Tuesday, July 22, 2014

White House OKs Underwater Torture Chamber

With all eyes glued on the atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, another homegrown atrocity may soon be underway. The Obama administration has quietly executed one of those sneaky summer weekend news dumps in hopes of nobody noticing or caring. Because what, after all, are pods of insane dolphins, and hordes of dead turtles, and the extinction of an entire whale species compared to hundreds of battered human bodies?

 From Think Progress:
On Friday, the  U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the use of seismic airguns to explore the seabed from Cape May to Cape Canaveral for oil and gas.
These sonic cannons are compressed airguns that get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. The waves travel through the water and through the ocean floor, bouncing back up at different rates to provide prospective drillers and researchers a better sense of where oil, gas, minerals, and sand lie beneath the waves.
 It’s not a surprise that this is dangerous: even BOEM estimates that this practice will disrupt, injure, or kill millions of marine animals, including the most endangered whale species on the planet. It is less surprising that this risky tactic would be approved in large part to ferret out another source of fossil fuels, risking another BP disaster and emitting more pollution that causes global warming. It’s more surprising that this gambit is being entertained in an area that may not even have that much oil or gas. 
So why is the Obama administration entertaining it? Because he already ticked off "climate change" on his legacy to-do list by trumpeting proposals to reduce carbon emissions at some vague time in the future.  Because compromised politicians want the waters off their sacrosanct borders opened up for the extraction of every last single drop of oil and gas, regardless of the cost. Because the president wants to start handing out drilling leases before he leaves office in 2017. Because there is lots and lots and lots of money to be made for a select few pockets.

As Herman Melville saliently observed in Moby-Dick, "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

  Perhaps the urbane crowd is hoping that all the audio-executed marine life washing up on our beaches can be recycled into cheap fertilizer, or even cat food for the poor. Notice that the watering holes of the rich and famous -- the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard (where the Obamas vacation) and Newport -- have so far been granted immunity from having their vistas spoiled by the detritus of the torture ships. Only the waters from Virginia to Florida will be opened to deep-sea blast-mapping.

Still, since the intense sound waves generated by the exploratory rigs can travel for thousands of miles underwater, no pristine shoreline will be immune from the sights and smells of beached whales and rotting turtle carcasses. Maybe once rich people run out of Maine lobsters to feast upon, we'll hear an uproar. By then, of course, it will be too late.

The insatiable oil company executives and the insatiable politicians who serve them will have laughed all the way to the bank.

 Oil Change International activist Steve Kretzman told The Nation's Zoe Carpenter earlier this year,
As the supply of oil and gas goes up, the cost the market perceives for it is going down, thus encouraging more consumption—which is exactly the signal the climate demands that we do not send. If we had a perfect market for energy, working on the demand side alone might do it. But we’re not remotely close to that. Oil is controlled globally by a cartel, heavily subsidized by taxpayers around the world, and insulated from paying various substantial costs such as health, pollution clean-up, military support, and of course the social cost of carbon.
Importantly, stopping greater supply is the best way to stand in the way of Big Oil’s power. You give them access to more oil and gas, they’ll make more profits, and spend more money both looking for even more oil and gas as well as bribing politicians and throwing armies of lawyers at regulations. [Emphasis added]

These industries are based on, and profit from, finding more and more of something that science says we have more than enough of. Every additional field is a step in the wrong direction. It has to start stopping somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that nine oil companies had been heavily lobbying the White House to get moving on the ocean audio assault, with Obama's resulting acquiescence causing a "seismic rift" with activists:
Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.
 "For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,'' said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. "Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money."
Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project, called seismic exploration "a gateway drug to offshore drilling."
But the oil industry didn't get everything it wanted.
OK. This is the part where should you brace yourself for Obama's cynical "balanced approach."

The fig leaf: Obama, lover of wildlife that he is, will insist that the torture ships include human monitors to scan the waters for breaching whales and other signs of life before they they proceed to destroy the life that they cannot see. If "thar she blows," then the sound-harpoons must be held in abeyance.

And here's the part where the oil cartel hilariously pretends to be very, very miffed at the government's outrageous strong-arm "humanitarian" tactics:
The American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other groups were unable to persuade the Interior Department to scale back proposed time-outs to watch for animals before starting testing and requirements that companies shut down activities when dolphins and other animals are nearby.

The petroleum institute has called those restrictions "arbitrary and unnecessary," asserting they were based on flawed projections about the number of animals that could be hurt.
"Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations,'' API's upstream director, Erik Milito, said Friday."Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements."
 Other limitations formalized Friday include closing access to the migratory routes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and prohibiting multiple seismic surveys from being conducted simultaneously.
This is the propaganda that lulls the public into thinking that a meaningless "balanced approach" which juggles the rights of polluters to profit and the rights of helpless animals to live is tantamount to ethical policy. It's one more example of the lesser evilism philosophy purporting to justify the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism through measurement of allowable collateral damage. No more than one dead sea turtle per barrel of oil! No more than one demented dolphin pod per sea floor gas field! On paper, anyway. Artificial restrictions, like the medieval plenary indulgences that got rich sinners into heaven, shall grease what's left of their rudimentary moral compasses.
The administration stopped short of requiring companies to use still-developing, quieter technologies for mapping what lies below the seabed.Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency relied on public comments, scientific research and other evidence in developing the safeguards, first outlined in February.
"We are taking every step we think is reasonable to try and put those protections in place while still allowing surveys to occur," Cruikshank told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama administration is nothing if not reasonable. The auditory comfort and mental health of marine life will not be allowed to interfere with progress. The fish larvae which may be killed in the blasts should have picked more responsible parents, I guess. If whales are discomposed by the noise, they should just evacuate the blast areas and find different lodgings.... that is, if the deafening roar hasn't already interfered with their sense of direction.

As Claire Douglass of Oceana writes, Obama's cave to big oil could also have the untoward effect of destroying three quarters of a million jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. And never mind the abuse of human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If underwater creatures had rights, the blast-mapping proposal would probably be deemed torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions:
According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
 "Sound and light bombardment is used to disorient, cause anxiety, and even contribute to personality disintegration, as well as to deprive the person of sleep. It is often combined with other tactics," reports the UN Committee against Torture. That body has also determined that “sounding of loud music for prolonged periods” constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment both when it is used in combination with other methods of interrogation and when it is used by itself.

And auditory torture is still being used at Guantanamo, according to human rights groups. From The Justice Campaign:
 Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.
Meanwhile, Obama is threatened with lawsuits on grounds of making too many recess appointments and over-tinkering with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Impeachment on grounds of both human and animal cruelty, however, is not on the table.

 "For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men." -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The Endangered Right Whale: Latest Torture Victim


Pearl said...

Bill: your comment about living in a society where there are no anchors to hold on to has a parallel. I am old enough to clearly remember what it was like to grow up in the Depression where there were no signposts nor familiar directions toward the future. However, the difference between then and now was that we had two things to keep us from dropping off a cliff physically and psychologically. We had a president and his cabinet and a Supreme Court that responded and supported us. We also supported each other as we did not have the extent of divisiveness that we live with now. We were given hope that things would ease and improve which kept us all struggling somehow. People helped each other through the darkness and the government used the energy and skills of jobless people to keep the infrastructure going. Some of the best literature and music and theatre was supported and one could connect with the talent of the voices speaking out our fears and thoughts.
We are now in the darkness without the support or direction of that long ago era. Now we have to carve out our own base and it is beginning to happen with the start of more and more help via the information age and internet. Our great blog with Karen is beginning to be duplicated elsewhere and we have to speak out strongly. And wait. Our progeny are not accepting the status quo and hopefully will become the leaders of tomorrow with our guidance.
But I cannot say this with certainty and it is painful to see the destruction of people's dreams and hopes around me. It makes my final years extremely difficult but I also know there are many good people around and living in Canada makes one feel fairly safe at least for a while and is a guidepost hopefully.
I and others will continue to speak out and watch the increasing response toward sanity. I hope I make sense and you know we are all here for you,
Bill and hope you will have the strength and energy to continue your brilliant writing speaking truth to power. Guard your health so you can continue to do so for all our sakes.

Pearl said...

P.S. One negative side of our information age is becoming overwhelmed and depressed by the political and social horrors surrounding us. Yes, we have to keep informed but also balance it with the plusses of life. Friends, nature, hopes and dreams and realizing that we could be living in Gaza for example. We cannot take on all the woes of the world, just carve out a space to exist in and do what we can with our limited resources. And fight were we can.

Denis Neville said...

“We have learned that all men are created equal, but the whales remind us that all species are created equal—that every organism on earth, whether large or small, has an inalienable right to life.” - Roger Payne

Among the most amazing things that I have ever heard in my life are the beautiful, piercing, haunting songs of humpback whales. There songs are a portal to another world beneath the oceans.

Roger Payne, the marine scientist who discovered that whales sing, produced the 1970 album “Songs of the Humpback Whale.” It is aboard the Voyager I and II space crafts for all the solar system to hear.

Whales live in a world of sounds. They use sound in ways that are clearly important to their survival, though not completely understood. Whales rely on sound to communicate with one another. Scientists believe that whales vocalize to locate one another, to stay in touch and socialize, share information about food, help mates find each other, and keep groups together along migration routes.

The oceans used to be a quiet place. Levels of noise in the world's oceans are causing serious problems for whales. Scientists estimate that the area over which whales can hear one another has dropped by 90 percent because of noise pollution. In a naturally quiet ocean, a calling whale can be heard at least 30 and up to hundreds of miles away. Near shipping lanes polluted that range is often reduced to less than a mile.

Now sonic cannons! Once whales can’t hear - and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing - they will be pretty much done for.

Why would Obama care about whales? They have no corporate muscle or capital. Eff the whales!!!

“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” - Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

James F Traynor said...

He's a disgusting s.o.b., our O, a shit if ever there was one.

Voice in Wilderness said...

I increasingly compare President Obama to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And the longer Obama is in office, the more we are aware of the ravages done by his Hyde persona.

P.S. The Captcha characters are so distorted it took me many, many tries to get a successful match.

Karen Garcia said...

Dear V in W,

I hate the Captcha as much as you do, but was forced to implement it due to spam-bots taking over the comments. I am sorry for the inconvenience!

Jay–Ottawa said...

A few compassionate people saving one whale. And the whale says 'thank you.' The link is in Spanish, but the sound is all in English.


Will said...

Didn't wake up this morning thinking I'd be crying tears of joy over a whale rescue video, but I'm glad it worked out that way. Thanks, Jay!

Zee said...


Thank you for the wonderful video of the whale rescue in the Sea of Cortez!

One of my life's "peak experiences" occurred in 2008, diving on a reef off the coast of Belize.

Two dolphins swam in quite literally "out of the blue" as if to say "Hi" to us and pose for the pictures of Mrs. Zee's lifetime. (If I knew how to include them in this post, I would.) It was truly a transcendent moment for the two of us, as we had been told throughout our diving "careers" that dolphins didn't much like to be around scuba divers, perhaps owing to our bubbles and noisy breathing.

I will remember for the rest of my life the sense of awe and amazement that I felt during that brief instant in time.

Sea mammals, especially whales and dolphins, are such amazing creatures, with plenty of documented events wherein the latter have befriended and/or protected human beings from harm at sea.


And in at least one instance, a dolphin has sought help from divers:


To poison the environment in which they live with "sound cannons" is unthinkable.

I am perhaps more understanding of, and sympathetic to the world's need for energy from fossil fuels than most in this forum. Like it or not, IMHO, it has to come from somewhere.

But not at the price of the existence of the beautiful, intelligent creatures that inhabit the sea.

Nina Clay said...

Karen, if the whales read this, they would sing you a song of gratitude for defending them and their fellow sea creatures. <3

lola said...

I am deeply disturbed by your article about the "underwater torture chambers" which Obama has approved for the Atlantic. It is superb, thank you.

We here in Hawaii have just endured a month of RIMPAC activities. The 25,000 troops from 23 countries "practicing for war" with their high decibel sonar, bombs and torpedos have surely killed many whales (in twenty seven species!) not to mention innumerable hapless invertebrates in hundreds of species. But, uh oh, they had a permit to "take" them.

I am a marine biologist specializing in coral, and deeply dedicated to environmental education. About 36 years ago I was lucky to dive in a submarine off Makapu'u, to discover gorgeous gardens of corals at about 1500 ft, most of which were and still are, new and still-undescribed species. Lately, I have been studying the impact of anthropogenic sound on marine life. It is dreadful and scary.

Thank you. And Herman Melville.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Outstanding essay, Karen. I had no idea and am so glad you are bringing this to our attention.

I am sickened at the thought of what this will do to the animals in the oceans. And all for the profit of a few. Great quote, Denis. I always look forward to reading your comments.

I detest Obama and his hypocrisy. It disgusts me that so many people still think he is the champion of the middle class and poor and the environment. I suspect they get their information from the propaganda report AKA the NYT.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Valerie!

This post was picked up by quite a few other outlets, including Truthout, Democratic Underground, Rebellious Investigative News and Popular Resistance. I think that of all the things I have ever written, this one got the most reaction and readership (in the millions, judging from the stats of the above mentioned sites.) So despite Obama's best efforts to keep it on the QT, the word is getting out.