownpoint Uranium Mining Project,” August 1978, unpublished manuscript.

[2] Robert O. Pohl, “In the Matter of Public Service Company of Oklahoma,

Associated Electric Coop., Inc. and Western Farmers Coop., Inc. (Black Fox Station Units 1 and 2,” testimony before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, Docket Nos. STN 50-556 and STN 50-557.

[3] Walter Jordan, “Errors in 10 CFR Section 51.20, Table S-3,” memorandum to James R. Yore, NRC, September 21, 1977; and Walter Jordan, letter to Congressman Clifford Allen, December 9, 1977.


Posted on on June 25th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

wir laden Sie herzlich zur letzten Veranstaltung vor der Sommerpause ein:

Im Rahmen der Reihe GENIAL DAGEGEN (kuratiert von Robert Misik) spricht Ralf FÜCKS am kommenden Montag (1. Juli 2013, 19.00 Uhr) at the Bruno Kreisky Foundation for International Discours to the following theme (zu folgendem Thema):






In der Krise rufen alle nach “Wachstum” – die soziale Katastrophe ist nur mit Wachstum zu beenden, Banken, Haushalte und Staaten kommen auch nur mit Wachstum von ihren Schulden runter. Aber tut sich da nicht ein großer Zielkonflikt auf? Wachstum beutet endliche Ressourcen aus, zerstört den Planeten und ist außerdem in ausreichendem Maße überhaupt nicht mehr zu erwarten, wenden Kritiker ein.

Ralf Fücks sieht das in seinem Buch “Intelligent wachsen” anders. Mit einer radikalen Umstellung von Energie, Verkehr, Städtebau, mit hocheffizienten Technologien und intelligenten Stoffkreisläufen können wir Wohlstand für bald 9 Milliarden Menschen schaffen und zugleich die natürlichen Ressourcen schonen. So lässt sich auch die größte ökologische Herausforderung der Zukunft bewältigen: das stürmische Wachstum der Länder des Südens, deren Aufstieg gerade erst begonnen hat.

Ralf Fücks, 61, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung,ist einer der schillerndsten Politiker der deutschen Grünen. 1989 war er Parteisprecher der Grünen (de facto Parteivorsitzender), danach Senator und Vizebürgermeister in Bremen. Seit Ende der neunziger Jahre ist er Chef der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, der Parteiakademie der deutschen Grünen.

Moderation: Robert Misik, Journalist und Autor

Ralf Fücks: Intelligent wachsen. Die grüne Revolution, Carl Hanser Verlag

His new book – ISBN-10: 3446434844

ISBN-13: 978-3446434844

Bruno Kreisky Forum für Internationalen Dialog | Armbrustergasse 15 | 1190 Vienna

U.A.w.g.: Tel.: 3188260/20 | Fax: 318 82 60/10 | e-mail:  einladung.kreiskyforum at

Melitta Campostrini
Bruno Kreisky Forum
for International Dialogue
Armbrustergasse 15
A-1190 Vienna


Posted on on May 18th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

A lot has happened in the last week. The Earth hit the 400 parts per million CO2 threshold for the first time in human history. Scientists tell us this is bad news if we want to prevent runaway climate change. “If we continue to burn fossil fuels at accelerating rates, if we continue with business as usual, we will cross the 450 parts per million limit in a matter of maybe a couple decades,” scientist Michael Mann told Democracy Now! “We believe that with that amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we commit to what can truly be described as dangerous and irreversible changes in our climate.”




May 17, 2013  | from Tara Lohan on AlterNet

If you didn’t know this already, we should be listening to Mann and to other scientists. I thought this was settled a long time ago, but someone keeps giving print space to climate deniers, so a new survey of 12,000 peer-reviewed studies on the climate was just completed and the not-so-shocking conclusion was this, as Mother Nature Network reports:


Published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the analysis shows an overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that humans are a key contributor to climate change, while a “vanishingly small proportion” defy this consensus. Most of the climate papers didn’t specifically address humanity’s involvement — likely because it’s considered a given in scientific circles, the survey’s authors point out — but of the 4,014 that did, 3,896 shared the mainstream outlook that people are largely to blame.


In light of this news, it makes it even more infuriating to see that the Obama administration has spent the week prostrating to the fossil fuel lobby. Here are four disturbing things the administration’s been up to.


1. Moniz Hearts Fracking


Obama tapped nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Energy Department and the Senate gave a big thumbs-up to Moniz on Thursday. Many environmental groups had concerns that Moniz was too pro-fracking, and those concerns are clearly warranted. Moniz’s first order of business Friday was to clear the way for 20 years of liquified natural gas exports via Freeport LNG Terminal on Quintana Island, Texas.


Of course, we’ve already been sold the story that we’re suposed to frack the crap out of the country in the name of energy security, but we knew all along it was for industry profit, right? Brad Jacobson recently detailed for AlterNet about how Congress members are clamoring for export plans to be fast-tracked — although what Americans will get out of the deal
will be higher gas prices and less energy security.


2. Thanks for Nothing, Sally


While the nomination of Moniz disappointed many environmentalists, some were cheered by REI exec Sally Jewell taking over the Interior Department. Those same folks might not be cheering after Jewell announced the Bureau of Land Management’s newest regulations (or lack thereof) for fracking on our public lands.


As Sierra Club’s Michael Brune reported Friday:

The new rules are disappointing for many reasons: Drillers won’t be required to disclose what chemicals they’re using, there is no requirement for baseline water testing, and there are no setback requirements to govern how close to homes and schools drilling can happen. Once again, though, the policy documents an even bigger failure to grasp a fundamental principle: If we’re serious about the climate crisis, then the last thing we should be doing is opening up still more federal land to drilling and fracking for fossil fuels.


3. No Time for Farmers

The group Bold Nebraska reported this week that Obama turned down an invitation to hear from Nebraska farmers and ranchers about their concerns that the Keystone XL pipeline could destroy their livelihoods. Of course, the President is a busy guy, right? And besides, the White House said he was not “taking any meetings on the pipeline.”

Or is he? The group writes:

Bold Nebraska was therefore surprised the President is meeting with staff at Ellicott Dredges, a company that just testified in Congress in support of Keystone XL and makes equipment that creates the tailing ponds, which are massive bodies of polluted water and a byproduct of the tar sands mining process.

“I simply do not understand why President Obama can find the time to visit a company that helps hold 12 million liters of toxic tar sands water but cannot find the time to visit ranchers who put over $12 billion of Nebraska-grown food on Americans’ dinner tables every year,” said Meghan Hammond, a young farmer whose family land is at risk with the current route in Nebraska.


4. Who Needs the Arctic? (Hint: We Do)

Subhankar Banerjee, a photographer and longtime Arctic activist, was recently appalled by a new report from the Obama administration on the future of the Arctic. And the rest of us should be, too. Banerjee writes about the report:

“Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents…” President Obama hides his excitement for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean by carefully choosing the euphemism—“economic opportunities.”

In page 7 the true intent of the report is finally revealed: “The region holds sizable proved and potential oil and natural gas resources that will likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs.”

Of course the report mentions protecting the environment, but gives no specific details.


We know that Obama talks a good talk about climate protection, but his second term has proven thus far that he’s completely out of touch with reality. You can’t hit 400 ppm CO2 and still think “all of the above” is a rationale energy strategy.


Tara Lohan, a senior editor at AlterNet, has just launched the new project Hitting Home, chronicling extreme energy extraction. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including most recently, Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource.                            Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.


Posted on on May 11th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Climate Change Adaptation, Not to be Missed

from: Mica Longanecker  - via 

Climate change is here to stay, what are you doing to ensure that we live in a more prepared, better-adapted world?


Climate change is a global issue that requires smart action. According to a recent article in the Guardian, global carbon dioxide levels are set to pass the 400ppm milestone over the next few days, setting an unprecedented level of carbon in the atmosphere.


Other recent news headlines re-enforce the extent to which climate change is affecting current systems. From the USGS-NOAA’s Climate Change Impacts to U.S. Coasts Threaten Public Health, Safety and Economy to the IPCC urging Obama to raise awareness of science behind climate change. From Pacific Islands looking for new and innovative models to UK tourist attractions at risk of surface water flooding and early indicators that climate change could bring malaria to Europe. The evidence is there. What’s needed is action.


The Global Climate Adaptation Partnership (GCAP), working with the University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, is excited to offer the 2013 Adaptation Academy Foundation Course: Creating Climate Adaptation Leaders aiming to support decision making in a changing environment.


Now in our fourth year, the Adaptation Academy is a leading climate adaptation training programme, supporting participants in developing technical and leadership skills in climate adaptation through actual project work and practical case studies. We constantly refine and shape the course based on the learning and feedback from previous years, ensuring that we remain a global leader in climate adaptation training.


Climate adaptation requires champions, leaders and agents of change. Join us next August and immerse yourself in the Foundation Course. Emerge transformed. Be prepared to find adaptation solutions for some of the most profound challenges ever to face the world and build a strong foundation for integrating climate adaptation into your work. Join world-renowned alumni and the leading global network of climate adaptation.


From the halls of an Oxford college, explore your role, make new and binding friendships with future leaders, raise the bar on your own thinking and potential by rubbing shoulders with an internationally renowned academic community, learn first-hand from expert practitioners and be inspired by leading intellectuals pioneering revolutionary interventions.


The Foundation Course integrates four central learning themes:

  1. Participants’ role as change makers
  2. Causal chains of climate science
  3. Adaptation as a process
  4. Project/Program development

Building on these four central themes, we have developed a range of different modules and exercises to bridge knowledge and application, theory and practice. The content of the 2013 Foundation Course will be:

  • Concepts of climate change, risk, vulnerability and adaptation
  • Analysing climate data for change and variability – trends and extreme events
  • Using climate change scenarios – uncertainty, probability, climate envelopes
  • Theory of change, leadership skills and communicating climate risks
  • Assessing vulnerability and impacts
  • Mapping socio-institutional networks, information flows and needs
  • National, sectoral, urban and local strategies and measures
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Economics of adaptation and adaptation finance
  • Screening adaptation options to develop sound projects
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning in adaptation pathways
  • Project development and practical skills development

Places are filling up and only a few remain! Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to revolutionise your thinking and take steps towards becoming an effective change maker.

The 2013 Adaptation Academy Foundation Course runs from the 12-30 August 2013, Oxford UK.

For more information, check out the Academy website ( or contact Mica Longanecker, the Academy Coordinator, at


Apply directly online for the course here!


If you want to engage with some of the world’s leading climate adaptation experts on an ongoing basis, join GCAP’s LinkedIn Group.