1. Signs of an emerging police state
President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his War on Terror. But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my administration will interpret [restrictions on the executive branch] to avoid the constitutional conflict”—leaving the United States adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the president, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned Oct. 3, so the clause is back.
Utah Connection: Utah is mighty fearful of big guv’ment cracking down on Utahns’ right to own guns, ride ATVs and drill where we darn well please. But when it comes to National Security Agency spy centers and data-sharing fusion centers, Utah rolls out the futon and lets the feds encroach away. While the NSA center has been well reported, there are undoubtedly more secrets out in the desert to be uncovered. Meanwhile, the implications of “fusion centers” like the one in Salt Lake City haven’t gotten much press.
The biggest indication of that is Utah’s welcoming of the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a center that will gather, filter and analyze vast amounts of data—meaning, critics worry, phone calls, e-mails, electronic receipts and other digital records of citizens. Construction began in 2009 at Bluffdale’s Camp Williams, and the Utah Data Center is expected to be completed sometime in 2013, covering nearly 1 million square feet. Once it’s operational, the center will be a central data warehouse of sorts for NSA intelligence, satellite nodes and other secret receiving centers, being able to process, some say, as much as a yottabyte (take 1 byte and times it by a 1 with 24 zeros behind it.)
Closer to home, the Salt Lake City Police Department houses one of the nation’s many “fusion centers”: collaborative information-sharing programs that swap information between regional fusion centers run in city police departments and federal partners like the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and even private businesses may provide video footage or other information to fusion centers. While the partnership provides local cop shops with better tools for going after everyday criminals, the mandate with their federal partners also means counterterrorism monitoring of suspicious activity by citizens in their jurisdictions.
City Weekly broke the story of the SLCPD’s planned Statewide Information & Analysis Center fusion center in 2009 as a project funded at that time by stimulus dollars. While information on the Utah fusion center’s current activities are hard to come by, a 2012 survey of the nation’s 72 fusion centers, conducted by the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, provides some interesting details on the centers’ work nationally. One of the survey authors was Cpl. Keith Squires, deputy commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, who helped design and set up Utah’s fusion center.
A few statistics are enough to cause most civil libertarians’ heads to explode. For example, 41.7 percent of fusion centers provided information to federal partners (FBI, DHS) on a daily basis. When asked what groups pose the greatest threats, 65 percent of the center respondents said, “homegrown Jihadi organizations and individuals,” while 11.7 percent reported greatest threats as “non-Jihadi groups & organizations” and another 10 percent worried most about “multiple groups/unclassified.” For the paranoid, ordinary citizens being monitored in that gray area of hard-to-categorize and “unclassified” threats is what’s most worrisome.
“If people are comfortable with passive-invasive technology, so be it,” says Steve Erickson, an activist quoted in CW’s May 21, 2009, cover story “They’re Watching You.” “But some of us old-school boys remember the government dossiers on us during the Vietnam protests.” (Eric S. Peterson)
2. Oceans in peril
Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape—overfished, acidified, warming—and describes how the destruction of the oceans’ complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on Earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 nonprotected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.
Utah Connection: What’s missing in media coverage of Utah’s Great Salt Lake and the problems it faces, environmental activists say, is the bigger picture.
“Its wetlands are the largest ecosystem in the West,” says Utah Rivers Council’s Zach Frankel. But that simple statement rarely if ever appears in print, he continues, “largely because people are unaware of it.”
In Utah, a state sadly renowned for its anti-environmentalism, even a tussle over land rights can make the local press, but the big picture is missing from coverage, activists argue. They point to the significance and uniqueness of the lake in the United States—if not the western hemisphere, when it comes to bird migratory routes—and the threats that are aligned against it
The issues facing the Great Salt Lake range from concerns over very high levels of mercury discovered in 2005—the sources of which have yet to be identified—to the shrinking levels of water to even the lack of a “a clear collective vision of protecting the lake,” Frankel says.
Mercury contamination, in particular, argues Great Salt Lake Keeper Jeff Salt, is “a huge story that doesn’t have enough coverage.” The lack of legislative interest leads to lack of funding for the Division of Water Quality to investigate the contamination, which means the issue is revived in the media only when mercury is detected in other parts of Utah’s river system.
“By the time I die, we’ll probably know something,” Salt says. (Stephen Dark)
3. U.S. deaths from Fukushima
A plume of toxic fallout floated to the United States after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster March 11, 2011. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water, and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published e-mails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear-industry lobbying group. And in one study that received little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the United States, mostly among infants. Later, Mangano and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.