Your organic cotton tee-shirt probably poisoned a river in Asia

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Dyed yarn hanging on a fence at the Jubilee Farm in Snoqualmie, part of a class on using natural plant dyes. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Dyed yarn hanging on a fence at the Jubilee Farm in Snoqualmie, part of a class on using natural plant dyes. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

Your soft cotton tee shirt is the ultimate warm fuzzy. Snuggling gratefully into its soft fibers, you feel virtuous about buying a product that was made of natural organic materials. Think of all those barrels of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that weren’t sprayed on foreign cotton fields thanks to you. Think of the smiling cotton farmers in Turkey and India growing those pure white organic tufts for you to snuggle into.

Sigh.

Bet you a tidy sum that the label boasting of organic fiber on that shirt says nothing about the luscious color. And for good reason.

We tend to be blissfully unaware of the myriad health problems attributed to the textile dyeing process, as most of our clothing is not from around here.

Yet somewhere in India, a river runs fluorescent pink. Or electric blue, or tangerine orange.

Perhaps the most infamous of these is India’s Noyyal River, which carries toxin-dense waste water from factories in Tirupur — a metropolis also known as “Knit City.” The effluent resulting from dyeing that imported cotton shirt you love pours from the dyeing plant into the Noyyal and other Indian and Chinese streams and rivers, carrying with it toxic chemicals – cancer-causing cadmium, lead, chromium, mercury, and more.

A Japanese-owned textile dyeing facility in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in Northeastern China. (Photo from Flickr by Matthew Stinson)
A Japanese-owned textile dyeing facility in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in Northeastern China. (Photo from Flickr by Matthew Stinson)

But one Seattle woman believes that we don’t have to pay such a heavy price for our penchant for color, and she is sharing her passion for plant-based, low-water dyes, adding to a “slow clothing” movement.

On a sunny recent August afternoon, Kathy Hattori leads a small band of acolytes to the cutting flower garden on Jubilee Farm, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) grower in Washington state’s fertile Snoqualmie valley.

She stops in front of a backdrop of enormous sunflowers and faces her students from behind a row of blanket-flowers, a daisy-like bloom glowing with streaks of orange, gold, pink, and coral. “Gaillardia,” she pronounces. “Let’s cut these – we should get some good color.”

The gloved throng bends to gather the bright flower heads, filling baskets.

Despite the jeans and encyclopedic knowledge of plant-based dyes, Hattori’s past career was rooted not in textiles or art but in the corporate world.

“The specter of Death drove me from the high-tech world,” she joked in an earlier interview.

A degree in environmental studies originally led to a job with the EPA. Her administrative flair led to a highly-paid but draining stint in the Silicon Valley. But discontent with the unfulfilling work led her to establish a new life in Seattle.

Leveraging her business background and following a long-time love of textiles, Hattori went to work for a natural dye company. There she became aware of the toxicity bedeviling conventional clothing. It was the 2005 GreenPeace report, “Toxic Threads” that galvanized her explorations with natural dyes.

Kathy Hattori at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Kathy Hattori at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

She learned about places like “Knit City,” where about a third of nearby villagers find themselves suffering from a range of ailments attributed to dye-related pollution, including gastritis, joint pain, and more.

Azo dyes, which are used for about 70% of textiles made, carry significant health and cancer risk, as do other chemicals used in the process like benzidine, pthalates, and formaldehyde.

Large amounts of precious potable water in clothing producing countries like China, India, and Bangladesh, is diverted from human and animal use, to be used in the dyeing process and then released back into streams. Neighboring farmland can be rendered unusable, exacting a heavy toll on health, livelihoods, and the environment.

The clothing produced arrives in the shopping bags of first world consumers with toxic residue, continuing the threat of toxic run-off to our own local water supplies. This is particularly concerning with regard to children’s clothing.

“I’d known that there were some pretty aggressive chemicals in the textile dyeing industry,” Hattori said. “But I didn’t realize just how toxic the substances are, and I hadn’t known about the amount of effluent produced and the enormous amount of water used in these processes. It had a huge effect on me.”

In 2010, she formed her own company, Botanical Colors, producing natural dyes for hobbyists and eventually for the fashion industry.

“I now work with small designers,” Hattori told me. “Younger designers are frustrated by not being able to make sustainable designs.”

Yarns dyed with natural indigo hang on a tree at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Yarns dyed with natural indigo hang on a tree at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

To that end, Hattori collaborates with New York design house Eileen Fisher, overdyeing gently-used clothing for Eileen Fisher’s clothing recycling initiative, Green Eileen.

Re-sellers like Green Eileen address a related concern of Hattori’s: the impact of the enormous amount of clothing we purchase in the developed world — as much as 70 pieces of clothing per person per year, by some estimates.

Producing dyes in bulk is a part of Hattori’s commitment to sustainability.

“National brands find it difficult to adapt to using natural dyes, but many of them have committed to fix their supply chains by 2020. I want to figure out how to bring the process to the point where it is practical for them to use; to be an evangelist,” she said as we sat in her Ballard facility. “If I can get their attention and then their buy-in, we can start to make a change. But natural dyes are challenging to mass-produce. You never eat the same piece of spinach twice, and it’s that way with natural dyes.”

But by accumulating large quantities over a season, maintaining disciplined procedures, and exercising her artistry – assessing and modifying the color as her eye tells her – Hattori is succeeding. Well-known Dharma Trading Company, a California-based fiber art supply company, now uses Hattori as one of their suppliers.

Even so, Hattori keeps what she calls “a visceral attraction to the work of the hand” at top of mind, accepting teaching requests in an ever-wider geographical range. That is how we find ourselves in that idyllic field, dipping organic and locally-raised wool into pots of water infused with color from blanket flowers, marigolds, and cochineal insects. Blouses, wool skeins, and even canvas shoes find their way into vats of indigo. As we lift out skeins of wool, now glowing with intense yellows, oranges, reds, and delicate green, depending on the ingredient, I ask Michael Fromberger, a Google programmer, what has drawn him to this decidedly low-tech pastime.

“I think that through human history, we’ve been surrounded by plants and used them in all kinds of ways. Now we seem aware of only a small number, and we think of them only as food,” he muses. “What I enjoy about this is that it reminds me that we’re not so alien from the natural world, and I love having this skill.”

Melissa Bob, a student in Hattori's class, cuts flowers for textile dyeing. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Melissa Bob, a student in Hattori’s class, cuts flowers for textile dyeing. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

Melissa Bob, an artist of Coast Salish heritage who has also joined the class, wanted to learn the methods her ancestors used to create their distinctive textiles and adapt them to her own work. Beth Murphy, herself a knitwear designer, and Jade Getz, an artist and photographer, are interested in sustainable clothing and art. Enthusiasts of the Fiber Shedmovement, which is dedicated to locally and sustainably-produced clothing, they were keen to expand their skills to produce and enhance fibers for their art and their clothing. Several participants likened the growing movement to the organic food crusade of a generation ago.

Anna Dianich, owner of Tolt Yarn and Wool, which offered the class, underscored that commitment.

“People like to know the farmer when it comes to yarn and natural dyeing goes along with that,” she said. She sees evidence of that in registrations for the classes offered by Tolt; summer classes generally fill slowly but Kathy Hattori’s natural dyeing and indigo classes filled almost immediately.

As we spoke, the gathering of artists, and hobbyists lay freshly dyed clothing on the grass under a late summer sun. On the other side of the earth, workers in China and India – and increasingly, in other less industrialized Asian countries – were laboring among vats of synthetic dyes laced with toxins. That’s what Kathy Hattori wants to change.

“Someone dying for my clothing is wrong,” she says.

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Everything you need to know about the Afghanistan war in just seven minutes

Cowspiracy The Sustainability Secret:

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.

As Andersen approaches leaders in the environmental movement, he increasingly uncovers what appears to be an intentional refusal to discuss the issue of animal agriculture, while industry whistleblowers and watchdogs warn him of the risks to his freedom and even his life if he dares to persist.

As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.

This movie is not available on youtube

https://www.primewire.ag/watch-2755886-Cowspiracy-The-Sustainability-Secret-online-free

click on vidzi.tv link

“We Are In a Revolutionary Moment”: Chris Hedges Explains Why An Uprising Is Coming — And Soon

The status quo is doomed but whether the future will be progressive or reactionary is uncertain, Hedges tells Salon

In recent years, there’s been a small genre of left-of-center journalism that, following President Obama’s lead, endeavors to prove that things on Planet Earth are not just going well, but have, in fact, never been better. This is an inherently subjective claim, of course; it requires that one buy into the idea of human progress, for one thing. But no matter how it was framed, there’s at least one celebrated leftist activist, author and journalist who’d disagree: Chris Hedges.

In fact, in his latest book, “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt,” Hedges argues that the world is currently at a crisis point the likes of which we’ve never really seen. There are similarities between our time and the era of the 1848 revolutions throughout Europe — or the French Revolutionary era that preceded them — he says. But in many ways, climate change least among them, the stakes this time are much higher. According to Hedges, a revolution is coming; we just don’t yet know when, where, how — or on whose behalf.

Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Hedges to discuss his book, why he thinks our world is in for some massive disruptions, and why we need revolutionaries now more than ever. A transcript of our conversation which has been edited for clarity and length can be found below.

Do you think we are in a revolutionary era now? Or is it more something on the horizon?

It’s with us already, but with this caveat: it is what Gramsci calls interregnum, this period where the ideas that buttress the old ruling elite no longer hold sway, but we haven’t articulated something to take its place.

That’s what that essay I quote by Alexander Berkman, “The Invisible Revolution,” talks about. He likens it to a pot that’s beginning to boil. So it’s already taking place, although it’s subterranean. And the facade of power — both the physical facade of power and the ideological facade of power — appears to remain intact. But it has less and less credibility.

There are all sorts of neutral indicators that show that. Low voter turnout, the fact that Congress has an approval rating of 7 percent, that polls continually reflect a kind of pessimism about where we are going, that many of the major systems that have been set in place — especially in terms of internal security — have no popularity at all.

All of these are indicators that something is seriously wrong, that the government is no longer responding to the most basic concerns, needs, and rights of the citizenry. That is [true for the] left and right. But what’s going to take it’s place, that has not been articulated. Yes, we are in a revolutionary moment; but maybe it’s a better way to describe it as a revolutionary process.

Is there a revolutionary consciousness building in America?

Well, it is definitely building. But until there is an ideological framework that large numbers of people embrace to challenge the old ideological framework, nothing is going to happen. Some things can happen; you can have sporadic uprisings as you had in Ferguson or you had in Baltimore. But until they are infused with that kind of political vision, they are reactive, in essence.

So you have, every 28 hours, a person of color, usually a poor person of color, being killed with lethal force — and, of course, in most of these cases they are unarmed. So people march in the streets and people protest; and yet the killings don’t stop. Even when they are captured on video. I mean we have videos of people being murdered by the police and the police walk away. This is symptomatic of a state that is ossified and can no longer respond rationally to what is happening to the citizenry, because it exclusively serves the interest of corporate power.

We have, to quote John Ralston Saul, “undergone a corporate coup d’état in slow motion” and it’s over. The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power — including the press. That sets the stage for inevitable blowback, because these corporations have no internal constraints, and now they have no external constraints. So they will exploit, because, as Marx understood, that’s their nature, until exhaustion or collapse.

What do you think is the most likely way that the people will respond to living in these conditions?

That is the big unknown. When it will come is unknown. What is it that will trigger it is unknown. You could go back and look at past uprisings, some of which I covered — I covered all the revolutions in Eastern Europe; I covered the two Palestinian uprisings; I covered the street demonstrations that eventually brought down Slobodan Milosevic — and it’s usually something banal.

As a reporter, you know that it’s there; but you never know what will ignite it. So you have Lenin, six weeks before the revolution, in exile in Switzerland, getting up and saying, We who are old will never live to see the revolution. Even the purported leaders of the opposition never know when it’s coming. Nor do they know what will trigger it.

What kind of person engages in revolutionary activity? Is there a specific type?

There are different types, but they have certain characteristics in common. That’s why I quote theologian Reinhold Niebuhr when he talks about “sublime madness.”

I think that sublime madness — James Baldwin writes it’s not so much that [revolutionaries] have a vision, it’s that they are possessed by it. I think that’s right. They are often difficult, eccentric personalities by nature, because they are stepping out front to confront a system of power [in a way that is] almost a kind of a form of suicide. But in moments of extremity, these rebels are absolutely key; and that you can’t pull off seismic change without them.

You’ve said that we don’t know where the change will comefrom,and that it could just as easily take a right-wing, reactionary form as a leftist one. Is there anything lefties can do to influence the outcome? Or is it out of anyone’s control?

There’s so many events as societies disintegrate that you can’t predict. They play such a large part in shaping how a society goes that there is a lot of it that is not in your control.

For example, if you compare the breakdown of Yugoslavia with the breakdown of Czechoslovakia — and I covered both of those stories — Yugoslavia was actually the Eastern European country best-equipped to integrate itself into Europe. But Yugoslavia went bad. When the economy broke down and Yugoslavia was hit with horrific hyperinflation, it vomited up these terrifying figures in the same way that Weimar vomited up the Nazi party. Yugoslavia tore itself to pieces.

If things unravel [in the U.S.], our backlash may very well be a rightwing backlash — a very frightening rightwing backlash. We who care about populist movements [on the left] are very weak, because in the name of anti-communism these movements have been destroyed; we are almost trying to rebuild them from scratch. We don’t even have the language to describe the class warfare that is being unleashed upon us by this tiny, rapacious, oligarchic elite. But we on the left are very disorganized, unfocused, and without resources.

In terms of  a left-wing populism having to build itself back up from scratch, do you see the broad coalition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a hint of what that might look like? Or would you not go that far?

No, I would.

I think that if you look at what’s happened after Occupy, it’s either spawned or built alliances with a series of movements; whether it’s #BlackLivesMatter, whether it’s the Fight for $15 campaign, whether it’s challenging the TPP. I think they are all interconnected and, often times — at least when I’m with those activists — there is a political consciousness that I find quite mature.

Are you optimistic about the future?

I covered war for 20 years; we didn’t use terms like pessimist or optimist, because if you were overly optimistic, it could get you killed. You really tried to read the landscape as astutely as you could and then take calculated risks based on the reality around you, or at least on the reality insofar as you could interpret it. I kind of bring that mentality out of war zones.

If we are not brutal about diagnosing what we are up against, then all of our resistance is futile. If we think that voting for Hillary Clinton … is really going to make a difference, then I would argue we don’t understand corporate power and how it works. If you read the writings of anthropologists, there are studies about how civilizations break down; and we are certainly following that pattern. Unfortunately, there’s nothing within human nature to argue that we won’t go down the ways other civilizations have gone down. The difference is now, of course, that when we go down, the whole planet is going to go with us.

Yet you rebel not only for what you can achieve, but for who you become. In the end, those who rebel require faith — not a formal or necessarily Christian, Jewish or Muslim orthodoxy, but a faith that the good draws to it the good. That we are called to carry out the good insofar as we can determine what the good is; and then we let it go. The Buddhists call it karma, but faith is the belief that it goes somewhere. By standing up, you keep alive another narrative. It’s one of the ironic points of life. That, for me, is what provides hope; and if you are not there, there is no hope at all.

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Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent.
 

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Today’s News — and Some History

The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now ade facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidipeople from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern citiesto Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)

Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter waragainst them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.

Iran in Iraq

In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.

In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.

Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.

On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”

Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support.  Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?

The Limits of Air Power 101

The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?

Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.

As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.

The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.

What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.

Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen

Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refusedto even show up for their initial battle.

In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”

The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly usingEgyptian troops, looms.  The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.

No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.

To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.

For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.

Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question

Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily toAsia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.

Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.

To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.

For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.

For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.

What Lies Ahead

In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.

The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.

Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources

Fukushima: “Astounding” levels of radiation measured in U.S. from Fukushima — Around 500,000 times our normal levels…

ENENews

Harry Miley, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington, Mar 7, 2014 (emphasis added): “We’re surrounded by souvenirs of scientific achievement here in the National Security Building Showcase lobby. Each one of these items tells a story of scientists working quietly on projects of societal impact. This yellow thing you see behind me is an aerosol sample… It was taken here a few days after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in Japan, and contains radioactivity that allowed us to determine the nature [and] magnitude of the release, but most importantly that there will be no human health impacts in North America… The Fukushima nuclear disaster… was not something we expected. We normally work on things of societal impact invisibly… But when the disaster occurred, the things we were doing suddenly became of national importance. You could hardly imagine anything more important. In fact, it was a matter of life and death.” >> Watch the video here

A colleague of Miley’s at PNNL, Ted Bowyer, discussed the air samples at a CTBTO meeting:

  • 0:30 in – “I agree with everything that previous speakers said, especially the aspect that more work is necessary… We have a lot of work to do… We have a lot of questions that we need to answer. There are a lot of people working on it. I also really thought it was very valuable to have this email exchange with… interested parties about events as they were unfolding in Japan. The accident as everyone knows was a terrible tragedy.”
  • 3:30 in – Slide: Evidence of radionuclide release reached the Japanese IMS station within 2-3 days; First evidence of the plume hitting the U.S. came to PNNL’s equipment about 1 day later
  • 4:30 in – “This is very amazing to me, having been working in the radioactive xenon monitoring field for about 17 years now. This was astounding to me… You can see background levels around 0.1 mBq/m3… Note the peak concentration we saw was in the range of 45,000 mBq/m3 — so that is 450,000 times our background level. For me that’s astounding. We never have ever seen anything even close to that. So the concentrations went up and up and up every day, and so that was quite amazing to see this 7,000 kilometers away from the event… I only show some of the data here, but it actually persisted for weeks at very measurable levels, and filled the entire northern hemisphere and mixed into the southern hemisphere.”
  • 12:00 in – “Xenon isotopic ratios appear to generally agree with calculations. However, there’s some uncertainty… We have a lot of work to do to try to understand whether there are calibration issues, whether there were physics here that we had not accounted for, etc. We do know that there are very high count rates at these detectors, which is similar to what you’d expect in an atmospheric detonation. On the other hand, the part I didn’t tell you was the amount of xenon we saw was consistent with a one megaton atmospheric detonation — we obviously wouldn’t expect to see that high. But it was a huge amount.”
  • Watch Bowyer’s presentation here

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  1. US Gov’t Expert: Large marine animals likely sensed danger of Fukushima plume and fled, “Not going to wait until they start to die off” — Explains unprecedented concentrations of whales and other sea life clustering off West Coast? (VIDEO) March 2, 2014
  2. Canadian scientists detect “significant” concentrations of radioactive material off West Coast, levels double in months since last test — Marine Chemist: “Much greater concern” over Fukushima releases that will be hitting shores of US & Canada; Lack of data “really disturbing” (AUDIO) November 10, 2014
  3. Leader of Fukushima Study: “Intense exposure” headed toward US west coast; Plume traveling very fast via oceanic jet — “High concentrations” to impact California coastal areas; Prolonged period of radioactive upwelling expected (VIDEO) September 18, 2014
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“Huge, unprecedented die-off like we’ve never seen”

KQED Science, Apr 5, 2015 (emphasis added): About thirty miles out from the Golden Gate, the federally protected Farallones are breeding grounds visited by hundreds of thousands of seabirds – many of which use the islands as a  winter way station — but not this year. Gerry McChesney, manager of the site for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that’s a bad sign not just for the Farallon Islands but also for wildlife more broadly along California’s coast. There was also hardship for breeding marine mammals. Dozens of pregnant sea lions proved too weak to carry their pups to term “That’s such a bizarre thing,” McChesney says. “We were seeing multiple aborted fetuses every day,” 94 in total – or nearly half the number of sea lions born there in 2014. Nor was the warm winter kind to elephant seal pups. Russ Bradley, Farallon program manager for Point Blue Conservation Science, says elephant seal mothers, trying to cool off amid the unusual heat, led their pups up to a cliff that, while breezy, proved perilous – “and actually had a fair amount of pups fall into this sea channel, because they’re pups and they’re clumsy and they got too close to the edge.” “It is pretty brutal for the biologists out here that had to watch it,” McChesney says. “It was pretty tough.” Among the conspicuously absent birds was a type called Cassin’s Auklet, which feeds on krill. All along the Pacific coast, McChesney says, these birds have been suffering “a huge, unprecedented die-off like we’ve never seen” for want of food. That’s also bad news for other species that eat krill, he says, from salmon to blue whales.

US Fish & Wildlife Service, Apr 1, 2015: Over the past four months, seals and sea lions are having difficulty reproducing, local seabirds have had low colony attendance… Observations of disrupted breeding activities include: California sea lions aborting pups due to poor body condition of the mothers. Since January 9th, 94 aborted sea lion fetuses have been recorded on the islands, well in advance of their June due date. Ninety-four is almost half the total number of sea lions born on the island in 2014. High elephant seal pup mortality due to warmer air temperaturesPup survival was low this year… Many pups died when overheating mothers led them to a cliff edge in attempts to get cool; pups then fell to their deaths.  Low attendance of breeding seabirds – Farallon nesting seabirds usually visit the islands during winter, but this year winter attendance was unusually low. In fact, the Cassin’s Auklet… has been largely absent from the islands in the last few months… Since auklets feed mainly on krill, their activity and nesting success are good indicators of the availability of this food resource, which is very important for many marine predators including whales and salmon… “These unusual observations highlight the importance of monitoring our coastal wildlife,” says [Gerry McChesney, manager of the site for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. “They are significant indicators of ocean health.”

KGO, Apr 2, 2015: Researchers view the Farallon Islands as a barometer for the health of the overall ocean and this year in particular has been tough. Hundreds of sea lion pups have beached themselves, but elephant seals are having trouble too… — Doug Cordell, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: “Some of them have died when the mothers lead them to a cliffs edge attempting to get cool and the pups then fell to their deaths. We’re seeing unusual occurrences with the bird populations. Very low attendance of the breeding sea birds… Any of these things in isolation you might say, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’”

Feb. 22, 2015 winter pelagic trip, Monterey Bay: Shearwaters were extremely low in numbers, either because of the warm water, or because of the declining numbers which I have been talking about for the past several years, or because of both reasons.

Full KGO broadcast here

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  2. 10,000 baby sea lions dead on one California island — Experts: “It’s getting crazy… This is a crisis… Never seen anything like it… Very difficult to see so much death” — TV: “Numbers skyrocketing at alarming rates” — “Woman is burying the rotting mammals” after digging graves at beach (VIDEOS) March 16, 2015
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