Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UPDATE: David Cagigal - Standing Behind Walker

Part of Walker’s “Homeland Security” Team

As reported here at “Ruff Talk” on November 16th, David Cagigal, a key figure in last year’s failed campaign to win Madison School District funding for the Madison Preparatory Academy, has joined the Walker administration as “Chief Information Officer” (CIO) in the state’s Division of Enterprise Technology (DET).

Assuming his new position on November 19, Cagigal appeared in a line-up of law enforcement types standing behind Governor Scott Walker at a November 27 press conference staged to publicize the 2012 Annual Report on Wisconsin Homeland Security (WHS).

David Cagigal behind Walker (rear, left) at press conference (Photo: Rebecca Kemble)

As reported by the Progressive Magazine’s Rebecca Kemble, Walker took the opportunity, surrounded as he was by so many law-and-order officials, to once again deny any wrongdoing in connection with the violations of state law for which a number of his close associates and former staffers have taken a fall.

At the press conference, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, head of the Wisconsin National Guard presented Walker with the report listing the priorities and expenditures earmarked for the state’s interagency effort to make us all more secure.

Kemble, in her piece, pointed out that more than half of the $3 million annual WHS budget is dedicated to upgrading communications equipment and software for law enforcement agencies and staffing of the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC), the clearing house for Walker’s citizen surveillance “If You See Something, Say Something” program.

Cagigal, as the man in charge of IT planning and implementation efforts for the State of Wisconsin executive branch..., a statewide leader in all technology issues” and “the primary advisor to the Governor and Legislature regarding technology strategies and policies,” will certainly have input or oversight in monitoring our security and surveillance.

Apparently there’s money to spread around for increasing the surveillance state’s capabilities while funding for improving public schools continues to diminish. One must wonder if Wisconsin’s new IT head, an advocate of for-profit virtual (online) charter schools and legislation accelerating the privatization of public education, pondered that thought as he stood behind Walker.
Pondering whatever: CIO Cagigal at Walker press conference. (Photo: Rebecca Kemble)


Friday, November 16, 2012

Urban League's David Cagigal to Join Walker's Team

An interesting little tid-bit has been bounced my way – a notice going out to various Wisconsin state agencies from Mike Huebsch, Scott Walker’s Secretary of Administration, to various Wisconsin agencies announcing the appointment of David Cagigal as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the state’s Division of Enterprise Technology (DET). Cagigal is scheduled to begin in his new position on November 19th.

David Cagigal
Huebsch’s brief heads-up listed some of Cagigal’s track record, noting that he previously “held executive IT positions that cross multiple industries and business functions, including executive positions at Alliant Energy, DeVry University, DePaul University, Maytag and Amoco.”

The notice somehow failed to mention that Cagigal also is still listed as the Vice Chair on the Board of Directors and “At-Large Member IT Leader” of the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM). Huebsch’s release also didn’t list Cagigal’s recent position as the chair of the board of directors of the currently defunct Madison Preparatory Academy.

The new state appointee is thought to have been a main strategist of last year’s attempt by the ULGM to win Madison school board approval for the proposed academy. He reportedly played a key role in recruiting Mad Prep’s public champion, Kaleem Caire to return to the city to head the ULGM and lead the failed charge for the quasi-privatized charter school.

Immediately following last December’s Madison School Board rejection of the Mad Prep proposal, Cagigal suggested that supporters should take a different tack. Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal, he suggested that the school’s supporters might urge Wisconsin legislators to create a statewide charter school authorizing board as a way to bypass School Board approval and help Madison Prep receive the funding it was after from public coffers.

Reporting Cagigal’s statement, the WSJ’s Mathew DeFour pointed out that such a bill had already been introduced earlier in 2011. It was approved by the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee in the spring, but did not come up for a final vote. The WSJ piece noted that charter schools currently become eligible for public money only after they receive approval from the school districts in which they are located. The proposed legislation, eventually placed on hold but bound to come back in some form, would have done away with such local say.

Caire had emphatically stated how he was “one hundred percent in support of the charter bill” when he spoke before the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee hearing on the bill in March, 2011. His associate, Cagigal clearly understood the significance of the pending “school choice” legislation.

Cagigal had come to Madison in October, 2004 to become chief information technology officer at Alliant Energy.

Previously, he helped develop electronic learning at DePaul University. He then went on to become a director of information services involved with e-learning at DeVry, Inc., the international education-for-profit corporation.

The parent firm of a wide range of business and technical colleges and universities, Devry in recent years has moved into making acquisitions in the rapidly expanding field of online secondary education. Following the foiled Mad Prep project, Cagigal took a $500-a-day position as interim director of technology for the Dubuque Community School District.

The proposed “charter school reform” legislation that Cagigal urged Madiso Prep supporters to get behind would have among other things, entirely removed the charter school approval process from locally elected school boards.

If enacted, the legislation, destined to come back in some form, would create an appointed state body, the Charter School Authorizing Board (CSAB) that would have the power to grant charters anywhere in Wisconsin, even in communities where the local school board has turned down a proposal.

Writing in May, 2011, the Capital Times’ Susan Troller honed in on what the originally proposed legislation entailed :

In the past, School Board denial of a charter agreement signaled the end of the line for a project. But a new GOP-backed piece of legislation creating a state authorizing board for charters could change that. In fact, it would upend Wisconsin’s long tradition of local control of schools, where authority rests primarily with school board officials elected by local taxpayers…. 

…[C]ritics say loss of such control, combined with Gov. Scott Walker’s massive budget cuts to schools, plus 18 years of strict revenue limits, would lead to financial ruin for some public school districts. They claim the legislation is unfair because it provides public money from the state’s general aid fund — at $7,775 per student — to start new independent charter schools, but eliminates any oversight role by locally elected school officials. The flow of money for these new charters would reduce the pot of money remaining for the states’ existing schools during already fiscally challenging times.

Observing the public hearings held before the legislatures’ Joint Finance Committee in March, 2011, the political correspondent for the Progressive Magazine, Ruth Conniff observed that the measure was a political maneuver to allow privatization of public education.

Parts of the “Charter School Reform Bill” and related bills introduced by conservative Republicans in both houses of the legislature called for the expansion and funding of virtual (online) charter schools, something that long-time corporate IT specialist and “education reform” advocate David Cagical would likely find favorable.

In his announcement of Cagigal’s appointment, Mike Huebsch stated how, “We [the Walker administration, assumedly] are committed to leveraging technology to help state government perform more efficiently and effectively for Wisconsin taxpayers (sic) and we look forward to utilizing David’s experience and leadership in that pursuit.”

The notice mentioned neither those corporations nor wealthy individuals who currently pay little or no taxes who certainly have an already leveraged interest in supporting the state’s latest pro-privatization ally.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Wisconsin Recall Results: A Post Post-Mortem

By Allen Ruff, 

[This piece initially appeared on the Progressive Magazine's  webzine on June 21, 2012 -AR]

A number of post-mortem analyses surfaced almost immediately, and they were somewhat helpful in conveying various understandings for the defeat of the recall effort against Scott Walker in Wisconsin. They got most of the immediate facts straight. But they were lacking in various respects. We need a deeper social and political analysis to understand some of the other factors behind the defeat. This is key for the development of future strategies and tactics.

While the inordinate out-of-state amount of pro-Walker (and anti-Barrett) money and media time, the weaknesses and shortsightedness of the Democratic campaign, the failures of the trade union leadership, the all-in emphasis on the electoral effort, and the structure and timing of the recall process (“recall fatigue”), all had a part in shaping the outcome, other factors helped give the victory to the right.

For instance, we have been told that, “59% of  white people voted for Walker, as did most suburbs and small towns,” and that “38% of union households (rather than unionists) voted Republican.” Several pieces stated that support for either candidate was largely related to the perception of how well Walker’s administration had been creating new jobs.

Modest improvement (if any) in the number of jobs and improvements in the state of Wisconsin’s economy, distorted and trumpeted by the Republican’s propaganda mills, certainly were made a key issue. (The Barrett campaign spent a whole lot of energy and resources responding to the Walkerite’s framing of that issue).

But “jobs, jobs, jobs” was not the sole reason why people voted the way they did. As in any election, various subjective factors, some of which could be described as key “wedge issues,” played a significant role. How else, might we otherwise begin to understand why “38% of union households” (Up only 1% from 2010, according to a New York Times exit poll) voted against their own (material) interests?


 Key among the “wedge issues” was that of race, utterly ignored by the overwhelming majority of commentators. It is well known that Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country, surrounded by bands of predominantly white suburbs. (Walker was the former county executive of Milwaukee County, put there by a suburban “white flight” Republican electorate.

Across the state, but especially in those suburban, small town and rural areas that went for Walker, the TV images and radio airwaves carried a barrage of anti-Barrett ads inundated with a racist subtext of the mayor’s failings in regard to crime and the failure of his “liberal policies” (despite the fact that Barrett has been in-step with the neoliberal and austerity agenda pushed by the DLC Dems and Obama). The sub-textual thematic line of all the ads was the same: “Barrett can’t govern (manage? control?) Milwaukee. How’s he going to govern the state?” Manipulation of white racist fear of “the other,” of “them,” of “Milwaukee” and “Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett” as a code for the “out of control, crime-ridden inner city,” filled the airwaves and exacted its toll.

Reportedly in some up-state and out-state media markets, anti-Barrett ads paid for by Super Pac or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) spoke of Barrett’s failures while showing images of people of color.

The county is comprised of the city of Milwaukee and an inner ring of older suburbs, such as West Allis, very white working class and the former site of Allis Chalmers and other heavy industry, now a classic example of the rust belt, as is Milwaukee in general: the massive site of AC is now basically strip malls. (Some of that “inner ring” contains still contains well-to-do enclaves, it should be noted.)

Milwaukee-proper has experienced a lot of white flight over the last 30-35 years. Shrinking in population by about a third, and is now a so-called “majority minority city” in which the African-American population in particular is isolated and deeply impoverished. The Latino population has also grown significantly.

A political sociologist friend familiar with the Milwaukee area’s social geography found,* not surprisingly, that most of the support for Walker in Milwaukee County came from the wealthier suburbs. According to his figures, the population of the County in 2010 was about 950,000, 61% “white” and 75% 18 or over, with a median household income of $43k. Almost 393,000 people voted in the recall, about a 55% turnout. Walker got 143,000 of those votes.

A second ring of newer suburbs, which extends beyond Milwaukee County, has been one of the main bastions of support for Walker. For example, Waukesha County immediately to the west, alone provided Walker with another 154,000, nearly 100,000 more than Barrett, which alone negated Barrett's advantage in Milwaukee. Waukesha is 91% white with a median income of $75k and there was a 72% turnout of eligible voters there!

Immediately to the north, in Ozaukee county, which is 95% white and has a median income of $75k, Walker won by more than 20,000 (with a 73% turnout) and to the northwest, in Washington county, which is 96% white with a median income of $64k, he won by 36,000 (with a 69% turnout).

The white suburbs and urban outskirts have also witnessed the growth of “industrial parks” detached from the city, often employing non-unionized workers, who but a generation back remained tied to the urban core. They now travel the outer rings for their work and leisure and as consumers, and rarely enter the now alien city, except for an occasional night out or a weekend event.

The one “bright spot” hailed by liberals and progressives was the recall victory (currently being challenged) of Dem. John Lehman over Republican state Senator Van Wanggaard in de-industrialized Racine County, on the lake shore south of Milwaukee. In the county as a whole, Walker won by 45,480 to 40,191. That total represented 58.3% of eligible voters, based on the 2010 census. 74.4% of the county is white and it's got a median family income of $54k.

So what happened there? The Lehman plurality of 840 votes came about in large part because of the city’s Latino and African-American turnout, people who came out not in lockstep as so many Democratic faithful, but as those who already had some real sense of worsening results if the recalls failed.

From what I have been told, a well-organized grass roots activist effort won the day there, at least as of this writing. (One might ask why the voter turnout by people of color in Milwaukee proper was not higher, based on their previous experience with Walker as County Exec? The short and simple: Milwaukee’s already hard-pressed inner city was already well-acquainted with Barrett on various fronts.)

Other than Dane County with Madison at its heart, 85% white with a median income of $60k, where Barrett beat Walker by 98,000 votes (with a 66% turnout), and a few other counties, primarily in the far northwest up by Lake Superior and toward La Crosse in the west where he beat Walker by fairly small margin, the Dem contender (sic) got his butt kicked in most of the rest of the state.

“Those Liberals in Madison”

Other “wedge issues” contributed to the outcome. The right wing assault, the absolute vilification of all things “liberal,” pushed not just by the Tea Party, but by the conservative movement as a whole over a longer period of time, took its toll. “Liberal” in the minds of many has replaced “communism” as the bogeyman of the post-Cold War era. For some these days, it has become interchangeable with “socialism”! (One only had to witness the signs at any of the right-wing mobilizations in the state over the last year to get a sense of that.) “Liberal” for many, with their ears tuned to the omnipresent demagoguery of Fox and the non-stop squawkery of conservative blab radio, has come to mean the “tax and spend” interventionist and regulatory state. The now decades-long ideology of neoliberalism has taken its toll.

That, of course, leads to another significant, yet different code: “Madison.” Long a liberal and progressive center as home of the University of Wisconsin and heart of the state’s progressive tradition, the city and its Dane County environs have long been viewed as out of step, unreal, and out-of-touch by out-state residents; the home of “those protesters” and “hippies” ever since the 1960s.

The city has also been viewed as the home of well-off intellectual elitists, as well as the source of “big state government” policies, the birthplace of regulation and state taxes hampering and burdening the “little guy,” a citadel of “pampered and overpaid” state employees and their unions. A legitimate concern at various levels, “What has the state done for me while increasing what I have to shell out in taxes and fees?” has effectively been taken up, and manipulated by the right.

Anti-intellectualism, always a key ingredient of right-wing populism, certainly figured in as well as conservatives looked to the state capital over the span of 2011-2012. The University at Madison, in an earlier time was largely perceived across the state as an institution directly serving the needs and interest of Wisconsin’s residents through its Extension and in-state accessibility, a key of the “Wisconsin Idea.” In recent years, it has been transformed into a largely corporatized research university, now increasingly cost prohibitive for the state’s middle and low income kids and is now increasingly seen as a rest home for overpaid “do-nothing” tenured faculty spreading “subversive” ideas.

“Kirche, Küche and Kinder”

 There’s been very little, if any, discussion of the role of the Christian right – the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic churches. Those very same elements who have been “pro choice” in regard to public school privatization and the (primarily) Republican push for school vouchers and charters paid for with school district funds, have also stood opposed to women’s right to choose and other liberal heresies.

Sex education and the teaching of evolution in the public schools have continued to be salient issues propelling the popular movement for charter and voucher schools in many cases; i.e., the shift of funding from what the Catholic and Protestant right refers to as “government schools” to parochial school education. Part of the agenda of Walker and his cohorts in the Legislature has been the expansion of that “privatization”.

In early April, Walker signed a bill repealing the state’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts for “equal pay for equal work” discrimination. That Walker move may have pushed some voters in Barrett’s direction, but the repeal bill was aimed squarely at a tier of white male voters, for whom women, like people of color, are seen to have taken away their jobs, dignity, authority, etc., ad nauseam. (According to New York Times polling, inconclusive on this theme, 59% of males went for Walker, up 2% from 2010, while women gave him only 47%, down 2% from the preceding election cycle.)

The Small Towns

 We need to take a closer look at the social geography of small town Wisconsin. One results of the longer term de-industrialization and rust-belting of the Lake Michigan cities like Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Manitowoc and other formerly heavy manufacturing and lake trade centers was not just the shipping of production and jobs to other regions of the country or “offshore,” but the dispersal of light and medium manufacturing to small and medium towns throughout the state.

There hardly exists a town or village in the state that does not have some light industrial firm manufacturing you name it. As small and even medium farms disappeared and more families were forced off the land, various “developers” and entrepreneurs took advantage of relatively cheap non-union labor, lower land prices and tax incentives to set up new firms producing various parts and components, agricultural equipment, and capital and consumer goods ventures, often but not always tied to the agricultural economy. Often locally owned and family run and employing local labor, such firms often belonging to the WMC, have become lynchpins for the local economies in communities where people know each other, some of them tied together for generations through the churches, schools and extended families. Many of them, it can be imagined, have felt the effects of the “Great Recession”.

Often socially conservative, they have looked for redress not necessarily coming from Washington or Madison. Some have consciously turned to the Tea Party while others have readily taken to a broader populist ideology appealing to the “little guy” with its promise to “take back” whatever – “our government,” “our democracy,” “our freedom” – from “big government” with its faceless, far away bureaucrats.

What can be said about the “opportunity lost” when the “Wisconsin Uprising” became channeled into an all but singular focus on the recalling Walker and his cronies? It isn’t clear if other options were possible based on the correlation of forces in the field -- the proscribed nature of the movement, its inability to go from the initial level of protest to forms of resistance and mass civil disobedience; the atrophied memory of labor’s mass struggle experience; the deference to a conservative leadership, and narrow understandings of “politics” and the possible all played a part. Things certainly could have been different if there had been an organized left pole alternative to the Democratic and trade union’s conservative leadership. A huge “if,” for sure.

What remained surprising, indeed puzzling to some during the Walker recall effort was the lack of support for the Barrett campaign from the national Democratic Party – the silence and invisibility of Obama, the Democratic National Committee, or for that matter, the national leadership of the major trade unions. While that could be explained by some assessments of the current political terrain at this, the lead up to Obama’s increasingly uncertain re-election bid, there are other concerns at work.

A kind of mistrust of an uncontrolled mass movement exists; a downright mistrust, if not fear of an uncontrolled popular insurgency from below. The Democratic leadership and its labor allies absolutely dread a return of those kinds of movements and mass mobilizations, dating back to the Great Depression and extending through the strike wave immediately following World War II, the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s, and the Anti-War Movement later that decade, that challenged power from below succeeded in exacting concessions from the system.

Such insurgencies, polarizing in their effect, also provoked the kinds of reaction that led to the ascendancy of Nixon and Agnew, the McGovern beating in ’72, the rise of the “New Right,” Carter’s loss in ’80 to Reagan and worse, subsequently. In response, the Democratic leadership chose a more conservative course, one leery of its own social base.

The Point is to Change It

 What has been offered here are some preliminary thoughts, hopefully a contribution to a deeper collective assessment that needs to take place if we are going to move forward. Clearly, a lot more needs to be fleshed in and understood and the way out of the wilderness is going to be long and hard. The point is not just to understand our history, but to change it.

* His calculations were based on the 2010 census figures for total population, percentage of the population 18 or over, and median household income. That data was then compared that to the vote totals for the two candidates. An obvious caution: It should be noted that one cannot draw too many conclusions regarding a direct correlation between income figures and voter preferences. Such numbers do convey some sense of class composition (based on income, exclusive of wealth) and voting preferences.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Long Will Japan’s Nuclear Recess Be? Enter Kazakhstan

[The following, by my research and writing partner, Steve Horn, originally appeared  at WhoWhatWhy on May 14, 2012. It supplements our earlier pieces: "Massacre in Kazakhstan: Killing Hope for US Interests" & "Uranium Diplomacy: The US Double-Standard in Kazakhstan and Iran" -AR]

Currently the world's largest producer, Kazakhstan has about 19% of the world's known uranium reserves.
Environmental victories are so scarce these days that you can’t blame eco-activists for trumpeting any good news — even when the news turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors.

Take the latest sequel to Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was deemed the “most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl” by NewScientist.  To this day the city of Fukushima is surrounded by a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) dead zone.

On May 4, in an action hailed by anti-nuclear activists around the world, Japan announced that it was putting its last remaining operational nuclear power plant, located in the northern city of Tomari, on “recess.” The next day, five thousand demonstrators in Tokyo celebrated what one participant called a “historic” victory, in a country where some 30 percent of electrical power had been provided by nuclear reactors.

While pressure from activists undoubtedly influenced the government’s decision, a closer look at Japan’s nuclear power industry raises serious questions about the extent of the victory.

Japan Announces Big Nuclear Deal with Kazakhstan

Unmentioned by all but two news outlets was the fact that a day before the announcement, the Japanese government signed a deal with Kazakhstan’s state-owned nuclear giant, KazAtomProm, to begin supplying Japan with more nuclear fuel starting in 2013.

“Japan will take part in the implementation of 40 projects in Kazakhstan,” explained the Kazakh state-run news outlet, CaspioNet. “This applies to cooperation in the nuclear industry, mining and met allurgical complex, high technology, as well as mechanical engineering and gas-chemical industry.”

As for “projects” in Japan itself, the picture is a little murky, perhaps intentionally so. “The Japanese government never actually said it was going to turn off the lights on the nuclear industry at any point in time,” the Netherlands-based Nuclear Campaigner for Greenpeace International, Aslihan Tumer told WhoWhatWhy in an interview.

“What the Japanese government has been saying is that they’re going to restart it, eventually, once the safety checks are done, once they take local concerns into consideration,” said Turner. “So, they are not saying it is off the table right now.”

Japan’s newly strengthened ties to Kazakhstan come on top of the major foothold Japanese multinational energy corporations already have in that Central Asian country, which is four times the size of Texas.

Japan’s Nuclear Alliance with KazAtomProm

Known for its massive reserves of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas resources, Kazakhstan also possesses roughly 15 percent of the world’s known uranium supply, accounting for roughly one-third of current global production, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA).

With no uranium resources of its own Japan, the world’s third biggest economy, has relied on the global market to fuel its nuclear reactors, trading mainly with Australia, Canada and, increasingly, Kazakhstan, according to WNA. In 2010, three Japan-based nuclear fuel corporations, Kansai Electric Power Company, Sumitomo, and Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd, signed a deal with KazAtomProm to supply its plants with uranium.

A complex web of agreements across national borders links many of the biggest players in the nuclear industry. For example, in October 2006, the Japanese multinational corporation Toshiba purchased a 77-percent share of the U.S. nuclear company Westinghouse Electric for $5.4 billion. Two other companies were involved in the deal: Japan’s IHI Corporation, and U.S. multinational Shaw Group. Later, in July 2007, KazAtomProm paid $486.3 million for 10 percent of Toshibas stake in the jointly owned corporation, meaning it now owns 7.7-percent of the corporation formerly known as Westinghouse.

As a result of such deals Kazakhstan has a direct tie to the Fukushima meltdown. Investigative reporter Greg Palast explained in a March 2011 story: “One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.”

Eerily enough, Kazakhstan is still recovering from a nuclear tragedy of its own. The city of Semey, near the country’s northeastern border with Siberia, was formerly known as Semipalatinsk. From 1949 to 1989, a secret complex 93 miles west of the city was the site of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons tests.

History Repeating Itself?

“After a wave of popular protests, the Semipalatinsk site was closed in 1991. It had carried out 456 secret nuclear tests,” explained EuroNews. “However, the closure could not reverse the environmental damage to the region, which has more than a million inhabitants, most of which are villagers.”

“Local oncology centers are screening tens of thousands of patients, trying to detect and treat tumors at early stages…Infant mortality here is five times higher than the average or developed countries. Embryonic defects are widespread, and cancer strikes teenagers as well as adults,” the report continues.

The nuclear tragedies at Chernobyl, Semipalatinsk and Fukushima have not proved a deterrent to the global nuclear industry’s ambitions. “Japan hasn’t used the Fukushima disaster as an opportunity to push for renewable energy or energy efficiency,” said Tumer. “Instead, it has used the time since the disaster to push for the restart of nuclear reactors.”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Uranium Diplomacy:The US Double-Standard in Kazakhstan and Iran

By Allen Ruff and Steve Horn*

[This is a slightly revised version of  "Uranium Double-Standard: The U.S., Kazakhstan and Iran," that originally appeared at Nation of Change. It is the second installment of an ongoing series on U.S. involvement in Kazakhstan. The first originally appeared at Truthout and is also available here.]

Iran’s alleged “nuclear threat” has taken center stage among diplomats, military men, and politicians in Washington, Tel Aviv, and the West at-large.

Despite the fact that investigative journalists Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter and others have meticulously documented the fact that Iran, in fact, poses no nuclear threat at all, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress have laid down multiple rounds of harsh sanctions as a means to “deter” Iran from reaching its “nuclear capacity.”

The most recent round featured a call to boycott Iran’s oil industry by President Obama.

While rhetorical attention remains focused on Iran’s “threat”, there is an “elephant in the room”: Kazakhstan’s booming uranium mining and expanding nuclear industry --  a massive effort involving U.S. multinational corporations and an authoritarian regime increasingly tied to Washington.

Double standards have long reigned supreme in U.S. foreign policy. Few examples illustrate that better than the contrast between Washington’s stance toward the nuclear ambitions of Iran and Kazakhstan.

The  Seoul Dog and Pony Show

Seoul Nuclear Summitry: Obama and  Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev (c.) have a laugh as Russia's Dimitry Medvedev (r.) looks on.
The alleged Iranian “threat” was a central concern at the Nuclear Security Summit, which occurred in Seoul, South Korea between March 26-27.

Notables attending the conference included the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Russian outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and British Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to name several.

Noticeably absent were representatives from Iran, though the country received the brunt of criticism from many of the attendees at what amounted to a dog and pony show in Seoul.

Speaking at the Summit, Obama stated, "There is time to solve this diplomatically, but time is short. Iran's leaders must understand that there is no escaping the choice before it. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands. Iran must meet its obligations."

One notable uranium-developing powerhouse in no way viewed as a “threat” by the 53 world leaders assembled at Seoul was Kazakhstan, the resource-rich former Soviet republic strategically located at the center of the Asian heartland.

A country four times the size of the state of Texas, the Central Asia giant now serves as a key thoroughfare for what the Pentagon and U.S. geo-strategic planners refer to as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), the main route equipping US/NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan’s self-proclaimed “president for life” --  Nursultan Nazarbayev – played a highly visible role at Seoul and joined Obama in a bilateral meeting, as well as a photo op.

As the Summit started, the New York Times published a public relations piece by Nazarbayev, fittingly titled, “What Iran Can Learn From Kazakhstan.” Noting his country’s post-Soviet efforts at nuclear weapons disarmament, the Kazakh leader informed his readers that his country “…chose building peaceful alliances and prosperity over fear and suspicion…”

The cynicism in Nazarbayev’s rhetoric could not have been missed by those familiar with a country where no true opposition parties, critical media or free trade unions are allowed, where protections under the law are virtually absent; and bribery and corruption rule.

Just days prior to the appearance of Nazarabyev’s Times piece, Amnesty International examined events in the aftermath of the December 2011 massacre of striking oil workers in Zhanaozen. Appearing a 100 days after that dark day, the  report found the government’s investigation into the events “inadequate.” Amnesty noted, “There have been numerous reports of widespread torture and other ill-treatment of those detained by security forces in the aftermath of the violence and investigations into these allegations do not to date appear to be thorough and impartial.”

A striking oil worker at Zhanaozen, one of many massacred on December 16, 2011

In an effort to counterbalance the influence of neighboring Russia and China, and concerned with Nazarbayev’s importance as a supportive ally in regard to nearby Afghanistan and Iran, US officials have often extended lip service praise for slow-in coming cosmetic social and political reforms as Nazarabyev consolidated his hold of what amounts to a one party monopoly on all the levers of power.

Numerous major human rights monitors, including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Amnesty International have long cited Kazakhstan for violations of international protocols regarding workers’ rights, the freedom of assembly and dissent, the state control of the media system at all levels, the routine repression of opposition political parties and candidates, the absence of due process under the law, the impunity of the police, ubiquitous torture, and the limited rights of those accused, detained, prisoners and the lawyers who defend them; and state violence, in general. The mistreatment of immigrants, the exploitation of child labor and human trafficking in the country have also been cited.

Kazakh media remain subject to legal restrictions, prohibitive libel and defamation judgments, self-censorship, harassment, and pressures from partisan owners and politicians. When Kazakhstan assumed the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, the government pledged to improve human rights practices and increase media freedom. The level of press freedom nevertheless declined during the year, as a restrictive internet law passed in 2009 was used to intimidate bloggers and block websites, two independent newspapers were closed, and a journalist remained in jail.

The final report regarding country’s 2010 OSCE chairmanship concluded that the Nazarbayev government introduced no positive changes in regard to its own human rights record, as was promised at the beginning of its OSCE tenure. The report stated that the regime had actually displayed disrespect for its international obligations in regard to human rights.

Despite documentation of such regularized abuses, representatives of the regime centered at the country’s newly constructed showcase capital, the “mini-Dubai” at Astana, have regularly been well received by Washington.

Nazarabyev's "Mini-Dubai" at Astana

Kazakh Nukes

Well-known for its massive quantity of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas resources, massive quantity of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas resources Kazakhstan is also a growing nuclear power, possessing roughly 15-percent of the world’s known uranium supply and producing roughly one-third of the current global supply, according to the World Nuclear Association. Bypassing Australia and Canada last year, it currently is the world’s largest producer of the nuclear fuel source.

Kazakhstan’s nuclear industry extends from the mining, processing and export of uranium to the construction of nuclear reactors.  Closely tied to both Canadian and U.S. mega energy corporations, it seemingly poses no concern for Washington. Unlike Iran, no one seems to be calling for sanctions or regime change despite the repressive nature of Nazarbayev’s regime. Business is business and U.S. strategic interest trumps all.

A bit of recent nuclear industry business history is in order.

In October 2006, the Japanese multinational corporation Toshiba -- of television- and computer-manufacturing fame -- purchased a 77-percent majority share in Westinghouse Electric for a mere $5.4 billion. The other two companies involved in the buyout were Japan’s IHI Corporation, as well as the U.S. multinational Shaw Group.

Less than a year later, in July 2007, Kazakhstans state owned company KazAtomProm paid $486.3 million for a 10-percent of Toshiba’s stake in the jointly owned corporation, meaning it now owns 7.7-percent of Westinghouse.

“The deal,” explained nuclear industry analyst and consultant, Dan Yurman, “would give Toshiba access to Kazakhstan's uranium at a time when increased demand has tripled prices of the nuclear fuel ingredient in the past year. It would give Kazatomprom access to Toshiba's uranium processing technology and its sales channels.”

The transaction infuriated close observers of the global nuclear industry who cited human rights concerns and the dictatorial, kleptocratic nature of the Nazarbayev regime that “won” yet another rigged election in January, 2012 held amidst the ongoing repression following the state crackdown at Zhanaozen.

Clinton and Nazarbayev: East Meets Westinghouse

The nature of wheelings and dealings under Nazarbayev was fully displayed in an earlier nuclear deal that preceded, but was directly connected to the Westinghouse purchase -  a 2005 transaction between the Kazakh state-owned KazAtomProm and a Canadian energy entrepreneur, facilitated by none other than the former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In 2005, Clinton, then (and still) head of the newly-formed Clinton Foundation, helped Canadian business mogul Frank Giustra make the nuclear deal of a lifetime.

According to the New York Times, Clinton facilitated a trip in September that year for the two of them to visit Nazarbayev in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Two days later Giustra “signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy interests in three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.”

Clinton and Nazarbayev: "Let's Make a Deal"?
The deal needed Nazarbayev’s go-ahead to assure final approval. With Clinton at his side, Giustra received it. As the Times piece described it, “The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company (UrAsia Energy Ltd.) into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra.” 

Giustra obtained a stake in the mines for $450 million, “the largest initial public offering in the history of Canada’s Venture Exchange.” In appreciation for his role as internediary, Giustra made a “philanthropic gift” to the former President’s  Foundation totaling $131.1 milliion.
Clinton and Canadian uranium mogul pal, Frank Giustra
It gets better. “In February 2007, a company called Uranium One agreed to pay $3.1 billion to acquire (the shell company) UrAsia. Mr. Giustra, a director and major shareholder in UrAsia, would be paid $7.05 per share for a company that just two years earlier was trading at 10 cents per share,” the New York Times story explained. That same month, the then president of KazAtomProm, Moukhtar Dzhakishev, paid a special visit to Clinton’s Chappaqua, NY abode.

The reason for the visit? The Times provides the answer: “Mr. Dzhakishev said he wanted to discuss Kazakhstan’s intention — not publicly known at the time — to buy a 10 percent stake in Westinghouse, a United States supplier of nuclear technology.”   

Roughly two years after the deal was cut, Dzhakishev was sent packing to a high security penitentiary for 14 years, accused by Nazarbayev’s investigators, Bloomberg reported, of “embezzling state shares in uranium deposits, including one co-owned by Canada’s Uranium One.” (Uranium One, of course, was the company that purchased Giustra’s UrAsia Energy Ltd.)

The arrest was made by the KNB, the Kazakhstani successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Many believe -- including leaders from the opposition Azat Party -- that the arrest was politically motivated.

Everyone walked away a winner in this one, other than Dzhakishev.

In exchange for his patronage, Nazarbayev received Clinton’s praise for “opening up the social and political life” of Kazakhstan. The ex-president and former leader of the “free world” proceeded to endorse the dictator in his bid to become the chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the body mandated to monitor arms control, human rights, freedom of the press, and fair elections across the Global North.

Eleven months prior to the 2005 deal, then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) co-signed a letter to the U.S. State Department she now heads sounding “alarm bells” regarding Nazarbayev’s earlier bid to head the OSCE. The letter found Kazakhstan’s bid unacceptable and cited “serious corruption,” cancelled elections and government control of the media. This

The only honest way to describe the situation: insider wheeling and dealing of epic proportions for Clinton, Giustra, and the Nazarbayev clique, with Dzhakishev ending up on the rotten end of this deal.

The Fukushima Connection

No story about the nuclear industry would be complete without a mention of the spring 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. This tale, too, would be incomplete without pointing to the connections between U.S. geopolitical maneuvering, the Iranian “nuclear” threat, the “benevolent” Kazakhstani nuclear industry, and what is now a wasteland in Fukushima.

In the days after Japan’s nuclear disaster, investigative journalist Greg Palast connected some of the dots  by revealing that, “One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.”

Such back-up power generators were part the “seismic qualification” (SQ) test requirements that all nuclear power plants must pass. Yet, meeting SQ qualifications is expensive, so, as Palast explained, “The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie.” Stone and Webster, the nuclear unit of The Shaw Group, did just that for Fukushima Daiichi.

Shaw, as mentioned, owns a 20-percent stake in Westinghouse, KazAtomProm owns a 7.7-percent stake in it, while Toshiba owns a 69.3-percent stake.

Kazakhstan continues to experience its own nuclear tragedy in the area around Semipalatinsk, (Semey), formerly the center of Soviet-era nuclear weapons tests. A still unknown, but massive number of inhabitants of this northeastern Kazakh region continue to suffer and die from leukemia, other cancers, and horrific birth defects caused by high levels of radiation.

“Already, the thyroid cancer rate in the east and north of Kazakhstan is twice as high as in the rest of the country, and other cancers such as breast, have higher rates,” explained The Ecologist in an August 2011 article.

This, then, raises the question: Who or what poses the nuclear threat? Nuclear energy, nuclear armament, and uranium enrichment in of themselves, or solely Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”?

History Repeating Itself?: Iran’s Once Benevolent Nuclear Industry

Iran hasn’t always been deemed a “nuclear threat” by U.S. policymakers.

Long before U.S. geopolitical planning elites deemed Iran’s nuclear program a “threat,” its development was encouraged, in the 1970s during the closing years of Shah Reza Pahlavi’s dictatorship. None other than former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, all three at the time holding held high-level national security positions under President Gerald Ford, promoted the effort.

The scenario was best unpacked in an article appearing in the The Washington Post in March 2005. Dafna Linzer wrote of the deal:

“Ford's team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium -- the two pathways to a nuclear bomb. Either can be shaped into the core of a nuclear warhead, and obtaining one or the other is generally considered the most significant obstacle to would-be weapons builders.

Iran, a U.S. ally then, had deep pockets and close ties to Washington. U.S. companies, including Westinghouse and General Electric, scrambled to do business there.


“After balking initially, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel.”


“The U.S.-Iran deal was shelved when the shah was toppled in the 1979 revolution that led to the taking of American hostages and severing of diplomatic relations.”

Linzer went on to explain that U.S. companies, led by Westinghouse, stood to gain $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts.

It all connects. Westinghouse today is co-owned by Toshiba, The Shaw Group, and  Kazakhstan’s uranium giant, KazAtomProm. Basically the same corporate interests eyeing Iran’s nuclear development under the US-backed Shah’s currently have their hands in Kazakhstan’s nuclear industry today.

Hypocrisy and the Looming Attack on Iran

With rapidity, the build-up for an attack on Iran progresses.

In response to a U.S. threat to sanction Irans oil industry, in late-December 2011 the Iranian government threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic “choke point”  for oil passing passing from the Persian Gulf.

Soon after, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told CBS’ Face the Nation that, “[Iran] has invested in capabilities that could, in fact, for a period of time block the Strait of Hormuz. We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.”

Three weeks on, the U.S. Navy announced the deployment of a floating "forward operating base" “mothership” south of Iran, aboard the USS Ponce. “Navy documents indicate that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route for much of the world’s oil supply,” explained The Washington Post. The ship will manned with active-duty Navy SEAL commandos.

In the midst of the Hormuz snafu, investigative reporter Mark Perry published a groundbreaking exposé, revealing that agents from Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, had been posing as U.S. spies in Pakistan to recruit members of the terrorist organization Jundallah to fight a covert war against Iran, presumably with the blessing of the U.S. government. Jundallah is a State Department designated terrorist organization.

Perry also broke a story on March 28, uncovering the fact that Israel -- again, almost certainly with U.S. blessing -- procured an air base in Azerbaijan, Iran’s northern neighbor located to the southwest of Kazakhstan, across the Caspian sea. He referred to this as “Israels Secret Staging Ground.”

This development is a logical one, given that Azerbaijan has already been the home site of a secretive U.S. Central Operations Command (CENTCOM)/Blackwater Worldwide (now known as Academi and, previously, as Xe Services) forward operating base as part of the broader Caspian Guard Initiative for years. Jeremy Scahill explained the Initiative in his book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” He wrote,

"Beginning in July 2004, Blackwater forces were contracted to work in the heart of the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea region, where they would quietly train a force modeled after the Navy SEALs and establish a base just north of the Iranian border," Scahill wrote.

"Blackwater would be tasked with establishing and training an elite ... force modeled after the U.S. Navy SEALs that would ultimately protect the interests of the United States and its allies in a hostile region ... [serving] a dual purpose: protecting the West's new profitable oil and gas exploitation in a region historically dominated by Russia and Iran, and possibly laying the groundwork for an important forward operating base in an attack against Iran," he continued.

More recently, The New Yorker magazine’s  Seymour Hersh, writing on “Our Men in Iran?,” revealed that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has been training another U.S. designated terrorist organization, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), since 2005. The training has occurred at the Department of Energys Nevada-based National Nuclear Security Administration headquarters.

Hersh and others have suggested that the MEK and others, including Mossad have been responsible for the spate of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists over the past several years. They also portend a dark future, if these series of events proceed in their logical and rather predictable order.

The alleged Iranian “nuclear threat” has become a pretext for regime change in Tehran, a desired goal of U.S. strategic planners and allies in Tel Aviv ever since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

The real concern since then for the U.S. has been control over the flow of increasingly valuable strategic sources of energy -- oil, gas, and uranium -- that propel corporate state interests in the region. Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev will remain a strategic ally regardless of the brutality of his regime, as long as he keeps in line.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said in regard to Nicaragua’s U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza García, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

The same, it appears, could be said about Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev as the U.S. moves toward desired regime change in Iran.


*Allen Ruff received his Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's written on the history of the American Left, local history and has published one novel. Schooled by decades of activist experience, his primary work now centers on opposition to U.S. interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. He hosts a weekly a public affairs program on WORT, 89.9fm in Madison, WI, where he currently lives.

*Steve Horn is a researcher and writer at DeSmogBlog. He is also a freelance investigative journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @Steve_Horn1022.