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Archive for September 26th, 2010

Gulf Oil Disaster Is Catastrophic For The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

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September 26, 2010: Alex Shoumatoff / Vanity Fair Online Edition – September 21, 2010

Every year, Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, 900 miles southwest of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, sees a spectacular phenomenon: the arribada—mass nesting—of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which has already neared extinction.

This year, thousands of the baby Kemp’s ridleys swam off toward a deadly new enemy, oil and Corexit.

Of all the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the Deepwater Horizon blowout, no one single species is being directly affected nearly as much as the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. (This is an atrocity! – SJH)

Only 8,000 adult females nested in 2009, and the adult males are thought to be even fewer. Those that remain have been hit hard. Most of the surviving juveniles inhabit the waters 20 to 30 miles from shore, feeding and growing in the same currents and gyres that collected the bulk of the four million barrels spewed by the now capped well. There were confirmed reports of ridleys being burned alive in the pools of corralled, concentrated oil that BP had been burning off during the spill.

Almost every gravid female ridley lays her eggs on a single beach in Tamaulipas, Mexico, coming ashore in a unique mass-nesting event known as the arribada—the arrival. Kemp’s cousins in the Pacific, the Olive ridleys, also do this, but the other five sea-turtle species (and a small percentage of ridleys) are solitary nesters and don’t always return to the same place.

The arribadas happen at Rancho Nuevo—a beach 900 miles southwest from the blowout. It’s only 200 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. Not a bad drive, only I’m told it’s too dangerous because three warring factions of narcotrafficantes—the Gulf cartel, the Zetas (former hit men of the cartel), and a local mafia called La Maña—have been having shoot-outs along it.

Instead, I fly to Tampico, the sleepy port where the opening scene of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was filmed, which is 60 miles south of Rancho Nuevo. (Not that Tampico is immune to the violence; the week before I arrive, the naked bodies of five policemen were found hanging from one of its bridges, I am told by a fellow gringo who narrowly escaped being shaken down at one of the narcos’ impromptu roadblocks right in the city.) I’m met at the airport by two people from the federal agency that manages Mexico’s protected areas, and they whisk me to the nearby Hampton Inn for the night.

In the morning we are driven to the Rancho Nuevo beach reserve by its director Dr. Gloria Tavera. Its 20 miles of wild white sand are patrolled three times a day by guards on A.T.V.’s, and 20 times a day or more during nesting season. Dr. Tavera tells me that the arribadas are over, but that the white ping-pong-ball-size eggs, having incubated for 45 days, are starting to hatch.

Sure enough, at five a.m. on the second morning, we jump onto four-wheelers and bomb down to the South Corral, four miles from the camp, where dozens of the 800 nests from the June 3 arribada are erupting with hatchlings, about 90 per nest. The babies are three inches long and look like black rubber-toy turtles. They crawl down to the surf and, as soon as they hit the water, their angled forelimbs begin to flap wildly. Then they’re pulled into the breaking waves by the undertow and are off, on their own, into the great unknown.

Guided by pure instinct, fueled by the remaining yoke in their waterproof belly sacs, they will swim straight out for five days or so until they hit the mats of sargassum, a golden-brown, free-floating marine algae (these lines of sargassum are often only 20 or 30 feet wide, but can extend for miles, and offer cover and food for the hatchlings). We don’t know how many hatchlings will survive to adulthood, but the most common ballpark estimate is only one in a thousand. Many will be picked off by sharks and many other species of fish, dolphins, and sea birds. Everything wants to eat them.

But many more than usual will die when the clockwise currents of the Gulf carry the turtles directly up into the area contaminated by the Deepwater Horizon spill. “The internal damage from the hydrocarbons to the organs of the ridleys could make them unable to reproduce,” Dr. Tavera tells me. “That would mean extinction. But nobody knows.”

Her fears could be well founded. A new study of shorebirds finds that the ingestion of only a small amount of oil can cause lasting changes in brain function and behavior. The males’ pheromones are inhibited so they stop doing their mating behavior.

Conservationists rallied round the ridley in 1978, when human predation left them hanging by a thread. Poaching of the eggs—rich and delicious, they had long been part of the local diet—was stopped, and in 1986, when only 600 females came back to nest at Rancho Nuevo, an American law was passed requiring shrimp fishermen meeting certain criteria to equip their nets with escape holes for turtles known as TEDs (turtle excluder devices).

For a time, it was working. In 2009 there were 21,000 nests. Six thousand females came ashore over a two-day period that May, the biggest arribada in the 40-year history of the conservation program at Rancho Nuevo. But this year there were only 13,115 nests, the result of a record cold winter followed by three months of red tide, a toxic algae bloom that prevented the females from being able to access the beach. Then, on June 30, the beach was slammed by Hurricane Alex, and a thousand more nests were lost.

Barbara Schroeder, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in Silver Spring, Maryland, thinks the spill is unlikely to spell the end of the ridley but it “is definitely a setback to the turtle’s recovery. We are going to have to enhance our efforts to get the species back on the trajectory it was on, and we will need to re-look at the most significant human threats—bycatch from shrimp and other trawlers and gill nets, hook and line-fishing, and boat strikes.”

That the four million barrels of oil seem to be dissipating more quickly than expected does not mean the turtles will no longer be affected. The oil below the surface concerns many experts. Kemp’s ridleys in nearshore areas feed on the bottom, which means they have to dive through the oil. What’s more, this relatively quick disappearance of the large oil pools was achieved because BP dumped nearly two million gallons of the highly toxic chemical dispersant Corexit into the Gulf—in some cases, without the necessary approval of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Corexit, used to break up large pools of oil in water, is an alarmingly unknown entity. Scientists in Louisiana are just beginning to study its effects on marine life in the Gulf. They’ve discovered high levels of it in blue-crab larvae, which suggests the poison may have already entered the food chain, just in time for the start of Louisiana’s shrimp season. Blue crabs are the ridley’s favorite food.

Ed Clark, the president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, who has been treating oiled wildlife for 28 years, tells me that the dispersant is like “putting a coat of new paint on a junk car.” The official marine-life casualty numbers, Clark maintains, are grossly underestimated. “If they’re saying 400 turtles were killed, I’d bet my house it’s more like 4,000,” he says.

“BP is responsible for the damages”—up to $50,000 per turtle, as per the Endangered Species Act—“but it is incumbent on the government to prove what [the damages] are,” says Clark. He has heard rumors that the cleanup crews on Grand Isle, Louisiana, which are mainly made up of prisoners, were bagging dead turtles and birds in plastic bags marked for incineration because no one from Fish and Wildlife responded to their calls.

The F.W.S. agents were mainly focused on federally owned coastline. It may go beyond unresponsive government agencies. Clark also heard rumors that BP was deliberately burning oiled sargassum, even though living sea turtles were known to be still in the floating mats.

So the crisis isn’t over, as BP and the government would have you believe. It’s only beginning. The biological consequences of this disaster will be felt for years, over generations, like Chernobyl. And we may never know how bad it was.

BP Burning Sea Turtles In The Gulf Of Mexico

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, we are already witnessing just how bad it really is– SJH

What a majestic animal!

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Whale Sharks Have Been Killed And Displaced By Gulf Oil Disaster

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September 26, 2010: Brian Handwerk / National Geographic News – September 24, 2010

The BP Gulf oil spill fouled a vital stretch of feeding habitat for whale sharks, possibly killing some of the world’s largest fish, new research suggests. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil (one barrel equals 42 gallons, or 159 liters) flowed into an area south of the Mississippi River Delta, where of one-third of all northern Gulf of Mexico (map) whale shark sightings have occurred in recent years, scientists say.

The 45-foot-long (14-meter-long) fish, still largely a mystery to scientists, is considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (See “World’s Largest Shark Species at Risk, Expert Says.”) “This spill’s impact came at the worst possible time and in the worst possible location for whale sharks,” said biologist Eric Hoffmayer, who studies whale sharks at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Sightings confirmed that the animals were unable to avoid the slick at the surface, where the giant fish may feed for seven to eight hours a day. The oil may have clogged the fish’s gills, suffocating them, or it might have contaminated their prey—though no dead whale sharks have been found, Hoffmayer noted.

“We’ve seen aerial photos with animals within a few miles of the wellhead and swimming in thick oil,” said Hoffmayer, a National Geographic Society Waitt grantee. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.) “At the end of the day, if these animals were feeding in an area where there was surface oil, and if they ingested oil, there is a good possibility that they died and sank to the bottom. At this point we have no idea how many animals have been impacted.”

Oil Toxic to Filter-Feeding Sharks?

Though much of the Gulf oil has disappeared from the surface, the spill isn’t going away—and scientists are still trying to uncover the extent of its invisible effects on Gulf wildlife. (Read about the Gulf oil spill in the October issue of National Geographic magazine.)

For instance, certain toxic ingredients of oil—and even the chemical dispersants used during the cleanup—could potentially cause long-term problems for whale sharks and many other species. Those may include compromised endocrine or immune response systems, scientists note. (See related blog: “Gulf Seafood With a Side of Oil Dispersant?”)

Whale sharks filter a lot of water through their mouths and gills—almost 160,000 gallons (605,000 liters) of water an hour—as they feed on tiny plankton and fish. These sharks swim with their wide mouths open to suck in plankton-rich waters, which they then force back out their gills, retaining only tiny morsels of food.

“They would no doubt absorb contaminants even in dispersed form. Does that build up in their tissues and affect their health?” said biologist Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.

To answer that question, many scientists are now searching for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and other oil contaminants in the blood and tissues of Gulf whale sharks. “It will probably take years to see what the signature of this oil does to the health and physiology of these animals,” Hueter said.

Oil Driving Sharks to New Territories

Scientists hope that tagging animals can help them learn if the spill impacts whale shark behavior in the years ahead. But some observations have already suggested the whale sharks have changed some of their habits.

Sightings of sharks near Florida’s Gulf coast have led to speculation that the sharks and other large marine species may have been displaced by the oil and moved on to a more pristine neighborhood. During the summer months following the oil spill, Mote scientists began chronicling repeated near-shore observations of large marine animals, such as whale sharks, that are typically found in far deeper waters out near the eastern Gulf’s continental shelf. (See pictures of ten animals at risk from the Gulf oil spill.)

“This summer unusually high numbers and species of sharks were here on the West Florida Shelf, and that includes whale sharks in much larger numbers than we are accustomed to seeing,” Hueter said. Those animals may have headed east to escape the oil, though no one can say for sure.

The team tagged several fish to track their future movements in oiled waters and see whether the disaster causes lifestyle changes in the whales. (Learn more about Mote’s shark tracking project.)

Oil Still Unknown Threat

One problem is that no one is exactly sure where the bulk of dispersed oil has gone, or in what form it exists. For example, preliminary results suggest it’s settled on the seafloor or is still suspended in remnant undersea plumes. (Related: “Much Gulf Oil Remains, Deeply Hidden and Under Beaches.”)

What’s more, whale sharks can be found everywhere in the water column, from the surface to the depths, so pinpointing their possible exposure to oil can be difficult. “In some form or fashion, 60 to a hundred million gallons of oil are still out there, and all we know is it’s not at the surface,” the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hoffmayer said. “With this idea of submerged oil out there, we don’t know what threats exist to the animals.”

For instance, no one knows if the sharks will start to avoid the rich feeding grounds to which the migratory animals have returned regularly so far. “In coming years we’ll hopefully be able to say something about the sightings, either that whale sharks appear to be impacted heavily, or, we were lucky here and they haven’t missed a beat,” University of Southern Mississippi’s Hoffmayer said.

Whale Sharks Undertake Great Migrations

As scientists learn more about the elusive whale shark, they’ve already discovered that the impacts of the oil spill disaster could stretch farther than anyone would have suspected just a few years ago. (Read about whale shark migrations on National Geographic Channel’s website.)

That’s because seemingly disparate whale shark populations ranging from the Caribbean and Central America to the Gulf of Mexico are actually deeply connected, according to Rachel Graham, lead shark scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s Ocean Giants Program.

Graham, who has been tracking whale sharks for 13 years, snapped a picture of a shark in Belize that later turned up near Tampa, Florida. Another animal acoustically tagged in Mexico was recorded by an underwater receiver on Bright Bank in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Sixteen sharks that Graham recently fitted with satellite-location tags are dispersing into the Gulf from Mexico—and could move into the spill zone. (Related picture: “Smallest Whale Shark Discovered—On a Leash.”)

“One of the concerns that I have is that anything that happens to animals in the northern Gulf, where the spill occurred, will have an impact on the larger population in the entire region,” she said. “It’s one large population. And it’s at risk because we’re only talking about hundreds or perhaps a few thousands of animals in the region—not hundreds of thousands of animals. Due to their size, whale sharks require a lot of food to survive, and preferred food such as fish eggs is seasonal and concentrated in a small area—the seas certainly can’t sustain millions of these huge animals.”

Even so, there’s one bright spot: Multiple sightings of whale sharks suggest there are greater numbers of the animals than were once thought possible in the northern Gulf of Mexico, according to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hoffmayer. “Up to this point it’s been a real success,” Hoffmayer said. “But as for the impacts of this oil spill, we just don’t know yet.”

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: And yes, that is oil on the surface of the Gulf in the image above– SJH

All Kinds Of Sea Birds Paralyzed and Dead Near Sarasota, FL

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Army Censors Photos Of Murdered Afghans In Kill-For-Sport Trial

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September 26, 2010: Daniel Tencer / Raw Story – September 26, 2010

Evidently worried about a repeat of the anger aimed at US forces over photos of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the US military is restricting access to photos of Afghan corpses in the “kill-for-sport” trial of five US Army soldiers.

According to the New York Times, Benjamin K. Grimes, a senior counsel for the defense, was “inadvertently” sent images last week that show, among other things, “three dead Afghans with three different soldiers posing, holding up the decedent’s head. (Each photo was one Afghan, one soldier.)” Military officials quickly asked for the photos to be returned. “In an unusual move, prosecutors then demanded defense representatives at the base return the computer disk containing the photos,” reports the Seattle Times.

“The decision reflects concern among the Army’s senior leadership that such evidence could anger Afghan civilians at a time when the United States is trying to win support for a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban,” states the New York Times.

In a memorandum, Army Col. Barry F. Huggins cited “negative impact on the reputation of the armed forces” as the reason for the order to keep the photos out of the public eye. He argued that limiting the photos to judges and lawyers directly involved in the case would cause only “minimal hardship.”

Five soldiers were charged with murder in June, accused of participating in the killings of three Afghans. At the center of the allegations is Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who prosecutors say formed a “kill team” to randomly kill Afghans while on patrol.

The soldiers now face what the Pentagon calls Article 34 hearings, which will determine the exact charges they will face. The first of the hearings, due to begin Monday, focuses on Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, who faces charges of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghans killed between January and May this year.

Morlock is among the five soldiers charged with murder in the case, while seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation, using hashish and severely beating a comrade in retaliation for blowing the whistle. The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division’s Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

The military hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state will determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, and more hearings are expected in coming weeks for the other defendants. Morlock and several of the men also are charged with punching and kicking a fellow soldier to stifle an investigation into hashish use.

Describing the assault on the soldier, the charge sheets accuse Morlock of “threatening to kill him if he spoke about hashish use with the platoon command and law enforcement authorities,” and that he showed him “fingers removed from a corpse.” Officials had told AFP in May that the whistle blower, whose identity has been kept secret, was badly battered, with one source saying he was “beaten within an inch of his life.”

The motive and many details of the alleged crimes remain unclear, and authorities have yet to answer allegations that warnings of atrocities were ignored for months.

The father of one of the accused, Specialist Adam Winfield, has told US media that his son warned him via Facebook that his unit had killed an Afghan civilian for no reason and was plotting to commit more murders. The father, Christopher Winfield, alleges he phoned military authorities and even the office of a US senator, Bill Nelson of Florida, to try to pass on his son’s information. His son, Adam, also faces murder charges.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the charges represented “an aberration” for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan. The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones were taken from the slain civilians. Prosecutors allege Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses.

Another soldier, Specialist Michael Wagnon, is charged with taking a skull. Several of the troops are charged with taking photos of corpses and one soldier is accused of stabbing a dead Afghan.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.” – Tacitus 

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US And Afghan Troops Begin Operation Dragon Strike In Kandahar

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September 26, 2010: Rod Nordland / The New York Times – September 26, 2010

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan — American and Afghan troops have begun the active combat phase of a military operation designed to drive the Taliban out of districts around the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city, military officials said Sunday.

Code-named “Operation Dragon Strike,” the push is focusing on clearing the Taliban from three districts to the west and south of the city, said Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. “We expect hard fighting,” he said. The aim, he said, would be “destroying Taliban fighting positions so they will not have anywhere to hide.”

The operation is the first large-scale combat involving multiple objectives in Kandahar Province, where a military offensive was originally expected to begin in June. That offensive was downgraded to more of a joint civil-military effort after the military encountered problems in trying to pacify the much smaller city of Marja and because of resistance from Afghan leaders concerned about the possibility of high civilian casualties.

During the last week of August, at the instigation of Afghan authorities, American troops supported a major push into the Mehlajat area on the southwest edge of Kandahar city, driving them from that area but with few casualties on either side. At the time, military officials said that was the beginning of what would be an increase in active combat operations around Kandahar.

Winning over Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, is considered crucial to President Obama’s efforts to shift the balance of power in Afghanistan after the militants staged a comeback in recent years.

General Blotz said the combat phase of Dragon Strike began five or six days ago in Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwye districts, with “shaping operations” preceding that for several weeks. He declined to release further details on the new operation, other than to say it involved a large number of troops with air support, and that for the first time in a major operation, more Afghan forces were deployed than coalition ones.

Bismillah Khan, the police chief in Zhari district, said the combat operation began there on Saturday, but he declined to give further details. “Afghan and coalition forces are repeatedly hitting the insurgents in their backyard, allowing them no time to regroup,” said Col. Rafael Torres, director of ISAF’s Joint Operations Center. “The ultimate goal is to disrupt the enemy’s sanctuaries and staging areas for attacks into Kandahar city.”

American troop strength in Afghanistan peaked earlier this month at just over 100,000 soldiers with the arrival of the last of 30,000 reinforcements ordered by President Obama as a surge of additional forces in Afghanistan. With other NATO forces, that brings the total coalition forces to 150,000, the most at any point in the nine-year-long war. At least 30,000 of those troops are estimated to be in the Kandahar area.

American troops here and in the other districts have reported a steadily increasing tempo of contacts with Taliban insurgents, and particularly with roadside bombs hidden by them, in recent weeks as the number of foreign forces here increased.

Here in Arghandab, the inflow of troops has made it possible to begin trying to pacify an area where thick vegetation, irrigation canals and pomegranate orchards provide good cover for Taliban insurgents, according to Col. Joe Krebs, the 2nd Brigade Combat team’s deputy commander.

No sooner had the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Armored Regiment of the United States Army arrived here than five of its soldiers were killed, in a roadside bomb directed at their convoy. The dead included the first army chaplain to be killed in active duty during the Afghan conflict. The chaplain, Capt. Dale Goetz, 43, had been on a tour of some of the 18 combat outposts the military has established just in the Arghandab district.

While no official casualty totals have been released for the recent operations in the Kandahar districts, a count by, which tracks coalition deaths, showed 14 American fatalities in Kandahar between Aug. 30 and Sept. 23, the latest date for which details are available. At least six of them were in Arghandab and two in Zhari district. That compares to 10 American personnel lost during that same period in Helmand Province, where the United States Marines have been struggling to suppress the Taliban in and around Marja, scene of the year’s first major offensive, Operation Mustarak, which began Feb. 14.

Kandahar’s Operation Hamkari, the combined civilian-military effort of which the more recent Dragon Strike is a part, adopted a strategy of concentrating on development projects in key districts around Kandahar City, as well as in the city itself, while at the same time increasing the military presence.

“I look at each one of my 13 combat platoons as a development team,” said Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, commander of the 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, stationed at the district headquarters here. “I’m not going to tell you the population is fully in support, but they are much more in support of the government and the coalition than they are of the Taliban,” he said.

Along with the military buildup has come a similar effort to increase the presence of United States State Department employees, along with aid contractors paid by the Americans, staffing district stabilization teams in those key districts. The civilian buildup has not been as dramatic as the military one, however, and although province-wide some 300 American civilian staff have arrived, at the district levels there are only a few.

Arghandab, where the civilian effort is deemed to have been the most successful, the district team still comprises only two Americans, as well as contractors and local employees. “It’s hard to get people to come here,” says Kevin Melton, who is just finishing up a year-long tour in Arghandab.

When Mr. Melton arrived, there was essentially no functioning district government, and its headquarters was a military barracks. Now, the local government has an active shura, with villagers coming to the center regularly, attracted by generous aid programs. “Five dead and that’s the news that gets out,” he said. “Yeah, we know what’s going wrong, but look what’s going right. If we had done this eight years ago, would we have been here now?” By comparison, other districts like Zhari and Panjwye are just getting started, he said.

Three ISAF service members were killed in two roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan, two on Sunday and one on Saturday, the military said. There was no indication whether the deaths took place in the Kandahar districts, since details are not released until after next of kin have been notified. So far this year, 354 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan, more than the 317 who died in all of 2009.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: Just take a good, long look at the image above, because that’s precisely what Americans are dying for in Afghanistan… Protecting the international opium and heroin trade! – SJH

Afghan Official Says More Than 200 Civilians Killed In Two US Airstrikes

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Barack H. Obama At UN: Arrogant Voice Of American Imperialism!

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September 26, 2010: Bill Van Auken / Global Research – September 25, 2010

President Barack Obama used his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to defend US wars and state terror abroad and to proclaim that the economic crisis has been resolved thanks to his Wall Street bailout.

The US president received a noticeably tepid response from the assembled UN delegates.

While in his first address to the body last year, he was able to pose as a fresh alternative to the crimes carried out by the Bush administration, by now it has become clear to most on the international stage that his administration’s policies are largely in continuity with those of its predecessor. In its tone and its content, the Obama speech was the authentic and arrogant voice of US imperialism.

Parroting remarks delivered by George W. Bush from the same podium, Obama began by invoking September 11, 2001, once again exploiting the terrorist attacks of that day to justify the acts of military aggression committed by both US administrations in the intervening nine years.

In the same breath, he referred to Wall Street’s financial meltdown of September 2008, as an event that “devastated American families on Main Street,” while “crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent.”

These two events were presented as the source of the core challenges confronting the US administration. Supposedly in response to the first, the Obama administration has continued and escalated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan, while reaffirming Washington’s “right” to carry out unilateral military aggression anywhere on the planet.

In response to the second, the administration continued the massive bailout begun under Bush, committing more than $12 trillion to propping up the US banks and financial institutions, while holding none of those involved responsible for the criminal forms of speculation practiced on Wall Street.

Obama claimed that the so-called Wall Street reform legislation passed by his administration would ensure “that a crisis like this never happens again.” It does nothing of the kind, placing no serious limits on the speculative activities and profitability of the big banks and leaving Wall Street to continue with “business as usual.”

“The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression,” Obama told his UN audience. This statement flies in the face of the grim conditions confronting working people on every continent. This includes the US itself, where the official unemployment rate remains near 10 percent, the unemployed and underemployed account for 17 percent of the workforce, some 30 million people, and one out of every seven Americans is living below the poverty line.

While profits have returned to pre-crisis levels, the reality is that none of the underlying contradictions that have given rise to the deepest world economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s has been resolved. They have only grown in intensity. The response of the ruling classes throughout the world has been to redouble their attacks on the working class in an attempt to force it to pay for this crisis.

Obama followed his assertion about the economy being pulled back from “the brink” with an even more absurd claim that he would not “rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, not only for all Americans, but for peoples around the globe.”

In the US, throughout Europe and in much of the rest of the world, governments are pursuing unprecedented austerity policies that are ripping up basic social rights and dramatically lowering the living standards of working people. Meanwhile, Obama himself spoke before a global poverty summit the day before his speech, warning the world’s poorest that Washington was determined to break their cycle of “dependency.”

The US president’s lies about the economy were followed by the fraudulent claim that the military operations his administration is pursuing abroad are aimed at upholding “our common security.”

Obama said that he is “winding down the war in Iraq” and will pull out all of its occupation troops by the end of next year. At the same time, he declared Washington’s intention to forge “a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people,” by which he means maintaining a US protectorate over the oil-rich country in order to advance the geo-strategic interests of American capitalism.

He said that the drawing down of US troops in Iraq had allowed the US military to be “refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven” in Afghanistan. This is another lie. US military and intelligence officials acknowledge that there are no more than 100 al Qaeda members in all of Afghanistan. The nearly 100,000 US troops deployed in that country are not combating “terrorism,” but asserting US neo-colonial control in a bid to advance Washington’s quest for hegemony in Central Asia.

In one of the speech’s more chilling passages, Obama bragged that “from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach” in the war on terror, that did not require “deploying large American armies.” In other words, while constrained in its ability to carry out another major military occupation, US imperialism is pursuing its policies by means of assassinations, drone missile attacks and the deployment of elite killing squads, and has arrogated to itself the right to target and kill its perceived opponents anywhere on the planet.

Obama used the speech to once again threaten Iran. Only days before his appearance at the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech urging elements within the Iranian ruling elite to carry out regime change in the country. He reiterated the vow made in his speech last year that Iran “must be held accountable” for its alleged violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

At least a quarter of Obama’s address was dedicated to the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” that appear to be on the brink of yet another breakdown in the face of Israeli intransigence and provocation.

For all the hackneyed rhetoric about the “Holy Land” and “our common humanity,” the Obama administration is pursuing these negotiations as a means of solidifying support among the Arab regimes for its escalating threats of aggression against Iran and to further its domination of the Middle East.

The content of the speech made clear the US administration’s unwavering complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Obama urged that a limited moratorium declared by the Israeli government be extended beyond September 26, when it is set to expire. He said Israel should do this because it “improved the atmosphere for talks,” not because the entire settlement activity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is a violation of international law and multiple UN resolutions. In the same breath, the US president asserted that “talks should press on until completed,” presumably regardless of what Israel does.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that his government will not extend the moratorium, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had initially insisted that his delegation would be forced to walk out if it does not. An ever-pliant servant of Washington, Abbas has since indicated that he might back down on this threat.

The rest of Obama’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian question had an Orwellian flavor, in which Israel was presented as the victim. “The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance—it’s injustice,” Obama declared. He made no mention of the slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians in the US-backed siege of Gaza in 2008-2009 or the criminal attack on the Gaza aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish civilians last May. The day the US president spoke, the UN issued a report charging that Israel’s actions were illegal and employed an “unacceptable level of brutality,” meriting war crimes prosecution.

The US president concluded his speech with an exaltation of “democracy” and “human rights,” which again echoed similar language employed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In Bush’s case, this phony democratic rhetoric was employed to justify US imperialism’s drive for dominance in the Middle East, where Washington demonstrated its commitment to “human rights” by carrying out mass killings, the detention of tens of thousands without charges or trial, and the infamous acts of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo.

In Obama’s case, the posturing as the global champion of democratic rights is no less contemptible. The target, however, appears to have shifted.

The Council on Foreign Relations, the establishment thinktank that enjoys close ties to the administration and the State Department, spelled this out. Noting Obama’s “full-throated endorsement of democracy as the best form of government,” it commented: “Yet the appeal of such an idea faces challenges at bodies like the UN. This is not, for example, the future world that Chinese leaders envision.”

Indeed, Obama followed his celebration of democracy by calling attention to his upcoming trip to Asia, ticking off the countries he will visit—India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan—and praising each for having promoted “democratic principles in their own way.” The itinerary includes the four largest countries that US strategists envision as bulwarks against the expansion of Chinese influence.

On the same day that Obama delivered his speech, the New York Times published a front-page article on the increasingly tense US-China relationship that was clearly based on the perspective of the US administration. The Times reported that “rising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself—one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of.”

It noted that Washington has inserted itself into territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian countries, organized provocative joint military exercises with South Korea near Chinese waters and has solidified its alliance with Japan, largely in opposition to China’s influence.

Under conditions of rising conflicts between Washington and Beijing over currency and trade relations, Obama’s praise for “democracy” at the UN represents a thinly veiled threat of new and far more catastrophic eruptions of American militarism.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: There needs to be one correction made to Bill Van Auken’s otherwise excellent article: One of the nine who were murdered by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the Gaza Aid Flotilla was an American citizen, an event the UN itself has just proclaimed violated international law– SJH 

UN Report On Gaza Aid Flotilla Massacre: Guilty As Charged

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