Arquivo mensal: julho 2012

The War on Suicide? (Time)

Monday, July 23, 2012


Leslie McCaddon sensed that the enemy had returned when she overheard her husband on the phone with their 8-year-old daughter. “Do me a favor,” he told the little girl. “Give your mommy a hug and tell her that I love her.”

She knew for certain when she got his message a few minutes later. “This is the hardest e-mail I’ve ever written,” Dr. Michael McCaddon wrote. “Please always tell my children how much I love them, and most importantly, never, ever let them find out how I died … I love you. Mike”

She grabbed a phone, sounded every alarm, but by the time his co-workers found his body hanging in the hospital call room, it was too late.

Leslie knew her husband, an Army doctor, had battled depression for years. For Rebecca Morrison, the news came more suddenly. The wife of an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot, she was just beginning to reckon with her husband Ian’s stress and strain. Rebecca urged Ian to see the flight surgeon, call the Pentagon’s crisis hotline. He did–and waited on the line for more than 45 minutes. His final text to his wife: “STILL on hold.” Rebecca found him that night in their bedroom. He had shot himself in the neck.

Grand Praire, TX. Rebecca Morrison with some of her husband Ian’s belongings in her parents homes. Ian, an AH-64 Apache Helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army committed suicide on March 21, 2012. Ian chose ‘Ike’ for Rebecca. Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for TIME.

Both Army captains died on March 21, a continent apart. The next day, and the next day, and the next, more soldiers would die by their own hand, one every day on average, about as many as are dying on the battlefield. These are active-duty personnel, still under the military’s control and protection. Among all veterans, a suicide occurs every 80 minutes, round the clock.

Have suicides spiked because of the strain of fighting two wars? Morrison flew 70 missions in Iraq over nine months but never engaged the enemy directly. McCaddon was an ob-gyn resident at an Army hospital in Hawaii who had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Do the pride and protocols of a warrior culture keep service members from seeking therapy? In the three days before he died, Morrison went looking for help six times, all in vain. When Leslie McCaddon alerted commanders about her husband’s anguish, it was dismissed as the result of a lovers’ quarrel; she, not the Army, was the problem.

This is the ultimate asymmetrical war, and the Pentagon is losing. “This issue–suicides–is perhaps the most frustrating challenge that I’ve come across since becoming Secretary of Defense,” Leon Panetta said June 22. The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been able to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops, even as the wars wind down and the evidence mounts that the problem has become dire. While veterans account for about 10% of all U.S. adults, they account for 20% of U.S. suicides. Well trained, highly disciplined, bonded to their comrades, soldiers used to be less likely than civilians to kill themselves–but not anymore.

More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year. Suicide has passed road accidents as the leading noncombat cause of death among U.S. troops. While it’s hard to come by historical data on military suicides–the Army has been keeping suicide statistics only since the early 1980s–there’s no denying that the current numbers constitute a crisis.

The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each service member. The stresses layered on by war–the frequent deployments, the often brutal choices, the loss of comrades, the family separation–play a role. So do battle injuries, especially traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the constant presence of pain and death can lessen one’s fear of them.

But combat trauma alone can’t account for the trend. Nearly a third of the suicides from 2005 to 2010 were among troops who had never deployed; 43% had deployed only once. Only 8.5% had deployed three or four times. Enlisted service members are more likely to kill themselves than officers, and 18-to-24-year-olds more likely than older troops. Two-thirds do it by gunshot; 1 in 5 hangs himself. And it’s almost always him: nearly 95% of cases are male. A majority are married.

No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army suicides, and no one knows why nothing works. The Pentagon allocates about $2 billion–nearly 4% of its $53 billion annual medical bill–to mental health. That simply isn’t enough money, says Peter Chiarelli, who recently retired as the Army’s second in command. And those who seek help are often treated too briefly.

Army officials declined to discuss specific cases. But Kim Ruocco directs suicideprevention programs at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. She knows what Leslie McCaddon and Rebecca Morrison have endured; her husband, Marine Major John Ruocco, an AH-1 Cobra helicopter-gunship pilot, hanged himself in 2005. These were highly valued, well-educated officers with families, with futures, with few visible wounds or scars; whatever one imagines might be driving the military suicide rate, it defies easy explanation. “I was with them within hours of the deaths,” Ruocco says of the two new Army widows. “I experienced it through their eyes.” Their stories, she says, are true. And they are telling them now, they say, because someone has to start asking the right questions.

The Bomb Grunt

Michael McCaddon was an Army brat born into a uniquely edgy corner of the service: his father served in an ordnance-disposal unit, and after his parents divorced, his mother married another bomb-squad member. McCaddon entered the family business, enlisting at 17. “When I joined the Army I was 5’10” and weighed 129 lbs,” he blogged years later. “I had a great body … for a girl.” But basic training made him stronger and tougher; he pushed to get the top scores on physical-fitness tests; he took up skydiving, snorkeling, hiking. If you plan to specialize in a field in which a single mistake can cost you and your comrades their lives, it helps to have high standards. “Ever since I was new to the Army, I made it my personal goal to do as well as I can,” he recalled. “I thought of it as kind of a representation of my being, my honor, who I was.”

The Army trained him to take apart bombs. He and his team were among the first on the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, combing the ruins for any other devices, and he traveled occasionally to help the Secret Service protect then First Lady Hillary Clinton. He met Leslie in 1994 during a break in her college psychology studies. They started dating, sometimes across continents–he did two tours in Bosnia. During a Stateside break in January 2001, he married Leslie in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. They had three children in four years, and McCaddon, by then an active-duty officer, moved with his family to Vilseck, Germany, where he helped run an Army dental office.

He was still ambitious–two of Leslie’s pregnancies had been difficult, so he decided to apply to the military’s medical school and specialize in obstetrics. But then, while he was back in Washington for his interview, came a living nightmare: his oldest son, who was 3, was diagnosed with leukemia. Just before entering med school, McCaddon prepared for his son’s chemotherapy by shaving his head in solidarity so the little boy wouldn’t feel so strange. McCaddon may not have been a warrior, but he was a fighter. “I became known as a hard-charger,” he wrote. “I was given difficult tasks, and moved through the ranks quickly.” He pushed people who didn’t give 100%; he pushed himself.

The Apache Pilot

Ian Morrison was born at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, son of a Marine. An honor student at Thomas McKean High School in Wilmington, Del., he sang in the chorus, ran cross-country and was a co-captain of the swimming team before heading to West Point. He had a wicked sense of humor and a sweet soul; he met Rebecca on a Christian singles website in 2006 and spent three months charming her over the phone. One night he gave her his credit-card information. “Buy me a ticket, because I’m going to come see you,” he told her before flying to Houston. “The minute I picked him up,” she recalls, “we later said we both knew it was the real deal.” He proposed at West Point when she flew in for his graduation.

Morrison spent the next two years at Fort Rucker in Alabama, learning to fly the two-seat, 165-m.p.h. Apache helicopter, the Army’s most lethal aircraft. He and his roommate, fellow West Pointer Sean McBride, divided their time among training, Walmart, church, Seinfeld and video games, fueled by macaroni and cheese with chopped-up hot dogs. Morrison and Rebecca were married two days after Christmas 2008 near Dallas. The Army assigned him to an aviation unit at Fort Hood, so they bought a three-bedroom house on an acre of land just outside the town of Copperas Cove, Texas. They supported six African children through World Vision and were planning to have some kids of their own. “We had named our kids,” Rebecca says.

Morrison was surprised when the Army ordered him to Iraq on short notice late in 2010. Like all young Army officers, he saluted and began packing.

Triggers and Traps

One theory of suicide holds that people who feel useful, who feel as if they belong and serve a larger cause, are less likely to kill themselves. That would explain why active-duty troops historically had lower suicide rates than civilians. But now experts who study the patterns wonder whether prolonged service during wartime may weaken that protective function.

Service members who have bonded with their units, sharing important duties, can have trouble once they are at a post back home, away from the routines and rituals that arise in a close-knit company. The isolation often increases once troops leave active duty or National Guardsmen and reservists return to their parallel lives. The military frequently cites relationship issues as a predecessor to suicides; that irritates survivors to no end. “I’m not as quick to blame the Army as the Army is to blame me,” Leslie McCaddon says. “The message I get from the Army is that our marital problems caused Mike to kill himself. But they never ask why there were marriage problems to begin with.”

As McCaddon made his way through med school in Maryland, he encountered ghosts from his past. He was reaching the age at which his biological father had died by suicide, which statistically increased his own risk. But he wasn’t scared by it, Leslie says; he told associates about it. What did bother him was that he was gaining weight, the physical-training tests were getting harder for him, and the course work was challenging to juggle with a young family. He hid the strain, “but inside it is killing me,” he blogged. He called Leslie a hero “for not kicking me out of the house on the several times I’ve given her reason.” And he told her he sometimes thought of suicide.

“But he would tell everyone else that he was fine,” Leslie says. “He was afraid they’d kick him out of medical school if he was really honest about how depressed he was.” McCaddon sought counseling from a retired Army psychiatrist and seemed to be turning a corner in May 2010, when he graduated and got his first choice for a residency, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.

“He loved being a soldier,” Leslie said, “and he was going to do everything he could to protect that relationship.”

Leslie had relationships to protect as well. He was increasingly hard on her at home; he was also hard on the kids and on himself. “He was always an amazing father–he loved his children–but he started lashing out at them,” Leslie recalls. “He wasn’t getting enough sleep, and he was under a lot of stress.” Leslie began exploring options but very, very carefully; she had a bomb-disposal problem as well. “When I was reaching out for help, people were saying, Be careful how you phrase this, because it could affect your husband’s career,” she says. “That was terrifying to me. It made me think that by advocating for him I’d be making things worse.”

The Pilot’s Pain

Captain Morrison headed to Iraq in early 2011. Once there, he and Rebecca Skyped nearly every day between his flight assignments. When he took R&R leave in early September, they visited family in Dallas, then San Antonio, and caught concerts by Def Leppard and Heart.

There were no signs of trouble. “He was so mentally stable–he worked out every day, we ate good food, and we always had good communication,” his wife says. “Most people would say he was kind of quiet, but with me he was loud and obnoxious and open.”

Morrison never engaged the enemy in direct combat; still, some 70 missions over Iraq took their toll. His base was routinely mortared. After one mission, he and several other pilots were walking back to their hangar when a rocket shot right past them and almost hit him; he and his comrades ran and dived into a bunker, he told Rebecca once he was safely home. He impressed his commander–“Excellent performance!” his superior raved in a formal review of the man his buddies called Captain Brad Pitt. “Unlimited potential … continue to place in position of greater responsibility.”

It was not the war that turned out to be hard; it was the peace. Morrison returned to Fort Hood late last year and spent his month off with Rebecca riding their horses, attending church and working out. He seemed unnerved by slack time at home. “He said it was really easy to fall into a routine in Iraq–they got up at the exact same time, they ate, they worked out, they flew forever and then they came back, and he’d talk to me, and then they did it all over again,” Rebecca says. “When he came back to Texas, it was really difficult for him to adjust.”

Morrison was due to be reassigned, so he and his wife needed to sell their house, but it just sat on the market. His anxiety grew; he was restless, unable to sleep, and they thought he might be suffering from PTSD. The couple agreed that he should see a doctor. Military wives, especially those studying mental health, have heard the stories, know the risks, learn the questions: Is their spouse drinking more, driving recklessly, withdrawing from friends, feeling trapped? Be direct, they are told. “I looked him right in the face and asked, ‘Do you feel like you want to hurt or kill yourself?'” Rebecca recalls. “He looked me right in the face and said, ‘Absolutely not–no way–I don’t feel like that at all. All I want to do is figure out how to stop this anxiety.'”

The Stigma

When troops return from deployment, they are required to do self-assessments of their experience: Did they see people killed during their tour? Did they feel they had been at risk of dying? Were they interested in getting counseling for stress or alcohol use or other issues? But a 2008 study found that when soldiers answer questions anonymously, they are two to four times as likely to report depression or suicidal thoughts. Independent investigations have turned up reports of soldiers being told by commanders to airbrush their answers or else risk their careers. A report by the Center for a New American Security cited commanders who refuse to grant a military burial after a suicide for fear that doing so would “endorse or glamorize” it.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and all the services have launched resiliency-training programs and emergency hotlines, offering slogans like “Never leave a Marine behind” and “Never let your buddy fight alone” that try to speak the language of the unit. Last year the Pentagon released a video game meant to allow soldiers to explore the causes and symptoms of PTSD from the privacy of their homes. “We want people to feel like they are encouraged to get help,” says Jackie Garrick, who runs the new Defense Suicide Prevention Office. “There are a myriad of ways you can access help and support if you need it.”

But faith in that commitment was shaken this year when Army Major General Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, complained on his official blog that he was “personally fed up” with “absolutely selfish” troops who kill themselves, leaving him and others to “clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us,” he continued. He later said he wanted to “retract” what he called his “hurtful statement,” but he didn’t apologize for what he said. Many soldiers and family members believe Pittard’s attitude is salted throughout the U.S. military.

Just a Lovers’ Quarrel

In August 2010, Leslie went to McCaddon’s commanding officer at the hospital. She didn’t tell Michael. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. She recalls sitting in the commander’s office, haltingly laying out her concerns–McCaddon’s history of depression, his struggle to meet his high standards while doing right by his family. She was hoping that maybe the commander would order him into counseling and defuse the stigma somehow: he’d just be following orders. She watched the officer, a female colonel, detonate before her eyes. “No one at the medical school told me he had a history of depression, of being suicidal,” Leslie recalls her shouting. “I have a right to know this. He’s one of my residents. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The commander was furious–not at Leslie, exactly, but at finding herself not in command of the facts.

The colonel called several colleagues into the room and then summoned McCaddon as well. Leslie registered the shock and fear on his face when he saw his wife sitting with his bosses. “I was shaking,” she says. “I told him I continued to be concerned that his depression was affecting our family and that I was really concerned for his safety but also for the well-being of our children and myself.”

The commander encouraged McCaddon to get help but wouldn’t order him to do it. He left the room, livid, and Leslie burst into tears. “Honey, don’t worry,” Leslie remembers the commander saying. “My first marriage was a wreck too.”

Can’t you make him get some help? Leslie pleaded again, but the colonel pushed back. McCaddon was doing fine at work, with no signs of a problem. “‘Leslie, I know this is going to be hard to hear, but this just doesn’t sound like an Army issue to me,'” McCaddon’s wife recalls the colonel saying. “‘It sounds like a family issue to me.'” Leslie felt her blood run cold. “No one was going to believe me so long as things were going fine at work.”

McCaddon did try to see an Army psychiatrist, but a month or more could pass without his finding the time. “I’d say, ‘He’s in the Army,'” Leslie recalls telling the doctor, “‘and you make him do everything else, so you should be able to make him go to mental-health counseling.'” But McCaddon was not about to detour from rounds to lie on the couch. He barely ate while on his shift. “Everybody here is under stress,” he stormed at Leslie. “I can’t just walk out for an hour a week–I’m not going to leave them when we’re already short-staffed.”

The marriage was cracking. Back in Massachusetts, Leslie’s mother was not well. Leslie and the kids moved home so she could take care of her. She and Michael talked about divorce.

The Waiting Room

Early on Monday, March 19, Ian Morrison showed up at a Fort Hood health clinic, where he sat waiting in his uniform, with his aviation badge, for three hours. Finally someone saw him. “‘I’m sorry you had to wait all this time,'” Rebecca says he was told. “‘But we can’t see you. We can’t prescribe you anything.'” He had to see the doctor assigned to his unit. When Morrison arrived at the flight surgeon’s office, he told Rebecca, the doctor was upset that Morrison hadn’t shown up at the regular daily sick call a couple of hours earlier.

“He told me this guy was so dismissive and rude to him. ‘You need to follow procedure. You should have been here hours ago,'” Rebecca says. “Ian wanted to tell the doctor he was anxious, depressed and couldn’t sleep, but this guy shut him down.” Morrison acknowledged only his sleeplessness, leading the doctor to give him 10 sleeping pills with orders to return the next week. He’d be grounded for the time being.

But that didn’t seem to affect his mood. Morrison toasted his wife’s success on a big exam that day–she was close to earning her master’s in psychology–by cooking a steak dinner and drawing a bubble bath for her that night. “He was dancing around and playing music and celebrating for me,” she remembers. “He seemed really hopeful.” He took a pill before bed but told Rebecca in the morning that he hadn’t slept.

On Tuesday, March 20, Morrison tried to enroll in an Army sleep study but was told he couldn’t join for a month. “Well, I’ll just keep taking Ambien and then go see the flight surgeon,” he told the woman involved with the study. She asked if he felt like hurting himself. “No, ma’am, you don’t have to worry about me at all,” he said. “I would never do that.” That day, Morrison typed an entry in his journal: “These are the things I know that I can’t change: whether or not the house sells, the state of the economy, and the world … these are things that I know to be true: I’m going to be alive tomorrow, I will continue to breathe and get through this, and God is sovereign over my life.”

Rebecca awoke the next morning to find her husband doing yoga. “I’m self-medicating,” he told her. She knew what that meant. “You couldn’t sleep again, huh?” Rebecca asked.

“No,” Morrison said. “I’m going back to the doctor today.” Given the lack of success with the medication, she told him that was probably a good idea. She left the house, heading for the elementary school on post where she taught second grade.

A System Overwhelmed

The Army reported in January that there was no way to tell how well its suicide-prevention programs were working, but it estimated that without such interventions, the number of suicides could have been four times as high. Since 2009, the Pentagon’s ranks of mental-health professionals have grown by 35%, nearing 10,000. But there is a national shortage of such personnel, which means the Army is competing with the VA and other services–not to mention the civilian world–to hire the people it needs. The Army has only 80% of the psychiatrists and 88% of the social workers and behavioral-health nurses recommended by the VA. Frequent moves from post to post mean that soldiers change therapists often, if they can find one, and mental-health records are not always transferred.

Military mental-health professionals complain that the Army seemed to have put its suicide-prevention efforts on the back burner after Chiarelli, a suicide fighter, left the service in January. “My husband did not want to die,” Rebecca says. “Ian tried to get help–six times in all … Think about all the guys who don’t even try to get help because of the stigma. Ian was so past the stigma, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be healthy.”

The Breaking Point

On March 15, McCaddon gave a medical presentation that got rave reviews. Then he called Massachusetts to speak to his children and sent Leslie that last e-mail. He regretted his failures as a husband, as a father. Don’t tell the children how I died, he begged her. “Know that I love you and my biggest regret in life will always be failing to cherish that, and instead forsaking it.” Leslie read the e-mail in horror. “In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, He’s at work–he’s safe,” she recalls. “It never occurred to me that he would do what he did at work.” But she immediately dialed the hospital’s delivery center. She had just received a suicide note from her husband, she told the doctor who answered, and they needed to find him immediately. The hospital staff fanned out.

“They’ve sent people to the roof, the basement, to your house. We’re looking everywhere,” a midwife told Leslie in a call minutes later. As they talked, Leslie suddenly heard people screaming and crying in the background. Then she heard them call a Code Blue. They had found him hanging from a noose in a call room. It had been less than 30 minutes since McCaddon had sent his final e-mail to his wife. Among the voices Leslie thought she recognized was that of McCaddon’s commander, whose words came rushing back. “Does it seem like a family issue to her now?” Leslie remembers thinking. “Because it looks like it happened on her watch.”

It took 15 minutes for the first responders to bring back a heartbeat. By then he had been without oxygen for too long. Leslie flew to Hawaii, and Captain McCaddon was taken off life support late Tuesday, March 20. He was pronounced dead early the next day.

That same day, Wednesday, March 21, Morrison saw a different Army doctor, who in a single 20-minute session diagnosed him with clinical depression. He got prescriptions for an antidepressant and a med to treat anxiety but hadn’t taken either when he called his wife. Rebecca encouraged him to stop by the resiliency center on post to see if he might get some mental-health counseling there. Just before noon, Morrison texted Rebecca, saying he was “Hopeful :)” about it. She wanted to know what they told him. “Will have to come back,” he responded. “Wait is about 2 hrs.” He needed to get back to his office.

Rebecca was still concerned. At about 4 p.m., she urged her husband to call a military hotline that boasted, “Immediate help 24/7–contact a consultant now.” He promised he would. “I said, ‘Perfect. Call them, and I’ll talk to you later,'” Rebecca says. “He was like, ‘O.K., bye.'”

That was the last time she ever talked to him. Their final communication was one more text about 45 minutes later. “STILL on hold,” he wrote to her. Rebecca responded moments later: “Can’t say you’re not trying.”

Morrison called Rebecca at 7:04 p.m., according to her cell phone, but she was leading a group-therapy session and missed it. He didn’t leave a message.

Two and a half hours later, she returned home from her grad-school counseling class. She threw her books down when she entered the living room and called his name. No answer. She saw his boots by the door; the mail was there, so she knew he had to be home. “I walked into our bedroom, and he was lying on the floor with his head on a pillow, on my side of the bed.” He was still in his uniform.

Rebecca stammers, talking softly and slowly through her sobs. “He had shot himself in the neck,” she says. “There was no note or anything. He was fully dressed, and I ran over to him and checked his pulse … and he had no pulse. I just ran out of the house screaming, ‘Call 911!’ and ran to the neighbors.”

The Next Mission

At a suicide-prevention conference in June, Panetta laid down a charge: “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that the system itself is working to help soldiers. Not to hide this issue, not to make the wrong judgments about this issue, but to face facts and deal with the problems up front and make sure that we provide the right diagnosis and that we follow up on that kind of diagnosis.”

But what makes preventing suicide so confounding is that even therapy often fails. “Over 50% of the soldiers who committed suicide in the four years that I was vice [chief] had seen a behavioral-health specialist,” recalls Chiarelli. “It was a common thing to hear about someone who had committed suicide who went in to see a behavioral-health specialist and was dead within 24, 48 or 72 hours–and to hear he had a diagnosis that said, ‘This individual is no danger to himself or anyone else.’ That’s when I realized that something’s the matter.”

There’s the horrific human cost, and there is a literal cost as well. The educations of McCaddon and Morrison cost taxpayers a sum approaching $2 million. “If the Army can’t be reached through the emotional side of it–that I lost my husband–well, they lost a $400,000 West Point education and God knows how much in flight school,” Rebecca says. (The Army says Morrison’s pilot training cost $700,000.) Adds Leslie: “They’d invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this asset. At the very least, why didn’t they protect their asset?”

Captain McCaddon was buried with full military honors on April 3 in Gloucester, Mass. A pair of officers traveled from Hawaii for the service and presented his family with the Army Commendation Medal “for his selfless and excellent service.” Leslie and their three children also received the U.S. flag that had been draped over his casket and three spent shells fired by the honor guard. They visited his grave on Father’s Day to leave flowers, and each child left a card. After two years of chemotherapy, their oldest child’s leukemia remains in remission.

Captain Morrison was buried in central Texas on March 31. The Army had awarded him several decorations, including the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. There were military honors graveside, and a bugler played taps. At his widow’s request, there was no rifle volley fired.

Chris Hedges | Totalitarian Systems Always Begin by Rewriting the Law (Truth Out)

Monday, 26 March 2012 09:06By Chris Hedges, Truthdig | Op-Ed

Chris Hedges speaks at Occupy DC, January 9, 2012.

Chris Hedges speaks at Occupy DC, January 9, 2012. (Photo: Shrieking Tree)

I spent four hours in a third-floor conference room at 86 Chambers St. in Manhattan on Friday as I underwent a government deposition. Benjamin H. Torrance, an assistant U.S. attorney, carried out the questioning as part of the government’s effort to decide whether it will challenge my standing as a plaintiff in the lawsuit I have brought with others against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill.

The NDAA implodes our most cherished constitutional protections. It permits the military to function on U.S. soil as a civilian law enforcement agency. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus for citizens. The law can be used to detain people deemed threats to national security, including dissidents whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, and hold them until what is termed “the end of the hostilities.” Even the name itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian concept that endless war has to be waged within “the homeland” against internal enemies as well as foreign enemies.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest, in a session starting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, will determine if I have standing and if the case can go forward. The attorneys handling my case, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, will ask, if I am granted standing, for a temporary injunction against the Homeland Battlefield Bill. An injunction would, in effect, nullify the law and set into motion a fierce duel between two very unequal adversaries—on the one hand, the U.S. government and, on the other, myself, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, the Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir and three other activists and journalists. All have joined me as plaintiffs and begun to mobilize resistance to the law through groups such as Stop NDAA.

The deposition was, as these things go, conducted civilly. Afran and Mayer, the attorneys bringing the suit on my behalf, were present. I was asked detailed questions by Torrance about my interpretation of Section 1021 and Section 1022 of the NDAA. I was asked about my relationships and contacts with groups on the U.S. State Department terrorism list. I was asked about my specific conflicts with the U.S. government when I was a foreign correspondent, a period in which I reported from El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Middle East, the Balkans and other places. And I was asked how the NDAA law had impeded my work.

It is in conference rooms like this one, where attorneys speak in the arcane and formal language of legal statutes, that we lose or save our civil liberties. The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the employment of the Espionage Act by the Obama White House against six suspected whistle-blowers and leakers, and the Homeland Battlefield Bill have crippled the work of investigative reporters in every major newsroom in the country. Government sources that once provided information to counter official narratives and lies have largely severed contact with the press. They are acutely aware that there is no longer any legal protection for those who dissent or who expose the crimes of state. The NDAA threw in a new and dangerous component that permits the government not only to silence journalists but imprison them and deny them due process because they “substantially supported” terrorist groups or “associated forces.”

Those of us who reach out to groups opposed to the U.S. in order to explain them to the American public will not be differentiated from terrorists under this law. I know how vicious the government can be when it feels challenged by the press. I covered the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua from 1983 to 1988. Press members who reported on the massacres and atrocities committed by the Salvadoran military, as well as atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed Contra forces in Nicaragua, were repeatedly denounced by senior officials in the Reagan administration as fellow travelers and supporters of El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) rebels or the leftist Sandinista government in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Reagan White House, in one example, set up an internal program to distort information and intimidate and attack those of us in the region who wrote articles that countered the official narrative. The program was called “public diplomacy.”Walter Raymond Jr., a veteran CIA propagandist, ran it. The goal of the program was to manage “perceptions” about the wars in Central America among the public. That management included aggressive efforts to destroy the careers of reporters who were not compliant by branding them as communists or communist sympathizers. If the power to lock us up indefinitely without legal representation had been in the hands of Elliott Abrams or Oliver North or Raymond, he surely would have used it.

Little has changed. On returning not long after 9/11 from a speaking engagement in Italy I was refused entry into the United States by customs officials at the Newark, N.J., airport. I was escorted to a room filled with foreign nationals. I was told to wait. A supervisor came into the room an hour later. He leaned over the shoulder of the official seated at a computer in front of me. He said to this official: “He is on a watch. Tell him he can go.” When I asked for further information I was told no one was authorized to speak to me. I was handed my passport and told to leave the airport.

Glenn Greenwald, the columnist and constitutional lawyer, has done the most detailed analysis of the NDAA bill. He has pointed out that the crucial phrases are “substantially supported” and “associated forces.” These two phrases, he writes, allow the government to expand the definition of terrorism to include groups that were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and may not have existed when those attacks took place.

It is worth reading Sections 1021 and 1022 of the bill. Section 1021 of the NDAA “includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.” Subsection B defines covered persons like this: “(b) Covered Persons—A covered person under this section is any person as follows: (1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks. (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.” Section 1022, Subsection C, goes on to declare that covered persons are subject to: “(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” And Section 1022, Subsection A, Item 4, allows the president to waive the requirement of legal evidence in order to condemn a person as an enemy of the state if that is believed to be in the “national security interests of the United States.”

The law can be used to detain individuals who are not members of terrorist organizations but have provided, in the words of the bill, substantial support even to “associated forces.” But what constitutes substantial? What constitutes support? What are these “associated forces”? What is defined under this law as an act of terror? What are the specific activities of those purportedly “engaged in hostilities against the United States”? None of this is answered. And this is why, especially as acts of civil disobedience proliferate, the NDAA law is so terrifying. It can be used by the military to seize and detain citizens and deny legal recourse to anyone who defies the corporate state.

Torrance’s questions to me about incidents that occurred during my reporting were typified by this back and forth, which I recorded:

Torrance: In paragraph eight of your declaration you refer to the type of journalism we have just been discussing, which conveyed opinions, programs and ideas as being brought within the scope of Section 1021’s provision defining a covered people as one who has substantially supported or directly supported the acts and activities of such individuals or organizations and allies of associated forces. Why do you believe journalistic activity could be brought within that statute?

Hedges: Because anytime a journalist writes and reports in a way that challenges the official government narrative they come under fierce attack.

Torrance: What kind of attack do they come under?

Hedges: It is a range. First of all, the propaganda attempts to discredit the reporting. It would be an attempt to discredit the individual reporter. It would be a refusal to intercede when allied governments physically detain and expel the reporter because of reporting that both that allied government and the United States did not want. And any foreign correspondent that is any good through their whole career has endured all of this.

Torrance: Remind me, the phrase you used that you believed would trigger that was “coverage disfavorable to the United States”?

Hedges: I didn’t say that.

Torrance: Remind me of the phrase.

Hedges: I said it was coverage that challenged the official narrative.

Torrance: Have you ever been detained by the United States government?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: When and where?

Hedges: The First Gulf War.

Torrance: What were the circumstances of that?

Hedges: I was reporting outside of the pool system.

Torrance: How did that come about that you were detained?

Hedges: I was discovered by military police without an escort.

Torrance: And they took you into custody?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: For how long?

Hedges: Not a long time. They seized my press credentials and they called Dhahran, which is where the sort of central operations were, and I was told that within a specified time—and I don’t remember what that time was—I had to report to the authorities in Dhahran.

Torrance: Where is Dhahran?

Hedges: Saudi Arabia.

Torrance: And that was a U.S. military headquarters of some sort?

Hedges: Well, it was the press operations run by the U.S. Army.

Torrance: And what was the asserted basis for detaining you?

Hedges: That I had been reporting without an escort.

Torrance: And was that a violation of some law or regulation that you know of?

Afran: Note, object to form. Laws and regulations are two different things.

Hedges: Not in my view. …

Torrance: Did the people who detained you specify any law or regulation that in their view you violated?

Hedges: Let me preface that by saying that as a foreign correspondent with a valid journalistic visa, which I had, in a country like Saudi Arabia, the United States does not have the authority to detain me or tell me what I can report on. They attempted to do that, but neither I [nor] The New York Times [my employer at the time] recognized their authority.

Torrance: When you obtained that journalistic visa did you agree to any conditions on what you would do or where you would be permitted to go?

Hedges: From the Saudis?

Torrance: The visa was issued by the Saudi government?

Hedges: Of course, I need a visa from the Saudi government to get into Saudi.

Torrance: Did you agree to any such conditions?

Hedges: No. Not with the Saudis.

Torrance: Were there any other journalists of which you were aware who [were] reporting outside of the pool system?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: Were they also detained, to your knowledge?

Hedges: Yes.

The politeness of the exchanges, the small courtesies extended when we needed a break, the idle asides that took place during the brief recesses, masked the deadly seriousness of the proceeding. If there is no rolling back of the NDAA law we cease to be a constitutional democracy.

Totalitarian systems always begin by rewriting the law. They make legal what was once illegal. Crimes become patriotic acts. The defense of freedom and truth becomes a crime. Foreign and domestic subjugation merges into the same brutal mechanism. Citizens are colonized. And it is always done in the name of national security. We obey the new laws as we obeyed the old laws, as if there was no difference. And we spend our energy and our lives appealing to a dead system.

Franz Kafka understood the totalitarian misuse of law, the ability by the state to make law serve injustice and yet be held up as the impartial arbiter of good and evil. In his stories “The Trial” and “The Castle” Kafka presents pathetic supplicants before the law who are passed from one doorkeeper, administrator or clerk to the next in an endless and futile quest for justice. In the parable “Before the Law” the supplicant dies before even being permitted to enter the halls of justice. In Kafka’s dystopian vision, the law is the mechanism by which injustice and tyranny are perpetuated. A bureaucratic legal system uses the language of justice to defend injustice. The cowed populations in tyrannies become for Kafka so broken, desperate and passive that they are finally complicit in their own enslavement. The central character in “The Trial,” known as Josef K, offers little resistance at the end of the story when two men arrive to oversee his execution. Josef K. leads them to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself. He cannot. The men do it for him. His last words are: “Like a dog!”

Journalist Chris Hedges on Capitalism’s “Sacrifice Zones”: Communities Destroyed for Profit (Truth Out)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 09:18

By Bill MoyersMoyers & Company | Interview


Camden, New Jersey is one of the poorest cities in the United States. Camden suffers from unemployment, urban decay, poverty, and many other social issues. Much of the city of Camden, New Jersey suffers from urban decay.Camden, New Jersey is one of the poorest cities in the United States. Camden suffers from unemployment, urban decay, poverty, and many other social issues. Much of the city of Camden, New Jersey suffers from urban decay. (Photo: Phillies1fan777)

There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.

These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed,” Hedges tells Bill.

“It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings… And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.”

The broadcast includes a visit with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco, who collaborated with Hedges on Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, an illustrated account of their travels through America’s sacrifice zones. Kirkus Reviews calls it an “unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed.”

A columnist for Truthdig, Hedges also describes the difference between truth and news. “The really great reporters — and I’ve seen them in all sorts of news organizations — are management headaches because they care about truth at the expense of their own career,” Hedges says.


Exploring parts of America “that have been destroyed for quarterly profit.”

Bill Moyers: Welcome. Here we are, barely halfway through the summer, and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have stepped up their cage match, each attacking the other, throwing insults and accusations back and forth like folding chairs hurled across the wrestling ring.

Governor Romney pummels away at the economy; President Obama pummels away at Mr. Romney—when he was or wasn’t at his company Bain Capital, his tax returns and his offshore accounts. All the while, as they bob and weave their way through this quadrennial competition, punching wildly, the real story of what’s happening to ordinary people as capitalism runs amok is largely ignored by each of them. But not in this book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”—an unusual account of poverty and desolation across contemporary America. It’s a collaboration between graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco, about whom more later, and my guest on this week’s broadcast, Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal political power.

Bill Moyers: This is just the latest battle cry from Hedges, who, angry at what he sees in the world, expresses his outrage in thoughtful prose that never fails to inform and provoke. As a correspondent and bureau chief for “The New York Times,” he covered wars in North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East—leaving the paper after a reprimand for publicly denouncing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In such books as “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” his weekly column for the website “Truthdig” and freelance articles for a variety of other publications, Chris Hedges has taken his life’s experience covering the brutality of combat and shaped a worldview in which morality and faith, and the importance of truth-telling, dissent and social activism take precedence, even if it means going to jail.

Welcome, Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: Thank you.

Bill Moyers: Tell me about Joe Sacco. He was your companion on this trip. And he was your, in effect, coauthor. Although he was sketching instead of writing.

Chris Hedges: I’ve known Joe since the war in Bosnia. We met when he was working on his book, “Gorazde.” And I was not a reader of graphic novels. But I watched him work. And I certainly know a brilliant journalist when I see one. And he is one of the most brilliant journalists I’ve ever met.

He reports it out with such depth and integrity and power, and then he draws it out. And I realized that an extremely important component of this book was making visible these invisible communities, because we don’t see them. They’re shut out. They’re frightening, they’re depressing. And they’re virtually off the radar screen in terms of the commercial media.

Bill Moyers: This is a tough book. It’s not dispatches from Disneyworld. It paints a very stark portrait of poverty, despair, destructive behavior. What makes you think people want to read that sort of thing these days?

Chris Hedges: That wasn’t a question that Joe Sacco and I ever asked. It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does, the violence of that system, which is portrayed in all of the places that we visited.

These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean, there are no impediments left?

Chris Hedges: There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

Bill Moyers: You call them sacrifice zones.

Chris Hedges: Right.

Bill Moyers: Explain what you mean by that.

Chris Hedges: Well, they have the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.

Now here, in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States. And yet these harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted. And that money is not funneled back into the communities that are sitting on top of, or next to those resources.

Not only that, but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed quite literally because you have not only terrible problems with erosion, as they cause when they do the mountaintop removal, they’ll use these gigantic bulldozers to push off all the trees and then burn them.

And when we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because you realize only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were both in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.

And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia–

Bill Moyers: You said something like, “While the laws are West Virginia are written by the coal companies, 95 percent of those coal companies–”

Chris Hedges: Right.

Bill Moyers: “–are not in West Virginia.”

Chris Hedges: That’s right. They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water.

They use some of the largest machines on earth. These draglines, 25-stories tall that are very efficient in terms of ripping out coal seams. But by the time they left, there’s just a wasteland. Nothing grows. Some of the richest soil, some of the purest water, and these are the headwaters for much of the East Coast, You are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes inhabitable. And you’re destroying you know, these are the lungs of the Eastern seaboard. It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.

And that violence is visited on these communities. And you see it played out. I mean, Camden, New Jersey, which is the poorest city per capita in the United States and always, the one or two in terms of the most dangerous, it’s a dead city. There’s nothing left. There is no employment. Whole blocks are abandoned. The only thing functioning are open-air drug markets, of which there are about a hundred.

And you’re talking third or fourth generation of people trapped in these internal colonies. They can’t get out, they can’t get credit. And what that does to your dignity, your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth.

BILL MOYERS I was struck by your saying Camden is “beset with the corruption and brutal police repression reminiscent of the despotic regimes that you covered as a correspondent for the New York Times in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.” You describe a city where the per capital income is $ll,967. Large swaths of the city, as Joe Sacco Shows us, are abandoned, windowless brick factories, forlorn warehouses.

Chris Hedges: At one point in the 50s, it was a huge shipyard that employed 36,000 people. Campbell’s Soup was made there, RCA used to be there. But there were a variety of businesses it attracted in that great migration a lot of unskilled labor from the South, as well as immigrants from New York

Because without an education, it was a place that you could find a job. It was unionized, of course, so people had adequate wages and some protection. And then it just– everything went down. With the flight of manufacturing overseas.

It’s all gone. Nothing remains. And that’s why it’s such a stark example of what we’ve done to ourselves, without realizing that the manufacturing base of any country is absolutely vital to its health. Not only in terms of its economic, but in terms of its, you know, the cohesion of a society because it gives employment.

Bill Moyers: But give me a thumbnail sketch of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Chris Hedges: Well, Pine Ridge is where it began, Western exploitation. And it was the railroad companies that did it. They wanted the land, they took the land, the government gave them the land. It either gave it to them or sold it to them very cheaply. They slaughtered the buffalo herds, they broke these people. Forcing a people that had not been part of a wage economy to become part of a wage economy, upending the traditional values.

And it really is about the maximization of profit, it really is about the commodification of everything, including human beings. And this was certainly true in the western wars.

And it’s appalling. You know, the average life expectancy for a male in Pine Ridge is 48. That is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. At any one time, 60 percent of the dwellings do not have electricity or water.

Bill Moyers: You write of one tiny village, tiny village, with four liquor stores. And that dispense the equivalent of 13,500–

Chris Hedges: Right.

Bill Moyers: –cans of beer a day. And with devastating results.

Chris Hedges: Yes. And they start young and some estimates run that, you know, alcoholism is as high as 80 percent. This contributes, of course, to early death. That’s in Whiteclay, Nebraska. There is no liquor that is legally sold on the reservation, itself. But Whiteclay is about two miles from Pine Ridge. And that’s where people go. They call it “going south.” And that’s all they do, is sell liquor.

That’s true everywhere. You build a kind of dependency which destroys self-efficiency. I mean, that’s what the old Indian agencies were set up to do. You take away the livelihood, you take away the buffalo herds, you make it impossible to sustain yourself, and then you have lines of people waiting for lard, flour, and you know, whisky.

And that has been true in West Virginia. That’s certainly true in Camden. And it is a form of disempowerment. It is a form of keeping people essentially, at a subsistence level, and yet dependent on the very structures of power that are destroying them.

Bill Moyers: One of the most forlorn portraits is in your description of Immokalee, Florida. You describe Immokalee as a town filled with desperately poor single men.

Chris Hedges: Most of them have come across the border illegally. Come up from Central America and Mexico, especially after the passage of NAFTA. Because this destroyed subsistence farms in Mexico, the big agro businesses were able to flood the Mexican market with cheap corn. Estimates run as high as three million farmers were bankrupt, and where did they go? They crossed the border into the United States and in desperate search for work. They were lured into the produce fields. And they send what money they can, usually about $100 a month home to support their wives and children.

Bill Moyers: And they make $11,000, $12,000–

Chris Hedges: At best.

Chris Hedges: It’s brutal work, physically.

Bill Moyers: Yeah.

Chris Hedges: But they’re also exposed to all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. And it’s very hard to show the effects because as these workers age, you know, they’re bent over eight, ten hours a day. So they have tremendous back problems. And by the time they’re in their thirties, the crew leaders, they’ll actually line up in these big parking lots at about 4:00 in the morning, the busses will come.

They just won’t pick the older men. And so they become destitute. And they go back home physically broken. And it’s hard to tell, you know, how poisoned they’ve become, because they’re hard to trace. But clearly that is a big issue. They talk about rashes, respiratory, you know, not being able to breathe, coughing, it’s really, you know, a frightening window into the primacy of profit over human dignity and human life.

Bill Moyers: Fit this all together for me. What does the suffering of the Native American on the Pine Ridge Reservation have to do with the unemployed coal miner in West Virginia have to do with the inner-city African American in Camden have to do with the single man working for minimum wage or less in Immokalee, Florida? What ties that all together?

Chris Hedges: Greed. It’s greed over human life. And it’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. That’s a common thread. We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in Southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we’re next. And that’s–

Bill Moyers: What do you mean we’re next?

Chris Hedges: Well, the–

Bill Moyers: We being—

Chris Hedges: Two-thirds of this country. We are rapidly replicating that totalitarian vision of George Orwell in “1984.” We have an inner sanctum, inner party of 2 percent or 3 percent, an outer party of corporate managers, of 12 percent, and the rest of us are proles. I mean–

Bill Moyers: Proles being?

Chris Hedges: Being an underclass that is hanging on by their fingertips. And this is already very far advanced. I mean, numbers, I mean, 47 million Americans depending on food stamps, six million exclusively on food stamps, one million people a year going filing for personal bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills, six million people pushed out of their houses.

Long-term unemployment or underemployment– you know, probably being 17 to 20 percent. This is an estimate by “The L.A. Times” rather than the official nine percent. I mean, the average worker at Wal-Mart works 28 hours a week, but their wages put them below the poverty line. Which is why when you work at Wal-Mart, they’ll give you applications for food stamps, so we can help as a government subsidize the family fortune of the Walton family.

It’s, you know these corporations know only one word, and that’s more. And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from the creating, essentially, a corporate oligarchic state

Bill Moyers: And you say, though, we are accomplices in our own demise. Explain that paradox. That corporations are causing this, but we are cooperating with them.

Chris Hedges: This sort of notion that the corporate value of greed is good. I mean, these deformed values have sort of seeped down within the society at large. And they’re corporate values, they’re not American values.

I mean, American values were effectively destroyed by Madison Avenue when, after world war one, it began to instill consumption as a kind of inner compulsion. But old values of thrift, of self-effacement, or hard work were replaced with this cult of the “self”, this hedonism.

And in that sense, you know, we have become complicit, because we’ve accepted this as a kind of natural law. And the acceptance of this kind of behavior, and even the celebration of it is going to ultimately trigger our demise. Not only as a culture, not only as a country, but finally as a species that exists, you know, on planet Earth.

Bill Moyers: As we came here, I pulled an article published in “Nature” magazine by a group of rather accomplished and credible scientists who have done all the technical studies they need to do, who come to the conclusion that our planet’s ecosystems are careening towards an imminent, irreversible collapse. Once these things happen, planet’s ecosystems as we know them, could irreversibly collapse in the proverbial blink of an eye. Connect that to what you’ve been reporting.

Chris Hedges: Well, because the exploitation of human beings is always accompanied by the exploitation of natural resources, without any thought given to sustainability. I mean, the amount of chemicals and pesticides that are used on the produce in Florida is just terrifying.

And that, you know, migrates from those fields directly to the shelves of our supermarkets and we’re consuming it. And corporations have the kind of political clout that they can prevent any kind of investigation or control or regulation of this. And it’s, again, it’s all for short-term profit at long-term expense.

So the, you know, the very forces that we document in this book are the same forces that are responsible for destroying the ecosystem itself. We are watching these corporate forces, which are supranational. They have no loyalty to the nation state at all, reconfigure the global economy into a form of neo-feudalism. We are rapidly becoming an oligarchic state with an incredibly wealthy class of overlords.

Sheldon Wolin writes about this in “Democracy Incorporated” into what I would call, what he calls inverted totalitarianism, whereby it’s not classical totalitarianism, it doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state that purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, and yet internally have seized all of the levers of power. This is what it means when lobbyists write all of our legislation, or when they stack the Supreme Court with people who serve the interests of corporations. And it’s to render the citizen impotent.

Bill Moyers: And what is it, you think, led us to this point of this mind-boggling inequality, mind-boggling consumption, which obviously many of us like, or we wouldn’t be participating? And the grip that money has on politics? What are the forces that got us to this?

Chris Hedges: I think it began after World War I. You know, Dwight McDonald writes about how after World War I, American society became enveloped in what he called the psychosis of permanent war, where in the name of anti-Communism, we could effectively banish anyone within the society who questioned power in a serious kind of way.

And of course, we destroyed populist and radical movements, which have always broadened democracy within American society, it’s something Howard Zinn wrote quite powerfully about in “A People’s History of the United States.” It has been a long struggle, whether it’s the abolitionist movement that fought slavery, whether it’s the suffragists for women’s rights, the labor movement, or the civil rights movement. And these forces have the ability to essentially destroy those movements, including labor unions, which made the middle class possible in this country. And have rendered us powerless. And–

Bill Moyers: Except for the power of the pen. You keep writing, you keep speaking, you keep agitating.

Chris Hedges: I do, but, you know, things aren’t getting better. And I think, you know, like you, I come out of the seminary, and I look less on my ability to effect change and understand it more as a kind of moral responsibility to resist these forces. Which I think in theological terms are forces of death. And to fight to protect, preserve, and nurture life.

But you know, as my friend, Father Daniel Berrigan says, you know, “We’re called to do the good, or at least the good insofar as we can determine it. And then we have to let it go.” Faith is the belief that it goes somewhere.

Bill Moyers: So let’s talk about you. You’ve been showing up in the news as well as well as just reporting the news, you took part in that mock trial down at Goldman Sachs.

Chris Hedges: Goldman Sachs is an institution that worships death, the forces of Thanatos, of greed, of exploitation, of destruction.

Bill Moyers: And I still remember the picture of you and the others sitting down, locking arms, and blocking the interests of the company. What was that about?

Chris Hedges: That was personal for me. Goldman Sachs runs one of the largest commodities index in the world. And I’ve spent 20 years in places like Africa, and I know what happens when wheat prices increase by 100 percent. Children starve. And I knew I was going to get arrested because, you know, I was, I covered the famine in Sudan and was in these huge U.N. tents and feeding stations trying to save.

And you know, the people who die in famines were usually elderly and children. The place was, I mean, everyone had tuberculosis. I have scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, which I successfully fought off. And those are sort of the whispers of the dead. All those children and others who couldn’t didn’t have the ability to go in front of a place like Goldman Sachs and condemn them.

Bill Moyers: But surely those people, as you were arrested, there were people working for Goldman Sachs looking down from the windows–

Chris Hedges: They were taking pictures–

Bill Moyers: Taking pictures, laughing. Surely you don’t think they would wish that outcome in Africa or anywhere else, right?

Chris Hedges: Well, it’s moral fragmentation. I mean, they blind themselves to what they do all day long, and they define themselves as good human beings by other criteria, because they’re a good father or a good husband or because they go to church. But it is that human trait to engage in what I would have to describe as a system of evil. And yet, look at it as just a job.

Bill Moyers: But are we all then therefore, and I come back to this, aren’t we all part of this system that in some way produces Pine Ridge, Immokalee, the coal fields, the inner-cities, and the starving children in Africa? Aren’t we all who have jobs and participate in the culture and are in the economic game, aren’t we all, in a way, as complicit as those people looking down on you from those windows at Goldman Sachs?

Chris Hedges: No. Because you know, the people who actually run the commodities index are very tiny, elite, and extremely wealthy group. And they’re highly compensated. These people make hundreds of thousands, often millions of dollars a year. And most of us don’t make that. And that personal enrichment, I think, is a powerful inducement to ignore their complicity in what is clearly a crime against other human beings.

Bill Moyers: But do you think what you did made any difference? Goldman Sachs hasn’t changed.

Chris Hedges: Well, that doesn’t matter. I did what I had to do. I did what I believed I should’ve done. And faith is a belief that it does make a difference, even if all of the empirical signs around you point otherwise. I think that fundamentally is what faith is about. And I’m not a very good Christian anymore. But I retain enough of my Christian heritage and my seminary training to still believe that.

Bill Moyers: What are you?

Chris Hedges: A, you know, a sinner.

Bill Moyers: Welcome to the clan.

Chris Hedges: You know, a doubter.

Bill Moyers: But you’re driven by something. I mean, I talked to you when you wrote your first and remarkable book “War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning.” I haven’t seen anyone as affected in their life after their experience as a journalist as you had been. I mean, there have been others, I just don’t know them. But somehow what you’re doing today goes back to what you saw and did and felt and experienced in all those years you were overseas and on the frontiers of trouble.

Chris Hedges: Well, because when you spend that long on the outer reaches of empire, you understand the cruelty of empire, what Conrad calls, “The horror, the horror.” And the lies that we tell ourselves about what is done in our name. Whether that’s in Gaza, whether that’s in Iraq, whether that’s in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, El Salvador, I mean, there’s a long list.

And when you come back from the outer reaches of empire, you are, and I think, you know, many combat veterans feel this who come back, you’re forever alienated. And you to speak a very unpleasant truth about who we are, a truth that most people don’t want to hear. And yet I think to hold that truth in and to remain silent and not to speak that truth destroys you.

That it’s better to get up and speak it even as you correctly point out, you know that Goldman Sachs, you know, everyone at Goldman Sachs gets up the next morning and does it. I mean, this was also true as a war correspondent. I mean, the Serbs would kill.

They’d block all the roads into the village, we’d walk in with our satellite phones, we’d file it, we never believe they weren’t going to do it again the next day. But somehow not to chronicle it, not to take the risks to report it, was to be complicit in that killing. And I think that same kind of thought goes into what’s happening here.

Bill Moyers: But do you think taking sides marginalizes your journalism? I mean, when you were being arrested, and some businessman was quoted in the paper passing by and looking at those of you being carried away and said, “Bunch of idiots.” He needs to hear what you, read what you say. Do you think he will once he knows you’ve taken sides?

Chris Hedges: Well, I think that in life we always have to take sides.

Bill Moyers: Do journalists always have to take sides?

Chris Hedges: Yes. Journalists always do take sides. You know, you’ve been a journalist a long time. The idea that there’s something objective and impartial is just a lie. We sell it. But I can take the same set of facts– I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, and I can spin that story one way or another. We manipulate facts. That’s what we do. And I think that the really great journalists–

Bill Moyers: Not necessarily to deceive though. Some do, I know, but–

Chris Hedges: Right, but we do.

Bill Moyers: We choose the facts we want to organize–

Chris Hedges: Of course, it’s selective. And it’s what facts we choose, how we place, where we put the quotes. And I think the really great journalists, like the great preachers, care fundamentally about truth. And truth and news are not the same thing.

And the really great reporters, and I’ve seen them, you know, in all sorts of news organizations, are management headaches because they care about truth at the expense of their own career.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean truth as opposed to news?

Chris Hedges: Well, let’s take the Israel occupation of Gaza. You know, if I had a dinner with any Middle East correspondent who covered Gaza, none of us would have any disagreements about the Israeli behavior in Gaza, which is a collective war crime. And yet to get up and write it and say it within American society is not a career enhancer.

Because there’s a powerful Israeli lobby, and it’s a lobby that I don’t think represents Israel, it represents the right wing of Israel. And you know it. But, the great reporters don’t care. And they’re there.

But you know, large institutions like “The New York Times” attract huge numbers of careerists like any other large institutions, the Church of course, being no exception. And those are the people who are willing to take moral shortcuts to promote themselves within that institution.

And when somebody becomes a headache, even if they may agree with them, even if they may know that they are speaking a truth, and it puts their career in jeopardy– they will push them out or silence them.

So I think that one can take sides, and Orwell becomes the kind of model for this. But one can never not tell the truth. And I’ve often written stories that are not particularly flattering. And there’s much in this book about people in Pine Ridge or Camden, you know, that is not flattering. I mean, we’re interviewing people that are drug addicts and this kind of stuff. And–

Bill Moyers: Drug dealers–

Chris Hedges: –prostitutes and–

Bill Moyers: Yeah, drug dealers–

Chris Hedges: Yeah.

Bill Moyers: –prostitutes.

Chris Hedges: So we’re not, you know, the lie of omission is still a lie. But I don’t think any foreign correspondent who covers war, whether it was in Bosnia or whether it was in Sarajevo can be indifferent to the tremendous human suffering before them and not want that human suffering to stop.

Bill Moyers: But there is a price, as you have said, to be paid for stepping outside of the system that enabled your name and reputation and becoming a critic of that system. I mean, what price do you think you’ve paid?

Chris Hedges: I don’t think I paid a price, I think I would’ve paid a price for staying in. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You know, I was pushed out of “The New York Times” because I was publicly denouncing the invasion of Iraq. And again, it comes down to that necessity to speak a truth, or at least the truth as far as you can discern it.

I’ve spent months of my life in Iraq. I knew the instrument of war. I understood in all the ways that this was going be a disaster– including upsetting the power balance in the Middle East. It’s one of the great strategic blunders of the United States, it’s empowered Iran. And to remain silent would’ve been the price. Was it good for my career? Well, of course not.

But my career was never the point. I didn’t drive down Mount Igman into Sarajevo when it was being hit with 2,000 shells a day because it was good for my career. I went there because what was happening was a crime against humanity. And as a reporter, I wanted to be there to chronicle it.

Bill Moyers: Well, you should. But, so you don’t think journalism is futile?

Chris Hedges: I think journalism is essential. I think it’s essential. And we’re watching its destruction. You know, journalism, the power of journalism is that it is rooted in verifiable fact. You go out as a reporter, you seek to find out what is factually correct. You crosscheck it with other sources. It’s sent to an editor. It’s fact-checked, you put it out. That’s all vanishing.

That’s what we’re really losing with journalism. Yes, you know, commercial journalism, there were things they wouldn’t write about. You know, as Schanberg says, “The power of great newspapers like “The Times” is that at least it’s stopped things from getting worse.” I think that’s right.

Bill Moyers: But can it make things better? I mean, do you think you can accomplish more as a dissenter, and I look up on you now, when I ask you what’s your faith, I think your faith is in dissent, if I may say so. It’s in “This far and no further.” But do you think you can accomplish as much as a dissenter than as a journalist?

Chris Hedges: Yeah, it’s not a question that I’ve asked. Because the question is, “What do you have to do?” I certainly knew after 15 years at “The New York Times” that running around on national television shows denouncing the war in Iraq was, as a news reporter, tantamount to career suicide. I mean, I was aware of that.

And yet, you know, as Paul Tillich writes about, you know, “Institutions are always inherently demonic, including the Church.” And you cannot finally serve the interests of those institutions. That for those who seek the moral life, there will always come a time in which they have to defy even institutions they care about if they are able to retain that moral core. And in essence, what, you know, “The New York Times,” or other institutions were asking is that I muzzle myself.

Bill Moyers: But all institutions do that, don’t they?

Chris Hedges: All institutions do.

Bill Moyers: Intuitively or explicitly.

Chris Hedges: That’s right. And I think for those of us who care about speaking, you know, the truth, you know, or if you want to call it dissent, we are going to have to accept that at one day, there’s going probably mean a clash with the very institutions that have nurtured and supported us. And I have been nurtured and supported by these institutions.

Bill Moyers: But your columns, your essays, your recent book, this book, contained repeated calls for uprisings, for civil disobedience. You even say in here, quote, “Revolt is all we have. It is our only hope. It is our only hope.” Unpack that from our viewers who are sitting there thinking, “What is he asking me to do? What does he mean by revolt? What’s he talking about?”

Chris Hedges: Nonviolence civil disobedience. And accepting the fact that engaging in that process will mean arrest. I’ve lived in societies that are rent and torn by violence, and I don’t want us to go there. And I think that we don’t have a lot of time left. And that for those of us who care about veering off into another course, a course that’s rational and sane and makes possible the perpetuation of not only the human species but the planet itself, we have to take this kind of radical action. And if we don’t, then as things disintegrate and as the paralysis within the centers of power become more and more apparent, then we will fuel very frightening extremes.

You know, again, which I saw in places like Central America or Bosnia. And I look at this as many ways, a kind of, a preventive action. A way to respond peacefully. A way to respond, in a Democratic fashion, to the problems in front of us before it’s too late.

Bill Moyers: Bear with me as I explore this, ‘cause there’s a paradox at two levels. One at a conceptual level, and the other at a practical level. You write in here, “Either you join the revolt or you stand on the wrong side of history. You either obstruct through civil disobedience, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil.” But in an early book, “Death of the Liberal Class,” which I think is one of your best, you wrote that, “The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that, a fantasy.”

Chris Hedges: I wrote that before Occupy. And I was writing out of a kind of belief that this was what was absolutely necessary and yet I saw no signs within the wider society that was happening. And then suddenly, on September 17th, Zuccotti Park appears. And mostly fueled by the young. And I was writing out of a present reality. And I didn’t see Zuccotti coming. I was writing out of a kind of despair, for all of the reasons that I said.

Bill Moyers: Why did you take hope from that? Because after you’d been down there? You subsequently write that “By the end, even the most dedicated of the Occupiers in Zuccotti Park burned out.”

Chris Hedges: Yeah.

Bill Moyers: “They lost control of the park. The arrival in cold weather of individual tents, along with the numerous street people with mental impairment and addictions,” that you’re nothing if not honest in what you write, even about those people you support, “tore apart the community. Drug use as well as assaults and altercations became common.” So how is that square with what you said earlier that the Occupy Movement gave us a blueprint for how to fight back?

Chris Hedges: Because this is the trajectory of all movements. You know, it’s not a linear progression upwards. And the civil rights movement is a perfect example of that. All sorts of failures, whether it’s in Albany, Mississippi or anywhere else. You know, there were all sorts of moments within the civil rights movement where King wasn’t even sure he was going to be able to hold it together. And what happened in Zuccotti is like what happened in 1765 when they rose up against the Stamp Act.

That became the kind of dress rehearsal for the rebellion of 1775, 1776, 1905. The uprising in Russia became again the kind of dress rehearsal. These movements, this process, it takes a very long time. I think the Occupy was movement and I was there.

I mean, I certainly understand why it imploded and its many faults and how at that size, consensus doesn’t work, everything else. And yet it triggered something. It triggered a kind of understanding of systems of power. It, I think, gave people a sense of their own personal power. Once we step out into a group and articulate these injustices and these grievances to a wider public, and of course they resonated with a mainstream. I don’t think it’s over. I don’t know how it’s going to mutate and change, one never knows. But, I think that it’s imperative that we keep that narrative alive by being out there because things are not getting better.

The state is not responding in a rational way to what’s happening. If they really wanted to break the back of the opposition movement, rather than sort of eradicating the 18 encampments, they would’ve gone back and looked at Roosevelt. There would’ve been forgiveness of all student debt, $1 trillion, there would’ve been a massive jobs program targeted at those under the age of 25, and there would’ve been a moratorium on more closures and bank repossessions of homes.

That would’ve been a rational response. Instead, the state has decided to speak exclusively in the language of force and violence to try and crush this movement while people continue this dissent.

Bill Moyers: In one of your earlier books, you wrote that, quote, “We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization blink out, and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.” Do you really think that’s ahead?

Chris Hedges: If there’s not a radical change in the way we relate to the ecosystem that sustains life, yes. And I see, if you ask me to put my money down, I see nothing that indicates that we’re preparing to make that change.

Bill Moyers: But here’s another paradox then, you present us with a lot of paradoxes. You just– you and your wife a year and a half ago had your fourth child. How can you introduce another life into so forlorn a future?

Chris Hedges: That’s not an easy question to answer. I look at my youngest son, and his favorite book is “Out of the Blue,” which are pictures of narwhales and porpoises and dolphins. And I think, “It is most probable that within your lifetime, every single one of those sea creatures will be dead.” And in so many ways, I feel that I have to fight for them.

That even if I fail, they’ll say, “You know, at least my dad tried.” We’ve deeply betrayed this next generation on so many levels. And I can’t argue finally, you know, given the empirical facts in front of us that hope is rational. And I retreat, like so many people in my book, into faith. And a belief that resistance and fighting for life is meaningful even if all of the outward signs around us deny that possibility.

Bill Moyers: That faith in human beings?

Chris Hedges: Faith in that fighting for the sanctity of life is always worth it. Because you know, if we don’t fight, then we are finished. Then we signed our own death sentence. And Camus writes about this in “The Rebel,” that I think resistance becomes a kind of way of protecting our own worth as an individual, our own dignity, our own self-respect. And I think resistance does always leave open the possibility of change. And if we don’t resist, then we’ve essentially extinguished that hope.

Bill Moyers: H. L. Mencken, the celebrated iconoclast of the early part of the last century once wrote, “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is more likely one who likes his country more than the rest of us and is those more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debouched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime, he is a good citizen, driven to despair.” Is that you?

Chris Hedges: Yeah–

Bill Moyers: A good citizen driven to despair?

Chris Hedges: Yes. And a good citizen driven to despair who will not remain apathetic and passive. And, you know, in every single place that we went to, Camden, West Virginia, Pine Ridge, we found these utterly magnificent human beings. I mean, this woman Lolly in Camden, African American woman, who you know, raised her own children. And I think by the time she was done, 19 others.

Her fiancé was shot and killed, one of her little seven-year-old daughters died of an asthma attack because they didn’t have the right medicine. And I said, “Lolly, how do you do it?” And she said, “I never ask why.” And when you spend time in the presence of people like that, and they were everywhere you know, they understood what they were up against.

It is deeply empowering. Because not to resist, not to fight back is on a very personal level to betray these people. And when you build relationships, as over the two years Joe and I did, with figures like that, it really, you know, almost comes down to something that simplistic. You can’t betray Lolly. You can’t betray any of these great figures who’ve stood up. Because their fight is our fight. And oftentimes they’ve endured far, far more– well, they have endured far, far more than I have endured or ever will endure.

Bill Moyers: The Book is, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco. Thank you very much Chris for being with me.

Chris Hedges: Thanks Bill.

Bill Moyers: For all his power of expression, sometimes words fail even Chris Hedges, and a picture can say more in a single frame, well-drawn, than paragraphs of explanation. That’s what makes his partnership with graphic artist Joe Sacco on their book, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” so potent and so effective. Joe Sacco has traveled all over the world, using the techniques of the comic book illustrator as a tool of journalism, telling stories with insight and humanity.

Joe Sacco: My name’s Joe Sacco and I’m a comics journalist. Drawing really often provides mood and atmosphere, and writing is that sort of precision. The facts. And you can put those two things together with comics, which I think is what makes the medium very powerful.

When I’m in the field, I meet people who are really in hard situations. I’m not interested in tears. I’m not even interested in sentimentality. But I am interested in telling people’s stories as well as possible who are oppressed or are poor.

Chris and I had already worked on a magazine piece about Camden and we decided we would expand that. You can read about poverty. You can read about despair. Or you can read about resignation. But to see it is really, it’s eye-opening.

I didn’t do that many stories in the book, maybe five or six. They all moved me quite a bit. I think the one that was sort of hit me in this way, because it was so unfamiliar to me was the woman who came out from Guatemala, the one that we call Anna in the story.

Her waiting by the phone after her husband had made the long, arduous trip so the United States. Waiting eight days, knowing he had to cross a desert where many people die. And that sort of story really touched me. Because when we think of migrant workers, we can be so dismissive of them. They’re just working in a fields. Oh, you see them bent over and they’re just doing their job, and you know they’re getting minimum wage. And you sort of feel sorry for them in a sense.

But to get a sense of, and to actually hear an individual story like that, for some reason that just really got to me when I was drawing it.

When I was about seven years old. I started drawing stories. Because I liked forms of self-expression and that was just one I never let go of. I never really drew just for the sake of drawing. There always had to be a story to go with it.

A story can be more true if you just let it be told. It’s very important for me, with my work, not to create these angelic people. You want to show people as nuts and bolts. Those are the people who seem real. With the Michael Red Cloud’s story, a story about his drug dealing days, making big money, partying, having women with him at all times. Now, he wasn’t necessarily pleased with how he’d lived his past life, he wasn’t. But to me, the idea is just to present the complete human being. You know, he’s a real person. I was moved by his story, or I saw the changes that he made through his story. And then you see the hard things in the context of his upbringing, in the context of what was around him, in the context of what he learned from people around him.

You see the commonalities between people who have nothing around them but despair. They are born into a context which simply doesn’t provide them opportunities or even the thought of opportunities. To me, it’s incumbent upon the journalist to go and see for himself or herself what’s actually going on. Journalism to me isn’t like a tennis match, where you’re just watching the ball, and each side is hitting it, hitting it back and forth to each other.

At some point, you have to arrest where the ball is, and that’s where truth is, you know? And like I say, truth doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle. And I’ve always had a problem with journalists who say things like, “Well, I pissed off both sides. I must be doing something right.” That is the laziest sort of phrase I’ve ever heard.

You know, hundreds of stories that still need to be told. I’m interested in sort of answering questions that journalism doesn’t really put its finger on.

To me, it’s very important to remind ourselves of the costs of what is going on in this world. The human costs.

I feel like I wouldn’t be where I need to be for myself if I didn’t look to those things, and I didn’t face them squarely. I just feel that’s who I am, and what I have to do.


This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

Sobre as bombas fabricadas no Brasil, e as tentativas de regulação do comércio mundial de armas (FSP)

Folha de S.Paulo – 25/07/2012 – 03h00

Matias Spektor

Armas do Brasil

Negocia-se esta semana na ONU um Tratado de Comércio de Armas. É a primeira tentativa de regulação do lucrativo mercado global de armamentos.

O texto ora negociado afeta em cheio os interesses do Brasil emergente. Trata-se de uma área em que campeões da indústria estão em franca via de internacionalização. Além das gigantescas Embraer e Odebrecht, existe a Taurus, maior fabricante mundial de armas curtas. Exporta para 44 países, detém 20% do mercado de pistolas nos Estados Unidos e espera um lucro bruto para este ano de R$150 milhões de reais. Ainda entram na lista Avibrás (veículos não-tripulados e foguetes), Mectron (mísseis), Helibrás (helicópteros) e Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos (munições). A Condor vende 100 produtos de “tecnologias não-letais”.

Essas empresas preferem um tratado minimalista. Não querem explicar publicamente suas vendas nem revelar a lista de clientes. Tampouco enfrentar questionamentos caso suas armas sejam utilizadas para desestabilizar uma região, violar direitos humanos, fomentar o crime transnacional e o terrorismo, ou atrapalhar o combate à pobreza. Isso é compreensível – elas querem fazer negócio.

Assim, o governo brasileiro trabalha para deixar o tratado livre de mecanismos intrusivos. Nem precisa fazer força para isso – há muitos países dispostos a fazê-lo em seu lugar. Irã, Síria, Cuba, Venezuela e Paquistão têm a dianteira. A Índia joga no mesmo time; muitas vezes, os Estados Unidos também. Na sexta-feira, estará provavelmente garantido o triunfo total da posição brasileira.

Em Brasília fomenta-se o êxito dessas indústrias, que geram divisas e empregam milhares de pessoas em áreas de alta tecnologia. Daí a lei de março passado, que outorga crédito fácil e isenção de PIS/Pasep, Cofins e IPI.

Ninguém no governo questionou a Avibrás por vender 18 sistemas de “bombas cluster” para a Malásia, a Mectron por seus 100 mísseis anti-radar para o Paquistão ou a Condor por sua exportação de gás lacrimogêneo para a Síria de Bashar al-Assad. O tema simplesmente não está na agenda, e todos os incentivos de hoje apontam para mais do mesmo.

Entretanto, há uma pequena ameaça no horizonte. Grandes indústrias de armamento europeias e americanas começaram a ajustar sua posição. Como elas enfrentam controles cada vez mais estreitos para suas exportações, buscam meios de moldar o novo ambiente regulatório em benefício próprio.

Segundo elas, um tratado internacional decente seria bom para quem quer ganhar dinheiro. Criaria um controle de qualidade parecido à ISO, padronização de produtos comandada pelo setor privado que facilita a abertura de mercados.

Também estabeleceria códigos de conduta comuns, algo valioso em mercados cheios de clientes de caráter duvidoso, onde uma venda inapropriada pode ferir o interesse de acionistas e macular a reputação das empresas e de países.

Se essas regras pegarem e nossa indústria continuar apostando contra a transparência, todos perdem. Sobretudo o cidadão brasileiro, que é obrigado a custear um negócio sobre o qual ninguém o consultou.


Elio Gaspari

De SaddamHussein@org para Dilma@gov

Estimada presidente Dilma Rousseff,

Outro dia jantei com o Che Guevara e o Laurent Kabila, aquele presidente do Congo que foi assassinado em 2001. A senhora deve se recordar que o Che andou pela África e deu-se mal.

No meio da conversa Che perguntou-lhe se era verdade que em 2001 o Robert Mugabe, o soba do Zimbábue, tinha ajudado sua facção na guerra civil congolesa repassando-lhe bombas incendiárias e de fragmentação fabricadas no Brasil. Ele desconversou. O Che ficou perplexo, imaginou Lula vendendo esse tipo de armas para africanos. São bombas que incendiam a mata ou, ao explodir, soltam dezenas de milhares de esferas de aço. Destinam-se a matar indiscriminadamente combatentes e civis. Como um jornalista chamado Rubens Valente achou um pedaço dessa história, resolvi escrever-lhe, pois não quebrarei o sigilo do que se aprende por aqui. Ele contou que o Brasil vendeu 726 bombas ao Mugabe. Faturou US$ 5,8 milhões para matar africanos miseráveis. Eles morreriam nas rebeliões congolesas ou no próprio Zimbábue. Dias depois o Che me procurou, explicando que o negócio não foi feito pelo Lula, mas por Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Estava de alma leve, mas esse Guevara é um sonhador. Ele não sabe das coisas do mundo.

Eu sei, presidente Dilma, e sei que a senhora está abrindo o cofre do BNDES para o que acha que será o reerguimento da indústria bélica brasileira. Sete grandes empreiteiras já se habilitaram num programa de incentivos e, novamente, a Federação das Indústrias de São Paulo alavanca o projeto. No varejo, já se acharam bombas de gás lacrimogênio brasileiras no Bahrein e na Turquia (jogadas contra refugiados sírios).

Isso vai acabar mal. Eu vi como acabou a última iniciativa do gênero, ocorrida entre os anos 70 e 80. Os brasileiros viraram piada. Nós trocaríamos petróleo por armas e compramos blindados leves e algumas baterias de foguetes. A senhora acredita que em 1979 um industrial paulista foi a Bagdá e ofereceu tecnologia nuclear para a minha bomba atômica? Eu disse a um embaixador brasileiro que o moço não devia vender o que não tinha. Quase dois anos depois vocês voltaram a mesma história, mais um míssil capaz de transportar a bomba. Deu em nada, até porque os sionistas bombardearam meu reator e deram um tranco num poderoso general brasileiro. O Muammar Gaddafi me contou que o mesmo paulista vendia-lhe blindados e queria fabricar um tanque, acho que se chamava Osório, financiado pelos sauditas. O “reis dos reis” sabia que, se a casa de Saud financiasse uma arma, seria para matá-lo. Procure saber quanto essa operação custou. Durante minha guerra com o Irã vocês me ofereciam blindados e queriam vender metralhadores para o aiatolá. Pode? A única vítima dessas aventuras foi um jornalista brasileiro. Ele se chamava Alexandre von Baumgarten. Falou demais a respeito de uma pasta de urânio que nós compramos em 1981. No ano seguinte foi passear de barco, encontrou uma lancha com amigos, convidou-os para um copo e foram metralhados. Ele, a mulher e o barqueiro.

O homem da bomba faliu, e vocês tomaram um calote de US$ 200 milhões.


Saddam Hussein.


24/07/2012 – 03h00
Janio de Freitas

A transparência opaca

A presidente Dilma Rousseff está sob o risco iminente de perder o direito moral de cobrar transparência, como princípio e exigência do seu governo, a quem quer que seja. O Brasil faz uso, neste momento, de uma falácia primária para opor-se, em reunião da ONU, a um acordo que estabeleça transparência nas exportações de armas.

A política externa proclamada pelo governo, e fiel ao que se entende como índole brasileira, é contrária a confrontos armados entre nações ou como solução de dissensões internas. Logo, não pode favorecer a realidade de que a busca dos altos lucros da exportação sigilosa de armas, além de ser o sustentáculo de ditaduras sanguinárias, está na raiz das matanças de populações civis, condenadas pelo Brasil –na europeia Bósnia, no Oriente Médio, nas infindáveis guerras da África, na Ásia, agora mesmo na Síria.

O argumento do governo brasileiro na reunião da ONU, destinada a tentar um Tratado sobre Comércio de Armas, foi transcrito, no essencial, pelo repórter Rubens Valente (Folha de domingo): a transparência das exportações de armas “poderia expor os recursos e a capacidade dos países […] de sustentar um conflito prolongado”.

Mas a capacidade bélica de um país depende do seu arsenal e da relação entre qualidade e quantidade de suas tropas. Um grande exportador pode ter arsenal insignificante, dando prioridade aos lucros do comércio legal ou não, e descuidar daquela relação.

Da mesma maneira, baixa ou nenhuma exportação não significa que um país não produza armas e não tenha Forças Armadas bem equipadas e preparadas. E ainda há os que têm “capacidade de sustentar um conflito prolongado” com armamento importado às claras, o que parece ser o caso, na América do Sul, da Venezuela, por exemplo.

O argumento brasileiro é falso. Porque infundado e porque adotado para esconder o fato de que o Brasil exportador de armas está envolvido em monstruosidades que finge condenar. O trabalho excelente de Rubens Valente revela que o governo de Fernando Henrique Cardoso autorizou a produção e venda de bombas de fragmentação ao Zimbábue do ditador Robert Mugabe.

Ou seja, a uma ditadura sanguinária, conduzida por ideias psicopáticas como a da necessidade de exterminar os brancos, remanescentes da antiga Rodésia. E ainda algumas das tribos locais.

As bombas de fragmentação são proibidas por acordo internacional: não têm alvo preciso, desabrocham no ar em milhares de bolas de aço que atingem a população civil em áreas imensas. Israel foi acusado de lançar tais bombas sobre a população palestina de Gaza, e, se o fez, o acusado de produzir e exportar as bombas foi o Brasil. Cujo governo posou de contrário aos ataques à população palestina.

Os mutilados por pisar inadvertidamente em mina camuflada, resto de algum conflito estúpido, compõem uma tragédia africana que tem comovido o mundo. Crianças, em geral, esses mutilados são os que escapam da mortandade feita pelas minas deixadas no chão de vários países. Em grande parte das minas recuperadas, graças sobretudo a entidades de benemerência europeias, está preservada a inscrição: “Made in Brazil”.

Podemos ostentar um orgulho internacional: nós também temos nossos criminosos de guerra. Gente que não escaparia no Tribunal Penal Internacional de Haia, por fomentar a morte de populações civis inocentes, e com isso lucrar fortunas.

É a esse Brasil opaco que a falta de transparência dá proteção. Como sua continuidade permitirá que a Rússia arme Bashar al Assad, e os Estados Unidos, a Inglaterra, a França, e o Brasil também, façam o mesmo pelo mundo todo.

22/07/2012 – 05h15

Brasil se opõe a “transparência total” em debate de armas na ONU



Em declaração escrita apresentada à ONU, o Brasil atacou “a transparência absoluta” no tema da exportação de armas. Representantes de 193 países participam de uma negociação na sede da ONU, em Nova York, até o próximo dia 27, para tentar estabelecer um inédito Tratado de Comércio de Armas.

Segundo a declaração brasileira, de 2 de julho e apresentada no encontro pelo representante nas negociações, embaixador Antonio Guerreiro, o acesso livre “poderia expor os recursos e as capacidades dos países […] de sustentar um conflito prolongado”.

“Obrigações relativas a relatórios e transparência deverão ser tratadas com os necessários bom senso e precaução”, diz o texto.

Daniel Mack, coordenador de Políticas de Controle de Armas do Instituto Sou da Paz, de São Paulo, que acompanha as negociações sobre o tratado, classificou a preocupação como “anacrônica”.

“Transparência é o ‘calcanhar de Aquiles’ da posição brasileira, o que não deixa de ser altamente irônico e contraditório, considerando a nova Lei de Acesso à Informação. […] Dos maiores exportadores, o Brasil tem a pior transparência, não só em relação aos países europeus e aos EUA, mas também em comparação com a África do Sul e a Sérvia”, disse Mack.


Embora avesso à transparência nas exportações, o Brasil quer dar o exemplo no tema da rastreabilidade das munições e armas, aspecto elogiado por Mack.

O país afirma que a indústria nacional já consegue fazer marcações a laser de armas e munições, à prova de raspagem, de forma a possibilitar a imediata identificação do fabricante e do destinatário final do produto.

A medida poderia coibir desvios de armamentos e ajudar a apurar crimes contra direitos humanos.

Na declaração, o Brasil diz ser preciso um esforço internacional conjunto para prevenir, combater e erradicar o contrabando de armas.


Brasil vendeu bombas condenadas a ditador do Zimbábue


Documentos inéditos sobre a exportação de material bélico brasileiro, um dos segredos militares mais bem guardados pelo país, revelam que o Brasil vendeu ao ditador Robert Mugabe, do Zimbábue, um tipo de bomba condenada pela comunidade internacional.

Após negar duas vezes um pedido da Folha com base na Lei de Acesso à Informação, o Ministério da Defesa voltou atrás e liberou 1.572 páginas de documentos secretos.

São registros de 204 operações de exportação de armas e munição, no total de US$ 315 milhões, de janeiro de 2001 a maio de 2002, os mais recentes disponibilizados. Os papéis, diz a pasta, manterão sigilo de no mínimo dez anos.

É a primeira vez que o órgão libera o acesso a documentos do gênero.

Entre os registros está a revelação de que o Brasil vendeu ao Zimbábue, em agosto de 2001, US$ 5,8 milhões em bombas de fragmentação e incendiárias.

Foram vendidas 340 bombas completas, além de componentes para a montagem de outras 426 bombas de fragmentação e 605 incendiárias.

Na época da aquisição, Mugabe, no poder desde 1980, era acusado de ajudar uma guerra no vizinho Congo e enfrentava distúrbios na zona rural do país, com a morte de fazendeiros brancos.

A venda pelo Brasil das bombas de fragmentação era uma antiga suspeita de ONGs que monitoram o uso dessas munições, conhecidas como “de dispersão”.

A bomba é assim chamada porque, ao ser detonada, espalha de 14 mil a 120 mil esferas de aço, a depender do modelo, que podem atingir indistintamente combatentes e população civil.

As esferas de bombas maiores podem se espalhar por área equivalente a sete campos de futebol.

Em 2008, mais de cem países assinaram convenção que veta a fabricação e venda do tipo de bomba. Brasil, EUA e Rússia, dentre outros, recusaram-se. “A transparência do Brasil na matéria é historicamente muito ruim”, diz Cristian Wittmann, de uma coalizão de ONGs contra esse tipo de munição.

O diretor de Produtos de Defesa do Ministério da Defesa, o general de brigada Aderico Mattioli, disse que muitas vendas “chamam a atenção” por indicarem munição pesada, mas podem estar relacionadas a treinamento de militares. “É uma munição, diga-se de passagem, de um material antigo”, disse.


Os dados obtidos pela Folha eram desconhecidos por ONGs que estudam o comércio de armas. No ranking do Sipri (Instituto Internacional de Estocolmo para Pesquisa sobre a Paz), uma referência no tema, o Brasil aparece em 2001 no 46º lugar, o último, ao lado de países que não venderam material bélico.

Eles revelam a venda total de US$ 287,4 milhões em 2001, o que projetaria o Brasil para a décima posição no ranking liderado pelos EUA, que venderam US$ 6 bilhões.

A Sipri cita que o Brasil vendeu US$ 26 milhões em 2002, menos que as vendas de apenas quatro meses daquele ano: US$ 27,6 milhões.

Running on Empty: U.S. ethanol policies set to reach their illogical conclusion (Triple Crisis) – 23 July 2012

Timothy A. Wise

I’m as cynical as the next policy wonk, but sometimes even I am surprised at the perverse outcomes of some of those policies. Take the bizarre scenario outlined in the new agricultural outlook report from the FAO and the OECD regarding the projected rise in ethanol trade – ethanol traded for ethanol – between the United States and Brazil. That’s right, 6.3 billion gallons a year sloshing between the world’s pre-eminent ethanol producers by 2021. And all in the name of the environment, without a single drop helping people or the planet.

Why would the United States, which now devotes 40% of its corn crop to the production of ethanol, import more than 4 billion gallons of ethanol from Brazil? And why would Brazil at the same time import a projected 2 billion gallons from the U.S.? Couldn’t we just save all those transactions costs and shipping-related greenhouse gas emissions by keeping our ethanol and cutting our projected ethanol imports from Brazil in half?

Not if your goal is to game the U.S. biofuel mandate.

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, passed in 2007 and known as RFS2, includes a mandate for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel use by 2022, with a nested set of mandates for different types of biofuels. Conventional or first-generation biofuels, such as ethanol from corn, have limited environmental benefits, with supposed reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of about 20%. Congress wisely set the mandate such that the majority of the 36 billion-gallon mandate should be met by “advanced biofuels” with a GHG score of 50% or better in terms of reductions.

Well, advanced biofuel production in the United States isn’t going so well. A small share is expected to come from advanced biodiesel, and that target remains distant but plausible. But the rest is supposed to come from the development of cellulosic ethanol. It turns out that all the R&D money has gone into corn ethanol, greased by the subsidies and incentives Congress lavished to prime that corn-fed pump. No one expects much cellulosic ethanol production anytime soon, though we could be pleasantly surprised. At this point, all we produce is a whole lot of corn ethanol, and we are already nearing the technical limit of 15 billion gallons for non-advanced biofuels.

Fortunately for Brazilian ethanol producers and, indirectly, their U.S. counterparts, the renewable fuel mandate can be met to a significant extent by the use of “other” advanced biofuels. Even though Congress was sold the RFS on the promise of energy independence, those “other biofuels” do not have to be produced in the United States. (In fact, mandating U.S. sourcing could have been subject to a WTO challenge.) Brazil’s sugarcane-based ethanol is considered advanced, with a GHG-reduction score of 50% despite widespread concerns about a range of other social and environmental impacts.

So by 2021 FAO/OECD researchers project that to meet even somewhat relaxed U.S. RFS2 mandates for total biofuel use and advanced biofuel use the United States will import more than 4 billion gallons of sugar ethanol from Brazil.

Actually, it could be much much more, but the researchers clearly couldn’t imagine Congress letting that happen. But they modeled that too, and if current EPA policies are followed and the U.S. does not relax the demands of RFS2 to compensate for low domestic production of cellulosic ethanol, imports from Brazil are projected to be more than 13 billion gallons, almost as much as the U.S. currently produces in corn ethanol.

A third scenario, more perverse than the last but perhaps more likely, is if the EPA decides to allow U.S. corn ethanol to fill the gap left by the cellulosic shortfall, in spite of its limited environmental benefits and its high social costs in terms of food prices. The FAO-OECD model on that one projects a 35% rise in corn demand and a whopping 16% increase in global corn prices.

But the ultimate perversity is the ethanol-for-ethanol trade between the U.S. and Brazil. Under the FAO-OECD’s baseline scenario, Brazil would import 2 billion gallons of corn ethanol from the United States. Why, if it’s a major ethanol exporter and it produces more environmentally sustainable ethanol? To make up for the domestic shortfall created by its exports to the U.S., and to meet its own rising demand from its expanding fleet of flex-fuel cars. They’ll take our low-grade corn ethanol if they can get a higher price for their sugar-based equivalent.

Talk about perverse. It’s bad enough that we meet our environmental goals not through good old American know-how but by buying it from someone else. Then we turn around and sell them an environmentally inferior equivalent at a cheaper price.

In the process, another round in the food-fuel fight will be won by the fuels, with ethanol demand continuing to put upward pressure on corn prices globally. The FAO-OECD report contains strong warnings on biofuels’ impacts on food prices, and it went to press even before drought parched the U.S. corn belt. They projected stable or slightly declining prices in 2012 and forward. Instead, corn and soybean prices are hitting historic highs and the world is staring down the loaded barrels of the third major spike in commodities prices in the last five years.

Unfortunately, the powers that be seem to have learned nothing from the first two. They certainly haven’t learned that it’s still a bad idea to put food in our cars.

For more, see Wise’s coauthored report, “Resolving the Food Crisis,” and his report for ActionAid, “Biofueling Hunger.”

What is a carbon price and why do we need one? (The Guardian)

This Q&A is part of the Guardian’s Ultimate climate change FAQ

Grantham Research Institute and, Monday 16 July 2012 10.38 BST
Parliament House during a pro-carbon tax rally in Canberra, Australia

A pro-carbon tax rally in Canberra, Australia, October 2011. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AFP/Getty Images

A carbon price is a cost applied to carbon pollution to encourage polluters to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas they emit into the atmosphere. Economists widely agree that introducing a carbon price is the single most effective way for countries to reduce their emissions.

Climate change is considered a market failure by economists, because it imposes huge costs and risks on future generations who will suffer the consequences of climate change, without these costs and risks normally being reflected in market prices. To overcome this market failure, they argue, we need to internalise the costs of future environmental damage by putting a price on the thing that causes it – namely carbon emissions.

carbon price not only has the effect of encouraging lower-carbon behaviour (eg using a bike rather than driving a car), but also raises money that can be used in part to finance a clean-up of “dirty” activities (eg investment in research into fuel cells to help cars pollute less). With a carbon price in place, the costs of stopping climate change are distributed across generations rather than being borne overwhelmingly by future generations.

There are two main ways to establish a carbon price. First, a government can levy a carbon tax on the distribution, sale or use of fossil fuels, based on their carbon content. This has the effect of increasing the cost of those fuels and the goods or services created with them, encouraging business and people to switch to greener production and consumption. Typically the government will decide how to use the revenue, though in one version, the so-called fee-and-dividend model – the tax revenues are distributed in their entirety directly back to the population.

The second approach is a quota system called cap-and-trade. In this model, the total allowable emissions in a country or region are set in advance (“capped”). Permits to pollute are created for the allowable emissions budget and either allocated or auctioned to companies. The companies can trade permits between one another, introducing a market for pollution that should ensure that the carbon savings are made as cheaply as possible.

To serve its purpose, the carbon price set by a tax or cap-and-trade scheme must be sufficiently high to encourage polluters to change behaviour and reduce pollution in accordance with national targets. For example, the UK has a target to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels, with various intermediate targets along the way. The government’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, estimates that a carbon price of £30 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2020 and £70 in 2030 would be required to meet these goals.

Currently, many large UK companies pay a price for the carbon they emit through the EU’s emissions trading scheme. However, the price of carbon through the scheme is considered by many economists to be too low to help the UK to meet its targets, so the Treasury plans to make all companies covered by the scheme pay a minimum of £16 per tonne of carbon emitted from April 2013.

Ideally, there should be a uniform carbon price across the world, reflecting the fact that a tonne of carbon dioxide does the same amount of damage over time wherever it is emitted. Uniform pricing would also remove the risk that polluting businesses flee to so-called “pollution havens”‘ – countries where a lack of environmental regulation enables them to continue to pollute unrestrained. At the moment, carbon pricing is far from uniform but a growing number of countries and regions have, or plan to have, carbon pricing schemes in place, whether through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes. These include the European Union, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, parts of China and California.

• This article was written by Alex Bowen of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE in collaboration with the Guardian

European Commission backs calls for open access to scientific research (The Guardian)

Move follows announcement by UK government that it wants all taxpayer-funded research to be free to view by 2014

Reuters/, Tuesday 17 July 2012 14.41 BST
Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president for digital agenda, said: ‘Taxpayers should not have to pay twice for scientific research.’ Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

The European Commission, which controls one of the world’s largest science budgets, has backed calls for free access to publicly fundedresearch in a move that could force a major change in the business model for publishers such as Reed Elsevier.

“Taxpayers should not have to pay twice for scientific research and they need seamless access to raw data,” said Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president for digital agenda.

The EC saidon Tuesday that open access will be a “general principle” applied to grants awarded through the €80bn Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation.

From 2014 all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible and the goal is for 60% of European publicly funded research to be available by 2016.

The news follows the announcement by the British government that it wants all taxpayer-funded research to be free to view by 2014. David Willets, the universities and science minister told the Gaurdian: “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn’t be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it.”

The most prestigious academic journals, such as Nature, Science and Cell, earn the bulk of their revenues through subscriptions from readers.

They have lucrative deals with university libraries, worth about £150m to £200m a year in the UK, to give access to the same scientists who produce and review, usually without payment, the research they publish.

Open-access journals, such as the Public Library of Science, are ofteninternet-based and charge researchers a fee for publication, allowing free access for anyone after publication.

The open-access market has been growing rapidly over the past decade but still only accounts for about 3% of the £5.1bn global market for scholarly journals.

The subscription model has come under attack from some scientists, who argue that publishing companies are making fat profits on the back of taxpayer-funded research.

Elsevier publishes more than 2,000 journals with a staff of about 7,000. It made a profit last year of £768m on revenues of £2.1bn, giving a margin of about 37%.

Publishers argue that quality does not come cheap and their subscription charges reflect the need to maintain large editorial departments and databases of published research.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European commissioner for research, innovation and science, swept this argument aside. “We must give taxpayers more bang for their buck,” she said in a statement. “Open access to scientific papers and data is an important means of achieving this.”

The commission’s move follows recent news that the European medicines regulator will open its data vaults to allow independent researchers to scrutinise results from drug companies’ trials.

“The EU’s decision to adopt a similar policy to that of the UK will mean that the transition time from subscription-based to open-access publishing will be substantially reduced,” Professor Adam Tickell, who was involved in a recent UK government-commissioned report on the issue, told Reuters.

Tickell, of the University of Birmingham, predicted a rapid and substantial reduction in the cost of subscriptions, adding: “With the support of the EU, UK government and major charities, such as the Wellcome Trust, open access to research findings will soon be a reality.”

Brasil contrata Exército dos EUA para planejar hidrovia no São Francisco (G1)

23 / 07 / 2012

A Companhia de Desenvolvimento dos Vales do São Francisco e do Parnaíba (Codevasf), órgão do governo federal subordinado ao Ministério da Integração, contratou o Corpo de Engenharia do Exército dos Estados Unidos (Usace) para estudar alternativas que tornem navegável o Rio São Francisco, um dos mais importantes cursos d´água do país e da América Latina.

O contrato, de R$ 7,8 milhões (US$ 3,84 milhões), foi assinado em dezembro do ano passado e, em março deste ano, os primeiros engenheiros do Exército norte-americano chegaram ao Brasil com a missão de desenvolver projetos que contenham a erosão nas margens e facilitem a construção de uma hidrovia no São Francisco.

Na semana passada, o comandante do Comando Sul das Forças Armadas dos EUA, brigadeiro Douglas Fraser (que responde diretamente ao secretário de Defesa e ao presidente Barack Obama), esteve em Brasília para saber como anda o trabalho.

“O contrato tem o prazo de três anos, em que os engenheiros do Usace devem nos apresentar 12 projetos de assessoria técnica para a navegação do rio. São estudos sobre dragagem, controle de erosão e estabilização das margens, geotecnia, dentre outros”, disse ao G1 o gerente de concessões e projetos especiais da Codevasf, Roberto Strazer.

Segundo ele, a parceria teve início após troca de e-mails entre funcionários da Codevasf e o Usace para aproveitar o conhecimento da engenharia militar dos EUA no Rio São Francisco.

“Eles possuem em um conhecimento incrível em navegação que queríamos usar. São técnicos e temos muito a ganhar com a parceria. A navegação do São Francisco é extremamente precária e subutilizada, principalmente na época de estiagem”, acrescentou Strazer.

O corpo de engenheiros militar dos EUA foi criado em 1882 para atuação em desastres, como enchentes, terremotos e furacões, e reconstrução, apoiando as ações militares no Iraque e Afeganistão. O Usace é responsável pela navegação dos rios Mississipi e Ohio e também por parte do controle do transporte marítimo interno nos EUA. Todos os chefes do órgão são militares, com a patente de general, do Exército americano.

“É preciso que se explore mais a navegação do São Francisco. Além de ter o menor custo por tonelada, o transporte através dos rios tem menor impacto no meio ambiente”, afirmou Strazer.

A Codevasf aponta que há grande potencial de navegabilidade em uma faixa de de 1.371 km, entre Pirapora (MG) até Juazeiro (BA)/Petrolina (PE), que é ainda inexplorado.

Estabilização de margens – Dois engenheiros civis do Usace ficam permanentemente no Brasil fazendo os estudos e avaliações nas margens dos rios e trabalhando, de forma coordenada, com um grupo de militares e civis do Exército norte-americano em Washington.

“Um dos projetos que eles desenvolvem é validar conhecimentos de navegação e estabilização de margens em um campo de provas que temos em Barras, na Bahia”, disse Strazer. A ideia é tornar todo o rio navegável a partir de pequenos trechos ao longo do seu curso.

Em Brasília, no último dia 10, o presidente da Codevasf, Elmo Vaz, apresentou ao comandante do Comando Sul das Forças Armadas dos EUA – responsável por todas as ações militares norte-americanas na América Latina – o andamento dos trabalhos. Só para cumprir a meta de tornar os primeiros 657 km do Velho Chico navegáveis, servindo de via de escoamento da produção, serão investidos até o final de 2012 mais de R$ 73 milhões.

O Rio São Francisco atravessa os estados de Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco e serve de divisa natural entre Sergipe e Alagoas até desaguar no Oceano Atlântico.

Um projeto do Ministério da Integração busca transpor parte das águas do rio para aproveitá-lo também para irrigação no Ceará e Rio Grande do Norte, servindo de eixo de ligação do Sudeste e do Centro-Oeste com o Nordeste do país.

Segurança nacional – O gerente de projetos da Codevasf disse não ver riscos à segurança nacional em trabalhar com o Exército norte-americano. “Essa preocupação foi levantada na fase inicial do contrato. Eu já o recebi fechado, no início deste ano. Não vejo riscos, pois as informações que eles estão tendo acesso no local não são nada que se possa ocultar por imagens de satélite”, afirmou Roberto Strazer.

Ele acrescentou ainda que o Exército brasileiro também está trabalhando no rio com projetos de navegabilidade e está em contato com os miltiares americanos. “Há engenheiros do Exército brasileiro em um projeto de estabilização das margens de Ilha da Tapera, na Bahia, que estão em contato com os americanos também. Há interesses nacionais envolvidos, mas buscamos intercâmbio técnico.”

O Exército informou, por meio da assessoria de imprensa, que visitou a sede do Usace, nos EUA, e que engenheiros militares brasileiros estão próximos à área onde os americanos estão trabalhando no São Francisco. O Exército também disse que não vê riscos na parceria em relação ao vazamento de dados relativos à segurança nacional.

O chefe da missão do Usace no Brasil, Calvin Creech, confirmou que atualmente trabalham no país dois engenheiros civis do órgão, especializados em hidráulica e geotecnologia. “O Usace está apoiando a Codevasf. Esse trabalho é importante para os Estados Unidos porque melhorar a navegação do Rio São Francisco trará benefícios sociais para a região, reduzindo os custos associados com o transporte de produtos agrícolas”, disse Creech ao G1. (Fonte: Tahiane Stochero/ G1)

A Century Of Weather Control (POP SCI)

Posted 7.19.12 at 6:20 pm –


Keeping Pilots Updated, November 1930

It’s 1930 and, for obvious reasons, pilots want regular reports on the weather. What to do? Congress’s solution was to give the U.S. Weather Bureau cash to send them what they needed. It was a lot of cash, too: $1.4 million, or “more than one third the sum it spend annually for all of its work.”

About 13,000 miles of airway were monitored for activity, and reports were regularly sent via the now quaintly named “teletype”–an early fax machine, basically, that let a typed message be reproduced. Pilots were then radioed with the information.

From the article “Weather Man Makes the Air Safe.”


Battling Hail, July 1947

We weren’t shy about laying on the drama in this piece on hail–it was causing millions in damage across the country and we were sick of it. Our writer says, “The war against hail has been declared.” (Remember: this was only two years after World War II, which was a little more serious. Maybe our patriotism just wouldn’t wane.)

The idea was to scatter silver iodide as a form of “cloud seeding”–turning the moisture to snow before it hails. It’s a process that’s still toyed with today.

From the article “The War Against Hail.”


Hunting for a Tornado “Cure,” March 1958

1957 was a record-breaking year for tornadoes, and PopSci was forecasting even rougher skies for 1958. As described by an official tornado watcher: ‘”They’re coming so fast and thick … that we’ve lost count.'”

To try to stop it, researchers wanted to learn more. Meteorologists asked for $5 million more a year from Congress to be able to study tornadoes whirling through the Midwest’s Tornado Alley, then, hopefully, learn what they needed to do to stop them.

From the article “What We’re Learning About Tornadoes.”


Spotting Clouds With Nimbus, November 1963

Weather satellites were a boon to both forecasters and anyone affected by extreme weather. The powerful Hurricane Esther was discovered two days before anything else spotted it, leaving space engineers “justifiably proud.” The next satellite in line was the Nimbus, which Popular Science devoted multiple pages to covering, highlighting its ability to photograph cloud cover 24 hours a day and give us better insight into extreme weather.

Spoiler: the results really did turn out great, with Nimbus satellites paving the way for modern GPS devices.

From the article “The Weather Eye That Never Blinks.”


Saving Money Globally With Forecasts, November 1970

Optimism for weather satellites seemed to be reaching a high by the ’70s, with Popular Science recounting all the disasters predicted–how they “saved countless lives through early hurricane warnings”–and now even saying they’d save your vacation.

What they were hoping for then was an accurate five-day forecast for the world, which they predicted would save billions and make early warnings even better.

From the article “How New Weather Satellites Will Give You More Reliable Forecasts.”


Extreme Weather Alerts on the Radio, July 1979

Those weather alerts that come on your television during a storm–or at least one radio version of those–were documented byPopular Science in 1979. But rather than being something that anyone could tune in to, they were specialized radios you had to purchase, which seems like a less-than-great solution to the problem. But at this point the government had plans to set up weather monitoring stations near 90 percent of the country’s population, opening the door for people to find out fast what the weather situation was.

From the article “Weather-Alert Radios–They Could Save Your Life.”


Stopping “Bolts From the Blue,” May 1990

Here Popular Science let loose a whooper for anyone with a fear of extreme weather: lightning kills a lot more people every year than you think, and sometimes a lightning bolt will come and hit you even when there’s not a storm. So-called “bolts from the blue” were a part of the story on better predicting lightning, a phenomenon more manic than most types of weather. Improved sensors played a major part in better preparing people before a storm.

From the article “Predicting Deadly Lightning.”


Infrared Views of Weather, August 1983

Early access to computers let weather scientists get a 3-D, radar-based view of weather across the country. The system culled information from multiple sources and placed it in one viewable display. (The man pictured looks slightly bored for how revolutionary it is.) The system was an attempt to take global information and make it into “real-time local predictions.”

From the article “Nowcasting: New Weather Computers Pinpoint Deadly Storms.”


Modernizing the National Weather Service, August 1997

A year’s worth of weather detection for every American was coming at the price of “a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke,” the deputy director of the National Weather Service said in 1997. The computer age better tied together the individual parts of weather forecasting for the NWS, leaving a unified whole that could grab complicated meteorological information and interpret it in just a few seconds.

From the article “Weather’s New Outlook.”


Modeling Weather With Computers, September 2001

Computer simulations, we wrote, would help us predict future storms more accurately. But it took (at the time) the largest supercomputer around to give us the kinds of models we wanted. Judging by the image, we might’ve already made significant progress on the weather modeling front.

Researchers Produce First Complete Computer Model of an Organism (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 21, 2012) — In a breakthrough effort for computational biology, the world’s first complete computer model of an organism has been completed, Stanford researchers reported last week in the journal Cell.

The Covert Lab incorporated more than 1,900 experimentally observed parameters into their model of the tiny parasite Mycoplasma genitalium. () (Credit: Illustration by Erik Jacobsen / Covert Lab)

A team led by Markus Covert, assistant professor of bioengineering, used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world’s smallest free-living bacterium.

By encompassing the entirety of an organism in silico, the paper fulfills a longstanding goal for the field. Not only does the model allow researchers to address questions that aren’t practical to examine otherwise, it represents a stepping-stone toward the use of computer-aided design in bioengineering and medicine.

“This achievement demonstrates a transforming approach to answering questions about fundamental biological processes,” said James M. Anderson, director of the National Institutes of Health Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives. “Comprehensive computer models of entire cells have the potential to advance our understanding of cellular function and, ultimately, to inform new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

The research was partially funded by an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund.

From information to understanding

Biology over the past two decades has been marked by the rise of high-throughput studies producing enormous troves of cellular information. A lack of experimental data is no longer the primary limiting factor for researchers. Instead, it’s how to make sense of what they already know.

Most biological experiments, however, still take a reductionist approach to this vast array of data: knocking out a single gene and seeing what happens.

“Many of the issues we’re interested in aren’t single-gene problems,” said Covert. “They’re the complex result of hundreds or thousands of genes interacting.”

This situation has resulted in a yawning gap between information and understanding that can only be addressed by “bringing all of that data into one place and seeing how it fits together,” according to Stanford bioengineering graduate student and co-first author Jayodita Sanghvi.

Integrative computational models clarify data sets whose sheer size would otherwise place them outside human ken.

“You don’t really understand how something works until you can reproduce it yourself,” Sanghvi said.

Small is beautiful

Mycoplasma genitalium is a humble parasitic bacterium known mainly for showing up uninvited in human urogenital and respiratory tracts. But the pathogen also has the distinction of containing the smallest genome of any free-living organism — only 525 genes, as opposed to the 4,288 of E. coli, a more traditional laboratory bacterium.

Despite the difficulty of working with this sexually transmitted parasite, the minimalism of its genome has made it the focus of several recent bioengineering efforts. Notably, these include the J. Craig Venter Institute’s 2008 synthesis of the first artificial chromosome.

“The goal hasn’t only been to understand M. genitalium better,” said co-first author and Stanford biophysics graduate student Jonathan Karr. “It’s to understand biology generally.”

Even at this small scale, the quantity of data that the Stanford researchers incorporated into the virtual cell’s code was enormous. The final model made use of more than 1,900 experimentally determined parameters.

To integrate these disparate data points into a unified machine, the researchers modeled individual biological processes as 28 separate “modules,” each governed by its own algorithm. These modules then communicated to each other after every time step, making for a unified whole that closely matched M. genitalium‘s real-world behavior.

Probing the silicon cell

The purely computational cell opens up procedures that would be difficult to perform in an actual organism, as well as opportunities to reexamine experimental data.

In the paper, the model is used to demonstrate a number of these approaches, including detailed investigations of DNA-binding protein dynamics and the identification of new gene functions.

The program also allowed the researchers to address aspects of cell behavior that emerge from vast numbers of interacting factors.

The researchers had noticed, for instance, that the length of individual stages in the cell cycle varied from cell to cell, while the length of the overall cycle was much more consistent. Consulting the model, the researchers hypothesized that the overall cell cycle’s lack of variation was the result of a built-in negative feedback mechanism.

Cells that took longer to begin DNA replication had time to amass a large pool of free nucleotides. The actual replication step, which uses these nucleotides to form new DNA strands, then passed relatively quickly. Cells that went through the initial step quicker, on the other hand, had no nucleotide surplus. Replication ended up slowing to the rate of nucleotide production.

These kinds of findings remain hypotheses until they’re confirmed by real-world experiments, but they promise to accelerate the process of scientific inquiry.

“If you use a model to guide your experiments, you’re going to discover things faster. We’ve shown that time and time again,” said Covert.


Much of the model’s future promise lies in more applied fields.

CAD — computer-aided design — has revolutionized fields from aeronautics to civil engineering by drastically reducing the trial-and-error involved in design. But our incomplete understanding of even the simplest biological systems has meant that CAD hasn’t yet found a place in bioengineering.

Computational models like that of M. genitalium could bring rational design to biology — allowing not only for computer-guided experimental regimes, but also for the wholesale creation of new microorganisms.

Once similar models have been devised for more experimentally tractable organisms, Karr envisions bacteria or yeast specifically designed to mass-produce pharmaceuticals.

Bio-CAD could also lead to enticing medical advances — especially in the field of personalized medicine. But these applications are a long way off, the researchers said.

“This is potentially the new Human Genome Project,” Karr said. “It’s going to take a really large community effort to get close to a human model.”

Stanford’s Department of Bioengineering is jointly operated by the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine.

Anarchists attack science (Nature)

Armed extremists are targeting nuclear and nanotechnology workers.

Leigh Phillips
28 May 2012

Investigations of the shooting of nuclear-engineering head Roberto Adinolfi have confirmed the involvement of an eco-anarchist group. P. RATTINI/AFP/GETTY

A loose coalition of eco-anarchist groups is increasingly launching violent attacks on scientists.

A group calling itself the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front has claimed responsibility for the non-fatal shooting of a nuclear-engineering executive on 7 May in Genoa, Italy. The same group sent a letter bomb to a Swiss pro-nuclear lobby group in 2011; attempted to bomb IBM’s nanotechnology laboratory in Switzerland in 2010; and has ties with a group responsible for at least four bomb attacks on nanotechnology facilities in Mexico. Security authorities say that such eco-anarchist groups are forging stronger links.

On 11 May, the cell sent a four-page letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claiming responsibility for the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, the chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare, the nuclear-engineering subsidiary of aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica. Believed by authorities to be genuine, the letter is riddled with anti-science rhetoric. The group targeted Adinolfi because he is a “sorcerer of the atom”, it wrote. “Adinolfi knows well that it is only a matter of time before a European Fukushima kills on our continent.”

“Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self-destruction and total slavery,” the letter continues. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world.” The group also threatened to carry out further attacks.

The Italian Ministry of the Interior has subsequently beefed up security at thousands of potential political, industrial and scientific targets. The measures include assigning bodyguards to 550 individuals.

The Olga Cell, named after an imprisoned Greek anarchist, is part of the Informal Anarchist Federation, which, in April 2011, claimed responsibility for sending a parcel bomb that exploded at the offices of the Swiss nuclear lobby group, Swissnuclear, in Olten. A letter found in the remains of the bomb demanded the release of three individuals who had been detained for plotting an attack on IBM’s flagship nanotechnology facility in Zurich earlier that year. In a situation report published this month, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service explicitly linked the federation to the IBM attack.

The Informal Anarchist Federation argues that technology, and indeed civilization, is responsible for the world’s ills, and that scientists are the handmaidens of capitalism. “Finmeccanica means bio- and nanotechnology. Finmeccanica means death and suffering, new frontiers of Italian capitalism,” the letter reads.

Gathering momentum
The cell says that it is uniting with eco-anarchist groups in other countries, including Mexico, Chile, Greece and the United Kingdom. Mexico has already seen similar attacks: in August 2011, a group called Individuals Tending Towards Savagery sent a parcel bomb that wounded two nanotechnology researchers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology. One received burns to his legs and a perforated eardrum and the other had his lung pierced by shrapnel (G. Herrera Corral Nature 476,373; 2011). The package contained enough explosive to collapse part of the building, according to police, but failed to detonate properly.

Earlier that year, the same group sent two bombs to the nanotechnology facility at the Polytechnic University of the Valley of Mexico. One was intercepted before anyone could be harmed, but the second detonated, injuring a security guard. It is not clear how closely the group is tied to the Informal Anarchist Federation, but in online forums the two bodies offer “direct support” for each other’s activities and talk of a “blossoming” of a more organized eco-anarchist movement.

In the wake of the Mexican bombings, the Monterrey Institute installed metal detectors, began to use police sniffer dogs and started random inspections of vehicles and packages. After a letter bomb addressed to a nanotechnology researcher at the Polytechnic University of Pachuca in Hidalgo exploded in December last year, the institute installed a perimeter fence and scanners, and campuses across the state heightened security measures.

Italian police investigating the shooting say that they are concerned about the rise in violent action by anarchist groups amid Europe’s economic crisis. On 23 May, for example, members of the Informal Anarchist Federation attacked railway signals in Bristol, UK, causing severe transport delays. An online message from the group said that the targets had been chosen to disrupt employees of the Ministry of Defence and defence-technology businesses in the area, including Raytheon and QinetiQ.

The Swiss report also noted signs of “an increasing degree of international networking between perpetrators”. The level of risk to scientists depends on their field of work, says Simon Johner, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. “We are not able to tell them what to do. We can only make them aware of the dangers. It’s up to institutions to take preventative actions.” The agency is working with police forces, businesses and research communities to assess and tackle the threat.

“These people do not represent mainstream opinion. But I am still pretty frightened by this violence,” says Michael Hagmann, a biochemist and head of corporate communications for the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology near Zurich, a public-sector partner of the IBM facility that also does nanotechnology research.

“Just a few weeks after the attempted bombing, we were due to have a large conference on nanotechnology and we were really quite nervous” about going ahead with it, Hagmann says. “But we concluded that the public discussion was more important and didn’t want to scare people by having 20 police guarding us. It would have sent the wrong message.”

Nature 485, 561 (31 May 2012) doi:10.1038/485561a

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Published online 22 August 2011 | Nature 476, 373 (2011) | doi:10.1038/476373a

Column: World View

Stand up against the anti-technology terrorists

Home-made bombs are being sent to physicists in Mexico. Colleagues around the world should ensure their own security, urges Gerardo Herrera Corral.

Gerardo Herrera Corral

My elder brother, Armando Herrera Corral, was this month sent a tube of dynamite by terrorists who oppose his scientific research. The home-made bomb, which was in a shoe-box-sized package labelled as an award for his personal attention, exploded when he pulled at the adhesive tape wrapped around it. My brother, director of the technology park at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico, was standing at the time, and suffered burns to his legs and a perforated eardrum. More severely injured by the blast was his friend and colleague Alejandro Aceves López, whom my brother had gone to see in his office to share a cup of coffee and open the award. Aceves López was sitting down when my brother opened the package; he took the brunt of the explosion in his chest, and shrapnel pierced one of his lungs.

Both scientists are now recovering from their injuries, but they were extremely fortunate to survive. The bomb failed to go off properly, and only a fraction of the 20-centimetre-long cylinder of dynamite ignited. The police estimate that the package contained enough explosive to take down part of the building, had it worked as intended.

The next day, I, too, was sent a suspicious package. I have been advised by the police not to offer details of why the package was judged of concern, but it arrived by an unusual procedure, and on a Sunday. It tested positive for explosives, and was taken away by the bomb squad, which declared a false alarm after finding that the parcel contained only books. My first reaction was to leave the country. Now, I am confused as to how I should respond.

As an academic scientist, why was my brother singled out in this way? He does not work in a field that is usually considered high-risk for terrorist activity, such as medical research on animals. He works on computer science, and Aceves López is an expert in robotics. I am a high-energy physicist and coordinate the Mexican contribution to research using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory; I have worked in the field for 15 years.

An extremist anarchist group known as Individuals Tending to Savagery (ITS) has claimed responsibility for the attack on my brother. This is confirmed by a partially burned note found by the authorities at the bomb site, signed by the ITS and with a message along the lines of: “If this does not get to the newspapers we will produce more explosions. Wounding or killing teachers and students does not matter to us.”

In statements posted on the Internet, the ITS expresses particular hostility towards nano­technology and computer scientists. It claims that nanotechnology will lead to the downfall of mankind, and predicts that the world will become dominated by self-aware artificial-intelligence technology. Scientists who work to advance such technology, it says, are seeking to advance control over people by ‘the system’. The group praises Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose anti-technology crusade in the United States in 1978–95 killed three people and injured many others.

The group’s rhetoric is absurd, but I urge colleagues around the world to take the threat that it poses to researchers seriously. Information gathered by Mexican federal authorities and Interpol link it to actions in countries including Spain, France and Chile. In April this year, the ITS sent a bomb — similar to the one posted to my brother — to the head of the Nanotechnology Engineering Division at the Polytechnic University of Mexico Valley in Tultitlan, although that device did not explode. In May, the university received a second parcel bomb, with a message reading: “This is not a joke: last month we targeted Oscar Camacho, today the institution, tomorrow who knows? Open fire on nanotechnology and those who support it!”

“I believe that terror should not succeed in establishing fear and imposing conduct.”

The scientific community must be made aware of such organizations, and of their capacity for destruction. Nanotechnology-research institutes and departments, companies and professional associations must beef up their security procedures, particularly on how they receive and accept parcels and letters.

I would like to stand up and speak in this way because I believe that terror should not succeed in establishing fear and imposing conduct that takes us far from the freedom we enjoy. I would like the police to take these events seriously; they are becoming a real threat to society. I would also like to express my solidarity with the Monterrey Institute of Technology — the institution that gave me both financial support to pursue my undergraduate studies and high-level academic training.

To oppose technology is not an unacceptable way to think. We may well debate the desirability of further technical development in our society. Yet radical groups such as the ITS overlook a crucial detail: it is not technology that is the problem, but how we use it. After Alfred Nobel invented dynamite he became a rich man, because it found use in mining, quarrying, construction and demolition. But people can also decide to put dynamite into a parcel and address it to somebody with the intention of killing them.

Gerardo Herrera Corral is a physicist at the Research and Advanced Studies Centre of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico in Mexico City.

Climate Change Strikes Especially Hard Blow to Native Americans (PBS)

CLIMATE CHANGE — July 19, 2012 at 3:42 PM EDT


Watch Native American Communities Plan for Climate Change Future on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

On Thursday’s NewsHour, NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan moderated a panel discussion on how Native American tribes are coping with climate change.

The panel included four native leaders representing their communities at the First Stewards symposium:

When we began our NewsHour coverage on communities across the United States coping with climate change, we didn’t plan to focus on Native American tribes. But we soon realized that indigenous communities are on the frontlines of America’s climate-related dangers.

Native Americans make up about one percent of the United States population, but they manage more than 95 million acres of land. Their reservations lie in some of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, ranging from Alaska to the coasts of Florida. That diversity – both geographically and culturally – makes them a sort of demographic microcosm of the United States. That means the climate shifts that they are feeling now could give clues to what other Americans can expect might see in the near future.

Recent studies, including those from the National Wildlife Federation ,the EPA, and the USDA, highlight the disproportionate vulnerability of tribes to climate-related hazards such as coastal erosion, rising temperatures and extreme weather. Tribes depend on the land and natural resources for their culture and livelihood. What’s more, reservations often have high rates of poverty, unemployment and a lack of resources that would allow them to adapt to long-term climate changes.

We’ve reported on how rising seas threaten tribal land along the Louisiana coast. We’ve looked at the impact of a depleted salmon population on Northwest tribes. And we recently visited Washington state’s Quileute tribe, which has fought to reclaim land threatened by floods and sea level rise.

View photo essay

Relocating to adapt to environmental threats or disasters declines is not always a viable option for tribes, both because of the connection to their origins but also because they may lack the resources needed to move, said Larry Wasserman, environmental policy manager for the Swinomish tribe in the Pacific Northwest.

“Rather than being a mobile society that can move away from climatic changes, they need to think about how do they stay on this piece of ground and continue to live the lifestyle that they’ve been able to live, and how can their great-great-great-grandchildren do that,” Wasserman said.

Tony Foster, chairman of the Quileute Nation said that native people are in tune with the climate of their homelands and know early on when the balance of the ecosystem has been disrupted. “The Quileute has been here for over 10,000 years,” he said. “We know the layout of the land, and we know the conditions of our environment.”

“Traditional values teach us to be good ancestors,” added Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, Washington. “Future generations are going to look back at us and say, ‘What did you do about this?'”

That forward thinking is necessary for planning for climate change which is defined over at least a 30-year range and is often modeled on time scales looking more than hundreds of years into the future.

And Jeff Mears, member and environmental area manager for the Oneida tribe in Wisconsin, said it’s important that the tribes are defined by more than their past.

Because many tribes have a unique status as sovereign nations, they can also implement their own initiatives and models for managing their environment. The Swinomish tribe, for example, has developed its own climate adaptation plan.

Tribal governments also want more say at the federal level when it comes to addressing in climate change.

There needs to be more “recognition from western science of the value of traditional ecological knowledge,” McCarty said. “So we need to look at how we can better inform the government of what tribal leaders bring to the table in regard to responding to climate change.”

And that’s the aim of a gathering to be held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. this week. The First Stewards symposium will bring together hundreds of indigenous tribal elders, leaders, and scientists from across America to discuss how best to confront past, present, and future adaptation to climate change.

See all of our coverage of how Native American communities are coping with climate change:

Native Lands Wash Away as Sea Levels Rise

Native Americans’ tribal lands along the Louisiana coast are washing away as sea levels rise and marshes sink. We report from Isle de Jean Charles, a community that is slowly disappearing into the sea.

The Northwest’s Salmon People Face a Salmon-less Future

For Northwest tribes, fishing for salmon is more than a food source, it’s a way of life. Now the climate may push the fish towards extinction. Together with KCTS 9 and EarthFix, NewsHour recently visited the Swinomish Indian reservation to see how they are coping.

Climate Change Threatens the ‘Twilight’ Tribe

Washington’s Quileute tribe, thrust into the spotlight by the “Twilight” series,’ has been caught in a struggle to reclaim land threatened by floods and sea level rise. Together with KCTS9 and EarthFix, NewsHour visited the tribe to hear their story.

IMF’s Peter Doyle scorns its ‘tainted’ leadership (BBC)

20 July 2012 Last updated at 11:50 GMT

Christine LagardePeter Doyle claims there was a “fundamental illegitimacy” in Christine Lagarde’s appointment

A top economist at the International Monetary Fund has poured scorn on its “tainted” leadership and said he is “ashamed” to have worked there.

Peter Doyle said in a letter to the IMF executive board that he wanted to explain his resignation after 20 years.

He writes of “incompetence”, “failings” and “disastrous” appointments for the IMF’s managing director, stretching back 10 years.

No one from the Washington-based IMF was immediately available for comment.

Mr Doyle, former adviser to the IMF’s European Department, which is running the bailout programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland, said the Fund’s delay in warning about the urgency of the global financial crisis was a failure of the “first order”.

In the letter, dated 18 June and obtained by the US broadcaster CNN, Mr Doyle said the failings of IMF surveillance of the financial crisis “are, if anything, becoming more deeply entrenched”.

He writes: “This fact is most clear in regard to appointments for managing director which, over the past decade, have all-too-evidently been disastrous.

“Even the current incumbent [Christine Lagarde] is tainted, as neither her gender, integrity, or elan can make up for the fundamental illegitimacy of the selection process.”

Mr Doyle is thought to be echoing here widespread criticism that the head of the IMF is always a European, while the World Bank chief is always a US appointee.

Mr Doyle concludes his letter: “There are good salty people here. But this one is moving on. You might want to take care not to lose the others.”

The IMF could not be reached immediately by the BBC. However, CNN reported that a Fund spokesman told it that there was nothing to substantiate Mr Doyle’s claims and that the IMF had held its own investigations into surveillance of the financial crisis.


image of Andrew WalkerAndrew WalkerBBC World Service Economics correspondent

Peter Doyle’s letter is short but the criticism excoriating. Perhaps the bigger of the two main charges is that the IMF failed to warn enough about the problems that led to the global financial crises.

The IMF has had investigations which have, up to a point, made similar criticisms, but not in such inflammatory terms. The IMF did issue some warnings, but the allegation that they were not sustained or timely enough and were actively suppressed raises some very big questions about the IMF’s role.

Then there is the description of the managing director as tainted. It’s not personal. It’s a familiar attack on a process which always selects a European. It’s still striking, though, to hear it from someone so recently on the inside.


Sobre a Portaria No. 303 da Advocacia Geral da União – retrocesso na área dos direitos indígenas – Notas de repúdio da ABA e da APIB

Portaria da AGU diz que governo pode intervir em área indígena

Portaria da Advocacia-Geral da União publicada ontem (17/07/12) no “Diário Oficial da União” prevê que o poder público faça intervenções em terras indígenas sem a necessidade de consultar índios ou a Fundação Nacional do Índio (site da ABA, 17 de juulho de 2012).

Nota de repúdio da ABA:


A ABA vem a publico manifestar o seu repúdio a recente Portaria No. 303 elaborada pela AGU e publicada no DOU. A pretexto de homogeneizar o entendimento dos organismos de governo no que tange a aplicação das chamadas condicionantes para o reconhecimento de terras indígenas apontadas pelo STF durante a decisão sobre a TI Raposa/Serra do Sol, esta portaria pretende impor uma leitura da legislação indigenista brasileira em total dissintonia com os interesses indígenas, com os princípios constitucionais estabelecidos na Carta Magna de 1988 e com as convenções internacionais das quais o Brasil é signatário.

É um ato totalmente arbitrário e inadequado pretender resolver questões complexas e da maior importância para a ação indigenista mediante uma simples portaria. As chamadas condicionantes estabelecidas no curso de um processo judicial específico e cheio de singularidades, não poderiam de maneira alguma ser tratadas de modo caricatural e mecânico, ignorando por completo as múltiplas interpretações antropológicas e jurídicas que podem receber.

A portaria atropela ainda de maneira grosseira e acintosa a própria ação indigenista e a distribuição de mandatos e competências entre os órgãos públicos. Assim ignora os esforços desenvolvidos pela própria FUNAI e pela Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República, em amplos foros de debate, no sentido de promover a regularização do direito de consulta, considerando-o procedimento dispensável sempre que algum governismo governamental vier a entender, por critérios puramente internos, que está lidando com questão de superior interesse nacional (art. 1º, itens 5, 6 e 7). Por outro lado com uma simples canetada e sem qualquer justificativa que o embase, transfere para o Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade as responsabilidades, o poder de administração e controle sobre uma imensidade de terras indígenas (art. 1º, itens VII, IX e X).

Ao leitor atento a portaria não deixa dúvidas – sem um embasamento doutrinário e sem cercar-se dos devidos cuidados de estudar a questão a fundo e promover os debates necessários a cristalização de um entendimento democrático, a AGU selecionou questões totalmente diversas colocadas a administração pública no seu trato com as comunidades indígenas e procurou dar-lhes a interpretação mais restritiva e negativa possível aos direitos dos indígenas.

Por seu primarismo e incongruência, buscando restringir e amesquinhar os direitos indígenas presentes na CF-1988, a ABA considera a portaria 303 um instrumento jurídico-administrativo absolutamente equivocado e pede a sua imediata revogação.

Bela Feldman Bianco e João Pacheco de Oliveira
Presidente da Associação Brasileira de Antropologia e Coordenador da Comissão de Assuntos Indígenas

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O Governo da Presidente Dilma, por meio da Advogacia Geral da União baixou no último dia 16 de julho a Portaria 303, que diz considerar “a necessidade de normatizar a atuação das unidades da AGU em relação às salvaguardas institucionais às terras indígenas”, supostamente nos termos do entendimento fixado pelo Supremo Tribunal Federal na Petição 3.388-Roraima (caso Raposa Serra do Sol).

A Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil – APIB manifesta publicamente o seu total repúdio a esta outra medida autoritária do Governo Dilma que como o seu antecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, considera os povos e territórios indígenas ameaças e empecilhos a seu programa neodesenvolvimentista, principalmente à implantação do PAC e do PAC 2, pois dificultam os processos de licenciamento das obras do Programa (hidrelétricas, ferrovias, rodovias, usinas nucleares, linhas de transmissão etc.)

A APIB repudia esta medida vergonhosa que aprofunda o desrespeito aos direitos dos povos indígenas assegurados pela Constituição Federal e instrumentos internacionais assinados pelo Brasil. Entre outras aberrações jurídicas, a Portaria relativiza, reduz e diz como deve ser o direito dos povos indígenas ao usufruto das riquezas existentes nas suas terras; ignora o direito de consulta assegurado pela Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho (OIT); reduz o tratamento dos povos indígenas à condição de indivíduos, grupos tribais e comunidades; afirma que são as terras indígenas que afetam as unidades de conservação, quando que na verdade é ao contrário, e, finalmente, enterra, ditatorialmente, o direito de autonomia desses povos reconhecido pela Declaração da ONU sobre os Direitos dos Povos Indígenas.

A Portaria 303 da AGU, publicada oportunamente depois da Conferência das Nações Unidas sobre Desenvolvimento Sustentável (Rio+20) e das pressões da OIT, e ainda às vésperas do recesso parlamentar, que poderia comprometer a aprovação de medidas provisórias e projetos de lei de interesse do Executivo, aprofunda o estrangulamento dos direitos territoriais indígenas iniciados com a paralisia na tramitação e aprovação do Estatuto dos Povos Indígenas, engavetado há mais de 20 anos na Câmara dos Deputados, e com a edição das Portarias Interministeriais 420 a 424, que estabelecem prazos irrisórios para a Funai se posicionar frente aos Estudos de Impactos e licenciamento de obras. Isso, sem citar em detalhes a aprovação da PEC 215 e a falta de coragem em vetar na íntegra as mudanças ao código florestal defendidas pela bancada ruralista.

A AGU desvirtua e pretende reverter o já arquivado processo do STF, cujo plenário conforme reiterado em 23 de maio de 2012 pelo ministro Ricardo Lewandowski, já declarou especificamente a constitucionalidade da demarcação contínua da Terra Indígena Raposa Serra do Sol, observadas 19 condições ou salvaguardas institucionais. Só que tal decisão não tem efeito vinculante, segundo o magistrado. Ou seja, não pode ser forjada a ligação entre o processo da Raposa Serra do Sol com as demais Terras Indígenas do Brasil. Do contrário fica evidente o propósito deste Governo de submeter mais uma vez o destino dos povos indígenas, a demarcação de suas terras, aos interesses do agronegócio, do capital financeiro, das empreiteiras, da grande indústria, das corporações e da base política de sustentação que lhe garante governabilidade no Congresso Nacional e em outras estruturas do Estado.

Este tratamento dado aos povos indígenas não tem cabimento num Estado democrático de direito a não ser num Estado de exceção ou num regime ditatorial cujas políticas e práticas a atual presidente da República e seus mais próximos assessores conhecem bem.

Se o governo da Presidente Dilma tomar a determinação de levar em frente à aplicabilidade destes instrumentos jurídicos que legalizam a usurpação dos direitos indígenas, principalmente o direito sagrado à terra e o território. Estará notoriamente desvirtuando e tirando a credibilidade de seus propósitos ao chamar os povos indígenas, por meio de seus dirigentes e instâncias representativas, a dialogar sobre a promoção e proteção dos direitos indígenas no âmbito de distintos espaços como a Comissão Nacional de Política Indigenista (CNPI) e o Grupo de Trabalho Interministerial (GTI) que promove a regulamentação dos mecanismos de aplicação do direito de consulta e consentimento livre, prévio e informado, estabelecido pela Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho (OIT). Além de tudo, irá contrariar os princípios da boa fé e do efeito vinculante deste instrumento internacional, incorporado desde 2004 no ordenamento jurídico nacional.

A APIB lamenta que um Governo que se diz democrático, em nome das pactuações que lhe dão sustentação, do progresso e do crescimento econômico, sacrifique os direitos coletivos e fundamentais dos primeiros habitantes deste país, que não obstante as diversas tentativas de dizimação promovidas pelo poder colonial e sucessivos regimes de governo, é depositário da maior diversidade sociocultural do mundo, com mais de 230 povos indígenas reconhecidos e várias dezenas de povos ainda não contatados.

A APIB reafirma a sua missão de lutar pela promoção e defesa dos direitos dos povos indígenas.

Brasília, 18 de julho de 2012.
Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil – APIB

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Procuradoria questiona portaria que permite intervenção em área indígena (Folha de São Paulo)

JC e-mail 4543, de 19 de Julho de 2012.

O Ministério Público Federal vai contestar na Justiça a portaria editada anteontem pela Advocacia-Geral da União que libera a intervenção em terras indígenas sem a necessidade de consultar os índios ou mesmo a Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio).

Para a Procuradoria, a medida adotada pelo órgão é “absurda” e representa um “retrocesso” na causa indígena. “A portaria é completamente inconstitucional, não há ali nenhum suporte legal”, disse Marco Antônio Delfino de Almeida, procurador responsável por tratar de assuntos relacionados aos índios.

A AGU diz que, em respeito à “soberania nacional”, será possível construir bases militares, estradas ou hidrelétricas em áreas demarcadas “independentemente de consulta às comunidades indígenas”. A Constituição e convenções internacionais preveem consultas aos índios sobre qualquer atividade que os afetem.

Segundo Almeida, o STF ainda não se posicionou sobre a revisão do tamanho de terras indígenas. Áreas demarcadas antes da Constituição de 1988 não contavam com estudos antropológicos, o que acabou gerando distorções. Pela portaria da AGU, não será possível revisar o tamanho de terras.

Até ontem à noite a Funai não havia se pronunciado sobre a portaria da AGU.

Disorderly Conduct: Probing the Role of Disorder in Quantum Coherence (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 19, 2012) — A new experiment conducted at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI)* examines the relationship between quantum coherence, an important aspect of certain materials kept at low temperature, and the imperfections in those materials. These findings should be useful in forging a better understanding of disorder, and in turn in developing better quantum-based devices, such as superconducting magnets.

Figure 1 (top): Two thin planes of cold atoms are held in an optical lattice by an array of laser beams. Still another laser beam, passed through a diffusing material, adds an element of disorder to the atoms in the form of a speckle pattern. Figure 2 (bottom): Interference patterns resulting when the two planes of atoms are allowed to collide. In (b) the amount of disorder is just right and the pattern is crisp. In (c) too much disorder has begun to wash out the pattern. In (a) the pattern is complicated by the presence of vortices in the among the atoms, vortices which are hard to see in this image taken from the side. (Credit: Matthew Beeler)

Most things in nature are imperfect at some level. Fortunately, imperfections — a departure, say, from an orderly array of atoms in a crystalline solid — are often advantageous. For example, copper wire, which carries so much of the world’s electricity, conducts much better if at least some impurity atoms are present.

In other words, a pinch of disorder is good. But there can be too much of this good thing. The issue of disorder is so important in condensed matter physics, and so difficult to understand directly, that some scientists have been trying for some years to simulate with thin vapors of cold atoms the behavior of electrons flowing through solids trillions of times more dense. With their ability to control the local forces over these atoms, physicists hope to shed light on more complicated case of solids.

That’s where the JQI experiment comes in. Specifically, Steve Rolston and his colleagues have set up an optical lattice of rubidium atoms held at temperature close to absolute zero. In such a lattice atoms in space are held in orderly proximity not by natural inter-atomic forces but by the forces exerted by an array of laser beams. These atoms, moreover, constitute a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC), a special condition in which they all belong to a single quantum state.

This is appropriate since the atoms are meant to be a proxy for the electrons flowing through a solid superconductor. In some so called high temperature superconductors (HTSC), the electrons move in planes of copper and oxygen atoms. These HTSC materials work, however, only if a fillip of impurity atoms, such as barium or yttrium, is present. Theorists have not adequately explained why this bit of disorder in the underlying material should be necessary for attaining superconductivity.

The JQI experiment has tried to supply palpable data that can illuminate the issue of disorder. In solids, atoms are a fraction of a nanometer (billionth of a meter) apart. At JQI the atoms are about a micron (a millionth of a meter) apart. Actually, the JQI atom swarm consists of a 2-dimensional disk. “Disorder” in this disk consists not of impurity atoms but of “speckle.” When a laser beam strikes a rough surface, such as a cinderblock wall, it is scattered in a haphazard pattern. This visible speckle effect is what is used to slightly disorganize the otherwise perfect arrangement of Rb atoms in the JQI sample.

In superconductors, the slight disorder in the form of impurities ensures a very orderly “coherence” of the supercurrent. That is, the electrons moving through the solid flow as a single coordinated train of waves and retain their cohesiveness even in the midst of impurity atoms.

In the rubidium vapor, analogously, the slight disorder supplied by the speckle laser ensures that the Rb atoms retain their coordinated participation in the unified (BEC) quantum wave structure. But only up to a point. If too much disorder is added — if the speckle is too large — then the quantum coherence can go away. Probing this transition numerically was the object of the JQI experiment. The setup is illustrated in figure 1.

And how do you know when you’ve gone too far with the disorder? How do you know that quantum coherence has been lost? By making coherence visible.

The JQI scientists cleverly pry their disk-shaped gas of atoms into two parallel sheets, looking like two thin crepes, one on top of each other. Thereafter, if all the laser beams are turned off, the two planes will collide like miniature galaxies. If the atoms were in a coherent condition, their collision will result in a crisp interference pattern showing up on a video screen as a series of high-contrast dark and light stripes.

If, however, the imposed disorder had been too high, resulting in a loss of coherence among the atoms, then the interference pattern will be washed out. Figure 2 shows this effect at work. Frames b and c respectively show what happens when the degree of disorder is just right and when it is too much.

“Disorder figures in about half of all condensed matter physics,” says Steve Rolston. “What we’re doing is mimicking the movement of electrons in 3-dimensional solids using cold atoms in a 2-dimensional gas. Since there don’t seem to be any theoretical predictions to help us understand what we’re seeing we’ve moved into new experimental territory.”

Where does the JQI work go next? Well, in figure 2a you can see that the interference pattern is still visible but somewhat garbled. That arises from the fact that for this amount of disorder several vortices — miniature whirlpools of atoms — have sprouted within the gas. Exactly such vortices among electrons emerge in superconductivity, limiting their ability to maintain a coherent state.

The new results are published in the New Journal of Physics: “Disorder-driven loss of phase coherence in a quasi-2D cold atom system,” by M C Beeler, M E W Reed, T Hong, and S L Rolston.

Another of the JQI scientists, Matthew Beeler, underscores the importance of understanding the transition from the coherent state to incoherent state owing to the fluctuations introduced by disorder: “This paper is the first direct observation of disorder causing these phase fluctuations. To the extent that our system of cold atoms is like a HTSC superconductor, this is a direct connection between disorder and a mechanism which drives the system from superconductor to insulator.”

Scientists Read Monkeys’ Inner Thoughts: Brain Activity Decoded While Monkeys Avoid Obstacle to Touch Target (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 19, 2012) — By decoding brain activity, scientists were able to “see” that two monkeys were planning to approach the same reaching task differently — even before they moved a muscle.

The obstacle-avoidance task is a variation on the center-out reaching task in which an obstacle sometimes prevents the monkey from moving directly to the target. The monkey must first place a cursor (yellow) on the central target (purple). This was the starting position. After the first hold, a second target appeared (green). After the second hold an obstacle appeared (red box). After the third hold, the center target disappeared, indicating a “go” for the monkey, which then moved the cursor out and around the obstacle to the target. (Credit: Moran/Pearce)

Anyone who has looked at the jagged recording of the electrical activity of a single neuron in the brain must have wondered how any useful information could be extracted from such a frazzled signal.

But over the past 30 years, researchers have discovered that clear information can be obtained by decoding the activity of large populations of neurons.

Now, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, who were decoding brain activity while monkeys reached around an obstacle to touch a target, have come up with two remarkable results.

Their first result was one they had designed their experiment to achieve: they demonstrated that multiple parameters can be embedded in the firing rate of a single neuron and that certain types of parameters are encoded only if they are needed to solve the task at hand.

Their second result, however, was a complete surprise. They discovered that the population vectors could reveal different planning strategies, allowing the scientists, in effect, to read the monkeys’ minds.

By chance, the two monkeys chosen for the study had completely different cognitive styles. One, the scientists said, was a hyperactive type, who kept jumping the gun, and the other was a smooth operator, who waited for the entire setup to be revealed before planning his next move. The difference is clearly visible in their decoded brain activity.

The study was published in the July 19th advance online edition of the journal Science.

All in the task

The standard task for studying voluntary motor control is the “center-out task,” in which a monkey or other subject must move its hand from a central location to targets placed on a circle surrounding the starting position.

To plan the movement, says Daniel Moran, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology in the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, the monkey needs three pieces of information: current hand and target position and the velocity vector that the hand will follow.

In other words, the monkey needs to know where his hand is, what direction it is headed and where he eventually wants it to go.

A variation of the center-out task with multiple starting positions allows the neural coding for position to be separated from the neural coding for velocity.

By themselves, however, the straight-path, unimpeded reaches in this task don’t let the neural coding for velocity to be distinguished from the neural coding for target position, because these two parameters are always correlated. The initial velocity of the hand and the target are always in the same direction.

To solve this problem and isolate target position from movement direction, doctoral student Thomas Pearce designed a novel obstacle-avoidance task to be done in addition to the center-out task.

Crucially, in one-third of the obstacle-avoidance trials, either no obstacle appeared or the obstacle didn’t block the monkey’s path. In either case, the monkey could move directly to the target once he got the “go” cue.

The population vector corresponding to target position showed up during the third hold of the novel task, but only if there was an obstacle. If an obstacle appeared and the monkey had to move its hand in a curved trajectory to reach the target, the population vector lengthened and pointed at the target. If no obstacle appeared and the monkey could move directly to the target, the population vector was insignificant.

In other words, the monkeys were encoding the position of the target only when it did not lie along a direct path from the starting position and they had to keep its position “in mind” as they initially moved in the “wrong” direction.

“It’s all,” Moran says, “in the design of the task.”

And then some magic happens

Pearce’s initial approach to analyzing the data from the experiment was the standard one of combining the data from the two monkeys to get a cleaner picture.

“It wasn’t working,” Pearce says, “and I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why the data looked so inconsistent. So I separated the data by monkey, and then I could see, wow, they’re very different. They’re approaching this task differently and that’s kind of cool.”

The difference between the monkey’s’ styles showed up during the second hold. At this point in the task, the target was visible, but the obstacle had not yet appeared.

The hyperactive monkey, called monkey H, couldn’t wait. His population vector during that hold showed that he was poised for a direct reach to the target. When the obstacle was then revealed, the population vector shortened and rotated to the direction he would need to move to avoid the obstacle.

The smooth operator, monkey G, in the meantime, idled through the second hold, waiting patiently for the obstacle to appear. Only when it was revealed did he begin to plan the direction he would move to avoid the obstacle.

Because he didn’t have to correct course, monkey G’s strategy was faster, so what advantage was it to monkey H to jump the gun? In the minority of trials where no obstacle appeared, monkey H approached the target more accurately than monkey G. Maybe monkey H is just cognitively adapted to a Whac-A-Mole world. And monkey G, when caught without a plan, was at a disadvantage.

Working with the monkeys, the scientists had been aware that they had very different personalities, but they had no idea this difference would show up in their neural recordings.

“That’s what makes this really interesting,” Moran says.

Global CO2 Emissions Continued to Increase in 2011, With Per Capita Emissions in China Reaching European Levels (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 19, 2012) — Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the main cause of global warming — increased by 3% last year, reaching an all-time high of 34 billion tonnes in 2011. In China, the world’s most populous country, average emissions of CO2 increased by 9% to 7.2 tonnes per capita. China is now within the range of 6 to 19 tonnes per capita emissions of the major industrialised countries. In the European Union, CO2 emissions dropped by 3% to 7.5 tonnes per capita. The United States remains one of the largest emitters of CO2, with 17.3 tones per capita, despite a decline due to the recession in 2008-2009, high oil prices and an increased share of natural gas.

These are the main findings of the annual report ‘Trends in global CO2emissions’, released July 19 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

Based on recent results from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) and latest statistics on energy use and relevant activities such as gas flaring and cement production, the report shows that global CO2 emissions continued to grow in 2011, despite reductions in OECD countries. Weak economic conditions, a mild winter, and energy savings stimulated by high oil prices led to a decrease of 3% in CO2 emissions in the European Union and of 2% in both the United States and Japan. Emissions from OECD countries now account for only one third of global CO2 emissions — the same share as that of China and India combined, where emissions increased by 9% and 6% respectively in 2011. Economic growth in China led to significant increases in fossil fuel consumption driven by construction and infrastructure expansion. The growth in cement and steel production caused China’s domestic coal consumption to increase by 9.7%.

The 3% increase in global CO2 emissions in 2011 is above the past decade’s average annual increase of 2.7%, with a decrease in 2008 and a surge of 5% in 2010. The top emitters contributing to the 34 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted globally in 2011 are: China (29%), the United States (16%), the European Union (11%), India (6%), the Russian Federation (5%) and Japan (4%).

Cumulative CO2 emissions call for action

An estimated cumulative global total of 420 billion tonnes of CO2 were emitted between 2000 and 2011 due to human activities, including deforestation. Scientific literature suggests that limiting the rise in average global temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels — the target internationally adopted in UN climate negotiations — is possible only if cumulative CO2emissions in the period 2000-2050 do not exceed 1 000 to 1 500 billion tonnes. If the current global trend of increasing CO2emissions continues, cumulative emissions will surpass this limit within the next two decades.

Fortunately, this trend is being mitigated by the expansion of renewable energy supplies, especially solar and wind energy and biofuels. The global share of these so-called modern renewables, which exclude hydropower, is growing at an accelerated speed and quadrupled from 1992 to 2011. This potentially represents about 0.8 billion tonnes of CO2emissions avoided as a result of using renewable energy supplies in 2011, which is close to Germany’s total CO2emissions in 2011.

“Trends in global CO2 emissions” report:

Society’s Response to Climate Change Is Critical (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 18, 2012) — Lancaster University (UK) scientists have proposed a new way of considering society’s reactions to global warming by linking societal actions to temperature change.

Using this framework to analyse climate change policies aimed at avoiding dangerous climate change, they suggest that society will have to become fifty times more responsive to global temperature change than it has been since 1990.

The researchers, Dr Andy Jarvis, Dr David Leedal and Professor Nick Hewitt from the Lancaster Environment Centre, also show that if global energy use continues to grow as it has done historically, society would have to up its decarbonization efforts from its historic (160 year) value of 0.6% per year to 13% per year.

Dr Andy Jarvis said: “In order to avoid dangerous climate change, society will have to become much more responsive to the risks and damages that growth in global greenhouse gas emissions impose.”

The research, published in Nature Climate Change on 15 July has found that the global growth of new renewable sources of energy since 1990 constitutes a climate-society feedback of a quarter percent per year in the growth rate of CO2 emissions per degree temperature rise.

Professor Nick Hewitt said “If left unmanaged, the climate damages that we experience will motivate society to act to a greater or lesser degree. This could either amplify the growth in greenhouse gas emissions as we repair these damages or dampen them through loss of economic performance. Both are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”

Social Identification, Not Obedience, Might Motivate Unspeakable Acts (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (July 18, 2012) — What makes soldiers abuse prisoners? How could Nazi officials condemn thousands of Jews to gas chamber deaths? What’s going on when underlings help cover up a financial swindle? For years, researchers have tried to identify the factors that drive people to commit cruel and brutal acts and perhaps no one has contributed more to this knowledge than psychological scientist Stanley Milgram.

Just over 50 years ago, Milgram embarked on what were to become some of the most famous studies in psychology. In these studies, which ostensibly examined the effects of punishment on learning, participants were assigned the role of “teacher” and were required to administer shocks to a “learner” that increased in intensity each time the learner gave an incorrect answer. As Milgram famously found, participants were willing to deliver supposedly lethal shocks to a stranger, just because they were asked to do so.

Researchers have offered many possible explanations for the participants’ behavior and the take-home conclusion that seems to have emerged is that people cannot help but obey the orders of those in authority, even when those orders go to the extremes.

This obedience explanation, however, fails to account for a very important aspect of the studies: why, and under what conditions, people did not obey the experimenter.

In a new article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers Stephen Reicher of the University of St. Andrews and Alexander Haslam and Joanne Smith of the University of Exeter propose a new way of looking at Milgram’s findings.

The researchers hypothesized that, rather than obedience to authority, the participants’ behavior might be better explained by their patterns of social identification. They surmised that conditions that encouraged identification with the experimenter (and, by extension, the scientific community) led participants to follow the experimenters’ orders, while conditions that encouraged identification with the learner (and the general community) led participants to defy the experimenters’ orders.

As the researchers explain, this suggests that participants’ willingness to engage in destructive behavior is “a reflection not of simple obedience, but of active identification with the experimenter and his mission.”

Reicher, Haslam, and Smith wanted to examine whether participants’ willingness to administer shocks across variants of the Milgram paradigm could be predicted by the extent to which the variant emphasized identification with the experimenter and identification with the learner.

For their study, the researchers recruited two different groups of participants. The expert group included 32 academic social psychologists from two British universities and on Australian university. The nonexpert group included 96 first-year psychology students who had not yet learned about the Milgram studies.

All participants were read a short description of Milgram’s baseline study and they were then given details about 15 variants of the study. For each variant, they were asked to indicate the extent to which that variant would lead participants to identify with the experimenter and the scientific community and the extent to which it would lead them to identify with the learner and the general community.

The results of the study confirmed the researchers’ hypotheses. Identification with the experimenter was a very strong positive predictor of the level of obedience displayed in each variant. On the other hand, identification with the learner was a strong negative predictor of the level of obedience. The relative identification score (identification with experimenter minus identification with learner) was also a very strong predictor of the level of obedience.

According to the authors, these new findings suggest that we need to rethink obedience as the standard explanation for why people engage in cruel and brutal behavior. This new research “moves us away from a dominant viewpoint that has prevailed within and beyond the academic world for nearly half a century — a viewpoint suggesting that people engage in barbaric acts because they have little insight into what they are doing and conform slavishly to the will of authority,” they write.

These new findings suggest that social identification provides participants with a moral compass and motivates them to act as followers. This followership, as the authors point out, is not thoughtless — “it is the endeavor of committed subjects.”

Looking at the findings this way has several advantages, Reicher, Haslam, and Smith argue. First, it mirrors recent historical assessments suggesting that functionaries in brutalizing regimes — like the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann — do much more than merely follow orders. And it simultaneously accounts for why participants are more likely to follow orders under certain conditions than others.

The researchers acknowledge that the methodology used in this research is somewhat unorthodox — the most direct way to examine the question of social identification would involve recreating the Milgram paradigm and varying different aspects of the paradigm to manipulate social identification with both experimenter and learner. But this kind of research involves considerable ethical challenges. The purpose of the article, the authors say, is to provide a strong theoretical case for such research, “so that work to address the critical question of why (and not just whether) people still prove willing to participate in brutalizing acts can move forward.”

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Most People Will Administer Shocks When Prodded By ‘Authority Figure’

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Jerry M. Burger, PhD, replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late Stanley Milgram, PhD, and found that compliance rates in the replication were only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. And, like Milgram, he found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.

Burger’s findings are reported in the January issue of American Psychologist. The issue includes a special section reflecting on Milgram’s work 24 years after his death on Dec. 20, 1984, and analyzing Burger’s study.

“People learning about Milgram’s work often wonder whether results would be any different today,” said Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University. “Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram’s experiments still operate today.”

Stanley Milgram was an assistant professor at Yale University in 1961 when he conducted the first in a series of experiments in which subjects – thinking they were testing the effect of punishment on learning – administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An authority figure conducting the experiment prodded the first person, who was assigned the role of “teacher” to continue shocking the other person, who was playing the role of “learner.” In reality, both the authority figure and the learner were in on the real intent of the experiment, and the imposing-looking shock generator machine was a fake.

Milgram found that, after hearing the learner’s first cries of pain at 150 volts, 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks; of those, 79 percent continued to the shock generator’s end, at 450 volts. In Burger’s replication, 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped as they continued past 150 volts – a difference that was not statistically significant.

“Nearly four out of five of Milgram’s participants who continued after 150 volts went all the way to the end of the shock generator,” Burger said. “Because of this pattern, knowing how participants react at the 150-volt juncture allows us to make a reasonable guess about what they would have done if we had continued with the complete procedure.”

Milgram’s techniques have been debated ever since his research was first published. As a result, there is now an ethics codes for psychologists and other controls have been placed on experimental research that have effectively prevented any precise replications of Milgram’s work. “No study using procedures similar to Milgram’s has been published in more than three decades,” according to Burger.

Burger implemented a number of safeguards that enabled him to win approval for the work from his university’s institutional review board. First, he determined that while Milgram allowed his subjects to administer “shocks” of up to 450 volts in 15-volt increments, 150 volts appeared to be the critical point where nearly every participant paused and indicated reluctance to continue. Thus, 150 volts was the top range in Burger’s study.

In addition, Burger screened out any potential subjects who had taken more than two psychology courses in college or who indicated familiarity with Milgram’s research. A clinical psychologist also interviewed potential subjects and eliminated anyone who might have a negative reaction to the study procedure.

In Burger’s study, participants were told at least three times that they could withdraw from the study at any time and still receive the $50 payment. Also, these participants were given a lower-voltage sample shock to show the generator was real – 15 volts, as compared to 45 volts administered by Milgram.

Several of the psychologists writing in the same issue of American Psychologist questioned whether Burger’s study is truly comparable to Milgram’s, although they acknowledge its usefulness.

“…there are simply too many differences between this study and the earlier obedience research to permit conceptually precise and useful comparisons,” wrote Arthur G. Miller, PhD, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

“Though direct comparisons of absolute levels of obedience cannot be made between the 150-volt maximum of Burger’s research design and Milgram’s 450-volt maximum, Burger’s ‘obedience lite’ procedures can be used to explore further some of the situational variables studied by Milgram, as well as look at additional variables,” wrote Alan C. Elms, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. Elms assisted Milgram in the summer of 1961.

In Rousseau’s footsteps: David Graeber and the anthropology of unequal society (The Memory Bank)

By Keith Hart

July 4, 2012, 11:14 pm

A review of David Graeber Debt: The first 5,000 years (Melville House, New York, 2011, 534 pages)

Debt is everywhere today. What is “sovereign debt” and why must Greece pay up, but not the United States? Who decides that the national debt will be repaid through austerity programmes rather than job-creation schemes? Why do the banks get bailed out, while students and home-owners are forced to repay loans? The very word debt speaks of unequal power; and the world economic crisis since 2008 has exposed this inequality more than any other since the 1930s. David Graeber has written a searching book that aims to place our current concerns within the widest possible framework of anthropology and world history. He starts from a question: why do we feel that we must repay our debts? This is a moral issue, not an economic one. In market logic, the cost of bad loans should be met by creditors as a discipline on their lending practices. But paying back debts is good for the powerful few, whereas the mass of debtors have at times sought and won relief from them.

What is debt? According to Graeber, it is an obligation with a figure attached and hence debt is inseparable from money. This book devotes a lot of attention to where money comes from and what it does. States and markets each play a role in its creation, but money’s form has fluctuated historically between virtual credit and metal currency. Above all Graeber’s enquiry is framed by our unequal world as a whole. He resists the temptation to offer quick remedies for collective suffering, since this would be inconsistent with the timescale of his argument. Nevertheless, readers are offered a worldview that clearly takes the institutional pillars of our societies to be rotten and deserving of replacement. It is a timely and popular view. Debt: The first 5,000 years is an international best-seller. The German translation recently sold 30,000 copies in the first two weeks.

I place the book here in a classical tradition that I call “the anthropology of unequal society” (Hart 2006), before considering what makes David Graeber a unique figure in contemporary intellectual politics. A summary of the book’s main arguments is followed by a critical assessment, focusing on the notion of a “human economy”.

The anthropology of unequal society

Modern anthropology was born to serve the coming democratic revolution against the Old Regime. A government by the people for the people should be based on what they have in common, their “human nature” or “natural rights”. Writers from John Locke (1690) to Karl Marx (1867) identified the contemporary roots of inequality with money’s social dominance, a feature that we now routinely call “capitalism”. For Locke money was a store of wealth that allowed some individuals to accumulate property far beyond their own immediate needs. For Marx “capital” had become the driving force subordinating the work of the many to machines controlled by a few. In both cases, accumulation dissolved the old forms of society, but it also generated the conditions for its own replacement by a more just society, a “commonwealth” or “communism”. It was, however, the philosophers of the eighteenth-century liberal enlightenment who developed a systematic approach to anthropology as an intellectual source for remaking the modern world.

Following Locke’s example, they wanted to found democratic societies in place of the class system typical of agrarian civilizations. How could arbitrary social inequality be abolished and a more equal society founded on their common human nature? Anthropology was the means of answering that question. The great Victorian synthesizers, such as Morgan, Tylor and Frazer, stood on the shoulders of predecessors motivated by an urgent desire to make world society less unequal. Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, a best-seller when published in 1798, was the culmination of that Enlightenment project; but it played almost no part in the subsequent history of the discipline. The main source for nineteenth-century anthropology was rather Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  He revolutionized our understanding of politics, education, sexuality and the self in four books published in the 1760s: The Social ContractEmileJulie and The Confessions. He was forced to flee for his life from hit squads encouraged by the church. But he made his reputation earlier through two discourses of which the second, Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men (1754), deserves to be seen as the source for an anthropology that combines the critique of unequal society with a revolutionary politics of democratic emancipation.

Rousseau was concerned here not with individual variations in natural endowments which we can do little about, but with the conventional inequalities of wealth, honour and the capacity to command obedience which can be changed. In order to construct a model of human equality, he imagined a pre-social state of nature, a sort of hominid phase of human evolution in which men were solitary, but healthy, happy and above all free. This freedom was metaphysical, anarchic and personal: original human beings had free will, they were not subject to rules of any kind and they had no superiors. At some point humanity made the transition to what Rousseau calls “nascent society”, a prolonged period whose economic base can best be summarized as hunter-gathering with huts. This second phase represents his ideal of life in society close to nature.

The rot set in with the invention of agriculture or, as Rousseau puts it, wheat and iron. Here he contradicted both Hobbes and Locke. The formation of a civil order (the state) was preceded by a war of all against all marked by the absence of law, which Rousseau insisted was the result of social development, not an original state of nature. Cultivation of the land led to incipient property institutions which, far from being natural, contained the seeds of entrenched inequality. Their culmination awaited the development of political society. He believed that this new social contract was probably arrived at by consensus, but it was a fraudulent one in that the rich thereby gained legal sanction for transmitting unequal property rights in perpetuity. From this inauspicious beginning, political society then usually moved, via a series of revolutions, through three stages:

The establishment of law and the right of property was the first stage, the institution of magistrates the second and the transformation of legitimate into arbitrary power the third and last stage. Thus the status of rich and poor was authorized by the first epoch, that of strong and weak by the second and by the third that of master and slave, which is the last degree of inequality and the stage to which all the others finally lead, until new revolutions dissolve the government altogether and bring it back to legitimacy (Rousseau 1984:131).

One-man-rule closes the circle. “It is here that all individuals become equal again because they are nothing, here where subjects have no longer any law but the will of the master”(Ibid: 134). For Rousseau, the growth of inequality was just one aspect of human alienation in civil society. We need to return from division of labour and dependence on the opinion of others to subjective self-sufficiency. His subversive parable ends with a ringing indictment of economic inequality which could well serve as a warning to our world. “It is manifestly contrary to the law of nature, however defined… that a handful of people should gorge themselves with superfluities while the hungry multitude goes in want of necessities” (Ibid: 137).

Lewis H. Morgan (1877) drew on Rousseau’s model for his own fiercely democratic synthesis of human history, Ancient Society, which likewise used an evolutionary classification that we now call bands, tribes and states, each stage more unequal than the one before.  Morgan’s work is normally seen as the launch of modern anthropology proper because of his ability to enrol contemporary ethnographic observations of the Iroquois in an analysis of the historical structures underlying western civilization’s origins in Greece and Rome. Marx and Engels enthusiastically took up Morgan’s work as confirmation of their own critique of the state and capitalism; and the latter, drawing on Marx’s extensive annotations ofAncient Society, made the argument more accessible as The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). Engels’s greater emphasis on gender inequality made this a fertile source for the feminist movement in the 1960s and after.

The traditional home of inequality is supposed to be India and Andre Beteille, in Inequality among Men (1977) and other books, has made the subject his special domain, merging social anthropology with comparative sociology. In the United States, Leslie White at Michigan and Julian Steward at Columbia led teams, including Wolf, Sahlins, Service, Harris and Mintz, who took the evolution of the state and class society as their chief focus. Probably the single most impressive work coming out of this American school was Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People without History (1982). But one man tried to redo Morgan in a single book and that was Claude Lévi-Strauss in The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949). In Tristes Tropiques (1955), Lévi-Strauss acknowledged Rousseau as his master. The aim of Elementary Structures was to revisit Morgan’s three-stage theory of social evolution, drawing on a new and impressive canvas, “the Siberia-Assam axis” and all points southeast as far as the Australian desert. Lévi-Strauss took as his motor of development the forms of marriage exchange and the logic of exogamy. The “restricted reciprocity” of egalitarian bands gave way to the unstable hierarchies of “generalized reciprocity” typical of the Highland Burma tribes. The stratified states of the region turned inwards to endogamy, to the reproduction of class differences and the negation of social reciprocity.

Jack Goody has tried to lift our profession out of a myopic ethnography into an engagement with world history that went out of fashion with the passing of the Victorian founders. Starting with Production and Reproduction (1976), he has produced a score of books over the last three decades investigating why Sub-Saharan Africa differs so strikingly from the pre-industrial societies of Europe and Asia, with a later focus on refuting the West’s claim to being exceptional, especially when compared with Asia (Hart 2006, 2011).  The common thread of Goody’s compendious work links him through the Marxist pre-historian Gordon Childe (1954) to Morgan-Engels and ultimately Rousseau. The key to understanding social forms lies in production, which for us means machine production. Civilization or human culture is largely shaped by the means of communication — once writing, now an array of mechanized forms. The site of social struggles is property, now principally conflicts over intellectual property. And his central issue of reproduction has never been more salient than at a time when the aging citizens of rich countries depend on the proliferating mass of young people out there. Kinship needs to be reinvented too.

David Graeber: the first 50 years

Graeber brings his own unique combination of interests and engagements to renewing this “anthropology of unequal society”. Who is he? He spent the 1960s as the child of working-class intellectuals and activists in New York and was a teenager in the 1970s, which turned out to be the hinge decade of our times, leading to a “neoliberal” counter-revolution against post-war social democracy. This decade was framed at one end by the US dollar being taken off the gold standard in 1971 and at the other by a massive interest rate increase in 1979 induced by a second oil price hike. The world economy has been depressed ever since, especially at its western core. Graeber says that he embraced anarchism at sixteen.

The debt crisis of the 1980s was triggered by irresponsible lending of the oil surplus by western banks to Third World kleptocrats (Hart 2000: 142-143) and by the new international regime of high interest rates. In market theory, bad loans are supposed to discipline lenders, but the IMF and World Bank insisted on every penny of added interest being repaid by the governments of poor countries. This was also the time when structural adjustment policies forced those governments to open up their national economies to the free flow of money and commodities, with terrible consequences for public welfare programmes and jobs. If the anti-colonial revolution inspired my generation in the 1960s, Graeber’s internationalism was shaped by this wholesale looting of the successor states. He took an active part in demonstrations against this new phase of “financial globalization”, a phenomenon now often referred to as the “alter-globalization movement” (Pleyers 2010), but he and his fellow activists call it the “global justice movement”. Its public impact peaked in the years following the financial crisis of 1997-98 (involving Southeast Asia, Russia, Brazil and the failure of a US hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management), notably through mass mobilizations in Seattle, Genoa and elsewhere. In the Debt book, Graeber claims that they took on the IMF and won.

David Graeber received a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Chicago based on ethnographic and historical research on a former slave village in Madagascar. This was eventually published as a long and exemplary monograph, Lost People: Magic and the legacy of slavery in Madagascar (Graeber 2007a). The history of the slave trade, colonialism and the post-colony figure prominently in how he illustrates global inequality through a focus on debt. Before that, he published a strong collection of essays on value, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The false coin of our own dreams (Graeber 2001), in which he sought to relate economic value (especially value as measured impersonally by money) and the values that shape our subjectivity in society. This hinged on revisiting both Karl Marx and Marcel Mauss, providing the main account in English of how the latter’s cooperative socialism shaped his famous work on the gift (Mauss 1925). A theme of both books is the role of magic and money fetishism in sustaining unequal society.

Politics forms a central strand of Graeber’s work, with four books published so far and more in the works: Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004), Possibilities: Essays on hierarchy, rebellion, and desire (2007b), Direct Action: An ethnography (2009a) and Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on politics, violence, art, and imagination (2011c). These titles reveal a range of political interests that take in violence, aesthetics and libido. He insists on the “elective affinity” between anthropological theory and method and an anarchist programme of resistance, rebellion and revolution; and this emphasis on “society against the state” makes him a worthy successor to Pierre Clastres (1974). Graeber’s academic career has been fitful, most notoriously when he was “let go” by Yale despite his obvious talent and productivity. This fed rumours about the academic consequences of his political activities. These have led to numerous brushes with the police, but so far not to prolonged incarceration, although his inability to find a job in American universities could be seen as a form of exile.

Debt: The first 5,000 years was published in summer 2011 and Graeber began a year’s sabbatical leave from his teaching job in London by moving to New York, where he became an ubiquitous presence in the print media, television and blogs. In August-September he helped form the first New York City General Assembly which spawned the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has been credited with being the author of that movement’s slogan, “We are the 99%”, and helped to give it an anarchist political style. OWS generated a wave of imitations in the United States and around the world, known collectively as “the Occupy movement”, inviting comparison with the “Arab Spring” and Madrid’s Los Indignados in what seemed then to be a global uprising. Some shared features of this series of political events, such as an emphasis on non-violence, consensual decision-making and the avoidance of sectarian division, evoke Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idea of the “general will”; and it is not wholly fanciful to compare David Graeber’s career so far with his great predecessor’s.

Graeber and Rousseau both detested the mainstream institutions of the world they live in and devoted their intellectual efforts to building revolutionary alternatives. This means not being satisfied with reporting how the world is, but rather exploring the dialectic linking the actual to the possible. This in turn implies being willing to mix established genres of research and writing and to develop new ones. Both are prolific writers with an accessible prose style aimed at reaching a mass audience. Both achieved unusual fame for an intellectual and their political practice got them into trouble. Both suffered intimidation, neglect and exile for their beliefs. Both attract admiration and loathing in equal measure. Their originality is incontestable, yet each can at times be silly. There is no point in considering their relative significance. The personal parallels that I point to here reinforce my claim that Graeber’s Debt book should be seen as a specific continuation of that “anthropology of unequal society” begun by Rousseau two and a half centuries ago.

Debt: the argument

Much of the contemporary world revolves round the claims we make on each other and on things: ownership, obligations, contracts and payment of taxes, wages, rents, fees etc. David Graeber’s book, Debt: The first 5,000 years, aims to illuminate these questions through a focus on debt seen in very wide historical perspective. It is of course a central issue in global politics today, at every level of society. Every day sees another example of a class struggle between debtors and creditors to shape the distribution of costs after a long credit boom went dramatically bust.

We might be indebted to God, the sovereign or our parents for the gift of life, but Graeber rightly insists that the social logic of debt is revealed most clearly when money is involved. He cites approvingly an early twentieth-century writer who insisted that “money is debt”. This book of over 500 pages is rich in argument and knowledge. The notes and references are compendious, ranging over five millennia of the main Eurasian civilizations (ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean, medieval Europe, China, India and Islam) and the ethnography of stateless societies in Africa, the Americas and the Pacific. Its twelve chapters are framed by an introduction to our moral confusion concerning debt and a concluding sketch of the present rupture in world history that began in the early 1970s. Graeber’s case is founded on anthropological and historical comparison more than his grasp of contemporary political economy, although he has plenty to say in passing about that. There is also a current of populist culture running through the book and this is reinforced by a prose style aimed at closing the gap between author and reader that his formidable scholarship might otherwise open up.

Perhaps this aspect of the book may be illustrated by introducing a recent short film. Paul Grignon’s Money as Debt (2006, 47 minutes) — an underground hit in activist circles — seeks to explain where money comes from. Most of the money in circulation is issued by banks whenever they make a loan. The real basis of money, the film claims, is thus our signature whenever we promise to repay a debt. The banks create that money by a stroke of the pen and the promise is then bought and sold in increasingly complex ways. The total debt incurred by government, corporations, small businesses and consumers spirals continuously upwards since interest must be paid on it all. Although the general idea is an old one, it has taken on added salience at a time when the supply of money, which could once plausibly be represented as public currency in circulation, has been overtaken by the creation of private debt.

The film’s attempt to demystify money is admirable, but its message is misleading.  Debt and credit are two sides of the same coin, the one evoking passivity in the face of power, the other individual empowerment. The origin of money in France and Germany is considered to be debt, whereas in the United States and Britain it is traditionally conceived of as credit. Either term alone is loaded, missing the dialectical character of the relations involved. Money as Debt demonizes the banks and interest in particular, letting the audience off the hook by not showing the active role most of us play in sustaining the system. Money today is issued by a dispersed global network of economic institutions of many kinds; and the norm of economic growth is fed by a widespread desire for self-improvement, not just by bank interest.

David Graeber offers a lot more than this, of course; but his book also feeds off popular currents too, which is not surprising given how much time he spends outside the classroom and his study. His analytical framework is spelled out in great detail over six chapters. The first two tackle the origins of money in barter and “primordial debt” respectively. He shows, forcefully and elegantly, how implausible the standard liberal origin myth of money as a medium of exchange is; but he also rejects as a nationalist myth the main opposing theory that traces money’s origins as a means of payment and unit of account to state power. In the first case he follows Polanyi (1944), but by distancing himself from the second, he highlights the interdependence of states and markets in money’s origins.  A short chapter shows that money was always both a commodity and a debt-token (“the two sides of the coin”, Hart 1986), giving rise to a lot of political and moral contestation, especially in the ancient world. Following Nietzsche, Graeber argues that money introduced for the first time a measure of the unequal relations between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor. Whereas Rousseau traced inequality to the invention of property, he locates the roots of human bondage, slavery, tribute and organized violence in debt relations. The contradictions of indebtedness, fed by money and markets, led the first world religions to articulate notions of freedom and redemption in response to escalating class conflict between creditors and debtors, often involving calls for debt cancellation.

The author now lays out his positive story to counter the one advanced by mainstream liberal economics. “A brief treatise on the moral grounds of economic relations” makes explicit his critique of the attempt to construct “the economy” as a sphere separate from society in general. This owes something to Polanyi’s (1957) universal triad of distributive mechanisms – reciprocity, redistribution and market – here identified as “everyday communism”, hierarchy and reciprocity. By the first Graeber means a human capacity for sharing or “baseline sociality”; the second is sometimes confused with the third, since unequal relations are often represented as an exchange – you give me your crops in return for not being beaten up. The difference between hierarchy and reciprocity is that debt is permanent in the first case, but temporary in the second. The western middle classes train their children to say please and thank you as a way of limiting the debt incurred by being given something. All three principles are present everywhere, but their relative emphasis is coloured by dominant economic forms. Thus “communism” is indispensable to modern work practices, but capitalism is a lousy way of harnessing our human capacity for cooperation.

The next two chapters introduce what is for me the main idea of the book, the contrast between “human economies” and those dominated by money and markets (Graeber prefers to call them “commercial economies” and sometimes “capitalism”). First he identifies the independent characteristics of human economies and then shows what happens when they are forcefully incorporated into the economic orbit of larger “civilisations”, including our own. This is to some extent a great divide theory of history, although, as Mauss would insist, elements of human economy persist in capitalist societies. There is a sense in which “human economies” are a world we have lost, but might recover after the revolution. Graeber is at pains to point out that these societies are not necessarily more humane, just that “they are economic systems primarily concerned not with the accumulation of wealth, but with the creation, destruction, and rearranging of human beings” (2011a: 130). They use money, but mainly as “social currencies” whose aim is to maintain relations between people rather than to purchase things.

“In a human economy, each person is unique and of incomparable value, because each is a unique nexus of relations with others” (Ibid: 158). Yet their money forms make it possible to treat people as quantitatively identical in exchange and that requires a measure of violence. Brutality — not just conceptual, but physical too — is omnipresent, more in some cases than others. Violence is inseparable from money and debt, even in the most “human” of economies, where ripping people out of their familiar context is commonplace. This, however, gets taken to another level when they are drawn into systems like the Atlantic slave trade or the western colonial empires of yesteryear. The following extended reflection on slavery and freedom — a pair that Graeber sees as being driven by a culture of honour and indebtedness — culminates in the ultimate contradiction underpinning modern liberal economics, a worldview that conceives of individuals as being socially isolated in a way that could only be prepared for by a long history of enslaving conquered peoples. Since we cannot easily embrace this account of our own history, it is not surprising that we confuse morality and power when thinking about debt.

So far, Graeber has relied heavily on anthropological material, especially from African societies, to illustrate the world that the West transformed, although his account of money’s origins draws quite heavily on the example of ancient Mesopotamia. Now he formalizes his theory of money to organize a compendious review of world history in four stages. These are: the era from c.3000 BC that saw the first urban civilizations; the “Axial Age” which he, rather unusually, dates from 800BC to 600AD; the Middle Ages (600-1450AD); and the age of “the great capitalist empires”, from 1450AD to the US dollar’s symbolic rupture with the gold standard in 1971. As this last date suggests, the periodization relies heavily on historical oscillations between broad types of money. Graeber calls these “credit” and “bullion”, that is, money as a virtual measure of personal relations, like IOUs, and as currency or impersonal things made from precious metals for circulation.

Money started out as a unit of account, administered by institutions such as temples and banks, as well as states, largely as a way of measuring debt relations between people. Coinage was introduced in the first millennium as part of a complex linking warfare, mercenary soldiers, slavery, looting, mines, trade and the provisioning of armies on the move. Graeber calls this “the military-coinage-slavery complex” of which Alexander the Great, for example, was a master. Hence our word, “soldier”, refers to his pay. The so-called “dark ages” offered some relief from this regime and for most of the medieval period, metal currencies were in very short supply and money once again took the dominant form of virtual credit. India, China and the Islamic world are enlisted here to supplement what we know of Europe. But then the discovery of the new world opened up the phase we are familiar with from the last half-millennium, when western imperialism revived the earlier tradition of warfare and slavery lubricated by bullion.

The last four decades are obviously transitional, but the recent rise of virtual credit money suggests the possibility of another long swing of history away from the principles that underpinned the world the West made. It could be a multi-polar world, more like the middle ages than the last two centuries. It could offer more scope for “human economies” or at least “social currencies”. The debt crisis might provoke revolutions and then, who knows, debt cancellation along the lines of the ancient jubilee. Perhaps the whole institutional complex based on states, money and markets or capitalism will be replaced by forms of society more directly responsive to ordinary people and their capacity for “everyday communism”.

All of this is touched on in the final chapter. But Graeber leaves these “policy conclusions” deliberately vague. His aim in this book has been to draw his readers into a vision of human history that runs counter to what makes their social predicament supposedly inevitable. It is a vision inspired in part by his profession as an anthropologist, in part by his political engagement as an activist. Both commitments eschew drawing up programmes for others to follow. Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for its failure to enumerate a list of “demands”. No doubt much the same could be said of this book; but then readers, including this reviewer, will be inspired by it in concrete ways to imagine possibilities that its author could not have envisaged.

Towards a human economy

David Graeber and I came up with the term “human economy” independently during the last decade (Graeber 2009b, 2011a; Hart 2008, Hart, Laville and Cattani 2010). The editors of The Human Economy: A citizen’s guide distanced ourselves, in the introduction and our editorial approach, from any “revolutionary” eschatology that suggested society had reached the end of something and would soon be launched on a quite new trajectory. The idea of a “human economy” drew attention to the fact that people do a lot more for themselves than an exclusive focus on the dominant economic institutions would suggest. Against a singular notion of the economy as “capitalism”, we argued that all societies combine a plurality of economic forms and several of these are distributed across history, even if their combination is strongly coloured by the dominant economic form in particular times and places.

For example, in his famous essay on The Gift (1925), Marcel Mauss showed that other economic principles were present in capitalist societies and that understanding this would provide a sounder basis for building non-capitalist alternatives than the Bolshevik revolution’s attempt to break with markets and money entirely. Karl Polanyi too, in his various writings, insisted that the human economy throughout history combined a number of mechanisms of which the market was only one. We argued therefore that the idea of radical transformation of an economy conceived of monolithically as capitalism into its opposite was an inappropriate way to approach economic change. We should rather pay attention to the full range of what people are doing already and build economic initiatives around giving these a new direction and emphasis, instead of supposing that economic change has to be reinvented from scratch. Although this looks like a gradualist approach to economic improvement, its widespread adoption would have revolutionary consequences.

David Graeber’a anarchist politics inform his economic analysis; and he has always taken an anti-statist and anti-capitalist position, with markets and money usually being subsumed under the concept of capitalism. That is, he sees the future as being based on the opposite of our capitalist states. The core of his politics is “direct action” which he has practised and written about as an ethnographer (Graeber 2009a). In The Human Economy, we argued that people everywhere rely on a wide range of organizations in their economic lives: markets, nation-states, corporations, cities, voluntary associations, families, virtual networks, informal economies, crime. We should be looking for a more progressive mix of these things. We can’t afford to turn our backs on institutions that have helped humanity make the transition to modern world society. Large-scale bureaucracies co-exist with varieties of popular self-organization and we have to make them work together rather than at cross-purposes, as they often do now.

Graeber also believes, as we have seen, that economic life everywhere is based on a plural combination of moral principles which take on a different complexion when organized by dominant forms. Thus, helping each other as equals is essential to capitalist societies, but capitalism distorts and marginalizes this human propensity. Yet he appears to expect a radical rupture with capitalist states fairly soon and this is reflected in a stages theory of history, with categories to match. At first sight, these positions (let’s call them “reform” and “revolution”) are incompatible, but recent political developments (the “Arab Spring” and Occupy movements of 2011, however indeterminate their immediate outcomes) point to the need to transcend such an opposition.

The gap between our approaches to making the economy human is therefore narrowing. Even so, there are differences of theory and method that point to some residual reservations I have about the Debt book. The first of these concerns Graeber’s preference for lumping together states, money, markets, debt and capitalism, along with violence, war and slavery as their habitual bedfellows. Money and markets have redemptive qualities that in my view (Hart 2000) could be put to progressive economic ends in non-capitalist forms; nor do I imagine that modern institutions such as states, corporations and bureaucracy will soon die away. Anti-capitalism as a revolutionary strategy begs the question of the plurality of modern economic institutions. As Mauss showed (Hart 2007), human economies exist in the cracks of capitalist societies. David Graeber seems to agree, at least when it comes to finding “everyday communism” there and, by refusing to sanitize “human economies” in their pristine form, he modifies the categorical and historical division separating them and commercial economies. Revolutionary binaries seem to surface at various points in his book, but an underlying tendency to discern continuity in human economic practices is just as much a feature of David Graeber’s anthropological vision.

An argument of Debt’s scope hasn’t been made by a professional anthropologist for the best part of a century, certainly not one with as much contemporary relevance. The discipline largely abandoned “conjectural history” in the twentieth century in order to embrace the narrower local perspectives afforded by ethnographic fieldwork. Works of broad comparison such as Wolf’s and Goody’s were the exception to this trend. Inevitably Graeber’s methods will come under scrutiny, not just from fellow professionals, but from the general public too. (He tells me that academics don’t read footnotes any more, but laymen do). To this reader, the first half of the book – which relies heavily on ethnographic sources to spell out the argument — is more systematic, in terms of both analytical coherence and documentation, than the second, concerned as it is with fleshing out his cycles of history. In either case, little attempt is made to analyse contemporary political economy, although Graeber makes more explicit reference to this than, for example does Mauss in The Gift, where readers’ understanding of capitalist markets is taken for granted. Nowhere in the book is any reference made to the digital revolution in communications of our times and its scope to transform economies, whether human or commercial (Hart 2000, 2005).

Well, that is not quite true, for the author does occasionally introduce anecdotes based on common or his personal knowledge. The problem is that many readers who take on trust what he has to say about ancient Mesopotamia or the Tiv, may find these stories contradicted by their own knowledge. It is something akin to “Time magazine syndrome”: we accept what Time has to say about the world in general until it impinges on what we know ourselves and then its credibility dissolves. Thus:

Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages (Graeber 2011a: 96).

The veracity of this anecdote has been challenged by numerous Californian bloggers and the author’s scholarship with it. Graeber is aware of the pitfalls of making contemporary allusions. In the final chapter (Ibid: 362-3), he cleverly introduces an urban myth he often heard about the gold stored under the World Trade Centre and then (almost) rehabilitates that myth using documented sources. Fortunately, David Graeber has not been deterred by the pedants from crossing the line between academic and general knowledge in this book and his readers benefit immensely as a result. I contributed to the publisher’s blurb for this book and said that he is “the finest anthropological scholar I know”. I stand by that. The very long essay he recently published on the divine kingship of the Shilluk (Graeber 2011c) covers the same ground as a number of famous anthropologists from Frazer onwards, but with an unsurpassed range of scholarship, as well as a democratic political perspective. Inevitably in a book like this one, the fact police will catch him out sometimes. But it is a work of immense erudition and deserves to be celebrated as such.

Our world is still massively unequal and we may be entering a period of war and revolution comparable to the “Second Thirty Years War” of 1914-1945 which came after the last time that several decades of financial imperialism went bust. Capitalism itself sometimes seems today to have reverted to a norm of rent-seeking that resembles the arbitrary inequality of the Old Regime more than Victorian industry. The pursuit of economic democracy is more elusive than ever; yet humanity has also devised universal means of communication at last adequate to the expression of universal ideas. Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have leapt at the chance to make use of this opportunity and several illustrious successors did so in their own way during the last two centuries. We need an anthropology that rises to the challenge posed by our common human predicament today. No-one has done more to meet that challenge than David Graeber, in his work as a whole, but especially in this book.


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Childe, V. Gordon   1954   What Happened in History. Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Clastres, Pierre    1989 (1974)    Society against the state: Essays in political anthropology. Zone Books: New York.

Engels, Friedrich   1972 (1884)   The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Pathfinder: New York.

Goody, Jack   1976   Production and Reproduction: A Comparative Study of the Domestic Domain. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Graeber, David   2001   Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The false coin of our own dreams. Palgrave: New York.

——    2004    Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Prickly Paradigm: Chicago.

——    2007a   Lost People: Magic and the legacy of slavery in Madagascar. Indiana University Press: Bloomington IN.

——   2007b   Possibilities: Essays on hierarchy, rebellion, and desire . AK Press: Oakland CA.

——    2009a   Direct Action: An ethnography. AK Press: Baltimore MD.

——    2009b   Debt, Violence, and Impersonal Markets: Polanyian Meditations. In Chris Hann and K. Hart editors Market and Society: The Great Transformation today. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 106-132.

——   2011a    Debt: The first 5,000 years. Melville House: New York.

——   2011b   The divine kingship of the Shilluk: On violence, utopia, and the human condition or elements for an archaeology of sovereignty, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1.1: 1-62.

——   2011c   Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on politics, violence, art, and imagination. Autonomedia: New York.

Hann, Chris and K. Hart   2011   Economic Anthropology: History, ethnography, critique. Polity: Cambridge.

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Dummies guide to the latest “Hockey Stick” controversy (Real Climate)

 — gavin @ 18 February 2005

by Gavin Schmidt and Caspar Amman

Due to popular demand, we have put together a ‘dummies guide’ which tries to describe what the actual issues are in the latest controversy, in language even our parents might understand. A pdf version is also available. More technical descriptions of the issues can be seen here and here.

This guide is in two parts, the first deals with the background to the technical issues raised byMcIntyre and McKitrick (2005) (MM05), while the second part discusses the application of this to the original Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) (MBH98) reconstruction. The wider climate science context is discussed here, and the relationship to other recent reconstructions (the ‘Hockey Team’) can be seen here.

NB. All the data that were used in MBH98 are freely available for download at (and also as supplementary data at Nature) along with a thorough description of the algorithm.
Part I: Technical issues:

1) What is principal component analysis (PCA)?

This is a mathematical technique that is used (among other things) to summarize the data found in a large number of noisy records so that the essential aspects can more easily seen. The most common patterns in the data are captured in a number of ‘principal components’ which describe some percentage of the variation in the original records. Usually only a limited number of components (‘PC’s) have any statistical significance, and these can be used instead of the larger data set to give basically the same description.

2) What do these individual components represent?

Often the first few components represent something recognisable and physical meaningful (at least in climate data applications). If a large part of the data set has a trend, than the mean trend may show up as one of the most important PCs. Similarly, if there is a seasonal cycle in the data, that will generally be represented by a PC. However, remember that PCs are just mathematical constructs. By themselves they say nothing about the physics of the situation. Thus, in many circumstances, physically meaningful timeseries are ‘distributed’ over a number of PCs, each of which individually does not appear to mean much. Different methodologies or conventions can make a big difference in which pattern comes up tops. If the aim of the PCA analysis is to determine the most important pattern, then it is important to know how robust that pattern is to the methodology. However, if the idea is to more simply summarize the larger data set, the individual ordering of the PCs is less important, and it is more crucial to make sure that as many significant PCs are included as possible.

3) How do you know whether a PC has significant information?

PC significanceThis determination is usually based on a ‘Monte Carlo’ simulation (so-called because of the random nature of the calculations). For instance, if you take 1000 sets of random data (that have the same statistical properties as the data set in question), and you perform the PCA analysis 1000 times, there will be 1000 examples of the first PC. Each of these will explain a different amount of the variation (or variance) in the original data. When ranked in order of explained variance, the tenth one down then defines the 99% confidence level: i.e. if your real PC explains more of the variance than 99% of the random PCs, then you can say that this is significant at the 99% level. This can be done for each PC in turn. (This technique was introduced by Preisendorfer et al. (1981), and is called the Preisendorfer N-rule).

The figure to the right gives two examples of this. Here each PC is plotted against the amount of fractional variance it explains. The blue line is the result from the random data, while the blue dots are the PC results for the real data. It is clear that at least the first two are significantly separated from the random noise line. In the other case, there are 5 (maybe 6) red crosses that appear to be distinguishable from the red line random noise. Note also that the first (‘most important’) PC does not always explain the same amount of the original data.

4) What do different conventions for PC analysis represent?

Some different conventions exist regarding how the original data should be normalized. For instance, the data can be normalized to have an average of zero over the whole record, or over a selected sub-interval. The variance of the data is associated with departures from the whatever mean was selected. So the pattern of data that shows the biggest departure from the mean will dominate the calculated PCs. If there is an a priori reason to be interested in departures from a particular mean, then this is a way to make sure that those patterns move up in the PC ordering. Changing conventions means that the explained variance of each PC can be different, the ordering can be different, and the number of significant PCs can be different.

5) How can you tell whether you have included enough PCs?

This is rather easy to tell. If your answer depends on the number of PCs included, then you haven’t included enough. Put another way, if the answer you get is the same as if you had used all the data without doing any PC analysis at all, then you are probably ok. However, the reason why the PC summaries are used in the first place in paleo-reconstructions is that using the full proxy set often runs into the danger of ‘overfitting’ during the calibration period (the time period when the proxy data are trained to match the instrumental record). This can lead to a decrease in predictive skill outside of that window, which is the actual target of the reconstruction. So in summary, PC selection is a trade off: on one hand, the goal is to capture as much variability of the data as represented by the different PCs as possible (particularly if the explained variance is small), while on the other hand, you don’t want to include PCs that are not really contributing any more significant information.

Part II: Application to the MBH98 ‘Hockey Stick’

1) Where is PCA used in the MBH methodology?

When incorporating many tree ring networks into the multi-proxy framework, it is easier to use a few leading PCs rather than 70 or so individual tree ring chronologies from a particular region. The trees are often very closely located and so it makes sense to summarize the general information they all contain in relation to the large-scale patterns of variability. The relevant signal for the climate reconstruction is the signal that the trees have in common, not each individual series. In MBH98, the North American tree ring series were treated like this. There are a number of other places in the overall methodology where some form of PCA was used, but they are not relevant to this particular controversy.

2) What is the point of contention in MM05?

MM05 contend that the particular PC convention used in MBH98 in dealing with the N. American tree rings selects for the ‘hockey stick’ shape and that the final reconstruction result is simply an artifact of this convention.

3) What convention was used in MBH98?

MBH98 were particularly interested in whether the tree ring data showed significant differences from the 20th century calibration period, and therefore normalized the data so that the mean over this period was zero. As discussed above, this will emphasize records that have the biggest differences from that period (either positive of negative). Since the underlying data have a ‘hockey stick’-like shape, it is therefore not surprising that the most important PC found using this convention resembles the ‘hockey stick’. There are actual two significant PCs found using this convention, and both were incorporated into the full reconstruction.

PC1 vs PC44) Does using a different convention change the answer?

As discussed above, a different convention (MM05 suggest one that has zero mean over the whole record) will change the ordering, significance and number of important PCs. In this case, the number of significant PCs increases to 5 (maybe 6) from 2 originally. This is the difference between the blue points (MBH98 convention) and the red crosses (MM05 convention) in the first figure. Also PC1 in the MBH98 convention moves down to PC4 in the MM05 convention. This is illustrated in the figure on the right, the red curve is the original PC1 and the blue curve is MM05 PC4 (adjusted to have same variance and mean). But as we stated above, the underlying data has a hockey stick structure, and so in either case the ‘hockey stick’-like PC explains a significant part of the variance. Therefore, using the MM05 convention, more PCs need to be included to capture the significant information contained in the tree ring network.

This figure shows the difference in the final result whether you use the original convention and 2 PCs (blue) and the MM05 convention with 5 PCs (red). The MM05-based reconstruction is slightly less skillful when judged over the 19th century validation period but is otherwise very similar. In fact any calibration convention will lead to approximately the same answer as long as the PC decomposition is done properly and one determines how many PCs are needed to retain the primary information in the original data.

different conventions
5) What happens if you just use all the data and skip the whole PCA step?

This is a key point. If the PCs being used were inadequate in characterizing the underlying data, then the answer you get using all of the data will be significantly different. If, on the other hand, enough PCs were used, the answer should be essentially unchanged. This is shown in the figure below. The reconstruction using all the data is in yellow (the green line is the same thing but with the ‘St-Anne River’ tree ring chronology taken out). The blue line is the original reconstruction, and as you can see the correspondence between them is high. The validation is slightly worse, illustrating the trade-off mentioned above i.e. when using all of the data, over-fitting during the calibration period (due to the increase number of degrees of freedom) leads to a slight loss of predictability in the validation step.

No PCA comparison

6) So how do MM05 conclude that this small detail changes the answer?

MM05 claim that the reconstruction using only the first 2 PCs with their convention is significantly different to MBH98. Since PC 3,4 and 5 (at least) are also significant they are leaving out good data. It is mathematically wrong to retain the same number of PCs if the convention of standardization is changed. In this case, it causes a loss of information that is very easily demonstrated. Firstly, by showing that any such results do not resemble the results from using all data, and by checking the validation of the reconstruction for the 19th century. The MM version of the reconstruction can be matched by simply removing the N. American tree ring data along with the ‘St Anne River’ Northern treeline series from the reconstruction (shown in yellow below). Compare this curve with the ones shown above.

No N. American tree rings

As you might expect, throwing out data also worsens the validation statistics, as can be seen by eye when comparing the reconstructions over the 19th century validation interval. Compare the green line in the figure below to the instrumental data in red. To their credit, MM05 acknowledge that their alternate 15th century reconstruction has no skill.

validation period

7) Basically then the MM05 criticism is simply about whether selected N. American tree rings should have been included, not that there was a mathematical flaw?

Yes. Their argument since the beginning has essentially not been about methodological issues at all, but about ‘source data’ issues. Particular concerns with the “bristlecone pine” data were addressed in the followup paper MBH99 but the fact remains that including these data improves the statistical validation over the 19th Century period and they therefore should be included.

Hockey Team *used under GFDL license8) So does this all matter?

No. If you use the MM05 convention and include all the significant PCs, you get the same answer. If you don’t use any PCA at all, you get the same answer. If you use a completely different methodology (i.e. Rutherford et al, 2005), you get basically the same answer. Only if you remove significant portions of the data do you get a different (and worse) answer.

9) Was MBH98 the final word on the climate of last millennium?

Not at all. There has been significant progress on many aspects of climate reconstructions since MBH98. Firstly, there are more and better quality proxy data available. There are new methodologies such as described in Rutherford et al (2005) or Moberg et al (2005) that address recognised problems with incomplete data series and the challenge of incorporating lower resolution data into the mix. Progress is likely to continue on all these fronts. As of now, all of the ‘Hockey Team’ reconstructions (shown left) agree that the late 20th century is anomalous in the context of last millennium, and possibly the last two millennia.

The climate of the climate change debate is changing (The Guardian)

Quantifying how greenhouse gases contribute to extreme weather is a crucial step in calculating the cost of human influence

Myles Allen, Wednesday 11 July 2012 12.08 BST

Climate change could trap hundreds of millions in disaster areas, report claims

This week, climate change researchers were able to attribute recent examples of extreme weather to the effects of human activity on the planet’s climate systems for the first time. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

The climate may have changed this week. Not the physical climate, but the climate of the climate change debate. Tuesday marked thepublication of a series of papers examining the factors behind extreme weather events in 2011. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think, except, if all goes well, this will be the first of a regular, annual assessment quantifying how external drivers of climate contribute to damaging weather.

Some of these drivers, like volcanoes, are things we can do nothing about. But others, like rising levels of greenhouse gases, we can. And quantifying how greenhouse gases contribute to extreme weather is a crucial step in pinning down the real cost of human influence on climate. While most people think of climate change in terms of shrinking ice-sheets and slowly rising sea levels, it is weather events that actually do harm.

This week also saw a workshop in Oxford for climate change negotiators from developing countries. Again, nothing remarkable about that except, for the first time, the issue of “loss and damage” was top of the agenda. For years negotiations have been over emission reductions and sharing the costs of adaptation. Now the debate is turning to: who is going to pay for damage done?

It is a good time to ask, since the costs that can unambiguously be attributed to human-induced climate change are still relatively small. Although Munich Re estimates that weather events in 2011 cost more than $100bn and claimed many thousands of lives, only a few of these events were clearly made more likely by human influence. Others may have been made less likely, but occurred anyway – chance remains the single dominant factor in when and where a weather event occurs. For the vast majority of events, we simply don’t yet know either way.

Connecting climate change and specific weather events is only one link in the causal chain between greenhouse gas emissions and actual harm. But it is a crucial link. If, as planned, the assessment of 2011 becomes routine, we should be able to compare actual weather-related damage, in both good years and bad, with the damage that might have been in a world without human influence on climate. This puts us well on our way to a global inventory of climate change impacts. And as soon as that is available, the question of compensation will not be far behind.

The presumption in climate change negotiations is that “countries with historically high emissions” would be first in line to foot the bill for loss and damage. There may be some logic to this, but if you are an African (or Texan) farmer hit by greenhouse-exacerbated drought, is the European or American taxpayer necessarily the right place to look for compensation? As any good lawyer knows, there is no point in suing a man with empty pockets.

The only institution in the world that could deal with the cost of climate change without missing a beat is the fossil fuel industry: BP took a $30bn charge for Deepwater Horizon, very possibly more than the total cost of climate change damages last year, and was back in profit within months. Of the $5 trillion per year we currently spend on fossil energy, a small fraction would take care of all the loss and damage attributable to climate change for the foreseeable future several times over.

Such a pay-as-you-go liability regime would not address the impacts of today’s emissions on the 22nd century. Governments cannot wash their hands of this issue entirely. But we have been so preoccupied with the climate of the 22nd century that we have curiously neglected to look after the interests of those being affected by climate change today.

So rather than haggling over emission caps and carbon taxes, why not start with a simple statement of principle: standard product liability applies to anyone who sells or uses fossil fuels, including liability for any third-party side-effects. There is no need at present to say what these side-effects might be – indeed, the scientific community does not yet know. But we are getting there.

Texas judge rules atmosphere, air to be protected like water, may aid climate change lawsuits (Washington Post)

By Associated Press, Published: July 11

HOUSTON — A Texas judge has ruled that the atmosphere and air must be protected for public use, just like water, which could help attorneys tasked with arguing climate change lawsuits designed to force states to cut emissions.

The written ruling, issued in a letter Monday by Texas District Court Judge Gisela Triana, shot down arguments by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that only water is a “public trust,” a doctrine that dates to the Roman Empire stating a government must protect certain resources — usually water, sometimes wildlife — for the common good.

Adam Abrams, one of the attorneys arguing the case against TCEQ, said Triana’s ruling could be used as a persuasive argument in lawsuits pending in 11 other states.

In Texas, though, a ruling to protect air and the atmosphere has added significance. Republican Gov. Rick Perry is one of the most vocal opponents against widely accepted scientific research that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming. And the state has refused to regulate greenhouse gases, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work directly with industries to ensure they comply with federal law.

“The commission’s conclusion that the public trust doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water is legally invalid,” Triana wrote.

She also wants the case brought to a standstill, saying that so long as Texas has open-ended litigation on similar issues on the federal level, she cannot compel the TCEQ to write rules to protect the atmosphere and the air.

The TCEQ said in an emailed comment that it was reviewing the judge’s letter and is awaiting her final order, but it appears Triana will support the agency’s move to deny the request for new rules.

The lawsuit was brought by the Texas Environmental Law Center, and is part of a court campaign in a dozen states by an Oregon-based nonprofit, Our Children’s Trust. The group is using children and young adults as plaintiffs in the lawsuits — some state and some federal — filed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

By relying on “common law” theories, the group hopes to have the atmosphere declared a public trust for the first time, granting it special protection. The doctrine has been used to clean up rivers and coastlines, but many legal experts have been unsure if it could be used successfully to combat climate change.

Still, Abrams, who has handled the Texas case on behalf of the Texas Environmental Law Center, believes Triana’s ruling can be used to argue the cases in other states. So far, he said, this is the first judge to back the group, though a New Mexico court recently allowed the case to go forward.

“I think it’s huge that we got a judge to acknowledge that the atmosphere is a public trust asset and the air is a public trust asset,” Abrams said. “It’s the first time we’ve had verbage like this come out of one of these cases.”

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