Michael I. Niman

6 Scary Extreme Energy Sources Being Tapped to Fuel the Post Peak Oil Economy

In a few short years the term “fracking” went from obscurity, mostly mistaken for an obscenity, to a household word, now often associated with flammable tap water. The technology is not new, but the market conditions that make such reckless forays deep into the earth’s crust profitable, are new. Welcome to the post peak oil energy economy. What’s online to follow fracking is even scarier.

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The Political Tsunami

Humanity deserves a solid pat on the back this week, as the global humanitarian outpouring of support for tsunami victims has surpassed all previous relief efforts in history. The American government may have been stingy, but the American people certainly haven't, forking over checks to a host of relief agencies.

We've also seen the tsunami bring out the worst in humanity – the bottom-feeders who move in when their prey is injured or disabled. In this arena we're seeing parasitic entrepreneurs engaging in the purchase and sale of tsunami orphans. And in the Aceh region, where approximately two-thirds of the tsunami victims lived, the government of Indonesia is attempting to finish off their brutal campaign against the Acehnese people and their movement for self-determination.

Aceh is what is called a "breakaway province." Officially part of Indonesia, for 28 years the Acehnese have been fighting a military campaign for independence as a supposedly democratic republic. Using the Bush administration's "war on terror" and the recent U.S. invasion of Iraq as justifications, the Indonesian military invaded Aceh in May 2003. They termed this a "shock and awe" operation, complete with "embedded journalists" and the "blessing of Sept. 11."

Though the Indonesians claimed their military operation was a police action aimed at restoring order in Aceh, it quickly took on the brutal aura of an invasion, complete with F-16 bombing missions and strafing runs using low-flying American-built planes.

The Indonesian military is employing the same tactics in Aceh as it did during its brutal quarter-century occupation of the now-independent nation of East Timor, where military operations killed one third of the Timorese population. In an October 2004 report, Amnesty International documents "a disturbing pattern of grave abuses of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" in Aceh, including a wave of "unlawful killings, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention" that encompass the entire province.

Amnesty also documents that under Indonesian military occupation, "women and girls have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence," often doled out in retribution when family members are suspected of involvement in the independence fight led by the Free Aceh Movement, which the Indonesians have labeled as a "terrorist organization."

Shock and Exxon

Why is none of this in the news? First there's the "embedded reporter" factor. Indonesia banned all journalists not embedded with the military. And then there's the economic disincentive. The official economy of Aceh is based on a massive Exxon/Mobil natural gas extraction project which, according to estimates on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now, has netted $40 billion worth of the resource. Very little of this money has flowed into the local Acehnese economy, where nearly a quarter of the children suffered from malnutrition before the tsunami struck.

This explains both Indonesia's motivation to maintain tight control over the province, and the American corporate media's disincentive to cover this remote region of the world.

In this light, the tsunami provided a big boost to the Indonesian campaign against Aceh, killing more Acehnese than they could politically get away while reeking chaos upon the province. Not satisfied with this sudden strategic gift, the Indonesian military immediately set upon the survivors, exacting control over relief operations and withholding food and water as weapons against the independence movement.

Amnesty International has reported that it is difficult to document the extent of the abuses in Aceh since the Indonesians have banned most foreigners (with the notable exception of Exxon/Mobil workers) and all journalists from the province. With relief aid, however, came journalists, who reported on Indonesian troops beating Acehnese who came to relief centers looking for food. The Indonesians were also requiring identification cards from tsunami survivors, many of whose houses are washed away. Acehnese without ID may be interrogated as suspected rebels – an interrogation that in the past often resulted in death. Journalists reporting this story have been ordered to leave Aceh, with one commander admonishing Australian journalists that "Your duty here is to observe the disaster, not the conflict."

Meanwhile, In the Stone Age

On a more inspiring note, indigenous Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge, Shompen and Sentinelese people, survived the tsunami with very little loss of life. Much of the world originally feared that entire cultures living on remote islands in India's Andaman and Nicobar island chain were wiped out by the tidal waves. Global media celebrated the fact that not only did they seem very much alive, but that a naked Sentinelese man fired upon an Indian Air Force helicopter with a bow and arrow.

In covering the story, the BBC reported that the islanders have very little contact with, and by inference, understanding of the outside world – hence the arrows. In reality, the indigenous populations of the Andaman and Nicobar islands have had extensive contact with the outside world. These descendents of African peoples were first visited by Marco Polo who described them as "No better than wild beasts." European slave-traders later raided the islands for slaves. Starting in the 1800s, British troops visited wholesale massacres upon the islanders. An Indian land grab in the 20th century forced most of the remaining islanders from their ancestral lands. Anthropologists report that slavers continued to raid the islands well into the second half of the 20th century, long after the international slave trade was thought dead. So it seems that the islanders have a much better understanding of the outside world than the BBC would suspect.

Mangroves and Coral

Where the region's environment has been damaged over the years, the tsunami damage was much greater. The wholesale destruction of coral reefs and mangrove swamps across the Indian Ocean removed the only environmental barriers that have protected coastal environments from tidal waves for eternity. Coral reefs have fallen victim to pollution, dynamite used both in dredging channels and in fishing, and in quarrying operations where crushed coral is used in construction. Mangroves have been cut down to make beaches, towns, shrimp farms and resorts that primarily serve Western consumers.

Some of the worst mangrove depletion has occurred over the years in Aceh, where satellite photos show seaside shrimp farms and towns on former mangrove swamps. Hence, it's no surprise that in Aceh, with the mangrove swamps that traditionally absorbed such waves and shored up coastal geology gone, the devastation was so severe. By contrast, areas that still had coral or mangrove intact, suffered only minor losses of life. People seeing the turmoil of the waves crashing above offshore coral reefs ran for safety before the waters arrived. Likewise, while the waves uprooted millions of mangroves, they lost much of their destructive power in the process.

No natural disaster is entirely natural. With mangrove swamps being uprooted for housing and tourist development across the tropics, we'll see more and more unnatural destruction from natural disasters. Likewise, as oppressive militaries look for advantage in whatever disaster comes their way, we'll also see unnatural death and destruction in the wake of supposedly natural death and destruction.

First Blood

In what is fast becoming one of the most unsavory aspects of American culture, elected leaders today have a need to order the spilling of blood, thus exercising a sort of remote control machismo. For George Bush Senior, it was the Iraq War that helped him shed what the media dubbed, his "wimp factor." Conservative UN estimates claim that war and the ensuing sanctions cost at least a half million lives. Bush's life and the lives of those close to him, however, were never on the line. But to read the press reports, it was high noon at the OK Corral. Bush Senior, having celebrated the first major bloodletting of his presidency, was now a man.

Bill Clinton followed suit, ditching his cumbersome "draft dodger" cognomen somewhere between Kosovo and Serbia. Clinton gave the command, Wes Clark mobilized the troops and missiles went a-flying into bridges, trains, TV studios and damn near anything that moved, including columns of fleeing Kosovar refugees. When it was all over, the former Yugoslavia, like Bush Senior's Iraq, was littered with "depleted" uranium. But Clinton, like Bush Senior before him, had his bloodletting, and was dubbed a "man."

Killing by proxy was nothing new for George W Bush. As governor of Texas, he presided over the nation's busiest death row. Control of the White House, however, allowed the younger Bush to unleash a bloodbath befitting an emperor. His Gulf War has so far cost the lives of over 500 US service personnel (while seriously wounding over 3,000), 300 Iraqi collaborators and over 10,000 Iraqi civilians, while dousing downtown Baghdad with the DU radiation of countless "dirty bombs." The media quickly applauded Bush, who never put himself or his kin in harm's way (despite a half hour at the Baghdad airport), as making tough decisions. For a moment in time, he too achieved the veneer of machismo that seems to come from ordering the death of innocents.

This brings us to the "action hero" turned governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. First off, Schwarzenegger ain't a real action hero. He's actually nothing more than a brand. First, he was the "Terminator," now he's the "Governor." As an actor, his every move and line was scripted by Hollywood writers. As governor, his lines seem scripted by the energy industry, to which the burly Austrian seems to have handed California's fiscal future.

Schwarzenegger's handlers, however, seem to have a hard time corralling the aging party animal. As long as the energy industry is satiated, Arnold seems to be allowed to play at will in the governor's mansion. This is where Kevin Cooper comes into this story.

Cooper was convicted of murder 19 years ago, sentenced to death for the brutal killing of three members of a family and their houseguest. The problem is, however, that by all indications, Cooper had nothing to do with the crime. An eight-year-old witness and survivor of the attack reported that his family was attacked by three intruders, all of whom were either light-skinned Latinos or white. Cooper is black -- a point the child made at the time when police asked him to identify Cooper.

One of the victims was still clutching strands of long blond hair when police found the bodies -- a fact that would support the young witness' account of the crime. Cooper, of course, did not have long blond hair. This evidence, however, was never shown to the jury. And it was never shared with a frenzied public that called for Cooper's execution -- with one racist mob going as far as to hold a mock lynching of a toy gorilla outside of the courthouse during the trial.

Coroners identified three separate weapons used in the murders, which they claim all took place within two minutes. This feat, according to one pathologist, would be "virtually impossible" for one man to commit alone, as the prosecution alleged.

At the time of the trial, a women contacted the police and told them that she suspected that her boyfriend was involved in committing the murders. To back up her story, she supplied them with a pair of bloody coveralls that he came home wearing on the night of the murders. The police, however, deliberately disposed of this evidence. The defense never called her in to testify. The same woman identified a bloody shirt found at the scene of the crime as belonging to her boyfriend. The boyfriend, years later while locked up in jail on another charge, confessed to the murders, providing details that only the assailant could know. Prosecutors, however, refused to follow up on the confession. A lone drop of blood near the crime scene linked Cooper to the murders, but that blood was "recovered" by a police officer who, it turned out, was dealing heroin at the time, which he stole from the evidence lockers.

No credible evidence tied Cooper to the crime scene. He did not know the victims. And he had no motive to kill them. He was, however, a black man who lived nearby, and who had recently escaped from jail, where he was serving a sentence for a nonviolent crime.

When news of all the suppressed and missing evidence came to light, five of the jurors stepped forward to call for a new investigation, regretting the misinformed decision that they were a party to. But it gets funkier. Fourteen years after Cooper was convicted, police used DNA testing to finally link Cooper to the crime scene. The problem here, however, is that the evidence that supposedly contained Cooper's blood, along with a vial of his blood, were improperly signed out and taken home by a police department criminologist prior to the testing. When the evidence was returned, Cooper's blood was on the evidence. This same criminologist was the one who testified that the blood found by the heroin-dealing cop was from Cooper's body.

Now here's where Schwarzenegger fits in. Cooper's execution was set for February 10, just about one month after California voters put Schwarzenegger into the governor's mansion. Cooper's lawyers assembled the evidence, plus statements from the original child-witness, now 27 years old, who still argues virulently that three light-skinned men, and not Kevin Cooper, killed his family. He and his grandmother joined Cooper's lawyers in petitioning Schwarzenegger to grant a stay of execution while lawyers argued both for an examination of new evidence, and for conducting tests to see if evidence was tampered with -- specifically if Cooper's blood was transferred from the vial onto crime scene evidence 14 years after the crime was committed.

Schwarzenegger refused to grant what should have been an automatic stay of execution. He went one step further, and refused to grant a hearing for public review of the evidence against Cooper. This action marks Cooper as California's first death row inmate to be denied a stay of execution without such a hearing in modern times.

Cooper seems to be a poster-boy for abolishing the death penalty, providing a fairly clear case of a racist judiciary sending a black man to his death based on tainted and missing evidence. All his lawyers were asking for was a chance to use new technology to examine the evidence against Cooper to determine if it had been tampered with.

For Schwarzenegger, this was his defining moment -- his opportunity to perform a routine function and sign a rather banal stay of execution, or to try to send an innocent man to his death. Schwarzenegger, after years of tasting only the sour chlorinated flavor of fake stunt blood, now had the opportunity to imagine savoring the salty warmth of real death, if only at a distance. Schwarzenegger finally was to have his own bloodletting -- barely one month after taking the helm of a sunken California.

With less than a day to go before Schwarzenegger's state killing, however, a pre-Ashcroft-era federal judge granted Cooper the very stay of execution that Schwarzenegger attempted to withhold, writing, "When the stakes are so high, when the evidence against Cooper is so weak, and when the newly discovered evidence of the state's malfeasance and misfeasance is so compelling, there is no reason to hurry and every reason to find out the truth."

In Cooper's case, the search for the truth seems like a novel idea. Pursuing it has put a damper on what could have been Schwarzenegger's first celebrated execution of an innocent man. I have no doubt, however, that another opportunity will come along soon.

Michael I. Niman's previous columns are archived at www.mediastudy.com.

Was Paul Wellstone Murdered?

Paul Wellstone was the only progressive in the U.S. Senate. Mother Jones magazine once described him as, "The first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. senate." He was also the last. Since defeating incumbent Republican Rudy Boschowitz 12 years ago in a grassroots upset, Wellstone emerged as the strongest, most persistent, most articulate and most vocal Senate opponent of the Bush administration.

In a senate that is one heartbeat away from Republican control, Wellstone was more than just another Democrat. He was often the lone voice standing firm against the status-quo policies of both the Democrats and the Republicans. As such, he earned the special ire of the Bush administration and the Republican Party, who made Wellstone's defeat that party's number one priority this year.

Various White House figures made numerous recent campaign stops in Minnesota to stump for the ailing campaign of Wellstone's Republican opponent, Norm Coleman. Despite being outspent and outgunned, however, polls show that Wellstone's popularity surged after he voted to oppose the Senate resolution authorizing George Bush to wage war in Iraq. He was pulling ahead of Coleman and moving toward a victory that would both be an embarrassment to the Bush administration and to Democratic Quislings such as Hillary Clinton who voted to support "the president."

Then he died.

Wellstone now joins the ranks of other American politicians who died in small plane crashes. Another recent victim was Missouri's former Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan, who lost his life in 2000, three weeks before Election Day, during his Senatorial race against John Ashcroft. Carnahan went on to become the first dead man to win a Senatorial race, humiliating and defeating the unpopular Ashcroft posthumously. Ashcroft, despite his unpopularity, went on to be appointed Attorney General by George W. Bush. Investigators determined that Carnahan's plane went down due to "poor visibility."

Carnahan was the second Missouri politician to die in a small plane crash. The first was Democratic Representative Jerry Litton, whose plane crashed the night he won the Democratic nomination for senate in 1976. His Republican opponent ultimately captured the seat from his successor in November.

While an article in the New York Times on Saturday pointed out the danger politicians face due to their heavy air travel schedules, the death of a senator or member of Congress is still relatively rare, with only one other sitting U.S. Senator, liberal Republican John Heinz, dying in a plane crash since World War II. Heinz, who entered office as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, later emerged as a strong proponent of health care, social services, public transportation and the environment. He also urged reconciliation with Cuba. He died when the landing gear on his small plane failed to function, and a helicopter dispatched to survey the problem crashed into his plane.

One former senator, John Tower, also died in a small plane crash. Tower was best known as the chair of the Tower Commission, which investigated the Reagan/Bush era Iran/Contra scandal.

Another member of a prominent government commission who died in a small plane crash was former Democratic representative and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. Boggs was best known as one of the seven members of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone when he killed the president. Boggs, it turns out, had "strong doubts" that Oswald acted alone, but went along with the commission findings. Later, in 1971 and 1972, he went public with his doubts. He was presumed dead after the small plane carrying him and Democratic Representative Nicholas Begich disappeared in 1972.

Texas Democratic Representative Mickey Leland also died in a plane crash. In his case, the six-term member of Congress and outspoken advocate of sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa, died while traveling in Ethiopia. Another American politician to die overseas in a plane crash was the Clinton administration's Commerce Secretary, Ronald Brown, whose plane went down in the Balkans.

Anyone familiar with my work knows that I'm certainly not a conspiracy theorist. But to be honest, I know I wasn't alone in my initial reaction at this week's horrible and tragic news: that being my surprise that Wellstone had lived this long. Perhaps it's just my anger and frustration at losing one of the few reputable politicians in Washington, but I also felt shame. Shame for not writing in my column, months ago, that I felt that Paul Wellstone's life, more so than any other politician in Washington, was in danger. I felt that such speculation was unprofessional and would ultimately undermine my credibility. In the end, my own self-interest triumphed, and I never put my concerns into print. Neither did any other mainstream journalist, though I know of many who shared my concern.

When I heard Wellstone's plane went down, I immediately thought of Panamanian General Omar Torrijos, who in 1981 thumbed his nose at the Reagan/Bush administration and threatened to destroy the Panama Canal in the event of a U.S. invasion. Torrijos died shortly thereafter when the instruments in his plane failed to function upon takeoff. Panamanians speculated that the U.S. was involved in the death of the popular dictator, who was replaced by a U.S. intelligence operative, Manuel Noreiga, who previously worked with George Bush Senior.

There is no indication today that Wellstone's death was the result of foul play. What we do know, however, is that Wellstone emerged as the most visible obstacle standing in the way of a draconian political agenda by an unelected government. And now he is conveniently gone. For our government to maintain its credibility at this time, we need an open and accountable independent investigation involving international participation into the death of Paul Wellstone. Hopefully we will find out, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this was indeed an untimely accident. For the sake of our country, we need to know this.

Dr. Michael I. Niman teaches journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College.

Buy Nothing Day

Friday, November 29, is my third favorite holiday of the year, after Halloween and World Car Free Day. It's Buy Nothing Day, an annual revolt against consumer culture.

Buy nothing day falls every year on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year and the start of the annual Christmas shopping frenzy. The Buy Nothing Day TV ads tell us:

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Bush Cousin Calls Presidential Election

To an objective observer, two facts are clear: Gore won the nationwide popular vote, and according to a recent Miami Herald analysis, he was also in all likelihood the favorite of Florida voters as well.

George W. Bush's claim to victory initially had a shaky basis in objective reality. The Florida race, or even the national race, was a statistical dead heat -- a tie. There was no clear winner. Factor in the bizarre antiquated 19th century vote tabulating technology used in much of the US and the wide margin of error inherent with these machines, and the difficulty of determining a winner was clear.

For most Americans, and for much of the global television audience, however, Bush was always either the presumed "winner" or at the very least, the likely winner. Al Gore was always seen as trying to either "catch-up" to Bush, or "overturn" the Bush victory. The Bush claim to victory always had the veneer of legitimacy while the Gore claim effused a certain stench.

This perceived Bush victory, the perception that the horse race finally boiled down to one stallion breaking through the finish gate, was a network news fabrication. We saw it on TV. The networks called the election for George W. Bush, projecting him the winner -- in effect declaring him the President Elect. CBS News' Dan Rather boldly told us late on election night, "Sip it, Savor it, cup it, Photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall -- George W. Bush is the next president of the United States." The networks anointed a President and no recount of actual votes will ever be able to undo that coronation.

The genesis of this call, and in particular the chronology of the ensuing echoes are telling. The story began on election night at 2:16 AM. Fox News projected George W. Bush as winner of the Florida primary and the Presidential election. In a classic case of pack journalism that college professors will no doubt cite for years to come, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all followed Fox's lead during the next four minutes, calling the election for Bush.

The telling part of this story is that the call was made by John Ellis, a freelance political advisor contracted by Fox News to head their election night "decision desk." Ellis is also first cousin to George W. Bush and Florida governor John Ellis "Jeb" Bush.

More than just a cousin in name, Ellis maintains close contact with the Bush brothers. A former colleague of his at The Boston Globe reports how he stays in regular email contact with his cousin Jeb. The Center for Public Inquiry reports that he has been a guest of his cousin George W. at the Texas governor's mansion. During the election, Ellis took to the editorial pages of The Globe, defending George W. against charges of cocaine abuse, writing that he personally knew Bush was not a "cocaine addict" since he has been close with his cousin for a very long time. Hence it was not surprise, recently, when Ellis proclaimed, "I am loyal to my cousin.... I put that loyalty ahead of my loyalty to anyone else."

By calling the election for his cousin when he did, Ellis proved instrumental in turning Bush's loss in the popular vote into an apparently righteous struggle to gain the presidency. With a constitutional crisis looming on the horizon, pundits called for Gore, and not Bush, to be a "patriot" and concede. In a fair count, without shenanigans or election irregularities, the Miami Herald estimated Gore would have won Florida by 23,000 votes. The Bush strategy all along was to prevent a recount and run out the clock -- which he succeeded in doing, eventually winning the state and the presidency by a few hundred votes. The strategy only worked because Ellis coronated him the winner.

Weeks later, Ellis' former colleague, Bill Kovach, while defending Ellis' integrity as a journalist, reported that Ellis had been in telephone contact with both Jeb and George W. Bush on election night prior to his making the election call. Even Kovach admitted this was improper.

It's a clear a conflict of interest for a presidential candidate's close and loyal first cousin, the nephew of a former U.S. President, to end up in a position to call the election for the U.S. national media?

The puzzle comes together quickly. Ellis works for Roger Ailes, the director of Fox News. Ailes is the former Republican party media consultant who, according to Time Magazine, engineered Richard Nixon's 1968 political resurrection, scripted Ronald Reagan's 1984 debate comeback and was responsible for rescuing George Bush Senior's floundering presidential campaign in 1988. It was Ailes who coached then candidate Bush Senior's campaign performance, prepared him for debates, coordinated his television advertising, and cooked up the racially divisive Willie Horton campaign, eventually turning a double digit deficit in the polls into an election day upset for George Bush Senior. Ailes also served a stint as producer of the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

He moved over to Fox after being recruited by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian born founder and CEO of News Corporation, the owner of Fox News. Murdoch, whose media empire spans 52 countries with primary investments in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia, is one of the largest contributors to the Republican party. In 1996 alone, he gave roughly $1 million to Republican party campaigns. In 1995 he attempted to give Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million "advance" against royalties on a forthcoming Gingrich authored, Murdoch published book, "To Renew America." The House Ethics Committee, however, forced Gingrich to return the money.

The specter of the Ellis, Ailes, Murdoch team bearing responsibility for the miscall that set in motion a Bush team victory script with George W. as heir apparent to the White House, is, in it's own right, quite frightening. It is not, however, out of place, given recent events in Florida.

Let's not forget that Florida, the key state in deciding the presidential contest, is run by George W. Bush's brother, Governor Jeb Bush. The Florida election is held under the supervision of Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, a co-chair of the Bush campaign. It was Harris who used her position to stifle a hand recount and who eventually certified an allegedly incomplete vote count. Add to this the specter of bizarre "butterfly" ballots and imprecise 19th century vote tabulating technology (with older counting machines amassed in minority communities), allegations of police officers harassing Black voters, and the fact that, under Florida law one third of the adult African-American male population is barred from voting because of felony convictions resulting from previous run-ins with the aforementioned police, and what we see is an electoral system more reminiscent of a corrupt third world fiefdom, than a supposed industrial democracy. If such an election transpired in any other country, the world would condemn it.

An earlier article by Dr. Niman concerning the 206,400 African American males disenfranchised from voting in the Florida presidential election is available on-line at mediastudy.com/articles.

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