Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scheer: The Chinese Aren't Coming, Our Dead Zones

The Chinese Aren't Coming

"One has to wonder about our priorities when Congress cannot find the $34
billion needed to continue unemployment payments for six months to 1.7
million workers thrown out of jobs but never questions that sort of spending
on military hardware with no logical purpose."

By Robert Scheer
Truthdig: June 30, 2010

On Tuesday, the Cold War finally ended with a historic trade agreement
between China and Taiwan that will dramatically integrate the mainland's
economy with that of its claimed breakaway province. Peace has descended on
the most contentious point of conflict between East and West for the past
six decades-but don't expect the folks at the Pentagon or their military
contractors to celebrate. The remaining raison d'être for much of their $700
billion budget has suddenly collapsed, and with it the claim on huge profits
and high-flying careers.

The bulk of that money, higher in constant dollars than at any other time
since World War II, is spent on weapons systems to fight a sophisticated
Cold War enemy that went out of business with the breakdown of the Soviet
Union. And the so-called "war on terror" does not cut it as a substitute
excuse for feeding the immense maw of the military-industrial complex. It is
laughable to suggest that the ever more complex and costly high-tech
weaponry we continue to build is needed to defeat an opponent armed with the
box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers or a primitive roadside bomb set off
by an Iraqi insurgent.

When Sen. Joe Lieberman makes his annual case for those $2.5 billion
submarines produced in his home state of Connecticut, his central argument
has been that the Chinese are building equally sophisticated weapons that
threaten us. "If we do not move to produce two submarines a year as soon as
possible, we are in serious danger of falling behind China," he thundered
during one Senate debate. Obviously, it's harder to make the case that
submarines are needed to capture al-Qaida terrorists holed up in some
landlocked nation's mountain caves. So too with the ever more advanced
arsenal designed to penetrate enemy defenses not even built when those Cold
War adversaries still operated.

"The Chinese are coming" became the last refuge of war-profiteering
scoundrels once the Russians started cutting back dramatically, but this
alarm was never plausible. The authoritative quadrennial Defense Department
reports have always made clear that China has at most threatened to become a
regional power with Taiwan as its focus. Yet that pathetic excuse for the
U.S. spending as much on its military as do the rest of the world nations
combined seemed plausible to most in Congress who voted for massive military
appropriations even as our government had to borrow money from the Chinese
to cover our deficits.

Then those treacherous Chinese, both the mainland Communists and their
feuding Taiwan-based cousins, had to go and ruin a good thing by going way
beyond kissing and making up. Even when they were verbally warring they were
still doing business together during this past decade. Trade between the two
is already a hefty $110 billion, 41 percent of Taiwan's exports, but the new
agreement will much expand that by ending tariffs on key products while
opening up the financial services industry to investors from what was once
an impenetrable cross-strait divide. Taiwanese business investment on the
mainland is already massive, but now it will enter the realm of the
high finance with the world economy as its playground.

The prospect of war between the two, already vastly diminished from Cold War
highs, will soon not be possible without hitting their own investment assets
on the other side. Which is exactly the peace of the new world order that
some U.S. leaders, most prominently the first President Bush, had once
welcomed. The question is whether Americans truly believe they can be
winners in a world built on expanding trade rather than on military tension.

One has to wonder about our priorities when Congress cannot find the $34
billion needed to continue unemployment payments for six months to 1.7
million workers thrown out of jobs but never questions that sort of spending
on military hardware with no logical purpose. The proud promise of American
capitalism, often in conflict with a drearier reality, was that our economy
did not need military conquest to succeed. Now it is the Chinese, of varying
ideological disposition, the heirs of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, who
will test our commitment to that principle. Clearly those former enemies
have concluded that power, in the modern world economy, does not grow out of
the barrel of a gun, even from a very big and enormously expensive one.

The China-Taiwan agreement and its implications also raise some questions
for Americans: How does a modern nation obtain national security? Are we
more secure with our permanent war economy, or is the pursuit of peace
through trade and diplomacy, as the formerly most bitter of Chinese enemies
are demonstrating, a better way?


Biologists find 'dead zones' around BP oil spill in Gulf

By Suzanne Goldenberg,, Wednesday 30 June 2010

Scientists are confronting growing evidence that BP's ruptured well in the
Gulf of Mexico is creating oxygen-depleted "dead zones" where fish and other
marine life cannot survive.

In two separate research voyages, independent scientists have detected what
were described as "astonishingly high" levels of methane, or natural gas,
bubbling from the well site, setting off a chain of reactions that suck the
oxygen out of the water. In some cases, methane concentrations are 100,000
times normal levels.

Other scientists as well as sport fishermen are reporting unusual movements
of fish, shrimp, crab and other marine life, including increased shark
sightings closer to the Alabama coast.

Larry Crowder, a marine biologist at Duke University, said there were
already signs that fish were being driven from their habitat.

"The animals are already voting with their fins to get away from where the
oil spill is and where potentially there is oxygen depletion," he said.
"When you begin to see animals changing their distribution that is telling
you about the quality of water further offshore. Basically, the fish are
moving closer to shore to try to get to better water."

Such sightings - and an accumulation of data from the site of the ruptured
well and from the ocean depths miles away - have deepened concerns that the
enormity of the environmental disaster in the Gulf has yet to be fully
understood. It could also jeopardise the Gulf's billion-dollar fishing and
shrimping industry.

In a conference call with reporters, Samantha Joye, a scientist at the
University of Georgia who has been studying the effects of the spill at
depth, said the ruptured well was producing up to 50% as much methane and
other gases as oil.

The finding presents a new challenge to scientists who so far have been
focused on studying the effects on the Gulf of crude oil, and the 5.7m
litres of chemical dispersants used to break up the slick.

Joye said her preliminary findings suggested the high volume of methane
coming out of the well could upset the ocean food chain. Such high
concentrations, it is feared, would trigger the growth of microbes, which
break up the methane, but also gobble up oxygen needed by marine life to
survive, driving out other living things.

Joye said the methane was settling in a 200-metre layer of the water column,
between depths of 1,000 to 1,300 metres in concentrations that were already
threatening oxygen levels.

"That water can go completely anoxic [extremely low oxygen] and that is a
pretty serious situation for any oxygen-requiring organism. We haven't seen
zero-oxygen water but there is certainly enough gas in the water to draw
oxygen down to zero," she said.

"It could wreak havoc with those communities that require oxygen," Joye
said, wiping out plankton and other organisms at the bottom of the food

A Texas A&M University oceanographer issued a similar warning last week on
his return from a 10-day research voyage in the Gulf. John Kessler recorded
"astonishingly high" methane levels in surface and deep water within a
five-mile radius of the ruptured well. His team also recorded 30% depletion
of oxygen in some locations.

Even without the gusher, the Gulf was afflicted by 6,000 to 7,000 square
miles of dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi river, caused by run-off
from animal waste and farm fertiliser.

The run-off sets off a chain reaction. Algae bloom and quickly die, and are
eaten up by microbes that also consume oxygen needed by marine life.

But the huge quantities of methane, or natural gas, being released from the
well in addition to crude presents an entirely new danger to marine life and
to the Gulf's lucrative fishing and shrimping industry.

"Things are changing, and what impacts there are on the food web are not
going to be clear until we go out and measure that," said Joye.

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