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Thursday, 5 February 2015

Light beam seen during Michigan power plant explosion

light beam over Escanaba Power Plant

Images of light beam over Escanaba Power Plant, Michigan on February 2nd 2015

Many Escanaba residents awoke Monday to find themselves without power after an explosion at a nearby utility plant substation

Around 1:30 a.m. Feb. 2, an explosion at an Escanaba Power Plant substation caused widespread power outages across the city, according to the Escanaba City Electric Department.

With the failure of the substation's main transformer, officials noted the repairs are expected to require a significant amount of labor to fix .

As crews work to repair the damaged electrical equipment, city staff are warning residents to expect rolling blackouts the next few days. Residents are advised to keep their heat at elevated levels, but to conserve energy elsewhere whenever possible.

The Escanaba School District was forced to close today as well, due to a lack of power.

Those affected by the outage are invited to seek shelter at the Escanaba Civic Center, or to visit warming centers at Gladstone's Grace Baptist Church or the nearby Walmart.

At the moment, city crews are working to restore power along the north and south alleys of Ludington Street, as well on the south side of Escanaba. Areas along First Avenue South to Third Avenue North could see a return of power in the next few hours, officials stated.

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Comment: So was this just an ordinary explosion, or could there be something more to the story? In , Pierre Lescaudron presents the possibility that certain types of buildings or factories can act as attractors for dramatic electrical discharges, whether 'sparked' by incoming comet fragments or atmospheric electrical conditions. So could something similar be responsible for the odd lights seen in the video above? Without more data it will be hard to know for sure.

See also: Was the West Texas explosion a meteorite impact?

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Noranda plant in St. James Parish seeks permit to emit mercury

Noranda Alumina officials say they believe their nearly 55-year-old refinery in St. James Parish has been releasing mercury into the air without a permit, possibly since operations began in 1959.

The Tennessee-based owners of the once-bankrupt Kaiser Aluminum complex on the Mississippi River are asking state regulators for permission to release up to 250 pounds of mercury per year. That would make the plant one of the largest mercury polluters of Louisiana's air while Noranda officials figure out what is causing the air releases, state and federal records show.

Noranda officials told the state Department of Environmental Quality in April and May that they believe the mercury is rising from steam vents tied to plant heat exchangers, although DEQ has not permitted the release of mercury into the air from anywhere at the plant.

"If so, the facility has probably always emitted these small amounts of mercury to the atmosphere, and the emissions can be expected to continue into the future," Noranda Alumina President David P. Hamling wrote to DEQ on May 28.

John Parker, Noranda vice president of communications, said the emissions are not a risk to the public. Company officials have since "been working with DEQ at DEQ's pace to set up monitoring protocols for this," he said.

Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist in DEQ's Air Permits Division, said "there is no indication at this point that there is anything to be concerned about."

But the air permit that Noranda is asking for would make the plant Louisiana's second largest air emitter of mercury or mercury compounds, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory data. In 2013, the latest year for which data has been reported, only NRG's Big Cajun II coal-fired plant in New Roads, which released 486 pounds, would have surpassed the 250-pound limit Noranda is now seeking.

"Two-hundred-fifty pounds of mercury per year is not an insignificant amount because mercury is so highly toxic at very low concentrations," said John Walke, director of the clean air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group.

The Noranda plant, near the foot of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and across La. 3213 from Gramercy, makes alumina, which feeds the company's aluminum smelter near New Madrid, Missouri. The alumina also is sold and can be used in industrial catalysts and abrasives, as well as deodorant.

Noranda officials suspect the mercury is coming from bauxite ore, which stains the facility a rust color, and is the source rock from which the plant extracts up to 1.3 million tons of alumina annually. The ore is mined in Jamaica and shipped up the Mississippi River to Gramercy.

Eight months after the company's first reports of air emissions outside its permit, DEQ officials have not yet issued a compliance order nor a notice of potential penalties. Enforcement officials said they are waiting on information from Noranda, in particular air modeling and information on how long emissions have occurred, and cannot say whether the facility will be fined.

"It is under environmental review and an appropriate order will be issued, I can say, in the very near future," Celena Cage, DEQ Enforcement Division administrator, said.

She said that in cases like this one, DEQ often starts with putting the company on notice for potential penalties. If DEQ does not issue fines, it will say why in later documents, she said.

Marylee Orr, Louisiana Environmental Action Network executive director, called for the company to be fined if the mercury releases have occurred as Noranda suspects. She said enforcement of environmental laws is vital for public safety, adding that Louisiana has a history of not enforcing regulations.

"Responsible self-reporting should be commended but cannot be a get-out-of-jail-free card," Orr said in an email.

Mercury is a heavy metal that has been found to be harmful to people and the environment . Some environmentalists say mercury should raise particular concerns, even in small amounts, because it doesn't break down and accumulates in animals that people eat.

Methylmercury accumulations in fish and shellfish can impair the neurological growth of fetuses, infants and children, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website says. According to DEQ reports, one of the sources of mercury in fish in the state comes through airborne deposits in the water.

The Blind River, which runs through St. James Parish, northwest of Gramercy and into Lake Maurepas, and the Petit Amite and Amite River Diversion Canal, which feed into the Blind, are among the bayous, rivers and lakes in Louisiana that DEQ has declared to be impaired due to fish with high concentrations of mercury.

All three have had mercury consumption advisories for choupique or grinnel at least since 2003 or 2004, the state Department of Health and Hospitals says.

DEQ and EPA have been on a decades-long drive to reduce mercury air emissions, primarily from power plants and the chemical industry. Louisiana has seen sizeable decreases, federal pollution reporting data show.

DEQ's Johnston said that the interim limit Noranda is seeking would be "somewhat significant" for mercury air releases, though likely a sign the company is playing it safe with limits on a future permit.

He said knowing how far mercury releases might travel in the air depends on modeling. Noranda still has to find an appropriate way to measure the mercury emissions.

"That's ongoing at the plant," Johnston said.

He said a variety of factors greatly affect the distance of travel, such as stack height and stack temperatures.

At the Gramercy plant, Noranda has long been permitted to release mercury from the ore processing through water or mixed and diluted in massive, leveed-off piles of waste "red mud" on the company's site in between Airline Highway and River Road, permit records show.

With just those discharges, the Noranda complex is regularly one of the largest emitters of mercury or mercury compounds in Louisiana, federal self-reporting data say.

In 2013, Noranda released 1,803 pounds of mercury, tops in the state. The next highest overall source for mercury or mercury compounds was Mosaic's Uncle Sam fertilizer plant in St. James at 764 pounds, TRI data say.

Noranda officials told DEQ they had believed all the mercury from the bauxite ore was bound to other chemicals used in its process, and could not escape into the air.

But workers ran across specks of elemental mercury on March 26 in scale that had built up in tubing being replaced for one of the plant's heaters. Small liquid drops of mercury were also on concrete below the heater.

Parker said company officials quickly shut down maintenance so the mercury could be cleaned up.

Noranda's Hamling told DEQ that tubing for the heater where the mercury was found had not been replaced since the heater was built 14 years ago. That's before Noranda obtained a 50-percent stake in the plant in 2004. Noranda now owns it outright.

Past heater tubing replacements have not turned up mercury, Hamling wrote.

He added that testing of steam vents appeared to show mercury concentrations of 0.5 parts per billion.

Though minute - 1 part per billion is equivalent to one drop of water in a swimming pool - even 0.5 ppb would be more than three times the safe eight-hour background level for air, which is 0.145 ppb, DEQ rules say.

DEQ does not enforce that standard, however, until the emissions leave the plant site and would likely be more diffuse, agency officials said.

Hamling also told DEQ that sampling in the steam vents was done with monitors sensitive to heat and moisture, so he counted those results as unreliable.

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Ukraine's currency in free-fall after central bank stops propping it up

hryvna, ukraine currency

© Reuters / Gleb Garanich

Banknotes of Ukrainian hryvna

The hryvnia lost 34 percent against the US dollar after the head of the central bank signaled it can no longer support the currency with regular interventions and will allow greater fluctuations. The hyrvnia hit a historic low of 24.5 per 1 USD.

"Get used to market volatility," National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) Governor Valery Gontareva told reporters in Kiev on Thursday.

Happening to Ukrainian #Hryvnia right now while John Kerry is arriving in Kiev for talks. The market is panicking http://bit.ly/1LSecmF

- Yury Barmin (@yurybarmin) February 5, 2015

With foreign exchange reserves at only $7.5 billion, the central bank "is changing its approach to monetary policy, while strengthening its rigidity," according to a statement published Thursday.

Ukrainian Central Bank cancels indicative Hryvna rate. Real Hryvna rate differed from indicative by 30%. Panic mood in markets - Gontareva

- *Russian Market (@russian_market) February 5, 2015

After the policy shift announcement, Ukraine's hryvnia fell to 24.5 against the dollar and 28.092 against the euro.

The bank also announced an unexpected interest rate hike to 19.5 percent from 14 percent, in a move to try and mend the worsening economic situation. Foreign exchange reserves are at a ten-year low of $7.5 billion, down more than 60 percent since last year. In December reserves stood at about $10 billion.

"It's more about economic failings and the war situation at this stage. Interest rates won't make any difference just as they are not in Russia," Simon Quijano Evans head of emerging markets research at Commerzbank in London, told Reuters.

Real vs. Market Value

The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) decided to scrap the indicative exchange rate on Monday. The NBU started $3 million currency auctions in November 2014 to establish the indicative rate serving as a benchmark for banks after the currency lost 50 percent against the dollar.

As of February 5, the single exchange rate on the interbank currency market will be used, not the indicative exchange rate. However, the indicative rate and the real exchange rate in the market varied greatly. On January 30, the weighted average auction rate was 16.0072 UAH to the US dollar, but the market exchange rate was 21.10 UAH per dollar.

All future currency auctions have been cancelled.

Kerry in Kiev

John Kerry is in Kiev today and may discuss further financial aid for Ukraine, an economy that not only suffers from a weak currency, but high debt and low foreign currency reserves.

The government in Kiev has already secured a $17 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund, but only the first two tranches totaling $4.6 billion have been sent. The IMF is worried about Ukraine's slow progress putting economic and political reform into practice, as well as the over-bloated 2015 budget.

The Central Bank expects the IMF to make a decision on the next tranche on either Friday or Saturday.

Kiev has already received pledges from the EU to provide €1.8 billion ($2.05 billion) and an extra $1 billion in loan guarantees from the US, bringing Washington's total Ukraine commitment to $2 billion.

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Crazy underwater video shows a camouflaged octopus 'decloak' before your eyes

octopus, camoflauge

© Jonathan Gordon/Youtube

A screen capture at the moment of truth reveals the hidden cephalopod

Diver Jonathan Gordon caught the stunning moment an octopus appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "I had literally no idea he was there until I was about a metre away," he writes about the moment this video was taken. Gordon writes that he was snorkeling in the Caribbean and dove to inspect the shell the octopus was apparently under, when the little guy decided to pop out and say hello, changing his colors rapidly.

Various cephalopods - including cuttlefish - can rapidly and dramatically change the color of their skin to blend in with surroundings.They have "thousands of color-changing cells called chromatophores just below the surface of the skin," according to the Smithsonian.

"A complex array of nerves and muscles controls whether the sac is expanded or contracted and, when the sac expands, the color is more visible. Besides chromatophores, some cephalopods also have iridophores and leucophores. Iridophores have stacks of reflecting plates that create iridescent greens, blues, silvers and golds, while leucophores mirror back the colors of the environment, making the animal less conspicuous."

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Ukraine to become 51st State!

ukraine 51st state

After the installation of the members of the US-controlled Puppet Government, the logical next step occurred today. The Ukrainian administration has put in its request for admission as the 51st state of the Union. The background to this action is that various US citizens, who were about to be settled into the Ukrainian government, refused to take up Ukrainian citizenship. Ukraine allows its people only one citizenship: Ukrainians who go around with a double passport are subjected by the state to strong penalties.

"We consider that in this way, we can kill two birds with one stone. The Russian aggressor will now have to think twice, about whether they are going to assault American territory," revealed one government spokesperson.

It is intended that Petro Poroshenko will assume office as the governor of this newly created state of the Union. Yatsenyuk, Tyanibok, Yarosh, and Lyashenko will be sent to the House of Representatives and to the US Senate, to take their place with their peers.

Georgia and Puerto Rico have entered protests, since they were expecting to become the 51st state. As is already known, Georgia's request was stymied because there is already a state of the Union with that same name. Uniting Georgia with the already-named Georgia would have solved this difficulty, but this solution was rejected by the Georgians, as they wanted to remain a sovereign state and to maintain their territorial integrity. They also were displeased with renaming their capital "Alabama," even though, to sweeten the deal, Lynyrd Skynyrd offered to rename his song "Sweet Home Tbilisi."

Puerto Rico, for its part, ever since its annexation in 1898, has been attempting to become a participant in full standing in the US, and to shed its colonial status. The Puerto Rican people see themselves as first in line for recognition as the 51st State, and accordingly are not pleased with the new competitors.

Amidst such negotiations, a rejection came in from Washington: At the present time, no further annexations of backward lands are under consideration. They could only entail expense, and they could not be properly exploited.

It would be disastrous for the US economy, when the colonies suddenly turned about and sued the mother country, because, for instance, people were getting paid less than the US minimum wage.

This being the case, the status as colony is all that remains for Ukraine.

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More sanity from Hollande: Europe faces total war if West arms Ukraine

hollande merkel

"We have two choices. We can adopt the logic that the participants ought to be armed. Since Russia is arming the separatists, we will do the same for Ukrainians so that they can defend themselves. But can you draw the line between defensive and offensive weaponry?" - asked Hollande. "The other option is to try and find a compromise and convince both sides to cease fire. Diplomacy, negotiations, but they ought not continue endlessly...Because we are dealing with a war - war which can become total."

These are the words of Hollande, very straightforward and direct which is very uncharacteristic for contemporary European politicians, and they are a reflection of the high level of fear in continental Europe. And, what's important, it's fear that appeared suddenly, unexpectedly, forcing the leaders of the two biggest European countries to hurry to Kiev and Moscow. What did just happen?

Judging by the State Department announcements and the arrival of Kerry to Kiev, the catalyst of such a pained European reaction are the US intentions to start openly arming the Ukrainian army, which would guarantee a Russian response that would transform the conflict on the Donbass into something entirely different, which Hollande referred to as "total war". Keeping in mind that both the junta and the Donbass announced a mobilization of up to 100 [thousand] recruits, and that Poroshenko said he is ready to introduce martial law and use new NATO-provided weapons, all of this can lead to the biggest regional conflict since WW2.

It's possible that the unprecedented French and German diplomatic initiative is the last attempt to restrain the US from taking this step by proposing Kerry a new variant of peace negotiations. Perhaps this is why there will be an unscheduled meeting between Merkel and Kerry, after which both Merkel and Hollande will fly to Moscow.

Kommersant writes that the "core of the French-German initiative may be a ceasefire along a new line of demarcation which will not be the same one as what was agreed on in September of last year, with the traditional condition that the Donbass remains in Ukraine with special conditions. It also cannot be ruled out that the two traveled to Kiev with more radical proposals, for example, introducing peacekeeping troops into the Donbass (something like that was discussed at the UN a long time ago, and Pushilin already expressed his consent). Then there is definitely a need for the principals to talk face to face.

One way or the other, Europe is seriously alarmed. This was evident at the press conference where Hollande suddenly realized that "every day there are men, women, civilians dying on the eastern borders of Europe." He also said that both France and Germany have a "special responsibility" because both are closely tied to Russia and Ukraine. In other words, the Europeans suddenly realized that America is far away but they are close, and that the "total war" will hit their part of the "Western World" the hardest. One can't say that they did not understand this before, but were always hoping that Russia would retreat at the last moment. However, it is now finally clear that Russia will not retreat. While Moscow is trying to put out the fire of war, it will not be intimidated by the prospect of it becomes large-scale.

P.S. Hollande has followed in Merkel's footsteps by saying that he does not even intend to consider the issue of arming Ukraine. This is directly opposed to Washington's wishes. It does not speak to a split within the West, since as before different Western countries accept the burden of the military component in different conflicts, but it is another indication of the sentiments in continental Europe.

J.Hawk's Comment: We don't yet know what Merkel and Hollande discussed with Poroshenko (though, apparently, not with Yatsenyuk who once again is making the rounds making hysterical pronouncements and unbelievable demands) or what they will discuss with Putin. One possibility is that there is no split within the West, and that the Mellande (Horkel?) dynamic duo are the "good cop" to Obama's (or, rather, Biden's) "bad cop." But then Kerry seems to have suddenly remembered (after all these months!) that the Minsk Protocol also makes Ukraine responsible for providing the Donbass with a special status, something that Kiev has conspicuously failed to do (not that it took seriously any other requirements of the Minsk Protocol). Moreover, the three leaders in question don't get their knowledge about the situation in Ukraine from NPR or Fox News. No, that's propaganda for the masses. They know everything that the readers of this blog know: the Ukrainian economy is a shambles, the Ukrainian military is facing a massive desertion and discipline problem (one does not empower commanders to shoot their own soldiers on the spot if there is not a compelling need to do so), and any transfers of weapons to the Ukrainian side would have no perceptible impact except to make Russia exceptionally angry and to accelerate the collapse of the Ukrainian state. Historically, Russia has shown little willingness to appease. It's preferred approach is to exert maximum pressure, political, economic, and, if need be, military, in the direction of the threat. To the point of marching into Paris and Berlin, if the circumstances require it. The greater the threat, the stronger the Russian push-back. Any Western overt military support would only increase the Russian pressure on Ukraine long before these weapons would even reach the battlefield. So what would NATO have to respond with? More sanctions? I think the message has sunk in that Russia will not be "brought to heel" by sanctions? Direct military involvement? Even if the whole of Bundeswehr were to be deployed to Ukraine, it would last maybe two weeks. Merkel and Hollande know this. Moreover, both Merkel and Hollande have flatly ruled out supplying Ukraine with weapons. For the Obama administration to proceed to arm Ukraine would mean a very visible breach between the US and the EU.

It is more likely that, as Cassad points out, the hurried if varied reaction (Obama threatens to arm the junta, while Merkel and Hollande fly to Kiev and Moscow) has to do with the battlefield successes of Novorossia's army which is threatening to inflict a major and humiliating defeat on UAF. It is entirely possible that Novorossia forces held back precisely in order to give Merkel and Hollande time to formulate their peace proposals and to fly with them to Kiev, rather than to face them with a fait accompli. Though should Merkel and Hollande rise to the occasion, there is always time for the UAF grouping at Debaltsevo to be salutorily finished off. .

The problem is, once again, located in Kiev, because for Poroshenko it's a lose-lose proposition, and it's not even clear which of the two losing options is the worse one. In fact, he probably has a better chance of physically surviving if the whole country goes down in flames as a result of the escalating conflict (escalating not because of Russia's intervention but because of internal unrest and repression) then if he makes peace with Novorossia. Because it's then that the knives will come out--somebody has to be the scapegoat, and it ain't gonna be the "war party". It's not clear what, if anything, Merkel and Hollande can do to change that calculation for him.

As to Yatsenyuk and Turchinov, they probably prefer a continued war because they are too incompetent to govern under any other circumstances. War makes it possible to shift the responsibility for every mishap onto the conflict itself and away from oneself. Plus, of course, the war suits their "arsonist firefighter" temperaments just fine. And this can continue until...it can't. Until the country breaks down. It still looks like the "doomsday" scenario is the most plausible one.

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U.S. pressing Cuba to open embassy by April

© Reuters/Stringer

A man stands near the national flags of the U.S. and Cuba (R) on the balcony of a hotel being used by the first U.S. congressional delegation to Cuba since the change of policy announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 17, in Havana, January 19, 2015.

The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite the Communist island's demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A refusal by Cuba to allow the United States to quickly establish an official embassy for the first time in half a century could complicate talks between the Cold War foes, reflecting enduring mistrust as they move to end decades of confrontation.

Striking Cuba from the terrorism list could take until June or longer, although the White House is pushing officials to move quickly, said two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the State Department's review to take Cuba off the list.

Washington is eager to re-establish diplomatic ties before a regional summit in Panama in April, when President Barack Obama will meet Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since 2013, the officials said.

The two leaders announced a historic deal on Dec. 17 to restore relations. U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet this month or in early March in Washington for a second round of talks.

While renewing diplomatic relations could happen quickly, the process to normalize, including removing the U.S. trade embargo, will take far longer.

Cuba has not made removal from the list a condition for restoring ties, U.S. officials said. But Havana made clear during the first round of talks last month that it first wants to be removed from the terrorism list.

Getting off the List

For Cuba, which considers its designation an injustice, getting removed from the list would be a long-coveted propaganda victory at home and abroad.

Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro's training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.

But Cuba's presence on the list has been questioned in recent years. The State Department's latest annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" says Cuba has long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm. And the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host.

Even the State Department acknowledged in its report that Cuba has made progress. "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups," it said.

Cuba raised this issue before January's talks in Havana. A senior official from Cuba's foreign ministry told reporters on Jan. 20 that it was "unfair" to keep Cuba on the State Department's list.

"We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It doesn't make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list)."

It is rare, though not unheard of, for the United States to remove entities or countries from its list of terrorist supporters. One entity which was removed following a lengthy and intense lobbying campaign was the Mujahiddin e Khalq, a controversial and cult-like Iranian group.

The designation also comes with economic sanctions, and can result in fines for companies that do business with countries on the list, such as a record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for doing business with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

As part of the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba, the White House ordered a State Department review of Cuba's listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. officials said.

A U.S. national security official said intelligence agencies were under pressure from senior Obama administration officials to complete their role in the removal process by March.

"The process is under way," said the official.

To finalize Cuba's removal, Obama would need to submit to Congress a report stating Havana had not supported terrorism-related activities for six months, and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future. Cuba would be automatically dropped from the list 45 days later.

Getting the embassy open is also tricky.

Converting the six-story U.S. interests sections in Havana into a full-fledged embassy after 53 years would require ending restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, limits on diplomats' movements and appointing an ambassador. It would allow the U.S. to renovate the building and have U.S. security posted around the building, replacing Cuban police.

Cuba also wants the United States to scale back its support for Cuban dissidents when the sides meet again. U.S. administration officials have stood firm both publicly and privately that they intend to keep supporting the dissidents.

"I can't imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship with an agreement not to see democracy activists," U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson told a hearing chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal Republican opponent of Obama's new Cuba policy.

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Ukrainian Parliament authorizes law allowing army deserters to be shot

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada

© RIA Novosti / Evgeny Kotenko

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada meeting.

Ukraine's parliament has passed a law which authorizes commanding officers to use physical force against army defectors. It comes as the latest military draft has seen a lack of enthusiasm on the part of potential soldiers.

Ukraine's parliament voted on Thursday with 260 MPs in favor - only 226 votes were needed to pass the law. The new article 22(1) added to the charter regulating service in the armed forces of Ukraine states that commanders "have the right to personally use physical force, special means, and weapons when in combat" against soldiers who commit "criminal acts."

Under criminal acts the law lists "disobedience, resistance or threat to use force against the commander, voluntary abandonment of military positions and certain locations of military units in areas of combat missions."

An explanatory note to the document says that currently there are mass violations of military discipline, in particular, desertion from units and drinking alcohol, as well failure to execute commanders' orders.

In late January, a new Ukrainian military draft for 2015 came into effect. This one is the fourth wave of mobilization since Kiev launched a military operation against militias in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.

It was expected to see 100,000 people joining the army in three stages throughout the year. However, the country's Defense Ministry said on January 31 that nearly 7,500 Ukrainians are already facing criminal charges for evading military service.

The Ukrainian president's adviser, Yury Biryukov, cited statistics, showing that desertion surprisingly was primarily a problem in western Ukraine, traditionally seen as a hotbed of anti-Russian sentiment.

The Ukrainian president went as far as signing a decree on additional measures to ensure a successful draft in 2015. A major provision is temporary restriction on leaving the country for men eligible for military service.

"The Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine parliament] has authorized the shooting of army deserters. By doing so they are risking shooting the whole army: people don't want to participate in a bloody venture," said the head of Russia's Lower House of Parliament Committee for relations with the CIS bloc, Leonid Slutsky, on his Twitter.

Kiev began a military assault on eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk regions in April 2014, after they refused to recognize the country's new, coup-imposed authorities. Following a period of calm and hopes that the Minsk negotiations conducted in September 2014 were bearing fruit, Kiev launched a new assault on the militia-held areas on January 18. Since then, eastern Ukraine has suffered constant shelling. Among the latest incidents, a hospital in Donetsk was hit on Wednesday. Local authorities said more than 15 people were feared dead in the attack. According to UN estimates, over 5,000 people have died since the conflict started.

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FBI director warns against ISIL threat in...Mississippi?

FBI James Comey

© Rick Guy/The Clarion-Ledger

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks as representatives of state law enforcement agencies look on during a press conference Tuesday at the MIssissippi FBI headquarters in Jackson

As Americans stood horrified at the news of a Jordanian pilot burned alive by the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, one of the top law enforcement officers in the country talked about how Mississippians can fight those kind of extremist ideals within our own borders.

FBI Director James Comey, who was in the state for the second visit of his 10-year term, said there are open cases looking into individuals who may be related to ISIS/ISIL in every state in the Union except Alaska.

"Mississippi is a great state, but like all 50 states it has troubled souls that might look to find meaning in this sick, misguided way. The challenge that we face in law enforcement is that they may be getting exposed to that poison and that training in their basement," Comey said. "They're sitting there consuming and may emerge from the basement to kill people of any sort, which is the call of ISIL, just kill somebody."

So he stressed that the threat is very real, not just for military or law enforcement or the media, all of whom have been warned by the FBI that ISIS could be gunning for them, but for ordinary citizens as well.

"If you can video tape it all the better, if it's law enforcement all the better, if you can cut somebody's head off and get it on tape, what a wonderful thing in their view of the world," he continued. "That's the challenge we face everywhere."

Comey expressed particular fear that restrictions on information gathering could give terrorists more leeway because they are harder to track.

"I'm very worried about where we're drifting as a country in respect to law enforcement's ability to, with lawful process, intercept communications. I'm not talking about sneaky stuff. I'm talking about situations where we have probable cause to believe that somebody is communicating with a terrorist group," he said. "... We're drifting into a place where there are going to be large swaths of this country beyond the reach of the law."

Because of that, Comey said, citizens need to be constantly on the watch. The current climate of the world does not make it acceptable to see something and not report it.

"Ordinary folks should listen to the hair on the back of their neck," he said. "We've gone back through every homegrown violent extremist case in the United States and studied it. In every single case, someone saw something online, at a religious institution, in a family setting, at a school, that was weird, that was out of place, this person was acting in a way that didn't make sense."

Law enforcement leaders from around the state attended the conference as a show of a solidarity the FBI and local agencies haven't always had.

"They're there for us, there to help us, anything we need," Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey said. "Since I got elected sheriff, the relationship with the FBI and the federal government has never been better than it is right now."

Hinds County Chief Deputy Chris Picou said Comey talked to officers about programs that fit right into MACE, the program Hinds County and the Jackson Police Department are working on based on Baton Rouge's BRAVE program.

"We had a conversation about the project we're doing, and about the FBI stepping in, and they're coming in to get involved with this program," he said. "We have to pick those areas out that we can't change, and we have to change the ones we can. Just having their help and resources will be a tremendous help to us."

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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80s AIDs crisis survivors share their stories; entire neighborhoods died and lesbians cared for the sick

AIDs crisis

© twitter

Real LGBTI people who lived during the 1980s AIDs Crisis share what happened to them.

As the UK celebrates LGBT History Month, users of Reddit revealed what it was like to be living in what felt like a constant state of tragedy. Real LGBTI people remember the confusion, the lack of information, the lack of support from the government because of the suffering from the virus known only at the time as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency).

'I'm a 62-year-old gay man. I thankfully made it through the epidemic that started in the early 80s and went right through the mid-90's. You ask what it was like? I don't know if I can even begin to tell you how many ways AIDS has affected my life, even though I never caught the virus,' one user said.

'By the early 80s, I had what I would consider a really large circle of friends and acquaintances and once the epidemic really started to hit, it was not uncommon to find out three, four or more people you knew had died each month. We set up informal and formal support groups to look after our friends who took sick. Feeding them when they would eat. Changing them. Washing them. Acting as go-between with families who "were concerned" about their sons, nephews, brothers, etc., but wouldn't lend a hand to help because AIDS was, you know, icky.

AIDs crisis

'After they passed, there were memorial services to plan with no real time to grieve because when one passed, you were needed somewhere else to begin the process all over again.

'I kept a memory book/photo album of everyone I knew that died of AIDS. It's quite large to say the least. Who were these guys? These were the people I had planned to grow old with. They were the family I had created and wanted to spend the rest of my life with as long as humanly possible but by the time I was in my late 40s, every one of them was gone except for two dear friends of mine.

'All we have left of those days are each other, our memories and pictures. I hope that statement doesn't come off as pitiful though. I am fit, active, healthy and you know what? I enjoy every single day of my life. I enjoy it because most of my friends can't. In my own personal way, I want to honor their lives by living and enjoying mine.'

Another user said: 'It was flat out scary. every guy you met was like a possible time bomb. especially the early period when we knew very little about it - didn't know if you could get it by kissing, by holding hands...

'Then lots of your friends or friends of friends get sick and sicker and then die. And you never ever quit being really really fucking pissed off about the whole thing. I'm alive today due to sheer randomness.'

And another said: 'If you were living in the Castro in San Francisco, everyone in the neighborhood was gay... So it wasn't just your friends that were dying, it was your whole neighborhood. One day your mailman would be replaced, the next day that flower shop was gone... You wouldn't be invited to the funeral, so it was just like people were disappearing.'

'It was madness. It was terribly cruel,' another Redditor said. 'It was inexplicable and unexplained, for a very long time. Research was underfunded, and in many cases large institutions and public figures rooted for it to be happening. People died suddenly of unexplainable things. Toe fungus! Tongue thrush! Rashes. Eyes welling up with blood. Horrible shit.

'Everyone knew it was hitting gay men, nobody knew what it was. They called it the gay cancer. People were very superstitious. I had handfuls of groceries and man lectured me on not pressing the elevator buttons with my nose because I could catch AIDS from it. Yes. That happened.'

A lesbian of the era said: 'While I was not 'at risk' (per se, we know more these days), we all lost many good friends. It is true that there is a somewhat mystifying (to me) separatist attitude between some gay men and lesbians, especially back then, this tragic time really brought us together.

'Sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill friend, and just holding their hand when everyone else was just terrified, was a gift I was one of those willing to give.

'No one should die alone, and no one should be in the hospital on their death beds with family calling to say "this was gods punishment". My friends and I, men and women, acted as a protective layer for ill friends, and companion to mutual friends juggling the same, difficult reality of trying to be there, and be strong when we were losing our family right and left. Difficult times, that should never be forgotten.'

AIDs crisis, lesbians

During the AIDs crisis of the 1980s, lesbians played an integral role in the care of dying gay men.

Another Redditor paid tribute to the role lesbians, calling them 'every bit as heroic as soldiers on the front lines of any war'.

'These women walked directly into the fire and through it, and they did not have to. And that they did it even as some of the gay men they took care of treated them with bitchiness, scorn, and contempt.

'It was, at the time, not at all unusual for gay men to snicker as the bull dyke walked into the bar with her overalls and flannels and fades. Much of the time, it was casual ribbing which they took in stride. But it could also be laced with acid, especially when lesbians began gravitating toward a bar that had until then catered largely to men.

'When the AIDS crisis struck, it would be many of these same women who would go straight from their jobs during the day to acting as caregivers at night. Because most of them lacked medical degrees, they were generally relegated to the most unpleasant tasks: wiping up puke and shit, cleaning up houses and apartments neglected for weeks and months. But not being directly responsible for medical care also made them the most convenient targets for the devastating anger and rage these men felt - many who'd been abandoned by their own family and friends.

'These women walked directly into the fire. They came to the aid of gay men even when it was unclear how easily the virus could be transmitted. Transmission via needlestick was still a concern, so they often wore two or three layers of latex gloves to protect themselves, but more than once I saw them, in their haste and frustration, dispense with the gloves so that they could check for fevers, or hold a hand that hung listlessly from the edge of a bed whose sheets they had just laundered.

'They provided aid, comfort, and medical care to men withering away in hospices, men who'd already lost their lovers and friends to the disease and spent their last months in agony. They'd been abandoned by their own families, and were it not for lesbians - many if not most of them volunteers - they would have suffered alone. And when there was nothing more medicine could do for them and their lungs began to fill with fluid, it was often these same women who'd be left to administer enough morphine to release them, given to them by the doctor who had left the room and would return 15 minutes later to sign the certificate (a common practice at the time).

'I knew a woman around that time who'd had at one point been making bank in construction. But at the outset of the AIDS crisis she had abandoned her career to pursue nursing instead, and was close to her degree when we were hanging out. She was a big, hearty drinker, and fortunately so was I. We'd been utterly thrashed at a bar once when someone whispered a fairly benign but nonetheless unwelcoming comment about her. Middle fingers were exchanged, and afterwards, furious and indignant, I asked her, Why do you do it? Why did you abandon a career to take care of these assholes who still won't pay you any respect?

'She cut me a surprisingly severe look, held it and said, "Honey, because no one else is going to do it." I remember feeling ashamed after that, because my fury and indignation weren't going to clean blood and puke off the floor; it wasn't going to do the shit that needed to get done.

'HIV killed my friends, took my lover from me, and tore up my life. During that time, I did what I could. But nothing I did then or have ever been called to do in my life puts me anywhere near the example set by the lesbians I knew in the 80s and 90s. I've felt obligated to remember what they did, and to make sure other people remember it too.'

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Just how dangerous is terrorism, really?

terrorism statistics

The terror threat is greatly exaggerated. After all, the type of counter-terror experts who frequently appear on the mainstream news are motivated to hype the terror threat, because it drums up business for them.

The same is true for government employees. As former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes put it last week:

If you're submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you're not going to submit the proposal that "We won the war on terror and everything's great," cuz the first thing that's gonna happen is your budget's gonna be cut in half.

You know, it's my opposite of Jesse Jackson's "Keep Hope Alive" - it's "Keep Fear Alive." Keep it alive.

Fearmongering also serves political goals. For example, FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, a top constitutional and military law expert, magazine, the and others have all said that U.S. government officials "were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power". Indeed, the former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge that he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection. Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski - also a top foreign policy advisor to President Obama - told the Senate that the war on terror is a "a mythical historical narrative".

Indeed, the government justifies its geopolitical goals - including seizing more power at home, and overthrowing oil-rich countries - by hyping the terror menace. So the government wants you to be scared out of your pants by the risk of terrorism. No wonder national security employees see a terrorist under every bush.

But terrorism has actually dramatically declined in the United States. Daniel Benjamin - the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the United States Department of State from 2009 to 2012 - noted last month (at 10:22):

The total number of deaths from terrorism in recent years has been extremely small in the West. And the threat itself has been considerably reduced. Given all the headlines people don't have that perception; but if you look at the statistics that is the case.

Indeed, the noted in 2013 that the number of terror attacks in the U.S. has since the 1970s.

Indeed, you're now much more likely to be killed by brain-eating parasites, texting while driving, toddlers, lightning, falling out of bed, alcoholism, food poisoning, a financial crash, obesity, medical errors or "autoerotic asphyxiation" than by terrorists.

Obviously, a huge number of innocent Americans - 3,000 - were killed on 9/11 ... a terror attack.

However, 9/11 - like the Boston Bombing (and the Paris terror attack) - happened because mass surveillance traditional anti-terror measures. Similarly, Cheney and company were criminally negligent.

And the "War on Terror" has been counter-productive, and only the terrorism problem.

If we had stuck with tried-and-true anti-terror techniques, high-fatality events like 9/11 would never have happened.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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The liberal lie: Refusing to accept Obama's responsibility for Ukraine


Steven F. Cohen

Liberals won't acknowledge that they've "been had" by Barack Obama when they believed his liberal rhetoric; they won't acknowledge it, even after Obama has proven by his actions that he is actually extremely conservative (a total agent of Wall Street; and, thus, inequality has been rising under his rule); Obama is conservative despite his liberal rhetoric, which is designed to deceive them; and he has - which is the worst thing of all - intentionally caused an extremely bloody ethnic cleansing in Ukraine, a war there against those of Ukraine's citizens who think that Russia is a better country than the United States: an ethnic cleansing to cement-in, as permanent, a rabidly anti-Russian Government in Ukraine, by getting rid of the people there who had voted for the man Obama overthrew. This is, historically, the first time in history that any American President has sponsored an ethnic cleansing: it's an attempt to exterminate a civilian population. That's how bad Obama actually is.

Liberals won't acknowledge either the violent coup in Ukraine, or the brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign to cement its result: an anti-Russian Government on Russia's doorstep - a very real threat to Russia's national security, and a very aggressive American policy against Russians.

The founder of Stratfor, the "private CIA" firm, says that the overthrow of Viktor Yanokovych in Ukraine in February 2014 was "the most blatant coup in history." The President of the Czech Republic contrasts that coup versus Czechoslovakia's authentically democratic 1968 "Velvet Revolution," and he says that "only poorly informed people" don't know that the governmental overthrow in Ukraine in 2014 was a coup. America's liberals, then, are indeed poorly informed, and they are so partly because they don't want to know the truth about Obama; America's conservatives, by contrast, simply hate Obama, merely because he's a black Democratic politician (and any President who has been so good to Wall Street would be loved by them if he were a white Republican); they don't mind (and they actually support) that Obama hates Russia and institutes an ethnic cleansing campaign in his aggressive war against Russia. Whereas conservatives don't mind Obama's ethnic-cleansing campaign to get rid of pro-Russians in Ukraine, liberals don't want to know about it. The result is actually conservatives reigning in both Parties, not just in one: we now have one-party government, in all but name.

Typical on the liberal side is Professor Steven F. Cohen, a supposed Russia-expert, who sometimes writes articles for his wife's liberal magazine (which she, Katrina vanden Heuvel, owns), The Nation, and plays dumb about Obama's anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, and he even says, on Amy Goodman's February 3rd "Democracy Now!": "Many people have argued that the United States organized a coup in February to overthrow the president of Ukraine and bring to power of this new pro-American, pro-Western government. I do not know if that's true."

The founder of Stratfor is correct: it's not only true, it is blatantly true. In fact: this was the best-documented coup in all of human history; and some of the documentation of it is simply stunning. For example: Here is Obama's selected and hired U.S. State Department official, who is responsible for policy in Europe, Victoria Nuland, telling the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, on 4 February 2014, whom to get appointed to be the leader of the Ukrainian Government to replace Ukraine's democratically elected President - and it was "Yats" Yatsenyuk, who, 22 days later, did, in fact, become appointed to rule in Ukraine as the new Prime Minister when the coup occurred, to rule that country not as being its President, because that would be unseemly (to replace the President directly); but, instead, Yatsenyuk himself chose the rabidly anti-Russian fundamentalist Baptist preacher Oleksandr Turchynov to fill that post until the voters in the extremely conservative and anti-Russian northwestern half of Ukraine would select a 'democratic' President, from among a field of pre-selected extremely right-wing anti-Russian candidates on May 25th. (The voters in Ukraine's non-fascist southeastern half were so turned off (if they hadn't already seceded from this rabidly right-wing Ukrainian Government), so that the electoral turnout in that half of the country was small to nil. The current Ukrainian Government does not represent those people, but still wants to control their land and all the resources that lie under it (such as gas).

This was an extremely violent coup that Professor Steven Cohen says he doesn't know about (that he doesn't know about even though it was captured in hundreds of shocking videos, which he apparently hasn't seen or else doesn't want to understand - here are some of the best of those).

Cohen should look at what Obama is doing in the former Ukraine, right now.

Is he blind, or does he simply refuse to see?

Will he blame the slaughter on Obama's underlings, whom Obama hired? They're doing the jobs Obama hired them to do. This is Obama's Administration - no one else's. They ran his coup, appointed the new Government, and oversee the ethnic cleansing this Government does after being installed.

Is Cohen going to excuse Obama's total lack of expressed outrage against the barbarisms that the Government he placed into power has perpetrated? Of course not: these things have been done on Obama's behalf. That's why Obama perpetrated the coup: this is the purpose of it: to install a rabidly anti-Russian Government on Russia's doorstep, in Ukraine, ready and eager to place nuclear missiles within a ten-minute flight to Moscow - checkmate. In order to do this, Obama needs to get rid of the people in the area of Ukraine whose 90% votes for the former neutral Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, had made Yanukovych President. If those voters aren't eliminated, then the current, Russia-hating Ukrainian Government, will be elected out of office in a subsequent election. That's the reason why the area of the former Ukraine that is now undergoing firebombing, clusterbombing , and other exterminationist measures, which is the area that's shown in dark purple on the far-eastern side of this map, is exactly the same area that had voted 90% for the person, Yanukovych, whom Obama overthrew (and the EU was shocked to find out that it had, indeed, been a coup). The purpose of this ethnic cleansing is to assure that, in the future, pro-Russian voters in Ukraine, most especially the 90%-voters-for-Yanukovych (the residents in this area), won't ever again be in Ukraine to vote on candidates for the national Government. Obama wants the U.S. Government to control all of Ukraine, including the land where those people have lived their lives, but he doesn't want those people on it. He wants them either dead , or gone to Russia , so that they won't be able to participate in future Ukrainian elections and reverse the strategic impact of Obama's 2014 Ukrainian coup.

Evading Obama's culpability in both the coup and the subsequent ethnic-cleansing in Ukraine is nothing new for Cohen, and any 'news' media that participate in spreading or else ignoring such evasions are not to be trusted by any intelligent reader or viewer or hearer. Spreading of such liberal pap is placing against the conservative poison of Fox 'News' etc., not an opponent but a nullity. It might be liberal, if liberalism is simply the verbal repudiation of conservatism, but it's not an alternative to conservatism; it is definitely not progressivism; it is just an absence of ideology, being put up against the very real - and this nation's dominant - ideology, which is conservatism, or "the right."

No nation whose political discourse ranges between conservatism and nothingness can be anything else than extremist conservative, or fascist (essentially pure conservatism), which seems to be what now exists in the United States.

In the case of Barack Obama, who is the first American President to install an outright racist-fascist (in this instance, a rabidly anti-Russian) government - in other words a nazi government - anywhere in the world, and who is also the first American President to sponsor an ethnic cleansing anywhere in the world, what we actually have in the U.S. right now is a nazi President and a nazi Congress to support his nazism. Obama is not out to exterminate the Jews as Hitler was; he is out to exterminate, or else to achieve U.S. domination over, the Russian people.

If America does not repudiate that, then America has transmogrified into what America was waging war against in World War II. It's spitting onto the graves of America's WW II heroes.

'News' media that tolerate (as liberals do), or else encourage (as conservatives do), nazi control over the U.S., are not news media for a democratic nation. They are 'news' media for a fascist one. That's what we've now got.

There should be millions of people marching on Washington to stop this U.S.-initiated and -backed genocide of Ukraine's pro-Russian population. Where are the 'peace' marchers? Maybe they think that people such as Steven Cohen are the ones to follow.

Is that the best America now has?

This American anti-Russian nazism could lead to a nuclear WW III.

PS: This is a response to the earliest group of reader-comments to this article as posted at Fort Russ, because those comments fall into two categories, both of which I find disturbing:

1) There are several comments that are plainly anti-Semitic, and which therefore belong in the league along with the ethnicity that was the obsession of Germany's form of nazism, that of the original Nazi Party. Such readers apparently have nothing better to respond to the American aristocracy's and their Ukrainian agents' anti-Russian nazism than to side with Hitler's form of nazism, and that's neither an intelligent nor a germane way to respond to any form of racist fascism; I find all racist fascisms to be deplorable.

2) There are also several comments that defend Professor Cohen's claimed ignorance on whether there was a coup in Ukraine, and that assert that because Cohen is a liberal and is the highest-profile one who is allowed onto the major 'news' media to discuss this matter, he should not be held to account for understating the vileness of the reality here. I do not respect any such blurring of Obama's horrendous guilt in this extremely important historical matter: Obama caused the coup, and Russia had to respond to it, which was a basic defensive necessity for that country, not at all optional, neither as regards Russia's accepting the obvious desire of the vast majority of Crimeans to rejoin Russia, nor as regards Russia's assisting the tragic victims in Donbass to protect their lives against the Obama-nazi assault from Kiev. If one (such as Cohen) alleges that there is question as to whether Obama perpetrated a coup in the violent overthrow of Yanukovych, then one is alleging that Russia might have been the instigator of the conflict here, when Russia responded to it with protection of the Crimeans and protection of the Donbassers. What Cohen is doing is to assert that he doesn't have any idea which side was the aggressor here. If there was no coup, then Obama was not the aggressor. Is that really a serious possibility? I would not be devoting most of my time since at least last May 2nd to reporting on the return of the nazi threat, if there was any reason whatsoever to doubt Obama's guilt as the aggressor in the Ukrainian war. To me, what Obama is doing here is to spit on the graves of all Americans who died in World War II. Tolerance of nazism, such as by saying "I don't know which side is the aggressor here, and which side is responding to that aggression" is despicable. One might as well say that maybe Germany's Nazis were defending Germany's Christians from the depradations by all Jews inside and outside Germany. Steven F. Cohen's expressed position compromises truth just as much.

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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IS not the only one who burns victims to death

Vietnam Burning

The latest ISIS atrocity - releasing a video of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive - prompted substantial discussion yesterday about this particular form of savagery. It is thus worth noting that deliberately burning people to death is achievable - and deliberately achieved - in all sorts of other ways:

"Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan", NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, 2012:

The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike. The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration[3], shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs. Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss. . . .

In addition, because the Hellfire missiles fired from drones often incinerate the victims' bodies, and leave them in pieces and unidentifiable, traditional burial processes are rendered impossible. As Firoz Ali Khan, a shopkeeper whose father-in-law's home was struck, graphically described, "These missiles are very powerful. They destroy human beings . . .There is nobody left and small pieces left behind. Pieces. Whatever is left is just little pieces of bodies and cloth." A doctor who has treated drone victims described how "[s]kin is burned so that you can't tell cattle from human." When another interviewee came upon the site of the strike that killed his father, "[t]he entire place looked as if it was burned completely, so much so that even [the victims'] own clothes had burnt. All the stones in the vicinity had become black." Ahmed Jan, who lost his foot in the March 17 jirga strike, discussed the challenges rescuers face in identifying bodies: "People were trying to find the body parts. We find the body parts of some people, but sometimes we do not find anything."

One father explained that key parts of his son's burial process had to be skipped over as a result of the severe damage to his body. "[A]fter that attack, the villagers came and took the bodies to the hospital. We didn't see the bodies. They were in coffins, boxes. The bodies were in pieces and burnt." Idris Farid, who was injured and lost several of his relatives in the March 17 jirga strike, described how, after that strike, relatives "had to collect their body pieces and bones and then bury them like that." The difficulty of identifying individual corpses also makes it difficult to separate individuals into different graves. Masood Afwan, who lost several relatives in the March 17 jirga strike, described how the dead from that strike were buried: "They held a funeral for everybody, in the same location, one by one. Their bodies were scattered into tiny pieces. They...couldn't be identified" . . . .

[3] See, e.g., Yancy Y Phillips & Joan T. Zajchuk, The Management of Primary Blast Injury, in Conventional Warfare: Ballistic, Blast and Burn Injuries 297 (1991) ("The thermal pulse from a detonation may burn exposed skin, or secondary fires may be started by the detonation and more serious burns may be suffered."); AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire, GlobalSecurity.org, http://bit.ly/1CyXQMR (last visited Aug. 17, 2012) ("The new [AGM-114N Thermobaric Hellfire] warhead contains a fluorinated aluminum powder layered between the warhead casing and the PBXN-112 explosive fill. When the PBXN-112 detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns. The resultant sustained high pressure is extremely effective against enemy personnel and structures."); Explosions and Blast Injuries: A Primer for Clinicians, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, http://1.usa.gov/1zdsgwT (last visited on Sept. 17, 2012) (outlining one of the types of blast injuries as "burns (flash, partial, and full thickness")).

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, The New York Times, May 22, 2013:

Instead, a few days after [Obama's] inaugural address, a CIA-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi's home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach. . . .

Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on drones at the National Defense University today. He is likely to tell his fellow Americans that drones are precise and effective at killing militants.

But his words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder.

Al Jazeera, "Yemenis seek justice in wedding drone strike," May 21, 2014:

Mousid al-Taysi was travelling in a wedding convoy celebrating a cousin's marriage when a missile slammed down from the sky. All he remembers are bright red-and-orange colours, then the grisly sight of a dozen burned bodies and the cries of others wounded around him.

Mousid survived the December 12 attack in Yemen's central al-Baydah province, apparently launched by an American drone, but his physical and psychological recovery process is just beginning. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest drone attack in the country in more than a year. . . .

After talking with victims and family members in the area, it was clear a majority of civilians were among the carnage of the targeted wedding convoy. . . .

Civilians living under drones said they live in constant fear of being hit again. "Many people in our village have expressed terror at the thought of another strike," Sulaimani said. "When the kids hear a plane they no longer climb the trees searching for where that noise came from. They each immediately run to their houses."

CNN, December 23, 2011:

She has eyelashes but no eyebrows. She has all her fingers but is missing four nails. Her skin is so taut now that she can no longer frown.

But she can still smile.

Her face tells a story of suffering. Her name, Shakira, tells a story of a new journey. . .

Last week, 4-year-old Shakira arrived in the United States for what her caretaker, Hashmat Effendi, hopes will be the start of the rest of her life.

Shakira, discovered with severe burns in Pakistan, will undergo reconstructive surgery in January. . . . All anyone could say is that there had been a U.S. drone attack, though U.S. officials say that drones have never struck targets in Swat.

The Independent , "The fog of war: white phosphorus, Fallujah and some burning questions," November 15, 2005:

Ever since last November, when US forces battled to clear Fallujah of insurgents, there have been repeated claims that troops used "unusual" weapons in the assault that all but flattened the Iraqi city. Specifically, controversy has focussed on white phosphorus shells (WP) - an incendiary weapon usually used to obscure troop movements but which can equally be deployed as an offensive weapon against an enemy. The use of such incendiary weapons against civilian targets is banned by international treaty. . . .

The debate was reignited last week when an Italian documentary claimed Iraqi civilians - including women and children - had been killed by terrible burns caused by WP. The documentary, Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre, by the state broadcaster RAI, cited one Fallujah human-rights campaigner who reported how residents told how "a rain of fire fell on the city". . . . The claims contained in the RAI documentary have met with a strident official response from the US . . . .

While military experts have supported some of these criticisms, an examination by The Independent of the available evidence suggests the following: that WP shells were fired at insurgents, that reports from the battleground suggest troops firing these WP shells did not always know who they were hitting and that there remain widespread reports of civilians suffering extensive burn injuries. While US commanders insist they always strive to avoid civilian casualties, the story of the battle of Fallujah highlights the intrinsic difficulty of such an endeavour.

It is also clear that elements within the US government have been putting out incorrect information about the battle of Fallujah, making it harder to assesses the truth. Some within the US government have previously issued disingenuous statements about the use in Iraq of another controversial incendiary weapon - napalm. . . .

Another report, published in the Washington Post, gave an idea of the sorts of injuries that WP causes. It said insurgents "reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns". A physician at a local hospital said the corpses of insurgents "were burned, and some corpses were melted". . . .

Yet there are other, independent reports of civilians from Fallujah suffering burn injuries. For instance, Dahr Jamail, an unembedded reporter who collected the testimony of refugees from the city spoke to a doctor who had remained in the city to help people, encountered numerous reports of civilians suffering unusual burns.

One resident told him the US used "weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud" and that he watched "pieces of these bombs explode into large fires that continued to burn on the skin even after people dumped water on the burns." The doctor said he "treated people who had their skin melted."

Jeff Englehart, a former marine who spent two days in Fallujah during the battle, said he heard the order go out over military communication that WP was to be dropped. In the RAI film, Mr Englehart, now an outspoken critic of the war, says: "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it's known as Willy Pete ... Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children" . . . .

Napalm was used in several instances during the initial invasion. Colonel Randolph Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11, remarked during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003: "The generals love napalm - it has a big psychological effect."

Lindsay Murdoch, The Age (Australia), March 19, 2013:

I was not aware the Pentagon had called me a liar. . . .

An editor in Sydney took the call from the Pentagon's Lieutenant-Commander Jeff Davies a day after the beginning of the ground war in Iraq 10 years ago today. My report for Fairfax Media of the opening of hostilities, which referred to the use of Vietnam-era napalm, was "patently false", he said. . . .

It was not until US Marine Corps fighter pilots and commanders started returning from the war zone later in 2003 that the Pentagon's deceit was exposed in interviews conducted by the San Diego Union Tribune.

The pilots described how they had dropped massive fireballs they called napalm on Iraqi forces as marines battled towards Baghdad.

On August 4, 2003, a Pentagon spokesman admitted that "Mark 77" incendiary devices were used by the US forces, which he acknowledged were "remarkably similar" to napalm weapons.

The Mark 77s used a fuel-gel mixture that was similar to napalm, he conceded.

Asked about Safwan Hill, US Marine colonel Mike Daily said: "I can confirm that Mark 77 firebombs were used in that general area."

Incendiary bombs were also dropped in April 2003 near bridges over the Saddam Canal and Tigris River, returning officers revealed.

"We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," said Colonel Randolph Alles who commanded Marine Air Group 11 during the war.

"There were Iraqi soldiers there. It's not a great way to die."

Colonel Alles added that napalm had a "big psychological effect" on an enemy. "The generals love napalm," he said.

Haaretz, October 22, 2006 ("Israel admits using phosphorus bombs during war in Lebanon"):

Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. White phosphorus causes very painful and often lethal chemical burns to those hit by it, and until recently Israel maintained that it only uses such bombs to mark targets or territory. . . .

During the war several foreign media outlets reported that Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes to contact with air. In one CNN report, a casualty with serious burns was seen lying in a South Lebanon hospital.

In another case, Dr. Hussein Hamud al-Shel, who works at Dar al-Amal hospital in Ba'albek, said that he had received three corpses "entirely shriveled with black-green skin," a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud also claimed that the IDF made use of phosphorus munitions against civilians in Lebanon.

Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2009 ("Israel: White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes"):

Israel's repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 71-page report, "Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza," provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. . . .

"In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. "It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died" . . . .

Israel at first denied it was using white phosphorus in Gaza but, facing mounting evidence to the contrary, said that it was using all weapons in compliance with international law. Later it announced an internal investigation into possible improper white phosphorus use. . . .

The IDF knew that white phosphorus poses life-threatening dangers to civilians, Human Rights Watch said. A medical report prepared during the recent hostilities by the Israeli ministry of health said that white phosphorus "can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed." Burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys, and heart, the ministry report says. Infection is common and the body's absorption of the chemical can cause serious damage to internal organs, as well as death. . . .

All of the white phosphorus shells that Human Rights Watch found were manufactured in the United States in 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace, which was running the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time. . . . The United States government, which supplied Israel with its white phosphorus munitions, should also conduct an investigation to determine whether Israel used it in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

Boston Globe, February 14, 2013 ("Girl in famous Vietnam photo talks about forgiveness"):

The girl in the photo - naked, crying, burned, running, with other children, away from the smoke - became emblematic of human suffering during the Vietnam War. Kim Phuc was 9 then, a child who would spend the next 14 months in the hospital and the rest of her life in skin blistered from the napalm that hit her body and burned off her clothes. She ran until she no longer could, and then she fainted. . . .

Phuc went outside and saw the plane getting closer, and then heard the sound of four bombs hitting the ground. She couldn't run. She didn't know until later, but the bombs carried napalm, a gel-like incendiary that clings to its victims as it burns.

"Suddenly I saw the fire everywhere around me," she remembers. "At that moment, I didn't see anyone, just the fire. Suddenly, I saw my left arm burning. I used my right hand to try to take it off."

Her left hand was damaged, too. Her clothes burned off. Later, she would be thankful that her feet weren't damaged because she could run away, run until she was outside the fire. She saw her brothers, her cousins, and some soldiers running, too. She ran until she couldn't run any more. . . . Two of her cousins, ages 9 months and 3 years, died in the bombing. Phuc had burns over two-thirds of her body and was not expected to live.

Unlike ISIS, the U.S. usually (though not always) tries to suppress (rather than gleefully publish) evidence showing the victims of its violence. Indeed, concealing stories about the victims of American militarism is a critical part of the U.S. government's strategy for maintaining support for its sustained aggression. That is why, in general, the U.S. media has a policy of systematically excluding and ignoring such victims (although disappearing them this way does not actually render them nonexistent).

One could plausibly maintain that there is a different moral calculus involved in (a) burning a helpless captive to death as opposed to (b) recklessly or even deliberately burning civilians to death in areas that one is bombing with weapons purposely designed to incinerate human beings, often with the maximum possible pain. That's the moral principle that makes torture specially heinous: sadistically inflicting pain and suffering on a helpless detainee is a unique form of barbarity.

But there is nonetheless something quite obfuscating about this beloved ritual of denouncing the unique barbarism of ISIS. It is true that ISIS seems to have embraced a goal - a strategy - of being incomparably savage, inhumane and morally repugnant. That the group is indescribably nihilistic and morally grotesque is beyond debate.

That's exactly what makes the intensity of these repeated denunciation rituals somewhat confounding. Everyone decent, by definition, fully understands that ISIS is repellent and savage. While it's understandable that being forced to watch the savagery on video prompts strong emotions (although, again, hiding savagery does not in fact make it less savage), it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the ritualistic expressed revulsion has a definitive utility.

The constant orgy of condemnation aimed at this group seems to have little purpose other than tribal self-affirmation: no matter how many awful acts our government engages in, at least we don't do something like that, at least we're not as bad as them. In some instances, that may be true, but even when it is, the differences are usually much more a matter of degree than category (much the way that angry denunciations over the Taliban for suicide-bombing a funeral of one of its victims hides the fact that the U.S. engages in its own "double tap" practice of bombing rescuers and funeral mourners for its drone victims). To the extent that these denunciation rituals make us forget or further obscure our own governments' brutality - and that seems to be the overriding effect if not the purpose of these rituals - they are worse than worthless; they are actively harmful.

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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