Particle Beams

"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

More Money for Clean-Up is More Money for Bechtel

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The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, formed in 2011, has the stated intention of lobbying for increased funding to clean up the contaminated Hill on which the nuclear lab is sitting, and where it has been designing new plutonium weapons since the Manhattan Project was initiated almost 70 years ago, a date already being celebrated in Los Alamos with pro-nuclear lectures and an upcoming gala event for pre-selected members of the media. (So much for democracy and a free press in a nuclear society.)

Currently, as you must know if you have been following LANL news during the past five years or so, the Lab is preparing to manufacture new plutonium pits – the explosive cores of thermonuclear weapon formerly manufactured by the now-defunct Rocky Flats facility – to fulfill a mandate from some superior government agency that has never been publicly named; but alas, the Lab just can’t seem to come up with the right construction formula to win the support of Congress.

That is partly because the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), the nuclear division of the Department of Energy (DOE), has such a terrible record of cost over-runs, mismanagement and technical failures that a money-strapped Congress has finally been forced to recognize that it’s a cash cow that gives no milk.

In a meeting of the Senate Water and Energy Appropriations Committee earlier this month, in which the committee was assessing and marking up the NNSA budget proposal for FY ’14, Chairman Diane Feinstein (D-CA), whose state hosts Lawrence Livermore National Lab, another one of these multimillion dollar laboratories, opined that the labs that “were once pristine” were no longer so. She was shocked to learn that the Lab’s CEO is actually employed by Bechtel, not by the Fed.

Bechtel, an international engineering company of dubious repute, is the most prominent member of the consortium that runs the Lab as the Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS). Of every taxpayer dollar that LANS receives, half goes to “overhead,” a miscellaneous category that can include anything from lobbying to post-graduate fellowships and profits. Bechtel does very well at Los Alamos. As Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group, has pointed out, since the Fed pays the bills, there is virtually no risk to the company.

Feinstein’s Committee did cut half a billion out of the proposed budget for the Agency, but New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall managed to get some of those dollars back, with $40 million more directed to cleaning up LANL.

This is one of the accomplishments for which the Regional Coalition is proud and grateful. As reported by Espanola Mayor Carol Lucero, Vice Chair of the Coalition, at the monthly meeting held last friday, July 19, several members had traveled to Washington in the midst of this budget deliberation, visiting the state delegation and also various relevant committees, and they were gratified that their lobbying efforts had not been in vain.

The Regional Coalition is composed of elected leaders from eight cities and pueblos directly impacted by activities at the Lab. Environmental clean up is one of its declared functions; the full mission: “The organization’s focus is environmental remediation, regional economic development and site employment, and adequate funding for LANL”.  [emphasis added]

Adequate funding for LANL?

The eight towns contribute a percentage of their budgets to fuel this effort, which, with annual trips to Washington and an outside contractor to manage its promotional efforts, is getting expensive. So the Coalition is pleased to receive a substantial sum from the DOE.

The DOE is well known in these parts for funding agencies and projects which might find themselves to be in opposition to some of the Lab’s activities, possibly limiting with these contributions what the organization may feel free to do; we the people don’t really know what is in these agreements. Perhaps it is simply loyalty to the hand that feeds which discourages grant recipients from displaying what may seem to be a lack of gratitude by pressing too hard on the tough issues; or perhaps it’s the fear of looking stupid or sounding emotional, two cardinal errors that invite contempt from the scientific intelligentsia. The forces that coerce us, poor weak humans that we are, into compliance with the mindset of the public-private partnership in which we now reside are subtle indeed.

Unfortunately, the contract apparently did not provide quite enough money to keep MVM Llc  that has served as Executive Director to the Coalition, which was formed through a Joint Powers Agreement.

According to the Free Dictionary online, a Joint Powers Agreement is “a contract between a city, a county, and/or a special district in which the city or county agrees to perform services, cooperate with, or lend its powers to, the special district.” And the special district in this case is — ? I can’t find anything on Google that identifies the Lab as a special district.

MVM Group “is a strategic consulting firm. We assist in implementing strategies in a significant, sustainable and meaningful way,” it says on the Santa Fe Chamber’s web site. Oddly, MVM does not seem to have a web site of its own. It has a page for The Velocity Group, an entrepreneurial accelerator group that it helps to facilitate, but there’s not much there besides a video. Whatever this company is really about, it seems doubtful that they understand much about what is really going on at the Lab, a place of byzantine hierarchical structure and convoluted procedures, all documented in pages and pages of texts that are composed at great expense and subsequently buried in the depths of the Library, read only by their authors and the hard working nuclear watchdog groups here. In other words, it’s not easy to know what really goes on up there unless you’re content with Public Relations dogma, in which the Lab is expert.

How much can MVM Group, whoever they are, know or care about the secrets of that special district of 40 square miles? It’s a job, after all, and a fairly prestigious one, and no doubt they feel they have been contributing to society by helping to get Los Alamos cleaned up.

The problem for the neighborhood is that it’s a drop in the bucket. MVM Group may not realize that Senator Udall and his colleagues are still so deeply committed to continued weapons work at the Lab that they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars in a weak economy, in an impoverished state, to build more thermonuclear weapons to add more pollutants to the landscape and to terrorize the rest of the world with more dastardly, inhuman weapons which if used could reduce the world to a state of frigid, cloudy weather and famine.

What good will a $40 million clean-up do then, poor thing?

Nor is it likely that the Coalition, with its aims to do good, knows much about nuclear secrets, how the lab is mismanaged and run, how much Bechtel is making (about 8 times what the University of California earned while doing the same job for more than 20 years), and how entrapped New Mexico is in the military budget, so entrapped it can’t see the forest for the blackened burnt trees, while its attention is focused on the institution as a source of jobs for unemployed New Mexicans – and tax money for state coffers.

Money and jobs are important, but what are you willing to do for the money, that has always been the question, and does it even matter to our aching hearts and muddled brains? What’s one more plutonium pit in an arsenal of thousands if it can keep one New Mexican on the job, or provide tens of hundreds of dollars to a political campaign to ensure more years in the office? And don’t we have to maintain the deterrent to protect our “national security”? Don’t we?

It’s just more nuclear shenanigans in the Land of Enchantment.

Duped and Deluded

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During the same week that Obama made his delicious speech in Berlin, so enthusiastically reported by this naive observer, the Nuclear Weapons Council and the National Nuclear Security Administration released their report, the Fiscal Year 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), presented with the presumed approval of the Department of Defense and even the President, whose Nuclear Policy Review is frequently cited in the report.

The SSMP is mean to support the modernization of the nuclear force to which the Administration and its various agencies is committed:

The FY2013 President’s budget is the fourth consecutive increase in the Weapons Activities budget,” it gloats, “resulting in an approximate 28 percent increase since the FY2010. This support from both the White House and the Congress comes at a time when NNSA is undertaking the significant task of modernizing and sustaining the infrastructure and the stockpile.” (emphasis added)

Such is the accomplishment of our disarmament President.

In the afterglow of the President’s inspired Berlin speech, the announcement of this report by various local watchdog agencies including a biting press release from the Los Alamos Study Group and a somewhat more obscure announcement from Nuclear Watch New Mexico was more upsetting and disturbing than it might have been in the usually more cynical context from which I view the nuclear establishment.

The report confirms, as I wrote in La Jicarita days earlier, that NNSA is “evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities that could accommodate higher risk plutonium operations in more modern space.” (emphasis added)

It fails to mention that these “more modern” modules are intended to be installed underground, in the soft volcanic tuff of an active earthquake zone.

Aside from shock and horror at the utter contradictoriness of these two releases in the same week from the Administration, one touting the President’s commitment to disarmament, the second advocating a 25-year $200+ billion plan to build new weapons, the big question is Why?

Seeking some small degree of reassurance and comfort that these two perspectives could somehow be reconciled under a rubric of government prescience and protectionism, I read another document, also released this week. “The Report to Congress on Employment Strategy of the United States” I was briefly reassured, if not in substance, at least in degree. This report, designed for Congressional ears, takes a more soothing tone. Alluding to Obama’s direction to the DoD to conduct a detailed review of U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements” in the context of the ultimate goal, “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the report notes that “the threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased” due to nuclear terrorism and the risk of nuclear proliferation. In addition, the United States “must continue to address the more familiar challenge of ensuring strategic stability with Russia and China.”

Oh, so one begins to sympathize with the dilemma of the US military, having to move toward the goal of disarmament while at the same time maintaining the deterrent as protection against these threats. That’s what national security is all about in the 21st century, isn’t it, and aren’t theyhaving to struggle to meet the demands of this challenge?


Perhaps you, dear reader, are savvy enough not to fall for this smooth pitch, not being so prone as I to choose an empathic appreciation of what the nation’s leaders must face in this turbulent time. Realizing that this report is directed at Congress, one can understand its rational, sensible tone. Congress controls the purse strings, and in order to meet this tough challenge, NNSA needs money, lots of it.

But still, the question remains, why? After falling into this credibility gap more times than I can count, I continue to seek a satisfactory explanation for what appears to be complete and utter stupidity. Why, in an economic crisis, with environmental crises looming to the right and to the left, and no cold war in sight, would a president committed to disarmament also indulge his armed forces in funding such an extravagant budget as NNSA has just proposed?

It seems to me to come down to what is the absolute intent of American foreign policy. 

Does the United States want to lead the world to democratically address key global problems on climate change, energy and nuclear proliferation, food and water supply, population and poverty, — or does it want to dominate the world, to maintain its superpower status at all costs, ruling the global economy, controlling energy, water and the food supply, owning or leasing essential minerals and other resources, even allow people to die off in order to reduce the population?

If the latter, it is going to need the nuclear “deterrent” for many years to come; because resistance to such power moves all over the world can be expected to intensify, with hostilities to increase, and wars to multiply.

Some light may be shed on this subject by recent revelations of the emergence of another move toward globalization, the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). If you can’t wait to learn more about it, please read about a new report from the Democracy Center, and listen to an interview with its author, Jay Schulz, on Democracy Now! It’s important, especially if you’re a hard working environmental activist.

Everything is connected! More next time.

Written by stephaniehiller

June 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nuclear weapons: the Razor’s Edge

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Our officials have a big problem: during the Cold War, they created tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and now, faced with the threat that terrorists could make dirty bombs out of unsecured nuclear materials, and the spread of nuclear weapons to less stable countries like North Korea, they don’t know how to get rid of them. It’s a mess. In Russia and in the United States, the waste created and dumped during those years will cost billions and billions of dollars to clean up, and no profit to be made from it. According to David Culp, the people in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, to say nothing of people in Congress, are so tired of talking about the insurmountable problems posed by the mounting waste that they don’t even want to think about it anymore. But unfortunately, they are still producing it.

President Obama has puzzled supporters and critics alike, ever since he made his fabulous commitment in Prague in 2009 to move to eliminate nuclear weapons and then knuckled under to Republican pressure to start modernizing the stockpile, at terrific expense, if he hoped to have their votes for the NewSTART treaty with Russia.

Last February, news leaked out, and spilled all over the Internet, that the President had convened a meeting of top Pentagon heads to analyze the safety of reducing the stockpile even further than NewSTART levels. Disarmament folks got all excited, but then the mollusk clamped shut around this pearl, and nothing more was said. In April, the President’s budget continued to fund modernization, a project expected to cost more than $80 billion over the coming decade.

Huh? What happened to the disarmament president now, we whined? It was a heartbreaking setback.

But in fact, Obama had not actually said that he was planning on holding further negotiations with Russia. Indeed, he said nothing in response to the rumors, and the “implementation” document, as it was called, remained classified. It was an election year, and perhaps campaign politics dictated that it was not a good time to throw an atomic debate into the mix. That was Culp’s interpretation. In a talk at the Quaker House in Santa Fe on June 16th, the lobbyist on nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) presented an optimistic picture of past and potential future progress in the disarmament arena.

Since the end of the Cold War, he said, we have reduced our arsenal by 75 percent. We stopped the Reliable Replacement Warhead and the Robust Nuclear Penetrator. By we, he said, he meant grassroots voices, especially those of the people in New Mexico.

And now we’re going to stop the B-61, he said, distributing paper and pens for writing letters to our Senator, Tom Udall.

I recently wrote an article for La Jicarita, a northern New Mexico publication on regional environmental politics, in which I took a dim view of NNSA’s recent budget proposal that includes massive funding for the refurbishment of this warhead, at a projected cost of $10 billion. This, while Congress votes to cut people off Food Stamps! In the light of this exorbitant budget proposal to perpetuate the nuclear machinery at any cost, Culp’s optimism seemed shockingly unrealistic. But he’s been doing this work for more than 20 years.

Then this morning in Berlin, President Obama stepped out and confirmed that he is still working to curtail nuclear proliferation, and that he plans to negotiate with the Russians about further reductions of the two nations’ respective stockpiles.

Obama met with Putin just a few days ago, so one might infer that Obama had checked out Putin’s response before making this powerful public commitment.

Obama spoke of the conclusions of Pentagon officials involved in the “implementation” discussion that had sparked the February mania amongst disarmament watchdogs.

Even more important, perhaps, than the specifics about disarmament, whose fulfillment we must yet await — and the opposition is lining up as we speak; a debate between right-wing analysts will be held this evening entitled “Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget is a Gift to our Enemies” — was Obama’s overarching theme, that we live in the world together, and that we must find ways to create opportunity for everyone:

“For we are not only citizens of America or Germany — we are also citizens of the world.  And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.  We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous.

“I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experienceOur alliance is the foundation of global security.  Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy.  Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.  When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do.  So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.”

These words are the beginning of a vision of the world as one interrelated unit that is essential if we are to get out of the box of fear and hatred of one another, competition and wished-for supremacy, and begin to work together for a better, safer world.

If nuclear proliferation and global warming don’t stimulate an urgent will for the nations of the world to overcome our differences and subscribe to a single mission, to rescue the world from the razor’s edge on which it wobbles perilously, then surely there is no hope for humankind.

Just at the critical moment, Obama has done his part to reframe the debate into one of larger vision. “We must care about people we don’t even know,” and “see ourselves as bigger than our own experience.” It’s a big leap from Manifest Destiny and the American exceptionalism we’ve heard in some of Obama’s speeches here at home. This is a wider embrace, and though it may be hard for some of us to see ourselves as allies with our erstwhile fanatic enemy, allowing ourselves to think of the citizens of Germany and America as people who share a common past is an exercise that may one day make it possible for both sides of the aisle to join hands in recognition that we are all citizens of one country.

Is Washington ready to embrace this shared mission in a spirit of hope and possibility? Is the world ready to join us?

And what about the pundits, and the critics, and the watchdog organizations, the disarmament advocates as well as the deterrence proponents? Is it possible for us to rally in support of these fine words, this high-minded intent, instead of disintegrating into opposition?

It all remains to be seen. We know what Obama is up against. I’d like to take him at his word and rally behind him. Now is the time to stop blaming him for what he has been unable to do, and acknowledge that his intention is true. Without widespread public support, he will go down in history as a president who tried.

We need him to be a president who succeeded.

I look forward to your comments!


Two-Minded World

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This morning as I drank my cup of tea I flipped through the pages of Sunset magazine with its beautiful pictures of gardens and nature hikes and fabulousfood; and I envied those who have gardens, who go camping in spectacular places, who can afford these furnishings, these homes.

Then I reminded myself of the many people struggling with chronic illness, or raising a child with birth defects, or suffering crushing poverty.

On the floor where it had fallen from my dining table was my unopened copy of TriValleyCARES newsletter. I reached over to pick it up.

TriValleyCARES is the watchdog group that keeps a steady eye on Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. I am getting ready to move back to California, and will be only about an hour from LLNL, in a lovely area of Sonoma County where most people forget completely about nuclear weapons laboratories. They manage to be more oblivious of the menace than people here, who live in a state that seems dedicated to the military goals of this militaristic nation, especially nuclear.

In New Mexico we have two national nuclear laboratories within an hour of one another. We have one of the largest nuclear waste disposal sites, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, WIPP. Of course we also have the Trinity Test Site, where the first nuclear bomb was exploded in 1945, a historic site. We have a plant where uranium is processed, and of course we have uranium mines, and the ever-present threat of new uranium mining. We’re surrounded.

Not that California doesn’t have its share, home to Lockheed Corporation for example. Do you live in a state where there is no contamination from nuclear reactors? I also just read that the tanks in Hanford, Washington, are leaking…

So, this is our world.

On the one hand, we have hikes up in the stunning Sierra mountains; on the other, we have nuclear weapons being designed and manufactured, and leaking their toxic garbage into our water supply.

Taking the TriValleyCARES newsletter into the bathroom, I learned something new about plutonium pit manufacture planned for the Los Alamos Lab.

It seems that pits manufactured in Los Alamos are going to be transported to Livermore to be burnished and finished and then transported back to Los Alamos!

I can’t think of anything more stupid, unless it is something I learned from the movie “The Economics of Happiness,” which I watched on my computer last night, that nations now export foodstuffs like eggs and tomatoes while at the same time importing the same foods to feed their own people!

The miles traveled by foods in a time of diminishing fuel supplies where corporations drive the compulsion to obtain what we “need” by frakking is wasteful and stupid enough, but how about sending plutonium pits back and forth on the beautiful highways of the West?

Does that sound fiscally responsible? Or SAFE?

Reading this article reminded me of something I read last night about Obama’s budget proposal. Here it is, from Democracy Now!

The Obama administration has been accused of backtracking on vows to move toward nuclear disarmament following reports it plans to spend more than $10 billion to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. The plan would extend the life of U.S. nuclear B61 gravity bombs stored in Europe and apply new tail fins to make the bombs into guided weapons. Joseph Cirincione, head of the nuclear arms control group the Ploughshares Fund, told The Guardian: “The billions of dollars we are lavishing on the B61 is criminal. This is billions of dollars spent on a weapon whose mission evaporated at the end of the cold war,” he said.

Not only is our Great Emancipator willing to spend billions on this project while agreeing to strip funds from unrelated budgets for Social Security and MediCare, but these B61 bombs are 50 megatons – three times the size of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima – and said to be “more useable” because they will allegedly create “less fallout” due to releasing less debris into the atmosphere.

I’m so happy that these monstrosities, which will devastate any city on which they are dropped, will release less radioactive fallout to pollute the atmosphere over the United States of America, which is always on the side of the Good, and only goes to war to promote peace.

Norman Solomon nailed it when he said, “War becomes perpetual when it’s used as a rationale for peace.”

That movie, War Made Easy, is something else I watched last night on the Internet.

This is my life, your life, in today’s crazy world. Between these two realities, we struggle to stay sane, raise children, earn a living, and read labels on bread and other staples when we stop at the grocery store on the way home.

On the one hand, we have people watching movies on huge TVscreens in their California backyards, and on the other, we have governments subsidizing – with our tax money! — the design and production of bombs of enormous murderous capacity.

In the gap between these two realities, people scattered all over the world are trying to create a “new paradigm,” and new ways of living based on that paradigm that will make it possible for us to survive on this deeply endangered planet.

The crisis is real, and it’s urgent. What are we willing to do in order to restore our planet and ensure that life is possible for our children and grandchildren?

Says Vandana Shiva, “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth, or we are not going to have a human future at all.”

Let’s go, women of the world. Time for The Uprising.

Six LANL protestors unite spiritual purpose with political action

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When they learned that Occupy members were going to participate in the Hiroshima Day protests at Ashley Pond last summer, some Los Alamos residents were reportedly so apprehensive that they feared for the safety of the ducks, and urged their removal during the event.

An activist posted a sign at the Pond: “Hell No We Won’t Go.”

The National Laboratory at Los Alamos was also anticipating crowds of unruly demonstrators. On the morning of the protests, 30 security forces (SOC teams: “Securing Our Country“) assigned to the task were sequestered at the parking garage on the campus of the laboratory in full riot gear.

During the rush hour of August 6, 2012, a group of some 30 demonstrators arrived at the gates of the Lab and stood peacefully in the crosswalk of the main road to the entrance, carrying signs. When city police directed them to disperse, all but six remained in the road. After the third order to disperse was given, members of the “SOC” team arrived on the scene to assist with arrests.

Now known as the LANL6, the protestors – one young man and five grey-haired women – were tried in the municipal court of Judge Alan Kirk onImage January 9, 2013 before a packed courtroom. They all stated firmly that their reasons for standing their ground in front of the Lab were spiritual and moral, that they did not wish to be arrested, and that their action was not a crime in comparison with the real crime they protested: the continued production of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Pamela Gilchrist, 73, a retired minister of the United Church of Christ, said she believed there was a “higher law” to which she answered.

“I was there so I could make the statement that we should take the resources we consume to manufacture nuclear weapons and use them to address the most critical problem we face, and that is climate change,” she said.

Others referred to human laws that our government has broken, most critically the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Article 6, signed 20 years ago by the United States among 105 other nations, vowing to progressively eliminate all nuclear weapons. Although the U.S. has reduced the arsenal, the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement  (CMRR) facility is intended to create the capacity to assemble more bombs on short notice.

Other treaties have been broken. The Lab is situated on sacred lands belonging to the local Pueblos; although the federal government signed treaties promising to return these lands after the war, those treaties were never honored.

All international treaties become part of the body of laws that rule the United States, according to the Constitution.

Dr. Catherine Euler, former professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson, stated that, “radiation is a form of violence against women and children” because their bodies are more sensitive to it; she referred to scientific studies that confirm the effects of low-level radiation on the human genome. She referred to documents she had read at the LANL Library about the testing of animals trapped in cages close to atomic explosions, which were later incinerated so that their ashes could be examined. “They knew in the 1950s,” she said.

“Your children are at risk from radiation,” she said. “I wanted the security officers to know that. Fathers’ exposure can be critical for the later development of cancers in offspring. There’s an immediate threat to the people of Los Alamos, especially workers who go there every day.” She referred to recent studies in Germany and France confirming the health effects of alpha-emitters when internalized in the body, where they continue to bombard neighboring cells.

Janet Greenwald, who lived for many years in Dixon, “directly downwind from the Lab,” wept when she spoke of information she had seen show in birth defects found in children from Espanola. After the Cerro Grande fire of 2003, she said, local people tested their organic crops and found cesium in broccoli, cobalt in plums, and a high degree of cesium in the Embudo water supply.

All six protestors said they were not there to be arrested, that they did not intend to stop traffic, they just wanted to get their message across. They did not believe that the crosswalk of the road was private property.

“Our nation is on a bad track,” noted Cathie Sullivan, one of the six. “I want to resist the militarization of our country.”

The Judge found all six guilty of failure to obey a police officer and obstructing traffic, and fined them each $342, a much lower fine than had been anticipated; they were not found guilty of trespassing.

The six said that they did not wish to pay the fine and might refuse in favor of serving time in jail.

In these disjointed times, when most public officials fail to support the beliefs to which they give lip service, the deep commitment and moral integrity of the LANL6 is a beacon illuminating a different path into the future, where commitment to the common good over-rides personal gain and comfort.

Their courage is an inspiration.


For more info see Support the LANL 6:

Also see: La Jicarita article on LANL6 


When the Colonizer is Gone

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In New Mexico the wounds of colonialism run deep, despite the delicate balance of the three cultures – Anglo, Hispano and Native American – so often touted as an attraction for tourists.

At a conference held in Northern New Mexico last weekend, the pain of these old grievances was never far below the skin.

Beautiful woodwork on the ceiling of the main lecture hall on the El Rito campus, built in 1907.

Called Historias de Nuevo Mexico and held at the El Rito campusof the Northern New Mexico State College, the purpose of the conference was to present complementary perspectives of the state’s unique history to correct the picture cultivated by mainstream historians celebrating the state’s centennial.

What did it mean to the tribes, for example, when New Mexico was finally admitted to the Union? Precious little, said Glenabah Martinez; “we were already sovereign nations.” Martinez, who grew up in the Taos Pueblo, is Assistant Professor at UNM and author of the book, Native Pride.  She spoke about the new curriculum she has recently completed, incorporating and celebrating the pueblo experience for the K-12 educational system.

One example discussed by Martinez was the response of the Pueblo people to repeated demands by one Charles Burke, Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs, that the Indians limit their dancing so that they might give up “evil” behavior and get more work done. The response of the Council of All the New Mexico Pueblos, May 5, 1924, was eloquent: “This is the time of the great question. Shall we peacefully but strongly and deathlessly hold to the religion of our fathers, to our own religion, which binds us together and makes us the brothers and children of God? There is no future for the Race of the Indians if its religion is killed.”

Bronze statue of Onate at El Paso Airport

The right of the pueblos to uphold their native identity had been under siege since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1598, led by the brutal Juan Onate, most infamous for ordering that captives from Acoma Pueblo be punished for an attack on Onate’s cousin with the loss of one foot. Whether this horror was actually carried out has been disputed, historian Thomas Chavez stated in his talk,  but Onate’s ruthless domination of the Pueblos was followed by other conquistadores and the church that accompanied them.

It’s not as if the atrocities ended there. New to me was the practice of capturing and enslaving the children and women, and sometimes the men, from the more aggressive outlying tribes – the Navajos, Pawnees, Apaches, Kiowa Apaches, Utes, and Paiutes – and selling them as slaves.

These children, known as genizaros, grew up without any sense of their original identity. They seldom became members of the Master’s family; they were doomed to be always “other”. Today, many people throughout the southwest may be genizaros without even knowing their origin. Cynthia Gomez spoke about her own discovery of her personal history, and what she has learned about her grandmother’s experience as a genizaro. She showed the trailer of a film she is making called “Without a Tribe.”

Few women came here with the Spanish soldiers who settled here, so it is unsurprising that the men became involved with the beautiful Pueblo women, and some of these couples married. Sadly, native women’s subjective experience of patriarchal marriage was not addressed here; perhaps it would have stirred up too much controversy in this setting. One can surmise that the women became subservient to their Spanish husbands and soon gave up their native ways as Christianity became the family religion; and after some time, the whole family claimed to be Hispanic.

The two cultures became so inter-mingled that it’s often difficult for an outsider to be sure who is Indian and who is not; a person from either group is likely to have a Spanish surname even if living at the pueblo. Thus former enemies who might have fought and killed one other during the two Pueblo Revolts have gradually come to share a new indigenous culture. People of the land, Estevan Arellano pointed out, they share the native diet we know as “New Mexican food” – tortillas, chili, beans, posole, enchiladas, atole, calabacitas. For both peoples, the querencia, the landscape, is as precious as the tie to family. Perhaps the two cultures have become more alike than different, especially after the Santa Fe Trail and the Mexican American war delivered to the shores of the Rio Grande a new colonizer: the Anglo.

With the arrival of white Americans during the 19th century, America’s triumph in the Mexican American War (slyly instigated by President Polk), and the subsequent failure of the United States government to respect the land grants that had been given to the settlers by Spain, both communities became blended into a single underclass in an increasingly white society that both had reason to distrust and resist.

The tenuous balance that remains today is what gives New Mexico its unique flavor, but the underlying grief, and the anger, can still be felt here. If Native Americans and Hispanos have become vecinos, it’s not clear that anglos have been accepted into that mix. The presence of the vast military edifice on this beloved landscape, especially the nuclear laboratory, remains a reminder of where power is held here.

Myrriah Gomez talked about the Lab’s impact during the second day of the conference. Unfortunately I was unable to stay, but I remember an essay she wrote as an undergraduate that was published in the Pojuaque News, “Before the Bomb, There Were Bean Fields.”

This colonial master represents elite and special knowledge, great power, and significant wealth. With the collaboration of local political elites, the nuclear behemoth is a source of money to state agencies; it creates jobs, but by employing Hispano and Native men and women, it effectively silences them. The unions will not support any disarmament efforts that call for closing the lab; their interest is to protect the jobs the lab provides. The nuclear establishment also provides the tribes with an annual stipend that effectively holds tribal governments in check.

This colonization by the lab is nonviolent and subtle; the people’s resistance is stopped with dollars. The lab’s presence here challenges us to relate to one another as human beings, rather than as institutions or races.

Bridging the gap created by color was the intent of the talk by Adrian Bustamente, Professor Emeritus from Ft. Lewis College. Tracing the DNA pathway through the cell mitochondria has revealed that we have all evolved from seven African mothers. Difference of skin color has only to do with climate and exposure to the sun, Bustamente pointed out; so we might as well get over our surface differences.

But it’s a challenge to retain cultural identity and cope with the hatred sown of historic suffering while sharing space with the descendants of the conqueror.

It will take more than the mitochondria, but if our conversations with one another come from a place of heart, instead of from a place of intellectual formality, we may yet find a way to become a free people dressed in many colors that are only skin deep.


The Pits Keep Marching On… Part II

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(Part II of last week’s article)

“The U.S. military is hard at work on a dizzying array of pricey new guided munitions to match its trillion-dollar investment in stealth fighters, bombers and killer drones. Some are super smart. Others, super fast. A few are designed to be tiny. All of them have one purpose: to blow away the target, and only the target.”

“My favorite weapon in this list is the B61-12 GPS guided 50-kiloton mini-nuke bomb. If the idea of a mini-nuke striking somewhere in your country doesn’t make you surrender than [sic] you are probably hellbent on meeting those 72 virgins.” – Steve Gill

Despite official US policy of not making new nuclear weapons, writes Andrew Lichterman, in the new book, Assuring Destruction Forever [], the nuclear complex “is being modernized to provide the capacity to maintain existing nuclear weapons and to build new ones into the middle of the twenty-first century” — like the B61-12 that so inspires Tennessee talk show head Steve Gill.

This bomb is intended for placement on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter according to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New American Foundation and author of the recent book, Prophets of War. Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
“Despite US claims that its modernization programmes will add no new military capabilities, the new B61 bomb, if built, will allow the targeting of a wide range of targets with more accurate, lower yield nuclear weapons,” continues Lichterman [my itals].

Recall that “lower yield” means more useable:

He then quotes Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who writes that “delivery [of this warhead] from new stealthy F-35 aircraft will provide additional military advantages such as improved penetration and survivability,” adding that the B61 replacement will achieve many of the goals of the low-yield nuclear weapons initiatives that Congress had limited or refused to fund during the Clinton and Bush administrations. It will “reinvigorate a planning culture that sees nuclear weapons as useable, and potentially lower the nuclear threshold in a conflict.” (my italics)

Needless to say, these warheads will require plutonium pits – possibly new plutonium pits designed to fit the model.

Modernization will make use of what has been called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) as a cover for what amounts to new designs; an LEP “for the W78ICBM warhead is in the planning stages,” explains Lichterman, and “The LEP for the W88 SLBM warhead, the most modern nuclear weapon in the active stockpile, is expected to begin in the latter half of this decade. . . The W80 cruise missile warhead is slated to get its LEP in the 2020s . . . .”

More plutonium pits, baby.

All modern nuclear warheads require plutonium pits. Clearly the lab is going to make them come hell or high water, CMRR or no CMRR. This is what it’s all about: producing smaller, more reliable, more useable nuclear weapons. I can’t emphasize this enough. We are talking about enhanced capacity for nuclear attack.

The reason why US nuclear policy has taken this shape despite Obama’s commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament is that Congress has been unwilling to fund new weapons, which cannot be tested, and hence there have been no new weapons for 19 years. A significant cluster of Hawks, mostly Republican, and friendly military contractors like Lockheed Martin, are very worried about this situation, mumbling repeatedly about the deterioration of the arsenal; they ascribe to the view that without new weapons our national security will be jeopardized because other nuclear nations are upgrading their nuclear arsenals.

“Currently, all nations with nuclear weapons are modernizing their arsenals, delivery systems, and related infrastructure. These programs have serious implications for nuclear disarmament. By investing in the extension, upgrading, and reinforcement of their arsenals and capacities… these governments are investing in the future of nuclear weapons, not in the future of disarmament.” – Summary of paper by Ray Acheson, Executive Director of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Modernization of nuclear weapons: Aspiring to ‘indefinite retention’?” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Fear leads to more fear, and weapons lead to weapons. Yes, it’s the arms race all over again, with everyone feeling threatened by other nations’ nuclear weaponry and scurrying to make some of their own. And while the arsenals of countries like Pakistan and North Korea, to say nothing of Iran’s much talked about but nonexistent bomb, pose no threat to the US except in terms of regional dominance, Russia’s does.

Russia is understood to be modernizing its force because of US insistence on placing its weapons missile shield in Europe.

This is the rubric used to justify $850 billion assigned to the modernization of the nuclear complex over the next 10 years, which Republican Congressmen insisted Obama must support or they would not vote to ratify the New START with Russia (Arizona Senator John Kyl, who spearheaded this bargain, didn’t sign the Treaty anyway); and these are the weapons that require new plutonium pits.

Call it Mutually Assured Terror.

Needless to sat, these considerations have not been part of the discussion at LANL’s friendly hearings on the CMRR. Occasional allusions are made to “deterrence” and “national security”, but public discussion of the B61-12 or the W87 or W88 retrofits is not heard. The debate thus far has hinged mainly on earthquake danger and high cost, significant concerns, but not the main concern. Nor is this a subject that receives widespread attention in the media. Hence public awareness of the new arms race is slight. People have other problems, after all, like mortgages and jobs.

Writes William Hartung, in an article posted July8, 2012 at Tom’s Dispatch, “Beyond Nuclear Denial 
How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not Our World”:

“. . . the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.”

Right here at the foot of the Hill on which these weapons are designed, there’s a disconnect between making plutonium pits, which most people oppose, and producing new nuclear weapons. That’s just the way the lab would like it to be. In fact, the lab would like things to return to their former secrecy. After the CMRR debacle, when LANL was compelled to listen to activists at hearings held twice a year for 7 years, there are already signs that the lab may be tightening its lips.

During the last of those hearings, held on September 26, Steve Fong, NNSA’s Project Manager, kept responding to questions with the unenlightening news that he “can’t talk about it” now that “the project is closed.”
And on October 1st, the New Mexico Community Foundation revealed that LANL has taken back the management of RACER, the community database which was mandated by a 2007 Settlement Agreement with New Mexico Environment Department to provide the public with information about lab activities that affect the life of the community. Perhaps the lab expects or knows that new staff at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) appointed by our conservative governor will not press the issue.

After the CMRR debacle, it wouldn’t be surprising if LANL retreated back to its former secrecy. If so, that will make it even tougher for nuclear watchdog groups to bring the information to the public.

For Hartung, as for the rest of us, this is a very dangerous situation:

“The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.

“The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them — not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them. It’s a daunting task. It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.”

The public needs to evaluate how it wants to spend its tax money. In these belt-tightening times, should we pay for Medicare, education, “entitlement programs” that create a safety net for citizens, or do we prefer to buy more useable nuclear weapons?

I ask you.


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