• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

zaterdag 15 januari 2011

Uri Rosenthal. Een Nederlandse Minister 21



Hoezo ondermijnen we de regering?

Marinus Verweij, 14-01-2011 17:15

ros_300


Minister Rosenthal meet met twee maten.

ICCO sprak donderdag met minister Rosenthal van Buitenlandse Zaken over de financiering door ICCO van de website Electronic Intifada. Het was een pittig en openhartig gesprek, maar ICCO ziet geen reden om haar beleid te wijzigen. Voor haar werk is het internationaal recht de belangrijkste leidraad.

Die site biedt volgens de minister een platform aan de oproep voor een boycot van Israël. Het steunen van deze site staat hiermee volgens de minister diametraal tegenover het Nederlands buitenlands beleid. ICCO verschilt hierover van mening met de minister.

Sinds 2005 roepen meer dan 170 Palestijnse en enkele Israëlische organisaties op tot boycot, desinvestering en sancties tegen het Israëlische beleid. Doel is dat Israël zich houdt aan het internationaal recht en de mensenrechten. Omdat de Israëlische bezetting van de Palestijnse gebieden voortduurt, is deze druk gerechtvaardigd. Het is een vreedzame en legale manier om de Israëlische bezetting van de Palestijnse gebieden te beëindigen en te komen tot een vreedzame en rechtvaardige oplossing.
Rosenthal vindt echter dat ICCO met haar steun aan de nieuwssite het beleid van de Nederlandse Regering ondermijnt en dreigt met sancties voor de subsidie aan ICCO.

Leiband
Dat is om twee redenen opmerkelijk. Ten eerste is de minister kennelijk van mening dat maatschappelijke organisaties die subsidie ontvangen van de Nederlandse overheid aan haar leiband moeten lopen en steeds het beleid moeten volgen van de zittende regering. Dat is een radicale wijziging van het beleid van de Nederlandse overheid waarin de afgelopen 45 jaar maatschappelijke organisaties juist de ruimte hadden om hun eigen koers te varen.
Het is verbazingwekkend dat een minister van de Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie een maatschappelijke organisatie gispt vanwege haar steun aan een nieuwssite waar zaken worden gezegd die hem niet bevallen. Moet de publieke omroep zich ook zorgen gaan maken over de financiële bijdrage van de Nederlandse overheid omdat gasten in het programma Pauw&Witteman zich kritisch uitlaten over Israël?

Twee maten
Bovendien meet de minister met twee maten. Hij vindt het kennelijk uitstekend als wij organisaties ondersteunen in Soedan of Congo die opkomen voor mensenrechten en die maatregelen bepleiten tegen de nationale overheid. Maar wanneer Palestijnse en Israëlische organisaties daartoe oproepen, dan meent hij maatregelen te moeten nemen. Beschouwt de minister mensenrechten, vrijheid en democratie niet als universele waarden maar zaken die in het Nederlands buitenlandse beleid ondergeschikt zijn aan andere loyaliteiten?

Een tweede opmerkelijke uitspraak van de minister is dat ICCO het Nederlandse regeringsbeleid ondermijnt. Zoals gezegd, sinds 2005 roepen meer dan 170 Palestijnse en enkele Israëlische organisaties op tot boycot, desinvestering en sancties gericht tegen het Israëlische beleid in de bezette Palestijnse gebieden. Deze organisaties worden onder meer gesteund door Nederlandse organisaties zoals ICCO, maar ontvangen nota bene ook rechtstreeks steun van de Nederlandse overheid. Israel is in tal van VN-resoluties opgeroepen om de bezetting van de Palestijnse gebieden te staken.
Illegaliteit
In 2004 verklaarde het Internationaal Gerechtshof in Den Haag dat de door Israël gebouwde muur illegaal is, omdat die voor het grootste deel gebouwd is op Palestijns grondgebied. Het Hof riep staten op zich te onthouden van steun aan de bouw van de muur. Het Hof bevestigde verder de illegaliteit van de Israëlische nederzettingen. Deze uitspraak is bevestigd door de Algemene Vergadering van de Verenigde Naties (UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/ES-10/15 of 20 July 2004). Nederland heeft vóór deze resolutie gestemd.

Ondanks de uitspraak van het hof, ondanks de vele VN-resoluties en ondanks stapels verontrusten rapporten van mensenrechtenorganisaties, bouwt Israël rustig verder aan de muur en de nederzettingen. Hiermee wordt een levensvatbare Palestijnse staat een utopie. De enige manier om Israëls bouwlust te temperen, het land tot inkeer te brengen en zo de voorwaarden te scheppen voor duurzame en rechtvaardige vrede, is door druk uit te oefen op de Israëlische overheid. Voor de Palestijnse bevolking, kerken en maatschappelijke organisaties is het ook de enige overgebleven manier om op vreedzame manier uiting te geven aan haar frustratie over de Israëlische schendingen van het internationale recht en druk uit te oefenen op Israel om haar beleid eindelijk te wijzigen.

Hoekstenen
Tot nu toe waren de internationale rechtsorde en het internationale humanitaire recht hoekstenen van elk Nederlands buitenlandse beleid. De Nederlandse regering is zelfs verplicht volgens artikel 90 van de Grondwet om de ontwikkeling van de internationale rechtsorde te bevorderen. Maar ook onder de bepalingen van de 4de Geneefse Conventie moet Nederland als verdragspartij actief bijdragen aan maatregelen die leiden tot de bescherming van burgers in oorlogstijd en bezetting. Het is daarom moeilijk in te zien dat ons beleid dat er op gericht is die rechtsorde te versterken strijdig zou zijn met het Nederlands buitenlandse beleid.
Marinus Verweij  is directeur van ICCO

WikiLeaks 49

Masters of hate locked and loaded
By Pepe Escobar Jan 13, 2011
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MA13Ak03.html
  
NEW YORK - There is an eerie, direct connection between hate rhetoric
reaching a fever pitch in the United States, the shooting of Arizona
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, calls to take out WikiLeaks founder
Julian Assange and the ninth anniversary of the infamous US detention
facility at Guantanamo in Cuba. This disturbing connection should send
shivers down the spine of anyone even remotely concerned with human rights.
Yet it doesn't. At least not in the US.
  Assange will be back in court in London on February 7 for a full two-day
hearing on his possible extradition to Sweden, connected to the ultra-murky
case of alleged broken condoms and "sex by surprise", co-starred in by two
Assange groupies in sultry Stockholm last August.
  Yet Assange's lawyers wasted no time in getting to the heart of the
matter: if he is extradited to Sweden, the US government will pull out all
the stops to extradite him to the US. Assange could then face the death
penalty, or its "war on terror” twin - forever languishing in legal limbo
in Guantanamo. For the US, the fact that human-rights treaties prohibit
extradition under these conditions is a minor detail.
  Gullible, well-intentioned souls may remember that US President Barack
Obama promised to close Guantanamo. That won't happen. The US Congress will
destroy any possibility of transferring "enemy combatants" to the US
mainland so they can have a proper trial. The White House is about to
condemn at least 40 of these prisoners to Guantanamo forever - no formal
charge, no trial, just a black void. And Bagram, in Afghanistan, will
follow the same path. Forget about the US constitution and international
law.
  Human rights had to be a crucial part of the seven-point Assange defense
strategy - as a possible extradition violates Article 3 of the European
Convention on Human Rights. Thus Assange's legal team, in their 35-page
skeleton summary of their strategy, had to stress the concrete possibility
of Assange being subjected to illegal rendition and the "real risk that he
could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well known that prominent
figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be
executed."
  And to press the point on global public opinion, WikiLeaks itself put
out a press release drawing the inevitable parallel between the "take out
Assange" rhetoric (former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin would say
"reload", and then shoot) and the overall US right-wing hate-master
narrative that culminated, for now, in the shooting of Giffords. Palin is
mentioned as she has urged the Obama administration to "hunt down the
WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban".

Food

In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold
http://www.globalpolicy.org/home/217-hunger/49686-in-corrupt-global-food-sys
tem-farmland-is-the-new-gold-.html

High food prices are caused by market speculation in a corrupt global food
system. Growing concern over access to food creates a new geopolitics
around food security, with many countries buying farmland and banning food
exports. One billion people cannot afford to buy enough to feed themselves
and their families. Seventy percent of those hungry people are farmers,
herders and other food producers who could feed themselves if they had
access to land and markets.  In recent months the world's largest
agricultural commodities trader, Cargill (based in the US), announced a
tripling of profits.

By Stephen Leahy January 13, 2010 IPS
http://ipsnews.net/

Famine-hollowed farmers watch trucks loaded with grain grown on their
ancestral lands heading for the nearest port, destined to fill richer
bellies in foreign lands. This scene has become all too common since the
2008 food crisis.

Food prices are even higher now in many countries, sparking another cycle
of hunger riots in the Middle East and South Asia last weekend. While bad
weather gets the blame for rising prices, the instant price hikes of recent
times are largely due to market speculation in a corrupt global food
system.

The 2008 food crisis awoke much of the world's investment community to the
profitable reality that hungry people will do almost anything, even sell
their own children, in order to eat. And with the global financial crisis,
food and farmland became the "new gold" for some of the biggest investors,
experts agree.

In 2010, wheat futures rose 47 percent, U.S. corn was up more than 50
percent, and soybeans rose 34 percent.

On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world's largest agricultural
commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated
1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Bills pay a return of less than one percent.

"We have set up a global food system that supports speculation. And with
[such] markets, we can't get speculators out of the food business," said
Lester Brown, an agricultural policy expert and founder of the Washington-
based Earth Policy Institute.

"Farmland is better gold than gold for speculators," Brown told IPS.

Growing concern over access to food is also creating a new geopolitics
around food security, with many countries buying up farmland and banning
the export of food, he said.

World leaders have utterly failed to address the simple fact that while
there is enough food, a billion people, living in every country in the
world, simply can't afford to buy it, said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland
Institute, a U.S.-based policy think tank on social, economic and
environmental issues.

"Why were a billion hungry with a record wheat harvest in 2008?" Mittal
told IPS.

And how is it there are one billion people who are overweight, with 300
million of those considered medically obese?

The global food system is designed to generate profits not feed people, and
nothing has changed since 2008, she said. "There has been no focus on how
to achieve food security or on regulating the food trade," Mittal noted.

Instead, the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and other multilateral
organisations are pushing for more production and more trade
liberalisation, she said. That approach is exactly how Africa became unable
to feed itself after being previously food secure.

"Africans have become share-croppers, exporting coffee, cotton, flowers and
now food while going hungry," Mittal said.

Under the guise of investing in agriculture, huge amounts of money are
being offered to debt-ridden countries in exchange for long-term leases to
their foodlands. "Our research shows that the most fertile lands are being
secured. There are huge issues around governance and corruption in this
land grabbing," said Mittal.

More than 100 billion dollars has been invested in buying farmland since
2008, mainly in Africa by foreign companies and foreign-state owned
industries, according to GRAIN, a small international non-profit
organisation that works to support small farmers.

This massive investment hasn't yet translated into more food availability,
says Lester Brown. Often times, buying land is just the first step. Major
investments are also needed in farming infrastructure like roads, vehicles,
storage capacity, mechanical services for equipment, irrigation and so on.

"I haven't seen a big increase in grain production anywhere. Right now it
looks like a lot of land speculation," he said.

Brown has long documented the fact that yields of rice, wheat and other
grains have not been increasing in many countries while demand has
escalated. China, he notes, now imports 70 percent of its soy and is
expected to begin to use its plentiful cash reserves to buy large
quantities of wheat and corn in the near future.

And with the U.S. converting 30 percent of its corn crop into ethanol to
'feed' its cars and trucks, food supplies will be tight for some years, he
predicts.

With the decline in traditional equity stocks along with collapse of
housing and commercial real estate markets, billions of investment dollars
are being mobilised to buy farmland and food commodities. It's not just
Wall Street looking for big returns, it's also private and public pension
funds in Europe and North America as well, said Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN.

Investors from Saudi Arabia have leased large tracts in land in Ethiopia,
Senegal, Mali and other African countries amounting to several hundred
thousand hectares. "How can African countries hope to have food security by
signing long-term leases to foreign interests?" Kuyek told IPS.

When South Korea's Daewoo Logistics tried to buy 1.3 million hectares, or
one-third, of Madagascar's farmland in 2008, violent protests erupted and
the government was toppled. South Korea still has at least a million
hectares in long- term leases elsewhere and China 2.1 million ha, mainly in
Southeast Asia.

Some of the leases are for 99 years at a one dollar a hectare, but local
people "are not eligible for the deals being promoted in countries where
millions of people remain dependent on food aid", said Howard Buffett, a
U.S. farmer and philanthropist whose father is Warren Buffett, the well-
known billionaire investor.

Howard Buffet reports being offered land deals where African governments
promise to provide 70 percent of the financing, all utilities, and a
98-year lease requiring no payments for four years.

The last thing Africa needs are policies that "enable foreign investors to
grow and export food for their own people to the detriment of the local
population" writes Buffet in the introduction to the 2010 Oakland Institute
report, "(Mis)investment in Agriculture".

Buffet's foundation has a research farm in South Africa and says
investments are needed, but in terms of seeds, inputs, improved extension
services, education on conservation techniques and generally assisting
local farmers. Investing in land grabs will simply fuel conflict over land
and water, he concluded.

Shockingly, about 70 percent of the billion hungry people in the world are
farmers, herders and other food producers who could feed themselves if they
had access to land, markets and a little bit of credit, said GRAIN's Kuyek.

"That well-understood reality has been ignored for years," he said. "These
land grabs are just wrong: morally and socially wrong."

Israel als een Schurkenstaat 321


De plundering van het Heilige Land


Sinds 1967 zijn talloze artefacten opgegraven en verwijderd uit de bezette Westelijke Jordaanoever en de Gazastrook. Velen zijn tentoongesteld in Israëlische musea en particuliere collecties, terwijl anderen aan toeristen worden verkocht.

Voor Israël is archeologie is een belangrijk instrument in het ondersteunen zijn territoriale aanspraken op het historische Palestina. Archeologische bevindingen worden gebruikt om eigendom te doen gelden en op de gebieden die ze bezetten en deze te hernoemen.

Palestijnen zien het culturele erfgoed van de Westelijke Jordaanoever, Jeruzalem en de Gazastrook als een centraal onderdeel van hun voorouderlijke geboorterecht en het bezit ervan is de sleutel tot het opbouwen van een economie gebaseerd op pelgrimage en toerisme.

Is de verwijdering van de historische schatten uit de bezette gebieden een zaak van cultuurbehoud of het stelen van een erfenis? Welke rol heeft de wetenschap van de archeologie in het Arabisch-Israëlische conflict gespeeld?

Al Jazeera doorzoekt het bewijs, legt de feiten bloot en onthuld een machtsstrijd waarin elke steen betekenis heeft. Meer dan alleen maar bezit, staat de controle van een culturele erfenis op het spel.

Filmmakers, Mariam Shahin en George Azar.



http://zaplog.nl/zaplog/article/de_plundering_van_het_heilige_land#rss

Palestina 40


Posted: 14 Jan 2011 01:50 PM PST
No one helps us by asking from us to keep our mouths shut about our political issues. We’re accused of encouraging division because we dare point out the weakness of our political leaders. No one knows, apart from those who are INSIDE, how life is in Palestine because of these divisions. Trying to shut us up by saying “don’t criticize, keep your divisions “secret” and discrete” is most harmful!...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
Posted: 14 Jan 2011 01:47 AM PST
The West Bank has long been a prime attraction for Western supporters of Palestinian rights, with tours offered by Sabeel, Interfaith Peacebuilders, Global Exchange and others. They are not billed as dark tourism of course, and the visits are packed with highly informative talks with vital organizations such as the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) and Combatants for Peace. But...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Palestina 39

Can O’Keefe lick the Palestinian campaign into shape?

By Stuart Littlewood

15 January 2011

Stuart Littlewood argues that the Palestinian cause is in desperate need of a marketing and public relations makeover, and of competent advocates to promote the Palestinian struggle in the West. He contrasts the complacency and ineptitude of the Palestinian Authority with media savvy internationals and Palestinian volunteers.

Find something else to get angry about, I was telling myself.

Yes, I was all set to shunt Palestine into a mental siding because leadership is still lacking and so much time and effort is misdirected, uncoordinated and wasted.

Most importantly of all, there’s no overall strategic plan for meaningful action and communication, although individual groups are doing amazing work in their efforts to break the Gaza blockade.

Then somebody – Debbie Menon – said: "You gotta listen to this Press TV interview, it's fantastic. Ken fills my heart with pride."

She was talking about Ken O-Keefe.

After watching his high-octane performance, which hit so many right notes, I'm beginning to think that here’s a man who could take the shambling and ineffectual Palestinian "campaign" (wrong word really) by the scruff of the neck and knock it into shape.

Some of my friends are convinced he's a plant, or an agent provocateur. It would be hugely disappointing if that turned out to be true. In the meantime he seems to be doing Israeli gangsterdom a lot of damage.

Calling a spade a spade

In the interview he proceeded to give the Israeli government a good tongue-lashing, calling it "not only racist but crazy, insane, psychotic and capable of anything". He also flayed the European Union governments for doing 25 billion euros of trade with Israel while spouting "pretty words that have no substance at all". If the EU wanted to stop the settlement building, he said, it could end its relationship with Israel, which would "cripple the Israeli economy".

Correct. Since the EU trade agreement calls for suspension if Israel breaches its terms (which it does continuously), many others have made the same point but to no avail, which shows how corrupt the EU is.

And O'Keefe roundly condemned his own government, the US, for its 3-billion-dollar a year aid "to the richest country in the Middle East", and called for general strikes and for people to unite across the spectrum in the Palestinian cause because governments and the UN are doing nothing.

He wanted to ask the Jews of the world if Israel really represented them – was Israel synonymous with Judaism? Because if so, "you as a people are a threat to everyone and every ounce of decency and humanity that exists". He called on them to speak up and condemn the acts of racism and mass murder.

Towards the end of the interview he spoke mysteriously of a big plan he was working on, which would “shatter” the blockade of Gaza.

All this lifted the gloom somewhat. Up to that moment the New Year chatter on the BBC had been of a fresh war in the Middle East – a Cast Lead mark II.
The Palestinian “embassy ... here in London is a joke. Visit its website and you'll find little that's useful. The last update was eight months ago... That's how committed Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and their staff are to the Palestinian cause."
I had already come to the conclusion that the Palestinians need and deserve much more than the good wishes of people like me living comfortably in the UK. They need nothing less than a political upheaval, levered by an angry civil society worldwide, to force implementation of international law and justice. Will they get it in 2011? Fat chance, because those civil societies are not yet well enough organized or angry enough, and Palestinian leaders have zero appeal and are continually playing the fool.

Palestinian public relations ineptitude

Their embassy (actually a General Delegation) here in London is a joke. Visit its website and you'll find little that's useful. The last update was eight months ago – yes, it’s EIGHT MONTHS out of date. That's how committed Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and their staff are to the Palestinian cause. Their failure to make an effort effectively sabotages the work of campaigners and activists.

How fair is that on the sick and homeless and hungry in Gaza and those under the jackboot (of Israeli storm-troopers and Fatah’s quislings) in the West Bank?

So whom should we help? The legitimate authority is Hamas, democratically elected in 2006. Fatah were sore losers and wouldn't accept the people's verdict. Neither would the half-baked politicians of the US, Britain and the EU – or their manipulators in Tel Aviv. Such people do not respect democracy.

Hamas is inaccessible but in serious need of a marketing makeover to transform its prospects. Let’s hope it soon takes the trouble to have its spokespeople properly trained in media skills – something Fatah never bothered to do, to the permanent detriment of the whole Palestinian nation.

Negotiations with Israel? What is there to negotiate? Focus must be on what has already been ruled under international law, humanitarian law and a whole raft of UN resolutions. Until these are implemented resistance is surely the correct route and should command worldwide backing. Besides, who authorized here-today-and-gone-tomorrow politicians such as Obama, Clinton and Blair to ignore international law for the benefit of Israeli ambition?

Media savvy volunteers

As must be painfully obvious by now, a continuing problem for the Palestinian movement outside as well as inside the occupied territories is its failure to engage with the media. The superb George Galloway pops up occasionally but that is not enough. The campaign, if it’s to become a true campaign, needs first-rate spokespeople available in an instant. Straight-talking O’Keefe is articulate and interesting enough, with just the right degree of scariness, to fascinate Western audiences. In the Press TV interview he was ably flanked by the lovely Nada Hashwi and Sameh Habeeb. I’d say Hashwi also has the power to wow the West and ought to be pushed forward much more.

Meanwhile, O'Keefe's concept of people-power, "fully exerted and acting in unison, intelligently", sounds promising. That's what is needed, if only the threads can be pulled together. It's a mighty task because the battleground extends to every country in the West paralysed by Zionist infiltration. That’s most of them.

In the meantime I’m itching to know what Ken O’Keefe’s “shattering” big plan is.

Naomi Klein 14


The Search for BP's Oil

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"Dolphins off the bow!"
I race to the front of the WeatherBird II, a research vessel owned by the University of South Florida. There they are, doing their sleek silvery thing, weaving between translucent waves, disappearing under the boat, reappearing in perfect formation on the other side.After taking my fill of phone video (and very pleased not to have dropped the device into the Gulf of Mexico), I bump into Gregory Ellis, one of the junior scientists aboard.
"Did you see them?" I ask excitedly.
"You mean the charismatic megafauna?" he sneers. "I'll pass."
Ouch. Here I was thinking everyone loves dolphins, especially oceanographers. But it turns out that these particular marine scientists have issues with dolphins. And sea turtles. And pelicans. It's not that they don't like them (a few of the grad students took Flipper pictures of their own). It's just that the charismatic megafauna tend to upstage the decidedly less charismatic creatures under their microscopes. Like the bacteria and phytoplankton that live in the water column, for instance, or 500-year-old coral and the tube worms that burrow next to them, or impossibly small squid the size of a child's fingernail.
Normally these academics would be fine without our fascination. They weren't looking for glory when they decided to study organisms most people either can't see or wish they hadn't. But when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in April 2010, our collective bias toward cute big creatures started to matter a great deal. That's because the instant the spill-cam was switched off and it became clear that there would be no immediate mass die-offs among dolphins and pelicans, at least not on the scale of theExxon Valdez spill deaths, most of us were pretty much on to the next telegenic disaster. (Chilean miners down a hole—and they've got video diaries? Tell us more!)
It didn't help that the government seemed determined to help move us along. Just three weeks after the wellhead was capped, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came out with its notorious "oil budget," which prompted White House energy czar Carol Browner to erroneously claim that "the vast majority of the oil is gone." The White House corrected the error (the fate of much of that oil is simply unknown), but the budget nonetheless inspired a flood of stories about how "doom-mongers" had exaggerated the spill's danger and, as the British Daily Mailtabloid indignantly put it, unfairly wronged "one of Britain's greatest companies."
More recently, in mid-December, Unified Area Command, the joint government-BP body formed to oversee the spill response, came out with a fat report that seemed expressly designed to close the book on the disaster. Mike Utsler, BP's Unified Area Commander, summed up its findings like this: "The beaches are safe, the water is safe, and the seafood is safe." Never mind that just four days earlier, more than 8,000 pounds of tar balls were collected on Florida's beaches—and that was an average day. Or that gulf residents and cleanup workers continue to report serious health problems that many scientists believe are linked to dispersant and crude oil exposure.
By the end of the year, investors were celebrating BP's stock rebound, and the company was feeling so emboldened that it revealed plans to challenge the official estimates of how much oil gushed out of its broken wellhead, claiming that the figures are as much as 50 percent too high. If BP succeeds, it could save the company as much as $10.5 billion in damages. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has just given the go-ahead for sixteen deepwater projects to resume in the gulf, well before the Oil Spill Commission's safety recommendations have a hope of being implemented.
For the scientists aboard the WeatherBird II, the recasting of the Deepwater Horizon spill as a good-news story about a disaster averted has not been easy to watch. Over the past seven months, they, along with a small group of similarly focused oceanographers from other universities, have logged dozens of weeks at sea in cramped research vessels, carefully measuring and monitoring the spill's impact on the delicate and little-understood ecology of the deep ocean. And these veteran scientists have seen things that they describe as unprecedented. Among their most striking findings are graveyards of recently deceased coral, oiled crab larvae, evidence of bizarre sickness in the phytoplankton and bacterial communities, and a mysterious brown liquid coating large swaths of the ocean floor, snuffing out life underneath. All are worrying signs that the toxins that invaded these waters are not finished wreaking havoc and could, in the months and years to come, lead to consequences as severe as commercial fishery collapses and even species extinction.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the most outspoken scientists doing this research come from Florida and Georgia, coastal states that have so far managed to avoid offshore drilling. Their universities are far less beholden to Big Oil than, say, Louisiana State University, which has received tens of millions from the oil giants. Again and again these scientists have used their independence to correct the official record about how much oil is actually out there, and what it is doing under the waves.
One of the most prominent scientists on the BP beat is David Hollander, a marine geochemist at the University of South Florida. Hollander's team was among the first to discover the underwater plumes in May and the first to trace the oil definitively to BP's well. In August, amid the claims that the oil had magically disappeared, Hollander and his colleagues came back from a cruise with samples proving that oil was still out there and still toxic to many marine organisms, just invisible to the human eye. This research, combined with his willingness to bluntly contradict federal agencies, has made Hollander something of a media darling. When he is not at sea, there is a good chance he is in front of a TV camera. In early December, he agreed to combine the two, allowing me and filmmaker Jacqueline Soohen to tag along on a research expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico, east of the wellhead.
* * *
"Let's go fishing for oil," Hollander says with a broad smile as we get on the boat. A surfer and competitive bike racer in his youth, he is still something of a scrappy daredevil at 52. On the last cruise Hollander slipped and seriously injured his shoulder, and he has been ordered to take it easy this time. But within seconds of being on deck he is hauling equipment and lashing down gear. This is a particularly important task today because a distinctly un-Floridian cold front has descended and winds are whipping up ten-foot swells in the gulf. Getting to our first research station is supposed to take twenty-four hours, but it takes thirty instead. The entire time, the 115-footWeatherBird II dips and heaves, and so do a few members of the eleven-person scientific team (and yeah, OK, me too).
Luckily, just as we arrive at our destination, about ninety nautical miles from the wellhead, the clouds part and the sea calms. A frenzy of floating science instantly erupts. First to be lowered overboard is the rosette, a cluster of four-foot-high metal canisters that collect water samples from different depths. When the rosette clangs back on deck, the crew swarms around its nozzles, filling up dozens of sample bottles. It looks like they are milking a metal cow. Carefully labeled bottles in tow, they are off to the makeshift laboratory to run the water through an assembly line of tests. Is it showing signs of hydrocarbons? Does it fluoresce under UV light? Does it carry the chemical signature of petroleum? Is it toxic to bacteria and phytoplankton?
A few hours later it's time for the multi-corer. When the instrument, twelve feet high and hoisted by a powerful winch, hits the ocean floor, eight clear cylinders shoot down into the sediment, filling up with sand and mud. The samples are examined under microscopes and UV lights, or spun with centrifugal force, then tested for signs of oil and dispersant. This routine will be repeated at nine more locations before the cruise is done. Each stop takes an average of ten hours, and the scientists are able to sneak in only a couple of hours of sleep between stations.
The WeatherBird II is returning to the precise coordinates where University of South Florida researchers found toxic water and sediment in May and August. At the second stop, Mary Abercrombie, who is testing the water under UV light in a device called a spectrofluorometer, sees something that looks like hydrocarbons from a sample collected seventy meters down—shallow enough to be worrying. But the other tests don't find much of anything. Hollander speculates that this may be because we are still in relatively shallow water and the recent storms have mixed everything up. "We'll probably see more when we go deeper."
Being out in the open gulf today, I find it is impossible not to be awed by nature's capacity to cleanse and renew itself. At the height of the disaster, I had looked down at these waters from a Coast Guard aircraft. What I saw changed me. I realized that I had always counted on the ocean to be a kind of outer space on earth, too mysterious and vast to be fundamentally altered by human activity, no matter how reckless. Now it was covered to the horizon in gassy puddles like the floor of an auto repair shop. Shouting over the roaring engines, a fresh-faced Coast Guard spokesman assured the journalists on board that within months, all the oil would be gone, broken down by dispersants into bite-size morsels for oil-eating microbes, which would, after their petroleum feast, promptly and efficiently disappear—no negative side effects foreseen.
At the time I couldn't believe he could feed us this line with a straight face. Yet here that body of water is, six months later: velvety smooth and, according to the tests conducted on the WeatherBird II, pretty clean, at least so far. Maybe the ocean really is the world's most powerful washing machine: throw in enough dispersant (the petrochemical industry's version of Tide), churn it around in the waves for long enough, and it can get even the toughest oil spills out.
"I despise that message—it's blindly simplified," says Ian MacDonald, a celebrated oceanographer at Florida State University. "The gulf is not all better now. We don't know what we've done to it."
MacDonald is arguably the scientist most responsible for pressuring the government to dramatically increase its estimates of how much oil was coming out of BP's well. He points to the massive quantity of toxins that gushed into these waters in a span of three months (by current estimates, at least 4.1 million barrels of oil and 1.8 million gallons of dispersants). It takes time for the ocean to break down that amount of poison, and before that could happen, those toxins came into direct contact with all kinds of life-forms. Most of the larger animals—adult fish, dolphins, whales—appear to have survived the encounter relatively unharmed. But there is mounting evidence that many smaller creatures—bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, multiple species of larvae, as well as larger bottom dwellers—were not so lucky. These organisms form the base of the ocean's food chain, providing sustenance for the larger animals, and some grow up to be the commercial fishing stocks of tomorrow. One thing is certain: if there is trouble at the base, it won't stay there for long.
According to experiments performed by scientists at the University of South Florida, there is good reason for alarm. When it was out in the gulf in August, the WeatherBird II collected water samples from multiple locations. Back at the university lab, John Paul, a professor of biological oceanography, introduced healthy bacteria and phytoplankton to those water samples and watched what happened. What he found shocked him. In water from almost half of the locations, the responses of the organisms "were genotoxic or mutagenic"—which means the oil and dispersants were not only toxic to these organisms but caused changes to their genetic makeup. Changes like these could manifest in a number of ways: tumors and cancers, inability to reproduce, a general weakness that would make these organisms more susceptible to prey—or something way weirder.
Before we left on the cruise, I interviewed Paul in his lab; he explained that what was so "scary" about these results is that such genetic damage is "heritable," meaning the mutations can be passed on. "It's something that can stand around for a very long time in the Gulf of Mexico," Paul said. "You may be genetically altering populations of fish, or zooplankton, or shrimp, or commercially important organisms.... Is the turtle population going to have more tumors on them? We really don't know. And it'll take three to five years to actually get a handle on that."
The big fear is a recurrence of what happened in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez spill. Some pink salmon, likely exposed to oil in their larval stage, started showing serious abnormalities, including "rare mutations that caused salmon to grow an extra fin or an enlarged heart sac," according to a report in Nature. And then there were the herring. For three years after the spill, herring stocks were robust. But in the fourth year, populations plummeted by almost two-thirds in Prince William Sound and many were "afflicted by a mysterious sickness, characterised by red lesions and superficial bleeding," as Reuters reported at the time. The next year, there were so few fish, and they were so sick, that the herring fishery in Prince William Sound was closed; stocks have yet to recover fully. Since Alaskan herring live for an average of eight years, many scientists were convinced that the crash of the herring stocks was the result of herring eggs and larvae being exposed to oil and toxins years earlier, with the full effects manifesting themselves only when those generations of herring matured (or failed to mature).
Could a similar time bomb be ticking in the gulf? Ian MacDonald at Florida State is convinced that the disturbances beginning to register at the bottom of the food chain are "almost certain to ripple up through other species."
Here is what we know so far. When researchers from Oregon State University tested the waters off Grand Isle, Louisiana, in June, they found that the presence of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) hadincreased fortyfold in just one month. Kim Anderson, the toxicologist leading the study, described the discovery as "the largest PAH change I've seen in over a decade of doing this." June is spawning season in the gulf—the period, beginning in April, when enormous quantities of eggs and larvae drift in nearly invisible clouds in the open waters: shrimp, crabs, grouper, bluefin tuna, snapper, mackerel, swordfish. For western Atlantic bluefin, which finish spawning in June and are fished as far away as Prince Edward Island, these are the primary spawning grounds.
John Lamkin, a fisheries biologist for NOAA, has admitted that "any larvae that came into contact with the oil doesn't have a chance." So, if a cloud of bluefin eggs passed through a cloud of contaminated water, that one silent encounter could well help snuff out a species already on the brink. And tuna is not the only species at risk. In July Harriet Perry, a biologist at the University of Southern Mississippi, found oil droplets in blue crab larvae, saying that "in my forty-two years of studying crabs I've never seen this." Tellingly, this vulnerability of egg and larvae to oil does not appear to have been considered when the Macondo well was approved for drilling. In the initial exploration planthat BP submitted to the government, the company goes on at length about how adult fish and shellfish will be able to survive a spill by swimming away or by "metaboliz[ing] hydrocarbons." The words "eggs" and "larvae" are never mentioned.
* * *
Already there is evidence of at least one significant underwater die-off. In November Penn State biologist Charles Fisher led a NOAA-sponsored expedition that found colonies of ancient sea fans and other coral coated in brown sludge, 1,400 meters down. Nearly all the coral in the area was "dead or in the process of dying," Fisher told me. And he echoed something I heard from many other scientists: in a career of studying these creatures, he has never seen anything like this. There were no underwater pools of oil nearby, but the working theory is that subsea oil and dispersants must have passed through the area like some kind of angel of death.
We may never know what other organisms were trapped in a similarly lethal cloud, and that points to a broader problem: now that we are beyond the oil-covered-birds phase, establishing definitive links between the spill and whatever biogenetic or ecological disturbances are in store is only going to get harder. For instance, we know the coral died because of all the bodies: ghostly coral corpses litter the ocean floor near the wellhead, and Fisher is running tests to see if he can find a definitive chemical link to BP's oil. But that sort of forensics simply won't be possible for the much smaller life forms that are even more vulnerable to BP's toxic cocktail. When larval tuna or squid die, even in huge numbers, they leave virtually no trace. Hollander uses the phrase "cryptic mortality" to describe these phantom die-offs.
All this uncertainty will work in BP's favor if the worst-case scenarios eventually do materialize. Indeed, concerns about a future collapse may go some way toward explaining why BP (with the help of Kenneth Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility) has been in a mad rush to settle out of court with fishermen, offering much-needed cash now in exchange for giving up the right to sue later. If a significant species of fish like bluefin does crash three or even ten years from now (bluefin live for fifteen to twenty years), the people who took these deals will have no legal recourse. Even if a case did end up in court, beating BP would be tricky. As part of the damage assessment efforts, NOAA scientists are conducting studies that monitor the development of eggs and larvae exposed to contaminated water. But as Exxon's lawyers argued in the Valdez case, wild fish stocks are under a lot of pressure these days—without a direct chemical link to BP's oil, who's to say what dealt the fatal blow?
In a way, the lawyers will have a point, if a disingenuous one. As Ian MacDonald explains, it is precisely the multiple stresses on marine life that continue to make the spill so dangerous. "We don't appreciate the extent to which most populations are right on the edge of survival. It's very easy for populations to go extinct." He points to the sperm whales—there are only about 1,600 of them in the northern Gulf of Mexico, a small enough population that the unnatural death of just a few whales (which breed infrequently and later in life) can endanger the community's survival. Acoustic research has found that some sperm whales responded to the spill by leaving the area, a development that oceanographers find extremely worrying.
One of the things I am learning aboard the WeatherBird II, watching these scientists test for the effects of invisible oil on invisible organisms, is not to trust my eyes. For a few months last year, when BP's oil formed patterns on the surface of these waters that looked eerily like blood, industrial society's impact on the ocean was easy for all to see. But when the oil sank, it didn't disappear; it just joined so much else that the waves are hiding, so many other secrets we count on the ocean to keep. Like the 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and the network of unmonitored underwater pipelines that routinely corrode and leak. Like the sewage that cruise ships are entirely free to dump, under federal law, so long as they are more than three miles from shore. Like a dead zone the size of New Jersey. Scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax predict that if we continue our rates of overfishing, every commercial fish stock in the world could crash by midcentury. And a study published in Nature in July found that global populations of phytoplankton have declined about 40 percent since 1950, linked with "increasing sea surface temperatures"; coral is bleaching and dying for the same reason. And on and on. The ocean's capacity to heal itself from our injuries is not limitless. Yet the primary lesson being extracted from the BP disaster seems to be that "mother nature" can take just about anything we throw at her.
As the WeatherBird II speeds off to the third research station, I find myself thinking about something New Orleans civil rights attorney Tracie Washington  told me the last time I was on the Gulf Coast. "Stop calling me resilient," she said. "I'm not resilient. Because every time you say, 'Oh, they're resilient,' you can do something else to me." Washington was talking about the serial disasters that have battered New Orleans. But if the poisoned and perforated gulf could talk, I think it might say the same thing.
On day three of the cruise, things start to get interesting. We are now in the DeSoto Canyon, about thirty nautical miles from the wellhead. The ocean floor is 1,000 meters down, our deepest station yet. Another storm is rolling in, and as the team pulls up the multi-corer, waves swamp the deck. It's clear as soon as we see the mud that something is wrong. Rather than the usual gray with subtle gradations, the cylinders are gray and then, just below the top layer, abruptly turn chocolaty brown. The consistency of the top brown layer is sort of fluffy, what the scientists refer to as "flocculent."
A grad student splits one of the cores lengthwise and lays it out on deck. That's when we see it clearly: separating the gray and brown layers—and looking remarkably like chocolate parfait—is a thick line of black gunk. "That's not normal," Hollander declares. He grabs the mud samples and flags Charles Kovach, a senior scientist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They head to the darkest place on the boat—one of the tiny sleeping quarters crammed with bunk beds. In the pitch darkness they hold an ultraviolet light over the sample, and within seconds we are looking at silvery particles twinkling up from the mud. This is a good indication of oil traces. Hollander saw something similar on the August cruise and was able not only to identify hydrocarbons but to trace them to BP's Macondo well.
Sure enough, after the sediment is put through a battery of chemical tests, Hollander has his results. "Without question, it's petroleum hydrocarbons." The thick black layers are, he says, "rich in hydrocarbons," with the remains of plants and bacteria mixed in. The fluffy brown top layer has less oil and more plant particles, but the oil is definitely there. It will be weeks or even months before Hollander can trace the oil to BP's well, but since he has found BP's oil at this location in the DeSoto Canyon before, that confirmation is likely. If we are fishing for oil, as Hollander had joked, this is definitely a big one.
It strikes me that there is a satisfying irony in the fact that Hollander's cruise found oil that BP would have preferred to stay buried, given that the company indirectly financed the expedition. BP has pledged to spend $500 million on research as part of its spill response and made an early payout of $30 million. But in contrast to the company's much publicized attempts to buy off scientists with lucrative consulting contracts, BP agreed to hand this first tranche over to independent institutions in the gulf, like the Florida Institute of Oceanography, which could allocate it through a peer-review process—no strings attached. Hollander was one of the lucky recipients. This is a model for research in the gulf: paid for by the oil giants that profit so much from its oil and gas, but with no way for them to influence outcomes.
At several more research stations near the wellhead, the WeatherBird II finds the ocean floor coated in similar muck. The closer the boat gets to the wellhead, the more black matter there is in the sediment. And Hollander is disturbed. The abnormal layer of sediment is up to five times thicker than it was when he collected samples here in August. The oil's presence on the ocean floor didn't diminish with time; it grew. And, he points out, "the layer is distributed very widely," radiating far out from the wellhead.
But what concerns him even more are the thick black lines. "That black horizon doesn't happen," he says. "It's consistent with a snuff-out." Healthy sea-floor mud is porous and well oxygenated, with little critters constantly burrowing holes from the surface sand to the deeper mud, in the same way that worms are constantly turning over and oxygenating soil in our gardens. But the dark black lines in the sediment seemed to be acting as a sealant, preventing that flow of life. "Something caused an environmental and community change," Hollander explains. It could have been the sheer volume of matter falling to the bottom, triggering a suffocation effect, or perhaps it was "a toxic response" to oil and dispersants.
Whatever it was, Hollander isn't the only one observing the change. While we are at sea, Samantha Joye, an oceanographer at the University of Georgia, is leading a team of scientists on a monthlong cruise. When she gets back she reports seeing a remarkably similar puddinglike layer of sediment. And in trips to the ocean floor in a submersible, she saw dead crustaceans in the sediment and tube worms that had been "decimated." Ian MacDonald was one of the scientists on the trip. "There were miles of dead worms," he told me. "There was a zone of acute impact of at least eighty square miles. I saw dead sea fans, injured sea fans, brittle stars entangled in its branches. A very large area was severely impacted." More warning signs of a bottom-up disaster.
* * *
A week after Hollander returned from the cruise, Unified Area Command came out with its good news report on the state of the spill. Of thousands of water samples taken since August, the report stated, less than 1 percent met EPA definitions of toxicity. It also claimed that the deepwater sediment is largely free from BP's oil, except within about two miles of the wellhead. That certainly came as news to Hollander, who at that time was running tests of oiled sediment collected thirty nautical miles from the wellhead, in an area largely overlooked by the government scientists. Also, the government scientists measured only absolute concentrations of oil and dispersants in the water and sediment before declaring them healthy. The kinds of tests John Paul conducted on the toxicity of that water to microorganisms are simply absent.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, whose name is on the cover of the report, told me of the omission, "That really is a limitation under the Clean Water Act and my authorities as the federal on-scene coordinator." When it comes to oil, "it's my job to remove it"—not to assess its impact on the broader ecosystem. He pointed me to the NOAA-led National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, which is gathering much more sensitive scientific data to help it put a dollar amount on the overall impact of the spill and seek damages from BP and other responsible parties.
Unlike the individual and class-action lawsuits BP is rushing to settle, it will be years before a settlement is reached. That means more time to wait and see how fish stocks are affected by egg and larvae exposure. And according to Robert Haddad, who heads the NRDA process for NOAA, any settlement will have "reopener clauses" that allow the government to reopen the case should new impacts manifest themselves.
Still, it's not at all clear that NRDA is capable of addressing the dangers being exposed by Hollander and the other independent scientists. The federal damage assessment process is built on the concept of "ecosystem services," which measures the value of nature according to how it serves us. How many fish were fishermen unable to catch because of the disaster? And how many tourism dollars were lost when the oil hit the beaches? Yet when it comes to the place where most of the spill damage was done—the deep ocean—we are in no position to answer such questions. The deep ocean is so understudied that we simply don't know what "service" those dead tube worms and corals would have provided to us. All we know, says MacDonald, is that "the ecosystem depends on these kinds of organisms, and if you start wiping them out, you don't know what happens." He also points out, as many ecologists do, that the entire service model is flawed. Even if it turns out that those tube worms and brittle stars do nothing for us, "they have their own intrinsic value—it matters that these organisms are healthy or not healthy." The spill "is an opportunity for us to find a new way to look at ecological health."
It is more likely, however, that we will continue to assign value only to those parts of nature from which we directly profit. Anything that slips beyond the reach of those crude calculations, either because it is too mysterious or seemingly too trivial, will be considered of no value, its existence left out of environmental risk assessment reports, its death left out of damage assessment lawsuits. And this is what is most disturbing about the latest rush to declare the gulf healthy: we seem to be once again taking refuge in our ignorance, the same kind of willful blindness that caused the disaster in the first place. First came the fateful decision to drill in parts of the earth we do not understand, taking on risks that are beyond our ability to comprehend. Next, when disaster struck, came the decision to use dispersants to sink the oil rather than let it rise to the surface, saving what we do know (the coasts) by potentially sacrificing what we don't know (the depths). And now here we are, squeezing our eyes shut before the results are in, hoping, once again, that what we don't know can't hurt us.
Only about 5 percent of the deep ocean has been explored. The existence of the deep scattering layer—the huge sector of marine life that dwells in the deep but migrates every night toward the surface—was only confirmed by marine biologists in the 1940s. And the revelations are ongoing. Mysterious and otherworldly new species are being discovered all the time.
On board the WeatherBird II, I was constantly struck by the strange simultaneity of discovery and destruction, watching young scientists experiment on fouled sediment drawn up from places science had barely mapped. It's always distressing to witness a beautiful place destroyed by pollution. But there is something particularly harrowing about the realization that we are contaminating places we have never even seen in their natural state. As drilling pushes farther and farther into deep water, risking more disasters in the name of jobs and growth, marine scientists trained to discover the thrillingly unknown will once again be reduced to coroners of the deep, boldly discovering that which we have just destroyed.
Follow Naomi Klein on Twitter at  @NaomiAKlein.