Saturday, December 14, 2013

Insidious National Security Agency Surveillance

Edward Snowden's NSA/GCHQ spyware revelations have prompted the United Nations to question why American and British intelligence agencies have been universally data canvassing and caching world leaders'— legislative bodies'—corporate boards'— and citizens' private communications. 

Ben Emmerson, Q.C., the U.N.'s lead investigator, said that contrary to American and British government spinmeister accusations, publication of these top secret programs should not be considered treasonable offences because of the egregious nature of these total awareness enterprises.

American Commandment: Thy shall not disclose government business or safeguard whistleblowers

Mr. Snowden under U.S. warrant for violating the Espionage Act, has short-term Russian protection.  Other countries considering Snowden's sanctuary requests were promised U.S. economic sanctions. It is sobering to reflect on these actions and U.S. assurances that Mr. Snowden, if handed over, would not be tortured or executed. 

At the behest of U.S. officials, Japan will initiate prosecution and seek lengthy sentences for anyone who publicizes classified material. Sacrosanct topics under the 60 year nondisclosure time frame include: defense, diplomacy, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. As The Economist muses, Japan's proscriptive legislation would also likely include updates on Fukushima Daiichi radiation issues.  Prime Minister Abe said that his divisive secrecy law was passed to protect the public.

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor and purveyor of NSA/GCHQ documents, is under pressure from some members of the House of Commons to cease and desist publication or face treason charges. One of Mr. Rusbridger's critics, Keith Vas, voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and against the proposed 2009 inquiry.

Snowden media liaisons, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, have experienced personal and family-related travel penalties for their reporting. Both Poitras and Greenwald have stated that they are wary of returning to the United States.

Americans should remember former-ambassador Joseph C. Wilson's July 2003 critique— What I Didn't Find in Africa —referencing his February 2002 fact-finding trip to Niger. According to Mr. Wilson there was no evidence to support British intelligence claims that Saddam Hussein had purchased yellowcake uranium. For his efforts, Mr. Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame were subjected to a government-sponsored  smear campaign.

U.S. and British rationales for the '03 Iraqi war—weapons of mass destruction—have been disproven. This confirmation leaves historians and others in a quandary. Do they blame the Bush administration, the intelligence apparatus or a combination of the two?

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to provide the answer in his recent memoir "Known and Unknowns." Mr. Rumsfeld states that less than two weeks after 9/11 he convened with the president and thereafter wrote the following memorandum:
Interesting day— NSC mtg. with President— As [it] ended he asked to see me alone… After the meeting ended I went to Oval Office—He was alone He was at his desk— He talked about the meet Then he said I want you to develop a plan to invade Ir[aq]. Do it outside the normal channels. Do it creatively so we don’t have to take so much cover [?]
Mr. Rumsfeld's aggressive support for an illicit war should prompt condemnation and prosecution. Obeisance is not a reasonable defense. President Bush's Operation Iraqi Freedom has cost the lives of 4,486 U.S. personnel, several hundred thousand Iraqis and left the country and region in a maelstrom of violence.

It is unconscionable that many of the principals advocating for the 2003 Iraqi invasion, have the temerity to call Edward Snowden a traitor.

Looking Back to Prior Government Transgressions

Surveillance programs established by the Nixon administration were called a cancer on the body politic by Supreme Court Justices Marshall and Douglas in 1972. Their opinion was validated by the Church Committee in 1975.  From their dissent in the matter of Melvin Robert Laird, Secretary of Defense, et al. v. Tatum, et al. they said:
Those who already walk submissively will say there is no cause for alarm. But submissiveness is not our heritage. The First Amendment was designed to allow rebellion to remain as our heritage. The Constitution was designed to keep government off the backs of the people. The Bill of Rights was added to keep the precincts of belief and expression, of the press, of political and social activities free from surveillance. The Bill of Rights was designed to keep agents of government and official eavesdroppers away from assemblies of people. The aim was to allow men to be free and independent and to assert their rights against government. There can be no influence more paralyzing of that objective than Army surveillance.
These caveats were preceded by President Eisenhower who warned in 1961 that if unrestrained, the military industrial puppeteers would dictate government policy.

Much like Hansel and Gretel we now are forced to follow pebbles and crumbs to discover the truth.

Recent Snowden Side Effects

Some NSA officials are contemplating amnesty for Mr. Snowden if he promises to stop leaking documents.

President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology is expected to challenge the NSA's status quo in their coming report.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Enviva's North Carolina Forest Onslaught

 WSJ photo of Enviva's wilderness clear-cutting operations in an eighty-one acre tract along the Roanoke River in North Carolina
"European climate policy drives wood pellet boom in NC"
 Cut trees awaiting processing in the Enviva  Ahoskie, NC facility

"Renewable Energy Companies Flock to North Carolina's Northeast"
Enviva photo of processed wood fiber
 Enviva's finished product. These U.S. wood pellets fuel
European power plants

A cat crosses the road on a housing development in the shadow of Drax Power station, near Selby in north Yorkshire, UK
View of Drax Group's wood-burning power station in the U.K.

Enviva LP— a 2010 acquisition by the $20 billion private equity fund, Riverstone Holdings, LLC and the Carlyle Group— is in the business of harvesting and grinding trees for foreign wood pellet purchasers. It is a lucrative scheme because, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Enviva and its competitors have ample U.S. inventory and face minor if any regulatory constraints. In The Journal's words: "Europe's power plants are devouring wood from the U.S., where forests are bigger and restrictions fewer."

Enviva's response:
the only whole trees that Enviva uses are either young commercial softwood thinnings, which are cut to ensure healthy growth of high-value timber, or in some cases small, diseased or deformed trees that do not meet specifications for sawlogs. In many places, there is no other market for this wood. Often, what may appear to be a whole tree is actually the top of a trees [sic], which cannot be used to make the high-value wood products for which the trunks have been harvested.
The Wall Street Journal article, "Europe's Green-Fuel Search Turns to America's Forests," disputes Enviva's claims. The 24/7 Ahoskie  facility, one of two Enviva manufacturing sites in North Carolina, produces 1,000 tons of wood capsules per day. Forest to pellet [biomass] manufacturing advocates say wood is the new energy source for power generators and they expect exponential product growth in the coming years. Enviva says that it can produce 1.24 million tons of wood pellets annually. Otherwise stated,  Enviva has "shifted into high gear." Construction of Enviva's superdome wood pellet storage site may be viewed on youtube.

North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, favors Enviva's timbering operations and supports additional processing locations. Other state forests under logging assault by pellet manufacturers are AL, FL, GA, LA and VA.

Wood is a cheaper energy source than coal thus the principal reason for the crossover.

There are no cleaner air benefits: Organic matter be it wood or coal releases harmful to breathe particulates when burned.

Wood is touted as green fuel—trees grow back—but Enviva will not be able to restore the vast wetland ecosystems irrevocably damaged by its timber extraction practices.

Think about Enviva's bottom line: it makes sense to topple heavy tonnage trees.

Logs if purchased by timber mills fetch $20-40 a ton; those being pelletized return $2-8. Enviva wins either way because the company never has unsaleable inventory. Depending on tree weight, there are approximately 50 to 75 tons of chips per acre. Enviva advises that under optimum conditions it takes 30 years to produce an industry-usable pine tree crop.

Rules protect European forests from pillagers but there are none in North Carolina. Wall Street's faith in the wood pellet industry was demonstrated last year when financiers arranged a $120 million senior secured credit facility for Enviva.

Natural forests deserve protection but safeguards will not be forthcoming from Governor McCrory or state lawmakers.


When Britons learned that their homes were being heated by way of U.S. forest stock they told policy makers to think again. As result of public opprobrium the government will soon cease subsidizing wood-powered generators.

Ed Davey, U.K.'s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, confirmed this summer that wood resources are not reasonable solutions to the country's energy issues.

What effect U.K. policy changes will have on Enviva's viability is unknown, but it is worth noting that the United Kingdom is the company's primary marketplace.