Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion2015-07-31T05:46:08Z contributors <![CDATA[Revealed: The private firms tracking terror targets at heart of US drone wars]]> 2015-07-31T05:46:08Z 2015-07-31T05:45:03Z By Abigail Fielding-Smith and Crofton Black | (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) | – –

The overstretched US military has hired hundreds of private sector contractors in the heart of its drone operations to analyse top secret video feeds and help track high value terror targets, an investigation has found.

Contracts unearthed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal a secretive industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, placing a corporate workforce alongside uniformed personnel, analysing battlefield intelligence.

h/t Wikimedia.

While it has long been known that US defence firms supply billions of dollars’ worth of equipment for drone operations, the role of the private sector in providing analysts to comb through military surveillance video has remained almost entirely unknown until now.

Approximately one in 10 people involved in the effort to process data captured by drones and spy planes is estimated to be non-military. And as the rise of Islamic State fuels what military commanders describe as an “insatiable demand” for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), the Air Force is considering a further expansion of its contractor workforce, a spokeswoman confirmed.

Companies that stand to reap the benefits include BAE Systems and Edward Snowden’s former employer Booz Allen Hamilton.

Some individual analysts even publicly advertise their skills on sites such as LinkedIn, with one boasting of helping with the “kill/capture of high-value targets”.
“Mistaking a female carrying a broom for an enemy combatant can have dire consequences” – Contractor

The US dependence on armed contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has attracted close scrutiny, partly because of the notorious 2007 incident in which employees of the company then known as Blackwater killed 14 civilians in Baghdad. But the use of private companies to analyse military surveillance video has so far happened largely under the radar.

The contractors review live footage gathered by drones and spy planes hovering above battlefields, and help uniformed colleagues decide whether people they spot are potential enemies or civilians.


Though private contractors don’t formally take life and death decisions – only military personnel pilot armed drones and take final targeting decisions – there is concern they could effectively creep in to this function without more robust oversight.

Even now, contractors are aware that any errors of analysis they make could lead to the wrong people being killed.

“A misidentification of an enemy combatant with a weapon, and a female carrying a broom can have dire consequences,” one told the Bureau.

The ability to transmit live footage from above the villages and towns its enemies move through has become central to the US war machine, and the Air Force has struggled to keep up with demand for it. Each day, armed and unarmed drones and surveillance planes gather 1,100 hours of video data – all of which needs to be analysed.

Most of the time the imagery analysts are conducting long-term surveillance – establishing what constitutes ‘normal’ in a particular place. Some analysts monitor images as they unfold in near-real time, while others scrutinise individual shots more closely to make sense of them.

In so-called “kinetic” situations – those that entail lethal force – the assessments passed on by the analysts can affect whether or not someone on the ground is seen as a threat.

Missions include long-term surveillance of suspected militants and their resources – known in military jargon as “high-value targets” – and gathering intelligence for special forces or standard military operations on the ground.

Almost exclusively ex-military, contractors say they are more experienced in what they are looking at than their uniformed counterparts, who are frequently moved between different posts.

One contractor suggested to the Bureau that at times their skills place them effectively within the military chain of command.

“It will always be military bodies or civilian government bodies as the overall in charge of the missions…however you will have experienced contractors act as a ‘right-hand man’ many times because typically contractors are the ones with subject matter expertise, so the military/government leadership lean on those people to make better mission related decisions,” the analyst said.

Through analysing and cross-referencing millions of federal spending records, military contracts, interviews with current and former contractors and online job ads, the Bureau has identified 10 companies that have supplied the US government with imagery analysts in the past five years.

The contracts identified relate only to operations of the conventional military and special forces. CIA contracts, which cover the agency’s controversial operations in Pakistan and Yemen, remain classified, so any role of the private sector in that sphere remains unknown.

The companies involved are a mixture of large defence contractors and smaller tech and intelligence-focused firms, and offer imagery analysis alongside other services ranging from logistics to translation.

Among the largest known users of imagery analysis contractors are branches of the Special Operations Command, which conducts drone operations and supports commando raids on the ground. The May 16 swoop on Islamic State commander Abu Sayyaf, in which Sayyaf was killed and his wife captured, was supported by Predator surveillance, according to media reports.
Airmen assigned to the 11th Intelligence Squadron review data prior to a full-motion video exploitation mission on Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 11, 2015. The 11th IS provides United States Special Operations Command and components with a focused, timely, multi-source intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for special operations forces worldwide. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman Kai White) (Portions of this image were blurred for security or privacy concerns)
Airmen with 11th Intelligence Squadron review drone data at Hurlburt Field base, June 2015 (by US Air Force/Airman Kai White)

Federal transaction records show that a company called Zel Technologies is currently supplying imagery analysts to Air Force Special Operations Command (Afsoc) in a contract worth $12m in its first year.

According to a copy of the contract obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Zel is providing over 100 imagery analysts. The contract also required Zel to provide experts “in the areas of the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Syria, Iran, North Africa, Trans-Sahel region, Levant region, Gulf states, and territorial waters”.

A further Afsoc contract detailed how an Ohio-based firm called MacAulay-Brown was tasked to “support targeting, information operations, deliberate and crisis action planning, and 24/7/365 operations.”

Meanwhile L-3 Communications won an imagery analysis contract with Special Operations Command (Socom) in 2010 which was to earn it $155m over five years.

Booz Allen Hamilton, which has been given a contract for supporting special operations, posted a job advert calling for personnel “providing direct intelligence support to the Global War on Terror”. British defence company BAE Systems has advertised for video analysts to be “part of a high ops tempo team”.

Laura Dickinson, a specialist in military contracting at George Washington University Law School, called for the Pentagon to make more information available about the role and scope of private contractors in drone operations.

“We urgently need more transparency,” she said.

“The issue is not that some contractors may be doing imagery analysis. The problem is the ratio of contractors to government personnel. If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless.”


The Bureau of Investigative Journalism contacted all contractors named in this story with a series of questions. None provided a statement, though several directed queries to the US military.

The Pentagon and the Air Force were also contacted for comment with a series of questions about transparency and oversight for contractors involved in ISR.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said ISR was “vital to the national security of the United States and its allies”, and that it was in “insatiable demand” from combatant commanders. She said this demand was the reason for increasing use of contractors, which she said was a “normal process within military operations”.

On the issue of whether private contractors’ assessments risk pre-empting the military’s official decisions, she said the service had thorough oversight and followed all appropriate rules.

“Current AF Judge Advocate rulings define the approved roles for contractors in the AF IRS’s processing, exploitation and dissemination capability,” she said.

“Air Force DCGS [Distributed Common Ground System] works closely with the Judge Advocate’s office to ensure a full, complete, and accurate understanding and implementation of those roles. Oversight is accomplished by Air Force active duty and civilian personnel in real time and on continual basis with personnel trained on the implementation of procedural checks and balances.”

The Pentagon declined to comment.

*A version of this news story was also published in the Guardian.

Via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

contributors <![CDATA[Is our Fossil Fuel addiction setting even our wettest Rainforests Ablaze?]]> 2015-07-31T05:32:32Z 2015-07-31T05:30:25Z Subhankar Banerjee | ( | – –

The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn’t the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park’s history), nor its intensity. It’s something else entirely — the fact that it shouldn’t have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.

And here’s the thing: the Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn’t stay away.

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

“What a bummer! Can’t even see Mount Olympus,” a disappointed tourist exclaimed from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center. Still pointing his camera at the hazy mountain-scape, he added that “on a sunny day like this” he would ordinarily have gotten a “clear shot of the range.” Indeed, on a good day, that vantage point guarantees you a postcard-perfect view of the Olympic Mountains and their glaciers, making Hurricane Ridge the most visited location in the park, with the Hoh rainforest coming in a close second. And a lot of people have taken photos there. With its more than three million annual visitors, the park barely trails its two more famous western cousins, Yosemite and Yellowstone, on the tourist circuit.

Days of rain had come the weekend before, soaking the rainforest without staunching the Paradise Fire. The wetness did, however, help create those massive clouds of smoke that wrecked the view miles away on that blazing hot Sunday, July 19th.  Though no fire was visible from the visitor center — it was the old-growth rainforest of the Queets River Valley on the other side of Mount Olympus that was burning — massive plumes of smoke were rising from the Elwha River and Long Creek valleys.

Click here to see a larger version

Fire Information Bulletin Board and Smoke from Fire, Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Olympic National Park, July 19, 2015.

By then, I felt as if smoke had become my companion. I had first encountered it on another hot, sunny Sunday two weeks earlier.

On July 5th, I had gone to Hurricane Ridge with Finis Dunaway, historian of environmental visual culture and author of Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images. As this countryside is second nature to me, I felt the shock and sadness the moment we piled out of the car. In a season when the meadows and hills should have been lush green and carpeted by wildflowers, they were rusty brown and bone-dry.

Normally, even when such meadows are still covered in snow, glacier lilies still poke through. Avalanche lilies burst into riotous bloom as soon as the snow melts, followed by lupines, paintbrushes, tiger lilies, and the Sitka columbines, just to begin a list. Those meadows with their chorus of colors are a wonder to photograph, but the flowers also provide much needed nutrition to birds and animals, including the endemic Olympic marmots that prefer, as the National Park Service puts it, “fresh, tender, flowering plants such as lupine and glacier lilies.”

Snow normally lingers on these subalpine meadows until the end of June or early July, but last winter and spring were “anything but typical,” as the summer issue of the park’s quarterly newspaper, the Bugler, pointed out. January and February temperatures at the Hurricane Ridge station were “over six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.”

By late February, “less than three percent of normal” snowpack remained on the Olympic Mountains and the meadows, normally still covered by more than six feet of snow, “were bare.” As the Bugler also noted, recent data and scientific projections suggest that “this warming trend with less snowpack is something the Pacific Northwest should get used to… What does this mean for summer wildflowers, cold-water loving salmon, and myriad animals that depend on a flush of summer vegetation watered by melting snow?” The answer, unfortunately, isn’t complicated: it spells disaster for the ecology of the park.

Move on to the rainforest and the news is no less grim. This January, it got 14.07 inches of precipitation, which is 26% less than normal; February was 17% less; March was almost normal; and April was off by 23%. Worse yet, what precipitation there was generally fell as rain, not snow, and the culprit was those way-higher-than-average winter temperatures. Then the drought that already had much of the West Coast in its grip arrived in the rainforest. In May, precipitation fell to 75% less than normal and in June it was a staggering 96% less than normal, historic lows for those months. The forest floor dried up, as did the moss and lichens that hang in profusion from the trees, creating kindling galore and priming the forest for potential ignition by lightning.

That day, I was intent on showing Finis the spot along the Hurricane Hill trail where, in 1997, I had taken a picture of a black-tailed deer. That photo proved a turning point in my life, winning the Slide of the Year award from the Boeing photography club and leading me eventually to give up the security of a corporate career and start a conservation project in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As it happened, it wouldn’t be a day for nostalgia or for seeing much of anything.  On reaching Hurricane Hill, we found that the Olympic Mountains were obscured by smoke from the Paradise Fire. Meanwhile, looking north toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea, all that we could see was an amber-lit deep haze. More smoke, in other words, coming from more than 70 wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada. As I write this, there are 14 active wildfires in Washington and five in Oregon, while British Columbia recently registered 185 of them.

So if you happen to live in the drought-stricken Southwest and are dreaming of relocating to the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, think again. On the Olympic Peninsula, it’s haze to the horizon and the worst drought since 1895.

A Rainforest In A National Park

For visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, it seems obvious that a temperate rainforest — itself a kind of natural wonder — should be in a national park. As it happens, getting it included proved to be one of the most drawn-out battles in American conservation history, which makes seeing it destroyed all the more bitter.

Two centuries ago, expanses of coastal temperate rainforests stretched from northern California to southern Alaska. Today, only about 4% of the California redwoods remain, while in Oregon and Washington, the forests are less than 10% of what they once were.  Still, even in a degraded state, this eco-region, including British Columbia and Alaska, contains more than a quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforest.

In the era of climate change, this matters, because the Pacific coastal rainforest is so productive that it has a much higher biomass than comparable areas of any tropical rainforest. In translation: the Pacific rainforests store an impressive amount of carbon in their wood and soil and so contribute to keeping the climate cool. However, when that wood goes up in flames, as it has recently, it releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. The massive plumes of smoke we saw at Hurricane Ridge offer visual testimony to a larger ecological disaster to come.

Click here to see a larger version

Smoke from Paradise Fire obscures the iconic view of the Olympic Mountains, July 19, 2015.

The old-growth rainforest that stretches across the western valleys of the Olympic National Park is its crown jewel. As UNESCO wrote in recognizing the park as a World Heritage Site, it includes “the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.” In those river valleys, annual rainfall is measured not in inches but in feet, and it’s the wettest place in the continental United States. There you will find living giants: a Sitka spruce more than 1,000 years old; Douglas fir more than 300 feet tall; mountain hemlock at 150 feet; yellow cedars that are nearly 12 feet in diameter; and a western red cedar whose circumference is more than 60 feet.

The rainforest is home to innumerable species, most of which remain hidden from sight. Still, while walking its trails, you can sometimes hear the bugle or get a glimpse of Roosevelt elk amid moss-draped, fog-shrouded bigleaf maples. (The largest herd of wild elk in North America finds refuge here.) And when you do, you’ll know that you’ve entered a Tolkienesque landscape. Those elk, by the way, were named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, in 1909, protected 615,000 acres of the peninsula, as Mount Olympus National Monument.

Why not include a rainforest in a national park? That was the question being asked at the turn of the twentieth century and Henry Graves, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, answered it in definitive fashion this way: “It would be great mistake to include in parks great bodies of commercial timber.”

Despite the power of the timber industry and the Forest Service, however, five committed citizens with few resources somehow managed to protect the peninsula’s last remaining rainforest. “They did it by involving the public,” environmentalist and former park ranger Carsten Lien writes in his Olympic Battleground: Creating and Defending Olympic National Park. He adds, “Preserving the environment through direct citizen activism, as we know it today, had its beginnings in the Olympic National Park battle.”

In 1938, the national monument was converted to Olympic National Park and a significant amount of rainforest was included.  As Lien would discover in the late 1950s, however, the Park Service, despite its rhetoric of stewardship, continued to let timber interests log there. Today, such practices are long past, though commercial logging continues to play a significant part in the economy of the peninsula in national, state, and private forests.

A Fire That Just Won’t Stop

Once the fire began, I just couldn’t keep away.  On a rainy July 10th, for instance, listening to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, I drove toward the Queets River Valley to learn more about the Paradise Fire so that I could “talk about things to come.”

At the Kalaloch campground, I asked the first park employee I ran into whether the rain, then coming down harder, might extinguish the fire? “It will slow down the fire’s spread,” she told me, “but won’t put it out. There’s too much fuel in that valley.”

The next morning, with the rain still falling steadily and the fire still burning, I stood at the trailhead to the valley thinking about what another park employee had told me. “The sad thing,” she said, “is that the fire is burning in the most primitive of the three river valleys.” In other words, I was standing mere miles away from the destruction of one of the most primeval parts of the forest. As Queets was also one of the more difficult locations to visit, less attention was being given to the fire than if, say, it were in the always popular Hoh valley.

In a sense, the Paradise Fire has been burning out of sight of the general public. Information about it has been coming from press releases and updates prepared by the National Park Service. Though it is doing a good job of sharing information, environmental disasters and their lessons often sink in most deeply when they are observed and absorbed into collective memory via the stories, fears, and hopes of ordinary citizens.

I had breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge restaurant, not far from the Queets, while the rain was still falling. “When will the sun come out?” an elderly woman at the next table asked the waitress as if lodging a complaint with management. “The whole weekend we’ve been here it’s rained continuously.”

“I’m so happy that finally we got three days of rain,” the waitress responded politely. “This year we got 12 inches. Usually we get about 12 feet. It’s been bad for trees and all the life in our area.” In fact, the peninsula has received over 51 inches of rain, mostly last winter, but her point couldn’t have been more on target. “It has been so dry that the salmon can’t move in the river,” she added. Her voice lit up a bit as she continued, “With this rain, the rivers will rise and the salmon will be able to go upriver to spawn. The salmon will return.”

I asked where she was from. “Quinault Nation,” she said, citing one of the local native tribes dependent both nutritionally and culturally on those salmon.

“The Queets, the largest river flowing off the west side of the Olympics, is running at less than a third its normal volume,” the Seattle Times reported. “[B]ad news for the wild salmon runs, steelhead, bull trout, and cutthroat trout.” In addition to the disappearing snowpack and severe drought, the iconic glaciers of the Olympic Mountains are melting rapidly, which will likely someday spell doom for the park’s rivers and its vibrant ecology. According to Bill Baccus, a scientist at the park, over the last 30 years, those glaciers have shrunk by about 35%, a direct consequence of the impact of climate change.

After breakfast, I took off for the Hoh Valley. At its visitor center, a ranger described the battle underway with the Paradise Fire. Summing up how dire the situation was, he said, “Our goal is confinement, not containment.” Normally, success in fighting a wildfire is measured by what percentage of it has been contained, but not with the Paradise. “Safety of the firefighters and safety of the human communities are our two priorities right now,” the ranger explained. As a result, the National Park Service is letting the fire burn further into wilderness areas unfought, while trying to stop its spread toward human communities and into commercially valuable timberlands outside the park.

For firefighters, combating such a blaze in an old-growth rainforest with steep hills is, at best, an impossibly dangerous business. Large trees are “falling down regularly,” firefighter Dave Felsen told the Seattle Times. “You can hear cracking and you try to move, but it’s so thick in there that there is no escape route if something is coming at you.”

Besides, many of the traditional means of fighting wildfires don’t work against the Paradise. Dumping water from a helicopter, to take one example, is almost meaningless. As an NPR reporter noted, the rainforest canopy “is so dense that very little of the water will make it down to the fire burning in the underbrush below.” Worse yet, as the Washington Post reported, the large trees and thick growth “make it impossible to effectively cut a fire line” through the foliage to contain the spread of the flames.

With the moist lichens and mosses that usually give the rainforest its magical appearance shriveled and dried out, they now help spread the fire from tree to tree. When they burst into flames and fall to the ground, yet more of the dry underbrush catches, too. In other words, that forest, which normally would have suppressed a fire, has now been transformed into a tinderbox.

Click here to see a larger version

Moss-covered bigleaf maples in the Hoh rainforest, June 2014.

“Few people in our profession have ever seen this kind of fire in this kind of ecosystem,” Bill Hahnenberg, the Paradise Fire incident commander, told his crew. “The information you gather could be really valuable.” He didn’t have to add the obvious: its value lies in offering hints as to how to fight such fires in a future that, as the region becomes drier and hotter, will be ever more amenable to them.

So far, the fire is smoldering, but as the summer heats up, the Seattle Times reports, “there is still the potential for a crown fire that can spread in dramatic fashion as treetops are engulfed in flames.” According to several park employees I spoke with, the Paradise Fire is likely to burn until the autumn rains return to the western valleys. As of July 23rd, it had eaten 1,781 acres, which sounds modest compared to other fires burning in the West, but you have to remind yourself that it’s not modest at all, not in a temperate rainforest. It also poses a challenge to the very American idea of land conservation.

Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American environmentalists passionately fought to protect large swaths of public lands and waters. The national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and wildernesses they helped to create laid the basis for a new American identity. Nationalism aside, such publicly protected lands and waters also offered refuge for an incredible diversity of species, some of which would have otherwise found it difficult to survive at the edges of an expanding industrialized, consumerist society. Today, that diversity of life within these public lands and waters is increasingly endangered by climate change.

What, then, should environmental conservation look like in a twenty-first century in which the Paradise Fire could become something like the norm?

Tankers and Rigs

“This is not an anthropogenic fire,” the ranger I spoke with at the Hoh visitor center insisted. In the most literal sense, that’s true. In late May, lightning struck a tree in the Queets Valley and started the fire, which then smoldered and slowly spread across the north bank of the river. It was finally detected in mid-June and firefighters were called in. That such a lightning strike disqualifies the Paradise Fire from being “anthropogenic” — human-caused — would once have been a given, but in a world being heated by the burning of fossil fuels, such definitions have to be reconsidered.

The very rarity of such fires speaks to the anthropogenic nature of the origins of this one.  After all, a temperate rainforest as a vast collection of biomass and so a carbon sink is only possible thanks to the rarity of fire in such a habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “With a unique combination of moderate temperatures and very high rainfall, the climate makes fires extremely rare” in such forests.

The natural fire cycle in these forests is about 500 to 800 years. In other words, once every half-millennium or more this forest may experience a moderate-sized fire. But that’s now changing. Mark Huff, who has been studying wildfires in the park since the late 1970s, told Seattle’s public radio station KUOW that in the past half-century there have already been “three modest-sized fires” here, including the Paradise, though the other two were less destructive. According to a National Park Service map (“Olympic National Park: Fire History 1896-2006”) in the western rainforest, during that century-plus, two lightning-caused fires burned more than 100 acres and another more than 500 acres.

If, however, fires in the rainforest become the new normal, comments Olympic National Park wildlife biologist Patti Happe, “then we may not have these forests.”

A team of international climate change and rainforest experts published a study earlier this year warning that, “without drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and new forest protections, the world’s most expansive stretch of temperate rainforests from Alaska to the coast redwoods will experience irreparable losses.” In fact, says the study’s lead author, Dominick DellaSala, “In the Pacific Northwest… the climate may no longer support rainforest communities.”

Click here to see a larger version

The Chevron oil tanker Pegasus Voyager moored in Port Angeles Harbor (with Geese), July 2015.

Speaking of the anthropogenic, on our way back, Finis and I stopped in Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. There we noted a Chevron oil tanker, the massive 904-foot Pegasus Voyager, moored in its harbor on the Salish Sea. It had arrived empty for “topside repair.” Today, only a modest number of oil tankers and barges come here for repair, refueling, and other services, but that could change dramatically if Canada’s tar sands extraction project really takes off and vast quantities of that particularly carbon-dirty energy product are exported to Asia.

That industry is already fighting to build two new pipelines from Alberta, the source of most of the country’s tar sands, to the coast of British Columbia. “Once this invasion of tar sands oil reaches the coast,” a Natural Resources Defense Council press release states, “up to 2,000 additional barges and tankers would be needed to carry the crude to Washington and California ports and international markets across the Pacific.” All of those barges and tankers would be moving through the Salish Sea and along Washington’s coast.

And let’s not forget that, in May, Shell Oil moored in Seattle’s harbor the Polar Pioneer, one of the two rigs the company plans to use this summer for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Arctic Alaska (a project only recently green-lighted by the Obama administration). In fact, Shell expects to use that harbor as the staging area for its Arctic drilling fleet. The arrival of Polar Pioneer inspired a “kayaktivist” campaign, which received national and international media coverage. It focused on drawing attention to the dangers of drilling in the melting Arctic Ocean, including the significant contribution such new energy extraction projects could make to climate change.

In other words, two of the most potentially climate-destroying fossil-fuel-extraction projects on Earth more or less bookend the burning Olympic Peninsula.

The harbors of Washington, a state that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, have already become a support base for one, and the other will likely join the crowd in the years to come. Washington’s residents will gradually become more accustomed to oil rigs and tankers and trains, while its rainforests burn in yet more paradisical fires.

In the meantime, the Olympic Peninsula is still wreathed in smoke, the West is still drought central, and anthropogenic is a word all of us had better learn soon.

Subhankar Banerjee is an internationally exhibited photographer and writer. His most recent book is Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. A TomDispatch regular, he won a 2012 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award. He has been deeply involved with the native tribes of the Arctic in trying to prevent the destruction of Arctic lands and seas.

[Note: The four photos in this post were all taken by Subhankar Banerjee.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Subhankar Banerjee



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews from early July: “Washington forest blaze engulfs tree in seconds”

contributors <![CDATA[Israeli squatter-terrorists kill Palestinian toddler, injure 4 after setting their Home Ablaze]]> 2015-07-31T05:08:22Z 2015-07-31T05:08:22Z Ma’an News Agency | – –

NABLUS (Ma’an ) — Israeli settlers killed a Palestinian toddler and injured four others early Friday morning after settling their home ablaze in the village of Doma near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, local sources said.

Ali Saad Dawabsha, one-and-a-half years old, died shortly after sustaining serious burns, said Ghassan Daghlas, an official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank.

His mother and father, Riham and Saad, and their son Ahmad, 4, also sustained injuries and were evacuated to a nearby hospital, Daghlas said, adding that their home was left completely burned.

The Israeli settlers from nearby settlements also attacked and partially burned a home belonging to Maamoon Rashid Dawabsha, and sprayed racist graffiti across both homes, Daghlas added.

The homes were located near the main entrance to the village and the settlers were able to flee the scene quickly before residents identified them, Daghlas added.

Musallem Dawabsha, 23, told Ma’an: “we saw four settlers running away keeping distance between each other. We tried to chase them but they fled to the nearby Maale Efrayim settlement.”

A young woman who lives nearby the attack said that she saw the settlers smash windows of the homes before throwing flammable liquids and molotov cocktails inside.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “Israeli Settlers Clash With Police”

contributors <![CDATA[Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Man Allegedly Stabs 6 At Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade]]> 2015-07-31T04:36:55Z 2015-07-31T04:34:48Z By IMEMC | – –

An ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed six Gay Pride marchers in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday, in a repeat of a 2005 attack for which he served 10 years behind bars, police and medics said.

Yishai Shlissel was released from jail three weeks ago after having served his sentence for the attack a decade ago when three marchers were wounded, a police spokesman said.

The Magen David Adom, the Jewish equivalent of the Red Cross, said two of Thursday’s casualties were in serious condition.

According to AFP, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly condemned the attack as a “very serious incident”. “The state of Israel respects the private freedom of individuals which is a fundamental principle exercised in this country,” he said.

“We must ensure that every man and every woman can live in full security in any way that they choose,” the prime minister said in a statement.

After police arrested the assailant, participants carried on with the march through streets decked with rainbow flags to a park where a party was planned for the evening.

Hundreds of police are deployed to prevent violence breaking out in the highly conservative city during the annual march.

In past years, ultra-Orthodox protesters have gathered in their Mea Shearim bastion to denounce what they consider the “abomination” of homosexuality.

Organisers of Thursday’s march avoided ultra-Orthodox sectors to try to avoid incidents.

Israel’s homosexual community was plunged into grief in 2009 when a gunman attacked a centre for young gays in Tel Aviv killing two people and wounding some 15 others. That assailant has never been apprehended.

Israel is widely seen as having liberal gay rights policies, despite the ultra-Orthodox hostility towards homosexuals, particularly men.

Israel repealed a ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts in 1988.



AJ+: “Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Man Allegedly Stabs 6 People At Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade”

contributors <![CDATA[Turkey opens up old wounds with a new campaign against the PKK]]> 2015-07-30T07:52:07Z 2015-07-30T07:52:07Z By Cengiz Gunes | (The Conversation) | – –

The recent surge of violence in Turkey following the massacre of socialist activists in Suruc has brought Turkey perilously close to an all-out conflict with the Kurds.

Turkey has begun regular air strikes targeting the bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas as part of its broader “war on terror”, which has also included action against Islamic State (IS) and the left-wing Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKPC). So far, more than 1,000 people have been detained in Turkey. That number includes many trade unionists – and there are growing fears that non-violent dissidents will be targeted.

Turkey’s effort to tie its campaign against the PKK to the international campaign against IS is widely seen as a ploy to make its actions against the Kurds more internationally legitimate. Turkey seems to have convinced the US of the need to create a de-facto safe zone on the border with Syria, a long-held Turkish plan to prevent Kurdish autonomous regions from joining one to another. The Kurds view that plan with deep suspicion, seeing it as a push to undermine their achievements in Syria.

While the trigger points of Turkey’s conflict with the PKK in the past year have all been connected to the developments in Syria, it’s worth remembering that the conflict has a much deeper history.

Long road to peace

Since the early 1980s, the PKK has been the main force in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. It began its insurgency against Turkey in 1984, mounting guerrilla attacks against the security forces between 1984 and 1999. Ever since the capture and imprisonment of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, Turkish governments have introduced some minor reforms to broaden Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The violence has simmered down, with the PKK abandoning armed conflict in favour of political struggle for long periods. That said, during the past decade, the PKK has resorted to violence on a number of occasions – but this has always been followed by periods of inactivity.

Overall, the PKK maintains its commitment to peaceful political resolution of the conflict, but retains its estimated 5,000 strong guerrilla force, some of which is positioned inside Turkey.

The total number of casualties in the conflict is thought to be more than 45,000. The state has carried out many large-scale operations against the PKK, but without much success. The PKK has proved to be an extremely resilient organisation able to exploit general regional developments to its advantage.

The dialogue between Ankara and the PKK has continued over the past two and a half years and has produced positive outcomes. A ceasefire was declared on March 21 2013, and an agreement on the plan for future negotiations was made public in February 2015.

The PKK’s capacity to use violence and its occasional attacks have been cited by the Turkish government as reasons why a military approach is needed. Ankara has set withdrawal of the PKK guerrillas from Turkey and the conclusion of the armed struggle against Turkey as the basic conditions for restarting the peace process.

Kurds versus the AKP

As things stand, Kurdish demands cannot be accommodated within Turkey. A form of self-rule for the Kurds – which can be achieved through decentralisation of state structure in Turkey and devolution of power to regional level, the recognition of Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights (such as Kurdish-language education) and reforms to strengthen democracy and pluralism – would go a long way in satisfying Kurdish demands.

The escalation came after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) performed strongly in the recent elections winning sufficient support to send 80 MPs to Turkish parliament and raising hopes that the peace process would finally take a step forward.

All round, the HDP has dented the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s hopes of consolidating its hegemony, which has been challenged on a number of fronts since the Gezi Park protests broke out in May 2013. Most importantly, the HDP’s success kept the AKP from winning the parliamentary majority it needed to introduce the presidential form of government for which it had been campaigning.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Kurdish forces have managed to repel IS attacks and consolidate their three autonomous regions, collectively known as the Cantons of Rojava. Their success reduces the likelihood of moulding post-conflict Syria into a state shaped by Turkey’s vision of the region.

The Rojava project is achieved under the guidance and leadership of the Democratic Union Party. This party has an ideological affiliation with the PKK but is a separate entity, and the international powers treat it as such – but Turkey treats it as a terror organisation, worried as it is that Rojava’s success will increase the PKK’s power as a regional actor and permanently change the game in the Kurds’ favour.

What’s next?

The recent developments in Turkey and Syria make the Kurds the main barrier to the goverment’s ambitions for both Turkey and the wider region. Present indications are that actions against the PKK will be extended to include the HDP and that pro-Kurdish representation in the parliament will be eliminated. The debate in Turkey’s mainstream media following the attacks against the PKK has already begun to marginalise the HDP and implicate them in the latest violence, and the Supreme Court has begun an investigation into the HDP that could result in its closure and the possible imprisonment of senior MPs.

In Syria, the Kurdish forces have complained that Turkey has attacked their defence positions and it is possible that Turkey’s actions will be expanded to include the Rojava Cantons.

Starting a large-scale campaign against the Kurds could have unpredictable consequences and further increase the instability in the region. For that reason Turkey will face domestic and international opposition. However, without a workable plan to put the peace process on track, the ongoing tensions will further escalate the conflict.

The Conversation

Cengiz Gunes is Associate Lecturer, Faculty of Social Science at The Open University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Cengiz Gunes is Associate Lecturer, Faculty of Social Science at The Open University


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Anger and frustration among Kurds as Turkey hits PKK”

contributors <![CDATA[Amnesty Visualizes Israeli War Crimes on anniversary of Gaza Black Friday]]> 2015-07-30T07:39:37Z 2015-07-30T07:39:37Z AJ+ | (Video Report) | –

“A joint study by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture reconstructs Israel’s four-day bombardment of the city of Rafah in Gaza.”

AJ+ “Amnesty Report Visualizes Israel’s War Crimes”

contributors <![CDATA[Bernie Sanders launches “Political Revolution” w/ 100K Virtual House Partiers]]> 2015-07-30T07:56:17Z 2015-07-30T07:26:38Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Bernie Sanders spoke from a house party in Washington, D.C., to supporters gathering in 3500 homes and other locations around the country in groups ranging from 7-8 to 80 or 90. He said it was a “historical night” and unprecedented to have these coordinated gatherings with an on-line streamed address so early in a campaign (in fact, it seems to me a little science-fictional– has this ever been done before?)

Sanders blasted the rich for getting richer while the US has more children living in poverty than any other OECD country, blasted corporations for evading taxes, insisted that it is “wrong that people are working 40 and 50 hours a week and still living in poverty.” He slammed 35% unemployment and underemployment rates among workers with a high school education or less. He criticized unaffordable tuition and unbearable student debt.

He blasted the treatment of African-Americans and “institutional racism,” instancing the Sandra Bland case.

He argued for a new campaign finance system and pledged to overturn Citizens United.

Having been inclusive of African-Americans, he reached out to Latinos by promising to fight for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

He argued for an expansion of medicaid to everyone on a single payer basis.

He said that the only way to combat the dominance of American politics by a handful of billionaires was with a grassroots campaign of millions and millions of people, which he calls a “political revolution.”

Now for media: tweets (first) and then videos, below:

A Latino diarist at Daily Kos wrote:

Due to recent tone deaf statements that marginalize Sanders’ existing minority support, I felt compelled to post this article and say a few words about my support as a Latino for Bernie Sanders and why I do not support Hillary Clinton.

I am proud to support a candidate who actually took the time to visit the fields and see first hand how migrant workers were being horribly mistreated and then spoke up for them. I am proud to support a candidate who traveled to Nicaragua to take a stand against U.S. imperialism under Reagan. Actions speak louder than words. I am proud to support a candidate who rightfully says the war on drugs has been a failure. I am proud to support a candidate who believes healthcare is a right, especially since this issue affects minorities in such a disproportionate way.

 I am proud to support a candidate who doesn’t need to be dishonest about their immigrant heritage to pander or flip flop and refuse to take a stand until it’s politically expedient. . .

 I stand with Bernie Sanders because he stands with us.

Video of Sen. Sanders speaking via live streaming to 100,000: (Note, video starts 2 minutes in.):

Bernie2016 “Bernie 2016 Organizing Kickoff ”


USA Today report on sights and sounds of the 100,000 strong house party:

USA Today: “Sights and sounds from Bernie Sanders’ house party”

contributors <![CDATA[White Male News: As US Diversifies, Newsrooms Lag]]> 2015-07-30T05:47:35Z 2015-07-30T05:46:30Z By Nora Happel | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Diversity Inc. from last year: “Diversity In a Global Newsroom”