PNN -Two Steps Forward...
Rick Spisak - News Director
Brook Hines , Special Political Commentator
Meredith Ockman - SE Regional Director N.O.W.
Cris Costello - Regional Organizing Representative at Sierra Club
Kartik Krishnaiyer - Political Commentator
1. SEND THE WATER - NOT THE POISONS
[Stand with the Miccosukee - (PHOSPHORUS GROWTH FACTOR / POISONS)
[Stand with the Miccosukee - (PHOSPHORUS GROWTH FACTOR / POISONS)
What is the best available technology to reduce phosphorus?
Best available technology - improved farming practices to reduce phosphorus - and man-made treatment marshes - known as “green technology” - filter pollution from water entering the Everglades. To date, Florida's 45,000 acres of Stormwater Treatment Areas, combined with improved farming practices have prevented more than 3,200 metric tons of phosphorous from entering the Everglades
What is the plan for implementing best available technology?
Officially called the 2003 Everglades Protection Area Tributary Basins Conceptual Plan for Achieving Long-Term Water Quality Goals [pdf - 5.24 MB], the 13-year plan is designed to achieve 10 ppb in the Everglades and keep it there.
When will the entire Everglades attain 10 ppb?
Only nature knows. (Really?) As less phosphorus enters the marsh, phosphorus embedded deep in the soil is released. This natural process, known as reflux, could cause phosphorus levels to rise above 10 ppb for years, perhaps even decades. Florida will continue to clean up water entering the system as well as explore scientific opportunities for cleaning up water within the natural system.
2. Too Little Too Late
(May I gently slap your hand please)
(May I gently slap your hand please)
At least that’s according to environmental advocates, after the state fined Duke Energy $2.5 million for spilling approximately 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash from a facility six miles upstream in North Carolina. The utility has admitted responsibility for the spill, and environmentalists had suggested a $50 million fine from the state.
“When you commit crimes that result in violations of Virginia’s environmental laws and you cause a catastrophic spill… when you have ignored years of warning about a problem you could easily have dealt with, and when you are the country’s biggest and richest utility, it takes more than a small rounding area — $2.5 million in their daily revenue report — to signal a deterrent,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told ThinkProgress.
According to court documents, Duke executives were warned — both by employees and by the state — that the drainage pipe at the unlined coal ash storage pond near the Dan River posed a risk. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and contains a slew of toxins, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, mercury, and lead.
The State Water Control Board agreed with the recommendation of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the ruling Thursday.
“How big was the fish kill in this event?” Water Control Board member Thomas Van Auken asked the DEQ, the AP reported. When told there was no fish kill, Van Auken responded, “So this looked pretty bad, but maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
But fish kills are not the only signs of toxic pollution. In fact, mercury — which the Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate in a rule currently before the Supreme Court — can be stored in fish and subsequently poison people who eat them. The neurotoxin is particularly dangerous for unborn children, and can cause significant mental deficiencies.
“The fine that Virginia has imposed is woefully inadequate,” Holleman said. “It’s undisputed now that this spill was caused by Duke’s criminal conduct.”
In the federal criminal case, Duke pleaded guilty in May to illegally discharging pollution from coal ash ponds in North Carolina. Those misdemeanor charges included the spill at the Dan River as well as several other locations.
In the plea agreement, Duke agreed to pay $102 million — $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and projects to help mitigate the effects of the pollution.
According to Holleman, the company could still face federal natural resources fines for the Dan River spill. The money from those fines would likely go into a trust for the continued care of the two states’ natural resources that were damaged or put at risk by the company. Individual communities affected by the spill, such as Danville, VA, can also bring separate civil suits.
Separately, the company was fined $25 million in March by the state of North Carolina forallowing coal ash to seep into groundwater at another plant.
Duke vowed to contest that fine. “We cannot allow this level of regulatory overreach to go unchallenged,” Paul Newton, Duke’s state president for North Carolina, said at the time. “The actions by [the North Carolina government] send a chilling message to the North Carolina business community.”
The company, which is based in Charlottesville, reported an annual revenue of more than $24 billion last year.
3. Military Skepticism about
Officers have also directed criticism of counterinsurgency doctrines. Once deemed a daring innovation that would revolutionize warfare and foreign policy, counterinsurgency is judged to be a false hope -- one that threatens to become an ideological foundation for interventions around the world. (See Col Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America's Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency.)
Col Gregory Daddis (a West Point instructor like Gentile), has written that the expectation of war has become ingrained in our culture -- to the detriment of our support for diplomacy. The public is mostly detached from military service and less than critical in approaching wars that have no real cost to them. Americans are comfortable in the myths that war is ennobling and that their military can accomplish almost anything. Daddis decries the "relentless militarization afflicting our national mental health." (See "America: Addicted to War, Afraid of Peace.")
4. Essay - Let courts Decide Amendment 1 issue
(by Gayle Ryan)
(by Gayle Ryan)
■ Objective third party needed to clarify intent of measure
This issue was headed for court the minute the special session of the Florida Legislature gaveled to a close June 19.
Last fall, 75 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 1, which was supposed to set aside one third of “documentary stamp” taxes on real estate transactions over 20 years to preserve land and water.
Florida lawmakers had a different idea about the “intent” of the amendment, earmarking$192 million for general operating expenses.
A big chunk of this appropriation will go into salaries and benefits of employees at the state Department of Environmental Protection’s office of technology and information and boating and hunting law enforcement officers.
Amendment 1 dollars also are paying for new enforcement vehicles at the Florida Forest Service.
Sadly, of the $740 million appropriated this year from Amendment 1, less than 12 percent— $88.7 million — will be spent on land acquisition, including land for springs and Kissimmee River restoration.
Legislative leaders actually believe they adhered to the intent of the amendment.
“The Legislature complied with both the spirit and the letter of the constitution,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.
Voters didn’t approve Amendment 1 to establish a separate — and lucrative — revenue source for lawmakers to supplement funding shortfalls in the state budget.
What was obvious to 75 percent of Florida voters (i.e. that Amendment 1 dollars would be spent primarily to preserve land and water resources) was opaqueto state lawmakers.
Either that, or legislators deliberately employed a “bait and switch” with the amendment’s revenues.
The bottom line? Confusion abounds, and a lot of environmentalists feel they’ve been duped by the Legislature.
Enter the attorneys.
Last week, the nonprofit Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of several environmental organizations against the Legislature. The lawsuit claims lawmakers misused almost half the money available through Amendment 1.
It seeks guidance from the courts on how lawmakers should allocate money from the amendment next year — and 18 years after that.
“What we are saying simply to the court is to confirm boundaries and tell the Legislature what they can and cannot fund,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
Right now, there don’t appear to be any boundaries. An objective third party — in this case, the courts — is needed to provide direction.
As a general rule, our Editorial Board is reluctant to endorse litigation. However, what lawmakers have done is such an affront to Florida voters, it may well take a legal decision to correct this travesty.
5. Taking it Down
(Moore pays bail)
(Moore pays bail)
JUST TODAY, a young woman named Bree Newsome scaled the 30 foot pole at the South Carolina State Capitol  to remove the flag. A flag that flew high even while slain State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney lay in state at the State Capitol. A flag that was also still flying more than a week after State Senator Pinckney and eight other mothers, fathers, and grandparents were gunned down in a vicious act of racial terrorism, the kind that has for too long been glorified by the iconography of the Confederate flag.
Woman removes Confederate flag in front of SC statehouse | 28 June 2015 | The two people arrested for removing the Confederate flag from the front of the South Carolina Statehouse have been released from jail in the state capital. Officer L. Tucker of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center said 30-year-old Bree Newsome and 30-year-old James Ian Tyson were released from jail Saturday after posting bond. Both Newsome and Tyson are from Charlotte.
6. Pacific Tidal Pools emptying of life
(starfish disapear, urchins lose their spines)
(starfish disapear, urchins lose their spines)
Laguna Beach Independent, May 10, 2015 (emphasis added): Tide Pool Life Diminishes… an eerie new phenomenon, urchin balding, is attacking purple-spined sea urchins in Orange County tide pools, and local scientists are investigating this new mystery… tide pool conditions have worsened over the last year, said Jayson Smith, a Cal Poly Pomona marine biologist… Where once abalone, lobster and sea stars thrived, now sea hares, octopus, small fish, limpets and mussels seem to be leaving the scene, said Smith. The latest debacle leaves urchins with bald spots, where algae takes root, said Jennifer Burnaford, biology professor at Cal State Fullerton… Scientists have yet to understand the urchin-balding syndrome, said Smith… “Things are looking pretty poor right now,” he commented. Educators… report seeing fewer urchins at some tide pools and more empty shells. The once-prolific California blue mussels are also becoming increasingly sparse… “We appear to have more than just the sea-star wasting,” [Louise Thornton, chair of Laguna Ocean Foundation] said. “We appear to have something else going on. There’s something going on because the fish are disappearing.”
7. Canadian Defense Ministers - Visiting Ukraine,
NO NAZI's UNDER THE BED HERE... Canadian defense minister dismisses concerns over training extreme-right paramilitaries
NO NAZI's UNDER THE BED HERE... Canadian defense minister dismisses concerns over training extreme-right paramilitaries
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Azov regiment is nothing more than “small number of bad apples” who should not be allowed to define the embattled eastern European country’s image, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Kenney underlined earlier reassurances that the paramilitary group would not receive Canadian training or support, but — unlike in the U.S. — that guarantee won’t be enshrined in law. That’s in part because Parliament has risen and won’t reconvene until after the federal election in October. But it’s also one of those touchy subjects both here and in Canada’s large, politically active Ukrainian diaspora.
While opinions are divided, many see the 1,500-man Azov unit as being populated not with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but with patriots willing to fight in order to rollback Russian-backed separatists.
Earlier this week, the group, which says it’s the victim of a Russian smear campaign, called on Canada to refute claims that it is a haven for fascists. Spokesman Alexander Alferov told The Canadian Press that his group believes Canada has shown leadership and moral clarity on the issue of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in the eastern regions.
Conservatives have doggedly courted the Ukrainian vote back home, both with its strident, sometimes personal, anti-Putin rhetoric. They ensure high-profile members like junior defence minister James Bezan are photographed delivering relief and military hardware.
The spillover effect of such endeavours, of course, is that they attract the applause and admiration of the same ultra-nationalists Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko must court.
It is only one snapshot of the complicated political terrain Canadian troops are about to inhabit.
Canada is indeed providing moral leadership, but that doesn’t mean the Harper government will back those with extremist views, Kenney said. “We should not allow a small number of bad apples in one battalion to characterize the new Ukraine,” he said. “The new Ukraine which is western-oriented, focused on democratic values.”
He also seems to believe the country’s standing would be improved if Ukraine joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and he intended to suggest the country “redouble its efforts against anti-Semitism.”
The impression that he keeps close tabs on the issue was highlighted when he referred to the chief rabbi of Kyiv as his “friend” and said the Jewish community in Ukraine not only supported the uprising in 2014, but feels “more comfortable politically and socially in post-Maidan Ukraine than they have ever felt.”
Kenney sat down Friday with leaders of the persecuted Muslim Tatar minority, who’ve been displaced and marginalized by Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He’s also meeting Poroshenko before checking out training centres where Canadians troops will be based later this summer.
The Ukrainian Defence Department intends to screen the hundreds of national guardsmen being sent for training at a NATO friendship centre along the Polish border, a process the minister says he’s confident will weed out extremists.
Alferov says the Azov regiment, which started life as a national socialist group called “Patriots of Ukraine” known for praising the concept of white supremacy, also conducts screening of its recruits. But it does not ask questions about politics and chooses members based upon their willingness to fight for Ukraine, he said.
Whether his unit receives any western military training is irrelevant, Alferov said. “Ukraine could use more weapons.”
Azov fighters have started to receive more heavy equipment during the last few months as a ceasefire in the breakaway eastern region appears to be crumbling.
8. Banning Russia Media Critics
By James Carden, The Nation, May 19, 2015 (print edition of June 8)
As a result of the civil war that has raged in Ukraine since April 2014, at least 7,000 people have been killed and more than 15,400 wounded, many of them grievously. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 1.2 million eastern Ukrainians have been internally displaced, while the number of those who have fled abroad, mainly to Russia and Belarus, has reached 674,300. Further, the United Nations has reported that millions of people, particularly the elderly and the very young, are facing life-threatening conditions as a result of the conflict. Large parts of eastern Ukraine lie in ruins, and relations between the United States and Russia have perhaps reached their most dangerous point since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
And yet a special report published last fall by the online magazine the Interpreter would have us believe that Russian “disinformation” ranks among the gravest threats to the West. The report, titled “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money,” is a joint project of the Interpreter and the Institute for Modern Russia (IMR), a Manhattan-based think tank funded by the exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Cowritten by the journalists Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev, this highly polemical manifesto makes the case for why the United States, and the West generally, must combat what the authors allege to be the Kremlin’s extravagantly designed propaganda campaign. If implemented, the measures they propose would stifle democratic debate in the Western media.
The report seeks to awaken a purportedly somnolent American public to the danger posed by the Kremlin’s media apparatus. According to Weiss and Pomerantsev, the Russian government—via RT, the Kremlin-funded international television outlet, as well as a network of “expatriate NGOs” and “far-left and far-right movements”—is creating an “anti-Western, authoritarian Internationale that is becoming ever more popular…throughout the world.”
While it would be easy to dismiss the report as a publicity stunt by two journalists attempting to cash in on the Russophobia so in vogue among American pundits, their thesis has gained wide acceptance, nowhere more so than in the halls of Congress. On April 15, Pomerantsev testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee on the supposed threat posed by “Russia’s weaponization of information.” Committee chair Ed Royce and ranking member Eliot Engel are now expected to reintroduce a 2014 bill to reform the Voice of America, which fell into disarray following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his opening statements at the hearing, Royce argued that the bill “will help us fight Putin’s propaganda,” though some critics believe it would turn the federal government’s international broadcasting service into “something fundamentally not American.”
Who Are These Guys?
Weiss and Pomerantsev are an unlikely pair. Weiss, youthful yet professorial in manner, has become a nearly constant presence on cable news because of his supposed expertise on, among other things, Russia, Syria, and ISIS. A longtime neoconservative journalist, he began his rise to cable-news ubiquity as a protégé of the late Christopher Hitchens. After working with Hitchens, he made his way to the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a London-based bastion of neoconservatism that, according to a report in The Guardian, has “attracted controversy in recent years—with key staff criticised in the past for allegedly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant comments.”
The historian Marko Attila Hoare, who resigned in protest from the HJS in 2012, has written that the organization publishes “polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks.” According to Hoare, Weiss reinvented himself at the HJS “as an expert on Russia—about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East.” Weiss served as HJS communications director before moving on to found the Interpreter under the auspices of the US-based IMR in 2013. Solidifying his mainstream-media credentials, he will join the Daily Beast as a senior editor on June 1.
Where Weiss’s moderate demeanor belies a deep commitment to neoconservative ideology, Pomerantsev exudes a kind of louche nonchalance. A British citizen of Russian extraction, this rumpled television producer has parlayed his career in the less-than-reputable districts of the Russian media landscape into a role as a kind of latter-day Cassandra, sounding a clarion call about the danger that Russian state propaganda poses to the West.
An assiduous self-promoter, Pomerantsev chronicled his journey into the belly of the Russian media beast in a recent book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. A launch party in early 2015 at the Legatum Institute, a London-based research organization with close links to the IMR, offered a glimpse of the esteem that Pomerantsev enjoys. At the event, the American director of the institute’s Transitions Forum, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, told the audience that she believes his book is “an extraordinary achievement.”
Pomerantsev, it turns out, is an experienced lobbyist too. In his book he recalls visiting the British Parliament in 2013 to make the case for “why Europe needs a Magnitsky Act.” The original version of the bill, pushed by British hedge-fund magnate Bill Browder and passed by the US Congress in 2012, imposed bans on a group of Russian officials deemed responsible for the prison death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. This in itself is notable, since Browder was an enthusiastic supporter of Vladimir Putin’s decision to jail Khodorkovsky in 2003.
Like Weiss, Pomerantsev has become a frequent presence in the US media. He appeared on the op-ed page of The New York Times last December to inform readers that at the core of the Kremlin’s information strategy is “the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth.” Two months later, he was the subject of a fawning Times profile in which he described his book as being “about the Faustian bargain made by an ambitious youngster working in Russia’s medialand of opportunity.” In joining forces with the editor of a Khodorkovsky-funded webzine, he seems to have traded one Faustian bargain for another.
Because of his decade-long imprisonment, Khodorkovsky has attained the stature of a secular saint in some circles. But it should not be forgotten that the oil tycoon made his fortune in a spectacularly corrupt and sometimes violent fashion. Indeed, in 2000, Foreign Affairs described him and his fellow oligarchs as “a dangerous posse of plutocrats” who “threaten Russia’s transition to democracy and free markets” as well as “vital US interests.”
According to a recent profile of Khodorkovsky in The New Yorker, staff members of a Riga-based news outlet in which he planned to invest objected. “He’s a toxic investor,” said a person “close to the project.” The article added that “his views of journalists haven’t changed much since the nineties, when reporters could be bought and sold, and ‘hit’ pieces could be ginned up for the right price.” Khodorkovsky’s agenda—to bring regime change to Russia—is faithfully reflected in the work of IMR, the Interpreter, and the “Menace of Unreality” report.
With the report’s publication, Weiss and Pomerantsev have joined the long line of Western journalists who have played to the public’s darkest suspicions about the power, intentions, and reach of those governments that are perceived as threats to the United States. In his seminal essay on McCarthyism, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote that in the worldview of these opportunists, “very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing).” There exists no better précis of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s view of Putin and the Russian government’s media apparatus.
The report asserts that Putin’s Russia is “arguably more dangerous than a communist superpower.” Any effective response to the virus of Russian propaganda, Weiss insists, must combine “the wisdom of Orwell…with the savvy of Don Draper.” Readers will certainly cede that the duo has led by example, since the report and its set of “modest recommendations” are nothing if not Orwellian.
The authors call for the creation of an “internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation” that would furnish news organizations and bloggers with the “analytical tools with which to define forms of communication.” While they throw in an obligatory caveat that “top-down censorship should be avoided” (exactly how is left unexplained), they nonetheless endorse what amounts to a media blacklist. “Vigorous debate and disagreement is of course to be encouraged,” the authors write, “but media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community.”
What qualifies as “conscious deception” is also left undefined, but it isn’t difficult to surmise. Organizations that do not share the authors’ enthusiasm for regime change in Syria or war with Russia over Ukraine would almost certainly be “excluded from the community.” Weiss, for instance, has asserted repeatedly that Russia is to blame for the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. But would a news organization like, say, The Atlantic or Der Spiegel be “excluded from the community” for writing about a German intelligence report that indicated the missile in question did not come from Russia? Would journalists like Robert Parry be blacklisted for questioning the mainstream account of the tragedy? Would scholars like the University of Ottawa’s Paul Robinson be banned from appearing on op-ed pages and cable-news programs for challenging the notion that there is, in the words of Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, “no civil war in Ukraine,” but rather a war “started and waged by Russia”?
Weiss and Pomerantsev accuse the Kremlin of “making deception equivalent to argumentation and the deliberate misuse of facts as legitimate as rational persuasion.” Maybe so. But these tactics are hardly unique to the Kremlin. In December, a group of Kiev parliamentarians presented photographs to the Senate Armed Services Committee purporting to show Russian troops and tanks invading eastern Ukraine. Subsequent reports revealed that the images had been taken during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Did the Interpreter denounce the Ukrainian delegation for trying to pass off doctored photos? No. Its warnings about disinformation cut only one way.
So do its oft-expressed concerns about transparency. Time and again, the authors call on pundits and think tanks to be more transparent with regard to their affiliations, financial interests, and funding. But the Interpreter doesn’t necessarily practice what it so ardently preaches. In addition to the support provided by Khodorkovsky, the publication identifies its other initial source of funding as the Herzen Foundation of London. Weiss responded to a query asking about the provenance of the foundation by admitting, “I don’t know Herzen’s current organizational status, board of directors, etc. You are most welcome to inquire with the Charities Aid Foundation in the UK.” Multiple requests to the Charities Aid Foundation, with which Herzen had claimed to be registered, have all gone unanswered. Indeed, there is no evidence Herzen exists.
The authors believe active measures must be taken to shield gullible Americans from the depredations of Putin’s propaganda. That American newspapers employ public editors to monitor their news reports isn’t enough; they should also staff “counter-disinformation editors” who “would pick apart what might be called all the news that is unfit to print.” Such professional censors are necessary, we are told, because the Kremlin “exploits systemic weak spots in the Western system, providing a sort of X-ray of the underbelly of liberal democracy.” Worse, the authors charge, are the legions of “senior Western experts” providing aid and comfort to the enemy, whether by appearing on RT, accepting positions on the boards of Russian companies, or simply attending Russian-sponsored forums. “The blurring of distinctions between think tanks and lobbying helps the Kremlin push its agenda without due scrutiny,” they write.
According to Weiss and Pomerantsev, the most severe threat is the one posed by RT, a network to which they impute vast powers. They are hardly alone. In January, Andrew Lack, then chief executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors—the federal agency that oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other US-funded media outlets—likened RT’s threat to those posed by “the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram.” (Lack was recently named chairman of NBC News.)
RT is allegedly so skillful at masking its nefarious message that “anyone tuning in would not immediately know it is Kremlin-run or even associate it with Russia,” the authors write—even though the network’s news broadcasts begin with the statement “Coming to you live from Moscow, this is RT.”
The Phantom Menace
The leading authority on Soviet and Russian mass media, Duke University professor Ellen Mickiewicz, disputes the entire premise of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report. She told me that the hypodermic model of media effects (in which messages are “injected” into the audience simply by virtue of being disseminated) was scientifically disproved decades ago. “It’s the most simpleminded mistake you can make in evaluating media effects,” she said.
It would be hard, then, not to conclude that Weiss and Pomerantsev’s overwrought fears are just a pretext for whatever they and Khodorkovsky have truly set out to do. Their real goal is not to fight Russian “disinformation” but to stigmatize and marginalize—even exclude from American discourse—anyone with a more nuanced view of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. They are waging this war against enemies real and imagined, and by doing so they are helping to create an atmosphere in which dissenting opinion on US policy toward Russia becomes impermissible. Two pieces in the Interpreter are worth examining in this context.
In early November, the Interpreter published a piece by former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler with the headline “Is a Top American Diplomat a Russian Agent?” Recycling a story that had appeared on a Ukrainian news site, Schindler repeated the claim by Putin critic Konstantin Borovoy that the Kremlin has “agents of influence” within the NATO hierarchy. According to Borovoy, an unnamed ex–US ambassador to Russia had “established an unprecedented intimacy with former top officials of the KGB and the current leaders of the Russian FSB.” This intimacy, Borovoy claimed, “was one reason for his leaving Russia.” Schindler wasted little time letting readers know that he believes the unnamed ambassador is NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander “Sandy” Vershbow, who served as ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005.
Typically, such a scurrilous accusation against a career Foreign Service officer would be met with a chorus of protest from the Washington establishment. After all, Vershbow helped to steer and subsequently enact the Clinton administration’s policy of NATO expansion in the late 1990s. As recounted in the memoirs of Brookings Institution president Strobe Talbott, a leading proponent for sending arms to Kiev, Vershbow helped shape NATO and American policy during the Kosovo War in 1999. Recently, Vershbow declared that he saw Russia “as more of an enemy than a [NATO] partner,” and in March he delivered a speech in Latvia in which he decried “Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.” Yet his establishment credentials could not protect him from the Interpreter.
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Moreover, it seems the Interpreter’s crusade is having some effect. Few of Vershbow’s former colleagues were willing to comment for this article on the allegations, still fewer to defend him—perhaps fearing they would be tarred with the same McCarthyite brush. One of the few who did talk, a former high-ranking official in the Bush administration, vehemently disputed Schindler’s story. “Sandy wasn’t pushed out,” the official insisted. “In fact, by the end of his time there, the Kremlin wouldn’t even grant him meetings because he was seen to be too close to dissident groups.”
Another former associate and friend of Vershbow’s, professor Robert Legvold, former director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, told me that Schindler’s story was little more than a “crackpot accusation which displayed a monumental ignorance of what were actually difficult years for Vershbow in Moscow.”
The Interpreter tried to pass off another McCarthyite smear as journalism last February, when one of its bloggers, Catherine Fitzpatrick, published a story headlined “Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto ‘Track II’ Talks—and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement.” The Boisto Track II talks were a series of discussions between Russian and American policy hands that took place in Finland last June. They produced a 24-step plan that sought to resolve the Ukraine crisis. Track II talks—unofficial diplomacy between individuals acting in a private capacity—have long been a staple of US diplomacy.
In her article, Fitzpatrick cites an interview given by a Russian intelligence operative, Leonid Reshetnikov, in which he claims he met with the American participants before the talks took place. He says the proposal formed the basis for the first Minsk cease-fire in September 2014. For Fitzpatrick, Reshetnikov’s comments are proof that the group was colluding with Russian intelligence.
Though Fitzpatrick tries to paint the Americans as dupes, her story unravels quickly. Among other things, her chronology is all wrong. While it’s true that two of the six American participants met with Reshetnikov, they met him three weeks after the talks (and well after the Track II proposal had been finished) at a completely unrelated event. This information was available to Fitzpatrick, who, according to my sources, never bothered to ask any of the American participants for comment. Why clutter up a good piece of fiction with facts?
The irony, of course, is that Fitzpatrick does what she accuses the American group of doing: taking what a Russian intelligence operative says at face value and falling for his version of events, as one participant told me, “hook, line, and sinker.”
Slouching Towards McCarthyism
One might expect that such neo-McCarthyism, reeking as it does of a barely concealed attempt to censor and intimidate, would have touched off protests, if not condemnation, in the establishment media. But the Interpreter has been given a rapturous reception on both sides of the Atlantic.
Among its most visible proponents has been the Legatum Institute. As Mark Ames recently reported in the online publication PandoDaily, Legatum is the brainchild of billionaire venture capitalist Christopher Chandler. Like Browder and Khodorkovsky, Chandler made his billions in post-Soviet Russia. According to Ames, he and his brother “reportedly were the single biggest foreign beneficiaries of one of the greatest privatization scams in history: Russia’s voucher program in the early 1990s.”
To mark the publication of the “Menace of Unreality” report, Legatum hosted a panel discussion that featured such luminaries as Anne Applebaum, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, former US ambassador John Herbst, and Ukrainian Ambassador at Large Olexander Scherba. All expressed grave concern over the threat that Putin’s propaganda machine poses to the West.
The event was followed by similar sessions hosted by the Harriman Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. At the latter event, Weiss and Pomerantsev were joined by Freedom House director David Kramer; a young functionary of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative; and the NED’s International Forum executive director, Christopher Walker, who touted the endowment’s “close ties” with both the Interpreter and the Institute for Modern Russia.
Two of the report’s most visible supporters have been Applebaum and Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist. Soon after the launch party at Legatum, Applebaum took to the pages of The Washington Post and The New York Review of Books to plug Weiss and Pomerantsev’s crusade. In an essay for the former, she warned that “for democracies,” Russian disinformation poses “a serious challenge.” Russia’s use of what Weiss and Pomerantsev refer to as Internet “trolls” is especially worrying to Applebaum, who fears readers will be unduly influenced by their “negative or mocking remarks.”
Lucas praised “The Menace of Unreality” on Twitter as a “sizzling new report on Kremlin disinformation.” He later made headlines at this year’s Munich Security Conference, where he went to great lengths to denounce both RT and the Russian government’s Internet news outlet Sputnik.
A number of high-profile officials count themselves as admirers of the Interpreter as well. In February, on the first anniversary of the Maidan coup, Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted: “@Interpreter_Mag With thanks for your relentless focus on the fast evolving Russia-Ukraine crisis & appreciation for the windows you provide.” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves pitched in as a special guest editorialist to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, NATO Commander Philip Breedlove has taken to complaining publicly that “Russia has embarked on a deliberate strategy to confuse using disinformation and propaganda.” Indeed, he has called it “the most amazing information-warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.”
The “Menace of Unreality” report is dangerous not only because it lends an intellectual sheen to what amounts to a censorship campaign, but because it further pollutes the already toxic atmosphere that has enveloped the debate over the crisis in Ukraine. Indeed, as one leading political scientist told me: “The atmosphere here in the US created by the Ukraine crisis is poisonous—and I say this having been in academe for 37 years.”
Insinuations of unpatriotic disloyalty on the part of critics of US policy toward Russia are numerous, but consider a few examples. For much of the past year, Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as “a toady,” “Putin’s best friend,” and a “Putin apologist.” The latest such attack came on May 6, courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which published a story claiming, without evidence, that “Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.” Hurling such barbs at a prominent scholar seems to be an attempt not only to marginalize Cohen, but also to silence other critics—including, and perhaps especially, younger ones.
Similarly, in June 2014, the Daily Beast ridiculed a conference attended by Columbia University’s Robert Legvold; Jack Matlock, former ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Reagan administration; and a leader of a Russian opposition party as a gathering of “anti-Semites and ‘truthers’” that amounted to little more than “a pity party for the Kremlin’s die-hard American apologists.”
Then, in August, Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics launched a screed against David Johnson, the proprietor and editor of a listserv that aggregates Russia-related articles. “What I find most surprising,” Aslund wrote, “is that you have several items from RT every day, which is to Putin’s rule what Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer was to Nazi Germany.”
Thanks in part to the Interpreter’s penchant for reckless accusations and the widespread promotion of “The Menace of Unreality,” the atmosphere of censorship and intimidation has grown worse in the months following the report’s publication. In mid-December, The Washington Post ran a letter from former US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor accusing Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brookings Institution scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro of wanting to “appease” Russia. “Appeasement” in this context is a very loaded term, meant to castigate those who would cave in to Putin’s allegedly Hitlerian revanchism.
In the end, apart from being a frontal attack on the core tenets of free speech, the Weiss-Pomerantsev crusade lets Western pundits and policy-makers off the hook for their complicity in the Ukraine crisis by discouraging any kind of critical thinking or reconsideration of US policy. The incessant focus in “The Menace of Unreality” on the Kremlin’s media apparatus obscures the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine, as well as the growing danger of a larger US-Russia war. The policy of belligerence toward Russia that Weiss and Pomerantsev so staunchly support has been one of the primary culprits in the Ukraine crisis. The fact that they now seek to silence, smear, and even blacklist critics of that policy makes their project all the more egregious.
One would have hoped that journalists, of all people, would object to this project in the strongest possible terms. That no one has yet done so is an ominous sign.
9. BBC: ECB to Stop Emergency Support
of Greek Banks on Monday;
of Greek Banks on Monday;
Bank Holiday Likely
Posted on June 28, 2015 by Yves Smith
The ECB has decided to lower the boom on Greece.
As we’ve mentioned, the ECB was well outside the intended use of the program that has served as the backstop to the Greek banking system, the Emergency Liquidity Assistance program. As its name suggests, the ELA was meant to provide support only for solvent banks, and then only for short-term liquidity crunches (this is why the ELA has to be re-approved every two weeks, but the voting rules favor continuation, since it takes a two-thirds vote of the current voting members to cut off the ELA).
The ECB has continued to deem the Greek banks as solvent when they clearly weren’t. The presumed justification was that Greek banks had run up huge tabs on the ELA in the 2012 debt restructuring (the so-called second bailout) and had weaned itself off it after the refinancing was in place and contagion fears in the Eurozone had receded. The ECB was clearly uncomfortable with the continued credit extension and kept the increases to the bare minimum necessary to keep the Greek banks afloat. This practice was coupled with the ECB also apparently stoking the bank run by publicizing information about the sorry state of the Greek banks, while during the financial crisis, it kept detrimental information under wraps. The ECB might have been trying to force the Greek government to request permission to impose capital controls, which would have been damaging to the economy and thus could have hurt the Greek government’s support. It appears that the ECB was trying to throw a spanner in the works, but far short of what they were capable of doing. The past ECB moves look to have been a shot across the Greek bow that the government either did not understand or chose to ignore.
But remember the critical fact: that the ELA support was premised on the idea that Greece and the creditors might come to a deal and Greece would get its bailout money. Once that matter was settled, the 2012 case showed that the cash that had been pulled out of the banks came back and the ELA use plummeted.So as long as negotiations were underway, the ECB was duty bound to keep extending ELA support. In fact, we’ve suspected that that was the biggest reason Greece kept the talks going despite the overwhelming evidence that they were going nowhere.
The European officials have interpreted the announcement of the Greek referendum on July 5 as tantamount to the termination of negotiations. As the Guardian reported:
Saturday night’s eurogroup meeting said the governments “stand ready to do whatever is necessary to ensure financial stability of the euro area”. Their meeting was the fifth to be held in 10 days. The decision to end the bailout, shunning the Greek requests to extend the rescue until after the national referendum, means that Greece is likely to go bust.
“Greece ended the negotiations unilaterally. There is no basis for further negotiations,” said Wolfgang Schäuble, the hawkish German finance minister. “I don’t see any possibility for doing anything. On Tuesday the programme ends.”
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the meeting in Brussels, said with his referendum decision Tsipras had “closed the door” for talks with the creditors.
The Greek government, astonishingly, appears not to have considered the possibility that the Eurozone nations would not extend the bailout, let alone the ramifications. We stated that the odds were in fact high that the request would be rejected, given the very late hour, the lack of any advanced warning, and the unpopularity in many nations, most importantly Germany, of cutting Greece slack, particularly given that they had ample opportunity to schedule a referendum prior to the bailout expiration. From the Financial Times:
Mr Tsipras stunned his nation and its international creditors by announcing the referendum, arguing only the Greek people should decide how to respond to what he called the creditors’ ultimatum. He urged a rejection at the polls, but two eurozone officials said Mr Varoufakis predicted a “yes” vote in the plebiscite during the eurogroup meeting.
Negotiators for the creditors had been preparing to present a new compromise offer to the Greek authorities that, according to one EU diplomat, included “lots of things they could sell”. But Mr Tsipras’s move dashed hopes of striking a deal at Saturday’s meeting, meaning there will be no programme in place when Greek voters go to the polls to offer a verdict on the creditors’ proposal…
In the clearest sign yet that eurozone officials are anticipating significant economic upheaval in Greece, Mr Dijsselbloem said “the situation in Greece will deteriorate very rapidly” without a bailout agreement in place.
At a post-meeting news conference, Mr Varoufakis appeared taken aback that his colleagues had cut off talks and allowed the programme to expire, saying he had anticipated negotiating up until the referendum vote so that his government could eventually campaign in favour of the deal.
It is hard to reconcile Tsipras’ defiant remarks (he and Syriza officials said they would campaign for a “no” vote) with Varoufakis’ claim that the government wanted to continue negotiations with the hope of securing a package that they could recommend. It appears that the Greek side thought that the Greek referendum would be seen as a powerful countermove and would force eleventh-hours concessions from the creditor side. As we’ve said repeatedly, it has been evident for some time that the lenders are not afraid of a default, nor are they swayed by Greek opinion (Tsipras has had approval ratings as high as 80%). Thus the Greek gambit looks to have been a serious miscalculation.
Bloomberg reports that the team that was working on the negotiations in Brussels was in the dark:
No one was more surprised about Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling a referendum than his team of negotiators in Brussels.
Shortly before midnight on Friday in the Belgian capital, the Greeks and representatives of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, tucked away in the EU Commission’s Charlemagne building, learned via Twitter that their efforts were in vain, according to an EU official….
Up until that moment, the mood on both sides had been fairly positive, the official said. They were reaching agreement on a joint proposal to be presented to a meeting of finance ministry officials set for the next morning.
Since negotiations have broken down, the ECB has a great deal of difficulty arguing that it continues extending ELA support, particularly since powerful hardliners like Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann have been pressing for some time to restrict ELA advances. The bailout will not be extended, Greece will lose the opportunity to get €7.2 billion in bailout funds, and an arrearage on the €1,6 IMF payment due June 30 and a default on the ECB payment of €3.5 billion due July 20 is certain.
The well-connected Robert Peston of the BBC tells us that the ECB will act on Monday which will virtually force Greece to impose a bank holiday. From the BBC:
The European Central Bank is expected to end emergency lending to Greece’s banks on Sunday, the BBC understands.
The country’s banks depend on the ECB’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA). Its governing council is meeting later.
Greece will probably have to “announce a bank holiday on Monday, pending the introduction of capital controls”, a source told the BBC’s Robert Peston…
Austria’s Finance Minister Hans Jorg Schelling said a Greek exit from the euro now “appears almost inevitable”.
This report is clearly from a single source, but Peston would not run the story unless he thought his interlocutor had a good reading on how this was likely to play out. If this contact’s take pans out, a bank holiday will be a major blow, particularly coming at the start of the peak tourist season. As Nathan Tankus observed in a post earlier this month:
Two years ago in Cyprus, an emergency bank holiday was declared and capital controls installed. The bank holiday only lasted for twelve days yet supply chains started drying up instantly. An ex-Cyprus central bank governor told the Guardian:
Supplies of food are being exhausted and there are cases of raw materials like iron and timber being held up in customs because importers don’t have the cash to pay for them … No one expected, myself included, that the EU, ECB md IMF, would behave like this. Cyprus has been treated very badly … Where is the solidarity principle that is supposed to underline Europe?
Even 6 months later after the banks had reopened and capital controls were loosened, businesses were still having trouble getting basic supplies. This happened because their working capital was largely frozen and/or written down in the bail-in, or they had made payments but their suppliers were frozen because their own working capital had been largely frozen and/or written down. It is important to emphasize that their nearly two-week bank holiday was only to resolve insolvent institutions, not to build or significantly modify the payments system. Cyprus experienced a storm. It is not an exaggeration to say that freezing the Greek payments system would be like a financial hurricane and this one certainly looks to be a category five.
We will know soon enough if the ECB takes the drastic move that Peston’s contact suggests. But even if they do not take in on Monday, I had thought it was very likely that they’d end or restrict ELA support no later than June 30, when Greece goes into arrearage with the IMF. And even if Greece decided only to impose capital controls, they’d likely need to be stringent, and thus would also badly crimp business activity.
Despite the belief of some readers that the Eurocrats would find a way to finesse the June 30 deadline, consistent with their past “extend and pretend” practices, we’d warned this was a hard deadline and would be very difficult to circumvent, particularly given the lack of good will on the side that would need to find the fix, that of the lenders. The endgame of the Greek negotiations is under way.
10. BRAND NEW - GREEN SUIT for Lake O
"We look forward to working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in developing numeric criteria to keep our waters safe," Earthjustice attorney David Guest said.
The change in federal policy comes 13 months after five environmental groups filed a major lawsuit to compel the federal government to set strict limits on nutrient poisoning in public waters.
Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen poison Florida's waters every time it rains; running off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes, and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers algae outbreaks which foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs more each year, threatening public health, closing swimming areas, and even shutting down a southwest Florida drinking water plant.
In a 2008 report, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality. The problem is compounded when nutrient-poisoned waters are used as drinking water sources. Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine can react with the dissolved organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with harmful chemical byproducts.
Exposure to these blue-green algae toxins—when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it—can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death. In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 Florida residents was shut down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant's water supply.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the suit in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in July 2008. The suit challenged an unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution. EPA's agreement to set enforceable nutrient limits settles that lawsuit.
Today's action has nationwide implications. Currently, Florida and most other states have only vague limits regulating nutrient pollution. The U.S. EPA will now begin the process of imposing quantifiable—and enforceable—water quality standards to tackle nutrient pollution.
Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit this afternoon against the Florida legislature, claiming lawmakers misappropriated funds intended for land and water conservation and land purchases to protect the environment.
The 10-page lawsuit was filed by EarthJustice, a non-profit public interest law firm that has represented environmental groups in more than 20-years of lawsuit over restoration of the Everglades. The groups who launched the lawsuit are the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The Water and Land Conservation Amendment requires that, for the next 20 years, thirty-three percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for to manage, protect and acquire land and water for conservation purposes. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.
“The constitutional amendment is clear,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “A third of the tax on real estate deals is to be used to prevent every last inch of Florida land from getting chewed up by development. But most lawmakers are simply not listening. That’s why we have to go to court.”
The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee.
Florida is a water state, known for its rivers, creeks, mangrove swamps and wetlands. But what was once pristine has become sullied by fluorescent green slime—the toxic result of sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution, which triggers outbreaks of algae. As a result, health officials continually warn Floridians and tourists not to come into contact with the algae-choked water.
The Clean Water Act is intended to protect people against exactly this kind of preventable pollution. In 2008, Earthjustice sued the EPA to force the agency to set standards to protect Florida’s waters from outbreaks of toxic slime.
In 2009, the EPA agreed as part of a settlement to set enforceable, legal limits on the pollution that generates toxic slime in Florida’s waterways. The agency set limits, but the state of Florida issued its own weaker limits in an attempt to displace the federal rules. Earthjustice challenged these limits, but a Florida judge sided with industry.
Now, the EPA is considering ceding control over much of Floridian waters to the state and its toothless, industry-created pollution plan. Earthjustice is challenging the EPA in an attempt to ensure that federal, enforceable standards are put in place to protect Floridians and their precious water resources.
1773, 2148, 2278, 2460
Florida Wildlife Federation
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